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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. Portland tony

    Spock quote from "Errand of Mercy" ....."It is curious how often you humans manage to obtain that which you do not want." That's what he would think if attending an Evangelical Church service! Or then again, maybe not! Just "Beam me up......"

    October 19, 2013 at 11:49 pm |
    • Newton Lee

      Interesting indeed... In “Amok Time” (1967), Mr. Spock said, "After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing after all as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true."

      October 19, 2013 at 11:57 pm |
  2. Xty

    I was moved to tears after reading this article. Not because of the tourchy issues raised by Hansen, but because he finally came to realise whom he was in Christ Jesus. God Almighty does not judge us as we judge ourselves neither does He judge us as others do. He has taught us that even some individuals whom we come across in our daily walk of life but have the feeling that they can never make it to Heaven may eventually get there. He alone knows the heart of every human. A lot of times, people tend to go by feelings rather than believing. It is not by what we feel, but by the faith and belief we have in the finished work of Christ on the cross of calvary. There, on the cross, He emptied Himself totally for all mankind, so that whoever believes will have eternal life.

    October 19, 2013 at 11:46 pm |
    • Jesus Christ Son of God

      I'm moved to tears that someone could expel the gibberish that came out of your mouth.

      October 19, 2013 at 11:47 pm |
      • Steel On Target

        I second the gibberish bit.

        October 19, 2013 at 11:52 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      Please explain why it is moral to reward and punish based on belief....

      October 19, 2013 at 11:59 pm |
      • brad85

        What is your definition of moral?

        October 20, 2013 at 12:27 am |
        • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

          Just....right....correct, concerned with the principles of right conduct or the distinction between right and wrong; ethical.

          October 20, 2013 at 1:32 am |
  3. woodie

    To me what throws people most about Christianity is they think it is some complicated thing to digest. It is actually an extremely simple concept that is so simple people don't believe it. We are all one with God. And the only real rule is to act like it.

    October 19, 2013 at 11:44 pm |
  4. theala

    This op ed resonates with me. I am an Aspie myself, and I sometimes feel the same way in Church. I don't connect with the dogma and the ritual the same way "regular" Catholics do.

    But when the Holy Spirit touches me, boy do I know it, and I know I am where I belong (and in defense of my Church, I will say my fellow congregants know exactly how I struggle with relating to people–and they are fine with me because they understand and accept me).

    I experience faith differently that most of the people I know, but I do experience it. I am where I am because this is where I'm supposed to be . . . and it's OK.

    October 19, 2013 at 11:44 pm |
    • Xty

      That is faith right there. The LORD says, the just will live by faith.

      October 19, 2013 at 11:53 pm |
  5. Stuart

    Fyi Leonard Nemoy, aka Spock, is Jewish. So don't think he'll be going to church any time soon. But nice article otherwise...

    October 19, 2013 at 11:44 pm |
    • Check

      Leonard Nimoy is an actor who played the fictional character of Mr. Spock. Nimoy's personal religious beliefs have nothing to do with Spock's.

      I doubt that Sir Anthony Hopkins would behave like Hannibal Lector in real life either. Jack Nicholson being the Joker, - heheheheheh, well, hmmmmm. 🙂

      October 20, 2013 at 12:04 am |
  6. Amie

    In response to some of these comments, I have listened to Brant on Air 1 quite a few times, and he does have a brilliant, philosophical mind. Anyone curious should tune in! I'm surprised at all of the negativity toward Christians. For most of us, we have followed the logic to where it leads, and that is to faith in the God of the Bible. Can even one single strand of protein form itself over a course of millions of years? It's not improbable; it's impossible. Every spectrum of science points to an intelligent designer – not a series of mishaps that brought us into the infinitely complex universe we live in today! As an aside, getting to know the God of the Bible has been the best journey I have ever been on. When you first pray, you might feel like everything is kicking within you, but that is part of the first step of faith. Fight through it and know that God has heard you and will begin actively giving you confirmations of His presence!

    October 19, 2013 at 11:40 pm |
    • Jesus Christ Son of God

      Amie, where's that confirmation of his presence? How about a picture? Couldn't he get a spot on Anderson Cooper?

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

        Can't help the way you feel, but I know that Christ died for you also.

        October 20, 2013 at 12:08 am |
    • Steel On Target

      " Every spectrum of science points to an intelligent designer"

      Please show me one spectrum of science that suggests this. The watchmaker analogy is an extremely foolish one which is easily disproven.

      October 19, 2013 at 11:49 pm |
    • Lisa

      I wonder of those who mock Christianity think that a flashlight left in a drawer for decades would eventually evolve into a toaster? Isn't that similar to what the THEORY of evolution claims? Inanimate somehow became animate and the animate somehow changed to all of the different species that exist today. Wow! Talk about fantasy!

      October 20, 2013 at 12:35 am |
      • Steel On Target

        Reading a few science books would help you a lot. You are making a very, very foolish analogy and only highlights your ignorance of a natural process you wish to mock.

