If a person with a strict moral code attempted to infiltrate a group of people with no moral code, he could be easily "outed" - revealed as a fraud - if everyone in the group was asked to do something opposed to his morals, because he would stick out like a sore thumb for refusing to partake.

Suppose however that a nefarious person with no moral boundaries decides to infiltrate a group of persons with strict moral boundaries which he ideologically opposes for the sake of bringing the group down. Since he has no moral boundaries, the intruder is willing to lie about who he is and what he believes, and is willing to do anything - kill, steal, whatever - to conceal himself. What test can be applied to the group to "out" the amoral member?

For your answer, presume that the intruder is an atheist who is attempting to bring down a theistic group from the inside. (No offense intended to atheists. I'm not saying that all atheists are without any moral boundaries, just this one in particular.)

  • $\begingroup$ By "outed," you mean "removed," "exposed," "foiled," and/or "disenfranchised," right? I think this question would also benefit from the knowledge of what group this individual is infiltrating. A black ops unit will put up with a lot more than, say, clergymen or professional sport leagues. $\endgroup$
    – PipperChip
    Aug 23, 2015 at 2:48
  • $\begingroup$ I just mean exposed. I don't necessarily have a specific group. I sometimes think of maybe a church joined by an atheist or some anarchist group infiltrated by the government. Really any group will do if I can get an answer to chew on. $\endgroup$
    – Truth
    Aug 23, 2015 at 2:51
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    $\begingroup$ The atheist part really is offensive, and, being that the question isn't about religion, it seems unnecessary. $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868
    Aug 23, 2015 at 17:07
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    $\begingroup$ @Truth (by the way, use the '@' to notify me of a message; thanks) That's often claimed by certain religious zealots, not people in general. $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868
    Aug 23, 2015 at 17:30
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    $\begingroup$ @Truth, the issue is that identifying him as an atheist isn't really very useful, so putting it in implies you're associating atheists with "no moral boundaries." Your example is exactly as useful if you just say, "Assume the intruder is attempting..." and omit the atheist part entirely. $\endgroup$ Aug 24, 2015 at 3:21

5 Answers 5


How To Slip Up

As a certain religious leader said "Ye shall know them by their fruits." Okay, this religious group of yours doesn't need to be christian, but the principle would apply to most groups. You know if people are in a group based off of their behaviors and what they do, not only in what they say.

Your amoral person may unwittingly commit some violation which marks them as a fraud. If enough people within the organization see this, the mole will have to choose between killing them all or being exposed as a fraud. Alternatively, it may only take one witness that the mole does not detect, and therefore can do nothing about, to expose him or her as a fake. It can be as simple as kicking a dog, answering a philosophical dilemma the wrong way, not adhering to some cultural ritual, or evidence of a particular lifestyle. Cultural rituals and evidences of lifestyles are particularly rife in religious organizations.

Obviously, this unscrupulous person would need to measure their every action against the morals and culture of the group they are infiltrating. Getting into a mindset, staying in that mindset, and not breaking character are very real challenges.

Additionally, some organizations may be wary of a member who is too active or involved, or attempts to gain power too quickly. Such attention may merit investigation, and investigation may reveal the fraud. Of course, you can conceive of the mole blackmailing the investigators, but the mole needs that blackmail material. Blackmailing in general requires particular conditions from the blackmailer and victim to work, which may not be met.

In summary: the mole must align their every action with that of the group, throughly understand the culture of the group to be infiltrated, and under no circumstances break character until it is time to strike. The slightest slip-up may result in a failed attempt.


First: The question is interesting, but the theist/atheist part should be scrapped because the ethical behavior of a person does not depend on religiosity and, yes, it is offensive despite your disclaimer.

So how to expose an amoral intruder ?

Use his lack of conscience and inability to see the viewpoint of other person against him !

And we do this by offering him honeypots which are completely inconspicous and are allowed to be taken, but the sensitive and empathic person knows that they should not be taken.

I am the intruder and you are the group member.

Truth: Hello, ThorstenS. [Long, long talk]. Oh, and I am away from the evening meal. I said to the others that I will be completely away, but perhaps I will return earlier after the meal if I am hungry.

ThorstenS: See ya.

If I were conscious I would think of you and look out that enough food is left. The other members know the test and will eat everything if I do not step in. My failure to do so indicates a lack of concern.

It is not 100% secure because I could simply forgot it, but even then I will realize that later ("Oh dear, I forgot that Truth need to eat !") and have a bad conscience and apologize. Failing these tests several times indicate that I am not to be trusted.

The important part is that failing the test itself is not naughty or forbidden, you are not doing something which is encoded as "bad". So it is not possible for an intruder to memorize a set of rules. Also, Truth did not ask me that I preserve some food for him, I must conclude it for myself. As Truth said, it is possible that he is away and the other members purportedly know that, so from the member perspective there is no ethical obligation to preserve food. It is my own obligation and decision to do so for the reason only I was given specific knowledge to act on.

Another test:

The group is informed that one of their members, Mr. XYZ is sick and needs support. A collection is set up and all members can anonymously throw money into a transparent bin. The amoral group member thinks:"Hey, what a band of suckers ! So much money, so I do not need to spend money ! Or, I could get out inconspicously something out of the money bin !". What he/she does not know is that XYZ is a code-sign for the members to throw in an exactly specified amount of money, so it is immediately clear how the group member behaves.

