The right argument on Paedophilia

Have a read of this article from the Belfast Telegraph (highlighted by Lisa on Anglican Mainstream) and then follow me further down the page for some provocative thoughts from yours truly.

It’s always mildly enjoyable watching the liberal left come face to face with the inherent contradictions in their dogmas – and then fall abjectly silent, rather than deal with them honestly and robustly. The subject of the Himalayan antics of the poet Cathal O Searcaigh provide a case in point.

On the one hand, he presses most of the right-on buttons in Irish life. He is a poet! He is a gaeilgeoir of humble stock! Best of all, he is gay! He is, therefore, above just about all criticism!

Certainly, it places him beyond any target practice from a monoglot middle class, English-speaking, heterosexual male such as myself; not that I would want to join the lynch-mob which has gathered around the fellow’s body in the past few weeks.

And, to be fair to her, the filmmaker Neasa ni Chianain – who told the tale of the O Searcaigh Nepalese rollicks – is not part of that lynch-mob either. She was merely well-placed to relate the story. Moreover, she is a filmmaker, a woman and a gaelgoir – triple qualifications which I lack and which protect her from the accusations of ‘homophobe’.

So, I decided not to write about this issue. But once politicians in both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail began to declare that Cathal O Searcaigh’s poems be taken off the Leaving Cert, silence was no longer possible.

Are such dolts completely ignorant of what Oscar Wilde was doing? He was having sex with teenage rent-boys in precisely the same way that O Searcaigh was, and in very similar economic and cultural circumstances. It goes against the Hibernian grain to admit that Wilde was an Irish grandee exploiting working-class English youths: the national narrative much prefers to see the Anglo-Saxon exploiting the poor Gael.

The truth is that, like Roger Casement, he used his position to get sex from the lesser breeds. Moreover, Wilde, having repeatedly and flagrantly broken the law, then invited ruin on his silly head by suing the Marquess of Queensbury for libel.

So, he really deserves very little of the pity which has been lavished on him ever since.

But that, of course, is beside the point.

His jewels form an imperishable part of English literature (and not Anglo-Irish: an entirely different canon). It would be as absurd to remove his works from any syllabus as it would to remove the Caravaggio from the National Gallery because the artist was both a sodomite and a murderer.

Now, I’m not going to say anything about the relationship between the life of an artist and his work, for this is an area already steeped in the most insufferable pretension – with Wilde himself being a prime offender. Moreover, if I have any major regret in life, it is that I was not the customs officer in New York to whom Wilde declared: " I have nothing to declare but my genius."

At which point, I would simply have broken his nose.

As for O Searcaigh’s poems, I haven’t read any. Can’t. However, if they were good enough to be on the syllabus yesterday, then they are good enough to be on the syllabus tomorrow; and there’s an end to it.

But there is the larger aspect, touched upon by both Wilde’s conduct and O Searcaigh’s: the behaviour of some male homosexuals with teenage boys.

The ‘gay rights’ activist Peter Tatchell recently wrote: "Isn’t it time the lesbian and gay community said, loud and clear, that the under-16s also have sexual rights? Don’t we have a responsibility to defend the right of under-age queers to make their own free, informed choices about when they are ready for sex?"

He clarified that later by saying that yes, 14-year-old boys should, if they want, be allowed to have sex with 40-year-old men. Well, sorry, no.

Any heterosexual male who proposed such a notion for 14-year-old girls would be hounded into extinction; but Tatchell remains the hero of the left-libertine classes.

And that rather summarises the cultural and political power of the gay lobby.

A legal apartheid now means that homosexual men are allowed ‘freedoms’ denied the rest of us.

Entire parklands in British cities have now been requisitioned by what Tatchell calls ‘queers’ for nocturnal, casual sexual encounters.

And much the same is true of Dublin’s Phoenix Park.

I loathe both this, and many of the practices associated with the gay ‘scene’, (as indeed do many homosexuals themselves).

There are many depraved, disgusting practices, about which I reserve both the right to have an opinion and also to express it. And so, if there is any good to come from the entire O Searcaigh affair, it is that the rest of us may now finally speak our minds.

Now Lisa’s response (like many of us) is that 14yo / 40yo sex is wrong, but I want to be provocative and ask my readers a simple question. Why? I’m not interested in the social arguments – what I want is a clear Biblical answer (i.e. something definitive). It worries me that our thinking is this area is less Scriptural and more kneejerk reactionary.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think the idea of a 14yo having sex with a 40yo is terribly clever, but I want more than just, "well that’s just sick".


