Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Asperger's and religion. What do you say when God comes calling? No thanks, or yes please?

Back in the fall of 2008 I spoke at the MIT Brain Science Center in Boston. One of the people at that talk was Catherine Caldwell Harris, a psychology professor at BU. She asked an interesting question:


Why do you think Asperger people tend to be atheists?

First of all, I had no idea whether or not her premise was even true. Did Asperger people tend to be atheists? I turned the question back to her, and she told me about studies she'd done; exploring the religious views of a large number of people on the spectrum. Within the sample she had interviewed the majority tend tend to have what she saw as atheist views.

Since that time, I have conducted a sort of informal poll in the course of my travels, and I have to say my numbers look similar to hers. But I don't claim to understand the why of it. . .

After discussing that peculiar observation some more, we both wondered if the people's views were truly atheist, or really "anti-organized-church." The more I listened to Catherine, the more I felt it was the latter case. I thought Asperger people might shy away from organized churches because their threat and dogma ran against our logical grain.

But I recently saw another study postulating the same thing - that people on the autism spectrum are less religious than the general population - but for a totally different reason - a diminished theory of mind.

Here's a story from the Scientific American blogs that ponders the same question.

Read it and let me know what you think.

Are you on the spectrum and religious? Are you an atheist? Are you spiritual, but not part of a church? Or are you a solid churchgoing believer?

61 comments:

Alex Bertrand said...

I myself have Asperger's, and am an atheist. To answer the question of the title of your article, I would give a sharp "no." But I am not completely without beleif. I do believe in the ideas of natural law, and that, as human beings, we have certain unalienable rights.

Gina said...

I don't have Asperger's, so maybe that is why I think that the real reasons are less deep. I think that people with Asperger's are usually such black and white thinkers that if something can't be proven to them, it's hard for them to believe. I have seen this in my students with Aspergers...not necessarily regarding religion, but it does make sense. Thanks for a thought-provoking post.

L.M. said...

I have friends with Aspberger's traits who are very religious. They are conservative Christian and take the Bible literally. I have wondered if their rule-oriented thinking helped them to believe the Bible in a straightforward manner. I tend to be a flexible thinker (which has its pros and cons), and I have a hard time accepting one faith as the only explanation for our existence.

Martian said...

Hi, I actually believe that I'm an atheist. But there are times that I feel like I need to believe to have a little comfort in me. I don't know.. Maybe I'm agnostic. There are many questions in my mind and I still couldn't find the answers yet. Maybe I'm a deist person. I do not follow any religion and I don't believe in any religion.. And if there is God and if he comes and calls me then of course he must exist. because he is calling me. and that's a big proof of his existence then I would believe that he exist. Because he called me..

David Cameron Staples said...

I wonder how much of this is post hoc ergo propter hoc.

So Aspies tend to be Atheists... are there other characteristics involved? Has general intelligence been factored for, for example?

As a data point, I am fairly certain that I am Aspie (but unable to afford the testing to be sure). I am, by most definitions, Atheist. And yet I am religious: I am Discordian, a joke religion but no less serious for that. This comments page is not large enough to post the theory of Discordianism, but suffice it to say that it is a religion which does not allow the believer to blame anything on God(dess).

When I was a child, I saw other people talking about church and Christianity, and I made an effort to find out what they were talking about. I even went and read the Bible. But as much as I wanted to, I couldn't make myself believe in any of it: it is too self-contradictory, senseless, arbitrary and obviously contingent on historic circumstance. I can't make it make sense, and I can't suspend my disbelief enough that that doesn't matter.

Kathryn said...

I have Asperger's or high-functioning autism or whatever you want to call it. I was really religious when I was a child but that kind of faded as I grew up. I became more and more liberal and the more Christian people seemed to me like they behaved stupidly. I never fully stopped believing but I didn't want to be like the Christians I knew because I didn't want to be like someone who was ignorant, bigoted, and superstitious.

Now I'm no less spiritual but I'm experimenting more with things like Deism, Unitarianism, gnosticism, and pantheism. I know because I'm a history major that many books were taken out of the Bible, and in my opinion Christianity went wrong at the Council of Nicaea. I am trying to use all the resources I can, even from different religions, to find out what I think the right path is. But I don't think Christianity works like Pat Robertson thinks it works. I don't think of it as logical because logic can't really be applied to something as illogical as religion, but I also understand that things don't always fit into neat and orderly categories and can't always be explained.

I've noticed all my friends, including my boyfriend, are atheists or agnostics. They're more reasonable and usually more intelligent than Christians (not that all Christians are stupid; this is obviously a generalization).

Ray said...

I went to church when I was younger because I believed that my family wanted me to go, but after really examining it I stopped going.

