Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Endings

Who is there, my friend, [who] can climb to the sky?
  Only the gods [dwell] forever in sunlight.
As for man, his days are numbered,
  whatever he may do, it is but wind.
—The Epic of Gilgamesh (c. 1500 BC)
Standing together, in the Valley of the Shadow  [Flickr page]

My family is experiencing a moment of sadness, as my wife and I mourn the loss of a nephew seventeen years old. Two kind and decent parents have had their beloved child taken from them and now must deal with unimaginable pain. I have no easy words of comfort to offer. Just my love, respect, heartfelt sympathies, and some thoughts that I shared with another father who faced his own horrible void of sudden death one awful night a few years ago.

This is the worst night of your life, I told him. You have suffered a terrible loss. It will never be worse than this. You have some very tough times ahead, but the day will come when you will smile and laugh about things again. It may not seem possible, but it will happen. Now, let’s work on getting through the next five minutes. Then the five minutes after that.

Somehow, we did. And yes, I did see him smile again.

Miss Mary Mrak, 1905-1919  [Flickr page]

As parents, the entire project of our existence lies in these offspring whom we raise from helpless, squalling infants. If our fervent hopes come true, we finally release them into the world as young adults, to fend for themselves and continue the cycle another step. It is a long and arduous road, and a happy outcome—the further perpetuation of our precious genes—is far from guaranteed. Indeed, for most of human existence, it seems, the odds were stacked against it.

One of the fascinating stories that the brilliant polymath Frank Zindler has told me from his long and remarkable life (the subject of my next post on this blog) was about another father’s loss of his child. That particular death remains recorded only as an etching on ancient stone.

In the beginning of 1983, as Frank was waiting for his beloved wife Ann (whom death now has also claimed) to join him in their move to Ohio, he spent his evening in the local university library. One of the very first evenings he was there, in the classics reading room, he took down a volume from the Corpus Inscriptionarum Graecarum, a body of ancient written monuments.

He remembers the long reading tables, like those found at the New York public library, he says. He sat at the end of one and opened the volume at random, and his eyes fell upon a Greek inscription from the 3rd century BC. It was an epitaph for a 13 year old girl, written by her anguished father.

While Frank was reading, he suddenly saw a tear drop onto the page, and realized it was his own. He had been weeping. He remembers a student sitting nearby at the table, looking amazed at such an outpouring of emotion from someone reading a book. But this wasn’t just any book.

It was a cry echoing from antiquity, being heard again in the silence of a musty library reading room. At the instant he read the words, Frank says, the anguish felt by this father, now long dead himself,

had come to life once again in my brain, as I read that epitaph. That recording in stone had transmitted this emotion, this feeling, this sensation, to someone who would not live for two thousand years. That feeling once again existed.

Frank calls the experience “a life changer.” He realized that if he writes things well, they will be remembered. They will indeed. And so also—in your minds right now, even without the words at hand—has the expression of sadness, of humanity, from a man about his young girl who died tragically young some 2300 years ago.

Her bones have long since joined the dust of her father and all those who stood grieving for her, and the generations of those who would follow. But like an ember that drifts, dimly glowing, far away from a distant fire whose heat is no longer felt, a small remnant of the love that had been felt for her still lives on. May it do so for Steven, and his parents in their turn, and for each of us as well.

Life and light  [Flickr page]
Click on individual images to enlarge. All are Copyright © 2013-14 Edwin A. Suominen. You may freely use them for non-commercial purposes, with attribution, under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Social Media and the Believer

Concern was expressed about the use of social media websites. It is dangerous to our faith to seek answers about religion and faith from this type of media. These sites answer to our flesh and mind, but not our faith.
—Laestadian Lutheran Church annual meeting minutes, 2011
This as-yet-unpublished newsletter article discusses issues my old fundamentalist church is encountering with social media. Be sure to read my comments that follow the article at the bottom of this posting.

During these last days, the enemy is constantly developing new ways to ensnare God’s Children. He is a cunning adversary who knows how to enlist all the latest technology for his cause, and believers must guard against his tricks. “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

It is perhaps easier to be wary against an enemy who announces himself as a roaring lion. Overt temptations like loud music or obscene television shows are easy to recognize as sin and perils to the life of faith. But now, as he did at the very beginning in the Garden of Eden, the enemy is also enticing believers in a sly manner.

