Friday, September 13, 2013

Speaking of a "God Delusion"

Tell your child she's going to hell; or leave her alone with this man. 
 Which would be worse? *

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.”

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 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"?

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."

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.
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?

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.

1 comment:

  1. On my otherblog I got into a session of the eternal dispute over Woody Allen, his lily white casting and, of course, his bizarre history of inappropriate behavior with teenage girls. Looking up one point I, unfortunately, read an article about the son Mia Farrow had with him, Ronan Farrow, the one who used to be named Satchmo (that's how I googled it) How Allen openly hated his biological con and, which, even more unfortunately, led me to read about the rather disturbingly large number of witnesses talking about Allen's bizarre and inappropriate behavior of physically doting on his very young adopted daughter who was then named "Dylan" but who has changed her name as well. Neither of them will have anything to do with Allen now that they're grown. I've been wondering if it were something to write about, wondering if the marked difference in reaction to reported pedophilia against girls is more accepting of it than if the reported victim is a boy. But your post is causing me to consider if it might be more complicated than that. I can imagine what he and his fellow atheists would say if a Catholic priest said something like that. If I had the time I might go see what they may have said over the infamous pronouncements of Paul Shanley on the benefits of pedophilia. I can't imagine those were acceptable to them.

    See also Dawkin's role in "elevatorgate".

    Dawkins is a really strange man who seems to have a need to get his name in the news.