What is “forensic theology”? Another way to analyze modus operandi in criminal cases? For instance, suspicion could fall on a seemingly dangerous cult, gang, terrorist group or other organized criminal enterprise? Or, an evolving tactic to analyze anti-social extreme belief systems? Such as hate groups. Still though, “forensic theology” might be a potential investigative strategy to scrutinize probable criminality among fanatical ideologies? Well then, let’s break down the components. Because there might be another option to constructing threat analyses on the basis of extremist behaviors. An allegation of the application of “forensic theology” has been suggested in relation to terroristic activities. But, why stop there? Particularly as applied to radical domestic and foreign belief systems. Or, terrorism perpetrated from a fundamentalist doctrine.
Yet, the word “forensic” holds many connotations. For which there are several interpretations and viewpoints. Often misunderstood and confused with movie and television stereotypes. For some students in undergraduate criminal justice courses, the mere mention of the word invites salacious overtones. Kind of like an allusion to the inaccurate non-scientific application of something called “criminal profiling” or some kind of “scale of evil”. Again, the titillation amplifies with mystification.
Suddenly, with sufficient media hype, as well as heavy concentration of sensationalism, everyone wants to “do” forensics. Become a crime scene investigator, work in “CSI”, or become a “profiler”. Exciting, sexy and enticing prospects for creative imaginations. Aside from any rational association with real world applications. Sort of in the same realm with fortune tellers, mentalists and psychic detectives. No long term real-word practical law enforcement expertise is ever required. Just capitalizing on exaggerated claims masquerading as authenticity. Believability relies on gullibility. What some investigators refer to as the “psychology of self-deception”.
Never the less, the term “forensic” has been applied to many philosophical disciplines. Not to mention, of course, an array of various schools of thought within certain fields of study. In modern America, for example, we have things such as “forensic debate”, “forensic science”, “forensic autopsy”, as well as “forensic anthropology”.
The list of things “forensic”, or for that matter “forensic science”, could get lengthy. Plus, we can’t forget about the pseudo-scientific notions of “forensic psychology”. And, as mentioned earlier, even “forensic profiling”. So, “forensic theology”? Why not add this to the mix of controversial criminological fascinations? Oh what the heck? The mere mention conjures an array of adventurous possibilities. However, individual fantasies aside, what exactly could this phrase mean? In one instance, the term surfaces in an investigative report discussing Middle Eastern terrorism. And, in particular, the connection between ideology and extreme forms of rebellious behaviors. As in terrorist activities connected to religious fundamentalism of an ultra disruptive nature.
An issue, for some of us criminologists, is to refine the definition. And, at some point, make practical the application of such thinking processes. Terminologies can get us all confused and misdirected if we’re not careful. We can invent all manner of urban legend. And, then call it fact, which in reality might simply be fabrication. But, in the effort to identify and understand terrorist intentions. Reading signs, symbols and significance in aggressive propaganda might bear clues to eventual intentions. Not to forget of course, the symbolism that serves as precursor to probable criminal behaviors. By analysis of writings, transactional documents, witness statements, intelligence gathering, surveillance and so forth. Possibly, intent could be anticipated. And, thereby, purposes might suggest hostile actions against communal safety and security.
Important here, to point out at this juncture. Contrary to “reading signatures” at crime scenes, of so called “organized” or “disorganized” unknown murderers, termed “serial killers”. Where the person or persons remain anonymous archetypes of some typecast generic template. Instead, with regard to “forensic theology”, we’re talking about known quantities of potential criminalities. As in terrorist groupings, gangs, dangerous cultic activities, hate mongering organizations of various ideological spectra. Of which, we can observe past, present and perhaps future probabilities in non pro-social endeavors. For them, observation notes attendant associational activities, graffiti, online blogs, web sites, assorted propaganda, and all kinds of symbolism. To this, investigators might link the authentication of emailing, chat rooms interactivities, and group linkages.
