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In which I annoy everyone all at once

There’s apparently a lot of discussion on Twitter about something Richard Dawkins said yesterday (on something – a debate with Mehdi Hasan? is that right? – that will be on Al-Jazeera in December). I’ve seen some of it, but also references to more, which I haven’t seen. The origin was a tweet (isn’t it always?) -

Tonight, Dawkins argued that teaching a child about hell is worse than a child being sexually abused, which he said ‘she might feel was yucky’.

Some people pointed out that he said the same thing in The God Delusion, and even supplied the page, so I looked it up.

Here’s the thing. I agree with people who are outraged by the “worse than a child being sexually abused” part, but I agree with Dawkins that the badness of teaching children that hell is real is terrible and that that gets neglected.

I think this means I’ve irritated everyone. So it goes.

I think it’s a big mistake, and especially so for Dawkins and at this stage of the game, to compare it with anything else, and to minimize child sexual abuse. (TGD came out before the Ryan Report. I would guess Dawkins has read the Ryan Report. I think it was front and center at the time of the protests against the pope’s visit. If he has, it seems odd that he’s still arguing that priestly child sexual abuse isn’t always a big deal. He may be right that for some children it really isn’t, but it’s a very dubious thing to argue, especially when the church is still trying to brush it under the carpet.) I think he should just separate the two, and then leave the other one strictly alone. Focus on hell, and leave the child abuse issue alone; that’s my advice.

I do agree with him though that the idea of hell is really really bad. What he was talking about in TGD (starting on page 317) was a letter from “an American woman” who was raised Catholic and had both experiences at age 7 - priestly abuse and terror about hell. A priest fondled her, and a Protestant friend of hers died and went to hell – or so she’d been taught to believe. The second item was “by far the worst.”

Dawkins quotes from the letter.

Being fondled by the priest simply left the impression (from the mind of a  7 year old) as ‘yucky’ while the memory of my friend going to hell was one of cold, unmeasurable fear. I never lost sleep because of the priest – but I spent many a night being terrified that the people I loved would go to Hell.

You see in that tweet above it looks as if “yucky” is Dawkins’s word, and a damn silly one, but in fact he was quoting.

I think he shouldn’t compare the two, especially now, but I do think he’s right about hell.

I look forward to your letters, as Craig says.

Comments

  1. says

    Well my education about hell from my CofE teachers is no big deal in my case as I thought it was daft and told them that. Fortunately they knew I was a lost cause and hitting the pupils was not something they did very often so I never experienced any abuse, mental or otherwise. In a Catholic school I’d imagine it could well go badly at times.

    There are literally no ways I can imagine childhood sexual abuse being such a minor matter. Although I did just read manboobz story on a paedophile MRA, great combination, who thinks it can be a positive experience. If you haven’t read it and think MRAs couldn’t get any worse, I’d recommend it with a great big Trigger Warning! Here.

  2. says

    After re-reading the bit in TGD, it seems like it’s a story Dawkins likes telling because it is/he wants it to be provocative. That’s how he leads the bit in TGD–”It was an off-the-cuff remark made in the heat of the moment, and I was surprised that it earned a round of enthusiastic applause from that Irish audience”–before he goes into the various hedges and caveats. Making the argument sound reasonable requires those caveats; it also requires greatly overextending the anecdotal experience of one anonymous woman.

    A big problem with Dawkins’s argument is that it seems to take into account long-term damage, when his one anecdotal citation doesn’t. The “yucky” bit, the fear, the nightmares–all of that is at the time, when the adult ex-believer was still a believing child.

    I’m sure that being taught to believe in and fear Hell has nasty effects on people’s psyches, and there’s at least one organization (Recovering from Religion) dedicated to undoing that damage. But there are quite a lot of atheists who, despite being taught about hell in childhood, managed to discard their fears and anxieties about the place after learning that it wasn’t real. It might have been a more lengthy or more traumatic process than, say, losing your fear and anxiety of the monster under the bed or the boogieman in the closet, but I suspect for many, the processes were fundamentally the same. The rational mind, learning that the scary thing doesn’t exist, eventually conquers the childhood fear of the dark and unknown, conquers the scary stories it was told, or that it invented itself.

    The problem with sexual abuse (speaking off the cuff, largely uninformed, as neither a specialist nor a victim, so feel free to correct me)? It was real. It happened. There’s no reasoning it away. There’s therapy and coping strategies and the way time fades our memories, but there’s never a time that a victim of sexual abuse can say “Oh, but there was never a pedophile uncle, so all those times I couldn’t sleep were really silly.”

