Monday, August 10, 2009
Psychopaths: Criminology and Theology
I have been reading some books on psychopathy lately. I have just begun classes for my criminology degree and I thought that psychopathy and theology would be an interesting topic to write on. The fact that some people can appear to have no conscience whatsoever is certainly something that is worthy of studying, and plugging into the theological realm. The mentality of the psychopath is a mysterious phenomenon that is not easily explained in theological terms.
Original sin indeed corrupts the nature of man, and has removed the original grace with which man was created. We know that sin entered the world by the sins of Adam and Eve, and since that time, even nature itself has been corrupted. How does the psychopath fit into the scheme of original sin? Is the person born with a defect in the brain that hinders the person from having any emotions or compassion for others? Did these people become worse and worse over time by committing sins that twisted them into committing even more heinous acts? Did childhood abuse twist these people into the monsters that we hear about on television? The psychopath Jeffrey Dahmer once said, “My consuming lust was to experience their bodies. I viewed them as objects, as strangers. It is hard for me to believe a human being could have done what I've done.” How did this man become this hardened and twisted? These are all questions that I don't really have definite answers to. But I think this is a topic worth examining. I may raise more questions than I end up answering, I am afraid.
I believe that those who do not have the grace of God in their lives, which elevates and gives their souls a supernatural character, are left to their own selfish desires. All of us are damaged goods in one way or another, and we are all selfish. The psychopath, however, falls into a unique class. They have no remorse for the things they do. Certainly only God can give us true remorse, but even a pagan can feel bad or guilty by a crime they have committed. A psychopath, on the other hand, actually brags about lying and swindling people out of their money, for example. They pride themselves on preying on 'weak' individuals. Jane Toppan, a serial killer, is quoted, "That is my ambition, to have killed more people - more helpless people - than any man or woman who has ever lived." The psychopath also has no real emotions. The serial killer Richard Ramirez said "Even psychopaths have emotions, then again, maybe not." How do we attempt to explain these people? Are they mentally ill? Are they possessed by the Devil? Maybe a combination of the two? Richard Ramirez also once said, "You maggots make me sick. I will be avenged. Lucifer dwells within all of us!" As we know Ramirez was involved in satanism.
Maybe we can learn something about these individuals by looking at the actions of people who are not considered to be 'psychopaths', yet exhibit a similar behavior in one or two areas of their moral belief system. For instance, the abortionist has no feelings or emotions for the baby that he murders. The politicians who promote abortion on demand have no conscience as to the grave evil they support. Yet the rational moral person cringes at such actions. These people are blinded into thinking that the baby is not a real person, or that if it is a real person, it doesn't really feel anything. Some say the life is not worth anything because it has no rational faculties that can be seen or understood by modern science. But isn't this moral sickness similar to that of a psychopath? Yes these abortionists are people that are blinded, possibly ignorant, or maybe even willfully evil. But could we not possibly classify the psychopath into these categories as well? Can the acceptance of such sins on a large scale help to explain these unique individuals?
Is the acceptance of abortion by people a minor case of psychopathy? Can we connect these dots of immorality and blindness and come up with a concept of how the psychopathic mind works? Does someone who continues to live a lie long enough become callous to emotion and human empathy? Are these people born with a propensity, an extreme gravitational pull toward some perverted form of self satisfaction that will not even yield to human compassion? Certainly there is always more at work than meets the eye. For the Catholic believer we know that there is more at play than just genetics, childhood upbringing, or their social circumstances and the like. There is a contest between good and evil. There is a battle for souls going on. The mystery of predestination and man's freewill is certainly at play in these individuals just as in any other human being. Yet they seem to always fall on one side of the extreme, usually never to recover. Even those who claim to be converted to Christ are usually found out to be lying. Consider the chilling words of Dr H.H Holmes "I was born with the devil in me. I could not help the fact that I was a murderer, no more than the poet can help the inspiration to sing..I was born with the evil one standing as my sponsor beside the bed where I was ushered into the world, and he has been with me since."
We can continue to ask more questions. Can repetition of serious sin lead these people deeper into immorality so that they cannot even rationalize what is good or evil? The question remains as to why some people are capable of being rehabilitated, and some seem to be so far gone that there is no hope for them. Has a psychopath ever been brought back from their sadistic mentality by the grace of God? Can a person who has lost a sense of all morality, all sense of guilt, and all compassion ever be brought back? I think if we are true believers then we believe that no man is too far gone for the reach of God. There is indeed quite a mystery as to how these people come to be, and commit such heinous acts. If anything, it should serve as a warning to all humanity. A warning that calls all men to trust in God alone, and not in themselves. It is also a warning to take the evil presence of the devil seriously. None of us should take sinful actions lightly. I would be interested in the opinion of any practicing Catholics who are in this field, who may be able to elaborate more on this particular issue. In the future I will write more on these subjects and try to tie in the subjects of criminology and theology. I have not witnessed many people delve into this particular area of study. Until then, maybe this will give you some things to ponder.