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About the delay/silence...

I've been unwell (still am a bit), mom's been in hospital. We're both tired and apathetic. When mom was in hospital, I used to come home from work and stare at the wall for a while before just going to bed at nine o'clock - unheard of for me! This illness is strange in that you just don't feel like doing anything. Well, that isn't entirely correct. Your brain just won't get itself into gear.
So this article was written two weeks ago and just needed some checking on some of the facts and to tidy up the markup (I write this all by hand in a simple text editor). It's taken me that long to get my crap together...

 

How dare you, God, how dare you!

At the beginning of February, Stephen Fry engaged in a mock conversation with God on a programme being recorded by RTÉ - The Meaning Of Life hosted by Gay Bryne. Gay asked Stephen what he would say to God if he met him (her, or it) at the pearly gates.
The response has given food to millions of trolls of every persuasion. It starts with:
I'd say ... bone cancer in children? What's that about? How dare you? How dare you create a world to 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 that is so full of injustice and pain. That's what I would say.
Obviously not a man to beat around the bush. I won't quote more, you really ought to go watch the video. The host's expressions are absolutely priceless.

Following that were all manner of reactions both in support of God and in support of atheism. Reverend Ian McNie (incoming head of Ireland's Presbyterian Church) said Stephen was spiritually blind. The Church of England's Archbishop Justin Welby had a more measured response in that while he obviously disagreed, he said that Stephen has a "God-given right to express his beliefs". The value of the pun was not missed on me. Some wondered why he was permitted to even say such things - for surely Islam would fatwa him and Judaism...well, that's gotta anti-Semitic surely...?

In reality - a religion that cannot stand criticism is not a religion worthy of even knowing the name of. Regardless of who it offends and what is said, we have in our world three major "has a God" type religions. We also have religions with different outlooks that don't involve Gods, involve a panoply of Gods, or sort-of-powerful-but-not-God-exactly being... and at least a dozen more I've never heard of. And all of this this is not even counting the numerous divisions within the major religions - the different types of Islam, the versions of Christianity with and without a Pope...
We also live in a world with science, technology, communications, and in some places the ability to think reasonably freely and to be able to express and articulate our thoughts and feelings.

So. It's a done deal right? Allah is a lie, Jesus never existed. There is no God.

But - wait. For all of our technology and science, the Arab lands appear to be becoming more Islamic (both the good and the bad incarnations), America looks like it is teetering on the brink of Christian Fundamentalism. BBC still broadcasts religious services on Sunday. People still go to Midnight Mass at Christmas. Huge numbers of people in the world still care about whether or not a Pope is elected. History (both ancient and modern) is littered with the corpses of religious conflict. Pick a God, any God, and you'll find precisely zero amounts of evidence to demonstrate such an entity exists. Read the bible and you'll find that the religion's own documentation describes what Stephen articulated as a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God. I've already touched on this when I examined the beginning of Genesis and asked from where does evil come?

No evidence. A God who created everything in a week utterly utterly fails to make himself clearly known. Yet... people believe. Or maybe more to the point, people still believe. And regardless of what Stephen says, people are going to carry on believing. Religion, a belief in a mystical sky fairy, should not be a special thing protected from harm by law. It should be open to examination. It should be open to criticism. By all means, protect the believers, a person should not be penalised or stigmatised just because their deity isn't the same as another person's deity. But the religion itself should be open to investigation. If it survives that, then there is some strength in it. Just as the stories of Moses, Jesus, and so on are still being told in our modern supposedly enlightened world.

 

As everybody has weighed in with their opinions on the matter, some rather interesting content turned up in The Guardian's "Comment is Free" column.

Here, for your delectation, a huge pile of nonsense by Giles Fraser who says "I don't believe in the God that Stephen Fry doesn't believe in either".

It starts of interestingly with:

These things are pinned on God by Fry because God is literally the creator of everything and all-powerful. God could have done something to change the situation, but he chose not to. QED: he is a bastard.

