Showing posts with label christianity. Show all posts
Showing posts with label christianity. Show all posts

Saturday, March 02, 2013

More Musings by Oven Mitt

Oven Mitt emailed me this response to Freethinker, concerned that it was too long for the comment section. I am publishing it here as its own post. (Readers, please consider submitting a guest post on any topic. Challenge our thinking!)
Left to Right: Frank Zappa, Oven Mitt

Dear "Freethinker,"
Thank you for your very thoughtful reply. You say "The vast majority are placing their faith in the 'confirmed reality' of the Bible." On one level, I would concede your point. In a way, if you were to poll people, statistically speaking, what you say about the majority is perhaps true. But only in a way.

One consideration is that in every faith tradition there are people (who are not the majority) who are deeply spiritual, for whom every element of their lives is informed by religious meaning and who are better people for it. But there are also, in every faith tradition, I think, individuals who relate to their tradition as a way to stay out of trouble and solicit good luck. Often, this takes on the flavor of a transaction, of something like commerce:

If you, the worshiper, do this (where "this" could be pray, offer sacrifices on an altar, give to the poor), then I (the fabric of the universe, or the god of my profession, or the unique and all-powerful god) will make your flocks flourish, or get you a raise, or save your soul.

Several years ago, on the bus I rode to work, there was a fellow rider who was an immigrant to the United States, who didn't speak English well but loved to talk. As I got to know this rider better, I found her to be kind, considerate of other people's ideas, and possessed of a prodigious desire to work. A good person. She was telling me one morning about New Year’s rituals in the her family, rituals that came out of a religious tradition. These rituals were for luck and prosperity. "Only for luck?" I asked. She gave me a look that said, "What? What other reason would you have for a ritual?"  My question was apparently uunnerving, even absurd. And yet she had been formed in this tradition and was a good person, perhaps even an excellent person. 

Friday, December 07, 2012

The Christmas Program

Three years ago, I attended the Christmas program of my younger children’s elementary school, my head swirling with cognitive dissonance over what I was reading in the Bible and church publications. One of the issues that stood out in my mind, as it does for so many troubled believers, was Conservative Laestadianism’s outrageous exclusivity claims. (These claims are also made by the OALC, FALC, and IALC, who all point their bony fingers of condemnation at each other along with the LLC/SRK.)

Here it is in a nutshell: The church’s membership comprises about 0.002% of the world’s population. Everyone else who is mentally competent and has achieved some vaguely defined age of accountability it consigns to an eternity of screaming torture, a fate that eventually will be shared by almost all of the billion or so of the world’s children. There are even questions about many of those within the official membership nowadays. I suspect the old guard in the SRK and LLC have been waiting quite a while now for another “heresy” to come along and clean house, freeing them from having to deal with those annoying liberals, part-timers, and questioners.

That evening I sat with my wife and watched our kids up on stage, saying their pieces and singing their little songs among the beautiful children and parents of a rural, simple, and fairly religious community. As it is most everywhere else in the U.S. and the world, none of them has ever heard of Conservative Laestadianism. The closest most will ever come to a member of “God’s Kingdom” is in their cars as they drive through the area where most of our old congregation’s members live, on their way to do some shopping in town.

Here’s what I wrote when we got home. It is reproduced from my book (§4.2.1), as is some of the commentary that follows (pp. 82, 84‑85, 242 of the printed version).


Friday, May 11, 2012

Fighting Words

Page from a Gutenberg Bible (1454)
This week I stopped at the downtown public library and saw an exhibition of rare religious texts. With permission, I photographed some of the treasures they had on display. The images you see here are presented in the order of the document’s dating, oldest first.

Witness to the Generations

I meditated on these centuries-old relics for quite a while, considering the many human lifetimes that have passed since the words were pressed and penned onto their pages. Even back then, the sources of those words were already ancient. Most of the books were Bibles, their text copied or translated from a succession of painstakingly hand-copied manuscripts whose original sources have been almost entirely lost in antiquity.

