"laestadian, apostolic, gay, lgbtq, ex-oalc, ex-llc, llc, oalc, bunner" LEARNING TO LIVE FREE: Joy of (Not) Believing

Monday, July 02, 2012

Joy of (Not) Believing

The postings and comments on this blog over the course of its several-year history often speak about the challenges and difficulties of leaving Laestadianism. It is a move that many have had to make, from fundamentalist religions of all types, when the facts could no longer bear to be disregarded. Preachers are prone to caricature those who no longer show up to listen to their sermons as having been unable to resist the lure of “the world,” taking the easy way out, leaving the fold to pursue a life of sin. The reality I’ve seen from dozens of discussions with refugees from fundamentalist religions–and from reading testimonials by hundreds more–is quite different. What became important was simply a desire for the truth of the matter, and the result of their accepting that reality was often more difficult than remaining comfortably and conveniently sheltered within the bosom of the church.

That is not to say there are no positive results from making the transition. Of course there are! After a lifetime of repression, many ex-Laestadians find profound joy in expanding their musical and cultural horizons, discovering the amazing and powerful medium of cinema, and allowing themselves the freedom to engage in romantic relationships with (gasp!) the people who surround them in their day-to-day society. Life becomes worth living for itself–right here, right now–instead of being a grim march through a world that one must disdain as sinful. The attitude is expressed well in the opening lines of one old LLC song: “My home is not here where I journey, ah no it is far, far away.”

For me, perhaps the most significant and surprising source of happiness in my new life is a simple acceptance of the people on this planet for who they are, rather than who a rigid religious framework says they ought to be. (See §4.2.3, “Inside vs. Outside.”) Last month, I walked through an amazingly diverse crowd at San Fransisco International Airport and was deeply moved by a sense of peace and brotherhood with those thousands of fellow human beings, after so many years and hours of sitting in silent, tortured judgement of everybody outside my tiny little sect. Here are some thoughts I wrote while waiting for my plane:

A sea of humanity
washing past me in wave after wave
of endless variety:
ages, colors, styles of dress,
silently borne collections
of thoughts, loves, and creeds.

For once, at last,
they do not break on the rocks of my judgments.
My mind does not thunder
with the force of their numbers
against my incompatible notions
of what they should be.
No spray of protests flies upwards
from the question once asked continually,
“Why not them, rather than just me?”

Sailing, now, in a sea of humanity
where the waves just move on,
untroubled by the presence
of a mind set free.

How have you found joy, perhaps unexpectedly, in a life outside the restrictions and repression of Laestadianism? Have you managed this by openly leaving or just deciding for yourself to open your horizons while still putting on appearances at church? If you haven’t left but are thinking about it (and you probably wouldn’t be reading this blog if the idea of leaving hadn’t occurred to you), what do you think would be the biggest positive change in your life?


  1. I've been in the process of leaving for some time now. The best part of leaving is not being a captive of narrow-mindedness. I can think exactly the way I want to and form my own opinions on any matter.

  2. EX FALC says:

    The biggest positive change in my life is that I can be friends with whoever I want to be friends with, dress how I want to dress, and do what I want, without anyone judging me. Also, the fact that my children won't be brought up in it.

  3. It took me decades to get over being automatically judgmental, but I noticed that I still occasionally respond that way about things non-OAL. It is SO ingrained. I have worked at changing my perspective, and I am improving! I thoroughly enjoy loving people instead of judging them, and it's a much healthier way to live. SISU

  4. I've been out over ten years and life just keeps getting better. I think I'm a much nicer person than I used to be, I'm more realistic and rational, and I'm definitely more compassionate. I make fewer assumptions about people's character based on their appearances and their life choices and beliefs. I'm so grateful that I had the courage to get out.
    mia from the llc

  5. I left the church because I was swayed by cold, hard reason of the fact that no gods exist. Any argument which can be used to claim the existence of god can also be used to claim the existence of santa claus must simply be rejected. I couldn't think of any argument which proves god exists but not santa claus (or any other fictional character). It was certainly not any human weakness on my part or lust for vices which led me to leave. If I honestly believed in the existence of a god and he commanded me to stand on my head for five hours a day, then I would both know that god exists and stand on my head (or follow any other ridiculous ritual demanded of me).

