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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. Miranda

    Once you meet Jesus you get it. I did not get it at all until then. I love going to church, not because I am obligated or feel that I have to but because I get to be around other believers and connect with people. I don't need "church" to have my relationship with Christ. I love Brant and his show. He is very fun and shows how wonderful life can be, even with all the negative.

    October 19, 2013 at 12:22 pm |
  2. mark

    this guy... wow. Sounds like he's still pretty messed up.

    October 19, 2013 at 12:22 pm |
    • Robert

      I actually listen to Brant quite a lot, and he has his own quirks, but he is a well adjusted individual. If nothing else his quirks make his point of view on many things well worth hearing.

      October 19, 2013 at 12:30 pm |
    • HotHam

      Aren't we all in our own special way?

      October 19, 2013 at 12:32 pm |
  3. Lori

    Awesome article! I have worked with Aspberger children, and it is helpful to read an adult's perspective in the church. Totally makes sense! Thank you for sharing!

    October 19, 2013 at 12:21 pm |
  4. Jack Carter

    Leonard Nimoy is Jewish, grew up in an Orthodox home and based the Vulcan salute on the gesture made during the priestly blessing in some prayer services. Spock is about as Christian as Madalyn Murray O'Hair.

    October 19, 2013 at 12:20 pm |
    • GMAB

      Zachary Quinto played Mr. Spock too. Maybe more actors will do so in the future and Leonard Nimoy will be able to be rightly considered the **actor** who played the **character**.

      Sheesh, we got over Basil Rathbone actually being Sherlock Holmes!

      * Mr. Nimoy's autobiography is ti.tled, "I Am Not Spock".

      October 19, 2013 at 12:32 pm |
  5. JoAnne

    Your post is encouraging and funny! I LOVED the part about Spock being in church! I've often felt out of place and unloved and disconnected!
    It's encouraging to know there'sore than just one!

    October 19, 2013 at 12:19 pm |
  6. Jason

    I just love how the anti Christian comments are all irrelevant arguments to the post.

    October 19, 2013 at 12:19 pm |
    • Steel On Target

      Yes, because questioning the existence of a god is clearly completely off base to this belief in god opinion piece. *eyes rolling*

      October 19, 2013 at 12:39 pm |
      • ken

        Considering he wasn't asking anyone's take on the existence of God, what was the point... i find it interesting atheist are always reading and commenting on articles about something they don't believe....

        October 20, 2013 at 8:56 pm |
    • Anglican

      Atheist believe in nothing but hang out here.

      October 20, 2013 at 9:00 pm |
  7. callamatisse

    Guys, that is his point exactly. How Spock DOESN'T fit in at church. He's not trying to make Spock a christian. I'm thinking you just saw the picture and scrolled down, rather than reading the article.

    Brant, I LOVE your show and listen to it whenever possible. I've never been diagnosed as an Aspie, but I've felt many of those same things (I peg the "thinker" on the Myers-Briggs, so I guess that's what it is.) Growing up Charismatic when your personality doesn't fit that denomination is a weird process and many leave the church entirely. I found my way back to God, albeit not to a Charismatic church, but non-denominational. I hope this article helps many people find their way home.

    October 19, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
  8. Tom, Tom, the Other One

    Here's a Next Generation quote. I've always liked:

    "Are you sure this is what he wants? That's the problem with believing in a supreme being: trying to determine what it wants."

    – Troi

    October 19, 2013 at 12:17 pm |
    • Christina

      You can know what it wants by observing Nature.

      October 19, 2013 at 12:22 pm |
      • tony

        Like earthquakes and tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes and epidemics?

        October 19, 2013 at 12:25 pm |
        • Christina

          It's his prerogative. He made it all, he can dispose of it as he likes.

          October 19, 2013 at 12:32 pm |
      • crossfreak296

        Or just read the Bible...

