I occasionally talk about autism and religion, but not very often. I tend to believe that religion is incredibly personal – my beliefs are mine alone, and I have no interest in convincing other people to believe what I believe. So while my diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome had a profound impact on my beliefs about self and soul, it kind of feels awkward to talk about it here. Nonetheless, I think I’m going to anyway.
So to go over the beginning – it all started with my diagnosis, then with my reading, as I do. I learned that autism is neurological – it’s in my brain. I read about a number of studies showing structural differences between autistic brains and neurotypical brains. To put it simply – autism is physical. It’s right there in the structure of the brain.
Then, not long after, I heard someone in my religious group talking about the (fairly typical, in my experience) religious belief of, basically, “you are your soul, you have a body.”
Suddenly I realized that this common belief, one I grew up with and did not really question, did not fit me anymore. I do not see my autism as something simply attached to me, like a body that a soul happens to be sitting in at the moment. Autism is intrinsic to who I am. Which means my body is intrinsic to who I am. I cannot separate the two anymore.
At first this just caused confusion and some level of angst. I looked for opinions from other people, but I was still struggling to put the concept into words. Also, I was friends with many atheists who simply didn’t believe in souls at all and took the questions as a “nature vs nurture” thing. That was not what I was trying to get at at all.
Now, just so I will hopefully not be too confusing – my beliefs are fluid. They have been ever since I went away from christianity and towards paganism. I have notice that many people find the fluidity of my beliefs confusing, as well as the peace I have made with the fact that what I believe now will change over time, not always in predictable ways. For me, a change in my beliefs is not painful, it is simply part of life.
One of the first major changes was moving from a transcendent view of reality – where the physical and the divine are separate, towards an immanent view of reality – where the physical and divine are together as one. Since I cannot separate myself from my body, perhaps I cannot actually separate my soul from my body either. Maybe that’s not how it works. Maybe I’m not some coherent soul going from body to body through rebirths, or into some kind of afterlife with a deity. But then, what am I?
Well, my body is almost like a wave of matter through time. I am made up of the matter and molecules that I consume (and convert), and those atoms and molecules and cells of my body are constantly rotating through. I am always losing molecules (for instance, the outer layer of skin flaking off, as it does, and my body generating new skin beneath, as it does), and I am always gaining new molecules through my food and drink. Yet while the matter itself is constantly coming and going, the structure of myself remains much, though not entirely, the same. My brain continues it’s autistic structure, my skeleton stays the way it is, my basic layout does not change.
So now I seem to believe that my “soul” (however much I believe in a soul) is much the same. It is simply the current iteration of “me,” made up of… well, I don’t know yet. The current collection of some small portion of all that is sacred and divine. What are souls made of anyway? I also seem to have some version of panentheism going on. Everything is god – including the gods (so yes, I am still a polytheist as well). Everything is sacred, everything carries a portion of the divine. The portion of me that is divine is, basically, my “soul.” And perhaps when I die, my soul will disperse into the greater universe the same way my body will decompose and return to the earth it came from.
All that change, from one little (huge) diagnosis.