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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. padraig_e

    I am also an Aspie, and after believing for all those years, I finally have come to the conclusion that I can no longer suspend disbelief. Religion is a farce, there is no afterlife and if there is a god I am certain he/she/it doesn't give a damn if you believe in it or not, nor if you worship it or not. Why would "god" need your praise or worship? Why would an all-loving all-knowing and all-perfect being that loves its creation allow Asperger's, Alzheimer's, AIDS, Tay-Sachs, Sickle Cell Anemia or brutal abuse of children, elderly people or animals? And certainly "I love you more than you can comprehen.. d and if you do not believe in me I will torture you for all eternity" makes no sense at all. If you want to worship an imaginary psychopath, feel free, but one thing I've developed in life is a bs detector... and I see no difference between Catholicism, Christianity, New Thought and fortune tellers... they all use the same tricks and prey on the same weaknesses, pain, fear and hope. You're better off spending your money on a shrink.

    October 20, 2013 at 2:59 am |
  2. ThePizzaMan

    Brant, I'm always listening to Air1. When I heard a couple days ago that you were posting a blog on CNN. I wanted to take a look at it and see if a friend of mine, who is an aspie himself, could take something from it. Because he has major doubts about Jesus and the Bible. I'm definitely going to show him this now!!! Also, I think you're an inspiration for more people than you know. Keep on being yourself!!!

    October 20, 2013 at 2:57 am |
  3. really!?!

    Deutche bag!

    October 20, 2013 at 2:53 am |
    • really!?!

      That was for one of the prior comments....the self serving comment guy...

      October 20, 2013 at 2:54 am |
  4. wut it do

    Im a very conservative Christian and I think on the whole the church today is intellectually lazy and sappy and embarassing and needs to get its act together and I also totally resonate with the tone of this article and im too lazy for punctuation good night all

    October 20, 2013 at 2:47 am |
    • really!?!

      well said...

      October 20, 2013 at 2:55 am |
  5. Matt Slick

    You have my sympathy. I was diagnosed with aspergers last year. I'm 56, run a large internet ministry (carm.org), do a daily hour long talk radio show, do marriage counseling with people, etc. I'm very socially adept - because I've analyzed what to do, say, not do, not say, etc. I've studied body language, listened to peoples' tones, counted verbs, pauses between sentences, noticed touches, space distances, how much people talk about a topic before moving on, etc. I watch people's mouths, not their eyes and study them as I dialogue with them. THAT is how I cope and my psychologist said I'm doing "amazingly well". When I found out others don't do what I do, I was surprised. "You mean you don't analyze the bajeebers out of people? What's up with that!? " I'd be glad to dialogue with anyone about this on how to cope, tricks to adopt, etc. Even those who have aspie friends and/or family, I can give insights on what happens so you might better work with them. carm.org is my site the email is there. God bless.

    October 20, 2013 at 2:43 am |
    • Steel On Target

      Haha, I looked at your website. I particular perusing your for profit website. What an @ s s h o l e website! Really enlightening "Answers" section. I got a particular good laugh at your BS atheism section. Your crap science section where you argue against evolution and support that humans an dinosaurs coexisted wonderfully illustrates why atheists have become more active. Such extremist religious funding is dangerous to human existence. Your website is a great example of the potential decline in civilization if such craziness was allowed to run things.

      October 20, 2013 at 3:17 am |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      TAG is CRAP

      October 20, 2013 at 3:57 am |
  6. Mom in Boise

    THANK YOU for being honest, Brant! I'm not an "Aspie" but very analytic. I've always felt the same way....went to the charismatic churches and was never moved. Always felt like maybe there was something wrong with me....it wasn't until I got behind Jesus' teachings.

    October 20, 2013 at 2:28 am |
  7. erv

    Great article! God bless you and continue using your life as a beautiful testimony!

    October 20, 2013 at 2:27 am |
  8. Dyslexic doG

    The mystery has finally been solved!

