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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. inconclusive

    I believe that God isn't some celestial being watching and controlling us. I believe God is love, literally and when we let go of ego and self, we reach 'heaven' or move on to the next level.

    October 20, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      We already have a word for "love"....it's love.

      October 20, 2013 at 2:31 pm |
      • Mark

        Where did it come from?

        October 20, 2013 at 2:36 pm |
        • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

          The word....the definition of the word....or the emotion?

          October 20, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
        • Mark

          Emotion

          October 20, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
        • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

          Same place "hate" comes from.

          October 20, 2013 at 2:44 pm |
        • ScottCA

          Love comes from multiple evolved cognitive mechanisms of the brain, and there are various forms of it that have evolved to aid in pair bonding, and in reciprocal altruism.

          October 20, 2013 at 3:30 pm |
        • Mark

          Hate from the fallen angel.

          October 20, 2013 at 3:50 pm |
        • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

          Where did the fallen angel come from?

          October 20, 2013 at 3:51 pm |
    • ScottCA

      Love is a very well understood phenomena in psychology and cognitive science; none of explanation involves any form of deity.

      You are simply voicing your ignorance of the human mind and its cognitive functions.

      October 20, 2013 at 3:27 pm |
  2. cbms

    Thank you for writing this. I have an Aspie daughter and this is incredibly insightful to read. Explaining the heart is so much MORE than understanding the mind. This helps.

    October 20, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
  3. WolfgangDS

    So... let me get this straight. You didn't get any of this. You looked at it through the eyes of a cold, logical observer. And then you changed your mind and became a Christian NOT based on a logical decision, but on a feeling that you had?

    I'm sorry, but Mr. Spock would be quite disappointed with you.

    October 20, 2013 at 2:18 pm |
  4. Common Sense

    Mr. Spock is an atheist ... as all Vulcans are.

    October 20, 2013 at 2:17 pm |
    • ScottCA

      Of course they are atheists they live by logic and not meaningless delusions devoid of evidence to function as an anchor to sanity.

      October 20, 2013 at 3:38 pm |
    • Greg

      You did not watch Star Trek IV, then. Sybok was considered a bit of a loon, by mainstream Vulcans, though.

      October 20, 2013 at 6:48 pm |
      • tallulah13

        He was half-human but was more influenced by his Vulcan side.

        October 20, 2013 at 6:55 pm |
        • Data

          tallulah13,

          "Sybok was the firstborn son of the Vulcan diplomat Sarek and a Vulcan princess, and was the elder half-brother of Starfleet officer Spock" –http://en.memory-alpha.org/wiki/Sybok

          "Sybok believed that Vulcans should not bury their emotions, but rather embrace them. By practicing what he preached, Sybok became the galactic equivalent of a religous crusader and zealot. Sybok also possessed the ability to put others in touch with their "secret pains" in such away that made the individual no longer burdened and willing to follow Sybok anywhere." –http://www.startrek.com/database_article/sybok

          October 20, 2013 at 7:01 pm |
        • tallulah13

          My bad. I misread the "Sybok", I thought since the story was about Spock, the comment would be as well. I never really watched the movies after the one about the whales. I did, however, watch the original series repeatedly while growing up.

          October 20, 2013 at 7:07 pm |
  5. wheee

    spock wouldn't go to church. he believes in logic and facts.

    October 20, 2013 at 2:06 pm |
    • Check

      Probably so, but I seem to remember some pretty bizarre rituals that the Vulcans did. And what logical person would wear those huge floppy robes?!

      October 20, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
      • tallulah13

        Pon Farr!

        October 20, 2013 at 7:07 pm |
  6. Greg

    Choosing Mr. Spock as an example is a good comparison. How other people treat Aspys is a great example of how primitive and flawed the human race is. What I have seen is that the average human is prejudiced and discriminates against anyone who significantly differs from the norm. I do not believe they are aware that they are doing it, otherwise they might not. The fact that Aspys have few or no friends says it all. Don't believe it? Well laws had to be passed and enforced in this country to protect African Americans from this kind of behavior. Let us imagine that Spock is not an advanced alien from another planet, but rather a mutant human being. How do you think he would be treated then? With regards to Jesus, I agree with the author, It is his message that saves, not the crazy rituals we perform on his behalf.

    October 20, 2013 at 2:04 pm |
  7. Doug

    Or maybe god doesn't exist, you aspie.

    October 20, 2013 at 2:03 pm |
  8. Jesus Christ Son of God

    I want to take a minute to thank god that he had CNN put up a belief blog allowing me to help educate the sheeple as to how much they lack intelligence, vision, and the ability to control and take responsibility for their life.

    October 20, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
  9. Dyslexic doG

    for all you pious posters here:

    if the bible is the word of god then every single word and punctuation mark must be followed and revered! If even one word is proven incorrect, contradictory, foolish or made up by man, then the whole book is worthless because it cannot be the word of god.

