Stephen Fry, for those of you who don’t know him, is a spectacular comedian, charismatic actor and a national treasure. Recently, he was asked by Gay Byrne, an Irish TV presenter, what he would say to God if he died and had to confront him. In his imaginary conversation with God, Fry said he would tell him: “How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is not our fault? It’s not right.” It’s always a captivating combination when your arguments are both valid and witty. Let’s see what the ancient eastern literatures have to say. Are you ready?
Stephen Fry's talk on God
In his short interview, which already has over three million views on YouTube, he started that “It’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?” He continued that “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?” When prompted to explain the wonders of the world he lashed out, “Yes, the world is very splendid, but it also has in it insects whose whole lifecycle is to burrow into the eyes of children and make them blind. They eat outwards from the eyes. Why? Why did you do that to us? You could easily have made a creation in which that didn’t exist. It is simply not acceptable. He finally ended with “It’s perfectly apparent that he is monstrous. Utterly monstrous and deserves no respect whatsoever. The moment you banish him, life becomes simpler, purer, cleaner, more worth living in my opinion.”
In summary, his argument is that:
As you can imagine, you can write on this subject matter for years. It’s difficult to explain spiritual concepts to a person with a wordily mindset, because the points below have to be understood in context. Nevertheless, I’ve tried to present the Vedic conception logically. Each of my subheadings to address Fry’s arguments can be dwelled upon for eternity and explained from a plethora of angles. I’ve only chosen a few.
The Bhagavad Gita, the essence of the hefty Vedic literatures, starts at a very logical place: the identity of the living being. It claims that we are not human beings having spiritual experiences, but spiritual beings having human experiences. These bodies of ours are temporary flesh-puppets, but within them are our real eternal identity as spirit souls.
The inherent nature of all living entities is happiness, knowledge and eternality. They strive to be loved and give love to others. That is their only need. Just as you can’t have water that is not wet, you cannot have a soul that doesn’t want love. In their constitutional position, these souls are in a real, tangible, loving relationship with the Supreme. This connection with God is invigorating for the spirit soul, as they not only get the chance to serve their beloved, but allow their beloved to wholeheartedly serve them.
According to the Gita, the only thing that God didn’t create was our free will: Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be. By definition, free will is free, it’s ours forever. In other words, our ability to desire is not governed by God. If it was governed by him, there would be no such thing as love, it would just be control. It’s not love if someone forces you to love them.
When we decide to engage our minute freedom to manipulate matter, rather than enjoy in our spiritual relationship with the Supreme, problems arise. The consciousness that we are the supreme controllers i.e. we are God, leads to sufferings, as it’s not who we inherently are. Just as a spark cannot claim to be a fire, the miniscule soul has no claim to be God. In fact, this entire creation was created for us, because we had the initial desire to play the role of God.
Matter is temporary. For eternal beings, trapped in these changing bodies composed of matter, that is hell. Being born means you have to go through death, old age and disease. In this state, the soul is like a fish out of water. It is the strong attachment to this illusionary ideal, that “I” am the ultimate controller, “I” am the ultimate enjoyer and “I” am this impermanent body, that shackles the soul in suffering. Now imagine millions of selfish souls trying to lord it over matter at the same time, trying to play the position of God. It’s like every member of the cast of Harry Potter acting as Hermione. That would be a terrible film. It simply wouldn’t work. There are bound to be problems. Welcome to Planet Earth.
Karma is a universal model that governs the activities of all living beings. Popularised by singer Justin Timberlake, “what goes around comes around goes around comes all the way back around”, karma means for every cause, there is an effect. Newton summaries this: “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”. The Vedic literatures simply extrapolate this to all spheres of life. For everything we are experiencing now, we have done something in the past to receive that response. Similarly, everything we do now, we will get a similar reaction in the future, for the future is just an extension of the present.
Sound simple? Well, it’s not. With innumerable living beings on this planet, performing innumerable actions daily, karma must have complex mechanism, which is unfathomable to our limited intelligence. But some things we can understand. Karma is a fair, just system to all.
Karma applies whether you like it or not. It is the only fair system, if everyone wants to play controllers. If a person doesn’t understand traffic laws and runs a red light, they will get fined by the police for doing so. They cannot complain “I didn’t know, it’s not my fault.” It is their duty to discover the laws of the road before starting to drive. There is no excuse; it’s equal for all. Similarly, it is our duty to discover the laws of the universe before starting to live.
