UPDATE: This play has now been broadcast. If you’re looking for a review, see my other article. This article was originally posted here on August 19.
Writer Frank Cottrell Boyce, who wrote the script for 24 Hour Party People, has an article in today’s Guardian about his experience writing the script for Mark Redhead’s dramatic project, God on Trial, a play about Jews in a Nazi deathcamp who put God on trial and find him guilty. As Boyce remarks, this isn’t so extraordinary as it may seem to people outside the Jewish tradition of scholarship, though there is no convincing evidence that the trial in question actually took place.
Boyce found the research and writing quite challenging, and questioned his beliefs as a Roman Catholic:
In the end Boyce forgives God, and he sees his play as being about the power of faith, quoting La Rochefoucauld: “A great storm puts out a little fire, but it feeds a strong one.” He is unable to account for the heroism and stoicism he found in his research, if not from a divine source. He also subtly draws a link between godless science and the death-camps via the eugenicist Marie Stopes, who carried her beliefs to the point of ostracizing her son when he married a woman who wore glasses, and the reader is left to draw an unfavorable comparison with the tale of the Prodigal Son. Yes, Boyce is a skilful writer and I’ll watch his play when it’s shown in early September.
I don’t share Boyce’s perspective. I don’t doubt God, because I see no reason to believe that God (by any definition) exists in the first place. I know that humans are capable of great good and great evil, and I no more see a need to account for good by appeal to the divine than I see a need to account for evil by appeal to the satanic. The human brain is very complex and supports a mind capable of encompassing both.
But I recognise the work Boyce has engaged in as a good and necessary one–irrespective of his conclusion and personal bias. I don’t think Boyce would really want to characterize the play as solely a test of faith, or part of a dialog between humanity and God. If it were only that, then from my point of view it would be an exercise in self-delusion. These are questions–good and evil and how we decide to account for them–that must be asked irrespective of our beliefs. They are questions for an atheist as much as they are questions for the Catholic or the Jew. For the atheist, it was not God on trial at Auschwitz, but humanity. Offloading the question to an external entity is an evasion of responsibility.