In 2015, British comic and television personality, Stephen Fry appeared on an Irish chat show and referred to God as ‘capricious, mean-minded and stupid’.
You might have seen it being shared on social media.
The host Gay Byrne asked Fry what he would say to God after he died and appeared at the pearly gates.
Stephen Fry replied that he’d tell the Almighty, ‘How dare you create a world in which there is such misery. It’s not our fault. It’s not right. It’s utterly, utterly evil’.
Things went sour this month when a complaint was made to the Irish police that Fry had broken the country’s Defamation Act of 2009, which makes it illegal to publish or utter blasphemous material.
That’s right. It’s 2017 and a famous television personality was being charged with blasphemy.
It turns out everyone in Ireland is embarrassed by their blasphemy law, so much so there are calls to repeal it, including from the church. No one has ever actually had to face criminal prosecution for breaking the law and it’s assumed Mr Fry won’t either.
That didn’t stop the publicity hungry atheist Richard Dawkins, in a show of solidarity with Mr Fry, from announcing he’d be giving a public lecture in Dublin in June and would “be available for arrest on a charge of blasphemy.”
He then quoted one of his books to give Irish authorities a taste of things to come:
“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”
Anyway, some commentators are comparing Fry’s potential legal woes with the case of Indonesia’s Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, popularly known as Ahok, the former governor of Jakarta recently found guilty of blasphemy.
A Christian in an Islamic country, Ahok had given a speech quoting a verse of the Koran and interpreting it as saying it was okay for a non-Muslim to lead Muslims.
His opponents were using the same verse to say it was contrary to the Koran for Muslim voters to elect a Christian to office.
For this offense Ahok received a two-year jail sentence.
I’ve seen a meme doing the rounds of social media comparing Stephen Fry’s case with that of Ahok. It suggests that Christians are too soft on blasphemy. That is, Stephen Fry can get away with insulting Christian beliefs but Ahok gets two years for respectfully interpreting a verse of the Koran differently to his opponents.
I guess the creator of the meme thinks us Christians should toughen up.
But frankly, I think the Fry and Ahok cases reveal the opposite. I think they reveal how much stronger Christians are about this kind of thing than some Muslims can be. With all due respect to our Islamic community, but if you publish a drawing of the Prophet Muhammad, let alone speak critically of him, you are in danger of sparking a riot. But hurl any form of abuse on Jesus and us Christians will cop it.
We’ll cop it.
Call Jesus any name you like. Create any demeaning image you want. Adopt any superior tone you prefer when speaking of our “sky god” or belittling our religion as silly, made up nonsense.
Another British comic, Ricky Gervais once defined blasphemy as “a law to protect an all-powerful, supernatural deity from getting its feelings hurt.” But lines like that are like water off a duck’s back to us.
Far from being sensitive souls who can’t bear to hear our God spoken badly of, Christians know that Jesus showed his love and greatness not by the avoidance of humiliation, but precisely through being humiliated.
There’s nothing you could heap on Jesus that he didn’t endure willingly during his life. Indeed, the history of the Christian church is the story of ordinary men and women being willing to endure all manner of suffering and humiliation out of the deep love and gratitude they have for the one who suffered for them.
So, if you meet a Christian who gets offended by criticism or wants to charge people like Stephen Fry with blasphemy, you could assume they still have some way to go in their Christian faith. Real Christians aren’t defeated by censure or denunciation. They’re not offended by ridicule or unbelief.
Refusing to be offended by the harsh attacks of our critics isn’t a sign of weakness in Christians. It’s evidence of a strength of character that comes from being filled with the spirit of the suffering servant king.
So go ahead, Stephen Fry, give it your best blaspheming shot. If your criticism is fair we’ll accept it and learn from it and if it’s unfair we’ll endure it cheerfully.