The video above is from several years ago, but I came across it and thought it was worth commenting on briefly.
This is interesting in a number of ways.
One major drawback in the reporting is that the Pentecostal practice of speaking in tongues (glossolalia) is not presented as what it is — the practice of only one sector of Protestantism. Rather, it is portrayed as simply “Christian” and assumes certain interpretations of the Bible. It is also not mentioned that this practice in its prevalent form is only about a century old. It is of course from a part of Protestantism that is expanding rapidly, especially in the Global South, but it’s still a minority of a minority. (Worth reading is the Wikipedia article on the phenomenon, specifically the portion about Church history.)
I find it interesting, though, that proponents look at this study as “proving” that the Holy Spirit is what makes people speak in tongues. All that’s really shown here is that the frontal lobe of the brain is not active as it would be in normal speech. If this “proves” the Holy Spirit’s involvement, well, that opens up a lot of other questions, doesn’t it? For one thing, it is essentially monergistic (that God “takes over” and the human will and action are suppressed). But isn’t that essentially “possession”? Does God do that? Even if you are a Bible-only Christian (sola scriptura), I don’t see that sort of thing elsewhere in the Bible, that God possesses people and controls their actions while they watch as observers.
I’ve long had an interest in language, and so the amateur, barely-educated linguist in me also notes some things about speaking in tongues. Like other times I’ve observed this practice, I note that in this video, those shown speaking in tongues each has his own “style” which is relatively unique to him and consistent between occurrences. I suppose this is not necessarily an argument against the authenticity of the practice, but I would be interested in an explanation for this. If this really is the “tongue of angels” or somesuch, why does each person have his own distinct version of it? Why isn’t it the same for everyone or at least for more than one person?
Another thing I also always note is that each speaker only seems to use phonemes normal to his native language. Why is that? If God really is taking over here, why is He limiting the sounds of Anglophones’ tongue-speaking to English phonemes? Surely there’s room for an Arabic-style deep H or a few African clicks or Korean-style diphthongs or even some voiced palatal or retroflex fricatives. This to me is a far more problematic observation for proponents. There is no reason to believe that a genuinely supernatural language ought to conform to the phonetic conventions of the speaker’s native tongue.
There’s a lot more one could say here — I have, for instance, been told by former practitioners that neophytes are encouraged to “practice” before they get it down, that there is often great pressure to perform, etc. — especially when speaking in tongues is taught to be necessary for salvation. But since that’s not what’s in this video, I’ll leave it aside here.
Update: The discussion has of course led to the question of what exactly is happening on the original day of Pentecost (Acts 2) and how the Orthodox Church understands it. (This is not necessarily the same phenomenon happening at the church in Corinth.) The claim was made in the comments that the unusual character of what happens at Pentecost is merely that the Apostles are speaking Greek and Aramaic when they should have been speaking Hebrew.
Yet the Church Fathers are pretty unanimous that the Apostles are actually speaking real human languages, that there were a lot of them and that this was a miracle from God. Here are some quotations of note (emphasis added):
Venerable Bede (8th c.) in his commentary on Acts 2:4: The church’s humility recovers the unity of languages which the pride of Babylon had shattered. Spiritually, however, the variety of languages signifies gifts of a variety of graces. Truly therefore, it is not inconsistent to understand that the Holy Spirit first gave to human beings the gift of languages, by which human wisdom is both learned and taught extrinsically, so that he might thereby show how easily he can make men wise through the wisdom of God, which is within them.
Bede borrows from St. Gregory the Theologian (4th c., a.k.a. “Gregory Nazianzen”) for his comments on Acts 2:6: The question here concerns the way in which everyone heard them speaking about the wonders of God in his own language. Was it that the speakers expressed what they had to say in the diverse discourse of every language — that is, in such a way that each of them, speaking now this language and now that, thus proceeded through all [the languages of those present]? Or was the marvel rather the fact that the discourse of those who were speaking, in whatever language it may have been uttered, was understood by everyone of the hearers in his own language? So, for example, when any one of the apostles was talking in the assembly (for one person had to speak while the rest were silent, and one discourse had to come within the hearing of everyone) that very discourse had within itself the power that, when there were hearers of diverse nations, each of them would perceive what they heard in terms of his own language and would grasp the meaning of that one and the same discourse which had been uttered by the apostle — unless perhaps this makes the miracle seem to be more in the hearing than the speaking.
