Asperger’s and Religion

When I first went to the Asperger’s support group in New York, I told the group that I was a student in religion. The facilitator asked me if I had ever studied the theological ramifications of autism. I responded that I had not. In fact, the issue had never crossed my mind.

The second time I went, I got into a conversation with another Aspie about religion. He expressed surprise that anyone on the autism spectrum would believe in God, since Aspies like concepts that are literal, concrete, and tangible. For him, the idea of God was too abstract. Just when I thought that all Aspies were positivists, however, another Aspie joined the discussion and defended the teleological and cosmological arguments for the existence of God. I was relieved!

As with politics, there are a variety of religious beliefs among people with Asperger’s. Some are fundamentalists because they like the structure of a world that makes sense and a book with all the answers. Some are atheists because they believe that science contradicts the Bible, and they firmly maintain that science is right while religion is wrong. Their literal minds are not open to seeing the Bible as metaphor or allegory, which is the most common way to reconcile science with religion, and so they reject the Bible. Asperger’s doesn’t predispose a person to believe a certain way about God. But, as with everyone, the various beliefs of people with Asperger’s are rooted in who they are as people.

On some level, that is true with me. Aspies tend to fixate on a few areas of interest, and religion and politics happen to be mine. Asperger’s includes a deficiency in social skills, and social isolation is one reason that I believe in God. Although I have problems with evangelicals and evangelicalism, I’ve always liked the way that they present God as a friend, as someone who loves me and has a plan for my life. Even on days when I do not fit in, I can find a friend in God. Aspies like structure and predictability, and Christianity gives me that. Not only does it provide me with regular rituals such as church attendance, prayer, and Bible reading, but it also assures me that God is in control of my future. I prefer the idea of divine providence to an unpredictable notion that everything happens on its own, without any plan or purpose.

The things that give some Aspies a problem with religion are not really problematic for me. God’s utter intangibility does not lead me to reject his existence, since we all accept things that we cannot see or touch (e.g., love, air). Overall, the concept of God makes sense to me. The universe had to come from somewhere, and things have to be exactly the way they are for life to even exist. That tells me that there is a creator and designer.

As far as the contradiction between science and religion is concerned, I don’t know what to do with it. I disagree with people who assert that the Bible is not a science or history book. This sentiment is problematic because it projects modern controversies (i.e., creation vs. evolution) onto the Bible, plus I believe that the biblical authors were telling us their thoughts about how the universe originated. They were writing science and history, according to the science and historical standards of their time. I also wish that people who call Genesis 1 a metaphor or allegory would explain what they mean. If Genesis 1 is an allegory, then what is it an allegory for, and how do its various components point symbolically to certain truths?

I guess that, in the end, I try to be open-minded on the question of origins. I’m open to evolution, but I am also willing to hear what advocates of Intelligent Design have to say. But, in my approach to the biblical writings, I tend to go with the theological messages that they are trying to convey, whether or not the stories are scientifically or historically true. The Bible has creation stories about God wrestling and subduing a dragon, and it also has statements that the dragon is just a plaything for God (like a rubber ducky). Both are different, and yet they convey important truths about God’s relationship with evil. Truth has a lot of nuances and facets!

But, back to Asperger’s and religion, there are things about evangelicals and evangelicalism that bother me. Christianity in general seems to equate being a good Christian with being a social extrovert. “Jesus reached out to sinners, and so we should too,” we are told. Evangelicalism also emphasizes community, small groups, and accountability (which I see as social control). Introverts, people with social anxiety, or those who have problems reaching out to others are made to feel as if they are not truly pleasing to God. And, of course, happy happy Christian extroverts get on my nerves anyway. So Christianity has its dark side, as far as I am concerned.

What about the theological ramifications of Asperger’s? I don’t know. I have thought more about it since the facilitator asked me. My heart goes out to Aspies who cannot get or keep jobs because of their social difficulties, and I am afraid that I will find myself in the same situation. When I try to assure myself that God has a plan for my life, I wonder what God’s plan is for their lives. Will God allow them to be consigned to hopeless and unhappy futures? At the same time, God makes all kinds of people for a reason. As Temple Grandin (an Aspie scientist) says, most of our inventors may have had Asperger characteristics, at least on some level. Invention requires spending a lot of time in solitude, and some people are more equipped to do that than others.

But I don’t know why some people have to go through hardships, and I’m not entirely sure what God’s role or plan is. But I do hope to learn and grow.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
This entry was posted in Asperger's, Autism, Bible, Religion. Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Asperger’s and Religion

  1. ElShaddai Edwards says:

    Thank you for this latest bunch of posts. I have a young nephew with Asperger’s and it’s been enlightening to read your perspective on this.

    Christianity in general seems to equate being a good Christian with being a social extrovert.

    Indeed. My wife and I were in a small group at a former church that had everyone do a personality profile and if you didn’t score as an extraverted, happy person, they were bound and determined to start working on you so you could be a good Christian. We didn’t stay there much longer…

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  2. James Pate says:

    Yeah, I’d leave that group too!

