Conservative Laestadianism

43


Discussion by: Halla
Hi everyone.

First off, I want to apoligize for my relatively weak english.

I’m a 17-year-old female high school student in Finland. When it comes to religion, I’d say that out of all the young finnish people most are atheists (myself included).

However, I was born to a very strict and raging religion called Conservative Laestadianism. It is a Lutheran revival movement and the most succesful Laestadian movement. There are about 155.000 Conservative Laestadians, and most of them live in Finland, Sweden and USA.

I was brought up and brainwashed in a very close-minded community. It seemed to almost intentionally try to keep me separated from the other (normal) kids. I was taught that only Conservative Laestadianism can sell you the ticket to heaven. However, the prize isn’t exactly the lowest:

- Premarital sex is a sin.
- Contraception is a sin.
- Homosexuality is a sin.
- Wearing any makeup is a sin (as well as colouring your nails).
- Having piercings and/or tattoos is a sin.
- Dyeing your hair is a sin.
- Any music from the last century is horrifyingly sinful.
- Being a professional athlete/actor is a sin.
- Going to the cinema is a sin.
- Having a TV is a sin.
- Alcohol, drugs, gambling and swearing are sins.
- Being a female priest/preacher is a sin.
- Movies and kissing are frowned upon.

I may have forgotten some unwritten rules, but the list above gives you an idea of the kind of life I’m supposed to live.

As I grew older and went to school, I was very insecure and ashamed of who I was. I tried to hide my religion from my friends as well as I could. But often I felt like I was missing out on life, since I wasn’t allowed to do almost anything.

When the school started to teach about evolution, I was just utterly confused. But since it all made sense, I started to believe in scientific explanations about the universe. However, I had to watch my mouth at home, because I was afraid that my parents might get mad. Later on I learned that they actually believed in evolution, because “God’s day can be a lot longer than ours”.

As I became a teenager, I started living a secret life. I listened to modern music, danced if I wanted to and went to movies with my friends. I abandoned religion and became an atheist. However, because I hid everything from my parents, I felt like I had no real control over my life. Future seemed scary and uncertain. I started cutting myself and controlling my eating habits to escape from reality. I was screaming in frustration but no one heard me.

However, now I’ve decided that I don’t want to hide anymore. But coming out of the closet isn’t easy. There is no way I could gracefully escape from the cage my family’s religion has built around me. Because the Laestadian community is so large and powerful, it will certainly raise a huge fuss if one decides to leave it. I’m happy with my social life and I don’t want other people to see me differently. I don’t want to become the black sheep. I’m also afraid that people would start ponting fingers at my parents, since my brother came out as a non-believer just about a year ago.

I’m also concerned about the problems this religion causes. All the decision-makers in the comminuty are men. Stressed mothers of oversized families are often depressed. Intolerance of certain people (e.g. gays) is encouraged. Young people feel insecure and lost in today’s world, which so eagerly feasts on things that are considered sinful.

I wanted to bring this particular religion to daylight and hear your thoughts on it and the dilemmas I’m facing.

Thank you.

43 COMMENTS

  1. Dear Halla,

    I confess I come from a similar background, although not as conservative as you describe. I admire that you have a much more sophisticated mentality than I had at 17 years old. In my case, I only realised what you did at about 30 years old, and never actually came out to my family. I know how you feel; that’s pretty much the only thing I can say.

    Best regards,

    Will

    • In reply to #1 by FreeWill:

      Dear Halla,I confess I come from a similar background, although not as conservative as you describe. I admire that you have a much more sophisticated mentality than I had at 17 years old. In my case, I only realised what you did at about 30 years old, and never actually came out to my family. I know how you feel; that’s pretty much the only thing I can say.Best regards,Will

      Same here, Halla! Good luck to you. It sucks being in the closet…

  2. Strange faith. I’m surprise we Yanks didn’t create it. As the Statue of Libery proudly proclaims, “Give us your poor, your tired and your nut-jobs longing to fleece the public.”

    Your age makes this a bit tricky. Because you are Finnish, you ought to live at least another 65 years. For this reason, I’d suggest you might need to hang in there another couple of years until your future is secured. Once you are in a university and know you can handle things financially, you are free to bolt.

    It’s not like this is Islam for which the exit penalty is death. Lean on your brother- he left and survived. And who knows, the two of you might eventually free your parents from their bondage. That your father already accepts evolution is a big step in the right direction. Just guessing, but I assume your parents were also brainwashed but in a time when information was not so readily available.

  3. First off, I want to apoligize for my relatively weak english.

    Yes. Well, your English is excellent. Also, you’ve laid your thoughts out very clearly, considering the emotional struggles that are attached to them.

    I wish I had advice for you but it’s beyond my expertise. I will say that you seem to be doing a wonderful job so far. You have some very difficult choices to make. You don’t have to make them all at once, no matter how tangled up they seem.

    Have you had an opportunity to talk to a professional about the cutting and food issues? You need to do that if at all possible. You should tell them what you’ve told us. Or just show them what you’ve written here.

