Richard Dawkins on “Theo-Masturbation”

Earlier today, I noticed that Richard Dawkins said of one of the featured articles at his site (on negative theology):

Josh called it ‘theo-masturbation’. Excellent expression, and it perfectly sums up what Karen Armstrong, Terry Eagleton and all those pretentious pseuds do, all the time.

But I think it’s interesting that Dawkins would endorse the phrase “theo-masturbation” as a term of disapproval and complain of others who do it “all the time.”

Enter, Dr. Freud.

Why, of all the human passions, is religious passion the one Richard reifies into that which is to be most furiously resisted? And why is religious passion being equated with sexual passion? Is there something wrong with sexual passion?

The very implication of “theo-masturbation” is that the theist is enjoying a form of insular self-pleasure that Dawkins righteously abstains from and mocks in others. Dawkins, you see, is much too civilized and self-controlled to indulge in so base a temptation as religious longing and reflection. But if Dawkins abstains and derides this form of pleasure, might it be because he finds it curiously tempting? Why else would he react to it the way that he does?

Methinks the gentleman doth protest too much.

Is it possible that, lurking beneath the disciplined atheist, is the secret (and resisted) desire to indulge in mental “masturbation” concerning the ontological mystery, and to feel its presence as a mystery (and not just as a problem)?


Go on, Richard. Stop checking off the calendar how many days in a row you can abstain. Give it a go. It might loosen you up. It might make you smile.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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3 Responses to Richard Dawkins on “Theo-Masturbation”

  1. Marilyn says:

    Theo-masturbation? Interesting freudian slip, or not. It actually means someone is masturbating God. If that were possible it poses revolutionary outlooks in evolution

  2. santitafarella says:


    When you put it that way, “theo-masturbation” might sound crude, but when you think about it, there are some global self-creation myths. And monotheism does seem to contain within it the dream of a male generated creation without any female assistance (no Gaia). As a feminist, I would argue that any creation myth that absents the female half in its story is, well, missing half the story. And the repressed feminine returns as the wrenching and devouring Dionysian.

  3. Pingback: masturbation – Forum Yahoo! Actualités – Condition féminine – Qaradawi: La masturbation féminine peut être mortelle

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