Tanya Lurhmann strikes again; explain why it’s good to speak in tongues

Among the Most Annoying Accommodationists (male category), we have Chris Mooney, Andrew Brown, Mark Vernon, Chris Steadman, and many others too numerous to list.  But in the female category, four people immediately spring to mind:

Elaine Ecklund (constantly twists her survey data to show that scientists are, after all, more religious or “spiritual” than most people think. Supported by Templeton).
Krista Tippett (constantly touts spirituality and tries to pry out of her guests their spiritual or religious beliefs. Unctuously ingratiating.)
Karen Armstrong (so apophatic that one can’t discern what she’s saying. Unaccountably popular, probably among those who want to be religious but lack tangible beliefs).
and the latest addition, Tanya Luhrmann (recently funded by Templeton)

Luhrmann tentatively joined the list when she published her book When God Talks Back, an investigation of a charismatic Christian sect that had a very thin thesis: you gotta work to be able to talk to God; prayer isn’t easy, and it takes a lot of practice before you start hearing God’s replies. Whether God existed was a question Luhrmann tiptoed around.

And she continues this tiptoeing in the op-ed pages of the New York Times. For reasons that elude me, the Times has recently shown a strong desire to osculate the rump of religion, including last Sunday’s debate on creationism.  Equally obscure, but perhaps related, is the reason why they keep publishing insubstantial op-ed pieces by sociologist Luhrmann, all of them making only one point: the stuff that religious people do is good.  What’s most annoying is that she keeps her own beliefs under wraps, trying to cater to believers of all stripes while not alienating any of them.

But perhaps her most annoying op-ed yet appeared in yesterday’s NYT Sunday Review: “Why we talk in tongues.” As far as I can see, it says nothing beyond this: Christians all over the world speak in tongues, which is a way of praying different from the two classical ways of praying (“apophatic” prayer, similar to meditation, in which you disengage your mind, and “kataphatic” prayer, the traditional form in which you “fill [your] imagination with scripture”).

Beyond this, Lurhmann notes that speaking in tongues is like meditation, and makes people feel better (duhhh!). She also cites MRI scans that show that those who practice “glossolalia” (the fancy word for speaking in tongues) “experience less blood flow to the frontal cerebral cortext.” She interprets this finding as their brain behaving “as if they were less in a normal decision-making state—consistent with the claim that praying in tongues is not under conscious control.”

Of course it’s not under conscious control; if you’re a determinist, nothing is, including regular prayer. This is just a method in which one utters meaningless syllables freely.  And, at the end of her piece, Luhrmann tells us not to look down on this behavior:

Speaking in tongues still carries a stigmatizing whiff. In his book “Thinking in Tongues,” the philosopher James K. A. Smith describes the “strange brew of academic alarm and snobbery” that flickered across a colleague’s face when he admitted to being a Pentecostal (and, therefore, praying in tongues). It seems time to move on from such prejudice.

But why shouldn’t it be stigmatized? It sounds ridiculous, like baby talk, it’s done in public, and, most of all, it’s an embarrassing public display of faith.  Are we supposed to respect this practice? Give me a break.

Of all the publicly displayed forms of Christian worship, speaking in tongues is perhaps the most deserving of ridicule. Here’s a segment from the movie Religulous that shows some glossolalia:

h/t: Greg Mayer


  1. Linda Grilli Calhoun
    Posted August 19, 2013 at 5:36 am | Permalink

    “For reasons that elude me, the Times has recently shown a strong desire to osculate the rump of religion…”



    • Posted August 19, 2013 at 5:51 am | Permalink

      As traditional newspapers gradually decline (being progressively replaced by online news, particularly in younger generations) it seems that their readership is increasingly skewed to the older generations. Since these tend to be more religious the editorial stance tends to be pro religion for fear of upsetting these readers.

      At least, this seems to be the explanation why British newspapers such as The Times and Telegraph (and even the Guardian and the Indie, though less so) have a pro-religious editorial stance that is increasingly at odds with the UK mainstream.

      • Jeff D
        Posted August 19, 2013 at 9:13 am | Permalink

        This latest essay from Prof. Lurhmann was such lightweight piffle — even compared to her previous contributions — that I did not even waste the time (until now) to check the reader comments.

        Perhaps there is some vast over-age-55 majority of Times readers who happily lap up this stuff (along with Gary Gutting’s and Ross Douthat’s columns) without complaint. But among those readers who (1) are computer literate, (2) have Web access, and (3) are willing to tolerate the abysmal user interface for reader comments, a significant majority is properly skeptical and dismissive toward Prof. Luhrmann’s prattling.

        • madscientist
          Posted August 19, 2013 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

          Prattling? It’s more like ululations, but she probably believes she’s writing in tongues.

        • Diane G.
          Posted August 22, 2013 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

          Such facile ageism.

      • Andrew Lucas
        Posted August 19, 2013 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

        Also, as newspapers decline, their ability to produce real journalism written by real journalists also declines, because the poor sods are laid off. The newspapers have to fill their pages with *something*, and its just that much easier for hand-wavers to get their latest essay published.

