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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. Fr33th1nk3r

    So, to sum up the article– the author suffers from Asperberger's syndrome– and instead of attending therapy to get over his social anxieties, he has retreated farther into a mythical fantasy world where Asperberger's does not matter. And he felt good doing it. Nobody has ever been turned away by an imaginary friend....
    I am sure heroin addicts feel good and transcendental everytime they drop the plunger and indulge in their fantasy as well.

    November 25, 2013 at 5:50 pm |
  2. Former "Fundy"

    Lol. You folks all done gone craaazy.

    November 14, 2013 at 12:17 am |
    • modestypress

      When I was about 30 years old, I realized I was a religious fanatic. Of the atheist variety. I suppose I will go to hell, but i doubt it. If you go to heaven, part of the pleasure of heaven is watching me writhe in hell. I'll wave at you.

      November 20, 2013 at 11:19 pm |
  3. Michelle from Iowa

    Thank you so much for sharing, Brant! My husband and daughter are both aspies and you gave me a whole new dimension to understanding it!

    November 8, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
  4. LanceThruster

    Abigail – The killing of an innocent creature in such a horrific fashion (drowning) is vile, soul or not. And the argument that dead babies are in a better place is equally as vile (IMHO).

    I do not see the God of the bible as having any ethical foundation. He is as capricious as the gods of the Greeks.

    November 8, 2013 at 2:03 pm |
    • Abigail Holmes

      Genesis 6:5-6 says "The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth and saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. So The Lord was sorry he ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart." So would it have been better to just let everyone destroy themselves? Ravish the land to famine and fill the streets with murder and hate?? The reason he did that was because besides Noah's family, there was not one good soul that walked the earth. Could you imagine living in a world where everyone hated each other and always fought and was always just out for themselves?? Don't you think that'd be awful? (I'm not saying that's necessarily how it was... I don't know cuz I wasn't there... But I assume it would've gotten that way eventually). Referring back to our dog analogy... Would you let that pack of dogs live when you'd just have to keep them locked up and you knew that they'd eventually just kill each other? Don't you think it'd be more humane to just put them down?

      November 8, 2013 at 6:03 pm |
      • LanceThruster

        Abigail – I think you are making my case for me.

        If I had actually *created* the dogs, not just raised them, every aspect of the character and behavior would be *my* responsibility.

        November 11, 2013 at 12:16 pm |
        • Abigail Holmes

          Hmmm.... I don't really think so but if u do that's ok. Anyway... I think the point I'm trying to say is that God created us to love. Love Him and love each other . And to be loved by Him. And he also gave us free will as I said before. So we have the right to choose what we do. God is not at all responsible for our actions. We are. We choose to do whatever we want therefore we must pay the consequences. Sounds to me like someone is trying to push the blame off on someone else... ; ). But really... There's good and there's evil. God is good and Satan is evil. They both try to win our hearts... So instead of God forcing us to be robots and make us live by His will WE get to choose... And if you choose to not follow God that's totally fine. But He can't be held responsible for that... Yes we are born sinners. We all have evil desires and have deceiving hearts. But God gives us the Bible and GOOD churches and Godly people to help us and teach us how we can live a blessed and abundant life. They give us the option to learn how God really meant for us to live. But again the choice is ours. And only we can be held responsible for what we choose.

          November 21, 2013 at 1:41 pm |
        • LanceThruster

          According to the bible, God is the source of *all* things (even Satan and evil).

          “Strange...a God who could make good children as easily as bad, yet preferred to make bad ones; who made them prize their bitter life, yet stingily cut it short; mouths Golden Rules and forgiveness multiplied seventy times seven and invented Hell; who mouths morals to other people and has none himself; who frowns upon crimes yet commits them all; who created man without invitation, then tries to shuffle the responsibility for man's acts upon man, instead of honorably placing it where it belongs, upon himself; and finally with altogether divine obtuseness, invites this poor, abused slave to worship him!”
          ―Mark Twain

          November 21, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
      • Abigail Holmes

        God is not the source of evil. God cannot commit evil or even put those things in our mind. Satan is the source of all evil. Satan was an angel of God but fell from Heaven because he was evil. Satan and only satan is the source of evil. Not God.