    After 3 days in the cave, jesus was beamed up to the starship enterprise by spock and patched up by Doctor Bones McCoy.

    there was no resurrection. the christian religion folds like a deck of cards.

    phew, glad that's over with!

    October 20, 2013 at 2:21 am |
    • spangler

      Had Jesus' body gone missing from a government-sealed tomb, combined with reports he was still alive, the Romans would have searched for him. Yet there is no mention of this search taking place.

      October 20, 2013 at 2:46 am |
      • ThePizzaMan

        You clearly have not read the bible my friend. Read Matthew 28 for the full story.

        October 20, 2013 at 3:02 am |
  9. batgirl

    Religion is like a deli; it's all about choice. Pick what you like and leave the rest. Some of us have tried this particular faith, found it fundamentally lacking moved on to something that is meaningful to us. The presence of deity of lack thereof cannot be proven so you take it on faith and work it in your life. You don't have to be christian to be a good soul.

    October 20, 2013 at 2:14 am |
    • crom rules you

      So what are the Atheists ordering from your deli?

      November 19, 2013 at 5:12 pm |
      • My Dog is a jealous Dog

        Just a glass of water, please. (as long as its free)

        November 19, 2013 at 5:21 pm |
  10. Veritas

    I know that there are many people who feel the same way, but do not Asperger's Syndrome. I think today's churches are waaayyyy off the mark, but should be under the category of soap opera and drama. I will tell you that the character of Mr. Spock appears to be more "Christ-Like" than many so- called Christians.

    October 20, 2013 at 2:14 am |
  11. Dyslexic doG

    2 + 2 ≠ 5

    It never has, it doesn't now, and it never will. YOU come along and say that 2 + 2 = 5. I say it does not. You say it does, I say it equals 4. You say it doesn't – I say 2 + 2 ≠ 5. You say it does, I say it doesn't. The argument/war goes on for years.

    NOW you come along and say "Let's COMPROMISE!"

    Ya know what? 2 + 2 ≠ 5

    And ya know what else? Your "compromise" of 2 + 2 = 4½ doesn't work, either.

    2 + 2 ≠ 5 It doesn't, and I don't have to RESPECT your belief that it does. You're wrong, I'm SAYING you're wrong, I'm telling you to your FACE you're wrong, and if you teach it to your children, it should be considered child abuse. You're wrong, you should be shamed for believing it, and I'm willing to do it. I'm calling you an idiot and you are if you believe it.

    2 + 2 ≠ 5

    October 20, 2013 at 2:09 am |
    • Godsbrother

      Good for you

      October 20, 2013 at 2:13 am |
      • Godsbrother

        Ok that sounded sarcastic. But really, I agree completely

        October 20, 2013 at 2:14 am |
      • Dyslexic doG

        are you Poseidon or Hades?

        October 20, 2013 at 2:16 am |
    • batgirl

      jeez dog, chill a bit why don't ya? You are, after all, not telling anyone anything to their face are you? You're sitting at home typing words and no one can see you. While I agree with some of your points, I don't think belittling others really uplifts your own point of view.

      October 20, 2013 at 2:18 am |
      • Dyslexic doG

        sorry batgirl 😦

        October 20, 2013 at 2:22 am |
        • Blafcknblah

          No, you were right the first time. Totally wrong stuff should not be respected and there can be no compromise. I totally agree.
          You have the backbone of a wet noodle, however, so we won't rely upon you to carry the flag of reason, mmmkay?

          October 20, 2013 at 3:32 am |
    • Tom Paine

      It is disconcerting, when so many are intelligent, that they cme up with 5. What if the question isn't 2+2?

      October 20, 2013 at 2:45 am |
      • Blafcknblah

        No, that is the question. The thing is whatever question you're using for the analogy, there are people who will cling to a wrong answer no matter what, so the question isn't "is that the right question", but "why are these people unable to face the truth?".

