Stephen Fry on Monotheism

An excerpt from Fry’s “Big Think” interview on the Importance of Unbelief.

From the transcript:

It’s interesting. Atheism comes into rather a bad press and I suppose I’d rather describe myself as a humanist, who human… I don’t believe in God. I don’t believe there is a God. If I were to believe in a god l would believe in gods. I think monotheism is the really ghastly thing. That is the absolutely staggering to me misapprehension. I can perfectly see why anybody might imagine that each thing, each thing that grows, each phenomenon that we… that accompanies us on our journey through life, the sky, the mountains, spirits of nature. I can imagine why man would wish to endow them with an inner something, an inner animus that they would call the god of that thing. I can see that. It’s a beautiful and charming way of looking at it and I can understand the Greek idea that there are these you know these principles of lightening or of war or of wisdom and to embody them, to personify them into a Athena or Aries or whichever god you want makes enormous sense…

I’m certainly inclined to agree with his interpretation of the ancient Greek view “that if there were divine beings they are capricious, unkind, malicious mostly, temperamental, envious and mostly deeply unpleasant.”

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45 Comments

Filed under Atheism, Religion

45 responses to “Stephen Fry on Monotheism

  1. Some provocative ideas. It is somewhat of a conceit to believe there would be only one, omnipotent being. Yet people feel secure in this belief.

  2. Penny

    Well I’m an agnostic, bordering on atheism. I was forced to go to Sunday school and prepare for my confirmation. I shall always remember, attested to by my family, how I ‘swore’ at the age of 12, on the church steps in a small Quebec town, that I did not want to be ‘confirmed. But, back in the 50’s it was all about who had the the nicest hat in church. What deplorable hypocracy. How well I remember. Tho I’ve gone through 2 rounds of chemo and was originally given 12-18 mos. to live, I can say I celebrated 6 yrs this Xmas. Do I attribute it to God, or a higher being, no way. I’m just one of those who don’t fit the stats. And, as my Onc. says, just keep on doing what you do. I’m still a smoker and a wine drinker. I’m sure my time will come, but in the meantime, I’ll enjoy what I enjoy. Sorry to be so long winded. My father had a major heart attack in the late 50’s. They gave him max. 5 yrs to live. He lived for 20+ yrs. Said if he had to give up his cheese he’d rather die. He was the only one that lived way longer than all the heart patients who where in at the same time as he. The hospital called my Mother each year to confirm he was still alive.

    Anywho Red, Happy 2010. Yes, I also had 2 glasses of wine along with my cheese.

  3. Penny — And a very Happy 2010 to you too!

    The hospital called my Mother each year to confirm he was still alive.

    Heh. That struck me as incredibly funny for some reason. I wonder what their motivation was… morbid curiosity perhaps?

    My earliest reading was mostly Greek & Roman mythology, so maybe that skewed my notion of how people view the world through a supernatural frame of reference. I could certain relate more to that than the Christian God and his disciples that I found to be phenomenally boring by contrast.

  4. Okhropir rumiani

    If you’ll forgive me, I am at a complete loss as to why any atheist might ponder the implications of monotheism vs. polytheism, or pantheism for that matter.

    Kinda neurotic not to mention moot.

  5. Penny it is wonderful that you have come out on the long end of statistics. Staying power is a lovely way of proving the medical Gods they are merely mortal bumbles.

  6. Guzzeuntite

    “Kinda neurotic not to mention moot.”

    That was exactly my response.

    The one thing this interview does lend some credence to: the proposition that atheism is a quasi-religion. “Which type of theism makes more sense to me as an atheist? I guess that would be a bunch of gods who are more like me.”

  7. Ti-Guy

    “Which type of theism makes more sense to me as an atheist? I guess that would be a bunch of gods who are more like me.”

    Well, what do you know…the Guzzler said something verging on the insightful

  8. beeloudglade

    Fry should stick to comedy. Theology isn’t his strong suit.

  9. benalbanach

    “Fry should stick to comedy. Theology isn’t his strong suit.”
    Heaven forbid (oops) the man should have an opinion on things theological. Let’s just leave that to priests and popes shall we ?
    I like Joseph Campbell’s “You have to get past God to get to God”. But then I’m no theologian either.

  10. Ti-Guy

    I just want both, the religious fundies and the atheist fundies to shut hell up. They haven’t said anything new in centuries. But then, without each other, they wouldn’t have much to say at all.

    Not a charge I lob at Fry, necessarily, since his satire addresses a lot more than religion, but the whole “debate” has become exceedingly tiresome. Besides, you get rid of one irrational belief and another one (like ‘democracy’ or ‘freedom’… 😉 ) just pops up to fill the void.

