home
RSS
'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. Jebediah McGillicutty

    You'd be taken more seriously as a group if you didn't refer to yourselves as "aspies." Just saying.

    October 20, 2013 at 9:18 am |
    • Richard Cranium

      Having had Apergers for many decades. I have never heard the term "Aspies" before ever. If you have any idea what Aspergers is, you would understand that many of us that have it, would not understand the need to call anyone that. That was created by people that do not have Aspergers.

      October 20, 2013 at 11:51 am |
  2. Scott

    Great article. I think somewhat the same why and many times I never did feel the "jumping for joy" but I think that depends on the personality type of the person. I don't think people jumped up and down 2,000 years ago and I think this is an American phenomenon. In this country, we think that if we don't jump for joy for something, then we're not connected with it. This is a mindset that seems to go along with babyboomers that began about 40 years ago. How many times have we gone into a restaurant and the staff jumps for joy at our table when taking our orders? Or having a job selling to the public,,weee we need to jump for joy and show our enthusiasm, jump for joy at a rock concert or you're not having fun. I have heard time and time again that if I don't show enthusiasm, something is wrong. Well I don't believe that. Enthusiasm does not equal strong faith. The LW isn't odd but normal.

    October 20, 2013 at 9:18 am |
  3. Pigs can fly

    I'm sick of atheists forcing their faith (life is the product of an uncontrolled cosmic accident) on people. It's even more annoying when they wave the banner of 'science' over their 'blind chance' faith. Darwinian evolution is a myth. Mutations do not create new species, natural selection does not create new species, the fossil record tells us or proves nothing about 'evolution'.

    October 20, 2013 at 9:10 am |
    • Scott

      Good comment and it's also shown that DNA cannot jump to create a new species. Literally impossible for this to happen so if a duck is a duck,,,it remains a duck until it is extinct. There absolutely no possibility of it ever becoming a pigeon,,,,,or anything else for that matter.

      October 20, 2013 at 9:20 am |
      • Richard Cranium

        That is incorrect and the false a$$umption of people who do not accept the reality of evolution.
        You are not taking into account the subtle changes that can occur over time. It's progression is subtle, like the changes in language.
        There's no way that latin could chnage into something else, it is latin...but subtly over time, it became french, spanish, italian etc.
        Similar to the changes in DNA that give rise to new species.
        You can deny all you want, does not change the FACT that evolution is now occurring and has for billions of years.

        October 20, 2013 at 9:28 am |
      • I've changed

        Perhaps you may want to investigate the facts surrounding the scientific theory of evolution and stop looking for a croco-duck.BTW-did I spell croco-duck properly?

        October 20, 2013 at 9:28 am |
      • Tom, Tom, the Other One

        Sshown by whom, when and how, Scott? Don't parrot BS from the people around you. Learn how to learn. Thenn make an honest effort to find out what's really going on out here in reality.

        October 20, 2013 at 9:29 am |
    • Carl

      Nobody is forcing you to do anything. Christians are the ones doing the "forcing." I can't sleep on Saturdays because of church people coming to my house to spread their fairy tales. Prove your god exists, then maybe the atheist will stop forcing you to be an atheist. Btw...you are a dumba$$!!

      October 20, 2013 at 9:23 am |
      • Mark

        Your response proves you are an atheist, narcissistic sleeping on Saturdays, and swearing and calling people names. Your time is short.

        October 20, 2013 at 11:44 am |
    • Tom

      Seems you are the one who is shoving your faith down the throats of others.

      October 20, 2013 at 9:23 am |
    • CoolCMo

      I can't tell whether this is well written sarcasm or plain ol' stupidity. If it's the former: Well done! If it's the latter: Holy cow!

      October 20, 2013 at 9:26 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      Life is the product of some of the most complex and interesting phenomena we ever encounter. Self-organization, constrained randomness, and other principles of modern game theory and information theory are only recent additions to theories of life's origins and its evolutionary dynamics. It's an exciting time for people who want to understand how things really got started. Don't hide in your God. Get out there and find out.

      October 20, 2013 at 9:26 am |
    • No They Can't

      Science has proven that pigs cannot fly due to their lack of wings. Atheism is not a faith. Evolution is real. End of story. Now, go drink your Koolaid.

