Showing posts with label conservative laestadianism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label conservative laestadianism. Show all posts

Monday, December 16, 2013

Healing from Hell Horror

“If hell is not a nice place for those who never have come to the knowledge of salvation, it surely is still hotter for those, who have once tasted the tribulations of hell and yet want to go there to eternal death. It must become still hotter for those who have had a foretaste of the kingdom of heaven and then return to the world from where the way leads to hell.”
—Lars Levi Laestadius, 1853

Hell Preacher. Composed from one of my photos along with a CC-licensed one by Michael “theparadigmshifter.”

Laestadians are raised to believe in and fear a place of eternal torment if they should die as “unbelievers” or with “unforgiven sin” on their consciences. Although LLC preachers have not been very explicit about the subject, at least not in recent years, a recent sermon from a preacher in the Rockford, Minnesota congregation reminds listeners of the unthinkably high stakes:
Even in a temporal sense, we can understand what the pain might feel like of the fires of hell. If you’ve ever burnt the tip of your finger lighting a candle or something, you know how bad that hurts. Imagine living in eternity in that kind of pain and agony, like the Bible describes, “wailing and gnashing of teeth.” So, it pays to believe, dear brothers and sisters. [23:00-24:32]
It pays to believe, he says, a phrase repeated in many a sermon. This reveals the essential cynicism of fear-based religion. “Belief” is tribute paid to a bullying strongman of a God in order to avoid horrific consequences down the road. It would be ridiculous to tell someone it “pays to hear” or “pays to see” that there is something in front of you. It can only pay to pretend to hear or see, like the townspeople cheering the fashion sense of a naked emperor just before an impertinent little kid spoils everything.

As time goes by, I spend less and less time thinking about Laestadianism or even religion, and even less time shouting at the curbside about it. Of course, the experiences and former beliefs of half a lifetime will always occupy a large portion of my brain, whether I like it or not. Those neurons are gone forever, along with the handful devoted to the term “twerking,” whose actual meaning I steadfastly refuse to learn. But I still sometimes drift off to the sermons on an iPod slipped under the pillow at night.

When I heard this little discourse on Hell during one of those sermons, I pictured how it must have put a little burst of panic into the hearts of those kids who’d listened to worldly music or had lust in their hearts or watched some inappropriate videos the night before. It seemed like a bit more writing might be in order, for the sake of the troubled and former Laestadians whom I know are reading my blog, so I spent some time writing a detailed posting, Healing from Hell Horror.

These currents of fear can run very deep indeed. That, along with all the social benefits of a close and comfortable little group huddled against the world, is why these churches manage to retain as many members as they do. I had to work very hard to overcome my own hell horror. There’s no shame in that, for me or for you. We are just overcoming what the church did to us, and a lifetime of indoctrination is not something everyone can reverse overnight, just like that.

The stakes, after all, are unthinkably high. As I told one of the few Laestadian friends who dared to discuss issues with me in depth after hearing I’d left the fold, I wouldn’t have left if I thought there were a 1% chance of it being true. I could probably work up that level of belief, given the consequences for being wrong about the other 99%. But it’s not true, not even a little bit, including the Hell part.

Take a look at the blog posting if this still has a hold on you, or still holds interest for you. There’s some discussion of the power of fear, a bit of history about Hell, and—believe it or not—a dog story. If you’d rather read something on a less dreary topic, I also have a posting there (with pretty pictures!) on that other long-dreamed of destination for a life beyond the grave, Paradise.

After you do, please come back and offer your thoughts. I’m not willing to deal with the hassle of comments on my own blog, but the thoughtful dialogue that takes place in comments from extoots readers has been a wonderful component of the reading available here. How have the Laestadian teachings about hellfire and damnation affected you? If you’ve left, how did you recover from the lingering fear? Or did it not linger much at all, as with a few fortunate people I’ve spoken with? What would you say to those troubled souls who lurk on these blogs wondering if they will ever be able to overcome the terror of leaving, or even questioning?

Friday, May 03, 2013

Seeking Clarity in the Face of Tragedy

I have watched a child die—suddenly, tragically, accidentally. It was the worst moment of my life, and a far worse one for the child’s parents and siblings. Left with a ghastly void in the space that a vibrant young life so recently occupied, we desperately seek to fill it—with explanations, rationalizations, comforting old sayings.

Richard George Davis, CC-licensed.
A preacher in the local congregation did his best to make sense of the senseless, a commendable and compassionate effort. His kind words of comfort at the funeral and in private conversations were pitch-perfect, offering a sense of fulfilled purpose to a devastated family. He shared a heartfelt Christian love with them, and with the shocked and grieving believers around them.

Their fondest hope for themselves and their loved ones is to reach the glory of heaven, he said. God had spared this child a lifetime of trials and temptations, bringing the reward to hand at a young age. The assurance about eternity was an attempt to offer some consolation, in the face of a very real tragedy that had been experienced right here on earth. It was religion serving its purpose, and doing it well: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (1 Cor. 15:55).

So what are you supposed to think when your religion is widely seen as playing a part in the unfolding of tragic events? It is hard to miss the possible connection when a mother from your church, a religion that strongly opposes birth control, reportedly tells officers she smothered the youngest of her nine children “because she thought she had too many children already and she was jealous of the attention her husband was giving to the baby” (Forghani 2013).