        October 19, 2013 at 12:32 pm |
        • Carl

          Good idea. The quickest way to KNOW this is a bs fairy tales, is to read your bible. That's, by far, the quickest route to atheism. Christians claim they read it, but actually only use it to wave in the air as they curse gays and other people who don't believe as they do. Hypocrites!!

          October 20, 2013 at 9:31 am |
      • sam stone

        christina: i would like to make two points

        if tsunami's, earthquakes, etc are god's perogatives, does that not cast doubt on a loving nature?

        secondly, if observing nature gives an indication of what god wants, does observation of ho-mo-se-xual activity among other animals indicate it is okay with god?

        October 19, 2013 at 2:10 pm |
      • gluonspring

        Beetles!

        October 19, 2013 at 11:47 pm |
    • Rob

      Troi, I totally get what you mean...there is certainly a mystery as to what "God" or whatever you care to call "it" wants. But as a believer, I humbly go what I believe is God's Word (the Bible) to discover what it is he wants. I believe that's his letter to us–and through the stories and examples you get a much better understanding and idea of what that is. However, as Brant summed up here, it boils really down to loving God, and loving our neighbor. The rest of the factions and such within the Christian subculture can bicker all they want over the other stuff. But if you can get those two things right, that's all that truly matters. And I think the world would be a better place for it if everyone–including myself could get it right most of the time.

      October 19, 2013 at 12:39 pm |
      • G to the T

        Then you have more faith in the integrity of the source material than I am able to muster...

        October 21, 2013 at 10:14 am |
  9. Dove

    I love how most of the comments are aimed to disprove Brant's beliefs, and they hone in on small parts of his entire article. Let's look at the big picture. He has a social disorder that many have – and he got past it and became stronger in his beliefs. If everyone was as honest as this article is when it came to their own beliefs, the world would be a much better place. If you're an atheist, that's fine. Jesus loves you, even if you don't love Him. That is the true premise of Brant's beliefs as presented here. I dunno about you, but I think that's a pretty awesome example of Christianity.

    October 19, 2013 at 12:16 pm |
    • Roger that

      He appears to be like a lot of Christians. He has major doubts or doesn't really believe at all, but he goes along with it to fit in.

      October 19, 2013 at 12:24 pm |
    • TrueBlue42

      I agree – if everyone was as self-honest as Brant, the world would be a much better place, mainly because the vast majority of people would finally come out as Atheists.

      October 19, 2013 at 12:28 pm |
      • Rett

        How do you come to that conclusion?

        October 19, 2013 at 11:36 pm |
  10. chris

    Brant is a wonderful person and I so enjoy listening to his program! He's so real and honest. He's also got a great sense of humor! Christians aren't perfect, and there are always those moments when God feels really distant. We all feel at times that we will never fit in. That's when we need to go back and read the Gospels where Jesus tells us how we are meant to live. We feel this longing because we were made to spend eternity in Heaven. Great article, Brant! Thanks for being awesome!

    October 19, 2013 at 12:15 pm |
  11. Deborah

    Ok, Guys... You are taking Spock waaaay to serious. Brant is an open, honest, and about as genuine as you can get. Check out his pod casts...

    October 19, 2013 at 12:15 pm |
  12. Steel On Target

    "and I wondered why I didn't feel that way."

    Because God is a make believe friend for grown-ups.

    October 19, 2013 at 12:12 pm |
    • Rett

      as so many like to say the one making the claim has the burden of providing the proof....or does that not apply in your case?

      October 19, 2013 at 11:40 pm |
  13. Aisha

    Sad. You guys are missing the point.

    October 19, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
  14. Shelley

    My ten year old daughter LOVES his show and the music! When we first started listening to it I was like "what IS this??!!" but he has really grown on us. We listen almost every day. It's great that his faith helps him in his life. He is very humble and honest and I really like that.

    October 19, 2013 at 12:10 pm |
  15. speltomqt

    Excellent article. I had never thought about how someone with Asperger's would negotiate the church experience.

