"laestadian, apostolic, gay, lgbtq, ex-oalc, ex-llc, llc, oalc, bunner" LEARNING TO LIVE FREE: Healing from Hell Horror

Monday, December 16, 2013

Healing from Hell Horror

“If hell is not a nice place for those who never have come to the knowledge of salvation, it surely is still hotter for those, who have once tasted the tribulations of hell and yet want to go there to eternal death. It must become still hotter for those who have had a foretaste of the kingdom of heaven and then return to the world from where the way leads to hell.”
—Lars Levi Laestadius, 1853

Hell Preacher. Composed from one of my photos along with a CC-licensed one by Michael “theparadigmshifter.”

Laestadians are raised to believe in and fear a place of eternal torment if they should die as “unbelievers” or with “unforgiven sin” on their consciences. Although LLC preachers have not been very explicit about the subject, at least not in recent years, a recent sermon from a preacher in the Rockford, Minnesota congregation reminds listeners of the unthinkably high stakes:
Even in a temporal sense, we can understand what the pain might feel like of the fires of hell. If you’ve ever burnt the tip of your finger lighting a candle or something, you know how bad that hurts. Imagine living in eternity in that kind of pain and agony, like the Bible describes, “wailing and gnashing of teeth.” So, it pays to believe, dear brothers and sisters. [23:00-24:32]
It pays to believe, he says, a phrase repeated in many a sermon. This reveals the essential cynicism of fear-based religion. “Belief” is tribute paid to a bullying strongman of a God in order to avoid horrific consequences down the road. It would be ridiculous to tell someone it “pays to hear” or “pays to see” that there is something in front of you. It can only pay to pretend to hear or see, like the townspeople cheering the fashion sense of a naked emperor just before an impertinent little kid spoils everything.

As time goes by, I spend less and less time thinking about Laestadianism or even religion, and even less time shouting at the curbside about it. Of course, the experiences and former beliefs of half a lifetime will always occupy a large portion of my brain, whether I like it or not. Those neurons are gone forever, along with the handful devoted to the term “twerking,” whose actual meaning I steadfastly refuse to learn. But I still sometimes drift off to the sermons on an iPod slipped under the pillow at night.

When I heard this little discourse on Hell during one of those sermons, I pictured how it must have put a little burst of panic into the hearts of those kids who’d listened to worldly music or had lust in their hearts or watched some inappropriate videos the night before. It seemed like a bit more writing might be in order, for the sake of the troubled and former Laestadians whom I know are reading my blog, so I spent some time writing a detailed posting, Healing from Hell Horror.

These currents of fear can run very deep indeed. That, along with all the social benefits of a close and comfortable little group huddled against the world, is why these churches manage to retain as many members as they do. I had to work very hard to overcome my own hell horror. There’s no shame in that, for me or for you. We are just overcoming what the church did to us, and a lifetime of indoctrination is not something everyone can reverse overnight, just like that.

The stakes, after all, are unthinkably high. As I told one of the few Laestadian friends who dared to discuss issues with me in depth after hearing I’d left the fold, I wouldn’t have left if I thought there were a 1% chance of it being true. I could probably work up that level of belief, given the consequences for being wrong about the other 99%. But it’s not true, not even a little bit, including the Hell part.

Take a look at the blog posting if this still has a hold on you, or still holds interest for you. There’s some discussion of the power of fear, a bit of history about Hell, and—believe it or not—a dog story. If you’d rather read something on a less dreary topic, I also have a posting there (with pretty pictures!) on that other long-dreamed of destination for a life beyond the grave, Paradise.

After you do, please come back and offer your thoughts. I’m not willing to deal with the hassle of comments on my own blog, but the thoughtful dialogue that takes place in comments from extoots readers has been a wonderful component of the reading available here. How have the Laestadian teachings about hellfire and damnation affected you? If you’ve left, how did you recover from the lingering fear? Or did it not linger much at all, as with a few fortunate people I’ve spoken with? What would you say to those troubled souls who lurk on these blogs wondering if they will ever be able to overcome the terror of leaving, or even questioning?


  1. This is a concept that is near and dear to my heart. It was the concept of Hell, especially the connotation of eternal punishment, that incrementally pushed me over the edge from Laestadian (FALC) to Christian to deist/pantheist/atheist (or at the very least, Militant Agnostic).

    Consider this, Laestadians (or even Christians) of all sorts: according to your doctrine, if Adolf Hitler were to accept a blessing from a Believer on his deathbed, he would go to Heaven. Yet another selfless person, perhaps a doting mother or a gracious father in a far-flung region of the world who has led a by-and-large righteous life, would rot in the eternal torment of Hell simply for not knowing about the Judeo-Christian God.

    Or, as in the case of Ed, I and countless others, we would be cast into that same “lake of fire” simply for examining the evidence and concluding it’s lacking.

