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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 (3,030 Responses)
  1. EuphoriCrest

    The author has an interesting writing style: disconnected sentences where almost every one is a new paragraph. This is by no means a criticism; just an observation. I was wondering if it is symptomatic of Aspergers, a result of radio broadcaster speaking in sound bites, or just a personal style. Thanks for the interesting insight, Mr. Hansen, and I wish you success in your search for understanding.

    October 19, 2013 at 11:05 pm |
  2. Jesus Christ Son of God

    Captain. The probability that anyone religious has a brain in 1 in 1,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999.

    Thank you Spock. I didn't think it was likely.

    October 19, 2013 at 11:02 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      Very characteristic of the Belief Editor to choose articles of this style. Many of the "smaller" pieces selected for this subsection have that element. Short paragraphs and rapid-fire mechanics. Is it more "bloggy" or suited for smaller screens, maybe?

      October 19, 2013 at 11:26 pm |
  3. Jesus Christ Son of God

    Scotty, I need shields. We are surrounded by religion. Aye Captain. I'm doing my best.

    October 19, 2013 at 11:00 pm |
  4. Jesus Christ Son of God

    SSSSSSS PPPPPP OOOOOO CCCCCC K K
    S P P O O C K K
    SSSSSSS PPPPPP O O C K
    S P O O C K K
    SSSSSSS P OOOOOO CCCCC K K

    IIIIIII SSSSSS
    I S
    I SSSSSS
    I S
    IIIIIIII SSSSSS

    GGGGGGGG OOOOOO DDDD
    G O O D D
    G GGG O O D D
    G G G O O D D
    GGGGGGGG OOOOOO DDDDD

    October 19, 2013 at 10:59 pm |
  5. huskiemom

    We are practicing Catholics. Our son has Asperger's Syndrome, and our daughter has PPD-NOS. We tell our son that children are a gift from God, and that the autism is their gift to share with the world. If anyone looks at us like we're aliens, those people must be observers from the mothership.

    October 19, 2013 at 10:57 pm |
    • EuphoriCrest

      Your children are fortunate to have you a as a parent. Good job.

      October 19, 2013 at 11:08 pm |
    • Reality # 2

      Diseases are gifts from god? Give up a break !!!

      October 19, 2013 at 11:16 pm |
  6. Raoul Duke, Jr.

    Even Aspies have delusions.

    October 19, 2013 at 10:56 pm |
    • Rett

      interesting how it is always the other guy who is deluded.

      October 19, 2013 at 11:21 pm |
  7. Lindsey

    It's frustrating to see people quick to judge when Brant has just shared his heart. Not all Christians are out to judge so please return the favor and respond with a respectful and loving heart. Everyone is an individual.

    October 19, 2013 at 10:54 pm |
    • Jesus Christ Son of God

      Forgive them Lindsey, as they know not. Now, how would you like to get some Jesus in you?

      October 19, 2013 at 11:14 pm |
      • Lindsey

        Thank You for asking. I came to know the Lord as a child. I just wanted to challenge people on both sides: Christians vs Nonchristians. I think the real issue here is pride that is leading to hatred. It's just so sad to see people being so viscous and trying to say that Brant is not a person with Asperger's. No one who doesn't know Brant can say who he is or isn't. This article was obviously meant for him to share his heart and how he has struggled with his Asperger's syndrome. He gives hope to a lot of people that struggle with personal relationships and I think that it's great he is sharing his story. We all have struggles of some sort, I think we can at least all agree on that.

        October 20, 2013 at 4:53 pm |
  8. Lela

    Growing up as a christian I was very much a part of this culture. But I grew up in a country where humans did respect the correct lines of contact.
    Perhaps it isn't you at all: perhaps have you thought that you are not the one that is backwards? Because that is the realization that I came to: Americans do not respect my personal space, my sense of spirituality, my worth.
    Americans actually think that they can diminish my worth, while I know exactly that I am way up there and none of them could ever get there no matter how much they climb.

    It is not you and your sentence proves it: Jesus is the only one who really makes any sense. You hit it right on the nail's head. That is exactly what I am thinking too. What good is the message of a savior if the people can not even follow 10 simple rules that were given to them? Rules that should not even have to be written down: rules that a good human being would undoubtedly follow throughout his or her life anyways?

