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Friday, October 3, 2014

Comment from a sociopath

Back on August 25, 2011, I put up a post, No Redemption for Son, about how David Berkowitz, formerly known as the "Son of Sam," was now a jailhouse preacher. Berkowitz claimed to have found salvation through Jesus Christ, but was in fact just the same old sociopath he always was. (In fact he's a perfect example of how those who claim to have a direct pipeline to God are often sociopaths.)

Yesterday I got the following comment on that post:

I don't know if anyone is still reading this thread. I am writing this in terrible dread. I wAs a sociopathic preacher. I was acting totally unchristlike behind the scenes until I was caught and exposed. Not until the. did I realize I had never been truly converted. That was 3 years ago. Since then I have frantically talked with every preacher, theologian and counselor I could out of fear that I am a false teacher. I could never find relief. I spend my time now on the Internet trying to find something that will help, but to no avail. I realize that I am a sociopath. I am terrified because I had much light (a Ph.D. in NT), and had ministered as an assistant pastor, bible college administrator and missionary in E. Europe and China. I maneuvered myself so that I would have high positions, which also resulted into much money, which I was dishonest about. I lied and told stories from the pulpit, and made merchandise out of believers in persecuted countries to enhance my position and wealth, while being very lazy in the Lord's work. I turned grace into license and became progressively more sensual to the point of a willful, deceptive affair. When my wife first confronted me, I lied to her and then to two pastors about it. Looking back, the only way I can explain it is that I am a classic sociopath. I now can't believe that I did all that I did without any pangs of conscience. I realize I never had the capacity to love or really have empathy toward others. I don't want to believe that I am an apostate, but everything fits.  My heart literally feels hard and I believe I am now terrorized by many unclean spirits. have already had one stint in a mental hospital and have lost my family. My wealth has dwindled to near nothing. I alwAys taught that the worst places in hell were for false teachers, but never dreamed that I was describing myself. I constantly look on the Internet for any glimmer of hope, but always come up empty-handed. I am living as a walking damned one. I can't believe I was so blind. The idea from Rom. 9 that God created me for this purpose is so hard for me to swallow. My wife on the other hand, whom I despised in my mind as too simple for me, always bore the marks of a true, spirit-filled believer. She is experiencing God's great blessing now (a d for eternity). I was proud; she was humble. We both proved whose children we really were. If anyone reading this could possibly offer any hope, I would be eternally grateful.

I replied: 

Anonymous --
There are only two possibilities here: either you're a sociopath or you're not.

If you actually feel as remorseful about your actions as you claim, then you're not one, and there's hope for you. (I'm speaking of "hope" in the same religious/redemptive sense that you are, even though I'm not religious myself.)

The other possibility is that you are a sociopath and are merely claiming to feel bad, or strongly exaggerating your slight feelings of regret, when you really don't feel that strongly, in which case your comment is just a bunch of malarkey.

It's one or the other. You have to take a hard look at yourself and decide which.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that only the second possibility can be true. It would be pretty much impossible for him to have pretended to be a holy man without essentially being a con artist, and it's pretty much impossible to be a con artist without being a sociopath. (If he's actually lying about having done all those things, then he's just a sport liar, which would also indicate sociopathy.) 

And since he's a sociopath, he can't be feeling all the guilt-ridden angst he's laying claim to. This is a classic example of false emotionality by a sociopath. Note the dramatic way he oversells his feelings (italics mine):

"I am writing this in terrible dread..." 

"I have frantically talked with every preacher, theologian and counselor I could out of fear that I am a false teacher. I could never find relief."

'I am terrified…."

"My heart literally feels hard and I believe I am now terrorized by many unclean spirits."

"I constantly look on the Internet for any glimmer of hope, but always come up empty-handed. I am living as a walking damned one."

"If anyone reading this could possibly offer any hope, I would be eternally grateful."

What he's looking for is third parties to tell him that by recognizing his sins he has redeemed himself and that he's really an okay guy. (Sociopaths are generally willing to believe anything good anybody else tells them about themselves.) 

Or it could be that he's merely setting himself up for another run as a preacher, this time selling himself as a lost sheep who has found himself. 

I suppose there's yet another possibility here: that he's genuinely superstitious himself and is worried that he has angered God and will spend an eternity in hell. 

But all of these possibilities presuppose that he is in fact a sociopath. 

