Quite a while ago a blogger I like to read sometimes talked a bit about the intersection of religion and the autism spectrum. He ended it with an appeal to his readers to talk about how religion and ASDs intersected for them. He probably meant in the comments, but I thought I might make a blog post out of it. Partly because I am sooo not his target audience (as he appears to be primarily talking to Christians) and partly because I wasn’t sure I could sum it up enough for it to make a good comment. Since then it’s been burbling around in the back of my head, and I think I’m finally ready to talk about it. Fair warning: there’s going to be a lot of just talking about religion here. It only gets intersectional at the end.
So I want to talk about the use of religion. What is it for? Why be religious? There seem to be two dominant answers to that question – to have a sense of morality, and to explain things that otherwise cannot be explained. I grew up christian, and both of those reasons for religion were drilled into me quite firmly. To me, they seemed to be totally logical and reasonable, even more so since I also grew up a tad anti-science. However, eventually my beliefs crumbled and many of the things I was taught no longer made sense to me. I was no longer able to accept what I was told on face value.
This loss of my christian beliefs had a number of different effects. One was that I realized that even the most deeply held belief can change. End result – my religious beliefs are now fluid. They have a tendency to change over time and I am very comfortable with that. Another effect was that during this transitional period, religion was suddenly no longer able to be my source of morality, or my answer to life’s questions or science’s confusing parts. So what happens then?
Well, I became ok with that. I realized that I did not actually need religion in order to have a sense of right and wrong. My sense of right and wrong comes largely from myself, though I grudgingly admit that the society in which I live has an impact as well. Religion simply is not necessary. In fact, it has gotten to the point that the idea of viewing morality as commands from a god or otherwise entirely external to oneself kind of skeeves me out.
Also, science is awesome. No, scientists do not have all the answers, but the methodology of looking is pretty nifty. Nor am I interested in having a God(s) of the Gaps. I don’t view gods as scientifically necessary and I am ok with that.
What this basically means is that the two primary reasons people seem to want religion in their lives simply don’t apply to me. My gods do not hand down rules to live by in order to create my sense of right and wrong, nor do they challenge science in any way.
So that brings us to the question – why do I have religion?
First and foremost, religion is, for me, something to experience. The experience of rituals, of standing in the rain, of whatever things I do in the practice of my beliefs. It’s about how I feel during those experiences, and the general sense that they are a positive aspect of my life. After I described my religion to someone once, they called it “experiential religion” and I really like that. I think it describes it well.
Beyond that religion is one of my tools for self improvement. This is where it gets a bit intersectional. I highly value the general process of improving myself and growing and stretching in various ways. Also, due to being on the autism spectrum, I am developmentally behind. I just am. So in some ways, my whole life can feel like I’m just running to catch up, only I never actually will. Religion helps me keep going, and it challenges me to be better. It was religion that finally forced me to add nuance and shades of gray to my strict black-and-white worldview. My religion (among other things) tells me that I am not allowed to stagnate. The fluid nature of my beliefs helps me to be more fluid in general, which is useful as I tend to want to be rigid.
Religion and Aspergers has also collided in another way for me – the concept of ‘self’ as ‘soul.’ I grew up with the idea that people have souls, and that our souls are, essentially, ourselves. Our soul is where our personality and identity live, and they are separate and apart from our bodies. However, autism spectrum disorders are, by increasing evidence, neurological. It shows in the very structure and pathways of our brains. There is also an increasing culture that autism is identity – that you cannot separate the “me” from the autism. Which calls into question this ‘self as something separate from the body’ thing. I haven’t figured this one out yet, but I have found my beliefs changing – less transcendent and more immanent.
On a tangential note, sometimes I wonder if this soul problem is one of the reasons why some people (parents) really want to see autism as something separate from personality or identity. That there is a person “trapped behind” the autism or something. Because facing the idea that something as base and physical as neurology can directly impact who we are might simply be too much.
Overall, my religion and my neurology certainly do intersect. I imagine they did when I was a Christian as well, but it’s harder for me to dig out exactly how so. Nevertheless, being on the autism spectrum is pervasive, and it has an impact on everything – including how I experience religion.