Saturday, June 12, 2010
Asperger's and Atheism
I don’t usually bring up my being diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome in conversation. It’s distinct from autism by the lack of language development problems as well as the patient being able to function better in society, thus why it is also sometimes called high functioning autism. But I imagine you’re wondering why I’m talking about something as personal as being diagnosed with mental disorder. My blog followers may have initially thought I was just an especially clever/bright/smart/intelligent young adult who had a passion for various philosophical issues that come about through current events. But my revealing that I am an Aspie (a term used by fellow people with Asperger’s) discloses many things I was otherwise unwilling to. My difficulties with understanding the nuances of social situations, like body language and non-literal verbal language as well as my preoccupation with routine and predictability and the potentially myopic perspective I possess with my fixation on a limited subject area are all things that could negatively affect relationships with people, even with the aid of medication that I take for the latter two symptoms.
But I’m not worried about that so much as the potential misunderstandings that could occur with the findings from this link I found through a Facebook friend from Scientific American. The article’s findings suggest that Aspies are less likely to see purpose in events like finding a significant other or suffering the loss of loved ones. I fear people would think at first glance that because of this, Aspies are more likely to be nihilistic about life since they can’t find purpose in life. The problem with this initial assessment is that the person is confusing finding purpose in events with finding purpose in life. I honestly don’t see the hand of God or any conscious planner in events like finding my girlfriend or losing both my grandfathers. These events happen and I was as prepared for them as I could be. If I eventually discovered I had cancer and was dying in a year without treatment, would I see God’s plan in my life and convert from my present “atheism”? Probably not; in fact, I would see it as an inevitable occurrence such as other unpleasant happenings in my life, such as breaking my left arm twice on the same couch (Not learning from the first mistake) and losing two of our cats. Even if I don’t see some plan for the various things that happen in my life, I can still find purpose in living: acquiring knowledge and wisdom, experiencing joy and anguish and leaving an impression on the world that will persist on in some way. All of these things can be believed without thinking God has a hand in the world in any way.
And just because I don’t see a conscious plan in the events that occur in my life and view them as somewhat conditioned by forces outside my control doesn’t suggest that I disbelieve in free will either. Just because there are things outside my control in terms of the world around me doesn’t suggest that even the chemical processes in my brain bind me to a limited array of choices or thoughts. And similarly, the title for my blog post today reflects a similar misunderstanding that might occur. Just because Aspies don’t commonly see conscious purpose in the events that occur in everyday life doesn’t suggest that all Aspies are predisposed to be atheists, or even if they are, they can be quite neutral atheists, not like what many people see as a stereotype of atheism from Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and the like (who I still respect as atheist thinkers). I think it is possible for Aspies to be Deists as well, viewing life as contingent and on some level designed, though not in the sense of following “God’s plan” and frankly I don’t see it as intellectually dishonest to believe as such, especially since I was once a Deist in some fashion as well and the Deist creator/first mover can be viewed as more pantheistic than transcendent; that is, within the universe and not separate from it.
The article makes a distinction between non-teleological thinking and anti-teleological thinking and it works at least in the context of the psychological analysis. Atheists that are “neurotypical” (non Aspies and non autistics) can be said to understand better how people see things in a teleological sense, with an end purpose in mind and a conscious plan behind it, but then they reject that teleological explanation. In the basic use of the prefix, they are anti-teleological, though the term contra-teleological might be a nuanced expression of the term. Anti-teleological seems too strong an expression, though perhaps contra is too strong instead. On the other hand with Aspies, the idea of viewing things in a teleological sense doesn’t necessarily occur at all in their mind, so instead of rejecting the explanation, they don’t posit it to begin with; therefore Aspies are classified as non-teleological in their thinking. As a child, I cannot remember ever genuinely thinking that God had a plan for me and I never posited anything like an imaginary friend; in fact with regards to the latter, I even tried to do it, but it didn’t come naturally to me. One could suggest by association that my mind is not disposed to believing in God or gods and therefore it is less likely that I will ever believe in or use them as explanations for why events occur. This is not to say that I can’t understand people’s use of that explanation, so in a sense, maybe I am anti-teleological in the basic sense, though this is after years of study, since it didn’t come naturally to me. I hope overall that this has aided in making my perspective clearer on belief in God in particular and my form of atheism. Until next time, Namaste and Aloha.