The Divine Mind

I recently came across this article reviewing two books by Ian McGilchrist. A philosopher turned neurophysiologist, McGilchrist has gathered a wealth of scientific evidence suggesting that the two hemispheres of our brains do the same task in distinctly different ways.

Both hemispheres pay attention to the world, but one (the left) does so via highly focused attention to details, in order to manipulate and use objects such as tools, whereas the other (the right) does so via broad, vigilant, open, uncommitted, sustained attention to the whole world, in order to capture the big picture.

In other words, the left hemisphere tries atomise knowledge into distinct, black-and-white building blocks and clear categories. The right interprets nuance and context, artistic ability, emotional response, music and rhythm – and crucially, is responsible for big-picture thinking, seeking meaning and connection.

I’ve already blogged about how I find big questions of “meaning and purpose” rather meaningless. It would follow that if I have an underdeveloped right hemisphere I am simply not wired to seek or see these connections.

McGilchrist also ponders the relationship between the brain and the mind or soul. He notes the phenomenon of terminal lucidity, when a dying person who has long struggled with dementia has one day of restored clear thinking just before dying. He speculates that this is evidence that a brain which malfunctioned and spent a season filtering a (spiritual?) consciousness loses its pernicious ability to filter as it begins to die. Food for thought!


An Examination of Conscience (help wanted!)

I was recently asked, by one of my readers, if I could provide any guidance to help with confession. Like me, the autistic person prompting the query struggled with the traditional kind of “examination of conscience”. When you routinely live your life following clear principles and are rarely swayed by strong emotions, there is little to be gained by revisiting decisions already made. If the facts viewed in hindsight are the same as those seen in the moment, I would have made the same decision – so what is there to examine? And if I only discovered that things were not what they seemed after the decision, I am not morally culpable for making the best decision I could have made with the (limited or incorrect) information available to me at the time.

It’s not as black-and-white as that, however. As an Aspie who has set out to learn how typical human beings operate, I’ve learned a lot about things I should try to take into consideration – things that don’t come naturally to me, and which I have to make a conscious effort to apply. So I can still make an examination of conscience – just not using the same questions that others might use.

Gentle Reader, I’m asking for your help. No two Aspies are alike, and you may have valuable experience here. Can you help me develop a fuller examination of conscience of questions relevant to at least some people with Asperger’s Syndrome? I’ll give you a few to start off, but suggestions will be welcome in the comment box below.

  • Did I interpret someone rationally and try to solve their problems when what they wanted from me was sympathy and a listening ear?
  • Did I do my best to be sensitive to body language, facial expressions and tone of voice in my interactions with others today?
  • Did I make a reasonable to engage in smalltalk and take an interest in the social affairs of the people I met today?
  • If I had to correct a person on a matter of fact today, did I do so in a way which could be seen as arrogant or superior?
  • Did I engage in any stimming behaviour in a place where it was likely to be seen and thereby cause others to feel uncomfortable?

An Ill Wind

It was only while I was in seminary that I discovered that most human beings are well aware of when their bowels are building up gas, and can exert considerable control about when to hold it in as well as when to let it out. I, unfortunately, only become aware of the presence of gas a couple of seconds before it breaks out. At this stage I have only one choice to make – to clench or not to clench. Clenching is just as likely to force the gas out with impressive sound effects as it is to push it in deeper. Not clenching has a good chance of allowing a ‘silent but deadly’ escape. When I sense gas coming, I have only moments to try to judge whether to clench or relax for minimum embarrassment!

I’ve often wondered if there’s any connection between poor flatus control and being autistic. I couldn’t see any obvious link until I discovered recent articles on the distinction between autism and alexithymia, notably this scientific paper which proposes that alexithymia is a general lack of awareness of one’s own body – not just the signs which indicate emotions.

Why do people speak of emotions as ‘feelings’ and associate them with our heart and our guts? There’s a growing body of evidence that for a neurotypical person, awareness of one’s own emotional state is strongly linked to interoception – the human body’s ability to be aware of its own internal states. The speed of one’s heartbeat, the filling or draining of blood from one’s cheeks, the tension in one’s chest or bowels – all of these are associated with particular emotional states, and knowing what one’s body is doing is part and parcel of knowing how one is feeling. So could the inability to know one’s own emotions be due to a particular person having a body only weakly wired for the brain to know its physical state? This would provide a clear link between a lack of awareness of gas in my bowel, and a lack of awareness of other cues which should make me aware of my own emotions.