        December 14, 2013 at 2:18 am |
        • LanceThruster

          God is the source of all things (according to the Bible). Satan knew God on a personal basis and still reject God. Maybe Satan knew something.

          December 16, 2013 at 12:26 pm |
  5. Lesley

    These posts are sad. It is fine to have your opinion, but disrespect that many of you are showing proves your immaturity. Brant, this is an awesome post from your heart. Thanks for sharing with us. Disregard the ridiculous comments and know that God is using you. Remember how hard Paul's heart once was..... So sad that people made you feel like the reason you didn't have those 'experiences' was because you rejected God- sorry they made you feel like God rejected you. I hope He does bless you with those experiences you were looking for and I believe He will. Thank you for reminding us of God's love- and remember, none of us fit in here so don't feel alone 🙂 Thank you for blessing the church with your post.

    November 3, 2013 at 12:43 am |
    • Ryan Stowell

      In Matthew 13:9-11 after Jesus tells the parable of the sower he says, "He who has ears, let him hear" The disciples came to him and asked, "Why do you speak to the people in parables?" He replied, "The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them."

      November 6, 2013 at 9:43 am |
      • Bob Arctor

        What do you mean by that?

        November 13, 2013 at 7:06 pm |
        • LanceThruster

          Blessed are the cheese-makers?

          November 13, 2013 at 7:17 pm |
        • LovelyRedemption

          I believe the implied message was that some people get it, and others don't. Yet perhaps one day, they will. I hope. After having compared a self-serving life to a Christ-centered life with love for others...I wouldn't trade my relationship with Christ for the world. (I have aspergers as well Brant. Thanks for sharing)

          November 27, 2013 at 1:58 am |
  6. wlradun

    I am ashamed of all the negativity! They don't get it! They are not on the spectrum! I totally get it! I have walked through your shoes! Joyce Meyer is one of my favorites! You should Battlefield of the Mind! That might help especially dealing with people! But God and Jesus has always been there with us! Especially through the tough times!

    November 2, 2013 at 2:44 pm |
  7. yoozyerbrain

    oops, meant that post to be a reply to DyslexicDog on the previous page...oh well...

    November 1, 2013 at 1:38 pm |
  8. yoozyerbrain

    I do think it's important that great anti-theist Americans like DyslexicDog and myself, and the many others here, not vilify or demonize (for lack of a better word) those still stuck in the throes of supersti tious fear. It is hard to break.

    I think we have to vocally fight hard against the anti-American evangelical types that represent all of the various supersti tions, but the general population of fear-sheep are more to be pitied than vilified.

    They've been brainwashed into thinking, among other things, that being unreasonbly supersti tious is distinctly USA American even though the Enlightenment Founding Fathers wrote extensively against the pernicious influence of the supersti tion-mongers.

    We have to fix them with reason and American intelligence, American forthrightness, and American ground-breaking enlightenment. sigh....I'm such an optimist...

    November 1, 2013 at 1:37 pm |
  9. yoozyerbrain

    Poor guy, couldn't understand that he was just seeing through the crap superst ition that was foisted on him from birth. How could trusted people lie to him like that, is what his subconscious was screaming.

    He still had to fall back on "je sus" because he doesn't understand his psychology yet, but my guess is this is an atheist in the closet. He just hasn't finished the de-programming because that fear has been programmed since birth and is hard to overcome.

    I still think there should be no one under 18 allowed in religion/supersti tion buildings period. Pass a law acknowledging that it's child abuse to teach supersti tion as fact to children.

    Superst ition-based fear-mongers keep people afraid and the whole religion thing is undemocratic and Anti-American. Ignorance is taught.

    STOP THE CHILD ABUSE. BAN SUPERSTI TION-BASED TEACHING TO ANYONE UNDER 18! Teach children ethics, not evil, subjective, judgemental morals.

    November 1, 2013 at 1:16 pm |
    • bw

      Jesus is the only name by which you may be saved. Just remember that when you bow before the King of kings. He died for you and He loves you so much, so much that He will let YOU go to hell because YOU dont want HIM. its easy, I and you dont deserve salvation, we deserve hell, which was made for Satan and his angels, but people choose hell when they reject Jesus, the one who takes the sin of the world away. Reject Jesus and you and I must pay for our sins. Period.