      October 20, 2013 at 9:28 am |
    • truthprevails1

      You get it wrong...faith is defined as belief without evidence; we have reasonable expectations based on evidence. Just because we do not have the answer for something does not mean we get to plug a god in to the factor, at least not without verifying that said god exists.
      I'm personally am sick of christians who think they are the authority figure on who is right and who is wrong in this world; who think that because their 2000 never-updated book says it is a sin they can deny or attempt to deny equal rights to LGBT; women; children. Sick of christians who demand respect for their belief but yet fail to give it. Sick of christians who have the audacity to wish eternal suffering on their fellow human who may not agree with them (5 billion of us at that).
      That whole 'being sick' thing goes both ways and as Carl Sagan stated "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."
      So please don't pray in tax payer paid for places (schools, courts, any place innocent children may be) and we won't think in your church.

      October 20, 2013 at 9:38 am |
  4. steven salmon

    What I see in church and how we see our self s we need change our well being and walk like jeusus
    Heaven is waiting for us

    October 20, 2013 at 9:08 am |
  5. If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

    So a guy raised in church by his Pastor Father questions his faith and by desperately searching everywhere he finally finds a way to keep believing, whoda thunk! ... indoctrination from birth is a very powerful form of psychological conditioning. It's scary when you realize the world your were trained to believe exists, doesn't.

    October 20, 2013 at 9:05 am |
    • Responding to the Pride

      I'm curious if that holds true in atheists households too? Are atheist children indoctrinated into denying God? What about the millions of people who have come to a life in faith as adults–never having attended a church when younger–what's your explanation for that? More to the point, where's your proof that your original point is even true?

      October 20, 2013 at 9:23 am |
      • a reasonable atheist

        ".. indoctrinated into denying god?"

        Well, that's an interesting choice of words. First off, atheism is a human child's default state. No one is born a believer. They have to be indoctrinated to become one. Further, given that no evidence for any god(s) exist, there's nothing to deny. In fact, your question would much more accurate if rephrased: "Are children of religious parents indoctrinated into denying reality?" The answer to that is "yes, to varying degrees." From vaccine deniers to serpent handlers to martyrdom seekers, religious parents teach varying degrees of irrationality and reality-denial to their children. This serves to stunt the intellectual growth of said children and causes a great deal of harm to society as a whole as people conditioned to discard reason in favor of emotion often make poor decisions.

        October 20, 2013 at 11:09 am |
    • CoolCMo

      "If religious instruction were not allowed until the child had attained the age of reason, we would be living in a quite different world." —Christopher Hitchens

      October 20, 2013 at 9:28 am |
  6. Mark_Alan

    And why, again, as creator of the universe, did God create Asperperger's ... and cancer, while we're at it...and why does he allow the devil to exist? Oh, and babies born with birth defects ... can't forget those. All part of his creation ... no thanks.

    October 20, 2013 at 9:04 am |
    • gatechatl

      The answer for your question is two folded.

      God created the rules of the world based on a set of statistical distribution. Disease and suffering follows their respective rules and statistical distributions. God has its will.

      Only through the bad can we also see the good. For certain people only through suffering can they appreciate more of God's grace. The path of Christ was never just about living happily in this world, but to learn how to be humble before God and humble before your neighbors.

      October 20, 2013 at 9:25 am |
      • No They Can't

        Case in point...lame reasons for why all suffering exists.

        October 20, 2013 at 9:31 am |
      • Mark

        Said very well....and humble. Let the atheist is all about me reveal itself.

        October 20, 2013 at 11:48 am |
    • No They Can't

      I agree. What's more, hearing the lame religious excuses for why all of those horrid things exist is even more exhausting and exasperating.

      October 20, 2013 at 9:30 am |
  7. beholder87

    I must say, as a Christian, worship of emotionalism is nowhere in the Bible. That "better felt than told" sort of religion is where people depend more on what they feel in their heart, rather than on what they read in their Bible. It is also where worship is characterized by unrestrained outbreaks of emotion (E.g., rolling in the aisles, bursting out in unintelligible words, etc.). Such emotionalism disobeys the Scriptural admonition for worship in a decent and orderly fashion (cf. 1Corinthians 14:40), and . overlooks the warning: "He who trusts in his own heart is a fool..." – Pr 28:26. The capacity to feel and express emotions is a wonderful gift from God. It allows us to respond to the wonderful truths found in God's Word, motivates to higher levels of service in response to God's Will - But like all good things, the capacity of emotion must be properly used. To avoid both extremes of emotionalism and formalism, let our hearts be deeply moved by the Word of God and let such emotion provoke us to bear the proper fruit God desires "Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." – Ro 15:13

    But in order to do these things, we must reason among ourselves, "am I in the church where the foundation really is Jesus?"

