I am autistic, and I was once told that autistic people only care about their own needs and desires, and struggle to think about other people. And today I’ve just been told that throughout my life, I’ve always had a focus on getting what I want and used a great deal of manipulation to get it. In a way, this isn’t surprising; when I was young, I was kind of selfish and definitely intelligent enough to bend people’s will. But what is surprising is that the accusation comes out suddenly after I say I’m a deist.
When I was young, I didn’t understand a lot of interpersonal issues. It wasn’t until my teens that I really wanted friends, and it wasn’t until then that I realized there’s a thing called empathy, and mine didn’t work very well in many situations. I grew up mostly absorbed with my own thoughts, my own desire for knowledge, and no idea how different I was.
I watched this video today and was struck by how little I identify with it. I know I’m awkward, but I hardly ever realize what’s going on when it happens. I usually only know I was awkward if someone brings it up, and then I only care if it’s someone I really like. I’m far more upset if I find out that something I said, which I thought was true, is actually false, even if nobody else knows.
Once I get a true idea in my head, it tends to stick. Toward the end of that video, he mentions sonder, which is a recently-coined word that is defined here. After I became aware of other people’s complex lives like that, it became the only way I see them. Every time I talk to someone I am almost overwhelmed by the huge portion of their story that I don’t know. Listen to what he says at 13:08 in the video; it’s exactly how I chose the name for my blog.
Looking at other people as deep and complex characters has changed me. It introduced me to a system of morality based on empathy, and while I may not always be able to feel it, I can at least understand the logical principles that guide it. Empathy can be divided into cognitive and emotional types, and autistic people are usually just fine with the cognitive type while struggling with the emotional.
A few years ago I was engaged, and then my fiancée decided that it was too difficult to watch me be autistic. My panic attacks, and those times when I’m literally unable to speak, are just too painful for someone who isn’t even experiencing them. There has been speculation that the direction I’m going with my beliefs is a way of coping with that loss. Sure, I had PTSD for eighteen months due to the unusual circumstances. That sort of hell would have an effect on anyone’s thought process…but when it finally ended, I was still a Christian, and I dealt with that whole mess and put it behind me as a Christian.
I’m not mad at god, and I didn’t blame him or think he abandoned me. I convinced myself that it was a trial I had to endure, and I endured it. If it changed anything, it changed my beliefs and ideas about human relationships. Religion had nothing to do with it; the whole thing was caused by human mistakes and mental illness.
My religious path is a separate matter, and has been in quiet progress for a long time. Perhaps the first seeds of dissent were sown seven years ago when I listened to Christians say illogical things in order to disregard parts of the bible they didn’t like. Perhaps it was when they attacked me for taking my faith seriously, for saying that it was hypocritical to claim to be washed clean of sin and still indulge in it.
Things changed when my fundamentalist cousin went to prison for molesting small girls, and all the way through the trial he kept downplaying the crimes, as if they weren’t very serious, as if he shouldn’t go to prison because he had since been “saved”. But I was still a Christian.
Things changed when I was so sure god had “led me” to the right girl, and then it fell apart with no warning. But I was still a Christian.
Things changed when I accepted who I am and made a decision to stand for LGBT rights. But it’s entirely possible to be a Christian, and even to hold the bible as absolute truth, without believing consensual gay relationships are wrong. I was still a Christian.
Things changed when I was repeatedly insulted and attacked and belittled by Christians for having my own opinions, for being too young and daring to think that I could know things, for asking questions, for challenging people to use their God-given ability to reason. But I was still a Christian.
Things changed when I realized that every single prayer I’d witnessed that was supposedly answered was about something that probably would’ve happened anyway, or at least was totally possible without divine intervention. And things changed when a psychiatrist and drugs did for my tormented mind what prayer and belief did not. But I was still a Christian.
Honestly, you could point to dozens of traumatic events, turning points, and beliefs that you think may have sent me down a slippery slope into deism. The truth, though, is that none of them were a part of it, although they may have prompted me to study more. It was in the process of systematic study, an honest search for the truth, that I discovered plenty of reasons to think my religion was not based on truth. If you want to blame something, then blame god for giving me an intelligent and logical mind.
In my first post about deism, I included a link to this article by Neil Carter. He proposes a prayer challenge to test the promises made in the Bible. I tested these promises myself, when I was a Christian and didn’t even know I was testing them. But of course, I’m biased and couldn’t have possibly gotten a positive result because I never had “real faith”.
Here is my invitation to the people with “real faith” who are undoubtedly praying for me to become a Christian again. I have a challenge for you, to prove that your faith is founded on truth (and possibly also fulfill your desire that I turn back to Christianity). Look at Matthew 18:19-20. Jesus makes an absolute promise that if you ask for anything, and two of you agree on it, then God will do it.
Since the Bible is infallible, you should be eager to prove that this very clear promise it makes will be upheld. So get two or more of you together, and pray earnestly that by the end of June, I will receive a surprise windfall of exactly $10,153 from a source not connected to any of us. To make sure you don’t accuse me of selfishness, I promise that if I receive the money I will give away every last dollar of it to people who really need help.
I would be delighted if you can pull this off and prove me wrong. Use that real faith of yours and show me the miraculous difference it can make. Not only would you be saving me from hell or whatever (see James 5:16-20), but you’d also be providing meals and other important things for hundreds or even thousands of starving and poor people. What righteous god would disagree with that?
I no longer live for myself and my own desires. The desire to be right about Christianity was the last one I gave up. I couldn’t reconcile the contradiction between a god who loves so much that he defines the word, and a god who refuses to give unambiguous proof of his existence and then torments people for eternity because they didn’t think he was real.
I want to help the poor and outcast, stand up for those who have been beaten down, and be as kind and selfless as I can. I don’t want to spend a lot of energy trying to explain and justify my beliefs to people who have no interest in listening to me. It only ends badly, because all they want is to tell me how wrong I am.