The 2011 Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism Goes to… January 22, 2011

The 2011 Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism Goes to…

The “Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism” is given out by the Harvard Secular Society on behalf of the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard and the American Humanist Association.

The first year, the award went to Salman Rushdie.

The second award went to lead singer of Bad Religion, Greg Graffin.

The next went to Joss Whedon.

Last year, it went to MythbustersAdam Savage and Jamie Hyneman.

And this year, the award will be going to actor and comedian Stephen Fry:

To which I say… meh.

I’m sure he’s funny and wonderful and all, but I’m just not very familiar with him. (***Update***: Whoa, people. I didn’t say he didn’t deserve it. I just said I wasn’t familiar with him. Of course I could look him up. That’s besides the point.)

I know the committee tried really hard to get a wide range of nominees — Remember, this isn’t just about picking someone; the person must also be willing to accept the award in person.

But the pressure’s really on for the Humanist Chaplaincy to find a woman to give this award to next year. Surely, there are many non-theistic women who both deserve to receive the title and would be honored to accept it.

Fry will accept his award on Tuesday, February 22nd at Harvard and tickets are available.

Until then, maybe you all can tell me why he’s so amazing…

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  • Hemant, I am rather surprised you would just say “meh” without reading up on a fellow first.

    Fry is a leading example of how government-endorsed religious hate forces people to crawl inside themselves and causes damage and, indeed, death. In addition, he’s a high-profile UK atheist (kinda like Ricky Gervais, but he actually worries more about the UK than the USA).

    He also took on the Top Gear Test Track in a time of 1:51.0, which isn’t so good, but he did provide wonderful representation for the geniality of LGBT people with one of the better-known British conservatives. Great segment.

  • I’m kind of shocked at your “meh,” Hemant. In the words of one Ron Burgundy, Mr. Fry’s “kind of a big deal.” I wouldn’t hesitate in calling him a genius.

  • Sesoron

    For starters, he’s a prolific English actor, both dramatic and comedic, with a particularly fantastic role in a sketch comedy show he made along with Hugh Laurie called A Bit of Fry and Laurie. He did the reading for the audiobook of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (only the first one; Martin Freeman, who played the protagonist in the movie, read the others) by Douglas Adams, a personal friend of Richard Dawkins. He was Christopher Hitchens’ teammate in a public debate on the proposition “The Catholic church is a force for good in the world”, and I’m certain that, being gay himself, he’s sure to be involved in the LGBT movement as well. I mostly love him for HG2G and Fry and Laurie, though I’m sure others will fill in more of the highlights of his CV.

  • Mel

    He is an amazing actor and writer, performing his whole life with people like Hugh Laurie and Emma Thompson. He’s openly gay and a cutie to boot. I’m disappointed you used the term “meh” before doing some research oh Stephen, congrats to him!

  • Matt Miller

    This might change your mind.

    – Matt

  • stevesie

    All of the above comments are fitting. You really should have looked into his resume. Something the others haven’t touched on is his efforts to advance the cause of mental illness– while he himself is bipolar, he has done much more than lead by example. His documentary on manic depression got major airtime. See also his support to the anti-death penalty organization Reprieve:

  • Andrew

    Here a link to Fry and Hitchens on the British show Intelligence Squared that Sesoron mentioned (part 1 of 5)Fry’s a good choice.

  • Brian-sama

    I suppose this is a relatively minor thing compared to his work for various social justice causes, but he’s absolutely hilarious as Reaver in the Fable series of video games.

  • Lauren

    plus he routinely calls religion silly and make believe on his panal show QI which is the BEST SHOW EVAH!!!!

  • SarahNaut

    Watch some QI on youtube. Hilarious! Stephen Fry is a fantastic actor, comedian, and commentator.

    There is also the series “Last Chance to See” which contains this hilarity which had my avian loving Evolution professor in tears.

  • Stephen Fry is great. A high profile atheist, who constantly spreads rationalism and debunks myths on his current show QI (which also happens to be hilarious more often than not, depending on the guests of the week…many of which tend to be atheists as well), but he helped push secularism into the mainstream in the 80’s with his “A Bit of Fry and Laurie” series with Hugh Laurie (who happens to be a high profile atheist on a great American TV show you might have heard of, called “House”)

    He’s even done recordings of old Douglas Adams books, and is reviving “Last Chance to See” as a miniseries for the BBC.

    To hear you say “meh” is pretty shocking.

    Oh, he’s also on twitter, correcting people’s grammar and generally being pretty silly (in a good way)…not sure if that’s a plus or minus in the “meh” book…but…yeah.

  • Ian

    In the age of google and wikipedia ‘I’m just not very familiar with him’ isn’t much of an excuse… you might also want to check out his popular tv show, QI.

  • He’s a staple of British culture, not “kinda like Ricky Gervais” at all. Gervais has only been on the scene in the last 10 years. I was much more surprised at Joss Whedon’s selection than Fry’s.

