Another 95 Theses

Note: Read through the text in this white-background scrollbox using its vertical scrollbar, by hovering your mouse pointer here and using the mouse wheel, or by clicking somewhere here and using the page up/down and arrow keys. For tablets etc., here’s a single-page view of this text.

Many readers of my first book, An Examination of the Pearl and the postings I’ve made on extoots and my own blog were born into an exclusivist sect of fundamentalist Christianity known as Conservative Laestadianism. Were you one of the doubters tempted into sneaking a peek or two at the book’s online version? Thousands of people have now read at least parts of it. And well they should: There are real problems with the faith in which you and I were raised, and they are not your fault.

Photo credit (and background image): Michael Elleray, adapted per Creative Commons license.

But what you almost certainly will not do—cannot do—is accept the book as an honest assessment of your faith, not if you want to retain it unscathed. The claims you have grown up hearing as a “child of God” (what a self-designation!) are sadly incompatible with the facts outlined in the book, on point after point.

So, if you wish to remain “believing” while lacking any substantive response to these points, you basically have three options. You can avoid reading any more of the book, ignoring its existence as much as possible. You can resort to the old catch-all excuse that “faith” cannot be understood by reason. (In other words, anything goes!) Or, if none of that helps, you could just dismiss me and my research. I’ve heard myself called plenty of things by the faithful: blind, false prophet, tool of the devil.

One of the more amusing of these personal slurs is that I view myself as another Luther. Well, let me assure my former brethren in the Laestadian Lutheran Church, which takes its name from two upstart leaders of rebellions against the established church of their day, that I have no interest in such comparisons. Unlike either of those men, I’ve never been at risk of my life or career, claimed divine revelation, had visions of the devil, or started a rival religious movement. As much as I admire Luther (not so much the grim and creepy Laestadius), there are some things about Der Reformator that I would rather not be associated with.

Look, all that I offer you is the honest product of devoting a year of my life to full-time research of our childhood faith. After thousands of hours of effort, after the gut-wrenching anguish of seeing a once-cherished faith crumble to dust before my eyes, would you expect anything less than my candid assessment of things?

If you want to make comparisons, consider this: Are you any less deserving of the truth about the most important matter of your life than the poor residents of Wittenberg who stood in line paying for indulgences five hundred years ago? I certainly don’t think so. My book was written with the same motivation that Luther expressed in his 95 Theses, “out of love for the truth and the desire to bring it to light.” On this point, at least, I am willing to let the church’s defenders claim that I want to be compared with Luther. Perhaps they should consider where they stand.

So, to those selling the modern-day indulgences of forgiveness for manufactured guilt, and to those handing over their valuable currency of intellectual honesty and a lifetime of foreclosed options, I present my own 95 Theses. (You are free to write your own; grab a readable Bible translation and some history books, and go to it!) And, as a bonus, here is the entirety of my “religious” teaching, which is hardly orginal: Proportion your beliefs to the evidence you have for them, and expect no less of others. As with love, if you doubt something, set it free. If it finds a footing in the spaces of your mind, it is yours to believe with true conviction and joy.

—Ed Suominen
 Reformation Day: October 31, 2013.

What’s been Nailed to this Door?

What you see to the left is a full set of 95 theses that I consider relevant to Conservative Laestadianism as practiced by the Laestadian Lutheran Church in North America. The first ten of those are actually things I find positive about the group, despite having left it for the abundant reasons detailed in the remaining 85 items.

That is the narrowest theological view. Contrary to offical pronouncements, Conservative Laestadianism in the SRK (Finland) is considerably less dogmatic and restrictive. Hence, it is viewed here as a lower (i.e., less demanding) “faith level,” on a six-point sliding scale. In order of decreasing difficulty, the “faith levels” are: LLC (U.S.), SRK (Finland), Laestadian, Lutheran, Christian, Theist. At one end, you have a tiny, unknown sect that considers even other types of Laestadians hell-bound unbelievers. At the other, you have mere theism, a belief in some sort of God without much else to worry about. Yet issues remain there, too.

You can look at how many problems confront each level of religious belief by clicking the links at the upper left of the screen. A narrower theological viewpoint has more doctrinal tenets, hence more problems when reality clashes with that dogma. Naturally, there are fewer headaches as your theology gets more watered down.

I’ve also put the various issues into individual categories. You can see a shorter list (for whatever theological level you’re at) by clicking a particular category of interest.

Mousing Around

The items are listed on the left side of this page. Each one has a list of hyperlinked references to numbered sections of An Examination of the Pearl that discuss that particular issue. Clicking one of the links will bring up that section of the book here, in this right-hand scrollbox. Below the section references is a list of corresponding page numbers to the printed edition of EOP.

To navigate through the list of items, move your mouse pointer to the left side of the page and use the mouse wheel and page up/down keys as usual. To read through the book in this scrollbox, use the mouse wheel while the mouse pointer is hovering over the white part. Or you can use the vertical scrollbar, or click somewhere in the white part and use page up/down and arrow keys normally. (You’ll have to click on the list of items to restore normal scrolling, though.)

The rest of this text is an explanation for why I am nailing these 95 Theses of mine to the virtual church door, and to address the inevitable sneers of dismissal that will arise as a result: “Oh, he just thinks he’s another Martin Luther.” To read on, try out the navigation tips in the previous paragraph.

A Few External Links