Why? Because of the mental effort of it all. I truly believe that the Biblical stories are simply that - stories - and they should be examined for their philosophical content, not their literal translation. In my opinion, they are akin to the nursery rhymes of the Brothers Grimm or the fables of Aesop; they have a moral behind them, and they're a fun read, but ultimately they are fables.

For me, the doctrine of the Church (I was brought up in a Catholic household) required a huge suspension of disbelief and mental effort to believe in. The God in the Bible acted irrationally: Old Testament God behaves more like a petulant, spoiled child, while the New Testament God has softer and more mature actions. Old Testament God was heavy-handed and excessive, while New Testament God was more subtle and Worked behind the scenes. Old Testament God is jealous and cruel, and New Testament God is gentle and loving. In the Christian faith, God sounds bipolar.

I am at a stage in my life where I find the belief in a monotheistic and omnipotent deity to be irrelevant in my daily life. I've bounced around through a lot of different faiths in my life because I was under the assumption that one had to believe in something, but now I see that's not the case. I don't know what's out there, and I don't dwell on it. I once saw a t-shirt design which said "Apathetic Agnostic - Don't Know, Don't Care". That's what I classify myself as for the moment.

When I have definitive and concrete evidence to the contrary, then my belief will change. Until that day comes, I will continue to go about my life unburdened by such worries.

Martian said...

@David, I do too think that I'm a discordian sometimes.. :)) especially these days!

Izgad said...

John

I am an Asperger and while I might not be a regular churchgoer (beyond my medieval field studies), I operate within Orthodox Judaism so for the purposes of this argument I find myself on the religion side. From my experience, people on the spectrum are less involved with religion. Even in my case, as a very unconventional believer/intellectual terrorist, I am likely the sort of exception that proves the rule. I think you are right about the social issue. Organized religions are far more about society building than they are about belief. If someone does not care for social interaction than they are likely to go outside of organized religion. Ironically, I think one of the reasons why I stay within my organized religion is that I desire some form of social interaction and recognize that the structure of an organized religion gives me the means to socially interact in ways that, as an Asperger, I could never hope to do on my own.
I did not particularly care for the Scientific America blog post since I do not see Asperger syndrome as being a social impairment, but as a mode of thinking that focuses on the analytical as opposed to the social. I certainly reject the notion that Asperger syndrome has anything to do with a lack of a theory of mind. (http://izgad.blogspot.com/2010/03/neurotypical-mental-and-emotional.html) I fail to see what teleology has to do with a theory of mind. Furthermore, in this case, we seem to have an example where, if anything, the Asperger way of thinking is healthier and more rational. Why should anyone object to this as, at the very least, an equally valid mode of thinking unless they are a neurotypical bigot?

cath c said...

parent of aspergers here:

my son asks questions, trying to figure it out. I don't push a particular view of god or spiritual whatever or atheism, as i am a Unitarian Universalist, and we emphasize the individual's search for truth. I do tell him what i believe, but let him know it's ok if he thinks differently. he does seem to want to hear a clear answer from me.

However, I know other asperger families who do teach a particular religious belief to their children, who in turn believe what their parents say is their truth about god. In time, some go against that belief, as many nypticals do, too.

so i don't think asperger atheism is a given. i think the tendency toward logical thinking can set aspies in a definitive direction, but i also find logic and religion to be a strange bedfellows that can lead people down some very illogical sounding paths.

L.M. said...

Re: Izgad's comment (Why should anyone object to this as, at the very least, an equally valid mode of thinking unless they are a neurotypical bigot?)

I hope it was clear in my own post that I wasn't bashing "Asperger's" thinking. If it wasn't, I'm sorry. I actually think it's a valid and interesting way to think. I'm a bit frustrated because I'm the black sheep with my friends (the non-Christian with hard-core Christians).

Izgad said...

L. M.

Thank you for clarifying your position. I am certainly willing to give you the benefit of the doubt that, while some of your language was problematic, this was not done with intent. Part of the problem here is that many of us are trying to get out of the language of disability and into that of a minority group.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Perhaps it's not so much about being religious as it is about how we are religious. I am a Jew, and I like the structure that Judaism brings to my days and years. But I don't believe in G-d as something/someone "out there." Rather, I see the stories we have about G-d as really being about us, how we are inside. G-d as an explanation for human attributes, such as the capacity for wonder and joy, and the need for comfort and a sense of purpose. Some people have told me that I am really an atheist, and that my ideas above are an anthroplogical explanation of human religion. I don't know, and it doesn't really matter to me. I go on practicing Judaism in my idiosyncratic way, and I don't worry much about it.

