Saturday, December 19, 2015

Answering Stephan Fry on his "world without God"

 photo stephen_fry_planet_word_zpsalh8ok0k.jpg
Stephen Fry

Stephan Fry is a comic actor who was often on Blackadder,(Brit com) and had a couple of shows with Hough Laurie ("House" on tv show House). Fry is a great actor and is hysterical, he's also a big time atheist and his atheistic propagandizing has gotten him called "an activist." He has a thing on youtube in which he extols the virtues of a world without God. His basic message seems to be that religion is only about governing external behavior while secular humanism is about the spiritual and inner depths plumbed ay the arts. At 0.52 he says it exactly. God of the Bible is only concerned with governing external behavior but we humanists care about the inner person. That is right before his diatribe on Prometheus.

He speaks to the greatness and poetry of the King James translation with its beautiful Elizabethan English. secular society fails the imagination because it did not replace the poetry of Bible. At that point he makes a statement that his, society the one he would bring in and to some extent the one his side has brought in, is not just unbelieving but "anti-theist." He asserts that the atheists must care about the internal the inner person, asserting that Christianity is just about controlling behavior. He asserts that they must not allow religion to have the beautiful and virtuous spiritual altruistic morally strong, not allow it to be "peculiar to religion." In a written quotation taken from this speech he says:

"I don't think we should ever allow religion the trick of maintaining that the spiritual and the beautiful and the noble and the altruistic and the morally strong and the virtuous are in any way inventions of religion or particular or peculiar to religion."
The Blasphemy Debate[1]

Religion is the origin of the concept of spirit. It's foolish to claim that the spiritual is not the monopoly of religion. It's only the watered down metaphorical version of spirit to which non religious thinking can lay claim. Art (including literature and poetry) are directly connected to religion. Of course I'm not saying that one must be religious to do art, but it would be foolish to pretend that they are antithetical. Fry doesn't exactly say that, and yet the impression is clearly created. German philosophers such as Hegel always associated spirit mind. It's often overlooked but the Greek word for spirit, pneuma, (nou-ma) while meaning primarily breath or wind also has carries a meaning of mind.[2]So the Greeks thought of breath as spirit but also associated it with life force, and thus with mind. The exercise of thought in writing or creating art is seen as "spiritual" idea of a real spirit as something immaterial that lives and thinks is seen as totally primitive. Most modern people would probably be willing to split the difference and to understand ourselves as having a spirit as life force and that as connected to intellect it also serves a metaphorical function. That metaphor is still more connected to religion and shared with art. In terms of Christian theology it can be understood and part of the imago dei.

He does make a statement about the barren road of Dawkins style of atheism, the reductive mentality. So he understands that problem. This is not your average illiterate atheist who thinks Daniel Dennett is great literature. He was an English major at Cambridge. I can have sympathy for his view point. He is the kind of atheist my brother and I admired and tried to be, literate and literary and appreciative of the arts. His speaking style is so smooth and with that debonair English highly educated manner he really puts it over. His use of the Prometheus myth he ties in with the Poet Shelly (Prometheus unbound) and his defiance of religion.

In the myth, Prometheus gives fire to man contrary to the will of the gods.. As punishment Zeus has him chained to a rock and a bird eats out hi liver every day, (the liver grows back because he's immortal). Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)was a major leader in the Romantic rebellion and especially its poetry. He is one of the greatest poets in the English language. Shelley himself expropriated the Prometheus myth as a symbol of romantic rebellion. The poet brining the light of knowledge and reason to man against the wishes of God. Here God stands for the authority structure politically, culturally and religiously. Shelley's wife Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein a story about a creature struggling against his creator. Fry is aware of all of this he points it out. I will pass over the odd coincidence that Lucifer is also light bearer. Of course in some versions of the myth Prometheus created man. But that doesn't fit because in Christian world view the creator of man is the creator of all things, and there can be no higher power.

According to Fry the Greeks are saying "we are as good as the gods." We have the liver. We are willing to defy the powers that be (for Fry that may mean society. organized religion, or God). He goes on in rhetorical bluster about how humanity is great. Here's a real point of contradiction in humanist ideology. Humanity is great, humanity invented God, but God ids no good. Despite the literacy and artistic appreciation Fry brings to the subject, the basic point--humanity can do it all without God--is hog wash. The truth of it is we can do all kinds of things without God. We are real good at screwing up the planet without God. We are veritable virtuosi at creating the potential for nuclear destruction. We show a fair degree of talent for murder, rape, and torture for political repression. The one thing we can't do without God is get our shit together as a species. 80,000 raped, tortured and murdered victims of the death squads in El Salvador, that was just in the 1980s. 60,000 in Guatemala, 70,000 victims of contra terror in Nicaragua. These are the things in which humanity excels.

