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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. CAW

    Spock would just say "Show me the evidence of the existence of God. Show me one example of a REAL miracle instead of statistical anomalies. Only then could I entertain the possibility of belief of your deity."

    October 19, 2013 at 5:23 pm |
    • CAW

      Spock is a made up character a figment of imagination for entertainment purposes. How closely do you follow Spock and your TV?Where do you expect"spock" to speak?

      October 19, 2013 at 5:37 pm |
      • sybaris

        God(s) are made up characters

        October 19, 2013 at 5:43 pm |
      • caw(the first one)

        Why did you use my own name in reply to my post?

        October 20, 2013 at 1:09 pm |
  2. Anita

    i don't believe in atheism. To me, it's just a bunch of people trying too hard to ignore the obvious.

    October 19, 2013 at 5:22 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      Ignore what? That there's no 'there' there – nothing to argue about? No need for the word atheist because there's nothing to be without?

      October 19, 2013 at 5:25 pm |
    • Alias

      i don't believe in god. To me, it's just a bunch of insecure people trying too hard to ignore the facts that make them nervous. All religions offer the same thing. None of them can deliver.

      October 19, 2013 at 5:42 pm |
    • HenryMiller

      If it were "obvious," it wouldn't have to be called "faith."

      October 19, 2013 at 5:43 pm |
      • sybaris

        HenryMiller<<<<<<<<<<<<< Rocks!

        October 19, 2013 at 5:45 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Well, gosh, Anita. At least your proud of your ignorance.

      October 19, 2013 at 7:42 pm |
  3. JJ

    I wonder what Gene Roddenberry, atheist creator of Star Trek and Spock, would think of Christians trying to claim him as their own?

    October 19, 2013 at 5:15 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      i've wondered that when christians have hijacked john lennon's "imagine" and changed the lyrics to make it religious. it's funny and sad at the same time.

      October 19, 2013 at 5:20 pm |
      • Lionly Lamb

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

        October 19, 2013 at 5:35 pm |
  4. Bootyfunk

    "And he sums up the entirety of complex and confusing religious laws with this: “Love God, and love your neighbor.”"
    +++ just love your neighbor, no deities necessary for that. occam's razor.

    October 19, 2013 at 5:11 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      Without God there is no love,

      October 19, 2013 at 5:16 pm |
      • Bootyfunk

        sure there is. it would be childish to believe your love of a fairy tale is greater than your love of someone real, like a spouse, parent or child. love people, not fairy tales.

        October 19, 2013 at 5:19 pm |
        • Bootyfunk

          Without God there is no love fairy "love" is no more than perverted lust.

          October 19, 2013 at 5:21 pm |
        • Alias

          According to you, all the people in the worls who are not christians feel no love.
          You
          are
          an
          idiot.

          October 19, 2013 at 5:44 pm |
      • sybaris

        which god?

        October 19, 2013 at 5:45 pm |
        • Jeff Grigg

          Eros, I would have to assume.

          >;->

          October 19, 2013 at 6:11 pm |
        • Crom

          An emotion is just an emotion, nothing more. It has no supernatural origins, effects, relationships, or existence.
          Emotions are just distortions of our more primitive instincts. That is why they can blind people to reason, facts, or reality – they are only associated with thoughts and memories according to our primate tendencies and use up processing power in the brain – often to excess. They can arise without warning, without any connection to any thought and represent a certain level of chemicals rushing through the blood vessels in your brain, not some super-duper parent figure made of magic.
          But why do I bother explaining to irrational delusional fools who refuse all reason, all common sense, and instead cling to their delusions to their own destruction? Because I need something to do inbetween tasks. That's the only reason I bother.

          October 19, 2013 at 6:57 pm |
        • Crom

          Sorry sybaris, I wasn't posting in the right spot. Oh, well...

          October 19, 2013 at 6:58 pm |
  5. GodFreeNow

    I can't help but feel that natural selection will do away with religion in time.

    From a recent Wired article (http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/9.12/aspergers_pr.html):
    In the past decade, there has been a significant surge in the number of kids diagnosed with autism throughout California. In August 1993, there were 4,911 cases of so-called level-one autism logged in the state's Department of Developmental Services client-management system. This figure doesn't include kids with Asperger's syndrome, like Nick, but only those who have received a diagnosis of classic autism. In the mid-'90s, this caseload started spiraling up. In 1999, the number of clients was more than double what it had been six years earlier. Then the curve started spiking. By July 2001, there were 15,441 clients in the DDS database. Now there are more than seven new cases of level-one autism – 85 percent of them children – entering the system every day.

    Through the '90s, cases tripled in California. "Anyone who says this is due to better diagnostics has his head in the sand."

    October 19, 2013 at 5:10 pm |
    • Spectator

      GodFreeNow,

      I'm not sure that I understand how an increase in Autism/Aspergers will cause a decline in religion.

