Religious people hold a fascination for me. The ones who simply wish a private relationship with God are very different from the active religious community where speaking in tongues is seen as a right of passage. One may even suffer from tongue envy, if they find they are not so lucky to be touched by the spirit.
It's interesting to me how people don't view mediumship and speaking in tongues as the same thing, and yet I see them as exactly the same thing. Both parties claim to be the mouthpiece of a spirit; the former for just about anybody, the latter for God or angels. Yet they both have one very important similarity; they are performances.
I remember from my days attending an Assemblies of God church, occasionally during songtime someone would be "moved by the spirit" and would begin speaking in tongues. It didn't happen every Sunday, in fact maybe once a month. When it did happen it was an instant showstopper; the one person would begin speaking very loudly and authoritatively. The singing would stop, the room would hush and give floor space over to the Spirit so we could receive our special message from God. The person would speak a few things in different languages, almost like a security announcement at the airport, each language given its own message that would end with a message in English. I don't remember what any of the messages were, I was far more interested in the congregation's tense, alert and hopeful silence. As a teenager I thought, what a way to get the room's attention. I mean everyone was staring, rapt at this one person. For the attention seeking sort, it's a good gig. After the sermon that person is held in pretty high regard.
Imagine my surprise how churches have changed from having the one random message from God, to now having a whole churchful of babblers! The thing now is that there isn't a specific message for the congregation to hear. It's not a prophecy. It's a right of passage. Speaking in tongues means you don't have to actually listen to the message, just feeling it is important. Can you imagine how God must feel? He's sending all these messages out and folks aren't listening. They're flailing about like fish on the ground. This is a roomful of fakers giving in to peer pressure.
If you listen to some of these sermons, they sounds a bit like the stage hypnotist's shtick. The hypnotist(Well worth watching the first minute after that it's a bit creepy) and pastor both have a group of audience members up front, they are touched, they fall back, the crowd is encourage to applaud them. If you've ever read about hypnotism, you'll find that a lot of the participants fake the behaviours they are "hypnotized" to perform because of many reasons; they don't want to be embarrassed by not be hypnotized on stage or they want to help the hypnotist because they're a fan. Either way there's an element of fakery, albeit benign. Derren Brown mentions this phenomena in his book Tricks of the Mind* which I highly recommend. I think it's not a leap to imagine that, for the love of attention, conformity, belonging and enjoying the group dynamics, faking a little speaking in tongues isn't such a bad thing.
Why do I think it's faked? Well apart from the changes I've witnessed in tongue speaking etiquette, I've also watched a few videoed services on Youtube. Pick a few sermons from different churches and a very interesting thing becomes apparent - speaking in tongues isn't a universal language. These churches have their own babel dialects. Are they saying that angels have accents? It's far easier to assume it's group parroting, like the game Chinese whispers. I wonder how a foreign "tonguer" sounds in a strange church, or do they mimic the local babble?
Although some of this has changed again with speaking in tongues being popular on Christian TV. "Ahhh so that's how it should sound." It helps to legitimize the trend. The power of suggestion trumps the power of God. What happens when the pastor is homophobic or racist and sends those messages along with the support of God to a room full of suggestible people?
Shall I get a tad biblical? Okay then. Speaking in tongues is mentioned three times in the bible. It starts in Acts where pilgrims from all over meet at Pentecost and want to talk to each other but find they can't understand each other because they all speak different languages. Darn that Tower of Babel. Then suddenly they feel the spirit within them and *poof* they can now all understand each other perfectly. "that every man heard them speak in his own language. " They could all hear the other men speaking in their own language - like a babelfish or the Universal Translator on the USSEnterprise. Speaking in tongues was not babbling on in the unknown language of the heavens, but a miracle of making them hear their own language, so that they could all understand and communicate with each other. The other two times is similar where someone has gone to preach but he's foreign and the locals cannot understand him, then suddenly he's able to speak to them in their own language and can successfully preach. Again it's a miracle of making one's message understandable to the congregation - not wanton verbiage.
So how have these modern churches gotten it so wrong? Why has speaking in tongues become not about sharing a common message from God, but is now an example of "God chose me!"
It's all down to suggestibility and conformity. Both very powerful behaviour motivators as history has shown. It also leads to accepting dogma as fact because to challenge it, sets one apart from the collective. Perhaps people should become better at choosing their collectives.
When seeing a congregation moving in full mania, writhing, screaming, chanting gobbledegook and working themselves into a tizzy you have to take a step back and question. Where did they get the idea that this is how they're supposed to worship? Sure it's more exciting and emotionally engaging than singing a few hymns and listening to the monotone from the pulpit. It's also high drama and a show of "God loves me best, aren't I special." because imagine if you are one of those people who doesn't get the spirit and doesn't feel the bubbling of foreign tongues coming from your lips or your body racked in the convulsions of the Holy Spirit - what does that say about you? Are you not deserving? Are you not good? Do you not believe enough? Is God not pleased with you? Will others distrust you?
Would you be tempted to fake it?
*The original cover has a small devil whispering into Derren's ear which for some reason is not shown in the advertised cover. Hmmm...