  2. Posted August 19, 2013 at 5:46 am | Permalink

    The original claim in Acts about “talking in tounges” (= languages plural) was that each hearer heard a disciple in the hearer’s own language, thus the speech was understood by all in many different languages simultaneously.

    This is rather different (indeed the opposite) of the modern “speaking in tounges” where no-one understands what is being said.

    No doubt it is still a miracle though.

    • Fry
      Posted August 19, 2013 at 6:08 am | Permalink

      the miracle is that anyone believes that this is anything more than babbling gibberish of deluded nincompoops

    • Posted August 19, 2013 at 6:18 am | Permalink

      As I recall, there are plenty of loopholes in the bible, so Christians can once again dodge the Acts reference and interpret ‘tongues’ however they like. For example, I think there’s something in Mark(?) about people “speaking in new tongues” which doesn’t seem to imply that they understood each other. I’m not sure what point there would be in a ‘language’ that nobody else understood, though. It doesn’t seem like such a great gift to me. I really need a new multi-tool. I don’t really need the gift of gibberish that only manifests itself in front of people who inexplicably admire me for it.

      To my shame (as much as I am to her, I expect) my sister has strongly hinted that she has in the past ‘spoken in tongues’ and has stated explicitly that she’s been present on many occasions when other people have.

      She describes the experience of witnessing other people spouting forth incomprehensible babble as being “completely joyful” for everyone present. She meant that in the sense of the glossolalial outpourings putting everyone in a state of “complete and eternal joy”.

      She also describes being “filled with the grace of the holy spirit”. I’ve asked her what that means, but she just says I wouldn’t understand. She’s right.

    • Posted August 19, 2013 at 7:29 am | Permalink

      Without looking it up, my recollection is that the bible directs that speaking in tongues requires that it is not valid unless there is someone present who understands and can interpret properly. Even if that happened, it is most likely making stuff up, coming and going.

      • David
        Posted August 20, 2013 at 10:36 am | Permalink

        I had a different take and did look it up to be certain. Modern day speaking in tongues is endorsed by Paul but only for believers (1 Cor 14:1-25). But then the Bible also endorses stoning your children for cursing, genocide and child sacrifice. It is a book of nonsense perfected, with tongues just minor nonsense.

        • Posted August 20, 2013 at 10:42 am | Permalink

          David – also: I Corinthians 14:27-28, “If anyone speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, each taking his turn; and let one person interpret. But if there be no interpreter, let those persons keep silence in the church and speak to themselves and to God”.

  3. Alex Shuffell
    Posted August 19, 2013 at 5:49 am | Permalink

    go maki inner bitta wary po mantiku pinko form gedi nong oh! I think I need more practice typing in tongues. I just feel like an idiot.

    • teacupoftheapocalypse
      Posted August 19, 2013 at 6:28 am | Permalink

      Gitchi Gitchi Ya Ya Da Da Gitchi Gitchi Ya Ya Here Mocca chocalata Ya Ya Creole Lady Marmalade.

      • Posted August 19, 2013 at 7:30 am | Permalink

        Glad I did not have coffee in my mouth when I read this – woulda ruined my keyboard 🙂

        • gravityfly
          Posted August 19, 2013 at 8:25 am | Permalink


      • frank43
        Posted August 19, 2013 at 9:13 am | Permalink

        Yes, but can you interpret InnaGaddaVida ?

        • Posted August 19, 2013 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

          It’s drunk-speak for “In the Garden of Eden” 🙂

    • Dan McPeek
      Posted August 19, 2013 at 9:04 am | Permalink

      Ralph had his own style.

  4. Sastra
    Posted August 19, 2013 at 5:54 am | Permalink

    Luhrman is going into what I call Therapist/Anthropologist Mode — and the religious (well, the liberal religious) simply love it when secular people get all academic. It shifts the focus from whether a belief is true to whether it’s useful. Since this both shuts up criticism and feeds into their underlying assumption that if something makes you “feel lighter, freer and better” then the default position is that it’s God, going all academic is welcome. Nobody is “judging” them.

    Speaking in tongues still carries a stigmatizing whiff.

    Damn right it does. As you point out, people who speak in tongues are NOT really doing this as some sort of aesthetic practice or personal taste, like singing in the shower or reading cheap romance novels. They are insisting — sometimes triumphantly insisting — that they are communicating with God and this is the proof! I can’t say how many times I’ve heard stories from believers about someone who went into a God-induced state of being and spoke perfectly in a language they did not know, or revealed prophesies which later came true. Speaking in tongues is a testable claim. And they are making a claim which is supposed to be both universal and objective.

    But no. We’re not supposed to think along those lines. Instead, we need observe from afar and empathize with the person who is getting so much out of their tongue-speaking religion. The dear Little People. They’re not like us in the intellectual department — I mean, we can’t debate them like equals, oh no. Instead we treat them gently like friends or patients or subjects or clients and seek only to understand.

    To understand is to forgive.

