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.