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The Gift of Tongues Today - Scientific Addendum for Laity

One of the most read articles on our website is The Gift of Tongues Today, written by Pr. Thomas Tronco. This article answers assertively to key questions about the gift of tongues. Therefore, our purpose here is not to reproduce the answers already given there, but add four scientific reviews Pentecostal claims in favor of this gift.

These claims are as follows:

1. "I'm not crazy! I have no psychiatric disorder and pray in tongues! "

2. "I was never taught to speak in tongues. I just started talking without having practiced or learned from someone. "

3. "When I pray in tongues, I have no control over what I mean. It's something that just comes and flows naturally. "

4. "Once I started praying in tongues, I felt better and my heart found peace and serenity."

Because of recent advances in neuroscience and nuclear medicine, it is now possible to address these four comments with less subjectivity. So, as a scientist, I want to address it from a technical point of view, using, however, a language accessible to the general reader. Of course, this is very difficult, but for those familiar with biomedical and neurophysiological terms, I suggest to consult the references listed at the end.

Let us now analyze the allegations.

1. "I'm not crazy! I have no psychiatric disorder and pray in tongues. "

Although many people consider speaking in tongues "crazy people thing", the statistic is in favor of sanity Pentecostals. Indeed, studies of people devoted to this practice demonstrate that there is no difference between the mental health of these people and others who never spoke in tongues.

Incidentally, in 2003, a study of approximately thousand British evangelical clergy showed that 80% who practiced the gift of tongues had more emotional stability and less neuroticism than those who did not speak in tongues.

Conclusion: it is certain that gift’s tongue practitioners are no longer affected by depression, anxiety, mania or psychosis than other groups analyzed. In fact, only a small percentage of people with psychiatric disorders display this gift, and when this happens it is usually accompanied by religious hallucinations.

This comment was placed first on purpose, making it clear that we are not dealing with any sign of insanity mass. So we can avoid empty or background psychopathological discussions. In fact, we focus on the neurophysiology of normal people understand better what goes on in the head of the Pentecostals.

2. "I was never taught to speak in tongues. I just started talking without having practiced or learned from someone. "

Although there are churches that teach praying in tongues, many Pentecostals condemn it, saying that the gift given by the Holy Spirit cannot be learned that way.

The fact, however, is that even in churches where there are no “gift tongues” classes, the gift of tongues is taught yes! What happens is that this teaching is done implicitly. We will explain this further. God has endowed us with two types of learning ability: the explicit and the implicit.

The explicit learning is that we exercise when, for example, witnessed a mathematics class at school. The implicit learning is that which occurs when a baby, often by observing older people walking, talking and playing sports, also learns to walk, talk and sports.

Both learning are different and our brain behaves quite differently in "use" of each of them. This was verified by studies that evaluate blood flow in certain parts of the brain using specific techniques of nuclear medicine. For example, in 2006, the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Newberg and colleagues of the nuclear medicine department conducted the first study of Pentecostals who prayed in tongues for more than five years and that they had no psychopathology. The analysis showed that portions of the brain strongly associated with learning and implicit memory were more active during this practice, while regions associated with language itself were not activated to the same extent.

Another implicit learning of evidence is the existence in some parts of our brain, "mirror neurons." Are neurons that assist us in learning through imitation (i.e.: dance, sports, acting at the theater) and operating all the time without us noticing. The easiest way to detect the operation of mirror neurons is to observe how yawning is "contagious". Indeed, just a person yawning and various other begin to imitate her unconsciously, in a chain reaction. This is an example of the action of mirror neurons. Importantly, in their studies, the scientists found parts of the brain rich in "mirror neurons" very active during the practice of this gift.

All this explains why many Pentecostals say they started using the gift of tongues without ever having learned it and just started talking. In fact, they learned yes, but implicitly. Implicitly they incorporated vocalizations they heard in their services and began to play them without realizing that what they have been taught informally, and encouraged the group to which they belonged.