    October 20, 2013 at 9:02 am |
  8. Paul

    Jesus loves you so much he allowed you to receive Asperger's. I think the key phrase in this article is "My father was a pastor so I was in church a lot". LIke the vast majority of religious people you were brainwashed in your formative years. If you were born in Iran you would be Muslim, if in Greece then Orthodix and so on through the demographics. You're Christian because of your geoographical place of birth and through the regurgitation of this religion from your parents (and their parents etc.). If you had said you were an atheist and found Jesus adter having Asperger's then that would be a different story. But this is nothing new or exciting. And usung Leonard Nimoy in this is ridiculous.

    October 20, 2013 at 9:01 am |
    • Mary

      Saying that just because someone was raised in church they don't have any right to a testimony is absurd. I was raised in church, but didn't want anything to do with God until I was an adult. My parents had nothing to do with my personal decision to accept Christianity as my belief. My decision was made by the realization that I could no longer deny the existence of God, and His work in my life. It had nothing to do with being "predisposed" to a Christian culture...in fact, in my experience I would have probably accepted Christ earlier had I not been predisposed to a culture of hypocrisy. I think this story is deeply personal for the writer and am grateful for the opportunity to read it.

      October 20, 2013 at 9:16 am |
  9. Ian

    It was SCIENCE that helped him identify what made him different from everyone else, yet he still thanks God for it?!? The sort of mental-gymnastics that religious people have to perform, makes me exhausted just by watching. It's much less work to just accept the truth that God almost certainly doesn't exist.

    October 20, 2013 at 9:00 am |
    • Responding to the Pride

      "It's much less work to just accept the truth that God almost certainly doesn't exist." In other words, you're lazy.

      October 20, 2013 at 9:25 am |
    • CoolCMo

      Not "almost certainly" but "definitely".

      October 20, 2013 at 9:32 am |
  10. SlackJawdYokal

    Fascinating.

    October 20, 2013 at 8:58 am |
    • Quick, beam me up Scotty

      It's logical.

      October 20, 2013 at 9:10 am |
  11. edward

    The holy spirit is akin to The Emperor's New Clothes. The only people who could see these amazing wonderful new clothes are people who were good enough too. So what do people do when they can not see the Emperor's new clothes? They simply say they do so as to fit in. They want to see the clothes so bad and be like everyone else. But it took the honesty of a young girl to admit that the emperor was simply naked.

    October 20, 2013 at 8:51 am |
    • Magic eye painting

      Nobody is "good enough" better or worse. Sometimes people see a sail boat, sometimes they see blue dots.

      October 20, 2013 at 8:55 am |
    • Scott

      Jesus died for all humans, not a privileged class. It's not like in law where a certain class is protected above others. Too often we muddle the Bible with legalistic viewpoints based on what we learn in life and that corrupts the teachings of Jesus. Keep it simple and clear and just accept Him as your Savior and you're good to go. (Get baptized by immersion also).

      October 20, 2013 at 9:10 am |
      • CoolCMo

        Jesus is the guy that mows my lawn.

        October 20, 2013 at 9:34 am |
  12. God is a concept

    You don't have to have Asperger's to not "get" religion, even one you've been raised in and practiced for years, and even as a child believed in. All that's required is thinking, and being stronger than the pressures of your surrounding environment that wants to make you feel deviant for objecting to their 'truth'. The claims of religion (Christianity in particular, because that's what I was expected to believe) couldn't pass the smell test by my teens, and though I wavered and tried. I succeeded in totally freeing myself from any sense of obligation to believe (despite my inability to believe). Sam Harris' The End of Faith helped, as did reading Kierkegaard (interestingly enough, his writings had the opposite of the intended effect). If I attend a service now, for a funeral, wedding, or other rare reason, I feel like an anthropologist observing a foreign tribe.

    October 20, 2013 at 8:48 am |
  13. shehar39

    Thank you so much for sharing this article. My Son suffers from Asperger's syndrome and is questioning his faith, even though I've brought him up in the church. I have shared it with him and hope he reads it. I wish the author would have shared where to listen to his radio show

    October 20, 2013 at 8:47 am |
    • CNN Belief Blog Co-EditorCNN

      Shehar39, the info about Brant's show is at the bottom of the article:

      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

      October 20, 2013 at 8:49 am |
    • FreeFromTheism

      I remember that as a kid in church I used to look at other people and I couldn't understand their intoxication with the whole thing. I do understand now: people are easily suggestible; churches and rituals are designed specifically to capture people's attention and make them feel in certain ways. While many accept what their pastor/priest (I was raised Catholic) tells them, I've always asked "why?"
      If you want to fit in with the crowd, well, good luck I suppose. While I understand that fitting in and feeling normal is important, I don't care to compromise reason and my integrity to do so.