Modern Dangers

One of the tempter’s new tricks is social media. There, under the guise of “friendliness” and “acceptance,” he can lure a Child of God into many snares. The Apostle warned against unequal yoking with unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14), but in today’s computer-connected society, that happens all the time. Unbelieving Facebook “friends” are easily accumulated and interacted with on a daily basis, to the point where the appeal of wholesome believing companionship is diminished. Even at gatherings of the youth, contact with unbelievers through smartphones can be a constant distraction.

Believers see all the world’s foreign customs and sinful lifestyles online, and even indicate acceptance of them with “likes” and careless “tolerant” comments. We can be drawn into discussions about matters of faith where man’s carnal reasoning can easily lead us astray. We can be tempted to join those who criticize the leaders that God has established for our earthly government. All of this brings sorrow to the heart of the Heavenly Father. “Do all things without murmurings and disputings: That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:14).

God’s Kingdom does not have a set of rules or “dos and don’ts,” about behavior online or anywhere else. But the Internet is certainly a place of watching. We should heed the voice of the Mother when she warns about the dangers online and with social media in particular.

Friendship with the World

We may ask ourselves how important our unbelieving “friends” have become to us. Would the number of unbelievers in our Facebook “friends list” or those we “follow” on Twitter be a cause for concern? “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you” (2 Corinthians 6:17).

In our time, the Internet has amplified the criticisms of those who would rise up against God’s Kingdom. Are we helping to provide a forum for their bitterness by reading their posts or tweets? “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful” (Psalm 1:1). Even counting such vocal critics among our “friends” can raise questions and trouble tender consciences.

Certainly we maintain work and family relationships with some of those who have not been granted the gift of living faith. It is not practical to only have contact with believers, online or elsewhere. We are in the world, though not of it (John 15:19). However, we must be cautious in this matter. The Bible warns, “know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (James 4:4). The easy interaction between believer and unbeliever that social media now permits should not change what has been long established by God’s Word.

Letting Our Light Shine Online

One of the dangers with “friendship of the world” is the temptation to accept incorrect and sinful beliefs and lifestyles. Today’s society encourages an anything-goes attitude of “tolerance,” but God’s Word has always taught differently. The Old Covenant believers were instructed to let their light shine very clearly about the dead faiths of this world:

If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers; Namely, of the gods of the people which are round about you, nigh unto thee, or far off from thee, from the one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth; Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him: But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. [Deuteronomy 13:6-9]

God’s Word is unchanging and eternal, and not subject to the whims of man’s desires. We see this with Jesus’ instructions about the priority of living faith versus even family members and our own lives: “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).

Faith is the most important matter, and we cannot afford to diminish this precious gift by indicating that other beliefs or sinful practices are somehow acceptable in the eyes of the Heavenly Father. “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:2).

What message does it send when we “like” a posting or quotation by a spiritual leader who walks in darkness outside God’s Kingdom, or join in approval with any part of the world’s empty philosophies? “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ” (Colossians 2:8).

Not Even the Appearance of Evil

The Apostle admonished the believers of Thessalonica to “abstain from all appearance of evil.” In a time when we can be seen as accepting evil with no more than the careless click of a “like” icon, we must soberly heed Paul’s warning.

Are we “liking” a photo that shows inappropriate physical contact for a courting couple? Are we joining in the world’s approval of those in sinful relationships outside the bounds of Christian marriage? Should we offer congratulations on the engagement of one who recently rejected the gift of living faith to marry an unbeliever? It is also good to remember that remarriage cannot be condoned when either member of a couple has divorced from another (Mark 10:11).

The enemy seeks to trick us into becoming lenient and overly accepting of lifestyles and worldly pursuits that are foreign to the life of a believer. It can seem innocent and appealing to offer kind comments or “likes” on posted photographs of young people in dance uniforms or engaged in school sporting events. But such messages of approval are confusing to the world and other believers when we could not in good conscience engage in those activities ourselves.

In addition, when a child of God “likes” a photo of a young man with long hair or a young woman wearing earrings, make-up, or skimpy clothing, it can be seen as an implied endorsement. The matter is of particular concern when it comes to photos of those who once traveled with the believers but have been lured into the enticements of sin, including worldly fashion. The messages from God’s children should not give false comfort to those who have left the Father’s house, but with unity should remind them of the need to come unto repentance.

Escorts on the Journey

As with any aspect of our life of faith, we so easily stumble in our behavior online. The Heavenly Father has not forgotten us in these last days, but has provided escorts on the journey to point out these modern dangers and offer the forgiveness of sins when we fall. They do not want to just say, like Cain, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”, but wish to help us on the way to Heaven. Sometimes that loving work requires our brothers and sisters in faith to notice our errors in cases where we do not.

