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. RogueDiplomat

    Mr. Spock was Jewish 🙂

    October 20, 2013 at 10:52 am |
    • tony

      Leonard was Jewish, his character Spock was an atheist, along with his whole planet, and allEearth by then I think, by the scripts I remember.

      October 20, 2013 at 10:55 am |
      • Richard Cranium

        Except in Star Trek V (the search for god)

        They think they encounter god, so there is still some residue.

        October 20, 2013 at 10:58 am |
  2. Helen Tam-Semmens

    Brant,

    Enlightenment, ie, a direct connection with God, is possible without faith (or drug). I can attest to that.

    With the flash of enlightenment, there is instant wisdom and direct knowledge. Also extreme Love and Bliss and Light. All hallmarks of 'God'. The role of faith is to allow something uncomprehensible to your limited brain to be perceived. A complete open-mind works the same, which is my way, which may also be suited to Aspies. On the other hand, a disbelief of something could make one blind to it even if it is right in front of one's face.

    An impassionate observation of everything is a good way to Enlightenment. Don't view your condition as a disadvantage. On the contrary, being an outsider, you can examination everything as is, not second-hand through social interpretations. Through such examination, pretty soon you will have a first-hand connection and understanding of what you are examining, be it something external or internal to yourself, and well on your way to first-hand experience of the ultimate – God.

    Why settle for second-hand knowledge of God through faith, if you can have it first-hand?

    I also think that Aspies have a great role to play in this world today. Humanity has been following our present course, our present culture for so long. And it has become a runaway train toward destruction. Maybe that's why the influx of Aspies nowadays who tend to fly above this runaway train somewhat. And hopefully that will allow novel solutions to be found and the world to be saved.

    "Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." Albert Einstein

    October 20, 2013 at 10:49 am |
    • tony

      Bring your "first-hand" friend to a court of law and settle this issue once and for all.

      October 20, 2013 at 10:53 am |
    • Well Duh

      "The role of faith is to allow something uncomprehensible to your limited brain to be perceived. A complete open-mind works the same, which is my way, which may also be suited to Aspies. On the other hand, a disbelief of something could make one blind to it even if it is right in front of one's face."

      So, I let my limited brain open to something I can't comprehend, and then I can comprehend it?

      This whole thing stinks of, if you will just believe it, then you'll believe it.

      October 20, 2013 at 10:57 am |
  3. Richard

    "Jesus" is an imaginary friend. Keep repeating that to yourself, until you fully comprehend what that means.

    October 20, 2013 at 10:42 am |
    • Jesus Christ Son of God

      Oh, I exist, only because my mom Mary w_hored out to some roman soldiers,and then my dad joseph tried to cover it up with a story of immaculate conception from a god that no one could see. Everyone bought this mountain of c r a p.

      October 20, 2013 at 10:49 am |
      • Jason

        It's ok you don't believe, because Jesus loves you and wants to know you.

        October 20, 2013 at 11:02 am |
        • G to the T

          I'd be careful there. "Know" has a very different connentation in the bible...

          October 21, 2013 at 4:51 pm |
  4. josh

    I think that Spock would find Christianity to be illogical. Pretending to eat the flesh and drink the blood of a corpse that was tortured and executed by Romans... fascinating.

    October 20, 2013 at 10:38 am |
    • Jesus Christ Son of God

      That meal all served up by some pedophiles dressed up like clowns, with 3 foot hats on, while music plays in the background. Sounds like pagan worship.

      October 20, 2013 at 10:41 am |
  5. smallbusinessjournalist

    I can relate. It's hard being an Aspie.

    October 20, 2013 at 10:35 am |
  6. Richard

    "When I didn’t move with the Holy Spirit or speak in tongues, they told me it was because I had rejected God."

    Yes, they're good at making up excuses for why it is your fault their lies don't work.

    October 20, 2013 at 10:34 am |
  7. hrdwrknjoe

    Now replace 'Aspies' with 'Gay'.

    October 20, 2013 at 10:32 am |
    • Jason

      I find your insults to be illogical and pointless. What's the point at insulting this man who is sharing his story. Are you that insecure in yourself you have to do that. Christ didn't come in to the world to condemn it but to save it.

      October 20, 2013 at 11:06 am |
  8. Places

    I think we need the mystic as much as we need the skeptic. If all people thought the same way how boring would the world be? There's too much here that needs to be done and it has to be divided up, it has to be, that is why I think we think differently.

    October 20, 2013 at 10:22 am |
    • tony

      But there isn't a normal wide spectrum of ideas. The religious all focus in on this one idea of an invisible, but never acting, god, plus eternal life after death for just ouir species.

      As an explanation for the universe around us it's got to be one the least likely possibilities ever.

      October 20, 2013 at 10:52 am |
      • Places

        Yes, their thoughts and thought processes will differ from your own. That is in part, part of the point.

        October 20, 2013 at 11:54 am |
  9. TAK

    Spock in a church...Illogical.

    October 20, 2013 at 10:21 am |
  10. Saltrunner

    It is rather obvious that Spock would never find spiritual connection at a Christian revival
    and would find himself totally disconnected from any emotions at Christian services.
    Leonard Nimoy is Jewish .

