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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. Topaz

    Love articles like this! The love that Jesus offers is unlike anything else in this world. Religion cannot save you, only Jesus can!

    *believe in the death for our sins burial and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and you shall have eternal life*

    October 20, 2013 at 1:34 am |
    • Dyslexic doG

      Jesus was just David Koresh 2000 years earlier. A sociopathic conman with a good story and lots of charisma. All this foolishness, without a shred of proof, has sprung up from there.

      utter, mind numbing nonsense.

      October 20, 2013 at 1:38 am |
      • common sense

        and you know this because... ??????????????

        October 22, 2013 at 8:52 am |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      Why is belief required? How can that be considered ethical?

      October 20, 2013 at 1:40 am |
    • tallulah13

      There is no evidence of this promised eternal life. Have you ever considered that you are believing something, not because its true, but because it's what you want to believe?

      October 20, 2013 at 1:50 am |
      • common sense

        Millions of people over thousands of years, including many who have experienced death and returned to describe what they experienced.

        October 22, 2013 at 8:55 am |
  2. anonymous

    This article is so very wrong on multiple levels.

    – As an HFA Individual, I regard "Aspie" as a slur – maybe it is not to some but the label ambiguity alone should have given Mr Hansen pause
    – Associating HFA with a ficticious character is demeaning beyond need for explanation
    – HFA is NOT a medical condition! Not all variances in psychiatric performance can be treatedvwith medicine; I acknowledge that related issues bundled with my AS behavior might be
    – Social cues regarded as "rules" in the op-ed are not confounding; sensing whether or not the cue is correctly processed is the difficulty

    I would gladly take part in a panel discussing HFA and religion; I am atheist

    Mr Hansen why ask to be understood? There is sincere beauty in creating a thought or expression of thought that you and only you understand.

    October 20, 2013 at 1:33 am |
  3. Joey Isotta-Fraschini ©™

    I often use Christianity, Islam, or Wotanism in my daily life. I know they're not true, and they can be helpful. Demonolatry also works well.

    October 20, 2013 at 1:33 am |
  4. scott keene

    Finally! A real Christian who knows his Bible. And to all of you naysayers who can't think of any other excuse to run away from God than to call the Bible fiction and fables, consider this. Saying that the Bible is all a pack of made up nonsense doesn't do much to answer how a book full of fiction is full of fulfilled prophesy. Not only from the past, but current world events foretold thousands of years ago which are coming true in our lifetime. If you want me to believe your viewpoint that the Bible is a pack of nonsense your going to have to explain that away first.

    October 20, 2013 at 1:28 am |
    • mandarax

      example, please.

      October 20, 2013 at 1:31 am |
    • Dyslexic doG

      The King James version of the new testament was completed in 1611 by 8 members of the church of England. There were (and still are) NO original texts to translate. The oldest manuscripts we have were written down 100's of years after the last apostle died. There are over 8,000 of these old manuscripts with no two alike. The king james translators used none of these anyway. Instead they edited previous translations to create a version their king and parliament would approve. So.... 21st century christians believe the "word of god" is a book edited in the 17th century from the 16th century translations of 8,000 contradictory copies of 4th century scrolls that claim to be copies of lost letters written in the 1st century.

      October 20, 2013 at 1:33 am |
    • Dyslexic doG

      and any prophesies fulfilled is about the same as your daily horoscope being right.

      you predict enough things and give it 2,000 years and something will happen that you can twist to fit.

      and bear in mind that many of the prophesies were added into the bible years after the events had happened just to make it look like a prophesy was fulfilled.

      centuries of fraud!.

      October 20, 2013 at 1:36 am |
      • scott keene

        "and bear in mind that many of the prophesies were added into the bible years after the events had happened just to make it look like a prophesy was fulfilled". And your proof of that comes from where? Also, please show us these many contradictions you claim. In particular, show me contradictions that alter the fundamental teachings of the Bible in regards to Gods plan of salvation.

        October 20, 2013 at 3:56 am |
        • G to the T

          Well for one... all of the examples Jesus fulfilling prophecy were written after he had been alive by people who wanted to show that jesus fulfilled prophecy.

          Most of christian theology involves working backwards from a premise...

          October 21, 2013 at 4:21 pm |
        • scott keene

          So they wrote in the prophecies later as a trick and then the majority of new testament writers died martyrs deaths for the sake if something that they knew was a lie? And how did they profit from that? I guess we might as well say that all of history is questionable since the evidence for most of it is in books. Keep in mind that the collection of books and letters that we call the Bible is a collection of 66 works written over 1500 years by 40 or so individuals, most of whom never met each other. That makes it pretty difficult to form a conspiracy.

          October 21, 2013 at 11:35 pm |
        • G to the T

          You are making assumptions about a) the attributed authors of the books of the bible and b) the veracity of the reports the apostle's martyrdom.

          October 22, 2013 at 8:43 am |
      • common sense

        The original Bible (the Old Testament) is filled with prophecies and was found intact and accurate to the versions we now have among the Dead Sea Scrolls. Docu ments found predating the advent of Jesus by as much as two centuries and as accurate as modern versions are hard to fake.

