What about psychopaths?

I think it is more of a subject for psychology and evolution than theology. I don’t believe human beings are a product of design but a product of the self-organizing processes of learning and evolution.

I personally think that the psychopath is the product of a switch in human psychology which generally gets flipped when children are exposed to too much inhumanity and violence enabling them to turn into killing machines. It is largely a survival mechanism. But of course, all such evolved features don’t always work properly and sometimes the switch is thrown even when it isn’t appropriate and might even be voluntary in some cases. It also explains why this might happen more frequently in some races/ancestries than others.

Well I guess there is a theological question regarding the salvation of psychopaths. To that my answer is that only God can judge human beings properly. Even if that particular switch isn’t a choice in all cases, it doesn’t mean that they are devoid of any choices which matter when it comes to salvation.

1 Like

This a tough topic. Most feel that true psychopaths cannot b e rehabilitated, so where does that leave us? As Mitchell said, it is in God’s hands.


I think we, as Westerners, really value the idea that rules apply equally to all people. Our view of God’s fairness is very tied to our views of equality. But even though in some ways, God does not show favoritism, (and we like that), in lots of other ways, he really does. He makes exceptions to the rules all the time. Which I agree is frustrating when we are trying to come up with neat theological assessments of how the world works.

I put this question in the same box as “Does God create some people with Down syndrome? Does God create some people gay? Does God create some people bipolar?” To the degree that “psychopathic” is how some people are created, I believe that God’s grace is sufficient for them. But it may not be that the same “rules” apply or that the normal “rules” apply in the same way.


And I personally, Christian though I am, think the usual moral argument is the worst of the lot, founded upon an authoritarian basis for morality which is only appropriate for two year olds and utterly inadequate for mature responsible adults in a changing world. C.S. Lewis’s argument from morality (in Mere Christianity) is a little better but invalid because evolution does provide adequate explanation for morality despite what many may think.


While not in the psychopath range (I hope), I think that idea of God meeting us where we are, even though it may be a bit different place for some, is reassuring for me as well. At Thanksgiving there was a time where the rest of my family seemed spiritually connected on an emotional level that I did not feel, and I get spiritually connected through more intellectual discussions which most of my family have little interest in. Or perhaps my feeling emotionally distant was a bit of holiday blues.


Not to mention their unfortunate victims.

Whether you regard it as an event, or a statement of the human condition, the fall involves a great and uneven disparity between a just and benevolent paradise, and the world as we find it. Separation from God is the defining human experience and Christ himself had to be forsaken by the Father to be fully incarnate.

Like many apologetics, a measure of faith is involved in the argument from moral compass. Individuals and societies have done great evil, seemingly without being much troubled. Worse are instances where the church itself has been co-opted to indefensible atrocities. Despite all that, the dominant trait in people at large has been demonstrated to be empathy and cooperation. As Christians, by faith we may attribute that to the image of God in man.


I find that reassuring as well. It does make it harder to make judgments and pronouncements about other people’s relationships with God though, when we can’t apply a one-size-fits-all analysis to it. Maybe that’s a good thing!


Psychopaths and narcissist have no chance to repent before they die, so how can they ever find God?

Children born to alcoholic moms can have fetal alcohol syndrome – a frequent if not universal symptom is the lack of any moral sense, any conscience. It is a disability, not a sin. Likewise, some (again – if not all) sociopaths. I trust that Father’s justice is well aware and ‘fair’.

1 Like

Of course, sociopaths can be successfully rehabilitated into politicians!


My wife’s line is that backbone transplants should be commonly available – there are plenty not being used in D.C. :grin:

1 Like

I should preface my remarks by saying that I am not a psychiatrist or psychologist. From my time at juvenile detention, I do have a great deal of experience working with sociopaths/psychopaths and discussing their cases with trained professionals. Formally, it’s called Antisocial Personality Disorder, and it shares quite a few traits with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, mainly due to the lack of empathy in both types.

The two most reliable indicators of future juvenile delinquency are cruelty to animals and setting fires.

Do they have a soul? I think this confuses a soul with a conscience. Psychopaths lack a conscience. Whether they have a soul … God knows.

Never knew you felt this way. I agree.