    My position is quite simple: There is no such thing as a God.

    Any and all reasoning about reality as it is must not include God as a component of its explanation. It forces you to re-evaluate your views on life, death, love, compassion, morality, science, and a whole myriad of other interesting things pertinent to the human condition and life experience.

  6. Ed said, "The postings and comments on this blog over the course of its several-year history often speak about the challenges and difficulties of leaving Laestadianism." True enough, but admitting to the damage that Laestadianism and its heritage had did to me was even harder. Old AP

  7. I apologize in advance for the unrelated post, but I feel this must be said.

    As a current ALC member, I would just like to say thank you to all for the insights and thoughts. I have gained reason to begin to understand why a few of my friends and family have left the church I was raised in. This is tremendous to me. I do not condemn them for it, because I cannot find it within myself to believe that there is only One Way, and Jesus himself said "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." (Or something similar, I apologize if my quotation is off.) I can only pray that they find peace and happiness, as ever.

    While I do not personally believe that my church is the "one true church", I do believe that the Forgiveness preached within is a true Forgiveness, and that is what really matters to me.

    It may not be the only way, but it is the only way I know. Perhaps this will give some insight to another who wonders why we stay?

    1. Current ALC member, I completely understand and respect your position. The personal proclamation of forgiveness is something quite beautiful about Laestadianism, although there are aspects of it that can be coercive, too. It is also an authentic connection to Luther, who encouraged the practice, §5.4.3. (I would say he pretty much invented it, too, but I don’t want to quibble about that right now.)

      Your branch of Laestadianism is the most tolerant one, so you shouldn't feel much pressure to leave it just because of your personal belief that it is not the only true church. Even such a conservative, traditionalist ALC member as Carl Kulla speaks beautifully about his focus on Christ rather than any group of Christians, though I think he still finds it necessary that the forgiveness proclamation is preached, and that Laestadians are most likely to be doing that. (That’s probably the case.)

      But I know of people in the LLC and the FALC, both very exclusivist groups, who feel the same way you do. If they can make it work, so can you.

  8. EOP, thank you for your reply. I am afraid I have unintentionally misrepresented in my earlier post.. I am a member of the FALC. Apologies for any confusion.

    I am not a wise man, nor will I ever be. I do not know where the practice of openly preaching forgiveness between members came from originally. Perhaps someday I will understand it better. It is that practice alone, I believe, which keeps my own faith alive.

  9. The previous post from the FALC member very well summed up I think what many of us (current members) feel in our hearts.
    To answer your question, ED, I suppose it is mainly how one perceives their journey that causes the most discontent. One may feel very fortunate to be in the midst of a loving group of people who are of (supposedly) of one mind and spirit. (Not to stir up angst from some who may have experienced not so loving and perhaps evil doing. There are the same type of people in ALL walks of life.) Or they may as you say, Ed see it as a 'grim march of sorrow', to what end? I think it would be unusual to have NO doubts. The bible even talks about 'ye of little faith, and moving mountains if one had as much faith as a mustard seed'. Nobody REALLY does know for certain why we are here and where we are going, therefore one must choose their life's path and just hope its the right way. I had just decided in my mind that I'm pretty much of an unbeliever.Didn't tell a soul, but recent events moved my very cold heart and I felt compelled to believe again. It would be of interest to read about your journey, aside from the research, Ed. How your thought process changed, conversations and reactions, etc. I sincerely hope you find joy in not believing and that you find what you are seeking; for myself, I'm going to focus on the peace and joy for now, rather than the gloom and doom, as that can get depressing... I apologize for my long winded post.
    -NW ponderer

    1. NW ponderer, don't let anyone tell you how to live your life–from inside the church, or outside it. There is indeed much peace and joy to be found in it, and if you have found a way to take part in that while dealing with whatever had made you decide you were “pretty much of an unbeliever,” then go for it! The only issue I really see about doing so is the possible effect on others, e.g., teenage daughters who may find themselves married by their early 20s and spending the next two or more decades in a string of seemingly endless pregnancies.

