Mindhunter and Theology: Serial Killers, Mass Murderers, and the Death of Christ

The Netflix series Mindhunter dramatizes the beginnings of FBI profiling necessitated by, what would come to be called, “serial killers.”  Based largely on the work of John E. Douglas, who recognized that seemingly random murders often follow a pattern traceable to particular “psychological types,” the series illustrates Douglas’ application of psychology and Freudian psychoanalysis to crime. Douglas brings psychology, and specifically the Freudian theory of masochism and sadism (death drive), to bear upon criminality so as to both identify the psychological make-up and experience of the killer and to predict future behavior. In the broadest terms, psychoanalysis is built upon the presupposition that the human disease (Freud was a medical doctor) is subject to prognosis because it follows regular patterns with identifiable causes and effects.  The more the disease – neurosis or psychosis – has a grip on an individual the more their behavior, thought, and personality, will follow a predictable (almost mechanical) pattern (the more the disease will “present” itself). In terms of destructive behavior and murder, the more the individual is given over to compulsion the more destructive and thus the more predictable their behavior. In this sense, a serial killer presents the perfect object of study as they have relinquished control (in their own description and as the series abundantly illustrates) to compulsions which are totally destructive.  Those who are most “out of control” better demonstrate the nature of the cause and effect power which animates their actions. The perfect presentation of the disease is to be found in pure death drive and destruction.   Continue reading “Mindhunter and Theology: Serial Killers, Mass Murderers, and the Death of Christ”

Peace as Redemption from the Violence of Sin

The Gospel of non-violence is not simply non-violence tacked onto a typical evangelical or Catholic understanding.  The NT involves a radical sort of belief system characterized throughout by a peace that surpasses human capacities to implement or apprehend.  The peace of the Gospel is attained by a reordering of the world and every aspect of the world (which indicates the pervasive nature of both violence and peace).  Peace stands over and against violence as the key descriptor of the alternative inaugurated in the kingdom of God. It is an alternative mode of social interaction built upon an alternative understanding of God working itself out in an alternative understanding of the atonement. The doctrines which branch out from this Gospel all bear the vitality of peace as life-blood and fruit.

The peaceable Kingdom (ecclesiology) makes peace a lived possibility through a holistic alternative to the pervasive violence (the historical dialectic/conflict, the eternal return to war, the personal agonistic struggle) which marks thought and human interaction in the kingdoms of this world. Just as violence characterizes the principalities and powers of this world and is descriptive of the work of sin, salvation is a peaceable counter Kingdom which serves as the formative basis for a new humanity.  Peace is a discipline to be learned, a form of thought to be implemented, an ethic to be inhabited, and a form of inter-personal relationship to be attained in and through this kingdom.

Paul, in Colossians, equates being in the body of Christ with the rule of the peace of Christ in the heart (Col. 3:15).  Inward peace of the heart cannot be disassociated from the corporate peace of the body of Christ.  Both are directly linked to “letting the word of Christ dwell richly within you” and this in turn is connected to worship, teaching/learning, and the cultivation of thankfulness.  Paul ties “whatever you do in word or deed” to letting this peace rule (Col. 3:16-17). Peace is a holistic descriptor of the economy of salvation and all that it entails.

A hermeneutic built upon a necessary violence (which misses the centrality of peace) will ground this necessity in the person of God (God invokes and uses violence for salvation) worked out in the death of Christ. This violent gospel depends upon a hermeneutic which displaces both the ethic of Christ and the Gospels as interpretive frame. The love of God and the anger of God, in this understanding, are in a conflict which can only be resolved through the death of Christ.  Sin and salvation pertain primarily to a problem and resolution in the mind of God.  God himself directs violence against Christ so as to satisfy his righteousness.  Violence, in this gospel, has an ontological ground and origin surpassing the finitude of humanity.  Divine anger is infinite as is the required payment. Peace is subsequent to this original violence and consists of having achieved a balance in the most primordial of conflicts.  To reverse John Milbank’s description of the peaceable heavenly city, this economy is built on the virtue of resistance to anger and its ultimate domination. The death of Christ is a coercive resolution to a reigning legal necessity.  This heaven is simply the hell of humanity projected into the economy of salvation.

A hermeneutic built upon peace, to the contrary, finds this peace as original to the person of the Trinity.  It will read the death of Christ as the end point of human sin and violence (rather than a result of God’s wrath).  This hermeneutic will, of necessity, be Christocentric in its reading of the NT as the peace of Christ is the only lens which provides this key insight into the immanent Trinity.  In other words, peace describes a reading of the NT which touches upon sin, salvation, the doctrine of God, the doctrine of the Church, hermeneutics, and anthropology.

As Milbank describes it, in the heavenly city come to earth virtue is not the virtue of resistance and domination but it is grounded in the original peace of God.  Peace is basic to human experience because it is basic to God.  Peace poses the possibility of an alternative life based upon a reconstituted personality in the image of God.

