From the mailbag

An actual question I received in an email:

From what we’ve read Finland is a secular and socialist country. How do members of the church protect there (sic) families and stay strong in the gospel there?

Here is my response:

First of all, you have your facts wrong. Finnish people may not go to church as often as you want them to, but Finland has two state religions, and the Christian ethos of these religions plays a huge role in the political and social life of Finland. The markers of that Christianity are different from the markers of Christianity in America, but, for instance, the sense of having a civil community and the care for the poor and the elderly are, I think, an outgrowth of that religious tradition. Finnish people don’t like to talk about religion with people they don’t know very well, partially to avoid conflict, but all of our friends know of our faith and it is rarely an issue.

Likewise,describing Finland as Socialist stretches the meaning of the word out of recognition. Private ownership and economic development thrive here, and government loans for new businesses are easily procured. Yes, we pay a higher tax rate, but the benefits of those taxes are obvious and enjoyed by all, not just ‘the poor:’ free education including university, health care, public transportation are just a few visible ones. Finnish church members are proud of the communal care their society provides and would be surprised and offended at your assumption of a conflict between the gospel and Finnish economic life.
Allow me to add a word of caution: the tone of your question is offensive. It suggests that you are judging Finnish culture as spiritually inferior to American culture. Very few people will respond warmly toward that implication, even if not intended. While some aspects of Finnish culture make Mormon life challenging, the same can be said for aspects of American culture. If you were to live abroad with your family, you would find aspects of you life to be different, very different in many cases, and you would find that good, reasonable people live this different life without the kind of spiritual angst you are anticipating.

My advice? Seek out what is praiseworthy and seek to understand that which is unfamiliar. I know for myself this has been a rewarding experience.


  1. From what I’ve read USA is a secular and capitalist country. How do members of the church protect their families and stay strong in the gospel in a place like that?

  2. Joshua B. says:

    We read BCC.

  3. Ha, Niklas (#1), you rock.
    Fantastic post, Norbert. Thank you for your insight.

  4. Maybe the reason anti-socialism messages were preached for so long is because the members weren’t ready to handle meat yet.

  5. It’s fascinating to me that Scandinavia has become a go-to example of the dangers of socialism.

  6. Kevin Barney says:

    I’m feeling some strong Finland envy right about now…

  7. Finland is has become a weird proxy battleground for American ideologues…at least targeting a single country is slightly preferable to throwing around meaningless phrases like “European-style socialism”, right? Right?

  8. #1, you beat me to it. :)

  9. Awesome post. As I’ve lived outside my homeland, the USA, a number of times in my life, I continue to be amazed at the notion that one can only be faithful in America. Wow.

    Thanks, Norbert, for your terrific post. (And Niklas (#1) for your awesome comment.)

  10. MikeInWeHo says:

    It’s remarkable how the Right in the U.S. has managed to create this demon called Socialism. Outside N. Korea and maybe Cuba, does socialism even exist in the world anymore? Trash-talking Scandinavia is particularly offensive. As Norbort points out, those countries are some of the most vibrant, affluent, and family-friendly societies in the world. We should be so wise as to look to them for how to run a government.

  11. The tone of your response was equally as harsh.

  12. J. Stapley says:

    I’m just saying that the new Nokias look pretty sweet.

  13. This is interesting. I’ve met a number of immigrants to the US from East and South Asia. Many of them come here for economic hope – but are terrified of their children picking up this dangerous anti family American individualism.

  14. I echo Rebecca’a response in #11.

    Being a practicing member of the church is not easy in Scandinavia. However, parents help their children to stay strong in the Gospel there the same way they do everywhere else: by example, family prayer, FHE, scripture study, seminary, institute and serving in the church.

  15. Your entire message would have been stronger if you’d just edited the their/there/they’re error. Cheap spelling/grammar flames are beneath you, BCC. Except for that mistake, which really is an easy one to make when your (heh) knocking out a quick e-mail.I agree with everything you’ve written. That one little editorial decision turns the whole thing smug.

  16. At any rate, can’t we at least maintain data integrity and pick a Scandinavian country with 300 million people?

  17. Sam Kitterman says:

    The one I’ve heard far too often when sharing that I not only was born in Las Vegas but was raised in Las Vegas,

    How terrible. It must have been so hard for you to be spiritual with all that sin around you.

