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Atheism and Autism in Turkey

A sociologist in Turkey has sparked a major controversy by claiming, with no evidence at all, that autistic people are all atheists because they “lack of a section for faith in their brains.” A meaner person might suggest that this “expert” lacks a section for the brain in their brain.

Autism associations around Turkey have reacted angrily after the head of Adana’s Health and Education Associations for Autistic Children reportedly said autistic children were “atheists due to a lack of a section for faith in their brains.”

“Autistic children do not know how to believe in God because they do not have a section for faith in their brains,” sociologist Fehmi Kaya reportedly said. “That is why they don’t know how to pray, how to believe in God. It is necessary to create awareness [or religion] in these children through methods of therapy.”

He also reportedly said atheism was a form of autism.

And he proposes what is essentially a religious reeducation camp for autistic people:

Kaya also said they would turn autistic children into believers through sessions that would be offered for free at therapy centers in the future.

The sessions, which have been confirmed by the Culture Houses of Adana’s Yüreğir Municipality, are set to start in June and will be able to serve over 30 children. The same houses will also offer further therapy sessions for children with disabilities.

When asked whether or not the houses aimed at turning autistic children into believers, a Culture House official confirmed the matter, but Kaya denied such objectives.

“Every child understands when you tell him or her to fear God, but an autistic child will not,” Kaya told the Daily News. “Once he starts to develop normally, belief will come in time. We do not have the idea of creating a section for faith in their brains.”

This is why we need a strong separation of religion and medicine.

Comments

  1. says

    Things Fehmi Kaya does not understand:
    1. Autism
    2. Atheism
    3. The brain
    4. The fact that he does not understand these things

    I wonder if he even knows what he means by “section in the brain.”

  2. says

    It’s not uncommon for people to disparage an ideology they don’t like by associating it with autism, in order to suggest that you would have to have a mental disorder to share it. Some asshole insisted that feminism is a characteristic of autism a while back and used me as an example of it. I don’t think people on the spectrum are any more likely to be feminists than those who are not (perhaps the other way around), but religion is less common.

    Probably for a lot of reasons. Religion tends to be very social. Religion involves a lot of metaphor and mixed messages. It’s not at all literal, in terms of making claims about things you can verify for yourself. It involves a heap of emotion, from ecstatic joy to misery to disgust. Most people I’ve talked to with Aspberger’s at least are either not religious, prefer New Age faiths and reject organized religion, or are pantheists of some sort. Uta Frith has written that some people on the spectrum find themselves drawn to Catholicism because they like the ritual.

    The children Kaya is talking about, I’m going to take a wild guess, are not into holding hands, singing songs, praying prayers, and listening to religious stories. And by golly, he intends to force them.

  3. Reginald Selkirk says

    I recall reading about an American autistic savant named Kim Peek.

    Kim Peek’ (born November 11, 1951 in Salt Lake City, Utah)…
    “Known as Kimputer’ to many, his knowledge-library includes …, the Bible, Mormon Church Doctrine and History…”

    It says here he was a member of the Mormon church. He died in 2009. I wonder whether he had the analytic ability to realize that the material he had memorized was full of contradictions and errors.

  4. says

    As vile and stupid as such statements are, I get a feeling they might be intended to PROTECT autistic kids from religious hysteria, by: a) convincing the rabble that the kids’ failure to conform is not their fault, b) promising to lock the kids away where their existence won’t offend good Muslims; and c) rebranding such places as “madrassas” so the rabble will be less inclined to attack them.

    It’s still bullshit, of course, but given the conditions of certain parts of the Muslim world, it may be the best thing unarmed civilians can do for vulnerable populatins like this.

  5. says

    I wonder whether he had the analytic ability to realize that the material he had memorized was full of contradictions and errors.

    He might have — but he might have also realized that such doctrines were more comforting than the contradictions and errors of real life.

  6. says

    d.c.wilson: they may have got the idea FROM us. Ever heard of “aversive therapy?” That’s just one of the many useless-or-worse scams that played on people’s frustration and desperation in the face of autism.

