Atheist Richard Dawkins Stirs Outrage: ‘Light Pedophilia’ Didn’t Cause Me ‘Lasting Damage’

Dawkins Credit Mike CornwellCANTERBURY — A prominent atheist has stirred international outage following his comments regarding children who are victims of ‘light pedophilia.’

Richard Dawkins, known for his book The God Delusion, was recently featured in an interview in The Times, during which he spoke of his own sexual abuse as a child, which he said had no long-lasting affect upon his life.

“One day – I must have been about 11 – there was a master in the gallery with me. He pulled me onto his knee and put his hand inside my shorts. He did no more than have a little feel, but it was extremely disagreeable … as well as embarrassing,” he told the publication. “As soon as I could wriggle off his lap, I ran to tell my friends, many of whom had had the same experience with him. I don’t think he did any of us any lasting damage, but some years later he killed himself.”

However, when Dawkins shared his thoughts about degrees of pedophilia, the changing times and not treating all types of inappropriate touching alike, readers expressed shock and disappointment.

“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.”

“[T]he most notorious cases of pedophilia involve rape and even murder, and because we attach the label ‘pedophilia’ to the same things when they’re just mild touching up, we must beware of lumping all pedophiles into the same bracket,” Dawkins opined.

On Tuesday, Dawkins took to Twitter in an attempt to clarify his remarks.

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“‘Mild touching up’ is bad,” he wrote. “Raping [an] 8-year-old wife to death is worse. Worse? That’s putting it mildly. Quantitative judgment vs. black/white.”

“Is anyone seriously denying that raping an 8-year-old to death is worse than putting a hand inside a child’s clothes?” he wrote again later. “Are you that absolute?”

On Thursday, Dawkins also penned an article explaining his words.

“To excuse pedophiliac assaults in general, or to make light of the horrific experiences of others, was a thousand miles from my intention,” he wrote. “I cannot know for certain that my companions’ experiences with the same teacher were are brief as mine, and theirs may have been recurrent where mine was not.”

“If I am wrong about any particular individual; if any of my companions really was traumatized by the abuse long after it happened; if, perhaps it happened many times and amounted to more than the single disagreeable but brief fondling that I endured, I apologize,” Dawkins said.

However, a number of child protection groups remain outraged at Dawkins’ comments. Peter Watt of the National Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Children said that the atheist’s remarks slighted others who have suffered from the memories of their abuse.

“Mr. Dawkins seems to think that because a crime was committed a long time ago we should judge it in a different way,” he told Religion News Service. “But we know that the victims of sexual abuse suffer the same effects whether it was 50 years ago or yesterday.”


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  • Tracy G

    As a victim of such acts who has had their life ruined I absolutely oppose such vile comments! I suffered terrible at the hands of such men and it affected every aspect of my developing life. Thanks to such “light” acts as a child of eight I was diagnosed as suicidal. I grew up in a world devoid of emotion because I had been so badly emotionally damaged that I could not receive, express or give love and affection.I spent a life in a haze of depression, suicidal despair and eventually drink to numb the pain. Years of therapy, psychology and antidepressants did nothing to alleviate my pain.

    Then one day a Christian led me to Jesus. It was hard for me to understand how God could allow this kind of thing to happen to HIs children and I could not relate to Him as a father because of what men had done to me. Then I saw that God Himself had sent His Son who Himself was abused at the hands of men as an innocent I began to understand and when I finally gave up all my opposition His presence came into the room and immediately this great cloud of heaviness was gone…all the pain, sorrow, anger, hatred, depression, despair and hurt…gone! It has never returned. Only God could help me and I hav never looked back.

    Mr Dawkins you should be ashamed of yourself for making light of such things. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS LIGHT PAEDOPHILIA! You may dare to mock those of us who believe and you may dare to mock God but to make light of the suffering of children is the lowest you have gone yet! Shame on you Mr Dawkins. I am sorry you had such a horrible experience but please don’t make light of it. It may be nothing to you but to others… it is a very big deal!

  • Dan

    Never was a fan of Dawkins, actually more of critic. He in his arrogance believes his view is correct and doesn’t respect other unless they agree with him. He criticized J.K. Rowling and praised Philip Pullman even though their works are very similar and now he thinks pedophilia is not, as he puts it, a “Lasting Damage”.

    I say to him, some people believe in God and many everyday are affected by this sick, disgusting act…GET OVER IT!

  • Jon S

    I’m not a Dawkins fan, but conversation is ridiculous. He is very clear on what he is saying. It’s common sense, of course there are varying degrees of ‘criminality’ when talking about pedophilia. It’s all wrong, but OBVIOUSLY can have different consequences. For example, peeping at children as they undress. Way different than having a child sit on your lap. Far different than fondling (which Dawkins says he experienced). Different than assault and rape. Clearly, these are progressively worse. And yes, they are all wrong. But talk about misplaced OUTRAGE. He makes his point very clearly. People are just looking for something to brand him with.

    • Pete

      You mean Christians, who incidentally run the biggest pedophile laden organisation the world has ever seen, want to brand him. The pot calling the Kettle black.

  • Kerry

    If a Christian came forward and said “I was molested as a child but I found Jesus and I forgive the person who touched me. I wish they would have found Jesus and changed their lives instead of committing suicide”. That person would be viewed as a hero. An atheist comes forward and says “I was molested as a child but I realize the offender could have done much worse and I’ve managed to forgive him. I wish society would have helped him instead of creating an environment so hostile to his mental illness that he chose to kill himself rather than seek help.” – People twist his words to suggest that he (a victim of pedophilia)somehow supports it. How very Christian of you.

  • Julian

    As a prominent atheist, Prof Dawkins is not likely to expect a charitable response on any subject from a Christian audience, but his comments display some of the virtues to which every Christian should aspire: honesty, understanding and forgiveness. His remarks were clearly intended to express his own reaction to the actions of a paedophile teacher. He is simply giving an honest account of his own emotions. Yes, all paedophilia is wrong, but the damage it does is not the same for everyone. Violence is wrong, but there are degrees of violence and the effects are felt in different ways. One young man may be get beaten up on Friday and be out boozing on Saturday, another may avoid going out for a year. We all react in different ways.
    Dawkins is not alone in this. When I was twelve or thirteen one of our parish priests made what I can see now was an obvious attempt to groom me. I was very naiive at the time and took this to merely be odd behaviour, but I believe he mistook my lack of understanding as some encouragement. I was fortunate that his sister, with whom he lived, kept an eye on him and prevented him from subjecting me to more than a few inappropriate stories and photographs, and some attempts at grabbing and groping that I quickly learnt to outmanoeuvre.
    I cannot see how these incidents had any effect on me. I had all but forgotten this until I was in my late thirties and some tv programme brought it to mind again. I think my naïveté saved me from attributing any significance to the events, and perhaps this saved me from some deeper psychological wound. However, I think I must lack Dawkins more charitable nature, because I do not feel so inclined to forgive the actions of someone who exploited his position. Unfortunately, by the time I had considered his actions the priest in question was long since dead. I would have liked to go back, to confront and embarrass him.
    I have friends who were exposed to much more horrific and sustained abuse at the hands of priests and teachers. The effects on them were profound. Each case is different and the reactions of those above may be coloured by their experiences.
    I do not forgive the paedophile or the abuser, but Dawkins is right that there is not always a clear dividing line. To say that we should not judge the past by the values of the present is correct. His words, although jarring, (rather like a child commenting on the fact that a man is fat within his earshot) are honest and true, and that must be acknowledged.