Behavior under perceived anonymity is a very good indicator what a person really thinks and does.

The number of possible tests is practically infinite. Amoral intruders have severe trouble to understand reciprocity and human care because you need empathy to predict correct behavior.

  • $\begingroup$ We don't know that this person is psychopathic, just that he is unscrupulous. We don't know that he is unable to tell what a moral person would do. Maybe he would know what a moral person should do but just doesn't care. He doesn't have to act immorally all the time. Maybe in order to avoid detection, he is careful to always act morally when in the presence of the group. $\endgroup$
    – Daniel
    Aug 24, 2015 at 13:30
  • $\begingroup$ Hmm...*unscrupulous*:"Having or showing no regard for what is right or honorable." This goes awfully lot into the psychopathic or sociopathic direction. But let's see: if the person does know how to behave morally, but choose not to do so (mostly), why does he/she do it ? Is there another reason than that the person values its own needs higher than those of others and have as result spite and contempt for others (In fact, it is explicitly stated that the intruder wants to destroy the community) ? In that case he won't think too much about how victims feel. He really cannot see the trap $\endgroup$ Aug 24, 2015 at 14:07

You can't identify him by his moral code. Like every group of humans, theists are imperfect and diverse. Consider that, for example, a significant percentage of pro-life individuals will still get abortions if they're impacted personally.

That's certainly against their professed moral code, yet they did it anyway. So you can't catch an individual in violation of their moral code and assume that means they have no moral boundaries, they could simply be someone who strayed temporarily.


Essentially you need to lay a trap for them in this situation. Present a temptation, whether that's money, sex, drugs or rock and roll...something that you know the person will want.

Unfortunately for you it depends on just how dedicated and smart the infiltrator is. If they keep the eye on the big prize then they will not succumb to the smaller traps. However most people are rarely perfect and will tend to slip up given the chance to do so.

Be aware though that most of your non-infiltrators are also non-perfect humans. So faced with exactly the same test they may well also fail!


I think in real cases, a different religion or idiology will permit, in the perpetuator's view, the needed actions as being worth the result or sactioned. Or, "morals" may apply only to the "in" group anyway.

Or, the moral values may exist but be quite different. For example, I see nothing wrong whatsoever with eating a bacon-cheese-burger, trimming my beard to look nice, and wearing clothes made from blended fabrics. Someone who held these as examples of sacred principles that must be adhered to under penalty of death (see first point: not killing is also a moral principle nominally held by the same group) would accuse me and mine as being "without morals", but is misusing the term.

Strict adherance to possibly arbitrary rules is not "morals", and constrasts with morality if the rules under consideration don't have anything to do with the charter of morality, i.e. actions that affect the well-being of others.

Your mention of atheists as synonymous with sociopaths makes me think that you are making that same mistake: strict adherance to rules including those that have nothing to do with morals, is not "morality". To note that a true sociopath would not be religious either is redundant.

It is possible, though atypical, to find a group that is religious and highly moral in general rather than just following rules that apply only to the "in" group and would appear immoral toward others. A successful religion is rarely missing the "kill the infidel" meme as it contributes greatly to the fitness function and those that lack it can't compete.

I have heard of some examples though: the Jains, where Gahndi learned pacifism, and Operation Whitecoat. Individual small groups might be truely (globally) moral and object to violence etc. even though the main religious organization is not so pure.

The test: the truely moral group practices self-sacrifice and will help strangers and the population at large. If a confidence artist infultrated the 7th Day Adventists during WWII, for example, his purpose will be truely selfish. If the group is going in to test biological and chemical weapons (instead of enlisting in the service which carries guns), as in the Whitecoat link above, I think you will find the infultrator cannot fake his self-sacrifice.

In short, willingness to show moral values on the part of the religious group, not the willingness of the infultrator to be amoral, will be how he is spotted.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the response. A few points: Everyone is attacking the atheist point, but that was only added after the fact because I was ruled "off topic" until I added a specific group. Someone had to get offended! Second, the Bible (to which I presume you are referring) does not have any penalizations (and especially not death) for violations concerning clothing, grooming, and diet - those people who violated were simply considered "unclean". $\endgroup$
    – Truth
    Sep 4, 2015 at 1:02
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    $\begingroup$ Topic: yes, this young SE is interesting beyond the narrow topic of setting, and unevenly/inconsistently tolerates other aspects of SF/Fantasy storytelling. Growing pains. Attacked: it detracts from the actual question (downside) but gets more attention (upside). Should have used the SF standard of creating a fictional group, even if its an obvious alegory. Like the Star Trek TOS episode on racism where the audience of the time couldn't even tell what the difference was and the punch line makes you reflect on just how trivial it all is. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Sep 4, 2015 at 3:15
  • $\begingroup$ When I read the original (short) version of Enemy Mine, I think I didn't realize it was new and saw it like a "Golden Age" story that was an alegory on WWII Pacific Theater. It was, just not specifically of wwii. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Sep 4, 2015 at 3:19

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