One summer night Louie and Mel set to over the issue of speaking in tongues, Louie arguing that this manifestation of the Spirit was to be sought earnestly, Mel holding that it was a miraculous gift given to the early church but not given by God today. I forget the Scripture verses each of them brought forward to defend his position, but I remember the pale faces, the throat-clearing, the anguished looks, as those two voices went back and forth, straining at the bit, giving no ground - the poisoned courtesy (“I think my brother is overlooking Paulʼs very clear message to the Corinthians?,” “Perhaps my brother needs to take a closer look, a prayerful look, at this verse in Hebrews?”) as the sun went down, neighbor children were called indoors, the neighbors turned out their lights, eleven oʼclock came - they wouldnʼt stop!
“Perhaps,” Grandpa offered, “it would be meet for us to pray for the Spirit to lead us,” hoping to adjourn, but both Louie and Mel felt that the Spirit had led, that the Spirit had written the truth in big black letters - if only some people could see it.
The thought of Uncle Louie speaking in tongues was fascinating to me. Uncle Louie worked at the bank, he spoke to me mostly about thrift and hard work. What tongue would he speak? Spanish? French? Or would it sound like gibberish? Louie said that speaking in tongues was the true sign, that those who believed heard and to those who didnʼt it was only gabble - what if he stood up and said, “Feemalator, jasperator, hoo ha ha, Wamalamagamanama, zis boom bah!” and everyone else said, “Amen! Thatʼs right, brother! Praise God!” and I was the only one who said, “Huh?”
- Garrison Keillor, “Protestant,” Lake Woebegon Days
For the last 20 years, between 7 and 9 percent of Americans have spoken in tongues - but almost the same percentage said the practice is evidence of demonic possession.
- Bernard Katz, “Quoteline and Commentaries,” The American Rationalist, July/Aug. 1998
Michael Trofimov pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity in the murder of his father. Trofimov, who had recently joined a religious group, was found was his hands around his fatherʼs neck “speaking in tongues and screaming for God.” His uncle said, “He was a good young man and then he started going to these [religious] meetings.”
- Chuck Shepherd, John J. Kohut & Roland Sweet, More News of the Weird (1990)
True story: A young Pentecostal girl dared her girlfriend in church to shout out some nonsense syllables just to see if someone would stand up and “interpret the tongue.” So the girl shouted, “coca-cola, coca-cola, coca-cola” and a church member promptly stood up and “interpreted the tongue” as a message from God.
Years later, I read that when the Coca-Cola company tried selling their brew in China, they discovered that the Chinese symbols that were pronounced, “Coca-Cola,” meant literally, “Bite the wax tadpole.” So maybe you can get a “message” out of “coca-cola, coca-cola, coca-cola,” albeit a stuttering and meaningless one.
- Skip Church
As a former tongue-speaking Christian it wasnʼt the repetitive nature of many of the syllables I spoke that raised doubts. It was the fact that people in our group would sometimes “speak in tongues” a long time yet the “interpretation” could be quite brief. Or they would “speak in tongues” briefly and the “interpretation” came out long-winded. Folks who loved the King James Bible “interpreted tongues” in King James English, while those who loved other translations of the Bible delivered less Elizabethan-sounding “interpretations.” And the messages received via this miraculous discourse were as trifling as the simplest cares and woes found in the Psalms with which everyone in the congregation was familiar - as if God didnʼt have anything more relevant or specific to say to us. Yet it seemed to me that if God was going to give people miraculous linguistic abilities, Heʼd have found far better uses to put them to.
- Skip Church
Conversation On The “Ex-Tian” Listserv:
Rob Berry: Iʼve heard that a trained listener can tell the difference between a New Yorker and a Southerner speaking in tongues, so the “tongues” spoken by an individual reflect the normal language of that individual. And a Japanese person speaking in tongues is not going to have any “L”s in their babbling.
David O. Miller: Actually this is true only for those Japanese who have never studied English. Those who have, consistantry have “L”s whele the “R”s berong and “R”s whele the “L”s berong. And that could totally change the meaning of the babbling couldnʼt it? Obviously, “uga-bali-raka-fulu” and “uga-bari-laka-furu” are two entirely different things, right?
I used to speak in tongues, but now it only comes in handy when Iʼm performing cunnilingus.
- Skip Church
Loresa Goodly filed a lawsuit in Lafayette Parish, Louisiana, in November for injuries she incurred just after she had received the Holy Spirit at a tent revival meeting and passed out on the floor. Moments later, another woman received the Holy Spirit and fell on top of Goodly before ushers could catch her, breaking three of Goodlyʼs ribs.