    Do you truly believe a Just God would do something like this?

    I simply cannot wrap my mind around that possibility. I simply cannot have faith such a being exists. It's simply indoctrination.

  2. "It pays to believe". Sounds like a phrase that is originally translated from Finnish. And in Finnish it would sound a lot less weird as the word translated as "pay" has a different tone and maybe wider meaning in Finnish.

    I'm a long time lurker in this blog which I found accidentally. I have no connection to Laestadianism myself, I'm a totally different sort of Christian. But it's been interesting learn about American Laestadianism. And one very interesting part for a native Finnish speaker is the language. Many words and expressions in Laestadian English are directly translated from Finnish. Word for word. It sounds funny to me, like it wouldn't be real English, but instead some Finnish speaker's attempt to explain things in bad English.

    But, if I've understood correctly, today's American Laestadians don't speak Finnish? Or at least speak English better? So these expressions must be quite old, maybe translated by the first generation immigrants.

    This of course has nothing to do with the doctrine of hell. Just something that I noticed.

    1. It’s an astute observation on your part, Different Sort of Christian. (The blog owner prefers that people use a moniker of some sort, so I just gave you one.) There is definitely a sort of collective subconscious memory of the old Finnish expressions in the LLC. Two that I can think of off the top of my head are “homeland shore in Heaven” (think tired fishermen out on their boats) and “keeping faith and a good conscience” (a corruption of the original “keeping the mystery of faith in a good conscience”). It’s almost like muscle memory; the preachers keep using expressions they heard as little boys, reflexively, which their fathers themselves heard as little boys sitting in the pews before them.

      One thing I found fascinating about attending two OALC services was the similar sound of the preaching language. These two splinter groups have had nothing to do with each other for a hundred years, and yet they have both managed to retain some of the same expressions in their sermons. There has been a pretty marked change in the Conservative Laestadian (i.e., LLC and SRK) sermons since I was a kid, though. (The term “conservative” is not very apt when considering a comparison to the OALC, as they are far more conservative theologically and in their lifestyle.) Here’s what I wrote about that in my book. Despite the incredible tedium of the “what a wretch I am” mournful delivery,

      I remained awake mostly because of how interesting I found the parallels to be between the sermon and those I had grown up listening to in the late 1970s. I noticed a number of phrases that are still used in LLC sermons, e.g., “living faith,” “a new day of grace,” “we want to be obedient.” Interjections like “I believe,” “even,” and “we could say” were scattered throughout the sermons as a sort of verbal curtseying before God who was, after all, the one providing the words. The public proclamation of forgiveness–the “general blessing” to the assembled congregation–was present, too.

      Like the sermons of my childhood, the delivery had a sing-song cadence that is almost hypnotic. As the preacher grows more and more emotional, the high notes get louder and the cadence quickens. Everybody knows what is coming–subconsciously or otherwise, they start feeling the spirit as well. Finally, the preacher tearfully confesses his own sinfulness and the congregation preaches absolution to him, as he did to them a few moments earlier. (In the OALC sermons, the preacher also turned to his pulpit companion for absolution.)

      Very few Laestadians in the LLC speak Finnish anymore, probably fewer than 5% overall. (My hunch is that the percentages are similar in the other North American movements, though I really don’t know.) In some places like the Upper Peninsula and Detroit area of Michigan, there are more. Toronto is an exception in that a sizable percentage of the LLC congregation there has strong Finnish heritage and language.

    2. You hear a lot of Finnish-Americanisms in the U.P. My in-laws, especially, omit the word "to" whenever they're going somewhere. I.e. "we're going doctors."

      I listened to an LLC sermon recently on line (well, not all of it but enough to get the gist) and was struck by how similar, if not virtually identical, it was to a FALC sermon. Same cadence, tone, phrases, message, everything.

    3. EOP, the “keeping faith and a good conscience” phrase you mentioned is a direct word for word translation of how the verse is expressed in at least some Finnish bible translations. I'm now even more convinced that Laestadian English has been created by some people who didn't speak English very well. It's so amusingly Finnish-y to a native Finnish speaker.

      -Different Sort of Christian-

    4. I am not from the chuch but have been subjected to the subtle and eerie atmosphere of this exclusive and forbidding religion. After years and years of working with those from 'the kingdom' as they fake humility while being extemely self righteous, I have done my own research to determine why I was stayed around this environment when my heart told me something wasn't right. In listening to the podcasts of the local sermons, I noticed the lay pastors frequently mispronounce words and also give very little if any support for the assertions they pick at random and from the 'church calendar'. It is really striking! The phrase 'we know' is used time and time again by the preacher to support some assertion, but never explaining how this is known, who said it, and how do they know? Typically one would expect an in depth understanding of the contexts of the particular bible passage being read but I can tell you out of the many hours I have listened to I have not ever heard anyone who seems to really study the whole bible. Some of the younger preachers in particular are frightening in their cultish unsubstantiated and shallow renderings of the bible and again the context in which they interpret or fail to interpret the passages. WHAT DOES 'WE KNOW' MEAN? How to 'we know'? It's so blatant that there is no thought or respect given to the bible. These people have not earned the right to talk about this and counsel people. It's really unattractive and the think that they are so superior when it makes my skin crawl (and these people have already resigned themselves to the fact that my daughter and I are going to hell?


