"laestadian, apostolic, gay, lgbtq, ex-oalc, ex-llc, llc, oalc, bunner" LEARNING TO LIVE FREE: Reading the Old Testament in Iraq

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Reading the Old Testament in Iraq

Following is a guest post by Eric, a former Laestadian.

Let me say by way of a preface that many Christian churches do NOT teach that the Bible is inerrant, or that its "truth" lies in literal interpretation. Many Lutheran churches, including the ELCA congregation where I explored the Old Testament for the first time, encourage their members to use a critical approach to the authorship, translation, and interpretation of Scripture. Most mainline seminaries are entirely invested in this method, and not all their graduates emerge as atheists. Christianity is a big tent, and theism is even larger.

My hope is that this blog demonstrates the wide variety of responses to religious tradition and the quest for meaning. Please consider submitting a guest post of your own.

Eric writes:
(As a Laestadian) I shared the idea of the inerrancy of the Bible (it was given by doctrine) and the pursuit of truth. I reasoned that if the Bible is 100% true, then no matter how hard I tried to find it, I couldn’t ever find an inconsistency or contradiction. And, it wouldn't ever hurt to try since there’d be nothing to be afraid of. Either I find that the Bible isn't true (preposterous!), which would therefore mean that I have shed myself of untruth, or I’d find it is true and I’d have verified it for myself. Either way, it would be interesting.

I finally started reading the Bible, from the beginning, when I went to Iraq the first time. Already, I was quite skeptical about my religious views, so by reading the Bible, I could expect to strengthen my waning faith and be a compensation for not being able to attend church for seven months. I read through about five or six books of the Old Testament. A lot of it, I was reading for the first time. Why hadn’t anyone talked about these other parts of the Bible during the years and years of church? Why was a sermon always based on a short, selected passage from the Bible?
I started to run into some troubling passages and rereading some familiar parts with fresh eyes and a mind engaged in critical thinking. There was one part [Genesis 19] where an old man who was a religious icon was getting old. He had two daughters who were fretting that his lineage would die off when he died because he had no sons, and in a patriarchal society, lineage is passed down through the male line. He’d been cursed with two daughters instead. So, the two daughters conspired between themselves to get their father drunk and then rape him in order to continue his lineage. Well, drinking alcohol is a sin, right?! So that should be a plan which surely fails as this grand religious icon admonishes them for it. Nope! Instead, he indeed gets drunk and then both of his daughters proceed to have sex with him against his consent. In that short passage, we’ve got complete intoxication, incest, and rape . . . and not one whit of moral judgement or condemnation against any of it.
I couldn’t believe it! Why was this religious icon in a religious book of the highest truth and moral standing, doing such condemnable things? And, why hadn't anyone read or talked about this apparent and glaring inconsistency in church? Surely, there were ministers who’d read the Bible, from cover to cover, multiple times and read and understood this part of it. Why no mention of it throughout the years I’d been going to church? Unless . . . it didn’t conform to the message being preached? But no, the ministers wouldn’t do that, would they? They’ve spoken out on numerous occasions about believing the whole Bible and not cherry-picking the parts they like and ignoring the parts they don’t like. Yet, that seems to be precisely what has been happening
Then there’s Noah's Ark. And the creation part of Genesis. And the genocide mandated by God. The Ten Commandments given to Moses, purportedly by God when he’s alone on a mountain top. In my readings, I'd satisfied my quest for finding both logical inconsistency and moral inconsistency within the Bible. There was no point in reading further. The whole book in its entirety, was tainted and impure as a result of what I’d read. I quickly stopped believing entirely.
A few months later, I got an email from a friend who wanted me to write an article for the Voice of Zion about what it's like to believe in Iraq. Considering that I wasn’t truly believing anymore, anything I’d write would be misleading lies and untruth consisting of what I think people would want to hear. So, I politely declined.
After returning home from Iraq, I was afraid of rocking the boat with my family by talking about my religious doubts. I thought my mother and family would be devastated if they found out I wasn’t a Christian anymore. I wasn’t so concerned about the possible ostracism as I was about causing unnecessary grief. So, I decided to keep going to church and go through the motions to maintain appearances. But I started to see church and all it was about differently. It wasn’t an exercise in spiritual enlightenment, it was about conformity to a defined set of group think with the veil of religion. The nail which stands out gets pounded in.
I admit that have a bit of a fatalistic, brutally honest demeanor. If someone asks for my opinion on something, they’ll get my honest opinion and I tend not to care whether they like it or not. I had to be especially careful when talking to religious people because I could accidentally say something honestly which would give me away. It turns out, that wasn’t hard at all. Nobody ever asked about or talked about religion in any serious manner. Everyone . . . would rather talk about something else. Religion was almost taboo. But, eventually I started getting more and more bold with the honest expressions of my doubts.
I eventually met with a minister for a few hours and laid out my convictions with the fullest force of rational reasoning I could muster. I know with certainty that I caused a lot of consternation and shook his faith strongly because the following Sunday for the Christmas sermon (by another minister), its content was dedicated directly at me and what I’d discussed. Oh, how I wished I could have responded on a point by point basis to each of the rebuttals . . . I would have had so much fun (and dug my own grave at the same time, but I’m fatalistic). If I could have only been selected as a minister, my sermons would have just consisted of reading directly from the Bible and explaining what was being read in simple terms. I’d end up with an audience of atheists and deep irreconcilable controversy as other religious leaders struggle to reconcile the Bible with itself.