I am Aspergian, though not formally diagnosed. When my son was diagnosed, his doctors pointed out how alike we are. I never bothered with a formal diagnosis, but I recognize myself as being within the diagnosis.

maryandthemoon said...

as an adult, i am spiritual but do not believe in organized religions or 'church' however i was raised Catholic and was a believer up until the age of about 16 or 17. if forced to label myself, i would say i'm agnostic however i am hesitant to teach my son who has Asperger's, a specific religion, especially Christianity. My fear? well that he will want die, kill himself, so he can go to heaven - i mean it's perfect, who doesn't want to go there? He is only 9 and perhaps when he is older i would feel more comfortable with him joining a church. thank you for the article.

Camilla Connolly said...

I am spiritually inclined and formally diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. I live in Australia, and have no interest in the fusion of right-wing politics and the Christian religion that seems to afflict the U.S.A with such force and simplicity.
My own background is one of social justice, a left-wing version of Catholicism and a belief in Liberation Theology,a refutation of violence and abuse,and a healthy self-reflexive criticism of the hierarchical aspects of my home RC religion. (You will not get any ra-ra-ra narrow defensiveness from me in relation to the failings of the organised catholic Church and its less than equitable structures!)

That being the case, I am extremely committed to aspects of Early Christian praxis and adore the approach of contemplatives and the work and teachings of Thomas Keating and The Contemplative Prayer Movement, which is so very similar to the meditation practices of the the EAST. Google Bede Griffith and Thomas Keating for an intro into this delightfully rich internal world! )

My personal view and experience is that my own jounrey as a late-diagnosed woman with Asperger's, has been augmented and strengthened by a healthy and rather pragmatic approach to faith and spirituality...an approach that is concerned with higher good, compassion for all things, the inalienable rights of all human beings, a consideration of "the different" and "the other" in our society and culture, and a clear understanding that meditation and spiritual management of my AS (NOT CURE!!!) has benefited me greatly and facilitated an extraordinarily rich and beautiful quality of life ON MY AUTISTIC TERMS...but with a learned appreciation and understanding of the terms of others! (chuckle chuckle.)

I speak and lecture at Autism conferences in my country on a semi-regular basis. Any assumption that there is a link between atheism and AS due to our tendency for black and white thinking is both absurd and ill thought out. In fact, one could purport the exact opposite as well...that black and white thinking makes us particularly agreeable to a template for living of the type and kind that is offered by orgnaised religion or even less organised but structured spiritual life. My own expereience - having met hundreds of AS people - is that we are a very diverse group unified by certain trait manifestations that are in accord with AS, but that other than that, we run the gamut and length and breadth of human diversity in terms of religion, socio-economic grouping, beliefs, values, taste, sexuality and gender etc etc.

These days I say "yes please" to the notion of a God as a universal force of knowing and unknowing that is at the heart and core of my rather monastic and thoroughly fulfilling style of being and living in the world. I paint, I write, I parent, I contirbute to my world in meaningful ways, and I live richly and simply and with a degree of grace and self-respect I never thought possible.

I like to commune with the wasps and the trees and see god buzzing around in the shape of bees.

from camilla connolly
http://thegameofbreathing.blogspot.com

Eric said...

I am an Aspie and also a very devout Methodist. My only problem initially was the concept of faith. To me, and possibly other Aspergians, faith tends to be a gray area, whereas most of us are pretty much black or white in our thinking. After a lot of studying and counselling, I came to the realization that the bible is true. It has nothing to do with faith for me, simply logic. I'd be curious to see if others share this opinion.

Ghost said...

aspie: raised very religious-literalist-protestant, and got really disillusioned with it in my teens and twenties. I never gave up a faith in God, but I was anti-organized-religion for about ten years. A few years ago, I joined the Eastern Orthodox church, and now consider myself devoutly religious. The protestant teachings I grew up with really grated on my logical thinking. It was revelatory to discover that I could be a Christian without being a Biblical literalist. Given the version of religion I grew up with, I can certainly understand why Aspies might prefer atheism.

Daniel De Boni said...

I´m asperger and a great religious person. In the early years of adolesence I became rebellious against everything that had been imposto.Mas the loss of someone close, I ended up returning to igreja.As then things were not going well and I returned to church and just thinking about becaume a order brother.I do not know about this tendency to become Aspies atheists.

Martin said...

I'm part of the self diagnosed crowd (partly because I can't afford testing and partly because I'm not sure the benefits outweigh having to discuss personal issues with a stranger when I have a hard enough time talking with people I know). I consider myself religious, specifically an Omnitheistic Discordian.

Remember folks, Discordianisim isn't just an elaborate joke disguised as a religion. It's also a religion disguised as an elaborate joke.

