Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sociopaths and theology

People often express a certain level of discomfort with the thought that sociopath minded people exist in the world. I'm not a theologian, but it seems that many common deities or religious beliefs directly suggest sociopaths or implicate sociopathic traits. For instance, the Christian's Jesus (because it is his special day) may have seemed friendly when he was in his mortal incarnation, but as the God of the Old Testament he has been called "the ideal sociopath."

A part time theologian friend of mine has been working on a theological "take on sociopathy" based on "theological anthropology":
Theological anthropology is the academic name given to the study of the human in relation to God. Both in terms of the innate nature of human beings (e.g. body vs. soul, body vs. soul vs. spirit, or monism) and in terms of the biblical doctrine of imago dei (we are somehow an "image of God"). What this doctrine entails has been hotly debated through the centuries. The primary issue is one that is connected to the notion of theodicy (the so-called problem of evil). If God is Good and we are made in God's image, why are we "bad", i.e. sinful? The traditional explanation is original sin, but that doesn't help much because there is so much disagreement about what that means, too. One can ask, as certainly many have in the past about gay people, "Is the sociopath made in the image of God?" If we hypothesize that sociopaths, as homosexuals, can attribute their status to some combination of (a) pre-natal disposition; (b) post-natal socialisation and (c) personal affirmation, then what does that mean for theological anthropology?

So we must explore the concept of "conscience." The conscience is what humans are endowed with--an internal guide--to tell us God's will and help us do the "right thing." The "right thing" has always been defined, or at least seriously impacted by, human notions of what is right and good. To explore this, Kierkegaard posits the "Knight of Faith." This figure places her faith in herself and in God; she is not influenced by the world. This is the Individual writ large, without connections and pretensions. Kierkegaard (or really his pseudonym, Johannes de Silentio) identifies two people as Knights of Faith--Mary, Mother of Jesus and Abraham. He uses the biblical story of Abraham to demonstrate the relation of ethics to the Knight of Faith. The world, with its ethics, would find Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his only son completely abhorrent. Abraham operates, however, in a realm of faith. He draws the knife to pierce his son's heart, because that is what God (the sublime) demands. This connected with what Kierkegaard calls the teleological suspension of the ethical.

In any case, it seems society would likely label Abraham as psychopath or sociopath if he had murdered his son. In fact, the world would probably do so if it discovered that Abraham even was willing to do so. I think some sociopaths are like the Knight of Faith. What is ethical or conscience-driven, in a teleological sense, is much less clear than society wants to think. Who is to say that any particular sociopath is not a Knight of Faith, formed in the image of God? My point is, how can we judge this, as humans in the world? We can certainly say that certain behavior is criminal and must be addressed and punished . . . my point is not to abolish human law. But to recognize that what is considered a crime or a violation of standard decency or ethics is a human judgment is important.

Then, of course, there are passages in the Bible that show God acting like what modern-day psychologist might deem a "sociopath." Some Protestants refer to this as via negativa or divine darkness. I've been thinking about this, too. Perhaps sociopaths are more directly the image of God. And that is why many of us admire them and are fascinated on some level we don't completely understand.

70 comments:

  1. the great comedy is that god is a sociopath.

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  2. the great comedy is your face, beeeeeyatch!

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  3. I'd be more inclined to say that god is a narcissist, I mean tossing people into eternal fire because they used his name wrong doesn't sound as sociopathic as narcesistic.

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  4. ısıss∀ ɟo sıɔuɐɹℲ ˙ʇSApril 24, 2011 at 6:13 AM

    O Divine Master, make me an instrument of your chaos.
    Where there is love, let me sow hatred.
    Where there is pardon, injury.
    Where there is faith, doubt.
    Where there is hope, despair.
    Where there is light, darkness.
    Where there is joy, sadness.
    O Divine Master,
    grant that I may not so much seek to console, as to be consoled;
    to understand, as to be understood;
    to love, as to be loved.
    For it is in receiving that we give.
    It is in being pardoned that we pardon,
    and it is in living that we are unborn to temporal death.
    Amen.

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  6. ısıss∀ ɟo sıɔuɐɹℲ ˙ʇSApril 24, 2011 at 7:15 AM

    Oops! So I did. Hehe.

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  7. God doesn't toss people into eternal hell fire because they use his name wrong. as a matter of fact we'd all be dead if God punished us everytime we did something wrong. i believe GOD is patient. but if humans lived beyond a hundred years we still wouldn't change. only very few humans are capable of changing, especially negative, wicked behavior. It's his house,so he makes the rules; and humans break it eventually so no point in blaming GOD.

