As a writer, I admire people who are good with words, spoken or written. One great entertainer with words is Stephen Fry, who has fallen foul of the authorities in Ireland, because of things he said two years ago in an interview. He had expressed his opinion of God. An opinion which could be construed as blasphemy, which I now know is still a crime in Ireland.

I have heard Stephen express anti-christian views, many times. Of course, he says things in a colourful way, which makes them memorable and thought-provoking. Well, provoking, anyway. I disagree with him, but I am aware that many others do not. I am sure they would be amazed to learn they were breaking the law by saying what they thought.

I know that in Pakistan there are blasphemy laws, by which you can be prosecuted for saying things derogatory of Islam or the Prophet Mohammed. The laws are used to stifle discussion or dissent. They are also used to further personal disputes. I have recently heard that Indonesia has something similar, by which the governor of Jakarta is currently being prosecuted.

In other places, Moslems are sometimes so incensed by anything perceived as an insult to their religion that Christians and other non-Moslems have to be very careful to avoid violent reactions to their words, even if spoken in response to things said against their religions. Many people are concerned at these official and unofficial restrictions on freedom of speech and of religion.

I had thought that there was no equivalent in Europe or the English-speaking World. I mean, that opinions on religion or any other subject could be freely expressed, whether in serious debate or through satire or other forms of comedy. As a writer of historical fiction, I have addressed religious intolerance and the resulting conflicts in their context. I had thought that they belonged in history.

What did Stephen say? That if there was a god, he must be cruel, capricious and irrational, or words to that effect, and that such a god would not be worthy of our worship or allegiance. He is far from alone in such an opinion. Something like it has been expressed many times over the years, by many commentators.

As a Christian, do I find that offensive? I find it hurtful, but I expect many people find it hurtful to be condemned as sinners by some preachers. Such differences are a fact of life. My strongest reaction is not hurt, but sadness. I find it sad that a sensitive and intelligent man such as Stephen sees the negative aspects of religion and of the World, rather than the positive ones. I find it sad that he has not realised that Christians down the ages have struggled within themselves with the problems of pain and injustice, and have found answers that led them to continue and even grow in the faith. Read The Problem of Pain by C S Lewis. (Another man who loved words).

What does the Bible say? It does not ignore the issues Stephen raises. The epistles are full of reference to suffering. The Book of Job delves deeply into the matter. And above all, the very centre of the Gospel is the story of the crucifixion, where Jesus dies a horrible death as a result of injustice.

So what about the Blasphemy Law? Christians do not need any laws to defend God’s Truth. The answer to critics is…to answer them. To set out our views. As long as there is freedom both ways, we have nothing to fear. Let’s leave oppression and intolerance to history!