Showing posts with label literalism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label literalism. Show all posts

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Reading the Old Testament in Iraq


Following is a guest post by Eric, a former Laestadian.

Let me say by way of a preface that many Christian churches do NOT teach that the Bible is inerrant, or that its "truth" lies in literal interpretation. Many Lutheran churches, including the ELCA congregation where I explored the Old Testament for the first time, encourage their members to use a critical approach to the authorship, translation, and interpretation of Scripture. Most mainline seminaries are entirely invested in this method, and not all their graduates emerge as atheists. Christianity is a big tent, and theism is even larger.

My hope is that this blog demonstrates the wide variety of responses to religious tradition and the quest for meaning. Please consider submitting a guest post of your own.

Eric writes:
(As a Laestadian) I shared the idea of the inerrancy of the Bible (it was given by doctrine) and the pursuit of truth. I reasoned that if the Bible is 100% true, then no matter how hard I tried to find it, I couldn’t ever find an inconsistency or contradiction. And, it wouldn't ever hurt to try since there’d be nothing to be afraid of. Either I find that the Bible isn't true (preposterous!), which would therefore mean that I have shed myself of untruth, or I’d find it is true and I’d have verified it for myself. Either way, it would be interesting.

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.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Laestadian Theologian Lacks Penis, Gets Ordained Anyway

Ed Suominen has been invited to participate in this blog and, starting with this article, looks forward to a dialogue with those whose lives have intersected with Laestadianism. He is the author of An Examination of the Pearl, a study of the Conservative/Heideman branch of the Laestadian movement, and his articles here will often reference portions of that book by section number with links to the free HTML version. You can find Ed's own blog here.

An Extraordinary Ordination

Change is happening in the Lutheran church worldwide, but Conservative Laestadians in Finland have held tight regarding the ordination of women. Now one courageous woman, Mari Leppänen, has challenged the status quo by completing her theological study with ordination as a priest in the Finnish state church. She did so over the objections of the SRK leadership, yet without expressing any other disagreement or conflict with her long-held Conservative Laestadian faith.

Mari Leppänen
Omat polut, CC licensed
It was a historical event, as the Conservative Laestadian historian Seppo Lohi noted, speaking strictly as a researcher. But he noted that female priesthood is not accepted in the movement and that the ordination of women is seen as heretical (harhaopiksi) in light of the Bible. In view of that, he observed that Leppänen, “loads quite a bit of pressure on herself concerning her relationship to Conservative Laestadianism. She shows that she has a different idea about ​​the ordination of women than the Conservative Laestadian perception.” Regarding the question of Leppänen’s possible separation from the movement, Lohi declined to “use such drastic terms” as that, but says the ordination will undoubtedly lead to discussions and she must explain her action (§4.7.6, quoting Ijäs 2012a).

Mari Leppänen's Ordination Ceremony:
Omat polut, CC licensed.
Now that she has gone ahead and accepted the ordination, those “discussions” seem to have resulted in her being condemned as not being in the “Kingdom of God,” as reported by Johannes Ijäs in his March 3, 2012 Kotimaa24 article. One of the main SRK figures involved with that judgement is Kimmo Puolitaival, the chairman of the board of trustees in Leppänen’s home congregation (RY) of Turku. He expressed agreement with a statement apparently made by Matti Taskila, the SRK’s Deputy Chairman, that “a woman who takes the priestly ordination removes herself from the movement” (Ijäs 2012b). In response to questions from Kotimaa24 and concerns expressed about human rights issues, Puolitaival released a statement defending the Conservative Laestadian viewpoint as one of religious conviction grounded in the Bible. The closest the statement came to mentioning Leppänen’s spiritual status was this:
If someone acts in another way in the female ordination issue and takes ordination, she might have considered her act, and understands the penalties of disobedience against the word of the Lord. [Alastalo 2012]
“The word of the Lord” that is being invoked so gravely here is mainly
Apostle Paul’s declaration to comply with the proper form of worship: Women are to keep silent in the churches (1 Cor. 14:34-35). This instruction stems from a lecture, or sermon, which gave this charge to the Congregation’s shepherd, or priest, when implementing the framework of the worship process. Apostle Paul argues that he has “the Lord’s command” on this particular directive concerning worship. Unfortunately, we do not feel any closer to understanding the meaning of “the Lord’s command.” The reasoning employed by Apostle Paul is most powerful and authoritative because it is the word of the Lord.” [Nissilä 2012, from §4.7.6]
Even more unfortunate than the admitted lack of understanding is the fact that a woman is essentially being condemned to eternal damnation (§4.2.1) for desiring to do what is permissible, routine, and encouraged for most any man in the SRK. And let’s not sugar-coat what Paul actually says in his “powerful and authoritative” reasoning. Here’s the entire passage:
Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church. [1 Cor 14:34-35]
The new priest. Photo by a supporter at her
post-ordination reception. Used with permission.
The next time a woman raises her hand to offer a comment in a “congregational discussion evening” or Bible Class, or gives a presentation or teaches a Bible Class lesson, you can bet that she won’t be told to shut up and sit down, to wait until she gets home to ask her husband about that nagging theological question. No, the trouble is when a woman decides to really get out of line and put on a clerical collar, stepping across an imaginary boundary to stand behind a pulpit that Paul does not mention. Then the startled and threatened menfolk grab the Bible out of her hands and point indignantly to a passage that has been otherwise ignored.