    Yes, he’s been involved in comedy for years and yes, he’s debated alongside Hitchens, and he’s been one of the foremost critics of the Catholic Church, but he’s also immensely intelligent and embodies the humanist principles of reason, learning and self-improvement. A cultural lifetime achievement award encompasses much more than just being an outspoken atheist.

  • I know – I’m linking you to Wikipedia, but…

    look at the sections: Other series, Literature, Acclaim & Views on religion.

  • flatlander100


    Research first, conclusions second is generally a good policy for bloggers — for anyone — to follow. Would have served you will in this instance. Mr. Fry was not nominated for being a comic who occasionally does an atheist shtick. You could reasonably argue that there were others on the nomination list who were more worthy of the award, but I don’t think you can reasonably maintain that Mr. Fry didn’t belong on that list or that he’s a mere celebrity light-weight insofar as achievement as a “cultural humanist” is concerned.

  • MikeW

    @Andrew Thanks for posting the Intelligence Squared Debate. I was going to post it if you didn’t.

  • I’m an atheist but… Stephen Fry is God!!!!

    Maybe Americans just aren’t as familiar with him as Brits, but over here, we all know that Stephen Fry is the height of awesome. He’s a national treasure for heaven’s sake! 😛

    See? Weebl knows 🙂

  • Stephen fry is one of the greatest people of all time. He’s incredibly famous and prolific. His tv show qi promotes not only education and some charities, but also is a platform for him discussing atheism and critical thinking. He has been one of the leading supporters of the gay community, promoting compassion and understanding to those with AIDS. He also is a huge supporter of mental health issues and made incredibly moving documentaries about his struggles with it. His twitter feed is one of the most popular and he uses that to support causes and direct people to things you’d probably approve of. he also has led many of the criticisms of the catholic church, beating dawkins to the punch. He is the greatest and smartest british celebrity since noel coward or oscar wilde.

    Also, read this:

  • Keri

    Meh indeed :/

    The man is a (uk) national treasure and adored by almost all. Comic, actor, writer, broadcaster, mental health supporter, anti-religion proponent, intellectual giant and a fabulous old queen (self confessed).

    But no, I’m afraid he’s not American. I’m sorry for your loss 🙂

  • Korinthian

    I love him as Jeeves.

    Not knowing who Stephen Fry is just sad.

  • anna nonymous

    that’s just sad. go luck up Stephen Fry. one of the best speakers I’ve seen. And funny. To me, he is up there with Dawkins and Hitch.
    Go luck up the speech he gave at Intelligence Square on Religion. This man is a genius.

  • Askwho

    Stephen Fry has been described as a British National Treasure, Renaissance Man, and an all round Good Egg. He has made people appreciate intelligence, and been a champion against the irrational. I can’t think of anyone more deserving.

  • @Mike

    The comment about being similar to Gervais was to point out the somewhat hypocrisy of fawning over one fellow from a different country because he’s a little more newsworthy here when Fry has actually been far more influential than someone who is comparatively a flash in the pan.

  • I like Stephen Fry.

    That said, witness the whiteness. And the maleness. I’m glad the white males are finally getting the recognition they deserve.


  • Stephen Fry was in V for Vendetta, which is chock-full of social commentary about the dangers of religious and sexual repression by dictatorships.

    He’s also a big support of the GNU free software movement.

    ‘Nuff said.

  • Raised Godless

    For shaaaame, Hermant. I had to come out of lurkitude to waggle my finger at you for your “meh.” I’d like to add this link to the suggestions others have made — his “The Importance of Unbelief.”

    Some of my favorite parts:

    “You can’t just say there’s a God because the world is beautiful; you have to account for bone cancer in children.”

    “The Greeks understood perfectly that if there were divine beings they are capricious, unkind, malicious mostly, temperamental, envious and mostly deeply unpleasant because that you can say well yes, all right, if there is going to be god or gods then you have to admit that they’re very at the very least capricious.”

  • So happy, he deserves all the recognition he can get. His former partner in crime Hugh Laurie seems to be well recognisable in the US now thanks to House but Fry has never had such a vehicle so he’s remained a British treasure. He’s exceptionally intelligent, articulate and well-versed in all manner of subjects. Oh, and he’s responsible, along with the likes of the Pythons, Peter Cook, etc for much of today’s comedy – there are few who have had such influence.

    Oh, and he’s a total geek who espouses open source software and Linux/GNU in particular 🙂

  • tim

    Stephen Fry deserves the award more than the prior years winners combined.

  • Todd

    Hemant’s “meh” about Stephen Fry was probably the best way to collect a ton of great arguments on how incredible Fry is.

    The Intelligence Squared debate is excellent. He has a long talk on The Big Think (with one section titled “The Importance of Unbelief”) – There is a brilliant kinetic typography video about language (, and another video where he stresses the importances of swearing ( And the previously mentioned QI is awesome!

    Sorry for being link-heavy, but you get the point. A YouTube search for “Stephen Fry Religion” will keep you busy for hours (and a search for “a bit of fry and laurie” will give a good comedic break, one of my favs:

  • Drew

    I can hardly say enough about him! Fry is very much a hero of mine, and in addition to his significance in entertainment, he’s really done some spectacular work for good.

