A while back, in a post about Asperger’s Syndrome, I wrote:
From some folks [with Asperger’s Syndrome]–not all, but many–I’ve gotten a vibe of contempt for social norms and niceties: “Your pathetic social rituals are meaningless to me, puny human.” And, you know, I tend not to respond too well to that. But I wonder if maybe some people are, in fact, trying harder than I’ve given them credit for … And for those who really are treating social norms and the people who follow them with contempt? Well, if almost everyone in the world were going around insisting that something I couldn’t perceive is terribly terribly important, and I’m defective for missing it … I might start to have contempt for whatever it is they’re making such a big deal of, too. As a way of making myself feel better, and as a way of letting go and getting on with my life.
In comments, Carolyn pointed out that my description of this defense mechanism also applied to, “a(n apparently) completely different topic, the ‘God debate,'” later noting, “I have wondered why some of my atheist friends sound so hostile to religion, and of course it’s because they’ve met a few too many people who feel sorry for them.”
(I think there are other reasons for hostility to organized religion, as well, but let’s let that go; that isn’t what this post is about, and anyway Carolyn is a complex thinker who I’m sure realizes that almost any behavior has more than one cause.)
A few other commenters also noted that they can no more perceive God than people with Asperger’s Syndrome can perceive unspoken social cues, and agreed that this was a good metaphor.
So I brought up “ignosticism,” which is a concept I think more folks ought to be aware of. Ignosticism isn’t atheism or agnosticism–it’s the straightforward recognition that you can’t define yourself as a believer or a non-believer unless it’s clear what you are supposed to be believing or not-believing in, and that is usually not made clear. From Wikipedia:
A simplified maxim on the subject states “An atheist would say, ‘I don’t believe God exists'; an agnostic would say, ‘I don’t know whether or not God exists'; and an ignostic would say, ‘I don’t know what you mean when you say, “God exists” ‘.”
I consider myself a religious person, and I would absolutely define myself as an ignostic. If you ask me if I believe in God, whatever answer you get says more about what I think of you than what I think of the divine. If I already have a fairly good idea what someone means by “God,” or if I don’t care to know, I’ll answer “yes” or “no,” whichever is most likely to lead into a conversation that I want, or away from one I do not want.
If I’m talking to someone who I suspect is not of my particular spiritual bent, but who is the kind of person capable of having a calm discussion about religion and religious differences without coming all over defensive or trying to convert me, I might say, “Tell me what you mean by ‘believe in’ and ‘God’ and I’ll tell you.” (It’s worth noting that, no matter how friendly and non-snarky a tone one might use, there are plenty of folks out there who would take that statement as a direct assault and insult. How dare you suggest there might be more than one notion of what belief entails, or any difference of opinion about the nature of God!)
If you want the truth, and I think you can handle the truth, then I’ll say, “God isn’t something I believe in, God is something I experience.” And the people to whom I have said this either don’t get it at all, and we share a moment of marveling at the true diversity of human nature, or else they get it, and their faces break wide open with joy at finding someone else who feels as they do.