      It is indeed true that Christian doubt is an old and common phenomenon (§4.5.5). For me, the doubt began as a nagging feeling that something didn’t quite add up, then got significantly worse when I learned about evolution and its implications for Christian doctrine. The cognitive dissonance drove me to do my research, and the doubts escalated further with each bit of information I learned about the church, Christianity, and the Bible (§1.1). So my journey out is really inseparable from my research.

      It certainly wasn’t driven by some desire to sin or live a worldly life–I have had my big Laestadian family already (11 kids!), am in a wonderful “till death do us part” marriage to an amazing woman, and never plan to partake of alcohol. For me to throw away the social benefits of a Laestadian congregation just to watch some movies etc. would be insane, all the more so if you allow for the threatened eternal consequences. It was all about what I honestly, sincerely felt was the truth of the matter, come what may.

  10. What a wonderful poem and post. Reading it brought to mind for me the first time I had a glass of wine which was recently. (gasp) I had a glass of wine and would you believe I'm still here, the roof of the restaurant did not fall in on me. How beautiful life is and though I missed out on a big part of it, I'm enjoying it now. I see life and the world so much different and freer since I've left the FALC. I think of what I missed out on in life, but I don't dwell on it. I think of what's ahead for me, and I'm reaching for it.

    Finally Free

  11. I imagine the best thing about leaving if and when I do, is the freedom. The freedom to make my own choices about how to live my life. Choices based off of convictions that are MY OWN rather than someone elses. As it stands today, in the LLC, I must live/think within the confines of anothers' opinion that may or may not be based on anything other than an opinion, as most "rules" are either not based in the Bible or erroneously interpreted. I am judged whether I am heaven acceptable based of whether I am living/thinking properly within those peoples' opinions. To be done with all that, is going to be so freeing! What keeps me in is the prospect of losing the social circle I have had my whole life and leaving means starting at scratch trying to make new friends. New friends are good and all, but they are not the same as the old friends who knew you way back when. That it has to be like that is, to me, so depressing.

  12. Anonymous said, "What keeps me in is the prospect of losing the social circle I have had my whole life and leaving means starting at scratch trying to make new friends." From my experience & the experience of other ex-Laestadians whom I have known, the previous quote pretty well sums up the matter. I would caution anyone considering leaving to 'count the social cost' first. Most people I know who have left have been educated & exposed to the outside professional work world & they know how to make friends in other places as well and they are more open minded. It would be very difficult to try to maintain a Laestadian lifestyle without remaining a member of the local congregation. Read up on and check out other churches etc... Try to find other ex-members who have left and get their take on things. Mainstream America tends to be individualistic whereas a Laestadian lifestyle is based on conformist. I think it is easier to leave when one is younger versus when one is older. One might also consider a half way step by moving to a new area where there is a more liberal congregation (less fanatics around) as Laestadian churches each have a 'flavor' which varies greatly depending on their location. One's new found freedom upon leaving can be a great thing but something positive will be needed to fill the huge social vacuum that will occur after one leaves the fold. You will probably have periods of internal struggle where you would just like to go back too. As far as 'old friends' go, I left long ago & my guess is that I would not have much in common with them anymore as I have learned all about life while they are probably still into local church gossip, hashing over the latest church controversy or debating how many angels can dance on the point of a needle. Old AP

  13. I still visit old friends and relatives when I make the occasional trip back home. It took awhile to re-establish my comfort zone around them, but I'm relaxed now with them and it's a wonderful feeling, to tell you the truth. I separated from my home congregation when I married (someone outside the church) and moved away. Family expectations dropped off slowly, and now they don't ask why I "don't come to June Meetings."