    I have to mention he’s a brilliant dramatic and comic actor, (check out “A Bit of Fry and Laurie” and “Jeeves & Wooster”, and of course, “Wilde”) and a wonderful writer, but he’s also an academic and a true polymath.

    I would first point you to his Intelligence Squared debate with none other than Christopher Hitchens against the Catholic Church.
    Not to spoil it, but I just die every time I hear him demand:

    “…we must remember, as the point that was made, is that the church is very loose on moral evils, because although they try to accuse people like me, who believe in empiricism and the Enlightenment, of somehow what they call moral relativism, as if it’s some appalling sin, where what it actually means is thought, they for example thought that slavery was perfectly fine, absolutely okay, and then they didn’t. And what is the point of the Catholic church if it says ‘oh, well we couldn’t know better because nobody else did,’ then what are you for?

    But I think almost better than that is his TV series QI (Quite Interesting) where Fry and a panel of comedians have, for 8 seasons so far, made debunking common misconceptions incredibly hilarious! The show makes being well educated and well informed fun, and I think it works so well because Fry himself truly believes in public education as not just worthwhile, but enjoyable.

    On top of all that, he’s a technology buff, a Twitter celebrity, a political activist, and a very genuine and sweet person.

    Yeah, okay, so I kind of have a crush on him. Can you blame me?

  • Keri

    No I don’t blame you Drew, so do I 🙂

  • Rich Wilson

    What everyone else has said. @Palaverer right. I’d love to see the award reflect the diversity of atheism. But if it’s going to be a white male, then Fry is the opposite of ‘Meh’.

  • Sesoron

    @Steve Caldwell and Paul:

    One might say he’s a bit of a… GNU atheist.

    Also, in the matter of diversity, at least we can claim Rushdie as a “least we could do” in the direction of non-Europeans. Statistically, atheism does seem to be far more common among Europeans than Semitic (with the notable exception of Secular Judaism), African, or Indo-Iranian folks (such a thing to say on Hemant’s blog!), and slightly more common among men than women, but we could do a much better job representing. Maybe Julia Sweeney?

  • Three cheers for Stephen Fry!

    On another note, giving out a “Lifetime Achievement” award *every* year is not a good idea. Every 3-5 years would work much better at first, and the period between awards should naturally grow longer.

  • Huxley

    I think it’s a brilliant choice. I’m a fan of just about everything he does, he’s a great representative of humanism and has widespread media exposure. I would also recommend QI and Last Chance to See to anyone; the former for the humor, the skepticism and critical thinking, and the latter for just a beautiful and important series of nature documentary.

    And he is a wonderful communicator, as this clip finely illustrates:

    Enjoy. 🙂

  • Julia
  • BigPhut

    That ‘meh’ only tells me that more americans need to know who Steven Fry is.

  • Cheryl

    I am hopelessly in love with Stephen Fry for too many reasons to list here. When I’m feeling down, I simply watch this lovely example of how silly and human he is. QI and the Parthenon

  • AMW

    A wonderful choice. The YouTube link, already provided above by Matt Miller, cements it.

    Perhaps Susan Jacoby for the next one.

  • Huxley

    Oh, and when he appeared on Craig Ferguson’s show last year, Craig decided they would not have a studio audience at all and the two of them just talked for the whole hour. It never got boring. Fine moment in American late night TV.

  • The man is brilliant and has led an amazing life, very much in-the-know with big names and even royalty. Eloquent, well-read, emotive, and hilarious. His TV show QI is one of the things I most look forward to every week.

  • Jennifer Turner

    Not specifically about Stephen Fry, but there’s a nice interview with QI creator-producer John Lloyd and question setter John Mitchinson here:

    While the quality of the product can be somewhat variable (I still don’t see any good reason for Phill Jupitus to be involved), I do find the philosophy behind the show highly admirable.

  • Ibis

    How could anyone not be in love with Stephen Fry? I agree that his lifetime achievement has been more than all the other winners so far put together.

    p.s. In among all the good deeds, brilliant debates, and wonderful comedy, don’t forget he’s also a novelist and autobiographer.

  • Peter

    Oh dear, saying “meh” before looking.

    Personally I don’t know who Greg Graffin is on that list of past winners but I’d at least look into who he is before being so dismissive.

    Stephen is one of the great voices of reason in the UK.

    I think all these comments prove the Harvard Secular Society choose well.

    Are you amazed yet?

  • We’ve enjoyed Stephen Fry and certainly would love to go see him if he was here. We did see Vendetta and it was a very thoughtful movie on the state of society. A little twisted at times.
    Try and see him if you can.

  • Dylan

    You’ve really disappointed me today, Hemant. You dismiss one of the great popular voices of reason because you’re not familiar with him, and say that you could look him up but “that’s beside the point”? Stephen may not be too familiar to people in the US, but the rest of the world is way ahead of you.
    I wouldn’t dismiss Greg Graffin and Josh Whedon without at least googling to find out who the hell they are…

  • Wrich

    Perhaps this will shed a different light on it.

