Sunday, 4 October 2015

A response to Stephen Fry’s condemnation of God

Nicholas J. Bridgewater
3 October 2015

In an interview with RTÉ One, Stephen Fry, a well-known British comedian, writer and outspoken atheist, denounced God and explained why he—and many other atheists—don’t believe in God. It was particularly helpful because it lays out the real atheist argument without any reference to science and logic, which are entirely irrelevant to the question of ‘does God exist’. Arguments about the existence of God which resort to science fundamentally misunderstand what God is. They are based on the assumption that there is a material existence, called the universe or multi-verse (or whatever one prefers), filled with energy and matter within a space-time continuum. Within this universe or multiverse, which theists call ‘creation’, many atheists suppose that theists believe God to exist. In other words, God is part of existence and hence, His existence should be explained through scientific means. Since there is no scientific evidence for God, God does not exist.

That argument is fundamentally flawed, because it does not account for what many or most theists believe God to be. Granted, there are some theistic beliefs that hold that God is material. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and other Mormon offshoots believe that God has a body of flesh and bone, that Jesus is a separate god of flesh and bone and that human beings can also become gods (with a lower-case ‘g’) and, following the resurrection, their spirits will be reunited with their bodies and they will also be materially-existent gods. They also believe in the spirit world, which cannot be measured by science, but God—being physical in their view—is somehow within creation. Various ancient religions also believed that God or the pantheon of gods, were physical and lived on another plain (e.g. Asgard, Olympus, sacred mountains, etc.). Now, if such gods were physical, science could potentially prove or disprove their existence. However, most major religions reject such a view and hold that God is eternally transcendent. What does that mean? It means, essentially, that God does not exist within the universe—He exists beyond creation. Since He is neither composed of matter, nor energy, nor located anywhere within this universe—or any multiverse—then God’s existence is not a matter for science or scientific speculation. The concept of a scientific proof for the non-existence of God, then, is entirely baseless. As Stephen Jay Gould writes:

The Big Bang and evolution of the universe

“The net of science covers the empirical universe: what is it made of (fact) and why does it work this way (theory). The net of religion extends over questions of moral meaning and value. These two magisteria do not overlap, nor do they encompass all inquiry (consider, for starters, the magisterium of art and the meaning of beauty). To cite the arch clichés, we get the age of rocks, and religion retains the rock of ages; we study how the heavens go, and they determine how to go to heaven.” (Stephen Jay Gould, Nonoverlapping Magisteria)

Likewise, there are various logical arguments for God’s non-existence. These stem from attempts to refute the logical arguments for the existence of God. The problem with these are that they attempt to refute the existence of something unlimited and indefinable, in terms of definitions which are limited and defined. If there is a question of causality—what came first—then there must be a concept of firstness and cause. By defining first and cause, one has essentially used limited conceptions that are defined by time. God, however, exists beyond time as well as any conceptions of first and last. God is not some external super-being who, after an infinitude of time, suddenly decided to bring a physical creation into being at some defined time. This view might be held by some theists, but is not representative of most theologies. God did not create the universe at any particular time, nor did He create the universe directly, as this would imply some direct connection between the creation and the Creator, which is impossible. Believers in the Trinity and the concept of Jesus being literally God—a post-Biblical conception based on Roman pagan ideas—hold that God appeared in the flesh through Jesus Christ. This might well be criticised by atheists, for it would imply some direct connection between the created and the Creator—the mundane and the divine—but such a concept should not be used to criticise the existence of God. It can only be used to criticise the man-made concept of the Trinity and a literal understanding of the divine nature of Jesus Christ. The idea that God was born on earth, lived, died and rose again on the third day—that is illogical and should be criticised, but it should not confused with the issue of God’s existence or belief in God. In short, it is impossible to formulate logical arguments against the existence of God because such arguments are based on limited conceptions which cannot define or encompass the illimitable and indefinable. In the Book of Certitude, Bahá’u’lláh, the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, states:

“To every discerning and illuminated heart it is evident that God, the unknowable Essence, the Divine Being, is immensely exalted beyond every human attribute, such as corporeal existence, ascent and descent, egress and regress. Far be it from His glory that human tongue should adequately recount His praise, or that human heart comprehend His fathomless mystery. He is, and hath ever been, veiled in the ancient eternity of His Essence, and will remain in His Reality everlastingly hidden from the sight of men. ‘No vision taketh in Him, but He taketh in allvision; He is the Subtle, the All-Perceiving.’ No tie of direct intercourse can possibly bind Him to His creatures. He standeth exalted beyond and above all separation and union, all proximity and remoteness. No sign can indicate His presence or His absence; inasmuch as by a word of His command all that are in heaven and on earth have come to exist, and by His wish, which is the Primal Will itself, all have stepped out of utter nothingness into the realm of being, the world of the visible.” 

