The Source of Tongues-Speaking, Hands-on-Healing, and all Things “Charismatic”
Do we really know how people can “speak in tongues”, be used as a channel for powerful healings, or “prophesy”, sometimes in beautiful lyrics we judge as beyond their natural abilities?
I’ve been participating in an interaction on another blog around these questions, framed there as “charismatic gifts”. But the issue goes well beyond Christian theology or practice. I thought I’d link to that dialog, here, which has been mostly an “in house” Christian interaction, but in which I’ve introduced a broader possibility. I also decided to post here the last part (to now) of my contribution. I do so because it deals with the highly important matter of how we each manage to make sense of the world we see around and within us.
More academically stated, I refer to our “worldview” or the paradigm of reality that we have adopted, consciously or unconsciously. It guides our interpretation of lots of things. It is more than a matter of religion. Among these things are the phenomena I mentioned above, as well as others often considered “paranormal” or part of “parapsychology”.
What I didn’t say specifically in the comment I’m about to paste in (slightly modified) is that there is an “elephant in the living room” that neither Christianity (and most other religions) nor science is willing to look at squarely and examine: these same kind of phenomena and observations often called “paranormal”. By that very term, we signify that they are not “normal”, at least in the sense of commonly occurring. Yet they occur with probably greater frequency than we tend to notice. We put them on the shelf of “think about that later” at our own loss. And the implications are huge!
We are not sure if these things are “natural” or what. Science seems to have relegated them to a factor of our imperfect perceptions and tendency to misinterpret data (thus not “real” or worthy of investigation). At the same time, they are not clearly “supernatural” either, even to observant Christians… at least in the many cases that don’t fit a Christian paradigm.
The final thought I’ll add before sharing my earlier blog comment is this: Just as science largely refuses to apply its sophisticated techniques to this area of needed investigation, so Christian thinkers largely avoid the area as well, very unfortunately. As an example, the main thing you do get in the one example area of Near Death Experiences (NDEs) is an occasional book on the remarkable NDE of someone who experienced either a hellish or heaven-like experience, as a Christian, or later interpreting it in Christian terms. There have been at least one or two (perhaps several… I’ve not checked thoroughly) books examining NDEs in relation to Christian theology. I’m not aware of any of them that have done a deep and thorough overview of the phenomenon in the process of doing so. Such in-depth overview books do exist in the “secular” realm, such as one by physician Pim van Lommel, entitled Consciousness Beyond Life: The Science of the Near-Death Experience (2011).
As a “sidebar”, NDEs are perhaps an exception area within “the paranormal” in which there have indeed been a number of relatively “mainstream” scientific studies and now “metastudies” such as van Lommel’s. However it is mostly physicians, relative to their patient-care issues, and psychologists doing this research rather than scientists from other fields (psychology, particularly, being considered a sort of pseudo-science by many “hard” scientists).
So my point is that both establishment science and establishment Christianity are studiously avoiding dealing with a whole raft of fascinating, important phenomena because (in my not-so-humble, studied opinion) such discussions would likely undercut the central operating assumptions of each: supernaturalism, with its personally-intervening God, and naturalism, with no “spiritual” input allowed in a purely material world. My suggestion: if you know a scientist in a pertinent field, challenge him or her with investigating any of several legitimate research questions around the “paranormal”. If you know a Christian leader or thinker, challenge him or her to promote serious discussions of the large amount of material which IS available that is not out to merely validate a Christian theological perspective nor out to invalidate it either.
Now, here is the comment I posted within the discussion linked to above, regarding Christian views of charismatic phenomena:
I really appreciate these added thoughts…. And you’re helping me formulate my own position more precisely, on what I consider a crucial area that NEEDS more deep analysis across the religious/Christian spectrum… not just among charismatics or “anti-charismatics”. In fact, I’d say that either “charismata” or “parapsychological” phenomena, group ecstasy, and such topics are pivotal areas to examine in understanding (and further describing) any major worldview or paradigm.
To be specific, of course, pure naturalism, as predominant among scientists, will “explain away” the whole area as psychological, cultural, etc., denying ANY spiritual source, whether God, demons, etc. Most Christians, as you rightly point out, will ID the source as not only “God” but God as they believe “him” to be described in the Bible, including the deity of Christ and the indwelling of God’s/Christ’s Spirit. I don’t know if I’d go quite as far as “… risk devaluing the experience…” if we don’t name the source. This “God is the source” held by most X’ns, I’d say falls within a “supernaturalist” paradigm as a sort of opposite of a “naturalist” one (a perceived either-or choice we are not really forced into if more flexible language and categories are used).
This “two opposing explanations” situation I don’t see as very helpful toward actually, helpfully naming the source. It still leaves us with both the differences within X’n theology and the tough-to-understand situation of God presumably making SOME kind of distinction (almost impossible to describe) between charismata through true believers and something at least very similar in either non-Christians or Christians using gifts for personal gain, fame, etc. rather than the good of others or glory of God. So, enter a third paradigm which, I find, creates more flexibility not only on this subject, but more broadly as well: Process theology or “panentheism” (its main mechanism, relevant here, is sometimes been called “panpsychism”). If one knows its basic premises and structure and doesn’t find it fitting to reality, then I’d encourage that person to also try to modify “standard” theism/Christian orthodoxy as Process has, so that one’s view of reality/God/humanity CAN accommodate more of what we actually observe of natural-yet-spiritual phenomena, that including charismata as well as NDE’s, connections with the departed, possible (I think highly probably) reincarnation, the likelihood of non-human intelligent life elsewhere, etc.
Now, it’s not only a perceived need to “accommodate” observed phenomena that I lean on, by any means, to validate a modified “supernaturalist” paradigm… there are plenty of other biblical, philosophical, etc., reasons I’ve moved toward panentheism. But that motivation is pertinent to our current topic. It also connects to the point that I believe a more “curious”, exploratory stance toward charismatic phenomena and its related, other “transrational” phenomena is vital, among BOTH supernaturalists and naturalists (i.e., both “religion” and “science”). The book “Parapsychology, Philosophy and Spirituality” by David R. Griffin lays out the situation better than any single book I know of, aimed mainly at confronting naturalists (more than supernaturalists), and from a panentheist perspective.