    Think of all the great works of Mr. Fry that Hemant will get to discover for the first time. We are all guilty of occasional lack of knowledge, but we gain from sharing experiences with our fellows.

    I can think of two or three people who I had never heard of before I started reading Friendly Athiest, so it is only fair that we share our love of Mr. Fry with anyone else, including Hemant, who might read our praise.

  • Alex

    Stephen is the only person abotu whom I have ever thought “I wonder if he would agree with this” before doing something. It’s not ‘beside the point’ to look him up, because he’s absolutely amazing and ‘meh’ really doesn’t sum up a national treasure.

  • Spinny


    Not familiar with Stephen Fry? How is this possible?

    He was the brave, closeted gay talk show host in “V for Vendetta” and the Cheshire Cat in Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland.”

    Aside from that, he is the “Fry” half of “A Bit of Fry and Laurie”, the other half being Hugh Laurie of “House M.D.” fame.

    My favorite Fry and Laurie sketch:

    Host of “QI”:

    I love him.

  • Michelle

    This has been educational for me as well. I follow him on Twitter, love QI when I can catch it, as well as some old Fry and Laurie. I even knew about his atheism and mental health work. What was news is his sexual orientation. Quite frankly, it never occurred to me to think about it and apparently I’ve missed those messages. See Hemant, my well chastised blogger, we can all learn something new.

  • BlackTantalus

    . . . and still nobody has mentioned Fry’s appearances on the TV series “Bones” as a psychiatrist & chef.

  • Rabid

    Stephen Fry is one of the only people I would seriously and unapologetically vote for as PRESIDENT OF THE FUCKING WORLD.

    That is all.

  • Tizzle

    I was gonna post the quote Drew made. I didn’t know much about Fry before I saw that debate, but now I proclaim his goodness to everyone I know. “Then what are you for?” really sticks in my mind as concisely summing up how I feel about religion.

  • bobsicle

    I have to admit that this post has made me comment for the first time, how can you dismiss Stephen Fry with only the most cursory of checks. He is one of the best humanists I know of. Defiantly deserving of the award.

  • I’m surprised nobody has mentioned Blackadder. Here’s Stephen Fry as a Roman on Hadrian’s Wall:

  • Karmakin

    Obviously the whiteness and maleness is a problem, but I honestly think it’s a symptom, and not a cause, of the white maledom domination in culture as a whole.

    But that said, for the criteria they’re looking for, which is large-scale public individuals who promote the values of humanism, intellectualism and rationality, to be honest, you’re not going to get too many people bigger than Fry. (Must..resist..bad…pun..)

  • Stephen Fry is, in his endearing and adorable way, my idol. He’s what I wish I could be. He is made of awesome with a side of bacon. And while he is a white male, I suppose his homosexuality might add to the diversity of the winners. I cannot think of someone who deserves the award more, for his commitment to empiricism, reason, atheism and humanism.

    And he makes me smile every time I see or hear him.

  • Charon

    Whoa, people. I didn’t say he didn’t deserve it. I just said I wasn’t familiar with him.

    Hemant, “meh” has the connotation that you think the choice was uninspired, and you don’t think much of Fry. Not that you don’t know much about Fry.

    It’s really not Fry’s fault that you don’t know anything about any British comedy from the last 30 years. (Or about his humanist works, either.)

    Also, isn’t part of the point of awards to help educate us about really awesome people? Do you recognize every Nobel winner each year? I’m a physicist, but I often don’t have prior knowledge of even the physics laureates.

  • Brian-sama

    Hemant, you’re normally so well-informed on these matters that the fact that you don’t know anything about Fry isn’t beside the point at all. In fact, I dare say it is the point! You’ve missed out on a very intelligent man who has been working alongside many of your idols for a long time, whose influence spreads not only into social activism, but into pure entertainment as well. You may not have intended your “meh” to be a slight against him, but it actually turns into a slight against you. Perhaps the better response would have been to do some digging to see what exactly made him so worthy of the award, rather than come across as dismissive of the man’s achievements.

  • I agree with Hemant’s ‘meh’, even though I’m a huge fan of Mr Fry.

    If you want to suggest that through a programme like QI that he is promoting reason and skepticism, then give him the award. He also is a great icon for creating a positive attitude towards homosexuality.

    But he’s not huge about promoting his lack of beliefs (not that he is under any obligation to).

    On QI, Alan Davies is a far greater athiest than Stephen Fry.

    But then I suppose this is a humanism award.

  • Daniel

    @Hemant, I also find it strange that you would “meh” someone getting an award when you aren’t familiar with them. The internet is a great tool; you could do enough research in 5 minutes to at least give an adequately informed “meh”.

    @David McNerney, you are right that this wasn’t an atheism award (although I’d argue that if you were more familiar with Fry’s books, articles, debates, and speeches you would think he was worthy of that too); it was a humanism award that was for someone in the Arts who popularized humanism (not atheism) and had humanistic values reflected in their art. I can’t think of anyone who fits those qualifications better than Stephen Fry.