Of course atheists try to blame Christianity for the evils of the world. We must admit Reagan fooled the Christians. Much of the support for his contra war came from evangelicals and fundamentalists. On the other hand, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot were atheists. The level of suffering and death due to communism was estimated at 1 million lives.[3] This is wrought by atheism, Marx's brilliant new humanity8 was as screwed up as the old humanity. But it's not as though I mean to impugn Humanity. We are created in the image of God, and so e can do wonderful things, even apart from any particular belief system. Not just art and literature but humans can excels at compassion, they act to save each other and sacrifice themselves for the good. Communism screwed itself but started with the best of intensions. From the Paris commune to the civil rights movement, from Mother jones to Mother Teresa, from Joan of Arc to Joan Baez humans have all beliefs have cone wonderful things. But they forget God they screw their movements as did communism. They thought they could theorize and manage their way into changing human nature.

It's true that we can screw up our movements with belief in God ad well. Look how the charismatic movement allowed itself to be coopted into a right wing organizing tool in the 80s. The core of communism is human nature. That can be good but when its bad it can be murderous. The core of religious belief is the supernatural reality of God.[4] Mystical experience lies at the core of all religious traditions. Mystical experience is transforming. It changes one's life in vital and dramatic and positive ways.[5]

Council on Spiritual Practices
Research Summary

Also called Transcendent Experiences, Ego-Transcendence, Intense Religious Experience, Peak Experiences, Mystical Experiences, Cosmic Consciousness Sources Wuthnow, Robert (1978). Peak Experiences: Some Empirical Tests. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 18 (3), 59-75.

Noble, Kathleen D. (1987). ``Psychological Health and the Experience of Transcendence.'' The Counseling Psychologist, 15 (4), 601-614.

Lukoff, David & Francis G. Lu (1988). ``Transpersonal psychology research review: Topic: Mystical experiences.'' Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 20 (2), 161-184.

Furthermore, Greeley found no evidence to support the orthodox belief that frequent mystic experiences or psychic experiences stem from deprivation or psychopathology. His ''mystics'' were generally better educated, more successful economically, and less racist, and they were rated substantially happier on measures of psychological well-being.
(Charles T. Tart, Psi: Scientific Studies of the Psychic Realm, p. 19.)

Two of the major studies
Long-Term Effects Wuthnow:

*Say their lives are more meaningful,
*think about meaning and purpose
*Know what purpose of life is
Meditate more
*Score higher on self-rated personal talents and capabilities
*Less likely to value material possessions, high pay, job security, fame, and having lots of friends
*Greater value on work for social change, solving social problems, helping needy
*Reflective, inner-directed, self-aware, self-confident life style


*Experience more productive of psychological health than illness
*Less authoritarian and dogmatic
*More assertive, imaginative, self-sufficient
*intelligent, relaxed
*High ego strength,
*relationships, symbolization, values,
*integration, allocentrism,
*psychological maturity,
*self-acceptance, self-worth,
*autonomy, authenticity, need for solitude,
*increased love and compassion

(3) Trend toward positive view among psychologists..[6]
Spiriutal Emergency


Trend toward positive view among psychologists. Spiriutal Emergency MYSTICAL OR UNITIVE EXPERIENCE a. clinical literature does not see mystical experience as pathyology

"Offsetting the clinical literature that views mystical experiences as pathological, many theorists (Bucke, 1961; Hood, 1974, 1976; James, 1961; Jung, 1973; Laski, 1968; Maslow, 1962, 1971; Stace, 1960; Underhill, 1955) have viewed mystical experiences as a sign of health and a powerful agent of transformation."

b. Most clinicians and clinical studies see postive.(Ibid)

"Results of a recent survey (Allman, et al,. 1992) suggest that most clinicians do not view mystical experiences as pathological. Also, studies by several researchers have found that people reporting mystical experiences scored lower on psychopathology scales and higher on measures of psychological well-being than controls (Caird, 1987; Hood, 1976, 1977, 1979; Spanos and Moretti, 1988)".

c. Incidence rate suggests no pathology.

