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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 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 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 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.
‹ber-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 ó 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 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 them....

    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.
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 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.
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