Monday, 8 May 2017

Fry and Dostoevsky

Fry and Dostoevsky

Gay Byrne: “Suppose it’s all true, and you walk up to the pearly gates, and are confronted by God. What will Stephen Fry say to him, her, or it?”

Stephen Fry: “I’d say, bone cancer in children? What’s that about?

“How dare you? How dare you create a world to which there is such misery that is not our fault. It’s not right, it’s 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 would say. ”

I don’t think for a moment that is an unreasonable thing to say. This is a supposal. He is not saying he believes in God, he is saying what he would say if confronted with God.

It is worth noting in passing that the Irish laws, as I understand, carry a fine or prison sentence as a penalty.

13 countries currently have laws on the books carrying a penalty of death for blasphemy or apostasy. Including Pakistan, the other 13 countries are Afghanistan, Iran, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates and Yemen. Each of these countries have adopted Islamic law as the ideological foundation of the government.

People have died because of accusations of blasphemy in those countries. If Fry and the Irish laws highlight that the law should be rescinded in Ireland, how much more should pressure be brought to bear to make countries in which the death penalty is acceptable in law change matters. Those countries which do so, have not just a vestige of past that is absurd, as in Ireland, but which is dangerous and barbaric.

And yet we happily trade with them.

It is absurd to treat Stephen Fry’s comments as blasphemy, because otherwise you would have to ban Dostoevsky's "The Brothers Karamazov" (1879) where the following dialogue takes place, and which puts matters just as strongly as Fry, in discussing the suffering of innocent children.

Shall Ireland now ban Dostoevsky?

This is a problem for religions such as Christianity, how to reconcile suffering of the innocent with the belief in a good God, and it will not go away when we stifle comments that raise these deep and challenging questions by invoking archaic laws to silence speakers. 

Dostoevsky's "The Brothers Karamazov": An Excerpt:

This poor child of five was subjected to every possible torture by those cultivated parents. They beat her, thrashed her, kicked her for no reason till her body was one bruise. Then, they went to greater refinements of cruelty- shut her up all night in the cold and frost in a privy, and because she didn't ask to be taken up at night (as though a child of five sleeping its angelic, sound sleep could be trained to wake and ask), they smeared her face and filled her mouth with excrement, and it was her mother, her mother did this. 

And that mother could sleep, hearing the poor child's groans! Can you understand why a little creature, who can't even understand what's done to her, should beat her little aching heart with her tiny fist in the dark and the cold, and weep her meek unresentful tears to dear, kind God to protect her?

Do you understand that, friend and brother, you pious and humble novice? Do you understand why this infamy must be and is permitted? Without it, I am told, man could not have existed on earth, for he could not have known good and evil. Why should he know that diabolical good and evil when it costs so much? Why, the whole world of knowledge is not worth that child's prayer to dear, kind God'! I say nothing of the sufferings of grown-up people, they have eaten the apple, damn them, and the devil take them all! But these little ones!

If all must suffer to pay for the eternal harmony, what have children to do with it, tell me,please? It's beyond all comprehension why they should suffer, and why they should pay for the harmony. Why should they, too, furnish material to enrich the soil for the harmony of the future?

You see, Alyosha, perhaps it really may happen that if I live to that moment, or rise again to see it, I, too, perhaps, may cry aloud with the rest, looking at the mother embracing the child's torturer, 'Thou art just, O Lord!' but I don't want to cry aloud then.

While there is still time, I hasten to protect myself, and so I renounce the higher harmony altogether. It's not worth the tears of that one tortured child who beat itself on the breast with its little fist and prayed in its stinking outhouse, with its unexpiated tears to 'dear, kind God'! It's not worth it, because those tears are unatoned for.

What do I care for a hell for oppressors? What good can hell do, since those children have already been tortured? And what becomes of harmony, if there is hell? I want to forgive. I want to embrace. I don't want more suffering. And if the sufferings of children go to swell the sum of sufferings which was necessary to pay for truth, then I protest that the truth is not worth such a price.

Tell me yourself, I challenge your answer. Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature- that baby beating its breast with its fist, for instance- and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears, would you consent to be the architect on those conditions? Tell me, and tell the truth."

"No, I wouldn't consent," said Alyosha softly."

And can you admit the idea that men for whom you are building it would agree to accept their happiness on the foundation of the unexpiated blood of a little victim? And accepting it would remain happy for ever?"

"No, I can't admit it."

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