      November 4, 2013 at 9:12 pm |
      • LanceThruster

        @bw – What followers of the supposed 'revealed knowledge' of the bible don't realize is that your references to God and Jesus sound to the ears of the non-/unbeliever as Zeus and Zeus Jr. Furthermore, there seems to be a sadistic pleasure in watching the unsaved be damned to hellfire though we see that on the same par as the same contrivances as Santa and the Tooth Fairy.

        "I contend we are both atheists, I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours."
        ...Stephen F Roberts

        November 5, 2013 at 11:50 am |
        • Abigail Holmes

          I'm still praying for you btw LanceThruster : ). But I think, well I know, you're mistaken when you say that there's pleasure in watching the unsaved be damned to hellfire. A true Christian would never ever get pleasure out of that. And if they do then they don't really know Gods love. We don't want anyone to go to Hell! What we really want is for everyone to experience the pure love that comes from God and realize that there's a better way to live. We rejoice when a new believer comes into our family. Never when they enter into Satans family. Why are you so against God and refuse his love? Are you angry with Him??

          November 21, 2013 at 1:56 pm |
        • LanceThruster

          It's very generous of you to continue praying for me. It can't hurt. I cannot pretend to believe what I do not. God would know. There is no god (IMHO) for me to be angry at, but the god as described by believers is unworthy of my worship.

          I hope for the sake of all those whose lives have been brutal and short and full of pain, that it is possible to be made up to them...but I'll live my life as if this is the only opportunity we have to try to bring about justice.

          Here are my two favorite quotes re: prayer.

          "Prayer – It's the *least* you can do."

          –and–

          "Nothing fails like prayer."

          Sincere regards, Abigail

          LT

          November 21, 2013 at 2:14 pm |
        • Abigail Holmes

          Why is He not worthy of your worship? And what is IMHO?? And if you're a true believer prayer never fails. It may not get answered the way we want or when we want but that's the beauty of it. It can get answered in ways more awesome and powerful than we could imagine. We only see a very very small part of the picture but God sees it all. He knows better than us what will bring us the most joy. And if we trust Him and let Him do his thing well live a very blessed life. "For I know the plans I have for you declares The Lord plans to prosper you and not to harm you."

          December 14, 2013 at 2:27 am |
        • LanceThruster

          IMHO = In My Honest (or Humble) Opinion.

          The God of the Bible is unworthy of worship in my opinion because He is the creator of all things yet could not dial down the untold misery life entails for many innocent beings.

          According to the Bible, God is the source of all things (even the Devil). The devil is a being who supposedly knew God first hand, but still rejected Him. Maybe the problem is with God, no?

          December 16, 2013 at 12:24 pm |
  10. Realist

    ..................................................

    ... http://www.GODisIMAGINARY.com ...

    ... and thank goodness ...

    ... because he emanates from the ...

    ... http://www.EVILbible.com

    ..................................................

    November 1, 2013 at 6:51 am |
  11. LanceThruster

    Ponderingt the Spock reaction...I think he got that wrong. I think I get the Spock reaction when, as an atheist, I'm in the presence of praise and worship services. I feel like an anthropologist studying an alien culture.

    October 31, 2013 at 12:35 pm |
    • Jeff

      Lance, you are spot on. As believers, the Bible tells us Christians that we are aliens and strangers just passing through this world. So your analogy is correct.

      November 7, 2013 at 4:29 pm |
      • LanceThruster

        Yet though xians "know" they have the pot at the end of the rainbow and eternal life waiting for them, in my experience they are some of the most self-centered and petty individuals I have encountered. While this can be a common trait of any human being, xians should demonstrate in a manner undeniable that they know this life is just a blip in the scheme of things.

