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Stephen Fry’s Impassioned Speech on the Catholic Church

March 7th, 2011

The most muscular, thought-provoking and tightly argued piece of oratory I have ever heard. Tough and brilliant!

20 Responses to “Stephen Fry’s Impassioned Speech on the Catholic Church”

  1. Absolutely incredible. Impassioned without being hateful, witty without being cruel. I knew there was a reason I loved this man!

  2. I agreed with everything Stephen Fry says here. What I am disapointed with, and floundering to understand, is why the Chosen Chief of OBOD should have this on his blog and facebook pages. For it is hardly the path of peace. And I have some doubts as to whether a similarly critical peice on some of the Muslim religions/sects would have been publicised in this way.
    And for the Chosen Chief to say this is the most thought-provoking peice of Oratory he has heard – is difficult to believe given the breadth and depth of speeches available.
    I am a member of OBOD – and bought up a catholic and agree with Mr Fry.
    This seems to me to be a populist response for a leader of OBOD, which I feel is disapointing considering all the inter faith work that is going on.

    • Hi Wendy – this blog (and the facebook page that automatically ‘pulls in’ blog entries) is not an ‘official blog of the Chosen Chief’ nor of the Order. It is a ‘scrapbook’ whose intent I explain in the ‘About’ section: ‘I spend much of my days writing ‘serious’ material that must fit into particular structures: books, articles, and workshop schedules. So to balance this, I am using this blog as a play-space: a place to relax and have fun – to share some of the strange, sometimes sad, sometimes hilarious material that comes my way. And it’s also a place to share ideas…’
      I appreciate that such a piece seems to contradict the spirit of harmlessness that is mentioned in various posts here and could be seen as undermining interfaith initiatives, but I want to use this blog to post interesting, thought-provoking, or simply enjoyable material to share with others as a fellow traveller on the path, rather than as the leader of a spiritual group. If I was posting in an ‘official’ capacity, most of these posts wouldn’t be here: Rizzle Kicks for example! So I am happy to speak from the podium in my role as Chief in certain contexts, but I don’t want to renounce my freedom to speak or share sans robe and role in others!

    • Regarding the “path to peace” — there can be no peace without justice. There can be no justice when the stated purpose of an organization is to justify and even promote individual suffering. Consider the Catholic theological stance on divorce. When stripped of its flowery rhetoric, it boils down to this simple argument: “Suffering is good for the soul. Marriage causes suffering: therefore, marriage is to be supported. Divorce is intended to relieve that suffering: therefore, divorce must not be tolerated.” Don’t take my word for it, go do your own research.

      There are features of Catholic theology that may have made sense under conditions of the past. Consider the theology of birth control, which probably had its origins in the plagues of the 14th century. Breeding like bunnies in 1400 made a lot of sense. Breeding like bunnies in 2000 does not.

      The critical flaw is that these situational adaptations become rationalized, deified, and finally ossified into unchanging theology promoted as the Word of God; then, as the need for the adaptation passes, subsequent rationalizations to hold to the unchanging Word of God become pathological. In today’s world, there are NO sane reasons to prohibit voluntary use of birth control methods. There are only insane rationalizations.

      When this insanity promotes widespread injustice, there is no peace. The injustice must be addressed first.

  3. @Wendy: I disagree. There’s nothing unpeaceful about calling murder by its name.
    Conditioning aid on not using condoms is murder. The Catholic Church has been
    murdering many millions of men, women and children in Africa, and this is to say
    nothing of the devastating effects the Catholic Church’s stance on birth control has on the environment and climate. Silence and pandering aren’t peaceful

    • Hi Amy – I also agree with your comments about catholics and their bloody history. But they don’t have the monpoly on this. And have themselves been violently discriminated against in British history (Elizabeth 1 time) and in Northern Ireland too. And in this day and age Prime Minister Tony Blair only felt able to convert to his families faith when he stepped down from his PM role – due to the history of ill feeling. I know this may appear symbolic – and I dislike the catholic theology too. But the challenge is to go beyond this – and Druidry, paganism etc. offers a constructive future.

  4. Hi Philip. I would support your right to your own personal voice. And must acknowledge here too that what is defined as a leader/leadership in OBOD is very different, and very liberal, in comparison to many of the established religions and other organisations. There is no dogma for you to uphold. And your particular leadership style is one I greatly value. However when someone takes on the mantle – or robe! – of a leadership position in a spiritual tradition the boundary between personal and public is I believe more blurred than perhaps for other roles. And there is an additional responsibility with this, which I imagine must feel restrictive at times. And all the more so here in this world of media and social media which is almost defined by its fluidity of boundaries. If your blog/Facebook pages were not so linked to the chosen chief role then it is unlikely that you would have all these thousands of followers/friends!

    Aligning oneself with a very popular celebrity is a strong PR tactic for a spiritual or politic leader and as such is a potentially powerful influencing factor upon others – whether intentional or not.

    I am very pleased that you brought this speech of Stephen Fry’s to my attention – as I derived a lot from it. It spoke to me personally. And have shared it with others. And I hope you continue to do this – thanks.

    What I think prompted me to respond critically to you about this was your comment that it was the ‘most… thought provoking oratory…I have ever heard’ , Of course if this is your view then that is your truth and I don’t wish you to deny this. But in the blurred fluid world of media where your comments are influential and not seen as separate from OBOD by many, such a strong recommendation for something so clearly anti-catholic worried me.