What this leads to is the notion that, yes, it is the childrens’ karma to have “insects whose whole lifecycle is to burrow into the eyes of children and make them blind.” It is their karma that these ferocious insects “eat them outwards from the eyes.”
It sounds harsh, but think of it like this. If you walk into a movie theatre thirty minutes into the film and see a man being pounded to death, you may protest that this man doesn’t deserve such a situation. However, if you entered the theatre at the start you would see he has been raping people, selling drugs to children and executing all sorts of heinous acts. Likewise, people experiencing suffering now must have performed acts to disturb others in the past and people living in luxury must have performed acts of piety to be in their respective situation.
The philosophy of karma is a lot to take in. Let me give you a breather and tell you the spiritual outlook on the matter.
You can diagnose a person’s disease by the symptoms they present. You can also see the nature of a person’s character by the actions they perform. Spiritual people understand the concept of karma fully, they know people are suffering because of their previous actions, but they choose to disregard it when trying to help them. The more spiritual you become, the more you imbibe saintly qualities, especially compassion. A spiritualist is para-dukha dukhi which means that they perceive others suffering as their own. They do not laugh at someone going through a tough time saying “it’s your karma,” unless they want to be punched in the face. They genuinely want to help people overcome their suffering condition. Think about it. Some of the most compassionate people reported in history were the most spiritual. Mahatma Gandhi, Martin-Luther King, Jesus, Bhaktivedanta Swami and Mother Theresa, just to name a few. Selflessness is the quality of a true saint.
I want to share with you an inspiring video of Radhanath Swami, who is helping people all around the world with dreadful karma.
What is the alternative to karma? Are there any other theories that fit, that can explain the finer details of our universe? If not God smiting us for no reason, which is preposterous, then suffering is down to chance. The kid that has a parasite in his eye is by chance. A child’s parents that die in a shock car crash is by chance. Billions of people on this planet that are starving simply is by chance. Shame on you evolution! You’ve failed us.
Chance is even more cruel than karma. All the suffering we go through is because of our ignorant actions. It’s a life-saver to understand how karma works, as it means we can now act correctly to reduce our karmic load in the future.
Another argument that is common is why doesn’t God stop the suffering now? He is all-powerful so with a click of his fingers he can easily stop the madness? The problem with that is that it wouldn’t be fair and would impede on our free will. Remember, it was our desire to live in the worldly realm away from him. We want to be in this situation. Sounds crazy, because it is.
Fry’s final comment is that life is happier without God or his universal laws. By now, you will have fathomed that, that is ludicrous. Being ignorant of how the world works is stupidity. It can only lead to decisions without the proper knowledge; a recipe for a disastrous life. Even if you don’t believe in these universal principles of attraction, karma, success etc., there is no harm in finding out what these literatures say. Then you can unreservedly, with full faith call it a load of “excrement.” Otherwise, how can you know?
Another way to counteract this argument is to do the maths. I can name a million “fully material people” at the height of wealth, fame or intellectualism, which are looking for a spiritual path, but not even one “fully spiritual person” that is looking towards worldly pleasure for satisfaction. Of course spiritual people can also be hypocrites and manipulate the purest of practices for their own selfish gain, but regardless, the argument still stands. Thus, he rightly said it’s just his opinion that “the moment you banish him, life becomes simpler, purer, and cleaner, more worth living.” I’ll let you ponder the validity of it for yourself.
So how to break this cycle of karma? If this is a world of suffering, surely there must be a way to get out? Of course there is. If God didn’t provide that he would really be a “monstrous, totally selfish, maniac.” Spirituality is of all sorts and sizes. Our job is to find the best type. The science of self-realisation is a universal process to remove the shackles of karma, by disassociating ourselves with matter and latching onto spirit. It’s a science because you can experience it and track your progress. It’s not a belief system where you have to wait your whole life in faith that when I die something will happen. No. You can experience spiritual ecstasy, right here right now. All you have to do is be eager to get it.
In summary, I love Stephen Fry. In fact, I admire anyone of witty disposition that can hold a stimulating conversation. However, his argument is weak and based on the simplistic model that God is mean old man armed with a thunderbolt. The Vedic paradigm is the opposite. God is a young boy who just wants to party all-night and badly wants us to accept the invitation. The philosopher Nietzsche got it right when he said, “I could only believe in a God who dances.” The Vedic culture is home to thousands of volumes of books explaining how to understand Him, how to reach Him, and for all you softies out there, how to love Him.[ god ] [ karma ] [ evil ] [ fry ]