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'Mr. Spock goes to church': How one Christian copes with Asperger's syndrome
Brant Hansen, a host on Christian radio, says his Asperger's syndrome once made him feel like an alien at church.
October 19th, 2013
10:28 AM ET

'Mr. Spock goes to church': How one Christian copes with Asperger's syndrome

Opinion by Brant Hansen, special to CNN

(CNN) – In the book “Jim and Caspar Go to Church,” an atheist turns to a Christian minister as they're watching a Sunday morning church service and earnestly asks, "Is this what Jesus told you guys to do?"

I've grown up in churches and I'm a Christian, and I'm right there with the atheist.

I honestly don't get the connection. (To be fair, I've grown up on Earth, too, and there are times that I don't understand any part of this place.)

You see, years ago, I was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome - and like a lot of "Aspies," sometimes I'm convinced that I've landed on the wrong planet.

For those of you who don't know the medical lingo, Asperger's syndrome is an autism spectrum disorder, but not as severe as what most people think of as autism.

It basically comes down to this: those "normal human" rules for things like eye contact, when to smile, personal distance – we just don't get them.

What's more, Aspies like me don't like those rules. They make no sense to us. So usually, we just say stuff - bluntly - and stare uncomfortably at the ground. That's how we roll.

But it gets even trickier for people of faith like me.

Feeling out of place at work is one thing. Feeling like an alien at church is a whole other matter.

Imagine Mr. Spock at an evangelical Christian tent revival, and you’ll get the idea.

And my father is a pastor, so I was in church a lot.

Multiple times, each week, every week, I found myself wishing I'd be moved by the worship music, or that I could shut off my skeptical mind during the sermons.

I'd see people in church services, Christian concerts and Bible camps overcome by emotion and enraptured with charismatic speakers, and I wondered why I didn't feel that way.

Why did I always feel like a cold observer?

After going to college, I was convinced my lack of feeling meant I was missing something, spiritually, so I joined charismatic Christian groups in which emotional manifestations of the Holy Spirit are common.

I desperately wanted to have what they had - an emotional experience of God's presence - and asked them to pray over me.

It didn't work.

When I didn’t move with the Holy Spirit or speak in tongues, they told me it was because I had rejected God.

I worried that it was the other way around: God had rejected me.

Maybe I felt like an alien because I deserved it. I deserved to be alienated, irretrievably and forever far from God.

I tried to pray, read the Bible, and do all the "right stuff." But I still felt out-of-touch.

I wondered if I was so broken, such a misfit that God simply took a look at me and decided to move on.

I wish I’d known then that I was an Aspie. And that God loves Aspies.

I still feel alienated from many parts of Christian culture, but Jesus himself finally reached me.

And man, did I feel that.

To people who are beaten down or befuddled by religious rules, Jesus offers something that no one else does: rest. "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest," he says.

And he sums up the entirety of complex and confusing religious laws with this: “Love God, and love your neighbor.”

Beautiful. Even children can understand that.

The Bible tells a story about a man who approaches Jesus and admits that he has faith, but also strong doubts.

"Help me in my unbelief," he asks Jesus.

Jesus doesn't blast him. He loves him. To me, Jesus is the only one who really makes any sense.

Oddly enough, considering my medical condition, I'm now a radio personality on a network that plays Christian music.

It’s a beautiful fit, in many ways, because I get to talk to many people who also don’t fit in, and wonder if God loves them.

It’s true, though, others won’t understand me. I know that. I’m still an alien in the American Christian subculture.

Each evening I retreat from it, and I go straight to the Gospels.

It's not out of duty that I read about Jesus; it's a respite.

I long for it, because I'm awash in two strange and baffling cultures, both the irreligious and religious.

And I long for someone I can finally understand, and someone who might finally understand me.

Brant Hansen is a radio host on the Air1 network, where his show airs from 3-7 p.m. CT. He also writes a popular blog at air1.com. The views expressed in this column belong to Hansen. 

