People who are evil

(After last week’s froth, something rather darker.  Warning: contents may distress or disturb.)

In December last year, a sentencing judge said to a woman who had defrauded and attempted to murder her sister, “Quite frankly, you are evil.”

Judges do say this kind of thing, and I always wonder who is supposed to benefit from the remark – the victim or their family; the perpetrator or their family; the judge; or society?

I was reminded of this by two items recently.

The “Guardian Family” section last week carried an interview with a man and his wife about the pain and damage he still sustains 35 years after being repeatedly and even ceremonially raped by two teachers (now in jail) at boarding school when he was nine.  And all over the news has been the story of the eventual conviction of Christopher Halliwell for the murder of Becky Godden.

As far as I can gather, Mr Halliwell murdered Ms Godden in 2003.  In 2011 he murdered Sian O’Callaghan.  Questioned by police, he admitted the first murder and took them to where her body was buried.  He said, “I’m a sick f**er.  Is it too late to get help?”  He then retracted his confession, and it was ruled legally inadmissible (that’s a whole other blog post) and so it took a further five years (of suffering for her family) to get him convicted for Ms Godden’s murder as well as Ms O’Callaghan’s.  So his request for help may not have been very sincere.

I think my reaction is that of most people to these sadly true stories – pity for the victims, disgust and horror.

And yet, as Christians, we surely have to believe that those teachers, and Christopher Halliwell, and Adolf Hitler, were all made in the image of God.  What do we do with this belief?

I’m aware that I’m writing here from a position of even more ignorance than usual.  I’m also aware of the arguments and research about the formative influence on criminals of deprived childhoods and violent pornography.

I’m struggling, but it seems to me that those teachers, and Christopher Halliwell, and others like them, at some point or points realised that they had a very strong desire to inflict pain on weaker people in order to feel powerful and sexually satisfied.

Then at some point or points they decided to take action to satisfy this desire, despite being aware, as they must have been, that such actions would be a) seriously illegal; b) cruel; and c) bizarre, repellent and horrible in the eyes of most people.

I am one of “most people” here.  I don’t feel these desires, and I suggest that it was the action that was sinful, “evil” if you like.  (Any lesser action that fed these desires was probably also sinful, but of course many people watch pornography without becoming murderers, and these people may not have realised the damage they were doing to themselves.)

Do we sometimes combine in our minds the criminals’ weird desires with their sinful actions, and do we use words like “psychopath” in order to put people in a category of “irredeemably evil”?  I am old enough to remember the trial of the Yorkshire Ripper, and the debate over whether he was “mad or bad”.  One columnist, not as far as I know a Christian, wondered in print if he could indeed be demonically possessed, and thus both.  (This is a surely unbiblical view of possession.  In the NT I don’t think possession is attributed to the victim’s sin.)

Suppose, just suppose… you are a seventeen-year-old boy who for whatever reason realises that he is sexually aroused by the thought of his neighbour’s five-year-old daughter?  You are aware that such thoughts are not very nice.

Whom do you tell, and whom do you ask for help?

Your mother?

Your doctor (whom you last saw when you broke your collarbone playing rugby three years ago)?

Your girlfriend?

Surely the people you go to are the people you find on the shady side of the internet who have similar thoughts.  And they have every incentive, if only for their own self-justification, to persuade you not to condemn yourself or get medical help, but to find out more, to explore more sites… until you actually download some child porn to see what it’s all about and if it’s really any good, and WHAM! You are now officially a monster and a criminal, and anyone who finds out what you’ve done is going to repudiate and hate you anyway, and so you get in deeper…

Maybe I’m misjudging the internet here, and maybe there are lots of easy-to-find Perverts Anonymous sites run by child psychologists with lots of safeguards…

My friend Dr Phil Willmot has sent me (at my request) a copy of his thesis, “The Process of Change in the Treatment of Personality Disorder in a Forensic Inpatient Setting”.  If l get around to reading it, perhaps it’ll help.

Love from the PPI Blogger

1 Comment
  • Malachi Malagowther

    23rd September 2016 at 5:44 pm Reply

    The influence of the internet is difficult to judge and like the rest of God’s Creation it has the potential for both good and evil. My limited understanding is that the evil is already present in men’s hearts and the internet is just one way of helping them to suppress or express it. What is interesting about the examples you mention is that the two teachers who raped the boy were clearly operating without any influence from the internet. They may have been influenced by pornography – if they were classics teachers they would have had difficulty avoiding pornography if they had visited any major museums with classical Greek vases, such as the one in Heraklion, but anyone could have got their hands on pornography 35 years ago. I would like to think that the internet is fairly neutral as a whole and although there are parts that are depraved and should remain illegal, the evil impulse or the decision to stifle it still comes from within.

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