    I wanted to bring this particular religion to daylight and hear your thoughts on it and the dilemmas I’m facing.

    I’d never heard of this religion. Thank you for bringing it to my attention. It sounds a lot like the Closed Brethren community a good friend of mine was brought up in. She grew up in a small town in a very cloistered community who preached the same messages that you describe. It was very hard on her.

    Faith is a dangerous thing. It can go in any direction it wants because it doesn’t have to play by the rules like science and reason do. It can lead individuals, groups, nations to some very twisted places. Trust your voice of reason.

    You’re using your brain and trusting your own judgement. That’s the best you can do and you’re doing it well.

    Keep it up. :-)

  4. Halla

    This sounds remarkably similar to the Exclusive Brethren that I grew up in. The EB have a strict doctrine of separation from evil whereby, if you stray from the path of their draconian and, frankly, ridiculous rules, you will be “withdrawn from” and lose all contact with the community including immediate family. Not sure if the CL has a similar policy, but I wouldn’t be surprised! The exEB community has a website at peebs.net offering help and support, which may be of use to the exCL and others.

    Regards

    Zob

  5. In my youth I spent a couple of years in a region of Northern Norway where Laestadians were very prevalent. One amusing observation I made was that, although they were not permitted to own a television, they were apparently allowed to visit neighbours to watch. So, whenever there was some popular sports event broadcast on TV, you had to expect that some of them could turn up at your doorstep.

  6. Dear Halla,

    I was raised in a fundamentalist church (the Church of Christ) that has very similar views to those you describe amongst the Conservative Laestadians. I confess that I was unnerved to discover that such a sect exists in Finland (we Americans are used to thinking of Finland as a very progressive and sophisticated country: after all, you gave us the Linux operating system!)

    I also encountered rejection from my parents and of course our religious community when I broke free of religion, at about the same age as you (I am 44 years old now.) As I came to realize that the tenants of the faith were nonsense, I also became very angry at those who had indoctrinated me. I still carry the weight of that anger to this day, and I’m not sure what to do about it. One thing that I try to keep in mind is that my parents were themselves brainwashed into religion as children, as were their parents and so on. So really, I should be more sad than angry, because my parents did not consciously know that they were deceiving me when they indoctrinated me.

    The good news (I’m sure you already know this) is that there are many, many people who are in or have been in exactly the same situation that you’re in now, as regards leaving the religion of their parents. We’re easy enough to find online, but I’m hoping that you can find others perhaps even in your community who share your pain: it is good to be able to laugh and cry along with someone else in person. Surely there are such people around you? I hope so. If not, keep reaching out to the online community, and I’m sure you will find support and welcome.

    Your English is excellent, by the way.

    Cheers to you, from Kentucky, which is in the “Bible Belt” of the United States.

    Alan Canon

  7. Well, ain’t life in the Conservative Laestadianism Church fun.

    God I hate those narrow-minded parochial mentalities sometimes (well, often, being from one).

    I would say choose your moment carefully, proceed on a need to know basis, and be prepared to deal consequence. No turning back, and your relationship with friends and family will definitely change. Don’t make a big deal out of it.

    Best moment would probably be after you leave the place and be comfortable and self-reliant. As for the judgemental pricks and so on, I just brushed it off. You’ll grow a thick skin quickly. Pretty much the only meaningful relationship that would need to be maintained would be with your close relatives. The rest can jog on.

  8. Halla,

    This may come over as lazy, but here are a few links to discussions on this site by people with similar problems. Each one with a slightly different angle and each with some excellent advice in the comments. Other than that, I can only say that considering how much hiding your true self is hurting you, you owe it to yourself to come out. Your parents, indoctrinated or not, will still love you.

    http://richarddawkins.net/discussions/2012/11/16/is-finding-the-truth-worth-potentially-breaking-the-hearts-of-those-close-to-me

    http://richarddawkins.net/discussions/2012/12/19/are-there-atheists-and-agnostics-communities#.UO7Gym_AeFk

    http://richarddawkins.net/discussions/2012/12/30/deconversion-and-family#.UO7GuG_AeFk

    http://richarddawkins.net/discussions/2012/12/31/atheism-divorce-and-choices#.UO7GpG_AeFk

    Best of luck.

  9. If you intend to go to university, chose one at least 250 km from your parents’ home.

    If you don’t intend to go to university, get a job at least 250 km from your parents’ home.

    I assume you leave school / become an adult at 18 in Finland. Less than a year to go before you are free!

  10. Hi Halla,

    since there aren’t that many other Finns on this site, I kind of feel obliged to say something every time one appears. My vantage point is unfortunately completely different from yours. I come from a non-religious family and have never believed in gods or had any pressure to do so. Therefore I cannot in all honesty say that I understand what you are going through. However, I do deeply sympathize with your situation. It cannot be easy to be in your shoes. The psychological and social reef you have to navigate must be demanding.