    When you consider the implications, Therapist/Anthropologist Mode is pretty damn insulting to the believer. The Christians who are more open about the need for their God to actually exist are less forgiving of the forgivers. The approach is rife with condescension. It’s ultimately divisive. It insults the entire process of truth-seeking and degrades the glorious concept of God into a personal quest for self-fulfillment.

    But the more liberal and intellectual believers — the kind who still read newspapers like the New York Times — will apparently accept anything if it sounds like approval and helps them avoid uncomfortable questions. The secular need to follow the rule: “No right, no wrong — just different.” How lovely and chummy and tolerant. And they eat this up with a spoon at the same time they also seek the dogmatic certainty of faith, discover Truth-with-a-Capital-T, and stigmatize skeptics as heartless and closed-minded.

    But don’t worry. They understand and forgive the damned, too.

    • Linda Grilli Calhoun
      Posted August 19, 2013 at 7:55 am | Permalink

      I think there’s a long list of drugs that make you feel “lighter, freer, and better”, too. L

  5. Mattapult
    Posted August 19, 2013 at 5:59 am | Permalink

    I learned to speak in tongues in an improv class. It’s a great tool for comedic effect.

    I think there is a comedic effect when Christians do it too, although they may not get the joke.

    • teacupoftheapocalypse
      Posted August 19, 2013 at 6:22 am | Permalink

      I rather suspect that those doing the tongue-speaking get the joke. It’s the observers who think that it is, in some way, real, miraculous, or indicative of a closer connection to god, who don’t get the joke.

      • Mattapult
        Posted August 19, 2013 at 7:16 am | Permalink

        I’m no so sure they think it’s a joke. I experienced a one-on-one tounge-speaking session one time. The person speaking (not me) was quite serious.

        I was a disinterested agnostic at the time. I walked away from the experience thinking, “that was plain weird!”

        • zendruid1
          Posted August 19, 2013 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

          My granddaughter and I once played the made-up language game, and after a few minutes we both got bored.

  6. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted August 19, 2013 at 6:15 am | Permalink

    Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit, sed diam nonummy nibh euismod tincidunt ut laoreet dolore magna aliquam erat volutpat.

    See, even my computer speaks in tongues when it needs to fill up those empty spaces.

  7. Posted August 19, 2013 at 6:16 am | Permalink

    woo woo gichy goo goo jobba jobba wahoochie!


    Just kidding. Seriously, the sounds that come from those doing this are native to the language of the speaker:

    That the sounds are taken from the set of sounds already known to the speaker is confirmed by others. Felicitas Goodman, a psychological anthropologist and linguist, also found that the speech of glossolalists reflected the patterns of speech of the speaker’s native language.[9]

    From here:


    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted August 19, 2013 at 10:03 am | Permalink

      Ha! Busted! Not speaking in “tongues” then; really speaking in “tongue”.

    • Suri
      Posted August 19, 2013 at 11:01 am | Permalink

      I was just about to say that a good linguist could easily debunk glosolalia.

  8. Kevin Alexander
    Posted August 19, 2013 at 6:18 am | Permalink

    work to be able to talk to God; prayer isn’t easy, and it takes a lot of practice before you start hearing God’s replies.

    I’m guessing she’s never heard of self hypnosis.

    • Sastra
      Posted August 19, 2013 at 8:23 am | Permalink

      The thing about this passage which I find unforgivable is that the writer did not put scare quotes around the word “hearing.” I can understand being reluctant to put them around “God” or “replies.” That would sound more argumentative.

      But “it takes a lot of practice before you start ‘hearing’ God’s replies” is just honest. It fits in with an academic approach. Leaving them out is pandering.

  9. Michael Fisher
    Posted August 19, 2013 at 6:19 am | Permalink

    At her website, taken from her About page :-

    “Is God real? Is God present? How do we know?

    I grew up with these questions. My mother is the daughter of a Baptist minister, my father (a doctor) the son of Christian Scientists, and when I was young we lived in a neighborhood with Orthodox Jews. I grew up among many wise people who thought differently about the world, and I was curious about how they made those decisions, and what an observer could say about the ways they used and experienced their minds in making those decisions.

    I use my training in anthropology to understand how people know what is real. I don’t pass judgment on whether they are right. Instead, I ask: what leads people to make the judgment that God was present? What do they perceive that makes them more confident or more uncertain? How have they learned to pay attention? I observe what people do, and I listen to what they say, and I search for patterns. I am also interested in what happens when that capacity to judge what is real gets broken, and how we help those who are in pain.

    When not doing research, I am in my garden with my d*g, who likes to help me dig”

    In the same link above there’s a further link [bottom right] to her very busy CV inc. a recent stretch at UofC

    HERE’S a very short Youtube video where she explains that when people experience god talking to them they’ve learned a SKILL. LOL

    I wonder what other academic anthropologists think of her work?

