Star Ford

Essays on lots of things since 1989.

Quakers and Aspies

on 2009 September 23

I grew up Quaker and the similarities between that religion and autism are so striking to me, yet I have seen and can find no other references to this convergence. I’d appreciate hearing anyone else’s take on this.

Some of the main similarities are:

  • emphasis against cultural fixations like social dancing, bars, struggle for popularity, and drinking
  • not taking sides in a conflict; not forming alliances
  • lack of expectations for conformity
  • focus on the truth and being authentic
  • recognition that people are different, and allowance for eccentrics
  • understanding that belonging in the group is very basic to yourself and not just a preference that could easily be changed (for example, Quakers will often surmise that so-and-so is a “Quaker who doesn’t know it yet”, much like undiagnosed autistics who don’t know it yet)
  • tendency to the intellectual, attracts professor types
  • selfless service, unmotivated by personal gain
  • rejection of top-down control; strong need for autonomy
  • lack of encouragement or any clear expectations to new people (For example, some people complain about Quakers that they were ignored and not welcomed or made to fit in; instead they were just allowed to join or leave as they liked. New people have to determine whether to join based on what is happening inside themselves, not based on external reinforcements.)

As I think of it, other religions (Jewish and Buddhist for example) also share in some of these points, but Christian religions appear to be very opposite in many respects (top down organization, conformist, clear expectations, non-intellectual, and membership by choice.)

This convergence has led to some confusion as I cannot always tell whether an expectation or value that I hold is really based in quakerism, autism, both or neither.

I especially wonder if the unique way Quakers make decisions could be used as a model for autistics making decisions. That method does not rely on votes or any external authority. It really does honor the differences between people and each person’s separate autonomous search for truth. It is a way for non-herding people to come to a shared understanding, which is usually not the understanding advanced by the most outspoken or charismatic person.

3 responses to “Quakers and Aspies

  1. M says:

    You have just made a deeply profound discovery.

  2. sensit says:

    That’s interesting post.

    I’m not familiar with Quakerism.

    Whilst reading Ian’s book, I was wondering many time if Ian studied teachings of Hinduism (like Advaita-Vedanta or Kasmir Shaivism) or Tibetan Buddhism (like Dzogchen or Mahamudra).

    I feel Ian’s book and spiritual teachings resonate with each other very well. I asked Ian about his sources and favorites book in another post on his blog – waiting for a reply.

    Perhaps, what people call enlightenment or awakening is simply an event in the life of a person with autism when he discovers himself, his nature and ways of operating, and accepts that he’s not NT.

    NT cannot convert to AS, and NT will always feel awe looking into how AS operates.

  3. Anonymous says:

    It would be interesting to read the autobiography of George Fox, the founder of Quakerism (Society of Friends) with that question in mind. Perhaps he showed some signs of autism. I think much of the reason for his emphasis on nonconformity was the chaotic situation in England at the time he had his revelation. He believed people could receive inspiration directly from God and didn’t need a priest to intervene. The early Quakers didn’t believe that they should have to contribute to a government church or to wars they disagreed with (following a war in England).

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