The passage from St. Gregory which Bede is no doubt paraphrasing: They spoke with strange tongues, and not those of their native land; and the wonder was great, a language spoken by those who had not learned it. And the sign is to them that believe not, and not to them that believe, that it may be an accusation of the unbelievers, as it is written, With other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people, and not even so will they listen to Me says the Lord. But they heard. Here stop a little and raise a question, how you are to divide the words. For the expression has an ambiguity, which is to be determined by the punctuation. Did they each hear in their own dialect so that if I may so say, one sound was uttered, but many were heard; the air being thus beaten and, so to speak, sounds being produced more clear than the original sound; or are we to put the stop after “they Heard,” and then to add “them speaking in their own languages” to what follows, so that it would be speaking in languages their own to the hearers, which would be foreign to the speakers? I prefer to put it this latter way; for on the other plan the miracle would be rather of the hearers than of the speakers; whereas in this it would be on the speakers’ side; and it was they who were reproached for drunkenness, evidently because they by the Spirit wrought a miracle in the matter of the tongues.
St. Ephraim the Syrian (4th c.): Now the Prophets performed all [other] signs; but on no occasion supplied the deficiency of members. But the deficiency of the body was reserved, that it should be supplied through our Lord; that souls might perceive that it is through Him that every deficiency must be supplied. It is meet, then, that the prudent should perceive that He Who supplies the deficiencies of the creatures, is Master of the formative power of the Creator. But when He was upon earth, our Lord gave to the deaf [and dumb], [the power] of hearing and of speaking tongues which they had not learned; that after He had ascended, [men] might understand that He gave to His disciples [the power] of speaking in every tongue.
St. Irenaeus of Lyons (2nd c.): Luke says that the Spirit came down on the disciples at Pentecost, after the Lord’s ascension, with power to open the gates of life to all nations and to make known to them the new covenant. So it was that men of every language [i.e., not just two languages – Fr. A] joined in singing one song of praise to God, and scattered tribes, restored to unity by the Spirit, were offered to the Father as the first-fruits of all the nations.
St. Hilary of Poitiers (4th c.): The phrase ‘Spirit of God’ denotes also the Paraclete Spirit, and that not only on the testimony of prophets but also of apostles, when it is said:— This is that which was spoken through the Prophet, It shall come to pass on the last day, says the Lord, I will pour out of My Spirit upon all flesh, and their sons and their daughters shall prophesy. And we learn that all this prophecy was fulfilled in the case of the Apostles, when, after the sending of the Holy Spirit, they all spoke with the tongues of the Gentiles.
St. Cyril of Jerusalem (4th c.): The Galilean Peter or Andrew spoke Persian or Median. John and the rest of the Apostles spoke every tongue to those of Gentile extraction; for not in our time have multitudes of strangers first begun to assemble here from all quarters, but they have done so since that time. What teacher can be found so great as to teach men all at once things which they have not learned? So many years are they in learning by grammar and other arts to speak only Greek well; nor yet do all speak this equally well; the Rhetorician perhaps succeeds in speaking well, and the Grammarian sometimes not well, and the skilful Grammarian is ignorant of the subjects of philosophy. But the Holy Spirit taught them many languages at once, languages which in all their life they never knew. This is in truth vast wisdom, this is power divine. What a contrast of their long ignorance in time past to their sudden, complete and varied and unaccustomed exercise of these languages!
St. John Chrysostom (4th c.): Wherefore then did the Apostles receive it [the gift of tongues – Fr. A] before the rest [i.e., at Pentecost – Fr. A]? Because they were to go abroad every where. And as in the time of building the tower the one tongue was divided into many; so then the many tongues frequently met in one man, and the same person used to discourse both in the Persian, and the Roman, and the Indian, and many other tongues, the Spirit sounding within him: and the gift was called the gift of tongues because he could all at once speak various languages.