    • Sastra
      Posted August 19, 2013 at 8:40 am | Permalink

      There’s no problem with going into Therapist/Anthropologist mode if you actually are a therapist or an anthropologist performing therapy or anthropology. The other anthropologists probably appreciate her work on that level. She seems to be discovering some important clues as to why and more significantly how people believe as they do. That’s a theme even the gnu atheists value — and write about. I had seriously considered reading her book — and may still, though she pisses me off. I’m sure I’d learn something valuable. And I’d understand the religious and cultural phenomenon better.

      The problem comes when you’re addressing a general public who believes in the truth of something and you tiptoe around the fact that their views are wrong in order to grant them your approval for how well their beliefs “work” for them. That’s dishonest.

      And the problem is compounded into full-blown accomodationism when you come right out and scold the people who point out that the views are technically wrong, acting as if that’s just an insignificant technicality and gosh, the REAL issue is the therapeutic or anthropological one. Why the hell do skeptics get so mean to the poor little believers? Can’t they just settle for understanding … and forgiving?

      Speaking in tongues still carries a stigmatizing whiff… the “strange brew of academic alarm and snobbery” … It seems time to move on from such prejudice.

      Really? Saying “but this is not true” is “snobbery?” “Prejudice?”

      What a snobbish, prejudiced little academic this is.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted August 19, 2013 at 10:06 am | Permalink

      That first paragraph could have been plucked from The Life of Pi

  10. Diana MacPherson
    Posted August 19, 2013 at 6:20 am | Permalink

    Oh good the women are well represented with crazy. 🙂

    The talking in tongues seems to me like a real good way to let your brain. It is awful when you see this fine with children. I think it is an effective brain washing tool.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted August 19, 2013 at 7:31 am | Permalink

      Why rent when you can buy? 🙂

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted August 19, 2013 at 10:08 am | Permalink

        Ha, that was some kind of fail. That’s what happens when you’re also participating in a meeting. I think I meant to say it distracts the brain from thinking logically. Maybe I was speaking in tongues when I wrote that so my sentence made no sense.

      • Posted August 19, 2013 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

        Oh, no. Brains depreciate the minute you take them off the brain lot. As long as you’re committed to limiting your use of it, better to lease one for 18 months and then trade up!

    • Diane G.
      Posted August 22, 2013 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

      “It is awful when you see this fine with children.”


      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted August 22, 2013 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

        That’s the second time you found my misplaced stuff! I was thinking the same but couldn’t find this exact clip!

        Yes, it’s awful. It nauseates me to watch this.

        • Diane G.
          Posted August 22, 2013 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

          We’re all good at something, I guess.


  11. jh
    Posted August 19, 2013 at 6:28 am | Permalink

    When I think of speaking in tongues, the manipulation of the kids in Jesus Camp, comes to mind.

    I still don’t understand what Lurhmann’s point is – when we see someone babbling polysyllabic gibberish in public, we should assume that it’s a different kind of therapy. I guess, so could many other things that I choose not to mention.

  12. Leigh Jackson
    Posted August 19, 2013 at 6:37 am | Permalink

    Luhrmann qua anthropologist, sees religion as something that people do and something therefore to be studied. Speaking in tongues, she suggests, is a technique to aid prayer. The point of which is to commune with – GOD ALMIGHTY.

    She says that we all should accept this as perfectly fine and dandy. Talking gobbledegook to get close to GA produces less blood flow to the frontal cortex.

    The mental state so produced appears to be auto-induced.

    I think Luhrmann should let go her prejudice against those of us who see religious beliefs and practices like talking in tongues as delusory, involving as they do the mistaking of events taking place in the brain as something of a different kind.

    The experience may be profoundly meaningful subjectively but the religious constructions loaded on top are open to question. Luhrmann may prefer to put these questions to one side, but to be sceptical of claims about the transcendent based on dubious subjective grounds is no less human a phenomenon than is the religious mindset.

    • Sastra
      Posted August 19, 2013 at 8:54 am | Permalink

      You know, people who are caught up in a mob mentality, whipped into a patriotic or ideological frenzy by a demagogue appealing to the crowd by pushing their emotional buttons, probably get a lot out of it, too.

      So why don’t we discuss the benefits of this while condemning the snobbery and prejudice of those who think the message matters and irrationality as a way of transforming the self is a bad idea? I mean, look at the group cohesion you get! Tight community! Chanting! And the huge increase in personal self-esteem and sense of power even while you lose your sense of self and disappear into the group! Let’s understand the phenomenon of the rabble-roused in order to become more compassionate and accepting.

      Because it works.

      • zendruid1
        Posted August 19, 2013 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

        This is why I miss Jerry Garcia’s Grateful Dead. Instead of chanting, folks were dancing….

        • microraptor
          Posted August 21, 2013 at 9:28 am | Permalink

          I was going to ask what the difference was between people talking in tongues and Bob Dylan’s singing.

      • Leigh Jackson
        Posted August 20, 2013 at 2:01 am | Permalink

        The sneaky attempt to smear healthy scepticism as prejudice is not to her great credit.

        The point of scepticism is to serve as reality check and protect us from deluding ourselves. Self-delusion being the sin of sins for a scientist, as Feynman emphasised. It’s not okay to raise an eyebrow and one or two little questions when someone says that they regularly receive the gift from God of talking in tongues?