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  3. Anonymous says:

    This is an old post, so I hope you get to read this comment!

    I am an adult female with Asperger’s. Like you, I am high-functioning (meaning most people just think I’m quiet- they don’t see me as disabled). Like you, I’ve noticed there is an Asperger’s tendency toward strong atheism. Also like you, I have always felt uncomfortable with some aspects of evangelicalism, though I tried to be a part of it for several years.

    I ended up, finally, converting to Roman Catholicism. Being Catholic feels as natural to me as a fish in water. Catholicism is ideal in many ways for Asperger’s/INTJ/social anxiety people. For one, there is the strong sensory component. All of your senses are engaged in the Mass. Two, there is so much room for unique experiences when studying the lives of the saints. Third, the Catholic faith is predictable, and the sacraments are concrete manifestations of God’s grace. Fourth, there is the sanctuary of confession, of perpetual adoration, and lighting candles before the Blessed Mother.

    Just a few thoughts for you on your journey.

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  4. James Pate says:

    Thanks for your insights, Anonymous. I’ve been attending a Roman Catholic church myself, and my mom converted a few years ago. I can see why it would be attractive to someone with AS.

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  5. Anonymous says:

    Im an Aspie Catholic myself and i totally agree with all the comments on this issue.

    Its great to know that I am not alone in my thinking.

    Where i come from in Asia,Cathlicism has become rather “feel good” and “charismatic” with empahisis on “healing” and other “touchy feely” activities.

    I absolutely cannot stand hugging or joining hands with strangers even though they may be fellow catholics and i hate it when i am made to feel “unloving” because of this.

    Anyway, i have solved the problem by looking for more “traditional” churches. Another trick is to go for early morning mass. I find that these hyper folks tend to be more subdued when deprived of sleep!!

    Would just like to add my two cents worth about why catholicism is suitable for Aspies.

    Latin chants. i find latin music and latin prayers which are sung expecially soothing to my senses. It happens even when the priest uses English to chant. I suspect it repeats the “spinning” experience that we Aspies are known to like.

    Ignatian Spirituality. I highly recommend this to all Aspies.

    Years ago ,I read the “Cathecism of the Catholic Church” and a lot of it did not make sense to me.For me, codification of Catholic doctrine confused more than clarified my faith issues.

    Because of this, I was lapsed in my faith for a long time but this was before i learnt about the Jesuits and their highly scientific and methodological approach to doctrine and spirituality.

    Before I came across the jesuits, almost every catholic or priest i knew always said i used my head too much. I was made to feel that to be a good catholic or christian,an Aspie had to suspend his highly logical and critical mind and “listen to Rome”

    The Dominicans are highly logical as well but i find some of their stuff a bit ” beyond me”.

    One last thing, would an Aspie ever become a good missionary, priest or pastor?

    Its quite a complex question. On one hand, an Aspie s preference not to socialise would make him unsuitable.

    On the other hand, an Aspie’s hyper sensitivity means that he will be acutely aware of life issues like injustice, suffering and other morality issues.

    This is one issue i grapple with even as a lay catholic.

    On one hand, i want to put my faith into action to help the poor and the marginilised. On the other hand, i have an aversion to wotking with people.

    Religion has pretty much been “me and my God” and i have no clue whatsover on how to go beyond that.

    Thought Anyone?

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  6. James Pate says:

    Hi Anonymous. I posted your comments under a new post, so please feel free to check there for any comments people might make.

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  7. Young Sage Yuu says:

    I’m an Aspie, I also have an interest in Politics and Religion… I’m afraid I get on my wife’s and others nerves when I talk about it… although if they want to know anything in the subject, I’m the first one they come to.
    My religious knowledge is extensive. I have read the Bible in a few different translations, I have read the apocrypha, the gnostic gospels, the Book of Mormon, the Qur’an, etc. etc.
    I was not comfortable with church or religious culture. I had a deep understanding of all of it, and I couldn’t understand why even the religious experts and leaders didn’t understand their own concepts as well.
    Eventually, with my interest in politics and history, I picked up a copy of Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography. He mentioned a word that was new to me… Deism. I soon found myself reading the Age of Reason by Thomas Paine, and other books by Paine, Franklin, Jefferson, etc who were all Deists.
    My religious understanding has evolved. I believe church is well suited for some individuals, especially those that function better on a social level.
    I now consider myself a Panendeist. I believe in God, there is a part of all that is that science cannot yet explain, you always check with the creator of a product regarding it. We all came from somewhere. I do believe however, that we are all part of this god substance. Some say we are children of god, or creations of god, etc. To me that means scientifically, we are part of god. Everything in creation is part of god. Does a part of something ever understand the whole picture? No. The Nucleus of the god substance is what I consider God, god the father, god the alpha and Omega. But I don’t believe that the bible represents this part of god fairly. That is why I use the term Deist. It is to differentiate from the theist belief in the Abrahamic style god. I see the god of the bible as being too fallable. Although perfection to me means the ability to always grow, because anything that can no longer grow and advance is no longer perfect in my eyes. It is dammed, no not damned, but dammed like water that cannot progress. The water sits and becomes stale and begins to stink.
    That is how my mind has run through religion. I see these different religions as different ways to express socially the concepts that I understand in a way I cannot interpret well, but try through metaphors. Religions are different metaphors so that different people can grasp these concepts and communicate them socially.
    Thomas Jefferson was a proposed aspie… He was also a deist. I propose that as far as religion and Aspergers are concerned, it all has to do with the vessel with which a concept is understood by. Those aspies that claim athiesm focus on science because the vessels for religion that were presented to them are not concrete enough, the examples deemed faulty. Those like you who are very theological have adapted the concepts of religion into a science by the book that explains the concepts that are difficult to grasp. Personally, I’m a panendeist, I see us all as being part of the same, nobody greater or lower, just different. Rewards or punishment do not motivate my morality, but my morality is guided by my religion that we are all in this together, one and the same or close together.