    The only thing I can hope is that you coming out of the closet turns out for the best. No one should have to live a lie. There are people who belong to religious groups even though they don’t believe any more, simply because they don’t want to hurt their families by revealing their unbelief. They essentially sacrifice their own happiness to spare the feelings of others. You should rather be comfortable with your own thoughts than worry about social stigma.

    You do not mention if the Lestadians practice shunning; cutting off all ties to a person who decides to put the life of faith behind them. Having talked to a few Jehovah’s Witnesses, I know that they do that. To me that’s one of the worst forms of emotional blackmail and I hope Lestadians do not do that. Having to choose between your freedom and your family is not a decision one should have to make. Jehovah’s witnesses also have a “council of elders” which questions and threatens a person for hours if that person decides to leave the group. I truly hope that’s not something Lestadians do either. A young person like you should not have to experience being accused of all kind of things just because you’re making a decision for your own future.

    Let’s try to end on a positive note. I would say that Finland might still be one of the easier places to be a non-believer. Even if you have been raised in a sheltered group of people and they might be difficult to face, the rest of the outside community is much more accepting. As you said yourself “out of all the young Finnish people most are atheists”. Yes, many are completely Atheist, but even more people are religiously apathetic. These people do not care about religion at all, it doesn’t play a part in their lives, the don’t think about it and consequently they often don’t even know themselves what they believe. Often many religious people even feel that it’s an embarrassment to reveal to people that you are a believer, unlike in many other countries where belief is worn as a badge of honour.

    You will meet many like-minded people (Atheists, Agnostics, Humanists, rationalists, sceptics, etc.) in Finland, and from your text I understand that you already have. So you won’t be alone. You also mention that your brother has come out a year ago. He could be someone to talk to if you can. You say that you care about what others say about your parents, maybe you’re afraid that people will question their parenting skills. Remember that those who try to condemn you or your family are just small-minded people.

    You’re only 17 with your life ahead of you. You should not care about what others say when you make decisions about your future. You are not the first or the last to leave Lestadianism. The thing about about growing up is that your thoughts mature too and you get more comfortable with who you are. And if you have to pretend among fellow adults that you’re something that you’re not, it starts eating you up. It is like “screaming on the inside”, as you said. Telling your parents you’re an Atheist might take courage, but in the end the sentence itself takes just two seconds to say. It’s like ripping of a bandage, it hurts a while and then there’s some aftercare to do, but after that you’re happy that it’s done.

  11. Hi Halla,

    since there aren’t that many other Finns on this site, I kind of feel obliged to say something every time one appears. My vantage point is unfortunately completely different from yours. I come from a non-religious family and have never believed in gods or had any pressure to do so. Therefore I cannot in all honesty say that I understand what you are going through. However, I do deeply sympathize with your situation. It cannot be easy to be in your shoes. The psychological and social reef you have to navigate must be demanding.

    The only thing I can hope is that you coming out of the closet turns out for the best. No one should have to live a lie. There are people who belong to religious groups even though they don’t believe any more, simply because they don’t want to hurt their families by revealing their unbelief. They essentially sacrifice their own happiness to spare the feelings of others. You should rather be comfortable with your own thoughts than worry about social stigma.

    You do not mention if the Lestadians practice shunning; cutting off all ties to a person who decides to put the life of faith behind them. Having talked to a few Jehovah’s Witnesses, I know that they do that. To me that’s one of the worst forms of emotional blackmail and I hope Lestadians do not do that. Having to choose between your freedom and your family is not a decision one should have to make. Jehovah’s witnesses also have a “council of elders” which questions and threatens a person for hours if that person decides to leave the group. I truly hope that’s not something Lestadians do either. A young person like you should not have to experience being accused of all kind of things just because you’re making a decision for your own future.

    Let’s try to end on a positive note. I would say that Finland might still be one of the easier places to be a non-believer. Even if you have been raised in a sheltered group of people and they might be difficult to face, the rest of the outside community is much more accepting. As you said yourself “out of all the young Finnish people most are atheists”. Yes, many are completely Atheist, but even more people are religiously apathetic. These people do not care about religion at all, it doesn’t play a part in their lives, the don’t think about it and consequently they often don’t even know themselves what they believe. Often many religious people even feel that it’s an embarrassment to reveal to people that you are a believer, unlike in many other countries where belief is worn as a badge of honour.

    You will meet many like-minded people (Atheists, Agnostics, Humanists, rationalists, sceptics, etc.) in Finland, and from your text I understand that you already have. So you won’t be alone. You also mention that your brother has come out a year ago. He could be someone to talk to if you can. You say that you care about what others say about your parents, maybe you’re afraid that people will question their parenting skills. Remember that those who try to condemn you or your family are just small-minded people.

    You’re only 17 with your life ahead of you. You should not care about what others say when you make decisions about your future. You are not the first or the last to leave Lestadianism. The thing about about growing up is that your thoughts mature too and you get more comfortable with who you are. And if you have to pretend among fellow adults that you’re something that you’re not, it starts eating you up. It is like “screaming on the inside”, as you said. Telling your parents you’re an Atheist might take courage, but in the end the sentence itself takes just two seconds to say. It’s like ripping of a bandage, it hurts a while and then there’s some aftercare to do, but after that you’re happy that it’s done.