This should not be seen as intrusive or “creepy,” but God’s loving care done through His Kingdom. During the Old Covenant, He instructed Moses, “Send thou men, that they may search the land of Canaan” (Numbers 13:1). Moses was obedient to this mission, selecting a man from each of the twelve tribes. “And Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan” (Numbers 13:17). In our time, it is sometimes necessary for God’s servants to perform similar missions in the “land of Canaan,” which the enemy has brought so close to believers through social media.

Our carnal pride is so easily bruised, but we should not be offended when a believing family member, friend, or elder gently rebukes us for some careless comment or “like” made on a social media site. “My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth” (Hebrews 12:5). The grace fountains are flowing even today in Zion. Through childlike obedience and unity with God’s Children, we shall one day reach that homeland shore in Heaven.

———

Important disclaimer and commentary:

As you’ve probably gathered from the posting date of the above “article,” none of this was actually written for any church newsletter. (The epigraph really is from the 2011 annual meeting minutes, though, reporting a comment by a delegate.) It is “as-yet unpublished,” and always will be, because it’s a parody I wrote in honor of the holiday.

I don’t believe any of this stuff anymore. Neither, I suspect, do a substantial portion of those who still show up in the pews of my old church week after week due to the immense social cost of leaving. But that doesn’t mean I don’t still know how to speak and write fluent Laestadian.

The first four decades of my life were spent in this fundamentalist sect with its obsession about hundreds of “sins,” most of which have no biblical basis, and its exalted self-designation as “God’s Kingdom,” i.e., the one and only true church. My brain is full of deep-seated neuronal connections programmed with the language of Laestadianism, like those of ex-Pentecostals who can still speak in tongues.

One way that formerly religious people like myself apply this otherwise useless programming is to help others stuck in the same situation we were once in. That can take on many different forms. Sometimes it’s a one-to-one effort, serving as an understanding voice on the other end of the phone, chat connection, or email correspondence. On a broader scale, there are talented ex-Christians airing their voices with entertaining and informative podcasts like The Thinking Atheist and A Matter of Doubt. Some of us write books and blogs with critical analysis of our former beliefs, much to the annoyance of those trying to propagate those doctrines without inconvenient questions being raised.

And sometimes our self-expression involves a bit of humor to lighten things for those struggling in repressive belief systems, as with this “article” of mine. Now, I will readily acknowledge that a few parts of it are a bit over the top—that’s what makes something parody and not mere imitation. For one thing, Laestadians use the Old Testament very selectively, and few would cite any of its countless outrages like the business about killing infidel spouses in Deuteronomy 13. (Read the whole chapter; it gets worse.) But they claim that it is all part of God’s unchanging, inerrant Word, and are happy to cite favorite snippets of it when warning that you’d better not be using birth control or hunting on a Sunday.

Another stretch was defending the activities of overzealous “like police” on Facebook (sadly, there are individuals behaving that way) by relating it to the spies who gathered intel for a God with amusingly limited awareness in Numbers 13. Laestadian preaching has gotten less fanciful about its allegories, although there was plenty of imaginative material along those lines decades ago. And Laestadian preachers are definitely still trying to fend off rational inquiry by comparing it to the sales pitch of a certain fruit-peddling reptile in a (mythical) garden ages ago.

Parody pushes the boundaries, just a little in this case, to make a serious statement. And my point is directed to those who would be most offended by this April 1 posting, few of whom will ever see it. Ironically, they are the people most likely to actually say or write something just like it. (Think about that!) To them I would ask, do you really believe this stuff when it shows up, for real, in the Voice of Zion? If you find my version of it upsetting or outrageous, why so? If you want to provide me with specific corrections or distinctions, I’ll be happy to append them here. But I won’t be holding my breath waiting.

To the rest of my former brethren who are just being decent, friendly people and interacting with the rest of us in humanity, keep on being the wonderful people that you are. You’re better than the dreary sermons, groupthink “discussions,” and conformist practices that the authoritarians in your religion try so much to impose on you.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Elevating the Enemy

When the Holy Spirit which speaks through the mouth of the Christians makes the devil that lives in the hearts of the unbelievers restless he becomes fierce. Now he comes out of their mouth with hide and hair. He puts them to gnash their teeth because of hate. He becomes so wroth that he thirsts after the blood of Christians.
—Lars Levi Laestadius, Pentecost Morning sermon (1852)
The Enemy of Souls, a star character in fundamentalist drama.