In other words, with a workable conception of “forensic theology”, we’re dealing with the potentiality of known evidentiary characteristics, circumstantial inferences and informational data bases from definable sources. For definitional applicability, we could say then, that “forensic” means the wide-ranging spectrum of legal issues affecting the criminal justice system. Encompassing investigative, prosecutorial and evidentiary parameters. Within which, we need to consider multi-level interfaces, from federal, state and local law enforcement operations. With that, every effort should be made to ensure methodical verifiable analysis of targeted objectives. Added to the application of “forensic” operability, we could associate a concept of “theology” or “thinking”.
Again, in regard to those things “theological”, the term could be broadly interpreted. Bringing together critical thinking efforts to address anticipation of violent behaviors backed by dogmatic philosophies. This would cover the careful study of belief systems that formulate extremism outside conventional social interactions. More generally, this is suggested to be the analysis of religious, spiritual and ideological thinking processes. With a focus on those individuals, collusive entities and groups that could be potentially anti-social in a destructive sense. Such as with gangs, terrorist cells, organized crime and others. The investigative process would be shaped by an external assessment of probable criminality. So, together, we have a thumbnail depiction for a concept of “forensic theology”. This focuses mostly on group threats to social stability.
In assessing criminal motivations, the classical perspective offers the rationality of choice. Criminals, not unlike the rest of us, freely choose their planned, calculated and selected targets for opportunistic self-gratification. As with humanity in general, selfishness is at the core of motivational purposes. For terrorists, as an example, aggression, violence and intimidation serve the basis to achieve individual or group advantage over others. While they tend to operate on a larger scale, with a political cover story. Similar to transnational organized criminal elements. Terrorists, like street criminals or corporate criminals, commit typical crimes of murder, rape, robbery, theft and so, for the sake of personal enrichment. They may plead or advocate a publicly seductive cause, such as the environment, animal research and oppression. None the less, their ideological dogma remains an illusion for their real intentions.
Behind the psychic scenes, that is, in the cerebral conduits of human thinking processes. Not “psychic” in the sense of the paranormal, as in ghosts, goblins and other ghoulish sleight of hand trickeries. Religiosity, philosophical belief systems and lifestyle choices manifest a multiplicity of motivations toward criminality. We’re all looking for opportunities to advance our covert agendas. Criminal inclinations are part of human nature. Indwelling as it were, inside the essence of human potential. Not on the outside, but internal to each of us. Our complexity of personal being, neural networking and spatial presence. Everyone possesses the elemental desires to satiate prurient passions. Libidinous reasons in the private ability to carry thoughts into reality.
Criminality’s a rational component for the cause and effect in premeditated intent to knowingly breach communal constraints. Freely chosen through willful decision-making, people create their own adversity, victories and calamities. In particular, we’re seduced willingly by our darker side. Drawn to offense-specific endeavors given the level of our offender-specific skills and abilities. We enhance our self-indulgent competitive edge in the individual quest to achieve personal advantages. Neural complexity remains dynamic in the selection of modes for maladaptive behaviors. Yet, once caught in the act, excuses abound at every twist of the criminal event. Cover stories sell front page headlines in well-calculated cover-ups. None the less, criminal activity is the result of rational choice, hedonistic intentions, and personal gain through thoughtful planning.
Criminality finds much kinship. Crosses every socio-economic strata, as well as geo-political nation-state boundaries regarding a diversity of doctrines, creeds and tenets. Thus, with the intentions of extremism, cloaked in dogmatic facades and deceptive doctrinal traditions, social disruption is exceptionally probable. Such terrorism spans the societal spectrum. From cultic religious enclaves, to ethnic “gangsterism” and racial supremacists. Not to forget, of course, many other forms of domestic and foreign terrorist groupings. Diabolical, oppressive and tyrannical purposes hide behind a front of mass media illusions. We can witness a diverse exhibition of such humanistic activities on a daily basis. Across the globe, from sea to shining sea, groups of one persuasion after another foment the cover story for varied anti-social endeavors.