"Numerous studies assessing the incidence of mystical experience (Back and Bourque, 1970; Greeley, 1974, 1987; Hay and Morisy, 1978; Hood, 1974, 1975, 1977; Thomas and Cooper, 1980) all support the conclusion that 30-40% of the population do have such experiences, suggesting that they are normal rather than pathological phenomena. In addition, a recent survey (Allman et al., 1992) has demonstrated that the number of patients who bring mystical experiences into treatment is not insignificant. Psychologists in full-time practice were asked to estimate the percentage of their clients over the past 12 months who had reported a mystical experience. The 285 respondents indicated that of the 20,670 clients seen during the past year, the incidence of mystical experience was 4.5%. This clearly challenges the GAP report on Mysticism, which claims that "mystical experiences are rarely observed in psychotherapeutic practice" (Group for Advancement of Psychiatry, 1976, p. 799).[8]
"we are captains of our soul" Fry adapts Henley's "Invictus." We will see if we are the captain of our souls when we face eternity. What do3s he do about the deterministic aspects of atheistic thought? That is by far the prevailing tendency among atheists. Chemical determinism is one of their most dominant positions. To hear most atheists on the nt tell it we are little more than automatons.
God no good if he exists. lqack of insight can't make a greatvclerical don't have smart Christians anymore. feeble nonesnwe
I mean it's perfectly obvious that if there were ever a God he has lost all possible taste. You've only got to look - forget the aggression and unpleasantness of the radical right or the Islamic hordes to the East - the sheer lack of intelligence and insight and ability to express themselves and to enthuse others of the priesthood and the clerisy here, in this country, and indeed in Europe, you know God once had Bach and Michelangelo on his side, he had Mozart, and now who does he have? People with ginger whiskers and tinted spectacles who reduce the glories of theology to a kind of sharing, you know?
(A distinctly possible side-swipe here in the then Archbishop of Canterbury being bearded and bespectacled)...[8]
So we see that beneath the Vanier of smooth talking education there lies a bigotry of the basest sort. Of we don't know if he's read any modern theologians so he would nod not know if there are any the likes of Leibniz or not. Of course the English are not known for theological Brilliants. He needs to turn to the Germans, the likes of Tillich, Bultmann, Bart and Moltmann. In England there was D.Z. Philips. Of course in America Plantinga and Alston. I guess that's the price they have to Pay for creating an environment hostile to belief. The English have N.T. Wright who is a brilliant scholar.

So Fry uses his smooth talk to feed the delusion of atheists that they can be good without God. That's why they are so kind and understanding and never insult anyone, because they are so full of that divine fire it just shines from them like the pyres of burning books in 1930s Germany. Hey it's hard enough to be good with God. We all know they are not achieving it without God.


[1] Stephan Fry with Christopher Hitchens.~ "Hay Festival pages," On the Guardian website no date given, online resource from Fry's website Age of the Sage, URL:

[2] Strongs Concordance with Hebrew and Greek Lexicon: on line copy URL

4151. pneuma pnyoo'-mah from 4154; a current of air, i.e. breath (blast) or a breeze; by analogy or figuratively, a spirit, i.e. (human) the rational soul, (by implication) vital principle, mental disposition, etc., or (superhuman) an angel, demon, or (divine) God, Christ's spirit, the Holy Spirit:--ghost, life, spirit(-ual, -ually), mind. Compare 5590. [3] Scholar's Corner, "Atheism's Body Count," website, URL: accessed !2/13/15

[4] Ralf Hood Jr., Theoretical Fruits from the Empirical Study of Mysticism: A Jamesian Perspective Journal für Psychologie, Jg. 16 (2008), Ausgabe 3], PDF URL:

[5] Joseph Hinman, The Trace of God: Rational Warrant for Belief, Colorado Springs: Grand Viaduct, 2014, 10-20.

[6] Council on Spiritual Practices, "Unitive Consciousness Research Summary," website URL:

Council on Spirir5ual Practices sounds like wacy New agers but they are not. The are respected psychologists and researchers.

[7] Spiritual Compotency Research Center. Onjline Resource
formerly called "Spiritual emergency."

[8] age of sage, op. cit.

the note about the reference to arch Bishop was made by the folks on the British Guardian website.


Kristen said...

Fry uses a bunch of straw-man arguments. I love the guy as an actor and comedian and wish him well, But I can't respect arguments that degrade religion into something it isn't just so your own beliefs can seem superior.

Joseph Hinman (Metacrock) said...

yea that was pretty silly. I agree I like him as an actor. you know what Hitchcock said about actors, they are as stupid as cattle.

7th Stooge said...

I agree he uses straw man arguments. Let's hope he's among the last of the "anti-theists" like Dawkins and Hitchens. Why are the Brits so vehemently anti-religion?

Joseph Hinman (Metacrock) said...

I don't know. Maybe it's their formalism. Religion isn't a feel good thing for them. the stuffy high church atmosphere. And Marxism was much more popular there.

JBsptfn said...

According to Robin Brace of UK Apologetics, he said that it happened around the 60's, when liberal politicians started to gain more and more control.

Joseph Hinman (Metacrock) said...

Yes I would think so. But the C of E guys are liberal, the Marxists are atheist.