Peter Herriot begins his excellent textbook, Religious Fundamentalism: Global, Local and Personal by describing fundamentalism as having four distinctive features. The first and most basic of these, he says, is that fundamentalist movements are reactive. “Fundamentalists believe that their religion is under mortal threat from the secularism of the modern world, and they are fighting back. They may resist in different ways, but they are all essentially oppositional; they have to have an enemy” (p. 2).1

The Enemy was certainly a prominent figure in the opening sermon given by the chairman of my old church during its annual Winter Services last month, getting mentioned about as many times as God and Jesus did.

We feel the pressures from the world, and we feel the attacks and even criticisms from this world. We also experience how the enemy works to sow his seeds in the midst of God’s children. [10:55-11:18]

And though we experience in these times that we are now living in the deceitfulness of the enemy—we have experienced that he has deceived those who have fallen away from faith and he certainly continues to deceive those that are in this world—but despite this, haven’t we felt this, dear brothers and sisters, how God has granted to us unity of spirit, unity of faith in his kingdom? [12:02-12:44]

We know that we cannot possibly try to answer all of the enemy’s criticisms or attacks that he might make against God’s Kingdom. But instead it is important for us to do the work of the gospel and to confess our faith. We want to hold this as most important for us, that we could remain in the unity of spirit and faith with God’s children. [13:25-14:00]

You can see another thematic element in these quotes, too. It’s one that’s taking on a great deal of importance in Laestadian sermons, as believers peek here and there on the Internet for information and are increasingly thinking for themselves about issues: unity. Never mind the “whole armor of God” (Eph. 6:11): The Church is constructing Fortress Unity to guard believers from the perils that arise in their own individual brains.

Assault on Fortress Unity

Jesus prayed for unity with the Father, said the chairman, adding that his Laestadian listeners have a similar prayer:

Hasn’t it been your prayer, dear brothers and sisters, that, because you know your weak understanding and your weak faith and how the enemy attacks you, hasn’t it been your prayer to God that he could keep you a weak traveler in the unity of his kingdom, that he could keep you in the way of faith, guide you with that light that is found in his word and through the gospel give you strength to put away sin and continue to take footsteps of faith. [14:14-14:50]

Thus, he said, believers pray that God will preserve them in (guess what!) unity of spirit, faith, and understanding. And the work of the Kingdom continues, indeed is growing, “despite the efforts of the enemy” (15:05-15:25).

The Anti-Trinity

Now, who exactly is this enemy he keeps going on about? Over the years, the preachers have provided some imaginative descriptions of him. He knows the end is nigh (at least he did in the 70s and 80s), and whispers temptations and doubts in believers’ ears. According to one prominent Laestadian preacher’s statement (I am not making this up), the enemy even bears responsibility for putting television content on the Internet. This was done for the sole purpose of drawing Conservative Laestadians away from the faith, since they decided early on to reject TV itself.

This all sounds like they’re just talking about the guy with horns. But there’s more to the enemy than just the Hoofed One.

With some grounding in Luther’s teachings, Laestadian theology posits a demonic antithesis to the Holy Trinity, a “threefold enemy” comprised of, as the sermons frequently phrase it, “the world, the devil, and our own flesh.”2 Those perilous brains of ours are the third part of this anti-Trinity. Also last month, in Menagha, MN, another preacher from the Laestadian Lutheran Church (LLC) made that woefully clear in this impassioned address to his listeners, whom he assured are indeed

the elect of God. You have been given this gift of faith, this gift which we treasure today, this gift which we do not want to give up. We want to protect this treasure in our hearts so that the enemy, through the deceitfulness of even our mind…

“…would not take it away,” he meant to finish, presumably. But, as often happens with these unscripted, extemporanous sermons, he jumped midstream to a different thought. It is a lament about the questioning nature of human minds, his own included:

How is it, dear brothers and sisters? Do you some of you with me sometimes wonder and sometimes question even this, “Why is it that I, among the millions in this world have been chosen to be a child of God?” If we begin to examine and question these things, we will pretty soon be lost in our own thoughts, and we can be led astray so that we can no longer believe. Is our carnal mind, this mind of flesh, close to us? Does it question God’s word? Does it sometimes ask you, dear young boys and girls, when you hear instruction from God’s Kingdom through the Holy Spirit, does your mind tell you, “Is that really how we believe? Is that really what God’s Word teaches us?” So is our carnal mind, it is emnity, it is an enemy before God. If we allow our mind to begin to work, we lose, quickly, living faith. [47:10-48:50]

What a sad commentary on the intellectual wasteland that fundamentalism needs as its sole habitat, where no lush greenery of rational thought can crowd it out. If we allow our mind to begin to work, we quickly lose living faith. These preachers get all touchy about “mocking” and “ridicule,” but their own words mock themselves.