  11. Guzzeuntite

    “It is somewhat of a conceit to believe there would be only one, omnipotent being.”

    Actually, I think this is the opposite of conceit.

  12. Guzzeuntite

    “Well, what do you know…the Guzzler said something verging on the insightful.” — Ti-Guy

    Well, I am at work and pumped full of cold remedies. Usually, I’m just plain insightful.

  13. Ti-Guy

    Usually, I’m just plain insightful.

    No, you’re not. You’re usually stale and predictable, as you just now so vividly demonstrated.

    Back to what *I* want to talk about. I submit, in all seriousness, that freedom and democracy are both secular beliefs that are irrational. Discuss.

  14. Guzzeuntite

    “You’re usually stale and predictable.”

    Now, Ti-Guy, shame on you. I said the same thing of you just the other day.

  15. Guzzeuntite

    “[F]reedom and democracy are both secular beliefs that are irrational. Discuss.

    It’s all relative.

  16. Guzzeuntite

    “No, you’re not [just plain insightful]. You’re usually stale and predictable, as you just now so vividly demonstrated.” — Ti-Guy

    Then stop teeing them up for me.

  17. Ti-Guy

    Red: Does the Guzzler use an anonymous proxy?

  18. Guzzeuntite

    I’ll answer that, Tiggy: I do. I call it “Guzzeuntite.”

  19. Ti-Guy

    I can’t wait until the next 9/11. If there was any doubt y’all didn’t deserve it, the moral imbecility of at least half the American population, for which ample evidence has been provided by Americans themselves, unbidden and unasked for, leaves little doubt.

    I just hope they go for one of those awful fat state cities the next time, but I suppose it doesn’t suit Al Qaeda’s purposes to destroy something no one would miss anyway.

  20. Guzzeuntite

    “I can’t wait until the next 9/11. If there was any doubt y’all didn’t deserve it, the moral imbecility of at least half the American population, for which ample evidence has been provided by Americans themselves, unbidden and unasked for, leaves little doubt.” — another keeper from the always insane Ti-Guy

    Aw, Tiggy, it seems to be terribly easy to push your buttons.

    Is this what passes for polite discussion where you live?

  21. Guzzeuntite

    Check out the use of the phrase “moral imbecility” by Ti-Guy in that morally bankrupt statement above.

    Text book example of someone who has completely lost control of his mental faculties.

  22. Ti-Guy

    Aw, Tiggy, it seems to be terribly easy to push your buttons.

    You keep saying that. What does that mean, exactly?

  23. Guzzeuntite

    Google it, baby.

  24. TofKW

    freedom and democracy are both secular beliefs that are irrational

    About freedom being secular, any historical example I can dredge up shows religious rule as both autocratic and oppressive (especially to those who do not subscribe to the national religion), nothing relative there as Guzzeuntite put it. In terms of freedom being irrational …yes and definitely relative. Not so certain about democracy being irrational, at least no more so than feudalism, autocracy, corporatism (what the USA now is), anarchy or any other form of government you can think up. Personally I consider democracy as a fancy name for mob rule (to quote Thomas Jefferson ”A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine”) and the worst system of government humanity could develop, except for all the other types. As for democracy being secular, this is the experiment unfolding within Iran right now.

    Now back to the original topic, though I (like RT) can easily extrapolate Fry’s view that this was likely how the Greek deities all came to be, given our amassed knowledge of earth and its place within the universe which we’ve discovered over the past 3500 years since temples to Zeus and Athena were being erected, I have no idea how anyone can think that polytheism is somehow more rational than monotheism. If there is a divine reason for the big bang, it is most likely a single ‘god’ (I guess I’ll create matter today?) and vastly different than the God of traditional Christian/Islamic/Judaism teaching. Certainly not a personal one, and very, very much beyond anything we could comprehend.

    One can imagine that God created the universe at literally any time in the past. On the other hand, if the universe is expanding, there may be physical reasons why there had to be a beginning. One could imagine that God created the universe at the instant of the big bang, or even afterwards in just such a way as to make it look as though there had been a big bang, but it would be meaningless to suppose that it was created before the big bang. An expanding universe does not preclude a creator, but it does place limits on when he might have carried out his job! Stephen Hawkings “A Brief History of Time” (pgs 8-9)

  25. TofKW

    …and yes I’m trying to salvage RT’s post 🙂

  26. Guzzeuntite

    Oh, gag! TofKW. Prove to me you know what corporatism is. I bet you don’t.

    Hint: proponents of the free market hate it.

  27. Guzzeuntite

    Hawkins’s imagined God does not preclude a “personal” God, TofKW.

