Sunday, May 3, 2009

DSM IV Axis II - The Church's Dirty Little Secret Part IV Psychopathic/Sociopathic Personalities – The David Berkowitz Story



















Today’s posting is one which I will most likely live to regret. I just sense it. Someone will do a web search on “David Berkowitz” and find this one posting, taking it out of context of the hundred others, I’ve done. These people will see it as some type of declaration of war . . . which it is certainly not. I see the firestorm brewing on the horizon. And this topic isn’t really about David, it is about Axis II mental illness and how it fits or “misfits” within the Church.

I’m about to embark on the violation of a half dozen Christian mores. In the Evangelical world there are certain things you just never do. It is worse than tugging on Superman’s head or spitting into the wind (thanks Jim C.). It is more terrible than if I took up meth or being a “John” or maybe murdering someone myself.

The first Christian mos (singular for mores), which I’m about to violate, is that you never, ever question the testimony of a fellow believer. Second, you never doubt anything that is supernatural, especially if it is told within the confines of a church building, book, or religious TV. To doubt any supernatural event is to put yourself in opposition to God Almighty . . . over on the dark side with Vadar and the gang. On top of that, these violations will be magnified a thousand times because I will not only be questioning a supernatural testimony, but one that is very popular right now within the Evangelical sub-culture.

I will say at this point that while I will be raising some doubts about David Berkowitz’s sincerity, there is no way for me to know what is in David’s heart or soul. Only God knows (and I’m not even sure David knows). But in the same breath, those who know him personally and vouch for his true conversion (and I’ve corresponded with a couple) also do not know what lurks within any of us. The heart is truly more deceitful than all else and desperately sick (Jer 17:9). But the point of this posting, as it continues in this series, is not really about a particular, namely David, but about the concept in general. It is about the idea that psychopaths and sociopaths can enter the church, play the game, and cause great harm. My exaltation is that we, as Christians, should not be naive about this. The pastors that know and support David so much are not trained psychiatrists. I don’t think they understand the horrible depths of these most extreme examples of mental illness, the true hallmarks of the Fall of Adam on mankind.

I will spend so much time explaining myself in this posting that I won’t have the space or time to devote to the actual story about David. It doesn’t matter because I think everyone is familiar with the Son of Sam serial killings in New York City, back in the 70s. I encourage you to look it up if you don’t know the details. I will summarize the story here. The details at this point may not be precise as I’m sitting in a coffee shop and I’m not paying the 4 bucks to go on line to check historical facts . . . but you can (if you are home with free Internet).

I think the murders started happening in the summer of 75 (could have been a little later) and continued for about 13-14 months. David stalked and viciously killed six people, wounding several others, sending the entire city into a panic. Often his targets were young girls or couples making-out in parked cars. In one of his early interviews he described the pleasure he had in stabbing this young woman in the throat and head and watching her look at him as she slowly died. He said he had no desire to rob her, or even rape her, but to just enjoy the pleasure of watching her die.

The Son of Sam name came about as he had written a couple of rambling letters describing himself as the “Son of Sam.” Sam, it turns out, was his neighbor’s German shepherd. According to David, he believed that the dog was ordering him to do the killings. But that was David’s first story to the police.

He was arrested and convicted. I think he confessed to the six slayings (and I do believe he was in a corner with overwhelming evidence against him). Some, who were involved in the case, believed that his first stories (about the German shepherd ordering him to kill people) were his attempt to get off with an insanity plea. He was sentenced to over 300 years.

The next strange twist came in the early 90s (I think). He then told a story that the real reason that he killed those people was because he was involved in a satanic cult. It was a cult that not only worshipped Satan, but killed dogs around New York (and other animals) and of course people. In one version of the story, he said he had only actually killed three of the victims and the other members had killed the other people. He would not reveal the names of the other killers because he was afraid they would harm his family. But then other times he admitted to all of the killings. The stories about the satanic group were never substantiated.

It was around this time (and again I don’t have the details in front of me) that he started telling this fantastic (meaning this on two levels—wonderful and beyond belief) story of how another inmate started sharing Christ with him. This other inmate gave him a Gideon New Testament and he started reading it. Soon, he gave his life to Christ and is a totally new man.