I wish Eric well, and hope he continues to study and read widely, as many people have travelled the path he is on. What about you? Did you read the Old Testament as a Laestadian? How did you make sense of the "angry God" of the Old Testament? If you are a Christian now, how do you feel about the Old Testament?


  1. that's an interesting article. I have read the Old Testament and am in the process of reading it again. Yes, there are many things in there that I have to shake my head to, but GOd is God and God can do what He wants to do. For me, I need to believe His WOrd and strive to be obedient to His Word. Have I questioned the Old Testament, to some degree I do but it always comes back to God is God and He can do what He wants. ANd I am thankful in these incidents I see a faithful and forgiving GOd and also the examples of do not trust or follow man. Look how man fails!!

  2. Have you heard the saying, "When the book and the bird disagree, believe the Bird," Audubon.

    What I find so interesting, is often God appears or is seen in the image of man....that he is a Jealous God or that we are to love and fear him, like an abusive parent.

    I didn't know that my image of God was my image of my father, until I left the church.

    I wonder if, most are the same?

    I wonder if most believe God is in only one special church and they are his favorites and only ones to be loved and 'saved'. Like God created billions of people, but will only keep a select few?

    I wonder if you have personal experiences of God or is God only found in the Bible and when he is forgiving an action that you made? Do you see God other than an eraser of sins....is He anywhere else?

    I wonder if you could separate the parts of you that were built by religion and the parts of you that were built by you...or are you a complete composite of your church?

    How much freedom of choice did you have being raised? How much of your life was directed by the preachers of the church and its rules?

    Is there a space, a small corner of your life that is untouched by the church?

    What I found, was that I was literally consumed by the church and its rules...and the part of me that had to ask for forgiveness was when I failed It...the church.

    I rarely lived my life for me. For my own soul. I was not a member, I was totally controlled by it.
    There were very few places that I was acting on my own....the first thought always was 'is this okay by the church". Not, is this what I want for me, for my life, for my family.

    I literally became a bad christian to become a better me.

    I became an unbeliever in the church and a believer of me.

    I found out how the Universe works, and that it was God.
    Universe means One Verse.
    I see it as one reality. You can't forgive a sin and wipe it off of the screen of reality....it is yours and the consequence or karmic response is yours as well.

    I do not believe God would die without the bible, nor would He become silent.
    Nor, do I believe He lives in one little church and upheld by a few faithful.

    If God is infinite, He can't be contained.