Joe said...

I started to write a long and involved comment to this post but changed my mind. It gets to complicated to try and express in this limited media.

I am not an atheist. Nor am I religious. I'm not even agnostic. Of all the religions I have known the closest one that fits me would probably be Buddhism, though I am not a Buddhist. I am very disillusioned with organized religion but I do not write it off completely. My family comes from an Italian background so I have some experience with Catholicism. My family believes and it makes them happy. Who am I to say anything.

Is there a God? I don't know. Is it important whether there is a God? Not to me. If there is then I am what/who I am because that is what I am meant to be. If not, then it's the same thing. I am who and what I am because I am who and what I am. Doesn't matter why I am me. It only matters that I be the best me I can be.

Side note: There is a concept that a deity can only exist of there are worshipers to believe in them. If no one believe in God, how can God exist? I have often thought about the idea that the belief creates the deity rather than the other way around. If this were so then there would be over 6 billion different Gods, all subtly different based on the concepts of each believer. But that's just an interesting intellectual idea.

Coda: If this comment doesn't seem to make sense, it's not you. I seem to be having a cognitive impairment day today.

May said...

I am a very spiritual person. I think having Asperger's made me more likely to see patterns and causes behind things, not less likely. It became simply impossible to ignore the signs I see everywhere of a conscious, evolving universe where we are co-creators of our destinies.

justcountingtime said...

My parents were very active in the church in my youth so I attended church & sunday school from before I could even crawl.
I tried extremely hard to believe but I just couldn't make my peace with what I saw to be logical falsicies.
I had a long argument with one of the elders in the church at the tender age of 11 over the theory of evolution. The science was right, creationism wasn't.
These days I'm an active atheist. There is no good evidence out there that god exists. When such evidence exists, I'm willing to change my stance.

fullsoulahead.com said...

We have protected our "literal" daughter from traditional Christianity. She has enough anxiety and would take "Jesus died because of her sins" literally and use it to heap on the self-hatred.

What a gift to have this child, to open our eyes to what we'd blindly been following all our lives.

She has freed us in so many ways, and she does believe in God. At ten it is a "Benevolent God in the sky" she describes. Different from what I believe(God to me is more a Universal life force), but that is okay.

We do attend a Unity church, where the message is, God loves you. Period. It isn't perfect, but it is a beautiful and loving community. No dogma.

desikitteh said...

i have asperger's and i'm buddhist, make of it what you will.

Dennis Sanders said...

I have Aspergers and I'm an ordained minister.

Growing up, I was in evangelical churches that tended to have very little structure to them and that drove me crazy. As I got older, I came in contact with tradtions that were more structured with liturgy and that was a welcome feeling for me.

When it comes to things like miracles and the like, I tend to not see them as much as literal, but true nonetheless. I don't think the earth was formed the way it is spelled out in Genesis 1, but I do believe that God had a hand in the creation of the world (through evolution).

That's my take on religion.

Ylanne Sorrows said...

I have Asperger's, and I am very religious Christian. I also happen to be theologically on the liberal side, and politically very liberal. I suppose in some ways that seems like I'm a walking contradiction, and many people assume there is some kind of misunderstanding going on... when in fact, I simply see myself as the outlier.

Of the dozens of Aspies I know, many are atheists, but a few are also very conservative Christians. As noted, I fall into neither camp. Being very religious and Christian does not automatically make one conservative, nor does being Aspie automatically make one atheist.

Ylanne Sorrows said...

Right, and to further expound, I am a Pentecostal Christian. I believe in both the Big Bang and Evolution.... and Christianity. (Wait, that was a list of three items. Ah. Never mind grammatical perfection.) My blog, which I believe is linked through my name, discusses issues related to philosophy, religion, politics, and autism.

I believe in the Bible - naturally, being a Christian - but I don't necessarily believe it in a strictly literal manner, especially portions which in context were written for purposes other than recording a historical narrative.

Apologies for leaving two comments, John.

Julie said...

Hmm....I'm also undiagnosed, but have no trouble seeing myself on the spectrum. I was raised a liberal Christian (Presbyterian), read the Bible as a teen and became much more of a literalist, then became disillusioned with the whole thing by the time I was 18 and have been a Pagan (pantheist, with influences from various neo-Pagan traditions) ever since.

I think the one thing being Aspie did for me was to give me the courage to walk the path I believe to be right and true, and to do so fearlessly.

I'm terrified of people, but not of Deities. Odd. Doesn't make any sense to me, either.

Justthisguy said...

I think I'm on the spectrum. I also think that I am like Elizabeth Tudor, in that I don't have the religious temperament, but I do have a taste for ritual.

