The blasphemy charges against comedian Stephen Fry have been dropped after the Irish Gardaí (which oversee such matters) were “unable to find a substantial number of outraged people.”
The controversy arose over the weekend as it was reported that Fry was being investigated for blasphemy after questioning God’s goodness in a 2015 interview.
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, a single complaint led to an investigation over whether Fry’s comments violated the rules.
For what it’s worth, the person who filed that complaint said he wasn’t personally offended by anything he said, but felt obligated to complain because Fry violated the letter of the law.
Now, that investigation is over before it ever really began, according to the Independent:
A well-placed source said: “This man was simply a witness and not an injured party. Gardaí were unable to find a substantial number of outraged people.
“For this reason the investigation has been concluded.”
This evening [the complainant] told Independent.ie: “I did my civic duty in reporting it. The guards did their duty in investigating it. I am satisfied with the result and I don’t want to comment further.”
However, that doesn’t mean we should be relieved. If anything, says Atheist Ireland’s Michael Nugent, it shows the blasphemy law isn’t being ignored, and that’s terrifying.
“This creates an incentive for people to demonstrate outrage when they see or hear something that they believe is blasphemous.
“It also shows that the police take our blasphemy law seriously, as indeed they should do, regardless of the nod and wink attitude of our legislators.”
The Gardai have not denied that the comments were grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matter held sacred by a religion.
We don’t know when the next investigation might happen, or what the outcome might be. But we know that it will have to involve a large number of people demonstrating outrage.
We have already seen around the world what can happen when large numbers of people demonstrate outrage about cartoons that they consider blasphemous.
We should be encouraging people to behave more proportionately when they see or hear something they find offensive, not creating incentives for large numbers of people to demonstrate outrage.
He’s absolutely right to raise these concerns.
What happens the next time someone complains about criticism of religion?
If the complainant really was offended by what Fry said, instead of merely reporting it, would this investigation still be going on?
What if the Gardaí found a “substantial” number of people whose feelings were hurt?
What would it take for someone to have to pay the blasphemy penalty of up to €25,000?
Unless Ireland repeals the blasphemy law entirely, these questions will continue looming over everyone who dares to criticize bad ideas associated with faith.
(Portions of this article were published earlier)