        Lurhmann supplies evidence which backs up that scepticism yet tries to shield the practice from question. Is this what anthropology should be about? Taking one side in a dispute?

      • Leigh Jackson
        Posted August 20, 2013 at 4:37 am | Permalink

        Incidentally S, ater your comment to me in the Pinker thread I started to go through “Better Angels” again.

        I was far from convinced on first reading that Pinker was really doing anything more than finding a way to support his personal hopes and mores. The book left me with the impression that he believes that the enlightenment established the good and proper basis for human societies and the auguries bode well for the future of such societies. All manner of things shall be well. He’s entitled to his optimism, but he risks delusion, I feel bound to say.

        I’ve not finished my deeper reading of the book but I am not so far inclined to change my mind. His data, for me, under-confirm his optimism.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted August 20, 2013 at 5:35 am | Permalink

          Pinker explicitly says that he does not know if the relatively peaceful times we’ve experienced will continue because how we got here complicated and that it would not take much to slip backwards if any of the many things that led to this peace went wonky.

          I don’t think he is delusional optimistic as he provides good evidence to suggest that the true delusion is our tendency to see anecdotes and personal experiences as indicative of the bigger picture; stats and history helps us combat that tendency.

          Having read the book, I’m unconvinced that Pinker is suffering for a confirmation bias and has an a priori belief that the enlightenment gave us certain values and then has gone out to bend evidence to suit his belief.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted August 20, 2013 at 5:35 am | Permalink

            Bonus: see where my sentence fails occur as a fun game 🙂

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted August 20, 2013 at 5:38 am | Permalink

            Okay that was so full of fail I have to repost. My excuse this time is one of my contacts is inside out. Yeah, bet you’ve never heard THAT one before!

            Pinker explicitly says that he does not know if the relatively peaceful times we’ve experienced will continue because how we got here is complicated and that it would not take much to slip backwards if any of the many things that led to this peace went wonky.

            I don’t think he is delusionally optimistic as he provides good evidence to suggest that the true delusion is our tendency to see anecdotes and personal experiences as indicative of the bigger picture; stats and history help us combat that tendency.

            Having read the book, I’m unconvinced that Pinker is suffering a confirmation bias and has an a priori belief that the enlightenment gave us certain values and then has gone out to bend evidence to suit his belief.

            • Leigh Jackson
              Posted August 21, 2013 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

              He certainly presents a lot of interesting evidence. And a lot of it I accept as suggestive of improvement in respect of violence in 20th Century leading democratic powers. And to the extent that we have dependable empirical data to check our preconceptions against that is all to the good.

              I still have a lot of territory to cover but I have many questions. Whilst he does address a number of sceptical questions regarding the data for me he is not sufficiently rigorous. I also have problems with the presentation of data.

              This is not the place to go into much detail but here’s a couple of points. Two out of every three persons of the Jewish diaspora living in Europe at the start of the 2nd World War were dead by the end of the war. A 66% death rate. (Exclude half a million Jews living in Britain and France and that rate jumps even higher.) That matches the death rate of the Amazonian Waorani given in Figure 2-2, comparing death rates from the present to the archaeological past. Yet the fact is subsumed within the death rates given for world deaths for the whole 20th century and deaths in Europe 1900-1960. Put that statistic into the Figure and it would look very different.

              That same Figure raises some other questions. Nubia site 117 had a death rate of 45% (next to highest) 12,000-10,000 BCE, whilst Nubia nr site 117, over the same period, had a death rate of less than 5% (next to lowest). I have to ask what the relevance of the Figure is. Surely it only shows that death rates of different human groups can vary dramatically – even those in close proximity?

      • Diane G.
        Posted August 22, 2013 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

        You know, people who are caught up in a mob mentality, whipped into a patriotic or ideological frenzy by a demagogue appealing to the crowd by pushing their emotional buttons, probably get a lot out of it, too.

        “Insanity in individuals is something rare — but in groups, parties, nations, and epochs, it is the rule.” -Friedrich Nietzsche

  13. Richard Olson
    Posted August 19, 2013 at 6:49 am | Permalink

    Speaking in tongues is, practiced correctly, a highly effective self-delusion program with proven results. Not proven safe, necessarily, for either adults or minors, true, yet available to all with no up-front expense. No licensing required, no supervision imposed on dispensation due to age or mental infirmity. Safety requirements/guarantees from the manufacturer not available at this time. Get your free kit now! (future expense may be required, but don’t think about that at this point)

  14. @eightyc
    Posted August 19, 2013 at 6:59 am | Permalink


    Imagine a room full of trekkies speaking in Klingon and actually believe they are channeling the spirit of dead Klingon warriors.


    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted August 19, 2013 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

      Klingon at least has the virtue of being a real (if invented) language that conveys actual meaning. Speaking Klingon is no weirder than speaking Esperanto.

