The hit song, however, is spiritual rebirth, the product of a time-tested recipe for religion to which the preacher and every member of the audience contribute some small but active ingredient. Then, according to Marjoe, the only fitting encore to the overwhelming moment of becoming saved is a personal demonstration of the power of that newfound faith. This is the motivating factor that prompts speaking in tongues, also known as the “receiving of the glossolalia.”
As Marjoe explained it, this well-known Evangelical tradition requires even greater audience participation on the part of the tongues recipient and the entire audience.
“After you’ve been saved,” Marjoe continued, “the next step is what they call ‘the infilling of the Holy Spirit.’ They say to the new convert, ‘Well, now you’re saved, but you’ve got to get the Holy Ghost.’ So you come back to get the tongues experience. Some people will get it the same night; others will go for weeks or years before they can speak in tongues. You hear it, you hear everyone at night talking in it in the church, and they’re all saying, ‘We love you and we hope you’re going to get it by tonight.’ Then one night you go down there and they all try to get you to get it, and you go into very much of a trance — not quite a frenzy, but it is an incredible experience.
“During that moment the person forgets all about his problems. He is surrounded by people whom he trusts and they’re all saying, ‘We love you. It’s okay. You’re accepted in Christ. We’re with you, let it go, relax.’ And sooner or later, he starts to speak it out and go dut-dut-dut. Then everyone goes, ‘That’s it! You’ve got it!’ and the button is pushed and he will in fact start to speak in tongues and just take off: dehan-dayelo-mosatay-leesaso … and on and on.”
Marjoe paused. Flo was dumbfounded by his demonstration, although he hadn’t gone into the jerking, trance-like ecstasy that is commonly associated with the tongues movement. I’d seen the classic version in his movie, yet even in this restrained demonstration, Marjoe appeared to be triggering some internal releasing or babbling mechanism. I asked him how he brought it about.
“You’ll never get with that attitude,” he joked. Then he went on to explain the true nature of the experience. His perspective showed it to be a process that requires a great deal of effort to master.
“Tongues is something you learn,” he emphasized. “It is a releasing that you teach yourself. You are told by your peers, the church, and the Bible — if you accept it literally — that the Holy Ghost spake in another tongue; you become convinced that it is the ultimate expression of the spirit flowing through you. The first time maybe you’ll just godut-dut-dut-dut, and that’s about all that will get out. Then you’ll hear other people and next night you may go dut-dut-dut-UM-dut-DEET-dut-dut, and it gets a little better. The next thing you know, it’s ela-hando-satelay-eek-condele-mosandrey-aseya … and it’s a new language you’ve got down.”
Except that, according to Marjoe, it’s not a real language at all. Contrary to most religious understanding, speaking in tongues is by no means passive spiritual possession. It must be actively acquired and practiced. Although the “gift” of tongues is a product of human and not supernatural origin, Marjoe displayed tremendous respect for the experience as an expression of spirituality and fellowship.
“I really don’t put it down,” he said. “I never have. It’s just that I analyze it and look at it from a very rational point of view. I don’t see it as coming from God and say that at a certain point the Holy Spirit zaps you with a super whammy on the head and you’ve ‘gone for tongues’ and there is it. Tongues is a process that people build up to. Then, as you start to do something, just as when you practice the scales on the piano, you get better at it.”
Already, we could see the difference between Marjoe and some of his modern-day fellow preachers and pretenders. Unlike many cult, group, and Evangelical leaders, Marjoe has always held his congregation in high regard. During his years on the Bible Belt circuit, he came to see the Evangelical experience as a form of popular entertainment, a kind of participatory divine theater that provides its audiences with profound emotional rewards. Marjoe realized that his perspective would not be shared by most Born Again Christians.
“The people who are out there don’t see it as entertainment,” he confessed, “although that is in fact the way it is. These people don’t go to movies; they don’t go to bars and drink; they don’t go to rock-and-roll concerts — but everyone has to have an emotional release. So they go to revivals and they dance around and talk in tongues. It’s socially approved and that is their escape.””
There is more to it than this. The next stage for the real experts is singing in the spirit. Karaoke is directly relevant. Maybe church should be understood as a form of karaoke? http://www.positiveatheism.org/hist/marjoe.htm Maybe we can sort out loads of mental health issues by taking this seriously.