The Importance of Belief: A Response to Stephen Fry

I hate myself for enjoying Stephen Fry as much as I do. I am unsure I have seen him act in anything in at least a year, and even that might have been in Blackadder. I scarcely get the time these days to watch QI, yet still I have a giddy excitement come upon me whenever I see him on TV. The excitement doubles when I see him holding an Apple device.

It’s nearly pathetic, I know. He is such a winsome and enjoyable personality that I can’t help myself.

So I saw the video above in my suggestions list on Youtube and couldn’t resist this combination of title and presenter.

Honestly, if it were Richard Dawkins presenting on the subject I would have carried on scrolling.

I played the video. I was not disappointed.

He demands that we think deeply and at length about things.

Fry refuses to be seduced by the sentimentality of the age which rejects the need for essential questions (or, questions of the essence of things), requiring a deeper engagement with both the nature of reality and the ethical suppositions which follow.

Like me, he is not ‘spiritual’. Like me, he sees the modern language of spirituality as an opiate which grounds our ethics in nothing.

Yet the ethics I hold will prove to be anathema to Fry.

He makes three contentious claims:

  1. Those who believe in an afterlife are lazily disinclined to ask fundamental questions of existence.
  2. Monotheism is a ghastly mis-interpretation of reality. Reality would cause us to believe in capricious and mean gods who are essentially in disagreement with one another. Only a polytheism in the Greek/Roman tradition makes any sense.
  3. If there were a God, wouldn’t he want humans to do better than slavishly following the words of a book?

“You have to account for bone-cancer in children” – Stephen Fry

With God, the afterlife and revelation dispensed with, the only use religion has is for its music and art.

Yet Fry must concede that there have been many great acts of kindness committed by persons of faith.

He hold us Dietrich Bonhoeffer up as an example of a virtuous religious man, yet he has emptied the man of his faith.

Bonhoeffer’s thought, writing and patiently endured suffering only make sense in light of his faith in God, in the afterlife and in the words of Jesus as commands for his life. He lived in an age and place where the entire mood of the society, even the enlightened minds, was on the rightness of the Third Reich. Bonhoeffer only has a voice of opposition to this because of all that Fry would do away with.

“To be called to a life of extraordinary quality, to live up to it, and yet to be unconscious of it is indeed a narrow way. To confess and testify to the truth as it is in Jesus, and at the same time to love the enemies of that truth, his enemies and ours, and to love them with the infinite love of Jesus Christ, is indeed a narrow way. To believe the promise of Jesus that his followers shall possess the earth, and at the same time to face our enemies unarmed and defenceless, preferring to incur injustice rather than to do wrong ourselves, is indeed a narrow way. To see the weakness and wrong in others, and at the same time refrain from judging them; to deliver the gospel message without casting pearls before swine, is indeed a narrow way. The way is unutterably hard, and at every moment we are in danger of straying from it. If we regard this way as one we follow in obedience to an external command, if we are afraid of ourselves all the time, it is indeed an impossible way. But if we behold Jesus Christ going on before step by step, we shall not go astray.”

Bonhoeffer, Cost of Discipleship.

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