Thursday, November 03, 2005

Whether a psychopath, too, can be saved.

The following I just wrote for an intern training exercise. PLEASE correct my naievte on any of my points below.

Discuss theological implications of psychological theory that psychopaths do not have a conscience.

First, it is difficult to see how no conscience whatsoever can exist in a psychopathic person. Evidence for this exists in the form of the psychopathic “burnout” in a person’s middle age. If someone can "grow" a conscience when they are faced with the reality that they are not omnipotent, was a form of conscience always there? Additionally, the common sense phrase “honor among thieves” comes to mind. C.S. Lewis uses this argument when he talks about the universal understanding of morality. If psychopathic people are able to feel rage at being slighted, are they not able at some level to understand morality? While the conscience can be so hardened as to allow for incredibly heinous actions, I’m unconvinced from a theoretical and biological standpoint that no conscience whatsoever exists in psychopathic people.

Having said that, let's assume that some people have absolutely no conscience: is conscience (an empathic 'feeling with') necessary for repentance and faith?

Arminian view – A person must have a conscience in order to respond to God’s offer of the gospel. He must know experientially (as a feeling) that he is a sinner and choose to come to Jesus for salvation. It would probably be argued that God must provide a conscience to every person in order for them to have a chance to respond to the Gospel. An argument similar to that of universal salvation for infants (age of accountability) might be generated – all psychopaths go to heaven because there is no way for them to respond in repentance to the free offer of salvation.

Calvinistic view – Theoretically a person need not have a conscience in order to be among the elect, however, the absence of a conscience could itself be construed as evidence of the unregenerate state. The effects of the fall are not fair and we each have proclivities that incline us toward sin (i.e., the genetic influence on homosexuality). Further, since God works in covenant families, and there is some evidence that psychopathy is in some ways inherited, this can be a case of the sins of the father being visited to the third and forth generation of those that hate God. In Calvinistic theology, there is no need for the declarations of God to be “fair” according to human understanding. God has authority to have mercy on some and to damn others to hell.

Roman Catholic (Sacramentalist) view – Salvation is possible for those who have no conscience if they are willing to confess their sins and receive absolution, receive the Eucharist and remain in that state of grace at the point of death. Certainly there would not be much internal motivation for those who are without conscience to confess their wrong-doing, save self-preservation if they were taught a strong message of the Law.

Lutheran view – We are all dead in sin until the quickening power of the Holy Spirit makes us alive through the Word. In this way the very moral person and the psychopath are exactly on equal ground. As the law is faithfully preached, the objective nature of sin would be revealed to both. The Holy Spirit uses the law to restrain evil in the world, to convict souls of their sinfulness and to point people to Christ as their hope. He alone can move the soul to acknowledge guilt and fly to Christ as the redeemer. Repentance is not necessarily a sense that I have "hurt God’s feelings" or empathically taking the victim’s perspective ("against you only have I sinned"), but rather a continual recognition of our sinfulness and a turning away from it. God uses objective means of grace to confer his salvation to his people; these are the Word, and the sacraments. Since no work can save, the psychopath would be a good example of the fact that God has done all the work for our salvation through the blood of Jesus. Since salvation was accomplished for all on the cross and applied to believers objectively through Word and sacrament, it is possible for psychopaths to be among the saints.

3 Comments:

Blogger Pr. Scarecrow said...

From a Lutheran perspective, repentance includes sorrow over sin:

“Now properly speaking, true repentance is nothing else than to have contrition and sorrow, or terror about sin, and yet at the same time to believe in the gospel and absolution that sin is forgiven and grace is obtained through Christ. Such faith, in turn, comforts the heart and puts it at peace.” (Augsburg Confession XII)

“And then in Colossians [2:14] Paul says, “. . . erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands.” Here again there are two parts: the record and the erasing of the record. But the record is the conscience convicting and condemning us. Therefore the law is the Word that convicts and condemns sins. This voice that says with David, “I have sinned against the Lord” [2 Sam. 12:13], is the record. Ungodly and smug people do not say this seriously, for they neither see nor read the sentence of the law written in their hearts. This sentence is perceived only in the midst of genuine sorrows and terrors.” (Apology XII.48)

So, can one without a conscience truly have sorrow and therefore have true repentance?

On the other hand, the Holy Spirit working in the Word of God can produce true repentance.

“ For, on the one hand, it is true that in a true conversion there must be a change—new impulses and movements in mind, will, and heart. As a result, the heart acknowledges sin, fears God’s wrath, turns away from sin, acknowledges and accepts the promise of grace, has good, spiritual thoughts, Christian intention, and diligence, battles against the flesh, etc. For where none of these things takes place or exists, there is no true conversion.” (Formula of Concord SD II.70)

Can it be said, then, that the one who previously had no concern for God’s standard of right and wrong, whose heart is a stone with regard to the things of God, who repents and believes the Gospel, does not remain a “psychopath”, because he is now one of those who “have been converted and thus have been enlightened, and the will has been renewed, then such people desire the good (insofar as they are born anew and are new creatures) and “delight in the law in the inmost self” (Rom. 7[:22*]). [Formula of Concord SD II.63]?

In other words, can it be said that the Gospel has an affect on the mind and behavior of the person, and salvation is not just an abstract spiritual concept but something of real, practical significance?

12:31 AM  
Blogger Orycteropus Afer said...

Thanks for again giving me something to think about that I'd never really considered before. Well worth the props I can give.

11:14 PM  
Blogger solarblogger said...

I tend to like what William said about how the Gospel itself creates what is necessary for the person to receive it. We get into trouble when we argue this from definitions alone. If you begin from the definition of a sinner (rather than a psychopath), you will just as likely conclude that the person cannot be saved. Yet it is only a sinner who needs salvation.

I think it is the practical recognition that most people who are saved still have many of their old problems that makes this difficult. For every person where there is a catastrophic conversion, there are likely many where the change is subtle, if visible at all.

What do we say if we find that a person who formerly had no conscience now seems to have a spotty one? Tender where it used to be non-existent, but sometimes offline altogether? Where we get into trouble is when we get into questions of "How much?"

For charity's sake, I would accept the person's confession of faith as real, with or without visible conscience. (And watch my back, too.)

3:02 PM  

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