    I’d be curious–and I suspect with the rising tide of atheists, this would be possible–to see an actual study done on the relative damage of the two things, but I don’t imagine it would go the way Dawkins might like.

  3. unity says

    Well you certainly haven’t irritated me.

    Can teaching a child about hell be worse that child sexual abuse?

    Yes, of course it can, if the manner in which its taught is psychologically abusive and, certainly, in some cases it is. It all depends on the child and the circumstances under which the abuse, of whatever kind, takes place, which is why you’re of course right the we shouldn’t overlook the impact of any kind of abuse.

    I’m not the least bit outraged by Dawkins’ comments because, as I see, this an open question to answer could feasibly be obtained – we look at rates of long-term mental health problems in survivors of both types of abuse to get a clear picture of which is worse, in empirical terms, not that would make much difference to survivors for whom the worst kind of abuse is always going to be the kind to which they were personally subjected.

  4. says

    I wonder if believing in hell would also have made me dissociate during consensual sex, like childhood sexual abuse did, so that relationships aren’t possible.

    I really dislike this line of rhetoric.

  5. says

    Ouch.

    Yes. I’m not defending the comparison, just the focus on hell teachings.

    I think of it as a moral issue more than an empirical one. I suppose it’s ultimately empirical – I suppose if there were evidence that no child was at all bothered by believing in hell, I would change my mind about it. But it seems to me to be just self-evidently a terrible thing to do, in just the way telling teenage girls or women who monitor school buses that they’re ugly and disgusting and losers is.

  6. Carlos Cabanita says

    I think it is an unfortunate comparison of two non-quantities.
    I have no personal experience but I understand there is no “child abuse” in the abstract sense. Child abuse can go from occasional fondling to years of repeated rape. The suffering is always personal.
    The results of Catholic brainwashing (of that I have considerable experience) vary widely, because some people naturally take religion seriously and other people don’t care. But it is a common result of a Catholic education to be unable to enjoy sex without guilt. Even when you enjoy it you feel it’s dirty. It takes years and lots of mental work to undo that.
    Anyway, comparing two pains one hasn’t suffered is stupid.

  7. geocatherder says

    I have a hard time believing that teaching about hell is really worse than childhood sexual abuse, though I’ve never been molested, so I don’t really know. I was actually a good Catholic kid, who said her prayers and went to Confession regularly and tried really hard to obey the Golden Rule, though that was pretty tricky when you were arguing with your friend about whose Barbie should wear the blue dress. So hell never much worried me; I could always sort it out with God in Confession.

    But the “sex is dirty” theme, which my mother reinforced heavily, took a long time to outgrow.

  8. unity says

    The problem with sexual abuse (speaking off the cuff, largely uninformed, as neither a specialist nor a victim, so feel free to correct me)? It was real. It happened. There’s no reasoning it away.

    True, but that doesn’t mean to say that some people don’t get over their experiences without the need for therapy, etc.

    We’ve got be just a little bit careful here about making assumptions based on stereotypes derived from worst case scenarios.

    Rape is a very good example of this issue. The early studies which established the existence of rape trauma syndrome were based on women who had sought psychiatric help for their problems they were experiencing due to their having been raped.

    These were very good clinical studies and have, quite rightly, been highly influential in shaping our understanding of what is, today, referred to as complex PTSD. However, because they were based on a self-selecting population they creates a distorted picture of the prevalence of PTSD in rape survivors – most reported PTSD rates of in the 85-90%+ range and it quickly became the accepted view that the overwhelming majority of rape survivors would experience significant symptoms of PTSD, or other serious mental health problems,a view that was rarely, if ever, challenged by advocacy groups because it made for compelling PR.

    That was an understandable mistake. If you’re fighting to get rape taken seriously a 90% trauma rate is a hell of stick to beat politicians and the like with, but a mistake it was. 30+ years on, we’re now seeing the first proper epidemiological studies and these show that PTSD rates in rape survivors are high – 35%+ women who were subject to significant physical force/violence while being, rather lower if serious violence was absent and lower still if the victim was significantly intoxicated when the rape took place – but nothing like as high as the early studies appeared to suggest.

    For the avoidance of doubt, what these new studies are telling us is that women a psychologically more robust than was previously supposed, which I take as being good news on the whole.