    On the other hand, I think that many of the comments are sad. I need to say this to the people who write negative and inflammatory comments. I love thoughtful civil discussion and will consider any opinion that is presented properly, but when you try to insult or outrage people with your comments, I stop reading. I still believe what I believed before you wrote your comment. I still come back and read the articles. I still go to the comments in the hope of an intelligent discussion.

    We need more articles like this. We need better comments.

    October 19, 2013 at 12:07 pm |
    • tony

      Ther aren't any insults on this page. Just facts and a question you might consider answering.

      October 19, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
      • Michelle F.

        I think he was more referring to the comment that it had to do with God being a make believe friend for adults.

        October 19, 2013 at 12:22 pm |
        • TrueBlue42

          Referring to a god as make-believe is not offensive or insulting; it's a statement based on a choice we're all free to make. It's only insulting to those who disagree but are too weak in their "faith" to stand firm in the face of such statements.

          October 19, 2013 at 12:30 pm |
        • Rett

          Trueblue, referring to God as a make-believe, sky fairy, spaghetti monster etc....is, however, an attempt to ridicule or belittle someone's beliefs, right? If that makes someone feel better I guess they should go for it. Seems sad though to expend so much effort to ridicule other (I think that applies to Christians and other groups as well)

          October 19, 2013 at 11:52 pm |
      • former internet president

        unfortunately, in my experience with talking to atheists, they don't really ask their questions for the sake of answers. they talk about doing things for emotional gratification, yet they lose interest as soon as a counter argument is presented which they can't easily pick apart.

        and they are typically very condescending and irrational. the more reasonable ones don't troll strangers on the internet.

        October 19, 2013 at 12:33 pm |
        • Steel On Target

          Apparently you have divine superiority over them then.
          "very condescending and irrational"

          October 19, 2013 at 12:56 pm |
      • speltomqt

        I assume you mean the question about why do we need a church and I have no answer for you, though I doubt your goal was really an answer. I think it is more of a rhetorical question with the point being that there shouldn't be any need. I can't give you a satisfactory answer. Perhaps we don't need church. We also don't need friends, spouses, pets, or any number of things, but they often make life better. At this point in time, I don't attend church, but I would never look down upon those who do.

        October 19, 2013 at 12:46 pm |
  16. tony

    If there realy was a god (or gods), and he/it actually could answer prayers, what would churches be needed for?

    October 19, 2013 at 12:07 pm |
    • Caleb

      That is because he works through people.

      October 19, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
    • Shannon

      Christ teaches that churches are for gathering Christians together because we need fellowship with other believers, seek advice and prayer from other believers.

      October 19, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
    • Dove

      Churches provide something very important to all humans – socialization and community. The point of church isn't a place to worship... it's a place to worship with others. This was blatantly mentioned in the New Testament when Paul in Corinthians urges Christians to find others to worship with so that they may find support and accountability in their faith. They also mention it several times in Romans. I hope this helps with your question. 🙂

      October 19, 2013 at 12:19 pm |
      • Daniel

        Church is for collecting donations and dollars...anything and everything Christian, Jewish, or Muslim has to do with money. Plain and simple. If you can't see that then you are a really really ignorant person. The Bible IS a book of half-truths combined with stories from schizophrenic's and other mentally disabled people.....what's so funny is that 2,000 years before the whole Jewish BS, Hinduism was born based on an architectural look at the real world based on science of the day (which has now be found to actual scientific proof), not on one "tribe's" belief in their own arrogance and egoism...

        It's a shame that this ignorant BS is still practiced today....it's why we have the problems we have today....

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

      Churches are not only for worshipping God, but also for fellowship with other people.

      October 19, 2013 at 12:19 pm |
    • HotHam

      The church is there to help those who don't see God and to help each other. We all need help sometime.

      October 19, 2013 at 12:20 pm |
    • Jen

      Churches are places believers gather to celebrate and praise God together. Fellowship is a huge part of faith. Churches are not needed for me to pray, it is a place where I can go for encouragement and to celebrate my faith with fellow believers. A church isn't a building, it is God's people.