        “Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words” ~ St. Francis of Assisi

        November 7, 2013 at 4:42 pm |
        • Elizabentley

          Not all Christians believe in that quote. The bible tells us that faith comes by hearing so not only should we be living out as an example pointed towards Christ but we should be witnesses for him and shouting the truth from the roof tops! What you have to understand is that Christians are still human and we are going to have our faults and we are going to come off petty and whatever else even when we don't mean to. What you also have to remember is that there are a lot of people that like to live under the label Christian but not live a life that honors God. I might even go so far as to say that many of these people are not actually Christians.

          November 12, 2013 at 9:44 pm |
        • LanceThruster

          @Elizabentley – I don't even think Christ's 'sacrifice' is that much of a deal because He knew it was not the end of the line for Him. A human being has no assurances, yet xians claim even they possess this knowledge of their ultimate fate. If a person *really* grasped this, their behavior in this brief time one earth would be radically different, knowing that an eternity of reward awaited them. Sadly, they act more like one whistling past the graveyard.

          November 13, 2013 at 11:44 am |
  12. DM Murdock

    Her manic phase can last a while. She posts nonstop until she quiets the voices in her head. They tell her the world depends on her for its salvation.

    October 31, 2013 at 11:04 am |
  13. tanyadoyle

    What Mr. Spock has to do with this??? Nothing at all. Very dumb article with totally irrelevant photo of Spock, and the actor who portrayed Spock is Jewish, so why put his name and photo?

    October 31, 2013 at 10:08 am |
    • Brooke Willson

      The connection is the previous paragraph: "Feeling like an alien at church . . . " An a highly emotional evangelical tent revival, the cerebral Mr. Spock might be "fascinated" but would not feel like he belonged, or that he wanted to participate.

      October 31, 2013 at 10:57 am |
    • MomOfAspieGirl

      I don't know if this is the exact reason for choosing Spock in this article, but we often refer to my Aspergers (or excuse me, "autism spectrum disorder") daughter as being like Spock because she thinks so logically. Unless it is a pun, she does not understand jokes. Everything has to make sense to her. This is an Aspergers trait. This may be where the Spock reference comes from – from Aspergers trait perspective and not Christianity reference.

      November 23, 2013 at 12:50 am |
  14. joe barnathan

    The ending of the sentence just below mr spock photo reads "my father was a pastor so I went to church a lot" anyone just web surfing and not reading the article may believe that is fact.

    Mr Nemoy was born from immigrant orthodox jewish parents from Russia

    October 31, 2013 at 7:23 am |
  15. Born2BModerated

    And his mom, helpless, broken, weeping, pleading with him to come down while rough men taunt him, come down fool. Big miracle worker. Strut your stuff now, king baby

    October 31, 2013 at 2:11 am |
    • sam stone

      Yea there king boy. Do a miracle! Some king of the Jews u r pal, sneering and snarling. Just like athies! Right dodo?

      October 31, 2013 at 2:14 am |
  16. Born2BModerated

    Do u c him there, wrything in agony? Blood and mud and hell and shrieking and death and wailing

    October 31, 2013 at 2:08 am |
  17. LanceThruster

    http://theoatmeal.com/comics/religion

    October 29, 2013 at 3:02 pm |
  18. LanceThruster

    God sent God to die for God so that God could forgive God's creations according to God's unbending rules ~ LanceThruster

    Too Rube Goldberg for me.

    October 29, 2013 at 11:54 am |
    • Abigail Holmes

      Actually... God sent Jesus, his son, to first live as an example to us, and then die on the cross for us so we wouldn't have to die ourselves for our sins. And yes we are his creation... But since he has given us free will, people choose to do wrong and sin and therefore require forgiveness. The thing is, is that God has already forgiven us, you me and everyone, he has given us grace. All we have to do is accept it. Now maybe you'll see this as condescending or say you don't need it or something... But I will pray for you. I will have you in my heart so that maybe someday you will experience Gods love. He made us to love us. : )

      November 5, 2013 at 9:09 pm |
      • LanceThruster

        Abigail – It still seems too convoluted, as well as deplorable to put people in the positions that life can mete out to a person without their consent.

        If *I* had the power to keep people, particularly children, from suffering so horribly, there'd be no question that I would use that power.

        That's why Twain remarked, "If there is a god, he is a malign thug."