I also consider myself to be a clumsy person. Nor can I ride a bike – my sense of balance isn’t good enough. Could these be consequences of a weakness in proprioception – the body’s knowledge of exactly how its limbs are placed?

There are other ways, too, in which I seem to have non-standard body reactions. Apparently people ‘feel good’ after strenuous exercise. But they don’t eat food just before going to bed because of the way it makes them feel. But I’ve never derived pleasure from exercise, and never noticed ill effects if I should need to eat late and then go to bed… except in recent months when eating a certain brand of chocolate digestive cookies at bedtime caused me to wake up with trapped wind in the middle of the night. Since that brand of biscuit never caused trouble before I put it down to some change in gut flora.

I simply place these thoughts on the record for future researchers.

The Glass Ceiling

It’s been a long time since I wrote on this blog, after my triumphant Graduation Day. But a graduate is not as skilled as a professor, and I have continued to reflect on my abilities and limitations.

A few days ago I watched the movie Still Alice, a portrayal of a young professor’s decline due to early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Her neurologist commented that intelligent people seem to decline more rapidly with Alzheimer’s – they develop coping strategies to ‘work around’ their memory loss until the disease progresses to the point where they can’t do so any more and their full decline is laid bare. A similar cliff-edge seems to apply to my ability to build close relationships.

I’ve been reading around the subject of alexithymia lately. There’s a growing body of research distinguishing other autistic traits from the inability to know one’s own emotions and identify emotions in others. The term alexithymia literally means ‘no words for feelings’ but also covers the absence of feelings. A recurring theme in alexithymia, which I have also noticed in my own life, is what happens when a relationship grows beyond one’s ability to compensate for not actually having emotions:

Here’s a quote from an article by Emma Young; it concerns the difficulties an alexithymic man, Stephen, began to face in his marriage:

“At the beginning of a relationship, I’m totally into who that person is,” he explains. “I’ve been told I’m very good at maintaining a honeymoon period for ‘longer than expected.’ But after a year, it takes a massive turn. It all falls apart. I’ve put myself on a pedestal to be this person which I’m really not. I react mostly cognitively, rather than it being emotions making me react. Obviously, that is not valid. It’s not real. It seems fake. Because it is fake. And you can only pretend for so long.”

Or consider this comment by Dr Samantha Rodman:

Alexithymics often have a range of canned responses to normal social situations in which empathy is required. They can mimic others’ responses and assemble a repertoire of phrases like, “That must be so hard” and “Awww,” with the correct, imitated, tone. Only an intimate partner will notice that the same responses recur over and over and the pseudo-emotion that is exhibited dissipates instantly.

I’m in an invidious position. Do I care about other people? Absolutely! Am I able to empathise with other people? No. I don’t experience a rich palette of emotions myself, so it’s simply not possible for me to know ‘from the inside’ what another person is likely to be feeling in most situations. I do know, intellectually, that it’s important to come across as sympathetic in certain circumstances, and I do my best to literally ‘make the right noises’ – but this can only get me so far.

Due to covid-19 I am currently residing with some other members of the Catholic community I belong to. In a recent conversation, a person shared a piece of sad news. I said “Aww” in the tone of voice I usually use to indicate compassion. Someone then passed comment that that was my “sympathetic noise”. That’s probably a sign that members of my community have known me now for long enough to notice that I am not expressing a deep heartfelt empathy but doing my best to project a simulation of empathy – because it’s the only way I can communicate that I do care.

Why is it that 30 years after realising I was part of a community of loving, caring humans and nearly 20 years after getting my diagnosis of Asperger’s, that in my circles of friends I am often welcomed but seldom wanted? The people I call friends are happy when I call them but rarely if ever call me? I am wanted for what I can do as a priest, or to fix someone’s computer, but not for the sole reason of my company. That combination of not giving and receiving non-verbal cues, and having a limited understanding of other people’s feelings, combine to mean I rarely appeal to others to rise to the rank of ‘close friend’. If they are wanting to reach out to that one person who gives them empathy in return, it won’t be me. I keep reaching this glass ceiling beyond which I see people who seek out one another’s company, but I am never the one sought.