    I have experienced God both as a fearful loving jealous judging god and one that is Infinite, and interestingly, I saw/seen myself in his image.

    One is to be the ego and the other my Soul.

    Beth Jukuri

  3. Norma,
    The problem is the following:
    1. God is perfect.
    2. God is good.
    3. The bible is the word of god.
    4. Therefore, the bible is perfect because god is perfect. (1 & 3)
    5. There are not any logical inconsistencies in the bible (via #4)
    6. There are not any morally objectionable parts in the bible (via #4 and #2).

    So, if we find *any* moral or logical problems in the bible, then we can work backwards to conclude that either God is not perfect or God is not good. So, in your words, if you need to "believe His Word and strive to be obedient to His Word", then you're striving to believe and obey the imperfect or not necessarily moral instructions. The danger here is that by precisely following the "word of god", you'd potentially end up doing immoral things (from an objective view). If you are put into a situation where following the word of god is immoral, and not following it is moral, and you chose the moral path, then you are no longer strictly following the word of god. Following the moral path is the sensible thing, but it would also be a slight against the 'perfect' word of god, which would then be considered "immoral" from a religiously inspired moral code. So, you'd have a moral dilemma: Do you transgress against god (and be immoral in his view) or your fellow man (and be immoral)?

    There's an even deeper problem with deriving your moral code from a god. All that is good is that which is commanded by the word of God, and all that is bad is condemned by the word of God. Is something good because the word of god says it is so, or is something intrinsically good and the word of god confirms it?
    If something is good because the word of god says it is so, then all that is good according to the word of god, is arbitrarily so and we should consider ourselves lucky that things such as murder, rape, theft, etc. are not considered 'good' by the word of god. If, on the other hand, the word of god relays that something is good based on its intrinsic properties, then the word of god is really just an unnecessary messenger. That which is good is good based on its own intrinsic merits independent of the word of god.

    What's particularly disturbing about the old testament portions of the bible is that the things we'd find morally abhorent today are endorsed (or at least, not condemned) by the God of the old testament. Genocide? Rape? Gang rape? Incest? Drunkedness? Human sacrifice? The word of god is the word of god, and its an all or nothing deal. If we accepted and followed all of it in its entirety, we'd be horrible people.

    "God is God and God can do what He wants to do"
    Does that include violating his nature as an all good or all loving god? If not, then even God is limited in what he can and can't do, whether he wills it or not.


  4. whoa, I have really little clue what you are talking about. You are trying too hard to figure God out and using a lot of skull knowledge. Why not just believe as the Bible reads? You can't figure God out, His ways are higher than your ways. How does it say, the foolishness of God.....(I can't remember the quote right now)

    I read the old testament and there is a lot of good instruction in there, but Christ is my Savior and I live in the new testament and believe in the finished work of Christ. I cannot possibly follow Gods word precisely, no one can. I am a sinner and need Christ to be my perfect advocate before a righteous Father.

    I guess I do not believe that God is in anyway condoning incest, rape, gang rape, etc. Does it say in the Bible anywhere that God is pleased with those events? Those things happened.... they still happen. I do not believe God condones sin but sin happens. That is why we have a Savior.

    Glad you wrote, am having a hard time understanding what you are saying though. Sorry, I do not mean to offend you nor put you down, I am sure you are a very intelligent person, but I get the impression if things don't make sense to you they can't be OK..... Pray for the Holy Spirit to interpret the Word for you....and faith to believe His word.

    Norma TT

  5. What an interesting discussion. And yet, it misses the mark or root of contention between the Members and the EX-Members.

    At least for this ex-member. Most will have a bulldog like grip on their Faith In the Forgiveness of Sins....and not on what the sinner is or how his sins have affected other people.

    To discuss the word of God, deflects Your word. What do you believe?

    It like there is a magical hole where bad behaviors disappear and you can then live in this rosy space.
    You put your faith in the hole where sins go and then not have to deal with them in real life.