But instead of going on this tack and discussing what is logical and why God is not a bastard, it then gets a bit peculiar, maybe a bit too close to the wall for some:

Too many religious people actually worship power. They imagine the source of ultimate power, give it a name (God, Allah, Yahweh) etc, and then try and cosy up to it, aligning their interests with those of the boss. In this they are just the same as many non-religious people, except they believe that ultimate power is metaphysically situated. Whether it be a king or a prime minister or a CEO or God: the temptation is always to suck up to power.
The phrase that comes to mind is "holier than thou". Yes, people suck up to power. People regularly attempt to wield their "God" as a reason to dominate, suppress, or otherwise silence others. Consider the process of formulating laws in the UK. The House of Lords contain the "Lords Spiritual" - the five "great sees" plus the 21 most senior of the remaining 37 Bishops. Their relevance? Their belief. Though, note that this is specifically as members of The Church of England. The official faith of the Crown, regardless of whatever strange ideas Charles might have. Rabbis? None. Imams? None. Catholics? Henry VIII was such a nice guy...
One could, even, level this same accusation at The Pope himself. Who is he, exactly? Okay, he's the leader of the Catholic church, but... and? God and Jesus are the big deal aren't they? Who is the Pope supposed to be? We (Anglican Protestants) don't go all doolaley when a new Archbishop is chosen. Is the Pope special because he is special, or is the Pope special because he is sucking up to metaphysical power? That he is somehow aligned closer to The Big Guy Pulling The Strings?

It then gets outright weird:

This is why the Jesus story is, for me, the most theologically revolutionary story that there can be. Because it imagines God and power separated. God as a baby. God poor. God helpless on a cross. God with a mocking and ironic crown of thorns. In these scenes it is Caesar who has the power.

And this sentence alone depicts the writer, Giles Fraser, as being a Catholic. The concept of the Holy Trinity is the only explanation for that sentence that makes any sense. I first encountered this after listening to the newscaster at the end of The Goonies when the big majestic sail ship moves into view, he exclaims "Holy Mary Mother of God!". As a person raised Anglican, the only response is "say whut?".
Go wiki "holy trinity" if you are interested. Maybe it makes sense to Catholics. It sure as heck doesn't make sense to me.

There however lurks a danger in this. I quote again: "God poor. God helpless on a cross. God with a mocking and ironic crown of thorns.". God, your omnipotent all-powerful all-knowing infallible creator... poor, helpless, and being mocked. You might like to prefer the Protestant opinion where The Son Of God is exactly that. God's Son. Somebody else. The story isn't much better, mind you, after wiping out most living things in The Great Flood because of the amount of evil men around, he then sends his son to earth to be wiped out by evil men. If we are truly made in God's image, God himself is surely evil. If not, he is at least far from infallible. Two thousand years later, I'm not sure much of anything has changed. We are still bastards, never mind God.

Furthermore, this powerless thing subverts Fry's accusation of God's iniquity. For if we are imagining a God whose only power, indeed whose only existence, is love itself - and yes, this means we will have to think metaphorically about a lot of the Bible - then God cannot stand accused as the cause of humanity's suffering. Rather, by being human as well as divine, he fully shares in it.

Wait... WHAT? What kind of new-agey bollocks is this? God cannot be accused of humanity's suffering because he fully shares in it? You know this is the same sort of logic used by assholes who beat their wives with the words "look what you made me do".
Frankly, if God is real, I do not care one single tiny iota of a bit how much he may or may not "suffer" (in scare quotes). The important thing is that he, as the great creator, has the power to do something about it. That he prefers to do nothing and suffer with his creations shows that not only is he evil, he's also both sadistic and masochistic. I guess Fifty Shades will be on his Amazon wish list...

This is precisely the point of Christianity: that God is not some distant observer but suffers alongside all humanity. Which is why, even in the midst of absolute horror, he has the authority to whisper in my ear that all will be well.