    Unless you are god himself, you cannot judge which parts of the bible can be disregarded and which should be followed, which are truth and which are allegories. You must follow it ALL or discount it ALL.

    I have never met a Christian who follows the bible even close to completely. You are all frauds!

    October 20, 2013 at 1:54 pm |
    • Al

      Does saying this make you feel better about yourself? I am not being sarcastic, it's a serious question. I mean really, your judgement makes you appear angry towards them. What stops you from being kind and and hospitable towards them?

      October 20, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
  10. Check

    Did a bunch of posts just disappear?

    October 20, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
    • Steel On Target

      If nobody says anything then it didn't happen. Perhaps a bush will catch fire outside my window now to prove it to me.

      October 20, 2013 at 1:51 pm |
    • Well Duh

      Yes, I've had several disappear.

      October 20, 2013 at 1:51 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      were the posts in a cave behind a big rock? I hear that things in caves behind big rocks disappear all the time.

      October 20, 2013 at 1:57 pm |
      • Well Duh

        No, they don't disappear, they rise to heaven. Apparently dryers work the same way. I think I have multiple socks in heaven.

        October 20, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      Someone always hits report abuse button on Rainer....he is here trying to steal advertising so he is violating the terms of service for the blog. He gets deleted all the time.
      If one is deleted, any that were replies go with it.

      October 20, 2013 at 1:59 pm |
      • Check

        Yes, Richard Cranium, that does happen, but a few others have been removed too (one with Richard about bullies, and one from truthprevails with a list of secular charities, maybe more, just noticed those).

        October 20, 2013 at 2:03 pm |
        • Richard Cranium

          Yeah...there is a nothing troll ( like the nothing in neverending story)
          It comes along and just wipes out peoples posts, even though there is nothing wrong. CNN does a terrible job with this blog.
          There is one who likes to steal names, and posts under a thousand other names but is always irrational and abusive when it does try to post something coherent.
          I blame CNN for not paying attention.

          October 20, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
        • Check

          They seem to be powerless over @bethfaithany, etc. I can't imagine that they haven't tried to ban that one six ways from Sunday. The moderator(s) seem to have an agenda too... I won't elaborate, though, I really don't want to be banned.

          October 20, 2013 at 2:16 pm |
  11. Steel On Target

    And BLAM, half a page of comments disappears.
    "Did you see what GOD just did to us man!"

    October 20, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
  12. Reality # 2

    "Asperger syndrome (AS), also known as Asperger disorder (AD) or simply Asperger's, is an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) that is characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction and nonverbal communication, alongside restricted and repet-itive patterns of behavior and interests. It differs from other autism spectrum disorders by its relative preservation of linguistic and cognitive development. Although not required for diagnosis, physical clumsiness and atypical (peculiar, odd) use of language are frequently reported.[1][2]

    The syndrome is named after the Austrian pediatrician Hans Asperger who, in 1944, studied and described children in his practice who lacked nonverbal communication skills, demonstrated limited empathy with their peers, and were physically clumsy.["

    Again, Mr. Hansen, based on how he looks and what he does, does not fit the symptoms of Asperger Syndrome.

    Apparently, the diagnosis is not an easy one as per the Mayo Clinic:

    "To be diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, your child's signs and symptoms must match the criteria spelled out in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Me-ntal Disorders (DSM), a manual published by the American Ps-ychiatric As-sociation and used by mental health providers to diagnose mental conditions.

    Some of the DSM criteria for Asperger's syndrome are:

    No significant language delays
    A lack of eye to eye contact
    Unusual body posture or social expressions
    Difficulty making friends
    A preoccupation with one subject
    No interest in interactive play
    An inflexible att-itude toward change"

    October 20, 2013 at 1:12 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      "Again, Mr. Hansen, based on how he looks and what he does, does not fit the symptoms of Asperger Syndrome."

      You cannot tell from a still photo, or even often when someone is in the same room with you that they have Aspergers. By his age, he will have learned a lot of tricks that are used to minimize the effects of Aspergers.

      You would not know I have Aspergers considering I am a physicist, am musician, a veteran, a father, and many more things .
      You would see it more when I was a child, but as a mature adult, I have learned how to fit in, how to interact etc, though it does not come naturally for me.

      Stop posting this since you clearly do not know any with Aspergers, and are only furthering stereotypes.

      October 20, 2013 at 1:19 pm |
      • Jen

        I agree Richard. A person can live a normal life with Aspergers. It's not how a person looks.

        October 20, 2013 at 1:26 pm |
        • Richard Cranium

          Thanks Jen.
          I think you can live an extraordinary life, as mine has been.
          In my case, I am "high functioning", but I think I am high functioning for a human, not just any syndromes they diagnose.