12 Comments on “The right argument on Paedophilia

  1. Peter,
    I think it’s good to seek biblical before social arguments. One problem – scripture doesn’t give us an age of consent for sexual matters, so we need to use the best rational opinion. Two principles need to be considered, I think:
    1. Ability of the younger person to give meaningful consent. David Norris, a current Irish senator and gay activist, interviewed in Magill magazine (Jan 2002) took a line which caused the journalist to say, “He did not appear to endorse any minimum age, or endorse my protest that a child was not capable of informed consent.” I don’t believe that’s in God’s plan.
    2. Do no harm. The authoritative book The Social Organization of Sexuality by EO Laumann et al analyses the effects of childhood (up to 13yo) sexual ‘touching’ and tabulates (p345) a long list of harmful effects (eg twice as likely to report ‘not happy last year’).
    As I say, precise age is a matter of debate, but your own article, Kenneth Kearon – Shame on You, links to a description of Bp Bennison’s brother with specific mention of him having sex with a 14yo girl. Both ‘consent’ and ‘harm’ considerations suggest that it is better to err on the high side age-wise.


    • I think the problem I’m finding Dermot is that when you say “I don’t believe it’s in God’s plan”, you don’t provide any Scripture to back that up. Not that you’re wrong, but just that, “I say so” isn’t good enough.

      I know cases of adults having sex with children when it is consensual – at that point your number 1 argument becomes speculative. On what basis do we assume the specific child in question cannot give informed assent? We get dragged into a situational ethic and I don’t like that.

  2. 1. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

    A 14 year old may be physically mature but seldom emotionally/psychologically mature enough to even consider entering such a relationship. The 40 year old who loves in the manner described in this passage will not be self-seeking, butwill put the real needs of the other first and foremost. Those are very unlikely to include the so-called (mythical) “need” for a sexual relationship. On the other hand, the need for protection is likely to exist, including protection from exploitation by randy 40 year olds.

    2. Hebrews 13:17

    To have sex with someone under the legal age of consent is a breach of the law. If the legal age is greater than 14 years, then this passage prohibits that 40 year old from doing such with a 14 year old.

    3. Hebrews 13:4

    Sexual relations are to be kept for marriage, not indulged outside marriage. Where neither the 14 or 40 year old is married to each other, then both would be acting immorally to indulge.

    • Judah,

      Good points. I think number 2 is flawed, simply in that if the law changed to allow sex with 14yos then the point is moot. Hebrews 13:4 and the Christian marriage ethic is key (and links into Eph 5).

      The point I’m trying to make is this – we should come at this from the perspective that marriage is God’s context for sex, and ultimately ALL forms of sex outside of that are sinful, NOT because they may or may not violate consensus of either partner. Indeed, taking the “consent” argument as the primary reason to reject paedophiliac relationships leads one open to having to condone non-married adult consensual sexual relationships.

  3. There are several issues here. Firstly, what do we mean by ‘paedophilia’? Technically, sex with a 14-year-old is probably more accurately ‘ephebophilia’, which is sex with a post-pubescent minor, currently illegal in this country. The legal ‘age of consent’ is a societal construct, which varies widely within cultures. A sexual relationship with a 14-year-old is by no means the same as with an 8-year-old. Any sexual relationship outside of marriage is not necessary illegal, but is it moral? But that is a different argument. Christians believe (or should believe) that these relationships are immoral, as scripture clearly states that they are.

    I think ‘consent’ is a bit of a red herring because even a child will consent to something a loved, respected (or feared) adult asks of it.

    Although there is no direct scriptural reference to an ‘age of consent’ as such, I would argue that one has to look wider to the Creation story. God created man and woman as equal, different and complementary ‘halves’ which come together to create a ‘whole’ which results in new life. There is a good reason for this. It provides the fruit of the union, the child, with natural protectors who will guard him from predation or danger of any kind, and as any parent (or soon-to-be-parent!) will know, this is a powerful inbuilt instinct. It is this natural instinct which frames the law in a democracy such as ours. If the will was there for the age of consent to be reduced to the age of puberty, whatever that may be, or to the age of 14, which some minority groups are pressing for, I believe this would have happened.

    I believe that God bestowed this powerful instinct upon both parents, therefore I believe that it is God’s intention that children should not be sexualised. This applies to both pre-pubescent and post-pubescent children, as even 14-year-olds, who may be sexually mature, are far from emotionally mature. It is this which I believe people find so repellent, as not many parents would agree to their 14-year-olds being sexually active – and certainly not with a 40-year-old. Having said that, there is much in our current culture which encourages early sexualisation.

    A bit off-topic, but – it is for this same reason that most Christians (and non-Christians) are so opposed to same-sex adoption – not because of ‘homophobia’ but because we believe that God’s chosen method for the human race to procreate provides all things necessary for the protection nurture of the offspring – i.e. a mother and a father.

