"Suppose it's all true," began a question to Stephen Fry on Irish television, "and you walk up to the pearly gates and you are confronted by God. What will Stephen Fry say to Him, Her or It?"
Fry, a beloved actor and comedian in Britain, began his reply like this: "Bone cancer in children? What's that about? How dare you."
Fry is also a humanist.
He continued: "How dare you create a world in 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?"
When asked whether he believed such a response would get him into heaven, Fry replied that he wasn't interested in going to heaven according to the terms of the sort of God he had just described.
"It's perfectly apparent that he is monstrous," he said. "Utterly monstrous and deserves no respect whatsoever. The moment you banish him, life becomes simpler, purer, cleaner, more worth living in my opinion."
Although Fry has clearly and strongly discussed his views on the subject of God in the past, his comments in the new interview touched a nerve.
"Oh dear, I did give poor old God a bit of a kicking here, didn’t I?!" Fry tweeted after the interview clip was published online, where it has been viewed nearly 5 million times.
Another thing that's worth noting about what Fry said: In some areas of the world, remarks like his -- even coming from "a national treasure" -- would prompt much more than a heated debate.
They could get him arrested, or worse.
This was noted in the Independent by the British Humanist Association's Pavan Dhaliwal, who wrote:
It’s shocking to think that the televised interview of Stephen Fry, which stimulated such an interesting array of reactions and discussions here in Britain, could lead to criminal sanctions against him in many countries. And though it is unlikely that Ireland will choose to prosecute Stephen under its blasphemy law, shouldn’t it be a source of moral disgust that it could, if it chose to?
Ireland does have a blasphemy law that comes with the punishment of a potentially massive fine (up to a 25,000 pounds, or roughly $38,000).
But it has an exception for instances where “a reasonable person would find genuine literary, artistic, political, scientific, or academic value in the matter to which the offence relates" -- and Ireland has never prosecuted anyone under that law, according to the International Humanist and Ethical Union's annual "Freedom of Thought" report.
That same report points to several other countries with laws on the books that could punish somebody for making remarks similar to Fry's.
In 13 countries, atheism effectively comes with the risk of a state-imposed death penalty, though in some of those countries, the penalty is rarely enforced.
According to the report, Afghanistan, Iran, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates and Yemen allow for capital punishment for apostasy, or the renunciation of a particular religion (in each of these countries, that religion is Islam).
In Pakistan, blasphemy carries the death penalty.
Additionally, 55 countries effectively outlaw atheist remarks as a form of speech that offends another person's religious sensibilities, according to the report.
In 39 of those countries, offensive speech against particular religious sensibilities can come with a prison sentence.
Wrote Dhaliwal: "The very presence of blasphemy in law presents a threat to the rights of ordinary people of all beliefs and backgrounds – be they humanists, Christians, Muslims, or simply people whose political views differ from the government’s."
And now, the Archbishop of Canterbury has come to Fry's defense, according to the Telegraph.
“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," the Most Rev. Justin Welby said Wednesday, the Telegraph reported. “That is his freedom to choose that is given to us in creation.”
The newspaper added that during a question-and-answer session, the archbishop "thanked the former MP Evan Harris, a humanist, for his efforts to abolish the blasphemy laws in the UK and said he opposed all restrictions on freedom of speech concerning religion which did not constitute hate speech."