          October 20, 2013 at 1:40 pm |
        • truthprevails1

          Yes, I have two friends who have children with Aspergers...one has this amazing Green Thumb and loves gardening, hopes to study Botany; the other is a lover of anything to do with geology. Both are very focused and associte with adults better than they do people their own ages.

          October 20, 2013 at 2:13 pm |
        • Richard Cranium

          TP1
          I kknow what you mean about interaction with adults vs. people your own age. I had to force myself to play with other kids...it was either try to interact or get picked on for not interacting.

          My mother told me when I was in my twenties, when I asked her something about my childhood. She said " You were never really a child. You were asking adult questions and expecting adult answers from the time you could speak."

          Looking back, the Aspergers ( undiagnosed at the time) is likely why I do fixate on religion and what people believe. I remember being asked to leave sunday school since the teachers could not answer my questions. The situation baffled me....there I was trying to learn, but it didn't make sense and when I questioned what I was being taught, it made everyone upset, like asking a question was wrong. I was 6. Religion still baffles me....why people would believe ONE thing, when there are so many other things, and no one has any evidence that what they say is true...so why believe any of it.

          October 20, 2013 at 2:55 pm |
      • BrianRunsPhilly

        What a great reply. I have a son with Aspergers. He is a complex, intelligent, successful loving human being. As an adult he also learned how to do an amazing job of masking Aspergers to the outside world. Aspergers is part of what makes him special. We see it, his girlfriend sees it, but if you were to meet him you'd have no idea.

        October 20, 2013 at 1:46 pm |
        • Richard Cranium

          That at!tude will help your son more than anything else you can offer.
          It is not some devestating diagnosis...when they finally diagnosed me, everything made sense finally. I saw it was not a bad thing, it is just one of the things that make me different, and our differnces are what makes us all stronger.
          I enjoy my solitude, it is a comfort zone. I had to learn to socialize, and am often seen as quirky, weird, but no more than any "normals" seem to be to me. I have learned to handle social situations, but I am never really comfortable. Getting out of your comfort zone is challenging but necessary to grow. I just have a different perspective and a different driving force behind my mind. I use humor as my main tool to be able to handle social situations. Sometimes it takes people a while to get my jokes though.
          Encourage him, as you would with any child, and they will always surprise you.

          October 20, 2013 at 2:07 pm |
    • Jen

      Seriously? His doctor is the only one who can diagnose him. Do you think he wants to have this disorder? There are many levels of Aspergers including the lower spectrum.

      October 20, 2013 at 1:24 pm |
    • Al

      So, you base someone's ability based on their appearance? Have you never posed for a photograph before? The photographer generally tells you exactly what to do.

      You're telling us a radio dj cannot possess the qualities of aspergers?

      No significant language delays – he's a DJ do I guess that works.
      A lack of eye to eye contact – He's a DJ, not much eye contact needed.
      Unusual body posture or social expressions – He's a DJ, no one can see his posture or expressions.
      Difficulty making friends – if you read the article he tells you that he did have these problems.
      A preoccupation with one subject – his christianity.
      No interest in interactive play – You don't have to be too interactive behind a microphone. This was likely more of a challenge as a child.
      An inflexible att-itude toward change" – he does the exact same thing every day.

      Your post also precludes the fact that after 43 years of life he could have possibly found a way to overcome the challenges life presented him and found himself in a line of work that he can enjoy.

      October 20, 2013 at 1:29 pm |
    • Reality # 2

      Again, Asperger's Syndrome diagnosis is not based on blood testing or brain scanning i.e. no objective testing available. There are many other Syndromes that could be the cause of the problem. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder being a common one. Or many none at all. Could be simply a brain maturation problem.

      October 20, 2013 at 4:39 pm |
  13. Dick Wiggler

    Mr. Spock wouldn't go to church: he's smart.

    October 20, 2013 at 12:56 pm |
    • John

      Exactly!

      October 20, 2013 at 1:04 pm |
    • BrianRunsPhilly

      Some of the most intelligent people on this planet believe in G-d.

      October 20, 2013 at 1:04 pm |
      • Well Duh

        What is your definition of intelligence, and intelligent in what area? What are their reasons for believing? Which god do they believe in?

        October 20, 2013 at 1:08 pm |
        • Richard

          you are a salesman

          October 20, 2013 at 1:16 pm |
      • Jesus built my hotrod

        Why do it spell it G-d? Is it like the one who can't be named? Is CNN full of atheists? Blaspheeeemers!

        October 20, 2013 at 1:31 pm |
        • BrianRunsPhilly

          It's a custom in the Jewish religion. It's a form of respect. Unlike your comment.

          October 20, 2013 at 1:41 pm |
        • Jesus built my hotrod

          Hey man I am down. Old testament>new I say. Vengeful judgmental GOD>Loving God. Way more cities razed, unnecessary salt creation, and bad bets with the devil screwing people over. At least back then he made his presence known, amirite?