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  8. This concept of the "teleological suspension of the ethical" has been a comfort for me personally. I say this because many acts and tendencies I see in myself and others turn out to be the most forward moving and proactive endeavors. I see the point in morality codes, yet "living" beyond them is where the creative juice is. I stress the word "living." Isn't our EasterMan known as the "living God." This is one reason I am so drawn to biographies and anthropology as a social science, because both cover the real story and not a limited ideal.

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  9. watch all the sheep come to the defense their shepherd. Why be a wolf in sheep's clothing? be a shepherd.

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  10. i never understand how the average person's morality is so much better than that of a sociopath. when 80% of the population believe like this guy/girl

    "It's his house,so he makes the rules; and humans break it eventually so no point in blaming GOD."

    I agree that might makes right.

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  11. Every intelligent person knows that atheism rules, and subjectivity is for dumbasses, which is why I only view the world objectively. Science is the *only* morally valid way of looking at life, the universe, and everything. Quite frankly I expected much more from such an open-minded bunch of people than this softheaded twaddle.

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  12. how do you view chaos objectively? how can science be a morally valid way to view life when morality is not logical?

    logic dictates that humans stop breeding immediately and plundering the planet that sustains them. yet humans insist on their suburban dream. the logical people i've met, the so called atheists, are as driven by their need for creature comforts as the religious ones.

    i think you have to go beyond blind belief systems to see it for what it is.

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  13. Didn't christ die on the cross to absolve man of original sin? (I studied a lot of theology growing up but I don't recall much x-tian stuff because the big 3 are some of my least liked).

    Old Testament god is very much sociopathical. He didn't give a shit for his creations. No empathy, no emotions (except maybe rage and disgust), do play with as he saw fit.

    Anyways, Happy zombie jesus day.

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  14. @Wet... you can't technically break the house rules because god gave man free will. At the same time he apparently punished people that don't live up to a standard. Like a cop saying you can come voluntarily or be arrested on the spot.

    @Luno... Science is the only objectively logical stand point. However there is no intrinsic 'moral' viewpoint to science. It simply is. Humans create ethics and morals and apply them to such things. Nature/science doesn't care. It just is.

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  15. Luno, Excellent point, yet you are confusing the role of factual science to the role and purpose of the humanities. The objective view of science and its, at times, atheist stance has great purpose. The subjective exercise of the arts and humanities another. Which is an exercise in imagination and invention. Yes, give me facts you can prove and give me the works of Shakespeare, the Bhagavad Gita or recycled new expressions such as World of Warcraft, or A Game of Thrones to stimulate the complexities of the unseen gravity between primal instinct and cooperation we all face.

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  16. Haven, well said. Yes, it just is.

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  17. Why do people get so offended when you make a joke about their disabled sibling?

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  18. The bible was created by a sociopath, non sociopaths can get on their knees and kiss my foot, you niggers should be thankful.

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  19. God is more of a narcissist than a psychopath, he is indifferent, not evil. Satan is a psychopath.

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  20. Atheists are sheep in wolfs clothing.

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  21. god's bad little sheep

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  22. kiss your feet? first you kiss my beautiful black ungrateful empath behind :)

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  23. The Old Testament God was not without mercy or salvation and his numerous prophets would council and chastise the kings of old to help them realise the fault of their ways.

    And neither is mercy alien to the sociopath. Instead it is a gift and not a compulsion. Sociopaths may be closer to God's real image but they still harbour sinful tendencies and without a conscience their walk in life is that much harder to reach redemption should they even seek it.

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  24. God is an image of how the elite work, accuse others of what you are guilty of. You can't win because when you stand up to them you are branded unstable or a misfit, Satan is the perfect example of Gods narcissistic injury, he is the victim of histories greatest smear campaign.

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  25. Not this god shit again.

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  26. God is like sex and politics- charged and and never really solved.

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  27. Religion debate. About as pointless as anything ever will be. However lets proceed down this corridor anyways. Yes god is a narcissist and has some sociopathic traits. He wants everyone to believe he is perfect and yet makes a shit load of mistakes. He wants to be loved before anyone else no matter the cost. Bla bla bla. I'm sure some of you must be familiar with the Kabal. The mystic side of Judaism. In that Evil was a part of god. One side to his many.

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  28. "He wants to be loved before anyone else no matter the cost"

    Admired or feared, not loved.

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  29. One big projected mask in the sky. The whole thing gives me a headache sometimes. Projection, metaphor and analysis addiction. There is no cure, thank god.

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  30. Love and admiration . . . not the same obsession of the divinely obedient and inspired?

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  31. Science is a human construct. It's a language. It only exists because of us and is the template we made to overlay everything. It's not quite true that it 'just is'.

