I don’t normally talk openly about touchy subjects such as religion, but since we are currently in the midst of Holy Week, one of the most religious weeks of the year, I thought that now would be a good time for me to reflect and talk about it, and in my case, specifically, about Catholicism.
I am what you call a “cradle Catholic”, someone who was born into the faith and grew up with it, especially as the schools that I attended were all predominantly Catholic. I grew up memorizing the tenets of my faith in Religion class, parroting words that were barely explained and sometimes made little sense to me. As I grew older, I started to understand some of them, while other things were completely lost on me. It also didn’t help that I did receive most of my education in the faith from educators who had a very old school approach in things, so it wasn’t really conducive for someone who learned about things by questioning them. Aside from this, I didn’t really feel comfortable with those who were supposed to guide and help me out as well.
I didn’t know it at the time, but it turns out that my Aspie-ness gives me the tendency to really look at things in a more black and white manner and I have a hard time understanding the gray areas of things. I think this is why I have a very legalistic view when it came to matters of faith and what was right and wrong, which confused me a lot when I got older. For example, I would tend to be rigid about certain customs and traditions while forgetting the actual spirit of why we do those things; or if it comes to figuring out whether something is a sin or not or if someone mentions something that I don’t really understand, I end up feeling guilty over nothing and have a bad tendency to question myself so much that it drives up my own anxieties.
Another thing that I do have a problem with is the whole social aspect of religion. Sometimes, it feels that there is a lot of emphasis placed on helping out in a ministry within the church, or joining a group affiliated with a particular spirituality or way that helps you live and understand your faith more. And in the Catholic faith, there are a lot of these groups.
I have attend activities of some of those groups and I have helped out in church by singing during mass. However, at the end of the day, none of those really helped me out. I did enjoy singing for mass, but more often than not, my own schedule didn’t permit it. With regards to joining groups, I never felt truly comfortable in any of the groups due to my social skill difficulties, and because I increasingly felt that the only way to good in those particular groups would be to be extremely active in its activities. Some of these activities did clash with other important activities such as going out in order to socialize in a more mixed group, and then I’d end up feeling guilty.
Aside from this, although the talks and meditations were helpful and interesting, I just felt too pressured to live up to a certain personal and social lifestyle I couldn’t really maintain, and because at times I would end up getting confused, which didn’t help me at all.
Not everything, though, was bad, and I have had a lot of moments in which I did feel more comfortable about my faith.
As a child, I felt more drawn to the Old Testament as the stories were REALLY stories. It was only in college that I appreciated the New Testament, especially when we were taught to take into consideration the CONTEXT that particular books were written in and for. This gave me a whole new perspective of the New Testament, and suddenly it made sense why the four evangelists seemed to have different tones in the way they wrote things, and why St. Paul wrote in a particular way. It was also in college that I encountered the Ignatian spirituality, which I marveled at, as it taught me that science and religion can exist side by side- that evolution and the Creation story do make sense with each other, and that we can know about God more through science and art. For the first time, things made total sense. It was also in college that I figured out that God does exist, even if you tackle it in the most logical way possible, philosophically speaking.
I’ve always believed in the main tenets of the Catholic faith, but most of all, I’ve always believed that there was a God or a Higher Being that had a grand design for all of us. Maybe it’s because my love for fantasy made me want to have a “grand destiny” or a “quest” to fulfill, but in any case, that, plus the fact that I could reach at that conclusion logically, never led me to waver in that belief.
My problems with religion never really stemmed from me doubting the existence of my faith. It has always been more of trying to understand things in a way that my brain can understand, and how to be a good Catholic without banking on the more social aspect of religion.I am also quite overstimulated when I attend mass, but I cope with that in my own way.
Over the years, now, I can say that although I still have a lot to improve on with my relationship with God the Father and Jesus (somehow, my relationship with the Holy Spirit is easier, mostly because I look at Him as my “muse” or the one who inspires my creative self), that I have managed to find a sort of middle ground with things.
I do go to mass and confession, but I don’t really do the whole social aspect anymore, aside from the occasional outreach when my schedule and time does permit me to do so. With regards to what spirituality I follow, it’s a blend of the spirituality I was introduced to in Grade School, and the Ignatian spirituality. I ended up discovering that I didn’t have to be one or the other, because honestly, in the end, these are all ways to be a better Catholic, and even though some of their ways may be different, more often than not, some of their ways are also very similar.
Oh, and I also found a priest to talk to whom I can be open and comfortable about having Asperger’s, while at the same time I have figured out my own system of discerning what is a grave sin versus a small sin based on the tenets of the Catholic faith, so there’s a lot less self-censoring and self-guilt going around, which is a good thing.
So, in the end, based on all of my experiences, I do think that Asperger’s and religion can co-exist with each other side by side. It is all a matter of understanding the underlying context of things, and finding a spirituality, or in my case spiritualities, that work for you. It also helps a lot of you do find a mentor that you are comfortable talking with who understands how our brains are hardwired and can give us sound advice the way we understand things and based on what we go through. Aside from this, it also helps, I think, if we are given some room to question things, because in my experience, it was actually through questioning things endlessly that also led me to understand matters of the the faith more, it’s just a matter of finding that one person who can also guide you in those matters with understanding instead of anger.
Do you subscribe to any particular religion? Why do you subscribe to it and how does it reconcile with what you have, if you are high functioning? What problems have you encountered within organized religion? Let me know in the comments below!