Sometimes it has happened in my life that there’s been one person who has drawn close to me. Usually this is someone who is bubbly, often but not always quite tactile, and tries to build good relations with everyone they meet. I experience this as someone ‘taking an interest in me’. At one level this is true, but at another it’s not very personal because the other person is trying to take an interest in everyone. This becomes a dangerous situation for me, because at my brain is reacting as if this person were signalling a desire for a reciprocal close friendship – and if I am not very careful, I can become over-dependent on this one person. Then I will probably overstep my ability to emulate emotions without realising it. The good-natured friend politely tolerates my increasingly gauche behaviour until I cause some kind of bust-up. And unfortunately, although in more recent years I have tried explaining about my autistic condition and my need for verbal feedback, such good-natured friends turn out to be very reticent about giving any negative feedback until a pinch has become a crunch!

Graduation Day

Dear Reader,

You’ve probably noticed that in recent months, this blog has been a lot less active. I’d like to share some good news with you to explain why.

The seed of this blog was planted when I made a pilgrimage to a Marian shrine in 2015. While I was there, I had a lot of time to reflect and meditate on my years as a priest coming to terms with his own Asperger’s Syndrome. In an intense burst of work I wrote down the rough notes and outline which eventually became this blog.

Over the following two years, I slowly shaped and polished those notes and released them at a rate of roughly twice a month.

After that, I blogged occasionally as interesting thoughts arose, but by then I had already achieved my purpose – sharing my experiences of a priest coming to terms with Asperger’s. In the time since I launched this blog, I have had numerous contacts from Catholics, including priests, with Aspergers’, – and also from parents whose children had been diagnosed. I have thus been assured that this blog has reached its target audience and has been of use to souls who need it – and will continue to serve this purpose as long as it exists somewhere on the Internet.

In recent months I have had the opportunity to work closely with a lay community of men and women who are not afraid to show affection physically, yet chastely. I have learned a great deal about how the language of touch works, by being able to observe others and experiment in a safe place. I now understand more about how touch is a language which can be spoken in a tender whisper or an awkward shout – and the latter is seldom appreciated. I’ve reached the point of feeling confident that I can interact with other people by an appropriate affectionate touch without coming across as ‘weird’ or ‘creepy’.

I am now a happy, functioning, priest, surrounded by a circle of friends who love me – and I can see that they love me through the things they say and do. I’m sharing this news at Easter, the great Day of Resurrection, to bring hope that there is not only life, but life to the full, for those who deal with their Aspie traits honestly and prayerfully.

In the mysterious workings of God’s plan, I am celebrating this Easter at the very same Marian shrine, accompanied by ‘Chelsea’ and some members of my lay community. Since this blog was born here, it seems fitting that it be laid to rest here. Will it also experience a resurrection? Who knows! If the need arises, I will blog again. But for now I will place myself under no pressure to post again.

So I would like to end with a big shout out to Chelsea for sticking with an awkward priest through years of experimentation, and to my lay community for teaching me more fully how to love. I’m not yet 50, and have been a priest for more than 10 years – but as an Aspie seeking life’s lessons in how to love, today feels like Graduation Day. Getting here was a bumpy ride, and sometimes painful, but our faith is one where we walk the Way of the Cross before seeing the Glory of the Resurrection. Maybe God will call me to post some ‘higher studies’ here one day, but no promises. To all of you, whether you are an Aspie, a typical human being, or a unique individual aware of other traits, I wish you a most joyful Easter, and I look forward to meeting you in heaven, if not before.

Christ is Risen. Risen Indeed! Alleluia!

With every blessing,


I Corinthians

Probably the third surviving text from the unfolding life of the early Christian communities, I Corinthians is a much longer, and therefore richer, source of St Paul’s thought, then the two earlier epistles. 

Unity & Love

The Christian community in Corinth is suffering from divisions. It’s clearly very mixed in its membership (1:26-28). Richer members are not waiting to share food with the less well-off ones at the Lord’s Supper (11:21-22). Members appeal to different Christian leaders as the source of their authority (3:1-9) and Paul seems to have written this letter to settle some disputed issues indicated in a letter received from Corinth; he also intends to visit in person at some later date.

