Skip to main content

Antisocial Personality Disorders Unmasked

Roger Ray: Sociopath is not a clinical diagnosis, but rather a term used to describe characteristics of some people with antisocial personality disorder.
Antisocial Personality Disorders Unmasked

According to the DSM- 5, antisocial personality disorder is defined as [a] pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others occurring since the age 15 years, as indicated by three (or more) of the following:

  1. Failure to conform to social norms concerning lawful behaviors, as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest.
  2. Deceitfulness, as indicated by repeated lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure.
  3. Impulsivity or failure to plan.
  4. Irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults.
  5. Having no regard for the safety of self or others.
  6. Consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations.
  7. Lack of remorse, or inability to feel guilt, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another.”

What Is the DSM-5 Criteria for a Sociopath?

The criteria used to diagnose antisocial personality disorder is the criteria used to establish someone who has sociopathic tendencies. Sociopath is not a clinical diagnosis, but rather a term used to describe characteristics of some people with antisocial personality disorder. The following criteria are listed in the DSM 5 for a diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder:

Significant Impairments in Personality Functioning

Impairments in personality functioning can be identified by several factors.·

  • Identity: Egocentrism; self-esteem derived from personal gain, power, or pleasure.
  • Self-direction: Goal setting based on personal gratification. In other words, having little-to-no regard for social standards, such as obeying the lawful or reasonable ethical behavior.

Impairments in interpersonal functioning can include the following:·

  • Empathy: Lack of concern for feelings, needs, or suffering of others. Lack of remorse after hurting or mistreating another.
  • Intimacy: Incapable of mutually intimate relationships, as exploitation is a primary means of relating to others. This is normally recognized by deceitful behavior or intimidation to control others.

For once, both science and government came together to produce a nearly magical vaccine in record setting time that probably could have stopped the pandemic months ago and by ceasing its transmission, also halt the mutations which have put us, more or less, right back where we were in March 0f 2020.

We endured the frightening and unknown in 2020 and welcomed 2021 like the American troops arriving in Paris to drive out the Nazis when we were able to get the world altering vaccine in our arms. I felt invincible for a few weeks, before it became obvious that having a vaccine is not the same thing as being able to administer it to the majority of the population. 

We have now crossed the unthinkable line of 850,000 American deaths from the pandemic, with more dying in 2021 than in 2020, even though most of those deaths were entirely preventable if only people had generally been willing to follow basic mask wearing and distancing protocols, and gotten the vaccine along with the all-important booster shot, when it was first available. 

How the vaccine and masks became a political watershed is the subject of many an arm-chair sociologists’ speculation. My fellow Ozarkers in Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas and Oklahoma, by refusing the vaccine and denying the existence of Covid 19, gave the Delta variant a fertile place to grow and multiply and my hillbilly neighbors managed to give the world the most virulent strain of the virus . . . at least, until recently.

As we work our way through the Greek alphabet to the less well-known letters, we are now on the threshold of a new spike of the Omicron variant. Initial research out of Britain suggests that the Omicron variant is 5x as infectious as the Delta variant and it apparently is nearly unaffected by the simple two dose vaccine regimen and not stopped often enough by the booster shot. We are now going into a long and dangerous winter when people are already tired of covid protocols, if they ever actually observed them.

So, I ask you, what has made the difference between the people who have been socially responsible and have done what they can to slow or stop the spread of the virus, and those who have defiantly behaved in ways that make it look like they are in the part time employment of the Corona virus?

Sociopathy vs Spirituality

Let me offer this caveat: neither theology nor psychology are exact sciences. Both are fraught with speculation, projection, unsupported opinions, and, as Mark Twain said, “There are lies, damn lies, and statistics.” What I am going to share with you today are some of my conclusions about the state of humanity. What I have to say is well reasoned and researched and can be supported by statistics, data, and lots of footnotes. 

However, I know where I am and it goes without saying that intelligent and rational people may disagree with some or all of my conclusions. That is the contact we share with one another. I get the microphone for a few minutes and then I am nothing but a set of taillights on the horizon. Keep what is useful to you and dismiss the rest. 

For those of us who are not a part of traditional Christianity, or Judaism, or Islam, those of us who have chosen to continue to be religious or spiritual without being dogmatic and, at least most of us, have accepted that faith is a matter of how we see the world rather than how we deny the world’s relevance; we very often find ourselves having to explain the people who are locked in a cage of heaven and hell and supernatural theism, why we go to church at all. 

