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.