"laestadian, apostolic, gay, lgbtq, ex-oalc, ex-llc, llc, oalc, bunner" LEARNING TO LIVE FREE: The Authoritarians

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Authoritarians

This week I've been reading The Authoritarians, by Bob Altemeyer. Altemeyer is an associate professor of Psychology at the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg. His book is a study of right-wing authoritarianism, with a focus on religious fundamentalism in the United States and Canada. Many of his observations about right-wing authoritarian followers (RWAs) and their leaders (social dominators) rang true for me viz. my experiences with Laestadianism growing up and the stories that many have shared on this blog.

Authoritarianism is something authoritarian followers and authoritarian leaders cook up between themselves. It happens when the followers submit too much to the leaders, trust them too much, and give them too much leeway to do whatever they want--which often is something undemocratic, tyrannical and brutal.

The "right wing" in right-wing authoritarianism does not necessarily refer to someone's politics, but to psychological preferences and personality. It means that the person tends to follow the established conventions and authorities in society (or in their sub-culture.) In theory, the authorities could have either right-wing or left-wing political views.

A few things make this book different from other works I've read on the subject. First, Altemeyer writes for a general audience, with folksy humor peppered through the work. It's an easy read (although still properly footnoted.) For a more scholarly treatment of the same material, read Altemeyer's 1996 book, The Authoritarian Specter

Secondly, his findings are based on firsthand research experiments he's performed with his university students, identifying the RWA and social dominator personalities through the use of standardized questionaires and putting mixed groups of students through various scenarios to see how they react. The questionaires are printed in the book. I was able to take them myself and see how authoritarian I was on Altemeyer's scale.

Finally, while you can buy this book on Amazon, it's also available as a free e-book PDF file. Altemeyer wants to raise awareness of the role authoritarianism plays in our world, so he's giving his book away!

See also the Wikipedia entry for Right Wing Authoritarianism, which had this helpful definition:

Authoritarian submission — a high degree of submissiveness to the authorities who are perceived to be established and legitimate in the society in which one lives.
Authoritarian aggression — a general aggressiveness directed against deviants, outgroups, and other people that are perceived to be targets according to established authorities.
Conventionalism — a high degree of adherence to the traditions and social norms that are perceived to be endorsed by society and its established authorities, and a belief that others in one's society should also be required to adhere to these norms


  1. I apologize that this comment isn't realted to the posting, but I wanted to share this with the group: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/valerie-tarico/when-leaving-jesus-means-_b_92442.html


  2. Stranger, I read the article you posted and was struck by the way that shunning seems to be not limited to Laestadianism, or the Amish. Seems like it's more common across more authoritarian strains of Christianity.

  3. I have just discovered your interesting blog. I was not brought up in the Laestadian church, but my father was. His maternal grandparents were among the founding families of the Finnish Apostolic Lutheran Church in North Minneapolis, which is now the Minneapolis Laestadian Lutheran Church.

    My dad always found membership difficult because of the judgmental attitudes towards Christians of other traditions (his father was Irish Catholic, so he felt that judgment personally). He was actually confirmed in the church, but left it when he married my mother, who was raised as a mainstream Lutheran. She was given a tongue lashing by one of my dad's uncles (by marriage) for leading him down the road to hell. As a result, we have always thought of ourselves as "black sheep" of the family. Certainly we were never greeted with "God's peace." However, I would also add that at least among the older generation (my grandmother's siblings and my dad's cousins) while we were likely thought apostate, we were also always invited to weddings, greeted warmly at the Wuollet Bakery, etc.

    So the shunning and hostility that some may experience is not always true. Though I should add that this might also be a result of the fact that my grandmother, who was raised in the church, never believed in its exclusive righteousness (and also broke many of its rules by watching TV, wearing make up, curling and dying her hair, etc.) and eventually quietly left it herself late in life, so it never affected my immediate family in any direct way.

    And yet, as I reflect in it, despite there not being any real hostility, as it stands now, we are rather far removed from the Finnish side of the family (with a few exceptions), and as the generations grow in different directions, it seems unlikely that we will be meaningfully brought back together again, which is a shame....

  4. Thanks for your story, Black Sheep, and welcome.

    Hearing about different people's experiences with Laestadianism is one of my favorite things about this site.

  5. Thanks for the welcome, Tomte. I might add that although I didn't grow up in the Laestadian church, I have always been intrigued by it, as it is so exotic. My parents actually used to threaten us with going there when we were badly behaved. Though, I don't think they were serious, as they'd have to go then, too. My mother did suggest it seriously once, to be closer to family members, which simply led to my dad asking if she were nuts.

