Sunday, April 22, 2007

Spirituality: Speaking in tongues

Here's a mostly reasonable article on Andrew Newberg's work. Newberg, author of The Biology of Belief: Why God Won't Go Away , has studied Franciscan nuns and tibetan monks during meditation. Here's another of his interesting studies:
In one study, Newberg and colleagues used imaging technology to look at the brains of Pentecostal Christians speaking in tongues _ known scientifically as glossolalia _ then looked at their brains when they were singing gospel music. They found that those practicing glossolalia showed decreased activity in the brain's language center, compared with the singing group.

The imaging results are suggestive of people's description that they do not have control of their own speech when speaking in tongues. Newberg said scientists believe that speech is taken over by another part of the brain during glossolalia, but did not find it during the study.

Now, I have observed speaking in tongues (glossolalia) at revival meetings, and have not noticed that the people who can do it are (necessarily) unusual or mentally troubled or under the control of a cult. Advice for those who are looking for a really simple explanation: Keep looking and be very, very patient, and do not let disappointment cause you to reevaluate your thesis unless an open mind is important to you.
(Note: My lack of experience with unusual spiritual phenomena is despite the fact that a recent Toronto Star article referred to me as a fundamentalist author. As a matter of fact, I am a Roman Catholic (since 2005) and was formerly an Anglican (Episcopalian), not what most people would think of as a fundamentalist. The article has since been corrected on line but the detritus of the dead trees continues to show this error, as do some materialist atheist Web sites.

When I discovered the error, I joked to the reporter that "Fr. Martin and Fr. Jonathan [at my RC church in Toronto] will undoubtedly think it a great joke," and remarked to friends that "Given that they have seen fit to correct the error, I can now send those blasted hooded pit vipers back to Petco, and quit trying to learn fundamentalist snake handling." None too soon, I am sure.
Next book! The Spiritual Brain: A neuroscientist's case for the existence of the soul (Mario Beauregard and Denyse O'Leary, Harper August 2007).

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