    October 19, 2013 at 10:49 pm |
    • Cora

      Lela, I am an American and I agree with you. Most people in this country do not respect other people. They belittle, they denounce and they are wrong in doing so. You are eloquent in your manner of speech. Don't know where you are from but your English is better than most.

      October 19, 2013 at 11:13 pm |
      • Cora

        Correction: you said yourself you were an American. You just meant you were from an older generation. Sorry about that. Completely agree with your statement tho...

        October 19, 2013 at 11:23 pm |
    • Crom

      So what's it like being an alien cyclops? Do you trip over things, run into walls, etc. because you have no depth perception?

      October 19, 2013 at 11:33 pm |
  9. Jesus Christ Son of God

    Don't have time to waste reading some religious text, same as the bible, but I see Spock, and I assume the Enterprise is going on a voyage to find God!! That is so cool. And they can put a few photon torpedoes into him for letting all this bad stuff happen. Is Captain Kirk piloting this voyage?

    October 19, 2013 at 10:46 pm |
  10. Jesus' Beloved

    Above all Powers, Above all kings, Above all nature, And all created things
    Above all wisdom, And all the ways of man, You were here Before the world began

    Above all kingdoms, Above all thrones, Above all wonders The world has ever known
    Above all wealth, And treasures of the earth, There's no way to measure What You're worth

    Crucified, Laid behind a stone, You lived to die, Rejected and alone
    Like a rose, Trampled on the ground, You took the fall, And thought of me
    Above all

    Praise God Forevermore... Thanks for sharing your testimony Mr. Hansen.

    October 19, 2013 at 10:44 pm |
  11. pmmarion

    GOD!!!! BLASPHEMY!!!!

    October 19, 2013 at 10:38 pm |
  12. Steven Gold

    Ever notice that Jesus said, thinks, would do what whatever the person at the time talk thinks.
    And seldom is it the exact same between people.

    October 19, 2013 at 10:30 pm |
    • MarylandBill

      There is a reason why the Orthodox and the Catholic Churches do not believe that individuals can authoritatively interpret scripture.

      October 19, 2013 at 10:46 pm |
      • G to the T

        And the fact that there even is an "Orthodox" and a separate "Catholic" church speaks volumes on that front.

        October 21, 2013 at 3:33 pm |
  13. Lindsie

    Brant
    You are an awesome person
    I love your Air1 show and love the article too!

    October 19, 2013 at 10:16 pm |
    • RJ in CHWY

      Same here! Listen to you every day. I took the time to share this article with my husband because your show is smart, funny, and I always feel better after I listen. I think I might even like you better since you chose my childhood crush to be your leading article picture. That is just too awesome.

      October 19, 2013 at 11:07 pm |
  14. NOTA

    I wonder if Muslim Aspies have a hard time connecting with Allah? What about Jewish Aspies and Yahweh?

    October 19, 2013 at 10:12 pm |
    • Steel On Target

      I wonder about atheist Aspies too. I mean how can they come to terms with there non-belief?

      What about the Hindu ones too? Do you think there is a handbook that says " So you have aspergers and don't believe the world rides on a turtle shell?"

      October 19, 2013 at 10:19 pm |
      • Daniel

        Wow....your comment is about as stupid as believing in Jesus as the son of a fairy tale "God" as it is valid....Hindu's believing in the earth riding on the back of a turtle....really....stick with your fiction and fairy tales.

        October 19, 2013 at 10:30 pm |
        • Crom

          But..but..it's turtles all the way down! You can feel them through your heart if you just open your heart to turtles!

          October 19, 2013 at 10:33 pm |
        • Steel On Target

          I have no idea what you are raging about here. You must have missed my sarcasm or something. What exactly do you think I believe in?

          October 19, 2013 at 11:42 pm |
      • Relictus

        Wow. Someone's very bright for a cat, today.

        October 19, 2013 at 10:42 pm |
    • Lisa

      Steel
      If you read the article carefully you'd see that he lacked the emotional tie to belief. Atheists don't tie their beliefs to emotions. How can you trust something just because you love the answer, after all?

      October 19, 2013 at 10:41 pm |
      • Crom

        Ooh! Good one! I bet they felt that as a sharp pain somewhere sensitive.

        October 19, 2013 at 10:49 pm |
      • Steel On Target

        You are missing my sarcasm. I don't understand your statement. Just so we're clear. I'm an atheist.