Nothing to See Here, Move Along...

Conservative Laestadianism has a long history of not appreciating outsiders poking around with concerns about how its members are being treated. In the midst of the 1970s “caretaking” hysteria that even the SRK has now acknowledged involved “spiritual abuse,” a 1974 issue of the SRK’s Päivämies newspaper warned believers about airing or talking about the
faults of the children of God . . . among unbelievers. It is the casting of pearls before swine, belittling of God’s children within earshot of unbelievers. This is in effect a boomerang when consequently the unbelievers in turn berate the children of God. With this trampling, the one who spoke evil is trampled too.” [from §4.10]
Dr. Johanna Hurtig.
Omat Polut, CC licensed.
Another courageous woman, Johanna Hurtig, experienced her share of being trampled–not by the evil world but by some of “God’s children” themselves–when she refused to let the SRK off the hook about child sexual abuse by prominent members. She was called “an overgrown, fat sheep, unprofessional, in a false spirit,” who didn’t have their trust. Her conclusions from the experience are not flattering about the SRK leadership:
They don’t appreciate her attempts to advise them, her open criticism of the organizational culture, and her speaking out publicly about the community. And what she speaks about is “a shameful phenomenon that happens in a community that considers itself representing family values, decency, and respect for the law.” She says, “I defy their great power as I act in the issue without asking their permission or opinion,” having “shown in public many negative things about them: stalling, ignoring, and inconsistent public communications.” They “have to admit their faults,” and thus “a shadow is cast on the inerrant congregation” [§4.10.1]
In March 2009, society poked its nose into the sanctum of the “Kingdom of God” again, this time about contraception. The European Union’s Human Rights Commission
expressed concerns that the movement’s teachings–whether a “ban” is said to be in place or not–effectively infringe on the individual right to freely make a determination about contraception. That right, it said, is a matter of human rights protection. It noted that the term “contraception ban” is not used. But it pointed out that Laestadians have experienced “very real social compulsion” about the issue, and “failure to comply will have serious spiritual and secular consequences.” [§4.7.6]
Now, despite Puolitaival’s wish that the SRK “would have the right to teach and bring out the Word of God, based on religious conviction and declare the kingdom of God and the message of sin and grace, without having to worry about being accused of human rights violations” (from Alastalo 2012), the outside world is raising its eyebrows yet again:
The leader of the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church, Archbishop Kari Mäkinen, is saddened and worried at the attitude taken by the Conservative Laestadian revival movement toward those in the organisation who take a positive attitude toward the ordination of women. Mäkinen says in an e-mail message that he feels that it is a serious matter that a commitment to decisions of the Lutheran Church can lead to a person being silenced, marginalised, or excluded from the movement. . . . [T]he Conservative Laestadian movement decided that the Archbishop’s theological secretary Risto Leppänen would no longer be allowed to teach or speak at Laestadian events. The move was taken because Leppänen takes a positive view of the ordination of women, which [is] accepted doctrine in the Lutheran Church, but opposed by the Laestadians. [Helsingin Sanomat, Secretary Banned from Speaking]
Risto Leppänen is the new priest’s husband. His offense was supporting his wife’s desire to do the same kind of pastoral work that he is doing, without letting her gender block her path.

 

Cleaning House

The issue is not a new one, nor is it going away anytime soon. Mari Leppänen tells the Helsingin Sanomat, “The women theologians [in the 1970s] could not bring their wishes forward, and they were left completely outside the movement’s official debate on the ministry. They were bypassed because they were women, and because of their theological background.” Now, those in the younger generation “have grown both as Laestadians, and as members of this society, and they have seen how women in the church can function as equals among men. Many hope that they could ponder the ministry issue more openly without fear of being judged” (Women’s ordination divides Laestadian movement).

