Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Religion of Writing: Part Three -- Speaking in Tongues

The debate over speaking in tongues, or glossolalia, is not a new thing. Sure, we look at some of the "Charismatic" and Pentecostal churches and the spouting of gibberish from their mouths while they writhe around on the floor and think, "Man, if that's what I need to do to get into Heaven, then leave me out." [And don't ask me why they're called "charismatic" or why it's the "Charismatic Movement," because I don't see any good reason for the usage of the term (and didn't feel like spending more than the 10 minutes I wasted not finding an adequate answer).] Trust me, I'm with you. Well, I'm with those of you that feel the way I do about it. [Because what I can say is that we don't have examples of that kind of behavior in the Bible. Paul never "sizzled like bacon" while letting nonsense drip out of his mouth.] I am not flopping around like a fish out of water or roaring like a lion or any of that other nonsense that goes on when those people are all being "slain in the Spirit."

Which is the heart of the controversy, actually, because "those people" say  they're not doing it by choice. They're being possessed by the Holy Spirit, and they just can't help it. However, it is what gets you into Heaven (according to them), so, well, it's in your best interest to get in there with them and lose control of your bodily functions.

Now, here's the interesting part (isn't there always an interesting part?):
There has been a lot of research done into glossolalia. Which makes sense, because, if it's real, if people are spontaneously speaking some kind of language they didn't previously know, it would be a mighty strong proof of God or, at the very least, some kind of supernatural phenomenon. Before I go on, there are two types of glossolalia:
1. The kind everyone thinks of when they think of speaking in tongues: speaking an unknown language which no one understands. This is usually thought of as speaking in the tongues (languages) of Angels.
2. Xenoglossy: speaking an actual language that the speaker didn't previously know. Like breaking out into fluent Mandarin without ever even having had chow mein or orange chicken.
Here's the first interesting part: Nearly all of the actual instances of glossolalia in the Bible are xenoglossy. During Pentecost, it was xenoglossy that was happening. Or, perhaps, reverse xenoglossy since it was the listeners that actually heard the speakers in their own language.
If you look in the Bible for an example of what we think of when we talk about "speaking in tongues," we get exactly what goes on these days: a bunch of people (in Corinth) speaking in tongues and boasting about it, "Ha ha, we're better than all of you." Paul had to send a letter telling them to cut it out.

Modern xenoglossy is completely unverified. There are sporadic claims that it has happened, but there are never ever any witnesses or proof or anything of the nature. Usually, it's something along the lines of someone coming back from China and proclaiming to have broken out in Chinese while he was there, but there's no way to know if it happened, since there's never anyone available to say, "Oh, yeah, that guy totally spoke Chinese to me." The few case studies have pretty much shown that xenoglossy was not taking place.

Which leaves us with the gibberish form of speaking in tongues. Study after study after study (after study after study) by both linguists and psychologists have shown that no actual languages are being spoken during these episodes. [I'm not going to get into the technical aspect of how they know that.] There is also considerable psychological evidence that these bursts of "tongue speaking" are psychologically triggered in order to conform to expectations. Like peer pressure. What this means is that neither God nor "the Universe" is talking to any of these people. It's all coming out of their own minds.

Not that you can convince them of that.

And, also, that is not to say that there are not or have not been actual cases of speaking in tongues. I believe that some form of xenoglossy happened at Pentecost. There were potentially thousands of witnesses, and the event is recorded in some extra-Biblical texts. And, sure, there is the potential of the other form of speaking in tongues being real, too, just not in big groups of people the way it is commonly claimed today. So I'll admit the possibility of these things but not the current actuality of them.

Which brings me to the writing part of all of this.

So many, many writers claim to get their stories from "the Universe," or some muse, or some source of inspiration that is outside of themselves. "It was as if the story was just given to me, channeled through me, whispered into my ear," or whatever other nonsense. I'm sure there's no more validity to this than there is in the whole speaking in tongues thing. The human mind is a wondrous thing. Infinitely creative. The idea that we are incapable of coming up with remarkable stories is... well, it's just ludicrous.

It's why it bothers me so much that there are people out there trying to disprove that Shakespeare wrote the plays he's credited with. The idea being that no one can be that creative. What? Did the plays just materialize? Spring forth from the aether fully written? Beamed down by aliens? As with a rose, why does it matter what we call the guy who wrote those plays? Someone wrote them, but, instead of just saying, "Wow, what a creative mind," we have people out there trying to prove that, what amounts to, no one having written them. It's kind of insane.

What I say is this:
If you wrote something, own it. I mean, really own it. Don't try to blame it on some outside force or influence. Take responsibility for it, good or bad. And, if it's bad, keep working on it and make it better. If it's good, say, "I did this! Me!" I don't see why it is that we have to always discredit ourselves and our achievements, like we're not good enough. And that's what you're doing when you try to blame your art on the "the Universe": discrediting yourself.

So, yeah, I will admit to the possibility that "the Universe" or the Force or God or, even, aliens may have influenced someone at some time to write something. Or paint something. Or make music. But, just like with speaking in tongues, I'm pretty sure it's not happening on any kind of regular basis. People are just scared to own their creations, because, like in mass "tongue events," society says pretty consistently, "You can't say that you yourself did a good job." But, not only that, society says that when someone comes along and tells us we did, we have to brush it off and say "it was nothing" or "I was inspired." It wasn't me.
What hogwash.

Don't be scared. Take credit for your work. If aliens want to send us books, let them send us the books. They don't need to whisper them in anyone's ear.


  1. I sure wish I had had some alien help with my last blog. I worked on and off for two days on it. Or was it three? Think it was three...