  • Dr. Cuddles

    You don’t know who Steven Fry is! I’m gonna go down there and give you a piece of my mind, as soon as I can remember where I put my torch and pitchfork.

    Actually, I don’t know who is either.

  • Tropp79

    Stephen Fry might very well be the single most respected Briton alive, he’s certainly among the most influential ones. He’s utterly, amazingly wonderful.

  • Greg

    Like other people, I also agree that if someone is white and male they should automatically be disqualified from any award.

    In case my sarcasm isn’t obvious, anything like that sentiment really deserves a ‘meh’.

    Awards are given to the people that deserve it the most for their achievements. You can argue that people should do more to get a varied array of faces as prominent atheists, if you like, but immediately you suggest that awards should be handed out based upon the colour of someone’s skin, rather than what they have achieved, then you are a racist (and sexist). You’re not just being racist towards white people, or sexist towards men, either – you’re arguably being even more so towards everyone else. (The implication being that they aren’t good enough to deserve the award by right.)

    Anyway, back to the real topic of the post. Hemant – if there is a god, then that being is Stephen Fry. I don’t want to repeat what everyone else has said, but I just have to say: I’m flabbergasted you haven’t heard of him. Articulate, intelligent, funny, he’s worth your time looking in to.

    (Also, as no-one else has mentioned it, he did the audio-books for Harry Potter… ;))

  • Kyle

    @greg Jim Dale did the audio books for Harry Potter which is why no one else has mentioned it. Jim Dale also was the narrator for the short lived tv show “Pushing Daisies” which is how I know this.

  • Frances

    Let me add to the ranks saying that Stephen Fry is excellent. He is not well-known in the US except for his occasional role as the psychiatrist on Bones, but he is truly one of the funniest people alive. His close friend Emma Thompson once said, “He is 90% gay and 10% other.”

    I normally do not fawn over celebrities, but he is the only famous person I have ever written a letter to. If you have Netflix, go watch A Bit of Fry and Laurie now. It is certainly British humor, but it is the single most hilarious show I have ever seen. Every episode makes me laugh out loud, often uncontrollably, which is hard to make me do. A lot of the mocking in the early seasons is directed at Margaret Thatcher, but it is surprisingly applicable even now. They once did an entire sketch about ampersands. How can you not want to watch that?

  • Kenny

    “Meh” ?

    Seriously? Trying using Google or Youtube to find out how amazing this guy is. And that’s just his atheism. He’s done loads of other humanist pro science stuff.

  • Heidi

    Stephen Fry was in V for Vendetta,

    Oh, that guy! Hated the movie except for him and the girl from the bathroom letter. “You cut my HAIR! And tortured me.” Right.

    It’s not just you, Hemant. I’ve heard the name, and I’ve heard that he’s the funniest guy EVAR. But that was the extent of my Stephen Fry knowledge until just now.

    Joss and Adam, OTOH, are on my list of nerd crushes.

  • Andrew

    @ MikeW
    Your welcome,I also found a clip that happened after the debate.
    Hitchens and Fry vs. Ann Widdecombe on The Ten Commandments

    I can’t be alone in thinking that this clip sounds like Ann.

  • Carlos52

    Hey, it looks like you’ll have to post something about Mr. Fry. Have a look at some of the linked material in the posts. Here is my contribution: He made a documentary about clinic depression which I downloaded from the torrents (I live in Mexico, there is no other way to have a look at it) and I must say, it is kind of saving me! It is no silver bullet of course, but it is one of the tools I use to get myself out of this. That man deserves that prize!

  • Greg, you could win an award for ignorance. First of all, there is a lengthy list of women and people of color (or both) who are deserving of an award. Blag Hag has created a list of such deserving women.

    And she explains why the idea that white men are somehow always “more deserving” is complete bullshit.

    Greg, I think you know where to put your strawman.

  • Phil

    Really Hemant! You argue so succinctly against those who construct arguments based on ignorance and personal incredulity and then ‘meh’ Stephen Fry on the grounds that you don’t know who he is?

  • Julie

    I’m sorry, but I seem to remember a certain list of the 25 most prominent atheists, and a certain atheist blogger making the claim that if he hadn’t heard of them, then clearly they weren’t that prominent. Then to go and dismiss Stephen Fry with a shrug and demand for your readers to educate you? Well, egg on your face, Hemant. That’s British for, “You look a damn fool.”

  • @Julie

    I mirror your sentiment, but I have to say “You look a damn fool” is pretty much just as “British” as “egg on your face” 😉

  • Hemant: wow. I mean—really—”wow”.

    Other should have provided enough bona fides for Fry’s humanistic credentials (if not, and level of fame (albeit in the UK, but then again we’re just one of those minor US colonies, are we not?) to at least justify a nomination for this accolade, and presumably a reason for you to do a little research.

    If there was anyone within the USA’s non-believing community that I would have assumed to have a fair-to-decent grasp of non-USAian disbelief it was you, but I was so very obviously wrong. I guess I should thank you for disabusing me of that (fun-while-it-lasted) illusion.

