“Okay,” I replied, unsure of where this line of thought originated and where it would go next.
So I did what I do when faced with a subject that I’m not sure how to broach. I talked and asked questions. In the 25 minute drive, I differentiated atheism from agnosticism, and each boy firmly planted a foot in each camp, my younger far more certain about the absence of the divine than the older. I mused about uncertainty, and, before long, we arrived at physical therapy and the subject was dropped.
Within the previous year, we’d left an Episcopal church that we’d attended for a few years. This followed a long period of Catholic Church shopping, settling for a few years here and there, long enough to have both boys baptized and for my then-husband to formally become Catholic. Our path into and out of both faiths is a chapter in itself, but suffice it to say that these pronouncements from my baptized progeny occurred after we left Christianity and before we found our Unitarian Universalist community of the past four years.
A year later, we joined a Unitarian Universalist church, a welcoming congregation where spiritual searching is encouraged and differences in ways of being are accepted. Bryce’s religious education classes exposed him to world religions — a chance to hear what others believe. History studies at home allowed us more opportunities to examine religion from many angles. And, over the years, my own beliefs have changed.
Bryce’s have not. He remains a staunch atheist, although over the last year, we’ve had more discussions about what he DOES believe, attempting to guide his definition of who he is to include more of what he does hold true than what he does not. His main argument against a god (or at least against “the guy in the sky pulling the strings,” as he’s come to refer to the divine), is that, well, there is no proof that there is one. Bryce is a literal thinker and rather black and white. There is no more room in his mind for “maybe I can play Minecraft on the computer today” than there is for “maybe there is a God.” Minecraft either can happen or not happen, and knowing is better than not knowing. God, to Bryce, just isn’t. My son doesn’t care for maybe, so that’s not the spot to park his thoughts on the God question.
The word “believe” seems to be problematic for him. Belief isn’t based on facts and natural laws, and it’s not concrete. Instead, Bryce knows or doesn’t know, and he cites facts or sources to back up what he knows. Yes, he’s wrong plenty of time, but, boy will he build an argument, and just that process is enough to wear a listener down and agree. Anything to stop the barrage of possibly relevant information. Belief is more nebulous and personal, and those are fuzzy areas for him. An online piece from Scientific American about Asperger’s and religion notes that some psychologists explain that the lack of “theory of mind” that so many on the spectrum experience makes it hard for those on the autistic spectrum to see the purpose or intent behind what others say and do. This, they theorize, makes it difficult to consider the divine, a purpose behind our lives. Makes sense, since the main role in many faiths of the divine is as doer, the force behind action and the meaning behind life. Take away the ability to understand the intent of others (and Bryce is often wrong when judging intent), and the tendency toward atheism makes sense. For Bryce, and for many atheists (who, in one study, reasoned teleologically about the divine, while those with AS did not), things just happen. No doer, no mystical or spiritual purpose. Just natural laws at work.
For him, his atheism seems to spring from his Asperger’s mind rather than from time spent questioning and thinking over a period of time. While pondering this topic, I wandered onto some forums and blogs by and for those on the spectrum, and atheism and agnosticism ran rampant. (Wrong Planet, Aspies For Freedom, PsychForums, along with a host of blogs.) Logical thought and adherence to natural laws (scientific thought) topped the reasons for unbelief, but concern about the way religion has been used to condemn those with different beliefs from ancient history through the present also was a reason. My highly unscientific review revealed a good deal of thought similar to Bryce’s: there’s no proof. Yes, there are theist Aspies. But it’s interesting to me that so many on the spectrum reject the idea of the divine. And, sure, the child was churchless at a time, being raised by questioning parents, and now attends a Unitarian Universalist church where likely half of the members are atheist and agnostic. But his decision was made well before all that. He made it soon after we attended church regularly, while we said grace at dinner each night (we still do), when his father and I were reading him children’s Bible stories and general books about God and spirituality, when he attended his grandmother’s conversion ceremony to Judaism and then her Bat Mitzvah. He did not adopt his atheism in a spiritual vacuum. He has been encouraged to think freely, although he’s hardly required encouragement to do that. Since free and responsible spiritual searches at 4 and 5 aren’t the norm, I’m drawn back to the understanding of his religious beliefs as part of his hard wiring.
Not to say that he’ll always reject the spiritual or even the divine. He’s young, and has a lifetime before him to consider, explore, accept, reject a whole manner of beliefs and ideas. Now, he’s in a church that encourages that process while stressing respect the worth and dignity of all humans. He has plenty to build upon, spiritually speaking. Or not. And that’s fine, too.
Addendum: In no way do I see atheism as a lesser way of thinking or as a result of “black and white” thinking. In the studies cited in the Scientific American post, atheists without Aspergers reached their atheism via different thought patterns than the Aspie atheists. Different minds following different routes reaching the same conclusion — that’s fascinating to me. I blog about my spiritual seeking at Finding My Ground. Follow me there.