Josh Timonen has been Richard Dawkins’s right hand man for a couple of years now, running the Richard Dawkins Foundation (RDF) store and managing the famous scientist’s website. As recently as February of 2010, Richard Dawkins was adamantly defending Timonen against a flurry of criticism. And Dawkins even dedicated his most recent book, The Greatest Show on Earth, to Josh Timonen. In the Preface Dawkins speaks of Timonen’s web design contributions to RichardDawkins.net as “just the tip of an amazing iceberg” of contributions made in a “joint endeavour” toward atheism and science education. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Timonen, in his late 20s, has been like a son to the 70-something Dawkins.
But the operative phrase here is has been, for the son is a son no more. Richard Dawkins, in an 18 page complaint recently filed in a Los Angeles County court, is suing his once beloved webmaster for “$950,000 plus punitive damages.” The son, it appears, may have spectacularly betrayed his father, and that to the tune of $375,000.
According to Courthouse News Service:
Dawkins says he asked Timonen to run the store through his company, Upper Branch Productions. Timonen took the reins, Dawkins says, and ran the online store for 3 years, during which he claimed the store cleared only $30,000 and “was just squeaking by.” But the scientist says Timonen actually pocketed $375,000. Dawkins says he found out about the scam this year, when the Foundation decided to wrest control of the store from Timonen. Timonen handed over financial books that detailed his embezzlement, Dawkins says, including $500 meals, trips to Timberline Lodge in Oregon and the Malibu Beach Inn, and $314,000 in “salaries” paid to Timonen and his girlfriend -though Timonen and the Foundation agreed that the $278,000 it was aware of paying him would be his combined salary for running the store and performing his other duties. Timonen’s “significantly older” girlfriend, defendant Maureen Norton, allegedly used at least $100,000 of the charity’s money to upgrade her Sherman Oaks home before she put it on the market. A recent real estate listing describes improvements such as a “custom backyard pool and spa area with a wonderful waterfall and glass block fire pit plus custom seating for the ultimate outdoor living and entertaining experience,” according to the complaint. Dawkins claims Timonen made off with 92 percent of the money generated at the store in 3 years.
I assume that Josh Timonen is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. And at his website, Timonen is adamant about his innocence, so we’ll see how it plays out. But I still would like to get philosophical here for a moment and think about a religious poet’s moral system: Dante’s. In the Inferno, Dante’s circles of hell are roughly organized in this fashion:
- the outer circles are devoted to the incontinent (gluttons, the habitually enraged, adulterers, etc);
- the middle circles are devoted to the violent (those who harm themselves, others, or God); and
- the inner circles are devoted to those who fake reality, with betrayers being in the very heart center of hell, joined by Satan.
Early on in Dante’s poem, these broad categories are symbolized by three animals: a lean and hungry she-wolf (animal incontinence), a lion (violence), and a leopard (cunning). I think that this way of conceptually organizing the human moral life is exceptionally interesting. Do you have self control? Are you violent? Do you fake reality? These are the three great questions of ethics, and in Dante’s reckoning to do a fake-out on the trusting and vulnerable human heart is the very worst thing that you can do. It is a betrayal of love. And so in the center of hell, Satan, frozen in ice to his waist, is depicted by Dante as having three faces with each of his mouths gnawing on a famous betrayer. Two mouths are devoted to the betrayers of Caesar (Brutus and Cassius) and one mouth is devoted to Judas Iscariot, the betrayer of Jesus. It would be ironic indeed if Richard Dawkins, the most famous atheist in the world, approached the end of his own life feeling the sting of a beloved disciple’s betrayal, a sting that is at the heart center of both the story of Jesus and Dante’s Inferno. I do not offer up this irony with Schadenfreude. I feel bad for both Dawkins and Timonen.
Below is a 1911 Italian silent film depicting Vergil leading Dante through the final circle of hell. If you’ve never seen L’Inferno in its entirety, it can be had on DVD, and is maybe viewable on YouTube whole. It’s a treat (insofar as a film depicting hell can be).