Possibly, a process of so called “forensic theology”, taken in a broader sense, could utilize known data elements to postulate motives, objectives and purposes of a variety of dissident groups. Perchance, through investigative processes, by way of logic, reason and deduction, we may be able to discern an estimate of hostile capabilities. That is, by scrutinizing the verbiage, propaganda and symbolism of collective antisocial forces. Naturally, such a critical thinking technique, for a viable threat assessment tool, would necessitate a practitioner’s realistic knowledge base. And, to this, we should add his or her pragmatic field experience in the real world. An experiential foundation that reflects a well-trained skillful and tactical approach to criminality.
That is to say, applications for an evolving nature of “forensic theology” should focus less on theory and more on reality. Given the facts of the case, hard evidence remains essential. Investigatively, there would be decreased emphasis on the speculations of theoreticians. As in the towered confines of academia. And, more relevance on the convincing credibility of the realist. Genuine accuracy transforms intuitive processes from the constant engagement with real world scenarios. Understanding criminalistic intentions (forensic) requires analysis of ideological assertions (theology). As such, this invites a critical examination of symbols, messages, images, verbiage, and propaganda of all kinds. As well as cultic signposts, gang graffiti, inmate tattoos, and so forth.
All of these human aspects reflect mental proclivities transforming psychic processes into potential action. In trying to anticipate the criminality of various associational linkages, we often get fixated on the things that influence our subjective bias. Cults typically conjure an array of salacious images. Mention for instance, “satanic cults”, or communal “religious sects”, and all kinds of prurient passions get aroused. Yet, we get distracted, overlook and forget abut the many other types of human collusions. These include cultic extremists, gangs, racist enclaves, terrorist groups and other formations of organized criminal enterprises. Every faction has an ideology. Within this foundational basis of collectivity, people manifest their belief systems. Adherence can be extremely dedicated and strongly entrenched. Even in spite of evidentiary contradictions. Many cling to their reliability on subjective validation of ancient tenuous doctrines.
Terrorism comes in many forms of criminality that transcends global boundaries. Likewise, these and other threat groups pose a danger not only to local communities, but also to national security as well. Thus, early warning through proactive intelligence gathering remains critical. In so doing, practitioners therefore become tasked with constructing logical and well-reasoned threat assessments. These could be based on the implications of “forensic theological” appraisals. As an investigator, one must bear in mind that nothing is ever foolproof. So, care and caution are extremely serious factors to keep in mind. Evidentiary factors are vital to provability. Plus, we have to understand that there are many variations of criminal group collusions. The ideological spectrum has many representative factions, in diverse places all over the planet.
Regardless of doctrine or dogma, group criminality expresses the collective inclinations of the human membership. Dangerous cult associations, street gangs, terrorist cells and other organized criminal enterprises are precisely that. They are criminal organizations assembled for the purpose of committing criminal actions. Commonality of purpose expresses the basic seductive driving forces in our human nature. One good and the other evil. Objectives include exclusivity of membership and perpetuation of “elitism” among adherents. Doctrine forms the basis of a pretext in the deception of disguised orthodoxy. In other words, symbols, images, signs, etc, are used as cover stories, legends, and mythology to cloak their real intentions.
Criminal entities seek to maintain their anti-social viability through whatever criminal means possible. They may or may not express a so called “political agenda”, “religious affiliation” or “social righteousness”. For that matter, they might subscribe to discernable political or religious goals. But, then again, some do others don’t. Never the less, their intended purposes are to be monopolistic, employ aggressive violent means, and ensure profit continuity at all costs. To this end, groups collude with other groups when it is to their mutual interests. In the process, they promote conspiratorial activities in the coordination of varied illicit activities. Gain is in the primacy of their motivating factors. From within their structural framework, they utilize predatory tactics to intimidate, instill fear and corrupt others in order to achieve their objectives.
To facilitate discovery of malice aforethought in premeditated intentions, as opposed to the usual rubric of “motive, means and opportunity”. As these are often illusionary at best and deceptive at worst case scenario. The investigation might want to gather all manner of suspicious documentation, evidentiary artifacts, and known associated evidence. Subject everything to insightful critical analytic processes. To this endeavor, we must ensure qualified forensic analysis. That means too, we have to apply logic within a rational framework. In the process of scrutiny, you should conduct a thorough validation for subject authentication. Also included could be reviewing the abundance of hate oriented information sources, published group rhetoric, demonstrated history of public displays, internet blogging, news stories, background histories and assorted media expressions. In addition, assessment entails targeting potential criminals, selecting targets for surveillance, covert analysis and extensive intelligence gathering.