    He has a strong appreciation for the orthodoxy. He would much more likely be inspired
    by Shabbat and High Holiday services 🙂

    October 20, 2013 at 10:16 am |
    • lanzate

      He is talking about the character of Mr. Spock, not the actor. If you have trouble separating the two you might also be an aspie.

      October 20, 2013 at 10:19 am |
  11. Ryan

    Powerful

    October 20, 2013 at 10:14 am |
    • redrockhistory

      totally agree. I spent four decades in the Episcopal Church...held auxillary offices ....played the organ every Sunday.....had 5 of 6 children baptized and confirmed.....then I became pregnant and not married.......this was in 1998!!! Yep I was old enough to know better but things happen!!! When my daughter was born I tried to find Godparents within my congregation for her and NO ONE was able to handle that!!! My daughter was the best thing that ever happened to me at that time in my life and they treated her as an outcast. Needless to say my "Christian" days were over and they will never be again!!!!! Now, I have a personnal relationship with my "God" and I will never again join the ranks of "Christians".

      October 20, 2013 at 10:20 am |
  12. Michael Nesteroff

    Brant,

    Very encouraging to read and to hear what Jesus has done in your life! I love the radio program! Your testimony is a good reminder to continually return to the gospels.

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

      You people make me laugh. So set in your own nonsense that you can't see it's false.

      October 20, 2013 at 10:21 am |
  13. Don

    I have never been diagnosed with anything, but man do I get the feeling like I am just not meant to be on this planet. Despite my best efforts to understand other people and be understood by them, it simply never really happens.

    As to God and church.. Well, I tend to worship in private anyway. I do not feel the need to share my worship time with others and I have never really thought that God did not care about me but I can certainly see how anyone might feel that way when they simply do not fit in.

    October 20, 2013 at 10:10 am |
  14. Jesus Christ Son of God

    If there was a god, he would put Kirk and Spock back on the Enterprise.

    October 20, 2013 at 10:08 am |
    • James Tiberius Kirk

      What does god need with a starship?

      October 20, 2013 at 10:20 am |
      • TAK

        That one line is why Star Trek V is my favorite.

        October 20, 2013 at 10:25 am |
        • James Tiberius Kirk

          one word

          KHAN ! ! !

          October 20, 2013 at 10:32 am |
      • Jesus Christ Son of God

        He doesn't, in fact, he doesn't exist. But with Kirk on board, he could fire some photon torpedoes at venture one and stop the baldwin commercials.

        October 20, 2013 at 10:25 am |
  15. Tonia Williams

    Beautiful!

    October 20, 2013 at 10:06 am |
  16. ReverendCrystal

    Just because a building has a cross on it does not make it a "church".
    Just because someone goes to that "church" does not make them "religious" or "believers" or "saved".
    Just because they are "religious" does not mean they "have faith".
    Why worry about what others think? Are they so important in your life that you revolve your life around their thoughts, opinions, ideas or right and wrong... it is their paradigm... it is your choice... you can choose to make it yours... or not... people spend way to much time worrying about what others "think" or "feel" or "know" or "believe" or "say" to them or about them. People will try to pull you down to their level... it is your choice about what you do when others tell you what they "think" or "feel" or "know" or "believe" or "say"... Be right with yourself... that is all that matters.

    October 20, 2013 at 10:05 am |
    • TrueBlue42

      Thank you for this post – for real.

      October 20, 2013 at 11:36 am |
  17. Rob W

    How strange. One that operates on logic realizes the stupidity of faith and Jesus, but still tries to make himself believe. Odd.

    October 20, 2013 at 10:03 am |
    • wappaloochie

      Well... I do wonder where it all came from... something from nothing is really hard to grasp... even if you are nothing, you can have something to believe in!

      October 20, 2013 at 10:11 am |
      • Richard Cranium

        No one thinks something came from nothing. Common misconception.
        We do not know what happened just prior to the Big Bang, so we do not know there was "nothing", secondly one man's nothing is another man's interdimensional something.

        October 20, 2013 at 10:18 am |
        • JLF

          Exactly. And even if that were the case, and "something could not come from nothing", the implication would be that it too would have to come from something/someone. Where did the something/someone come from since that logic dictates that it/he/she too would need a creator? People, its OK to say "I don't know". Anyone with claims to special knowledge to the origin of everything and the "meaning of it all" is either a liar or delusional. X+Y=Z, not X said "let there be Z".

          October 20, 2013 at 10:59 am |
    • ReverendCrystal

      *laughing* "stupidity of faith"... Faith is confidence or trust in a person or thing, = the word faith is often used as a synonym for hope, trust or belief. I have faith that my car will usually get me to where I am going. I have faith that my body will heal from a cut. I have faith that my husband will never cheat on me. I have faith that the sun will shine tomorrow. Faith often has nothing to do with religion... or Jesus... or God... if you took the time to think about it "logically" instead of "emotionally", you would have seen that.

      October 20, 2013 at 10:14 am |
      • Cedar rapids

        It is obvious that he was talking of religious faith.

