In February of 2015, comedian Stephen Fry sat down for an interview with host Gay Byrne for (Irish) 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.
Because this was state-run TV in Ireland, where a blasphemy law is still on the books, Fry is now being investigated over whether his comments violated the rules based on a complaint by a citizen. The Independent has the story:
Under the Defamation Act 2009 a person who publishes or utters blasphemous material “shall be guilty of an offence”. They are be liable upon conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding €25,000.
A member of the public, who asked not to be identified, told Independent.ie he travelled to Ennis Garda station, Co Clare that month to reports the alleged blasphemy.
“I told the Garda I wanted to report Fry for uttering blasphemy and RTE for publishing/broadcasting it and that I believed these were criminal offences under the Defamation Act 2009.
“I told the Garda that I did not want to include this as I had not personally been offended by Fry’s comments — I added that I simply believed that the comments made by Fry on RTÉ were criminal blasphemy and that I was doing my civic duty by reporting a crime.”
A couple of things about this investigation:
First, there’s a good chance nothing will come of it. As we speak, Stephen Colbert is being “investigated” by the FCC for saying of Donald Trump: “The only thing your mouth is good for is being Vladimir Putin’s cock holster.” But as many people have noted, the FCC is obligated to launch an investigation anytime someone complains to them. It doesn’t mean he’s guilty of anything beyond satire (or unintentional homophobia). Similarly, the Irish government will look into the Fry matter, but it doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily take action against him.
Second, if they don’t take action against him… what the hell is the point of the law? Just to scare off critics of the religion? If you have a law but refuse to enforce it, wouldn’t it be better to get rid of it?
The group Atheist Ireland actually welcomed the blasphemy probe because it showcases “a law that is silly, silencing, and dangerous.” And in solidarity with Fry, they published a list of 25 other “blasphemous” quotations — the same list they published in 2010 when the blasphemy law went into effect (and for which they were never punished).
If we are prosecuted, we will challenge the constitutionality of the blasphemy law. If we are not prosecuted, it will again highlight the absurdity of this law, which should be repealed immediately. We again call on the Irish Government to honour its commitment to hold a referendum to remove the ban on blasphemy from our Constitution.
It really would be glorious if Fry’s brilliant quotation ended up defeating the blasphemy law that never should have been enacted in the first place.