Ideological scrutiny directs a microscopic focal point on the attendant militancy within selected group affiliations. It is not limited to seemingly overt hostile elements alone. Within a particular subculture, the inspection also addresses the less conspicuous probabilities. Any group, social, economic, political, etc, could summon the convergence of attention due to its illicit preoccupations. Because groups, including the broad spectrum of social interaction, are naturally collusive collectives, with associations of diverse people. Likewise, they can execute corporate intrigue, commercial espionage, con games, frauds of every type, commit major crimes and engineer economic turmoil. Commercial aggrandizement for business executives can also be extremely conspiratorial. Whereby, money laundering and promotion of regional conflicts, insurrections and aiding enemy operatives, ensure profit continuity.
Deciphering the clues requires creative decisiveness, critical thinking, logical analysis and efficient examination of the evidence at hand. Conjecture, speculation and wishful thinking are constrained to the movie world of fiction and entertainment. Plots, schemes and conspiracies come in many organized forms. They reflect human ritual within the nature of criminality. Anyone can justify anything, including multiple murders, genocide, ethnic cleansing or a holy warfare. Terrorism just adds the press coverage with a political flare. Veiled by some ideological press release, so that perpetrators can cover their tracks about the real intentions in their criminality.
Take for instance, the gangster dubbed “Islamic Terror Suspect”. From a street gang in an urban core, a clever criminal wears the cloak of the dedicated religious fundamentalist, or ideologue playing “Robin Hood”. Whatever, nothing new here. Mobsters have done that decades. So, the criminal hood travels to a foreign land. Joins other criminals. Studies military tactics and techniques. Learns how to make bombs. Applies oneself to the purposes of skillful social destruction. By converting to the chosen belief system, another inventive form of story telling. The gangster becomes able to advance the skill levels necessary to commit more crimes. But, deterministic social engineering would have us believe otherwise. Many, desiring to be gullible for their needs. Buy into his lack of social opportunity, immigration policies, ineffective public schools, bad parenting, absentee father, neglectful mother, peer pressure and unemployment.
Excuses never end and intentions are always ready, willing an able to inflict cross-cultural damage to satiate personal desires. Nevertheless, we like to fool ourselves. Pretend how civil we are. Alleged our civilized progress. Make things simplistic, trouble-free and easier for us to look in the mirror. Maybe that’s the reason people choose to so easily believe in strange, weird and nebulous notions. Even among seemingly well-educated persons, like college professors. Academia can be an intellectual war zone of psycho-babble masquerading as alleged truths. We laboriously seek to makeover inner psychic struggles for an effective confrontation with life and death realties. From which, we quickly, outside the security of our communal group, find fault with those external to us. Justifications for the ruse of ideological hatreds surface without hesitance. So that we can take advantage, manipulate, and control the others.
From salacious inclinations, we pursue the amative means to unleash our competitive edge. Conflict gives us a chance to project ritualized selfishness into social survival engagement. After all, good and evil are the essence of human nature. This duality is fundamental to our very makeup. We’re capable of any heinous act in the name of some doctrinal rationalization. And, from there, we possess the ability to kill to ensure the precepts for our continued communal competition. Cognitive bias roams the byways of credibility in the hunt for subjective validation. All too often facts are avoided to the allure of unfussy foggy murmurs of inferential fallacies for hasty generalizations.
Application of a working hypothesis, for a applied theory of forensic theological analysis, requires the never ending quest for factual materiality. To that, add competence, experiential essentialities and relevancy. Sound logic demands a special temperament in developing a rational coherent investigative process. Generally, this might be calculated as a standard operating inquiry using the traditional concept of what some of us call the “W.H.O.A.”. As such, you could pronounce it “Whoa!” with emphasis to show focused commitment to the mission at hand. Or, add a slight military flare of, “Who-Ah!”. Regardless, the consideration is for answering basic queries. Such as, “Who, What, Where, When, Why and How, Observations and Actions”. For a basis in the use of forensic theology, we want to apply critical thinking skills.
