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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. Logic has nothing to do with it

    There is nothing quite so vicious as someone who KNOWS the truth.

    October 20, 2013 at 9:46 am |
  2. No They Can't

    By Christian logic, whatever created the universe created all things; birds and flowers, cancer and AIDS. That being said, I cannot worship anything that would have created the horrors that I would never allow to happen to anyone or anything, assuming there is only one creator. So, either there is only one creator, not worthy of worship, or there are multiple creators, or there is no creator at all. Live long and prosper, Spock. \\//

    October 20, 2013 at 9:41 am |
    • garrett

      you need to check your logic... and your theological understanding of Christianity;

      October 20, 2013 at 9:51 am |
      • I've changed

        What about your theological understanding of Islam?Judaism?,or any of the thousands of sects of christianity you DON'T like.Just because you can find your own little niche in a sea of religion does NOT make it any more believable than any of the others.Unless,of course,you have faith.Faith is believing what you want to believe.Nothing more,nothing less.

        October 20, 2013 at 10:13 am |
      • DAP

        You need to check your logic. The Christian god is considered omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient. If god was not these three things it would not be god. If god created, he knew when he created that his creation would produce AIDS, world wars famine, murderers, and every other horrible thing ever. So he did create all those things and knew about it. He even knew who would be a murderer before the first man set foot on the Earth.

        Just look at the story of Job if you want to see how terrible god can be, if it were to exist. Based on that story it is OK to use people as a means to an end.

        October 20, 2013 at 10:17 am |
      • Cpt. Obvious

        What, specifically, are the errors in the theology you intend for him to notice? Don't you think it would be helpful to list those carefully?

        October 20, 2013 at 1:39 pm |
        • Check

          These weekend articles seem to collect a lot of drive-bys (mainly believers, I've noticed), who just hurl their pontifications and then never respond.

          October 20, 2013 at 1:45 pm |
    • wappaloochie

      I hope you understand that he created everything. He had a balance of things in mind when he created stuff... for every good thing that was created, a balance was created. If he didn't create it directly, it was allowed to occur because it was a balance to what good he created.
      Man (us) are creators too! We create many good things to edify, uplift and that harmonizes with the good things we see around us... and the same creature also creates the most horrible, depressing, disgusting and depraved things to be seen on the face of this world.
      We are allowed to do this because of our choices. This matter of choice extends to the animal kingdom, too.

      The good, the bad... it is all here... done by His creations... it is for our edification, our teaching, so that we may learn what is good and what we want in our lives.
      In short, if we seek good, we will find it; likewise for all of the bad.

      So, yes, He allowed it to be done because it is supposed to be that way... if it weren't, it wouldn't happen!

      October 20, 2013 at 10:05 am |
      • Cedar rapids

        'He had a balance of things in mind when he created stuff... for every good thing that was created, a balance was created'

        why? what would be the point? what lesson is being learnt by the small child having a parasitic worm burying itself into his eyeball?

        October 20, 2013 at 10:21 am |
    • Timbo

      That's an important issue. If you are interested, there is a book by a Christian philosopher that shows how the things you say are incompatible could be (are) compatible. Michael Murray – Nature Red in Tooth and Claw – is the book. Chapter 6 is what you want. http://books.google.com/books?id=RZFNf9EwSSYC&pg=PA166&lpg=PA166&dq=chaos+to+order+michael+murray&source=bl&ots=IGov0sh8Sd&sig=BtZ2VVMUYKRpK7CodQvDTC-MljY&hl=en&sa=X&ei=g-1jUtz0M6L4yQGM8oHwCg&ved=0CCkQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=chaos%20to%20order%20michael%20murray&f=false

      October 20, 2013 at 10:51 am |
  3. Ralph Monkman

    As an atheist with a very religious wife I used to attend church with her; but finally I just couldn't listen to the crap any longer so I quit going. I felt hypocritical going with her and not expressing my opinions. It was very hard keeping quiet. Outside of church I'm not afraid of saying what I thought but I did not want to embarass my wife in church. She knows how I think and does not try to convert me. Am I a coward?? I don't think so.

    October 20, 2013 at 9:41 am |
    • Jimm

      Very kind of you to be supportive of your wife.

      October 20, 2013 at 10:25 am |
    • crom rules you

      What's it like sleeping next to someone who would put a steak knife in your chest if she had the right dream from 'god'?

      November 19, 2013 at 5:37 pm |
  4. Daniel

    I wonder what will happen when it is finally proven that it was Man who created this "God" character in his own image....

