Richard Dawkins continues to impress

Richard Dawkins, one of the world’s best-known and outspoken atheists, has provoked outrage among child protection agencies and experts after suggesting that recent child abuse scandals have been overblown.

In an interview in The Times magazine on Saturday (Sept. 7), Dawkins, 72, he said he was unable to condemn what he called “the mild pedophilia” he experienced at an English school when he was a child in the 1950s.

Referring to his early days at a boarding school in Salisbury, he recalled how one of the (unnamed) masters “pulled me on his knee and put his hand inside my shorts.”

He said other children in his school peer group had been molested by the same teacher but concluded: “I don’t think he did any of us lasting harm.”

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.

*As long as they are members of the English Upper Crust–in a word, the Right Sort.  Medievals and Bronze Age peoples must be held rigidly to the shallow secular prejudices and presupposition of a shrill Oxbridge scholar and the sort of people who chat him up on the BBC.

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  • Steve

    Mark, did you say that someday they’ll condemn the Church for opposing this sort of thing?

    • chezami

      Yep. It’s coming.

    • Newp Ort

      Well so far we are still squarely in the era when “they” condemn the church for enabling and hiding this sort of thing, fairly or unfairly.

      I feel quite sorry for Dawkins and I don’t think people should be critical of HIM so much as the content of his words. He is a victim of abuse.

      That said I am actually quite encouraged by the response because it looks like the idea that “it wasn’t so bad” is meeting with universal disagreement.

  • Dave G.

    Who doesn’t? The entire modern era’s feeling of worth is based on condemning every other era by holding it to the same superior standards we frequently ignore. Where did this even come from?

    • This is one of my favorite comments ever.

    • Newp Ort

      We didn’t do this when I was a kid.

  • PeonyMoss

    That is messed. up.

  • Julie Peitz Nickell

    I feel bad for Dawkins now. I hate to bring this up, but of course I don’t think the church should ever. ever get a pass on legitimate claims of this sort, but the comments seemed to reflect a sort of, well, it’s old Dawkins, give him a pass and a little understanding, and if he said a Catholic schoolteacher rather than an English schoolmaster were involved there would be a gnashing of teeth and nasty comments from the bowels of hell in the com boxes. I do feel sorry for him in this. Perhaps the experience affected him more than he knows.

    • ivan_the_mad

      “He said other children in his school peer group had been molested by the
      same teacher but concluded: ‘I don’t think he did any of us lasting harm.'”

      I feel sorry for him as well. I cannot imagine being violated in such manner and avoiding harm. Surely there is some sort of repression at work. Poor fellow.

  • The Deuce

    The funny thing is, Dawkins has been defending pedophilia for years, and the other New Atheists have gone along with it and ignored it all that time. The only reason they’re making a big deal of it now is that The Dawk has had a falling out with the radical feminist contingent of the New Atheists on other grounds recently, so they’ve decided to use this as ammunition against him, not because they personally have a big problem with pedophilia all of a sudden, but because they know that normal, well-adjusted people do.

    • Newp Ort

      Citations, please. And I mean that not just in the snarky internet sense, but I am genuinely curious about this.

  • Silly Interloper

    Uh. Ahem. Are we really to believe that the master would not be judged harshly for pedophilia during this “earlier era?”

  • Suddenly all the rest of his philosophy makes a lot more sense.

  • Doug

    It would seem like a pretty simple case of denial. Child sexual abuse survivors can frequently look at the string of disasters their lives became after the abuse and angrily deny their experience as children had anything to do with it. It’s easier and far more acceptable to say “I’m a fuck-up” than to say “I got fucked up.” When you’re surrounded by friends and family members who are more than glad to agree with you as long as it exonerates their particular idols, it can be utterly destructive.

  • LFM

    It’s hard to say what the attitude to such matters used to be because the habit of secrecy seems to have overruled everything else until recently.

    In his memoirs, Evelyn Waugh writes about how he taught at a school at which there was a notorious pedophile teacher to whom he referred as “Captain Grimes.” Waugh did not feel called upon to report Grimes to the police, although he had actually confessed an incident of pedophiliac behavior to Waugh. Grimes was fired from all the various schools at which he taught, but that proves only that he was repeatedly re-hired, and that his crimes remained a secret.

  • tz1