Thursday, November 7, 2013

Taking the Autism/Atheism Connection Too Far

A very belated post---but nonetheless---

A while back, I commented on a study that had come out that found a correlation between autistic adults and lack of religious beliefs (or unconventional beliefs) I thought it fit with my own observations of autistic people I've met (including myself) and that how we think doesn't always fit in with mainstream religions. I was concerned though, that this might lead to people jumping to conclusions (Correlation DOES NOT equal causation, people!) and lead to further stigmatizing of both groups.

Yup. I was right. Fehmi Kaya, a  Turkish doctor has claimed that autism causes atheism, that a deficiency in the autistic brain misses the ability to believe, and children need "therapy" to help them become religious. And to boot, he is no ordinary doctor, but the leader of Turkey's Health and Education Associations for Autistic Children. Of course this caused an uproar among scientists, family members, autistics, educators as well as atheist/humanist/agnostic and religious communities, and Kaya has apologized though I suppose he may still privately hold these views.There is a panoply of responses on both autism, atheist and religion focused blogs. The Friendly Atheist sums it up well.

This is damaging to both autistic and non-religious people. It is completely unscientific- though there is some speculation about brain activity and religious experience- it is just that- mostly preliminary speculation and research.  In addition to being obviously insulting to the intelligence and agency of people with autism (of any kind) it is also, from a religious viewpoint implying that we are spiritually inferior, created as lesser beings.

 I take the position that religion itself is of neutral value- throughout human history and today, religions have inspired great artistic and musical beauty, a search for wisdom, the spread of literacy and charity and social justice work. They have also been used to justify war, conquest, oppression and the suppression of knowledge and science. I think we would be doing most of these things regardless of whether religion was involved, because either way, we are human and capable of  Likewise, secular or non-theistic ideologies have been put to both good and evil ends.

On the other side, there also a view that autistic people (and folks with other types of disabilities) are somehow more spiritual or have some special wisdom and are inherently sweet and innocent. This is a seemingly kindler, gentler more New Agey cousin to the Noble Savage- instead of the "magical Negro" we have the "magical retard" and it leads to a condescending attitude.

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