His conversion came almost 15 years ago, but only seemed to hit the Christian media about 3-4 years ago. Since then, he has written a Christian best-seller “Son of Hope,” had at least one Christian documentary made about his life, a church play written and preformed about his life, many, many TV interviews (700 Club, Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fl, Larry King etc.). He works in the chapel at the prison and has a letter writing “ministry.” He has been used as a poster boy for the Gideon Bible people (they have a tract written about David’s life) and Chuck Colson’s Prison Fellowship.

The reason that I will cast doubt on David is two-fold. One is theoretical (maybe even philosophical) and the other is personal. I will start with my personal story.

About three years ago, suddenly David Berkowitz’s name seemed to be popping up everywhere. The first time I heard it, our pastor shared the story of David’s conversion as an example of how God works miracles. He shared how David said the first time he ever saw a Bible, except for a Satanic Bible, was in prison. Our pastor testified to the power of the scriptures, that by reading Psalms for the first time in his life, he soon became a Christian. I approached the pastor after church and told him that I knew something about David that few people know . . . and based on what I know, that story doesn’t make sense. The pastor seemed taken back that I would question God’s work.

Within weeks, I was “thumbing through” TV channels, looking for something inspiring . . . like a Frontline on PBS . . . but I stumbled on the TV sewer the Daystar network. Immediately I heard the name “David Berkowitz.” I paused and listened. It was a Baptist pastor, Don Dickerman, describing his personal acquaintance with David (he is one of David’s mentors) and shared the same testimony as our pastor had. I will come back to this in a moment, but now I will tell the “rest of the story” regarding David.

I was involved in a Navigator training center in Lexington, Kentucky from 1977 through 1982. It was around 1979 that I roomed with another Nav guy, Don Vanderpleog in a large house off campus. Don had just moved up from Radcliff Kentucky, where he also had been involved with the Navigators. Another guy (forgot his name now, except his first name was John) moved up with Don and had been a Nav leader in Radcliff. John had just gotten married and was living in a different part of Lexington, going to school on the GI bill.

Both Don and John told me, in great detail, about David Berkowitz. You see, David was their roommate before they moved up to Lexington. Just like John, David was in the army at Fort Knox, Kentucky. John had “led David Berkowitz to the Lord” around . . . I don’t know, must have been very early 70s. John was also discipling David in the early 70s. They were in Bible study together and I think they went on evangelism together. David seemed normal . . . a little quiet and a loner (aren’t they all). He saw David freak out once when their neighbor was playing loud music late at night. That’s not that unusual as I know I’ve done the same.



John took David to the airport when he was discharged from the army. He clearly remembered David’s last words before he entered the jetway bridge, “I’m going to go and turn NYC upside down for Jesus!”

About two years later John tells me that he was sitting in front of the TV watching the CBS evening news and eating dinner with his wife, a nurse practitioner. The news anchor announced that an arrest had been made in the infamous Son of Sam serial killer case. That story had dominated the news for the entire year. Before they said a name, John recognized David Berkowitz on the footage of his arrest. John dropped his chicken leg in his lap stood up in disbelief and shouted, “That’s David Berkowitz.!”

Back to the story about Daystar. When I saw the program, once again describing David’s story with him being involved with Satanism, and then, seeing a Bible for the first time in prison, I felt like I had to do something.

I looked up Joni Lamb’s (the co-host and co-owner of Daystar) e-mail address and wrote about my personal story, which I just told. To my surprise she wrote back and we started a brief dialog. She forwarded my e-mail and concerns to Pastor Don Dickerman, who meets with David on a regular basis, and in some ways, functions as David’s publicity manager in the Christian world. I think that Don (Dickerson) is sincere and believes David’s story whole heartedly. He actually confronted David with my e-mail. David’s response to my concerns was, that it was true. However, he adds, the army years were such confusing times for him, that if he shared in his testimony that he had been a Christian once before (and BEFORE he did his heinous crimes) it would really confuse people, so he is going to stick with his original testimony, with the different details.

So the reasons that I have to doubt David (but again I’m not saying that it is impossible for David to have really become a Christian this time) are because of this personal story, which I just shared, plus a philosophical one.