    Unfortunately, one of the unintended side-effect of promoting the trauma stereotype was that it found its was into the thinking of people in the criminal justice system and became a barrier to justice. People thought they knew how a complainant should behave if they had actually been raped – they should be traumatised – so when complainants failed to conform to that it raised doubts as to the veracity of their complaint, and you end up having to put psychiatrists on the stand to explain why many victims don’t behave as if they’ve been traumatised just to give a fighting chance of being believed.

    Although we imagine that being sexually abused, whether as child or an adult, must be the worst possible thing that could happen to someone and they must obviously be traumatised by such an experience, it ain’t necessarily so and we need to mindful of the fact that faulty assumptions derived from stereotypical thinking can have unlooked for consequences that can, sadly, work against survivors and harm their interests.

  9. unity says

    I wonder if believing in hell would also have made me dissociate during consensual sex, like childhood sexual abuse did, so that relationships aren’t possible.

    Perfectly possible, I’m afraid, when you consider the extent to which the Abrahamic religions are obsessed with sex and sexual morality.

  10. johnthedrunkard says

    Am I misremembering? I don’t have the quote in hand, but I recall Dawkins making this comparison in speaking of HIS OWN experience of being groped by a clergyman.

    So, sure, SOME ‘clergy abuse’ is less traumatizing than MOST deeply vicious religious instruction. But almost no one is talking about experiences like Dawkins’ when they speak of ‘clergy abuse.’

    40 suicides in Australia linked to a single pedophile priest. I think they would have done much better being home-schooled in Quiverfull households under constant threat of hell. Not that that’s a choice anyone should have to make.

  11. says

    Dissociation? Really?
    Guilt, sure. Lots of guilt. Even guilt resulting in acting out.
    But dissociation?

    Full-scale out-of-body dissociation? I’m sure it does on SOME, but I doubt it’s common.

    How many people’s guilt re: hell makes them go up into the ceiling despite not wanting to when trying to be intimate with another adult with whom they have a mutual attraction?

    Then again it does make some people stone others to death. I’m just not sure that that is “dissociation.”

  12. Rodney Nelson says

    I’m not annoyed. Sorry, better luck next time.

    It seems to me that Dawkins was using an anecdote to make a hyperbolic point. The woman who wrote the letter appears to have been more upset by Hell than being molested by a priest. Dawkins is using one data point to generalize. As a scientist he should know better.

  13. says

    #13, you aren’t misremembering. He did both: mentioned both the woman who told him the hell stuff was worse and describes his own experience being fondled as unpleasant, but probably not traumatising. See:

    http://old.richarddawkins.net/articles/118

    … And generally, I’d say: I just don’t think either of these things should be minimised. Take the sexual abuse properly seriously. And take the manipulative terrorizing of children through graphic threats of eternal, brutal torture properly seriously. There’s no particular reason this should become either/or.

  14. says

    The problem with this argument against teaching children to fear hell is that such instruction usually doesn’t come from a selfish or pathological place; it comes from terrified parents who will do anything to keep their beloved kids from actually going to hell. They believe it themselves. I am an atheist and have not raised my son with any religious beliefs, and I can only imagine how much (more) sleep I would lose if I thought for a moment that I might be damning him to eternal torture. RD’s analogy fails here too: child molesters are not molesting children because they believe they are saving them from something worse. I feel helplessly sorry for parents and children who live with the fear of hell. I would do anything to keep my kid from going there if I believed it were real. You can’t combat that by saying “you’re scaring him! that’s mean!”

  15. says

    @Unity:

    True, but that doesn’t mean to say that some people don’t get over their experiences without the need for therapy, etc.

    Certainly. I guess the big problem with Dawkins’s remarks is that he’s taking that best-case sexual abuse scenario (not really traumatizing in the long-term, comparatively mild, apparently not chronic), and comparing it to the worst-case Hell-teaching scenario (threatening, fearful, dogmatic, and accompanied by already-traumatizing deaths, where the belief exacerbates that trauma). In that comparison, sure, Hell-teaching can apparently be worse than childhood sexual abuse. For some people. In some circumstances.

    But change the parameters a bit, and it clearly isn’t. And if we were to run the numbers–what percentage of children indoctrinated by religion are psychologically traumatized by the teachings of Hell vs. what percentage of children who were sexually abused are traumatized by their abuse–I don’t think Dawkins’s scenario would turn out to be the more likely one.