Famously, chapter 13 is Paul’s great text in praise of love – always patient, always kind and bearing no record of wrongs. In a letter elsewhere confrontational, here he challenges the Christians of Corinth to rise to the heights of love. He does this after reminding them that the church is one body, and the “weaker members” of a body deserve “greater care” (12:14-26).

The Holy Spirit

The Spirit (or “breath”) of God features prominently in this letter.  We have already seen that both in Thessalonica and Galatia, St Paul’s audience experienced some sort of dramatic manifestation of the God’s spirit, and we are told this also happened in Corinth (2:4). Verses 8-16 of the same chapter set out Paul’s understanding of what it is to be led by God’s spirit, which comprehends the depth of God, and equips believers with the “mind of Christ”. Each Christian believer is therefore a temple of God’s Spirit (3:16-17).

Because the Corinthian Christians have been touched by God’s spirit, they are now manifesting charismatic gifts. But again, the lack of love in the community causes these to be exercised in an inconsiderate way, and Paul gives directions on the right use of spiritual gifts in the worshipping community (12 & 14). There is no reason to think that the list of nine gifts mentioned by Paul is exhaustive; other gifts may be bestowed by the Holy Spirit at God’s pleasure.

Jesus Christ

“We proclaim Christ crucified.” Paul’s message, at its heart, is about a man who was executed on a Cross (1:23). Near the end of the letter (15:1-11) he sets out the Gospel which he himself “received” (he doesn’t say whether in a heavenly vision or handed on from the apostles who were witnesses), stressing that it is of “first importance” that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, rose and appeared to many of his followers.

Earlier in the letter, Paul also passes on what he has received about the Lord’s Supper (11:23-26) – in the breaking of bread and the cup of the new covenant, believers “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes”.

Immediately following (11:27-32), Paul warns of the consequences of unworthy participation in this ritual meal. Those who do not “discern the body” bring judgment upon themselves; Paul says this is why some have become weak or even died! Now “discerning the body” here seems to point less to an understanding of the Real Presence and more towards the Christian community as Christ’s body. It comes soon after words about Christ as the “head of humanity” and before the image of church as one body of differently-gifted members (12:27).

It is clear that at this early time in the life of the church, the Lord’s Supper is being kept in the way Jesus celebrated it originally – in the context of a meal, at which bread and wine would then be blessed and shared. It is unlikely the host family would provide all the food; this letter has the clear sense that what was meant to be a “bring and share” meal has descended into a “bring your own”. (How many of us have gone to a church “bring and share” bringing our own favourite food, and favoured that out of all the variety on display to us, even when we have waited our turn to fill our plate?)

Paul seems to believe that selfish behaviour at the Lord’s supper attracts God’s direct punishment (11:31-32), but this is for our own good. Is this telling us Paul’s personal opinion, or something he has learned through a revelation? (Most of the New Testament points to judgment as being something awaiting at the end of our lives rather than a current intervention from God.)

Sexual Morality

“The body is for the Lord and the Lord for the body” – St Paul understands that we are called into relationship with Christ, and this has consequences for all our other relationships. I Corinthians is marked by much thinking about the “body” – in sexual relations, in how the dead shall be raised, and in the church as “body of Christ”.

Should the unmarried or widowed marry? Ideally no (7:8 & 27), because this will leave them free to concentrate on their relationship to Christ (7:32-38), but it is no sin if they do; but they should marry a believer (7:39). This letter reflects an “equality” in Christian marriage where each spouse has rights over the other’s body (7:1-7).

An unbelieving spouse is connected to Christ through their marriage to a believer – and that’s a good thing (7:14). But a sinful sexual relationship connects a “prostitute” to the body of Christ, and that’s a bad thing (6:12-20). Divorce is to be avoided; but if an unbeliever abandons a believer, then the believer is free to marry again as long as the new spouse supports their faith (the Pauline Privilege). The community were expected to know that it was utterly forbidden for a man to live with his stepmother (5:1-2).

In 6:9, Paul gives an explicit list of behaviour which forfeits heaven – not just the unspecific porneia but also adultery and the active and passive roles in a homosexual act.