  12. Hi

    I was going to say something flippantly like ‘getting a tattoo is a sin’ in a pitiful attempt at humour. But as I kept reading I feel sorry that your life has being difficult. I suppose you have to ask yourself a few things, I don’t obviously know your parents.
    But do they know that you had being cutting yourself and did you get the appropriate help?
    I don’t really want to suggest any course of action here ;I don’t know what kind of people your parents are and I don’t know are you fully over your problem. If I absolutely had to , I’d say wait until you get a bit more independent. You need to preserve yourself in the best way possible. If your problems are not full resolved, you should tell someone about it , start with a doctor or a counsellor.

    Best of Luck, I wish you well.

  13. Hi, I was looking over the threads here and yours jumped out to me, as there are a few similarities in our backgrounds. I was not raised in a cult, but my family was very controlling, and especially my mother very religious (I understand that it is due to her depression, an attempt to find someone who could love even her, if you know what I mean). And, as embarrassing as it is to admit it as a man, I too turned to cutting, and picked up a few addictions attempting to cope. Thankfully, that’s all in the past, but that experience revealed to me just how religions twist us, use us, tear us apart to feed themselves, like a mental cancer.

    I’m not familiar with Laestadianism, and am grateful that you’re out there raising awareness. Think about how much courage that takes. You have not left the community, and are still out there raising awareness, expressing concerns. That’s astounding. It sounds like a terrible way to be brought up, and you’re quite right to question the effect that it might have on your mental state and that of the people you know. Religion operates with emotional blackmail, and no matter the manner, emotional blackmail negatively affects people. I have held back for years, hid my atheist texts, hid my (lack of) beliefs because every time they would come up, my mother would do whatever it took to guilt me. And what is the effect? Chronic low self-esteem, an underlying sense that I was innately flawed, evil, because I could not believe in her God. And how I tried! I simply could not bend my mind in that way, so I must be sick, I must be flawed, I must be evil. It took years of therapy, both inpatient and outpatient to help me understand myself and her. You are young. I would urge you to save yourself any further pain.

    As others have said, you have your brother. I don’t presume to know how your relationship is, but from my own experience with my sister, I can tell you there is a connection shared by escapees from strict religions. There is a good chance that he might help you. However, there is a good chance that coming out to your parents will go badly for you. They might kick you out, disown you. It’s bleak, but true. You didn’t tell us how they reacted with your brother. That will be a good indicator.

    As for protecting your parents, it’s a natural and admirable instinct, but you MUST realize that your life is your own. We’re taught, often by religious parables, that it’s admirable to throw ourselves under the bus. This is not the case. You are free to believe as you do. I would only ask that you be cautious. If you think that your parents will kick you out, and you have no place to stay or it might jeopardize your future (College, etc.), hold back until your future is secure. Make a stand, but don’t risk more than you must.

  14. However, because I hid everything from my parents, I felt like I had no real control over my life. Future seemed scary and uncertain. I started cutting myself and controlling my eating habits to escape from reality. I was screaming in frustration but no one heard me.

    I want to thank you for your honesty and courage to admit this. Telling people about cutting and eating disorders is the first thing you needed to do to get help. That fact that you told us is evidence that you want to better yourself.

    My guess is since you were taught evolution at school the school is progressive enough to have some type of counselor or nurse on staff. Have you considered talking with him or her? Cutting and eating disorders are not that uncommon for teens so they may have experience helping others in that area.

    My second bit of advice is to start and maintain a daily exercise routine. It doesn’t have to be an extreme work out, daily walks are fine to start with. But really any exercise is fine, whatever you think is fun. Believe it or not, there is ample evidence that an exercise routine can increase self-esteem and reduce stress. It’s an excellent coping tool.

    I’d be interested seeing any follow up. Did you find any of the comments to your post helpful?

  15. Halla,
    Know that you are strong and intelligent. Know that you are “worth it”. Make your decision and be at peace with both the decision and the fall out. All the advice in the world (stuff like ….”If it were me I’d….”) won’t alter what is nagging at you in your brain over and over. Listen to yourself and trust yourself.

    You probably already know (deep down) what course of action you’ll take. Commit to it and see it through, whether it be coming out today, tomorrow, or never. You are obligated only to yourself. Be happy. Best wishes.

  16. The problems you describe follow very closely the tribulations I observed with various teens that were enveloped in my mother’s religion, Jehovah’s Witnesses. There’s a real siege mentality existent and a widely held belief that they are witnessing the end of current system of things. I was lucky in that my father, for all his faults, was an atheist and wouldn’t allow me or my siblings to be bullied into the church. I wish there was a method for extracting yourself from your situation painlessly, I saw too many children of my mom’s acquaintances pushed into unwanted relationships and actions as a result of trying to keep their parents pleased with them.

