“Mild Pedophilia” in Light of Atheism
September 13, 2013 § 7 Comments
This article cites a recent London Times interview with perhaps the world’s best known atheist Richard Dawkins that doesn’t even touch on atheism or religion. Instead the controversy over the article was spawned by Dawkin’s seemingly cavalier outlook on what he terms “mild pedophilia.”
“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.”
I think this is unavoidably ABOUT the atheism that Dawkins subscribes to, which logically requires him to say that we “can’t condemn people of an earlier era by the standards of ours.” In an atheistic worldview, moral standards are in constant flux because they are subject to popular opinion, not given by a moral law-giving God (a God Dawkins ironically chooses to morally judge by His actions in a much earlier era).
(Stemming from one blogger’s comment below, an extended debate about slavery in the Bible, and the origins of morality and logic, can be found here. )
” In an atheistic worldview, moral standards are in constant flux because they are subject to popular opinion”
No they’re not. They’re based on harm and benefit.
Which would make pedophilia of any time immoral. Regardless of what Dawkins says on the matter.
Basing moral values on perceived harm and benefit only pushes the problem further up the line. Without an objective standard for moral good or moral evil, what is harmful and what is beneficial must try to make its appeal to something else. But we can’t avoid ultimately thinking in moral terms when we assess harm and benefit; harming others or self is morally wrong if it’s wrong at all, while benefiting others or self is thought of as morally right. On atheism, what makes that so?
I disagree with Dawkins on this. If it’s wrong now it was wrong then. The same is true of slavery and genocide. I don’t think you can criticise Dawkins for this, though. Slavery in the Bible is defended by the line “it was their culture”. God was very accommodating to the cultures that I would deem highly immoral (by which I mean were not set up to defend or protect wellbeing, and actively lowered it–a fair assumption to make about slavery, I think you’ll agree).
To take you back to your discussion with NotAScientist, God arbitrarily defines certain things are moral or not, or morality is consistent with His (unknown*) nature. Why is that so? Why is it so that you can take morality on this authoritative model?
Comparatively, NotAScientist and I (so far as I can tell) agree that when we talk about “morality” we are talking about safeguarding wellbeing; we are talking about improving experiences; we are talking about minimising suffering. If you want to know what “makes it so”, I challenge you to imagine a “moral” structure which has absolutely no tie to wellbeing; a moral structure that allows beating children and torturing people for fun for some seemingly arbitrary reason, like God’s true nature is more like Charles Manson.
*Christians I know and see do not follow a moral structure that is consistent with the jealous, war-mongering God who regulates (not abolishes) slavery. Instead of following the God of their Book, they guess what the nature of God–and therefore morality–is. Their guess is often consistent with their own sensitivities. It’s not the nature of a god.
Thanks for your comment Allallt! A popular critique of the Biblical God often involves slavery, but it shows a great misunderstanding of both God and the Bible’s description (not prescription) of slavery. God allowing slavery to exist was a concession, not a decree, because of the hardening of man’s hearts. God knew mankind was heavily inclined to engage in the practice, so He gave them over to their own sin, but regulated it (Ex. 21:16) to keep it from getting worse. God had the same attitude toward divorce (Mark 10:4,5), which He hated (Mal. 2:16) but allowed it with tolerable restrictions because of man’s stubbornness.
Something else to note is that slavery in ancient times was unlike the race-based slavery we have come to know in the last few centuries. Slavery was often entered into willingly to pay off debt (Lev. 25:39-43; Dt.15:12). Slaves were often trusted and esteemed (Gen. 15,24). Slavery was the merciful option for captured enemies (Num. 31:26-27; Deut. 20:10,11), and a means of restitution for crime (Ex. 22:1-3)(We do this now by imprisonment–prisoners are slaves to the state). Slaves were ceremonially freed after a set time (Ex. 21:2; Deut. 15:12). God does not regard the free over the slave (Gal. 3:28), and His followers encouraged respect and fairness for them (Eph. 6:8, Col. 4:1).
Abuses no doubt occurred, and slavery was never the ideal, but God’s attitude is clearly against slavery–but FOR the slave. From the times of freeing the entire nation of Israel from Egyptian slavery to the atonement of Christ intended to free us from the slavery of sin (Rom. 6:18), God is an abolitionist (1 Cor. 7:21-23).
Christians believe in a God who is jealous because God alone is justified in His jealousy. As Creator He owns everything and has the inherent right to feel the pain of loss when His people are unfaithful.
Christians believe in a God who waged war in judgment against evil nations because God must judge sin, and as author of all life has the right to give it and take it according to His plan that we as finite beings would logically not expect to be able to see and understand fully.
Christians believe in a God who regulated humanity’s choice to enslave other people because He didn’t want it to get completely out of hand, and when it did He led Christians to abolish it.
Christians also believe in a God who is loving, just and compassionate, aligning the whole of human history from Genesis 3 on to His purpose of graciously redeeming His creation from their sin. These are attributes that show up in the Bible far more often than the ones that Dawkins and many other atheists like to dwell on in misrepresenting who God is.
Christians are absolutely concerned, as God is, with the well-being of others, improving their experiences, and minimizing suffering in others. But as our ultimate standard for morality, this doesn’t go far enough. You still use even more basic moral principals to justify why well-being is important, why improving life is a good thing and what makes suffering bad. Accepting God as the origins and authority of objective morality is, like atheism, naturalism, or any other religion, an act of faith. But it is a position (the only one I’m aware of) that rationally makes sense of how we treat morality. That we are created in the image of a God (Gen. 1:27) who possesses the same type of morality provides a logical basis for morality. Otherwise you’re left with a shallow definition of morality (i.e. preserving well-being) or no way to account for objective morals, order and direction that can’t exist in an orderless, directionless universe.
[…] commented recently on post called “Mild Paedophilia in Light of Atheism”1. The post decried Dawkins for his use of the phrase “mild paedophilia”, and I didn’t […]
One thing to condone it, worse to practice it. Dawkins actually comes out better than the church on that one.
To practice or condone pedophilia is to by definition exclude oneself from the church, if we’re defining “the church” as a body of believers who follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. You may define it differently.
To the point of the article, how we define morality makes all the difference, because only a worldview that holds pedophilia objectively wrong for all people, at all times, in all places and cultures, should find any objection to it at all. Dawkins’ atheism doesn’t allow him to because in his view moral truth is subjective.