The Báb, the Forerunner of Bahá’u’lláh, held that God is an Eternal Essence, that the Primal Will—also called the Primal Word, the Primal Creation, the Primal Utterance and the Logos—was originated by the Eternal Essence (God) and it was this Primal Will which brought creation into being. Thus God did not directly create the universe but, rather, He uttered (i.e. originated) the Primal Word which brought everything into existence, as He writes:

“Concerning thy question about the meaning of the philosopher’s saying, ‘From the One proceedeth only One’: The statement is incorrect when the Cause is meant to be the Absolute Essence. For, verily, God hath been and will continue to be independent of all things, and nothing proceedeth from Him. His eternal praise is that He begetteth not, nor is He begotten. However, when the intention behind the statement is to refer to the Primal Utterance, which is created by God by Itself, for Itself, then verily it is the truth.... There is no doubt that the Eternal Essence hath ever been immeasurably exalted above any association with His creatures; how much less could It become the source out of which things proceed.” – The Báb, Tablet to Mírzá Sa‘íd, INBA 14:436-39
(quoted in Nader Saeidi (2008) Gateof the Heart: Understanding the Writings of the Báb (Waterloo, Ont.: Wilfrid Laurier University Press), pp. 196 – 198).

Likewise, in the Qur’án we find descriptions of God’s transcendence (Qur’án2:255):

“God. There is no god but He—the Living, the Self-subsisting, Eternal. No slumber can seize Him nor sleep. His are all things in the heavens and on earth. Who is there can intercede in His presence except as He permitteth? He knoweth what (appeareth to His creatures as) before or after or behind them. Nor shall they compass aught of His knowledge except as He willeth. His Throne doth extend over the heavens and the earth, and He feeleth no fatigue in guarding and preserving them for He is the Most High, the Supreme (in glory).” 

And in the Bible (Isaiah 55:8 - 9), where God is speaking through the Prophet Isaiah, He says:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” 

In his interview, Stephen Fry reveals the actual reason people do not believe in God and are, thus, atheists. Like most forms of belief, atheism is based on emotion and a set of personally-held values and appears to exist as a sort of ‘anti-religion religion’. There are, of course, atheists who simply do not believe in a god or higher power, but the vocal atheists who appear in the media or popular culture usually treat atheism as a kind of belief system and have a vendetta against religion. Their belief system is not really based on a good reason not to believe in God, but rather a collection of beliefs about why religion is bad and why the God taught in mainstream religion is not the kind of deity they would respect or worship. Richard Dawkins is a good example of this, as are many other such advocates of an ‘anti-religion religion’. The following are Stephen Fry’s remarks. I apologise for the offence that they may cause as, indeed, they are potentially offensive to all theists, but the truth can always be separated from error so there is nothing to be feared from letting truth and error stand side-by-side:

Interviewer: Suppose what Oscar believed in when he died, in spite of your protestations—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?

Stephen Fry: I will basically—what’s known as theodicy I think—I, 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 that is so full of injustice and pain? That’s what I’d say.

Interviewer: (bows his head as if Fry has struck a nerve) Do you think you’re going to get in with that?

Stephen 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 and all-beneficent because the God who created this universe—if it was created by a god—is quite clearly a maniac—utter maniac; totally selfish—tota... we have to spend a 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 that’s whole life cycle is to bury into the eyes of children and make them blind. They eat outwards from the eyes—huh—why? Why did you do that to us? You could have easily made a creation in which that didn’t exist. It is simply not acceptable. So, you know, atheism is not just about not believing there’s a God... on the assumption that there is one, what kind of God is he? It’s perfectly apparent that he’s monstrous—utterly monstrous—and deserves no respect whatsoever. The moment you banish him, your life becomes simpler, purer, cleaner; more worth living in my view.