  17. Difficult times Halla, and I don’t envy you. I suggest you pick your battles – don’t come right out and challenge it all, just ask for clarification on some things, quietly. “Where in the bible does it mention dancing is a sin”, etc. A lot of the dictates don’t sound to be religious at all, just standard conservatism dressed up in religion.

    I understand your need to cut yourself and (I’m guessing) some eating disorders – it’s a way of controlling something in an otherwise uncontrollable life. But don’t – the best way to work it all out is just wait. You’re 17 now, obviously intelligent. Time is on your side. Study, have fun, stand by your guns but don’t fire them. Let the days, weeks go by. Sounds like forever, but it isn’t. Each day that goes by is a victory for you. And try to find a good friend that you can talk to about things.

  18. Hi Halla,

    I’m not from a weird conservative religious sect. Instead I’m a middle-aged atheist who can’t find it in his heart to subscribe to the trendy left-wing liberal agenda. Here’s what I think:

    • Premarital sex is a sin. No, but if you don’t care that much about who you sleep with chances are you don’t care much about anything.
    • Contraception is a sin. No, it’s a good idea.
    • Homosexuality is a sin. No, but it is something that was universally condemned in all places and all times until ten minutes ago in one particular culture. Such a quick U turn should give any thinking person food for thought.
    • Wearing any makeup is a sin (as well as colouring your nails). No, providing you don’t look like Amy Winehouse when you’ve finished. What’s wrong with Amy Whitehouse? Answering that question gets to the heart of the world views of liberals and conservatives.
    • Having piercings and/or tattoos is a sin. No, just an ugly way of showing solidarity with criminals and egotists who are more interested in how the world sees them than in the world itself.
    • Dyeing your hair is a sin. No, but why dye your hair unless it is ginger? Your dazzling personality isn’t enough to get you noticed?
    • Any music from the last century is horrifyingly sinful. No, but gangster rap really is just for morons.
    • Being a professional athlete/actor is a sin. Really? That really is a strange religion.
    • Going to the cinema is a sin. No, just a waste of money in most cases.
    • Having a TV is a sin. Really? Who would want to forego David Attenborough’s documentaries?
    • Alcohol, drugs, gambling and swearing are sins. No, just ways of getting through the day if you find life too dull without them.
    • Being a female priest/preacher is a sin. Why would a woman want to belong to an organisation that didn’t treat her as an equal? More fool her.
    • Movies and kissing are frowned upon. No, some movies are great and so is kissing the right person.
  19. I would second the idea of seeking the experience of people who faced a similar dilemma. Someone who escaped the Church itself will probably help you a great on what to do and what not to do.

    I’m happy with my social life and I don’t want other people to see me differently.

    That unfortunately won’t be possible. But sometimes, you have to get out of your comfort zone, and start with a fresh perspective. Easier said than done, especially when you feel alone.

    I’m also afraid that people would start pointing fingers at my parents, since my brother came out as a non-believer just about a year ago.

    Well, he would be your first port of call, if you think you can trust him. Obviously, he has to understand that this will be on your own terms, not his. i.e. anonymity, patience and complete trust required.

  20. I guess you have an excellent English and very clear ideas, and with your age I think I was much more immature, but it differs from person to person I guess, because some girl of the same age than me once told me: “I am about your age, but see me as much older than you” (in fact, my friend was much more grown up than me comparatively), and she promised me that would help me (I had several problems; talking about suicide, sleeping too much, not eating at all or just eating chocolate and bananas, and I gues I was becoming “regressive” too). Fortunately this friend wanted to be a therapist and promised me that she would help (as she did, and she really became a therapist, specially of children and teens that have self image problems caused by their social surroundings and parents too).

    I would like to offer some”help”, specially for having read this:

    ” I felt like I had no real control over my life. Future seemed scary and uncertain. I started cutting myself and controlling my eating habits to escape from reality. I was screaming in frustration but no one heard me.”

    Please take care and find someone to hear you (at school for instance).

  21. Halla,

    One more thing. I think you have an advantage over many young people today in that you have a strict moral code to rebel against. There is something solid behind the door you have your shoulder to. This has been the way for practically every generation in human history. It’s part of the human condition.

    The 1960s in the west represented the first time that youth had found itself pushing against an open door. Being allowed to do everything is more disorientating than having a code to rebel against. There now exists only the legal and the illegal. The frowning, the social pressure and the stigma attached to undesirable behaviour has gone, accept in some religious and conservative enclaves. Religious views on the creation of the universe and the role of God might be cranky, but it would be much harder to claim with certainty that modern liberals have a better handle on what constitutes ‘the good life’ than strict religious groups.

  22. Oh my dear, I’m very sorry for your distress. Unfortunately, I evolved into an atheist v-e-r-y slowly, but then I was your age in 1957 & things were much different. All I can say is grit your teeth & meditate on what you wish during services until you’re ready to assert your independence. I was brought up Roman Catholic in a not particularly religious family, married in the Lutheran church at age 25 because my husband’s family was that religion & have not paid too much attention to religion since.

