Science in Christian Perspective



P. D. Marquart, M.D.

From JASA 9 (September 1957): 23-24.

Christians are interested in books dealing with the problems of crime because that is an extreme degree of that wider area called sin. Cell 2455, Death Row, by Caryl Chessman (New York: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1957.) is an autobiographical sketch written by the condemned man himself, prior to his own encounter with the California gas chamber. The writer is a rather remarkable criminal in that his mental capacity is obviously outstripping his formal education. Indeed, it would not be surprising to find that his I.Q. may exceed 140.

Chessman knows that he is diagnosed as a Psychopathic Personality. This term implies a persistently delinquent character. His abnormality consists in lifelong ethical maladjustment. He shows a lack of emotional coloring with respect to his own guilt. In one respect, he is unlike the Psychopath, in that he seems to have been well-behaved until the age of sixteen. In a second respect, his story reveals nothing to indicate that he was ever a rejected or an unwanted child. There is also more of psychodynamic understanding of his case than is usually found in a Psychopath. Otherwise, he conforms to the picture of a Psychopath rather well.

Some of the commonly alleged factors in delinquency may be summed up in this case. He was an only child. He was small of stature and appeared more immature than his years. Discipline was lax and indulgent. Since his mother was bedridden she had little possibility of chastening him effectively. Bad company just before his crime career began, seemed to be of significance.

His criminal genius seemed to find its best expression while he was behaving himself behind the bars. Sooner or later he would spoil it all by wild exploits. He was excellent in so many ways but he had no control over his emotional life. He seems to be perplexed by the fact that he is sure to do the wrong thing sooner or later. He readily admits that "crime does not pay." He feels that most criminals realize that crime does not

pay, but that knowledge does not help him to go straight. He could not have expressed it better had he said "in my flesh dwelleth no good thing." Yes, "all have sinned," but few have sinned and committed crime as Chessman had done. All have fallen human nature, but the psychopathic personality is perhaps the nth degree of fallen human nature.

Not only was Chessman the extreme of fallen human nature, but he was evidently unregenerate, since he writes some statements which express the renunciation of Christ and the blaming of whatever gods there be for his plight. There is also little evidence that his parental home was Christian, but there is some evidence that his mother's adopted parents were Christian. What a difference it would make in the extent of sin and crime, if every child were led to Christ or if he had the privilege of growing up in a Christian home.