  • GaR

    “meh” ?

    Seriously? You “meh” Stephen Fry?

  • thebigJ_A

    I love this blog, and the stuff you post, but your “Update” actually made it worse. It’s you who missed the point.

    Mr. Fry won that award because he deserves it. I’m sorry, but his being white just doesn’t factor in. Saying “meh” and “I’m sure he’s wonderful and all” earned you all the chastisement your readers have given you.

  • Michael

    Hemant, don’t be petulant. Lifetime achievement awards usually need to go to older people, by definition.

  • I could only ask, why not Fry? I think he’s brilliant, and have for some time. I could just as easily “meh” any of the other people on the list, so Hemant’s “meh” about Fry doesn’t bother me. To each his own, and all that. But I think Fry is as good of a selection as anybody else, and certainly better than most everybody else.

  • oh boy there you go again with this idea that there should be affirmative action when it comes to atheist awards and recognitions. Why do they need to pick a woman if the main factor in her being the final pick is that she is simply a woman? If the organization feels there isn’t a woman out there who matches up to the criteria needed, or that a man outranks the top women, then they have good reason to award the man. Women don’t get a free pass to an Outstanding Lifetime Achievement award simply because they are a woman.

    Women, work harder, beat the guys, then you’ll deserve it. Don’t just piss and moan over diversity until a woman gets picked. That will only make it less satisfying when one finally does win and you know it.

  • Michael

    No, I’m sorry. I understand the plan…

    New award for achievements in humanism: The comments “Meh”-morial!

  • GaR

    What’s this crap about finding a woman to award it to? If they award someone who’s less deserving but of a specific gender then that’s sexism in my book.

    No mention of how picking a gay dude for the prize is nice for the LGBT community either?

    I love this blog to bits, but this post is pretty sad.

  • Well I must say that I think that Stephen Fry deserves the award.

    I have a list of movies\TV series\documentaries that you simply must be watched to improve your appreciation of Fry both as a dramatic actor, as a comedian and as a social commentator.

    Peter’s Friends
    V for Vendetta
    Jeaves & Wooster
    The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive
    HIV and Me
    The ‘Intelligence Squared’ debate

    There is nothing wrong with not knowing something but now you know you don’t have that excuse.

  • Carl Toribio


    Stephen Fry did the British audiobook version of the Harry Potter books, and I must say they are bloody, bloody brilliant! He actually voices the characters, making the whole experience that much more immersive and awesome!

  • Greg

    Kyle – Jim Dale did the really rubbish American audio books ;), Stephen Fry did the incredibly good UK ones. (I know, I’ve listened to both – I’m a Potterholic :P)

    Palaverer, it is really ironic you called my post a strawman. REALLY ironic. (Incidentally, who was I supposedly ‘strawmanning’? My post was directed at people who believe that someone’s race and/or gender should be taken into account by people awarding the prize. This includes Hemant, incidentally.

    Hemant said:

    But the pressure’s really on for the Humanist Chaplaincy to find a woman to give this award to next year.

    I didn’t say at any time than white men are always more deserving. Nor did I say that there aren’t non-white men that have a good case for being awarded an, er, award. Please – reread my post, and tell me where I said that.

    What I said can pretty much be boiled down to this sentence:

    “A person’s gender and a person’s skin colour should in no way factor into a decision to give an award.”

    (Well, unless it is a prize specifically directed at a certain ‘race’/gender of people, obviously…)

    Someone who is complaining about someone having been given the award, without producing an argument other than the colour of someone’s skin or their gender is being (or at least sounds) racist and/or sexist. It’s pretty much the definition of sexism and racism.

    Don’t agree with the selection? Think it should be someone else? Great. Say why you think this other person should get the award instead. But stick to what they have done, not what they are, nor the skin colour and gender of the person that won or the ones that were awarded it last. What the hell has a previous winner got to do with the merits of the contestants of the current one?

    (Incidentally, coming from a disadvantaged background, whether due to poverty (there are poor and disadvantaged white people too, you know), race, or having faced problems of gender equality counts as something they have done. I’m not saying that you ignore the fact that it seems to be harder for non-whites in certain parts of the world to become atheists/spread atheism/etc. ‘Disadvantaged background’, obviously, in this context means a background in which achieving the things needed to win this prize has an added difficulty, and nothing more.)

    An apology would be nice, please.

  • Mihangel apYrs

    Fry is a relentless self-publicist with a deep vein of self-pity.

    He lost my respect when he was giving a Holocaust rememberence day speech to LizII, Blair and various other dignitaies.

    He found it easy to inject his jewish heitage into the speech but said nothing about his sexuality, which would also have taken into the extermination camps.

  • I didn’t realize that entertainers/comedians/writers/intellectuals existed in places other than in certain enclaves on either coast (or possibly by the great lakes) in the United States.

    Well, I learn something every day.

    Perhaps Stephen Fry will get greater recognition within the American secular community once he gets the attention and ire of the American evangelical community. Blame the American evangelicals for not calling Fry (yet) a tool of Satan. Then Fry will be an American secular community hero. It just the way us Americans think.