    The sins that go in this hole or somehow Jesus is made to carry....is to deny what has happened to so many who have been abused by church going folks. It is the second round of abuse....to not be believed....or to see your abuser be wiped clean....while you are left untreated and unseen.

    For you can either believe that the abuse happened and hang on firmly OR you can have faith that the sin has disappeared...taken away by your savior.

    Saving what?
    Saving the abuser from wearing the tag of his sin.

    If you could only see in real life how your faith has subjected us to live unseen and unheard.

    My mother's strongest faith was in that the fact, that sin was removed from my father.
    She had faith in the hole.
    And it worked perfectly for him...and his 6 daughters, their friends, and our daughters PAID the price for her blindness....and mine.

    I too once believed in the power of faith...but it failed me miserably.

    It wasn't that my faith wasn't strong enough....I believed. But no matter how herculean strong your faith is, you cannot bless away the disease of abuse. My fathers life is proof.

    In fact, the reason our church is filled with abusers, is no coincidence, it is the perfect breeding ground for it.

    It is filled with people who will NOT see the actions of abuse. Oh, they will see it and quickly bless it away.

    I know, there is not one who would DARE NOT BLESS, for you have been taught, then that sin is yours!

    What I would like Norma and the folks like her to sit with....without the aid of the bible, is to explain to me how your blessing away sin really works. Is there really a place, a physical place to put away actions that are hurtful? Do you even consider the one who was sinned upon?

    My greatest fault was believing "Forgiveness of Sins" really worked.

    I had faith in the application. It wasn't that I didn't believe hard enough, but the actual application was flawed. No one in their right mind would ever believe this.

    Again, to me, it doesn't matter what is right or wrong in the bible, but rather...what do you believe?

    Beth Jukuri

    1. "Without the aid of the Bible to explain how blessing away sin really works. Is there really a place .....to put away....?"
      Beth, I can't answer this without the aid of the Bible. How could I? Jesus blood washes away sin, one can only believe that by faith. I am sure you know and have read and heard the scripture passages where it talks about Jesus being the Savior and He washes sin away in His blood.
      Of course I consider the victim, that's a weird statement. I have been a victim. But thank GOd He has been able to work in my heart so I have been able to forgive that person. Why harbor bitterness? Jesus has forgiven me, I pray that I would always be able to forgive others. It's not easy, believe me!!! But God is a good God.
      Blessed Easter to you and yours.
      God's Peace
      This blog is depressing, no wonder I hardly ever come here. I pray for all of you that you will be able to overcome your hurts, bitterness etc so you all will be able to someday live and be truly FREE.

    2. I don't think this blog is depressing. Keep me happy that I am not a part of the laestadian movement.


  6. A great book that delves into many of the 'inconsistencies' of the Bible is called, 'Hard Saying of the Bible' by Walter Kaiser et al. The authors are real academics who know the history and context of everything that was going on and their Biblical insight is phenomenal. The Old Testament authors were often non-judgemental about the events what happen and they recorded events as they actually happened. They did not attempt to 'spin' things like the modern media does. The New Testament explains that these historical events were recorded for the benefit of our faith as they really are there to highlight the repeated failure of mankind the need for a Saviour. Buth Jukuri said in the previous post that, "My greatest fault was believing "Forgiveness of Sins" really worked." That is sort of analagous to the book of Hebrews where it states that the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament will never take away sins but only through new birth and faith in Christ can they be taken away. From what I remember the, 'forgiveness of sins' aka personal confession and absolution was so totally taken out of context to what the Bible actually says that it had become its own separate doctrine supplanting everything else that the Bible really said and meant. Small wonder then that when people start reading the actual Bible they begin to question more and more of what they were taught in their Apostolic Lutheran type of upbringing. Old AP