        October 20, 2013 at 3:35 am |
  12. spangler

    Having 10 billion years to plan the reveal between the Big Bang and the earliest humans, the deity has determined that each tribe and culture can come up with their own religion and change it whenever they feel like it.

    October 20, 2013 at 2:08 am |
  13. Lamb of Dog

    Wait a secondt his isn't about Spock!

    October 20, 2013 at 2:07 am |
    • Dyslexic doG

      woof

      October 20, 2013 at 2:10 am |
    • Blafcknblah

      I am disappointed that I haven't seen any "Spocker" jokes in here. Sad times for CNN.

      October 20, 2013 at 3:37 am |
  14. Angie

    Thank you so much for this article. I have a son with autism and there are times that I feel so alienated from everyone because no one really understands him. He also comes to church with me every Sunday but I know he doesn't care much for the "structure" of religion. Thank you for helping me remember that he is perfectly loved!

    October 20, 2013 at 2:05 am |
    • Glenn

      He is loved by you whether there is a deity or not.

      October 20, 2013 at 2:32 am |
  15. tae

    OMG! this could not have come at a better time...i am currently struggling as a christian aspie and dealing with going to church........thanks so much for sharing this

    October 20, 2013 at 1:50 am |
  16. Dyslexic doG

    I find it very reassuring that Santa is out there and brings me presents every year. The way he says "ho, ho, ho" is timeless and fills me with joy. I really feel his love! And the way he gave Rudolph a chance to shine fills me with hope. It is a message to all people, and I don't think we would have morals without that message. I have read many books that talk about Santa being a happy, jolly fellow and it all has to be true because it's in a book.

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

      So I take it you do not believe a God could exist. Could Aliens exist? If so why couldnt God? If not why? To believe that there is no chance of there being a God is like a person 200 years ago not believing in germs because there was no scientific evidence at the time. Just because we canot see something or currently have little evidence for it doe snot mean it does not exist. Please at least attempt to have an open mind.

      October 20, 2013 at 1:54 am |
      • TheBob

        So let me see if I get this right. Basically you're suggesting that if life took precarious hold at some point on some other planet and led to some sort of beings, much as it happened here on earth, that would have to mean there is a sky daddy? Existence of "aliens" doesn't help you one iota in getting closer to any kind of proof for existence of any sort of sky daddy.

        October 20, 2013 at 2:02 am |
      • Godsbrother

        If 'god' stepped up to me right now I'd ask it, What planet are you from and how long ago did your species come to sentience?

        October 20, 2013 at 2:04 am |
      • Dyslexic doG

        I do have an open mind. I rank the thousands of gods that man has invented with the easter bunny, santa, the tooth fairy, jack frost, unicorns, wherewolves, zombies,et al.

        there is no more proof that your god exists than there is that harry potter exists. It's in a book! the rest is your imagination and your fear of what comes after death.

        October 20, 2013 at 2:07 am |
    • TheBob

      Ramen, brother. Ramen.

      October 20, 2013 at 1:55 am |
  17. pbernasc

    How could a Vulcan be Christian, when Vulcans are logic and Christians believe in a debunked myth?

    October 20, 2013 at 1:37 am |
    • Glenn

      zing

      October 20, 2013 at 2:33 am |
  18. MT

    It is sad to me to see so much negativity spewed forth as a response to one man's experience. An experience is neither right nor wrong, it just simply is. To those who ran with a rejection of religion stance, I am sorry if you have received judgement or rejection by those who profess religion. Even Jesus was opposed to the religious of His time. And i hear where you are coming from but to call it logic to reject love based on being hurt by the unloving, does not compute to logic. It is again creating apparent fact out of strong feeling and experience. I firmly believe that all judgement for or against is often based in emotion rather than logic. Prove beyond opinion or ability to doubt that God is not the same today as history tells of Him. There will always be those on both sides. Ask God if He is there, ask God to show Himself beyond our doubt's, if you really want to know. If you don't seek you will never find. If you like living in hatred and enjoy the experience and only want to live spreading those feelings that is still an option, but what would it hurt to ask if God is really there to show Himself. What would you be out? Maybe 10 seconds of your life. Seeking truth is logic. Asking questions brings more information to make logical decisions. If we never question things we believe, for or against, we live only believing what our experience (feelings) tells us, or what we have been told by others is true. Either option may not bring absolute truth. We have to find out for ourselves. Ask questions, wrestle with feelings, don't believe everything you hear or feel. Find fact, what is truth, then form your beliefs about this world.