I mind what Professor Grandin wrote about how she lost the emotional part of her religion after stupidly taking a bath in organophosphate insecticide as a Public Relations stunt.

I am a Christian, by C.S. Lewis's definition, but often a bad one. I get no emotional charge out of it, at least not immediately after services. I do find that persisting in what I've made up my mind to do shows surprising benefits, sometime later.

It's all very mystical. I write as someone who started out to be a physicist.

Justthisguy said...

Oh, Dennis? Yeah, me too. I attend an Anglican church affiliated with the Anglican Province of Rwanda: It's a mission to bring the Gospel to the benighted white heathens of the Americas.


Most people don't know that the vast majority of Anglicans in the world are non-white. Yes, my Arch-Bishop is a Nigger. As someone who is very proud of his Confederate ancestors, I find this very funny and evidence of the Deity's low sense of humor, which is evidence for His existence, if you ask me.

Alsat said...

I am an aspie and a Christian. In fact, I am a missionary and have served in the ministry for 35 years. I have been married 28 years with children. I consider that I have been able to manage my life and because of the grace of God. I have no other explanation. It seems logical that if I am a mystery to myself, I cannot doubt the existence of the One who is the greatest mystery of all. I am at peace.

Sarah Madeleine said...

I have Asperger's. I also received Knowledge from Prem Rawat (also known as Maharaji) almost 30 years ago. I have been practicing the techniques of Knowledge for all that time.I used to be an atheist in my late teens and twenties. But I also knew I was missing something at that time. I also tried many religions. Over the years what Prem Rawat has shown me, that place that is inside myself has been beyond description in its help of someone like myself who lives so much of my life alone and by myself. It is not something you can believe, as such,...you have to feel it. Knowledge does that.

Sarah Madeleine said...

I have Asperger's. I also received Knowledge from Prem Rawat (also known as Maharaji) almost 30 years ago. I have been practicing the techniques of Knowledge for all that time.I used to be an atheist in my late teens and twenties. But I also knew I was missing something at that time. I also tried many religions. Over the years what Prem Rawat has shown me, that place that is inside myself has been beyond description in its help of someone like myself who lives so much of my life alone and by myself. It is not something you can believe, as such,...you have to feel it. Knowledge does that.

Kevin W said...

I am not on the spectrum. I consider myself a solid church-going believer. I am a primary grade teacher.

I believe that there is there are examples of very logical thinking people throughout the Bible. The most obvious one that comes to my mind is Nehemiah. Nehemiah serves as the only prophet in the Bible to decide his path without God speaking to him directly via burning bush, angels, etc. The story is also unique in the sense that it lacks any miracles. He concluded the need to rebuild the walls logically. He decided on a plan logically and asks God to bless the plan and provide opportunity.

I am not sure that this answers the question directly, but I think that it demonstrates how very logically thinking people can also believe that God is at work in their lives, organized religion or not.

Elena said...

god doesn't always come calling, god waits for us to call god. at least that's my experience. free will and all.

i'm an aspie and i am spiritual, but never religious. religion is for those who need it. those who don't, either turn away from god, call god something else or embrace the god within. god is inside all of us, and we inside god. i think some aspies tend to forget that they have a head AND a heart, and should always use both. true logic, that which makes sense, is always about the heart first. don't you think it's logical to do good? i've always thought so, and noone can tell me otherwise. militant atheists just leave out the other side of logic all together, which is goodness and love are actual things, and the essence of god, and always the logical choice.

i avoid religion issues with my atheist aspie friends because we'll never agree because their logic is not my logic. as long as they respect mine, i respect their beliefs.

as for most being atheist, i dunno, many of my friends seem to be. but i know some aspies who are mystical, pagan and other "alternative" religions. i don't really know any hard core christians, i've always gotten along with atheists more than christians cuz atheists as well as spiritualists live by their own rules. and aspies tend to live by their own rules. i don't get along with sheep.

i'm an artsy type of aspie, which means i have a different brain than the geek types. i think there are two types of aspie, the artsy nerd type and the brainy geek type. both have their uses but i prefer to be artsy and think with my heart. :P

BUT to me spiritualism isn't about faith, it's an inner knowing and personal proof was needed for me. i told god that i wanted proof and it was provided. all i can say is, i have mine but it won't convince you. that's why Jesus is a "personal savior" cuz we all find god individually. and in our own time. and yes i believe in Jesus, and Buddha and all those teachers.

Danny R. Faught said...

I have been diagnosed with mild Asperger's. I enjoy the social environment at my church and the sense of community both during and after the worship. When I really examine the definitions, though, I'm actually agnostic. I strongly believe in the supernatural, though the model the church offers is an incomplete and possibly inaccurate view of it. Practically speaking, it's close enough to be useful.