      October 20, 2013 at 9:05 am |
      • FreeFromTheism

        I'm sorry, this was not meant to be a reply to your post.

        October 20, 2013 at 9:06 am |
    • Roger

      You forwarded the article to your son because you want him to agree with your opinion.

      October 20, 2013 at 9:30 am |
      • CoolCMo

        My thoughts exactly. It is a poor mother who so desperately needs such hollow validation and an outright abusive one that curries validation through implied extortion of a challenged child.

        October 20, 2013 at 9:39 am |
  14. A in Pa

    Actually, one of the things I don't like about religion is that it encourages people to make emotional decisions, instead of using facts and logic. When emotions dominate your actions, you see the insanity that religion can cause. People who think that they can "save someone else" by abusing them. Think "crazy church lady".

    October 20, 2013 at 8:44 am |
  15. J. Reine

    It's a pretty cheap trick to use the photo of a celebrity to promote a story. What would Leonard Nimoy think about this?
    The taking photos of celebrities without their consent, for self promotion, can mean only one thing, your story or you, yourself would not interest anyone, and with this kind of thinking, your right!

    October 20, 2013 at 8:36 am |
    • I Don't Get It

      It has nothing to do with Leonard Nimoy. It's about the fictional CHARACTER, Mr. Spock.

      October 20, 2013 at 11:22 am |
  16. Richard Boychuk

    Brant, I felt the same way and have a very strong aspy streak. You should check out ancient liturgical worship. I think we're more comfortable with it:

    http://www.antiochian.org/content/what-does-orthodox-mean-doctrine-worship-and-values-church

    You should also read Rituals of Spontaneity (consider it therapy):

    http://www.amazon.com/Rituals-Spontaneity-Sentiment-Secularism-Wordsworth/dp/1932792112

    October 20, 2013 at 8:34 am |
  17. Hairdo Dowdy

    "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."

    This is brought on by themselves. Has nothing to do with God. Just a bunch of nuts.

    October 20, 2013 at 8:32 am |
    • God is a concept

      I've felt similar ecstatic other-wordly feelings at some music concerts. No deity required. In the midst of religious believers who are enthralled in their worship (outreached hands, for example), I feel like an alien.

      October 20, 2013 at 8:52 am |
      • Mark

        Maybe you are just missing the theism in it.

        October 20, 2013 at 8:58 am |
  18. saggyroy

    WQhy do they drag Spock into this. Does religion HAVE to f-up EVERYTHING?

    October 20, 2013 at 8:27 am |
    • sigh

      I'll never understand "new atheism" and its war on fiction.

      October 20, 2013 at 8:45 am |
      • FreeFromTheism

        what are you talking about?

        October 20, 2013 at 8:49 am |
  19. Jim in Florida

    The usual Sunday morning CNN attack on Christianity, cherry picked as usual too. You will NEVER find a CNN article that is critical of Islam, never.

    October 20, 2013 at 8:24 am |
    • FreeFromTheism

      did you even read the article?

      October 20, 2013 at 8:28 am |
      • elliott carlin

        It's a belief blog–being a know it all atheist, why do you read it?

        October 20, 2013 at 8:35 am |
    • Jeff in NJ

      Jim, how in the world could you read that article and think it was an "attack" on Christianity? If anything, it confirms one of the basic elements of Jesus' teachings – that you can come to him with any burden and expect relief!

      October 20, 2013 at 8:37 am |
    • Observer

      What's wrong with cherry-picking? EVERY Christian in the world does it to decide which verses of the Bible they like and will support and which they will IGNORE.

      October 20, 2013 at 9:24 am |
  20. BrianRunsPhilly

    Aspergers is a spectrum disorder, meaning it comes in a variety of levels of manifestation. This article does no justice, and lends no support for the people with Aspergers. As the parent of an 'Aspie' it's disappointing at best and misleading at worst.

    Also, if you know Star Trek, Spock was played by Leonard Nimoy, who was Jewish.

    October 20, 2013 at 8:23 am |
    • I Don't Get It

      What difference does it make what religion Leonard Nimoy is? This article is about the CHARACTER, Mr. Spock.

      October 20, 2013 at 11:11 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28
Advertisement
About this blog

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.