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  32. As well intensioned as it might be religious machinery can chew people up.

    An awful lot of what is done in my name has nothing to do with me and is often, even if unintensional, very contrary to my purposes.

    But everything can be sumed up in my son, it's all about him.

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  33. I don't accept science.

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  34. goths and punk rockers are sheep in wolves clothing, they should be put in a pile and shot.

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  35. nah, you're just trying to get us to kill goths and punk rockers.

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  36. Question for all sociopaths:

    Are there some lines that you'd rather not cross?

    For example, if somebody offered you one million dollers to rape and murder a young child, would you do it without hesitation, or would you refuse the offer. S's are meant to have no conscience or morals, but for some reason when I think of some ver obvious examples of sociopaths, such as John Gotti, I can't picture them doing something like that. I mean, think about Tony Soprano, who is clearly a sociopathic character, can you imagine him doing something like that?

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  37. "Are there some lines that you'd rather not cross?"

    No.


    "For example, if somebody offered you one million dollers to rape and murder a young child, would you do it without hesitation"

    I'd do without thought, providing I was guaranteed to get away with it.

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  38. John Gotti and Tony Soprano are sociopaths not psychopaths.

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  39. I never got the way people say 'spare the women and children' woman, a child, man or a dog, they are all the same to me.

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  40. "John Gotti and Tony Soprano are sociopaths not psychopaths."

    Ye, that's what I've been wondering about, the difference between a socio and a psycho. When I think of a psychopath, I picture a person who'll kill his girlfriend for cheating on him and then think nothing of it. When think of a sociopath, I picture a person who'll kill his girlfriend for cheating on him, feel some amount of regret for his actions, but then quickly rationalise his actions, forget about it, and move on.

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  41. No, I didn't mean it like that. I can't feel guilt or remorse in the way most people can, but I can feel a certain amount of shame, it's not strong and I'll get over it quickly, but it's there. I think the sociopaths are more reckless than psychopaths, they hate authority and are often in a criminal orginization or a street gang, they need a sort of brotherhood and anyone outside that brotherhood is the enemy, be it police or a rival gang, the psychopath is a lone wolf and there are debates that they might even be a sub-species.

    Personally I think Gotti was a classic narcissist, he had all the hallmarks, I'm not sure where he got his moral code from.

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  42. "the psychopath is a lone wolf"

    How so?

    Do you mean that they operate alone and don't need or want friends, or that they have friends, but couldn't care less about them, and feel seperate?

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  43. Here is something that isn't every really mentioned. Pride. I'm a very prideful person. Some actions are beneath. Now for a million dollars I'd rape and kill my own mother but that is beside the point. If I had millions of dollars already at my disposal then I wouldn't really feel the need to do it. So an action like that I really ask myself what do I really get out of it.

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  44. "Do you mean that they operate alone and don't need or want friends, or that they have friends, but couldn't care less about them, and feel seperate?"

    The second, they use friends and family.

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  45. My dad is a sociopath, an ex alcoholic and a former wife batterer he was taken away from his parents and put in an istitution for troubled youths, he got out when he was 18. He has a moral code and loves animals whilst I have abused animals. I talked about a scam I was setting up a while back whilst talking he said that scamming people is evil, so I suspect he has a set of values, I didn't even need the money from the scam It was for fun.

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  46. Cue long comment from Zwanq about psychopathy vs socipoathy

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  47. I think a lot of people with a conscience would rape and kill a little girl for a million if they were guaranteed to get away with it.

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  48. Zoe, Soulfulpath, Haven, and Medusa:

    I wholeheartedly agree, but I do like to play devil's advocate, so thank you for your thoughts :)

    It's a popular viewpoint, to be sure, but it's also a myopic one.

    Instead of rejoicing in the very different ways that art and science enrich our understanding of life, the universe, and everything people are increasingly seeking one 'correct' explanation for any observation based on scientific reasoning. Yet they simultaneously claim the constructs of science, morals, and ethics as absolutes.

    I can only guess that most humans need to make order and meaning out of chaos, but God is dead, so aggression and hostility towards all that is not clearly understood – especially the terrifying beauty of the complexities and unpredictable randomness of the universe - has become a new religion every bit as intolerant as others.

    ---

    Anonylon:

    Oh, I don't doubt they would – especially live on TV with a glamorous host, boisterous crowd, and enthusiastic group of contestants.

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  49. Zoe,

    according to logic your goal is to pass on your genes. so you should do everything possible to gain power and money so your genes can be most successfully passed on.

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  50. Haven well said.

    I just hate god out of spite. I really don't care if there is a god or not. Even if he is real, he doesn't interfere with the world anyways so why should i care?

