I can speak in tongues. I use the present tense because even now, as an agnostic atheist, I can still make all the utterances and sounds I did when I was a Christian, with no discernible difference. The churches I grew up in would call this blasphemy, stating that I once felt (or am now ) denying the power of the Holy Spirit. This denial means that I am blaspheming the Holy Ghost, which is the only unforgiveable sin. Of course, there's some debate about what blaspheming the Holy Ghost means, but that's what I was taught it was. Having known and felt the power of the Holy Spirit and then denying that power exists or happened.
Let me tell you about the day I received this "gift". I went to an Evangelical charismatic Pentecostal church. Everyone I knew spoke in tongues. Every service was full of people shouting, raising hands, falling over, praying in tongues, interpreting what other people were shouting, along with waving banners and stomping on the floor with sticks. Sometimes this would be the entire service for hours on end. No sermon. The Holy Spirit was moving. It was chaos on a good day. I was ten, laying in a pew bored out of my gourd. Making fun of the going ons at church was a big no-no and we weren't allowed things like toys or coloring books, so I spent a lot of my time in my own head. Then there were all these adults surrounding me. I had no idea what was going on. They seemed excited and agitated. At one point I ended up with my head in my mother's lap and her repeating over and over, "Let it out honey. Just let the Holy Spirit move. Let it out. Shabbaba sickanda baba nukabba." I knew what was expected of me then. I was expected to talk like them. To make sounds that were supposed to be a secret holy language from my god. After about ten minutes I began to baby babble. The adults wept with joy. I cried too because I have always been a reactionary crier. And that was it.
When I read the Bible, it made it very clear that the gift of tongues was people speaking actual foreign languages so that other people could understand them. If you didn't think there was anyone to "interpret" the language for you at the time, you were supposed to speak quietly only to yourself. Of course, there were people who believed that they knew how to interpret this mess of syllables. What that looked like was one person would stand up and loudly say something in their tongues language. Then there would be this loooonnnnggg silence, before some random other person would stand up and say something along the lines of, "Thus sayeth the Lord. My people..." It always sounded like God was speaking in KJV, which was weird but whatever. What I thought about my prayer language was that I must be speaking a language from a country I didn't know about. I used to write down some of the words in my journal, trying to make sense of the babble that I was uttering. Surely "Sickadi" meant something, right? Maybe it meant, thank you or hallelujah or I love you. In other words, I was trying to analyze this stuff coming out of my mouth with the assumption that it was a real language. I used to also scour the internet looking for languages that sounded similar to the one I was speaking. Of course, when I did this, I also ran across scientific articles that talked about how the tongues spoken in each country mirror the language structure of the language that person already speaks. I started to speak less in tongues after that. If me praying in English wasn't good enough, then we had a problem.
I stopped altogether after going to a more liberal liturgical church for a few years. There, the speaking of tongues was seen as a rarity (a miracle in fact) that only happened when there was no one there the interpret a language for a missionary. It was not necessary for a daily prayer life as God cares little about languages. They also thought it was super strange that people did it and more than a few were completely freaked out about it. To them, it was the equivalent as Mormons wearing holy underwear and Catholics selling indulgences. Ridiculous. I remember being at small group once and trying to explain it to the people there and thinking, "This IS ridiculous. It's not because they don't get it, it's because this concept is utterly stupid." I realized that I could use my prayer language even when I wasn't feeling the holy spirit. And I also realized that I was making up these sounds. That I had never felt anything different while praying like this. I had NEVER prayed out loud with the hope that there would be an interpretation because I knew there wouldn't be one. I knew someone would make up some bullshit, but I was pretty sure that if I was saying anything it was just, "Thank you God. You are awesome. Hallelujah." And I could never figure out how these other people knew.
But I get it now. They are making it up too. Their "interpretations" came out of their own noggins. The ones who are bold enough to speak out or offer interpretations are just the more zealous people who believe every thought that pops into their head must be from a god. My only hope is that this belief system eventually falls to the wayside like so many other religious beliefs that have disappeared over the years. Maybe in 200 years people will look back and say remember when Catholics sold indulgences? Oh yeah, and Evangelicals spoke in tongues? This would actually be in keeping with their own Bible that says in 1 Corinthians 13:13 that when tongues cease, only hope, love, and faith will remain. I'm okay with that.
This is a personal, but secret, blog archiving my deconversion from a Christian to a non-believer.