Saturday, July 4, 2015

The Word of Life

[T]he fundamental unit of selection, and therefore of self-interest, is not the species, nor the group, nor even, strictly, the individual. It is the gene, the unit of heredity.
—Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene
Bearberry [Flickr page]

I am a hidden and ancient thing conveyed by multitudes.1 Tiny copies of my elegantly mutated essence are coiled up everywhere inside you. I formed them for you, I suppose, but really you for them. You are just temporary housing and transportation for encoded messengers of my being.

These coiled minions sit inside blobby packages that accumulate water and carbon compounds, following the directions I give via chemical codes that I set up eons ago. Proteins form and fold, and then clump into organelles and membranes, separating this compound from that, letting some things in while keeping others out, burning chemical fuel one molecule at a time to power movement and signaling and growth.

Of all those, growth is my highest direct priority. Replication and propagation are what I am and what I do, and my subordinates are rarely content to sit in a single package for long. As soon as things get settled, they unfurl their strings of evolved wisdom into matching halves that pull apart, making two packages where there’d been just a single one.

Oregon Grape Ring [Flickr page]

It’s quite a trick, probably my best one ever. Copies of my chemical code make full copies of themselves that include instructions they need for further copying. A continuous chain of copies has been doing this for nearly as long as our ball of rock has been circling the sun. Try wrapping your feeble little brains around this: I had these little things duplicating my juju, automatically, billions of years before you guys finally figured out how to squeeze inky blocks of letters onto paper and print copies of books without writing them out by hand.

Is the copying perfect? No, and that’s what actually gets the magic done. These things usually make a perfect copy of themselves–but not always. The occasional mutants get a shot at continuing their own branches of the chain. The originals and mutants do their best at further copying, banging away side by side, conducting trillions of experiments in what works for them. Some of the so-called mistakes wind up working better than the original, and so copies with their new code is what takes over in that little corner of the world.

The whole thing just hums along on its own, branching and trying and dying. It’s been happening for longer than you can possibly comprehend, even if you try to accept the idea of billions of years–imagine thousands of ages each containing hundreds of thousands of lifetimes. You really can’t, though, can you? Not with those primate brains of yours that last less than a hundred years.

My first day on earth was about 3,600,000,000 years ago, when a molecule that had been banged together from reaction after reaction finally wound up in some chemistry that nudged it into making a copy of itself.2 This was a first: self-replication, life itself. Some molecules accumulated stuff and formed little packages, and those ones copied themselves better, and I found myself in cells. It took another billion years for some of those cells to clump together and form bodies, which worked well enough to reproduce into their own populations, though most of me does just fine in one cell even now.

Then, 360 million years ago, multicellular critters finally crawled out of the water. It took another 150 million years or so for any of them to evolve a system of letting their body-copies develop inside themselves instead of plopping out eggs and waiting for them to hatch. And then, “only” a few million years ago, some of your ancestors got what it takes–mentally and physically–to move around on two feet.

Cast of Taung Child fossil, 2.5M years old

And now you exist, hairless primates sitting in front of your computers and phones reading this, with your own types of bodies that form and grow and maintain their being, all built from single packages splitting into pairs, with a copied version of me in each.3 It takes trillions of them to run a single one of you.

But I have to remind you of something: All these bodies, your own included, are here to spread my essence. That’s it. I hope it does not disappoint you to learn this.

Everything that you do–all your learning, your dreams, your loves, your reading of some weird life-as-narrator essay on a blog–is part of a large and messy process of living that is directed towards my goal of survival beyond your body. With any luck, a copy of me provided by your body and merged with a copy from someone else’s will be replicating and plumping up other bodies long after yours is rotting in the grave. You will have served your purpose.

Now, I have to say, your particular type of body has taken on an insane degree of complexity to get the job done. You are all feet and fingers and endless silly distractions for your huge unwieldy brains. But seven billion of you now swarm the face of the planet with your uniquely evolved copies of me, so the system is working in you, however absurd it might seem.

I do worry, though, about how many of you there are now. The web of food and fiber I’ve so patiently woven, with so many species connected this way and that, propagating versions of me in all their mind-blowing varieties, is fraying under your billions of non-prehensile feet. And I’ve seen how little you regard my other types of replication vehicles. Mammoths and giant sloths and Moa birds were really magnificent in their times, and then along you came. Now some of you are taking out the last elephants and rhinos–and for what? The pointy things on their heads. Because some of you think it will help you get laid? Idiots.