        October 20, 2013 at 12:47 am |
      • R.Williams

        I wonder if those who mock science are actually so detached from reality that they think flashlights are alive and therefore subject to evolution? The Theory of Evolution (which has more evidence backing it than Gravitational Theory but nobody seems to be trying to claim gravity isn't real) doesn't explain how life started, it works out that life changes.

        October 20, 2013 at 8:55 pm |
    • G to the T

      " For most of us, we have followed the logic to where it leads, and that is to faith in the God of the Bible. " Then I contend that you have spent too much time studying the bible and not enough time studying about the bible. I simply don't have enough faith to believe in its integrity anymore...

      October 21, 2013 at 3:41 pm |
  7. heather

    Way to go Brant! I agree with craig!!! I listen to Air1 and LOVE his show! To show others your not alone no matter what and that God loves you. To make people smile and laugh everyday is a blessing this world needs more of! Keep doing what your doing your totally awesome! 🙂 keep inspiring others to stand for God and believe!

    October 19, 2013 at 11:40 pm |
  8. Erik

    Dumbest article I've read by an American journalist all year.

    October 19, 2013 at 11:39 pm |
    • Steel On Target

      Not really sure you can call him a journalist.

      October 20, 2013 at 12:07 am |
    • Lisa

      This is a blog – not an article and nowhere does this say he is a journalist.

      October 20, 2013 at 12:37 am |
  9. Cat

    Beautiful story!

    October 19, 2013 at 11:39 pm |
  10. NOTA

    Which one's from outerspace again?

    October 19, 2013 at 11:35 pm |
  11. Maelstrom

    Christ comes to all in different ways. My wife has Aspergers... and I envy the humility it has blessed her with. I have much to learn from her. I am happy you were brave enough to come forward with this testimony.

    October 19, 2013 at 11:34 pm |
  12. Amplitudo

    I have no doubt that were I to care about being diagnosed, I would be diagnosed with Aspergers. But I defy such nonsense and refuse to be limited or labeled simply because I cannot be understood by most people. The rules people use in society to interact with one another are patently absurd and illogical, often times adhered to and imposed on others only to facilitate an illusion of security in the minds of those who don't want to peer behind the veil.

    That said, I am also a Christian, who can defend my faith with irrefutable logic and exegesis from Scripture. I'm sorry if that statement bothers you, but a critical analysis of your own position will reveal it to be far less sure than you assume. But I have faced more opposition and criticism from profession Christians by far than any other group of people. Because I do not submit myself to the demagoguery of modern pastors, nor follow blindly that which I cannot reconcile with my own logical analysis I am shunned. Because I do not enter into some sort of trance state in the "special presence of God" during worship, I have been told that I cannot be truly saved. Because I see no reason to submit to the absurd traditions and rules of the church, and instead live out of my own personal faith, I have been called a heretic.

    But I am none of these, I'm just different. But in Christianity, like in all social communities, different is not accepted or allowed.

    October 19, 2013 at 11:32 pm |
    • Maelstrom

      You mean... in twisted.. Christianity. I know some Churches out there where people still sit down with the tax collectors and the harlots, just as Christ did.

      October 19, 2013 at 11:35 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      Of course you can defend your faith logically. If you couldn't, you would have that faith. I was a very firm believer until I read a very unknown little book in a small town dusty library. That book began a search for more and more and better arguments for god. I found that there were no good arguments for god. Over many long hard years, I slowly realized I could not longer be honest with myself and be true to logical reasoning and yet believe in god.

      I encourage you to begin the same journey.

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

        Dude, why would anyone want to go there?

        October 19, 2013 at 11:45 pm |
      • Check

        Cpt. Obvious,

        I'd be interested in knowing the name of that book.

        Mine was probably "A God Against the Gods" by Allen Drury. It's a story about ancient Egypt and the violence, upheaval and absurdity of "my god is better than your god."

        October 19, 2013 at 11:53 pm |
      • Amplitudo

        The irony is that if you abandon God, you must also sacrifice logic. Unless you claim to be able to provide a systemic framework of thought, independent of an omnipotent creator, that can explain why our reality is bound by certain fundamental rules that we cannot break.

        October 19, 2013 at 11:58 pm |
        • That's rubbish

          A ridiculously stupid man-made guess does not equal a "reality" of some "miracle".

          October 20, 2013 at 12:15 am |
        • Check

          Amplitudo,
          "why our reality is bound by certain fundamental rules that we cannot break."

          Maybe physics is god then? Maybe a lot of things. We don't know (yet), if ever. Yes, it is frustrating not to have it all wrapped up in a nice neat package, but that's what we have to deal with. Good to keep investigating, though.

          October 20, 2013 at 12:21 am |
        • Amplitudo

          There are fundamental rules of logic that underlay even physics. The law of non-contradiction being the most obvious and important. This is a law that could not have evolved or manifested itself through any sort of process. All of reality requires it or nothing can exist. It is impossible to even comprehend a reality where the law of non-contradiction can be broken.

          October 20, 2013 at 12:27 am |
        • G to the T

          The law on non-contradiction of a human invention. It (like all of science) is a descripiton, a model of how we believe the universe works. It is not an inherit property of that universe.

