Friday, 26 June 2009

The Dawkins Argument

I have been asked to clarify why Professor Richard Dawkins’ views on sexual abuse in The God Delusion are particularly infuriating, so I will:

Presumably in an attempt to argue that mental abuse can be more devastating than physical abuse, Dawkins tries to compare the psychological fallout upon victims of both. He uses testimonies from people with lifelong mental scars following a childhood spent within the confines of a religious order where teachers would torment children with vivid descriptions of hell fires. He also quotes a woman who was sexually assaulted by a priest, but who said the experience paled against the psychological abuse of hell and damnation administered by the nuns. Dawkins then draws on his own childhood, adding, in the space of a sentence, that he too had an experience with a teacher when he was a schoolboy, but it didn’t do him any harm.

I think Dawkins was fortunate that he didn’t suffer long term. I know of people who have had years taken out of their lives because of the long-term effects of sexual abuse. I struggle to understand how Dawkins cannot be aware of people who do suffer for years, decades or even lifetimes, and I think pitting paedophilia against religious psychological abuse where the latter is argued as the winner in terms of lasting devastation is a very poorly chosen method of illustrating the point he was trying to make.

It reminds me of Martin Sherman’s play Bent, which Daniel Kramer produced at Trafalgar Studios in the West End in 2006 starring the fantastic Alan Cumming. The play was about the inhumane brutality inflicted upon homosexuals at the hands of the Nazis. Sherman would have driven his point home more effectively if he hadn’t decided to suggest that the torture suffered by gay men was worse than that of any other prisoner in the Nazi concentration camp. In a review I wrote of the play at the time I asked (rhetorically) how it was possible to measure differing levels of suffering among men, women and children in a Nazi concentration camp.

I have since read a chapter in a book called The Academic Face of Psychoanalysis in which the incredibly thorough Dr Louise Braddock informs readers that determining levels of psychological suffering is something one learns to perceive through training, but I digress.

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