  3. EOP,
    Your post has so many underlying messages that I don't know where to start but I will comment on a few things.

    You quoted Robert Ingersoll saying "the doctrine of hell is infamous beyond all power to express....what harm had it not done"

    I think that the idea of hell, karma or afterlife has actually kept more people in line than it has harmed people. For example, the prison system has corruption and crime and has harm but does that mean that we should do away with the prison system? Although there is problems in the prison system, the idea of going to prison keeps many more people from committing crime and therefore keeps others safe from harm. Harmful? yes, but what's the alternative?

    You also quoted Tarico saying "the concept of heaven and hell is deep and primal".

    Primal is a key word. It means original, not evolved and not indoctrinated. In other words, our ancestors were born with it. If it truly is primal, for what purpose? Why are we born with this instinct? There must be a purpose to it.
    when you imply that there isn't a Hell or a heaven or something similar, you are not just arguing against leastadianism and christianity but many other religions, theologies and spiritual philosophies also.

    1. "I think that the idea of hell, karma or afterlife has actually kept more people in line than it has harmed people." I disagree. Is the fear of Hell the only reason you don't kill, rape or otherwise harm others? I certainly feel no desire to do so. Not to mention, you could make the case that religious motivation -- whether it's select interpretation or the idea that "God will forgive me" -- has caused more strife than any other philosophy.

      I agree that we're most likely hardwired to believe in the supernatural. But it is simply an evolutionary survival mechanism, and provides no evidence that the supernatural exists.

      And while I certainly don't need to speak for Ed, I most certainly am arguing against Laestadianism, Christianity and any other religions or theologies that advocate for such illogical barbarism.

    2. Also, please give yourself a moniker.

  4. I didn't say that religion hasn't caused harm but only the idea of heaven and Hell. They are two different things.

    You may not be tempted to commit a crime however history proves that humanity breaks down as the law does. just look at the mayhem after a natural disaster such as hurricane Katrina. People don't think they will be caught or punished and so they go on a rampage. I believe that the same could be applied to the idea of heaven and Hell. the article that you linked to implied that even atheist had some lingering ideas about this.

    You agree that we are hardwired to believe this and you stated that this idea does not prove that there is a supernatural. That is true but, here's the deal and a catch 22, your idea doesn't prove that there is not a supernatural.

    Illogical barbarism? How is reaping what you sow illogical or barbaric? How is karma illogical or barbaric?

    I'm sorry for not signing. I forget often.

    - my view

    1. It seems like you're asking the age-old question, where do Atheists get their morals from? Of course, the answer varies from person to person, but it basically boils down to evolutionary genetics (i.e. we have evolved to have the capacity for empathy and nurture, since it helped propagate the species) along with logical reasoning that as social animals, it is unproductive to cause unnecessary unrest, and if I help my neighbor they are more likely to also help me in the future.

      I will grant you that there are probably some people for whom the threat of Hell is the major deterrent for a life of crime. I would argue, however, that is a much, much lower number than what you seem to believe. I think most people are normal people who don't have those types of desires (contrary to the "we are all sin-filled wretches" pablum of Laestadius).

      Of course the idea of a hardwired propensity towards faith does not disprove the supernatural. It also doesn't disprove the Flying Spaghetti Monster -- you can't prove a negative. People seem to think atheists believe there is no God, when it's simply a disbelief in God. There's a difference. The burden of proof is on the one making the claim, and extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. I have not seen it yet, and since I also no longer see faith as a virtue I simply cannot believe it.

      Reaping what you sow is not illogical or barbaric. Sending someone to an ETERNAL TORMENT IN HELL for a finite crime or "sin" is.

  5. No, I really was just focusing on 2 points. his idea that belief in heaven and Hell causes lots of HARM and that this belief in heaven and Hell is PRIMAL. Morals is a topic in its own.

    But I will comment on your idea of morals...

    You said people are moral because it's "unproductive to cause unnecessary unrest, and if I help my neighbor they are more likely to also help me in the future."

    But What happens when people believe it is productive. That they can get what they want and not get punished or caught? Your example of morals is a self serving moral and it aligns with my point that the idea of Hell/punishment keeps people inline.

    In the last post I used the example of the stuff people do after a hurricane but I'll bring it closer.

