On February 1, 2015, Stephen Fry was a guest on Ireland’s RTÉ One television program, The Meaning of Life. The show’s host, Gay Byrne, asked Fry (who is an outspoken atheist) “Suppose it’s all true, and you walk up to the Pearly Gates and you are confronted by God. What would Stephen Fry say to Him, Her or It?”.
Stephen Fry: “I think I’ll say ‘bone cancer in children? What’s that about? How dare you? How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is not our fault. It’s not right. It’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?’ That’s what I’d say.”
Gay Byrne: “And you think you’re going to get in, like that?”
Stephen Fry: “No, but I wouldn’t want to. I wouldn’t want to get in on His terms. They’re wrong. Now, if I died and it was Pluto, Hades, and if it was the 12 Greek gods, then I would have more truckles because the Greeks were… they didn’t pretend not to be human in their appetites, and in their capriciousness and in their unreasonableness. They didn’t present themselves as being all-seeing, all-wise, all-kind, all-beneficent. Because the god who created this universe, if it was created by a god, is quite clearly a maniac; utter maniac; totally selfish. We have to spend our life on our knees thanking Him? What kind of god would do that?”
“Yes, the world is very splendid, but it also has in it, insects whose whole life cycle is to burrow into the eyes of children and make them blind. That eats outwards from the eyes. Why? Why did you do that to us? You could easily have made a creation in which that didn’t exist. It is simply not acceptable. It’s not just about not believing that there is a God, but on the assumption that there is one, what kind of God is it? It’s perfectly apparent that He is monstrous; utterly monstrous, and deserves no respect whatsoever. The moment you banish Him, your life becomes simpler, purer, cleaner, more worth living in my opinion.”
In this creative writing exercise, Stephen Fry has just arrived at the Pearly Gates, and to his astonishment, realizes that God does in fact exist, and that He also happened to watch that interview Fry had with Gay Byrne. God then responds to the questions and comments that Fry made during the interview.
Stephen, my boy – it’s so good to meet you! Yes, I know that you are an ardent atheist, and I can tell that this obviously wasn’t what you were expecting. These Pearly Gates are just a prop; they help put our newly-arrived souls at ease, since it’s what many of them expect to see. Of course, they can also be a bit disconcerting for atheists and agnostics…
I just happened to catch the RTÉ One interview you had with Gay Byrne back in February, 2015. It seems that you have a few things that you wanted to say to me. Don’t worry, I’m not the least bit offended by any of them. You’ve clearly given a lot of serious thought to ecclesiastical topics – much more than most people – and I’ll be glad to address everything.
Let’s start with this one “Because the god who created this universe, if it was created by a god, is quite clearly a maniac; utter maniac; totally selfish.”
To answer the first part of this comment, yes, I am the creator of your universe, or more accurately, I created the initial conditions that allowed a universe to emerge, and then develop. You can think of it as a science experiment… actually, it was more of a proof-of-concept than anything else. To be honest, it still needs a bit of tweaking, but I’m pleased with the progress so far. It’s been quite stable, and hasn’t collapsed yet.
As for being an utter maniac and totally selfish, I need to explain something that I thought would be obvious to you humans by now. After I created your universe, I simply let it unfold and then watched what happened. I abided by my own version of your Star Trek Prime Directive – non-interference. For some unfathomable reason, this is something that so many of you presumably enlightened beings – including hard-core atheists like yourself – have never entertained, or perhaps refuse to acknowledge. Your holy books state that I created you in my own image, and I did indirectly – I created an environment that eventually allowed humans to emerge. At the same time, humans also created a multitude of gods in their own image; unfortunately, none of them is anything like the actual creator of your universe.
The reason for this disparity is that your God, the one created and promulgated by many of your Christian religions, is not merely an omnipresent and omniscient god, but one that functions as a proverbial “third parent” to all adherents – one who watches over every individual continually and who guides them through life, as a parent would. I admit it’s a comforting thought – that one is never alone because there is an ethereal guardian present at all times. It’s also a decidedly ego-gratifying thought – being the proverbial apple of the creator’s eye, and assuming that the creator of the universe is taking a personal interest in one’s life – but I’m afraid that it’s just not true. I do not “micromanage” your lives. You can call it maniacal or selfish if you like, but I call it being completely neutral.
