Help with a question my daughter asked me

I would have put this in the “Ask An Apologist” section but I need a quick answer. My daughter who is in high school asked if people are born serial killers. I said I wasn’t sure but I thought so. Her next question was: “Why would God create a serial killer?”. I told we are watching a movie now and we would talk about it tomorrow. So…. Anyone have a good perspective on how to answer this when she brings it up tomorrow?

If God made them killers, they would not be guilty of the sin, and God would. On that basis, we can reason that a good God does not make people killers.

Psychologically, the issue is one of behaviourism, the idea that humans are essentially mechanical in their responses to life: you are what you are because your experiences have programmed you to be that. This would similarly mean that we would not be guilty of any sin, because we would not actually have free will. This view is now generally regarded as overly-simplistic, although there are some more subtle versions around these days.

The more-prevalent understanding these days is that people are conditioned towards, but not into, certain types of behaviour by a whole array of things, from their genes and their diet to their life experiences and their modes of though. Thus, someone could be vulnerable to becoming a killer, or a florist, or a train collector. Nonetheless, they can still choose what to do about those tendencies.

I would say no people are not born serial killers. Just like people are not born as a rapist, or a suicide bomber. At some point in time murderers, rapists, suicide bombers freely choose the behavior that they commit. So the serial killer in your daughters example became a killer at the point in time he freely chose to commit murder. He was not a murderer before that time, he most certainly was not born a murderer when he was born but became a murderer at the precise point in time he freely chose to commit the act of murder.

As to the second part of your question I would also say that no God does not create serial killers either. For me this sounds almost Calvinist to me. As if God predestined this person to be an evil murderer at the time of his birth. It’s making God the author of an evil act. God does not create murderers. God did not create a serial killer. What God created was a human being, a creature created in his own image, an immense good. And that human being, grows up and freely chooses to commit the act of murder.

I also do not believe people are born such.

In my work in prison ministry I encounter guys who have done some pretty horrendous stuff and some will never see freedom again, but at the same time I see so many guys hungry for our most holy faith and who are changing for the better as they do so.

We are all sinners…some of us just get deeper into it than others and yet all of us have no hope without Christ.

As an example, one of my guys went very bad after his older brother died on a camping trip with him when he was only about 12 and he let the anger and grief take over to the point where he now in a very high security prison. I was blessed by his story of it all and how he now follows Our Blessed Lord and (I believe) when he finally does get out, will be nothing like and far better than the guy he was when he went in.

God does not create us like that. We choose to fall for whatever reasons and the results are a downward spiral, which is why we need to take up our cross daily and follow Him.

To become a serial killer represents a radical possibility of human freedom that God has granted to each human on the planet.

God did not create a person to be: x. They create themselves largely by the choices they make.

Still, it is entirely possible that a serial killer can repent and you’ll see one or two in heaven.

St. Therese of the Child Jesus praying for the murderer Pranzini comes to mind. These people are not beyond redemption.

I think we are born with certain characteristics because anyone who has seen different babies and been around them knows that they show certain traits (like stubbornness) when they’re very young. I have seen those babies grow into that characteristic I noticed in them when they were toddlers. However, we also have to be tempted but we don’t have to act on those temptations.

Who really knows the source? Environmental issues like a demanding parent can make for a stubborn baby. No? I believe it’s not God, though, since God is goodness and sin is the absence of goodness. Our soul is the source of God who co-operates when He breathes one into us at the moment of conception. The rest of us – aside from our Blessed Mother – are what we receive from our parents and our environment.

Being a man who lived a gay lifestyle, I believe that if we’re not born with a ‘gene’ which predisposes us to homosexual temptation, then we acquire an affinity for it, are tempted and act on it. And continue to act on it. I stopped that behavior and have been completely chaste for 14 years and that’s because I turned to God. (And I don’t want to derail this, so if you have a comment, make a new thread, please, and we can jump over there. Tell us the name).

Hope you can help your daughter understand.

Serial killers are sociopaths. A sociopath is someone who has not developed a conscience in the early years.

In the same way, people are not born Christians either. They become Christians by their own choosing. Just a thought.


My sister is a psychiatrist in a facility for the criminally insane. A high security prison for violent criminals. She is also a Catholic.

Some people are sociopaths, seemingly from birth. A brain deformity or mental condition perhaps due to birth trauma, or an abnormality the person is born with, just as others are born with physical malady or mental retardation.

Many of these people do have horrific childhoods, often including the sort of physical abuse that would physically injure a developing brain. Shaking, beating, punches to the head, small children being physically thrown against walls etc. But some come from seemingly normal families, and showed bizarre and aberant behavior even as young children.

In other words, they were never quite right.

Anyone who has raised a child who has significant brain issues will understand this. It can be horrifying, heart breaking and baffling, as a seemingly physically normal child, in a loving family clearly has mental issues that are there from birth. Some of these children seem incapable of forming normal human attachments, or understanding or caring about the feelings of anyone around them.

So, can’t definitively say that serial killers are born that way, but some people are born with brain function and personality disorders that predispose them to anti social or violent behavior. It is not truly possible to know how much, if any choice they have over how this develops and manifests during their lifetime.

But as people can see that babies are born with all manner of mental and physical deformities, we can see how at least the serious seeds of this behavior can be an issue they are born with.

I have three children. One is autistic. Intelligent and raised in a loving family, but he has this issue he was born with that significantly impacts his interaction with others and his ability to form relationships. He in not profoundly autistic, but in the course of therapy for him, we met with families that had profoundly autistic children.

My brother, a Catholic spiritual advisor, used to do volunteer work with families of children with profound brain/behavior issues. Children who literally could not be left alone or unsupervised EVER, because of self harming, or violent behavior. This in 3 yr olds. Certainly not any choice they or their families made.

Thanks for your help. I had a talk with her using the suggestions and it went fine.

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