  16. callistacat says

    Can’t they both be bad? Can these people please stop belittling sexual abuse survivors to make their points hyperbolic or inflammatory? It doesn’t help you get your point across better, it just makes you sound like a cold, heartless jackass.

    I was never molested but I was taught about hell as a child. And also taught that if you’re a good person you don’t have to worry about going there.

  17. xmaseveeve says

    Who cares? It’s a bit like his ‘Dear Muslima’ argument. Just because you see something bad as more bad than something else that’s bad, doesn’t mitigate the latter’s badness. You go down the route of Python’s, ‘Cardboard box? Luxury!’ sketch. And he clearly hasn’t read the studies on PTSD.

    Vile to suggest victims are after money, and certainly not the time to make comments such as these. It’s time for him to apologise for this sloppy thinking. You’re more likely to be fucked-up by being sexually abused as a child than from someone telling you scary fairytales.

  18. says

    I grew up being scared silly of hell, to the extent of waking up in a sweat in the middle of the night, time after time. The fear hung on until, in my 50s, when I realized I no longer could force myself to believe in God, I was again filled with dread because, even though I had long since stopped believing in a literal hell, deep down I felt as though it were still true.

    That was bad.

    I was sexually abused as a child and as an adult, at times with considerable violence as part of it. I still have nightmares. I still startle easily. I still have to fight my fear of big men, of enclosed situations (elevators, for example, or CAT scans), of preachers in general, of walking alone, even by day …

    That was (is) bad, too.

    What was worse, and I think is relevant in the context of priestly abuses, was the melding of the two fears. When a “man of God”, whether priest, pastor, or Christian teacher, rapes you or otherwise molests you, you are supposed to somehow work out how he is a good person, chosen by God, an authority on right and wrong, and yet someone who hurt you in that way. You are supposed to forgive, because God has forgiven him; you are supposed to submit, because he is your authority figure. He won’t go to hell for it; he’s already forgiven.

    But if you so much as have “lustful” thoughts, you’re going straight to hell. Or if you can’t forgive: hell. Or are still angry. Jesus said so.

    There you have all the terror of hell and all the present torment of abuse, all rolled up in a ball and welded into your guts.

  19. says

    The whole “A is worse than B” game gets really messy. It’s probably better to avoid unless the distance between A and B is really obvious. It’s good to point out that teaching of hell can be worse for the child than most people think, but comparing it to sexual abuse is a lousy way of doing that. There are different ways of measuring the “badness” of such things as teaching hell or sexual abuse. One would be by measuring the negative effects on the child, and it is possible to imagine specific cases, like the one in the tweet, where the teaching of hell might have more severe effects than certain less severe cases of sexual abuse, but that’s not something that seems fruitful to generalize from. The other measurement of “badness” is about the kind of involvement the perpetrator has in the act. Most people who teach hell do so because they sincerely believe in hell and believe that believing in hell is a good thing. That doesn’t make it a good thing to teach about hell, but the fact that the intentions are to “do the right thing” makes it very different from child sexual abuse. I’m sure someone who sexually abuses children plays all kinds of mental games to try to make it OK, but even so, it is clear that the adult is taking advantage of a child for selfish sexual urges. There is no honest way to construe it as having the best interest of the child at heart. Hence, the “guilt” placed on a child sexual abuser is one of the strongest guilts our society doles out, (and rightly so), which is why child molesters sometimes don’t fare well behind bars among thieves and murderers.

    Dawkins is a brilliant man who has contributed a lot, but he is human and far from perfect. It’s sad that he gets carried away on some subjects such as this one. The benefit of being provocative about hell does not justify any minimization of childhood sexual abuse.

  20. sheila says

    IIRC, in The God Delusion, Dawkins does make a clear distinction between being fondled and being raped. I think his point was that some religious abuse was worse than some sexual abuse, not that rape is no big deal.

    I’m sorry that I really haven’t got time to look this up. Dawkins isn’t immune from saying daft stuff, but he gets misquoted and quote-mined far more than most people.

    I think comparisons are dodgy at the best of times. Isn’t it enough that either kind of abuse can be very, very bad indeed?

    Fear of hell varies enormously. I’ve heard of adults who haven’t believed in God still having lots and lots of nightmares about hell. The protestant denominations that emphasise a literal, sizzling-hot hell also tend to be the ones that set totally impossible standards: if you ever have one, single lustful thought then you’ll go to hell and your flesh will be burning off your bones forever and ever.

