are patriarchal fundamentalist churches aspie magnets?
Although my ex-husband has a diagnosis that states otherwise, it is my view that he is probably ‘on the spectrum’, that is, he has a relatively mild form of Autism called Asperger’s Syndrome.
Some of the give-away clues that fuel my conviction are
- his complete lack of normal human empathy – he seems almost untouched by the suffering of others
- his obsession with his ‘special interest’ which happens, somewhat fortunately for us, to be work
- his many peculiar habits and rituals
- his increasingly odd gait and facial expression
- his incapacity to read non-verbal language such as facial expressions, body language or tone of voice
- his ‘mind blindness’ – he cannot imagine that there is anything happening in anyone’s head that isn’t happening in his own
- his permanent state of high anxiety
- his emotional immaturity and volatility
Being married for 20 years to a man who cannot give or receive love in a normal way was like having my soul scraped out with a rusty spoon. In addition to his coldness he was, as my father had warned me, not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Those years of marriage felt like drowning in a vat of treacle while someone slipped a plastic bag over my head and tied it tight. I was being destroyed.
After the kids and I fled, Mr X sent me an email demanding my immediate return. He made what he thought was a strong argument by reminding me:
- that I had signed a binding contract before God to stay married to him forever
- that it would be difficult for the children at Christmastime having their parents living apart
- that if I thought I was busy now, just imagine how busy I’d be without him
- that I’d need to get a job
Despite those tempting inducements, I decided to proceed to divorce as have many women married to Aspie men before me. We even have a name: we are Cassandras, named for Cassandra Syndrome which is shrink-speak for what becomes of highly empathetic women (called ‘extreme neuro-typicals’) when their most intimate relationship is with a brick wall.
I first heard of AS when a Christian woman I hardly knew for some reason told me all about her man. I listened in silence for over an hour before admitting that her husband could be my husband’s twin brother. Since that time I have met at least 10 Christian women who have what are very likely Aspie husbands. I encountered several other Christian wives at the Asperger Partner Support Group I visited once or twice.
Suspecting that AS men seem to be significantly over-represented in Christian circles, I asked an international expert at an AS conference if she thought it likely to be so. She replied that that was definitely her view. And it’s not surprising. In churches, particularly in fundamentalist ones, AS men find a veritable smorgasbord of women who tick all their boxes. Women who:
- believe in staying with their man no matter what kind of a jerk he turns out to be
- believe in rules such as laid out in the Book, including ones about submitting and obeying…no matter what kind of jerk their man turns out to be
- believe in having children and staying home to look after them
- believe that their body is not their own and will make themselves available for sex on demand
- will allow themselves to be dragged off to the pastor for counselling in submission if they get out of line
Aspies are looking for women who are kindly nurturers, like their mothers, with strong social skills who will care for them and help them manage life in a big scary world full of people they struggle to understand. Churches are full of these gentle, unsuspecting souls and Aspies are expert at tracking them down. An Aspie will go to tremendous lengths to appear normal during the courtship process only to revert to type without ceremony after his target signs the contract.
Christianity may not be responsible for the mostly miserable marriages that ensue but fundamentalist dogma allows an Aspie man to be emotionally uninvolved with his family (‘he’s a great provider, don’t be so ungrateful’) so long as he fulfills his duties as leader of family devotions. The fact that there is not the faintest sniff of Christlikeness about the man and each Bible time begins with ‘Sit down, shut up and get out your bibles. You are such disobedient, disrespectful children,’ might be a problem if it were generally known but of course it will not be. To complain about your husband is verboten.
Patriarchal fundamentalism also tends always to blame the woman for everything. If he’s a useless git, she’s expecting too much and should lower her standards. If she complains that he never does anything he promises to and is mean to the kids, she should go home, shut up and submit more. The ‘a good woman can make a great marriage out of a bad one – even if her man does not make one smidge of effort’ line damages the hearts of many more women than I’d like to guess at. I was sent away with identical advice each of the 5 or so times I managed to drag my ex- to counselling or went alone myself. I can still feel angry about that.
So, yes, I believe patriarchal fundamentalist churches do attract Aspies. And they fail to support and protect the AS man’s family by letting him get away with being a shit while demanding his wife and children further extend his shit-making privileges. Those churches have to accept some responsibility for that.
One of the first steps toward freedom for me was when I told my ex- that from that day on, I would never lie, cover up or excuse his poor behaviour again. If he behaved like a jerk, say, at the table, we were all going to be frank about that. He could own his own immaturity. It was a teensy step in the direction of integrity for me. And a vital leap forward for my poor children’s sanity.
I should add that I’m not down on AS people and am not usually in the habit of throwing people away because they don’t suit me. But there are some people, AS and otherwise, who are just not cut out to be husbands or fathers. My former husband is one of those people. And the church supported those characteristics of his that harmed me and my kids. So I’m just saying.