Two columns of clean, bold type stared out at me from the page of a Gutenberg Bible, 558 years after the ink went dry. So much history has passed since then, so many generations born into lives that were “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” (Thomas Hobbes, 1651). The black and red of the letters seemed not to have faded at all, unlike the colors of whoever pressed the type onto the page in Mainz, Germany–and his child, and that child, and so on. At least twenty generations of lives blooming and fading: a succession of pink-faced infancy transforming into the gray of old age and death, or worse, a dark red death on the endless battlefields of crusade and conquest.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Change in the ALC?

Il Coro's recent comments got me thinking about the ALC (Apostolic Lutheran Church of America, a.k.a. "the Federation") again, and how it has changed since I was a kid. So I thought I'd start this thread to give my pet theory on why this is the case, and invite everyone to post their views as well.

Back when I was growing up, it seemed like the ALC was a lot more like the OALC and other branches of Laestadianism. No TV, no sports, no make-up, no jewelry, no drinking, a lot of exclusiveness (thinking we're the only true Christianity), Finnish songs and preaching in the worship service, etc. Nowadays, however, you can find many ALC congregations that aren't much different than any other conservative evangelical denomination out there. People have TVs and even Internet connected computers. Women may dress conservatively, but wear makeup, jewelry, and clothing that are within the mainstream of the populace.

The first lens through which I see the change is that of the immigrant experience. First generation Laestadian Finnish immigrants, many of whom arrived in the late 19th and early 20th century didn't speak English, were uneducated with few opportunities other than farming, mining, and other manual labor. They built the churches as a touchstone and enclave where they could remember the best of what they left "back home," preserving the traditions and even setting them in stone over and against all the strangeness and harshness of a new land.

The second generation had a foot in both America and Finland. Fluent in both Finnish and English and educated in the American public school system, this generation felt the most conflict between the old ways and the new ways. While they were still sheltered from much of mainstream America through long hours helping out on the farm, raising siblings in large families, and not watching TV, English was their primary language and they were immersed in the mainstream culture through school and listening to the radio (often evangelical Christian radio). As this generation reached adulthood English started to become the primary language used in ALC churches, with Finnish songs and sermons becoming secondary.

The third generation and beyond (this generation) is fully acculturated to America. For the most part they have not learned the Finnish language, and speak only English fluently (or maybe some other language they learned in school.) They do not have any special ties to Finnish culture or heritage except for what might be preserved through church, or some foods eaten primarily during the holidays. Many of them have achieved higher education, even advanced degrees in engineering and humanities. Many of this generation feel no particular allegiance to the ALC as part of their cultural heritage and leave for other types of churches or no church at all, in keeping with whatever their worldview may reflect as a mainstream American living in a pluralistic society. Those that stay may stay for the sense of community and extended family, or may stay because by this time the church itself also largely reflects the mainstream of conservative evangelicalism with which they agree. There is now little or no singing or preaching in Finnish, instead largely traditional hymns or in some cases "praise music" drawn directly from the conservative evangelical subculture of "Christian radio" and books.

The other lens through which I see the change is that of factions within the ALC. At least since the 1960s and 1970s, there have been at least two and maybe three factions in the ALC. There is the "Laestadian faction," largely older but some younger members, often in smaller congregations in rural areas. These are most like the OALC and others in their implementation and view of the faith. There is also the "evangelical faction." Often larger congregations near larger cities, these ALCers would listen to James Dobson on the radio, attend Billy Graham crusades, and enjoy contemporary Christian music as well as "praise music." They seek to implement these types of changes within their own ALC congregation. A third and perhaps overlapping faction are those ALCers that support formal clergy training via the Inter-Lutheran (ALC) Theological Seminary. This non-accredited conservative seminary trained many pastors that went on to be ALC pastors, but the more "Laestadian" faction still eschewed formal theological training, so there is a landscape within the ALC of congregations where the leadership has some formal theological training, and others where the pastor has none at all. Still other split the difference, with a head pastor from the seminary but an assortment of assistant pastors without any formal education.

