WHAT is it like for a person with autism to be religious? And what can the autistic condition tell us about faith? In a provocative reversal of the customary post-modern categorisation, Erin Burnett describes herself as “religious, but not spiritual”. Ms Burnett is “a person with autism” (a description that she prefers to “autistic person”) who changed gear in adolescence from the traditional Christianity of her parents to fundamentalist Evangelicalism.
Presented with a Gideon Bible as a young teenager, she read it from cover to cover and demanded Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion as a Christmas present. She interpreted all the Pauline regulations literally. “A very autistic response,” she admitted, in conversation with Tim Nash on last week’s Nomad Podcast (nomadpodcast.co.uk).
Yet faith in something metaphysical is hard. Only through religious practices that prioritised ritual and community could Ms Burnett find a way to experience and articulate faith. She has more recently been confirmed as an Anglican. She appreciates Anglicanism’s breadth of approach, and acknowledges that the traditional forms of liturgy practised in High Church circles suit the autistic mindset.
By Anglicans in sympathy with this tradition, Ms Burnett’s remarks will be received with unsurprised appreciation. But the Nomad Podcast is not aimed at that constituency. Its website declares the ambition to reach out to those who “search for signs of hope in this post-Christendom wilderness”. There is talk of “deconstruction”, and some of “ex-vangelism”, all of which suggests that the target audience is refugees from Evangelical fundamentalism. Ms Burnett is described in the PR for the show as being now “more at home in progressive Christian spaces”. Anglicans will take the compliments where they can get them; and few would, in this context, complain about being called progressive.
Surely, no excuse is needed for a production of Macbeth (Radio 4, Saturday and Sunday), although the fact that it is approximately 420 years old was quoted in the BBC blurb. Of more interest is that this radio version was the first attempt at the role by David Tennant. He has, at the very least, got the accent; and even if, at the opening, he didn’t quite convey through his voice the heft of a man capable of seaming an assailant “from the nave to the chops”, he does possess a voice that can express grim fascination with the state of the character’s own decayed soul.
It is a short play, and Clive Brill’s production whipped us through in two hour-long episodes. Over this period, we could appreciate the emotional pacing not only of Tennant, but even more so of Daniela Nardini, as Lady Macbeth, in whose voice there are hints of madness from the very outset. And who could mistake the gentle, reassuring tones of Richard Wilson as the Doctor, tending to her at the end?