Meat & Idols

Can we eat meat sacrificed to idols? This is the key question in chapter 8, but is returned to in chapter 10. Paul’s main response (8:3-13) is that Christians are free to eat meat which has previously been involved in pagan temple sacrifices, but this should not be done when it gives offense to other members of the Christian community. He returns to the theme (10:14-11:1) but there seems to be having conflicting thoughts. He muses that once you become “one body” with Christ, how can you “drink the cup of demons”? Yet he also affirms that you may “eat whatever is sold in the marketplace”. So if you know that no-one in your house is going to be scandalised by your purchases, Paul is saying, “carry on, if you’re happy to eat something that connects you to demons”. (A strong minded Christian householder might retort that by giving thanks over the food, the connection has been broken.)

Slavery & Torah

Paul lives in an age where slavery is an everyday institution. It’s not clear whether he approves of slavery in general; it is clear that he doesn’t expect it to be overturned, so guidance is needed for Christian slaves and Christian masters. He does affirm that one’s status as slave or free is irrelevant for one’s standing in the Christian commununity (7:21-24) – and leverages the institution to model our relationship with Jesus: Paul would have everyone be a “slave to Christ” (while enjoying their “freedom in Christ”!)

There may be a parallel between Paul’s opinion of slavery and that of the Jewish Law. Paul is pragmatic. He follows the Jewish Law when it serves his mission purposes (9:20); he sets aside his rights when he needs to. He knows that being Jewish does not bring automatic security; the Jews spent 40 years in the wilderness. He believes strongly that a Christian man’s circumcision status is irrelevant (7:17-20). Paul is wrestling with a question which will confront any serious Christian thinker: Why did God reveal the Jewish Law (Torah) to Moses, only for it to cease to apply to believers following the Resurrection of Christ? We have already seen this is a major theme in Galatians, and we shall return to it  when we consider Romans.

The Second Coming

Picking up a theme prominent in I Thessalonians but not Galatians, Paul expects a “Day of the Lord” to come when our work will be tested (3:12-15). As in that first letter, he refuses to enter into details about what form our risen bodies will take (15:35-54). Careful study of chapter 15 is needed to see where Paul speaks of the reward of believers vs. a univeral raising of all who have died. Paul’s Gospel is that Jesus rose from the dead, and did so for our sins. Through this good news the Corinthians are “being saved”, as long as they hold firm to it (15:2). This form of words is significant for dealing with evangelicals and questions of whether we are “already saved” or “working out our salvation” and whether salvation can be lost.


Paul asks that he not be “judged” by the Corinthians, as that will happen when the Lord returns (4:1-5).

But he does pass “judgment” on the man living with his stepmother, and expresses disappointment that the Corinthian church had not already done so (5:3-5). He also tells the believers not to accept into their midst one who practices porneia or one who is greedy – or a drunkard – an idolater – or a reviler – or a thief (5:9-13).

Further, he does ask trustworthy members of the community to adjudicate disputes between members (6:1-11) – clearly there has been at least one case of fraud inflicted by one member of this church on another.

There is scope here for a deep study of ‘judgment’ and when Christians should practice it, and when they should refrain.

Paul and Women

One final topic remains to be considered: the status of women in the Corithian church and in Paul’s thinking. But this is so contentious I will leave it for a post of its own. Watch this space!


Continuing our series of reviews of Scripture:

St Paul has a problem. The Christian believers in Galatia are beginning to believe they have to follow the Jewish Law, despite his teaching them that they are free in Christ. But this means Paul has to explain why it was neccessary for God to make the Law binding through Moses and then reverse this decision through Jesus Christ.

Galatians 1 emphasises St Paul’s personal calling to be an apostle, and his concern to communicate faithfully what he has received in a direct revelation from Christ. Chapter 2 continues this theme and establishes his authority for saying that followers of Christ need not be bound by Jewish dietary laws. The chapter concludes with a clear statement that no-one can be “reckoned as righteous” (or “justified”) because they obey the Jewish law, but only through “the faith of Jesus”. The same ambiguity exists in the original Greek as in English – the “faith of Jesus” could simply mean His faithfulness (by going through with the Cross) or the faith the “justified” person places in Jesus. Chapter 3 asserts that “all who believe” are children of Abraham but again, this could be applied to “all believers” or could pick out Christ’s unique role as the perfectly faithful one through whom Abraham’s blessing could come to the Gentiles (3:14, 3:16) – all who are baptised into Christ are counted as Abraham’s offspring (3:29).