Yeah, you tell yourself that when a bomb in a shopping centre has just gone off, half your family is dead, the other half are screaming their final screams and you realise that your own body is too broken for you to do anything other than scream with them. That, to me, would be absolute horror. And there is plenty of precedent - turn on the TV news any day you like. Times like that, God really wouldn't want to hear what I'd like to say if he should dare to whisper in my ear "don't worry dude, all is well" if I'm watching my daughter die in agony and knowing I'll shortly follow. If he is the loving caring God he is supposed to be, he just wouldn't do such things to people. Yet... such things happen. Explain.

Simply put: there is no such thing as the God he imagines. It is the flying teapot orbiting a distant planet about which nothing can be said. Such a God doesn't exist. Nilch. Nada. It's a nonsense.

Kudos for the orbiting teapot. I like the imagery.

Indeed, as no less an authority than Thomas Aquinas rightly insists, existence itself is a questionable predicate to use of God. For God is the story of human dreams and fears. God is the shape we try to make of our lives. God is the name of the respect we owe the planet. God is the poetry of our lives.

Wait - uhh - words fail me. So we started with Mr. Fry bopping Cthulhu on the nose, we went to a weak pitiable God who suffers, and now we're just going to erase the whole "god thing" entirely and say it's a name we apply to various aspects of the world around us? Dude...just what the hell kind of Christian are you?

Of course this is real. Frighteningly real. Real enough to live and die for even.

What's real? That we're all too bloody scared of our own mortality that we would prefer to believe in a loving benevolent God rather than "we die, the end"? That we delude ourselves and others with stories of ascending to a "better place" when our time here has finished? That centuries of male dominance have replaced "Mother Earth" with "Our Father" because men are utterly insecure over the fact that their contribution to the process of life is five minutes of grunting and then acting as a servant to the woman in labour? We men are so annoyed with that lack of relevance that we created entire religions with which to oppress women.
Yeah. It's real. All of it. But it ain't worth dying over...and it certainly ain't worth killing over.

 

A much more reasoned response was written in The Telegraph by Emma Barnett in a piece entitled Stephen Fry and his atheist flock be damned: I believe in God.

She begins:

Thirty years ago to the day, my mother received her confirmation that God exists: me.
Forty one years ago, my mother received her confirmation that if God exists, he is a bastard: me.
If you think God is a bastard, you obviously didn't know me as a child...

However, the silence of believers is no longer their choice - it's a requirement, because admitting belief has become socially taboo, especially in younger circles.
You mean, circles where such delusions are more critically examined than in days gone by? You may not understand, but I kind of view those who "talk to God" in roughly the same way as I view those who see fairies at the bottom of the garden. You, being a part of the delusion, will obviously feel that this is unfounded, unjustified, and how dare somebody such as me (some random ex-bastard with a blog) make such sweeping generalisations.
Fine. That's exactly what I'd expect to hear. People who see the fairies probably think they are real as well.
But - here's the clinch. Prove it. You know God is real? Fine. Prove it. Show me. Not some wishy-washy faith and look-at-this-old-book crap. Solid proof. If God made me then it shouldn't be too much of a stretch for him to knock on the door of my bedroom, walk in (through the door), click his fingers and have me sitting at my desk by the aquarium in Tokyo Tower. That's a pretty small thing to ask the guy that made an entire universe. And it's pretty impressive as far as demonstrations go. Can you ask him to do that? It'll take less of his time than screening out all those idiotic wishes where people want stuff to one-up their neighbours (they obviously never learned the commandment about not coveting their neighbour's ass).
Should I charge the battery in my camera? Or can we both accept that it ain't ever gonna happen.

Instead I write in defence of believers and their right not to be treated like they are deranged should they dare speak of their conviction.
The problem here is that for many years (and I'm talking in units of hundreds), religion in its varying forms has been used as a stick to oppress, to shame, and to control. Until not so long ago, people who chose not to believe were treated as if they were deranged by the very people who should have held themselves up to the moral standards they expect in others.

