In February of 2015, comedian Stephen Fry sat down for an interview with host Gay Byrne for the Irish state RTÉ One’s The Meaning of Life.
It produced one of the most memorable exchanges about religion in recent memory:
BYRNE: … Suppose it’s all true, and you walk up to the Pearly Gates, and you are confronted by God. What will Stephen Fry say to Him, Her, or It?
FRY: … 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 would say.
BYRNE: And you think you’re going to get in?
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 truck with it. 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 God, is quite clearly a maniac. An 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 eat outwards from the eyes. Why? Why did he do that to us? He could easily have made a creation in which that didn’t exist. It is simply not acceptable.
… Atheism is not just about not believing there’s a God, but on the assumption that, [if] there is one, what kind of God is He? It’s perfectly apparent: He is monstrous, utterly monstrous, and deserves no respect whatsoever. The moment you banish him, your life becomes simpler, purer, cleaner, and more worth living, in my opinion.
BYRNE: That sure is the longest answer to that question that I’ve ever got in this entire series.
His comments were watched millions of times and Fry later clarified that his remarks were not directed at one particular religion, saying he was “astonished by the response”. He told BBC Radio 4 at the time: “I’m most pleased I think that it’s got people talking. I’d never wish to offend anybody who is individually devout or pious and goes about their religious ways.”
The awards will be given out on June 8.