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Bible • Christianity • Church • Faith • Health • Jesus • Opinion • Spirituality

soundoff (3,027 Responses)
  1. Bridge Builder

    Oh my, how true. I am an Aspie through and through, fluent in 6 languages, never forget a word and can derive most words to their origin, but answer my sincere question of "how are you"with an "I am fine and how are you" I am totally thrown off my game and wont know what to say since I had thoroughly prepared myself inwardly to listen to your rendition of how your day was or your week, trying to show empathy for your situation while desperately trying not to be irritated by the bird-like hair construction in bright red on the back of your head.... Unfortunately I married a pastor!!!! And let me tell you, in the Christian community it is so much easier never to even mention your Aspergers lest you might get demons driven out of you. Or be remembered as the "dyslexic". I am daily thrown into an abyss of situations I would prefer never to face, so I had to do a whole lot of growing. Basically everyday is driving me beyond Saturn and back. Yesterday I didn't recognize our youth pastor because he was working in a distances with a T-Shirt I have never seen him in and his hair was messy. If I know you from gym, I will NOT recognize you if we should meet at a crusade somewhere. How horrible for a pastor's wife. I train myself to remember people like others memorize Pi. It get's difficult when your hair colour matches your skin tone. Oh yes my faith is helping me big time. God never called us to be fake and use phrases all day. There is nothing wrong in being fresh and real. Is there? Unfortunatelt churches are often places where people pretend to be oh so kind when they are actually sharks. I read other things in faces. I read the things people do not want to say, not what they are trying to say I am thrown off by those flashes of oddly pulled mouth ends, weird lightning flashes and storm clouds in the air while the voice is raised high purring like a kitten. That's when I do have to use phrases to get through it, but I can go home and pray to God for the right thing to happen, the truth to come to light, all that. I have to teach children's church. I am a therapist, MA, I can work with you one on one on a deep level, but it tires me beyond anything. Church bbqs and women's events are hell for me. Nobody around me knows this, but it takes all of my love for God to work through it and try to look like I am not totally misplaced. The best church aspect to me is a neat, happy coloured, gentle, calm environment where you can sit and just breathe before God. I try to quieten my mind during worship but I get terribly bored. But if I get up, people would be offended. Faith is not what people make it. It is you knowing Jesus came from outer space and he knows how it feels. (John 8:21)

    February 12, 2014 at 12:12 pm |
  2. AspieGirl

    As a woman with high functioning aspergers, I have also been in this same boat my whole life. As a teen I didn't identify with the Christians I saw, especially the other girls, so I thought I didn't really believe and wasn't a part of that group. Here's the deal: how you relate to other Christians has nothing to do with who God is and what he does in your life, nor does going to church or getting into the "emotion". I believe the bible warns us (in its own words) to watch out for acting on what you think is God's will, but is actually just emotion. Either way, i'm now in my 30's and glad I realized that attending church or being overtaken with emotion, throwing my hands up, or being popular among the women in church (socialization as a female aspie seems almost impossible within this group) has nothing to do with my success as a Christian. Living on Jesus's principles (even if I have trouble in the social areas) commanding us to love others is the only real focus that matters. MY bible says that God loves us and will use us for good no matter what kind of personality we have. We don't all have to be super-social evangelists as some churches seem to believe. I function well within my family and teach my child about Jesus. Occasionally, we meet people who don't believe through my husband's work at the university that want to hear about what we believe. I enjoy discussing things in my logical straightforward way, and they seem to appreciate it. I feel for my fellow female Christian aspies- we are definitely a rare breed. Keep in mind that what's in your heart is most important-even if your brain and body get in the way of expressing it -and- having an extremely logical thought process does NOT make you less of a Christian. Stick with the people who love you and remember: "For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” -Matthew 18:20

    February 10, 2014 at 12:07 pm |
  3. airborne81

    I'm surprised to see so many people mocking believers. I would have thought that non-believers would have something more practical to do to better the tangible world, other than inflate their own egos by insulting people of faith. No matter. I have very thick skin, and I enjoy this topic above any other, so I'll begin with this. It's interesting to consider what we take on faith and what we do not. I've never seen an electron with my own eyes, but I believe it exists. I see it's effects all around me. I've also never seen gravity, but I've seen it's effects on the world around me, and I believe it exists. I don't even know what the color, "Red," is. I only know what someone told me that it looks like, and I believed them. Yet, when it comes to God, some of us ask for proof beyond that of what we've already accepted as, "fact." Isn't that interesting? Thoughts, comments, etc.?

    January 2, 2014 at 9:21 pm |
    • :)

      Amen! I always wondered why people are interested in things they say they don't believe and waste their life chasing after proof they say doesn't exist.

      January 5, 2014 at 9:17 pm |
      • LanceThruster

        As an atheist, I'm not chasing proof that doesn't exist. I'm fighting to keep believers from imposing their beliefs on myself and others.

        Freedom OF religion has to include freedom FROM religion to have any real meaning.

        January 6, 2014 at 1:21 pm |
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    I dont agree with this 100 but it brings up some excellent points.

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    December 31, 2013 at 9:05 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.