Interviewer: That sure is the longest answer to that question that I ever got in this entire series.

Pluto (Hades) - a pagan Greek/Roman deity

What can we gather from the above interview? This is a common situation. Even when I was in school (year 9), I heard a similar statement by a maths teacher. He butted into a conversation I was having with another student about the existence of God. His intrusion seems characteristic of the atheist religion’s missionary zeal to convert theists to their cause, especially children. The proponents of not teaching religion to children are themselves the biggest proponents of teaching their own special religion. He said that, if he died, he would not worry about meeting God as, if God really existed, He would be forgiving so there’d be nothing to worry about and, if He didn’t, there would also not be anything to worry about but there’s no proof that God exists. Thank you, Mr. Atheist, for once again setting an impressionable young man straight so that he doesn’t fall into the error of believing in God—or no, actually, no thank you; that was not helpful. In any case, let me summarise Stephen Fry’s arguments above:

1. God is cruel because of bone cancer in children.
2. The world is full of misery, injustice and pain, which is God’s fault, not ours—so it’s absolutely evil. God is, therefore, a bad God.
3. At least the Greek gods were honest about being capricious and unreasonable. God is capricious and unreasonable even though He claims to be all-seeing, all-wise, all-kind and all-beneficent. In other words, God isn’t honest about what He says He is.
4. God expects us to be thankful, despite the misery we go through. Why should we thank Him?
5. There’s an insect which eats children’s eyes out from the inside
6. Life is purer, cleaner, more worth-living, when you become an atheist.

Let’s look at the first:

1. God is cruel because of bone cancer in children.

For most theists, these arguments would appear quite facile but, since they ring true for millions of people and, perhaps the majority of the 6.5 million people who viewed the short video, I will pick them apart. The first is bone cancer or, rather, why do children—who are completely innocent—have to suffer physically or otherwise? There are two considerations. Firstly, no one should have to suffer from cancer—period. Human beings are endowed with wisdom and reason. We are slow, weak creatures, yet we are capable of producing airplanes which fly thousands of feet into the sky, space craft which can reach the moon, submarines which can search out the depths of the oceans. We can harness electricity, radiation and radio waves for our purposes. We’ve developed fibre optic cables, vaccinations for many of the worst diseases, computers which can hold the whole of human knowledge, and advanced systems which allow many societies to enjoy lives free from the extremes of want and deprivation. Yeah, human beings are capable of a lot of great things. As such, we are also capable of curing cancer, HIV, and every other disease and affliction in existence. God gave us such inventiveness, reason, creativity and wisdom and, as such, He expects us to cure and eliminate every disease and malady, extend human life and create the best living situation for everyone. If that’s not happening yet, then we are to blame as a human race. We are not co-ordinating our efforts well enough and we are not working hard enough to eliminate cancer and other diseases which children suffer from.

The second consideration with regards to the first point is this—the question of suffering. Suffering exists for human betterment. God could have created a universe where disease never existed in the first place and there was no form of suffering whatsoever. In that case, our lives would be lived in complete comfort and then we would die. However, in that scenario, our lives would also be completely meaningless. What, then, is the meaning of life? There are two main realms of existence—the physical and the spiritual. Everything that scientists believe to exist, everything they can measure and ascertain, is the physical universe. In some religions, physical existence is simply referred to as ‘this world’ or ‘the world’. In the Bahá’í Writings, it is referred to as Násút. The spiritual world is often referred to as the ‘afterlife’, ‘heaven’ and ‘hell’, ‘paradise’, the ‘spirit world’, the ‘spiritual kingdom’, etc. In the Bahá’í Writings it is referred to as the ‘Kingdom’ or Malakút. The purpose of the physical world is to prepare human beings for entrance into the spiritual world (or ‘afterlife’). The afterlife is not, therefore, some kind of glorious retirement from the real world; in reality, this world is not the main purpose of our existence. This world, the entire physical existence, is just a preparation for our real and permanent existence in the afterlife, rather like nursery school is a preparation for primary, secondary and higher education or the womb is preparation for ‘life after birth’. Questioning the existence of an afterlife, then, is rather like questioning whether there is life after birth. We live on this earth to prepare ourselves for our life in the world to come. Just as an embryo develops arms, legs, eyes, organs and other functions in the womb, so too do people develop virtues, spiritual qualities and perfections in this life in order to prepare them for life in the spiritual kingdom. Our spiritual progress depends upon developing these qualities and development of these qualities depends upon our experiences and beliefs while living here in this world. Spiritual development and suffering are interlinked and one depends upon the other. Without suffering, we are incapable of spiritual development and, hence, incapable of achieving our purpose in life. Some degree of suffering will always be necessary, howevermuch we eliminate disease or overcome injustice, poverty and destitution. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the son of Bahá’u’lláh, put it thus:


“Question: ‘Does the soul progress more through sorrow or through the joy in this world?’
Answer: ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.—‘The mind and spirit of man advance when he is tried by suffering. The more the ground is ploughed the better the seed will grow, the better the harvest will be. Just as the plough furrows the earth deeply, purifying it of weeds and thistles, so suffering and tribulation free man from the petty affairs of this worldly life until he arrives at a state of complete detachment. His attitude in this world will be that of divine happiness. Man is, so to speak, unripe: the heat of the fire of suffering will mature him. Look back to the times past and you will find that the greatest men have suffered most.”

It is a fact of life that those who are the most comfortable are often the most devoid of good character. As Jesus Christ is reported to have said (Mark 10:25): “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” In other words, it is a rare thing for someone who has spent their life accumulating wealth to achieve his or her purpose in life. Jesus had twelve original disciples, known as the Twelve Apostles. The chief of these, Simon, who was known as Cephas (or Petros in Greek), and known to the world as St. Peter, was completely illiterate. He reckoned the day of the Sabbath by counting fish. Yet he was the chief Apostle of Jesus Christ. Jesus was the son of a carpenter/builder from an insignificant town in Galilee. While there are reports of Jesus reading in the synagogue (Luke 4:16), it is not at all clear that He was educated. All the remaining disciples were of humble, poor and uneducated backgrounds. Other disciples of Christ included Mary Magdalene, St. Mary and other women of humble means, as well as his brothers, notably St. James, the son of Joseph and Mary and half-brother of Jesus, who became the first Bishop of Jerusalem and Head of the Church after the crucifixion [source]. James wrote (5:1 - 6):

St. James the Just, brother of Jesus Christ

“Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten. Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days. Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth. Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter. Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you.”

The most educated of the early Christians was, perhaps, St. Paul, who was a rabbi and a Roman citizen who spoke Greek. But none of these characters were rich and comfortable and none of them lived lives free from suffering. All of them endured numerous troubles, poverty, persecution and, in some cases, death. Peter was crucified in Rome on an upside-down cross. James was also martyred, as were all the remaining disciples. James taught the early church to be selfless, free from attachment to material wealth and comforts and urged them to help the poor. He taught that faith without works was dead, that salvation was not a simple matter of ‘believing in Jesus and believing that His death cleansed one’s sins’. No, on the contrary; he taught the original message of Jesus Christ: abandon your material possessions, scatter abroad, teach the good news of love for one’s neighbour and service to the poor, teach the good news of the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven and the Kingdom of God on earth, teach the good news of the Messiah who has come to redeem the children of Israel and mankind. This was the message that St. James taught and which is summarised in the Epistle of St. James in the New Testament (James 1:27, 2:5-8, 24, 26):

“Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world... Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called? If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well... Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only... For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”

In short, extreme wealth and comfort lead to disregard for one’s fellow man, atrophy of virtue development and, instead, causes bad character traits and vices, such as ignorance, intolerance, hatred, antipathy, carelessness, recklessness, prejudice and contempt, attachment to material possessions, selfishness and egotism. All of these and many, many more, are injurious to spiritual development. Such evil qualities and traits lead one to fail at life. Even though one may have a billion dollars in his bank account, if he has no spiritual qualities, his entire life is vain and useless and, when he dies, he enters the state of existence called ‘hell’, ‘hellfire’, ‘the bottomless pit’, or the ‘everlasting abyss’. This is essentially a state in which the soul is remote from God and spiritually undeveloped. Only through God’s mercy and the intercession of holy ones and others near to God can the person overcome this handicap and escape the pain and suffering of remoteness.

