Speaking in tongues: A confession
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02-08-2013, 12:07 PM
Speaking in tongues: A confession
I hope that this journey into the topic of speaking in tongues will be more instructive than previous discussions. I see that I'm not the first to bring it up, but a keyword search shows me that I may still be breaking new ground here.

One of the first admissions in my journey from an evangelical-fundamentalist type of Christianity to atheism took place several years ago. I can't pinpoint the exact date because it was a process.

I live in the same area as James Randi, noted atheist and debunker of supernatural and pseudoscientific claims. I worked within walking distance of the headquarters of the James Randi Educational Foundation. And a few years back, while I was still a practicing Christian, I became aware of Randi's challenge: $1 million for concrete evidence of the supernatural.

As someone who spoke in tongues on a regular basis, I actually considered marching down to JREF headquarters, producing a message in a language I had not previously learned, and collecting my big fat check. But I never did it. I never even considered doing it, even though I passed the building every day on my way to work.

I didn't do it because I knew I was faking it. And Randi's gambit finally forced me to confront that truth.

In (some) Christianity, speaking in tongues is a believer's ability, energized by God, to pray without understanding in a language unknown to the speaker. One can also bring forth a message in public, before the congregation, but the Bible is clear that such messages should be interpreted. In many denominations, the interpreter is a different person. In my cult, the person speaking did the interpreting as well. I did this all the time.

That is, I faked this all the time.

I have since come to learn just how easy it is to delude oneself in this practice. First, it takes just a little bit of conditioning and instruction. The believer is told that he wants to do this because it is pleasing to God. Next, he is given instruction in how to do it. This is where it gets fun.

One Christian scholar (Vern Poythress) acknowledges and outlines the ability of ALL people to engage in what's called "free vocalization." This is the ability to vocalize sounds without pre-thinking what those sounds will be. A less sophisticated form of this is "gibberish," but it would be a mistake to apply that word to someone who is speaking in tongues. The key difference between gibberish and speaking in tongues is the intent/expectation that the sounds coming out will be an actual language. Once the speaker has, in effect, tricked himself into thinking he will produce a real bona fide language, he has already determined that the outcome will not be a random series of sounds lacking any resemblance to language. In other words, because the tongues-speaker expects to produce a real language, he will produce something that does resemble a language, if only superficially.

William Samarin, a linguist, is often cited as the definitive expert on the subject. He noticed that the output of tongues-speakers bears some real resemblance to language: there are "words," so to speak. There are sentences. There are natural pauses that would indicate commas and periods. The speakers are producing "sentences" in that regard.

But no one who has ever spoken in tongues in a controlled, observed setting has ever produced a language that was recognized by a linguist and unknown to the speaker. As much as the output resembled language (and did not resemble mere gibberish), no language has ever been identified. This despite the fact that, Biblically, speaking in "tongues" MEANS speaking in "languages."

Christians have a way around this, of course. They claim that when one speaks in tongues, he MAY speak a human language [this has never been documented except in unverifiable anecdotes] or he may speak in the "tongues of angels." Apparently God's angels have their own language, and believers can produce that language by speaking in tongues.

It strikes no Christian practitioner of speaking in tongues as odd that every single controlled example of speaking in tongues has produced tongues of angels. But I digress.

So speaking in tongues is easy. Any one of you can do it; even the atheists. Simply begin vocalizing. Speak. Don't think about what sounds are going to come out. Just do it. There's an easy way to do this, taught in many acting classes. Simply pretend that you and your friend are having a conversation in another language. Just start speaking. It is not hard at all.

Once the speaker starts vocalizing, the minister offers encouragement: "You're doing it! You're speaking in tongues! You're speaking the wonderful works of God."

Now here's where it gets interesting: Both Samarin and Poythress point this out. It is important for the minister to very quickly squelch any doubt that might be arising in the speaker's mind. "The devil is going to tell you that this is just you, that you're making this up. Don't let the devil talk you out of it. You're doing God's will. Keep going!"

The speaker wonders to himself: how did he know I was doubting? And the doubt is quickly squelched.

It helps a great deal to have others around the speaker going through the same new experience. Every single one of them is faking it. No one dares admit it, for fear of being the only one in the group faking it. It's like the Emperor's New Clothes: no one wants to be the only one who doesn't see the garment. So everyone pretends to see it. No one wants to be singled out as the faker. So everyone speaks in tongues, and everyone else is encouraged by their ability to do so.

Interpretation is just as easy. It's nothing more than the extemporaneous bringing forth of an encouraging message in God's voice. It's improv, pure and simple. Say (again) you're an actor. What's my motivation? You're God, and you want to say something encouraging to the gathered audience. Improvise. Go!

