English comedian, actor and author Stephen Fry is being investigated for blasphemy, for a two-year-old interview on Irish television in which he said that if God created our misery-filled universe, then God is a mean-spirited, stupid and selfish maniac.
Cambridge-educated Fry, 59, who is Jewish and whose mother Marianne (née Newman) lost many of her relatives in Nazi concentration camps, was interviewed in 2015 for a program entitled “The Meaning of Life.” Fry, an atheist, said if God existed, he is monstrous and deserving of no respect, and that the moment one banishes him, life becomes better.
Fry made the comments upon being asked what he would say to God if it turned out that there was one and he met him, her or it at the pearly gates.
Fry’s reply, a clip of which has been viewed more than 7 million times on YouTube, prompted a formal complaint of blasphemy filed with the Irish police. The complaint was not initially acted upon, but the complainant followed up, and the police stated over the weekend that the complainant has now been contacted and the matter is under investigation.
Ireland’s 2009 Defamation Act provides that anyone “who publishes or utters blasphemous matter shall be guilty of an offense,” with a possible fine of up to €25,000. The Irish Independent said it was “highly unlikely,” however, that he would be prosecuted.
The complainant told the Irish paper it had been his “civic duty” to report Fry since the remarks were an alleged breach of the law even though, he said, he was not personally offended by them.
Fry told the TV show that, facing God, “I’d 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.”
Asked if he thought he’d gain entrance to heaven with that approach, Fry said he wouldn’t, and that he wouldn’t want to.
If he was met by the Greek gods, by contrast, Fry said, he would “have more truck with them,” because, “they didn’t present themselves as being all seeing, all wise, all kind, all beneficent.”
Elaborating, he added, “Because the god who created this universe, if it was created by God, is quite clearly a maniac, an utter maniac. Totally selfish. Totally. We have to spend our lives on our knees thanking him? What kind of god would do that?”
A spokesman for Fry would not comment since the incident is under investigation.
After the show was first screened, Fry told BBC Radio he was “astonished that it caused so viral an explosion on Twitter and elsewhere. I’m most pleased that it’s got people talking.”
He said he was “merely saying things that many finer heads than mine have said for hundreds of years, as far back as the Greeks” and stressed that “I never wished to offend anybody who is individually devout or pious, and indeed many Christians have been in touch with me to say that they are very glad that things should be talked about.”
“The Meaning Of Life” interviewer Gay Byrne, who seemed shocked by Fry’s comments, said Fry plainly “hadn’t wished to cause offense.”
A polymath whose career has brought him acclaim in TV (comedies, drama and panel shows), film, radio, theater, audio books (he is the voice of the UK Harry Potter audio books), Fry is also a successful author.
In April 2008, he was a signatory to a letter to the Guardian in which dozens of British Jews explained why they would not celebrate the next month’s 60th anniversary of the founding of Israel. “Surely it is now time to acknowledge the narrative of the other, the price paid by another people for European anti-Semitism and Hitler’s genocidal policies,” the letter said. “As Edward Said emphasized, what the Holocaust is to the Jews, the Naqba is to the Palestinians.” Fry is also a member of the British Jews for Justice for Palestinians organization.