    That said, Hemant is giving a nice opportunity here for people to educate us myopic Americans about the awesomeness of Steven Fry.

  • Greg, I’m sorry you’re so clueless. The strawman to which I refer is the one you presented with sarcasm. No one thinks white men should be ineligible for rewards. You are missing the point by miles.

    You need to learn what institutional racism is and how it applies here. The people who give out these awards do not sit around saying, “What white men are deserving of this award?” What they do, is take into account the most obvious people who are obvious only because our entire culture takes white men more seriously and gives them more publicity and praise than everyone else.

    There is no such thing as reverse racism. When someone points out that there is a dearth of attention being paid to POC and women, that is an effort to combat racism and privilege.

    Your saying that skin color did not factor into the decision of who wins the awards is saying that, at least by the definition of the award, white men are just always better than other people. That POC and women just aren’t doing anything as awesome as these guys (rather than the reality which is that they ARE doing it and being overlooked). And that very idea is racist and sexist.

    This award was not given in a vacuum. Race and sex are factors in our culture every day whether you realize it or not (and you probably don’t because there’s a reason they call it “invisible privilege”). To not take them into account is to allow racism and sexism to go unchecked. Please educate yourself before spewing ignorance so arrogantly.

  • Greg

    Palaverer – this’ll be my last comment, because you seem to have no interest with what I am saying, and a lot of interest in some kind of mythical person you are responding to. If I was the person you were responding to, perhaps I would deserve to be called clueless.

    If I had meant the initial sentence I wouldn’t have pointed out it was dripping with sarcasm. Sure that was a slight strawman, but I flippin’ pointed out I wasn’t being serious with it. Sarcasm pretty much by definition exaggerates whatever you’re talking about. The rest of my post was firmly limited to the argument that the colour of someone’s skin in and of itself is a pro/con for their eligibility for an award.

    I have no need to educate myself about things I am already aware of. Your two responses so far have been utterly irrelevant to anything I said. Rather than just assuming that your misreading of what I said is correct, perhaps you could do me the common courtesy of taking my word for it that I have not said, nor believed, anything you claim I have.

    Incidentally, I quite agree that there is no such thing as reverse racism. I don’t see how such a phrase could be meaningful. I’ve not been talking about reverse racism – I’ve been talking about racism. Racism isn’t something that white people do to other ‘races’ – it is something all races can be guilty of doing to each other.

    rac·ism? ?
    [rey-siz-uhm] Show IPA
    a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to rule others.
    a policy, system of government, etc., based upon or fostering such a doctrine; discrimination.
    hatred or intolerance of another race or other races.

    Emphasis mine, as that is all I have been referring to.

    Look – it may be that people get overlooked for the award because of their skin. As I said in my last post, however, the way you counter that is by making good sound arguments for these people to deserve the award in the first place. And any good solid argument does not rely upon the colour of someone’s skin. Again, as I said in my last post, someone who has to fight from a position of disadvantage in order to get into a position where they can achieve the award (and I’m talking any award here), has got a damn big plus point in their favour. (Well, usually, anyway; I suppose it may depend on the precise requirements to win the award, but I can’t think of many exceptions.)

    But the fact that their skin colour is different is completely incidental. The plus point is surpassing the disadvantage, whatever the disadvantage is. They don’t deserve the award because they are black, they deserve the award because they have fought through hardship. This is just basic logic. No matter what skin colour you are, some people have it harder than others of the same skin colour. Some blacks have it harder than other blacks. Some whites have it harder than other whites. There is also overlap in all groups. Some people who are black have it easier than those that are white. The vast majority, perhaps, of whites have it easier than blacks. (At least, those blacks living in a white dominated society, anyway, even then vast may be overstating it.)

    Just being black does not in and of itself mean you have a harder time than being white. By talking about institutional racism, you are completely – utterly – missing the point. Does a white child of a homeless person have more or less hardship to get through then the child of – say – a black film star? Yes, institutional racism is a problem, but it is not the ONLY problem.

    Compare people’s achievements, and the hardships they themselves have had to suffer to get there.

    Finally, lets just take a fictional prize here that by necessity has to be given to someone who is really well known (it is part of the requirements). Is it much harder for members of minority groups to win this prize? Undoubtedly. But you don’t fix anything by awarding it to a less well known person.

    That’s like getting the wrong answer in a maths question, and altering the answer but not the working out. It doesn’t achieve anything. If, however, you fix the problem in the working out, and the right answer comes out as a result, then you’ve achieved something.

    In the fictional example above, fix the reasons why minorities aren’t as well known, and you’ve accomplished infinitely more than crossing out the wrong answer and putting in the right one.

  • Michael

    @Greg nice cause-effect analogy with the maths equation.

  • ATL-Apostate

    I’ll second Hemant’s “meh.”

    I’m sure he’s an awesome guy, and has a “very popular TV show” (which I’ve neither seen, nor heard of before). Congratulations to him.