Something important must also be said here: the implicit learning is much easier than explicit. Just watch the boys. For them, learning to play ball (implicit learning) is much "easier" than learning trigonometry (explicit learning). Similarly, praying in tongues to try to have more closeness to God is much "easier" than to seek this closeness studying theology. The truth is that thinking "hurt" and is more comfortable to leave everything to the "mirror neurons" (and having the illusion that grew in faith) than heat the noggin during a reading, a study or composition of a text (and grow for real). Perhaps this also helps to explain why the "spirituality" of languages ​​is so successful. Unfortunately, however, it seems that what they say is maturity is just another form of laziness - mental laziness!

3. "When I pray in tongues, I have no control over what I mean. It's something that just comes to me and flows naturally. "

Usually when we hear this comment we are tempted to doubt the Pentecostals. However, his sincerity can be seen by neurophysiology. In part, the answer to this claim was given previously, when we said that this gift is learned implicitly without the person noticing what is being taught.

However, it is important to add that tongue’s gift, even if not consciously learned, does not invalidate the body consciousness of the individual. This means that while speaking in tongues, one does not lose track of where you are, who you are and what stance should adopt.

It is exactly the opposite of what happens in religions where meditation is exercised. In these religions, the body consciousness is suppressed, occurring reducing the activity of some brain portions associated with this awareness, as shown by scientific studies.

Describing the whole picture, medical and scientific analysis of what happens in a person's brain when she speaks in tongues can be described as follows: during the practice of tongue’s gift, brain parts related to language does not become active, showing that this person is not speaking any language. On the other hand, the part of your brain that coordinates and integrates conscious and unconscious activities (the thalamus) goes into more intense activity. Then, in the midst of it all, one does not "feel" more speaking. Hence the feeling of "flow naturally."

The fact is that what that person learned implicitly, is "engaged" and goes ahead "on automatic" without, however, losing body awareness that keeps aware of what is in the church, its name  and that should keep a few positions in the environment where it is.

The mapping of the brain during these experiences shows that there is nothing supernatural in them. In fact, all the result of common learning processes (conscious or not), linked to brain functioning mechanisms that become active in a normal process and that, once set in motion, flow naturally, producing in the person the feeling of accomplishing something beyond their control or their conscience.

Importantly, it shows that these people are not acting in bad faith (although there are many deceivers in the mean). Rather, they are performing simple brain exercises they have learned and anyone can put into practice with a minimum of effort. What's wrong in their lives is to give these things to the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit.

It has been shown here that tongue’s gift is a device that anyone can practice. To say that something is the great miracle that the Bible describes in Acts 2 is at least offensive to the Third Person of the Trinity. It must be remembered that denying the acts of the Spirit is sin. But it is also sin (perhaps even worse) give the Spirit works that he never held and are mere fruit of human effort.

4. "Once I started praying in tongues I felt better and my heart found peace and serenity"

This is one of the most delicate arguments to address, as commonly realized the sincerity of those who represent and cannot minimize the feelings of anyone. The truth is that when people speak in "tongues", the fact that Pentecostals feel something good. The problem, of course, is in giving spiritual meaning to that feeling. Indeed, it is precisely in the use of this argument that most Pentecostals stumble, believing and teaching that there is solace in emotional illusions never used by men of God in search of encouragement.

At that time, it is worth issue a warning: give spiritual meaning to feelings is common when the church of which the person participates has a poor education. Indeed, when hermeneutics is deficient, something will take its place. Now when you see, that "something" is always the emotional experience that often will form a "catchall". The problem is that it turns into a vicious circle that is increasingly giving authority to the emotions at the expense of what God's Word says. After all, it is associated with the name of God, in the person of the Holy Spirit, to certain feelings - you name it? Heresy, doctrinal error and, in some cases, even blasphemous.

In the search for biblical basis for the pleasant sensations proven by who says speaking in tongues, some cite1Coríntios 14.4: "He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself ...". However, this text should be understood taking into account that Paul uses here clearly a figure of speech called "sarcasm". That means he just wants to highlight the sin of pride and selfishness of the Corinthians, and there is obviously wrong in his use of language, any "self-edification".

What can be concluded about this is that the sense of peace and comfort experienced by practitioners of "tongues" comes from the natural plan. Indeed, evidence shows that dissociative phenomena such as tongue’s gift are capable of producing well-being and also the sense of relief from external stressors. In this sense, the science shows that a dissociative state as tongue’s gift is marked by changes in the autonomic nervous system (there is a strong parasympathetic activity) and changes of reason and feelings. Thus the dissociation constant, i.e. frequent attendance at the meeting where this practice occurs or even individual practice of "tongues" can lead to nerve adjustment that "relieve" the stress response.