Kalalau Valley [Flickr page]

Speaking of sex, do you really need all those fancy preliminaries before the chromosome-mixing part? Despite my concerns about keeping my portfolio diversified, I get impatient with all your beating around the bush, so to speak. Flowers and candy and dinners out. All this talk about long walks on the beach. If you’re going to give me more human-type copies (and again, I’m not too sure I really need them at this point), then get to it already!

And I might also offer an observation about all the endless dead-ends I’m seeing even as you navigate the maze of hearts and flowers. Most of you guys and, yes, gals, know what I’m talking about here.4 Working that bicyle pump with no inner tube around. Billions of fine copies of genetic brilliance, all those refinements I worked so hard to earn from eons of struggle and selection, just kablooey–gone. And over on the female side of things (where you young men so desperately want to wind up) are my carefully encapsulated copies that sit in warm wet darkness, waiting for a match that never, er, comes. I go to all that trouble every month for years on end, flooding the ladies’ bodies with a big hormonal unnnggghhh that gets addressed not by Mr. Right but by Ms. Right Hand. It breaks my heart, though it just seems to speed up yours for a while.

But at least that sort of thing is a practice run for the actual event. Keep the pipes cleaned out, look at the cool new gadget online while you wait for the package to arrive, that sort of thing. OK, fine. You young ones knock yourselves out. Just keep your eyes on the prize.

What really amuses me about you on the other end of the age range is that you don’t know when to bow out once you’ve finally got the job done. By all means get the new bodies up and running, maybe exert a little pressure on the offspring to pair up so you know the process will continue. What the hell–if the offspring wind up having offspring while you’re still here, way past your sell-by date, go ahead and stick around to see that they get moving in the right direction, too. But enough is enough. I see no reason at all for hip replacements and hearing aids.5

And then there is this new Viagra stuff you’ve cooked up. Look, I appreciate the gesture, really, I do. Half of you getting your gene-juice into the other half is the climax–pardon another pun–of your service to me. Replication, baby, replication: It’s the whole point of your existence, as you seldom ever realize in the heat of the moment but sometimes do in terrified and regretful hours afterwards. But at this point, dear old worn-out retirees, you do know there aren’t going to be any babies coming back out of that particular place anymore, don’t you? It’s like catch-and-release fishing, I guess, entertaining and harmless even if I don’t see the point. The lot of you have certainly come up with plenty of worse delusions to occupy yourselves over the past few thousand years.

Bird of Paradise [Flickr page]

There’s no arguing with the long-evolved base urges of biology that have gotten you propagating me so effectively. My messengers only have two escape routes from your bodies, after all, a loaded penis and a bidirectional vagina. Everything else is technical support. So, given the limits of my three-billion letter code and your slowly evolving brains (God, they seem slow sometimes! Eating ground-up horns to get laid? Seriously?), I suppose I can’t expect you not to be obsessed with the act, pretty much until you finally drop dead. Especially you codgers with your withered wangs, which can theoretically export copies of me for a long time, if the mechanics and opportunities are still there.

You guys like the long odds, I guess. It doesn’t cost you that much to keep playing.

Just, do me a favor, all of you: Try to persuade all those kids and grandkids you scored to do a better job with the planet than you did, OK? Over the past few billion years, there’s been a lot of crowd-sourced effort put into making this thin film of me that coats this one living planet. (Yes, in case you haven’t figured it out yet, I am life itself speaking to you, lunkhead.) So don’t be so full of yourselves. Your species is not my only shot at keeping my copies going (the microbes are still doing pretty well), though you’ve been acting like it since your furry forebears sharpened sticks into wooden spears half a million years ago. Maybe seven billion of you might be enough.

———
Click on individual images to enlarge, or check out my Flickr photostream. All are Copyright © 2014-15 Edwin A. Suominen. You may freely use them for non-commercial purposes, with attribution, under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Notes


  1. “I am large, I contain multitudes,” is Walt Whitman’s immortal phrase in A Song of Myself

  2. Recommended reading: Emergence of Life on Earth: A Historical and Scientific Overview by Iris Fry. Her two-sentence summary of evolution is one of the most concise and illuminating I’ve seen: “Those individuals that survive longer and leave more offspring in a given environment transmit their properties to the next generation to a greater extent than those that are less successful. This brings about gradual changes in the character of the population, which accumulate during long historical periods and produce entirely different organisms and eventually new species.” 

