The Daily Mail – Dishonest, or Merely Asleep?

Dawkins Headline

The Daily Mail today published an article titled “‘Being raised Catholic is worse than child abuse’: Latest incendiary claim made by atheist professor Richard Dawkins”

There are problems with the article , but there are a couple with the headline itself. For one thing, the “latest incendiary claim” was made in 2006! Furthermore, Dawkins’ contention is a great deal more nuanced than is suggested by the “journalist”, Daniel Martin.

I’m not keen on some of Dawkins’ wording in his original writing, all those years ago. For example, he wrote:

” Doubtless, too, some fall at the violent end, which is terrible but I would make two points about it. First, just because some pedophile assaults are violent and painful, it doesn’t mean that all are. A child too young to notice what is happening at the hands of a gentle pedophile will have no difficulty at all in noticing the pain inflicted by a violent one.”

It can, and I believe should, be argued that any assault is a form of violence, and I would have preferred the words in that quote that I’ve bolded to have been in quotes. Even better would have been more appropriate words but, in fairness, I can’t think of any myself, so I can hardly criticise Dawkins for not being able to.

What Dawkins is saying is that there are different levels of severity of child abuse. This is as true of religious teaching as it is of physical abuse. Many of the people who are horrified and offended by Dawkins’ stance on this issue probably don’t realise just how cruel some of the more extreme religious adherents can be. Often, the two go hand in hand, with the indoctrination used to further the sexual and/or sadistic predilections of the abuser.

A child being told that a beloved grandparent, for example, has gone to heaven, even though in the view of some (including myself) it is not the best way to deal with bereavement, is not in the same league as telling that child that their friend, who as far as she can tell has been taught the same doctrine,  is going to be tortured for all eternity for having a different group name. The differences between Protestant and Catholic beliefs are unlikely to be understood by the 7 year old in Dawkins’ example.

As I understand it, Dawkins isn’t saying child abuse is trivial, though in some cases the child may treat it as such. He’s saying that, sometimes, religious indoctrination can be even worse.

But it’s not just Dawkins saying this. The last word should go to the woman who wrote the letter to Dawkins that he cited.

“Being fondled by the priest simply left the impression (from the mind of a 7 year old) as ‘yuchy’ while the memory of my friend going to hell was one of cold, immeasurable 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. It gave me nightmares.”

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