(Though I'm not religious myself, as far as I'm concerned, all sociopaths can go rot in hell.) 


Steven said...

"I suppose there's yet another possibility here: that he's genuinely superstitious himself and is worried that he has angered God and will spend an eternity in hell."

I think this is the case and he's genuinely worried. The dread seems authentic to me, though I could just be fooled. If he really believes that stuff and thinks he's going to hell, it would be terrifying. And he thinks he deserves it due to his belief he's a sociopath and has acted badly.

Whether he's a sociopath or not I don't know. He might have some kind of OCD and has convinced himself he's a sociopath. He seems sort of obsessive.

John Craig said...

Steven --
That's a possibility.

But I don't think it's possible that he's not a sociopath. It would be near impossible to be a con man (which is basically what he was) for all those years without being a sociopath.

He may be a sociopath with OCD, although in general sociopaths suffer less from the neuroses.

Steven said...

I just left him a comment. I thought through all of those things when I was younger and I know what its like to worry or be in an anxious state. Even if he is a sociopath, I at least encouraged him to behave better.

People who criticise religion say that we are inherently capable of moral behaviour without an external threat or without fear but perhaps one of the things religion can do is give sociopaths strong selfish reasons to behave well and scare them into behaving morally.

John Craig said...

Steven --
Yes, that comment was good advice.

True enough, religion can serve that purpose. I often think of our system of laws in those terms. The laws against murder and rape and other major felonies are really for sociopaths more than anybody else. Most people have internal brakes which will keep them from doing those things even without threat of legal consequence.

Anonymous said...

Twice he mentioned searching the internet. I find it hard to believe that a preacher, who I assume has read the Bible, does not know "the way." If he has read the Bible, then he should know precisely where to direct his inquiries.

I had the feeling that he was making fun of your fascination with sociopaths.

John Craig said...

Anon --
That's quite possible. But if he's mocking my fascination with sociopaths, that means he's read enough of this blog to know that that's a recurring topic here, and I doubt a sociopath would go to that much effort.

Whatever his game is, there are a lot of falsehoods involved, and that pretty much betrays his character.

Ken L. said...

The sociopath is who he (or she) is because of an innate characteristic: one does not choose to be a sociopath, or not to be one.

A certain number of people simply are sociopaths.

Not all sociopaths are criminals, and not all of them are physically dangerous, but they are all dangerous to those around them who are not aware of what they are.

My own mother was a sociopath. She never did very much illegal-there was some shoplifting, but she never got caught. She did however make the lives of those around her miserable. My father committed suicide, my sister wound up with drug problems and illegitimate children, and I nearly destroyed my life trying to win her love and approval.

Understanding sociopathy and reconciling the phenomenon to the teachings of Christianity is difficult. I don't know the answer. Perhaps such people are destined for hell.

John Craig said...

Ken L --
Wow, that must have been difficult. You're lucky you didn't end up as a sociopath yourself. Your father must have been a decent guy.

And you're right, while all sociopaths will cut corners, many will end up mostly obeying the letter of the law but not its spirit. And they will always make people around them miserable.

I'm not religious, but from a Christianity point of view, if there is such a place as hell, it's the sociopaths who are bound there.

Anonymous said...

I attend Remnant presbyterian church in new york. Our senior pastor victor kim ran out on us after he was discovered having a 10 year affair. Now that facts are coming out, he lived a double life, with many women and exploiting church finances. Sold church property to family members without the congregation knowing. You are probably thinking... why didn't anyone say anything or do anything and how can he be in ministry for 25 years and no one knows about it. Pastor victor has absolutely no remorse. He ran out of the country and refuse to address the accusations. Would you consider this actions of a sociopath?

John Craig said...

Anonymous --
Definitely. And what's particularly telling is that the entire time he was pretending to be a man of God. Sociopaths, for some reason, often feel the need to not just appear decent like other people, but beneficent, noble, and sometimes even holy as well. They enjoy the admiration they get from other people for their "superior morality," no matter how much of a false front it is. And they'll carry their scams on for as long as they can. There's a long tradition of sociopaths posing as holy men; think of all the "fallen" televangelists, think of the intrigue that goes on in the Vatican City, think of all the shamans stretching back into prehistoric time who essentially conned the gullible. Any time anybody claims to have a direct pipeline to God, to have had a "conversation": with God, that's a pretty sure sign right there.