  2. I skipped to the writing part since I don't know enough about the religious aspect to comment.
    Except to say the only book in the world 'given' to writers was the Bible, which was written by God.
    However, what I write is all me. Influenced and inspired, but all me.

  3. I don't know that it's necessarily people being afraid to take ownership of their writing. When I'm 'in the groove', things can flow in such a way that I'm not always conscious of the thought process; I know it's coming from me, but it can seem 'otherworldly.' Other times, I am quite aware of the thought process that goes into crafting, because it's much more in the 'front brain.'

  4. I like the idea of aliens whispering in my ear, as long as they aren't as saliva-enriched as the aliens in 'Aliens'.

    I dislike those who try to prove that some things are above human creation - if composers can create music that lives for centuries, so can writers. Haven't they got anything better to do, such as educating themselves?

    I personally liked the dance scene in the church in the 'Blues Brothers' movie. Some of them seemed moved by the music to dance. Perhaps they had whispering in their ears, too.

  5. Of course my stories are MINE. What's really cool though is when I'm so immersed in what I'm writing that it just flows naturally out of the characters I've created - they talk more and more without me having to plan it. It's getting in a groove and going with it - letting my mind freestyle without trying to be controlling. I'd never claim aliens did that to me, but I think if you have talent, and can channel it, then that's a great thing.
    Not going to get into the whole speaking in tongues thing. Much too thorny an issue and too many fakes out there.
    Tina @ Life is Good

  6. subscribing...had a streak going there...

  7. David: I often work for days on a post.

    Alex: Hey, as long as you're not channeling space operas from space. Wait, maybe you should write a space -opera-!

    JeffO: I was comparing the fear aspect to people who have come out of some of the more cultlike Pentecostal movements. Almost all of them say something along the lines of having known all along that they were faking all the speaking in tongues stuff, but they were too afraid to admit it.
    I understand that "being in the groove" can feel transcendent, but I think it's important for people to realize that that doesn't mean something supernatural is happening.

    D.G.: You would not believe how many people I have know that believe that education is ridiculous and worthless.

    Tina: Ooh... at some point I'm gonna talk about the voices in writers' heads, too. heh

    It is a thorny issue, but, really, it's just very small patches of thorns, all things considered.

  8. When you credit your work to an outside force, it's a lot easier to blame it if you fail. But of course, you can't get anyone to believe something if they don't want to.

  9. There was a writer, I wanted to say it was Robert Louis Stevenson, but googling didn't turn up anything about that, and I got bored, anyway, there was a writer who said that all his ideas came to him in his sleep, acted out in dramas by tiny players that would show him the stories.

    Dang, I am 90% sure it was Stevenson! Anyway, I always thought that story was interesting, a story about how stories are come up with.

    I always took "my ideas come from a muse" or such to simply be some sort of humility. I've been giving more thought to where some of my ideas come from, and seeing how they grow from THIS to THAT. "The Circus Of Twice," for example, came out of my walking around a plastic edging of a park with Mr F, both of us sort of tight-rope walking on it, and then grew from there. I can't say I set out to write that particular story, because I wasn't sure what I'd write, but it's not like someone gave it to me: I usually give credit to my subconscious, as most stories I write come from me thinking for a little while about something, and then just starting to write and seeing what I come up with, usually with only the barest outline of a plot in mind.

    By the way, I'm finishing up a longer story and then I plan to start working on my extra story for your House book. It's taken a bit of a different turn, in that it will still be vampires but I think it might be something other than I thought about, because I've been thinking about things that are different than what I thought about.

    Anyhow, I like these essays. I especially like your thoughts on religion, which always make me think myself. My own view of things like 'peer pressure' leading to speaking in tongues is that it can be difficult to tell a religious experience from a biological one, since religious fervor could cause the biological response, or a religious experience could cause the fervor noted by a biological response.

    In other words: If God made someone speak in tongues, the biological response would probably look, to our instruments, identical to the readings that would come if someone got so caught up in the spirit of the moment that they consciously or compulsively began speaking in a made-up language. And I think that's the point of there being a God. Because, as Douglas Adams pointed out, if you could prove God existed He would likely stop existing.

  10. Jeanne: That's true, which is one of the reasons I think people are eager to "blame" their writing on something outside of themselves. It's part of the normal denial of responsibility that people like to do.

    Briane: I think you're correct about RLS. I know that's how it went with Jekyll & Hyde. He'd been sick or something, and sprang up from sleeping and wrote the whole first draft in one day. I'm pretty sure he credited a lot of his writing to his dreams. But, still, they were his dreams.

    To an extent, I agree with you about not being able to tell a supernatural/spiritual experience from a biologic one; but, in the case of speaking in tongues, linguists have never identified any of the gibberish as having any linguistic patterns. And, sure, you could say, "well, it's 'magic,'" but I don't buy that, and I don't think God works that way. I think if people really were speaking the "tongues of Angels," linguists would be able to come in and say, "hey, we don't understand this, but it has all the patterns of a language," but not a single one has ever been able to say that.

  11. And I also want to tell you that I may not always comment, but I do read every post you write, and I must say, it's been great watching you grow as a writer. Through your own posts, you've grown better and stronger at the craft. Bravo.

  12. Alyssia: Wow! Thank you and thank you!

  13. I had no idea that this is something that people genuinely do. I kept thinking that this post would be about writers who made up languages, words and slang for their stories :)

    But loving this series, keep it coming.

  14. Flippy: Oh, yeah, it's pretty amazing, actually. You can find clips on youtube, but that's nothing like actually being there when it happens.