Saturday, May 24, 2014
Let's Play Nice with the Religious People, and Atheists too!
On a recent Facebook discussion for adults with autism, someone was curious about the range of views on God and religion. Most people who responded stated their opinion in a neutral, non-judgmental way, though there were a few people expressing disdain for either atheism or theism. I do not want to see religion divide our community. Many autism support groups online and offline forbid discussion of religion or politics to avoid personality clashes, so I haven't encountered this topic very often.
Autistic people follow their own unique paths spiritually, or sometimes can be very rigid thinkers who adhere strictly to their religion. If we follow a spiritual path we usually are do it for our own reasons/personal interests rather than due to social pressure. Even if we stick with the religion of our upbringing, we find our own approach, or we may choose another religion or even create our own. I also know many atheist/agnostic/humanist Aspies/autistics, many of them are very thoughtful, ethical and conscientious people, who often feel a deep connection to nature, animals, other people etc. They find meaning in other ways. What matters to me is that we are happy healthy and well-adjusted, whether religion plays a role in that or not is up to the person.
Our community should be pluralist, open to people of different cultural, ethnic, religious, class backgrounds, sexualities, gender identities and abilities. We can hold our opinions privately and may disapprove other people's beliefs or life choices but ultimately if they are not hurting or interfering with others it is best that we put those differences aside for the common good.
Some people on the spectrum and their families have been hurt or excluded by religions. Others simply don't care to be religious. There are some Aspies who are quite vocally anti-religious, and I fear this may lead other autistic people to reject social services and networks with religious associations that they may desperately need.
I recommend that we try to be open to working with religious communities. That does not mean that we all need to be religious ourselves or agree with their particular beliefs and practices. We should avoid collaboration with religious groups that we feel are harmful to our well-being and that of other people on the spectrum. Western societies are becoming more secular, and while the merits of that as a whole can be debated, as a pragmatic disability activist one thing that does concern me is that many social functions that organized religions serve are not being replaced by secular counterparts. Atheist groups form for the purposes of socializing and advocacy- but do atheists bring each other soup when they are sick, volunteer to care for the child of an over-stressed parent, or take in their fellow homeless atheists? There are definitely atheists out there doing this sort of community work, and I applaud them, and their are religious people who don't. I know talking about "social functions" sounds a bit off to a bunch of autistics, but as folks with disabilities, we really need these things! I'm also quite happy to work with secular and atheist organizations on disability issues, so long as they are not focused on being anti-religion.