Hell, fire, pit, etc. are all symbols which help to explain how utterly horrible it is to be in that condition. It’s as if an embryo within the womb has not developed at all but, instead, comes out without limbs, eyes, ears, or a mouth. Imagine such a horrible condition and that is what happens when we do not develop any virtues or spiritual qualities in life. That is real and true suffering because it is suffering in vain; it is self-imposed suffering. Suffering in this life, however, leads people to develop good qualities. For example, a poor person understands what it means to lack food and other necessities and, therefore, understands the need to help others. Someone who has experienced death in the family knows how precious each life is. Someone who gets ill can learn the need to take care of others. When a couple have young children, there is much trouble and difficulty in raising those children. They suffer much and they experience joy and they realise that hard work and sacrifice leads to good outcomes. In every case, there is a hidden benefit in suffering and God does not test anyone beyond their capacity. It is possible for people not to learn from suffering, by blaming God, or by causing others to suffer in turn. Our duty as human beings is to love and care for each other and our own sufferings help us to realise that and become better people

2. The world is full of misery, injustice and pain, which is God’s fault, not ours—so it’s absolutely evil. God is, therefore, a bad God.

Stephen Fry says there are three things which are absolutely terrible and evil about the universe: misery, injustice and pain. Let’s think about that for a moment. Misery is extreme suffering. We have already covered that topic above. Suffering should be alleviated by one’s fellow man but we are all liable to experience some kind of suffering and it is good for our spiritual development. It makes us what we are and allows us to develop the spiritual qualities and virtues we need to enter ‘heaven’, ‘paradise’ and the ‘good-pleasure of God’ in the afterlife. Absence of such qualities leads to ‘hell’, ‘hellfire’, the ‘bottomless pit’ and the ‘everlasting abyss’, which means remoteness from God. Misery is extreme suffering, which could be physical or emotional. There will always be some degree of emotional suffering, resulting from death or other circumstances. Such misery affects everyone at some point in their lives and is an unavoidable part of life that makes us stronger. Other forms of misery, caused by disease, extreme poverty, war, etc. simply should not exist. Human beings are capable of eradicating each one of these, one-by-one and will do so, in the course of time. God has been developing civilization through successive interventions throughout recorded history and aforetime. Abraham, Krishna, Moses, Zoroaster, Buddha, Christ and Muhammad have each laid the foundations of civilisational progress which is leading to a better world. Now, the Báb (1819 – 1850) and Bahá’u’lláh (1817 – 1892) have laid out the pattern for a new world order—a new system in which such miseries will be gradually and completely eradicated. Regardless of how many such tragedies and miseries we eradicate, however, there will always be some kind of physical suffering and it is up to each one of us to develop positively as a result and ask God to help and support us in our time of need.

Next, injustice. Injustice is a man-made state of affairs, so it is hardly fair to say it is God’s fault. Is it God’s fault that a tyrant gasses his population or drops cluster bombs on his own people? Is it God’s fault that Adolf Hitler decided to eradicate six million human beings? Is it God’s fault that the government of South Africa decided to implement apartheid? No, not at all. Each and every one of these things is a result of humans abusing their own free will. In each and every case, God has given a set of core teachings which are contained in every religion, and each of these core teachings tells us to live and act justly, establish justice, destroy tyranny and oppression and love our fellow man. Gradually, as the world comes to accept the message of Bahá’u’lláh, and the NewWorld Order which He outlined is brought into being, injustice and oppression will be eradicated from the face of the earth, as promised in the Bible and Qur’án, as well as the Zoroastrian, Hindu and Buddhist scriptures. The greatest minds of our age anticipate world peace and world government, and the development of international organisations such as the League of Nations, United Nations, European Union, NATO, the World Trade Organisation, etc. are all examples of steps towards this future of justice and equity. There is a divine standard of justice, however, and any and all people who suffer injustice in this world will be compensated for such suffering in the afterlife. Conversely, all those who commit acts of injustice in this world will be punished for it in the afterlife, thus maintaining a perfect balance of justice, if they are not already punished for it in this world. Can a more perfect balance of justice exist than this?