The other reason is that psychopaths and sociopaths are masters at lying and manipulation. This IS WHAT THEY DO. The lay person just does not understand how these people can spin huge interwoven stories to create self-gratification. No, I don’t think David has a simplistic reason of pretending to be a Christian . . . just to get parole. Psychopaths are far more complex than that. They create entire worlds where they force other people to live in . . . worlds where they, themselves are king . . . and it is part of the game. Rather than being one of the most despised people on earth, David is now a Christian hero and celebrity. This is what I think motivates his deep psyche.

The other point I want to make, and I realize now that I will have to continue this discussion in another post because this one is getting too long, is that once a psychopath, always a psychopath. I’m sure this statement will really piss-off a lot of Christians. However, when you are naive, you think that such disturbed behavior was a simple choice of the flippant will. Come to Christ, and your heart changes and you are a new person . . . right?

I put the fall at a much deeper level. Psychopathic personalities (and many of the ones in the Axis II category) are much more like cerebral palsy (CP) or Down syndrome. I’m not saying that the Axis II are completely organic (nature) as nurture can have a role. Even the scientists don’t know all the factors yet.

While CP and Down syndrome can affect motor movements or intelligence respectively, Axis II traits affect things like judgment and the moral character of the persona. So, I’m not speaking in theological terms that God does not have the power to change the persona. I am speaking as an observer of reality. I’ve never seen a person with CP become a Christian and their motor defect goes away, either over night or over decades. The same with Down syndrome or any other brain defect.

I want to pick up at this point when I continue. Next time I will explain why I don’t think Evangelicals don’t appreciate the depths of the Fall of Adam. I will also discuss why I think this (these postings about Axis II) really matters.

My wife, as an Evangelical and who doesn’t see most things the way I do, is a good sounding board. She didn’t want me talking in public about David Berkowitz for the reasons I’ve mentioned. Plus, in her view, it doesn’t matter if David is sincere or not. Isn’t he doing God’s work, even if he is lying and stilly crazy after all of these years (thanks Paul)? I disagree and will explain why next. I will see if I get any hate mail.

13 comments:

Rodney said...

No hate mail here...you make very good points. Too many Evangelicals are constantly on the lookout for amazing works of God, whether they be dramatic conversions or medical miracles. They are very willing to discount other factors and give all credit to God (except when things go wrong, then it's Satan). I see it too in the gay person who becomes a hero when he/she claims that all homosexual desires disappeared when they accepted Christ. Then everyone is shocked, yes shocked!! when that person gets caught in a homosexual tryst. I grew up in a wonderful Christian home so I have no dramatic conversion story to tell. But like everyone, I struggle with sin and doubt. It's just not as easy and straightforward as some Christians try to make it. Keep up the good work and I'm looking forward to your further postings.

pennyyak said...

Excellent. I knew of David's ministry only through some website link I came upon once. Never heard the rest of it, or knew that it was a big story in some of the evangelical world. It is the most natural desire, I guess, to want to see God at work in some way that is truly powerful (to our eyes). To believe, and see no evidence with our human eyes, now that I think is a faith that can outlast disappointment, failure, and everything the natural world has in store for us. But how much we want some emotional something, some tangible proof - well, I've been there, and I might be there again if I live long enough. Yeah, we're like kids wanting a lollipop.

pennyyak said...

Sorry, I really don't like to post twice (is that in the dsm?). Ha. But re-reading the post, and David's admission (yes, I was a Christian, don't want to include that...) is another in an incredibly long history of Christians being willing to accept the white lie as okay, as long as that furthers the kingdom of God. How holy is that? Unbelievers quite justifiably call us hypocrites when things like that become public, as they should. I am greatly encouraged by all of your writing to let my testimony be full of my weaknesses, which, astoundingly, does nothing to make God less than He is. With a note of sarcasm, I personally will be unable to derail God's great plan of salvation by telling the unvarnished truth about my walk with God. His purposes will be accomplished, even in our false steps.

MJ said...

Rodney, you're exactly right.

MJ said...

Thanks Pennyyak and I agree. I hope to post next time why it is important that we seek truth in all things. Not talking about precise theological doctrine (I have the truth and you don't na na na na), but about simple every day emotional truth.

Not to be conceited about it, I will tell a lie if given the chance (and I'm ashamed about that). I will also practice a little narcissistic behavior from time to time.

Anonymous said...

