In my in-depth piece about ponerology, I devoted a great deal of real estate, including, for instance, this section, to explaining how any ideology or religion – even one whose actual teachings would seem antithetical to “evil” – can be hi-jacked by pathological people who then use it to cloak their malicious activity. This is a very important point to understand. Pathological people often draw sympathy and support from others by espousing admirable sounding ideals, even while flouting those very ideals with their behavior.
A new study, described in the Vancouver Sun, touches on this interplay between ideology/religion (in this case, specifically religion) and harmful activity.
The study, led by Volkan Topalli, a criminal justice professor at Georgia State University, was published in an article entitled “With God on My Side: The Paradoxical Relationship Between Religious Belief and Criminality Among Hardcore Street Offenders” in the journal Theoretical Criminology.
Topalli and his co-researchers “found that through ‘purposeful distortion or genuine ignorance,’ hardcore criminals often co-opt religious doctrine to justify or further their crimes.”
I like the word “co-opt” as it really captures the smooth, devious way that dangerous people can assume a doctrine of, say, love and compassion, re-process it and then convincingly promote it in a creatively altered form as a rationale for destructiveness.
In interviews, the study’s subjects demonstrated precisely how they had selectively accepted and twisted various religious teachings in order to reconcile them with their criminal behavior.
Topalli points out that this has implications for the role of faith-based programs often provided to prisoners, since some of those prisoners, rather than internalizing the healthy messages embedded within the religious teachings, will instead simply manipulate the material to further support their criminality. This mirrors the way (as I explained here) that psychopaths, treated with traditional therapeutic approaches that may cultivate empathy and compassion in others, may instead simply observe and learn from their therapists and fellow group participants how to become even more skilled manipulators and exploiters. This is why Robert Hare, world expert on psychopathy, has desperately advocated that certain pathological prisoners not be treated in the same groups or with the same methods that are applied with their fellow inmates.
Topalli’s study concluded with a recommendation that faith-based prison programs not be relied upon alone as a primary deterrent to repeat offending.
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