  7. I see god as an unseen hand. He created the natural laws that govern existence and only intervenes when he sees fit. To me, he embodies balance, because balance is the best state of existence. I think all people see god as an extension of themselves and judge him accordingly. Atheists likely dont believe in god because god allows bad things to happen (9/11, the holocaust, famine, genocide). They probably reason that if they were god, they wouldn't let these things happen to people. Honestly, bad things happening is part of what makes life interesting. Human history is made up of events like wars, migrations driven by famine or persecution, and other such things. War drove technological innovation. Migration brought trade and exposure to other cultures and new ideas. Its the duality of life. When you are out in the cold, you appreciate coming inside to warmth. Ultimately existence tends to move towards a more balanced state.
    Long story short, I believe God embodies balance. I do not know what happens to me after I die, but i trust the wisdom of my creator in choosing my fate, whether it is an eternal slumber, reincarnation, going to heaven, or even going to hell (the existence of which I severely doubt).I do not believe the Judeo-christian picture of god to be accurate, and encourage others to open their minds to other possibilities.


  8. The understanding of God and how we believe He operates is also a very interesting topic. How some would rather sit back and lazily believe that God is in charge of all the evil and all the good, that we are just passive passengers in life. That it is the luck of the draw to get a 'good' life and that there is nothing we can do to off set bad things from happening, but to endure the unendurable.

    What if, God and you are co-creators. That the Free Will we each have been given is much more operational than you would like to believe. What if you are much more involved and God less so. Meaning that what you experience has way more to do with you, than with God?

    What if you are the one responsible for the evil events that happen. What if each of us are either passive towards it or participants of it. What if the whole Universe is run by our choices? That the Universe is but a response system, where what you give it comes back to you? It isn't personal, it is very accurate...it is an echo back to how you think, feel and act.

    I have come to see the Universal operating system to be God...and it always gives you what you need in a grand display of synchronistic events...orchestrated with precision, nothing left out. Perfect always.

    I will go back to the topic that I have explored extensively....abuse.

    Do you believe that God makes a person abuse another?

    Do you believe that God has the power to make that person stop?

    Do you believe that we have to just sit back and wait for God to look upon us in 'favor' and then it is over?

    My old belief system had me powerless; a victim.
    My new understanding, has me empowered and a co-creator with God.
    And, the good news. Whether you believe one way or the other, it matters not.
    The Universal system that runs behind the lives of each of us, treats us all equal and works like a charm.

    It is the all knowing God and your every wish is granted, bar none.

    If you want more love, God will give you more people and events that are hard to love....and your challenge is to be more loving.
    If you want to be more at peace...God will give you exercise in finding peace in turmoil.

    I found that life, God/Universe and I, became a very intricate dance with no steps missed. There was no mistakes in my life. None. It was all a perfect song coming from whence I came and it moved and changed, when I did.

    Evil is a free will thought, just as love is. We are each given the power of free will, even if we use it to be locked into a dysfunctional dance. The choice is yours.

    In fact, many will make no new choice, and that is a choice. A choice to not change.

    What is one man's hell, is another man's Heaven. For some changing would be hell for others not changing is hell. It is all in the perceptions.

    Beth Jukuri

  9. For me, a significant issue is that there is no serious theological basis for Laestadian beliefs. I lack the wherewithal and energy to debate Ed on the existence of Jesus as a historical figure, but I will point out that in terms of the "literal" interpretation of the bible, I know of few if any biblical scholars and theologians who consider the entire bible to be a "historical" document in the sense that fundamentalists see it. It is a collection of stories, poems, myths, and history and mystery that contain "Truths" that guide our lives, but it does not mean all of the stories etc. are literally true. That is the great problem with fundamentalism, it sees everything in terms of Black and White. This also holds true for people leaving...If it is not "all true" then it is "all false". If Laestadianism or Baptists or Orthodox Jews, or whoever are not "all right" then they must be "all wrong". Here is the truth (from my perspective) I was raised by loving parents, who still love me despite my currently walking the path to hell (in their eyes). Some of my relatives were not such good people, and I was abused. The "faith" held too many things that did not speak to me, and I felt completely stifled by it. The culture created by the beliefs was a breeding ground for abuse and unhealthy behavior, but the morals that I was raised with, the beliefs, kept me from other unhealthy behaviors that would have exacerbated my struggles. And I heard what was preached, and some of what was preached was good, even if it wasn't practiced. That is what I have carried with me. I have explored a number of belief systems including Islam and Buddhism and have found wisdom in all. I believe that there is a God, and that he can work through anyone, since we are all his creation. ( however he may have done it, big bang etc.) Ed may find that irrational. So be it. Peace of God be with you all..even those who do not wish it back to me.

