Thursday, April 15, 2010

Richard Dawkins on the Pedophilia Delusion

    Priestly abuse of children is nowadays taken to mean sexual abuse, and I feel obliged, at the outset, to get the whole matter of sexual abuse into proportion and out of the way. Others have noted that we live in a time of hysteria about paedophilia, a mob psychology that calls to mind the Salem witch-hunts of 1692… All three of the boarding schools I attended employed teachers whose affections for small boys overstepped the bounds of propriety. That was indeed reprehensible. Nevertheless, if, fifty years on, they had been hounded by vigilantes or lawyers as no better than child murderers, I should have felt obliged to come to their defence, even as the victim of one of them (an embarrassing but otherwise harmless experience).

    The Roman Catholic Church has borne a heavy share of such retrospective opprobrium. For all sorts of reasons I dislike the Roman Catholic Church. But I dislike unfairness even more, and I can’t help wondering whether this one institution has been unfairly demonized over the issue, especially in Ireland and America… We should be aware of the remarkable power of the mind to concoct false memories, especially when abetted by unscrupulous therapists and mercenary lawyers. The psychologist Elizabeth Loftus has shown great courage, in the face of spiteful vested interests, in demonstrating how easy it is for people to concoct memories that are entirely false but which seem, to the victim, every bit as real as true memories. This is so counter-intuitive that juries are easily swayed by sincere but false testimony from witnesses.
Über-atheist Richard Dawkins, despite his recent "campaign to arrest Pope Benedict XVI" (Atheist Richard Dawkins' 'publicity stunt'), wrote the above on pages 315-16 of The God Delusion, "as recently as 2006," quoted by David Lindsay — So Nasty.

How many of these cases rehashed from the '70s and '80s were "embarrassing but otherwise harmless experience[s]" like the one Prof. Dawkins had, one wonders. Not that even these should be excused, but perhaps they should not be the cause of multi-million dollar lawsuits initiated by "unscrupulous therapists and mercenary lawyers," let alone media defamation of Pope Ratzinger's character. Turning from an atheist to a reactionary Catholic, Joseph Sobran's thoughts come to mind — The Acquittal:
    Child molesting is one of those things — like flag burning, pot smoking, and Holocaust denial — that cause some people to freak out. It’s not enough to say you’re against them; if you oppose them with anything less than hysteria, some readers are sure to assume you favor them....

    Child molesting is a serious sin. Even liberals don’t make light of it. But it’s the prevalent hysteria on the subject that gives me pause. By all means, children should be protected from it; I’ve also known kids whose lives were terribly damaged by it (girls, I think, more than boys). And yet others seem to suffer no permanent or irreparable harm. The vice has been commonly accepted in some civilizations, and most of their members seem to have been pretty normal.
The Salem Witchcraft Trials of 1692 were mentioned as an example of "mob psychology" by Prof. Dawkins; the McMartin Preschool Abuse Trials of 1987 to 1990 are an example closer to our times. The Myth of the Pedophile Priest appears to have excited "mob psychology" once again.

Back when I was a college student "slumming it" on The West Side of Buffalo, a Vietnamese family I knew had an old Vietnamese man living on the third floor whom everybody joked about as being queer. [My lay anthropological observations on Southeast Asian queerdom — The Thai (and Vietnamese) Way and Gays.] Back to my story, I remember once some local Nuyorican boys coming down from his apartment, giggling. I think I remember the old man handing them a couple of bucks, but Prof. Dawkins is absolutely right about "how easy it is for people to concoct memories that are entirely false," so don't quote on any of this.

Anyway, the kids were definitely minors, probably below the age of consent, but also certainly above the age of reason. At the time I suspected that some fondling may have occurred, but not sodomy, but that may be just because I've always been a prude. Whatever the case, I never considered intervening or calling the cops. Maybe I should have, but they weren't my kids and it wasn't my neighborhood; I was, as I said, "slumming it."

