For decades a steady stream of psychologists has been raising the alarm on the devastating effect that people with certain personality disorders are having on society. The Mask of Sanity first published in 1941 by Hervey Cleckley, Robert Linder’s study Rebel Without a Cause from 1944, Theodore Millon’s 1981 Disorders of Personality, and Robert Hare’s more recent Without Conscience have been sounding a series of clear and persistent warnings. All of these authors warn that the destruction wreaked by psychopaths and those with certain other dangerous personality disorders is vastly underestimated.
So what are dangerous personality disorders? Up to 12 personality disorders have been recognized by the international psychiatric community. It is important to emphasize that not all of these personality disorders are dangerous and correlate with an increased risk of harmful behavior toward others. Indeed, most personality disorders result solely in distress and social hardship for the person suffering from the disorder. Such is the case, for example, with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder and depressive personality disorder. Of all the recognized personality disorders, this book is concerned with only three. People with these three types of dangerous personality disorder – psychopathy, narcissistic personality disorder, and paranoid personality disorder – are proven to be much more likely to be involved in violence and criminality.
Dangerous personality disorders are deeply engrained and enduring patterns of behavior that represent extreme deviations from the way the average person thinks, feels, and relates to others. They manifest as rigid patterns of behavior that are difficult, threatening, and harmful to others, including an increased propensity for violence and greed. In fact, people with these disorders are up to ten times more likely to have a criminal conviction than those without. People with these disorders suffer from distortions in the basic cognitive and emotional structures of their minds. These distortions include deficits in basic emotional functioning, such as the absence of feelings toward others, and cognitive distortions, such as the inability to process any information that runs counter to their inflated self-image. While everyone can manifest callous, narcissistic, and paranoid traits, depending on circumstances, it is the rigidity of their thoughts and feelings that marks people with dangerous disorders out from the majority of the population.
Religion renders its followers obedient and irrational, so they are ready-made for an authority figure to lead them. And they will unquestioningly accept the leader’s interpretation of the admonishments in their holy books. Driving any distance on U.S. highways will put you in range of the radio evangelists spewing non-stop propaganda. All moorings to reality are cut.
Luke 19:27 you’ve taken that out of context of the parable it was part of….Jesus taught a religion of non-violence. Yes, it’s true, corrupt men have taken advantage of religious institutions and religious people. However, generally speaking, all religions promote better relations between family members and support the eventual peace of the world. It’s naive of you to make an either/or argument that religion is either bad or good when in reality religion(s) have their flaws and inconsistencies just as political, economic or scientific institutions have their flaws and inconsistencies. Should we do away with politics because evil men manipulate and gain control of our political institutions? There are many examples of superlative religious leaders such as Gandhi who worked tirelessly to free his country from imperialistic British rule just as there are many examples of great political leaders such as Abraham Lincoln or Nelson Mandela.
The fault lies with the individual who chooses evil rather than some psychological disease that he is born with…and the fault also lies with our social institutions which allow the evil person to gain access to wealth and power without restraint. And finally, the fault lies with the apathy and ignorance of the unthinking men and women who are indifferent to political, religious or social reality and spend their lives piling up material possessions.
The leaders you touch on, Stalin and Mao, were anti-religious leaders who destroyed churches, tortured, imprisoned and murdered religious leaders and banned religion from public society. Stalin murdered 300,000 priests by some estimates.
Wars are generally fought over land and the resources they contain and not over religious ideology. Hitler wanted lebensraum, the Romans expanded their empire just as the British colonized for gold, slaves, opium and spice. The current US/Nato military adventures in the Middle East have nothing to do with religion, they have a lot to do with oil, heroin, geostrategy and the furthering and consolidating of corporate and financial interests.
Your book is relevant, needed and basically seems a great idea. I whole-heartedly agree with the general premise of your book and I sincerely hope you are right that the tyrants are slowly losing power, being replaced by democratic governments and a better citizenry is emerging. What we need to do is promote, sponsor, encourage and support the best ideas of our religious, political, economic and social institutions and not toss the baby out with the bath water due to some inconsistencies in ancient texts.
Hi Richard. Thank you for your comments, none of which I disagree with at all. I agree that it would be naive to make an either/or argument that religion is all bad or all good. The point I am arguing is that, as you say, religions have their flaws and inconsistencies, and that those flaws can be readily exploited by people with dangerous personality disorders for their own purposes. As someone who grew up in Northern Ireland during the troubles, I have experienced directly how sectarianism can fuel violence and hatred. But I dare to hope that once people become more aware of how people with these disorders exploit religion to cause enormous suffering, religions might disown those aspects of their teachings which enable such behaviour. And I fully agree with you that we need to encourage the best ideas of our religious, political, economic and social institutions and not throw the baby out with the bath water. Paul Monette put it much better than I can when he wrote, ‘We need people of God, especially if He isn’t here.’
well I stand corrected if I misread what you were saying…have you read Political Ponerolgy by Andrzej Łobaczewski? I’m sure you must have…and yes I think you are right, that over time, hopefully sooner rather than later, that people of faith might leave behind superstitious, fearful and violent aspects of their faith and embrace a better global model of human behavior based on peace and respect for all. I’ve been reading a lot of Gandhi’s ideas on non-violence lately…I think he was the greatest leader of the last century, able to combine politics and religion with ease, and steadfast about practicing non-violence not only as a personal faith but also as a political force.
I suppose it’s just where we are at as a race, that we haven’t learned, or at least many of us haven’t learned, that war and violence are a step backward.
First, let me say thank you for your amazing insights.
Just a minor correction to the info above. The Jewish Torah is the first 5 books of the bible. “What is hateful to you…” is a comment made by Rabbi Hillel, and while rabbinic commentary is important, it does not carry the same weight as the sacred texts.
When people realize that the struggle to reconcile the duality of good and evil is within, ie the struggle is within, the jihad is within, the apocalypse and revelation is within, tyrants will be unable to twist the message of religion from one of wholeness within one’s soul to one of war for the benefit of the disturbed