          October 20, 2013 at 1:58 pm |
        • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

          Yeah...because god hate "O's"....he hates it when someone uses specific symbols to spell his name.

          Dashes are acceptable, he knows a dash = O but dashes are not evil like "O's" are.

          October 20, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
        • FYI

          Leaving out the "o" in "God" is pretty much a superst.itious fear of having someone deface the name in the future.

          "It is worth noting that this prohibition against erasing or defacing Names of God applies only to Names that are written in some kind of permanent form. Orthodox rabbis have held that writing on a computer is not a permanent form, thus it is not a violation to type God's Name into a computer and then backspace over it or cut and paste it, or copy and delete files with God's Name in them. However, once you print the doc.ument out, it becomes a permanent form. That is why observant Jews avoid writing a Name of God online: because there is a risk that someone else will print it out and deface it."
          http://www.jewfaq.org/name.htm

          October 20, 2013 at 2:26 pm |
    • rynalan

      Mr. Spock is intelligent, but the real reason he would never be in church is because he is logical and (essentially)emotionless. Church requires you to check logic at the door, and has a strong emotional component. Many intelligent people attend church because they were raised that way. I distinguish between intelligence and education.

      Jeff Schadt, coordinator of Youth Transition Network, says thousands of youth fall away from the church when transitioning from high school to college. He and other youth leaders estimate that 65 to 94 percent of high school students stop attending church after graduating.

      October 20, 2013 at 2:10 pm |
  14. repmovsw

    this:
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zFDmcDW9uwc&w=640&h=390]

    October 20, 2013 at 12:44 pm |
  15. repmovsw

    Goin' home, late last night
    Suddenly I got a fright
    Yeah I looked throught the window
    And surprised what I saw
    A Fairy with boots on dancin' with a dwarf
    Alright now!

    Fairies wear boots and now you gotta believe me
    Yeah I saw it, I saw it
    I tell you no lie

    Yeah Fairies had boots and you gotta believe me
    I saw it, I saw it with my own two eyes
    Woah right now!

    So I went to the doctor to see what he could give me
    He said Son, son, you've gone too far
    'Cause smokin' and trippin' is all that you do
    Yeah!

    October 20, 2013 at 12:29 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      Mmmmm....Sabbath....nice

      October 20, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
  16. Tevii

    If Mr. Spock, then he would be illogical and no longer Mr. Spock

    October 20, 2013 at 12:23 pm |
  17. Bill Cooper

    Watch "Star Trek" from the beginning episodes up to the present, and you will begin to realize that it was an indoctrination into the concepts of socialism through subliminal initiation of the youth of the nation. The Captains James T. Kirk (JTK = KTJ) and Christopher Pike are symbolic salutes to the Order of the Knights of the Temple of Jerusalem, and to the Brotherhoods greatest philosopher and probably its most prolific writer the "Christed" Albert Pike. The Enterprise represents their "great work".

    October 20, 2013 at 12:10 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      Odd claim, since Gene Roddenberry was an agnostic and knew that religion were a source of great suffering for man-kind.

      What evidence do you have for your claims?

      October 20, 2013 at 12:46 pm |
      • BrianRunsPhilly

        It's his interpretation of the Word of Gene. Seriously, not all that different from the spin people have placed on the bible to suit their preconceived world views.

        October 20, 2013 at 12:52 pm |
      • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

        JTK = KTJ.....c'mon what more do you need?

        October 20, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
    • Steel On Target

      If I push play on Pink Floyds The Dark Side of the Moon album as the Enterprise races across the screen will I get more insight as well? You sound as bad as the folks who see the virgin mary in their toast.

      October 20, 2013 at 12:54 pm |
      • Jesus Christ Son of God

        That is soooo good! I will try this shortly and post results.

        October 20, 2013 at 1:51 pm |
  18. john

    Like my pastor always said...."god loves you, now pull down your pants son"

    October 20, 2013 at 12:06 pm |
    • Namaste

      But you turned up well, so whats the problem? Didnt like it?

      October 20, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
  19. Michael

    Fashionable apologetics here...Christianity is still a delusion–what a waste of Asperger's–or perhaps that's just a fashionable way of saying...

    October 20, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
    • Scott

      What a waste of internet data you are, quit clogging peoples pixels with your bigoted drivel.

      October 20, 2013 at 12:30 pm |
      • Cpt. Obvious

        What was bigoted about those statements?

        October 20, 2013 at 1:41 pm |
        • G to the T

          Apparently, anyone who disagrees with Scott is by default, a bigot.

          October 21, 2013 at 5:02 pm |
  20. tony

    Religion has all the morality that the collection plate endows it with.

    October 20, 2013 at 11:58 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.