The World

We must not forget the third part of the anti-Trinity, which is also battling it out with these beleaguered believers: the world. It’s quite a formidable foe, encompassing about 99.998% of humanity with all its culture—including some great TV shows and music. The world is the Other, everybody and everything residing outside each fundamentalist sect’s own high-walled little ghetto.

Fundamentalism, says Herriot, “is always hostile to an Other, whom it perceives as threatening.” Indeed, “it defines itself by that opposition; it depends upon the Other’s existence for its own raison d’étre” (p. 9). In addition to what fundamentalists themselves say about the nature of their enemy, we must “search for the origins of their reactionary fervour within our own understanding of its social and psychological context.” And that context, according to Herriot, “is the modernising world” (p. 9).

In this 21st century, with the Internet polluting Christian homes with sinful videos, music, and clear-headed discussions about religion, the world has become a distressingly visible and tangible front-line force on the fundamentalist battlefield. Satan is just over the hill, watching things from afar. The “our own flesh” part of the threefold enemy lurks hidden inside believers’ minds—rendered spiritually schizophrenic by their church—tormenting them with whispered critical thoughts that sound an awful lot like their own voices. But the world is just outside the church door, surrounding the camp of the saints.

From the Voice of Zion, June/July
2013. Aw, shucks, guys…

Just as the lowest form of enemy combatant is the traitor from your own ranks, the worst kind of worldly person in fundamentalism’s view is the former believer. It’s understandable for several reasons: The apostate has proven himself disloyal to the tribe, ungrateful for the precious gift he’s rejected. And as my friend Robert M. Price writes in The Reason-Driven Life, “When and if born-again Christians discover someone who has actually been where they are and left, it is a terrible threat to their faith” (p. 335).3 And that’s just from their mere existence as happy unbelievers, without saying a word.

It’s much worse if you dare to actually speak out. I know many former Laestadians who guard what they say about the faith nearly as much as they did while in it, to preserve delicate relationships with believing family and those friends who stick with them. I haven’t been so quiet, of course, because the church’s attempt to suppress my research about its history and doctrines was one of the things that I could not abide. After defying the church and publishing a book with that research—one that critically examines not just Laestadianism, but also Christianity, the Bible, and the idea of God itself—I became Public Enemy #1 in the LLC.

Just over two years ago, on the second Sunday after publication of An Examination of the Pearl, a senior pastor in the LLC lamented the “many” in our time “who challenge the authority of God’s word, even those who have once dwelt in God’s Kingdom, who have once tasted of the sweetness of the gospel of God’s Kingdom, who have once themselves possessed the spirit of God in their hearts.” Alas, they have gone into darkness (20:00-20:54).

What the Enemy (at least in the view of many LLC members) really looks like.  [Flickr page]

His remarks are so revealing about fundamentalism’s essential insecurity that I must quote them at length. (I would also prefer to avoid hearing the tiresome accusation of “quoting out of context.”) Note how the enemy is embodied in two forms here: the newly minted worldly person, and the “enemy of souls” who seems to be orchestrating it all in the background:

And it seems that often with people who have left God’s Kingdom, there are those that leave that cannot believe, the enemy of souls has deceived them, perhaps in their hearts they would want to return and want to again receive the gospel but the enemy of soul has put such obstacles before them that they are not able to return to the father’s house. But yet they remember the father’s house at times with fondness, they remember that there they had the light of Christ, there the spirit of God dwelt and the light shone in that father’s house in which they previously dwelt. [20:54-22:00]

Those people aren’t quite so bad. They have been deceived by the enemy, but at least they aren’t trying to cause trouble. However,

then there are also those who leave and very bitterly attack God’s Kingdom. They somehow are not satisfied with their own decision, to that degree that they find it necessary to attack, to speak bitterly, even lies, about the children of God. And we see how, when the spirit leaves, there is no longer light. It is as if, in a natural sense, the light bulb is disconnected from the source of the light—the lights go out. And so it is when someone rejects God’s Kingdom, when they leave the father’s house. It’s amazing, even astonishing sometimes to note, how dark, dark, darkness sets in, and even understanding that you would think that someone would yet retain—having grown up in God’s Kingdom, in the father’s house—how that understanding becomes so dim and the lights truly go out. [22:00-24:03]