      I posted this on the first page, but nobody has commented yet:

      Some manifestations of Asperger's Disorder:

      2. Restricted and repet.itive patterns of behavior, interests, and activities, as shown by at least one of the following symptoms:

      - A significant and encompassing preoccupation or obsession with one or two restricted topics, that is abnormal either in intensity, subject or focus (such as baseball statistics or the weather) [Religion?]

      - Seemingly inflexible adherence to specific routines or rituals that serve little purpose

      http://psychcentral.com/lib/symptoms-of-aspergers-disorder/000877

      October 19, 2013 at 5:22 pm |
    • abqTim

      Just like God said would happen. Guess what happens afterwards.

      October 19, 2013 at 5:27 pm |
  6. Jeff Grigg

    Different people have different perspectives on the spiritual gift of discernment. You're not supposed to have all the spiritual gifts. But you might have one.

    October 19, 2013 at 5:05 pm |
    • Lionly Lamb

      Some will say, "Low here" while others claim, "There it is" but do not follow for the true kingdom of God is inside one's being on such a finite scale that many will deny the Godly kingdom domains their being an internal dominion of subatomic spatial considerations...

      October 19, 2013 at 5:15 pm |
  7. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    I'll go home, and I'll think of some way to get Him back. After all, tomorrow is ... another day!

    October 19, 2013 at 4:59 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things
      Proven

      October 19, 2013 at 5:00 pm |
      • God

        stop posting as Bootyfunk or i'll tell everyone why your nephews are scared to spend the night at their uncle's house...

        October 19, 2013 at 5:05 pm |
        • God

          All persons especially children live in fear of spending the night at battyfinks house

          October 19, 2013 at 5:07 pm |
      • TheTruth

        You are one delusional nutcase. Keep brainwashing children. sicko.

        October 19, 2013 at 5:08 pm |
        • Bootyfunk

          The brain ain't the part of children that needs washing when I get done with them.

          October 19, 2013 at 5:13 pm |
  8. Lakeside Middle School

    I'm always messing around with my radio dial in the car, and I listen to everything from Christian to NPR to KROQ. It was very much God who had me punch the button to your station just as you were speaking about this essay. Yes, you will undoubtedly receive some less than complementary feedback, but you'll also receive lots of love and support. Either way, you've gotten people to think and talk about God, the church, and the legalisms and expectations which have kept many from embracing Christianity. While not an Aspie myself (as far as I know), I share your feelings. I often feel like a misfit at church and wonder how everyone around me can feel so connected. It's important to talk about these things. God and Jesus are for everyone, not just those who fit the mold. Blessings to you.

    October 19, 2013 at 4:55 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      you don't need god to be a good person.

      October 19, 2013 at 5:00 pm |
      • Bootyfunk

        When I spell god with a small g it means I am referring to an idol

        October 19, 2013 at 5:03 pm |
        • God

          but i don't really exist, so don't worry about about.

          October 19, 2013 at 5:07 pm |
        • Crom

          Obsessive and compulsive behaviors find a snug bed of delusional blindness in silly ideologies. Derp.

          October 19, 2013 at 7:01 pm |
      • Bootyfunk

        idolatry can never make a good person only God is good

        October 19, 2013 at 5:04 pm |
  9. Lionly Lamb

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tH2w6Oxx0kQ&w=640&h=390]

    October 19, 2013 at 4:54 pm |
    • 7 of 9

      Great call, great video, great song, great band.

      October 19, 2013 at 6:14 pm |
  10. Reality # 2

    Mr. Hansen noted:

    "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 he sure looks very normal in the photo. Another form of "profit evangelism"? Hmmm??

    October 19, 2013 at 4:53 pm |
    • Kristen

      Can I ask what you believe someone on the autism spectrum is supposed to look like? I know quite a few people on the spectrum, and they look exactly like anyone else. I don't feel Mr. Hansen is a profit evangelist whatsoever. Please do some research before you make a blanket statement about people's appearances.

      October 19, 2013 at 5:19 pm |
      • 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.

        October 19, 2013 at 11:32 pm |
        • G to the T

          You mean of a CHILD that has this issue? Many aspies learn the basics of social communication as they grow up, but that's just it, they have to consciously learn them rather than pick them up subconsiously like most of us are able.

          October 21, 2013 at 2:08 pm |
    • JWT

      Why would he not look "normal" ?

      October 19, 2013 at 5:21 pm |
    • Vicky

      profit evangelism? this is the guy that buys inflatable bananas to give away on his radio show...

      October 19, 2013 at 5:35 pm |
  11. grace

    Thanks for the article Brant. I loved your honesty and courage.I am praying for all those unbelievers out there and those who wish to hurt with their words that you find Jesus. Our God is a God of love kindness and acceptance. It is sad when those who say they are Christians don't act that same way. Keep up the good work of proclaiming God's love. I love your show by the way.