3:19-26 clearly reflects Paul’s ponderings on why God had given the Jewish Law (Torah) only for it to become redundant upon the death of Christ. He sees it as “added” because humanity sinned, providing a temporary disciplinary code for people to deal with their faults, and in some way required so that Jesus could faithfully fulfil the Law. 3:19-20 contains a confusing reference to the Law coming “by angels through a mediator” – not easy to interpret but perhaps Paul is pointing to a Jewish tradition about how the Law came, and saying the Mediator could not have been separate from God, but the Word of God “was” God?

In Chapter 4, Paul mixes images of Christian believers as “adopted children” and as “heirs”. As adopted children in God’s house, we have “come of age” at the death and resurrection of Christ and share in our Father’s authority within the house – an idea we will also find in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The concept of “heirs” is more difficult because it depends on the execution of a will – but our Father has not died, and our eldest brother has been raised. It is implicit that Jewish people who don’t embrace Christian faith are still “slaves” rather than “heirs” in God’s household. This image is not as damning as it might sound to modern ears: in Roman society, to be a household slave did not always imply poor conditions and backbreaking work, but could indicate some status and rights as part of the family of the paterfamilias of a household.  The image of slavery is subverted in the next chapter, where Christians are called to be “slaves to one another”.

The fifth chapter focuses on sin, understood as works of the flesh: the beginning of a long New Testament tradition of speaking of “flesh”, our bodily humanity, as a source of temptation. The flesh can be responsible for sexual immorality, other acts of intemperance, human conflict and recourse to magic – all who practice such things are said to forfeit the Kingdom of Heaven.

In the final chapter, Paul speaks of the need to bear our own burdens but also to bear one another’s burdens; perhaps we all have to be ready to do the former but should aspire to the latter. We are also to correct one another gently when we fall into sin, and ensure that Christian teachers are provided for within the community.

One other point of note – Paul clearly hints that when God’s Word was preached in Galatia, they experienced some kind of manifestation of the Holy Spirit (3:2, 3:5), reprising a theme in I Thessalonians.

I Thessalonians

Today, I’m beginning a new series of posts, reflecting on Scripture. Marcus J. Borg challenges readers to take a fresh look at the New Testament in his “Evolution of the Word”, approaching it in the order in which its books were composed. He expects to lose potential readers who belong to fundamentalist evangelical churches, where they would be unlikely to embrace the “humanity” of God’s word, in tension with ideas of inerrancy. His own approach is not only historical-critical but leans in a liberal direction, insisting on inclusive language, and on calling the early disciples “Jesus followers” or the “Christ-community” rather than more conventional labels.

Why I am pursuing this on this blog? I think the AspiePriest perspective brings something distinctive to the party. Our starting point is the Catholic teaching that the Gospels offer the “honest truth” about Jesus and that Scripture does not err in teaching things God wishes to communicate about faith and morals. As a charismatic Catholic I am willing to embrace supernatural perspectives: I allow the possibility of divine revelation given to Christ even in his self-imposed humanity, and to the human authors of the sacred texts through the promptings of the Holy Spirit. With that in mind, let us begin.

Around the year AD 50, Paul, Silvanus and Timothy wrote a letter to the Christians in Thessalonica. Following Paul’s vision of a “man of Macedonia” these missionaries had visited first Philippi, then Thessalonica. Later, Paul had gone on to Athens and Corinth but sent Timothy back to visit and report on matters in Thessalonica. Some time after Timothy’s return to Paul, the letter we now know as I Thessalonians was written and despatched.

After the usual greeting formula, the letter immediately affirms (1:5) that when these missionaries had preached in Thessalonica, the Gospel came “not only in word, but in power and in the Holy Spirit and in full conviction.” What exactly happened when the missionaries first preached there? What powerful outpouring of God’s Spirit was manifested? Whatever happened, it immediately sealed a community of convicted believers. The end of the letter (5:19-20) intimates that gifts of prophesy were present, but receiving a mixed reception; the immediately prior admonishment not to “quench the spirit” leans towards this being current rather than Old Testament prophecy.

The missionaries say they did not seek to collect money or offer false flattery, but sought to nurture a community of disciples beginning to follow God’s ways. Paul prays that the Thessalonians grow to “even greater love” for one another (3:12) and reminds them that, to follow Jesus’ teaching, they must resist “lustful passion” (4:5) avoiding fornication (4:3). As usual, the underlying Greek word used is porneia, frustratingly vague in communicating what exactly was being forbidden; but the mention of “not exploiting” other members of the community (4:6) sounds like this message was a corrective to adulterous relationships being considered as a wrongful expression of “love one another”. Closing remarks also affirm the Christian values of patience, returning good for evil, rejoicing, thanksgiving and continuous prayer (5:15-18).