        October 19, 2013 at 11:43 pm |
  15. mike

    As presented, Jesus was very logical. So why would he let his precious children flounder for over 2,000 years, and give them confusing information? WOuld you do that to your children?

    And then we get the retort "we cannot understand God's ways". And yet we were made in God's image (supposedly), which woudl mean we think and reason similarly. Religion is a tool used on the fool.

    October 19, 2013 at 10:12 pm |
    • Steel On Target

      I wonder if we are made in gods image what he is doing with his appendix? I mean apparently he gave them to mankind for the sole purpose to suddenly explode one day and ruin your day. Its like, "Here my beloved creation, I've built inside of you this small grenade which could go off at any time for no reason and kill you. Do you see how much I love you now!"

      October 19, 2013 at 10:22 pm |
      • Daniel

        BAM...they didn't see that one coming...very very good argument...kudos my friend

        October 19, 2013 at 10:31 pm |
      • MarylandBill

        You are somewhat out of date; it turns out that the appendix does serve a purpose. It is a repository for necessary gut bacteria and thus can help support the immune system. Yes it goes bad in people, but so do a lot of other organs. You forgot that whole bit of Christianity where we live in a fallen world and that is the reason things suck sometimes.

        October 19, 2013 at 10:49 pm |
        • Steel On Target

          No I'm not. I'm aware of that theory which is what it is right now. No one does know what the appendix was used for. One theory is yes, gut bacteria.

          October 19, 2013 at 11:39 pm |
      • tessie may

        Perhaps, as many scientists believe, it served as a human gizzard which separated out sand and dirt from edible materials.

        October 19, 2013 at 11:11 pm |
    • Elliott Carlin

      fortunately you are able to hide your bigotry.

      October 19, 2013 at 10:39 pm |
    • SteveInMN

      The best parents let their children flounder. Then tend to start doing this right after they realize the kids won't listen anyway. Could God have had the same experience??? Hmmmmmmm...........

      October 19, 2013 at 11:08 pm |
      • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

        You are right. I am going to take what you are saying and apply God's teaching to my life and the life of my son. He is young enough so I can leave his life and he will not remember me, I will however have my neighbor down the street write a book about me and let my son know I exist. I will return to his life when he is about 40 years old, if at that time he believes I am his father and he loves me I will buy him a car, if he does not I will set him on fire. It all makes sense now, whatever happens he is responsible for the outcome, I will have done everything I can, my conscience will be clean.

        October 19, 2013 at 11:36 pm |
      • Observer

        Yep. That lines up well with the Bible saying that the best parents beat their helpless children with rods for discipline.

        October 19, 2013 at 11:41 pm |
  16. mike

    What a poser. Aspie's don't tend to believe in God, they do not think Teologically.

    h ttp://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/2010/05/29/people-with-aspergers-less-likely-to-see-purpose-behind-the-events-in-their-lives/

    The people with Asperger’s were significantly less likely to offer such anti-teleological explanations than the atheists, indicating they were not engaged in teleological thinking at all.

    These results support the idea that seeing purpose behind life events is a result of our mind’s focus on social thinking. People whose social cognition is impaired—those with Asperger’s, in this case—are less likely to see the events in their lives as having happened for a reason.

    October 19, 2013 at 10:05 pm |
    • Ed

      you fail to make the connection for this lack of theological thinking: the brain is the creator of god belief. impair the region of the brain responsible and no god belief.

      October 19, 2013 at 10:17 pm |
  17. NOTA

    So he empathizes with those of us who don't get it, for he himself struggled, but he's probably still sure we're all going to hell and he'll get to watch us burn. Wonder what he thinks now of the people who thought him lost? Why weren't they more compassionate and understanding if they had Jesus in their hearts? And what would have been his fate 500 years ago had he demon-strated (ha-ha) such apathy for the church?

    October 19, 2013 at 10:04 pm |
  18. mike

    It would be interesting statistics to compare the raitio of atheists to believers (of any religion) in the general public with the ratio of atheists to beievers. Brant Hansen may be the only aspie who believes. An Aspie believing in christianity seems an oxymoron, since Aspies are prone towards facts and logic, and not towards convention and culture.

    I think it is becoming a 'fad' to be an Aspie, sicne it implies intelligence, now everyone wants to be an Aspie. So here we have a fool who believes in christianity who also believes he is an Aspie.