Underlying these patronising reactions is the supposition that believers are opposed to science, or in some way anti-Enlightenment. Again this is utter tosh. There are plenty of religious scientists around the world; good religion uses science well.
It is deeply ironic that the early science originated from Arabic scholars, for Christianity spent a long long time slapping down any science that dared to get in the way of theology, preferring to idolise God, blame the devil, and if that failed, there was a time when screaming "witches!" was the answer to everything. Perhaps the best example of religion vs science is the story of Galileo Galilei, something that it only took the Catholic church nearly a third of a millennium to realise that maybe threatening to torture him and holding him under house arrest for nine years (the rest of his life) was not the ideal way to deal with scientific discovery.

That's why so many were dismayed at the Church of England's weak and quite frankly abysmal refusal to support the three-parent baby law, passed by MPs earlier this week. This incredible scientific development alleviates pain and suffering - surely the mandate of the Church or any faith?
This is the mitochondria patching thing, right? Well, aside from the very obvious question regarding possibilities of a three-parent baby inheriting genetic factors from all three parents, I really fail to see how this is an advance.
Allow me to elaborate. The basic premise is that an egg is damaged (defective mitochondria), and this can be 'recovered' by extracting the nucleus of the egg with the defective mitochondria and inserting it into a healthy egg (the donor egg) which has had its nucleus removed. This resultant egg is then fertilised by sperm in the usual way.

There are numerous problems here. The first is that there is such a thing as mitochondrial DNA, which will remain in the hyrid egg. As a result of this, a three-parent child will contain genetic material from all three parents. It may be a smaller amount than nucleus DNA, but it is there. Time will tell as to what effect this will have; however I should point out that even though we claim to have mapped the human genome, there is so much we do not know regarding appearance, personality, and so on - things that may have a genetic basis if only we better understood the mechanisms.
The second problem - how is this an advance in any way, shape, or form? Sure, with this process we are taking an egg to create a hybrid egg to give a damaged egg a shot at being a viable baby.
Or, seen from the other side, we are killing the nucleus of a viable egg in order to patch up an egg that was not viable. If we could take this process and give two eggs the opportunity to "become", then that would be a breakthrough. But to terminate the potential of life in one egg in order to resuscitate the potential of life of a damaged egg? That's not an advance. To kill one to save one is really standing still.
The UK legalised this procedure last month. It is the only country to have done so.

Stephen Fry may feel that "the moment you banish him [God], life becomes simpler, purer, cleaner, more worth living" - but for millions of silent others, the polar opposite is true.
I did find that bit at the end of Stephen's rant speech to be somewhat interesting. I have not banished God from my life. Why? Well, how does one banish that which does not exist? I can banish the cat. If my (non-existent) daughter messed with my computer I could banish her. One day I might even banish the spiders. But God? That would be like me trying to banish the fire breathing dragon that is rampaging around the bedroom behind me. There's nothing there.

 

 

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Gavin Wraith, 13th March 2015, 00:27
With you all the way Rick. The way I see it, gods and superstitions were invented as a mechanism for coping with ignorance about matters suspected to be important. When Socrates, asked who created words, replies "Zeus made them", he is really saying "I do not know but it is a good question". When the myth says that Danae was impregnated by Zeus in the form of a shower of gold, what it really means is that nobody knew who little Perseus's dad was and gold must have come into the story somewhere.  
 
I can see that there could have been an evolutionary advantage in adopting such a mechanism. The trouble is the power aspect. Priests, augurs, leaders and kings carry off the trick of persuading the others that they have a special relationship with the gods. Only they can interpret the livers of the sacred chickens, the holy books, the whisperings of the wind, and so on. At least when you believe in many gods you tend not to exterminate your enemies, just in case their gods might actually punish your impiety. Polytheistic piety, in the ancient world, had more to do with demonstrating your humanity; temples were more like insurance companies, that distributed aid in times of crisis. But monotheism smashed that. If your god is THE GOD then those who do not follow the tenets of your religion are obviously evil and have to be obliterated. Love? Oh yes, you are doing them a favour obliterating them, are you not? It is for the sake of their souls.
tjm, 14th March 2015, 21:31
I hope you're both feeling better soon.

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