Thursday, April 5, 2007

Notorious, Provacative & Extreme

The Radicals of Adventism

Progressive Adventism just did a compilation of the 19 most influential people in Adventism. Here are 9 of the most colorful. I did include two who are also on the most influential list - Danny Shelton and Clifford Goldstein.

Elizaphan Ntakirutimana - Adventist pastor aids genocide. Yeah, I still remember the first time I heard that.

Doug Batchelor - one of those guys who had the wild youth then became a full-time salesman for Jesus.

Vernon Wayne Howell AKA David Koresh - The sad story of a sociopath who was able to use religion as his tool of destruction.

Steve Arrington - Drug-running pilot becomes Costeau chief diver tours speaking to Adventist congregations launches something in Fiji? Yeah maybe his life makes a better story than Doug Batchelor's.

Desmond Ford - Perhaps the most upstanding person on this list. However the church apparently still sees him as a threat.

Pitcairn Islanders - Are these inbred islanders really sex abusers or have they simply reverted to practices common throughout the history of humanity? Looks like 1/3 of the population is under suspicion or already convicted.

Clifford Goldstein - The guy from whom I learned the word polemic.

Danny and Linda Shelton - Could Danny's preference for convenient and luxurious transportation go so far as to make him live up to his televised promise from years ago to "go back to swinging a hammer if the Lord doesn't bless the television ministry?" Although that promise looks as likely to be honored as his erstwhile vows to Linda.

Robert S. Folkenberg - Reading the details of the offshore corporations and holding corporations managing shares of property donated to the church by a non-member that were decided to be too high risk to be held directly by the church makes one wonder where the executive department of the church seeks its talent?

I'm sure there are many more examples as well as a whole slew of colorful characters from the history of the church but those will have to wait until another day.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

An Adventist War on Science?

I'm watching the BBC documentary A War on Science (see below) and it makes me wonder: what do most Adventist scientists think of the church's active involvement in pushing creation science/intelligent design?

From my limited interactions with Adventist scientists they appear to be cautious, thoughtful people. Far from being monolithic in their ideas, their level of enthusiasm for creationism runs a gamut. Some think that the universe was created a few hundreds of thousands of years ago. Others tentatively support young-earth creation. None of them have made dogmatic claims for creation in my presence in the way that many theologians have.

The Adventist church has taken a difficult position for itself. Presenting itself as the ultimate holder of truth, being open to change in light of new scientific discoveries that directly contradict Ellen White or the accepted interpretation of the Bible is nearly untenable.

Many other denominations are embracing the theory of evolution. Adventist schools still teach "we believe in microevolution but not macroevolution."

Some interesting quotes from the film:

"Evolution is no barrier to faith."
-Pope John Paul II

"Intelligent design is going to destroy not just science, but religion."
-Father George Coyne - Jesuit priest and astrophysicist, Director of Vatican Observatory

What will the eventual play out of it be? Will Adventism yield to scientific evidence or will it continue to pride itself as the ultimate purveyor of truth? Considering my personal opinion that people are attracted to the exclusivity of the Advent message by the feeling of self-righteousness it affords them I don't see the church's official position changing. However, those of us who are not first generation and who have had the luxury of time to step back and consider just how "ultimate" the church's truths are may be able to bring some debate and even incremental change to the table.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Bright Adventist Interview

I had the privilege of interviewing A Bright Adventist. Although he does not consider himself a "Cultural Adventist," I enjoyed his responses. As you read you can tell that he is a serious seeker of truth.

How old are you and how long have you been an Adventist?

I am 25 years old. I was baptized when I was ten, but I felt like an Adventist before that. I mean I was devout before that. It may sound strange but I was extremely serious about my faith from about the time I was nine. So, I’ve been an Adventist “on the books” for a solid 15 years and longer if you count my subjective experience. Conversely, I was raised in a fairly secular environment until the time I was eight or nine.

So you are relatively new to Adventism?

Actually, I am a forth generation Adventist. The first part of my life was secular because my mother had left the church as a young adult. Some of my earliest memories are of going to Sabbath School with my grandparents. To this day, Sabbath dinner at Grandma’s is wonderfully stereotypical.

Are you currently a Student?