Lisa Jo Rudy said...

Great conversation! Is it possible that those with AS/HFA tend to be less interested in organized religious because they have often been treated poorly by congregations? I know that it's been very tough to find a good match for our son, who does fine in worship services but can't quite relate to the Sunday School experience.

Lisa Rudy
www.autism.about.com

Prince Andrew and the Queen Mum said...

son is probably aspergers although i am not sure he fits it 100%. (in school he was given autism label at age 4 for services. we homeschool now.) he wants to become a missionary. we can't find a church that would really 'fit' us though. I wonder, reading this, if part of the 'issue' is that organized churches tend to be less apt to welcome someone w/ Aspergers or autism. So then they take that 'un-welcomeness' and apply that to Jesus and Christian faith in general (which is such a shame!) So I would say that one of my son's 'interests is God's love. So for him, he truly delves into it with all his heart even at the young age of 9.

Lisa said...

I must be a statistical outlyer. I am a Christian. I deeply love and enjoy my church family. Although, I do not like churches that are too formal,rigid, and cold. But I don't like ANYTHING that is too formal, rigid, and cold!

Amy Frushour Kelly said...

I'm an Aspie and an atheist. I just see no logical reason to believe in a theist god. The evidence simply doesn't warrant belief.

Basically, I think faith is a crutch. If a crutch helps you walk, and you don't hit anybody over the head with it, your crutch is not a bad thing. Myself, I prefer to walk without one.

AussieAspie said...

Hell No!! In my experience, Atheists are in the overwhelming majority amongst the hundred or so Male Aspies I've met, but female Aspies seem to be far more likely (but still well less than the norm) to believe in omnipresence. Perhaps it's more of a social indoctrination thing...who knows?! All this being said, I have met several Aspies who were fundamentalists (mainly Christianity, but others too) where religion had become their Special Interest.

capriwim said...

I have Aspergers and I have a deep faith. I have no problem with the concept of a higher being who created me and whom I cannot fully understand. However, I've never really fit into church groups, and I have no patience for the double standards so often found in churches, and contradictions in what people claim to believe and what their actual actions reveal about their priorities.

Loop Not Defined said...

I believe I have Asperger's but cannot afford testing at this time, so take that as you will.

"No thanks."

I was raised in a generic Christian environment for a few years, none of which I ever understood, although that was probably attributable to my very young age more than anything. Some relatives eventually gave me a picture bible as a gift, which I attempted to understand, but approached it as a textbook - eventually it was abandoned, as I got little out of it and understood even less. Then around the age of 12, I discovered the word "atheist" and immediately knew that it applied to me. Just the notion of simply not believing hadn't occurred to me until then...and the thought was exhilerating and beautiful.

AussieAspie said...

Of the few hundred diagnosed Aspies I've met the feeling is overwhelmingly Atheist for the guys, and about 60% for the girls. This different presentation may be a social thing - Aspie girls generally, but not always, tend to be more social and networked than Aspie males - or maybe than girls tend to apply logic less rigidly than the guys...I don't know.
I myself am an Atheist, have been since kindergarten!

Marigold Ran said...

From the comments, it appears the answer is "it varies."

A more productive question might be to ask, "do Alexithymiacs and Aspies think of religion in a different way than other people?"

Elizabeth said...

Dear Mr. Robison,
I am a mother of two sons ages 18 and 21, the elder was diagnosed at 17 with Asperger's. Knowing what I know now, I believe their father and myself to both be on the spectrum as well.

Their father is a strict, closed-minded Anglican-turned-Mennonite, we divorced over his rigid take on life. The boys now live with me full time, and tolerate their Dad well. I'd have to describe the tow of them as solid atheist and myself as a profoundly alone spiritualist.

It is organized religion we three object to, the judgmental, forced-eye contact methods of assimilation are Borg-like, and racist against our kind, in our "view".

Hank said...

I am a conservative Christian who has Aspergers. I was formerly an atheist. I think Aspies tend to be more self-focused and it takes a rather dramatic event to move them into the Christian world.

Jonathan said...

