Many have told me that pursuing any sort of ministry as an autistic person makes me a pioneer. I recognize the very small percentage of people who have walked this path. Beyond the expectations placed upon spiritual leaders, a big factor at play is the assumption that autistic people are atheists.
I understand why people would think autistic people are atheists. When the majority already have fragmented knowledge about autism and neurodiversity in general, we can quickly blanket big claims accounting for everyone’s opinions. We see it for people of color, and those with non-Christian beliefs. Neurodiversity, as a distinct form of diversity, inevitably falls under that pattern.
Neurodiverse minds work differently, in ways we have yet to fully comprehend. Bring an autistic person into the room, and they’ll likely throw in some perspectives not considered before. The same can ring true for spirituality, in which case we may be walking into a seminary or worship space.
But here’s where we need to clear the air and really discern the truth. Are all autistic people atheists? Quick answer: no. In fact, we likely have unique approaches to spirituality and faith that exceeds typical doctrine.
autistic people as atheists.
Even though I’m spiritual and autistic, there are still many autistic people who are, in fact, atheists. Just because I’m speaking to the opposite doesn’t discount this important population. Regardless of the stereotype, that image arose from somewhere.
We usually categorize autistic brains as very black-and-white. We’re either all in or all out. Go big or go home. The grey area can truly feel like an impermeable fog we’re not about to walk through, let alone understand.
So, when we bring God into the equation, that’s mostly all grey. The whole idea of faith involves trusting the unknown, which can downright frightening. Having clear explanations for why things are as they are and how things work brings comfort and peace, even if that sense of control is a facade.
Let’s face it: lots of religious texts lack logic. Many autistic people take words as they are, and it’s not in our nature to read between the lines. That’s when many autistic people become atheists and rely upon fields like science to explain the world, where there must always be a logical answer.
not all autistic people…
This is the point where I want to flip the switch. Just as autistic people can be full-force as atheists, the same can go for the opposite direction. It requires breaking stereotypes we see portrayed in mass media, a necessary task regardless of the topic.
Here’s where I’ll speak from personal experience. As an autistic person, I fully believe in science, and yet I fully believe that science cannot wholly explain everything. At some degree, we cannot know everything. In our limited human capacities, the universe’s mysteries fall into bigger hands.
Rather than viewing religious texts like the Bible as literal fact, I instead see them entirely as metaphorical. The level of nuance behind the Bible alone leaves me dumbfounded in how we could ever see its laws as The Law. Plus, we’re talking about a completely different era with completely different standards, thus requiring us to take the greater meanings and transplant those into a modern context.
Yes, I even view the Jesus resurrection story as metaphor. Would that not be aligned with the many parables the Gospels offer? I refuse to settle upon a single narrow interpretation and instead see all of the world religions’ tenets from a wide perspective. That’s where I can see so much overlap and a plethora of potential.
spiritually welcome neurodiversity.
Religions and places of worship have a lot of work to do when it comes to all forms of neurodiversity. The notion of asking if all autistic people are atheists demonstrates to me that we don’t already see autistic people in our spiritual lives. They’re going unrecognized and under-appreciated.
The question, Are all autistic people atheists?, further encourages me to pursue my vocational goals in ministry. That’s right: an autistic minister. We need more diversity and representation in spiritual leadership, as well as congregations. Additionally, we need more room to question what we know and believe, and provide accommodations for those who need them.
If there’s anything I’ve learned in my seminary education and own spiritual journey, it’s that we all long to be seen, heard, and acknowledged as we authentically are. Forcing ourselves into communities that only drain us will ultimately lead to our demise. Respect neurodiverse folks who feel comfortable keeping science and religion completely separate, but also willingly embrace challenging ideas with the kind of radical acceptance that Jesus did.
Once we autistic people have our minds set on something, it’s nearly impossible to derail us. We’re a force to be reckoned with. Envision that kind of tenacity at work in society, in God’s kingdom that is our perceived reality. Don’t discredit the atheists, the “nonbelievers.” There’s an invisible, indivisible thread connecting us all. As a human community, may we challenge the norms, question the rules when necessary, and open our hearts and minds to what autistic people have to give.
Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie
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