No, but I am applying to Graduate school next year.

Are you living independently?

I am married and currently living outside the United States. How independent this makes me is up for discussion and bad marriage jokes.

On your blog you say that you don’t believe in God...

Yes, I don’t believe in any of the gods. I don’t believe in Thor, Zeus, Krishna or the Christian God. I don’t believe in fairies either.

Tell us a bit about your religious background. How did you get to this point?

Like I said before, I became part of the church when I was about nine years old. At first it was a huge shock to my system, but I quickly learned to love the church. It is interesting looking back on that time now. I remember dealing with some serious contradictions between my mostly secular first nine years and the teachings of my new faith. I remember thinking something like, “What I learned in church about creation and what I’ve learned about evolution and the origin of the universe can’t both be correct. How do I know that the Bible is true?” At the time I didn’t see any way I could know for sure. So, I set up a little thought experiment. I said to myself, “If the Bible is true and I don’t believe it, things could turn out really bad for me. If it’s not true I will be wrong but that’s about it.” I didn’t know about Pascal’s Wager at the time, but in some crude form that is what I did. At this point I can’t remember if this thought was my own or if I had heard it from someone at church. I suspect the latter is more likely. Either way, I remember the exact moment I decided to forget all doubt and trust the literalist interpretation of our church. At the time, to my nine-year-old mind, the wager made sense. I wanted to be safe. It was very emotional.

As I got older I attended Adventist schools, made some amazing friends and had a great time in general. During my teenage years I diverged from the lifestyle of many of my peers because I insisted on following our church’s teachings to their logical conclusions. I realized that very few members actually do this. Adventist teachings can be a difficult master if you go all the way with them. Most people compromise; very few live like they believe it. I believed and subsequently became a bit of an oddity even within my church.

Because of the original wager that brought me into the church, I refused to seriously entertain any evidence that contradicted Adventist teaching. I was too afraid of the possible consequences. This all changed while I was attending an Adventist college. Many ideas presented there disturbed me. A big one was the fact that the gospels were not written by the disciples they were named after. By itself this fact is rather benign. It actually doesn’t challenge any part of our belief system. However, it pointed out the fact that I had been taught at least one falsehood in church and church school. I became very afraid that other things might not be true. As a consequence I was depressed for months.

It took this huge existential crisis to teach me the deep meaning in the verse, “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” I decided to seek God and the Truth without fear. This was the reversal of my wager.

It is important to realize that not a single one of my beliefs had changed at that point. I simply decided to seek the truth without fear. For all I knew I was on the path to confirming the church’s interpretation of the Bible. Furthermore, even though the result so far has been almost the exact opposite (I don’t believe in any god), I am on the very same path. Perhaps there is a god and he is leading me to an end that is quite different from the place I’m in now. I don’t think this scenario is very likely, but as a seeker of truth I would not resist such a conclusion if I were lead to it honestly.

How did you come to lose your faith?

This is where I start to have trouble with the language of many Cultural Adventists. (As a consequence I don’t call myself one.) That is, I have not lost my faith if “faith” means “faith in the Truth.” I guess you could say that I lost my faith in “blind faith” at the moment I rejected fear. However, like I’ve said, my beliefs were completely in tact at this point.

I like to think of my journey as an arrow shot out of a bow. The arrow never ceases to be an arrow on any part of its trajectory. It only follows the consequences of natural law. You can think of my rejection of fear as the release of the arrow. The strict laws of intra-personal honesty determine my “flight path.” Finally, just like the arrow never stops being an arrow, I have not stopped being an Adventist. (I’ll explain my reasons for thinking this way in my next blog entry.)

If you want to know how I came to reject belief in God, I don’t think I can give an adequate answer in this limited space. I will only say that I finally woke up to the fact that my concept of God was forced to retreat so many times in response to different types of evidence that it was merely an expression for what I didn’t know. You can say I still believe in god; he is synonymous with the question mark.

How many people have you discussed your new philosophy with, if any, and what was their reaction?

So far, I have only talked it over with my wife. I don’t think she was very surprised. Essentially nothing changed except that I no longer go by the name believer. I don’t know if many people can imagine it, but saying I don’t believe in god feels natural. There was no trauma involved.

