Stephen Fry, actor, writer, apostate?
Stephen Fry—actor, writer, apostate?

I know that being an outspoken atheist has become unfashionable on both ends of the political spectrum in the past few years, owing largely to the (often justly) perceived arrogance of the atheists in question. Which is fine, I guess. There are probably more pressing matters and nothing gold can stay.

However, this interview with British actor/writer Stephen Fry on Irish TV, calling out the irreconcilable contradictions of the church (which he does to even greater effect in the clip below the jump), has the effect of reactivating my contempt for the whole toxic enterprise of faith. Which is probably why, as The Independent reports, Irish police are "investigating" Fry on the grounds that his comments may have violated an Irish blasphemy law and subject him to a €25,000 fine.

The complaint against Fry came from a member of the public, who was quoted in The Irish Independent, but preferred to remain anonymous:

"I told the Garda I wanted to report Fry for uttering blasphemy and RTE for publishing/broadcasting it and that I believed these were criminal offences under the Defamation Act 2009. The garda then took a formal written statement from me in which I quoted Fry’s comments in detail. This written statement mentioned both Fry and RTÉ specifically."

He said he was asked by the garda if he had been personally offended by the programme and If he wished to include this in the written statement.

"I told the Garda that I did not want to include this as I had not personally been offended by Fry's comments - I added that I simply believed that the comments made by Fry on RTÉ were criminal blasphemy and that I was doing my civic duty by reporting a crime."

So not personally offended. Just doing a little civic duty.

Fry's response to the initial controversy in 2015:

This same article also made it clear that, according to "a well-placed source," Fry actually getting busted for this offense is "highly unlikely." But the principle that underlies this non-event—citizen charges atheist TV star with saying atheist things on TV two years ago—even being reported is worth dusting off.

Some people may watch the above clip and bristle at Fry's message, or his deportment (the mild pong of piety, the little shift into acting on "How dare you?"), or, indeed, the very idea that by identifying glaring, suppurating inconsistencies in the complacent worldview of the godly he was insulting people who choose to subscribe to that worldview. I watch it and think how grateful I am that someone smart and articulate has the nerve to go on television (even in Ireland, even in the past), and risk death and disgrace by speaking words that strike me as 1) harmless, 2) obvious, 3) impossible to refute (though easy to deny, as all words are), and 4) more imperiled than they would have been 15 years ago.

Stephen Fry is a wealthy man, and would scarcely even notice the blow of €25,000 (£21,000/$27,000). But that's hardly the point. The point is that when this kind of expression is stifled in the West, it's an existential threat to every Western thing that works—however faltering that work may be.

Interestingly, the crime of blasphemy is inscribed in the 1937 Irish constitution, but the British common law offense known as "blasphemous libel" was ruled unjust by an Irish court in 1999. The 2009 Defamation Act, which is essentially a revision of the country's 1961 libel laws, contains very specific language designed to clear up the gray area:

36.— (1) A person who publishes or utters blasphemous matter shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable upon conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding €25,000.

(2) For the purposes of this section, a person publishes or utters blasphemous matter if—

(a) he or she publishes or utters matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion, and

(b) he or she intends, by the publication or utterance of the matter concerned, to cause such outrage.

(3) It shall be a defence to proceedings for an offence under this section for the defendant to prove that a reasonable person would find genuine literary, artistic, political, scientific, or academic value in the matter to which the offence relates.

(4) In this section “ religion ” does not include an organisation or cult—
(a) the principal object of which is the making of profit, or
(b) that employs oppressive psychological manipulation—
(i) of its followers, or
(ii) for the purpose of gaining new followers.

It isn't hard to grasp why Ireland, a country whose very identity is bound up with its adherence to Catholicism in the face of Protestant British reformer/invaders, has a blasphemy law on the books. But ever since the army of god recently reclaimed the executive and legislative branches of the US government, and in an age when even the conceptual value of the right to freedom of expression is embattled... At times like these, stories like this send a shiver down the spine.

Stephen Fry on the question of whether or not the Catholic church is a force for good in the world: