The trouble with being a public figure is that people find out what you really think:
In a recent interview with the Times magazine, Richard Dawkins attempted to defend what he called “mild pedophilia,” which, he says, he personally experienced as a young child and does not believe causes “lasting harm.”I dunno. Having experienced "modern" racists, I think I can condemn racism in the 18th and 19th centuries just as firmly. And as for "mild pedophilia," is that kinda like "mild sexual abuse," or "mild rape," or even "mild physical abuse"?
Dawkins went on to say that one of his former school masters “pulled me on his knee and put his hand inside my shorts,” and that to condemn this “mild touching up” as sexual abuse today would somehow be unfair.
“I am very conscious that you can’t condemn people of an earlier era by the standards of ours. Just as we don’t look back at the 18th and 19th centuries and condemn people for racism in the same way as we would condemn a modern person for racism, I look back a few decades to my childhood and see things like caning, like mild pedophilia, and can’t find it in me to condemn it by the same standards as I or anyone would today,” he said.
Plus, he added, though his other classmates also experienced abuse at the hands of this teacher, “I don’t think he did any of us lasting harm.”
I know Mr. Dawkins doesn't think he needs to know anything about religion to be able to condemn it outright. Does that caveat apply equally to abuse of persons? And, as the Atlantic points out, "Dawkins, a scientist, relies on anecdotal evidence and speculation to 'prove' his point." He doesn't think it did any of his classmates any lasting harm. What more proof do you need?
In other words, if you don't know what you're talking about, rely on your own subjective feelings. Which is fine, so long as you don't extend your conclusions to all others similarly situated. Can Mr. Dawkins really not imagine other experiences of existence beyond his own?
To be fair, there is a point at which Dawkins' remarks might make sense:
Dawkins has responded to the controvery his remarks caused here, writing, "To excuse pedophiliac assaults in general, or to make light of the horrific experiences of others, was a thousand miles from my intention."Of course, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. But there are two disparate issues here: defining all pedophilia as traumatic to the victim, and defining actions as pedophilia. "Mild pedophilia" means there are gradations of pedophilia, with some to be strongly condemned, and some to be overlooked as "not that bad" and even "boys will be boys" (or "men will be mild pedophiles"). I don't want to live in a world where everyone is treated like a traumatized victim regardless of their particular reaction, but neither do I want to live in a world where some acts of pedophilia are excused because they are "mild" or they didn't do Richard Dawkins any harm, so why are you crying?
This is indeed a delicate thing to talk about because, of course, it is a big deal when an adult abuses a child in any way—sexual or otherwise. But what this research suggests is that while urgency in detecting and stopping abuse of children is warranted, assumptions that all minors are traumatized by any sexual contact with someone over the age of consent are not scientifically supported. Perhaps more importantly, by sending the message that such experiences are by definition traumatic, we may sometimes be causing suffering even as we try to stop it.
You know, maybe truth really is a relationship. And not one I can enter into with Richard Dawkins.
*Dawkins is more outraged by children being told they'll go to hell than by "mild pedophilia." As the Atlantic notes, even his claims there rely on anecdotal evidence. There are actual scientists working in those areas, discerning issues with actual scientific evidence. Having been raised in a fire and brimstone culture I can say it did me no lasting harm, especially of the kind Dawkins fears. But even though I feared my parents' anger far more than damnation, I don't think hell is a harmless cultural artifact, either. I'd never say a little fear of hell did me no harm, but I do think pedophilia is more likely to be damaging; or is at least just as damaging.