    I am fortunate that I still have such a good connection with family and cousins, but I never "advertised" my disillusion with the church. This has worked for me.

    Like many other posters, I went through the Dark Night of the Soul. Mine lasted for decades. I didn't belong anywhere. I always felt out of place. I think this is quite common, not just among LLLs, but with anyone who leaves a distinct culture for another distinct culture. The feeling of belonging comes with the next generation. SISU

  14. Ex falc says-

    Old AP, I love your comments. It's sad but true, that so many people are controlled in these churches. Once you get out, you see it for what it is. I was angry for awhile about what I missed out on because of being raised in the church, and worried about finding friends after I left. But, after I was out awhile, I realized their are billions of people on this earth. Surely there have to be some other people out there also looking for friends. After I realized that, I started meeting people and talking to people everywhere I went, put the past behind me and have a thriving social life and couldn't be happier. Many of the people I meet have no idea what I was raised in. I eventually tell some of them and they usually are a little bit curious about it but at the same time dont understand how anyone would want to be a part of it.

  15. While reading all the comments, it struck me how the fear of being alone is a common theme or of finding a new life. This alone is a huge red flag to anyone who doesn't see these religions as cults. The mere fact that you have to totally leave a life. Well, unless you don't openly speak of your "disillusions'....you can pretend to sorta fit in....while you know you don't. But, you will not openly say anything or draw attention to your new mind frame, for you know you will be asking to be shunned.

    It is a process in finding a self...more than finding a life style.
    Once you find a self, you can fit in anywhere, but more than likely will not choose to be with folks who
    are deeply in bedded in a cult.

    Our common theme is how to be a unit after being identified with a group.

    It is a coming out many will not advertise, for when they do, it is over. The friendship dies. For most of these churches teach, the devil is anyone who isn't part of their church. We are worldly and full of sin.

    I too enjoy reading about the experiences, different shades of the same color.

    Beth Jukuri - www.imperfectlady.typepad.com

  16. I love life. I'm not depressed. I appreciate all other life. I am not religious and I am free. I left at a young age, before that I was closed minded & judging.

  17. A dad at my daughter's soccer game and I were both looking at a beautiful rainbow one day. I got to thinking about how that rainbow belongs to all of us as a natural display after rain. I don't own it and neither does he--we just borrow and enjoy it while we're here. We don't know why we're here or where we are going. But we do know that it's a great feeling to enjoy a rainbow with a fellow human. I'm a "too far in to get out" LLC member. The dad was a nice random dad from this world. We both loved that rainbow equally.

  18. I left the LLC 10.5 years ago. A very hard decision. But, the best decision I have ever made. Joy to me: A glass of wine, listening to a beautiful song on the radio, working out to some hard thumping music, wearing make-up, covering up the grays in my hair, having my eyes opened to all the wonderful people who have a different color skin than mine, accepting women who love women and men who love men, being tolerant, being open, seeing the world through brand new eyes, giving my children (3 & 5) a world that I did not know, not living in fear of doing something wrong and going to hell, not living in terror of being constantly judged, watching the upcoming Olympics, dancing for just the sheer joy of dancing!, embracing different religions. I honestly cannot think of any negatives. Initially of course it was hard to lose my social circle. Now, I have a much richer social circle than I ever had before. Even though when I was in the church I automatically had so many 'friends', I find that my smaller group of friends is so much more enriching. The initial cutting off from the church is traumatic as anyone who has left knows. But, the joy of simply being free is amazing. Amy

  19. Wonderful comments.

  20. Leaving Laestadianism allows one to live without living with a double mind. I realized that living in Laestadianism meant living a life of permanent mental bondage and oppression. On one level I found that I had to kowtow to the latest party line as well as dodge the gossip bullets myself. But on another level I came to realize that this was not the only church going to heaven, that there were nice Christian people in other churches, that all Apostolic Lutheran groups were basically the same, that the church as a whole was not founded on faith in Christ and that Laestadianism was intertwined with old Finn cultural heritage and its accompanying beliefs about work, suffering and punishment. What a relief not to have to live like that anymore. Old AP

  21. EX FALC says:

    Amy - I agree with everything you have stated. Leaving the church was the hardest thing at the time but looking back, the best thing that has ever happened to me!