It seems to me that the momentum within the denomination lies with the evangelical faction. As time passes the Finnish heritage becomes less and less relevant, giving the Laestadian faction major headwinds. Conversely, the wind is to the back of the evangelicals, as adherents are looking for a form of ALC that accommodates itself better to the larger American culture with which they increasingly identify -- at least the conservative evangelical subculture. It's still not a perfect fit, because to the extent that Apostolic Lutheranism is actually Lutheran there will be major theological differences with the evangelicals --especially on baptism and eschatology. On the other hand, both Laestadianism and evangelicalism share an anti-intellectualism, populism, and suspicion of institutions, as well as Biblical literalism. To most rank and file modern day ALCers, theological distinctions between Laestadianism and evangelicalism may matter a lot less than the general "tone" and "mood" of the worship experience, and preaching that emotes "the Word."

My big unanswered question: Since the immigrant experience and the evangelical resurgence of the 60s and 70s potentially affects all branches of Laestadianism in the United States, why does it seem like some branches have changed more rapidly than others? Why does the ALC seem more accommodated to mainstream conservative evangelical culture than all of the rest?

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Dealing with real differences; Islam, Christianity, and Laestadianism

I recently read President Obama's speech at Cairo University. It's quite lengthy, but worth reading in full. It really sets a different tone than what I've heard before from any American President when speaking to the Muslim world. Gutsy, to say the least.

Regardless of how successful one thinks this attempt at outreach to the Muslim world will ultimately be, I think the speech can raise some interesting questions about how we on this blog can deal with the real differences between us. There has been a lot of heat lately. I have participated in that heat. Maybe there has been some light too, but I'm much less certain on that score. ;-)

I've excerpted some of the passages that are especially relevant to us below. I hope this post will serve as a jumping off point for further discussion.


So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, and who promote conflict rather than the cooperation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity. This cycle of suspicion and discord must end.



But I am convinced that in order to move forward, we must say openly the things we hold in our hearts, and that too often are said only behind closed doors. There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another; and to seek common ground.


Growing up Laestadian, it seemed like saying "openly the things we hold in our hearts" was very difficult when those things were things that questioned, or revealed difference. It seems to me like it was encouraged to keep those things very private indeed, in order to avoid offending.

Therein lies some of the problem. How can differences be shared openly without it causing conflict and hatred? How can "a sustained effort to listen" happen when people truly and widely disagree?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Does Critical Thinking Prevent Extremism?

In his column today, Nicolas Kristoff says that Islamic scholars are beginning to apply tools of critical scholarship to the Koran. He argues that ultimately scholarship and intellect are one way to fight fundamentalism and intolerance.

But are they?

An excerpt from the article:

n Afghanistan, 300 brave women marched to demand a measure of equal rights, defying a furious mob of about 1,000 people who spat, threw stones and called the women “whores.” The marchers asserted that a woman should not need her husband’s consent to go to school or work outside the home.

In Pakistan, the Taliban flogged a teenage girl in front of a crowd, as two men held her face down in the dirt. A video shows the girl, whose “crime” may have been to go out of her house alone, crying piteously that she will never break the rules again.

Muslim fundamentalists damage Islam far more than any number of Danish cartoonists ever could, for it’s inevitably the extremists who capture the world’s attention. But there is the beginning of an intellectual reform movement in the Islamic world, and one window into this awakening was an international conference this week at the University of Notre Dame on the latest scholarship about the Koran.

“We’re experiencing right now in Koranic studies a rise of interest analogous to the rise of critical Bible studies in the 19th century,” said Gabriel Said Reynolds, a Notre Dame professor and organizer of the conference.


And a comment from a reader:
"Absolutely, but note that there is an increasingly large number of "Christians" in the US (and I suppose elsewhere) who decry biblical scholarship as the work of the Devil. They prefer charismatic, uneducated leaders who will open the book to whatever page comes up, read the text that God points their finger to, and lead off from there, as they believe they are then hearing the Word of God, and these people are as increasingly intolerant of any religious views differing from their own as anyone in the Taliban or any other fundamentalist religious group is."


What do you think?