Friday, May 4, 2012

My Opinions on Pentecostalicism: Speaking in Tongues

Finally on the real blogging wagon I guess.

So, I posted a mostly neutral account of how I would describe Pentecostalism and evangelicalism, as in I tried not to include my personal opinions about it. This is the post to include those. How do I feel about my religious heritage, both relating to the topics I covered in the other post and other things not covered?

Let’s start with the craziest seeming bit, the baptism in the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues. Do I believe in that? Yes, I guess I believe in it with reservation. I am extremely skeptical of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, not the gifts necessarily but the people displaying it. 

I believe I received the baptism in the Holy Ghost when I was about thirteen, before I was baptized with water. Do I believe my experience was a genuine one of being touched by God’s spirit? I do. For the sake of context let me tell you how it happened. We were in Sunday school and our teachers taught us one day in the lesson about the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Some of us were already going to the youth group meetings Wednesdays, the traditional day for youth services in the USA. One of our class mates had gotten baptized in the spirit and had gotten the call to be a pastor. The teachers shared that with us and decided that at the lesson we would all pray and see if the spirit fell on us. I sighed and got to praying thinking in my little pessimistic mind that everyone else would surely speak in tongues but me. The teacher began to pray and soon slipped into praying in tongues. After a while I felt something in my feet. It was rising up through my body and when it got to my face I began to cry. It was strange but good feeling and I believed it was the Holy Spirit. Did I speak in tongues, no I did not and I never have. I was actually the only one to experience anything that day in Sunday school.

Regardless of this powerful experience, which I believed to be real, I began to have a growing feeling of skepticism about speaking in tongues. My pastor had told us that when the spirit spoke there would be something in it for us, all of us. So whenever someone spoke in tongues I paid close attention to the translation and tried to find some meaning in it. Not only could I find no relevance ever- I mean I can find relevance in anything, give me a phone book, any page and I will find you relevance, I am magnificent at it that thanks to my literature classes in high school- I could not even remember anything said in the translation by the time I got to the car after service. I wondered at this and this started to deepen my skepticism on the subject. Then I started to notice how everyone sounded the same when speaking in tongues and that I could imitate it pretty well after having heard it several times in a row. Then I read the passage in the Bible of the Holy Spirit descending down the first time like flames on people’s heads and the tongues spoken here sounded nothing like what I heard in church. Shouldn’t it have sounded like Finnish to me? Should it not sound like Italian to my father or German to my mother? I pondered at this but did not come to a conclusion; I just dwelled in my skepticism.

I still dwell in my skepticism. I have no idea whether I have ever heard anyone truly praying or speaking in tongues. I am okay with this; I accuse no one of intentional fraud or of self-deception or of mass hysteria. I have never really felt anything when someone speaks in tongues and up on hearing the interpretation I feel less than if the person was reading the phonebook. What is the conclusion here? Whatever, who cares, the gift of tongues is really weird.

What odd spiritual traditions or rituals do you remember from your childhood, or yesterday? Preferably from your own religious tradition, because they all seem weird when looking outside in.

1 comment:

  1. At Pentecost, in the Bible account, people had gathered from far and wide for that event. They all had languages with which they were most familiar, even solely familiar. Hence, the gift of tongues to the disciples. It helped to speedily spread the new message of Christianity, and also establish the authenticity of the fledgeling Christian congregation.

    Now that Christianity is established and worldwide, are tongues really necessary? At any rate, they are never used today as they were back explain Christianity to people who would not otherwise understand it due to the language barrier. Perhaps they are among the gifts destined to pass away once Christianity had passed infancy?