  28. TofKW

    To Guzzy…

    a) Corporatism is a system of economic, political, and social organization where corporate groups such as business, ethnic, farmer, labour, military, patronage, scientific, or religious groups are joined together into a single governing body in which the different groups are mandated to negotiate with each other to establish policies in the interest of the multiple groups within the body.

    Short answer, the USA has the best politicians that money can buy.

    b) Our personal God is much further above us, than humans are above a retrovirus. I can’t possibly see what personal interest God would have in your life or mine.

  29. Guzzeuntite

    If there was any doubt y’all didn’t deserve it, the moral imbecility … leaves little doubt.” — Ti-Guy

    One last poke at him*: As in the other thread, when Ti-Guy really loses it, his English skills desert him.

    _______________

    * Not really the “LAST” last poke.

  30. Ti-Guy

    …and yes I’m trying to salvage RT’s post…

    Yeah, well…until Novena up there perishes in the next 9/11, no post in is safe.

    …I’ve got my fingers crossed!

  31. Ti-Guy

    * Not really the “LAST” last poke.

    That’s right. Nothing will stop you until you’re outed.

  32. TofKW

    Also Guzzy, the Brian Mulroney administration’s turn towards the original Canada-US Free Trade Agreement in 1987 was what first made me question my membership in the party. And no I am not a proponent of giving up Canadian sovereignty. Free Trade Agreements are a very LIBERAL concept.
    Look it up.

    And yes I am a big proponent of the free market, which is why I still consider myself a proper conservative …unlike our federal party.

  33. Guzzeuntite

    “I’ve got my fingers crossed!” — Ti-Guy

    I sure you do, wacko.

    “Nothing will stop you until you’re outed.” – – TiGuy

    I’m sure you want to, fascist.

  34. Guzzeuntite

    “Our personal God is much further above us, than humans are above a retrovirus.”

    Sure. Wouldn’t surprise me.

    I can’t possibly see what personal interest God would have in your life or mine.” — TofKW

    1. We are not retroviruses.
    2. He doesn’t see us as retroviruses.

  35. benalbanach

    You do love yourself Guzz. Any idea why ?

  36. Guzzeuntite

    “You do love yourself Guzz.” — Banal

    Of course.

    “Any idea why ?”

    Because Ti-Guy hates me. If it weren’t for that, I’d think I was only OK.

  37. Ti-Guy

    Because Ti-Guy hates me.

    The old “They hate us for our freedoms” bit. It’s amazing just how widespread, firmly-held and personal that belief, which a lot of dismissed as political pandering, really is among those people.

    I hate you because you’re objectively hateful. And I’m sure the people who know you well could corroborate.

  38. Guzzeuntite

    “The old “They hate us for our freedoms” bit.”

    Oh, God. *Shakes head incredulously * No, no, no, no, no, no … NO.

    I am clearly talking about ME personally, you dumb twit, not my country, you absurd little troll.

    Why do I have to explain this to you, you miserable little basement-dwelling Cthulhu?

    You know what, you weeny little nimrod? I won’t explain it to you. Ponder it and figure it out yourself.

    And then post a comment telling me that you don’t care to ponder it.

  39. Guzzeuntite

    “I hate you because you’re objectively hateful.’ – Ti-Guy

    Ti-Guy, it doesn’t matter one whit WHY you hate me. It’s enough that you do, and THAT is why I hold myself in such high esteem.

    Wherever did you get the impression it mattered why you hate me?

  40. Ti-Guy

    Wherever did you get the impression it mattered why you hate me?

    Because you’ve been stalking me for years?

  41. How much do I regret responding to this post now…

  42. Guzzeuntite

    “Because you’ve been stalking me for years?”

    I don’t know whether I’ve said this in this thread or another today, but … get over yourself, Cthulhu.

    I’m stalking RT because of his rugged good looks.

  43. Guzzeuntite

    Keitho,

    You have yet to explain how the belief in a single, omnipotent diety can be a human “conceit.” Isn’t it a human conceit to believe that there are many gods with human characteristics and failings?

    Conceit = The gods are like me and I am like the gods.

    Opposite of conceit = There is only one God, he is all-knowing and all-powereful, he is my creator, and must praise him.

  44. Ti-Guy

    How much do I regret responding to this post now…

    Now that the Guzzler is trying engage you, my guess is “Not nearly enough.”

  45. Red:

    Karen Armstrong who’s a Catholic nun turned deist has an interesting book that explores some of these themes. It’s called “A Case for God” but instead of proving a god existence, instead explores religion’s quest for meaning through myth and ritual. She doesn’t steer the reader toward any particular concept of god(s) but tries to flesh out why humanity embraces religion, like art, as a way of finding meaning in the universe. You may enjoy it.

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