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.
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