“AS AN ENGINEER who spent forty years as a fundamentalist Christian, I pretty much ignored the problem of human origins and evolution.
“The science of radio waves and electronics was very real for me, but so was Genesis: My wife and I had eleven children as a result of following God’s command to be fruitful and multiply. So whenever I came across some article about a million-year-old fossil or the dreaded word “evolution,” I would hastily skip over it.”
Thus begins my guest post that appeared yesterday on Hemant Mehta’s popular blog The Friendly Atheist. The post is reaching thousands of readers, and that exposure brings some trepidation, even for a big mouth like me. It feels a bit personal for some parts of my story to be read so widely. I write about this huge, Laestadian-sized family of mine and my early evolution-inspired doubts regarding the faith into which I was born. And then there’s this conclusion to the post that still looks jarring to me when I see it sitting there in cold print:
I was raised a fundamentalist and spent four decades living as one; I’m still not ready to call myself an atheist. But after co-authoring [Evolving out of Eden], I just can’t see where there’s any room for a god.
But it’s a story that deserves to be told, and there’s no way to do so without getting personal about it.
I’ve been experiencing—and yes, facilitating—this public disclosure of my private life for a while now. Last month, I did a post on extoots about it. A week ago, a gracious, intellectually honest Christian did a post on his God of Evolution site. Last September, I told the story of my deconversion in an interview on one of my favorite podcasts, A Matter of Doubt—an episode that’s been downloaded some 14,000 times.
The Introduction to my first book, An Examination of the Pearl, got pretty personal, too. I wrote about my doubts, social rejection within the church, and my emotional reactions to difficulties with church elders. Besides the 150 or so copies sitting on bookshelves and e-readers, that part of the book has been read by over a thousand people online.1 And Google searches about general theological topics are landing people among the online version’s hundred thousand or so words. Here are some examples from this month:
• the forgiveness of sins according to martin luther
• zwingli real presence
• luther 3 key conversions
Thus, more and more people are learning about this “odd little sect of Lutheranism” that has been such an important part of my life for so much of it thus far. And a lot of what they are reading in An Examination of the Pearl is in Laestadianism’s own words, with my extensive quotations of its sermons, newsletter articles, and books. Ironically, this apostate has probably done more for exposure of “God’s Kingdom” to the “World” than the Kingdom itself ever has.2
Now Evolving out of Eden is bringing my writing to a wider audience. Accompanying the disclosure found in the book itself is the promotional content that is part of a “real” publishing effort, undertaken by Tellectual Press, a company I founded to actually sell the books written by me and others. As the company’s first press release makes clear, I’ve come a long ways from silently fuming about problems with sermons after church on Sundays:
“When we first started on this book, I was a struggling Christian,” Suominen said. “I had accepted the reality of evolution, but could not see a way to resolve the conflict between science and my inherited faith. And now that the last page is written, I know that there isn’t one.”
“There are a lot of books and web sites that try to reassure the faithful that they can safely disregard or reinterpret scientific findings,” Suominen said. “But it just doesn’t work. Genetics is real, and Genesis isn’t. It pained me to finally acknowledge this, but there is no deliberate design of humans or any other forms of life.”
I’ve had my fifteen minutes of fame already (just Google suominen bluetooth), and certainly don’t view it as anything but a means to an end, at best. There’s no big payoff to what I’m doing now; writing and publishing books isn’t a lucrative occupation. Sales of any new book, even from a major publisher, are more likely to be in the hundreds than the thousands.
For that modest return, a steep personal price must be paid when you’re writing about these delicate topics. It’s awkward for friends in my former circles to continue associating with someone who is being called, in all seriousness, a “tool of the devil.” In describing the tendency of fundamentalists to limit their exposure to troubling facts, Evolving out of Eden says this of me and my old church:
Few of its members would openly confess to reading this book or his previous one about the group’s history and doctrines (Suominen 2012), and some friends have found themselves being cautioned against even social contact with such a notorious apostate. [p. 305]
So why have I done it? Why am I still doing it—editing a book from another writer, putting out these blog posts, pitching Evolving out of Eden every chance I get? The response would be the same, I suppose, as the one I gave in the Epilogue to An Examination of the Pearl regarding this warning from the elders of my church: “Once this manuscript is distributed, it cannot be recalled. Are you really sure that is what you want to do?”
Yes, with the same sense of grim conviction that motivated the Gnostic monks of Nag Hammadi to bury their library of irreplaceable works out of reach from the heresy hunters’ torches. Knowledge for its own sake, come what may. Yes.
And you know what? Regardless of the costs, a clear mind and free voice is a delicious and wonderful thing to have.
Not being the NSA or a privacy-peddling corporation, the most detail I get (or want!) about visitors to the site is the city of their ISP. But that information is quite telling: Many of them are from the dozen or so regions of North America where the Kingdom of God (that’s what my former sect privately deems itself) has its congregations in North America. There also have been quite a few readers in Finland, where more than ten times as many members reside. ↩
The elders aren’t happy with this development, of course. They discourage people from reading the book, though I’m pretty sure many of them have secretly read it themselves. Why be so concerned about the Truth of “God’s Word” standing out when it’s presented fairly, alongside the critiques of one lone author? They’ve never offered a single substantive point of rebuttal about the book, unless you count these silly insults from some guy with a prominent position in the SRK. ↩