Stephen Fry and Gay Byrne
Irish TV interview transcription & comments
This picture featured on the Irish Times website with the following sub-text:-
It was Byrne's apparent horror at Fry's words that really energised the story on social media.
The following is a transcription of a notably controversial passage of dialogue from Gay Byrne's interview on Irish TV, specifically from an episode of
a 'The Meaning of Life' series, where Stephen Fry was the guest of the day.
It was uploaded to Youtube by the Irish public service televion RTÉ, and received more than two million on-line viewings, prior to actual broadcasting on Sunday, 1 February 2015.
... suppose it's all true and you walk up to the pearly gates and you are confronted by
God. What would Stephen Fry say to him, her or it?
I will basically (it's known as theodicy I think) I'll say, "Bone cancer in children?
What's that about? How dare you! How dare you create a world where there is such misery that is
not our fault! It's not right. It is 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.
And you think you're going to get in?
Oh, 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 were the twelve Greek gods, then I'd have more
truck with it because the Greeks didn't pretend not to be human in their appetites, and in their
capriciousness and their unreasonableness; they didn't present themselves as being all-seeing, all-wise, all-kind, all-munificent; because the god who created this universe (if it was created by God)
is, quite clearly, a maniac - utter maniac, totally selfish.
We have to spend our 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 whose whole life-cycle is to burrow into
the eyes of children and make them blind. They eat outwards from the eyes. Why did you do that?
Why? Why did you do that to us? You could easily have made a creation where that didn't exist. It is
simply not acceptable.
So, you know, atheism is not just about not believing there's a god - but, on the assumption there is
one, what kind of god is it? It's perfectly apparent that he is monstrous, utterly monstrous, and
deserves no respect whatsoever. The moment you banish him your life becomes simpler, purer,
cleaner - more worth living in my opinion.
That sure is the longest answer to that question I've ever had in this entire series. Thank you so
(Although not present on the Youtube clip from Irish TV it is, perhaps, interesting that the dialogue continues with the following sentence):-
Well, there wasn't a thunderbolt was there.
This particular segment of Gay Byrne's TV interview with Stephen Fry as part of Irish television's "The Meaning of Life" series proved to be most controversial and attracted
both favorable and unfavorable comment. It was featured as reportage in newspapers and on radio, television and the web.
There was also a flurry of activity on social media such as Twitter; much contributed to by Stephen Fry who gave notice of the upcoming broadcast on his own Twitter account, (@stephenfry), which, as of early February 2015, had some 8,700,000 followers!
Key post-interview comments from Gay Byrne and Stephen Fry
Gay Byrne at one point during the Irish TV interview
Soon after the actual TV broadcast Gay Byrne was heard on Irish radio saying:-
"Everybody is getting much more excited about this thing than I am because we've had a good number of people on the programme down through the years and we've done a lot of programmes
with many people expressing atheistic views and beliefs and views on God and so on," and added, "This time we happened to have a man who is a particularly good speaker, particularly
robust at expressing his views and cantankerous about it and expressive about it."
and was reported of as having said to the Irish Times:-
"Of course he [Stephen Fry] hadn't wished to cause offence. But that's what the internet is for, controversy, debate and people's opinions."
and then on the Irish Independent website, on 8 February, we read this attributed to Gay Byrne:-
I was not in the least surprised by what Stephen Fry had to say about God on The Meaning of Life, because Stephen is an atheist. He was just a little more passionate and committed and strong about it, and more articulate, than other people. ...
Everybody says they believe in free speech until someone says something they don't like.
We've had lots of atheists down through the years and they've all expressed their point of view. Terry Wogan, Bob Geldof, Richard Branson, Maeve Binchy would have been the leaders of the charge, and they caused not one ripple on the surface of viewers' peaceable waters.
Bob Geldof expressed his atheism even more strongly than Stephen Fry, but that didn't raise much interest. But I guess exposure to the internet, the popularity of the man, together with the respect with which he's regarded - it's a separate and special thing - and the sheer passion and strength of his expression of his view, all combined to make an impression. ...
I think Stephen Fry was asking questions that a lot of people with doubts ask; questions about the suffering in the world, people dying young, and why does this omnipotent, omniscient God not intervene at certain stages to prevent these appalling sufferings.