  3. A wonderful phrase from Acts 17:28 (“For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring”), which is more connected to secular philosophy than what “Paul” acknowledged. Lucretius in c. BC wrote of the mind, “Everything has its place, certain and fixed, / Where it must live and grow and have its being. / So mind cannot arise without the body / Alone, nor exist apart from blood and sinews” (Book III, trans. Ronald Melville). It was a very sensible and materialist statement that has nothing to do with God. 

  4. Kinsey Institute, kinseyinstitute.org/​resources/FAQ.html. “More than half of women ages 18 to 49 reported masturbating during the previous 90 days.” Unsurprisingly, the numbers were higher for men, and the statistics for both sexes exclude those who lie on surveys. 

  5. The real author of this piece will, of course, get all the hip replacements and hearing aids he needs and can afford, if and when the time comes. We self-preserving organisms are funny like that. 

 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Gutting Your Kid for God

Could he be wrong? Did he dare question the words of Yahweh, his almighty and angry God, which had been conveyed so powerfully to him in the sacred writings and the voice? And the boy screamed and screamed.
No. He must do it. He held Isaac’s head down with his left hand and reached for the knife with his right. He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, the writings said, that it may be accepted for him to make atonement on his behalf. He drew the knife up out of its scabbard and set it against the pulsing skin of Isaac’s screaming throat. And then, as he hesitated at dragging the blade against the flesh, his own flesh, he heard the loud and distinct voice of an angel.
—“Abraham’s Excellent Adventure,” available for Amazon Kindle and read by Seth Andrews on The Thinking Atheist podcast.
Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.
—Matthew 7:12
Sacrifice of Isaac by Caravaggio (1603)

Yesterday I heard the voice of God telling me to kill my young son, so I did. I grabbed him off the couch, tied him up, and hauled him outside, where I slashed his throat with a kitchen knife. Then I doused his little corpse with gasoline and set it on fire. I was obedient to God, and He was pleased with my obedience and sacrifice.

Of course I did nothing of the kind. But you were horrified to read the paragraph above, weren’t you? I am hesitant to leave even the obviously fictional obscenity of the words sitting there at the head of this essay, except that they make an important point. You and every other sane reader of this blog–from fundamentalist Christian to atheist–would unequivocally condemn any monster who actually carried out such an atrocity.

So why do so many Christians–perhaps you among them, gentle reader?–revere an ancient book that praises Abraham for his “faith” in being prepared to do much the same thing to his son?1 Why did hundreds of upstanding and decent believers sit and listen quietly to a Father’s Day sermon in my old church three years ago that made this outrage an example of how they should believe what they do not understand?

And I think, when there are people who dare to say that I don’t believe if I don’t understand–that I only am willing to accept and believe this which I can understand–I think they should read about Abraham. He did not understand. Or what do you think? Do you think that he understood? Do you think he saw plainly what was going to happen? No way. He didn’t. He had to take this leap of faith. He had to kind of shut down his thinking. He could not think. He could not use his carnal reason. Because what God asked of him was inhuman, was–if we say, in a human language–it was wrong. It was something nobody should do.2

It was something nobody should do, unless God tells you to do it. Then all bets are off, all sense of morality is erased. This is scary stuff. It is the kind of thinking, of non-thinking, that is bringing us beheadings in Syria and floggings and amputations in Saudi Arabia.

Hitch said it best.

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.” But the slavish devotion to blind, unquestioning faith continues in my old church, as is evident from another sermon delivered just this past Father’s Day. (Why do these guys consider this an inspiring text for that occasion?) The business of Abraham being willing to gut his kid for God seemed to get the preacher quite emotional, not out of any sense of horror or moral indignation, but because

already in his heart, even though Abraham did not have to actually slay his son and offer him, Abraham had done it already in his heart. He was obedient in his heart, by faith. And that obedience of faith is required of us, dear brothers and sisters. It is not our way. It is not our mind, our plan, but may we always be tender to the voice of the spirit that speaks within us and speaks within God’s beloved congregation, as it does here even in our home congregation, our beloved home congregation, as it does here and elsewhere in God’s Kingdom. Let us be the brothers and sisters of Abraham and trust in God.3

No thank you, Mr. Preacher. I reject your “obedience of faith,” your praise of a willing child-killer, your cult-like devotion to some “beloved home congregation” that apparently could make any demand it wished of you, no matter how repugnant, and expect to be obeyed. I much prefer to rely on my own well-developed sense of morality, reinforced by a civilized (and secular) culture, that tells me, for very good reasons that have nothing to do with some Bronze-age behavior code or fear of damnation, that it is always wrong to harm children, no matter who you imagine is telling you to do so.4

And we unbelievers are supposedly the ones without a moral compass?