        November 6, 2013 at 7:38 pm |
        • Abigail Holmes

          Yes He can stop people from suffering... But if He did it for one, then He'd have to do it for all. and to stop people from suffering He'd have to stop the people causing the suffering therefore taking away their free will. But He gave us that free will because He doesn't want us to be robots. He wants us to CHOOSE to love him and CHOOSE to do the right thing. Not have it be forced upon us. If Gods will was being done on earth... There would be no suffering. He is a God of love and compassion and wants us all to get along and love each other. The only place there will be no suffering is Heaven because in Heaven there is no sin. As long as people are on earth they will choose to do wrong and and sin and therefore cause suffering and pain.

          November 6, 2013 at 8:31 pm |
        • LanceThruster

          Abigail – If you believe in the God of the bible, he drowned innocent babies, puppies, and kittens in a fit of rage. In order to teach humanity don't mess with him, and it didn't even work. The 'righteous' he saved reverted to their nature that he created them with apparently.

          If I created a dog from the dust of the ground, and it bit you...who would you hold responsible, me, or the dog?

          November 7, 2013 at 11:50 am |
        • Abigail Holmes

          I do understand where you're coming from. But the thing about that is 1. Puppies don't have souls and they're just animals (no offense to dog lovers cuz I am one, but I'm more worried about people's souls), and 2. Yes it is very sad that innocent babies died... But I'd have to say being in a place where they wouldn't grow up surrounded by hate and sin and only be bathed in love sounds much better. And I say to you... If you raised a litter of puppies and taught them how to behave and potty trained them and took them to obedience school and gave them everything they needed to be the best litter of puppies EVER and they still ran around chewing stuff up and peeing on everything and biting and attacking people... What would you do?

          November 8, 2013 at 12:19 am |
  19. monax

    'As you come to him, a living stone REJECTED BY MEN but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.' ~Peter

    October 26, 2013 at 8:41 pm |
    • sam stone.

      quotes from a book only apply to those who acknowledge the supposed authority of the book

      October 28, 2013 at 4:49 am |
      • Brian Buchanan

        That depends upon the book, and authority doesn't have to be recognized to be real. Many throughout history could testify to that.

        October 30, 2013 at 11:47 pm |
      • One one

        Facts from anywhere apply to everyone whether u believe in lift, for ecample, or not.

        What u think of entropy has nothing to do with its reality. And u no it. U r a troublemaker

        November 1, 2013 at 7:46 am |
      • One one

        Facts from anywhere apply to everyone whether u believe in lift, for example, or not.

        What u think of entropy has nothing to do with its reality. And u no it. U r a troublemaker

        November 1, 2013 at 7:48 am |
        • One one

          Shut up cheese face. U remove every post that rubs u the wrong way and a few of your own because your posts outnumber others by 500 to one. Moron.

          She can't get away with anything with me here

          November 1, 2013 at 7:54 am |
    • LanceThruster

      Psalm 14:1

      King James Version (KJV)

      The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.

      Of *course* the writers of the bible would say that.

      October 29, 2013 at 4:36 pm |
  20. serea2013

    I sympathize with you, as I have Asperger's too. Getting to church for me is hard cause people have a bad habit of being touchy-feely there, I.e. hugging and getting to close. It can make getting their very stressful for someone like me. However I get out there on occasion, and then connect to Good and fellow Christians in my theology classes. I know this seems weird, but find going to my courses for my MA studies is more like church for me than going too church. I'm thankful God provided that for me.

    October 26, 2013 at 10:53 am |
    • yoozyerbrain

      Fight it, Serea, fight the evil superst ition foisted on you from birth!

      It's ok to be free of it, you'll still be a good person I guarantee it! And if there's a go od and it judges you inferior and dam n worthy, what kind of god is that anyway? Would you do anything so heinous as "eternal torture and dam nation" to any of your children?

      What kind of evil-doer creates billions of beings just to torture? A freak...an alien....a supersti tious hoax perpetrated on you by corrupt (what else could liars be?) priests and their ilk.

      Fight it fight it fight it! It's your ethical duty to fight the superst ition!

      November 1, 2013 at 1:27 pm |
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