In his most recent post, John Elder Robison asks why many people on the spectrum reject religion. Personally, my relationship with religion has always been highly complex. As I wrote previously, when I was young, my challenges drove me to try to understand things, especially things relating to people. So, I set out to study the human condition. What makes human beings tick? What were the rules for living successfully as a human being? Where do you go to get those answers?
I turned to psychology and religion. The way I saw it, psychology was a means of understanding the individual and the proper means of relating to that person. How to interpret body language. The complex motivations of the psyche. Why people sometimes act so illogically.
On the other hand, if I wanted to understand the "rules," of how we are supposed to live life - it seemed like that was religion's stock in trade. So, I began a study of religion as well.
If psychology was the user's manual for the car, then religion was the rules of the road. At 12, I vowed to read the Bible from beginning to end. And I did. By high school, I had read just about anything on religion that I could come up with. When people asked me what my hobbies were, I'd tell them foreign languages, and comparative religion. Why comparative religion?
Well, Aspergians are often called "seekers of truth," and I considered myself as such. But, how do you know the truth? Everyone else seems to believe that they know what the "truth" is, but yet most times their views don't agree with each other. How do you know which one is the truth? How can two opposing viewpoints both be right?
So, I began to look at it empirically. If I looked at the whole world of data out there, read all the various scriptures, what patterns began to show up? What were the basic "truths" that seemed to be shared across the board, or at least by the majority of believers?
The "truths" written in each of these scriptures had been followed by countless people over thousands of years - given that I had to believe that what was written in them must have some wisdom, some value. If not, why the longevity?
But, even as I searched through the writings of the major religions, I found myself deeply disappointed in the actual people who practiced many of these religions. The guiding principles found in their holy books, often seemed so lacking in their actual lives.
Take, as a case in point, my first experiences with church. In fourth grade, my father first began taking me to church. Not a churchgoer himself, my grandmother had leaned upon him heavily to begin taking me. Why, I never could quite tell - she wouldn't darken the door of a church to save her life. On the other hand, she was prone to pull scripture quotations out of her pocket at any time to settle an argument, something I never could quite understand.
New to the area, I had become a target for the most vicious bullying I had ever experienced. In my old circles, teasing was simply not allowed. In my new environment, I was not only viciously teased, but physically attacked as well. Night after night, I'd return home after school and cry myself to sleep, unable to understand what I had done to deserve such brutal treatment.
When my father came to tell me that we were going to start going to church, I felt lighter, hopeful. Memories of afternoons, side by side with my father, reading the Sermon on the Mount, came to mind. Surely a group of people who believed such things as "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth," and "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those that curse you," would be a very kind, caring group. Maybe this would be my sanctuary from the brutality I endured every day.
Imagine my shock and dismay when I discovered that two of my worst tormentors were children of deacons and elders of the church. At first I thought, "Well, maybe they don't know what their children are doing. If they did, they'd surely teach them better." That belief lasted until the end of the first service. As we all gathered for the post service reception, they started on me again. In front of their parents. This wasn't going to be a haven after all.
One of them, no doubt encouraged by her mother, invited me to her birthday sleepover party. There, she put lipstick in my bed, ruining my brand new pajamas, a gift from my Grandmother. Later, she and her friends pressured me into drinking orange juice - which they later gleefully intimated was spiked with pee.
When I had to leave early the next morning for church, (Because, of course, once a rule had been established in my house, it must not vary. Birthday parties did not mean a vacation from routine.), they made it nearly impossible for me to leave, by stealing my shoes and playing "keep away" with them in the front yard. Knowing, of course, that were I to chase after them, I'd get in trouble for ruining my tights. All this under the supervision of their "pious" parents.
To this day, I have found very few "religious" people who have truly embodied the beliefs they espoused. And, I can honestly say, that many of the worst things that have ever been done to me or to people I cared about, have been done by people who professed to be "religious." Some in the name of religion. How can that be?
So why do I, as a person with Asperger Syndrome, have a problem with organized religion? It's best summed up by what one of my heroes, Mohandas K. "Mahatma" Gandhi said of his experiences with Christianity - "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."
For updates you can follow me on Facebook or Twitter. Feedback? E-mail me. For the positive side of my experiences with church, see my post Love and Understanding: Can You Have One Without The Other?