    I did grow up in a very religious household, though, in the ELCA and its predecessors. I am now in the Episcopal Church, where I serve as an ordained priest. I sometimes refer to the Laestadians as sermon illustrations--in fact I did just yesterday, in a round about way, which is how I came to find your site after doing some google searching.

    One final note. Among my extended family members (I have lots of second cousins, etc as a result of the large families) not being a member of the church is as much a unifier as it is for those who are members. It always provides a topic of conversation.

  6. I Am glad to read most of you who left laestadianism joined traditional Churches like the Catholic and the Episcopal. ;-)

  7. Dear LaestadianInfo,

    I've been doing some catching up reading today and have found your insights into Nordic Laestadianism quite helpful. I was a Scandinavian studies major in college, so it is always interesting to me.

    As I noted above, I didn't grow up in the LLC, but sort of on the periphery of it, as my father grew up in it, and my grandmother and many of my beloved great aunts were members.

    From what I can see from the fringes is first, that the LLC really is, as you say, like the Amish of Scandinavia (though they do drive cars, have computers, etc.). But also that it really is an ethnic movement that in the US has not successfully expanded beyond Finnish communities. For example, I was surprised some time ago to learn that Laestadius was a Swede and that there are Swedish Laestadians. In the U.S. you will rarely find them--most Swedes here ended up in the Augustana Synod, which is now part of the larger and more ecumenically minded Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; other Swedes became Episcopalian, Methodist, and Baptist.

    From what I can tell, growth in the Laestadian Church really does come from the very large families--some with as many as 17 children--and not evangelism. While this may not be true in all cases, a visit to the websites of the various LLC congregations reveals almost exclusively Finnish surnames.

    Again, thank you for your insights. And to the administrators for this fascinating site....

  8. Yes. Laestadians seems in that sense also to be somewhat similar to the amishes. However I have read the Amish community in US is growing. Is this only because of children not leaving, or are there as well people joining the amishes in US?

    Theologically there are some major differences between amishes and laestadians, though they have the same common roots in early central European pietism

    If you want to get a broader picture of laestadianism, watch some videos on my Youtube channel.

  9. Black Sheep:

    You might also be interested in knowing the origin of the name "Wuollet" since it seems you know/are related to that family. It is a Sami (Lapp) word, meaning literally "to walk" or more loosely, as walking people.

    --Stranger in a Strange Land

  10. There seem to be Sámi interested people here. You may want to take a look at what the Sámi language version Laestadius used was like. Here's a link to a sermon by Laestadius in his native Sámi "dialect": http://www.laestadiusdokument.se/Prediko_Nobbe_Joulo_Peiwen.pdf

    The native "dialect" of Laestadius is quite close to the Sámi "dialect" used in the OALC stronghold of Tysfjord in Norway but quite far from the northern dialect spoken by the majority of the Sámi. Actually, the Sámi "dialects" are not really dialects, although often called that, but more like closely related languages. At least 5 different versions of the language are still used today, and they all have their own literary language. Native speakers pretty much understand each other, and even I, who just learned the language (I don't know it well, but used to be able to have a simple conversation and to read daily newspapers) because I used to live in an area where it was spoken (although as a minority language), to some extent understand also other variants of the Sámi language.

  11. I just watched The Obama Plan in 4 Minutes on Youtube. You can see it by clicking on my Nick!

    This is far right wing politics at any European measurement.

  12. Good and interesting reading this blog with all your posts. I am not "brought up" in any way religious or even xtian i think. What I remember from my years my dad used to bow his head at the church and move his lips as praying. I traded my faith for substances for years and was "born again" some 16yrs ago. I am a bit old but Punk for Christ. I may turn heads at church but sing hymns with my lovely voice anyway. I dont have any authoroties but Yeshua God Jesus. Ok, I obey nowadays the law and such, but old Punk as I am, still behave bit radically time to time. My personal mission is to give bibles to those who are thirsty but ordinary good xtians don't hang with them. Its my way to be grateful of my second chance.

  13. growing up most of my life in a lastadiean church and then leaving i know first hand how much people treat you differntly after you nleave.although i was always kind of an outcast (because i wore make up and dATED ouside of the church)i can still say that it is so scary at first when you leave. its also very hard on one cause even though for the most part i thought that what the lastadians believed was a load of crap, always in the back of my mind was "your going to hell for leaving." im perfectly content with where im at now and no longer scared of whats going to happen to me but just wanted to point that out for someone who is plannign on leaving or have left i know what your going through and it gets better i promise!