    1. Another Ex FaLC agrees! I left after married with children. My kids are spared and I am free. They learning the truth of the bible for themselves and that is truly a blessing!

  22. Thanks Ed,
    This is by far the hardest decision one will ever have to make
    I have doubts about this being the only one true faith

  23. I stumbled on this blog while reading about some related topics, and I just had to stop in and comment that I am not Laestadian nor have I ever been, but last year I left the Catholic church after 30 years of faithful membership, and this paragraph of yours really strikes a chord:

    "For me, perhaps the most significant and surprising source of happiness in my new life is a simple acceptance of the people on this planet for who they are, rather than who a rigid religious framework says they ought to be. [...] Last month, I walked through an amazingly diverse crowd at San Fransisco International Airport and was deeply moved by a sense of peace and brotherhood with those thousands of fellow human beings, after so many years and hours of sitting in silent, tortured judgement of everybody outside my tiny little sect."

    I have had the exact same experience. It is such a relief and joy to not feel the need to judge everyone by the narrow standards of the religion I used to be a part of. I can see people's goodness, regardless of their exact observation of rules and laws. I feel more friendly toward the whole world! Peace. :) --LN

    1. Lisa, thanks for stopping by! You remind us that the problem of Christian exclusivity goes beyond just Laestadianism. Only a fraction (two billion out of seven) of the world's population identifies as Christian. Yet various passages in the New Testament clearly state that salvation is found only in Jesus. Less clearly (arguably, only in the story of the rich man and Lazarus), it also speaks about the eternal torment of the unsaved. Thus committed Christians of all types are forced to view the majority of the people they share this planet with as being damned to hell, or at least denied "eternal life," by the God who created them, regardless of what kind of people they are.

      And that's not even considering the problem of what to think about all the untold billions of people who have lived and died in the ancient and prehistoric past. As Rachel Held Evans points out in a dialogue from her thoughtful book Evolving in Monkey Town, "There are millions of people, past and present, who have had no exposure to Christianity at all. Are we supposed to believe that five seconds after Jesus rose from the dead, everyone on earth was responsible for that information? How is a guy living in, I don’t know, Outer Mongolia in 15 AD supposed to figure out that Jesus died on the cross for his sins, was buried, and rose again on the third day? It’s impossible."

      Not carrying that burden of judgment is a relief indeed.

    2. Thanks for responding Lisa! I've been actually kind of amazed at how similar the Laestandian faith is to Catholicism. Of course neither one would admit that.

  24. I'm thinking about joining the OALC

  25. Ed, I disagree with you that "committed Christians of all types are forced to view the majority of the people .... as being damned to hell ".

    I know many Christians who are neither forced nor inclined to hold that view, and I think it is dangerously reductive to assume that a tradition's source materials reflect actual beliefs and practices, no matter the tradition or the source. It blinds us to the variety of adaptations around us, the power of symbolism that exists outside of literal truth, and the options for our own lives.

    Check out this excellent post by a "practical" Christian: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/faithforward/2012/04/how-to-live-as-a-christian-without-having-to-believe-the-unbelievable/


