Madeleine Davies

A response to Stephen Fry

In Uncategorized on February 1, 2015 at 12:10 pm

Stephen Fry doesn’t believe in God. But he’s furious with him. I can sympathise.

His God is an “utter maniac” who, despite being “all seeing, all wise, all kind, all beneficent”, sits by while children die of bone cancer.

Judging by the reaction to his rant, this is the God that other people have in mind too. It’s a God I’ve had in mind, and railed at, and hated.

So I’m not dismissive of the rant, because this isn’t a God plucked from nowhere, a cartoonish fantasy that nobody with a faith has ever squared up to.

Fry knows this, because he starts his speech by describing it as “what’s known as theodicy” (Wikipedia: “the attempt to answer the question of why a good God permits the manifestation of evil”). People of faith have been engaged in this attempt for thousands of years: philosophers and theologians, and those with the best qualifications – people who have gone through the sorts of terrible things Fry has in mind when he describes God as “utterly monstrous”.

CS Lewis lost both his mother and his wife to cancer. If you really want to read some fantastic tirades against God I’d recommend A Grief Observed over Fry any day. Brutal.

Pete Greig’s God on Mute, written after his wife was diagnosed with a brain tumour, should also be a classic.

Nicky Gumbel, whose family died in the Holocaust, described Fry’s question as “the biggest moral objection to the Christian faith, and no one has really ever come up with a satisfactory answer.”

I appreciate that kind of honesty.

I watched my Mum die from cancer from when I was ten until I was 12, and there’s nothing worse than hearing attempts to explain it that, even as a child, are utterly unconvincing (and infuriating):


“He allowed it to happen so that good could come out of it”


“It means that you’ll be able to help other people who have gone through it”.


I don’t want this to turn into a Bible study, but having read the thing cover to cover (it took me two years and to be honest I skipped the bits about measuring things in cubits), I can confirm that Fry’s material has been doing the rounds for a while.

“Awake, O Lord! Why do you sleep?

Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever.

Why do you hide your face

and forget our misery and oppression?”

Psalm 44:23-24

I don’t have the answer to Fry’s question.

But I have rejected his God.

I can’t, and don’t, believe in a God who is “capricious, mean-minded, stupid”.

Neither do I believe in the sort of heaven presented in the film on death produced by the British Humanist Association, which he narrated – a place you hope to scrape into if you’ve done enough good things to merit a reward.

To be fair, Fry was responding to the sort of God given to him by the presenter: the bouncer at the “pearly gates”.

(Incidentally, it was quite funny when this presenter said: “And you think you’re going to get in?”

My personal impression of God post the two-year Bible read is that he has a soft spot for ranters.

I also imagine he found the Speckled Jim episode hilarious.)

So, no, I don’t spend my life cravenly thanking a God who sits on a cloud just watching while we suffer.

The God I believe in is loving, compassionate, present – sometimes through other people – and cries with those who suffer.

“Jesus wept”

The last person I heard say this was watching The Voice with me.

But it’s in the Bible and I love it.

I think we’re a bit embarrassed about talking about the actual experience of faith here in the UK. But surely it’s this that enables people to struggle with theodicy but believe in, love, and even trust in God anyway. It could be a feeling, a conversation, a dream, a sense during a prayer that he (or she) has heard, and cares.

Fry talks about a world of “pain and injustice” but in some of the countries that are arguably far less shielded from this than the UK, faith is thriving.

I’ll always remember interviewing a survivor of the Cambodian genocide who became a Christian after a dream in which he saw a church shining. And the woman who lost her husband in the Rwandan genocide.

“I clung on to faith for a good long time after that, and God provided such a stability through the trauma,” she told me. “But over the years it really challenged my faith, to the point where I was wondering: how could God let that happen, and is there really a God at all? I think in the long term, it has grounded me and strengthened me in my faith.”

So the one thing I really take issue with is Fry’s suggestion that: “The moment you banish him, your life becomes simpler, purer, cleaner, more worth living.”

It’s a bit like the atheist bus sign that read “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life”

Pretty patronising.

I don’t doubt that some people found it liberating.

But it discounts the people who take a huge amount of comfort and strength from their faith, precisely BECAUSE they actually have quite a lot to worry about.

I’ll end with the bit in CS Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew where the Boy asks the Lion for a cure for his mother, who is dying of cancer:

“Up till then he had been looking at the Lion’s great feet and the huge claws on them; now, in his despair, he looked up at its face. What he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life. For the tawny face was bent down near his own and (wonder of wonders) great shining tears stood in the Lion’s eyes. They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory’s own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his Mother than he was himself.”

  1. Reblogged this on David J Wilson and commented:
    A great response to Stephen Fry’s recent thoughts on God…

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