Richard Dawkins, of “The God Delusion” fame, mentions in his recently published autobiography that he can’t condemn the teacher who molested him at one of the boarding schools he attended as a child. He also claimed indifference toward the older boys at another boarding school who attempted to molest him in the middle of the night on four different occasions. He said the former was more disturbing to him than the latter, but in the long run the incidents are not all that significant.
Dawkins doesn’t condone the behavior of the teacher (or the older boys for that matter) but he said the “schoolmaster who touched me up . . . didn’t actually do me any physical violence.” He said mild pedophilia shouldn’t be viewed in the same category as the forcible rape and murder of children. He added that what happened to him doesn’t compare to the “mass murders carried out by Genghis Khan in the 12th century.” I guess not when you put it that way.
But I find the comparison interesting. He did not compare his experience with being bullied, for example, although he writes in his autobiography about standing by and doing nothing as a gang of other boys at his school mercilessly bullied a classmate. He still feels guilt about that, he says. He is disturbed especially because he felt no empathy for the boy at the time. Yet he had to minimize the impact of his experience at the hands of a teacher by comparing it to the mass murders of Genghis Khan. Curious.
It seems to me that the experience had far more of an impact on Dawkins than he admits to himself. Some of the reports about his comments characterize him as excusing “mild pedophilia.” I don’t think he’s saying that here. Rather, he is saying put these things in perspective. Which we should.
This is what we know about Dawkins’ childhood experience.
- The molestation by the teacher was a dark time for him
- The sexual assaults by the older boys at school were less traumatic but apparently not insignificant
- Standing by watching another boy be bullied without doing anything still bothers him today, some 60 years later
- His inaction was at least in part due to his desire to remain popular with the bullies
- He enthusiastically embraced religion (the Church of England) at age 13 but rejected the church at 17 and became an atheist
Having read only the excerpt of his life story, I have no inkling of what triggered his choice to reject God. But I think it is preposterous to presume that the molestation, the sexual assaults by the older boys, the pressure he felt to remain silent while the powerful abused the weak, that these experiences had nothing to do with that choice. Dawkins called his experience “mild pedophilia,” and while such an individual experience is insignificant in the overall scheme of all creation, “mild pedophilia,” sexual assaults, the abuse that he witnessed, his physical separation from his family all had a profound impact on him whether he sees it or not. He was alone. His peers were a danger to him. And those adults who were charged with watching over him proved themselves to be even more dangerous.
With this kind of childhood experience, it would be extremely difficult for anyone to believe that there is a Father in heaven who loves him, who loves us all. Sexual abuse–no matter how seemingly trivial by comparison to the ravages wrought by Genghis Khan, no matter little the physical violence–can cause profound and lasting damage to the soul.