What Event Is The Foundation of the Christian Faith? Part 1
I had a very interesting interchange with an old friend of mine recently on the subject of speaking in tongues. He opened the discussion with a reference to this recent article in the New York Times, "A Neuroscientific Look at Speaking in Tongues." He was pointing to this article as supporting his experience of speaking in tongues as a Pentecostal, a Buddhist, and later as just an non-believer I suppose. His claim was that the experience was the same regardless of the context and this enforced his skepticism of religion in general and of Christianity and the Pentecostal experience in particular. In fact, he said, "After my Pentecost days, I studied Buddhism and learned to chant properly and yes, it's nearly EXACTLY the same (once you tune in). If you're forcing the chanting, then it doesn't 'feel' good. Just like tongues. You can't really 'fake it' (even though it's 'fake' by it's very nature). You can only let it out." Very interesting and here is how I responded:
Experience is just that: experience. Jews pray and some pray very intensely, like at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. Muslims pray rather intensely. As you know, Pentecostals and many Christians pray intensely as well. Most likely the physical, mental, physiological, and emotional experience is probably not that much different. Sounds like common sense. That's because all the folks praying are, well, all human and the basic orientation of humanity is religious.
His response to this was to say this:
I disagree that the basic orientation of humanity is religious. I do think modern man has certainly spread the notion of religion, however, I believe mankind's basic orientation is that of 'animal'. By that, I refer to the orientation to breed, to propagate the species. We eat, make money, go on dates, etc., to create more of us. This, of course, rarely occurs to those doing it. Fact is, we question this 'life' thing now more than we ever have, thanks to the development of the human brain as it relates to language (primarily). But just because we question life (whether at a Pentecostal altar or the Wailing Wall in Israel) does not mean there are answers, i.e., a 'God'. Brain development->Questions->Brain development->more questions, but new questions... (I don't mean our actual brain size, as Neanderthal man actually had a bigger brain than us; I mean areas of brain)
Interestingly (and I have read no research on this subject), I believe religion is born from nothing more than the evolutionary 'desire' to continue the species. What better way to guarantee forever existence than to build a place (or have Jesus build it) wherein a certain number (of chosen ones, no less...another marker of natural selection) of people will literally live forever? That place, of course, is often called heaven. At least by those who trust the King James Version :)
Better than finding an insect in amber or a mammoth in ice. Actual, living humans encased under an eternal Spirit and his manifested Son... It has been an interesting ten years for me and I really hope my mind always stays open; true 'atheism' is nothing more than another religion, imo. I'd much rather be open to what might be or not be. Unfortunately, at this time in mankind's existence, all science points to this morbid and powerful point: we are flesh and blood animals only.
And later on he said this about tongues:
There was nothing more I loved than 'working' the altar... I watched a man "pray more than a 100 people thru to the Holy Ghost". I paid close attention to what he was saying and he was correct: when a person truly believed and opened their mouth, they spoke in tongues. So, I tried it. And it worked marvelously. Until.... I tried it without telling the people they would speak in tongues. And I also didn't speak in tongues in front of them. (I did a lot of this outside the church, including in a homeless shelter...
When I didn't tell people they were going to 'speak', they simply showed lots of emotion; crying, hollering, etc. Which was POWERFUL. But no tongues. Ever. But the moment I would either a. tell them they could and that they MUST or b. speak in their ear quite vehemently, well, then they did. Easily. I can speak in tongues today and it's EXACTLY as it was then. In fact, it brings up a lot of emotion still. I assure you, it's not God living in me. It's me letting go completely....
Of the 1000's of people I've observed speak in tongues, I have never, not one single time, watched them use an actual foreign language. I've studied Spanish, some French, Dutch, German and tried like hell to study Chinese; people do not actually speak in a different language. We all know this, we're just afraid to bring it up. The syntax and rhythm is not that of another language.
Is this hard to believe? Absolutely. Without tongues, the Pentecostal religion is just another religion. and that's frightens ...those who cling to it. I was one. And I was sincere, completely. I would have taken a beheading for God/Jesus/The Oneness, etc. Now I understand it for what it is: an idea that immortalizes humanity, keeps us alive forever, and while we're on earth even offers medical healings (another topic for another night! :). Yes, I miss the feeling that having 'God' gave me. It's lonelier knowing we are just here for a speck of time and then gone. But I would never, ever, trade the peace I now have. The realization that I am part of this planet, this galaxy, and perhaps the only animal who talks about his existence... And once a man or woman knows, they cannot pretend they don't know, unless they want endless internal conflict.
There is a lot being said in that response and one could respond at many points but I wanted to stay on the issue of experience, so what to say to all that? That's in part 2.