  5. I take your points Wendy and Nick – I’m aware that one of my failings is enthusiasm and hyperbole…but I do think Nick we shouldn’t shy away from vigorous debate. It’s also important to note that he was not criticizing a religion, as he pointed out several times, but an institution.

    • Am sorely tempted to offer you my pardon at the cost of three Our fathers and two Hail Mary’s before you go to bed tonight! But I’d better not mock my parents chosen path any more than I have done for 50 years!

  6. People might like these too –

    Stephen Fry & ‘Holism’

    And on atheism….(one of my favourites)

  7. I can only say, that I couldn’t cry after seeing the video. It is too gross for tears, to my shame…

  8. I saw that on Youtube a while back. All I can say is WOW, he speaks home truths, tells widdacome to shut up with her annoying interruptions (to put is very nicely). but he points out the corruption within this faith. but should we just be looking at this one faith? it can happen to all. perhaps its time as human beings to start looking at ourselves since thats the true root point of this corruption. it brings so many things to light when you think about it in more depth.

    • I agree with you Annabelle. I have African relatives via marriage who live in Zaire (now Congo). Without the catholic church in their country many many people would have had no education, no schools or universities, no health care. Many people don’t realise how different the catholic church is outside of the west, and it is often the only, frequently radical, reforming voice, within despotic and/or military dictatorships – not just Africa either. And many of these governments have been backed by western democracies. It still doesn’t make its discriminatory theologies correct, but its another perspective.
      And I’m not so sure that one can so easily separate out the individual members from the faith organisation they belong to and say you are criticising one but not the other.

  9. There is lots wrong with Catholicism – otherwise I would still be one – but bigotry and male orientation is hardly unique in state religions and not really what is central to the faith. When I was learning my catechism and other bits and bobs for my confirmation (when a young catholic learns what is at the heart of the religion) none of this was mentioned at all. In fact it was made clear to me that my place as a ‘servant of god’ was entirely to do with theological matters – and being good to others – no references to money or sex at all!!
    The charges of murder some are rightly making are as true of them all – all the big world man-led religions. I am somewhat surprised that Druids would clap Fry’s mockery of transubstantiation however. The idea that something becomes changed through the process of ceremony should not take us aback – surely. And – what he says about the distant history of the catholic church is also true of Anglicanism – as that was the real inheritor of Britain’s medieval church wealth and politics. It is – of all male religions – the one that comes closest to honouring a Goddess.
    If some of you are surprised that people like me speak for the church it is because the “rivers of blood” (as my parents called it) between Catholics and protestants in the UK still ensure that people like me will feel the need to defend our community and our churches long after we have left them behind. I know that not all priests are child abusing shades and all nuns are not Ann Widdecombe without the ballroom dresses.

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  11. Fry’s has eloquently spoken yet stale points. He’s just picking easy targets and missing the bigger points. Sure, Catholics have a lot of dumb stale rules and official beliefs, that even devote Catholics often don’t take seriously.

    The bigger issue is that the classic practical functions of religion, altruism/education/health, have been conquered by geography based governments, and all that religion has left is the stale legacy formalities.

    I’d argue that the nature of voluntary association behind religion is a superior basis for community/altruism/education/health functions than the compulsory power of government. Let voluntary community associations take back that power and evolve to meet the needs of today’s people.

    • I’m not sure what you mean by community/altruism/education/health functions here, but here in the US, this is a trope repeated (ad nauseum) by our fringe conservatives, and what THEY mean is they want to shut down our Social Security program and replace it with religion-based (they call it “faith-based”) charity programs. They don’t do the math.

      The single biggest “charity” performed by Social Security is old-age benefits: defined as a baseline of living expenses covered for those who are too old to play in the economic rough-and-tumble. Turn off Social Security, and you have to turn on something else, or it’s a rather cruel form of euthanasia.

      So how much do we have to “turn on” to pay for these oldsters? That’s easy: roughly 15% of the total working wage income of every person in the country. That’s what we’re paying right now. So with SS gone, everyone now sees a 7.5% “tax relief”, and corporations see a cost savings of 7.5% per employee, which they are (of course) immediately going to give to their employees out of the kindness of their Corporate Hearts. Right. So individuals will see a 7.5% tax relief.

      Now, they need to go join a voluntary organization, like the Catholic Church, or the Odd Fellows, or perhaps become Charitable Druids. They will, of course, immediately turn over that entire 7.5% of their salary to the voluntary organization. Which will, of course, not put that into a new roof or a television station or an “outreach ministry,” but will instead turn right around and redistribute it to retirees. Right.

      Um. Except that only half the money is there. Where are they going to get the other 7.5% of the total working wage of the entire country? Steal it? Shoot every other retiree?

      Then there’s the question of voluntary association. Are the Catholics going to pay rent for atheist retirees? Or Druid retirees? Probably not. They’ll pay for their own parishioners, with some kind of redistribution through the dioceses.

      So then, what about “deathbed conversions,” pushed back to “retirement conversions?” What strapping young 25-year old man with a family to support is going to join a voluntary organization that demands his entire 7.5% tax relief, PLUS another 7.5% he doesn’t have, PLUS the normal “tithe” that religious organizations charge (never met) intended to keep the roof on the church and the “outreach ministry” running? Add all that up, and this young man is going to be asked to pay out 25% of his income to a voluntary organization, mostly to support a raft of old people he probably doesn’t even know. So in practice, he’s going to wait until he’s at least 65 before “converting” to Catholicism. Or maybe Judaism. Or maybe Mormonism. Whoever has the best late-entry retirement package.

      I don’t understand how this makes any sense at all.

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