      Glossolalia is just meaningless babble masquerading as profundity.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted August 19, 2013 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

        Hem tlhIngan Segh ‘ej maHemtaH ‘e’ wIHech.

        • HaggisForBrains
          Posted August 20, 2013 at 2:20 am | Permalink

          What worries me is that I googled that for a translation. Even more worrying is that I succeeded. Now I’m worried about which planet your really come from.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted August 20, 2013 at 5:24 am | Permalink

            The good news is I Googled that to come up with the phrase 🙂

  15. Posted August 19, 2013 at 7:26 am | Permalink

    Hello folks!

    I fear you won’t touch those belonging to the out-groups with such a rhetoric 🙂

    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted August 19, 2013 at 11:37 am | Permalink

      Which out-group Marc? The anthropologists or the tongue twisters?

      I guess both groups have a lot to lose

  16. Posted August 19, 2013 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    Krista Tippett recently tried the spirituality gambit on Sylvia Earle.

    It didn’t work.

  17. Posted August 19, 2013 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    For now, religion is best understood as the Religious Brain Disorder RBD. For me it seems to stem from a Stone-Age mutation of the human brain that, on account of its effectiveness, became common to about 30% of any population, anywhere, and it gave temporary social advantages in that those who suffered the mutation and passed it on. The impact of RBD is not widely understood. The cerebral mutation left them convinced that they live in an invisible hierarchy of authority, and can only self-actualise as individuals by finding a place within that invisible hierarchy. But it gave the rest of us an understanding of hierarchies other than the religious, which we see today in all forms of political structures, in education (master and pupil) in medicine (doctor and medical student) in academia (structured by qualifications!) and in the organisation of cooperative enterprises such as business and administration.
    Many have considered the evolutionary advantages of religious belief, but have got it wrong. The residual chief and most important characteristic in those who suffer RBD is the willingness to make group decisions which do not necessarily benefit themselves!! Work in hospitals; run social programs; teach in school. But the original fantasy of the gods was long out served its usefulness in creating successful societies. Even people without RBD recognise the usefulness of political and social structures and institutions. We all now work with hierarchies.
    Those left behind by civilisation, – the religious, – are left with a headful of useless convictions.
    The fundamentalists among them share common ground with a particularly troublesome psychosis (state of belief and behaviour) called ‘bi-Polar’. In the latter stages of bi-polar, many begin to think that they are at the top of a notional hierarchy; that they are gods. It is called ‘The Messiah Complex’, and is strangely common. You see it all the time on evangelist TV.
    If you spend time as a Californian Mental Health Centre Visitor (I had a severely bi-polar relative) you may meet two Jesuses in one afternoon, each sitting cross-legged with a towel over their naked loins, babbling ‘free-association’ of a religious nature, for hours on end. Look up ‘free-association’ if you have no experience of it; it throws light upon religious behaviour. (The two Jesuses avoid each other and refer to each other as an imposter!) It is curious to know that the Mental health Unit Jesuses are NOT copying Jesus. Jesus himself was a sufferer of bi polar, one of the chief characteristics of which is to gain a huge loyal following, even after death. Most of the biblical prophets were victims of the extreme end of bi-polar called Messiah Complex.
    Speaking in Tongues is a branch of free-association when the speaker is under stress. It seems to me that some preachers work themselves us to such a high manic state that the slip into free association. Excited kids do it. Spectators sometimes do it at exciting ball-games. This is taken from by on-going book, ‘Origins of Belief and Behaviour’.

    • teacupoftheapocalypse
      Posted August 19, 2013 at 8:44 am | Permalink

      I don’t doubt you for one minute, but I am intrigued to know what evidence exists to support the argument that JC and most of the biblical prophets were bi-polar. I’ve read elsewhere that Mo’ probably was, too.

      • Posted August 19, 2013 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for drawing me out. I feel that since Abnormal Psychology works upon poor research , and is unable to provide even a schematic understanding of psychosis, we have to go by observation. In my long history of working with bi-polar people, in politics, the arts, doc filmmaking and so on, I have collected some observations..
        Bi-polar is sometimes (but not normally) a step away from even more grave conditions; paranoia (a fiendishly complicated condition), and finally Messiah Complex. As to the later…
        1. An unshakeable conviction that they alone have the responsibility of leading humankind away from harm.
        2. A belief that they are close to the gods, eventually leading to the conviction that they are a god.
        3. The belief that their every action, word or thought is sending a powerful message that is being read by those higher in the hierarchy.
        4. The belief that they can see into the future. (Prophesy)
        5. They see ‘good’ and ‘evil’ as real things, and that has led to a theory called ‘sin’.
        6. A loud, astonishingly persuasive preaching manner that gathers very loyal followers from among the weak and gullible, who remain followers long after the death of the living god.
        7. A constantly buzzing mind that urges through anecdote and parables the followers to endorse the belief that they are on a mission from the gods.
        8. The use of effective ‘free-association’ whereby the bi-polar victim seems to be upon the point of explaining something critically important, but is side-tracked into constant diversions which lead to even more remote diversions. They can never get to the point or finish and idea.
        9. Breathless, rapid, ‘explicatory’ talk that seems to say so much, unless it is recorded and played-back later, where it is revealed to be quite empty of meaning.
        10. Needing very little sleep and able to outpace everybody with stamina and determination. Only rarely slumping into self-doubt.

