Sunday, August 23, 2015

A Religion I Never Knew

A religion I never knew, but felt is a personal essay by Victoria Stoppiello about growing up in large Finnish family that she learns, on a trip to Finland. An excerpt:
I’d heard stories about the prohibitions that were part of my great-grandparents’ way of life: No smoking, drinking, dancing, card playing, whistling, wearing jewelry or make-up, or cutting your hair. (Those last prohibitions obviously directed at the females in the family.) Looking in the mirror was also prohibited. I knew all those behaviors were outlawed, but it never occurred to me that birth control was, too.

Before traveling to Finland I had some apprehension that all Finns would be like my mom’s emotionally cold family. On arriving at my grandparents’ home, a visitor might get a handshake, nothing more — certainly a contrast with my Italian-American in-laws. But in Finland, my Finnish cousins were quick to embrace my husband and me when we arrived at their homes. They were relaxed, lively and warm, so I was wrong about Finns being cold fish when it comes to greetings. I also assumed that my great-grandparents’ rigidity was typical of Finnish Lutheranism, but I was wrong about that, too. 
Read the whole thing here.

9 comments:

  1. Always interesting to hear outsiders’ perspectives on it. The business about mirrors is reflected (sorry) in The Giver, a book I just reviewed with a view to the many parallels I see with Laestadianism.

    Here’s the passage, which I didn’t discuss in the review because there was no rule about mirrors in the LLC. (It never occurred to me that the use of such a thing would actually be banned, but wonders never cease when it comes to high-control religions.)

    “Mirrors were rare in the community; they weren’t forbidden, but there was no real need of them, and Jonas had simply never bothered to look at himself very often even when he found himself in a location where a mirror existed” (p. 21).

    It makes a bizarre sort of sense, since individuality is repressed in both the OALC and Lois Lowry’s dystopian community. I’m pretty certain that is a motivation for the headscarves in church on the women and the plain long-sleeved shirts on the men. No “finery” or neckties, and thus fewer opportunities to stand out in any way.

    Jonas’s family is certainly of the “cold fish” variety, too. All that messy emotion we need to keep under control, lest mayhem break out in the revered community!

    I’m curious if anyone else has read or seen The Giver and made a mental connection with Laestadianism. Were OALC kids even allowed to read it in school?

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  2. This was interesting to read as the only 'cold fish' Finns I have met were the Laestadians! Laestadianism's real hold on people is really only because of the term, 'Normal Crazy Thoughts'. Let me explain: As I grew older within Laestadianism I realized that the confessions I heard were basically the same as the confessions I had heard previously. I began to think that since everyone must be guilty of the same sins, what is the purpose of having everyone feel guilty and then regurgitating the same stuff over and over? Some years later in college I took a class in 'Personality Theory' and I learned about, 'Normal Crazy Thoughts'. The June 2, 2009 edition of Psychology Today, (do a quick google search) as well as in other articles, have done in depth explorations of 'Normal Crazy Thoughts'. Psychologists recognize them as part and parcel to the human experience. They seem to arise out of the 'id'-or the core-of a person. So as long as they are not dominating a person's life then they are no big deal as we all have them. However, I realized that within Laestadianism the speakers collectively use the congregation's ignorance of 'Normal Crazy Thoughts' as a way of pointing out how sinful and rotten they are. This creates a never ending process of guilt, reproach, confession and restoration back into the fold as 'normal crazy thoughts' are NORMAL, never ending and the worst thing one could do is to start making people feel guilty about them. When I was a young boy, there was a certain well thought of Laestadian speaker in my town who was asked by an atheistically minded Finn store owner in town that where did he get his new pocket watch. The Laestadian speaker said, "I spoke at this church and I made them all cry and they gave me this watch." Then he went on joking litany explaining to the store owner how he basically went from one congregation to another making everyone feel guilty and crying and then he would be given gifts. (The minister's response confirmed the store owner's suspicions about Christianity). Many decades later I was able to connect the dots.....modern Laestadianism essentially retains its hold on people by keeping them feeling guilty over Normal Crazy Thoughts. Within Laestadian circles there is virtually no formal understanding or study of psychology, medicine, comparative religions, Greek or Eschatology. This makes the congregations as well as the voted on speakers extremely vulnerable to collective falsehoods, superstitions and traditions necessitating the repressive environment of the congregations. Modern educated conservative church's do indeed acknowledge normal crazy thoughts, but their focus is on the congregants adopting the 'mind of Christ'. The Laestadian mentality of fixating on sins and normal crazy thoughts does indeed seem to make many Laestadians 'cold fish'. Old AP

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    1. Old AP, I always enjoy your posts. Were those confessions the same as I heard many times, in many places -- "Forgive me for being such a poor Christian; so many lusts and desires; so quick to anger; so slow to forgive; etc., etc." Since they tended to be the exact same words every Sunday, the thought occurred that there really was no real desire or effort to change; rather it was just repeating the same old litany that had no specifics, but just generalities that sort of covered the span of possibilities.

