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Sociopath Religion

• Greg Boyd

A sociopath is a person who, for whatever reason, cannot feel emotions. They function by replicating behaviors in their life. In this sermon, Greg shows how religion can sometimes be sociopathic, and we are called to not judge others’ behaviors.

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A sociopath is a person who has a personality disorder that causes them to not feel emotions the way that a normal person would. The only things this person understands are behaviors. They are really good at knowing what a good person acts like, but they have no idea what a good person feels like. They don’t understand the emotions associated with value, worth, relationships, and love.

A sociopathic religion is a religion where people get life from doing the right behaviors but don’t understand the love of God. People go through the motions that they think their God wants, but never understand the heart change that comes with following Jesus. This religion becomes dangerous because judgment reigns. It’s not about the heart of people, but it’s about the behaviors that people do. And this religion starts to make these behaviors the ruler by which everyone is measured.

The story of Cain and Abel shows that this has been around since the beginning of humanity. Cain and Abel were brothers who competed to impress God. Abel worked the flocks while Cain tilled the fields. Abel brought an offering from his flocks and Cain brought an offering from his fields. God looked down with favor on Abel’s offering, but not Cain’s. Cain decided to kill Abel because his offering was rejected.

Cain made the offering about the competition between him and Abel. Instead of trying to please the Lord, he became angry that someone else outperformed him. God approved of Abel’s sacrifice, not because it was a better sacrifice, but because Abel’s heart was right when offering the sacrifice. And the first act of violence in the Bible was religious in nature, and it shows the danger of a sociopathic religion.

Sociopathic religion trains people to judge. When everything is about behaviors and outward appearances, then people begin to measure themselves against one another. Their standing with God depends, not on their heart, but on their performance. And they begin to get life from judging others instead of life from God. In addition, these people become blind to their own performance issues and make everyone else’s sins greater than their own. In a world where all fall short, they convince themselves that they’ve fallen a little less short and are therefore better. Instead of serving others they condemn others. And this is not what God wants from his people.

We are called to love and not judge. God wants our hearts changed and not just our behaviors. We need to let go of our judgments and begin to see the world as Jesus wants us to see it. Instead of feeling justified in our behaviors, we should feel justified by Jesus’ work on the cross and then view everyone in our life through this lens. To live in love, we must let go of sociopathic religion.

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Topics: Humility, Judgment, Sin


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Focus Scripture:

  • Colossians 3:14

    And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

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6 thoughts on “Sociopath Religion

    Peter says: Thursday July 4, 2013 at 4:29 am

    While the love/judgment point that Greg makes is understood in theory, its implementation raises issues as evidenced by the questions asked.

    When Greg initially mentioned the matter of his idle judgment of shoppers in the mall several weeks ago, the judgments made were essentially on the basis of justifying oneself against the deficiencies of those being observed.

    This is best described in the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector Lk. 18:9-14:-
    “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men–robbers, evildoers, adulterers–or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

    (As an aside and to show how deceitful this can be a Sunday school teacher was teaching this parable to a class and concluded that thankfully we are not like the Pharisee…..ie we are better than him, the very thing the Pharisee is saying about himself in relation to the Tax Collector!…..then someone else said thankfully we are not like the Sunday school teacher…..and so the deceit continues.)

    The Pharisees fit Greg’s description of sociopaths perfectly…..as Jesus describes them “whitewashed tombs”…..outwardly full of righteousness but inwardly full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
    This brings a further dimension in relation to Greg’s experience (where you justify yourself on the negative behaviors of others) as this can similarly happen in relation to positive behaviors. We may judge a person who is behaving with excellent manners and thoughtfulness to others as superior to ourselves but, like the Pharisees, this person could be a sociopath and is only exhibiting these behaviors to gain the admiration of others and, his actions are not done out of true love….so what is judged to be good is evil.

    The issue of course is why a Christian (especially) would revert to this form of behavior ie judgment instead of Calvary love. There are echoes here from the Letter to the Ephesians in the Book of Revelation:-

    “ I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.”

