My wife works for a major healthcare provider in our area. Recently, her employer received some unwelcome publicity.
A high level female employee was convicted of embezzling $1,000,000 from the employer as well as one count of identity theft although she messed with the records of 848 fellow employees. She faces 15 years in prison.
It’s an interesting story on a number of levels including how this obviously intelligent woman was able, over a period of many years, steal so much money and effectively cover her tracks. She was caught because the company made a procedural change and not because the company had effective audit practices. That’s embarrassing.
As a biblical counselor the thing that interested me the most was the woman’s motive or reasons for the theft. Her’s was a position of some responsibility and while I do not know what her salary was I am assuming it was considerable and quite adequate for a comfortable lifestyle, yet she chose to steal $1,000,000. The question is why?
According to the print version of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel she started to gamble after she had lost a prior job some 15 years past. Her stated reason was the gambling helped her deal with the depression resulting from the job loss.
She quickly became addicted to gambling and would frequently lose $10,000 per night on slot machines. I am not familiar with slot machines but that must represent some serious time being spent in order to lose that amount of money! When she felt the need to feed her gambling habit she began to steal more and more.
Since she was convicted it does seem that a measure of justice is being administered but having said that I’d be curious as to what the defense had to say given some of terminology used as to why she did what she did.
The first word is “depression.” She was depressed because she lost a job. To alleviate the sadness she began to gamble. The more she gambled the more she became addicted which is the second word used that sets off alarm bells to me.
In the world of psychology both terms, depression and addiction, are loaded terms. There are numerous labels attached to depression but basically they fall into two basic categories, 1) minor depressive disorder and 2) major depressive disorder. The difference is the number of symptoms observed or expressed.
A working definition of depression is: Depression is a persistent mood that is characterized by intense feelings of inadequacy, sadness, hopelessness, pessimism, apprehension, and a decreased interest in or ability to enjoy normal activity. This mood must last at least two weeks to be diagnosed as clinical depression.
I have no idea if the woman had been diagnosed as being clinically depressed after she lost that first job. If she was, then it probably worked to her favor in her trial because she would have had a medical label attached to her depression or in other words, a major depressive disorder.
The defense could postulate that the woman was sick with something when she was motivated to gamble and then to steal funds from her employer and co-workers, thus alleviating at least some of the personal responsibility.
The second word, “addiction” adds to the perception of sickness or disease.
A working definition of addiction is: Being given over to an undesirable habit to the point of dependence. Psychologists make a distinction between psychological and physical addiction. The most popular theory of addiction is the medical model which views the addiction as an illness with genetic or physical causes. Some psychologists reject this theory. They believe that addictions are psychological in origin.
The so-called medical model of addiction, that is, “an undesirable habit to the point of dependence” also tends to relieve the addict of some if not all responsibility for their actions. In the case of this woman had the defense tried this tactic they clearly failed because she was convicted and given a substantial sentence. However, this is often not the case because the medical model can be persuasive to an unsuspecting and sympathetic jury (which is why I’ll never be selected for a trial like this given my profession).
In other words what often happens is the perpetrator becomes the victim because they have a disease or sickness that explains their undesirable behavior.
The Scriptures would see the situation rather differently. Scripturally speaking, an addiction is slavery to sin, a habit of the heart which is something a bit more than an undesirable behavior.
To become an addict a person pursues their selfish desires to the point of being enslaved by them. It may feel like they cannot help it but actually it is a decision or a series of decisions that add up to pursuing what they desire most. Whatever the addiction, there is a selfish desire of the heart at work. In the case of the woman she pursued the pleasure given to her by gambling, probably the emotional high given when one wins and the adrenalin rush one gets when risking something in a game of chance.
The Bible calls such behavior idolatry. It is the worship of self but self is not the controlling idol. In the woman’s case the controlling idol was pleasure and to get her pleasure she resorted to theft which in turn contributed to the further worship of the idol.
I suppose that this woman will get some kind of therapy in prison, something to convince her that theft is wrong to feed one’s bad habits. But that kind of therapy does not get to the root of her problem. Only Christ and the sufficiency found in him and his word can change the human heart and cure the worship disorder that she has.
And that’s the way I see it.
Definitions used in this blog post are from The Christian’s Guide to Psychological Terms by Marshall and Mary Asher