      October 19, 2013 at 12:21 pm |
    • Shawn

      Churches are here for an opportunity for all believers to gather together. We gather to sing to God, to pray together, and to give God and opportunity to touch and help strengthen us. The Church (though the people in it are still under construction) is God's way of reaching to the world. I know that there are bad things that happen in the Church, but God is always good and faithful and we are His workmanship.

      October 19, 2013 at 12:21 pm |
    • tony

      Cell phones quickly made call boxes redundant. Working listening and answering prayers would do the same thing for churches.

      If you think chuirches are important so that you can worship in public view, and see whjo else it there, you don't know what worship really means.

      October 19, 2013 at 12:22 pm |
      • melichte

        And you, an Atheist, are the only one who knows what worship is? And you know the purpose of the church better than those who believe what God tells us, in the Bible, about His church and the purpose of the church? You feel the need to argue about things that you don't even believe in or have any knowledge about. Chirstians would be willing to rationally discuss our beliefs with you if you were willing to honestly listen and have meaningful responses. But your ridiculous barbs are a waste of everyone's time. Please find your entertainment elsewhere.

        October 19, 2013 at 12:56 pm |
    • Aaron

      Church is meant as a place of fellowship. It's a place where people from any walks of life and level of faith can come together almost like a club. It's not meant to be like a "hey I believe in God today, day" it's just meant to be like a day where you and other people of similar beliefs come to fellowship together.

      October 19, 2013 at 12:23 pm |
    • Patrick

      To show God appreciation and give Him thanks for everything. And it's also a "class" if you will, where we get teachings of God, His will and instructions of life. At that you may be thinking, well if that's all in the bible, just read it,....... Right? If anything in life were as simple as that then why would there be a need for schools, or universities? We could all just read how to be a lawyer or doctor and then this world would be so awesome don't ya think? LOL
      Have a great day and be blessed Tony!!

      October 19, 2013 at 12:24 pm |
    • Michelle F.

      The purpose of church is to give us a place of fellowship which strengthens us in our walk, teaches us further the words written in the bible, and reminds us that we are not alone. I have watched prayers answered in my life and others that have no other explanation than God. It is truly a miraculous thing. Church for a Christian is kind of like VFW for veterans. It is a place of support, love, and understanding in a world that may disagree or want to belittle or otherwise hurt us for our beliefs.

      October 19, 2013 at 12:24 pm |
    • Robert

      Tony,

      God is not bound to working in sudden/astonishing miracles/answers to prayer. His answer can come in something so simple as a phone call from a friend you have not spoken to in ages. Just because it isn't flashy or something undeniably a work of God, that does not mean it was not him. The Church, in a perfect world, would be people who submit to God's will, work by the movement of the Holy Spirit, and give glory to Christ. God does answer prayers and the purpose of the church isn't to serve humanitarian purposes, we engage in those activities is either because we have been directed to by God, or we are trying to serve our own ego.

      October 19, 2013 at 12:25 pm |
    • Kate

      Church is so that we can get together and support each other in a hostile world.

      October 19, 2013 at 12:26 pm |
      • TrueBlue42

        Sort of like Atheist conventions and rallies; we need to support each other in this hostile, religious world.

        October 19, 2013 at 12:33 pm |
    • tony

      call boxes > cell phones for communication.

      social meeting > facebook -- so that's gonna just justify more megachurches woith "shallow" relationships with thousands, than little local churches witha handful of real friends.

      So many justifications of churches as "social groups" instead of actually communing with your god.

      October 19, 2013 at 12:33 pm |
      • TrueBlue42

        True, Tony. Church, for most people, is a social gathering devoid of any real worship. I just wish these "social Christians" would stop being hypocrites and just admit to themselves that they either don't believe in a god or don't care about it; I did, and it's the most liberating feeling I've ever experienced.

