Could the not-so-nutty professor really be a born killer?

Sixty-six-year-old Professor James Fallon of the University of California had specialised in analysing the genetic structure and brain scans of psychopathic murderers for twenty years with some definite conclusions; he had established that there were certain consistent features in their physical constitution. His studies had convinced him that they were all born killers – it was in their very nature. These hardened murderers had all committed the most heinous assassinations with spectacularly cold-blooded horror. And every one of them had disturbingly low activity in their frontal and temporal brain lobes – the areas that produce the calming hormone serotonin for empathy and self-control.

He also kept records of his family’s brain scans against which to compare those of these heartless killers. This happily married father of three, who had always displayed exemplary behaviour throughout his long life, one day in October 2005 was reviewing yet again the records of the brain scans of ‘the good, the bad and the ugly’ when he made a startling discovery. Among the ‘good’ category of his family samples he spotted one of the ‘ugly’ set that he presumed had been filed wrongly. But checking its reference number revealed to his chagrin that it was his own brain scan. ‘I’m 100 percent!’ he gasped. So, he pondered this dilemma – could James Fallen possibly be ‘a born killer’?

He also checked out another category of tell-tale secrets – the murderers’ DNA samples. Without exception the chromosome code of each carried the so-called warrior gene –his own code included! (Previous research of his family tree had unearthed seven murderers!) The warrior gene prevents the calming hormone serotonin from developing. Every member of his family had a low-violence genetic structure – except him again! Of course, his scientist’s mind got to work in some serious self-analysis.

  • He recalled that as a child he suffered from panic attacks and an obsessive compulsive disorder – mainly in unnecessary repetitive hand washing.
  • Also he admitted to himself, ‘I’m obnoxiously competitive. I won’t let my grandchildren win games, and I do things to annoy other people!’
  • So, what had enabled him to sublimate his killer instinct into mere exaggerated competitiveness? What kind of nurture had helped him successfully to overcome his given nature? His answer: his adoring parents. ‘I was loved and that had protected me.’  Love is a major topic in the Gospel and letters of John.

Practical love and fondness

John makes the stark claim: ‘Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer’–  for hatred virtually sucks out another’s life – adding in complete contrast: ‘By this we know love, that he [Jesus] laid down his life for us’ (1 John 3:15-16). And Jesus explained the inspiration of his love for his people: ‘As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you,’ adding the exhortation: ‘Abide in my love’ (John 15:9-10). We need to make ourselves completely at home in the sheer reality of his underserved and constant love for us. John consistently uses the Greek word for practical love (agape; eg John 11:5), but he quotes others as perceiving it as fondness (phileo; John 11:3, 36). Let’s put it this way: we Christians are duty bound to display practical love at all times (eg serving one another in the most menial and demeaning of tasks, John 13:1-17) whether we feel serotonin-induced empathy or not. Even emotionless, faithful love can still be perceived as fondness.

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