It is still an unrealized hope. Another SRK ordained priest who took the same stand in favor of female ordination, with the same consequence, writes that “the cleansings are continuing.” He hopes that what follows are not the same systematic and brutal excesses that were seen in the 1970s, but he is afraid that is just what is happening now (Alaranta 2012). Another ordained priest whom the SRK has decided to silence at its services is Stiven Naatus, who nonetheless does not believe that the situation will lead to the kind of fragmentation that has occurred at other times in the movement’s history (Ahonen 2012). Perhaps so, if the SRK follows what its Executive Board noted regretfully about the “excesses” of the 1970s: We should learn from the past” (from §4.10.2).

References

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Occasionally I Think

"Lucien Black," grandson of an Apostolic Lutheran pastor, has a blog describing his journey from faith to atheism. I thought he raised some interesting questions about the Genesis creation / fall story and its implications on the nature of God as depicted through a biblical literalist interpretation of the Bible.

from Why I'm an athiest


First off, one should know that I come from a very religious background. My grandfather has been an Apostolic Lutheran pastor for my entire life, and my mother became "born-again" at some point after getting pregnant. When I was a child, the family would play "Bible Trivia," and I kicked butt because I enjoyed me some Bible stories.

Around about the seventh grade, I started thinking, and one thing that kept going through my head is that the deck was stacked against humanity from the start, if one believed the book of Genesis. God was omnipotent and omniscient, so he knew exactly what sort of creation he'd made, and the consequences thereof. So, here's Adam and Eve, with one rule to follow: don't eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. What follows is well known of course, the "Fall of Man." What got me though is that God should've, indeed must have, seen it coming from the very start, and took no steps to prevent it. There are many that could've been done: don't let Satan in the garden, don't make the bloody Tree, make sure Adam and Eve really are obedient and not prone to disobeying just cuz of a few honeyed words, just to name a few.


Does anyone else remember playing Bible Trivia? I was not the best player, although I could hold my own against most. :-) I was pretty good at New Testament and Pentateuch, but major and minor prophets could stump me pretty easily.

On a more serious note, Lucien illuminates an issue that I think is common with people who leave their original faith for a new formulation of the faith, or even no faith at all. The stories or the meanings behind the stories no longer "make sense."

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Heaven and Earth

Click here for a larger version of the image

I ran across this picture recently, which depicts the universe as it was understood to be by the ancient biblical writers. The basis for the image is drawn from passages in Genesis, Job, the Psalms and other portions of the Old Testament.



What I find especially fascinating is that even the most literalist Christians would no longer accept this cosmology as accurate, yet there is not a lot of discussion about this seismic shift in worldview --at least not in the Laestadian circles of my youth.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Inerrancy? Why?

It is not only de rigeur in Laestadian circles but in many others (Christian and Moslem alike) to claim the inerrancy of the Word. Tragically, along with this a priori comes the justified vilification of "unbelievers," heretics, women, homosexuals, science, and intellectuals, to name a few. A prescientific supposition that should have died with blood-letting and phrenology, inerrancy is kept alive by fear and ignorance, fueled by despots who need their minions (sometimes cannon fodder) unified beneath them.

If your hackles are rising, let me add: if errancy challenges your faith, your faith is misdirected.

I read recently that among American laypeople, the belief in scriptural inerrancy is declining but still much higher than it is among seminarians. I guess studying Greek and Hebrew and the origins and history of the Bible does something to one's credulity.

There are real world consequences to credulity, major and minor. Terrorists behead infidels while quoting the Koran. Korans are flushed down prison toilets by Bible-quoting grunts. Scripture-quoting idiots kill doctors and torch abortion clinics. Evangelical lawmakers cut off funds to AIDS organizations that distribute (horrors!) condoms. Creationist teachers tell their students that evolution is "just a theory."

Near Seattle recently, a school board restricted teachers from showing Al Gore's "Inconvenient Truth" because an evangelical parent believes global warming is (1) not America's fault and (2) a sign of Jesus' imminent return.

Yah, sure. Let's speed it along, then. Make us some big bonfires. Throw on the science books.

In yesterday's paper there was an article about a newly discovered fossil in Kenya. Cool. Except that it is causing controversy among evangelicals, who claim that evolution is destroying their faith.

Well, then, let's throw that fossil on the fire, too. And Leakey while we're at it. Dagnab Darwinite.

The brilliant professor who introduced me to Darwin and evolution once remarked "most people if given a choice between security and truth will choose security." But that's a false dilemma. Our security must be in Truth, or it is false security.

Am I done ranting? Yes. Your turn.

Thanks to Theo (aka Thorough) for the Orthodox perspective on biblical inerrancy. For a lot of other perspectives, go here. Read all the way to the end . . . it's worth it. Then go ahead and flame / rejoinder / huzzah me.