    God’s Calvary love is also a holy love which often gets ignored, which once experienced, should not lead to an Ephesian experience…..but no doubt can. God’s love for civilization is no different for the saint or the sinner….He loves us all totally. However, while those in His Kingdom respond to this love (and stay in His love), it is not the case for the impenitent.

    Turning the Cain and Abel’s offerings, I believe there is sufficient detail in scripture that probably requires little further explanation. In Lk 11:49-51 Jesus mentioned that the blood of the prophets has been shed from Abel to Zechariah….hence Abel was the first prophet. In Amos 3:7 it says God does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets….hence Abel was acting in accordance with what had been revealed to him. In Heb 11:4 …by faith Abel offered a more acceptable sacrifice to God than Cain and lastly Heb 12:24 where Jesus , the mediator of the new covenant, shed his blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel ie ultimately Abel’s death as a prophet having offered an acceptable sacrifice to God, was prophetic in relation to Jesus’s death.

    I agree with Greg that Cain’s actions are like the Pharisee and hence a sociopath…as he went through the process of performing a sacrifice…evidently with little humility, had no love but hate for his brother and, later sought God’s mercy in the sense that he would not be killed for Abel’s murder.

    Reply
    Dave Pritchard says: Thursday July 4, 2013 at 4:35 pm

    Fantastic message!

    Greg has mentioned “Sociopaths” and or “Sociopathic behavior” before in his messages. I find this topic disturbing but well worth investigating. Mike Adams from NaturalNews.com has written a fascinating article online entitled – “How to spot a sociopath – 10 red flags that could save you from being swept under the influence of a charismatic nut job”. This is seriously scary stuff and should not be taken lightly!
    One of the questions I’m still wrestling with, has to do with the “Nature verse Nurture” argument where extreme examples of sociopathic behavior very subtlety manifest themselves over time. It seems that the calculation or propensity for doing evil can be inborn –

    “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” – Jeremiah 17:19

    “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.”
    – Psalm 51:5

    Also, it would appear that “sociopathic behavior” can be an “acculturation process” and or metal disorder and even still potentially, a “demon possession” and or “oppression”. That last one though is a doozy and is the subject of intense theological debate.

    Recently, my son and I were watching an animated version of the Cain and Able Story online before bedtime. In the story prior to the murder, Cains’ character is presented as being very bitter and twisted, over worked and jealous of his father Adam who in his eyes, “Spends all of his time talking to God instead of helping him do the work in the fields”. I felt this was a very interesting implication, in that the fratricide was at least partially motivated by the negative attitude that he had towards his earthy father prior to the sacrifice scenario. This led me to speculate that the murder of his brother was more about getting back at Adam, then the apparent hatred directed at Able after having his offering rejected by God. (?)

    One of the characteristic of a true “sociopath” apparently is that they will not accept the responsibly for anything they themselves do even when caught directly in the act and will often blame either their parents, the environment or society for their actions.

    Reply
    Peter says: Friday July 5, 2013 at 12:01 am

    You make some good points Dave.

    Within “Repenting of Religion” (ROR) Greg draws heavily on Bonhoeffer and although there is not a problem with this, I have some difficulties with parts of Bonhoeffer’s theology….but nothing fatal. However, the Bonhoeffer quote that Greg commences his book with all but summates the total argument on this matter, “Jesus calls all men, not to a new religion, but to life.”

    In our physical birth we are all stillborn/dead to the Kingdom of God. So when Jesus says that he has come to bring life, He can only come to revive where men are dead to their true Father, Creator and King.

    The issue is that man, created in the image of God, was designed to be His children….to fellowship with and serve Him, reflecting His Fatherhood and glory. Where this relationship is broken, just as in life, man seeks a replacement. This can occur in any number of ways but principally, idolatry. Interestingly, this is covered by the first two of the ten commandments….you will have one God and no idols.

    Idolatry can take a lot of forms and being a sociopath is a form of self idolatry which Greg touched on in his description of the sociopathic husband that is further dealt with in ROR. So where you have a religious sociopath, you have someone who shows all the outward ‘religious’ signs but no internal substance motivating those behaviors other than his own knowledge. However, this in someway internally satisfies his loss of relationship with God.