    And Jafafa, I’m really,really sorry you got hurt so badly.

  21. Tim Harris says

    As I recall, Dawkins remarked that the schoolteacher (not priest) who on one occasion fondled him subsequently committed suicide; there didn’t, as I recall, appear to be any compassion for the man – not all paedophiles are happy with themselves. He seemed – as I recall – to have that very English, common-sensical, ‘deal with it attitude’ to that experience, the same attitude that comes across in the tale about the little girl who thought the priest’s actions were ‘yucky’, a word that he quotes because its very childishness seems to render that experience very nearly harmless. Maybe such experiences were, for Dawkins and the woman, fairly harmless, being singular, but for many people they are not, even when they are singular – and they are definitely not harmless when such abuse is repeated and repeated over a long period. Certainly, filling children’s minds with the horrors of hell is a terrible thing (Jerry Coyne put up a video the other day of some fundamentalist couple brainwashing a two-year-old child thazt I found unbearable to watch), but Dawkins is surely wrong to put this in a balance with the sexual abuse of children on the basis of his own experience and that woman’s.

  22. Beatrice says

    Can these people please stop belittling sexual abuse survivors to make their points hyperbolic or inflammatory? It doesn’t help you get your point across better, it just makes you sound like a cold, heartless jackass.

    Seconded.

  23. Bjarte Foshaug says

    The problem with this argument against teaching children to fear hell is that such instruction usually doesn’t come from a selfish or pathological place; it comes from terrified parents who will do anything to keep their beloved kids from actually going to hell. They believe it themselves. [...] I feel helplessly sorry for parents and children who live with the fear of hell. I would do anything to keep my kid from going there if I believed it were real. You can’t combat that by saying “you’re scaring him! that’s mean!”

    That’s an excellent point indeed. You cannot expect people to really believe that following God’s will is the only way to escape eternal torture and still act as if avoiding (by comparison) mild short-term suffering during our (by comparison) ridiculously short time on earth was more important. One problem with religion is that it allows otherwise intelligent people to think and act as if such ideas were true whether they are in fact true or not. What we call “religious extremism” is simply what follows – quite naturally – from this. This is why my main objection to religion the is the idea of leaving the most important questions in life up to blind faith in the first place.

    I still can’t sympathize with the parents though. If you believed in a God who deliberately created the worst of all possible worlds for the sole purpose of having people tortured for eternity for thought crime, would you still choose to worship him? If you believed in a God who would do this to your own child, would you still take his side? Would you still look forward to spending eternity in heaven if you thought your child would spend eternity in hell? If your answer to any of these questions is anything other than no, you are an absolute piece of shit, and all the faith in the universe is never going to change that.

  24. opposablethumbs says

    Dawkins is a wonderful science writer and a fine writer on atheism but his feet are solid clay all the way through. Like most people he has blind spots – unfortunately he doesn’t seem to want to hear it when people point this out.

    He really really needs to stop using this particular comparison for shock effect; I’m sure someone of his considerable eloquence could perfectly easily find another way of expressing his ideas without belittling the suffering of others – others who overwhelmingly belong to less privileged and powerful categories of people – by implication.

  25. says

    If you believed in a God who deliberately created the worst of all possible worlds for the sole purpose of having people tortured for eternity for thought crime, would you still choose to worship him?

    I hope not. But I would damn well fear him.

  26. Bjarte Foshaug says

    @drshell

    That makes sense. If that was indeed how reality was organized, I would argue that the only moral thing to do would be to stay childless, since there is no possible benefit to being born that could even begin to outweigh such an infinitely bad risk.

  27. StevoR says

    I think he shouldn’t compare the two, especially now, but I do think he’s right about hell.

    You make perfectly good and reasonable sense there and don’t annoy me at all by saying it Ophelia Benson.

    ***

    I think Isaac Asimov summed things up excellently here too :

    if I were not an atheist, I would believe in a God who would choose to save people on the basis of the totality of their lives and not the pattern of their words. I think He would prefer an honest and righteous atheist to a TV preacher whose every word is God, God, God and whose deed is foul, foul, foul.

    I would also want a God who would not allow a Hell. Infinite torture can only be a punishment for infinite evil, and I don’t believe that infinite evil can be said to exist even in the case of a Hitler. Besides if most human governments are civilised enough to try to eliminate torture and outlaw cruel and unusual punishments, can we expect anything less of an all-merciful God?