        Remember, many larger than life and powerful leaders, who achieve very little, both in USA and UK, are bi-polar. Both our nations have been run by bi-polar sufferers with a touch of Messiah Complex, in recent memory. They talk big, but seem hedged-in by their failure to understand pretty-well anything.

        And finally… You might be interested to know that many of the nastier ideas expressed by religious people, – anti-gay, anti abortion and so forth, – are not lifted from their bible, and the Koran, but that religious people have the same form of consciousness, based upon the same false fundamental precepts. Their sense of reality is based upon those false fundamental assumptions. And by logic (yes, by logic!) those fundamental assumptions lead directly to the expressions of a religious mind. They do not copy each other, and they are not influenced by their holy books. The religious Brain Operating System contains some very peculiar assumptions concerning the nature of reality. I have a list.
        The 1800-page book is called ‘Origins of Belief and Behaviour’.

  18. sam
    Posted August 19, 2013 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    Religion… is much like Leprosy,
    it is caught from friends and family;
    ’tis an insidious malady.

  19. Hempenstein
    Posted August 19, 2013 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    Seems like some of this may reverting to pre-linguistic verbalization, that became possible once our vocal chords could support making such noises (and from whence languages must have developed). So reaching God (and the highly civilized & moral state they’re always claiming) is reaching back into pre-history & striving toward their inner ape. It’s like vocal jazz. It probably does make some of them feel good (do Pentecostals dance? If, as I suspect, they don’t – like some Baptists – then this is their officially-sanctioned release). The rest of them, I suspect, are fakes and are consciously/intentionally vocalizing specific gibberish.

    • Sastra
      Posted August 19, 2013 at 8:59 am | Permalink

      Sometimes when I’m nervous or in a hurry I will babble to myself in a fake language which sounds faintly Eastern European. Why? I don’t know. It eases the stress somehow, I guess. Much of it sounds like swearing.

      But I know that I’m just playing around.

  20. onkelbob
    Posted August 19, 2013 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    Speaking in Tongues was a brilliant album, especially Naive Melody.
    But everyone knows that you’re not a True Christian™ unless you handle snakes.

  21. Dave Hooke
    Posted August 19, 2013 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    I know awards ceremonies do it, but we don’t actually need separate gender categories for accommodationists. They all write the same sort of rubbish.

  22. John K.
    Posted August 19, 2013 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    Speaking in tongues seems very much like a culturally learned behavior. I think it was Jerry DeWitt, former Pentecostal minister turned atheist, who has talked about bursting into tongues when particularly roused by a song or some other moving feeling even after completely de-converting. I think you can listen to it on this podcast if interested.

    I can’t consider speaking in tongues any more profound than the type of expletives people shout when surprised. They are just unconscious ejaculations people can train themselves to utter in a very quick reaction to specific stimuli.

  23. Posted August 19, 2013 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    I’ve read that some fundamentalists also roll around on the floor, which is also pretty weird.
    I’m uncomfortable around people like that, they cause the hair on the back of my neck to stand up.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted August 19, 2013 at 11:42 am | Permalink

      Hence the term “holy rollers” I do believe [so to speak]

  24. Posted August 19, 2013 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    I have written previously to the New York Times to complain about Luhrmann and her inanities. I was an anthropologist by trade for 35 years. My graduate work was at the University of Illinois Urbana/Champaign and my fieldwork has been with various American Indian groups in the Norther Plains. There I encountered all manner of religious beliefs from those known as traditional, Catholic, Mormon, Native American Church, and various evangelical churches. One of the principles of “doing anthropology” is to, at all times, maintain a certain “distance” from the people with whom one is working (or working for as I have done). Ms. Luhrmann is one of the postmodernist anthropologists who have destroyed the discipline over the past 25 years or so. Her contributions are no contributions at all. She would hardly be the first anthropologist to lose any sense of objectivity – it happens, but it does not make good anthropology. Postmodernism has made this not only perfectly acceptable but desirable. Just who at the NYT thinks that she is making some sort of contribution to our understanding of cultural variability is just flat-out wrong but nevertheless the same people who assured themselves that a “debate” between creationists and scientists (or whatever that mess was supposed to be) are apparently intent on showing us just how religious friendly they are. What they are doing is making the NYT look ridiculous and anthropology look like a bunch of new agers. I would urge people to write well reasoned complaints to “The Public Editor” whose email is on the editorial page. Perhaps if enough people complain the Editorial Page editor Andrew Rosenthal will stop giving the religious nuts free space and exposure on the Editorial Page of a newspaper which prides itself on being the “paper of record” for the country.