    October 19, 2013 at 9:57 pm |
    • mike

      Correction (in CAPS):

      It would be interesting statistics to compare the raitio of atheists to believers (of any religion) in the general public with the ratio atheists to beievers AMONG THE POPULATION OF ASPIES.

      October 19, 2013 at 9:59 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      Well, it seems like you would be looking for a population of true aspies. What criteria would you use?

      October 19, 2013 at 10:02 pm |
      • mike

        h ttp://www.wrongplanet.net/postt130948.html

        70% of Athiests in this poll do not believe in God.

        October 19, 2013 at 10:06 pm |
        • Tom, Tom, the Other One

          Asperger's, you mean?

          October 19, 2013 at 10:17 pm |
        • mike

          Thanks Tom, yes I did mean Aspberger's.

          October 19, 2013 at 10:32 pm |
        • Crom

          ass-burgers, with lots of hair. Yeah use some fringe poll as proof when it is all opinion. Oh, you're a clever one, you are.

          October 19, 2013 at 10:54 pm |
    • Steel On Target

      I think that's kind of the point. Its a heartfelt story about a young man struggling with Aspergers who is desperately trying to prove to himself he believes. Then after years and years of trying he discovers he can make money as a syndicated talk show host on a Christian rock station and suddenly he has overcome his "illogical" non belief and found faith in the lord. Its a truly inspiring story of how a con artist can turn his life around and become a devout christian.

      October 19, 2013 at 10:14 pm |
      • mike

        awesome

        October 19, 2013 at 10:32 pm |
    • Linda

      I have a son in his twenties who is a believer AND an aspie. And if you think that it is a fad that everyone wants to buy into (because it implies intelligence), I'm here to tell you that to us it is neither a fad nor something to be desired. Watching him deal with things, I have often said that I would gladly trade 30 IQ points for less struggle. At least he is not a narrow-minded person who attempts to speak authoritatively about an experience of which he knows nothing.

      October 19, 2013 at 10:59 pm |
  19. Ashley

    Our son was recently diagnosed as being on the Autism Spectrum (they don't officially do the break downs any more, but I asked, so if they did he would have high functioning Autism). My son blesses us daily with his insights and laughter. Thank you for opening the window a little to his world & for the comfort we find in the fact that Jesus makes the most sense to you out of everyone in scripture. It is a comforting reminder that this is just a lens he will look through... it does not define him.

    October 19, 2013 at 9:54 pm |
    • Logical

      Same here. God bless your son and you. Hang in there...

      October 19, 2013 at 11:08 pm |
    • crom rules you

      You should do the right thing and smother him. End him if you love him. That is no life worth living. Nobody will be there to prevent him from hurting other people when you are gone. End it. End it now.

      November 19, 2013 at 4:57 pm |
  20. Lawrence of Arabia

    Having an emotion is certainly what some sects search for, but emotions are fleeting, and can usually be explained away by an undigested piece of cheese or some other... If we search for an emotion to prove the validity of our faith, then the moment our emotions faulter, so does our faith. If our faith is based rather on the rock solid Word of God regardless of our emotion, then when our emotion fails, God's Word and His promises continue to assure our faith. Jesus never taught emotion, He taught commitment and submission.

    October 19, 2013 at 9:53 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      Love is not an emotion?

      October 19, 2013 at 9:54 pm |
      • Lawrence of Arabia

        It is an emotion, but our faith is not based on it. If it was, what would happen if you weren't feeling very lovely one day? Would your faith fail too?

        October 19, 2013 at 9:59 pm |
        • Fandango

          So, you're not supposed to love God? Or love your neighbor as thyself? What?

          October 19, 2013 at 10:06 pm |
      • JWT

        Indeed it is, although i do not have the happy and sad emotions.

        October 19, 2013 at 10:00 pm |
      • Tom, Tom, the Other One

        What is the most important commandment?

        October 19, 2013 at 10:04 pm |
    • Crom

      He taught heresy that he made up on the spot. Gullible fools like you haven't really studied your so-called savior or you wouldn't talk about him but would instead slink away in shame that you were so easily fooled by child-molesters.

      October 19, 2013 at 10:00 pm |
    • G to the T

      "If our faith is based rather on the rock solid Word of God" Then you appear to be capable of a LOT more faith than I am. The bible is just too human a book for me to use it as the basis of any kind of belief.

      October 21, 2013 at 3:24 pm |
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