A Neuroscientific Look at Speaking in Tongues
The passionate, sometimes rhythmic, language-like patter that pours forth from religious people who “speak in tongues” reflects a state of mental possession, many Christians say. Now they have some neuroscience to back this up.
Recently, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania took brain images of five women while they spoke in tongues and found that their frontal lobes — the thinking, willful part of the brain through which people control what they do — were relatively quiet, as were the language centers. The regions involved in maintaining self-consciousness were active. The women were not in blind trances, and it was unclear which region was driving the behavior.
The images, appearing in the current issue of the journal Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, pinpoint the most active areas of the brain. The images are the first of their kind taken during this spoken religious practice, which has roots in the Old and New Testaments and in Pentecostal churches established in the early 1900s. The women in the study were healthy, active churchgoers.
“The amazing thing was how the images supported people’s interpretation of what was happening,” said Dr. Andrew B. Newberg, leader of the study team, which included Donna Morgan, Nancy Wintering and Mark Waldman. “The way they describe it, and what they believe, is that God is talking through them,” he said. Dr. Newberg is also a co-author of Why We Believe What We Believe.
In the study, the researchers used imaging techniques to track changes in blood flow in each woman’s brain in two conditions, once as she sang a gospel song and again while speaking in tongues. By comparing the patterns created by these two emotional, devotional activities, the researchers could pinpoint blood-flow peaks and valleys unique to speaking in tongues.
Donna Morgan, a co-author of the study, was also a research subject. She is a born-again Christian who says she considers the ability to speak in tongues a gift. “You’re aware of your surroundings,” she said. “You’re not really out of control. But you have no control over what’s happening. You’re just flowing. You’re in a realm of peace and comfort, and it’s a fantastic feeling.”
Contrary to what may be a common perception, studies suggest that people who speak in tongues rarely suffer from mental problems. A recent study of nearly 1,000 evangelical Christians in England found that those who engaged in the practice were more emotionally stable than those who did not. Researchers have identified at least two forms of the practice, one ecstatic and frenzied, the other subdued and nearly silent.
The new findings contrasted sharply with images taken of other spiritually inspired mental states like meditation, which is often a highly focused mental exercise, activating the frontal lobes.
The scans also showed a dip in the activity of a region called the left caudate. “The findings from the frontal lobes are very clear, and make sense, but the caudate is usually active when you have positive affect, pleasure, positive emotions,” said Dr. James A. Coan, a psychologist at the University of Virginia. “So it’s not so clear what that finding says” about speaking in tongues.
The caudate area is also involved in motor and emotional control, Dr. Newberg said, so it may be that practitioners, while mindful of their circumstances, nonetheless cede some control over their bodies and emotions.
NASA has banned an employee club from using the name Jesus in newsletters announcing the club’s activities.
Charisma News reports that the Johnson Space Center Praise & Worship Club was told by NASA attorneys that they could not mention Jesus in their newsletters because it violated the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause.
The JSC Praise & Worship Club is made up of NASA employees who meet on their lunch break to pray, read the Bible, and sing praises to God.
The club’s recent newsletter read: Join with the praise and worship band Allied with the Lord for a refreshing set of spring praise and worship songs on Thursday, June 4, from 11:15 a.m. to noon in Building 57, Room 106. (The theme for this session will be “Jesus is our life!”) Prayer partners will be available for anyone who has needs. All JSC civil servants and contractors are welcome.
Liberty Institute is defending club members and has threatened to bring a lawsuit against NASA unless it stops censoring the name Jesus.
Liberty Institute lawyer Jeremy Dys said that club organizers offered an alternative solution, proposing that they could put a disclaimer on their newsletters, making clear that the views expressed in them were not endorsed by NASA. This proposal, however, was rejected.
“The bottom line is that NASA should not be censoring this club just because they use the name Jesus in an employee advertisement,” Dys stated. “That is blatant religious discrimination.”
NASA has a history of protecting religious speech. They defended the Apollo 8 astronauts who read the Creation story while orbiting the moon. In addition, astronaut Buzz Aldrin received communion while on the moon as part of the Apollo 11 mission.
“NASA should continue its tradition of protecting the great religious expression of its employees,” Dys said.
NEWS IN BRIEF
- An LGBT activist group has singled out Christian colleges in a recent report, claiming they use religious liberty as a “guise for discrimination” against LGBT students. Since 2013, according to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), 56 colleges have applied for partial exemptions to Title IX of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, citing views on transgenderism and homosexuality. The LGBT group is now calling on Congress and the Department of Education to broadcast information about these schools to prospective students. Title IX mandates all educational institutions, including private schools, to not discriminate “on the basis of sex,” but it grants provisions for military training institutions, schools with a history of admitting only one gender, and cases where the law “would not be consistent with the religious tenets of such organization.” For decades, religious schools and colleges have been able to set rules for students regarding gender identity and sexual orientation and did not feel the need to request exemptions from Title IX. But the climate on this issue has now drastically changed.
A recent national survey has revealed that 76 percent of Americans ages 18 to 31 believe that living together before marriage is not morally wrong.
Charisma News contributor Larry Tomczak warns parents and grandparents that this is a dangerous belief. Tomczak reminds his readers that young people are being told from television, movies, Hollywood, and from culture in general that living together before marriage is fine.
Sixty-five percent of young couples now live together before marriage. Some of these couples also identify as Christians.
Tomczak cites some common arguments these couples give for living together before marriage: “Times have changed. We have to face certain realities of living in the 21st century. We’re going to get married eventually. Like buying a car, you’ve got to try it out first. What difference does a certificate really make—it’s just a piece of paper. We’re older … more mature … been divorced … not ready financially … providing parents for a child … benefiting from tax incentives …have peace that God understands our unique situation … look how many people even ‘Christians’ are doing it!”
Christian Schools Banned from Praying at Championship Game
A Christian high school in Florida is fighting a mandate that prohibits their football team from praying before games.
Fox News’ Todd Starnes explains that Cambridge Christian School’s football team was facing University Christian School’s team in a 2A state championship game last December. The schools asked the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) if they could begin the game with a prayer.
The FHSAA denied their request, stating that a pre-game prayer was against the law because, though both schools were Christian, they would be playing on government property.
Liberty Institute, a law firm that specializes in defending religious liberty, is representing Cambridge Christian School. “This is ridiculous,” said attorney Jeremy Dys. “We’ve got two Christian schools being told they can’t pray.”
Dys added that this case shows separation of church and state being taken too far. “We have the state trying to impose strictures upon the church,” he told Starnes. “I think we’ve gone a long way away from who we are as a country when the state starts telling Christian schools they can no longer pray in public.”
Liberty Institute has sent a letter to the FHSAA, demanding a written apology for their “gross violation” of the law in not allowing the schools to pray. As of press time, the FHSAA had not yet responded to the letter.
Players on the football team spoke out about the importance of their faith.
“Prayer is something we’ve been taught to do and to do no matter what – even in public,” 17-year-old kicker Jacob Enns said. Despite the FHSAA’s mandate, the teams gathered on the field to recite “The Lord’s Prayer” before the game.