    October 19, 2013 at 4:53 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      and we hope you some day leave the cult of christianity and think for yourself.

      October 19, 2013 at 4:59 pm |
      • Bootyfunk

        You too can become the horses ass I've made myself to be

        October 19, 2013 at 5:06 pm |
  12. Doris

    President Bush after 9/11: "Our God is the God who named the stars".
    How erroneous. Two-thirds of star names have Arabic names. They came from Islam's fertile period (AD 800-1100.) During that time Baghdad was the intellectual center of the world, open to people of all or no faiths. During that time were some of the greatest advances known to mankind: engineering, biology, medicine, mathematics, celestial navigation; this is the time and place that gave us numerals we use, terms like algebra and algorithm.

    Enter Imam Hamid al-Ghazali in the 12th century. The fundamentally religious period of Islam begins, and so begins the steady decline of free intellectual expression in that area of the world. Some would argue that it has since never recovered.

    As astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson explains, throughout history most of the great minds give virtually no mention to any god for their discoveries and explanations. (Ptolemy, Isaac Newton, Laplace, Huygens, Galileo.) That is, until they reach the problem they feel they cannot and will never fully tackle. Dr. Tyson demonstrates this with writings from the great minds in his talk "The Perimeter of Ignorance".

    Perhaps that is all God has ever been – a placeholder for discomfort or frustration over the unknown; an excuse of last resort when, for one reason or another, one gives up investigation. It is at that point of discomfort over the unknown when one should remember what humanity has already witnessed: that today's scientific explanations were often yesterday's gods.

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RxiLnC7ikw8&w=640&h=390]

    October 19, 2013 at 4:48 pm |
  13. Bootyfunk

    Spock a church goer? then he wouldn't be Spock anymore, would he? he would have abandoned logic in order to believe in magic - not really the vulcan thing...

    October 19, 2013 at 4:46 pm |
    • FrankinSD

      I’m not sure that I agree entirely. A lot of what goes on in churches is, as you suggest, either illogical or simply grounded in something other than logic. However, that doesn’t mean that logic has to fall silent in church. Spock could, for instance, invoke Occam’s Razor to assert that the “multiple realities” most religions depend on (a natural order existing alongside a supernatural order) is inherently improbable. Whatever reality amounts to, it is logical to assume that there is only one reality. Likewise, the idea common in many religions that people’s fates (either short- or long-term) are going to differ based on their beliefs seems inconsistent with our first conclusion. Given the unity of reality, it is reasonable to assume that people will share the same fate regardless of their guesses in advance about what that will eventually be. So Spock could actually do quite a bit in terms of thinking through religious belief. The “unity of reality” assumption, together with its “universal fate” corollary, leaves him in the exact position occupied by Unitarian Universalists.

      October 19, 2013 at 5:10 pm |
  14. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things

    October 19, 2013 at 4:41 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      actions cause change; prayer wastes valuable time.

      October 19, 2013 at 4:44 pm |
      • Bootyfunk

        I always act without plan or council which makes me the horses ass I really am !

        October 19, 2013 at 4:47 pm |
        • Bootyfunk

          didn't take long for you to steal my handle..
          hahaha,
          u mad bro?

          October 19, 2013 at 4:49 pm |
        • Bootyfunk

          No theft no foul, just an honest self appraisal

          October 19, 2013 at 4:53 pm |
        • God

          i'm not real. stop worshiping me and find something better to do with your time.

          October 19, 2013 at 4:56 pm |
        • God

          Oh and go ahes\ad and touch yourself battyfink its all you'll ever have.

          October 19, 2013 at 4:57 pm |
        • *

          bethfaithany,

          You have a council? A city council? Or do you just live in council housing (UK)?

          October 19, 2013 at 5:07 pm |
      • *

        What one so called atheist swears to another will come along and swear to

        October 19, 2013 at 5:15 pm |
        • *

          bethfaithany,

          So you don't know what a council is, do you?

          October 19, 2013 at 5:40 pm |
        • Crom

          I see someone still refuses to understand the dictionary definition of atheism. Some people just insist on being stupid.

          October 19, 2013 at 7:25 pm |
  15. CathyLS

    Brant, I think you explained it pretty clearly with such a provocative example. One of my daughter's friends is an Aspie, and until they were in college I'd never heard of the syndrome. It's a blessing to listen to you each day. Along with your insights you are a ton of fun! Don't worry about the haters. Their hearts haven't been softened and their eyes are still blind. Jesus & God love you, and They are the important ones, right?

    October 19, 2013 at 4:35 pm |
    • G to the T

      "Their hearts haven't been softened and their eyes are still blind. Jesus & God love you, and They are the important ones, right?" You do realize you've pretty much said "people without faith are somehow disabled" right?