These are the questions that people regularly ask of people who believe, and Fry was merely voicing those in the strongest possible way. ...
I found Stephen Fry to be a very pleasing man, much bigger than I had thought. He's a tall, bulky fellow with great presence and yet, at the same time, rather diffident. And he has great charm. I did not know in advance what he was going to say.
Stephen Fry himself appeared on a relatively serious mainstream radio channel, BBC Radio 4, on 6 February, (by which time the Youtube clip had received more than five million viewings), when he
was being interviewed on diverse matters which included his upcoming hosting of the BAFTA award ceremony,
(the British equivalent of the Oscars), for the 10th time.
The following transcription of extracts, from this interview with Colin Paterson, begins with some of the closing words of the section about this award ceremony as these sentences may be held to be very revelatory about Stephen Fry's approach
to issues of Faith and Reason:-
Stephen Fry during the recording of this BBC Radio 4 interview
... "and we've got the battle of the boffins, Alan Turing versus Stephen Hawking" ...
... its wonderful to think that science and the open, honest, enquiry of the mind is being celebrated in movies. ...
and then more directly on the controversy surrounding his contribution to Gay Byrne's "The Meaning of Life" on Irish TV ...
"You have been everywhere in the news this week because of your comments on an Irish TV programme where you were asked for your for views about God. ...
Have you been surprised by the reaction?"
"Absolutely astonished, Colin, I don't think I mentioned once any particular religion and I certainly didn't intend to say anything offensive towards any particular religion,
I said quite a few things that were angry at this supposed God. I was merely saying things that Bertrand Russell and many finer heads than mine have said for hundreds of years,
going all the way back to the Greeks."
"Some people have been pointing out very similar to what C.S. Lewis said before he became a Christian."
"Yes, C. S. Lewis wrote a book called The Problem of Pain as well when he was a Christian, how can this creator who is apparently, benign, cause - the one I chose was bone cancer in children -
even if you believe, conveniently now that Darwin has existed, that God sort of wound up the clock and started evolution you would say if he knew everything and could do everything why would he allow monstrous cruelty, that's the only
point that I was making.
I was astonished that it has caused so viral an explosion on Twitter and elsewhere.
I'm very grateful to the Archbishop of Canterbury who apparently said the other day that I had every right to say what I said ... I'm most pleased I think that it's got people talking.
I'd never wished to offend anybody who is individually devout or pious, and indeed many Christians have been in touch with me to say that they are very glad that things should be talked about."
Interestingly, the apparent intervention of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Justin Welby, in this controversy was somewhat indirect and incidental in that
he was actually speaking at the launch of a new Religious Liberty Commission being held in the chapel of the Houses of Parliament.
This launch itself being sponsored by a group of charities and campaign groups to highlight the spread of persecution.
"Well, if we believe in freedom of choice, if we believe in freedom of religion what is good for one is good for all.
We must speak out for others persecuted for their beliefs whether it be religious or atheistic.
Taking responsibility for someone else's freedom is as important as my own.
It is as much the right of Stephen Fry to say what he said and not to be abused improperly by Christians who are affronted as it is the right of Christians to proclaim Jesus Christ.
That is his freedom to choose that is given to us in creation."
Stephen Fry has presented a "Quite Interesting" BBC show for many years
"You will hear things like, "Science doesn't know everything." Well, of course science doesn't know everything. But,
because science doesn't know everything, it doesn't mean that science knows nothing. Science knows enough for us to
be watched by a few million people now on television, for these lights to be working, for quite extraordinary
miracles to have taken place in terms of the harnessing of the physical world and our dim approaches towards
understanding it. And as Wittgenstein quite rightly said, 'When we understand every single secret of the universe,
there will still be left the eternal mystery of the human heart.'"
Stephen Fry quoting Wittgenstein during a Room 101 TV program
We at age-of-the-sage hope that our visitors will find this "insight?" to be, potentially, Extremely Interesting:-
Some Human Mysteries?
There is close agreement between several major World Faiths, Plato,
Socrates, Pythagoras, Shakespeare and Ralph Waldo Emerson in suggesting that Human Wisdom / Spirituality is relative to
Human Desire / Materialism and to Human Wrath / (linkable with Ethnicity and group memberships?).
Modern Psychological science seems to agree with these more philosophical and intuitive authorities!!!