If the young songstress Katy Perry seems a bit weird—and she certainly does—she definitely comes by it honestly. In this excerpt from her forthcoming interview with Katie Couric, Perry, former Christian singer whose most recent hit is the popular song "I Kissed a Girl," talks about her parents’ move from being gross ’60s hippies to charismatic "pentecostal" Christians:
Prompted by Couric (who clearly sees this as salacious material), Perry talks about the practice of "speaking in tongues," in which people babble sounds no one can understand, supposedly under the control of the Holy Spirit. Many pentecostal Christians consider this practice to be definitive proof of one’s status as a Christian, and the lack of it to be proof that one is not truly saved, while the great majority of Christians have little interest in the practice or openly disbelieve in claims that it is divinely inspired.
Certainly the practice of speaking in tongues looks very, well, crazy, to anyone who is not a devotee of the practice. It definitely makes some unbelievers quite wary about Christianity in general.
In fact, such activities allow people to think the entire Christian belief system must be hooey if it involves such obviously mad behavior. Add in snake-handling, faith-healing, ecstatic loss of body control, and other such alleged manifestations of God, and you present a seriously disturbing image of Christianity to the great unwashed of the world. That is surely not good evangelism, which would seem to be strong evidence against these practices really being divinely inspired.
I’m very skeptical of these practices. Given that the Great Commission of Jesus Christ to all believers is to go out and bring the Gospel to everyone, any activities that make Christianity seem perverse or absurd must surely contradict his directive. And these charismatic practices certainly do precisely that, however sincere and well-intentioned their adherents may be.
In addition, it’s clear that this matter of speaking in tongues is probably a serious misunderstanding of the point of the original biblical passages about it. The biblical passages make it clear that the "tongues" spoken under this gift are languages unknown to the speaker, but in none of the biblical passages about this gift is it stated that the tongues are unknown to anyone but God, that they are not real languages used by human beings somewhere or other.
On the contrary, the description of the receiving of this gift at Pentecost makes it perfectly clear that these are real languages spoken by people of the time and that the purpose of the gift was to enable Christians to communicate with others outside their own language group, as recorded in chapter 2 of the book of Acts:
4 [They] began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
5 And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven.
6 Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language.
7 And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans?
8 And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?
The other passages in which the practice is mentioned concur with this understanding, that the tongues spoken were real human languages and the gift was given to allow Christians to preach the gospel to people who spoke different languages. It was a gift designed to increase evangelism. The modern pentecostal manifestation of this practice, by contrast, pushes many (I’d say the great majority of) people away from Christianity.
Little wonder that Miss Perry seems a bit conflicted about the faith in which she was raised. Any reasonably thoughtful person should be, if this is what Christianity is purported to be.