Just ran across this news report on a study of what happens in the brains of Christians while they are "speaking in tongues."
I've posted a link in the margin to the "Strange Fire Conference" which was held a few years ago to examine the claims of the charismatic movement in the Church that they are practicing the "gifts of the Spirit" described in the New Testament, speaking in tongues being one of them. The conference convinced me that the phenomena being called the Gifts of the Spirit today are not the New Testament gifts.
I myself received the "gift of tongues" when I was a member of a charismatic church back in the 90s, Whatt they are describing in the news report is what I also experienced: we have no control over this, it just comes out. I was praying out loud when these other sounds just started coming out instead of my English words. I could repeat them at will but I could not control what sounds came out. I could start and stop them but I couldn't control what was being "said."
People in the charismatic movement claim they are speaking by the Holy Spirit, that it is a prayer language, that the Holy Spirit is praying through them. They claim to experience spiritual feelings as they exercise the gift.
My own experience did not feel spiritual or worshipful at all and that bothered me a great deal. I would let the sounds continue as I went about my chores during the day. They had a definite pattern to them, a pattern that would repeat itself, maybe about the length of a sentence. The SAME sounds kept repeating in other words and I was not controlling them at all. But nothing about it felt like prayer as so many charismatics claim it is. None of it evoked God in my mind or heart in any way. After some time I began singing the sounds, and when I recognized that the tunes were anything but spiritual I simply had to conclude that this has nothing to do with God. The tunes that came out were "Three Blind Mice" and "Reuben Reuben." There is nothing spiritual or prayerful or worshipful about those tunes, just as there was nothing spiritual or worshipful or prayerful as far as my own feelings went in connection with the "words" that I was speaking.
It took a while to convince myself to completely give it up though. The pressure is strong in charismatic circles to embrace the "gifts of the Spirit." I read studies that aimed to debunk the whole charismatic movement but couldn't be completely convinced of those arguments. I remained in suspension about these things until the Strange Fire Conference which finally made the case I'd been needing to hear.
So what ARE these phenomena? Certainly what the scientist in the news report says is true: the people are not doing this on purpose, it just "happens" to them. I experienced this personally. It is in SOME sense "supernatural" therefore.
The most convincing explanation I've run across comes from Watchman Nee who wrote on the subject of "Soul Power." These are capacities he understands to have been abilities God gave to Adam and Eve that were lost at the Fall, such as psychic abilities, the ability to read minds and other capacities. These things are often discovered through various religious practices, particularly Hindu practices. Sometimes they are intentionally cultivated, but what seem to be the higher forms of these religions discourage them as distractions. In general they may be more or less akin to "siddhis" which include psychic powers.
Nee particularly identified spontaneous laughter of the sort that overtook a charismatic congregation in Toronto in the 90s and then spread to other charismatic congregations. It occurred in some Chinese churches in Nee's time and he identified it as related to this "soul power" and something that should be discouraged rather than encouraged. In Toronto it was strongly encouraged and became known as the Laughing Revival.
He said he himself had the power to read minds and thought it was a gift of the Holy Spirit until he realized it was not that and exerted himself to suppress it.
The Strange Fire Conference to my mind definitively proved that whatever these phenomena are they are not the Gifts of the Spirit that were given by God to the early Church: the "healings" are nothing like those in the New Testament, the "prophecies" are more like fortune telling than the prophecies people gave in the New Testament, and the "tongues" that are spoken are not real languages as they were at Pentecost. We may well wonder what they really are, if they have any qualities of language at all, and that I don't know. The excuse that they are an angelic prayer language has to be doubted because none of the other "gifts" are those of the New Testament.
Watchman Nee's interpretation that they are a version of "soul power" seems the best to my mind, and in any case they should not be cultivated but abandoned. God will restore to us whatever powers He gave Adam and Eve when His kingdom has fully come, but until then they are not to be practiced and it is even possible that they are subject to demonic manipulation in this still-fallen world.