Stephen Fry has been getting a lot of attention for this YouTube clip. I don't know why. It is a fairly old argument. It focuses on a few of the most difficult examples of the problem of pain and basically acts as if all of life is full of those examples. Like every child dies of cancer or has their eyesight lost to some strange insect. The truth is these examples are shocking because they are rare. If they are the only things one can think of when assessing the whole of human existence then we have really lost perspective.
This does remind me of something Bl John Henry Newman said in one of his sermons. He said some people have shown so little interest in God or being close to God or being holy or anything of the sort that sending them to heaven would just be cruel. Heaven is about intimacy with God. It is about love. It is about purity. It is about self-sacrifice. Some people simple do not want that. They want ignore God and focus on themselves and try and use other people to pursue their own happiness. That is not heaven. That is hell. Yet that is what many have chosen with the way they have lived their life.
Fry is like that. I am not sure he is being totally honest about his innermost feelings but assuming he is it is quite striking. He comes before God. He can imagine no sense of awe. He can give God no credit for anything good in the world. All he can do is throw out the typical atheist talking points. Not really being willing to concede atheism has been proven wrong even when that is the premise of the question. For a guy like that heaven would not be mercy but would be a violation of his freedom. He really makes a very good argument for hell.
Like I said, you hear these same arguments made over and over again. I always try try and draw them into a rational discussion. Atheists love to think of themselves as being rational but rarely react well when their beliefs are questioned rationally. In the case of the children who die of cancer I typically ask if all death is considered problematic or just the death of children. Just trying to discern the real issue. If all death is what is being questioned then Christians have a response to why people die. If death itself is not the central issue but just the fact that some people die younger and with more pain then other then that is another issue. There is something to be said on that to but it is a bit different.
Atheists almost never answer questions like that. They often response with outrage and ridicule. That is OK. Still they should admit it. They should say they don't like the fact that Christians respond with reason and logic to their raw emotionalism. Yet somehow they think of themselves as the logical ones. It is too strange.
Now you need to be careful. People make these emotional arguments and you don't know their story. Maybe they have had a child die of cancer. That is a very different situation than some guy looking for the hard cases to make his point. Then you really do want an emotional answer. The logical reply might seem cold. So throwing around all this emotional rhetoric to short-circuit the logical debate also ends up being very insensitive to the people who have actually lived the emotions. Many continue to believe in a good God. We just need to be sensitive to the fact that these are real people living these very hard realities.