That’s the right box to put it in. The human prefrontal cortex is incredibly complex, which makes the system more susceptible to “errors,” if that’s the right word. For example, autism and schizophrenia have been correlated to abnormal PFC development. Injury to the PFC can cause the same effects. Emotional disinhibition syndrome leaves a patient with “impaired tolerance for delayed gratification, very diminished impulse control, and no evidence of foresight or concern about the consequences of one’s actions.”

Actually, in my experience they are more likely to lack impulse control. They may not be able to control the impulse to punch you in the face if you make them angry, but they will feel bad (maybe) about it afterward.


Sorry to double up, but I wanted to add a couple more thoughts. First, the notion that God implants a conscience (universal moral law) in a person’s mind before birth is clearly wrong. Second, notice the connection between empathy and morality. No empathy = no morality.

If the moral law of the Bible can be summed up as “Love God and love people as you love yourself” and you lack the capacity to love people as you love yourself, (since it is empathy that allows you figure out what is indeed the “loving” thing to do in a given situation) that would make it hard to be moral, for sure.

1 Like

Good thought. I’ll write that one down. :wink:

As do I. Whenever I read “soul” I always think “that which is most essential to a person’s identity”. While we have choice over many things I think there are aspects of our individual being which rightfully ought to guide our choices. When we act counter to this we feel inauthentic.

1 Like

As someone with ASD, I struggle with loving others. In its place is a strong sense of lawfulness, an inhibition to breaking the rules. A psychopath may not recognize the right or wrong of an action, but he/she may recognize that they are a created being like us, and see it beneficial to invest in a possible life beyond this one. For this reason, they might still pick up the Bible, and from interpreting what is considered right and wrong as written within, treating one another as they would wish to be, develop a structure of right and wrong. God judges us based on our capabilities, so would not hold up a psychopath to quite the same standard as even I would be.

As for me, I have to learn to actively watch people’s body language, know what to look for in certain situations, and above all consider what I would do in response to a particular behavior of mine. Unless I consciously realize that someone feels a certain way, usually because they do or say something quite blatant, I don’t know how someone is feeling. Once I realize that I have hurt someone, then I feel almost as bad as most would in the same situation. I do feel emotions, it’s just that I can’t subconsciously connect to others emotionally.


Well said. Thanks for your contribution. The problem with a psychopath is that they see others only as tools to achieve their own ends. I honestly don’t know how God might view them, since they are capable of unspeakable acts of cruelty. I pray that none of you ever encounters a true psychopath. Monsters do exist. I’ve known them personally.

I spent the last few years of my teaching career in special education, and several of my students were on the spectrum. One in particular sounds very much like you describe yourself, but he had a particularly odd symptom (to me, anyway). A characteristic of human morality is the ability to generalize an action to a category. This boy lacked that skill.

Let me explain. If he cussed out “Nancy” and got in trouble for it, he learned not to cuss her out, but he couldn’t “generalize” that rule to all the other kids. Nancy didn’t get cussed out anymore, but everyone else was still fair game.


When I was first out of college working, I worked with a young woman who had Aspergers. One day at work she said something like, “I would like to be your friend. I was told I should ask you to do something enjoyable. Would you like to go to the movies some time?” So we became friends. When my husband was deployed I spent quite a bit of time with her.

If you define empathy as being able to put oneself in someone else’s shoes and predict how they would feel or react, then she was not very empathetic, because she did not have the capacity to make those kind of predictions, since other people felt and reacted very differently than she did. But she was kind and unselfish and genuinely desired to make other people happy. You had to be really explicit with her about what you wanted and didn’t want and not expect her to guess stuff, and you had to accept that her following the “rules” of being a good friend were a genuine expression of friendship, but if you could do that she was a more considerate friend than many “nuerotypical” people I’ve had relationships with. We still keep in touch 20 years later.

I guess my point is that she loved people and wanted to treat people well, she just couldn’t rely on intuition and “people skills” to know what to do, she needed rules to express her caring. I don’t think that made her morally deficient.


Exactly right!

1 Like

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

This is a place for gracious dialogue about science and faith. Please read our FAQ/Guidelines before posting.