What does it mean to be spiritual when you have given up on superstition and magical thinking?

For you, as is true of many Unitarian Congregations where I speak around the country, your congregation is comprised of people who might describe themselves as being progressive Christians, or Progressive Jews or Muslims, but, it seems that the largest group in many UU churches are Humanists, or, perhaps, more like me, a kind of Humanist with a “+” which is how I describe Panentheism. But many are just flat-footed atheists, and yet we all are trying to find connection within a “spiritual” community. 

While it is nice to identify ourselves and our objectives by talking about our practices and our beliefs, it is also helpful to think about it by negation . . . that is, what we are not, or what is the opposite of a spiritual life? I don’t want to over simply this but for discussion’s sake, I want to look at spirituality in juxtaposition to sociopathy. And, in many ways, our current pandemic gives us a perfect illustration. 

Two years ago, as the world was waking up to this awful reality of a looming pandemic, we were encouraged to avoid being in crowds, to wear masks when in public, to obsessively wash our hands, and sanitize everything until the whole world smelled like rubbing alcohol and bleach. Immediately, the world was divided between those who seemed to want to comply with covid protocols and those who didn't.

There was a lot of misinformation, some silly politicizing of the whole pandemic, but, as time went on, it became evident that even though younger and more healthy people generally, though not always, faired pretty well with the virus, older folks and people with underlying conditions, conditions as common as obesity or type 2 diabetes, were dying by the hundreds of thousands.

Then, as the vaccine became broadly available to Americans, we had a full set of methods for defeating the virus and bringing the pandemic to an end…. But that miracle cure, those safety measures, involved people who were not afraid of the virus, being vaccinated and wearing masks, and avoiding crowds to protect those who were at risk of death.

Unmasked and Unconcerned

In the part of the world where I live, the majority of people never were willing to wear a mask or maintain a safe distance and when the vaccines were being distributed, I and my church folks found it easy to get in line for a vaccine in the very first week because most of the people who should have been at the head of the line, just were not going to get the jab. Unimaginably, it became a part of daily conversation in neighborhoods and office settings….

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

People who undeniably knew that their decision to not be vaccinated, to continue to go into public unmasked, might indirectly cause the deaths of many other people, just didn’t care. 

This was inexplicable, if not disgusting, to most of us who assume that public health is a total society responsibility. For the same reason that I don’t pour old used oil, or pesticides, or cleaning chemicals into the sewer, I would not dream of haphazardly spreading, or at least, potentially spreading a lethal virus.

When I was in grad school at Vanderbilt in the 80’s, we were told that about four or five percent of society were sociopaths. The pandemic, and a lot of the racism and sexism so plainly displayed during the Trump administration, brought me to the painful belief that I could see distinct sociopathy in nearly 50 percent of society and, sadly, about 85% of the Ozarks.

So, here is the contrast I am drawing for us today, bearing in mind that neither theology nor psychology are exact sciences, but I am using these terms to try to interpret our current circumstances.

I love the way that the late Marcus Borg summed up who the historical Jesus of Nazareth was – he described Jesus as being the teacher of radical compassion. Once you strip away the layers of editing by later generations, Jesus wasn’t some kind of a “god on a stick” who liberates the elect from hell but rather he was one who showed unexpected and undeserved compassion to the outcasts of society. And one of our favorite authors who was a peer of Borg’s in the Jesus Seminar, Karen Armstrong, saw that this emphasis on compassion towards the weak and marginalized was also core to the historical genesis of most other world religions, issuing in her invitation to the world to sign onto her 12 step Charter for Compassion. 

What I would like to add to this is that beyond Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and Zoroastrians, we hear a very similar sentiment being articulated by physicists . . . my favorite being Neil DeGrasse Tyson, who has famously said, “We are all connected. To each other biologically, to the earth chemically, and to the universe atomically.” This awareness makes me realize that as a spiritual person, a fully vaccinated, boosted, and recently covid-tested spiritual person, I still wear a mask in public and avoid close proximity in closed spaces to others who may be more vulnerable to infection than I am. 

In contrast:

A sociopath, feeling no connection to the outcomes of their actions, may refuse to be vaccinated or to follow any covid protocols because, as callous as it sounds, being inconvenienced personally is a larger concern to them than the prospect of the possible deaths of vulnerable people all around him, her, or them. 

This gets a bit more difficult because, officially, at least according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, doesn’t actually have a diagnosis of Sociopathy. 

