Bridging the communication gap between high functioning autistics and neurotypicals.

Posts tagged ‘religion’

Religion from A HIgh Functioning Autistic’s Viewpoint, Part III: Winning the Game

Religion works on the emotions and heightens them. It makes people feel good temporarily and therefore amenable to what messages religion is sending their way. But, if emotions are being heightened while a message is being sent, then the message is being received subconsciously, but not actually rationally being thought about.  This process sounds like the method by which propaganda is disseminated. I only heard the words of the messages in church. I didn’t get the emotional effect. So, I sat and logically analyzed the message I was getting. The message was always incongruous with what I was told to believe. The message of religion seems to instill a belief that you are unworthy, unlovable and generally insignificant. So, after spending years examining my belief structure as it related to Christianity, I decided to dump it all in favor of an agnostic stance.

How does improving my ‘spiritual’ life actually benefit me, a person who has little understanding of emotions, and why couldn’t religion work for me?  A spiritual life is the internal life you live that is in relation to yourself. In other words, it is the relationship you have with yourself. If you have a bad relationship with yourself, then things don’t work out very well for you just like if you had a bad relationship with your spouse, friend or significant other. I needed something concrete, something methodical, something practical (a step by step guide), because the Bible is not practical to me. I needed something that I could use to improve my ‘inside’ life. If what I thought about myself made the difference in how my life worked, then the message that I was a sinner and unworthy of God made me think I was unworthy. If I was unworthy of God, and God was the source of love and happiness, then my life was only going to work if I figured out God. That wasn’t going to happen because I couldn’t talk to him nor hear him, So, my happiness had to come from somewhere else.

July 9, 2008. Michelle came home and told me that she had turned on the TV and watched an episode of Oprah. She said that Oprah interviewed a woman named Louise Hay. Louise Hay talked about healing your whole life by changing the way you think about yourself. Michelle explained it all while I listened a little skeptically. I thought it sounded like a good idea. Earlier in my life I had had a little counseling and had learned that how you think of yourself is important to self-esteem. I didn’t understand what self-esteem  was, then or in 2008, but I understood that having a good view of yourself was important to it. So, I watched Michelle ‘practice what she preached’ and I saw all of her physical pain go away. So, I thought, okay, let me try it. I wasn’t as disciplined as Michelle but my own attempts paid off a little. My self-esteem improved. I realized that I had a view of my self that was incongruous with liking me. This view consisted of beliefs that we all, Aspies and NTs alike, pick up as kids without examining further.

Now, I don’t remember any religious experience or service or counseling helping me improve my view of who I am. I specifically remember all the talk about sin and the need to be made right (because I was wrong?!) to have God interested in me. The talk about being separated from God because of inherent sin made it sound as if all people were born with a genetic birth defect that had no known cure. All the rules and regulations you had to follow just to have God love you seemed to say that God is conditional. I also understood that his love is based on doing his will. So, if I’m not doing his will, then I’m not worthy of his love? That’s what it sounded like to me. If I have no way of communicating with God, then how can I know his will? So, if I don’t know his will because I can’t communicate with him, then whose fault is that? Not mine. It really seems that I’m supposed to be there for God. I never got the idea that he was there for me.

Louise Hay, however, said that we are all important beings that are here to live a unique life of learning and success. As eternal souls, each life we live is an education. We have lessons to learn. She also said that if there are problems in our lives, they are there because of how we think about that aspect of our lives. She said that we all have beliefs that we live by. She said that some of the beliefs we hold are good for us and help us in our lives. Some of the other beliefs, however, are negative beliefs that limit us, contribute to our feeling bad about ourselves and otherwise are blocks to our successes in life. She emphasized that we are not victims because we don’t think very well about ourselves. We just picked up bad habits from our parents, peers and others that do not serve us well. Those habits don’t make us bad, just ineffective for ourselves. This philosophy was the most uplifting message I had experienced. I don’t remember anything this positive about my religious experiences. Religion seemed to locate the blame for my life’s inadequacies squarely on my shoulders and it didn’t seem to show any way out. Louise Hay’s philosophy had clear methods for healing. So, I ’empathized’ with her views.

