Psychopaths And Heretics


By Seth Robinson

Writ large across the twentieth century is a phenomenon as repeatable as it is terrible: a political ideology with bankrupt fundamentals will, if empowered, create a totalitarian regime. The ideology need not comprise the majority view to acquire a controlling interest in society, and the more the ideology diverges from reality, the more tyranny it creates. Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this phenomenon is that ordinary people may be observed not only conforming to unhinged ideologies, but even enforcing them. The question that must be asked becomes: by what mechanism exactly does an unhinged ideology capture the minds of ordinary people, and how can it be stopped?

James Lindsay answers in his essay “Psychopathy and the Origins of Totalitarianism.” The dense vocabulary of the title conveys the intensity of the essay; unlike most academic-speak, however, Lindsay’s analysis is both relevant and useful for laymen. Lindsay is a mathematician by training and a liberal by persuasion, but he has become a cultural critic by way of crusading against the ideology of the New Left, which he considers intolerant, irrational, and destined to cause human suffering. In the essay, Lindsay sketches the process by which dangerously false ideologies gain dominance in liberal societies, and in turn produce totalitarian regimes. His warning: “The ability to recognize this phenomenon when it occurs and to resist it is, at scale, the life and death of civilizations.”

The Apostle Paul describes a similar process by which false gospels infect the church, and his epistles contain the key to defeating them. This review will summarize Lindsay’s analysis, juxtapose it with Paul’s insight, and apply them to understanding the rise of a new heresy in the church. At present, American Christianity faces an insidious syncretism of the Gospel with what may best be called “Critical Social Justice,” or “Critical Theory.” Christians must recognize the syncretism as a false gospel, which, like any other heresy, endangers both the individual soul and the whole body of Christ. “Watch your life and your doctrine closely,” Paul commands. “Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.”

Lindsay begins with psychopaths. He defines a psychopath as a person who, being poorly adjusted to reality, constructs a “pseudo-reality” in which he can live more comfortably. The psychopath then attempts to validate his false conception of the world by manipulating others into adopting the pseudo-reality, or at least into recognizing it as legitimate. The standard tools with which psychopaths manipulate are warped logic and corrupted morality. The former Lindsay calls a “paralogic”: a fake method of reasoning “that has internally comprehensible rules and structure but that does not produce logical results.”

Alongside the paralogic runs a “paramorality”: a system of right and wrong that, because it correlates not to facts but to the pseudo-reality, is actually immoral.

“The goal of the paramorality is to socially enforce the belief that good people accept the paramorality and attendant pseudo-reality while everyone else is morally deficient and evil. That is, it is an inversion of morality…” 

The paralogic and paramorality work in tandem to recruit otherwise normal people to “carry water for a destructive lie,” normalizing the pseudo-reality and camouflaging its bankruptcy. Lindsay identifies liberal societies (those who prioritize tolerance and the free exchange of ideas) as particularly susceptible to pseudo-realities, with liberal intellectuals being the most vulnerable, as they put a personal premium on being—or at least seeming to be—the most open-minded towards new theories and the most capable of understanding their intricacies. 

In this way, the well-meaning people who take psychopathy seriously prove “useful idiots” for tyrants in the wings. Indeed, the empowered pseudo-realist must become a tyrant, because bending reality to fit a pseudo-reality requires a Herculean political effort, a powerful and meticulous regime forces it to. Of course, force is justified because it ushers in Utopia, the perfect state that must result when all has been subsumed into the pseudo-reality.

“Thus, in a pseudo-realist’s paramorality, there is either fully convicted support or incomprehensible (in the paralogical system) and depraved (in the paramorality) desire to see the indefinite continuation of the evils that will no longer exist when the Utopia is (technically never) realized. Vicious moralizing that will eventually justify violence, including on wide scales, is an eventual guarantee of such demands, if they are enabled sufficiently to shift that power to the ideologues. This guarantees the paramorality of an ideological pseudo-reality will always be repressive and totalitarian.”

This is how false realities enslave nations. It is also how false gospels enslave the church. Paul warns of malcontents who reject sound doctrine in favor of “what their itching ears want to hear,” even enlisting teachers to propagate heresies (psychopathy seeking validation). He speaks of being captivated by “hollow and deceptive philosophies”(pseudo-reality) and of regulations with “an appearance of wisdom” (paralogic) and “false humility” (paramorality). Just as false political philosophy begets political tyranny, false church doctrine begets spiritual bondage. This is why Paul warns the “bewitched” Galatians that “false brothers had infiltrated our ranks…to make us slaves.”

The Pauline epistles give at least three helpful signs for detecting the influence of a false gospel: rampant legalism, in accordance with its paramorality; a focus on earthly matters, in accordance with its paralogic (which, having failed to understand human nature, fails at restraining bodily temptations); and a human rather than divine origin, in accordance with its psychopathic genesis. A false gospel typically baits its victims by offering to pardon their sensual indulgence, only to subjugate them to a complex series of draconian rules. Since no one can ever be perfect enough to keep all the rules, sacrifices and scapegoating are required for atonement. And just as ideologically enslaved nations eventually collapse, false gospels rot away churches from within until they implode.

