This article picks up the discussion of my recently-published article “Shrewd as Snakes: The Christian and the Psychopath.” In this article, I will begin with two intriguing quotes from John Henry Browne, the attorney who defended notorious serial killer and clinical psychopath Ted Bundy:
“Ted was the only person in my forty years of being a lawyer that I would say that he was absolutely born evil. This is really the only person, after representing thousands of clients in forty years, that would say that about.”
“I didn’t want to believe people were born evil, but I came to the conclusion that Ted was…. He had this energy about him that was clearly deceptive, very sociopathic.”
Two things intrigue me about Mr. Browne’s observations.
First, Browne skirts the oft-blurred distinction between immorality and amorality. Was Bundy immoral and thus, “born evil”? Or was he amoral in the sense of being wholly unable himself to grasp moral value and obligation? And if the latter, should we speak of him in the categories of good/evil at all? Or should we instead think of his actions in terms of the amoral categories we reserve for non-human predators? It makes no sense to project a moral agent in the blank stare of the grizzly or great white shark right before they strike. Is the psychopath like this?
Second, Browne clearly sees Bundy’s personality disorder as something beyond his ability to control. Whether he was born evil or amoral, his lack of moral goodness seems innate and beyond his capacity to change.
What do you think? Should we describe the psychopath in terms of good and evil? Or do they possess an amoral character which altogether defies standard moral categorization? And what does this do for their moral culpability?