Pain? Are we to blame God for pain? Pain is a beneficial and necessary part of our physiology. If we touch fire, we feel pain. If we did not feel pain, then people would have died out as a species hundreds of thousands of years ago. Pain tells us that something is wrong and allows us to deal with it or seek help from others. So, there really is nothing wrong with pain. That being said, we should consciously try to remove pain where we can. Once we have been burnt, we know what to do about it and the next step is to bandage the wound and take a painkiller or apply a balm. Some degree of pain is needed when giving birth, in order for the woman to feel contractions and push the baby out. Nevertheless, painkillers should be taken to alleviate the suffering. As human beings, it is our duty to help others and help to reduce their suffering, but pain and suffering will always exist and they serve a beneficial function both physically and spiritually.

3. At least the Greek gods were honest about being capricious and unreasonable. God is capricious and unreasonable even though He claims to be all-seeing, all-wise, all-kind and all-beneficent. In other words, God isn’t honest about what He says He is.

The 12 Greek gods

Capricious can be defined as ‘subject to, led by, or indicative of a sudden, odd notion or unpredictable change; erratic’ (source). In what way is God capricious? Imagine a physician treating a patient. As the patient starts convulsing, the physician straps the patient down, preventing him from movement. When he stabilises, the physician unties the patient and administers some medicine. When the patient awakes, he thanks the doctor for his care and solicitude. Someone observes the entire scene but draws a different conclusion. He thinks that the physician is capricious. At every moment, the physician behaves differently, at one time imprisoning the patient unjustly, at another time forcing some poison down his throat, at another freeing the patient on a whim. Finally, the ignorant patient thanks the physician for his tortures. The observer says: ‘What a fool is that patient. He puts his trust and faith in that capricious, petty physician, who imprisons him for no reason, who feeds him poison, who causes him suffering and then releases him on a whim. Why should he thank that physician for being such a malicious, unreasonable and capricious being?’ The patient, however, finds the argument of the observer completely ridiculous and nonsensical. The patient, of course, is the theist and the observer, the atheist who is ignorant as to what he is observing.  The observer sees only the negative and is unaware of the positive. The physician is all-seeing, all-wise, so he knows what he is doing. He is completely aware of the physiology of his patient and the medicine and treatments needed to heal him. The observer, however, has no knowledge of medicine and sees only torture, caprice and unreason. Who is correct? In reality, a true believer in God is aware of the benefits of the medicine while the unbeliever is ignorant as to its benefits. Bahá’u’lláh writes:

“The All-Knowing Physician hath His finger on the pulse of mankind. He perceiveth the disease, and prescribeth, in His unerring wisdom, the remedy. Every age hath its own problem, and every soul its particular aspiration. The remedy the world needeth in its present-day afflictions can never be the same as that which a subsequent age may require. Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and center your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements.” – Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, CVI

4. God expects us to be thankful, despite the misery we go through. Why should we thank Him?

For the same reason that the patient thanks the physician who healed him. God gave us life, tests us according to our limits through suffering, and gives us spiritual rewards. He establishes a divine system of justice so that we are rewarded for our good deeds and punished for our bad deeds. He punishes the unjust and rewards the just. Since He created us from absolute nothingness, taught us love and happiness, why should we not thank Him? In reality, God is the object of all adoration and the source of all true joy and happiness. We should be patient and thankful in adversity, knowing that it is true medicine from a Divine Physician. Bahá’u’lláh writes:

“All praise to the unity of God, and all honour to Him, the sovereign Lord, the incomparable and all-glorious Ruler of the universe, Who, out of utter nothingness, hath created the reality of all things, Who, from naught, hath brought into being the most refined and subtle elements of His creation, and Who, rescuing His creatures from the abasement of remoteness and the perils of ultimate extinction, hath received them into His kingdom of incorruptible glory. Nothing short of His all-encompassing grace, His all-pervading mercy, could have possibly achieved it. How could it, otherwise, have been possible for sheer nothingness to have acquired by itself the worthiness and capacity to emerge from its state of non-existence into the realm of being?