- Baton Rouge Morning Advocate, Nov. 18, 1995
After different occurrences of televangelist Benny Hinnʼs famous antic “slaying in the Spirit,” during which crowds of people fall over, one young girlʼs leg was badly injured and an elderly woman died from complications following a broken hip. Her family sued for $15 million; Hinn settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.
Hinn has been fooled more than once during his crusades by hired actors who pretended to be handicapped, then pretended to be healed - despite Hinnʼs past promises not to televise healings until they had been medically confirmed.
Other people who really were sick had been pronounced healed and were televised as such. Reporters discovered, in case after case, that no one followed up on them and that none of them had really been healed. This included a half-dozen AIDS patients, several deaf or blind children, a quadriplegic teen and a woman with cancer, who quit her chemotherapy and died two months later. Reporters could not find a single verifiable healing, although in one chilling interview, a woman with multiple sclerosis serenely announced that she had discontinued her medication because she believed, thanks to Hinn, that her healing would arrive at any moment.
Hinn has also claimed — each time on record — that he conducted services in a hospital overseas and healed so many people the place nearly shut down (a reporter checked up on this and the hospital categorically denied it).
Someone videotaped him raising a man from the dead in Guyana (this was also refuted and ultimately retracted by a ministry spokesman).
- “The Many Faces of Benny Hinn” (a video and book of the same title that summarizes a host of investigative reports on Benny Hinn), produced by The Door Magazine. “Even the most credulous, faithful followers of Benny Hinn would be hard-pressed to explain why so many national TV newsmagazines and local stations, from Chicago to Orlando to Dallas to Sydney, Australia, keep uncovering the same damning facts year after year.”
- Gregg Hartman
Police in Vinton, Louisiana were surprised when a driver wearing only a towel got out of a car, then got back in and sped off. They were dumbfounded when the car hit a tree and disgorged 20 people wearing nothing at all. There were fifteen adults in the interior of the 1990 Pontiac Grand Am and five children in the trunk. The driver of the car, Sammy Rodriguez and his brother, Danny, both said they were Pentecostal preachers. They made statements that the devil was after them. And their hometown, Floydada, Texas, was going to be destroyed if they stayed there. They fled Floydada in five cars, but wound up abandoning four of them, along with the familyʼs clothes, pocketbooks, wallets and other belongings because “the devil” had “gotten into those things.”
- Associated Press, “Cops Chase Car With 20 Naked Passengers,” Aug. 20, 1993
An unemployed maid and mother of seven burned a winning $60,000 lottery ticket because her minister at an Assembly of God church in Fortaleza, Brazil, said her plane would “sink in sin in hell” if she went to claim the prize money. “Destroy the ticket - the devilʼs work - to save yourself from hellfire,” Preacher Wagner said, as the congregation chanted, “Burn, burn, burn.” So Maria Banoiza Nascimento returned to her one-room shack (where she lived with her unemployed husband and her four seriously ill children), and burned the ticket. Then, for good measure, she burned her identification card and her childrenʼs birth certificates as well.
- Associated Press, 1995
He seemed to be one of those people, so many of whom gravitate to Pentecostal sects who move around the West and the South and the Border States and continue to receive information only through the most tenuous chains of rumor, hearsay, haphazard trickledown. To an astonishing extent they keep themselves unviolated by common knowledge, by the ability to make routine assumptions.
- Joan Didion, The White Album
A devotee on her knees in some abysmal and mysterious cathedral while solemn music echoes, and clouds of incense come down the wind, and priests in luxurious, operatic costumes busy themselves with stately ceremonials in a dead and not too respectable language - this is unquestionably beautiful, particularly if the devotee herself is attractive. But the same devotee aroused to hysterical protestations of faith by the shrieks and contortions of a Pentecostal preacher, her knees trembling with the fear of God, her hands clenched as if to do combat with Beelzebub, her lips discharging hosannas and hallelujahs - this is merely obscene.