      Wow. I had not heard of the "gift" story!

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  3. CVOW....yes I would say the 'confessions' are about the same in all the groups except for the Pollarites (Independent Apostolic Lutherans) who have dropped confession from their particular list of requirements. You verbalized what I call the 'common confession' which is really a snapshot summation of some of the 'Normal Crazy Thoughts' that all people have. Individual Laestadians often have committed a real named sin but they like to cover it by confessing it within general terms i.e. "lusts and desires", so as to avoid the shame of naming the particulars and then they prefer to excuse themselves by rationalizing that they have "confessed" it......after all who wants to confess to 'normal crazy thoughts'? I went to a Missouri Synod Lutheran Church one time and they had a general confession that is excoriating in detail which they repeat on communion Sunday and they all say it together and then the pastor publicly pronounces their sins forgiven. Their process of a group confession seemed a little rigid to me but when they all admit to their common guilt together as a group in generalized terms there is no individualized shame. CVOW, my guess is that the Laestadians do indeed have a 'real desire' to change but like the rest of us sinners (like me) out in the 'world' they too are afflicted by 'normal crazy thoughts' that all humans have. The bad part is that their ministers and their chief pharisees keep drumming up guilt over these NORMAL 'abnormal human thoughts and emotions'. It all adds up to a good formula to keep people in their place.......ESPECIALLY THE WOMEN! Old AP

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    1. In some instances, however, the Pollarites dropping confession have distorted the meaning that they actually don't need to apologize to people for sinning against them or wronging them in some way. Some IALCers think being a believer means you never have to apologize, but you just need to apologize to God for wronging a person, rather than apologizing to the person you harmed. A personal case in point--when I left the church, a parent told me that if I did not belong to the church, I could not really belong to our family anymore. So I started distancing myself from them, and instead of seeing them on a near-weekly basis, I only saw them a few times a year during some major holidays and other events. I had asked my mother if she could apologize to me for saying this, that I would feel freer to associate with her and my father more often, but that I felt the need to protect myself from people who can make such harmful statements without apologizing. My mother's reasoning is that in the IALC practice, she does not need to ennumerate her sins, and IF she sinned against me, she could simply take it to God....she did not need to bow before a man and say that she was sorry. This is an extreme example, but they take 'not needing to confess' sins as a requirement to that they don't even think they need to say they're sorry to people they have harmed. --Punahilkka

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    2. Punahilkka, I have noticed that many of the Laestadians in general do not feel they need to apologize, let alone ask forgiveness, to anyone who is not a member of their church. Like you, I noticed that the IALC's might not have as many legalistic rules but they are very much in accord that theirs is the only right group. In my judgement ALL of the groups are only variants of each other despite their claims otherwise. Old AP

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    3. I think I have to offer a correction on this one. A former IALC person who knows my handle connected with me on this. They were shocked that someone from the IALC would tell their child that they could not really be a part of the family if they left the IALC, and told me that they could not imagine anyone in their immediate family who would condone such a thing. She did not think it was part of the doctrine but just a rather stubborn person who either could not apologize or lacks the self-esteem needed to offer a sincere apology. --Punahilkka

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  4. Oh yes CVOW, it was interesting to note that the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church seemed to be quite exclusive too. The pastor made sure to announce that unless one was a member of the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church they could not take communion. Plus the whole congregation in unison repeated the Apostle's Creed and the Nicene Creed. During the pastor's sermon he referred to their Lutheran 'doctrine' at least 25 times. So they seemed to have their own brand of exclusivity and dogma too. Old AP

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  5. Old AP, I get the not being able to receive communion. The Catholic church does not allow others to partake of communion, because people are not in "full communion" of belief.

    When we lived in England, we had an informal association of three churches in our village -- the Roman Catholics, the Anglicans, and the Methodists. Their credo was "We do everything we can, together." Two or three times a year, we would hold a joint service. At each one, when the members went up for communion, everyone else also went up and received a blessing from the pastor/priest. It was a simple recognition that while we were striving to come together, there was still work to be done in that regard. I thought it was pretty special.

    The creeds have been around since long before the schism between the Catholics and the Lutherans. The fact that they are still used by most churches is evidence that the essential belief is still the same, but man unfortunately has seen fit to force a split by adding details.

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