Thursday, 5 February 2015

Frying tonight...

I have been thinking further, since my recent comments on Stephen Fry, and reading what a few others have to say.

Some commentators (eg Mark Lambert, here) have speculated that for Fry to be so angry at God may suggest that he really, deep down, is on the road to belief in Him.  They point, for example, to C S Lewis' anger (cf A Grief Observed).

I disagree. Lewis' essay, following the death of his beloved Joy, is marked by searing honesty and self-searching. I see none of that in Fry. 

I have a different theory altogether: I think Fry is attacking God as a proxy for attacking Christianity, especially Catholicism. For that is an enemy he does believe in, and which he hates. His contribution to the debate on whether the Catholic Church is a force for good in the world was a vicious, and inaccurate and intellectually lazy, polemic.

So I want to spend a few minutes discussing his claims in that debate. He starts by saying he will 'marshal my facts as well I can'

They may be summarised as:

1) The Church attacks the Enlightenment: Galileo was tortured for trying to explain the Copernican theory of the Universe.

2) Many people were burned for reading the Bible in English.

3) One of the principal burners and torturers was Thomas More: whom the Church recently has declared patron saint of politicians. More put people on the rack for daring to own a Bible in English.

4) The Church is the only owner of the truth for its billions of adherents, because they are uneducated and poor.

5) 'It is hard for me to be told that, as a gay man, I'm evil, because I think of myself as someone who is filled with love; whose only purpose in life was to achieve love, and who feels love for so much of nature and the world and everything else. I certainly don't need the victimisation that leads to playground bullying when someone says you are a disordered morally evil individual.'

6) Systematic child abuse and rape in Catholic Education, the celibacy, the monks, the nuns, the priesthood... this is not natural and normal in 2009...

7) 'Nearest to my heart': Aids in Africa - the Uganda experience. Condoms WORK! But this Pope (Benedict XVI) 'spreads the lie that condoms increase the incidence of AIDS.'

8) Church obsessed with sex - not us, with our permissive attitudes: no we have a healthy attitude - we like it, it's fun, it's jolly, it's a primary impulse...'

9) the wealth of the Church, its power, and self-justification: the Gallilean Carpenter would be kicked out...


Where does one start? For someone who begins by saying he will marshal facts, I think Fry could have looked a little more carefully at his history, rather than swallowing whole whatever antiCatholic bile he can find. 1, 2 and 3 are, to say the least, over-simplifications, where they are not lying propaganda.

4 is ludicrous. But I think we get to the nub at 5. Here Fry is demonstrating both the roots of his hatred of the Church, and the tragic misunderstanding at the heart of it.

He fails to understand that it is sin that is condemned as evil and morally disordered, not himself. No wonder he is upset. But for someone standing on a stage and pontificating, he really should have been a little more careful in his research.

One of the more perceptive comments on all this, was one I received in a private email: 'He hates God (and especially the Catholic Church) because he hates the idea that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.

Like most self-styled atheists he still has not got over his adolescent rebellion against the Ten Commandments - especially commandment number six.'

I also think he reveals a degree of self-regard that is worthy of note: 'I think of myself as someone who is filled with love; whose only purpose in life was to achieve love...' I can't help but wonder if his former lovers, dumped in his search for new young love, would see it in the same way. He also has remarkable powers of self-forgiveness to sustain such a self-image after putting thousands of pounds in the hands of murderous cocaine barons, given how harshly he feels the injustices he perceives others to commit... Or does he protest too much? Is one of the roots of his hatred a projection of his own deep unease with himself?

6 is something of a tired trope. Of course, the sexual abuse perpetrated by a small number of Catholic priests and brothers is a grave and terrible scandal. However, to try to make some causal link between their wickedness and their vocation is increasingly untenable. As the BBC, the political classes, the educational establishment, and so many other spheres start to yield their terrible secrets, it becomes clear that the problem lies elsewhere. Fry doesn't rant about how the BBC is corrupt, despite the huge number of cases of abuse involving BBC presenters and DJs, and the fact that the culture was collusive of abuse. Why? Because he approves of the BBC.

In fact, the common factors in the abusers across all these organisations is that they were raised precisely in the sort of culture that Fry wishes to establish and perpetuate: a permissive culture that views sex as 'fun, jolly, a primary impulse.'

Which leads me on to 7 and 8. Fry does not correctly present, still less engage with, what the Pope Emeritus pointed out. Whilst acknowledging that abstinence and fidelity are effective in the fight against AIDS, he claims that Condoms work; and that to deny that claim is a lie. But the evidence is against him. Condoms have a known failure rate in preventing pregnancy. Given that conception is possible only for a few days of a woman's cycle, we can reasonably expect the failure rate for AIDS prevention to be significantly higher, as AIDS can be caught on any day. Further, condoms are particularly poor protection in the case of homosexual anal sex. There is research data on all this, but Fry ignores it. 

So who is lying? The Church that says that abstinence and fidelity are the right way to combat AIDS - methods that have 100% success rate? Or Fry, who promotes a method that is known to fail, and that also, and this is the Pope Emeritus' point, contributes to a culture of promiscuity which is the sole reason for the AIDS epidemic. How fun and jolly promiscuity is, when it costs millions of lives...

His peroration that the Gallilean Carpenter would have been kicked out was also baseless. He rants against the wealth of the Church, but has given equally little thought to this. Does he campaign that the BBC should devote its vast resources to feeding the hungry? Or that the treasures in all the museums in the world should be sold to fund healthcare? No - because he approves of what they do.

The wealth of the Church, in terms of its buildings and art, are for the glory of God. We believe that to be important. Moreover, that worship of God in His glory has inspired more people to go and tend the poor and the sick than any other force in history.

Further, much of the wealth of the Church is not hers to dispose of in a cavalier way. As a small example, when my mother died, we gave the Oratory a silver Ciborium in her memory; with the understanding that it would be used in the Mass, and that she would be prayed for each time it was used.  The Oratory would be quite wrong to sell that and give the money to the poor or the sick. We are quite capable of giving to the poor and the sick in our mother's memory, and indeed have done so, substantially. But such reasoning is too subtle for Fry.

In short, what we have here is a man, once bright, who has allowed his prejudices and his success and popularity to prevent him engaging intelligently with a subject on which he clearly feels passionately. The sin of the Church is to tell him that he shouldn't live for hedonism alone. His response is to stamp his feet and throw things.

1 comment:

umblepie said...

Thank you for this balanced criticism of Stephen Fry's public
tirade against the Church. Why he gets so much publicity never ceases to amaze me.