Working with her methods, I quickly cleared up a lot of old beliefs that weren’t helpful. Why would I want to do this? Because I realized that I wanted to be productive for me. I wanted my life to ‘work’ on my own terms. I wanted to work towards doing the things that I loved but I realized that if I didn’t ‘love’ myself then there wasn’t any reason to ‘love’ something that I wanted to do. Louise Hay says that we make our own happiness. That happiness is a choice made me realize that I could make my own happiness. I had to  learn to think about my life and myself in a way that made me happy. By using Ms. Hay’s methods, I was able to change my thought patterns into something that I liked and that helped me ‘feel’ better about my life. In other words I became happier. And happiness is an emotion, right?



What Religion Means To A High-Functioning Autistic Person, Part II

This installment of Religion from an HFA viewpoint concerns my path to a meaningful spiritual life without the aid of an emotional map.

To start with, my parents pastored churches, usually Pentecostal, throughout my life. So, I’ve had ample experience with most phases of conservative Protestantism in the Deep South and the Southern Plains states. Unlike the Southern Baptist tradition, Pentecostalism is a very emotionally expressive version of Christianity. Examples of emotional expression found in Pentecostal churches include: being slain in the Spirit, speaking in tongues, being filled with the Spirit, prophesying, crying, wailing, Spirit-filled dancing, shouting, lifting of the hands, praying aloud, the laying on of hands, faith-healing and other assorted demonstrations of a deeply rooted faith in a personal God. Well, at least I had a floor show to entertain me.

For an autistic person like me, I never could see the source of these behaviors. I was always told it was the Holy Spirit ‘moving’ an individual to do such things. I can honestly say that I never felt ‘moved’ to participate in these demonstrative expressions of God’s presence. In other words, I didn’t feel an internal motivation to be a part of the service’s experience. What motivation I felt was an external pressure to be a part of the group. In other words, it was peer pressure. So, for me, there was no internal reason to be associated with the church.

I’m not familiar with the theories behind Organizational Psychology but I have an idea that the existence of religion is probably best explained by a religion’s ability to generate empathy for its viewpoints. By extension, the members of any religion use empathy to persuade potential members to join their group. Any viewpoint expressed by a religion can only be effective in converting potential members by generating empathy from its audience. Empathy is the hook to gain further support from new members and to maintain the support of existing ones. After someone has joined a religion, empathy is still necessary to educate new members in the rules, regulations, customs and traditions of the religion. Interestingly enough, one of the classic symptoms or traits for Aspergers and other High Functioning Autisms is the inability to empathize with others. Without this empathy, there is little hope in forming the views of new or existing members or maintaining their obedience. To put this into simpler language, if you like what an organization has to say then you’ll buy into it. If you don’t, you won’t. But, even more importantly to my article here, if you don’t have the ability to empathize with a view, then you won’t even hear what’s being said. I didn’t hear what was being said emotionally, just literally.

Because I only heard the words, I missed out on the emotional content contained in the experience. I didn’t even know there was an emotional message be spoken. So, I couldn’t have heard it, I just sat there in a pew and watched what was going on with a mindset of “Yeah, ok….I don’t get it.” I missed the actual message of love because I couldn’t hear it. So, I didn’t see a need to take a further interest in something that had no meaning to me. But, I did make one last attempt.

Through prayer, I tried my best to contact God hoping he could give me some of the experiences I was observing in church. My desire came from wanting to experience something spiritual for myself. However, prayer was really a let-down for me. I never heard ‘the still small voice’ that I hoped was God. I went and got Dr. Charles Stanley’s book “How To Listen To God”. I read that book cover to cover and was just as lost as before. Dr. Stanley’s advice was ’emotional’ in form and content. Being frustrated in my search for religious spirituality and meaning just put me in a sour mood concerning church and God. Over the long run, my frustration with all things religious just made me turn towards a more agnostic stance. This event occurred in late 1987.

As time went by, my agnostic stance lacked more and more utility for me. At this point, about 2008, many of the mechanisms I used for personal improvement such as willpower and self-sufficiency were no longer giving me satisfactory results. My classes in college had become so difficult that I began to suspect that I had a disability of some type because I couldn’t keep up with the workload. I was a terror to work with, making life difficult for my coworkers, bosses and customers. I found that I was becoming more frustrated with my inability to be successful at whatever I did. I was hard on my wife and our pets. I had no motivation for personal projects but I would burn my self out for any job that I worked for. What I discovered was I had no sense of the importance of my own life and self. I was at such a low point, that at least a handful of times, I considered ending my life instead of continuing it. Logically, this alternative was correct. With so much frustration and seeing no way out, the next step was to quit the game and start over. Again, it didn’t work out the way I expected….

Don’t Change That Channel!