On Hell. Part II: psychopathy.

For my regular readers, I believe – I hope – I have already established my conviction that God is Love. It is not an axiom; it is one of the pillars of my cosmology: the theory upon which all other theories stand. I have been painting my “big picture” in broad strokes of the brush, and in it, Love is the temporal form of God’s eternal nature, which we call Good. As God is the Source, Sustainer, and Goal of the temporal world, Love is, therefore, the fabric of reality – that which binds together all that is through its connective action. Love is the actively flowing Good that interconnects all existence and propels Creation toward its fulfillment. Love is what makes us all of dual nature: human and divine, in that we belong to the all-embracing Divinity through our nature of divine Love.

Except… Are there those who do not? Are there those who are truly evil and don’t belong in the Kingdom of Heaven?

This was the question I asked in “Hell Part I,” and the answer was, “I don’t know.” I still don’t know, but my thoughts on the subject have been in flux over the past four or five years. By definition, whether we give it ontological reality or not, evil is the absence of Good. It is therefore the absence of God (which is where Hell logically comes in). And if God is Love, the truly evil are those whose very being is incompatible with love.

I used to think this was unlikely. There is much darkness and brutality in the world, but I thought, without much certainty, that it was caused by fear, rage, and pain – a self-perpetuating chain of revenge in which suffering begets suffering. We call it “evil,” but it’s not. It is strife. A mad, blind fight for a measure of control of a lost soul. Evil doesn’t have a soul. How can it?

I thought this way. I give much credence to ancient traditions and ways of thinking. Scriptures,  legends, epics. I think they bear insight we often lose if we refuse to look past the language, the cultural idiom, our differences in navigating the world. And so, I wondered about the persistence of demonology, in one form or another, among so many peoples’ folklores, and the common threads in their descriptions, in their warnings. Soulless creatures in human form that tempt and destroy. Deceivers with clear eyes that turn into monsters the minute one succumbs to their charms. Wanderers that move from victim to victim, identifiable by slips of the tongue or by a small feature – identifiable if one is careful. Evil, without a code, without ties except to Hell. To be resisted by keeping true to one’s code of ethics, faithful to one’s ties of love.

I loved ancient and medieval demonology, but I interpreted it as the humanity’s attempts to embody our general fears of being deceived and led astray, our fear of loneliness, our uncertainty in the face of morality, our desire to find someone to blame more powerful than a human foe – not a poetization of a particular, fact-based experience. And then my reading on the problem of evil led me into the area of modern psychology and psychiatry I had not yet considered. A relatively new area of research that started about mid-20th century. Research into people incapable of love.

A few decades ago, modern psychology has come up with a diagnosis for them: psychopathy.

Psychopaths. Those who work with them, describe their “symptoms,” which occur with a variety of prevalence. The defining one is this: Psychopaths are beings without conscience, without remorse, incapable not just of love and empathy but of comprehending the concepts. They cannot see others as subjects but only as objects and therefore are completely self-centered. They easily commit the most unspeakable violence upon others when it suits their purposes or simply discard after using them. Increased pain threshold, reduced sense of fear. Falsely charming, sometimes to the degree of being mesmerizing. Good at confidence games, pathological liars, parasites.

Recently, researchers began to do neuro-imaging studies of psychopathic brains and found high percentage of both structural reduction and functional abnormalities (dark areas, lack of activity) where a “normal” brain is lit up when a person is engaged in associations of loving memories, pity, and moral decision-making. Amygdala. Is this, physiologically speaking, where the hub is situated that connects us to the great network of the living Universe of Love? Does this mean that some humans out there are empty in the place that hub should be? They lack empathy. What does that mean in spiritual terms? Incompatible with love. Incompatible with good. Unable to comprehend even what it means – the value of it. Thinking that everyone else is just pretending to love or to feel compassion or to hold ethical standards. Unable to comprehend anything about Good. Disconnected.

In ancient tales, Satan is called the Father of Lies. His servants lie. The Liar lies. Because he must fit in to use those around him. Because he is not like them. Psychologists came up with a term to describe how a psychopath manages most of the time to lead a life among humans: “mimicry.” Mimicry. They live mimicking humanity. What are they?

I don’t believe in ontological evil – in Satan per se, in a force opposite to God. At least…for now. It is far, far from clear to me what psychopaths are in their nature, though the more deeply I dig into the topic, the more my skin crawls. It is far from clear to me if there is “true evil” in this world. And no amount of neuro-imaging or symptomatic description can assure us completely whether or not a particular person is evil. Or has a soul. Or feels the crumbs of something or other. Only he and God know. Or maybe, even only God.

And yet, I have begun to allow for the possibility that there are people in our midst really disconnected from the reality of God. In the state of final perfection—in the Kingdom of God, in Heaven—such beings would not, I imagine, be happy. Whatever it really is or looks like. Not in a world fulfilled, permeated by and become Love, come together in Love, without cracks to exploit, others’ pain to enjoy, ignorance to manipulate. For such beings, not only would Heaven be “hell,” they could not be part of it—by definition they are darkness, vacuum, absence of love. They do not belong in Heaven.

This is what brings me back to what we call Hell. It’s been a while since most Christian theologians abandoned the sinking ship of medieval imagery: snarling demons, scorching fires, and frying pans. And, as is now properly pointed out, save physical torture, Hell is the absence of God’s presence. Not a punishment for the wicked, this is the very nature of “the wicked.” If so, one cannot be sentenced to Hell. One can only belong there.

To be continued… on repentance and oblivion.


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1 comment

    • Anna Bondaryuk on June 15, 2012 at 12:32
    • Reply

    Thank you, Maria Catherine! Have read it with interest. My speculations on the point seem to move in the same direction.

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