          Logic is only as good as its premises. Garbage in = garbage out.

          October 21, 2013 at 3:44 pm |
    • theala

      You say different is not allowed.

      I don't think that's true. I think there are so many denominations of Christianity because of the need to accommodate people who relate to Christ differently.

      October 19, 2013 at 11:41 pm |
      • EngineersGuideToGod

        Well, that sounds nice; but, unfortunately, there are many denominations in Christianity because we want to be around people who are more like us, think more like us, act more like us, even look more like us. It's a shame. Too often, we build walls, instead of bridges.

        October 19, 2013 at 11:49 pm |
      • Amplitudo

        I've visited them all with the sincere intent to adapt and get along. But in the end I just don't fit.

        October 20, 2013 at 12:00 am |
      • Check

        Amp,

        Well, I think that you fit in here just fine. You'll need to ignore the occasional trolls, though, and enjoy visiting with the serious folks.

        October 20, 2013 at 12:33 am |
    • fred

      You are not greater than Jesus so when you venture away from the core information presented by Jesus you are in your own world not the reality presented by God.

      October 21, 2013 at 3:54 pm |
  13. Dr g

    Human 2.0 is here. Aspergers is next step in human evolution. Deal with it. http://youtu.be/Hpl7QJXHXVo

    October 19, 2013 at 11:28 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      The female brain does not seem particularly attracted to those with Asp, though. How can it be the next step if it isn't good at macro replication?

      October 19, 2013 at 11:33 pm |
      • EuphoriCrest

        Nature's way of controlling overpopulation.

        October 19, 2013 at 11:38 pm |
  14. rc

    "Church" isn't about being moved, having a strong emotional reaction, or being entertained, contrary to what many people think. Paul the apostle wrote frequently about using logic and reason to work out your faith. Not to say that you can't have a strong emotional response, but if you expect it every time you go to worship, you're expecting the wrong thing. If you go weekly, some weeks you'll feel a happy motivation to keep God's commandments and to do service to other people. Some weeks, you'll feel shame at your indiscretions and a motivation to try harder. Some weeks you won't feel anything, and that's fine.

    October 19, 2013 at 11:27 pm |
  15. Craig

    Brant, I just wanted to say that you continue to inspire me. I appreciate how you just put yourself out there, and let others into what the average person would consider a very private part of their life. Most people would try to hide their struggles or even reject who they are, trying to be as much like societies idea of a "normal" person as possible. Your honesty is a wonderful testimony. I can't imagine a poser creating a story that revolves around his/her weaknesses. While there are a number of people here who obviously are still not ready to believe in Christ at this time, I hope many others are reading your story and giving Christ a second look. And again...as a believer...just thanks for being such an inspiration. I really can't tell you enough how much I appreciate your honesty and humility.

    October 19, 2013 at 11:25 pm |
  16. noillusion

    Beliefs have no validity; they're just beliefs. The author would do well to drop his identifications (i.e. Aspie, Christian).

    October 19, 2013 at 11:18 pm |
    • rc

      Ironically, it's your personal belief that beliefs are invalid. I think your logic is flawed.

      October 19, 2013 at 11:28 pm |
      • Check

        rc,

        It's sort of tricky, but saying that beliefs have no validity is not the same as saying that they are invalid. They are neutral... neither proved nor disproved. Once they are proved or disproved they are no longer beliefs, but facts.

        October 19, 2013 at 11:42 pm |
  17. RichardSRussell

    Just what someone who's already struggling with mental problems needs — reinforcement for his delusional beliefs.

    October 19, 2013 at 11:17 pm |
  18. Bob

    Spock wouldn't have gone to church because he was a rational being.

    October 19, 2013 at 11:17 pm |
    • rc

      Strongly disagree. Kindly check your hate at the door.

      October 19, 2013 at 11:29 pm |
    • Maelstrom

      Spock was a religious being because Vulcans were religious about logic itself. If you were a true trekkie, you'd know this. They also could pass their souls on to other beings.

      October 19, 2013 at 11:29 pm |
  19. C

    God is an alien, when you think about it.

    Or is it the other way around...that we are?

    Either way, if realism were separated from faith, churches would be nuthouses. Thank you, Brant. My experience growing up within the church was very similar to yours. I've always had so many questions about why my experience wasn't the cookie cutter type of testimony. Now I'm grateful it wasn't.

    October 19, 2013 at 11:16 pm |
  20. Logical

    Lots of haters here. Why not the guy believe what he believes? Seems like you guys want to tear him down only to build up your own pathetic lives. do us all a favor and either shut up or shoot yourselves in the mouth.

    October 19, 2013 at 11:06 pm |
    • Jesus Christ Son of God

      I forgive you for your sins.

      October 19, 2013 at 11:09 pm |
      • NOTA

        Custer died for his sins.

        October 19, 2013 at 11:37 pm |
        • AngryJew

          🙂 Injuns? What injuns????

          October 19, 2013 at 11:38 pm |
    • NOTA

      Praise the lord!

      October 19, 2013 at 11:11 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.