The whole thing seemed, perverted as it was, perfectly natural, in the sense that such goings-on have been a part of human history from the get-go. I'm also reminded of my sixteen-year-old high school friend kicked out of his house by his adoptive parents who ended up living being taken in by some guy in his twenties with a lisp, who offered us a place to drink beer. We never suspected anything weird happened after we went home; the '80s were far less sexualized than now and such thoughts did not come readily to mind. But looking back, the arrangement seems far less innocent than it did at the time, but still hardly something to fly into mob hysteria about.

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Blogger The Sanity Inspector said...

Yes, some victims of childhood abuse are more resilient than others. Some cope and move on, some don't. I remember when the '02 abuse scandal broke, there was a case where one young man killed himself, because he couldn't bear the memory of his childhood abuse any longer.

You are of course aware of the phenomenon of people getting habituated to a wrong by its ubiquity. We rightly hold the priesthood to a higher standard than we do weirdos in a neighborhood where we are "slumming it." The Church deserves all the flak it's catching over this, not out of anti-Catholic bigotry, but out of necessity to drive the serpents out of the premises. Indeed, the Church should be leading the charge here.

11:37 PM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

I, too, take a hard line on this, and hold the priesthood to a higher standard, but the matter of degree is important here. Are the cases we're talking about child rape, fondling, or touching on the shoulder?

12:33 AM  
Blogger Enbrethiliel said...


Joshua, your post reminds me of a similar experience I had of seeing something that was not quite right and choosing to do nothing about it.

It involved a student and a fellow teacher at the first school I taught in. I was a student there myself, and I knew that it was pretty common for some of the more flirtatious girls to have "boyfriends" among the male teachers (or more controversially, "girlfriends" among the female teachers!).

One of the girls in my homeroom had been spotted "dating" one of her teachers. Everyone in her class knew about it; many teachers in the faculty room did, too. Although I can really only speak for myself, I think the main reason nobody brought the case before either the principal or the girl's parents was that we knew that it was nothing but a fling. And sure enough, after she graduated and went to college, she forgot all about him.

12:59 AM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

Unless we're dealing with real children and/or rape, I think it's wise not to stick our noses into other people's business. Of course, if it were my own kids, I'd be issuing beatings to all parties involved.

1:06 AM  
Anonymous m.z. said...

If statistics are to be believed, ~20% of girls are inapproriately touched in some way against their consent before adulthood. We don't have the prisons to accomodate all those men.

2:02 AM  
Blogger Kevin Jones said...

From Catholic News Agency:
In an essay titled “Religion's Real Child Abuse,” posted on Dawkins' website in 2006, he speculated that instructing young people in the Catholic faith was worse than many kinds of physical abuse.

Discussing how sexual abuse can range in severity, he recounted a mild instance of molestation he suffered at nine years old.

For him the incident was “a disagreeable sensation” and produced a mixture of embarrassment and revulsion. However, in his view it was “certainly not in the same league as being led to believe that I, or someone I knew, might go to everlasting fire.”

“Odious as the physical abuse of children by priests undoubtedly is, I suspect that it may do them less lasting damage than the mental abuse of bringing them up Catholic in the first place,” Dawkins wrote.

2:05 AM  
Anonymous ben said...

When I was teaching English Comp as a grad student, I had a seventeen year old girl make me an offer for a passing grade.

I kind of thought it was funny and laughed about it with my new fiance. I never thought about talking to the dean or department chair.

I suspect that this sort of thing happens all of the time.

2:06 AM  
Blogger love the girls said...

Kevin Jones writes : "he speculated that instructing young people in the Catholic faith was worse than many kinds of physical abuse."

This has been coming down for a while now. As parental authority is further abrogated, this will come further to the front as a category of mental abuse.

2:12 AM  
Blogger Terry Nelson said...

Enbrethiliel directed me back here to read this after I posted in a similar vein - though not as respectably as you have done - mine is more - 'slummy'. I will link to this if you don't mind.

3:00 AM  
Blogger Jeff said...

I have a hard time coping due to the repeated medical intervention I need to be able to pee. The scar tissue from the abuse I suffered before rhe age of 3 is significant, as is the pelvic damage. Internal adhesions-don't get me started.
Would you have called the cops if you had heard a toddler screaming and screaming upstairs?

6:03 PM  

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