Autism & Christianity: Part 1

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.

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8 Responses

  1. Thank you, very relevant right now. Ep of psychosis due to thinking I would go to hel for 1 bite meat, when starving (commit murder), usually vegan, but starving brain makes no sense (ptsd too, orthorexia)

  2. I don’t know that anyone has summed up my experience with church as an undiagnosed neurodivergent. I was diagnosed at 30, which meant I went through a lot of harmful church stuff before I knew how to sort it out. Bible College helped a little, but finding thinkers and leaders who tend towards the more philosophical and historical-critical (and a presumed-neurodivergent OT Professor) has also help me put my faith back together again.

  3. Frankly, I think a parent should be able to see their child’s distress for what it is, and if too much religious strictness, and adherence to rules and regs is causing their child distress, they should never, never, ever force it onto the child, no matter how much they believe in it.
    I am a neurotypical individual: I lived with this for a very long time… my parents were very strict Catholics. I can attest to the fact that not only did it generate feelings of worthlessness, inadequacy; there was a lot of shame and guilt even over simple little things.
    I do blame the church for continuing to this day, in its liturgy (i was at a funeral the other day) to emphasise feelings of worthlessness and guilt. And shame about our bodies, particularly with regards to women.
    Another quibble I have with the church is for its never accepting that hey, things could be different from the pretty picture postcard stock image of the family it holds so dear. Some families are fucked up – mine certainly was. My mother was – is – a narcissist. And in religion, and the church, she found validation for her continual demeaning, and shaming. Yes, the church certainly has a fault in allowing itself to be used this way. But I think a lot too boils down to the individual parents. No matter how strongly you believe in something, you have no right to impose it on others. And as a parent, you should pull yr head out yr arse long enough to be aware of your child and how you and your beliefs are affecting them
    I am now agnostic, and would never dream of forcing religion on my children.

    1. I do believe that the world would be a far better place if we taught a respect for children as full humans with their own autonomy from the beginning. Regardless of neurotype, I believe that everyone should have the opportunity to be lifted up as children of the divine and should be respected for their limits while also helping guide and teach them, as applicable. I loathe all coercive and fear-based teachings related to religion and find them in contradiction to all that Jesus actually taught.

  4. Every kid has the human right not to be deemed to belong to their parents’ belief system. Either their religion including atheism as one, or their politics.
    In 2015 I wrote Edinburgh asperger society’s invited submission to a parliamentary enquiry on loneliness. In it I put on record the health case that there is a duty to public health to ban what some sects call “disfellowshipping”, that it is a harm to health. A practice of socially disowning + shunning, cutting off all speaking terms with, even within families, a person who leaves the religion. Modern democracies still allow folks to be born into religions, including ones that oppress women or lgbt or dress comfort, that will do that to them if they leave

  5. I am interested in reading those articles. I was a strong Born Again Christian through my teens and with my Asperger’s mind, the faith messed my head up more than drugs or heavy metal music ever could.

  6. I am also interested in the articles. I think i went to undergrad and seminary for sinilar reasons (in addition to locing the idea you can academically study God—i have a MA in Theology)

  7. You are 100% right! I am starting a Christian non profit for neurodivergent people. I would love to have you join our executive team. Please get ahold of me. mrsalisonjones34 on FB

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