This is the foundation for “pro-thinking” instead of “anti-thinking”. Rational, reasonable and consistent in purposeful authenticity. The search, as a skeptical enquirer, mandates a personal policy in the rational hunt for credible evidence. Rather than chase speculative assertions based on inferential fallacies. As in trying to profile everything, anything and all things. Attempts at “profiling”, naming multiple occurrences as “serial” this and “serial”, and developing “scales of evil”. All these run risk of expressing personalized egocentric self-interests that prove nothing substantial. These spurious assertions come close to the edge; sometimes cross over, into racist, prejudicial and ethnocentric thinking practices. An example, might be trying to define who is “Hispanic”, “Arabic”, Asian and so forth. There are too many exceptions, diversities and variations in terms of global ethnicities. Instead, we must focus on relevant evidentiary issues.
To comprehend the nature of criminality is to investigate every possible aspect of the human inclination toward anti-social behaviors. It is, in every sense, a keen ability to suspect everyone, trust no one and ensure a Holmesian eye for detail. Ensure a healthy sensory awareness for an edgy cynicism concerning the “altruism” of human beings. For which, we need to be cautious as to bogus claims as to “why” certain things happened. Particularly, if we seek to evaluate ideological expressions steeped in religiosity. Plus, we need to go to great lengths to analyze every probable suspicion. A healthy grip on practical skepticism is essential to combat unquestioned acceptance of faulty information and dubious conjecture. All too often, inquiries seek supportive collaboration for initial hypotheses. That is, the theory finds friendly “evidence” to make it right.
Facts fuel the fruition of formative evidentiary characteristics for credible forensic analyses. Investigatively, we remain skeptical as to all claims contrary to actual proof. Instead, we want to examine the evidence at hand and prove the reality of evidentiary artifacts. All too often, one hears a premise or theoretical construct argued from the standpoint of selective validation. As though such an assertion were actually true without a shadow of a doubt. Preconceived notions, based on contemporary commonality of practice, absent critical verification, may lead to erroneous conclusions. In terms of the several criminal justice systems, and associated investigative processes, that could be very dangerous. Very often, we want to find what we think we are looking for. So, we gather whatever we discover to make sure we prove ourselves correct.
Many are quick to pre-judge the outcomes of initial speculations. Your proposition hunts down and locates by personal selectivity the necessary “evidence”. For that effort, the scheme of an issue finds subjective reinforcement to back up the original insinuation. For the sake of a concept of “forensic theology” we must ensure realistic applications are sufficiently reliable and adhere to judicious assessments. Investigative processes must avoid the pitfalls based on fallacies of inference. In like manner, personal opinions have to be tempered by careful evaluation from a forensic standpoint. Too frequently, cleverly presented personal stories, opinions and viewpoints, remain in the speculative realm of hearsay. And, to this prospect, they offer little credible substantiation and eventually devolve into intellectual heresy. So, long term, not much is proved beyond a reasonable doubt. Or, for that matter, is it reinforced by the conviction of reliable evidentiary provability. The idea of “forensic theology” is about the intricate examination of belief systems, motives and intentions. Or, overall, the very intricate nature of humanistic thinking processes, along with the probability of threat potential. In this regard, the tool of critical thinking skills are essential along with a healthy inclusion of common sense. Better yet, a proclivity for profound uncommon sense.
1 Carroll, Robert T., articles relative to “Psychic Detective”, and “Criminal profiling…”;
2 Grey, Stephen, an article regarding “Follow the Mullahs”;
3 Samenow, S. E., from the book – Inside the Criminal Mind;
4 Siegel, L.J., Criminology – The Core – Third Edition;
5 Alexander, J.B., Groller, R., Morris, J., The Warrior’s Edge; And others in the original research;
by Randy Gonzalez