Rather, the DSM uses sociopathy to describe a range of personality disorders that includes the anti-social personality and narcissism. A few in prison have, to a greater or lesser degree, a kind of anti-social personality. They do not conform to social norms and they can’t understand why other people do. They lie as easily as most of us breathe. They tend towards violence and breaking laws means very little to them. 

Whereas the narcissist may similarly have little regard for social norms and a nearly total lack of capacity for empathy, they do love themselves and they don’t want to go to jail, and they do want to be in charge of the world. They will use people, exploit them, but they are less likely to stab them or steal from them, unless the use of charm and seduction can be called what it often is, stealing. 

A narcissist may run, without any qualifications, for president of the United States, and an anti-social person might run over you while driving drunk and blame you for being out on the streets, but neither of them is the least bit concerned with whether or not they give you covid-19, or whether you have healthcare, or access to education, or decent housing. 

I am trying to create these categories in our minds…. That spiritual people are compassionate people who are deeply and profoundly aware of their connection to everyone else. Sociopaths are people who are radically self-focused, who, if they ever felt empathy for anyone who was not in their very narrowly defined family or tribe, they have suppressed it, abandoned it, forgotten it.

So, why bring it up. And here I am going to have to rely on a statement that may be more faith than fact, a truth-claim, of sorts, one that I have cherished and quoted for 40 years: it comes from Henry David Thoreau

“I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of a person to elevate his or her life by conscious endeavor.”

That is, you may have been born a sociopath, but you can choose to learn to live on a spiritual path. Who will you be in 2022? How will our race survive the challenges of income disparity, an unequal and unjust distribution of health care, including vaccines, along with all of the other social ills that come with hoarding and greed? I believe that the answer is a spiritual answer, one that begins in the choices we make in who we want to be.

It was my good fortune to be a Merriell Fellow at Harvard Divinity School in the fall of 2004. I was taking a course in world religions under the famous scholar of world religions, Diana Eck, and she invited the Buddhist scholar, Lama Migmar, to answer questions during our study of Buddhism. 

He sat there the whole hour, looking very much like this, as we pilloried him with questions about Buddhism and sexual orientation, China’s control of Tibet, the safety of the Dali Llama, and, of course, given that it was 2004, his views on 9-11 and the American wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. From the content of his answers, it was obvious that he was well informed and deeply concerned about these and many other profound ethical situations. And yet, he had this grin on his face the whole time. Did he think that our questions were juvenile? Did we seem shallow and irrelevant to him? You have to be pretty self-confident to simply smile your way through being questioned by a room full of Harvard graduate students, no matter who you are. 

Spirituality is not a Denial of Reality

He told us, that Buddhist teachers choose to smile, no matter what is going on, as a gift to the world. Yes, there is terrorism, the looming threat of super-powers, military occupation, cultural prejudices, poverty, and on and on, but, the spiritual master chooses to bless the world with a smile, which, outside of the heady narcissism of a Harvard grad school classroom, may be received as a sign of kindness, acceptance, even of love. 

Spirituality is not a denial of reality. There is no virtue in choosing to turn off the news and be uninformed. Not being aware is not something to brag about, it is something to be ashamed of, it amounts to a smug indifference about the suffering of others. But to be aware and to choose to respond with kindness, to suspend judgement, to telegraph acceptance, and even love, even if it is just through a smile: that is what it means to be spiritual. He explained, “To grow in the Buddhist way is to move from intellect into faith, turning blind faith into wisdom faith.”

Who will we be in 2022? If we are simply religious in an “other worldly” kind of way, escaping into magical thinking about heaven or some reality comprised of unseen spirits, whether they are angels or leprechauns, muses or the Loch Ness Monster, then, I fear, we are choosing first irrelevance and then extinction. We do not seek out a spiritual life to deny reality. I’m suggesting that we delve into understanding science, economics. Sociology, psychology, history, but no matter how woke we become, no matter how wise and informed we may be, we do not fall prey to cynicism that leads to individualism, isolation, narcissism, and sociopathy. 

I am pleading with you to be informed and then to move from intellect to faith, from blind faith to wisdom faith, and to give the world your kindness, your understanding, your acceptance, and your love, even with a smile. That is who I hope we will be in this next stressful year of a global pandemic, with a reignited cold war, and a dying planet. 

Dr. Roger Ray

There are things about which those who are awake will be very angry but turn your anger into energy, energy for action, in a world waiting to be saved from its most base instincts, and do it in kindness and love.

Dr. Roger Ray

The Emerging Church