  23. Dear Halla(I hope that’s not your real name on the basis that one of your co religionists might report you)
    Your level of English is better than 90% of native English speakers; indicating of course natural reasoning talent.
    As a result of being raised in your described faith ,you know clearly what nonsense faith actually is.
    As others have said go to University at a safe distance and discover the joys of freedom of thought and expression.
    And, stay on this blog my dear.
    You’ve raised a great deal of interest in your future well being !
    And your future comments on other subjects will be warmly welcomed .

  24. Hello, Halla.

    I feel very sorry that there are people in your position – you know – those whose parents have such strong and, (to me), weird beliefs. It seems like there must – be a huge rift between you and your parents, (plus their church). But it’s not of your doing, it is the church, that rejects you, much, much more so than you reject the church. The church’s reaction to apostates is quite vicious and mean.

    It seems to me that you are just being yourself ~ a sane, rational and sensible person. Hopefully as you become your true self more and more, you will abandon those destructive things you said that you have done to yourself, (not to anyone else).

    Rest assured, there are loads of people in this world who will honour and respect you for who you are, and support you in your thinking and your more independent and adult life. Choose your friends wisely?

  25. Hi Halla,

    We share the same background… I hope you get out with minimal harm to your life. ;) An American former Conservative Laestadian wrote a book about his quest to freedom/whatever, have you read that? http://examinationofthepearl.org/

    There are also a few peer support groups for ex-, wannabe-ex, and critical-minded Laestadians in the Facebook, both in Finnish and English.

  26. I stumbled onto this while googling Laestadianism. http://extoots.blogspot.com/2007/02/laestadian-humor_545.html I thought the joke was funny, but realized this is similar to extremely conservative Catholicism, but much worse. I hope you get out soon. Speak to your brother or maybe college can offer you freedom. Please be sure to see a counselor. You may need to see several before you find the right one.

    http://extoots.blogspot.com/2005/06/benefits-of-leaving-oalc_5613.html

    Note: The link I referenced is still a believer that left your church, but it may have some resources that are beneficial.

  27. One of the many things my parents did for me which i cherish,is bringing me as an atheist, especially after reading posts like this.
    When you eventually have children you know what to do. I have two atheist children aged 10 and 12 they have no fear of any god or devil. Just respect for people of all life styles.
    Regards
    Steve

  28. Halla,
    I know how hard it can be escaping from a highly religious community, but I’ve never encountered anything like this-the really wacky cultists in my area (Mormons and Baptists) are too small in number to do much really damage or control the entire community. You’re incredibly impressive and inspiring for 17, and your maturity is to be admired. I’m only 15, so I’m afraid I haven’t quite “been there” yet, but I would suggest getting out into the world ASAP. Maybe an exchange program or something. And I’ve seen brainwashed friends of mine come back from university with clear heads and self-confidence. In the meantime, you have everyone on the site for support. I think it’s safe to say most of us were victims of attempted child abuse via religion.
    Good luck,
    Seth W.

  29. In reply to #2 by rjohn19:

    Strange faith. I’m surprise we Yanks didn’t create it. As the Statue of Libery proudly proclaims, “Give us your poor, your tired and your nut-jobs longing to fleece the public.”

    Your age makes this a bit tricky. Because you are Finnish, you ought to live at least another 65 years. For this reason, I’d suggest you might need to hang in there another couple of years until your future is secured. Once you are in a university and know you can handle things financially, you are free to bolt.

    It’s not like this is Islam for which the exit penalty is death. Lean on your brother- he left and survived. And who knows, the two of you might eventually free your parents from their bondage. That your father already accepts evolution is a big step in the right direction. Just guessing, but I assume your parents were also brainwashed but in a time when information was not so readily available.

    Hi rjohn 19
    I agree with you, it’s almost as if the organization was created by the Yanks … America was the dumping grounds for so many religious groups try to escape from Europe. A Europe that got tired to extremists after so much religious violance and fighting.

  30. Hi Halla

    I went through the same experience till 17, same rules (seems like all these cults/sects have the same game and ideas) same experience and isolation feeling etc. The parallels are so exact that I wish I could somehow send over the years after so you could skip some of the problems that come with living the day to day.

    You’ve decided to live your life! BRAVO

    In the past few years I wondered if it would be possible to list all the sects and cults from around the world in one place. Past and Present. Then show the parallels between the old, new and future sects/cults.

    But you know what, it’s not worth it. We’ve decided to live our own lives, and no matter how loud we shout, people will continue to run to these groups. All we can do is try to live our own lives as best we can.

    People can inform themselves to do avoid these traps, there’s enough information around. If they don’t, then there isn’t much to do about it.

    Tragic that you and I have had to experience this kind of upbringing, but you’ve decide to go your own path. Live life to the fullest, you’ll never get back your youth, but you have a whole life ahead of you. Go for it.

  31. I agree with the advice of all the other contributors. Leave, but slowly, do not risk yourself, your security or your future. A word of advice from someone who half a century ago escaped from orthodox Catholicism – bad enough, but nowhere as bad as your experience.