    I want to see how they react to that..

    October 20, 2013 at 9:39 am |
    • Mentalcase

      Like proof matters.

      October 20, 2013 at 9:46 am |
    • crom rules you

      They already have been faced with proof. They have a response for that too, it's: "god put that there, made it that way, etc, as a test to our faith" lol.

      November 19, 2013 at 5:39 pm |
  5. Tom, Tom, the Other One

    The door is open. You are not chained to the pew. Get up and walk out into reality. What the religious are smothering you with is all imagined stuff that they just can't let go of. You can just walk away from it.

    October 20, 2013 at 9:38 am |
    • crom rules you

      Yeah right, there are millions of people who make $50k + per year 'working' at a religious job. And they will fight you every inch, because they are greedy and care not for the truth.

      November 19, 2013 at 5:41 pm |
  6. John

    Nice article ! Thanks for sharing. Your analogy of Spock really helped make it clear for me.

    October 20, 2013 at 9:38 am |
  7. Logic has nothing to do with it

    If it is "normal" why do they spend so much time and effort drilling into the minds of their children?

    October 20, 2013 at 9:32 am |
  8. Zargoth

    Hate to see someone misappropriate a cultural icon like this.....

    October 20, 2013 at 9:32 am |
  9. Roger

    "...overcome by emotion."

    Religion in a nutshell.

    October 20, 2013 at 9:31 am |
    • Who?

      The cup of reason runneth over and says bye bye.

      October 20, 2013 at 9:36 am |
  10. Pilgrim

    "Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good." He is good. It's not what he hasn't done that we should judge, but what he has. To our scientific knowledge (observable fact, not theory) everything outside of this planet earth is to us death; yet everything outside of this planet serves to preserve the life that we enjoy in it. That's his proof, Romans 1:20. If we choose to deny that, then we'll be what we choose, alone, and self-satisfied. The writer has chosen to keep his faith regardless of this world's deceptions. Praise God!

    October 20, 2013 at 9:30 am |
    • Jesus Christ Son of God

      Taste the lord? Are you a catholic priest?

      October 20, 2013 at 9:36 am |
    • Robert

      Your god doesn't sound very nice at all. Worship and adore me or I'm going to hurt you! Has it occurred to you as you quote your babble that the reason he felt like an outsider is because he was thinking logicallly? And if you think logically the whole religious story about gods and devils and angels and spirits is just silly. I knew this as a child. Didn't believe it then, don't believe it now.

      October 20, 2013 at 9:40 am |
    • a reasonable atheist

      ".. everything outside of this planet earth is to us death;"
      Plenty of stuff on or in this planet is lethal to humans as well. Plenty of things in your own home are lethal to humans. How do you not know this?

      ".. yet everything outside of this planet serves to preserve the life that we enjoy in it."
      Utter nonsense. I invite you to bathe in a gamma ray burst, hopefully await the passage of a black hole through our solar system, or put a 'welcome, meteorites!' sign in your front yard if you think everything extra-terrestrial "serves" to preserve any terrestrial life, much less specifically human terrestrial life. Other than a relatively weak gravitational pull on objects in close proximity, the rest of the universe not only does not serve the earth, it is oblivious to it.

      October 20, 2013 at 10:21 am |
  11. Logic has nothing to do with it

    I have seen "normal" and want no part of it.

    October 20, 2013 at 9:26 am |
  12. Jesus Christ Son of God

    The text below is from an episode of Star Trek, and proves god exists, as Kirk, McCoy and Spock talked to him. And he threw some lightning bolts. How cool is that. Now, every time I see lightning, I'll know that is god trying to electrocute a non-believer.

    Kirk: What does God need with a starship?
    McCoy: Jim, what are you doing?
    Kirk: I'm asking a question.
    "God": Who is this creature?
    Kirk: Who am I? Don't you know? Aren't you God?
    Sybok: He has his doubts.
    "God": You doubt me?
    Kirk: I seek proof.
    McCoy: Jim! You don't ask the Almighty for his ID!
    "God": Then here is the proof you seek.
    [Hits Kirk with lightning]
    Kirk: Why is God angry?
    Sybok: Why? Why have you done this to my friend?
    "God": He doubts me.
    Spock: You have not answered his question. What does God need with a starship?
    "God": [hits Spock with lightning; then addresses McCoy] Do you doubt me?
    McCoy: I doubt any God who inflicts pain for his own pleasure.