The pastor attempts a little long-distance psychology, speculating that

sometimes when people leave God’s Kingdom, it seems as if they are still bothered by the fact that there are those that believe in such a way, and it almost becomes a personal agenda to convince others how wrongly they are believing. And it seems in some sense that they are not content to simply leave but need to also criticize and blacken the name of the children of God. [24:03-25:06]

This is all to be expected, the pastor consoles his listeners. Jesus “experienced the ridicule of his own people. And we who are the followers of Jesus have this same portion that we are ridiculed and despised for his name’s sake” (25:10-25:38). At least he also cited Jesus’ example of “loving our enemies, doing good to those that despise you, continuing to show love even for those who have left the father’s house and ridicule the father’s house. We want to show love and pray for them, that they would return again to the father’s house where there is food and drink” (26:00-26:50).

After all, he mused, those apostates might eventually come back. (I seriously doubt the pastor would entertain that possibility for me anymore.) Those on the outside have only

their own mind and their own strength. But when their own strength begins to crumble… and God has his ways also of speaking to man, for example through illness. Sometimes someone that is very sure of themselves when they are well, and doing well, and successful—they don’t need anything, they don’t need God. But then in moments of distress, when the foundations that man has lain begin to crumble—we think of the matter of health, we have very little control of what happens to us in our life with regard to health. [28:00-29:05]

Passive-aggressive theology: It’s what you do, I suppose, when confronted by hundreds of pages of criticisms to which you cannot provide any substantive response.

Keeping Score

To conclude this essay about the enemy, let’s return briefly to that opening sermon. The work is precious, the LLC chairman said. It’s all being done for believers and also those who would find a gracious God in this world. “And so, despite the enemy’s best efforts, God continues to bless and guide his work and the work continues to grow” (16:50-17:00).

He recalled Christianity’s favorite apostle (really, its founder), Paul, who

in his time also experienced the attacks of the enemy, many difficulties, yet he said in his letter to the Romans, “What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?” [19:55-20:10]

This rhetorical question brings out a scoreboard, and that’s not something Laestadianism really should want to be doing. The results are not flattering.

Out of the seven billion people on earth, all the enemy hasn’t managed to snatch up are the children (who most everyone claims are innocent or saved somehow), the mentally incompetent, and the true believers among a hundred thousand or so Conservative Laestadians. The way things are going in the SRK (American Laestadianism’s Finnish counterpart), he’s making pretty good inroads there, too.

“The work” has been a spectacular failure by any objective measure. Only a few million out of those seven billion are even aware of this sect claiming to be “God’s Kingdom.” Of those, a tiny fraction show any interest in converting to it. And, from the experience of recent years anyway, most of those few converts wind up leaving sooner or later, as have a number of us who became Laestadians the usual way, in the maternity ward.4

And none of this says anything about the actual issues with Laestadianism, or fundamentalism, or Christianity in general. They are devastating to the faith, and too numerous to even mention. A link to my 95 Theses page should suffice for anyone who dares to begin that difficult journey down the road to honesty.

These are harsh realities for believers to consider. Their preachers have drawn up battle lines against a non-existent enemy, in a war that they have utterly, obviously, and embarassingly lost.

But there is good news, a consolation of sorts: Except for a few of us whose lives have been impacted by half a lifetime in the faith, and who are in a position to say what few others can or will, nobody but believers and anguished doubters is really interested in this fight. Live your lives, worship who or what you want, and go over to visit your old friends who have left the church for dinner sometime. You will find that they are still people, just like you, and that your preachers’ war trumpets are simply not being heard outside the sanctuary walls.

———
Click on images to enlarge, as usual. The Satan-and-church image is derived from a combination of my own photo of an old country church and a portrait of Satan, one of several done by a Flickr user named “Spud-Ography” and offered under a CC-NC-SA license. For the brains-against-fort image, I combined this fine photo by Ahmad Ali, available under the generic CC license, of Fortress Qaitbay in Alexandria, Egypt with copies of a brain picture from the NTNU Faculty of Medicine, CC-NC licensed.

Notes


  1. Peter Herriot, Religious Fundamentalism: Global, Local and Personal, Taylor & Francis (2009). You can rent it on the Amazon Kindle for under $6. 

  2. See An Examination of the Pearl, §4.4.6 

  3. Robert M. Price, The Reason-Driven Life. Prometheus Books (2006). One of the finest books I’ve ever read; every page sings with inspiration. 

  4. These two paragraphs are adapted from An Examination of the Pearl, §4.4.6 and §4.5.1