    When you dump all the moral precepts of your parents’ religion, remember that you have to have a moral code to live by. Sexual freedom is not the same as promiscuity and the degenerate culture of drugs and rock n’ roll never helped anyone. You have to learn to pick your own friends, your own activities and your own morals, and since from what you say, your parents never trained you to do these things, you are going to find the road ahead to be very difficult.

    It is the fundamentalist believers who have no morality, they merely have sets of rules which they pass on, but at least these keep people relatively safe, whilst they continue to believe. That is why those who leave closed religions sometimes go badly wrong: not because they have deserted God, but because they have been given no platform on which to base their code, and no skills or experience to enable them to frame their own morality.

    You are mature, strong willed and very intelligent, so I’m sure that you’ll cope with it. Best wishes, Kevin

    PS I’ve just re-read this, and I really do sound like the old fart whom my children say I am. Don’t take it too seriously!

  32. Halla,

    I come from a similar background myself (raised in a strict Protestant family) and the best thing I can advice you is to get independent economically as well as socially once you’re an adult. In my case, after my ‘coming out’, the emotional blackmailing began. Be sure to stay in touch with your brother, as he might have the same experiences as you do. Remember that, even while your parents might not like your choice, it is not your responsibility to keep them happy by adhering to their religious rules.

    I recognize the problems you mention in the last paragraph. The large families put often heavy duties on the shoulders of the mothers. This – in combination with the strict religious regulations – can lead to prolonged depression, which might be damaging to the family as a whole (so much for family values). It would be good if some independent research on this topic would be conducted.

    Thumbs up for your courage and I hope the reactions to your post are helpful to you!

  33. Halla

    Judging by how you are describing this religion it sounds like you’ve already realised the impact that it has on your life. Getting to that stage is a huge step. Not many religious people can look at it objectively like you can. So I am not going to spend any time pointing out how a religion like this can have a negative impact on people.

    It sounds like you are now looking for a practical way to get away from it with minimal impact to relationships with the people in your life. That is very considerate of you. However, consider the fact that the people in this community are by likely passionate about their religion and that when they do find out that you are an atheist they will most likely confront you directly. Perhaps if you take the initiative to tell them now you can do so on your own terms instead of being on the defensive when they confront you later. Perhaps they will even respect you more if you take the initiative to tell them instead of waiting for them to discover that you are leading a double life.

    A very important part of being a free atheist (and of growing up in general) is taking responsibility for your decisions. Making a decision like this and standing up for it even in the face adversity will help give you back the control over your life that you say you’ve lost. Also, knowing that you are able to do that should give you more confidence about making decisions in the future and should make the future less scary.

    Of course I am not saying that you need to rebel in an ugly way against your parents or go to any kind of extremes or even be unpleasant about it in any way. Simply accept that this is the path that you’ve chosen and explain it as best you can to those you care about. Once you’ve done that the rest is really up to them; the ball is in their court so to speak.

    If you can manage that and they love you you should be okay. There might be the initial uncomfortable silences, arguments and even fights; just persevere, stay calm and be adult about it.

    You mentioned cutting and controlling your eating habits. I am not a psychologist, so I cannot help you with that other than to say that you should see a professional about it. They are great for helping you to focus your mind and find healthy solutions to the problems you are experiencing; something that may be of great benefit especially if you are going to “come out” as an atheist.

    These are my thoughts on the matter. You know you own situation better than I do, so of course it is up to you to decide whether it is sound advice for you or not.

    If you would like to chat about this more or if you need support or just a sounding board as you go through all of this please let me know by replying to my post. Perhaps we can set up a direct email correspondence.

    Good luck!

  34. Hey Halla,
    I want to start off by saying that if it doesn’t allow for any criticism it is not worth pursuing any further. What I mean by that is that we owe it to ourselves and our species to uphold the truth. It doesn’t matter whether someone is comfortable with it or can understand it. Science works on evidence and not faith. I hope that will give more of a reason to establish your viewpoint in your community. If your openly admitting to being an atheist hurts somebody, in your case a lot of people, then so be it. Maybe your stance will inspire more people to inquire for reality. At the least you will have the freedom to be yourself. I think that when we truly love somebody it is our duty to help them out of their delusions. It is hard and sometimes nearly impossible but if you can ignite a tiny spark of critical thinking inside their minds then your responsibilities towards them is fulfilled. I would not want my family or those close to me to fantasize on some poorly conceived stories of an afterlife and an eternal heaven as they consciously slow down the progress of the human race and be part of the billions of others who have made it the purpose of their lives to merely do pretty much nothing that is helping the human race in any way.

