A week ago Stephen Fry in that now-famous interview on RTE’s The Meaning of Life said that if he ever met God, he would ask ‘‘bone cancer in children? What’s that about?’ and went on to ask, ‘Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?’
Fire nor brimstone nor lightning bolt were visited upon Mr Fry’s head for his comments but he did find himself at the centre of a storm of Biblical proportions in both conventional and social media, with people of faith lining up to throw figurative stones or pointed words of forgiveness at him.
Yesterday, Mr Fry apologised for any offence caused.
In calling God a ‘bastard’ Mr Fry could not have intended any offence whatsoever, this is clearly an objective statement of fact, drawn from the reality of disease, pain, suffering and so forth that is entirely beyond our control.
People of faith clearly were stirred to strong feelings, yet no apology from Mr Fry was necessary for this simple reason: in all the froth and outrage not one of Mr Fry’s critics has been able to answer his questions. Not one.
What, indeed, about bone cancer in children? God’s not like that, the faithful say, as if no child has ever suffered. God moves in mysterious ways, others told us sagely without seeing that mysterious ways are entirely unhelpful to those afflicted by them.
On the Guardian site, Giles Fraser wrote a borderline incoherent post in which he claimed God is love and warm and fuzzy and suffers with us, without seeming to comprehend the question ‘why have suffering?’ Mr Fraser left us with the surreal feeling that God indeed made the universe, but not the bits we don’t like.
Citation needed, I think, Mr Fraser.
Genesis says that God made the world and everything in it. Genesis is very clear about that. Genesis doesn’t attach an asterisk to ‘everything’ and a footnote: ‘except for disease, natural disasters, dangerous insects and anything else you feel you would like not to be the work of the creator’.
If you accept that God created the universe you have to accept that God created arbitrary misfortune and the misery it brings (and then, as Mr Fry pointed out, demands to be thanked for it). This would indeed imply a vile and capricious deity.
On Twitter @Belief4Truth was very confused and invoked free will: ‘can God stop Man Stephen ?’ [sic; being just as confused about capitalisation] as if victims of cancer will the condition on themselves.
And on and on and on, in ever-diminishing spirals of absurdity and non sequiturs.
So, no, Mr Fry, you are way too nice and you don’t need to apologise. The faithful have yet to provide any meaningful answer to your questions — and they won’t, because they don’t have one.
Fry’s argues against the existence of the benevolent God of Christianity and he bases his argument on the logical fallacy called the appeal to emotion.
After all, who wouldn’t rise up in protest against a God who tortures the children.
But the Bible is clear that God is the author of both good and evil.
And like other ancient literature, particularly that of Greeks, the Bible examines the conundrum of suffering through a study of the nature of man and universe.
The conundrum of suffering is addressed through the Bible but explicitly in the Book of Job and in the New Testament tales of the life and Passion of Jesus Christ.
Most briefly, and this is corroborated by science, life on Earth would not exist without suffering. Suffering is the power behind natural selection in living creatures and one of the primary motivating forces behind the technological advancement of mankind.
Therefore, suffering is actually good since it motivates the survival activities of living creatures.
Moreover, in the Christian worldview, suffering, as horrible as it is, is actually a blessing and makes man a coworker with God.
Whereas the Fry worldview is “God, peel me grape, or what good are you?”
The Christian worldview is that man is empowered by the Creator to figure out for himself, how to design and create, just, healthy, prosperous, technologically advanced societies where man can fulfill his human nature.
Evolution is not powered by suffering. Evolution is adaptation to the environment through random mutation and natural selection. Technological and social advances are not necessarily powered by suffering. Technological advances most usually come about through the profit motive, or through an altruistic desire to enhance our lives. Some advances, such as medical advances will be a response to suffering but we can list man more that were not.
The view that God makes a child suffer bone cancer because suffering is positive and powers human development is illogical and offensive. I think the correct term for causing a child to suffer bone cancer is child abuse. Another term is torture.
The God you describe in your comment is exactly the one that Mr Fry was describing.
Evolution can’t happen without natural selection. And suffering is an essential ingredient in natural selection.
The profit motive is powered by pleasure which is the conscious avoidance of suffering.
Without suffering there would be no need to gain profit.
Suffering does power human development just as hunger powers the lion to attack, kill and eat sweet, defenseless wildebeests.
Since suffering hunger drives creatures to achieve success it must be classified as good, not evil.
I was watching a nature documentary on lions and I had to turn it off when Mommy Lioness began using a live baby boor to teach her young cubs some hunting and killing lessons.
But the atheist especially should know full well that good and evil are simply a matter of point of view.
Do we get offended for the baby boor who gets slapped around and tortured to death or do we cheer for the lion cubs because they are learning how to be themselves?
Many thanks for the comments.
So to summarise, and going back to Stephen Fry’s question about bone cancer in children, do you feel that in this hypothetical conversation, God would tell Mr Fry that suffering is good — perhaps necessary, even — because it is through suffering that humanity grows and develops?
Christian theology teaches that Jesus, Son of God, learned obedience and was perfected through suffering.
If God touched suffering with his own human body, than suffering is a blessing.
Nevertheless, our duty, our nature as creatures and men is to vanquish suffering.
And in that endeavor we become partners with God in establishing justice throughout the realm.