Science and a Religious Experience

After a service I was sitting down, brow furrowed, when David, the Pastor, walked up. “You know, I really don’t think I’m actually atheist.”

I watched a smirk start on his face.

“Well, it’s just, I have certain… religious experiences… I can’t deny.”

And he waited for me to expand, smiling.

“See, when I was 10, my family wasn’t really in a church, but I was raised to believe. Every summer when we were with my dad, we would go to his church. That summer for one service, they were doing this anointing with oil thing in the kids class and taking the time to pray with each kid. I thought it was kind of dumb, but was trying to be respectful. So, it got to my turn and they were praying with me and I’m going along with it… When suddenly, I’m kind of in my own headspace and I can hear them laughing and talking about me. I try to focus and realized that I was speaking in frigging tongues and had no idea.

All along, I’ve been able to find science to explain religion and its benefits. Prayer, meditation, community, working on yourself… It’s all good. But I can’t explain that experience when I was 10.”

He didn’t push it, just made a comment poking fun at me saying I was in trouble and God was coming for me (haha).

So I went home and I was determined to explain that experience. I was reading studies about speaking in tongues trying to find something, *anything* to explain it.

I found some really interesting things. The scientific term is glossolalia. When they did brain imaging of people who were speaking in tongues, what they expected was for the language part of the brain to be lighting up. It wasn’t. The parts lighting up weren’t even matching what happens when people meditate. It was actually looking more like disassociation – which is so interesting! There were studies done on the effects of people who regularly spoke in tongues and it showed that they were generally far more resilient to daily stresses than those who didn’t.

All fascinating things.

The one thing I could use was that when people were exposed to it – even an audio clip – 70% of people were able to replicate it themselves. So, that would explain my teens, when I was trying to speak in tongues. But, when I was 10 it wasn’t even on my radar.

I went back to David and told him everything I’d found and said “I really don’t think I can say I’m an atheist. But I don’t want to believe. It’s not the rational thing. I don’t want to look like I’m dumb. I don’t want to be a Christian.”

He was unbelievably patient with me. Every argument I brought with him, he explained his side of it. He talked with me about how science and faith can co-exist.

Did you know 2/3 scientists have a personal god? I didn’t! When I read that I was like “These people, who know far more science than I do, believe. And I’m denying real experiences and feelings in the name of science? That makes no sense!”

As the logical side of me was starting to feel placated and I was getting comfortable with the idea of being a logical believer – God decided to touch on my emotional side… something I had worked extremely hard to cut off.

When God Closes a Door, He Opens Your Heart

I left my husband. It was messy. I was suddenly a single mom and I was alone for the first time in my life. I couldn’t adjust to not having someone sitting with me to watch tv or to chat with about my day. Every night I would break down. I would panic feeling like I would never see another person again.

I kept meeting with the pastor, David. He would encourage me and tell me he was proud of me. It helped but I was struggling and honestly didn’t feel like I was going to be able to carry the weight of all this.

I was doing my best to reconnect with any friends I thought might have me and I spent my nights with any guy that would have me. An old friend, Amie, reached out to me and asked me if I knew of any churches in the area she could try. She was leaving my childhood church because of the toxic environment. I told her about David and the church and she asked if I’d like to go with her one week. I agreed.

So, we went to church. It was very tongue in cheek. I posted this picture on facebook captioned “Got to look cute for Jesus!”

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All my atheist friends thought it was hilarious.

But I went and the music started and in my chest was this comforting, nostalgic feeling. I remembered the music. I remembered what it was like to worship. I missed it.

I went there ready to poke holes in David’s service… but it was good. He was talking about how Christians who are hammering on the rules of the Bible have missed the point. After growing up in the church I had, I was shocked.

So I went back next week and posted this picture captioned “When Jesus keeps you coming back #atheistsinchurch”

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My atheist friends found that much less funny.

So, week after week, I went to church and every single week, the feelings in my chest would grow. Every time I would go to church, I would feel this raw emotion and I loved the comfort but was really concerned because I worked so hard to turn off my emotions for years… I didn’t want them to come back.

After a few weeks, I started asking some questions. I couldn’t deny what was going on and I needed answers.