        October 22, 2013 at 8:51 am |
  5. Chien

    Praise Lord Jesus ! God bless. Thank you for sharing your conversion. God is love, yesterdays, now, and forever.

    October 20, 2013 at 1:14 am |
  6. Yash

    Are you sure you are an aspie? Seems like thinking logically is not your strength... Spock in the church... now that is funny!!!

    October 20, 2013 at 1:10 am |
    • Dyslexic doG

      and there is the gaping hole in this story!

      October 20, 2013 at 1:21 am |
      • G to the T

        Noticed that too. He never actually states what changed for him to have that belief.

        October 21, 2013 at 4:22 pm |
  7. Joey Isotta-Fraschini ©™

    The Bible and church services make more sense to anyone who realizes that all religions are based on fiction.

    October 20, 2013 at 1:07 am |
  8. Vgnsnr

    Lots of brain washing here. Completely irrational and unscientific concept. Maybe the initial feeling that the whole god thing is nonsense was right?
    And would Spock also be labelled Aspergers and send to a shrink?

    October 20, 2013 at 1:07 am |
    • G to the T

      No... he'd be labeled an alien and sent to a lab somewhere...

      October 21, 2013 at 4:23 pm |
  9. Dyslexic doG

    If God is powerful enough to create the universe, don't you think he'd have a more foolproof way of getting his exact message across to future generations than this endlessly translated, edited, confused, modified, twisted, corrupted book of stories that is changed by religious power brokers to suit each generation?

    Wouldn't god's word be carved on the moon, unchangeable and for all to see? Wouldn't it be spoken unchanged by a species of animal? Wouldn't it be written microscopically on every stone or every tree? Wouldn't there be some space age material that had god's voice recorded, uncorrupted over the centuries and there for everyone to hear.

    Wouldn't there be parts of God's word that reflect computers or artificial intelligence or DNA or modern medicine or future medicine or electricity or space travel to other parts of this amazing universe he created? Wouldn't there be talk of gender and race equality? Wouldn't there be talk of Asia and Australia and the Americas and Europe and Africa?

    Instead the bible is limited to horses and carts and herbs and grain and swords and shields and misogyny and racism and slavery all set in the deserts of the middle east. The Bible is so obviously a product of bronze age man, you must be in denial to even argue that it is the word of god. There may or may not be a god or gods, but this book of bronze age voodoo and oppression has nothing to do with him, her or them.

    And stop it with this "not the word of god but words inspired by god" cop out. That just means it was written by greedy, evil men who got their way by claiming that god told them to do something. That's a self serving scam that should be scorned, especially by anyone claiming to love an omnipotent god. That scam is an abomination and an insult to your god ... as is the bible!

    October 20, 2013 at 1:05 am |
    • essijay

      why is there no up-vote/like/love button?!
      spot on. love it!

      October 20, 2013 at 1:23 am |
      • Dyslexic doG

        🙂

        October 20, 2013 at 1:47 am |
  10. Janet

    Beautiful story brother, God has you there for an important purpose. You are truly precious to HIM!

    October 20, 2013 at 12:56 am |
  11. ranellekgildersleeve

    Reblogged this on madewithpurpose and commented:
    I truly appreciate these glimpses into someone's mind when talking about faith and disabilities. Brant Hensen is an radio personality on the national syndicated Air1 Christian Alternative. Take a walk with him as he describes what is like to be a Christian with Asperger's.

    October 20, 2013 at 12:56 am |
    • Chris Clay

      The interesting thing is.. Aspergers is not a disability 🙂

      October 20, 2013 at 1:06 am |
      • George Barron

        That's true. And what's more, the two aspies that I know are very successful and have a strong faith in God.

        October 20, 2013 at 1:17 am |
      • ranellekgildersleeve

        True, just like those who are in the Deaf Community do not see their differences to be a disability as well. People who do not live with it though do see both as a disability. It is our misunderstandings that I believe causes the true disability. We are uncomfortable with things we do not understand. I don't see my 'learning disabilities' as a true disability, it's just about finding another way to learn.

        October 21, 2013 at 3:24 pm |
  12. BS Detector

    Spock would never attend church because he believes in logic, not faith. Faith is belief without logic or reason.

    October 20, 2013 at 12:55 am |
    • Dyslexic doG

      amen!

      October 20, 2013 at 1:01 am |
    • brbr2424

      Agreed. And that's where I thought this article was going.

      October 20, 2013 at 1:10 am |
    • Crystal

      Faith is as reasonable and logical as wind. Those who've felt it, don't need it explained. You can sit in a building and learn everything about it, but if you haven't felt it, you still don't know it. ❤

      October 20, 2013 at 1:14 am |
      • Dyslexic doG

        but you can take gas-ex

        October 20, 2013 at 1:22 am |
      • Sai

        If you are content "feeling" the wind and believing it's magical and mystical, then more power to you.
        I prefer knowing what wind is and how it interacts with us.
        So I am glad we asked why, and why I am glad we still ask why.