    It is a common occurrence that people speed while driving. unless a cop is around. When we are speeding we will brake when we see a cop. Maybe you don't personally. Maybe you always obey every law but I do speed often and I know many other people do too. However, most people will not speed past a cop. Not because we have this moralistic view but only because we don't want a ticket. well the idea a heaven and a Hell, that we will have to answer for every deed and every word we ever spoke (seen and unseen), I imagine is a deterrent for many. Not because people are so full of moral but because people are often self serving and don't want to answer for that to God (or a supernatural being).

    As far as a illogical and barbaric God who sends people to eternal torment for a "finite" sin is not my idea of sowing what you reap or karma. if you do bad things, bad things happen to you. If you plant a rose bush I don't believe God will give you only the thorns.

    You said that unbelief was different than not believing. I don't see how that is different exactly, especially if it is true that we are born with the idea of a heaven and a Hell. Maybe I'm wrong but I think you are saying that you never believed in God because it needs proved to you first which is the difference that you believed when you were born and dismissed it as you reasoned with the idea. A little confusing; maybe you can explain it better. But I understand your definition of unbelief vs not believing then this negates the original quote that "belief" is primal.

    -my view

    1. No, "unbelief" and "not believing" are the same thing. The difference is a POSITIVE belief there is no God vs. Not Believing there is a God. One is a positive assertion, the other is not.

      On the contrary, we are all born atheist. A child has no concept of heaven and hell or the supernatural. That is all taught and ingrained into them by parents or other authority figures (church). Our general inclination to ACCEPT or believe in those concepts is what's hardwired into us; but those beliefs are entirely dependent on who is teaching us and what is taught.

      I'm not arguing the possibility of punishment is not a deterrent for aberrant behavior. But the difference between our justice system and Hell is, only one of these is "Just" (or at least, attempts to be). As Ed points out, the other is used to create irrational fear and panic, with all of its harmful affects (tribalism, bullying, no questions allowed, etc.).

  6. The Bible teaches that the goodness of God leads us to repentance. But what does the creator know we are the created and we got the Sisu.,.........

    1. The Koran teaches that through his prophet Mohammed we are to follow the principles of Islam and receive our eternal salvation. But what does Allah know, we are the created and we got the kibr.

  7. Fear of being sent to hell was a common weapon used against children back in the 50's and 60's by parents who were themselves children who were told they were going to hell in the 1920's and 1930's. Instead of the preachers proclaiming the blessings and benefits of walking in faith, we were told that God was constantly dumping burdens on Christians so that they always had 'trials' that they had to endure......otherwise they faced hell. However, we also heard that if one was living a 'worldly' life of sin they might be happy now (the devil's peace) but eventually God would punish them with some type of malfeasance. I got to thinking about that one day.....you mean if I walk in faith God is going to dump on me no matter what to make me 'stronger' but if I do not follow the church's teachings I get to live in peace and maybe some day I will be punished?.......Hmmmm.....it sounded to me that by living in the world (outside the church) my odds were actually better of having a peaceful life than if I lived in the 'only true Christian church.' Anyways, the whole Laestadian hell teaching is actually a case of 'truth by omission'. Rather than have a faith that taught the blessings of living a life of faith in Christ, the teachings were skewed so that one was taught the 'blessings of living in the church and obeying its dogma' and conversely what was also taught was the curses and punishment if one did not belong to the church. The Laestadian tradition of teaching 'truth by omission' never seems to end. Old AP

  8. So many of the Laestadian teachings fail to hold together when examined closely, even in the context of the Bible. In fact, if anyone is interested, rather than copying them all here, here is a list of 92 verses describing salvation as a free gift from God. John 3:16 is a frequently cited verse, here from the NIV: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. When someone still in the church was questioned about that verse, he quickly said, "Oh, you're taking that from the NIV? No wonder. That version is so twisted, you can't rely on that."

    Well, the King James version says: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. It differs by two words: "begotten" and "so". That is hardly twisted.

    I read that over and over to myself, and the numerous other verses that talk about salvation, and concluded that the Laestadians were not going by the Bible, but by what they had been taught by the people who came before them. They completely disregarded that verse and the others like it, and added their own qualifications for salvation.

    It reminded me of Jesus' words when he castigated the Pharisees in Matthew 23 where he says "For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers." And he says "But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in." And then he compares them to whitewashed tombs that are clean and white on the outside, and are full of dead men's bones and uncleanness.

    They are trying to close off free access to salvation by saying that it's not enough to believe in the sacrifice Christ made. No, you have to do this further thing in addition to that. You have to enter the kingdom through the words of a member of their church. They are trying to be the gatekeepers and say who is saved and who is not, based on if people have signed on the dotted line as a "believer" in the Laestadian church. It doesn't hold water.

    ~mouse in a corner

  9. Methinks the mouse in the corner roars like a lion! Well said, Mouse!