“Having created the world and all that liveth and moveth therein, He, through the direct operation of His unconstrained and sovereign Will, chose to confer upon man the unique distinction and capacity to know Him and to love Him—a capacity that must needs be regarded as the generating impulse and the primary purpose underlying the whole of creation…. Upon the inmost reality of each and every created thing He hath shed the light of one of His names, and made it a recipient of the glory of one of His attributes. Upon the reality of man, however, He hath focused the radiance of all of His names and attributes, and made it a mirror of His own Self. Alone of all created things man hath been singled out for so great a favor, so enduring a bounty.” – Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, XXVII

5. There’s an insect which eats children’s eyes out from the inside

Human  botfly

Stephen Fry is presumably referring to the human botfly (Dermatobia hominis), one of several species of fly which produce larvae that paratisise humans and other animals, including other primates. The fly is native to the Americas from Southeastern Mexico to northern Argentina, Chile and Uruguay. While gruesome in its relationship to human beings, it is not regarded as being either abundant enough nor harmful enough to attain true pest status. What happens is the Dermatobia captures a mosquito and attaches its egg to the mosquito’s body and releases it. The egg then hatches while the mosquito is feeding and the larvae enter the person or animal through the bite or drop off the fly when it lands on the person or animal’s skin. They develop within the animal or person for eight weeks and then drop out for at least a week to pupate, typically in the soil. This is all rather horrible and disgusting, especially if it makes it into someone’s eye. At the same time, it can be treated by first applying several coats of nail polish to the area of the larva’s entrance which partially asphyxiates it or covering it in adhesive tape. Applying petroleum jelly over the location, it can then be removed with tweezers safely after a day. Oral use of an anti-parasitic medicine has also proved to be successful, leading to spontaneous emigration of the larva, which is useful in cases where the larva has made it into the inner canthus of the eye.

This is all sufficiently horrible to make someone completely terrified but, at the same time, it is rather a minor health concern compared to the numerous other diseases and maladies afflicting the earth. Given sufficient medical treatement, it can be removed easily with very minimal effort. The horror factor, therefore, which makes it an argument against the existence of God, is completely unjustified. There are very terrible diseases out there, but there are also doctors and other experts working on cures for those illnesses, stemming their spread and alleviating the suffering they cause. We, as human beings, are responsible for each other and have a duty to eradicate such diseases. I hope that the human botfly is made extinct—if practicable, but it is certainly not a valid argument. It’s an emotional argument based on exaggeration.

6. Life is purer, cleaner, more worth-living, when you become an atheist.

The Ten Commandments of the Prophet Moses

That would depend entirely on whether one knows the value and purpose of life. Life exists so that we can develop spiritually. If we can develop a good character, then our lives have meaning. As already mentioned, that usually takes hardship and suffering. Anyone who has ever had to deal with spoilt children, who are given their every desire and whose every whim is satisfied, are the most wretched children one can possibly encounter. They have ruined characters and make everyone they come into contact with utterly miserable. Why do we exist? Do we exist to live in pleasure on earth, enjoying all its material benefits, or do we exist for a higher purpose? God tells us why He created us—love. God loved us before He even brought us into being and it is because of that love that we exist. Just as a parent has children because of love for those unborn children, so likewise does God bring humanity and the whole of creation into existence because of His love for us. He wants us to be happy and He knows how we can achieve happiness. Our hearts are like mirrors. If we turn our hearts away from the sun, no light can shine in the mirror. If a plant is kept in the cupboard, it will die. Likewise, if we turn away from God, His love can never reach us. We can never experience that love, feel it and return it to Him. James, the brother of Jesus Christ, wrote (James 4:8): “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded”. Likewise, Bahá’u’lláh writes: “O SON OF BEING! Love Me, that I may love thee. If thou lovest Me not, My love can in no wise reach thee. Know this, O servant.” (Hidden Words of Bahá’u’lláh, From the Arabic, #5) If God loves us, it becomes us to love Him, just as it becomes a child to love his parents. 

Parents give children what they need, not what they want. A child wants chocolate and sweets. A parent gives him vegetables and rice. A child wants to play all day long. The parent sends the child to school. The child wants to hit his brother. The parent slaps the child on the wrist and puts him in time out. A child wants to buy new toys every day. The parent only gives the child new toys on special occasions. A good parent makes sure that a child does not have everything easy. He or she makes sure that the child experiences difficulties, overcomes challenges and learns from his mistakes. A good parent punishes a child, sends him to his room, deprives him of what he wants to do, on occasion  and verbally rebukes him. A good parent makes sure a child does his homework rather than watching all the cartoons he wants. A bad parent gives a child everything he or she wants. God is like a good parent, which is why the Bible refers to God as the ‘Everlasting Father’ (Isaiah 9:6). Children cry, children suffer, children get scrapes and burns, bump their heads and have difficulties, but that is how they become men and women.