The next strange twist came in the early 90s (I think). He then told a story that the real reason that he killed those people was because he was involved in a satanic cult. It was a cult that not only worshipped Satan, but killed dogs around New York (and other animals) and of course people. In one version of the story, he said he had only actually killed three of the victims and the other members had killed the other people. He would not reveal the names of the other killers because he was afraid they would harm his family. But then other times he admitted to all of the killings. The stories about the satanic group were never substantiated.

It was around this time (and again I don’t have the details in front of me) that he started telling this fantastic (meaning this on two levels—wonderful and beyond belief) story of how another inmate started sharing Christ with him. This other inmate gave him a Gideon New Testament and he started reading it. Soon, he gave his life to Christ and is a totally new man.
First two words that ran through my mind when I read those two paragraphs: MIKE. WARNKE.

His conversion came almost 15 years ago, but only seemed to hit the Christian media about 3-4 years ago.Maybe it took that long to get around to him? So many celebrity converts, so little time...

Anonymous said...

He clearly remembered David’s last words before he entered the jetway bridge, “I’m going to go and turn NYC upside down for Jesus!”Well, he was half right...


The other reason is that psychopaths and sociopaths are masters at lying and manipulation. This IS WHAT THEY DO.I've been on the receiving end of it; I had one of them in my immediate family. And nobody is Such a Perfect Sweet Little Angel as a psychopath/sociopath -- "WHY CAN'T YOU BE MORE LIKE YOUR BROTHER??????" (Ever seen The Bad Seed? Without the tacked-on Hollywood happy ending? Non-fiction.)

The lay person just does not understand how these people can spin huge interwoven stories to create self-gratification.
...
Psychopaths are far more complex than that. They create entire worlds where they force other people to live in ... worlds where they, themselves are king ... and it is part of the game.
In one of his Father Brown Mysteries ("The Dagger with Wings"), Chesterton writes of the gift of storytelling, and how it can be used to create True Fiction or False Fact. Novelists (like I'm trying to become) do the former; psychopaths/sociopaths/pathological liars do the latter.

Anonymous said...

Plus, in her view, it doesn’t matter if David is sincere or not. Isn’t he doing God’s work, even if he is lying and still crazy after all of these years (thanks Paul)?Again, Mike Warnke; when exposed as a fraud, his defenders rallied around the same banner: "SOULS ARE BEING SAVED (TM)!!!!"

adventuresinmercy said...

So interesting...

Anna A said...

Thank you for writing this. I did not hear about his conversion or his Christian celebrity.

I would be more accepting of his conversion if he were just quietly talking to other prisoners, etc.

I also don't think much of those who are exploiting the man.

One thing about the Catholic Church is that we are set up to judge in some ways this kind of situation. Yes, we do get the Mary in the griddle cake, but the pastor and bishop hope that it just goes away quietly. But, if not, then there are mechanisms to test the people.

pennyyak said...

Yes, Headless (I assume that's you writing the Anon. posts), Mike Warnke was sure part of my ecstatic yet clueless in so many ways 1970's experience. Course, he went on way beyond that, and still has a ministry today (I looked it up). Psychopath of psychopaths. I do wonder if he holds an awful lot of responsibility for the McMartin circus (and conviction, I think). How many times in life have I been so completely stupid. A bunch, I guess. If anyone claimed "I am a Christian", I was sucker bait.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Headless (I assume that's you writing the Anon. posts), Mike Warnke was sure part of my ecstatic yet clueless in so many ways 1970's experience. ... I do wonder if he holds an awful lot of responsibility for the McMartin circus (and conviction, I think). -- Pennyak

Not directly, but he was largely responsible for starting the Satanic Panic with his tall tales and claimed expertise. Others formed around him -- Constance Cumby, Johana Michaelson (Hal Lindsay's sister-in-law, which opens another whole new world of linkages), John Todd (who got into a backstage fist fight with Warnke over "You Stole My Shtick!"), andothers who climbed on the bandwagon, all forming an incestuous clique of "Satanic Conspiracy Experts" citing each other as references. (i.e. "the Larry-Moe-Curly school of documentation" you see in a LOT of Conspiracy Theorists, a LOT less funny than the original Stooges.)

Result: Moral Panic, also known as a Witch Hunt. I got caught in the edge of the blast radius because I played D&D.

Headless Unicorn Guy

pennyyak said...

Leaves me speechless.