Stephen Fry’s recent lambasting in a widely-viewed televised interview of god as an “evil, capricious, monstrous, maniac” because of the fact that the world he supposedly created has all manner of evils (as one example he mentioned an insect that makes children blind by burrowing in their eyes) was bound to elicit responses from god-apologists.
Giles Fraser takes a shot at defending god and the attempt is, frankly, pathetic. He takes the familiar stance that the god that Fry criticizes is not one that he believes in. He says that “there is no such thing as the God [Fry] imagines.” Fraser says that his own god is powerless and thus not responsible for these evils.
So what exactly is Fraser’s god if not the powerful creator of the universe? Here, as is almost always the case with people who think they have a sophisticated view of god, the language becomes mystical to the point of incoherence.
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. Of course this is real. Frighteningly real. Real enough to live and die for even.
So god is ‘frighteningly’ real but his existence is questionable? How does that work exactly? Is God merely a name we give to a set of our feelings and emotions? If so, why bother? We already have given those feelings and emotions quite adequate names. What exactly is gained by lumping them together and calling it god?
Here’s my take on what he’s saying. It’s actually kind of what I used to believe.
“Morality is important, but most people can’t handle the idea of what is ‘good’ because most people can’t handle abstractions very well. So when I talk about ‘God’ what I really mean is ‘a metaphor for that which I believe is good.’
However, because as I said most people can’t handle abstractions very well, if they want to go ahead and treat the metaphor as if it’s a real person, I won’t bother to try and stop them.”
This sounds like the old “God is a concept” argument. In the words of Dan Dennett: “God is not a concept — the concept of God is a concept.”
Anne Fenwick says
Well, it doesn’t sound like something you would meet after death So that settles that, then
The critic ought to address that criticism to the person who posed the question, ‘What do you say to God when you meet him at the pearly gates?” THAT is the person who doesn’t believe in God as “human hopes and fears,” or the “poetry of our lives.” Fry answered the question asked, not the question that was NOT asked.
Marcus Ranum says
Fraser says that his own god is powerless and thus not responsible for these evils.
Puny god. Who cares what it thinks, then? Worse, who’d worship such a sad thing?
Fraser response would contradict many standard Christian ideas about God, starting with the idea that God predates mankind. It would throw the special status of the bible in doubt, would make Jesus a magical creation of combined human experience, and would remove God from the position of creator of the universe.
And a nice illustration of why Thomism is dead, even as it remains the “official” metaphysics of the RCC.
Fraser has made some doubly unbelievable comments here. First, he is implicitly blaming the interviewer for asking Fry a meaningless question, as Fraser doesn’t believe there is a god that could judge the dead in heaven. So Fry was gracious enough to take the hypothetical seriously, but Fraser would not disdain to do so.
And secondly, Fraser informs us that Thomas Aquinus was an atheist. If one of the very greatest of Christian thinkers was an atheist and thus not a Christian, doesn’t that imply that Christianity has no great thinkers? I knew I thought that, but I didn’t know Fraser thought that.
Indeed, surely the correct response to Fraser is to ask him the same question. What would he do if he died and met God, and God _wasn’t_ a shape, or a name or any of those things, but an Omnipotent Creator with the power to save or damn him. What would you say then Giles? Would you, perhaps, give an answer not that different to Stephen Fry’s?
Hang on, isn’t “existence is not a predicate” the refutation of Aquinas’ ontological argument for God?
Raging Bee says
Brucegee1962: for people who can’t handle abstractions well, there’s the threat of Hell, which can be described in very clear, non-abstract detail. To the extent that religion really does give us morality, that’s how they do it.
If you can’t be sure your god even exists, how can you claim with a straight face that it created humans?
Martin Zeichner says
Comments are closed at The Guardian for Fraser’s opinion piece so I’ll say it here.
From Fraser’s piece:
“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 so the question posed is: which one will you follow when push comes to shove? You can follow what is right and get strung up for it. Or you can cosy up to power and do as you are told”
This is so transparently silly that it beggars belief. Assuming that Fraser’s god exists, it is entirely within its power to assume the role of powerlessness for about 30 some odd years 2000 years ago. Should god be worshipped for such passive aggressive behavior? According to Fraser the answer is, “Of course. It’s theologically revolutionary”. It may be “theologically revolutionary” but to anyone who observes humans and their motives it is anything but.
It seems that Fraser wants to replace Fry’s “evil, capricious, monstrous, maniac” with a passive aggressive Jewish mother.