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“I Am Not a Monster”—Ariel Castro as Sinner and Sociopath

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“I am not a monster. I am a normal person. I am just sick.”  Those were among the words Ariel Castro addressed to an Ohio judge as he faced the bar of justice yesterday. Shortly thereafter, Judge Michael J. Russo of the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court sentenced Castro to life in prison with no chance of parole, and then added an additional 1,000 years of prison time.

Castro, age 53, had kept three women imprisoned in his Cleveland home for a decade, treating them as sex slaves. All of the women were young when Castro abducted them; two were teenagers. He entered a guilty plea yesterday in order to avoid the death penalty. He eventually pleaded guilty to more than 900 criminal counts, including aggravated murder, rape, and kidnapping, among other crimes. The aggravated murder count was tied to Castro’s brutal beating of one woman when she was pregnant with his child. The unborn child died and the woman miscarried.

The crimes Ariel Castro committed defy the moral imagination. Added to the enormity of his crimes is a lack of remorse. Castro seems to have little moral conscience or sensibility. He is clearly not haunted by the knowledge of what he has done. He even told the judge that, in his own mind, he saw the three women he abducted, assaulted, raped, and  imprisoned as part of a happy home.

In his most provocative statement, Castro declared: “I am not a monster. I am a normal person. I am just sick.” Even after admitting that he committed over 900 crimes, including aggravated murder, rape, and assault, he insisted that he is “not a violent person.” He claimed to be the victim of a sexual addiction and exposure to pornography.

So, what is he? How should Christians think of Ariel Castro? Is he just sick? Is he a monster? Could he really be “a normal person”? Well, in the first place, Castro is a sinner. That puts him right within the human race. After the Fall, the “normal” identity for humanity is sinner—that includes every single one of us. And, like every sinner, Ariel Castro’s only hope is Jesus Christ. He needs a Savior.

But, if that is true of all human beings, why are we so repulsed by Ariel Castro and his horrifying crimes? The answer to that requires us to think beyond the category of sinner. Ariel Castro is not only a sinner, he is a violent sociopath. By definition, a sociopath is an individual who lacks a moral understanding of his or her own moral actions. They stand out from the rest of society because their psychopathic personality often leads them to commit horrifying crimes—crimes beyond the imagination, much less the temptation, of most people.

Ariel Castro sees himself as “a normal person” who is “just sick.” He is sick, but he is not normal. Judge Russo spoke directly to Castro at several points in yesterday’s hearing. The judge told Castro that he is not merely sick, he is murderously dangerous and guilty of crimes of great enormity. Even secular observers of the sentencing hearing knew that Ariel Castro is not merely sick. Even though the therapeutic worldview serves as a convenient escape from personal responsibility and moral guilt for many people, Castro’s crimes rendered the therapeutic escape route impossible. He may well be sick. But he is not merely sick. His crimes were evil. Even in this morally confused age, the vast majority of people know that what he did was evil, and nothing less.

It is normal—indeed universal—for human beings to be sinners, but few among us are sociopaths. And for that we must be ever thankful. Christians must thank God for the restraint against evil that he has given humanity. These restraints include the moral law, the human conscience, government, social structures, and the providence of God in human affairs. Without the moral law and the restraining power of the human conscience, we would all become sociopaths—in a hurry. Without government and its responsibility to execute justice, sociopaths would roam freely. Without the providential reign of God in human affairs, sociopaths would rule completely.

The inadequacies of human justice were clear in that Cleveland courtroom yesterday. At age 53, Castro will serve only a tiny fraction of the sentence he received yesterday—life plus 1,000 years. But, given the limitations of human justice, that is about the best a human court can achieve. The plea bargain saved his three victims from being further victimized by testimony in Castro’s trial. And, even though he will serve only a fraction of his total sentence, at least the court declared by the sentence that Castro must never be allowed to return to normal human society.

At the same time, even if Castro could serve his life sentence plus 1,000 years, his punishment would do nothing to restore injuries and years lost to his three victims, Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry, and Gina DeJesus. They do now have the satisfaction of seeing Ariel Castro sent to prison for the rest of his life. As Knight told him in the court session yesterday: “I spent 11 years in hell. Now, your hell is just beginning.”

Not quite. Prison is where sociopaths often belong, and surely Castro fits in that category. But hell is where all sinners are justly headed, but for the salvation that is found only through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

We should not be surprised that the secular world confuses sinners and sociopaths, prison and hell. Christians, however, must understand the differences. One need not be a monster, by human definition, to go to hell. The sinfulness of “normal” humanity is quite enough for that. But there are monsters among us, and Ariel Castro’s crimes and his lack of moral understanding put him in that category as well. When called to answer for the kidnapping and imprisonment of the three women, Castro said: “I simply kept them there without them being able to leave.”

So, let’s be thankful that few sinners become sociopaths, but let’s also be honest enough to admit that one need not be a sociopath to be a sinner. Our responsibility as Christians is to keep the categories straight.