Tuesday, April 1, 2014

"But What About the Holy Ghost?" Response to @YoBringItOn

No and yes.  No, because strictly speaking I don't believe in that sort of thing; yes, because I know what you mean: yes, when I was a believer I did "speak in tongues". How do I resolve this with my atheism? Well answering that question requires some background.


I was raised Pentecostal and grew-up hearing my parents and other community members practice glossolalia (commonly referred to as "speaking in tongues"). I was taught that this was the result of being filled with the Spirit (a.k.a. Holy Ghost) and that if I was fervent in my dedication God would baptize me in the Spirit with tongues following as evidence. My parents were ministers (my father is dead, my mother still serves), bright and I respected them, so naturally I believed them.

One summer I was shipped off to Braeside Pentecostal Camp in lovely Cobourg Ontario to spend a couple weeks with other teens. The focus of this camp was to get us "filled with the Holy Ghost". Evening after evening we listened to energetic sermons, were reminded of our sins, wept in repentance, sang and prayed for God to fill us with the Spirit. I prayed fervently but nothing happened until one of the last few nights of camp.

On that fateful evening all those who STILL hadn't received the Spirit and wanted to were invited to come forward so others could beseech God to fill us.  I went forward and was surrounded by friends, councillors, ministers and youth leaders who laid their hands upon me encouraging me to "Just let it out". All the while they were also speaking in tongues.  I was encouraged to just go with whatever sounds I felt the Spirit was prompting me to utter and not to resist.  As they prayed I listened, prayed and eventually (after a few HOURS) started to feel an urge to say things I didn't understand.  At first I thought it was merely gibberish but after a while..."Maybe that's it?", I thought, "This must be what I'm supposed to let out!" I started to whisper those sounds under my breath very sheepishly at first and then just a little louder. When the others heard me they would prompt me on, "Yes, that's it. Let it out! Glory to God, he's been filled with the Spirit!" I felt fantastic.

"Keep That to Yourself"

Fast-forward a few years and I was a young minister in seminary.  I was taking a course called Pentecostal Distinctives which focused on the the Charismata (gifts of the Spirit) and other tenants of Pentecostal doctrine.  For my final paper I wrote an essay suggesting that what we experienced in modern times re glossolalia was not the same thing that happened in Acts 2 where it was evident that the languages being spoken were real languages. That part wasn't too problematic and fell in the normal range of Pentecostal doctrine.

(formerly EPBC)

It would have been all fine if I had stopped there but I also suggested that the tendency of Charismatic expression to vary depending on where and when believers were and who they were with was indication that there was a strong sociological and psychological component to the phenomenon that warranted further study.  At different times and places people exhibited very different behaviours when filled with the Spirit: Quakers quaked, some people sang, some folks rolled around (Does "Holly Rollers" ring a bell?). Heck, some even used to crawl along on all fours and bark like dogs as the Spirit would prompt them to "Tree the Devil." (Yes, I'm serious!)

When we got our assignments back, my professor held onto mine and said he wanted to talk to me after class. I waited. When he handed the paper back I saw that I had received an A+ and that he had inscribed a little note saying that my father would have been proud. I nearly wept with pride.  What he said next though was just one more straw on the breaking back of a faith already weakened by a course on the history of the Biblical canon (for another discussion). He said that it was a brilliant paper and that he thought I was completely correct in my observations and conclusions but that I should probably keep my opinions to myself at least until after my credentials examination with the denomination.

The Resolution

So how do I resolve my Charismatic experience with my atheism?  I think the answer should be obvious from the above but I'll be a little more explicit.  I realize the truth about it: I was a young and impressionable kid who, like so many people at different points in history, succumed a brilliant demonstration of psychological and social conditioning. I think that any competent psychologist who studied the environments where people get "Filled" would come to the same conclusion.

Thanks for the question @YoBringItOn ! 


BTW, the professor who told me to "keep it to myself" he left the Pentecostal church just a few years after I graduated. He's now a Presbyterian, opting to trade in the wackiness and conservative ideologies for a kinder gentler god.  Hmmm... go figure. I think he's moving in the right direction.

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