  35. Hello Halla,

    raised catholic but not too fundamental I became and acolyte in the catholic church in my hometown in the Black Forrest – South Germany. It is in deed a very conservative area and most of the people are catholic here. At my confirmation the bishop of Freiburg came to do the ceremony and I was one of the first because I was an acolyte. After the show I asked some serious questions to my priest and the other acolytes cause the big Mecedes the bishop came wtih didn’t fit into my picture of a Hippy Jesus teaching modesty, This was the moment I learned about the true face of religion. I got stupid answers why this guy couldn’t come by train (36 km) but in a limousine with a driver and I was later on punished fot asking this. Than I left this strange community but it took almost 30 more years until I decided to resign my christanity officially – after the pope visited my hometown Freiburg last summer, ’cause enough is enough. So you see you are an early one ;-)
    Luckily my mother who is still catholic don’t mind my opinion even if she is not happy about it – in fact she told me to think scientiffacally as she worked in the medical business and was much interested in science herself. She gave me books about evolution, brain functioning and so on.
    Later on I was married to a member of the new apostolic church which was a pitty cause we got divorced with two children. This group is fundamental as well so it was quite difficult for me to have preachers in our house kneeling in the living room and praying silly prays.
    Today I would like to leave this all behind, but I’m confronted regularly with fundamental believers so it occours in my life again and again. That’s one reason why I engage in discussions about something not worth being discussed.
    I worked in asmall team of a large company together with a fundamental christian a moslem and a gay guy. No fun I can tell!
    Never give up to think critically about every ideology brought to you is a lesson I learned as an ex-catholic and a German with our terrible recent history. The only dogma I accept today is: no dogma!!!

    All the best for you!

    Joe

  36. Hello Halla,

    raised catholic but not too fundamental I became and acolyte in the catholic church in my hometown in the Black Forrest – South Germany. It is in deed a very conservative area and most of the people are catholic here. At my confirmation the bishop of Freiburg came to do the ceremony and I was one of the first because I was an acolyte. After the show I asked some serious questions to my priest and the other acolytes cause the big Mecedes the bishop came wtih didn’t fit into my picture of a Hippy Jesus teaching modesty, This was the moment I learned about the true face of religion. I got stupid answers why this guy couldn’t come by train (36 km) but in a limousine with a driver and I was later on punished fot asking this. Than I left this strange community but it took almost 30 more years until I decided to resign my christanity officially – after the pope visited my hometown Freiburg last summer, ’cause enough is enough. So you see you are an early one ;-)
    Luckily my mother who is still catholic don’t mind my opinion even if she is not happy about it – in fact she told me to think scientiffacally as she worked in the medical business and was much interested in science herself. She gave me books about evolution, brain functioning and so on.
    Later on I was married to a member of the new apostolic church which was a pitty cause we got divorced with two children. This group is fundamental as well so it was quite difficult for me to have preachers in our house kneeling in the living room and praying silly prays.
    Today I would like to leave this all behind, but I’m confronted regularly with fundamental believers so it occours in my life again and again. That’s one reason why I engage in discussions about something not worth being discussed.
    I worked in asmall team of a large company together with a fundamental christian a moslem and a gay guy. No fun I can tell!
    Never give up to think critically about every ideology brought to you is a lesson I learned as an ex-catholic and a German with our terrible recent history. The only dogma I accept today is: no dogma!!!

    All the best for you!

    Joe

  37. Hi Halla,

    I’m from Finland too. I lived for almost ten years in Vaasa so Laestadianism is certainly a cult I have heard a great deal about. I’m glad to hear that you have made the decision to leave. It goes without saying that you have some difficult times ahead of you, but I think in the end you have everything to gain from leaving this cult. I’m sorry I don’t have much to offer as advice for you other than I think you are are a brave and strong woman. All the best to you, and I hope at least your closest relatives can accept your decision.

  38. In reply to #14 by The Jersey Devil:

    My second bit of advice is to start and maintain a daily exercise routine. It doesn’t have to be an extreme work out, daily walks are fine to start with. But really any exercise is fine, whatever you think is fun. Believe it or not, there is ample evidence that an exercise routine can increase self-esteem and reduce stress. It’s an excellent coping tool.

    I’d be interested seeing any follow up. Did you find any of the comments to your post helpful?

    I actually work out a lot, I always have. You’re right, it’s a very good coping method.

    Things have been very well. I haven’t been cutting or overcontrolling my eating for months now. I did find your comments helpful, and I’ve decided to wait until I’m living on my own. My parents took my brother’s decision very well, it just made them extremely sad. I don’t want them to feel grief, but it would be ridiculous to hide forever. I’m going to move out in a year or two and then I will reveal my true self :-)

    And thank you all for your encouraging words! I was astounded by all the comments. Thank you. I’m pleased if I managed to inform some of you about this religion. It’s absurd how such a thing can still exist in modern-day Finland! But it won’t last long since it’s already getting weaker. Reason must win. After all, we are truth-seeking creatures.

  39. Terve, Halla. Please come visit us at extoots.blogspot.com, where for the past decade we have discussed how to leave Laestadianism. Blog contributors tend to be atheist but all are welcome to comment and submit guest posts.
    I left the American “firstborn” Laestadianism at your age, whereupon I was severely shunned and cut off from all support. I don’t wish that upon anyone. We are social animals and we need social networks, and you should be spending your energies building your future not defending yourself. Go away to university and develop your own support system and financial independence before you come out to your family and old friends.
    You are not alone. Hope to hear from you1
    “Free”

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