One way of getting at this is the alternative thought form which breaks out of the dull regularity posed by violence.[1]  Divine creativity knows neither the bounds of formulaic thought nor the rut of a personality given over to compulsive repetition. As Ro. 8:2 puts it, “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus made me free from the law of sin and of death.”

The law of sin and death describes a law of violence binding to dissolution and death.

All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” (Ro. 3:12-17, ESV)

In Paul’s genealogy of sin, violence and peace mark two paths. Violence begins with the organs of speech being caught up in deception and turned against God and this gives rise to murder.

In his detailed depiction (in Ro. 7) of the impetus behind this violence the split ‘I’ (doing what it does not want and unable to do what it wants) demonstrates how the law holds out a fullness of being – promising life (wholeness or completeness as the object cause of desire) but ending only in an agonistic struggle to the death (7.16-20).  This struggle is all consuming, and in Paul’s description, it seems to include corporate humanity represented by Israel and individual persons represented by Adam.  Paul describes this life in the flesh as a life of slavery to fear, deception, and violence, and life if the Spirit is posed, over and against this way of violence, in chap. 8 as the way of peace.

The fear and slavery under the law of sin and death, with its work through deceptive desire aroused by the law, became ‘another law’ (ἕτερον νόμον).  This law, however, is voided (along with all of its violent machinations) by Christ.  The punishing effects of the law of sin and death no longer bind, as God has condemned the law of sin through the death of Christ (8.1-3) who ushers in the law of life in the Spirit. This then will result in the capacity to ‘walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit’ (8.4).

This walk is characterized in all of its phases by the power of life which Paul characterizes as the path of life and peace (8:6).  Paul describes this new mindset as one that one is enabled to suffer and absorb violence so that those who suffer with Christ will be glorified together with him (8.17). We may be subjected to violent futility and death but this violence no longer defines the Christian.

 Just as it is written, “For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. (Ro. 8:36-7, ESB)

The Spirit of life is a departure from the universally binding law of violence and death. Christ’s death defeated death and we participate in this defeat as we absorb violence.  We conquer by turning from participation in the violence of the world through the love of Christ.

[1] Thus, the typical conversation in opposition to non-violence – the “what if” scenarios which present a situation in which violence is seemingly the only resolution – are themselves a proof that there is a logic which constrains its bearers rather than the other way around. Thought is reduced to something on the order of mechanics so that the capacity to imagine an alternative world is demonstrably foreshortened.  The dull regularity with which the “what if” scenarios repeat themselves is on the order of a neurosis.  The compulsion to repeat, which Freud found was the consistent indicator of neurosis, binds thought in an imprisoning pattern.  Rather than an avenue for understanding, creativity, and growth, thought begins to cannibalize its host through its constrained regularity.


[2] New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). (Ro 8:36–37). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

Theology as Diagnosis of the Human Disease

Where the truth of Christ is understood to counter a lie and the death of Christ an overcoming of the orientation to death fostered by this lie there are an infinite variety of ways in which this overcoming is to be described.  Key throughout is the recognition that this understanding has its explanation in the lived reality of human experience. As opposed to theories of atonement focused on the mind of God (i.e. divine satisfaction, penal substitution) which do not, for the most part, engage the lived reality of human experience, an immanent explanation of how the world is impacted by Christ is readily available.  Let me suggest a direction for the theological enterprise as it engages the ongoing task of apprehending the meaning of the death of Christ. Continue reading “Theology as Diagnosis of the Human Disease”

Deconstructing “Absolute Truth” to Arrive at the Truth of Christ

The NT understanding of the meaning of the death of Christ, reflected in the earliest theology, is that humankind exists under a delusion or a lie from which the truth of Christ redeems.  This is an understanding largely abandoned with the turn, worked out by Anselm, to the law as the final and full explanation of the meaning of the death of Christ. An aspect of the shift surrounding the atonement (from Christus Victor or its near equivalents to divine satisfaction) is that Christian truth was no longer counter to the truth of the principalities and the powers of this world. The era of Constantine, through Anselm, Calvin, and the modernist era are characterized by the development of a notion of secular truth which parallels the truth of Christ. The NT depiction of the truth of Christ is that it challenges the truth offered by this world and constitutes a new world and a new order of truth. Continue reading “Deconstructing “Absolute Truth” to Arrive at the Truth of Christ”

Roy Moore’s Gospel for Perverts

Are Roy Moore’s apparent moral failings one more example that Christianity has been tried and found wanting? Or is it as G.K. Chesterton would have it, that Christianity has been found difficult and not tried?  Is there perhaps a third option, a form of Christianity has been tried which produced Roy Moore and many like him? As a Judge he insisted on displaying the Ten Commandments, yet his accusers depict a predator, one of whom describes an attempted seduction under the auspices of his babysitting her when she was 14. His former West Point classmates remember a farm boy determined to succeed at the pommel-horse, who they admit, may have pursued virginal teenagers. Classmates Richard Jarman and Barry Robella describe a very serious and devout young man, “almost naïve about women.” If you’re from small town Alabama, Robella explains, it may be normal to ask out 14 or 15-year old girls. “His piety might have led him to younger ladies.”[1] Continue reading “Roy Moore’s Gospel for Perverts”

Beyond Medicine, Miracles, Reason, and Science: What Difference Marks the Experience of the Christian?