    October 20, 2013 at 9:26 am |
    • Reality # 2

      🙂 🙂

      October 20, 2013 at 9:34 am |
    • I've changed

      God is portrayed quite accurately in the twilight zone episode-The good life.Heaven is portrayed quite accurately in the twilight zone episode-A nice place to visit.In the first,a little boy insists people worship him,(1st commandment,not to be broken)or else.In the second,a man is sent to a place where all his wishes are granted.

      October 20, 2013 at 9:56 am |
  13. Jaz

    I think people are missing the point about the Spock reference. Spock is part Vulcan, and Vulcans are supposed to be unemotional-hence, the author using the reference to how he himself felt at church.

    October 20, 2013 at 9:25 am |
  14. Logic has nothing to do with it

    "normal human" rules

    There is no such thing.

    October 20, 2013 at 9:25 am |
  15. teachingmom

    The reference to Mr. Spock in this article is PERFECT. Spock, being a Vulcan, operated on logic only. He didn't understand emotion. ...Like the author who didn't get other's emotions. I thought the analogy helped make the point perfectly! I would agree with another post that made the point that the high-emotion of the charismatic movement is tricky..not healed?, not speaking in tongues?...not enough faith!!! That's hogwash! So glad that the author found Jesus instead of religion. There's a huge difference. Thanks for sharing, Brant.

    October 20, 2013 at 9:24 am |
    • hb

      exactly! loved this article. so hardfor those unaccustomed to aspbergers to understand! There's a difference between having a medical disorder, and being"pastfeeling" caused by sin, too. Great article!

      October 20, 2013 at 9:32 am |
  16. Well Duh

    @Mark
    "Duh...do you believe or experience hope? Show me it if so!"

    Lame.

    October 20, 2013 at 9:24 am |
    • Well Duh

      Oops, sorry, didn't mean to start a new conversation.

      October 20, 2013 at 9:24 am |
  17. Jami

    I love Brant. One of those rare, honest persons who talks about his fears rather than hiding behind them.

    October 20, 2013 at 9:23 am |
  18. MichiganChet

    As an atheist who, because of his daughter occasionally finds himself in a Catholic service, I can so relate to this person (paradoxically enough). I always feel a fraud at services.

    October 20, 2013 at 9:22 am |
    • Logic has nothing to do with it

      I always feel surrounded by frauds at Mass. I know these people during the week. They don't think people notice?

      October 20, 2013 at 9:35 am |
      • Andy

        Well said.

        October 20, 2013 at 9:50 am |
    • Reality # 2

      Ditto that. And that is why I never go anymore.

      October 20, 2013 at 9:36 am |
    • Robert

      I'm right there with you. I sometimes go to services with my daughter and I too am a lifelong Atheist. But I don't feel like a fraud. I'm there because I love my daughter. And if it makes her feel better, I go with her.

      October 20, 2013 at 9:53 am |
    • Skeptimist

      There is nothing fraudulent about loving your daughter and respecting her beliefs with your companionship.

      I am a Christian and a Catholic but I can readily understand why my beliefs would make no sense to you (some of the particulars escape me as well). That just doesn't matter. What matters is the experience we have in common – the logically inexplicable behavior we fathers exhibit out of love for our daughters.

      October 20, 2013 at 10:41 am |
  19. jewsstealingfromjews

    I'm confident that Mr. Spock would choose to be a Cheeseburger before he would become a Churchgoer.

    October 20, 2013 at 9:21 am |
  20. Tom

    I do not has Asperger's, but I felt the same way in church for years... and tried several different way to be moved by faith. Didn't happen. But for me, there was a different message that brought me peace. It was given to me by an older man who had been my Sunday school teacher, a scout leader, and was something of an adopted grandfather for me.

    He told me that religion is a personal thing, and it's not important that you be one of the emotional believers. He went so far as to say you don't have to go to church to believe – "God's house is everywhere."

    Over the years, he taught me that what is important is not your outward professions of faith. It's more important to be a good person. Be honest, work hard, do good things for others and be unselfish. SHOW love for others, even those you don't know. If you are a good person, that's what counts.

    I now consider myself an atheist, but I still believe that being a good person is what counts. I like the scriptures that talk about those things, and I can learn from those parts.

    I wish this author had been taught somewhere along the line that you don't have to be a "good Christian" to be a good person. Think of all the pain and suffering he could have avoided with that message.

    October 20, 2013 at 9:18 am |
    • Loladog

      Wow! You've said it all and perfectly.

      October 20, 2013 at 9:27 am |
    • G to the T

      Here, here Tom. Well stated.

      October 21, 2013 at 4:47 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.