        October 20, 2013 at 1:26 am |
      • mandarax

        Crystal, it occurs to me that you don't understand what the words logic and reason mean.

        October 20, 2013 at 1:28 am |
      • Theo

        THose have have never experienced a sunrise cannot fully appreciate it through pictures and descriptions.

        But then, though countless millions have experienced one, it no way changes the fact the the earth rotates and the sun does not rise.

        October 20, 2013 at 1:30 am |
    • Marc

      So Spock didn't believe in all of the Vulcan religious stuff which was shown in the tv show and movies then?

      People think and believe differently than you do, part of maturing is accepting that and not belittling others over their differences. This was also another tenet of the Vulcan way of life which Spock practiced – IDIC.

      October 20, 2013 at 1:36 am |
  13. David Stuart

    Thank you for a fun and uplifting article. This article will probably attract simmer fairly negative and hateful people, but it made me simile. Thanks.

    October 20, 2013 at 12:53 am |
    • Peach

      Mr. Hansen,
      Even if I'd not read the headline,I would have known by what you wrote that you have AS. Why? Because I have a 21 year-old son with AS. His dad and grandfather are also surely touched by it as well.

      When I say "I knew", it's not because anything you said was wrong. Rather, it's because I've come to understand and absolutely LOVE the way Aspies are, the way they think. I recognized it right away in your writing. Sharp, insightful, to the point, intelligent.

      Hell, in many ways, I'm a bit jealous.

      I believe any truly intelligent person can NOT know someone with AS and not love them. People that have Asperger's are a gift to the rest of us. Unique, intelligent, funny, quirky and insightful.

      Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful article.

      October 20, 2013 at 1:07 am |
  14. Rich

    Thank you so much this article. I went from atheist (born into a strong atheistic family) to born again believer in Christ when trying to disprove the Bible in 1998, but realized it was an exact description of our human depravity and gave the only validated promise of eternal life as heirs with Christ. In 2006 I learned I too am an Aspie. I finally learned how to relate in church as even there I felt like an odd ball. With my own type of zeal for the Lord I followed my calling to be a bible teacher/missionary to China where I've been over 10 years. I met my wife, a Chinese believer from a Buddhist family, at a charismatic church where we go. You article helps me in why I sometimes don't relate. 🙂

    October 20, 2013 at 12:43 am |
    • Billy

      "and gave the only validated promise"

      was it like notarized and everything????

      October 20, 2013 at 12:53 am |
    • Dyslexic doG

      disprove the bible? seriously? you have to be kidding.

      October 20, 2013 at 1:04 am |
  15. Matt

    Its hard to believe a book like The Bible has endured this long with billions upon billions of readers and the same number of lives changed without some supernatural force behind it. If you take a week and pray twice per day God will shoe Himeslf to you. Just dont believe the lie that its a waste of time, and the lie will be there. Cant have good without knowing bad.

    October 20, 2013 at 12:40 am |
    • Billy

      "God will shoe Himeslf to you."

      So doing all that praying will actually make God kick Himself right in His own behind??

      October 20, 2013 at 12:57 am |
    • Dyslexic doG

      proof of man's gullibility is the only thing the bible proves

      October 20, 2013 at 1:07 am |
    • brbr2424

      There are far better books to read. If you invested that time in reading other books, you would be more educated and more interesting. For a long time, the Bible was the only reading material around. When I compare the books available now vs. forty years ago, the better reading material has been growing exponentially.

      When the bible was written it was cutting edge and the people who read it were cutting edge. People who read it now are laggards.

      October 20, 2013 at 1:15 am |
    • tallulah13

      Christianity succeeded because it rode on the coattails of western civilization. Your god never went anywhere he wasn't taken by humans. That's why it took 1500 years for your religion to reach the New World.

      October 20, 2013 at 1:58 am |
  16. Beverly

    Well Sir.....just read your thoughts on CNN...You are not there yet, but just about to understand with clarity. Prayers are with you from me. You my friend are just fine in the eyes of the Lord and so much better than most! You just gave me a blessing when I needed this the most. Thank you. 🙂

    October 20, 2013 at 12:38 am |
  17. dick

    If Spock were a Christian he would surely be the next Jesus Christ and the first to point out the hypocritical nature of the religion founded under his good name. I truly believe Spock would distance himself at all cost, from anyone considering themselves to be a Christian. It is likely the same reason Jesus Christ himself has not yet returned to this wonderful earth were so called people of religion are at each others throats night and day.

    October 20, 2013 at 12:38 am |
  18. NOTA

    He buys his underwear at K-Mart. Jesus told him to.

    October 20, 2013 at 12:37 am |
  19. Churchgoersgivemethecreeps

    Spock would not go to church. The only people you find in church are 1. Old people trying to get right with god before they die just in case there is one. 2. Young people who have so many skeltons in their closet they have to go to clear their conscious. 3. Young couples with no social skills to make friends outside of church. Most people in churches are fakes, phonies, and child molestors.

    October 20, 2013 at 12:36 am |
    • Alan T

      Hard to argue with such absolute bigotry and ignorance

      October 20, 2013 at 12:50 am |
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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.