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Birth Control as a Basic Human Right

Check out this blog from Finland about the Laestadian ban on birth control and its impact on fathers as well as mothers.
Women and men should know that there does not exist any ban of birth control in the Bible. This Laestadian doctrine of large families and of sin of contraceptives are created only by human beings, by the Laestadian preachers who know almost nothing about biblical scholarship.  Sex and sexuality have been the exclusive domain of Laestadian husbands and preachers in the patriarchate gender system. Laestadian women are  never asked to express their opinions and experiences on this issues. However, the birth control is a determinate part of the human rights, and everyone’s right to privacy should always be respected in these issues. 
The UN’s World Health Organization defines reproductive rights as follows: 
Reproductive rights rest on the recognition of the basic right of all couples and people to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so, and the right to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health. They also include the right of all to make decisions concerning reproduction free of discrimination, coercion and violence. 
If you would like to investigate more details e.g. about the Bible and contraception, read this post by Ed. A. Suominen.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Visit

The building seems smaller now, as if its physical size somehow had shrunk along with its significance. This is no looming Mount Sinai, just a simple structure that is lovingly maintained by people who have grown up sitting in its pews. There is probably no other single place, outside the childhood home, in which a typical Laestadian will spend as many hours of his life. It is not just empty talk to call it a spiritual home, a sanctuary.

Just as pangs of nostalgia fill the adult believer who sees the humble house where he ran and played with a swarm of siblings and harassed parents, the sight of the church evinces its own memories grown fonder with time: beloved old preachers with their sleep-inducing sermons and funny habits, weekly gatherings of lifelong friends, hasty communal lunches with fellowship shouted over the squalling of fussy babies. God’s Kingdom nourishes the spirit with the unchanging Word, and the body with hot dish and Sloppy Joes, iceberg lettuce and ranch dressing. Variety is not a prominent feature of either menu, and that makes the memories uncomplicated, easy to come by.

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, June 22, 2012

A Father's Day Sermon, Laestadian Style

If you want to experience a full dose of Laestadian scripture-twisting, intellectual suicide, biblical whitewashing, authoritarianism, moral equivocation, sectarian exclusivity, self-loathing, group emotionalism, and temporary guilt relief (roughly in that sequence), you can do no better than this Father’s Day sermon by the full-time pastor of the Rockford, Minnesota LLC. What follows are excerpts I’ve transcribed of the sermon, which are somewhat lengthy to address the too-often heard charge of “taking it out of context,” along with various images and videos that seemed appropriate to what was being said.

For some reason, I no longer get teary-eyed when listening to a preacher praise a man who kicked out the son he had conceived with a slave once he finally got himself a legitimate heir, and who “shut down his thinking” in preparation for slicing open his 12-year-old boy with a knife because he heard a voice telling him to. My patience has long since run out for the mindset that has so thoroughly surrendered itself to fideism as to assert, “If you don’t understand, you believe.” It’s certainly not a new attitude: Luther said “we must simply maintain that when we hear God saying something, we are to believe it and not to debate about it but rather take our intellect captive in the obedience of Christ” (Lectures on Genesis, Ch. 3, v. 5).

Even if you don’t understand what it is your are professing to believe, you must believe it nonetheless. It’s no less absurd a proposition than the absurdities that are being “believed” in this way. One example is the Real Presence of Christ in the communion wafer, which Luther held to as an essential point of doctrine. How, then, shall we understand those things which are beyond all our senses, in the Word alone? Thus it is in the Word alone that the bread is the body of Christ, that the wine is the blood of Christ. This must be believed; it must not and cannot be understood” (Id.).

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, July 20, 2011

Is it "Caretaking" or Pressure, Intimidation, Blackmail?

A reader sent this article and the English translation below (lightly edited for clarity). If you understand Finnish, you'll want to read the comments as well.

Conservative Laestadians tell of pressure in “caretaking meetings”

July 17,2011
by Pauliina Grönholm
Helsingin Sanomat

People belonging to the Conservative Laestadian revivalist movement, which operates within the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran church, say they experienced pressure as well as spiritual violence, in so-called caretaking meetings.

A caretaking meeting in Conservative Laestadianism means a pastoral care event at which a member is called to "repent."

These meetings were especially common in the 1970's, but according to individuals interviewed by this newspaper, these sessions are still being held. These individuals said they were either a subject of caretaking meetings or were forced to follow the treatment "by the side."

They said that Executive Board members of the Central Association of Finnish Peace Associatons (SRK) as well as priests participated in the meetings.

Conservative Laestadian "Jukka" has first-hand experience of these meetings (because of his close friends, he does not want to appear in this interview with his real name).

Jukka says that current caretaking meetings are less organized and systematic than in the 1970's. Subjects are now individuals who have publicly expressed dissident opinions from the SRK's official views.

While caretaking meetings are often referred to as pastoral care in Conservative Laestadianism, Jukka has a different view.

"In those [meetings] are all the characteristics of the spiritual violence fullfilled: pressure, intimidation and blackmail."

“You may end up in caretaking if you have dissenting opinions, for example about family planning or the ordination of women, but also, for example, if you listen to rock music, go to concerts, or dye your hair."