As a faith leader, I have had the privilege of being able to study Christian texts and learn to put Biblical stories into context. I have learned the ways in which cultural norms have either enforced or rejected literalism over various eras.
This has given me a framework that allows me to engage with these texts in a healthy way. Yet, I far too often see religious leaders who seem determined to present literal interpretations of scripture without context. This not only hurts neurotypical people who are harmed by the often-violent decrees and rules within these texts, but it especially concerns me when it comes to my fellow neurodivergent and Autistic communities.
An Autistic child being raised in a home that has only been taught literal interpretation of the Bible is toxic to that child, often causing severe internalization of worthlessness and inadequacy. It can also feed fears and OCD tendencies with a religious theme as their focus.
An aspect that many Autistics struggle with is that we have a tendency to take things literally. Metaphor may seem too unrealistic and the ways in which people engage faith with metaphor may make us uncomfortable or even angry at the fact that the ideals presented are something that nearly nobody truly follows while claiming they adhere to that given faith.
This, combined with a common Autistic trait of focusing on rule-abiding and fairness, makes many religious people seem like horrible hypocrites, or like blind believers in things that are seemingly irrational. It can also feed toxic behaviors if these aspects of faith are presented as literal to an Autistic person because of the extensive numbers of rules, codes, and behavioral regulations in the Bible.
I do not blame the average person, though, who believes these things. I blame the clergy, lay leaders, and predatory religious institutions that have adequate education and knowledge to comprehend the metaphoric parables and storytelling attributes of scripture, yet continue to teach and preach literalism.
The way in which scripture is presented is something that can either heal or harm. When scripture is used to heal, it can be a transformative thing, something that truly allows people to live better lives and better care for one another because they see the interconnectedness of us all.
When scripture is used to harm, it feeds polarized mentalities, an idea of victimhood, a structure of expectations that can never be met, and an idea of “us” versus “them” that feeds extremism and exceptionalism.
Due to the complex nature of this topic, I will be providing multiple articles that will address and hopefully dismantle some of the toxic theology and the ways in which neurodivergent and Autistic folks may be harmed by it.