You are not permitted to download, save or email this image. Visit image gallery to purchase the image.
As it was, the Irish thought about charging Fry with blasphemy, but this did not proceed. To be sure, in another age his remarks would have accrued severe penalties.
Mr Harris rightly observes that freedom of speech is moderated (or should be) by the constraints of taste and decency, especially in matters of religion.
He concludes that the Fry affair doesn't matter because God isn't a real person anyway and by definition can't be insulted. So we come to the real point of his article which is that: "God is best thought of as `the supreme symbol' of what is ultimate in the values we live by, or the inter-connectedness or coherence of things, and a reference point that gives people's lives a sense of meaning and purpose."
This needs unpacking a bit. Since the traditional God has lost both his divinity and his personhood, according to Mr Harris, what remains is a human construct. Instead of man being made in God's image, we now have God being made in man's image. It is here our problems begin.
Firstly, there is no concurrence in humanity about what particular values culminate in any ultimate sense. Thus the supreme symbol for those with libertarian values might be Ayn Rand's heroic being whose own happiness was the moral pinnacle. Some Greens might prefer Gaia the life-force of the universe, and so on. Since no god can have ascendancy over any other, all have equal status as "Good". No God can be better than any other. But is this really so?
Don Richardson, an American missionary, relates an account when he was presenting the good news about Jesus to a highland tribe in PNG. When he got to the part where Judas betrayed Jesus, a great cheer went up, much to Don's consternation. They were cheering for Judas! It turned out their "good" was treachery, and the more calculated the treachery the better. Judas was their hero, not Jesus. What good is changes between cultures.
Secondly, even in our so-called secular age, we witness politicians offering prayers in times of acute national distress. Prayers to whom (or what), and for what purpose? Without some faith that the recipient of our prayers or petitions can do anything about them, such entreaties will fall on deaf ears; actually no ears at all. Prayers by definition entail an appeal to someone or somebody who can grant (or at least respond) to them.
Thirdly, there is no comfort in Mr Harris' makeover god which has none of the creative attributes of the displaced Creator and no security, because human values change. What we might agree upon as good today may not be good tomorrow. A bit like cigarette smoking, or Thalidomide.
The God of Judaeo-Christian tradition is, above all, relational. The entire Bible is about relationships between the Godhead, and God and humanity. The New Testament records the radical development of the Creator/creature relationship when Jesus is born into our world - fully man and fully God.
His assumption of humanity [or His introduction as a human, born of a woman) was designed to fully identify with us so that we could identify him as God, full of grace and mercy and truth: Someone who cares; Someone who listens; Someone who loves; Someone who answers prayers, even if the answer is no.
The primacy of relational engagement is such that the Bible records people accusing God of all sorts of things, to which God does not respond by hurling thunderbolts from the heavens upon those who dare to raise such insults. God doesn't seem to mind honest-to-God exchanges.
Those who raise their fists to the Almighty don't earn his wrath. He is saddened most by those who reject any relationship at all.
The last word belongs to Jesus who said: "Now pay attention; I am standing at the door and knocking. If any of you hear My voice and open the door, then I will come in to visit with you and to share a meal at your table, and you will be with Me."
Peter Sara is an elder with the Elim Church, Dunedin.