Daniel Tammet is an autistic savant. What makes him unusual is that he’s also capable of living independantly, and also of explaining how his mind processes, which no other autistic savant (think Kim Peek or Dustin Hoffman in the Rainman) can do. He is gay, but what I found more interesting is that he is autistic and Christian. Here is an extract from his amazing book, Born on a Blue Day:
"Many people are surprised when they learn I am a Christian. That imagine that being autistic makes it difficult or impossible to believe in God or explore spiritual issues. It is certainly true that my Asperger’s makes it harder for me to have empathy or to think abstractly, but it hasn’t prevented me from thinking about deeper questions concerning things such as life and death, love and relationships. In fact, many people with autism find benefits in religious belief or spirituality. Religion’s emphasis on ritual, for example, is helpful for individuals with autistic spectrum disorders, who need stability and consistency. In a chapter of her autobiography entitled Stairway to Heaven: Religion and Belief, Temple Grandin, and autistic writer and professor of animal science, describes her view of God as an ordering force in the universe. her religious beliefs stem from her experience of working in the slaughter industry and the feeling she had that there must be something scared about dying.
Reading Chesterton as a teenager helped me to arrive at an intellectual understanding of God and Christianity. The concept of the Trinity, of God as composed of a living and loving relationship, was something that I could picture in my head and that made sense to me. I was also fascinated by the idea of the Incarnation, of God revealing Himself to the world in tangible, human form as Jesus Christ. Even so, it was not until I was twenty-three that i decided to participate in a course at a local church, aimed at teaching the basics of Christianity in weekly, social meetings. Each week I would come to the meeting and exhaust my fellow group members by asking question after question. I wasn’t interested in praying for guidance or listening to the experiences of others, but in getting answers to my questions. Fortunately, Chesterton answered each of them for me in his books. At Christmas 2002 I became a Christian.
My autism can sometimes make it difficult for me to understand how people might think or feel in any given situation. For this reason, my moral values are based more on ideas that are logical, make sense to me and that I have thought through carefully, rather than on the ability to "walk in another person’s shoes". I know how to treat each person that I meet with kindness and respect, because I believe that each person is unique and created in God’s image.
I do not often attend church, because I can become uncomfortable with having lots of people sitting and standing around me. However, on the few occasions when I have been inside a church I have found the experience very interesting and affecting. The architecture is often complex and beautiful and I really like having lots of space above my head as I look up at the high ceilings. As in childhood, I enjoy listening to hymns being sung. Music definitely helps me to experience feelings that can be described as religious, such as of unity and transcendence. My favourite song is "Ave Maria". Whenever I hear it, I feel completely wrapped up inside the flow of the music.
Some of my favourite stories are from the Bible, such as the story of David and Goliath. Many of them use symbolic and picturesque language that I can visualise and that helps me to udnerstand the narratives. There are many beautiful and inspiring passages in the Bible, but one I especially like is the following from 1 Corinthians: "Love is patient , love is kind. Love is not envious, jealous or boastful. It is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own ways. It is not irritable nor resentful. It does not rejoice at wrong and wrongdoing. But rejoices in right and truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things….. Love never ends. So faith, hope and love abide these three, but the greatest of these is love." " (1 Corinthians 13:4-8 )Born on a Blue Day on Amazon.co.uk