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  8. James Pate says:

    Thanks for your comments Young Sage Huu. Your beliefs sound like Zen Buddhism, in some sense. A Zen Buddhist once told me that we are all God and that part of meditation is recognizing the unity of all things. Or there is some overlap with Kabalistic Judaism, which holds that God exploded and is contained throughout the universe (or something to that effect).

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  9. Anonymous says:

    Hi James-
    I’m an aspie too. I prefer Judasim over Catholicism (I was Catholic)because the Jewish religion is all about doing good for others- whereas, Christianity is about believeing certain dogmas-doctrine.
    Now, all my Catholic friends hate me.
    Do you know any sites I can go on for encouragement.
    I think I have ended most of my friendships.

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  10. James Pate says:

    Hi there Anonymous! I have some links to some Asperger’s sites on the right of the page. They may be a source of advice. Also, Izgad (who is on my blogroll) is an orthodox Jew with Asperger’s.

    I don’t know much about Jewish Aspies per se, but I do know that Judaism emphasizes community a lot. And I’ve seen that it’s accepting, even of some pretty quirky people (not that you’re that, since you strike me as a sweet person).

    Best of luck in your search!

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  11. Anonymous says:

    I have a 9-year-old grandson with Asperger’s. He spent the weekend with us and I was concerned about his religious training. His parents are fundamentalists, They voted for McCain purely over the abortion issue and must have discussed it in his presence. My husband and I are liberals and are worried about the literalness of his understanding. The Rapture is a real event to him and I worry about him becoming disillusioned and angry as he becomes a teenager (like that is exclusive to Asperger children!) I hope he is able to come to a better understanding as some in this forum have. Is there anything we can do for him or for his parents on this issue?

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  12. James Pate says:

    Thanks for writing, Anonymous. I’m not sure if I’m the right person to ask, since I’m somewhat conservative myself. You may want to remind your grandson that there are different perspectives, yet you wouldn’t want to alienate his parents. Delicate balance, I know.

    I do want to ask: why would literally believing in the Rapture be a bad thing, in your opinion? It might offer comfort.

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  13. Anonymous says:

    I believe it is taught as a belief in something fearful, as in “if you’re not good enough, you won’t be ‘raptured’.” I also believe it’s nonsense. Christ clearly taught that you would not know the time and place. Why speculate? Concentration on the “end times” robs us of living Christ-like in the present. The “end times” teaching and guess-work is no more valid than Nostradamus or any other culture’s beliefs in the end of time.

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  14. James Pate says:

    Yeah, that’s one of my issues with Christianity. But, of course, it started as an apocalyptic religion.

    I have a request, which may end up helping you. Some of my readers grew up in an apocalyptic cult known as the Worldwide Church of God, which used fear to keep people in check. They may be able to give you some advice. Could I possibly write a post that quotes your comment?

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  15. Anonymous says:

    I would appreciate hearing more on the subject of fear, religion and children with Asperger’s so, please, anything you would write and any comments you would elicit would be welcome.

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  16. Grandma Jay says:

    I now have an identity and am no longer anonymous.

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  17. James Pate says:

    I haven’t forgotten you, Grandma Jay! I’ll post something later this week.

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  18. de vegaloog says:

    Hi there, James!

    This mail is coming to you from the Netherlands. I just want to say to you, that I’m writing a diary, one page a day, and between the diarypages is put pages with comments, explanations etc. And then my wife will put in her experiences with an Aspie like me. And like so many from the planet of Aspergia, I’m the typical social invertebrate… eh… introvert.

    I’m a traditional, yet charismatic Roman Catholic. Why? The Tradition is logical, as I see it; A long time God worked with the Jews, then came the New Testament, and then almost 2000 years of christianity. And the Una Sancta still stands, while a lot of branches left the Church. Despite of all sinners (and saints) who form the Church, it still stands, therefore the Church must be God’s home sweet home, in short.

    Your blog on this religion-thing was good to read. I’m hoping, I’ll catch you again on some other subject

    Your sincerely,

    de vegaloog

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  19. James Pate says:

    Thanks for your comment, De Vegaloog. 🙂

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