  10. To me, Brian, you have a healthy view of the Bible and God. As you noted, that's not a fundamentalist view, which is why this blog is so important for so many people.

    I'm at the point where I have kept the parts of the Bible that are worthwhile, and discarded the rest. (Unfortunately, the size of the latter is much too large). I've also been intrigued lately by the idea of "pantheism", which in essence is God = Universe, no supernaturalism, etc. Similar to atheism, but (to me) allows a little more for the spiritual.

    In any event, the notion of the God of the Bible (including that he's a He, that there's a Satan, even the concept of heaven and hell) has become so improbable that there is little point in believing it.

    1. FreeThinker,
      Channeling Thomas Jefferson are you? Cutting up the Bible? :)

      My experience is that there is Good and Evil, and I have experiences that I attribute to the metaphysical or supernatural (ie. God). The notion however, of God as a white male with flowing white hair and beard, dressed in robes and sandals alternating between love, benign neglect and wrathful vengeance is outside of my realm. So, however, is the idea that there is no God. But I believe that God IS, in all things and above all things. God is the Universe, the creator of the Universe, the great mystery. He is in all people as their creator. But I cannot scientifically prove it.
      Also I have met atheists who were more Christ like in their behavior, than many Christians.

    2. I prefer Albert Einstein. :)

      I haven't had any supernatural experiences, though possibly metaphysical depending on your definition. And your definition of God is the pantheist view, more or less.

      One of the greatest differences in this view of God and that of the Bible (putting aside Jesus for a minute), is the notion of the Devil. If God is all, there is no use for a Satan. I'm interested to hear your view on the subject.

    3. Free Thinker,
      Count on you to find the flaw in my thinking. I cannot put Jesus aside for a minute.. I believe in the Trinity..mystery that it is. I also believe that man, especially man in the form of particular religions, especially fundamentalists, tend to create a god in their own image. One of my Muslim clients said that her father always told her that God is bigger than any man's definition, so we try to box God in. That works for me. Since I believe in God, and the Trinity, it stands to reason that I believe in Satan as well. Satan as a conception of evil, as opposed to a horned red cartoon creature with a trident that shoots flames...:).
      I have talked to people who have suffered brutalities that are so unimaginable, and profoundly evil, that I cannot simply say it is part of "human nature". I guess it comes back to free will, and the concept that people can choose. Whether there is a "devil" or there is a collective "evil" I don't know.
      I am no scientist. If I were not married, I suspect I would be in a monastery. I left Laestadianism, and found Catholicism by way of my reading Buddhist authors..they led me to Catholic Monastic traditions, and it was authors like Thomas Merton, but even more so Basil Pennington, who have greatly influenced me, along with Buddhist teachers like Thict Nhat Hanh, as well as various other American Buddhist and Christian writers.
      Brian Martin

    4. Why can't you put aside Jesus for a minute? To me, Jesus and the Trinity are purely man's creation, "a god in [our] own image" as it were. Outside of the Bible, there is very little evidence of Jesus' existence much less his divine ministry. So at that point you're simply believing the Bible is true because it's in the Bible so it must be true.

      I think human nature encompasses the full spectrum, good to evil. If a brutality is suffered by someone, it is by definition not unimaginable.

      Regarding the concept of free will, who in their right mind would choose eternal damnation in a lake of hellfire? Also, true omniscience and free will cannot coexist.

      The bottom line is, I simply cannot bring myself to believe in the God of the Bible, therefore the Bible itself is nothing more than just another book of human stories and mythology, some worthwhile, most not.