Evil Deeds

A forensic psychologist on anger, madness and destructive behavior.

Messiahs of Evil (Part One)

Osama bin Laden: Religious cult leader with a major messiah complex?

My previous post, The Trauma of Evil, addressed the imagepsychological, philosophical and spiritual trauma devastating disasters like Hurricane Katrina, the cataclysmic Indonesian tsunami, the recent killer cyclone in Burma--and now, the massive earthquake in China, resulting in an estimated 50,000 dead or buried alive under rubble--leave in their tragic wake. Such incomprehensibly catastrophic events can, as I said, be viewed as forms of natural evil or "acts of God," as they are frequently referred to. Are they divine punishment, as some religious leaders contend? The work of Satan? A cyclical part of the eternal cosmic process of creation and destruction? Or just random, meaningless natural phenomena?

Next I want to further explore a specific variety of human evil: evil deeds, deliberate destructiveness, and man's monstrous inhumanity to man caused not by nature or God or Satan, but by infamous cult figures such as Adolf Hitler, Charles Manson, Jim Jones, David Koresh and others--including notorious 9/11 ringleader Osama bin Laden. In the next few posts, I'll be taking a look at the dangerous states of mind of these charismatic madmen and their fanatical followers, and the messianic psychology I believe many, if not all, cult leaders share in common. What is the psychology of such mass evil? Can perpetrators of such evil deeds be reduced to some standard psychiatric diagnosis? Or should human evil, as psychiatrist M. Scott Peck (1983) precariously suggested, "be defined as a specific form of mental illness and ...subject to at least the same intensity of scientific investigation that we would devote to some other major psychiatric disease"? It is vitally important for us to better understand the nature and psychology of human evil. As C.G. Jung (1963) warned more than forty years ago, "Today we need psychology for reasons that involve our very existence. . . . We stand face to face with the terrible question of evil and do not even know what is before us, let alone what to pit against it." The pseudoinnocence of denial--see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil--and the naïve inability or unwillingness to recognize the reality of evil, renders us more susceptible to it.

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Osama bin Laden, in particular, may be one of the most dangerous men alive (assuming he's not dead), occupying a prime position from which to trigger World War III. The stunning terrorist attacks on New York, Washington, Madrid and London by violently hateful militant Muslim extremists have been characterized by many as unprovoked acts of evil. Indeed, there are those savvy observers who argue that World War III--an inexorable global clash between radical Islam and Judeo-Christian or secular Western culture, each side perceiving the other as evil incarnate--is already afoot. What makes someone like renegade Saudi millionaire-turned-international terrorist and would-be-exterminator of Western civilization Osama bin Laden tick? Might he display some specific mental disorder? Pathological narcissism? Paranoia? Sociopathy? Psychosis? Depression? Mania? Or is he another religious cult leader with a major messiah complex? Stay tuned for Part 2 of this post.

 

Stephen Diamond, Ph.D., is a clinical and forensic psychologist in LA and the author of Anger, Madness, and the Daimonic: The Psychological Genesis of Violence, Evil, and Creativity.

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