This explains how tongue’s gift can act as a "safety valve" for the stresses to which Christians are subjected daily. In fact, in Brazil, scientists assessed the tongue’s gift phenomenon in various religions (the ecstatic speech is not unique to the Pentecostals. Note also that pagan religions of the first century already practiced it) and it was shown that the most subject to stress group economic - Pentecostals - was exactly the group that practiced tongue’s gift, to be the most dependent on its relief. However, in light of the Bible, is not the remedy that the believer should seek to the pressures facing the most diverse walks of life.

Consider, for example, the teaching of the Apostle Peter in his letters. The recipients of his first letter were scattered throughout Asia Minor, daily facing a fierce persecution. His enemies confiscated their goods, tortured and killed simply because they had faith in Christ.

Knowing this, Peter wrote his brief letter to console those brothers and revive hope in Christ. But when he writes concerned to give them relief, which he advises? To pray in tongues? Seeking relief in some dissociative emotional experience? Of course not! Instead, the apostle leads believers to look into his letter and think about your content. He enriches with numerous quotations and allusions to the Old Testament, showing that the source of comfort should be based on the truth revealed to which you have access for reading and reflection. In this way, the comfort comes. And it comes from the Holy Spirit in the process of enlightenment. However, this requires some intellectual effort; It requires an exercise that hurts for many: the exercise of using your head, leaving aside the laziness of thinking!

The sad reality that sees the light of all this is that the Pentecostal half, giving way to the excitement expel the sound of the cult hermeneutics, creates a kind of "gospel drugs" - a free and easily accessible drug that generates mental pleasure. If Karl Marx, the great enemy of Christianity, considered religion "the opium of the people", imagine what he would say if he had access to neurophysiological studies we have today. Without ever having mooted the possibility of this analysis, Marx said a phrase that in the case of the Pentecostal experience has almost literal sense, because, as science has discovered, tongue’s gift sessions cause the same brain changes that addicts try to get by through the addiction, the desire to do his psychic pain go away.

Therefore it is not absurd the idea that many Pentecostals have become addicts of this "gospel crack" What is prayer in tongues - a subterfuge that only weakens your mental muscles, making them unfit to achieve comfort and hope that Peter He taught in his letters, while providing them a passing pleasure that, like all drugs, charges a high price in the end.

Conclusion

Most Pentecostals that displays tongue’s gift does not make it because it is affected by any psychiatric disorder, but to have implicitly learned vocalizations in an environment where the practice is common and even encouraged.

Moreover, the neurophysiological findings demonstrate that tongue’s gift does not resemble the brain function for language. It can also be performed "unintentionally" and can provide relief to commonly external stressors in groups with lower socioeconomic levels.

The lack of sound hermeneutics in the Pentecostal middle gives opening for pleasant sensory perceptions arising from tongue’s gift are enhanced and create a situation of intellectual sagging rather than the correct understanding of God's Word - understanding this that to be achieved, will always require intellectual effort, but at the end, will bring real comfort and productive.

Ev. Leandro Boer

References

1.     François Dengah HJ 2nd. Religious Dissociation and Economic Appraisal in Brazil. J Relig Health. 2015 Feb 17. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 25687180.

2.     Johnson KD. A neuropastoral care and counseling assessment of glossolalia: a theosocial cognitive study. J Health Care Chaplain. 2010;16(3-4):161-71. doi:10.1080/08854726.2010.492698. PubMed PMID: 20658429.

3.     Kuhl PK. Brain mechanisms in early language acquisition. Neuron. 2010 Sep 9;67(5):713-27. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2010.08.038. Review. PubMed PMID: 20826304; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2947444.

4.     Newberg AB, Wintering NA, Morgan D, Waldman MR. The measurement of regional cerebral blood flow during glossolalia: a preliminary SPECT study. Psychiatry Res. 2006 Nov 22;148(1):67-71. Epub 2006 Oct 12. PubMed PMID: 17046214.

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