During an interview for RTÉ One’s The Meaning of Life that explored the issues about the purpose of life, religion, and life after death, a staunch atheist named Stephen Fry was asked by the presenter Gay Byrne what he would say if he was “confronted by God”. The question regarding this issue of course can be posed only in the conditional clause or via a hypothetical case; no other ways are possible. So far, I have no experience whatsoever of meeting God face to face literally. Perhaps do you have? The responses of Stephen Fry to the query are clearly a harsh direct attack on theism which he doesn’t believe in. Mr. Fry accuses God of being the ultimate source and cause of every suffering and pain in the world. I quote here part of the interview./*/
“Suppose it’s all true, and you walk up to the pearly gates, and are confronted by God,” asked Bryne. “What will Stephen Fry say to him, her, or it?”When hearing these fierce answers of Stephen Fry, the host Gay Byrne was shocked in such a way that later it was necessary for him to talk with a psychologist, so far as I know from the info on the Internet. I honestly have a great sympathy for Gay Byrne.
The 57-year-old atheist replied: “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. ”
The interview has been posted on the official website of The Richard Dawkins Foundation. Pupils and followers of Richard Dawkins of course extol Stephen Fry as highly as possible. But I don’t agree altogether with Stephen Fry’s opinion about God being the ultimate cause and source of pain and suffering in our world. In response to Stephen Fry and Dawkins’ pupils and followers, I have posted my opinions about the causes of suffering on the website, as follows.
I disagree completely! I can argue, there is nothing beneficial for both atheists and theists to state that a god (or whatever the name given to this entity) is the cause or the creator of suffering.
The first fact is that our huge universe itself has to experience entropy until its death. Entropy is the degree of chaos, disorder and randomness in any systems. All systems must gradually decline into disorder, chaos and, finally, demise. Scientifically we call it the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Part of this entropy is what humans experience as suffering-- a condition that everything in the universe constantly declines, more and more, worse and worse, until it faces total destruction and death. It could be very, very painful for us humans as we experience entropy physically and mentally. So, suffering (a term applied only for those sentient and conscious organisms) is part of the structure of the universe itself, is natural to nature itself. There is no god playing any role in this hard fact of the universe.
The second fact is that simple religious doctrines later were constructed by human ancestors to enable them to deal with the realities of suffering they saw happening around them. The first doctrines are certainly related to the fulfillment of the most basic human needs, that is, biological, physiological needs and then mental needs (we all know Abraham Maslow). The doctrines say, among other things, that a deity is together with them as they live and have to face suffering. So, in their understanding, their god is not the cause of suffering, but a deity that dwells together with them in the realities of suffering and other forms of unhappiness, a deity that helps them to be strong in the face of dukkha, a deity that shows its solidarity with humans when humans experience tragic happenings, and finally a deity that is doing everything necessary to set them free from suffering.
Of course, human ancestors formulated their "theology", or their religious doctrines, as simplest as they could, in line with their very simple life. This religious reflection started already as the oldest (natural) religion had been constructed by ancient humans 70.000 years ago (among Basarwa people in Ngamiland, Bostwana, South Africa) in which a great python made present via its big and long image or tablet was worshiped and its wise sayings (uttered via human channels) were awaited to direct their simple life.
In other words, suffering precedes any religions, any gods, any theologies. The first religious doctrines were invented later to make ancient humans able to make sense their life despite hardship and suffering. In this respect, religions function positively, and are constructive to human life, not at all destructive of human cognitive capacities. In the course of time, as those simple natural religions became more complex and complicated and eventually many forms of theism had been constructed, blaming gods as the cause of suffering entered the religious worldviews which our ancestors created. Of course, this is a bad development! And the atheist Stephen Fry unwisely supports this bad development!
I could not understand almost of atheists as they keep blaming and accusing gods when they are referring to the hard realities of suffering in our world. They don't believe in any gods, but, strangely, they are spending all their lifetimes to blame and accuse gods in relation to human suffering. They only can see gods as the sources of human suffering and agony, and they close their eyes to the saddening realities in our present world that much suffering in this world are created by humans themselves (theists and atheists) out of their greed, cowardice, shortsightedness and frailty incorporated into various systemic and structural institutions in our societies, in addition to the suffering due to natural disasters. The most stupid thing atheists are doing is that they reject the Second Law of Thermodynamics. We should also check the ways we usually think about anything happened in our world. If we think wrongly in relation to many life affairs, our mistaken thoughts often give birth to our own physical and mental sufferings. If this happens to us, why should we blame God as the source of our suffering, instead of managing well our own thoughts? Stop making God as our scapegoat!
IMHO, it’d be much better if atheists stop blaming any gods (because there are no gods, according to the most basic doctrine of the belief system called the New Atheism), and start to change the world in togetherness with theists and other spiritual groups currently existing in the world. Remember, there are at least 4 billion adults in this present world who adhere to various religions. If you atheists wish to change the world but you discount this huge number of believers, you are doing something that is strategically wrong and unwise. It is more likely that atheism will one day disappear from this world as it views itself as the enemy of all religious believers. There are so many noble religious people in this world who hold constructive theologies. Hi atheists, open your eyes widely. Keep your mind peaceful, serene, kind and friendly to all the people in this world.Those are my comments, posted online on Richard Dawkins’ official website./**/ What is your response? If you wish to know more about suffering in relation to the claims atheists make, you need to read another reflection of mine on the Trilemma of Epicurus. The link is here.
Jakarta, 4 Februari 2015
by ioanes rakhmat