    It is interesting that Bonhoeffer came to New York in 1931 and studied at the Union Theological Seminary where his practical work in Harlem shaped his beliefs and when back in Germany he stood up for the persecuted Jews.

    While Hitler was also a sociopath, the source of this behavior comes from Satan. He was cast out of God’s kingdom and he seeks to establish his own….which is all patterned on God’s kingdom….he seeks men to worship him and be his children who, by nature, have to be opposed to the Kingdom of God. Within Revelation we find that Satan has an unholy trinity and endeavors to depose God as the center of worship which included the killing of Jesus. However, as a creature, Satan (who in true sociopathic style presents himself as an angel of light), can never be greater than his Creator.

    Greg’s Bonhoeffer quote in ROR in relation to the Church is totally appropriate, “The Church is nothing but a section of humanity in which Christ has really taken form……She has essentially nothing whatever to do with the so-called religious functions of man….What matters in the Church is not religion but the form of Christ, and its taking form amidst a band of men.”

    Those reading this blog and have a further interest in sociopathy may be interested in reading,
    “Why We Love Sociopaths: A Guide To Late Capitalist Television” by Adam Kotsko
    or a review at,
    http://thelastpsychiatrist.com/2012/04/why_we_love_sociopaths.html
    Be warned that these are not written by Christian authors but provide a further backdrop to what Greg has covered…..and some of the language is ‘colorful’ at times.

    Reply
    kevin says: Friday July 5, 2013 at 5:36 pm

    After this message i went online and found found a ‘test’ for psychopathy. it turns out that i’m not a psychopath…..but i apparently do have “social anxiety syndrome or narcissistic something or other……….of course God loves crazy people too:)

    Reply
    Dave Pritchard says: Saturday July 6, 2013 at 8:28 am

    Peter,

    Thanks for mentioning “Bonhoeffer” again. Eric Metaxas’ biography of him from 2011 looks to be really interesting. Definitely got to get that one! Recently, I downloaded a copy of “The Cost of Discipleship” on my iPad and I’m starting to wade through it. The “Costly Grace: aka – Cheap Grace” chapter is full of an intense but very necessary invective! “Pulling ones finger out” and getting up off your “derriere” and living out the Gospel, is often circumvented by worldly obstacles, as well as ones obligations and daily routine. He says –

    “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate”

    Sure, you can and should weave it into all that you do, but as N.T. Wright and others have said, “You should never separate The Kingdom from The Cross”. It’s the “Cost Factor” though that’s so hard to stomach and so hard to take. As Bonhoeffer states –

    “Above all it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: ye’ were bought at a price’, and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us”. – WOW!

    Paradoxically as we all know, it cost Bonhoeffer his life! We are all very fortunate and comfortable to live in a time and a place in history where this may never be asked of us, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be willing to give our lives for our faith if necessary. The “Open Doors” organization has its “World Watch List” that keeps track of the horrific persecutions and murders of Believers from around the globe. The numbers are horrifically staggering!

    Kevin,

    On a lighter note, you might try looking into the “Dark Triad Personality Test” or even better yet Google online and check out – “Why Are Men with Dark Triad Personalities So Irresistible To Women” – Ha!

    Reply
    BoweryZoo says: Saturday August 22, 2015 at 12:28 am

    I attend Remnant presbyterian church in new york. Our senior pastor victor kim ran out on us after he was discovered having a 10 year affair. Now that facts are coming out, he lived a double life, with many women and exploiting church finances. Sold church property to family members without the congregation knowing. You are probably thinking… why didn’t anyone say anything or do anything and how can he be in ministry for 25 years and no one knows about it…. well it’s because we asians don’t like confrontation. You have predators like him who take advantage of soft, and non-confrontational asians. He takes advantage of women sexually, and profits financially from faithful people who give. We now see all the text books characteristics of a sociopath in this man. He lies, manipulates, no empathy, sexual promiscuity even tough he is married. I bet there are lots of these sociopaths hiding in churches. They must be stopped! They have ruin so many lives.

    Reply

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