There has been a huge growth in the number of people either diagnosed as “Aspergers” or claiming to have self-diagnosed themselves as such. It’s noteworthy that the percentage of the population claiming “Aspergers” or being within the wider spectrum of autism is far higher in more wealthy societies [1% of the population in the USA are supposedly autistic, compared to 0.1% worldwide- a ten-fold difference] (1) . In 2006, it was reported to be the fastest-growing psychiatric diagnosis in Silicon Valley children- one of the world’s wealthiest areas. There also appears to be a predilection for adults to self-diagnose it, despite not having suffered from it in childhood (2). Our concern from a pastoral perspective is whether “Aspergers” can be used as an acceptable excuse for behaviour which the Bible condemns. It’s worth noting that medical and psychiatric diagnosis over the last 150 years has moved away from daring to define anything as “sin”; instead, much behaviour categorized as “sinful” by the Bible has become redefined as an intrinsic condition or disorder over which the sufferer has no power or ability to change. It must also be noted that because a “professional” has stamped a paper diagnosing someone with “Aspergers”, this doesn’t mean that the diagnosis is correct. And because someone declares themselves “Aspergers” doesn’t necessarily mean that they are. There are symptoms of diseases which may be experienced by people who do not necessarily have the disease or condition of which they have one or two symptoms. Thus social ineptness is a symptom associated with Aspergers, but social ineptness doesn’t mean that the person with that characteristic is therefore Aspergers.
As Western society loses all ability to tell right from wrong due to the progressive rejection of Biblical, Godly principles, there has arisen a justification of “mixed up kid” syndrome, as various polite sounding mental conditions. “Aspergers” is one such example. The fact that so many adults are now self-diagnosing themselves as “Aspergers”, despite it being a condition which professionals are wary of defining or diagnosing, suggests that it is being used by some as an excuse for poor personal behaviour and skills. It is a natural tendency for many of us as we get older to retreat inside ourselves and not engage with the needs of others, and to loose sympathy with the sufferings of others because we are caught up with our own sufferings. These are the very things which the cross of Christ epitomizes and which we should share in. Selfishness of all kinds is outlawed by the outgoing, self-giving-unto-death spirit of the crucified Christ. It’s quite possible that some Christians seek to justify their failure to rise up to the spirit of Christ in these ways by self-diagnosing themselves as “Aspergers” or other such conditions; when it is far better to simply lower our heads and admit, that He was as He was then, as He is now; and we, sadly and tragically, fail in so many ways to make the response to that supreme example of grace and selflessness which we ought to. But this is not to say that Aspergers does not exist as a real condition. It does, although those genuinely suffering from it are typically unable to work or function normally in society without significant assistance. The fact some are wrongly diagnosed with it, or wrongly define themselves with and by it in order to excuse their behaviour in some ways, doesn’t mean that Aspergers doesn’t exist. It does. The point is, it doesn’t excuse sinful behaviour.
Aspergers- real Aspergers- is genetic. However, genes don’t define behaviour, nor do they force us to be sinful. There is a school of psychology which claims that human beings are basically machines, responding in predictable and almost inevitable ways to stimuli. The Bible, however, speaks of sin as being a real avoidable offence against God, and the requirement for repentance involves a recognition that our sin was really our sin- whatever the reason for it, it was our fault and we must repent. It’s no good blaming human nature, an external “satan” or Aspergers or any mental condition. These may or may not be explanatory background factors, but they don’t take away from the real guilt of committed sin, and our need to repent and find cleansing in Christ. Whatever we may posit about human nature, we are saying about the Lord Jesus, who shared our nature and was our representative. Despite being saddled with our human condition, He achieved moral perfection, overcoming every temptation. We are not to blame our failures on human nature, nor on mental conditions with acceptable-sounding names such as Aspergers. God would not put anyone in a position where they have no choice but to sin, but will always make a way of escape (1 Cor. 10:13).
Due weight should be given to the testimonies of supposedly “Aspergers” people being “cured” or experiencing religiously-mediated change; and the fact that in some control groups, roughly 20% of children defined as “Aspergers” change in later life. The point is, confidently expressed “diagnosis” of psychological conditions can be used to develop a victim mentality- this is how I am, and I cannot change. Sinful behaviour is completely our fault- we cannot lay the blame upon God as our creator.
No previous sin, nor any proclivity to sin, should be a bar to baptism into Christ. Indeed, recognition of sin and spiritual dysfunction is one of the very reasons a person wishes to be baptized into Christ, seeking the covering of His righteousness and thereby justification with God on account of being “in” His Son. Repentance is to precede baptism, and this involves the difficult recognition of the fact that as Paul puts it, we are “without excuse… inexcusable” (Rom. 1:21; 2:1). The universal, personal guilt of every human being before God is established by Paul in Romans in legal metaphor. “Inexcusable” translates a Greek word meaning ‘without a case’; whatever excuse we may make before God’s judgment, it has to collapse. We are without excuse, without a valid case, for our sin. The experience of anything within the range of autism, including Aspergers, cannot be part of any valid case for sin. However, on the other hand, it should also be recognized by the members of ecclesias that suffering from Aspergers isn’t sinful. The awkward social interaction and obsessive tendency syndromes which accompany Aspergers are a test of the other members’ Christianity. After all, “all” types of persons are called to the Kingdom and redeemed in Christ; people from all nations, ethnicities, backgrounds, personality types and psychological structure. For us to exclude certain of those “all” persons or categories is to put us as enemies of the Gospel and the saving intention of the Father and Son.
It should be remembered that in the same way as Aspergers are a test to some, so neurotypical people [i.e. non-Aspergers] are to Aspergers. The whole intention of the ecclesia is for all kinds of persons to be reconciled together in Christ. For either side to shut the door on the other is to miss the entire purpose of our expected response to the reconcilliation which we have received with God in Christ. That vertical reconcilliation with God is to expressed by us in horizontal terms between ourselves here on earth. The inevitable clash in practice between Aspergers and neurotypical people within the ecclesia is just one of the “inevitable clashes” which there will be in a community where slave and free, Jew and Gentile, male and female all come together in the mystery of the redeemed (Gal. 3:27-29). For those categories to have mixed freely in the first century church, in a society which was divided along the lines of ethnicity, gender and slave / free distinctions, would have been a sociological impossibility. But it was clearly possible, and it was intended, and initially- it worked. In the very early church. But Christianity went wrong exactly because it wasn’t maintained; the Jews and Gentiles separated, resulting in the Jewish basis of Christianity being lost and pagan doctrines entering the church, coming to term in spiritual monstrosities such as the doctrine of the Trinity. The idea that “the least esteemed in the church” should be the leader, a spiritually mature slave having seniority over a less spiritually mature wealthy freeman, soon foundered- and led to an “upper class” of elite bishops who abused the poor. And likewise a church where men and women were equal in spiritual terms soon slumped into the treatment of woman as essentially subservient and unspiritual by a corrupt male leadership. And so true Christianity was lost from the majority of Christendom. We in these last days have by grace been privileged to participate in its revival. The issues which face us are perhaps not slave / free, Jew / Gentile. They are Serb and Bosnian within the same ecclesia in the ruins of Sarajevo, Aspergers and neurotypical within the same house group in suburban London. But the principle is the same- unless we are to model on this earth the reconcilliation achieved between God and ourselves, sharing something of the pain of the cross as we put up with each other, then we too will ultimately go the same sad way of breakup and dysfunction whither went the early church.
(2) Markel H (2006-04-13). "The trouble with Asperger's syndrome". Medscape Today (WebMD).
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