  7. Ben P says

    Setting aside the ridiculous idea of a religious re-education camp, it did trigger that I know about 10 people who in varying places on the spectrum (several are in my extended family) and I don’t think any of them are religious at least not in a conventional sense. .

    Coincidence probably, but given that religion is primarily an emotional thing, and AS disorders specifically affect how you perceive emotions in others, it’s not absolutely implausible that there’s a connection.

  8. frog says

    Gretchen@5:

    Another possible explanation might be social/educational class. Is ASD more likely to be diagnosed among educated people? Perhaps poorly educated people might write off a lot of the behavior as the child being bad, or weird, or mentally handicapped in some other way (I would not be surprised if the belief that “autism = retardation” still exist in ignorant communities).

    The correlation between poverty, lack of education, and religion is very strong. Lack of diagnosis for ASD might go along with this, and create the perception that ASD people don’t exist in very religious communities.

    To test this hypothesis, we would have to see what happens in religious, but reasonably well-educated mainstream populations. (i.e., the sort of religions that don’t believe the world is only 6000 years old.)

  9. Ben P says

    it’s not absolutely implausible that there’s a connection.

    To clarify, that Autistic people might be less likely to be religious, not anything going the other way.

  10. Ben P says

    Another possible explanation might be social/educational class. Is ASD more likely to be diagnosed among educated people? Perhaps poorly educated people might write off a lot of the behavior as the child being bad, or weird, or mentally handicapped in some other way (I would not be surprised if the belief that “autism = retardation” still exist in ignorant communities).

    Oh, I can verify that from personal experience. I’ve seen a case where an child later diagnosed as autistic was being abused in purported “disipline” based on advice of a local fundie pastor who told the parents the kid was simply bad and firm discipline would correct that.

  11. lofgren says

    As I understand it, autistic people often have difficulty with symbolic or figurative language, and do not handle contradictions and paradoxes very well. It seems plausible to me that in the kinds of educated religious communities that Gretchen is talking about, autism would tend to correlate with atheism. That’s because those approaches to faith tend to veil their meaning in convoluted and vague analogies. How many times can an autistic kid hear “God is love, God is in everyone, God is nowhere and everywhere all at once,” before they realize that the concept of God is simply incoherent in this context?

  12. says

    (I would not be surprised if the belief that “autism = retardation” still exist in ignorant communities).

    It certainly exists in American anti-vaxxer communities.

  13. says

    To add to Ben P’s comment @15, I have a student who’s on the spectrum (Asperger’s), and it took the parents a long time to really accept it. In fact, it only ever really moved forward once I got involved and took the mother to a local autism center (it helped that I was able to speak from my own experience as the parent of children with autism), where she was able to meet other parents whose children were dealing with similar issues. The student’s father was, in fact, one of those parents who just thought his child was immature or rebellious, and that’s a pretty severe impediment to getting help for your child.

    I do find the question of whether or not people with ASD are more or less religious than the general population to be an intriguing one, though. I tend to agree with Gretchen @5 on the finer points.

  14. says

    I do find the question of whether or not people with ASD are more or less religious than the general population to be an intriguing one, though.

    It’s something I looked into while studying the role Theory of Mind plays in religion. Theory of Mind (ToM) is just a term for cognitive empathy, the ability to understand and relate to the fact that other people have thoughts, emotions, and goals, and recognize them when they see them. Religious people use their ToM to relate to the thoughts and feelings of entities they can’t even see (gods, spirits, ghosts, etc.) , and people on the autism spectrum, while not lacking ToM, tend not to empathize in the way other, so-called neurotypical or NT people do. So if religion is all or mostly about “reading” the minds of “people” who don’t even exist in the easily verifiable and palpable way that normal people do, it wouldn’t be surprising at all to find that people on the autism spectrum are simply not interested and/or don’t get it.