Atheists do not believe in God, but whether a person is an atheist depends on the person’s definition of God. If God is defined as an omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, omni-benevolent being, then one logical question is why does God allow indiscriminate suffering? In my opinion, the logical answer is that such a God does not exist. But even a person who does not believe in such a God probably believes in something. If God is re-defined to be that something, then it can be said that the person believes in “God.” Another related question is whether a person believes in life after death. In my opinion, the belief that a person will actually continue to live after the person has died has no basis whatsoever. I think a lot of bad things happen because people believe in life after death. So when someone's mom dies, a neurotypical person might say "God rest her soul, she's in heaven now," whereas a person with Asperger's might be thinking "She's not in heaven, she's in the ground being eaten by maggots... hmm, do dead people buried six feet deep in a coffin really get eaten by maggots, or do their bodies decompose in a different way?" I think that in our culture, belief in God and life after death is more socially acceptable, whereas logical thinking tends to lead people toward a belief in atheism. On the other hand, religious practice in something different entirely. Being religious and engaging in rituals allows a person to interact with others according to a bunch of preset rules, which is something a person with Asperger's may enjoy. Also, with religion, you just have to react to the sacred texts and rituals; you don't have to initiate the conversation. Actually, extremely orthodox Jewish ritual, if you have ever seen it, is extremely "Aspergian," including the davening.

Kathryn said...

I have Asperger's and I believe in God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. I am a Lutheran Christian to be exact. I go to church every second Sunday and I have found that finding religion, going to church and believing in God has helped calm me down a lot. I used to have anxiety and stress levels that were in the 90s. That is dangerously high! I find that Religion has calmed the constant, torrential even apocalyptic storms in my mind. Now those storms have long quelled and there are blue, sunny skies in my mind. I have a highly creative, imaginative visual mind. I would love to say more, but I would ramble on. Maybe I'll comment more later :)

rhys.miranda said...

I was indoctrinated in pentecostal christianity. I was brought up with a strict black & white worldview. When I developed depression in my late teens and was told I needed 'deliverance' (exorcism) from demons, I started to question my faith. I find the concept of God too abstract. I always felt my 'relationship' with God was one-sided - there was no reply. Christianity messed me up in a lot of ways.

Toronto SEO Group said...

I definitely have apergers & I think the belief in god is weak but I understand it. Goodluck to all of you its a rough road!

Toronto SEO Group said...

I don't believe in god but i understand why they do. I definitely have AS and I encourage all to connect with someone that understands - you have no chance on your own.
Mike 289-795-0334

Rosemary Lyndall Wemm said...

Aspberger's Syndrome is a disorder of social learning. Religions are passed on by social means. It should come as no surprise that Aspie's do not "learn" the religions of their society particularly well.

Of course, this has serious theological implications as well. If Aspies are created "less equal" in their ability to believe the things that religious followers are convinced are necessary for one's "salvation" or "after life", then what does this say about the morality, personality and characteristics of the god they usually claim to be perfect, all-powerful, just, loving and fair?

Falling back on the claim that their particular god is "mysterious" and "beyond human understanding" is a non-answer that then raises serious questions about the believer's ability to claim to know anything at all about their god.

Rorschach said...

Those not on the spectrum are sociopaths that lack a realistic view of time and think of intelligence as quantitative and comparative. They are the only ones that need the mysticism of religion and fascism to handle their "pecking order". The morality of those with Aspergers is based upon Objectivism. We lack goals because we have no death drive as stated by Freudian psychology therefor we are process oriented which infers greater self improvement. The reason we do not speak is because of the censorship. Social anxiety and peer pressure is something only those off the spectrum feel it is not our burden to bare. Depression or Sadness is caused by events that cause massive social repercussions but by limiting the number of people and leaving the metaphysical talking to your own personal space one can reduce such infinite loops of thought.

Mary Robinson said...

My husband and I are both on the spectrum and had the same experience with religion. It seems to be a common one for AS folks. We were both quite devout and unquestioning as children. In our teen years, both of us lost our faith and have been atheists since. At 15, Catholicism became nothing more than fables to me, meant to control people. I shed my faith all at once and experienced a feeling of freedom. I have no regrets and have lived a moral life without the questionable benefit of organized religion or dogma.

Daedalus1138 said...

Most people I know with Asperger's aren't religious.

I don't describe myself as an atheist; I have had spiritual experiences, but nontheless, I can relate to alot of the feelings of atheist Aspies. The sentimental feelings many neurotypicals have for their religious beliefs don't come easily to me; I tend to view spirituality as more about self-reflection, ritual, and so forth.

Dante Fernandez said...

I am a male aspie who is devoutly Christian. I however, am also against organized religion, therefore my religious sect is undefined.

I used to be an evolutionist due to the fact that it was taught in Biology class (My favorite class when I was in high-school). However, after my own study into the matter, I found evolution (At least in my opinion) to be scientifically impossible. If you want to know why, do your own research!