I was asked this excellent question recently and wanted to share the thoughts it provoked.

“Is preaching all there is to the kingdom of God in this present age? Does God not work miracles through men anymore? Must we have only rational ideas to be in the kingdom of God?” Continue reading “Beyond Medicine, Miracles, Reason, and Science: What Difference Marks the Experience of the Christian?”

The Absurd Comedy of Andy Kaufman & Jim Carrey and Christ as a Joke

Chris Smith’s documentary, “Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond – featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton,”[1] captures Jim Carrey’s channeling of the comedian Andy Kaufman in conjunction with the filming of “Man on the Moon.” Carrey as Kaufman is frightening in that Carrey seems to have killed himself off, at least for the duration of filming, so that one worries for his continued sanity – which as Carrey tells it worried him also. As Carrey describes the process, he gave control of himself over to Andy Kaufman, “I decided for the next few days to speak telepathically to people . . . That’s the moment when Andy Kaufman showed up, tapped me on the shoulder, and said, ‘Siddown, I’ll be doing my movie.’ What happened afterwards was out of my control.” Indeed, Carrey seems to have lost control as he stays in character – either the character of Kaufman or the character of Kaufman’s Tony Clifton, the aggressively insulting lounge singer, Kaufman would occasionally become. Continue reading “The Absurd Comedy of Andy Kaufman & Jim Carrey and Christ as a Joke”

A Depth of Learning for a Depth of Fellowship

Is there a formula for successful Christian community? What I wanted as a young Christian, and could not find, was a fellowship of disciples which could learn and flourish together.  The inner fellowship of three, the group of twelve, the seventy, and the mentor who would impart a depth of learning and experience—we all want to experience an abiding depth of love in an intimate group. We want to do life together!  So, what prevents this from happening? Continue reading “A Depth of Learning for a Depth of Fellowship”

The President’s Two Bodies: “We the People” and Donald Trump

The infantile, imbecilic, morally degenerate, or simply very ordinary individual can be a monarch as the office itself has a life of its own which the mere mortal marks. Though he or she may suffer complete dementia, his or her body animates and localizes what was often presumed to be an eternal order of law and power. This power is precisely carnal – of the flesh – as opposed to the realm of the spirit.  It is a biopolitical power in that it depends upon and makes itself evident in the carnal dimension. Thus, the king cannot break the law as he embodies the law. He is not subject to the law but creates subjects in both a political and physical/personal sense.  The royal power to discipline, punish, penetrate, demarcate, and procreate, whether by judicial decree, military might, or sexual prowess, is, by definition, physical. It is pure biopolitics in that it is synonymous with an incarnate power. Royal power does not just depend on physical spectacle, it is this spectacle marked out in the realm of the flesh: the more spectacular the more powerful. The question is what happens to this pure power of the law, connected to the royal body, in a democratic society? Where the people are collectively sovereign can the rule of law be dispersed in the corporate body or does the sublime royal body tend to protrude through some individual – an “organ” of state?[1] Continue reading “The President’s Two Bodies: “We the People” and Donald Trump”

Can Christ Save Us from “Christianity?”

David B. Hart, in introducing his translation of the New Testament, describes a faith so strange that what we now call “Christianity” only vaguely resembles the original.[1] He claims that due to poor translation, theological misdirection, and a failure to grasp key terms, that we have missed that the first Christians were extremists. In pursuit of an alternative society and kingdom, they rejected society, “not only in its degenerate but its decent and reasonable form.” Hart uses the example of the contrast of modern Christian notions of personal wealth and what the New Testament actually says, to demonstrate how far removed we are from first century teaching.  Wealth per se is not evil, in the typical modern understanding, only its misuse or the wrong orientation to it.  We are so attuned to this misinterpretation, according to Hart, that we know exactly where to turn and what verses support it.  Yet, it is precisely from among these verses that he unfurls his irresistible case: The New Testament teaches that personal wealth is intrinsically evil. He concludes, after several pages of demonstrating the point, “the biblical texts are so unambiguous on this matter that it requires an almost heroic defiance of the obvious to fail to grasp their import.”[2]  Continue reading “Can Christ Save Us from “Christianity?””