      October 21, 2013 at 2:54 pm |
  16. Shawn Irwin

    We must question the story logic of having an all-knowing, all-powerful god, who creates faulty humans and then blames them for his own mistakes. Gene Roddenberry

    October 19, 2013 at 4:34 pm |
  17. Rebecca

    Brant, I have listened to your show for the past five years. I want to say thank you, and I hope that you read this. I understand completely how you feel, and how you've felt, because I feel that way every single day. Don't give up hope Brant, and don't worry about other people' criticism and mean comments. God works through you every day when I tune in and listen to you on Air1. Thank you.

    October 19, 2013 at 4:34 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      pretty sure you're confusing god with advertisers...

      October 19, 2013 at 4:47 pm |
      • Bootyfunk

        Again when I spell god with a small g I am talking about an idol. God alone is Sovereign

        October 19, 2013 at 5:09 pm |
      • Vicky

        except for the fact Air1 is listener supported.

        October 19, 2013 at 5:33 pm |
  18. Shawn Irwin

    Clearly religious people do far to many things that contradict what they supposedly believe in . . . . and throughout the ages, from the Christian children's crusade, the inquisition, the present day suicide bomber killing innocents, to the gung ho USA servicemen who is all to eager to fight for his "god", whether we should be fighting in the said country or not, that is not going to change any time soon. If you expect sanity from the likes of these kinds of folks, you'll have a long wait.

    October 19, 2013 at 4:32 pm |
  19. Observer

    Mr. Spock would say "I fail to see the logic of continuing to believe that a H. sapiens-shaped being created the universe." and then leave the building.

    October 19, 2013 at 4:31 pm |
  20. Lynne

    Truth is always ridiculed. Just look at our present political arena of ideas. Brant, you've got it right. Jesus is the only one who makes sense, and because it is as simple as He said, "it is finished" and His work was done by dying for the world's sins, the cross has become a stumbling block for both legalistic, keep myself saved believer and the skeptical and many times very rude unbeliever. Only the Holy Spirit can teach and bring understanding, and more than likely, you being an "Aspie" although I hate labels of any kind, allows you to see yourself as God sees you in Christ, holy, perfect, sanctified and redeemed.

    October 19, 2013 at 4:31 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      Atheism is ridiculed much more than Christianity, so I guess now you have to be an atheist. I can still decide to be a believer, though, because I think the amount of ridicule an idea receives has little bearing on its being "true" or not.

      October 19, 2013 at 4:38 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      "Only the Holy Spirit can teach and bring understanding"

      I have always found it funny that people with competing "Christian understanding" claim it all comes from the Holy Spirit, how is one supposed to be able to differentiate "real" holy spirit understanding from posers when it is completely a subjective position. You can't and if for no other reason "Christian understanding", or any religous understanding, should be rejected as nothing more than opinion.

      October 19, 2013 at 4:43 pm |
      • Lynne

        That's the great mystery of the Bible. You could read it and read it and never find God in its pages. It takes the third person of the triune God, the Holy Spirit to open your eyes to the truth the Bible contains. It is very unfortunate that man relying on his fleshly understanding has twisted Christianity and being in Christ so that many run from the church building screaming, but they are not running from Jesus, they are running from the religion that man has put in place of the relationship. Christianity has become churchianity and in America you are a Christian if you say you go to church. True Christianity is a relationship with Jesus Christ, the Son of God who died for the world's sins and was resurrected to give those who believe in Him His life. That is not opinion, that is the Gospel. But again it takes coming to the end of ourselves and our own sense of "goodness" and realizing that we are spiritually dead in need of His eternal, spiritual life.

        October 19, 2013 at 4:51 pm |
        • Spectator

          Wowzer,

          Fred Phelps says that he has the real "Holy Spirit".
          Eddie Long says that he has it.
          Nearly 40,000 other denominations of Christianity each say that *they* have it.
          Now, Lynne says that she has it.

          They do not all agree. They cannot all be right, but they can all be wrong.

          October 19, 2013 at 5:36 pm |
        • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

          Exactly Lynne, completely subjective. Anyone can claim they have a relationship with an invisible deity. How exactly do you determine who has the correct message? Everything you know about Jesus has come through the "filter" of other humans. According to you then it is all flawed and like I said, should be all rejected.

          "It is very unfortunate that man relying on his fleshly understanding has twisted Christianity"

          Without the "fleshly understanding" you crticize you would no nothing about Christ, the holy spirit, ect. It is all twisted.

          October 19, 2013 at 7:20 pm |
        • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

          ***know***

          October 19, 2013 at 7:23 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Actually, science makes hella more sense than religion. Science provides real answers, ones that satisfy curious minds much more than a generic "god did it." But I get that religion is much, much easier to understand than science, because you don't have to learn stuff.

      October 19, 2013 at 7:48 pm |
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