What is it like to live as a Cultural Adventist?

As I said earlier, I don’t call myself a “Cultural Adventist” because I don’t feel like I’m separated from the church in any way. I know far too many Adventists who are on parallel paths to mine, meaning that they too are only interested in the truth. They believe in God but only to the extent that God is Truth.

Having said that, my life hasn’t changed. People may fear that having no belief in god will change them a great deal, but they are absolutely terrified that they will remain the same.

In what ways have you taken advantage of your "liberation?" Are there any things you do now that you felt were wrong before?

I don’t do anything now that I didn’t do before. I’m not trying to get even with the church for “holding me back”, nor am I trying to make up for lost time. Very little is different.

Where do you see yourself going with this in the future?

I don’t really know. I haven’t set any goals. In fact, the purpose of my blog is not to push an anti-god agenda, as much as to explore what is essential about Adventism. This question has consumed me for some time. I think there is nothing incompatible with my lack of belief and church membership given other essential requirements are fulfilled.

Other essential requirements?

I’m going to explore this more in my blog but essentially Adventism is a “Truth Seeking Movement.” To be Adventist is to be a seeker of truth within an Adventist community, period. This does not mean that all truth-seekers are Adventist (that would be absurd). It just means that the movement was founded on and organized around the value of “truth above all things.”

Do you think you will be more open about your point of view or attempt to explain yourself to others at some point?

Maybe. I don’t ever see myself brining it up in conversation without being asked. That would just be silly. Will I become some sort of crusader? No. There are too many more interesting things to do.

Is there anything you would like to say to the readers?

My greatest hope is that lifelong Adventists who are thinking about leaving the church on honest theological grounds will read what I have to say and realize it is OK to stay. The church is full of people like us. If it were not the church would be a very different entity than it is now.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A Timeline of Cultural Adventism

I had a request in the comments from Erv Taylor to find out the origins of the term "Cultural Adventist." Here's a short history of Cultural Adventism:
Here are the links from the timeline in chronological order:

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Questions from the Saints

On a recent Sabbath afternoon, I was spending time with some Adventist acquaintances and friends of mine. I was a bit surprised when one fellow who I don't know that well kept raising thorny questions from the Bible. The guy talked incessantly about things like spending an entire day reading Ellen White or how studying the Bible was really what we should all pour our efforts into. He then surprised me by raising what wouldn't be a theological issue for some variants of Christianity, but what certainly is to Adventism:

"Do you think Jesus made actual alcoholic wine at the wedding?"

Another guy with us said "Definitely not. Jesus would not promote drunkenness."

However the questioner pushed the issue a bit further. "The way it is written it tells us that the wedding-goers had already drunk quite a bit and they called the wine Jesus created 'the best.' People who had already been drinking would only consider alcoholic wine 'the best.'"

The second guy said "Well, however it happened, the Bible condemns drunkenness elsewhere and the Jesus we serve wouldn't have made alcohol."

As the words of Mark 8:18 came to my mind, I had a hard time keeping myself from asking "But the real question is, do you serve the Jesus of the Bible, or do you serve the Jesus that has been invented by the culture of the church you've been in your whole life?"

Later on, he asked us, "If God gave us the commandment 'thou shall not kill,' why did he then authorize the destruction of entire clans of people. He didn't just have a few people killed; he ordered the killing of men, women, children and babies." After stating this seemingly obvious Biblical paradox, the guy let us ponder for about five seconds and came up with "Well, He must have known what was best. I guess it isn't for us to be able to figure these things out now..."

If I didn't know how it is so well, I would certainly wonder what keeps people believing.

Mark 8:18(a) New American Standard Bible

Monday, February 12, 2007

Atheist vs. Mormons

This seriously cracks me up. I've even found myself quoting parts of it.

"But not me, I think you're fine. You certainly don't make less sense than the the Buddhists, Catholics and Muslims."

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Fijians Get to Stay on Church Land

28 families descended from forced laborers have won the case to remove them from the land where they have been living for 70 years that was brought against them by the Australasian Conference Association Limited of Seventh-day Adventists. The Fijian government claims to be seeking a place to relocate them. I wonder if the church has an official statement on this situation?

Also: another blog's mention of the story.