It's not even a little bit hard. Admittedly, it's tougher than speaking in tongues. No one can critique what you say when speaking in tongues. But when you interpret, it's in the same language as those around you. You might say something that contradicts the Bible or contradicts your denomination's understanding of the Bible. It takes a lot of practice to be able to deliver messages that consistently encourage without inviting criticism for being "off the Word."

I believe the key to the success of speaking in tongues, at least in my cult, was the element of reinforced self-deception. We believed it was genuine, and when we faked it, we were told that our doubt about the sincerity of our action was demonic. So we embraced our own fakery (delusion). And everyone around us was doing the same thing (reinforced).

I faked speaking in tongues for years. I taught others to fake it. But when compelled to confront my true beliefs about the practice, I finally had to admit I was lying all along.

It was actually quite liberating.
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02-08-2013, 12:38 PM
RE: Speaking in tongues: A confession
I have never once spoken in tongues.

Now, while I do believe in it, I do think it's an extremely rare occurrence. And as you stated, nearly all of it is fake.

Genuine speaking in tongues isn't the gibberish or the babble that you hear from the likes of Benny Hinn & Co. Like TwoCult said, it is an actual speaking of another known language without knowing that language.

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02-08-2013, 12:51 PM
RE: Speaking in tongues: A confession
Fascinating account.

Having done the ol' translate-a-fake-conversation bit in actual improv classes, it seems ever so harmless in comparison.

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02-08-2013, 12:56 PM
RE: Speaking in tongues: A confession
Naturally, KC and I are going to disagree on a fundamental note here:

Quote:Genuine speaking in tongues isn't the gibberish or the babble that you hear from the likes of Benny Hinn & Co. Like TwoCult said, it is an actual speaking of another known language without knowing that language.

It WOULD be an actual speaking of another known language... if it ever happened. But since it hasn't and doesn't... Wink
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02-08-2013, 12:57 PM (This post was last modified: 02-08-2013 01:02 PM by Carlo_The_Bugsmasher_Driver.)
RE: Speaking in tongues: A confession
(02-08-2013 12:38 PM)kingschosen Wrote:  I have never once spoken in tongues.

Now, while I do believe in it, I do think it's an extremely rare occurrence. And as you stated, nearly all of it is fake.

Genuine speaking in tongues isn't the gibberish or the babble that you hear from the likes of Benny Hinn & Co. Like TwoCult said, it is an actual speaking of another known language without knowing that language.

I heard all kinds of stories like that back when I was a Christian, KC. The pastor who traveled to the Phillippines where a colleague of his began speaking in tongues and he literally fell out of his chair because he understood what the other guy was saying, etc. I even spoke in tongues myself, though I doubt like hell today that it was anything but gibberish.

I have yet to see or hear any recorded speaking in tongues which contained all the necessasary elements of a language ie transmission and receiving protocols, sentence structure, syntax, etc. Until I see that, I have to conclude it's babble.

The only thing I ever witnessed about prophecy and speaking in tongues was an older gentleman at my church who was claimed to have the gift of prophecy. He had terrible stuttering problems but could speak freely and clearly when prophesizing. That being said, all of his prophecies were in English.

"IN THRUST WE TRUST"

"We were conservative Jews and that meant we obeyed God's Commandments until His rules became a royal pain in the ass."

- Joel Chastnoff, The 188th Crybaby Brigade
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02-08-2013, 01:49 PM
RE: Speaking in tongues: A confession
Thank you for sharing this personal account. I think it's collective mentality or a strong desire to be accepted. Much like the faith healers -- when they touch someone and the person touched seems ro convulse and fall to the ground.


God is a concept by which we measure our pain -- John Lennon

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02-08-2013, 01:50 PM
RE: Speaking in tongues: A confession
(02-08-2013 12:38 PM)kingschosen Wrote:  I have never once spoken in tongues.

Now, while I do believe in it, I do think it's an extremely rare occurrence. And as you stated, nearly all of it is fake.

Genuine speaking in tongues isn't the gibberish or the babble that you hear from the likes of Benny Hinn & Co. Like TwoCult said, it is an actual speaking of another known language without knowing that language.

That's what I always believed it to be...


God is a concept by which we measure our pain -- John Lennon

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02-08-2013, 02:03 PM
RE: Speaking in tongues: A confession
Seeing people speaking in tongues is one of the things which convinced me that the Christian church is full of nut jobs... They definitely need better PR for that shit.
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02-08-2013, 02:40 PM
RE: Speaking in tongues: A confession
So what have we learned? What we suspected before, since members of some African and Eastern religions also speak in tongues. However, there are other charismatic gifts of the Spirit I have seen in operation.
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02-08-2013, 03:33 PM
RE: Speaking in tongues: A confession
No you haven't. You've seen people faking it in all sincerity, but you have seen no one -- from any religion -- actually produce a language.
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