Of the many false gospels besetting the American church today, perhaps the most treacherous is the reframing of the Good News according to Critical Theory. No matter how far back its lineage is traced—to the postmodernists, the Frankfurt School, Marx, Rousseau, or even further—Critical Theory is a decidedly man-made worldview, not merely devoid of God, but bitterly hostile towards Him and His people. While a full analysis of Critical Theory is beyond the scope of this review, even a cursory look at the worldview reveals a dangerous pseudo-reality.

The two parents of Critical Theory are Marxism and postmodernism, and its inherited traits run afoul of the true Gospel. From Marxism this pseudo-reality receives a view of the world as fundamentally a series of power struggles in which one group oppresses others. The attendant paralogic determines that the significance of an individual is his group identity, and the paramorality holds that fighting the oppression of the dominant group is the highest good. This may be achieved through violent revolution or, more likely, undermining traditional institutions by criticizing them as merely the handmaidens of systemic oppression—thus the term ‘Critical.’

From postmodernism the pseudo-reality of Critical Theory receives a view of reality as fundamentally subjective: the truth may be out there, but it cannot be apprehended objectively, since each individual’s perception is hopelessly dictated by their lived experience. Therefore each personal narrative is just as valid as any other in the abstract. In practice, however, when paired with the identity politics of Marxism, this subjective tendency asserts the inherently superior validity of narratives from individuals in oppressed groups (and, as a consequence, the inferiority of those in the oppressive groups).

Both parent ideologies have bequeathed Critical Theory with their fetish for subversion of traditionally-held belief, and in the church this means undermining orthodoxy. The discerning ear can hear the identity politics, narrative-based epistemology, and subversion behind ostensibly innocent suggestions like “it’s time to reimagine soteriology through the lens of the marginalized,” or “the woman at the well spoke her truth, and Jesus learned from her.” Such language serves as a Trojan horse for innovation, allowing the paralogic and paramorality of Critical Theory to be welcomed inside the bounds of acceptable doctrine. Suddenly, Christians are no longer “all one in Christ Jesus,” but most importantly “Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female.” Revelations from a God of Truth who surveys reality objectively must be suspect, especially when they come through writings of insufficiently diverse men and traditions handed down by oppressive ecclesiastical hierarchies. The Gospel must be ‘reimagined’ from the vantage points of disparate groups to be fully understood. The Gospel must be rewritten—according to Critical Theory.

Perhaps the most heinous rewriting is the substitution for salvation by grace through faith with salvation by works through law abiding. Despite whatever lip service Christianized Critical Theory may give to the sufficiency of Christ’s work to redeem his people, this false gospel puts a premium on man’s work in fighting injustice to secure redemption from sin. Since the original sin of this heresy is privilege granted by systemic injustice, there is no need for salvation among those deemed oppressed, and only observance of law for those deemed oppressors. The ‘chief priests and Pharisees’ of this paramorality convene to lay down extra rules: “it’s not enough to not be racist, you should be anti-racist,” or in the language of the epistles, “it’s not enough to renounce paganism, you should be circumcised.” The pseudo-reality of Critical Theory traps the soul in legalism, even as it undermines the unity of the body of Christ.

How then can the machinations of psychopaths and the false gospels of heretics be resisted? Lindsay returns to explain that resistance begins with recognition of a pseudo-reality as such, after which one has a choice between refutation or mere rejection. Refuting a pseudo-reality can prove a complicated, draining task, requiring one to delve deeply into its absurdity and evil to understand its inner-workings and expose them. Such work takes a toll on the soul, yet someone must do it. 

“For there are many rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers,” wrote Paul. “They must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach...” Like combat, the task is not for everyone. Those who accept the challenge will need courage, discipline, and good cheer. A scrappy predisposition can also prove helpful. “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God”—these are fighting words.

Refutation may not be the duty of everyone, but anyone can achieve the alternative: simple rejection of a pseudo-reality requires neither feats of intellect nor a lifetime of study, but merely common sense and resolve. Rejecting a pseudo-reality is straightforward: one must absolutely refuse to live as if the lie were true, or even relevant to one’s own life. The Christian has the advantage of knowing the ultimate epistemic and moral Authority. He has simply to rely on that Authority while refusing to agree that the emperor is wearing any clothes (or that treating people equally is racist, or that a man can become a woman), and presto!—the jig is up.

This tactic is extremely powerful, if deployed without compromise. To deny that the emperor wears a shirt, but affirm that he still wears pants, is to continue living a lie. This is why, referring to the infiltration of false brothers among the Galatians, Paul declares, “We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the Gospel might remain with you.”

Refutation and rejection come at a price. Those who would resist a pseudo-reality must be prepared to face the wrath and scorn of its captives. Such resistance may prove terrifying, but as Jude reminds, the true Christ gives a spirit of power, love, and self-discipline—not of timidity. Fake realities and false gospels will enslave and destroy ‘the blessed company of all faithful people,’ unless they are resisted boldly. It can be done, it must be done, and it will be done—for the gates of hell will not prevail.

Seth Robinson is an Anglican layman in the Diocese of Fort Worth, Texas.

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