    I feel that if there were an afterlife, punishment for evil would be reasonable and of a fixed term. And I feel that the longest and worst punishment would be reserved for those who slandered God by inventing Hell.

    Source : Pages 337-338 “Life After Death” chapter in ‘I Asimov : A memoir’ (Asimov, Bantam, 1995.)

  28. StevoR says

    Can’t resist adding one more pertinant Asimov tale here :

    ***

    Once, when a religionist denounced me in unmeasured terms, I sent him a card saying, “I am sure you believe that I will go to hell when I die and that once there I will suffer all the pains and tortures the sadistic ingenuity of your diety can devise and that this torture will continue forever. Isn’t that enough for you? Do you have to call me bad names in addition?” I never received an answer, of course.”

    Source : Page 228, ‘I. Asimov : A Memoir’, Bantam books, 1995.

  29. iknklast says

    I was sexually abused as a child. I was also taught about hell. I lay awake nights after having said my “Now I lay me down to sleep” prayer again, wondering if I would indeed die before I woke, and if I was going to be classed with the goats and not the sheep. It was frightening. The sexual abuse was also frightening. Which was worse? Who knows?

    What I do know is that I spent 10 years in therapy dealing with lots of issues, including the sexual abuse, but losing the last shards of belief in god did seem to be the turning point. At that point, any thought that I might somehow be responsible for my own abuse (I was six when it first happened) went away. Any guilt about my abuse went away. Any feeling that I was a dirty creature because I mensturated and had female parts went away. Not all at once; this was a process. But it was interesting…now that I look back at it and can piece together the bits and pieces that made up the whole puzzle of my unhappy life.

    I don’t know if you can separate the two in a Christian household. The abuse is horrible; the tendency toward rationalizing, justifying, or blaming that goes along with it when you are immersed in a book that tells you being female is a sin makes it a zillion times worse.

    By the way, I’m happy now, so it ended all right, thanks to a skilled therapist and a stubborn will. Does that mean one was worse then, or less worse than, the other? I don’t know. I certainly dwelt on the sexual abuse a lot more than the Christian abuse once I’d decided hell probably wasn’t real (I was about ten; I became a non-believer then, I think, but it took about 20 more years to get all the shards of nonsense out of my head).

  30. jose says

    If, like Dawkins, we’re going to go with personal experiences as a base to judge what’s worse… everybody learned about hell in my La Salle school, but only a handful of kids that I know of were repeatedly “fondled” by one of the “brothers”. None of us wanted to be in their place.

    To be frank, our learnings about purgatory and hell terrified our parents more than ourselves. I have good memories of my parents going to the school to complain about my drawings of purgatory and the flood, which were an accurate representation of what we were taught, demanding the school to teach nicer parts of christianity.

    I agree we shouldn’t make a competition out of different wrongdoings.

  31. says

    I don’t know if you can separate the two in a Christian household. The abuse is horrible; the tendency toward rationalizing, justifying, or blaming that goes along with it when you are immersed in a book that tells you being female is a sin makes it a zillion times worse.

    Killer point. That’s another reason Dawkins shouldn’t separate (by comparing) the two.

    I mean, that’s a big part of why we find the priestly abuse so disgusting, after all – it’s because we know that the victims have been raised to think the priests are Holy and Good, so the abuse fucks with their heads in a way that abuse by someone not seen as officially Holy and Good doesn’t.

  32. jamessweet says

    As an off-the-cuff remark to provoke people into thinking about just how damaging the idea of hell can be, I think it was effective and I applauded it (even if I didn’t necessarily agree with it). As a point to be hammered home repeatedly, I think it is highly ill-advised, for a whole slew of reasons.

  33. Aratina Cage says

    Dawkins’ comparison of molestation with threats of Hell-fire is nothing more than the ugly face of his Dear Muslima way of thinking. He doesn’t think molestation is particularly damaging (one who is fed up with Dawkins’ antics might hear that as “zero bad”), so we should all ignore that (that is, be strong and “grow thicker skin”) and instead focus on the real damage caused by threats of eternal torture. Brilliant, Dawkins!

    He really shouldn’t be comparing these things just like he shouldn’t have compared the concerns of being objectified by one woman to female genital mutilation. Iknklast is right: these things are tied together but not in a way that allows you to compare one against the other. The more cultish religions do often cover up and even thrive on sexual molestation and rape, and the objectification/dehumanization of women does play a role in the spread of female genital mutilation. You just can’t pit one against the other and not come off looking like an idiot.