    I really admire the guy. Give me everything you have now and i will give you everything times ten after you are dead. Brilliant big lie PR move

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  51. Zhawq is absolutely and succinctly correct on this one.

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  52. "Every intelligent person knows that atheism rules, and subjectivity is for dumbasses, which is why I only view the world objectively. Science is the *only* morally valid way of looking at life, the universe, and everything. Quite frankly I expected much more from such an open-minded bunch of people than this softheaded twaddle."

    I see only 2 kinds of intelligence here. Ego based and Pussy Power based.

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  53. I love that we attach such impunity to our ideas of intelligence.

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  54. Being an agnostic or atheist are really the only 2 positions one can take as an intelligent person without rationalization. Sure an intelligent person can be a Christian, Francis Collins the head of the human genome project is a devout believer, however this requires that the person excludes his or her belief from being processed and examined in the same fashion they would do with all other information. You cannot disprove god per say, but you can disprove the Christian god and Allah, as a matter a fact I believe Epicurus did so in 28 AD, and Thomas Paine had a good old college go with “The Age of Reason” the religions have been disproven, it just so happens that believers will cling to whatever consolation they can get.

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  55. zwang, you haven't got a vicious bone in your body, find another blog.

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  56. Luno said...
    Zoe, Soulfulpath, Haven, and Medusa:

    I wholeheartedly agree, but I do like to play devil's advocate, so thank you for your thoughts :)


    ha me too. i wonder if we were to put together all our different perspectives and beliefs, if we could reconcile them somehow, if we'd be closer to the truth.

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  57. Wet said...
    according to logic your goal is to pass on your genes. so you should do everything possible to gain power and money so your genes can be most successfully passed on.


    aren't cockroaches then the most successful species? they can live anywhere and consume practically anything.

    can anyone tell me what the point of money and power is? fine if you're born with it, but to spend an entire life struggling for bigger and better stuff, for a job where you can tell others what to do, seems pointless. you end up old and decrepit just like the poor guy. and the poor guy probably enjoyed life more.

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  58. agnostic rules out in public. you can scope the crowd and learn everyone's language

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  59. I am a scientist, an em-path, an atheist, and someone who has actually taken a philosophy class where the problem of evil was a topic.

    The problem of evil is very simple and works like this:
    If god is all knowing AND god is all good; How does evil exist?

    Answer:
    1) god cannot be all good.
    OR
    2) god cannot be all knowing.
    OR
    1&2

    Most people overlook the obvious answer to this riddle which is: god does not exist.

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  60. Evil is what threatens quality of life or life itself. Because everything to do with life is so fragile and death is so difficult to accept, God is neccesary.

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  61. Thats obvious too

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  64. @Zoe 4/25/11 >> can anyone tell me what the point of money and power is? fine if you're born with it, but to spend an entire life struggling for bigger and better stuff, for a job where you can tell others what to do, seems pointless. you end up old and decrepit just like the poor guy. and the poor guy probably enjoyed life more. <<

    At least you have kept something from him. Sometimes all that is necessary to win is that someone else lose.

    The sociopath learns to treasure others' losses, because sometimes they are all he gets for his trouble.

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  65. Let me see....... God was angry at Humans so he sent a flood to kill ALL living things. What had dogs and cats done to deserve such a horrible death? God as genocidal. He ordered ALL living things to be killed in Jericho. He could have had the Isrealites just go around and avoid the place but I guess he needed another massacer. See my earlier question about dogs and cats. God goes into maniacal rages. That is a mark of a very unstable mind. The Old Testament is full of the WORST of HUMAN behaviour perpetrated by a so called ADVANCED being. Excuse me but aren't truelly advanced beings supposed to be EVOLVED beyond infantile smash the toys when you get mad rage? People who defend him keep defining him in HUMAN terms. What an example of HUMAN ARROGENCE. Supreme beings should be evolved beyond human weaknesses to be considered SUPREME.

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  66. Simple test:

    Is God omnipotent?

    If he is, he knows everything that has, does, and will ever happen. He knows exactly what you will do tomorrow. Therefore free will is a complete illusion and you can't be held accountable for your future actions because they are pre-ordained. That busts the whole basis for most religions.

    If God doesn't know what you will do tomorrow, then the whole argument about what you do in this life influencing what happens in the next might be plausible. But then God couldn't be omnipotent, could he? Pretty much busts the supreme being argument.

    Most believers splutter a bit when they encounter this argument, the more intelligent ones rationalize that God gives you choices and knows the outcome of all of them. The decision is apparently still yours, but that doesn't really change things at all - either he ultimately knows what you are going to do or he doesn't. Either way there's a gaping hole in the believer's argument.

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