    My response? Far easier for me since everything was far more black and white than else where. I heard more stories about prostitutes and other sins from companions who grew up in SLC than anything I dealt with here in Las Vegas.

  18. @11 and 14, actually, I think the harder and ultimately nicer thing to do in this situation is be honest. It is much easier to gloss over socially awkward and unacceptable faux pas than to face them head on. If this questioner would have moved to or visited Finland and interacted with Finnish members and non-members without being sensitized to the harm his myopic views could have, his entire visit there could have been poisoned and relationships ruined. A little up front honesty in an email can prevent a whole host of real live hurt.

  19. Thomas Parkin says:

    It’s mostly a matter of Finland being corrupted by sitting right up next to Soviet Russia all those years. Kind of like sitting next to a woman in church who is wearing a dress that shows her shoulders. No matter how pure your intention, you’re going to end up a little bit socialist.

  20. Thomas Parkin says:

    Finland should have chosen friends that improved her. Like Great Britain in the Margaret Thatcher years, and the USA. Now she is socialist and that is very difficult to repent of, like murder and adultery. They say David could have been forgiven if all he had done was run-oft with Ulysses’ one ewe lamb. But when he had Ulysses killed, that pretty much put him in ye old pit for keeps. Very sad, and of course the case of Finland is at least a little bit like this. So far Finland hasn’t killed anyone, that we know of, but once you’re headed down the path to socialism forever will it dominate your destiny unless it doesn’t.

  21. Thomas Parkin says:

    Y’all remember the story of David and Ulysses and Bathsheera. David sees Bathsheera bathing while he was up on the roof. And he thinks to himself, Ulysses’s wife has been working out. Her musculature is quite advanced. Of course, David, being white and a leader of men, was rather buff himself. As he’d have to be with a kingdom surrounded by muslims that wanted to drive him into the sea. But I still think he says quite a bit about David that his masculinity wasn’t threatened by Bathsheera’s biceps. He was a modern man, at least in this way.

  22. Thomas Parkin says:

    David was not unlike Conan the Barbarian, only with less grunting and more psalms.

  23. Norbert, spot on.

    At the end of the day- other folks aren’t going to be like “us” and how you run your government an raise yor family in another country shouldn’t make you “socialist”.

    I don’t understand how we’ve lost sight of paradigms and perspective.

  24. I was in a gospel doctrine class with a new member from Africa attending in a small rural US branch. The teacher kept making allusions to the incredible freedoms we enjoy in our country and ONLY in our country and went so far as to press the new member on all the oppression he was certain must exist in every other country, including the place this fellow was from. The new member was VERY confused and just kept on saying, “no–we are also free.” I prescribe travel as a great inoculation against this kind of American exceptionalism.

  25. #11 and #14 I think the question and response were unequal and I didn’t find either one to be “harsh”. The question was an uniformed assumption and the response was a respectful and honest attempt to teach and not sugar coat the erroneous and offensive question. A seeking person, taking the time to write to a Finnish stranger, might welcome such a discovery.

  26. “harsh” – I do not think it means what you think it means.

    Thomas Parking is my hero. Sometimes that just needs to be said.

  27. Thomas Parkin’s comments make me giddy.

    Also esodhiambo’s.

    Also Norbert’s post.

  28. I like Thomas Parkin, as well.

  29. I’ll echo what CTJ said in #13. I spend most of my days talking with low-wage workers from China, the Philippines, Ethiopia, Latin America, etc. They are all so worried about the effect of this country on their families and their children. I have one Somalian friend who can’t go out to the grocery store without getting a headache because he can’t believe how disrespectful so many children are to their parents and other adults.

    And for most of them, their concerns come from the fact that they work a physically taxing, poorly paying, long hours job that takes them away from their family.

    It looks like capitalism is destroying families.

  30. Edit: They work AT LEAST one of those jobs. Frequently more than one. Good luck teaching your kids your values if you work 80 hours a week.

  31. I think Norbert highlights something interesting: that secular does not mean godless. Religion is private and separated a bit more from civil and civic responsibilities, but these responsibilities are definitely informed by religion. Debates over headscarfs, etc, that are currently taking place in a lot of European countries should be ample proof that European citizens have deep-rooted ideas about belief and belief systems.

  32. AMEN, natkelly.

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