The other day I linked to this essay by Richard Dawkins where he talks about raising Christian children and sexual abuse and the harm in each. Some other people have been talking about it too. I do tend to think that Dawkins is basically the Pat Robertson of atheists and thus nutty. But this is what it would look like if I were charitable towards Dawkins.
Although Dawkins clearly says that the sexual abuse by priests isn’t as bad as bringing children up as Catholics in the first place. Let’s assume he wasn’t making a blanket statement about all Christians or even all Catholics, but only a specific type of Catholic (and perhaps other Christians, too). Dawkins then goes on to desribe a letter he got from a woman who did, indeed, feel that her Catholic upbringing did more harm to her than her sexual abuse. Fair enough. He then goes on to distinguish between mild types of sexual abuse like fondling and more grievous types like, I imagine, rape. I don’t see any problem with making a distinction like this and it is reasonable to talk about different degrees of sexual abuse. Finally, Dawkins says,
“Being taught about hell – being taught that if you sin you will go to everlasting damnation, and really believing that – is going to be a harder piece of child abuse than the comparatively mild sexual abuse. ” Again, there is truth in this in so far as some children who have been raised religious and have been through sexual abuse may end up having more lasting harm from the religion than the sexual abuse.
Okay, that’s as charitable as I can be. But even if we assume that there is no such thing as hell, I don’t see how Dawkins can claim that teaching children about this is worse child abuse than the less heinous forms of sexual abuse. This sounds a lot like, from Dawkins perspective, asking whether cancer or AIDS is worse or whether it is better for your cousin or your nephew to die. Is this really something that we can generalize, though? If somebody came up to Dawkins and said he was raised Catholic and he was sexually abused and the sexual abuse had a far greater impact on him that the religion did, is Dawkins going to tell him he is wrong? Possibly (in his more Pat Robertson-like moments), but I doubt it. At least I hope not.
Really, the only valid point Dawkins has is that using “hell” as a psychological tool to control kids into believing something, is wrong, whether hell is real or not. I really don’t think this is original nor controversial, though. The problem with Dawkins, though, is that he tends to project his narrow view of religion onto all religious people.