This letter famously contains teaching about the Second Coming – the dead will rise first, and the living will be caught up to meet them in the air (4:16-17). How can Paul know this? If he has been caught up into heaven and granted visions (as he intimates in some of his other letters), he could plausibly have been given teachings about this. This early generation of Christians still expected the imminent return of Christ, and are questioning how some of their number could have died already; Paul minimises this (5:2) and affirms it doesn’t matter whether we are alive or dead when Christ comes (5:10).


Recently I went out for a meal with a friend who is also a science graduate, and our conversation turned to deep matters. My friend was pondering our insignificance as creatures on a tiny planet in a single galaxy in a vast cosmos. Did our lives have meaning?

This proved a golden opportunity for me to gain another perspective on the question whose interpretation has always foxed me, the question of whether life is the kind of thing which actually has meaning.

For my friend, a fellow Catholic, if there were no afterlife, there would be no cosmic consequences to our moral actions; then, the only consequences of our human acts would be ephemeral memories which are mostly wiped out when our generation of friends is dead, and totally obliterated once our sun goes nova – if the earth hasn’t already been destroyed by some other cosmic catastrophe.

I looked at things differently. What is the difference between performing an act of kindness, and not doing so? The most precious memories of my life are a handful of times when someone has communicated affection to me powerfully. If those friends had not done the affectionate things they did, I would not have those memories. Each memory is a jewel, and given the choice of having no jewels or a handful of jewels, I am surely better off to have a handful to cherish.

For my friend, these kinds of memories were ‘insignificant’, because once I am dead and gone, they will be in the past. They are not a lasting legacy. Compared to the size and duration of the Universe, they are infinitesimal.

For me, these are peak human-scale experiences in my human-scale life. That matters. I am not comparing them to the Universe at large – only to the alternative of “no such experiences”. Something is infinitely more than nothing, even if the same something is infinitely less than everything! My friend compared himself to the vastness of the Universe. But I myself am vast compared to the millions of millions of bacteria in my body, and the trillions of trillions of atoms of which I am composed. I live at the scale between atoms and galaxies – which is (thank you JBS Haldane!) exactly the right size for a human being!

I love teaching and helping others. If I had not started believing in God, I think I would still have lived a life where the things that made me happy also happened to help other people. Helping others is not ‘insignificant’ to me or the others involved.

I do sometimes wonder what my legacy will be. What will I leave behind when I am gone? There are some niche scientific papers I authored or co-authored. There is this blog, which I hope will continue to be useful to Aspies and their friends. I wonder for how many decades, if not centuries, it will be archived somewhere accessible? Maybe someone will write a better blog which deals with the same matters with greater insight and wit. If so, it would not bother me for you to read that blog instead because what matters to me is that you are blessed with the best insight, not that you must reap from my personal labours. I write in case for some readers, right now, this might be the best currently available.

You can read everything above without Christian faith being relevant. Add faith, and my legacy increases. By my preaching and celebrating the sacraments, I will have affected whether certain souls will spend eternity in heaven rather than Hell. My own moral choices will have eternal consequences on Judgment Day when Christ says ‘well done, good and faithful servant’. These things matter too. But if I didn’t know eternal life was real, I think I would be happy to settle for making other people happy in this life as the best consequences I could obtain.

What if I had grown up differently, seeking pleasure through crime, illicit drugs or some other addiction? Those ill-gotten ‘peak experiences’ might have seemed significant to me, even if they blessed no-one else and even caused distress to my family. I seem to remember Robert Spitzer writing of our growth through seeking our own happiness, through the happiness of others, to doing good because we grasp that some acts are transcendently good.

In the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, there is a machine called the ‘Total Perspective Vortex’ which causes a person to see how insignificant their life is compared to the universe at large. Perhaps Douglas Adams was grappling with these same questions. When I bade farewell to my friend at the end of the meal, only then did I discover that we had been dining at Table 42!

A Catholic Priest with Asperger's Syndrome ponders the Catholic Faith and human nature