The Confident Christian
7/28/12 at 02:48 PM 2 Comments

Does Evil Equal Crazy?

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It was around 3:00am when a car carrying the body of John Wayne Gacy rolled into the parking structure of an Illinois hospital. Gacy had been put to death by lethal injection in the early morning hours of May 10, 1994 for the rape and murder of 33 young men and boys, 29 of whom he buried in the crawl space beneath his own Chicago home between the years of 1972 and 1978.

Now, his lifeless body was being quietly delivered into the hands of Dr. Helen Morrison who was waiting at the hospital to perform a very unique autopsy. Dr. Morrison had previously interviewed Gacy, along with many other serial killers, in an attempt to isolate personality traits that were common among such ruthless murderers.

At the request of Gacy’s family, Dr. Morrison was going to remove the brain of the notorious serial killer in hopes of discovering some sort of physical abnormality that would provide answers for why Gacy destroyed so many lives.

Some of the same questions asked decades ago about Gacy are currently being asked of James Holmes, the 24-year old neuroscience Ph.D. student who is responsible for the Aurora theater shooting in Colorado. What would have caused Holmes to go on a rampage and murder so many innocent people?

Good or Bad?

The secular world desperately wants to believe that humankind is devoid of any kind of inherent evil. The famed psychologist Abraham Maslow concluded: “As far as I know we just don't have any intrinsic instincts for evil.”[1] Joining him is Carl Rogers who asserted, “I do not find that…evil is inherent in human nature”[2]

If Maslow and Rogers are correct, then why do we see so much evil in the world? As theologian R. C. Sproul observes: “If each one of us is born without a sinful nature, how do we account for the universality of sin? If four billion people were born with no inclination to sin, with no corruption to their nature, we would reasonably expect that at least some of them would refrain from falling. . . . But if everybody does it, without exception, then we begin to wonder why.”[3]

With people like Gacy and James Holmes, the most common reason given for why they committed the atrocities they did is because they are mentally ill. But is this always the case?

From Person to Patient 

After a society puts to death the concept of sin and moral responsibility, it will (like Gacy’s family) anxiously search for alternative explanations for the reasons why mankind commits such heinous acts against itself. Although the culture wants nothing to do with a God that calls men into account for their actions, it still cannot run from the moral consciousness that the Creator has embedded deep within each human heart.

What path does such a society walk down to explain man’s inhumanity to man? For a clue, you just have to view the sad interviews of mothers who have watched their children be locked up for crimes that are incomprehensible to them. Almost always you will hear something to this effect: “He’s a good boy; he’s just … sick!”

This, says society, is the cause. The problem has nothing to do with outdated concepts like sin and morality, but it is pathological in nature. The person is really a patient – one that is marred in some way – and one who is just manifesting their disease. As Dr. Helen Morrison says of serial killers like Gacy: "He is a serial killer when he is a fetus, even as soon as sperm meets egg to create the genes of a new person.”[4]

With this causal swap comes the elimination of real responsibility. After all, someone who is sick or “born that way” generally doesn’t want to be sick and didn’t ask for the illness to come upon them. They have no choice but to act in the way they did. Because of this, society’s response isn’t one of punishment, but one of proposed healing. The person merely needs to be cured of their sickness and then all will be well; then they will act moral and righteous.

A Disturbing Realization 

There’s no question that mental illness is, unfortunately, real. Through proper counseling and/or the right medication, many hurts can be healed and chemical imbalances corrected so that a person is able to move beyond their condition and live a better life.

That said, we need to be careful of believing that the primary reason people like Gacy and Holmes commit their evil actions is always because of a mental illness. Holmes, for example, was evidently seeing a psychiatrist for help, but does everyone who carries out evil acts, whether large or small, suffer from some form of mental instability?

As an illustration, take Adolf Eichmann[5], the German Nazi officer who was one of the primary instigators, organizers, and executioners of the Holocaust. Surely, someone who was responsible for the mass murder of over six million innocent people must have some sort of mental illness, shouldn’t he?

However, Thomas Merton writes, “One of the most disturbing facts that came out in the Eichmann trial was that a psychiatrist examined him and pronounced him perfectly sane. We equate sanity with a sense of justice, with humaneness, with prudence, with the capacity to love and understand other people. . . . And now it begins to dawn on us that it is precisely the sane ones who are the most dangerous.”[6]

This is a disturbing realization – evil can hide underneath a veneer that appears to be very normal and benign to the inquiring mind, but it’s a lie. Because of this, psychiatrist M. Scott Peck calls evil people the “people of the lie”: “The words ‘image’, ‘appearance’, and ‘outwardly’ are crucial to understanding the morality of the evil. While they seem to lack any motivation to be good, they intensely desire to appear good. Their ‘goodness’ is on a level of pretense. It is, in effect, a lie. This is why they are the ‘people of the lie’.”[7] 

This conclusion is also noted by Christian apologist and theologian Francis Schaeffer who called it “man’s dilemma”: “Man is able both to rise to great heights and to sink to great depths of cruelty and tragedy.”[8] Schaeffer pointed out that humanity’s dilemma provokes a number of important questions. Have we always been this way? What hope do we have we will get any better, especially since (if only the data is looked at) we seem to be heading in the wrong direction given that the 20th century was the bloodiest in human history.

Ironically, this was predicted by nihilist philosopher Frederick Nietzsche who said that, because we had supposedly killed God in the early 1900’s, evil would only get worse.

The Right Diagnosis and Cure 

It’s certainly not popular to refer to humanity as evil, but Jesus was about as straightforward about it as you can get. In something no less than the famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said to the people gathered there: “What man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? “Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him” (Matthew 7:7–11, my emphasis).

Jesus explicitly called out our universal sin nature, which is clearly articulated in other areas of Scripture as well:

 "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5).

"Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20).

"If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).

Our sin nature, left unchecked, is the root cause of episodes such as those in Aurora Colorado and not mental illness. God’s cure for man’s dilemma (being changed from the inside out via God’s Spirit) is real and brings about true healing, where society’s secular attempts at changing Mr. Hyde back into Dr. Jekyll produces nothing but frustration and leaves one continuing to search for answers.

For example, when all was said and done, what were the results of Dr. Helen Morrison’s examination of the brain of serial killer John Wayne Gacy? Simply that he had a normal male brain.

No defects.

No abnormalities.

No excuses.


[2] Ibid.

[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adolf_Eichmann

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