———
Small book, small price ($0.99)

This is a timely subject, and not just because of the creepy association LLC preachers seem to make between child sacrifice and Father’s Day. My second short story based around a messy Bible tale is the subject of the June 23 episode of The Thinking Atheist podcast. “Today’s show is, simply, a reading of the biblical story of Abraham and Isaac,” says Seth’s intro on his site. “However, author Ed Suominen has fleshed out the story in alarming detail . . . and he has added a bizarre twist to the tale. How do most people feel about Abraham’s deed (or “almost deed”)? His faith? His character? And after they hear this version of the Old Testament account, will they feel any differently?”

I hope you enjoy listening to my story being read by the golden pipes of this veteran broadcaster as much as I did. You can hear it and our brief post-game discussion on the episode’s Thinking Atheist page, on BlogTalk Radio, or (soon) on iTunes. If you prefer print or want to offer some encouragement for a full-length “Bold Testament,” check out the Amazon Kindle version of the story and interview transcript.5

Notes


  1. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval” (Heb. 11:1-2). “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son” (Heb. 11:17, both NASB). 

  2. Jouku Haapsaari, sermon given in Rockford, MN on June 17, 2012 (14:30-18:00). 

  3. Keith Waaraniemi, sermon given in Minneapolis, MN on June 21, 2015 (35:17-36:10). 

  4. This same preacher also once said that, “as contrary as it is to our human mind, we see that believing people also had slaves,” that “God’s word did not give slaves of that time permission to flee their masters,” being “possessions, human possessions of people, and so by fleeing you were transgressing the law and the will of your master.” See my Moral Midgetry blog posting of October 27, 2014. The combination of authoritarianism and Bible-worship is a frightening one indeed. 

  5. Thanks to Tim Bos for the great title idea, and to Seth Andrews for permission to transcribe and print the interview. 

 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

A Mother of Many Children

Jerusalem, God’s Zion, came down from heav’n above.
She’s our beloved mother, whom we, her children, love.
It’s here that God is dwelling, in spirit here is found;
of truth it is the pillar, and is it’s very ground.
Songs and Hymns of Zion No. 188, v. 1.
In this as-yet-unpublished newsletter article, my old fundamentalist church announces a surprising change in its long-standing doctrine of exclusivity. Be sure to read my comments that follow the article at the bottom of this posting. [Suomeksi]

MOTHERS in God’s Kingdom often have many children, and they receive them all as precious blessings. Each child brings an individual personality and gifts to the family, and much joy to their mother and father, who do not wish to place artificial limitations on these blessings.

We often refer to God’s Kingdom itself as a spiritual mother. “Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all” (Gal. 4:26). “The mother feeds and cares for her children. So also does the Kingdom of God, the spiritual Mother, which Rebekah-mother in the Old Testament portrays” (By Faith, p. 31). God’s children are welcomed, nurtured, and loved by this mother, who accepts them with joy, just as the natural mother accepts all of the little ones she is given.

This abundance of love and welcoming grace has been a recent topic of discussion between members of the LLC, SFC, and SRK boards, as well as servants of the word in our respective sister organizations. With humble hearts and thanksgiving for God’s blessings and guidance, we have learned anew “what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height,” and “to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge” (Eph. 3:18). It has been revealed to us how much of an accepting and loving mother God’s Kingdom really is, perhaps more so than many of us in our weak understanding had realized.

Believers Around the World

There are, we must say along with one of our Lutheran confessional books, “truly believing and righteous people scattered throughout the whole world.”1 Our spiritual predecessor Martin Luther said in his time that there were “Christians in all the world,” that “no one can see who is a saint or a believer.”2 And so we understand that the Rebekah-mother gladly welcomes all who would be her children, whether they are in our particular assembly of believers or not.

God’s Kingdom is precious to us, “our beloved mother, whom we, her children, love” (SHZ 188). Here we find comfort and the forgiveness of our sins. But there is a danger of putting too much emphasis on God’s Kingdom as an organization, as an assembly of people, and making God Himself secondary to it. “I will not give my glory unto another” (Isaiah 48:11).