    Michael Scullin

    • Hempenstein
      Posted August 19, 2013 at 11:58 am | Permalink

      And also noted – this from a paper that considers publication of comic strips to be beneath it.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted August 19, 2013 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

      I’m glad you mentioned this. I kept thinking Luhrmann is a terrible anthropologist because aren’t you supposed to maintain some distance so you can actually observe behaviour, vs. becoming part of the behaviour & then promoting it as superior?

      • Richard Olson
        Posted August 19, 2013 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

        ‘… making the NYT look ridiculous and anthropology look like a bunch of new agers.’

        Post-modernism is slow acting cancer.

        • Richard Olson
          Posted August 19, 2013 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

          slow-acting (duh). I wish I could see the screw ups before I post instead of after.

  25. Posted August 19, 2013 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    Now we are told that jibber jabbering in public should not be stigmatized and sane people need more tolerance…because it’s meditation. OK, I’ll be tolerant…as long we all agree that 1) it’s just blood flow coursing through different parts of the brain (and the interpretation is pure conjecture) and 2) it has nothing to do with a supernatural agent.

    My annoyance with Luhrmann is her rapid acquiescence to inane behaviors and the deference she gives to delusion. Pentacostals and charismatics are not saying that they are “meditating”, they are claiming to be echoing the Word of God, a supernatural being, and Luhrmann should emphasize that in her column.

  26. madscientist
    Posted August 19, 2013 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    People who believe they’re speaking in tongues are idiots. People who refuse to call ’em idiots are idiots. Putting up with idiots is an extremely bad thing – look what’s happened to the political system in the USA and elsewhere.

    • Trina
      Posted August 20, 2013 at 10:02 am | Permalink

      Right after I finished high school I started hanging out with a group of Christians (my family called them “happy-clappy” Christians to distinguish them from the many Catholics in our town.

      One church service, a visiting pastor ‘taught’ a group of people to speak in tongues. First, whip them up into an emotionally frenzy through loud music and encouraging the congregation to shout out prayer. Then he would pray over each individual, shouting blessings in their face and telling them to relax and just let whatever sounds wanted to come out, come out.

      It didbt take long before they were gibbering away, all believing they were speaking in tongues.

      The pastor of the church we were at also spoke in tongues, and his actually sounded like they were a real language. However there was very little variation and I suspect he’d learnt 3 or 4 sentences in Hebrew or Aramaic to repeat.

      • Posted August 20, 2013 at 10:48 am | Permalink

        The funniest experience I had with speaking in tongues was before a softball game in Colorado Springs. Both teams gathered at home plate and all of a sudden our opponents all broke out in gibberish. I believe that they were a Baptist team – must have worked because they won 🙂

  27. Sideshow Bill
    Posted August 19, 2013 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    http://www.bostonreview.net/arts-culture/can-science-deliver-benefits-religion “Can Science Deliver the Benefits of Religion?” Should add Tania Lombrozo to the list. Surprised that this one hasn’t popped up yet.

  28. Sideshow Bill
    Posted August 19, 2013 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    So http://www.bostonreview.net/arts-culture/can-science-deliver-benefits-religion by Tania Lombrozo is due for a fisking. Surprised that it hasn’t shown up yet.

  29. Daniel Arovas
    Posted September 9, 2013 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    I’m a physicist and an atheist and an old friend of Tanya Luhrmann, who was once a colleague of mine at UCSD. I think Luhrmann’s circumspection and reticence to trumpet her personal beliefs are apposite, given her position. She is able to immerse herself in religious communities and conduct her research in part because she is trusted to provide a dispassionate account of their practices and beliefs. Anthropologists often work for years to gain the trust of their target groups, whether they are primates or humans. From what I can tell, Luhrmann’s research is insightful amd judicious, and she is hardly an apologist for religious fundamentalism.

    • Posted September 9, 2013 at 11:41 am | Permalink

      Of course she’s an apologist for religion, if not fundamentalism (though many of her subjects are fundamentalists in important ways). All her NYT columns are basically religious apologetics.

      • Daniel Arovas
        Posted September 9, 2013 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

        It would be helpful if you could explain just how she is functioning as an apologist for religion. Seems to me that in http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/02/opinion/is-that-god-talking.html she is basically saying that people who hear God speaking to them are experiencing an auditory hallucination brought about by prayer. I.e. people can train themselves to hear voices. Seems like an interesting hypothesis. By the way, is she also an apologist for the occult (she was inducted as a witch while performing her early research on witchcraft)?

        • Posted September 9, 2013 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

          Just search for her name on this website; I’ve written about her several times before.

          And, by the way, we don’t tolerate snark here, so deep six the attitude that produced your last sentence. You’re obviously new here.

          She hasn’t written multiple op-eds for the NYT trying to explain how witchcraft is a good thing. She is not just explaining religion as an anthropological phenomenon, she is explaining why religion is a good thing. In other words, she’s a believer in belief, and justifying the kind of revelatory “faith” that is so inimical in today’s society.

          Yes, training yourself to hear voices of nonexistent beings, i.e., training yourself to become delusional, is certainly a good thing, isn’t it? Not a peep out of Luhrmann that these people may be talking themselves into mental illness.

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