Anyway, after I revoked evolution I didn't really believe in anything. Later in my life due to unrelated reasons I went into a deep depression and became suicidal. In a rage I yelled to the christian God (Because that was the one I most new about then) "If your really out there and 'love' me, prove it!" I then for some reason got my twenty sided dice and said to myself "If I roll a one I will not kill myself" (For those of you who are mathematically inadequit, or are just not intelligent that is one in twenty odds). I then proceeded to roll a one. Unconvinced I rolled again, and a one appeared again. I was now angry and rolled three more times, all of which I rolled a one. Due to the fact that is darn near impossible odds, i know am christian.

(Note: This is not a story to convert anyone, this is simply a story of how a suicidal aspie became christian after probability got it's symbolic ass kicked)

JesusZone said...

I have Aspergers and I'm very religious, in fact Religion is one of my Autistic special interests. Because my mind remembers so many theories and ideas being fed to me over the 21 years of my life, my brain was able to piece together whatever made sense, this forming not just a commitment to the faith that I was raised in, but my interest in Religion and the Bible has caused me to study it more and to find reasons. Aspies tend to be rule-based thinkers and we follow rules religiously...sometimes even rules that we don't understand....but sometimes Aspies can question the logic of rules and things start making sense. Abstract thinking in religion helps break an Aspie away from rigid thinking I believe. As a child I would just accept and believe, but as I got older and studied more and connected all the philosophies and sermons and ideas and theories in my mind, I was able to conceptualize God and the Trinity and answers to the tough questions. I love God and His Word and because of Aspergers in some ways, it could be extremely tough to convince me out of it, because once an Aspie is set on something....he's set.

Check my blog www.anticsofanaspie.blogspot.com

Anjy Roemelt said...

I am on the spectrum and a catholic. I deeply love my faith but I often feel disconnected to people and don't know how to get into contact with them. It's the typical Aspergers traits concerning social interaction that makes religion difficult for me, because social interaction is at the core of christianity. In fact its all about social interaction: God's with us, and I'm lousy at that. So, although I belief in God and Jesus that belief never gives me any strength but takes its toll on me, which is very sad.

J.R. said...

I was raised in a Presbyterian church, but it didn't stick. Just another religion, as far as I was concerned.

But I believed in God - had to be a God. Not possible for all things to be so interconnected and developed without a God. Would talk with God for hours sometimes, but nothing ever came back. I can understand how people think He is not there.

Oh, He's there all right, but He refuses communication on our terms. You see, we love morality when it works for us, but despise it when it works against us. We love to judge others for willful transgressions, but utterly refuse to own up when it comes to our own.

Try owning up to your sin before God and see what kind of response you get with Him then. If you are really sincere about getting on with Him, you need to check in with His Son and get the lowdown on 1. Who He is, and 2. what it means for you.

First, Jesus is God in the flesh. He proved it. He lived a perfect, holy, and sinless life, then was taken up to heaven with 500 eyewitnesses. If He isn't God, then you need to come to terms with the reality that a bunch of LYING DISCIPLES pulled off the literary fraud of all time, in that they created FROM WHOLE CLOTH a fictitious man who never sinned or did anything wrong. (Want to try coming up with that one yourself?)

Fulfilled prophecy is another extremely valid way of discovering if Jesus is a made up character or was really the long-prophecied Jewish Messiah. There are over 350 of them, and it is impossible that they do not center on Jesus of Nazareth.

But I would not have cared anything for these facts were it not for number 2.

Jesus is my Savior. He died on the cross - not just FOR me, but AS me before God. In that I have repented of my sinfulness before God, and have received His Son, Jesus as my SOLE provision for my sin, I now have His Blood covering all my sins, and I am free from its curse.

THAT'S why I am a Christian and believe the Bible as I do. Not because I did some religious survey and decided Christianity was the best, but because JESUS SAVED ME FROM MY SINS.

So, Asperger people may be more atheistic than most, but they are decidedly not any more sinful. And if THEY will turn to the God they know is there and repent of THEIR sins, they can receive Jesus as well, and know the gift of forgiveness and the promise of eternal life in heaven with Him, (Who owns the place, you know.)

I am 50 years old, and though I was recently diagnosed, my Asperger personality has been around a lot longer than that. Even so, there's nothing more or less resistant about God in an Asperger than in anyone else. I think, being such black and white thinkers, that in all honesty, they cannot abide with something not accepted all the way. Therefore, if they cannot have God in toto, they confess they do not have Him at all.

I was in the same virtual boat, and yet today, I am saved from my sins by Jesus. Get Him right and everything else will fall into place.

Benoitsmidget said...

Thanks for such an interesting blog! I raised my son, who has aspergers, to be a christian. I even sent him to catholic school as a child. Once he was old enough to really think for himself, he became an athiest. I am christian, and as such, I know all I can do is pray for him. I don't expect him to ever change his beliefs, as I wouldn't want someone trying to change mine. I respect his decision.