        October 20, 2013 at 10:28 am |
        • a reasonable atheist

          Indeed. Additionally, all of the other types of "faith" the poster mentioned are built upon evidence.

          October 20, 2013 at 9:56 pm |
      • G to the T

        No.... faith is confidence or belief in something without evidence ("things unseen"). You have every right to believe the sun will come up tomorrow because it always has and we have a good understanding of why. You can believe your husband won't cheat because you know him, his tendancies and because he hasn't (I assume) cheated on you so far.

        PLEASE do not conflate "Faith" with "belief". "Faith" is a type of belief, but not all beliefs are based on faith.

        October 21, 2013 at 4:59 pm |
    • Nostranger

      Whether you and I agree with his new-found faith or the logic of what he has found is inconsequential. I do not share in the author's version of his faith, nor do I seek to either, but because we are unique, we find tranquility and faith differently. You have not found your faith, thus you are critical and find his reasoning illogical. Faith is an inner peace that you find, which may or may not include a believe in God. One can never find true satisfaction in life while they believe everyone should feel, and think, as they do. You will know when you have truly found your faith (even as an atheist), when you can celebrate someone's happiness regardless of what you personally believe.

      October 20, 2013 at 11:46 am |
  18. Holy Man

    It's unfortunate that this man had to be exposed to the "bad" kind of Christians - the ones who expect logic to be abandoned, the ones who equate education and critical thinking with the devil.

    There are plenty - probably the majority - of Christians who do not believe that the Bible is a science textbook. Who do not believe that critical thinking and logic are bad things. There are churches for the intellectual.

    We're called "Progressive Christians."

    October 20, 2013 at 9:53 am |
    • I've changed

      Honestly,does progressive mean a superior ability to cherry pick the bible?Does it mean you can call yourself"a good christian",while seeing through the complete nonsense of religion?Does it mean you can maintain your life-style without the aggravation of coming out as an atheist?Does this mean you can lie to yourself about your true world-view?Does this mean you are a coward?Just wondering?

      October 20, 2013 at 10:03 am |
      • zfd

        You...are....retarded... nuff said.

        October 20, 2013 at 10:16 am |
    • PmanAce

      The plenty whom do not believe that the Bible is a science textbook are called Catholics...

      October 20, 2013 at 10:12 am |
      • BibleFan

        True. As Catholics (the Church, by the way, that compiled the Bible), we believe that the Bible is not meant to be a science or history textbook but rather a blueprint of God's relationship with mankind and of how we can attain salvation. It is a cornerstone of our Faith along with Tradition and the Magistareum. One of the greatest gifts that God gave us is our intellect, and we are urged to use it. We don't "cherry pick" passages from the Bible, we look for the message or lesson that God meant to teach with each reading. That is why my Church does not have an issue with evolution and other scientific theories, nor with the numerous historical inaccuracies found throughout the Great Book. We read the Bible to extract, the message that God sent us regarding his love for us and our salvation, and to live within the mandates that Our Lord Jesus left us in the New Testament, period.

        October 20, 2013 at 10:51 am |
  19. Jesus Christ Son of God

    Spock is real. I've seen him on the Enterprise. I've never seen god, but let me guess, he's everywhere.

    October 20, 2013 at 9:49 am |
    • djasp

      there are none so blind as they who will not see

      October 20, 2013 at 10:00 am |
      • Rob W

        Yes, those will not see logic, science, facts and other things which are impervious to the mind melting stupidity of religion.

        October 20, 2013 at 10:05 am |
      • G to the T

        It certainly must make you feel better to think that non-believers are somehow... "deficient"...

        October 21, 2013 at 4:48 pm |
  20. Special Ed Teacher Lady

    As a Christian, I have often wondered about the capacity of Aspies to connect with God if they haven't been brought up with any particular faith. I had a student whom I adored, and he was constantly attacking organized religions, saying it was ludicrous to have a belief in anything that couldn't be scientifically proven. My question is, will he go to heaven, as his medical condition is the cause for his disbelief? Will he be like a child in God's eyes who was incapable of making a decision to accept Christ? I think about this often.

    October 20, 2013 at 9:47 am |
    • Bootyfunk

      Is it me?

      October 20, 2013 at 9:50 am |
    • Jesus Christ Son of God

      I think you are out of your mind. Don't you have anything else to think about or is your pea brain that restricted.

      October 20, 2013 at 9:53 am |
    • Rob W

      Religion isn't real so it's a but like debating which superhero would win in a fight.

      October 20, 2013 at 10:06 am |
      • Rob W

        *bit

        October 20, 2013 at 10:07 am |
    • wappaloochie

      I wouldn't worry about it.
      Some people are put here to help us see things from a different perspective. Even Atheists have a purpose if nothing more then to spur the believers into TRULY seeking a relationship with God! They should fan the flames of our belief, never letting them go down! 🙂

      October 20, 2013 at 10:09 am |
      • groan

        Lame.

        October 20, 2013 at 10:24 am |
    • aspiecatholicgirl

      His disbelief is not the result of his medical condition. I don't know why he doesn't believe, and he could probably be helped by your prayers. But there are many with Aspergers who believe in and love God.

      March 25, 2014 at 9:24 pm |
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.