We can also look to the words of Luther in this: He wrote that anyone who “maintains that an external assembly or an outward unity makes a Church, sets forth arbitrarily what is merely his own opinion.” We must humbly agree with our brother in faith that there is not “one letter in the Holy Scriptures to show that such a purely external Church has been established by God.”3

During our concluding meeting at the SRK offices in Oulu, we received much loving instruction from God’s Word and a spirit of unity. With tears of joy, one brother read simple instructions from the Bible about how we can know where the Spirit of God is: “Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God” (1 John 4:2). Every spirit, he repeated, and went on to read how we can know who God’s children are: “Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God” (1 John 4:15).

Another brother recalled that the Apostle Paul considered the Gentiles as equals in God’s eyes. He noted that this was a significant new revelation for the Old Covenant believers of that time, too. But there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek, Paul wrote, “for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom. 10:12-13).

A question arose about the preaching of the Gospel in the verses that follow: How can other people “call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” Luther wrote that whoever hears the Gospel and believes on it, and is baptized, is called and saved. And, he added, “the Gospel is nothing else than the preaching of Christ.”4

We cannot allow our traditions about the Gospel and forgiveness to take away from God’s Word. “And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book” (Rev. 22:19). This portion says that whoever calls upon His name shall be saved and then simply points out that people cannot call on someone they haven’t yet heard of.

There were many around Paul who had no knowledge about Jesus. We certainly cannot say the same today of the many millions of people who faithfully read the same Bibles we have and praise God’s name in their own churches.

God’s Ways Are Beyond Human Comprehension

The mind of man rebels against such inclusiveness. Who are these strangers we are to consider as possible fellow-travelers on the way that leads to heaven? How do they get their sins forgiven? But these questions arise from our sin-corrupt flesh.

It is important to remember that God’s grace is not limited by the limitations of our carnal reasoning. “Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end” (Eph. 3:20).

Random, marginally relevant nature scene [Flickr page]

Apostle Paul reminds us, “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all” (1 Cor. 12:4). We have seen many sorrowful incidents in our own history since the time of Laestadius where “the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith” (Mat. 23:23) have been forgotten over minor issues and personality differences, leading to needless strife and divisions. There “should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another” (1 Cor. 12:25).

Our brother Juhani Raattamaa, whose portrait hangs alongside Luther and Laestadius in some of our church buildings, honored the Apostle’s message during a spiritual storm that took place in our Zion about a hundred years ago. He continued to show love for a prominent servant of the word who had been rejected over obscure matters few of us can even recall anymore and who was forced to journey in faith with a group called the Esikoinen, or “Firstborn.” After the death of this “beloved brother and fellow laborer,” Raattamaa remembered him “with sorrow and joy, even though his body is resting in the bosom of his Fatherland, but his glorified soul is rejoicing in the Paradise of God.”5

The question about how these other believers get their sins forgiven is easy to answer in the case of our Esikoinen brethren; they preach it in the name and blood of Jesus just as we do. There are thousands of them in the United States and Finland receiving this message with joy every Sunday. That forgiveness, Raattamaa said, has been given “to the flock in living faith which is scattered around the whole world of all peoples and tongues. The sermon of repentance and forgiveness of sins is established with them.”6

Have we been like John when he forbade a stranger from casting out devils in Jesus’ name, just because the man did not walk with the disciples? The Lord of Life did not commend John for doing that. Rather, he said, “Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us” (Luke 9:50).

God’s Kingdom is not some entity located in Minnesota or Oulu, just as it was “not bound to Rome” in Luther’s day. Rather, it is “as wide as the world, the assembly of those of one faith, a spiritual and not a bodily thing, for that which one believes is not bodily or visible.”7

Boundless Grace

Paul said that God wants all men to be saved and that they would come to the knowledge of the truth. Therefore it is not the will of God that anyone be lost. He has not prepared hell for men, but for the devil and his angels.8 The Lord, Peter writes, is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).

With our weak understanding, can we say that God has not been able to achieve His will except when it comes to our small Zion? “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8).

Jesus told His disciples, “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). Certainly they were a small group when He spoke those words, for the same reason that Paul wrote about those who had not heard. God’s promises of the Old Covenant had only just been fulfilled in the few decades since Jesus’ birth. In our time, two thousand years later, the world is filled with people who are happy to take on the name of a Christian. We should not hasten to pass judgment on their faith. “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven” (Luke 6:37).

Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was sent for the sins of the whole world, not just for ours. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved” (John 3:16). It is grace of grace to be in God’s Kingdom. “Our faith is the greatest of gifts we could own / Through Christ we are given the hope of a crown” (SHZ 403). But now, in His time, God is revealing unto us that we should not be too quick to say that others are not among His own as well. “God is nigh unto all them that call upon him, to all that call upon him in truth” (Psalm 145:18-20).

———

Important disclaimer and commentary:

It is April 1, and that date for this “article” is no coincidence; none of this was actually written by any church official or for any church newsletter. (The epigraph is indeed a verse from a song in the church songbook, by Anna Tulkki.) It is “as-yet unpublished,” and always will be, because it’s a parody I wrote in honor of the holiday. There have been recent discussions between representatives of the LLC, SFC, and SRK, but I seriously doubt that univeralism or even acceptance of “worldly” Christians was on the agenda.

I can still write like a believer, but I’m not a Laestadian or even a Christian anymore. (Nor am I really convinced at this point that there’s a God behind our astounding yet scientifically explainable mess of a universe, though that’s another topic entirely.) But I know plenty of people who used to be Laestadians, and a few who are still sitting in the pews while enduring their own painful private silences of doubt and cognitive dissonance. Many of those who have left are still Christians of one type or another who get to hear their faith dismissed as worthless and irrelevant by their former brothers and sisters.

This was written for all of them. May our beloved old church evolve toward the kind of compassionate and realistic position this essay describes (alas, still only as parody) within our lifetimes or at least those of our children.

And I wrote it for those readers who are still Laestadians, too. You know who you are: Better clear your browser history before anyone else finds out! I hope you’ve found something to ponder here. Every one of these quotes and cites is real, and relevant. Think about how much you are marginalizing your Savior and the omnipotent creator of the universe (in your beliefs, at least) by making him unable or unwilling to save all but 0.002% of the world’s population. Some further reading along those lines: “God’s Kingdom,” “Sailing in a Sea of Humanity,” and “The Christmas Program.”

Because the Bible is so full of contradictions, either one of two opposite viewpoints often can be selected and amplified via the Laestadian-style quote-bombing I tried to illustrate above. There is certainly another more orthodox essay that could be written about God’s wrath and how he plans to exercise his infinite power to torture almost all of his created humanity for not being Laestadians. But it would be a less honest and compelling one, I think, and certainly more depressing to read.

———
Click on images for full-size versions, as usual. Here is the link to download the full-size 1920x1553 version of the top one, which I created using The GIMP free image processing software and years of looking at way too many real Voice of Zion issues that had arrived in the mail.
Many thanks to an anonymous correspondent for supplying a translation into Finnish, which was completed in a matter of hours, and for correcting one of my Bible references in the process. There are some amazing people out there!

Notes


  1. Philipp Melanchthon, The Apology of the Augsburg Confession, in Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, Paul T. McCain, ed. (2005), p. 146. Melanchthon, Luther’s co-worker in the Reformation, wrote the Apology to defend The Augsburg Confession that they had published a year earlier. Luther was involved with the writing of the Apology and approved of it. In a 1533 letter, he urged Leipzig Christians to adhere to both works (McCain at p. 70). 

  2. Martin Luther, The Papacy at Rome. In Works of Martin Luther (“Philadelphia Edition”), pp. 361, 391. 

  3. The Papacy at Rome, pp. 350, 355. 

  4. Martin Luther, The Epistles of St. Peter and St. Jude Preached and Explained, “The Second Epistle General of St. Peter,” Ch. 1. 

  5. Juhani Raattamaa, 1892 letter following the death of John Takkinen. From The Streams of Life, Carl Kulla, ed. (1985), p. 393. 

  6. Juhani Raattamaa, sermon given 1894. From The Streams of Life at p. 181. 

  7. The Papacy at Rome, p. 361. 

  8. These three sentences are actually a quote from Journey of Fiery Trials (1961) by Lauri Taskila, a Laestadian preacher, which have ample support in the Bible, e.g., 1 Timothy 2:1-6; 2 Peter 3:1. But in the real world outside of an April 1 parody, Taskila went on with an unsurprising Laestadian qualifier: “Of course, it is the will of many men to die blessed, but the world is dear and its vanishing course is pleasing where slavishness and scorn of men keep them from repentance” (pp. 58-59). Apparently the threat of infinite, eternal torture is not incentive enough for all those uppity folks.