- H. L. Mencken, A Mencken Chrestomathy
An evangelical Christian once told me, “Only Jesus Christ can save man…” (What about woman, I wondered? Oh, well, one does not expect semantic sophistication from literalist Bible believers) “… and restore him to his lost state of peace with God, himself and others.” Yeah, sure, and only new Pepsi can make you feel really happy, and only our brand is better than the competition, and only our country is the best country. It is truly amazing to me that people can utter such arrogant nonsense with no humor, no sense of how offensive they are to others, no doubt or trepidation, and no suspicion that they sound exactly like advertisers, con-men and other swindlers. It is really hard to understand such child-like prattling. If I were especially conceited about something (a state I try to avoid, but if I fell into it…), if for instance I decided I had the best garden or the handsomest face in Ireland, I would still retain enough common sense to suspect that I would sound like a conceited fool if I went around telling everybody those opinions. I would have enough tact left, I hope, to satisfy my conceit by dreaming that other people would notice on their own that my garden and/or my face were especially lovely. People who go around innocently and blithely announcing that they belong to the Master Race or the Best Country Club or have the One True Religion seem to have never gotten beyond the kindergarten level of ego-display. Do they have no modesty, no tact, no shame, no adult common sense at all? Do they have any suspicion how silly their conceit sounds to the majority of the nonwhite non-Christian men and women of the world? To me, they seem like little children wearing daddyʼs clothes and going around shouting, “Look how grown-up I am! Look at me, me, me!”
There are more amusing things than ego-games, conceit and one-upmanship. Really, there are. I suspect that people stay on that childish level because they have never discovered how interesting and exciting the adult world is.
If one must play ego-games, I still think it would be more polite, and more adult, to play them in the privacy of oneʼs head. In fact, despite my efforts to be a kind of Buddhist, I do relapse into such ego-games on occasion; but I have enough respect for human intelligence to keep such thoughts to myself. I donʼt go around announcing that I have painted the greatest painting of our time; I hope that people will notice that by themselves. Why do the people whose ego-games consist of day-dreaming about being part of the Master Race or the One True Religion not keep that precious secret to themselves, also, and wait for the rest of the human race to notice their blinding superiority?
- Robert Anton Wilson
Many evangelical Christians boast that they have a “personal relationship” with Jesus. What makes it so “personal?” Well, they say, we have the words attributed to Jesus in the four Gospels. But there are so few of them, and they are subject to interpretation. Well, they say, there are “answered prayers.” But again, that is a matter of interpretation, because no matter what happens, an evangelical Christian interprets it as “Jesusʼ will,” even when bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people.
Whenever I have a “personal relationship” with someone it does not consist of merely a few thousand words spoken two thousand years ago, recorded accurately (or inaccurately) by someone else, and which require interpretation from third parties. Neither should a “personal relationship” depend on me having to interpret the results of every prayer as “answered,” “not answered,” or, “on hold.” I could pray to a holy avocado and achieve the same results given the tremendous leeway of “interpretation.”
- Skip Church
Question: Whatʼs the difference between a trained psychologist and a born again Christian?
A trained psychologist can read a person like a book, but a born again Christian reads a book like itʼs a person.
- Skip Church
Spiritual rebirth, Infallible Scripture, signs and miracles, explicit doctrine, and awareness of the approaching End, combine to build around the evangelical a magic circle invisibly cutting him off from those for whom these things have no meaning. Here he lives in an alternative world.
- Robert S. Ellwood, Jr., One Way, The Jesus Movement and Its Meaning
(The ‘Methodists’) demonstrate to secure, contented, happy mankind that it is really unhappy and desperate, and merely unwilling to realize that it is in severe straits it knows nothing at all about, from which only they can rescue it. Wherever there is health, strength, security, simplicity, they spy luscious fruit to gnaw at or to lay their pernicious eggs in. They make it their object first of all to drive men to inward despair, and then it is all theirs.
- Deitrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison
Evangelical Christianity: Being made to feel sinful and guilty for not having felt sinful and guilty, in order that one might experience release from sin and guilt; Like donning lead boots and walking about in them until totally exhausted in order to have the exhilarating experience of taking them off again.
- Conrad Hyers, Once-Born, Twice-Born Zen
Is The Heart Of Man Deceitful Above All Things, And Desperately Wicked?
According to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus taught, “If you see a woman and lust after her, I say that you have already committed adultery in your heart.” In other words, even if you donʼt commit adultery in the flesh, youʼve committed it just by lusting after someone. Now suppose you see someone in need, who needs some cash or a kind word, and you yearn in your heart to give it to them, but donʼt. Does that mean you have already committed “charity” in your heart? Think about it. If a lust-filled yearning is evidence of the depravity of the human heart, then what about the yearnings people feel to help one another? Is that not an indication of goodness in peopleʼs hearts?
Gandhi, the famous Hindu peace-activist, taught that people should seek out what was best in their own religions and hearts. Even Jesus put a positive spin on “the heart” when he taught that “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart” (Luke 6:45 & Mat. 12:35), and when he taught that people ought to “Love God with all thy heart,” (Mat. 22:37).