Life, therefore, cannot be wholesome and have true fulfillment without God. Even if we develop positive characteristics, we are still shut away and turned away from the light when we turn away from God. We can do good works, charity, etc. but, without faith, all our good works are dead. Atheists believe that it is possible to be moral without being religious. That would depend on where one gets one’s morality from and what that standard of morality is. In popular culture, especially in heavily materialistic societies, it is considered acceptable to say a ‘white lie’ or lie to save oneself from a difficulty. It is also considered perfectly acceptable to have sex outside marriage; there is lack of clarity about how old the age of consent should be; adultery is romanticised; there is moral confusion about abortion, the death penalty, gay marriage, the role of religion in society, etc. etc. etc. There is, to put it simply, no universal consensus on what constitutes morality and virtue. Those values which are proclaimed as universal, such as fairness, equality and justice, kindness to one’s fellow man, etc. all have their origin in religion. It is impossible to know what is moral and what is not moral without reference to a universal standard and that universal standard, if devised by ordinary humans, can only be subjective and lead to further conflict and contention. A universal standard of morality can only be derived from a religious and moral code. The moral foundation of all religions is the same, though the social laws of religion evolve over time. The essence of Hinduism, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam is the same. They only differ in the complexity of their teachings, the social laws they established, and the cultural milieu in which they appeared. To be truly moral is to live in line with a divine standard of morality.

Chart showing progressive revelation from God through His Messengers

In conclusion, the arguments raised by Stephen Fry are primarily based on emotion rather than logic or reason. There are no valid scientific or logical arguments against the existence of God (though rational arguments can be made for the existence of a Primal Will, which brought all of creation into being). All that atheists can argue is that the God taught in mainstream religions is not just or good and, therefore, cannot exist. This argument is not valid because their argument is based entirely on the existence of suffering, which is beneficial to our spiritual and moral development. God is like a supreme and perfect Physician, who is All-knowing and All-wise, who understands our needs and our wants. He diagnoses the malady and provides the divine remedy, which is revealed religion. This religion is taught to mankind through a Divine Messenger, a Perfect Human Being, who helps mankind to develop from one stage of civilization to the next (e.g. Abraham, Krishna, Moses, Zoroaster, Buddha, Jesus Christ, Muhammad, etc.). The moral code which each Messenger teaches is the same while the social laws differ depending on the circumstances of the time in which they were revealed. To be truly moral is to follow the moral code of true religion and recognise the divine source of that spiritual medicine. God loves us and, because of His love, He created us. He is like a parent who does not always give us what we want, but always gives us what we need. To truly fulfill our purpose in life, we must love Him and follow His teachings, just as a mirror turns to the sun or a plant to the light. Without the light of the sun, we can never grow and develop. If we succeed in developing the virtues and spiritual qualities we need on earth, we enter Paradise in the afterlife while, if we fail to develop these qualities, we enter what religions refer to as Hell, or remoteness from God. I hope this has been a helpful rebuttal, and I truly hope that atheists will open their hearts and discover the true essence of religion.

I will end with these words of Bahá’u’lláh:

“Only when the lamp of search, of earnest striving, of longing desire, of passionate devotion, of fervid love, of rapture, and ecstasy, is kindled within the seeker’s heart, and the breeze of His loving-kindness is wafted upon his soul, will the darkness of error be dispelled, the mists of doubts and misgivings be dissipated, and the lights of knowledge and certitude envelop his being. At that hour will the Mystic Herald, bearing the joyful tidings of the Spirit, shine forth from the City of God resplendent as the morn, and, through the trumpet-blast of knowledge, will awaken the heart, the soul, and the spirit from the slumber of heedlessness. Then will the manifold favors and outpouring grace of the holy and everlasting Spirit confer such new life upon the seeker that he will find himself endowed with a new eye, a new ear, a new heart, and a new mind. He will contemplate the manifest signs of the universe, and will penetrate the hidden mysteries of the soul. Gazing with the eye of God, he will perceive within every atom a door that leadeth him to the stations of absolute certitude. He will discover in all things the mysteries of Divine Revelation, and the evidences of an everlasting Manifestation.” – Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, CXXV.

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