  4. Hello Peter and all,

    This question links to ideas of childhood and I’m not at all qualified to talk about what concept of childhood Biblical writers might have had – but it must be a safe bet that it would be very different from our own. I guess that’s why it’s near impossible to find a Scriptural text addressing this situation directly but as other folks have shown there’s plenty of texts that are relevant in some measure.

    A few ‘asides’ – Jill I think the distinction you make in the first paragraph is useful. On the age of consent I think it’s worth noting that the 2003 Sexual Offences Act actually raised the age of consent in some specific contexts only – the AOC is now 18 when the context is that a young person is in the care of a teacher or youth leader etc.

    Consent can be complicated – Jill I’m sure you’re right that “a child will consent to something a loved, respected (or feared) adult asks of it”, but that “feared” in the brackets says a lot. Such ‘consent’ wouldn’t be what Dermot in comment #1 called “meaningful consent” (like that phrase). Peter, you asked “On what basis do we assume the specific child in question cannot give informed assent?” – one basis I guess would be that ‘consent’ where there is a clear imbalance of power isn’t true consent. The assumption that makes is that for what I called true consent to be given, there has to be a high degree of equality between the person asking and the person consenting (excuse my pomposity) – and that’s unlikely when it’s a 40-year old and a 14-year old. Unlikely, but not impossible i guess – I don’t want a ‘situationist ethic’ either but the possibility might be there.

    So from a slightly different angle, I agree with you Peter (see comment #4) that the consent argument by itself isn’t enough, though it seems to me it’s important. As a part of an answer to your question, how about this (& it’s hardly original) – that one of the things that might be thought central to a Christian sexual ethic is ‘this is my body, given for you’, and not ‘this is your body, taken for me’. Guess I should say that that’s a clear challenge to a sad porn user like myself… but am suggesting that one way into your question is to consider what ways of living sexual lives witness to and communicate ‘this is my body, given for you’ and what ways say, ‘this is your body, taken for me’.

    ‘Scuse the incoherence of all that. By the way Peter, what prompts you to ask this question again – I think we discussed it before on another thread (forget which). Maybe you weren’t satisfied with the answers you had then ;)

    Oh, and there could be a topic-within-a-topic on questioning much of what Kevin Myers’ article says…

    in friendship, Blair

  5. I think it is very important to look for the Biblical responses as societal attitudes are forever changing and we do need a proper apologia for what we, as Christians, put forward to counter arguments based on carnal self-interest. Good on you for doing that, Peter.

    One of the arguments I am often encountering is that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was extremely young when Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit… therefore was God Himself violating an under-age law, or else does one not exist, and doesn’t that therefore make it right? The fallacy there is in supposing that we may do what God chooses to do, but the argument is presented all the same. Mary was indeed very young, but how many people of her tender years would have the maturity to speak as she did, even though God-inspired to do so? But how do we decide what is “too young”?

    My point #2 will work while our governments maintain an Age of Consent that protects the greater percentage of whom we consider to be immature. Unfortunately, as the mother of a 20 year old, I believe that the process of maturation is slowing down rather than speeding up! I would point to issues that have given rise to the phenomenon of “adulescence” (Time magazine, Jan 2005) in all countries throughout western society.

    This is a very interesting and worthwhile blog post.

  6. Still can’t get your video comments Peter – Explorer wouldn’t let me download latest Flash player! Could you summarise your comment?


  7. I clicked on “play video comment” and it went away leaving nothing but a blank area. Same when I clicked on your little photo, and the little arrow in the bottom right corner of your little photo.

  8. I find it strange that when everyone considers pedophilia it automatically turns into a teenager, usually around the ages 10-15 and a man around the ages of 40-60. If we're going to discuss such a subject, should we not discuss it fairly at least? These are people too, fellow human beings. But my point is that, technically speaking, a 15 year old, and a 14 year old having sex is illegal, and a 18 year old and a 15 year old having sex is pedophilia. So instantly you see the problem with classing these issues in iron clad boundries. We must stop seeing pedophiles as middle aged predators, because it will only inspire more hate and prejudice in a world already full to the brim with such things. Pedophiles, as i said, are human beings, and we shouldnt treat them as animals, or 'deviants'. In my opinion this issue must be debated and discussed, more openly and much more fairly by governments and other organisations. We cant, with a law, take into account personal differences. Who are we to say that a 14 year old isnt emotionally or psychologically mature or stable enough to engage in a relationship with a 18 year old, or 20 year old, or any such age which would constitute pedophilia. Nor can we lump together pedophiles with child molesters, not all pedophiles will abduct a child/teen and molest them, and by saying that all pedophiles would, is tantamount to stating that all heterosexual/homosexuals would rape a woman/man given the oportunity. The perameters are the same. Both child molesters and rapists live in the extremist, dangerous side of the sexual spectrum, and neither can be generalised to the rest of the population, and by doing so with pedophiles we, again, instill a sense of hatred and discrimination throughout society.

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