The God Stephen Fry is attacking is not my God

Stephen Fry seems to have caused quite a ruckus by saying, amongst other things, that God is an “evil, capricious, monstrous maniac”. The Reverend Giles Fraser unsurprisingly takes issue with this. He rightly observes that the image of God as some kind of celestial dictator is not one that really fits the Christian story. It centres on a being defined not only by his power but by his decision to forgo that power and become human:

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.

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. By saying that he will stare ultimate power in the face and, without fear, call it by its real name, Fry has indicated he is on the side of the angels (even though he does not believe in them). Indeed, Fry is following in a long tradition of religious polemic, from Job to Blake and beyond.

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. 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.

2 thoughts on “The God Stephen Fry is attacking is not my God

  1. Hi Mark 🙂

    Fraser describes two Gods here.

    God 1:
    1. God is a man who was a baby, poor, and helpless on the cross.
    2. God is a being whose only power – indeed whose only existence – is love itself.
    3. God is fully human as well as fully divine; he fully shares in our suffering.
    4. God has the authority to whisper in our ears that all will be well.

    God 2:
    5. God is the story of human dreams and fears.
    6. God is the shape we try to make of our lives.
    7. God is the name of the respect we owe our planet.
    8. God is the poetry of our lives.
    9. God is not a wicked command and control astronaut.

    This is an interesting set of propositions. All of those in Set 1 are expressed by Fraser in a bet-hedging way: they are how the “story” “imagines” God to be. Or, they are how it might be if “we are imagining God” to be a certain way. And indeed, they are not consistent with each other.

    All of those in Set 2 are framed as a set of (more or less vacuous) propositions about what God actually is, because “of course” these things are real.

    When he describes the personal God he thinks Christians believe in, he frames it as something that people merely imagine (Set 1). And when his God looks like something that really exists (Set 2), it looks very unlike the God of Christianity (in Set 1). Is Fraser really just a conflicted atheist, or is he trying to pull off a bait-and-switch here?

    • Hi Sean,

      I think you’re saying that there’s a contradiction whereby Fraser imagines God being both personal and impersonal?

      If so I agree that’s a contradiction Christians have to deal with and a lot of trinitarianism is us trying to do that.

      I think that the particular contradictions here aren’t too hard to reconcile. God can be both a being who can make a conscious decision to do things and the notion God is a way of describing things in the universe. The universe in certain respects reflects its creator, so looking at things from that universe like ‘human hopes and dreams’ or poetry might also serve as a way of describing God.

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