    This is my first time hearing of Mr. Fry. My loss apparently.

  • Hemant, I love you dearly, but reacting to a major announcement like this with a “Meh” instead of immediately enlightening yourself, well… that’s the kind of behaviour I expect from religious people.

    People of faith say “I am unimpressed because I refuse to do the research required”. I expect prominent atheists who promote reason to do their homework _before_ commenting.

    Oh, and your update doesn’t help much, either; demanding that others do your homework for you is also a trademark debating tactic of the Christian right.

    p.s. Stephen Fry is a god. I saw him live last year and all he did was talk for two hours. I was transfixed the entire time. He is pure magic.

  • Greg, This isn’t an award based on popularity. It’s supposed to be an award for achievement. You keep telling me to make a case for why particular women and/or POC should be eligible for it (despite the fact that I already linked to such a list), but that is not the point on this thread. It is incumbent on the awarders to put a bit of effort into thinking about who might deserve the award based on achievement rather than fame, since that’s what the award is allegedly for.

    Why on earth would we wait for the entire culture to change so that minorities get more recognition before giving them more recognition? How would that even happen without individuals and individual groups taking the first steps by actively working to include women and POC? How the hell do you think that change is going to happen otherwise?

  • Hey Hemant,
    Just FYI, our students elect the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism. Let me assure you, several women were included, and Margaret Atwood was a very strong contender (perhaps next year…). Please, don’t cast aspersions on the choices of our undergraduate students – they put a lot of work into choosing the recipient. As a non-voting observer, I can assure you that it was a thoughtful decision.

  • Elm

    I think Stephen deserves the award for many reasons, but his ability to convey the beauty of a world without gods is a good enough reason in itself. The man’s use of language is sublime. I expound on this in my blog, ben trovato.

  • Aj


    This isn’t an award based on popularity

    No, the award is about popularity. The committee explicitly says it’s for people who popularize humanism in the arts through their popularity (excluding scientists and people primarily known for being an atheist). Fry’s résumé beats the others combined, even though they’re all some of the best in their fields, he’s extremely popular. If it was really about “achievement” I’m sure there would be a very diverse set of opinions on who deserves the award more.

    despite the fact that I already linked to such a list

    Did you actually read the list? I’m guessing no. Many do not contribute to the arts, many are only known through their writing about atheism, some aren’t outstanding, and others are young. It’s a legitimate question to ask you to name worthy female candidates, popular people who popularize humanism through the arts. The list is very short, and it has very stiff competition as can be seen from the previous winners.

    Why on earth would we wait for the entire culture to change so that minorities get more recognition before giving them more recognition?

    Awards mean nothing if they’re not about merit. The English speaking world is 85+% of European ancestry. Out of six people the award was given to one Indian. We’re all minorities in some way. Fry is Jewish and homosexual.

  • Verimius

    Next year they should base the award on how famous the nominees are in America. Humanist achievement might also be considered.

    Highly deserving choice, in my opinion.

  • GaR

    Still no retraction?

    I think various commenters have done a pretty good job of explaining why Fry is so awesome…

    In the mean time, here he is being interviewed by Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear. This is hilarious.

  • GaR

    I suppose I could include a link.

    Y’know, if I have to.

  • ATL-Apostate

    Hemant never said Fry wasn’t awesome, or undeserving just that he’d never heard of him.

    I’m sure he’s funny and wonderful and all, but I’m just not very familiar with him.

    Those were Hemant’s words, VERBATIM. What’s wrong with that?
    There are plenty of awesome people in the world I don’t know about yet. That doesn’t make them less awesome. But Hemant should be free to “meh” all he wants, especially when it’s a big award, and he’s not familiar with the winner.

    To those who compared Hemant to a fundy (“expecting others to do his research,” “remaining willfully ignorant…”), you’re wrong. I’m sure Hemant, just like the rest of us who don’t know who Fry is, have by now googled his ass and are now much more familiar with his work. It still doesn’t change the fact we hadn’t heard of him before the announcement.

    Consider me educated. But seriously guys, lay off Hemant. He was just “keeping it real,” as they say.

  • walkamungus

    Stephen Fry is a wonderful actor, writer, essayist and, yes, humanist.

    In addition to what’s been mentioned above (Bit of Fry & Laurie, Jeeves & Wooster, the British Harry Potter audiobooks), there’s his writing — fiction such as The Liar, The Hippopotamus, and Making History, and essays such as those collected in Moab Is My Washpot.

    He’s the ultimate Jeeves, and the ThinkGeek website has an alarm clock voiced by him in Jeeves style. It’s hilarious.

  • GaR


    it was the “meh” that got backs up.

  • Peter Tibbles

    Your comment is symptomatic of Americans, even intelligent ones, that their knowledge of anything beyond their border is minimal. Explains a lot about your country.

  • Anonymous

    Question ion though I know 9 months on this will never be answered.  Have you ever actually met any Americans or been to America?  Even if you had, do you really think you are such an authority on them as to make generalizations about a fairly diverse population of 300,000 million people living in fairly distinct regional subcultures?

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