  34. Aratina Cage says

    I think it was effective and I applauded it

    Oh great, James! Did you applaud his off-the-cuff “Dear Muslima” remark, too? It certainly was provocative!

  35. Claire says

    I am stunned that there are people here who appear to be defending Dawkins on this. It’s an odious comparison that should never have been made. Not having been brought up in a catholic household I have no idea if being told about hell is extremely damaging to kids – from my own personal experience ‘mild’ abuse can also be extremely damaging. But hey, it’s not rape and its not being told about hell, so it must be not too bad then and I and others should just get over it right? Sounds like both hell and abuse are damaging, so why try to score points using such terrible, traumatic issues? At best, it’s an incredibly insensitive thing to do, and something I would bet the atheist community would slam Christians for if they had done it. Sorry, bit strong but I’m disappointed there is any debate on whether this is ok.

  36. mnb0 says

    “I think this means I’ve irritated everyone.”
    No, you haven’t irritated me at all. You just have given me another reason to dislike The God Delusion.
    I sincerily think atheism would be better off without it.

  37. says

    One problem, I think, is that people do not experience events the same way. I have no doubt that the woman who wrote that letter is telling the truth–her truth. Child sexual abuse is a huge category that includes everything from once getting a “bad touch” from a priest to penetrative rape and everything in between. Note: I’m not trying to create some sort of Child Abuse Olympics where there’s competition for the Worst Experience Gold; I’m trying to point out that there are varying degrees, though, so one person’s definition or experience of abuse may be miles away from someone else’s. I also think that it has less to do with what exactly happened than how you and the people around you reacted to it. Did you feel safe enough to tell anyone? Were you believed if you did tell? Were you given therapy right away? Not to mention that people are just different. We don’t know why two people can go through identical experiences and one person will develop PTSD and lifelong problems while the other person adjusts with seemingly little difficulty; we just know that it happens. And it doesn’t mean one person is weak for having problems, or that the other person isn’t dealing with what happened.

    The same thing goes for relgious indoctrination. As some commenters have said, learning about hell didn’t seem to impact them, much. For others, it caused life-long issues.

    I do agree that it’s not a good idea to compare the two. Both are bad. Both shouldn’t happen. Again, it shouldn’t be a competition.

    For myself, only, I can say that both caused a lot of problems for me. But while I eventually–after a lot of pain, fear, and struggle–got over damaging beliefs about hell, I have yet to “get over” the trauma (or the PTSD) of being sexually abused.

  38. Anne Marie says

    There is plenty of research showing what childhood sexual abuse does to children. I’m certainly no defender of religion or religious indoctrination but if Christianity produced an equal percentage of adults with severe enduring psychological and physical symptoms as child abuse (50-80% of its victims), these symptoms would be mind-bogglingly prevalent in our society. A majority of the population could have severe mental illnesses rather than the current 6%.

    Dawkins doesn’t need to water down or belittle the trauma of child abuse in order to point out the problems of teaching religion. Something doesn’t have to be THE. WORST. THING. EVER. to need to have attention paid to it. He keeps forgetting (or ignoring) that. He also doesn’t need to be any more “provocative” than he already is with his basic message. It’s enough of a challenge to the status quo to push to stop religious indoctrination without him alienating and insulting abuse victims in the process.

  39. mildlymagnificent says

    Surely there are comparisons that work better if you have to make them. Is it just that Dawkins realises that the threats of hell and damnation are simply the same kind of primitive superstitions as those about the Green Man in a bad mood or other pagan entities of nefarious intent emerging from the dark depths of the wilderness? They became folk tales or fairy stories used to frighten children into doing as they’re told.

    Or is it too obvious for a dignified scientist to talk about ignorant and authoritarian parents scaring their children with non-existent ghosties being the same thing as authoritarian religions scaring everyone with non-existent horrors?

  40. Aratina Cage says

    [T]he threats of hell and damnation are simply the same kind of primitive superstitions as those about the Green Man in a bad mood or other pagan entities of nefarious intent emerging from the dark depths of the wilderness[.]

    Or runaway adult in-jokes like Bigfoot and Santa Claus.

  41. Bjarte Foshaug says

    It almost makes you wish he would find God and be an embarrassment to theists for a change…

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