No doubt the “wickedness” of “the heart” expressed by Jeremiah 17:9 (“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked”) certainly applies to some people at some times when they do certain things, especially when they are at their lowest and weakest points. But to take Jeremiahʼs hyperbole and bake it in an oven until it becomes as dry and hard as a brick of dogma, and make that brick a cornerstone of your theology, takes a genuinely deceived heart, a heart dry of true feelings and honest appraisals of othersʼ beliefs and actions.
- Skip Church
One of Christianityʼs chief offenses is not that it has enlisted the services of bad men, but that it has misdirected the energies of good ones. The kindly, the sensitive, the thoughtful, those who are striving to do their best under its influence, are troubled, and consequently often develop a more or less morbid frame of mind. The biographies of the best men in Christian history offer many melancholy examples of the extent to which they have falsely accused themselves of sins during their “unconverted” state, and the manner in which harmless actions are magnified into deadly offenses.
- Chapman Cohen, Essays in Freethinking
The church must stop trying to act like a “spiritual pharmacist” - working to produce acute guilt, and then in effect saying, “We just happen to have the remedy for your guilt here in our pocket.”
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer
I regard revivals as essentially barbaric. The fire that has to be blown all the time is a poor thing to get warm by. I think they do no good but much harm; they make innocent people think they are guilty, and very mean people think they are good.
- Robert Ingersoll
In the days of my youth, ministers depended on revivals to save souls and reform the world. The emotional sermons, the sad singing, the hysterical “Amens,” the hope of heaven, the fear of hell, caused many to lose what little sense they had. In this condition they flocked to the “mournerʼs bench” - asked for prayers of the faithful - had strange feelings, prayed, and wept and thought they had been “born again.” Then they would tell their experiences - how wicked they had been, how evil had been their thoughts, their desires, and how good they had suddenly become.
They used to tell the story of an old woman who, in telling her experience, said, “Before I was converted, before I gave my heart to God, I used to lie and steal, but now, thanks to the grace and blood of Jesus Christ, I have quit ʻem both, in a great measure.”
Well, while the cold winter lasted, while the snows fell, the revival went on, but when the winter was over, the boats moved in the harbor again, the wagons rolled, and business started again, most of the converts “backslid” and fell again into their old ways. But the next winter they were on hand again, read to be “born again.” They formed a kind of stock company, playing the same parts every winter and backsliding every spring.
- Robert Ingersoll, “Why I am An Agnostic”
Were it true that a converted man as such is of an entirely different kind from a natural man, there surely ought to be some distinctive radiance. But notoriously there is no such radiance. Converted men as a class are indistinguishable from normal men…
By the very intensity of his fidelity to the paltry ideals with which an inferior intellect may inspire him, a saint can be even more objectionable and damnable than a superficial “carnal” man would be in the same situation.
- William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience
Two evangelical Christians at the door: May we come in and share some good news with you?
Me: Donʼt you mean, “may we blatantly disregard your privacy for a few minutes in order to further our own personal goals?”
Tell me, which denomination do you belong to, and when was it founded? Thatʼs Protestant, isnʼt it? I bet the Popeʼs ring is older than your denomination.
I bet your denomination numbers in the millions at most. But Catholics number far more, in fact, if you added up every member of every Protestant denomination on earth, the Catholics would still outnumber them all. You say thatʼs a logical fallacy, truth is not determined by sheer numbers? Thatʼs what all small denominations say.
Heck, maybe youʼre knocking on doors because youʼre afraid of being the only ones in your little heaven? Or youʼre bored with seeing the same faces in church every week?
I have a hot tip for you, youʼll be happier and feel better about yourself if you seek out people and things that you admire and enjoy on an individual basis, rather than pour yourself into a religious mold where “one size fits all.”
- Skip Church
Evangelist: A bearer of good tidings, particularly (in a religious sense) such as assure us of our own salvation and the damnation of our neighbors.
- Ambrose Bierce, The Devilʼs Dictionary
If, as some Evangelists warn us, “Santa is just Satan misspelled,” maybe Evangelist is just “Evilʼs Agent” misspelled?
- Skip Church
A nifty slogan to have printed on a T-shirt before being dragged to an evangelistic rally by your friends:
God Damned Me To Hell And All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt.
- Skip Church
When Gary told me he had found Jesus, I thought, Ya-hoo! Weʼre rich! But it turned out to be something different.
- Jack Handey, The Lost Deep Thoughts