Let’s examine your next comment “We have to spend our life on our knees thanking Him? What kind of god would do that?“
An excellent question! Let me assure you, Stephen, that no thanks is, or ever was, necessary. You’re absolutely right – what kind of god would do that? The notion of a god who is that insecure is ridiculous. Your religious leaders have told you to worship their version of a creator, because they live in fear, and spend their lives under the proverbial Sword of Damocles. I’m sure that they genuinely believe that they are doing everyone a favour by preaching this subservience, but ask yourself this: why would a god be substantially less secure than his creations?
While watching your universe unfold, one of my pleasures was noting all of the different gods and religions that the various species have created – on your planet and on many others. There are so many fascinating and disparate points of view – atheism among them – that have been formed in your collective quest to make sense of your surroundings. This bowing down in my presence is just nonsense. Do you really think that I’m going to give preferential treatment to annoying little sycophants? Do you think I can’t see right through that rubbish? In broader terms, is it reasonable to assume that one’s opinion on a single subject – how the universe was formed – is going to determine the ultimate destination of one’s soul? That’s utterly preposterous!
You also said “bone cancer in children? What’s that about? How dare you? How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is not our fault. It’s not right. It’s utterly, utterly evil.“
If I had deliberately introduced cancer into otherwise healthy children, then yes, those actions could be described quite fairly as “utterly, utterly evil”. However, as you’ve probably guessed by now, I am a “hands-off” creator who lets the evolutionary chips fall where they may. I have no direct involvement with bone cancer in children, or with any other disease.
Let’s examine your next comment “insects whose whole life cycle is to burrow into the eyes of children and make them blind. That eats outwards from the eyes. Why? Why did you do that to us?“
Continued existence among members of any species is an ongoing battle – viewers of nature documentaries know this intuitively. Right now, homo sapiens are enjoying their lofty perch at the top of the evolutionary ladder, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t still have adversaries. Every species, including the human botfly, fights continually for its own survival and even dominance. No one gets a free ride. For 160 million years, the dinosaurs lived in complete harmony with the planet – which is more than I can say for humans – and they were wiped out in a geological instant by the climate change resulting from a meteor strike. Had they been able to speak, their lament may have been similar to yours “Why? Why did you do that to us?”.
You also noted “You could easily have made a creation in which that didn’t exist. It is simply not acceptable.“
Your Bible suggests that God has created a made-to-order world, exclusively for the benefit of humans. It’s a decidedly egocentric view, which as you now know, just isn’t the case. Humans have discovered 1.9 million species so far, and you’ve only scratched the surface. Think of it this way: if you live in a city of two million, there are bound to be in the some people whom you don’t like. Similarly, there will also be an assortment of undesirable species on the planet.
Then you added “It’s perfectly apparent that He is monstrous; utterly monstrous, and deserves no respect whatsoever” and asked, somewhat rhetorically “Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?“
If you don’t respect me, that’s OK – I’m not offended. In fact, it’s a perfectly understandable position for anyone who has accepted or internalized the notion of the God that their religious leaders have presented to them. Your religious leader have weaved an elaborate tale and they promised the general public quite a bit. However, being human, and not knowing any more than anyone else, they weren’t in a position to even know my nature, much less deliver a god custom-made to their specifications. They are the ones who disappointed you, Stephen, not I.
Another interesting remark you made was “The moment you banish Him, your life becomes simpler, purer, cleaner, more worth living in my opinion.”
I agree, in principle, with this comment, because it shows a maturity far beyond what most people possess. This is why I have a particular fondness for atheists and agnostics, because they don’t invent spirits to fill the gaps in their knowledge. They realize that they haven’t figured out how everything in their world works, admit that there is still much to learn, and aren’t afraid to modify their models. By concentrating on empirical observations instead of ecclesiastical speculation, you stimulate an interest in learning and discovery. I’m glad that you’ve adopted a secular world view, Stephen, because it demonstrates that you have a very logical and structured mind. I’ve never interfered with the development of the universe, and this lack of divine intervention lends should lend itself to the adoption of atheism or agnosticism. Unfortunately, few humans have done that. Yours is a courageous stance, especially in your present-day world.
And finally, you asked “It’s not just about not believing that there is a God, but on the assumption that there is one, what kind of God is it?“
Now you know…
So there you have it, Stephen. There is a creator of the universe after all, just not the one you humans invented in order to comfort yourselves – the benevolent, omnipresent, omniscient third-parent figure, who will protect you from all bad things. Now that you’ve been given the proper context, I hope that your world makes a little more sense. Now if you’ll just follow me, I’d like to introduce you to someone. Oscar Wilde has been looking forward to meeting you!