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Ethics

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Q Does God hold psychopaths responsible for their actions, since they don’t have a conscience? If yes, isn’t that unfair? Should we hold psychopaths responsible?

A Your question suggests that we are sinful only because we disobey God’s moral laws. And since psychopaths lack empathy and conscience, they cannot help but disobey moral laws. If God still holds them responsible for their sins, even though they cannot stop themselves, this seems unfair to you.

Let me first suggest that from a Reformed perspective, sin is not simply reduced to disobedient actions. Rather, the whole human race is under a condition or state of sin. It is “a corruption of all [human] nature” (Belgic Confession, Article 15), and every human is “corrupt from conception on” (Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 7). Our disobedient acts are the symptoms, the manifest expressions of this disease of sin that has infected us all, psychopaths included.

This sinful nature, not simply our sinful acts, is what alienates us from God, and, hence, puts us under spiritual death. Only Christ can reconcile us to God and give us life. This holds true equally for psychopaths and for the rest of humanity, regardless of the nature of our sinful acts.

As to whether we should hold them responsible, we need to first realize that not all psychopaths commit evil. Studies show that many psychopaths function well in society, having various employments, including CEO, lawyer, police, and even clergy! (From “The Top 10 Jobs That Attract Psychopaths” at www.forbes.com). Being psychopathic does not mean you cannot obey laws. Therefore, psychopaths who do commit crimes and violence should be held responsible.

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