        October 19, 2013 at 12:37 pm |
        • Rett

          Claiming to know the thoughts of "most people" is close to omniscience.....sounds like you may actually believe in a god even if it is you.

          October 19, 2013 at 11:59 pm |
    • Kordell

      Church buildings are used as a place to gather as a community to fellowship with one another, and not only hear a message about Jesus, but also to worship that God that created them. Technically even if only a couple of Christians gather inside a house, that is considered a church, because the church is the body of Christ. So churches aren't really for unanswered prayer. Also my opinion on unanswered prayer is that you have to believe in God in the first place, otherwise how will you see him working in your life and possibly answering that prayer if you don't believe in him? If you're an atheist (I don't know if you are but just for an example) and you pray, you're trying to talk to a God who you don't even believe in. So I find it unlikely that you would have a heart that is open enough to see God answer whatever your prayer is. Prayer also isn't just a wish list of things that you want that you recite to God. The purpose of prayer is to talk to God, confess your sins to him, thank him for all you have in life, and pray for others and yourself. In any kind of friendship, you would normally talk and a communicate with that friend in order to stay in touch with them. Its the same with God. Prayer is our opportunity to talk to God whenever we want.

      October 19, 2013 at 12:41 pm |
  17. bostontola

    More than 4 billion people are disconnected from all the Christian churches, all the Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, etc. the only people connected to a church have been programmed to have that connection.

    October 19, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
  18. kerfluffle

    Nope.

    You cannot have Spock.

    The character is NOT a christian.

    October 19, 2013 at 12:02 pm |
    • Aaron

      that's the point...

      October 19, 2013 at 12:25 pm |
  19. tony

    Spock, his entire planet, and all the Enterprise crew are atheists according tot eh Star Trek episodes scripts.

    October 19, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
    • Shannon

      You're missing the point. Brant was comparing the way he felt like an alien in the church to how Spock would feel if he were in a church.

      October 19, 2013 at 12:15 pm |
      • tony

        No – You are missing it. He picked the wrong character for his example of an outwardly emotionless person.

        October 19, 2013 at 12:19 pm |
      • Jesus built my hotrod

        Yeah I would think the borg would be a better example. But that one chick was hot. Would be a shame if she didn't feel anything.

        October 20, 2013 at 12:40 pm |
    • Liz

      Oh for crying out loud! You've missed the entire point of the article! Brant is not trying to make Spock or any other TV character Christian, he was using it as a reference for how HE felt in Church. Instead of being moved by the worship, he was the one in the background, detached, thinking "fascinating."

      October 19, 2013 at 12:17 pm |
  20. tony

    Spock and his entire planet "are" atheists if you follow the Start Trek scripts.

    October 19, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
    • Pat

      It's what all the intelligent, rational, honest people are.

      October 20, 2013 at 6:45 am |
      • Grunions

        Pat, I fear your comment itself is irrational, as your comment could only be valid if it were made by an omniscient being that could, indeed, see into and accurately read and judge (against some objective standard) the minds and hearts of all human beings in existence. But then, if you did have such omniscience, you would be a sort of god yourself, and so your statement would then be rendered irrational on the grounds that you, an omniscient being, would be claiming that no "intelligent, rational, honest" person would believe in such a thing as an omniscient being. Something of a Catch-22, don't you think? Better perhaps to rephrase your comment along the lines of "I believe that anyone who is intelligent, rational, and honest will adopt the atheist position. I adhere (as to an article of faith, since I have neither objective proof of it nor any empirical means by which to prove it) to the sweeping assumption that each one of the billions of people who profess faith in any sort of god, do so because they are either unintelligent, irrational, dishonest, or some combination of the three." Phrasing it that way, I think, would serve to make your statement more intelligent, rational, and honest.

        November 15, 2013 at 6:24 pm |
    • airborne81

      Wait, what?

      January 2, 2014 at 8:49 pm |
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