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 1692Ö 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
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 canít help wondering whether this one institution has been unfairly demonized over the issue, especially in Ireland and AmericaÖ 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.
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 ó The Acquittal:
Child molesting is one of those
things ó like flag burning, pot
smoking, and Holocaust denial ó that
cause some people to freak out. Itís
not enough to say youíre against
them; if you oppose them with
anything less than hysteria, some
readers are sure to assume you favor
Child molesting is a serious sin. Even liberals donít make light of it. But itís the prevalent hysteria on the subject that gives me pause. By all means, children should be protected from it; Iíve 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.
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 ó 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.