    October 20, 2013 at 1:37 am |
    • Dyslexic doG

      infantile slave mind

      October 20, 2013 at 1:45 am |
      • Drive Spring

        Funny how the leftist drones all say similar things and pat each other on the back and agree most if not all the time. Point of a drone isn't it? To be united with the others in purpose, to attack and destroy outsiders or assimilate them by force. They believe everything their glorious leaders say and obey every word out of their mouth. The drones don't like when an outsider speaks, they don't like when an outsider gets support. So they attack the outsider and its supporters with greater ferocity than they normally would. The drones don't need to think, they just obey, don't they?

        October 20, 2013 at 3:20 am |
        • Blafcknblah

          Obey who? People who are liberal in their thinking are more open-minded and do not act like fascists, so trying to make liberals look like Nazis has got to be one of the most stupid things I have ever seen from the republitards. You should be audited to death.

          October 20, 2013 at 3:40 am |
        • Drive Spring

          I see a drone has begun to support another. You say you liberals are more open minded? Then why did you just say I should be 'audited to death'? Why don't you use real terms like conservative instead of the very childish 'republitards'? Why do you immediately assume I would compare a liberal to a fascist Nazi? Not very open minded, are you? No, not very open-minded at all. If you really had an open mind you would not follow the pattern of a drone, you would investigate the other side instead of trying to drow it out with boos and jeers. You would ask questions and listen to the answers, you would compare the two sides and see what you liked from both, instead of blindly listening to your party's leaders and favorite news channels. As for trying to make liberals look like Nazis, I don't. To me, they are not fascists, they are more like communists. Of course it can be a bit confusing trying to tell them appart, they aren't all that different.

          October 20, 2013 at 4:10 am |
    • tallulah13

      What you fail to understand is that most atheists started as believers. They gave god that chance, but god just couldn't hold his own against fact, history and science.

      October 20, 2013 at 1:49 am |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      "An experience is neither right nor wrong, it just simply is."

      Does that go with all forms of se.xual experiences too? If my experience is that the bible cannot be considered a moral book at it's core and the christian god as presented is absolutely absurd, not to mention immoral and unethical are you willing to hold to your statement that my experience is "neither right nor wrong, it simply is"?

      October 20, 2013 at 1:51 am |
      • ThePizzaMan

        Ever hear of the word "individual"? That means that each and every person will have a different view of the same event. Say you and I were watching a football game. A defensive player sacks the quarterback. Now you could say that the quarterback took too long in throwing the ball, whereas I could say that the defensive player was too quick. There will always be a difference in opinion.

        October 20, 2013 at 3:09 am |
        • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

          If you want to posit that the christian position of its claims are nothing more than an opinion to be vetted and discussed I will agree with you....

          October 20, 2013 at 3:35 am |
  19. patD

    Oh, now it's called "being an aspie?" How trendy. jesus. really, jesus. what a load of self-serving crap.

    October 20, 2013 at 1:36 am |
    • Dyslexic doG

      goes nicely with his trendy beard ...

      October 20, 2013 at 1:39 am |
      • Blafcknblah

        That's pubic hair he glued on, I think. Kids these days are clever that way.

        October 20, 2013 at 3:26 am |
  20. Phlox

    if Mr. Spock goes to hurch, he'll be the most boring character on Star Trek.

    October 20, 2013 at 1:35 am |
    • common sense

      where is hurch?

      October 22, 2013 at 8:56 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.