While almost everything written about psychopaths (with the exception of the writings by Kevin Dutton and James Fallon) informs us that we are evil, this gem goes even further, subjecting our condition to deep theological analysis. As the title promises, this theological analysis is that of Catholicism. Unlike Calvinism, Catholicism teaches that “God does not predestine anyone to the eternal loss of their soul.” Everyone has the possibility of salvation, even the psychopath. However, “[t]he real, and only cure for the psychopath is a repentant heart.” But I’m under the impression that everyone has to have a repentent heart to get into heaven. “For all have sinned. All have come short of the glory of God.” That’s a Biblical quote popular with Protestants and probably also Catholics. That’s why the last sacrament offered by the Catholic church is Extreme Unction, performed at the Catholic’s deathbed.
The article begins with a pretty correct description of psychopathy as agreed by modern scientists. Brain scans show differences in our brains that distinguish us from the “normal.” This brings Mr. Withers to his first problem. “However, by emphasizing the biological basis for psychopathy, you implicitly negate the capacity of the human will to exercise free choice.” Like the good Catholic that he is, Withers insists on free will. I agree with him about this. The links below with my thoughts on free will and moral responsibility explain how I got to that conclusion. But I differ radically from Withers on some of the deeper implications. My position is that psychopathy gives me greater freedom to choose my actions. Without a pesky conscience to tell me what I should and shouldn’t do, I am, in Nietzsche’s words, “beyond good and evil.” I have, in the words of Camus, “the sublime indifference of the universe.” Furthermore, it is in my self-interest to be considered responsible for my deeds. A responsible criminal has civil rights. A person who cannot be found responsible is treated like a mental patient (or is one) and doesn’t even have the right to be treated like an adult.
According to Withers, the very state of being a psychopath is a choice, and a sinful one, at that. “What sets the psychopath aside is that their behavior is contrary to our human nature. The perverted will, which seeks inordinate evil, makes a series of deliberate choices that leads to the distorted world view of the psychopath, where people become objects, and where their interior life becomes completely disfigured. I hope to show the reader that, ultimately, what makes a psychopath is both—the rejection of actual grace and the love of evil.” It would seem the psychopath has our own kind of “original sin.” Kind of what the Bible says about the “unpardonable sin,” the “rejection of the holy spirit.”
Withers’ statement separates him from most scientific thinking on the subject with is a kind of biological determinism. Most believe that psychopaths are born, not made. We don’t really have the choice to be psychopaths. As psychopaths, sure, we can choose our actions as freely as anyone else. But we don’t get to choose whether or not to be psychopaths. Now, a difficulty of science is the dogma that children cannot be called psychopaths. The brain is still developing and, only when we have reached adulthood, can we truly be diagnosed as psychopaths. If that’s true, we do develop into psychopaths in the course of our lives which would allow for a decision to be made as Withers believes. On the other hand, so many psychopaths acted like psychopaths from earliest childhood that some psychologists want to reject that dogma. Still, on Withers’ side is the belief that the brain is as much the creation of our thoughts and attitudes as our thoughts and attitudes are the creation of our brains. It would be a good idea to give brain scans to children, especially those called callous unemotional, to see if their brains are psychopathic already.
Even psychologists who speak of the person’s thoughts, etc., affecting the brain still speak like determinists. Either it is nature or nurture that makes us psychopathic. Kevin Dutton speaks of epigenetics. Both nature and nurture play a role. They are interactive. Even he doesn’t mention free will. Everything in science has to have a cause which is not free will. I believe my will is free. It’s an every day experience that I make choices. In that way, I am like God. My will is a causeless cause. When the Bible says God created us in his image, isn’t free will what is really meant?
There is no God where I am
I will state here and now that I don’t believe in “god.” Sure, there is the problem of where everything came from. But calling this unknown “god,” begs the question. By naming the unknown “god,” we are conning ourselves that we know more about the unknown than we do. When religious folks challenge me by saying, “If God doesn’t exist, who created us?” I reply, “Who created god? Where did god come from?” The real question here is that of infinity. Our finite minds can’t really grasp infinity. Yet infinity is real. Any time we try to think of a finite universe, our minds automatically picture a border. Where there is a border, there logically has to be something beyond it. And, then, what is beyond that? Infinity confounds our brains and makes us realize how limited our understanding really is. No wonder man created god.
I did try Catholicism on for size. I have a Catholic baptism and I practiced the religion for maybe a year. I let it go during an acid trip when the whole absurdity of it became inescapable. I walked away from Catholicism with no regrets and no backwards glances. I find all religion absurd for many reasons. The absence of evidence for it is a really good reason to reject it. Another really good reason is the contradiction between the two propositions:
God is Love. God loves us.
If we don’t worship God, He will send us to Hell where we will be tortured for all eternity.
I don’t think I need to belabor the point any further. The truth of this is obvious.
What is Evil?
Something that is omnipresent in Withers’ article is the mention of “evil.” I have always been fascinated by the idea of evil. I admit it. You can chalk one for your team, Mr. Withers. But have you, Dear Reader, ever tried to define evil. Catholics like Withers believe that God is the good and all that willfully departs from God is evil. But I reject all revealed “truth” as I reject belief in god. So I have been hard-put to define evil. Once I belonged to a forum for Setians (members of the Temple of Set, i.e. Satanists) and non-Setians. I asked members of the forum to define “evil.” The answer that I found most satisfactory came from one of the nons. He defined evil as anything that so contradicted our sense of what was or should be in the universe that it outraged our sensibilities. That makes “evil” a completely subjective concept. I think that’s right. So each of us knows what is “evil” to hirself. Withers believes in God and the Devil. God is the Good and loves us. The Devil is the enemy of all that is good and natural. We psychopaths made a decision to side with the Devil and, therefore, became psychopaths. Our sin caused spiritual wounds that are highly repulsive. “The human soul is spiritual and, therefore, invisible. The question remains: How does the ugliness of an invisible and spiritual soul explain how the brain—which is physical and visible when scanned—show abnormality in structure and function? …. It is a possibility, that if we live a life which is entrenched in mortal or deadly sin, this will flow into the physical bodily domain. This is because of the profound unity that exists between the body and soul.”
We psychopaths surely look a bad lot when examined in terms of Catholic theology. We don’t have empathy for other people. We treat them as objects. Catholics believe in love. One can almost forget about the Holy Inquisition during which people were burned at the stake. One can almost forget the way the Church covered up pedophile attacks on altar boys. I wonder what the souls of those who did those things looks like. The Church has improved since the Inquisition but Catholics are still burning witches, it seems.
I want to give Saul Alinsky, famed radical, hated by the conservative establishment, the last word for his irreverence and sense of humor. His dedication to Lucifer in his Rules for Radicals:
Lest we forget at least an over-the-shoulder acknowledgment to the very first radical: from all our legends, mythology, and history (and who is to know where mythology leaves off and history begins-or which is which), the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom-Lucifer.
No. He was not a psychopath. He was far too social for that. He sought to unite the have-nots to gain collective power.
- Can a Psychopath be “Good?”
- Am I Evil?
- Theological Fricassee.
- Free to Choose.
- Soul. I am that I am.
- Between a Sleep and a Sleep.
- Psychopathy and Religion.
- Are Psychopaths Morally Responsible?
- Beware of Scapegoating.
- Evil is a Point of View.
- Simon Sez.
- Is Conscience Necessary?
- Psychopaths and Enlightenment.
- “Disordered Characters”.