  26. Anonymous said, "I'm thinking about joining the OALC." I am not sure of your background and your motives but I will try to list some of the common reasons people join and what the reality is:
    1. Admiration for the seemingly conservative Christian environment and their emphasis on fundamentalism.
    Reality-Living Christianity actually involves a change of heart
    and mind thru faith in Christ where one become filled with the Holy
    Spirit & where one recognizes the 'universal church of Christ.' I
    personally doubt that you will hear sermons stating this in most
    Apostolic Lutheran groups and I doubt any of them would recognize
    any other group(s) that are Christians as Apostolic Lutherans in
    general really believe that only thru constant conscience
    cleansing via personal confession is one saved. So be prepared to
    'fess up' if you want to 'fit in.' Take the time to read a book on
    Christian fundamentalist prior to joining or possibly Ed's online
    book. Some groups put less emphasis on confession but they all
    adhere to a sort of clannish-like set of religious beliefs.
    2. A person has a boyfriend/girlfriend in the OALC so they want to join for that reason.
    Reality-This actually happens fairly often. The problem is by
    marrying a member one is in a sense marrying the whole church and
    the church's history including all the cultural quirks and ways. If
    you do not have a Finnish/Scandinavian background some the 'quirks
    and ways' might take time adjusting to. Also remember that there
    are already cliques that developed long before you joined...are you
    going to fit in? Will your potential spouse be happy if you are
    'unhappy' with membership in the church? or his/her family?
    3. A person came from a broken home/background and the Apostolic Church will give them a place to fit in.
    Reality-Apostolic Lutheran families have their own set of stressors
    including large families-many with money issues, there are
    unofficial 'under-stood' restrictions on where one lives, what
    occupation one works in, who one socializes with etc... Make sure
    that you want to be totally involved with people in the respective
    church you are considering joining as association with anyone
    outside of the church is considered 'friendship with the world.'
    4. You think the Old Apostolic Lutherans are founded on the Bible.
    Reality-This website exists because many of us do not feel Apostolic
    Lutheranism is founded on the Bible....that is why we left. So take
    the time to read thru the discussions on this web site over say the
    last 2 or 3 years to see what you will be dealing with. Consider
    other Bible based church's in your area and attend several services
    as you 'shop around' to see if you hear the 'ring of truth.'

    In summary joining any church SHOULD BE a personal decision where one is 'fed' by the preached word and fellowship. When I left my particular branch of Apostolic Lutheranism I felt I had essentially been 'ripped off' as it was as though my life and soul had been sucked out of me by a religion that drained people of their true self identity and their potential to live a full life in Christ. Look before you leap. Old AP

  27. Thank you for your insight. I have been around the block a few time. I'm a married women of 6. My husband has no intention of attending with me. My older children may attend once in awhile. My younger children don't seem to mind. I have gone to the OALC on and off over the past 12 years. I understand what you are saying and thank you. I have some very good friends within the church. I'm still on the fence. I have gone to many Born Again type christian churches over the years. I'm a regular church hopper. I just really need a place to be with God and make a commitment to a church. I need a home church. And I do believe their are many good Christians in the church. I also don't know that I could ever believe that only OAL are going to heaven. I believe there are many ways to heaven. And many ways to God. We all have our own road to travel to get to God. And we will really and truly only know what the right road is/was when we die and meet our maker. I will read your post's and look at the books you have suggested. God loves us all. And wants us all to find our way home. I'm just not always sure what that road is. Gods Peace. I do love the salutes.

  28. Dear Cleft 7, I understand what you mean by wanting to be with God. I grew up in the OALC. I did not know until after I left that I would not have found God there no matter how long I stayed. I mean a relationship with a God who feels close, who knows I am here, and who is not so far away (not out of reach)that He can't hear me when I talk. It is stressed that you cannot go directly to God but must speak to a preacher or other Person in Good Standing in the church. There are many wonderful people in the church, but they, too, live under the strict, negative, harsh, unloving teachings.

    Remember, the folks within the church are secondary to The Christianity. THAT comes first in priority. You will hear time and again the importance of keeping the True Faith alive. It has become an idol.

    So think long and hard before making the decision to join. Don't cloak it with beliefs and actions you WISH it had. Go in with your eyes wide open.

    God's Peace. SISU

  29. Sisu,

    Thank you. I will give it much consideration. I'm reading and praying about what to do.

    Cleft 7