    I also, going along these lines, suspected that people on the autism spectrum would be less bothered by death (a person becoming a non-person, a thing), and less likely to believe in an afterlife. A very informal poll of about 80 self-described people with Asperger’s leant support to this, but there are no large-scale legitimate studies of religiosity among people with autism that I know of.

  15. Brent says

    This idiot thinks he’s striking a clever and positive blow for Islam but the rest of the world is laughing at him.

    If one has to resort to trickery or legislation to get people to believe in his religion, then that religion is not strong enough to stand on its own and is ultimately headed for the dustbin of history. It’s the same thing when Christians try to mandate teaching of creationism in schools — if your ideas are so unappealing that people won’t listen to them voluntarily, the logical thing to do would be to re-evaluate your ideas, not try to force people to listen.

  16. says

    My older son has a high-functioning form of autism. We recognized that there was a problem when he was three. We were told by our family doctor that he wasn’t autistic. When he was four we enrolled him into our district’s special ed preschool. No one in the program thought he was autistic. This was in 1979. The special ed program was one of the best in the country. It helped him immensely. He was mainstreamed in second grade.
    He joined the army in the early 90s and had a sympathetic sergeant who sent him to a psychiatrist. She diagnosed him as having Pervasive Personality Disorder.
    From the beginning my family said that he was retarded and we weren’t disciplining him. Discipline in my family mainly consisted of a swat of my father’s hand on whatever part of our body was nearest.
    My son went to church (Episcopal) every Sunday until he turned 18. He is now an atheist. My family is still insisting he is either retarded or undisciplined. That was the reason why we only visited my family twice a year.

  17. escuerd says

    Gretchen @5:

    It’s not uncommon for people to disparage an ideology they don’t like by associating it with autism

    I’ve noticed that too. Seems to have become quite popular over the last decade, perhaps simply because more people have become more aware of autism.

    Most people I’ve talked to with Aspberger’s at least are either not religious, prefer New Age faiths and reject organized religion, or are pantheists of some sort. Uta Frith has written that some people on the spectrum find themselves drawn to Catholicism because they like the ritual.

    Interesting. While that tendency towards irreligion certainly matches most of the high functioning people I’ve met who identified as autistic or having Asperger’s, there was a notable minority that seemed unusually fanatical in their religious beliefs. These people also tended to have typically “right wing authoritarian” views on politics. Might be something to do with resistance to change combined with a strong inculcation of religious/right wing beliefs. Or maybe it’s just confirmation bias on my part, and the extreme fundie/RWA archetype’s completely unrelated.

  18. Johnny Au Gratin says

    Uta Frith has written that some people on the spectrum find themselves drawn to Catholicism because they like the ritual.

    In addition to the ritual, Catholic masses are more sedate and contemplative than many of the Protestant “celebrations”. They tend to have a more Appollonian style and a culture with much less expectation of group bonding and socializing with the rest of the congregation. If you skip bingo and church picnics then the only required interactions with others are confession and communion (an interaction with the actual body and blood of Christ, according to the official doctrine) which are also highly ritualized.

    It should be noted that the information above is based on my memories of Catholic masses I was forced to attend as a child and teenager. Apart from my father’s funeral last year I haven’t attended an actual church service of any kind in over twenty years, so the Catholic church may have picked up a few tricks from other religions in the intervening years.

  19. Infophile says

    There actually is strong evidence that people on the autistic spectrum are more likely to be atheists than others. This post has a good summary of a lot of the evidence for it, but I’ll sum up for those who don’t feel like following the link:

    -AS people are significantly less likely to engage in teleological reasoning than NT (neurotypical, not autistic) people. If they see a rainstorm, they don’t ask what the purpose is of it, so they aren’t likely to look for a divine answer. A random, orderless universe is a satisfactory answer to them in a way it isn’t for many other people.

    -AS people also typically have a reduced ability to mentalize (to recognize and react to others’ emotions) compared to NT people, and so this makes it a lot harder for them to imagine a personal god. Those AS people who are religious typically believe in a more impersonal god (eg. a guiding order to the universe).

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