Don’t Mind the Maker


Not long ago, I came across a reference to a possible link between autism and atheism, which was interesting to me as I’m an atheist and on the autistic spectrum. While the idea can be misused, as this Turkish jerk did, there might be something in it. I did a little more research, and some, like this Psychology Today article link the possible correlation to the theory of mind, the basic idea being that it’s difficult for people with autism to understand the workings of other people’s minds, which leads to a lack of ability to conceive of God as someone with a personality.

Perhaps that’s true for some people, but for me, I think it’s related to theory of mind but less direct than that. I’ve had trouble with social cues for as long as I can remember, but I still could grasp the concept of personality, and ascribe this concept to the theoretical as well. I can conceive of a superhuman being with thoughts and emotions; I just don’t see why such a thing is so often deemed necessary. This piece by Razib Khan includes an interesting bit: “I had to read in a book why other people found gods so compelling as a concept. Reflectively I understood the gist, and I was indoctrinated in their existence as a small child, but these entities were never ‘real’ to me.” I can’t say I was ever indoctrinated; my family went to church when I was a kid, but my parents generally seemed agnostic. Obviously environment is a major factor in such things. I’ve also noticed, however, that really normal things often seem strange to me, like I’m often forced to view the world as an outsider of sorts. This is probably linked to the inability to connect to others, because if it’s difficult to engage, that can mean not picking up on what everyone else seems to do naturally. And religion is a very normal thing, yet also one that tends to be full of contradictions and not entirely rational. A lot of people believe in God or some kind of all-pervading entity without really thinking about it. That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of believers who DO think about it, just that spiritual belief generally comes across as the default position, which to me seems weird. But at the same time, thinking just about everything is strange is probably MY default position. I’m an individualist less because I’ve rejected society than because I never knew how to be part of it. I feel this has led to a philosophical mindset of sorts, but that’s largely out of necessity. Also related to that is skepticism toward authority, something often associated with rebellion. While I’m sure I’ve had my moments of that, for me it’s not that I think I shouldn’t do what other people say so much as that I want to know why. If it seems reasonable, I’ll generally go along with it; I like to try to get along with other people. It comes back to seeing the world from the outside, and not accepting things simply because that’s how they’ve always been done.

Doesn’t that pretty much put the kibosh on having a personal relationship with Him, then?
This isn’t why I don’t believe in God, but it’s an issue I have with religion, that God has a plan for you but won’t let you know what it is. I’m just not that trusting, I suppose.

I get that a lot of people find the idea of a divine intelligence to be comforting, but I don’t think it would be for me. Whether the universe is random or controlled by someone, it’s still utterly confusing and frequently overwhelming. At least if things just happen, it means bad stuff isn’t the result of some higher intelligence having it in for me. I found the mention in the Psychology Today article about someone not understanding that some things are made for a purpose to be interesting. I can’t recall ever having that problem, but it’s pretty much the exact opposite of the people who argue that the universe couldn’t exist without a creator and a reason. I also wanted to comment on Khan’s reference to libertarians often exhibiting the same traits as atheists, which is likely true, although I’ve noticed that some of the most visible libertarians are incredibly dogmatic, just in a non-spiritual way. Of course, there are many different kinds of libertarians, so much so that the term has become rather vague. Some libertarian ideas are simply variations on the “do as thou wilt an it harm none” idea, but it’s frequently mixed with a self-centered viewpoint that doesn’t recognize more complex forms of harm to others.

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3 Responses to Don’t Mind the Maker

  1. As always, an insightful and thought-provoking essay!

  2. I remember reading something by Temple Grandin in which she described how her autism increased her faith in a higher power instead of decreased it, which I thought was really interesting, considering it does seem more common the other way around.

    I started writing an article about the inexplicableness of faith once, that I mean to finish eventually, but my theory is that it’s something you either have or you don’t, and it can’t be either gained or lost through rational thought. Discussing religion with you was actually a major factor in me deciding this!

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