In Which I Explain How Canvassing Led To Atheism

July 27, 2015


I promised this post to a group of Ex Sevys, and thought it would be easier to post it here than to try and hook up something up to my fakebook account.

For those who are lucky enough not to know, Canvassing is what Adventists call Literature Evangelism. It basically means going door to door with religious books and trying to sell them. The reasons they try to sell them instead of just give them away are as follows:

1.  If people pay money for a book, they value it more. This makes them more likely to read it, and less likely to throw it in the trash can. I agreed with this principle, as I’ve seen churches send out mass mailings of The Great Controversy, and I know that a lot of those books end up in the garbage cans because people don’t want it and don’t know what to do with it.

2. Let’s face it, book printing is expensive. What we were selling the books for barely even covered the cost of making them, but it helped.

Selling religious books is seen as a way to evangelize. Ellen White, the Adventist prophet, was a very strong supporter of this, and wrote about it constantly. At my interview, I was given a book of compilations of her writings on the subject. It wasn’t a terribly thick book (for once) but it was good sized.

Actually, I was already an ex Adventist when I signed up for canvassing. However, I was still a Christian, and I was running with an Adventist group at school because Adventism was what I knew growing up, and it aligned closest with my theological beliefs.

I had some reservations about canvassing. I didn’t believe in Ellen White as a prophet…. how could I sell her books? I also didn’t agree with door to door sales…. how could I participate in something I was uncomfortable with? I believed in Jesus and his love, but not half the other things Adventists where selling, and definitely nothing out of The Great Controversy, which is THE book they want you to try and sell.

However, I wanted to love God. It bothered me that I did not love God. Even at my fundiest, I never loved God. I wanted to love God. I wanted to share his love with people. I was promised by veterans of the canvassing program that canvassing had helped them grow so much closer to God, and they just loved him so much. Also, they had had these amazing experiences where they got to reach out and help people.

So I put my reservations aside for 3 months, and signed up for canvassing.

I wrote about a lot of my experiences in canvassing on this blog, so I won’t get into them too much. If you want to find them, they are the first year’s worth of entries.

Right away, it was clear that I did not fit in with the others. In fact, I almost got kicked out 4 times. I’ll talk about that later if you want, but it’s not really relevant right now.

According to my journal entries that I don’t remember writing, I began to question God pretty early on. I have a mental illness, and for the longest time I’ve been wanting help. Well, my friend Callie said she could probably get someone she knew who was a counselor to talk to me. I was excited about this. I wanted to get my life together. However, the person she was referring to refused, on account of he has a penis and I have a vagina, and you all know what THAT leads to.

How could god exist? how could a God exist who would want that and think this was good? Didn’t God understand professional relationships vs private ones? What kind of a God would TELL someone that a penis and a vagina could never be alone in the same room together or they’d end up boinking?

However, I did the same as I always did with questions that, after searching and praying and seeking out advice from others, I could not find satisfactory answers to: conceal it, don’t feel it; don’t let it show.

About a month into canvassing, my friend Callie told me that she’d prayed about it, and God had told her to not speak to me for a while, at least until I learned to love God more than her.

Now, a break from me was probably what she needed. I have mental issues, and I can get rather clingy. If she had been up front about that, if she had just said, “Hey Abby, you’ve been really clingy lately and I just need some space,” I would’ve been ok with that. I would still have been sad, but I would have accepted it and known that this was what she felt she needed in order to remain friends with me.

I even asked her if that was what this was about. She said no, that I loved and relied on her more than I relied on Jesus, and that needed to stop. And….. after that, all mental hell broke lose. In all of this, Callie was the one friend I had trusted the most, and in the time I most needed her, she left me.

And all my questions had to be put aside. I had to love Jesus. I had to. I had to so that Callie would talk to me again…. but no, if I think like that, then it’s about Callie, not Jesus. I have to learn to love Jesus….

If Callie had done one thing that would ensure that I would never love Jesus more than her, this was it. From now one, loving Jesus and loving Callie were one and the same, because without one, I could not have the other.

Every time I tried to love Jesus more, some small part of my brain would pipe up “and then maybe Callie will speak to me again!”

And then I would feel guilty for thinking about Callie when I was supposed to be thinking about Jesus.

The guilt…. oh satan the guilt! This mental gymnastics went around in circles….

And wouldn’t God have known that? Wouldn’t he have known that this would only intertwine things more closely, so that I could not sort out loving God from loving Callie? Wouldn’t an all knowing God know that this was a bad idea?

No, god is real. Conceal it, don’t feel it. Don’t let it show.

How does one get to the point where they love Jesus? I asked James, who told me to read the bible, particularly the gospels, in conjunction with the Desire of Ages (Ellen White book about the life of Christ.) Instead, I opted to read Christ’s Object Lessons, which is about the parables of Jesus specifically.

And so, the one and only time I ever got picked to do a morning worship talk, I talked about a chapter from Christ’s Object Lessons. I vaguely remember the chapter I was reading. It was some minor tidbit about Judas, and the discrepancy was over exactly WHEN he’d left the priests to go betray Jesus. Or when he left to go hang himself…. or something. Can’t remember exactly what, but it had to do with Judas.

Now, I did not believe in Ellen White as a prophet, and had not since the age of 15. However, when one is immersed in the brainwashing, stuff creeps in around the edges. My unconscious compromise was that, where Ellen White contradicted modern science and psychology, she was wrong. Wherever she talked about the bible, or science had no opinion one way or the other, she was right. I was not conscious that I was doing this.

Not only did Ellen White contradict the bible, the bible contradicted the bible. In all 2 gospels that discuss this (or it might have been 3, I don’t remember) it was different. It was a minor detail, surely I could ignore it? No, because all Adventists read the bible this way; in the most literal way possible, and God’s word never changes. Ever. Sooooo what the fuck was it doing contradicting each other?

All of a sudden, all the contradictions I’d noticed in the bible over the years but stuffed down deep inside when I had no answers came rushing back to the surface. Ellen White contradicted the bible. The bible contradicted itself. Ethics and morals in general contradicted the bible.

I spent the summer praying a lot, and at the end, God told me, and very firmly, that I was not to be involved in ministry. That this was his purpose in taking me canvassing, to show me this. I accepted this, and was at peace with his decision.

That night I was talking to my friend and team leader, James. Apparently, God had told him that, now that I had a whopping 3 months of canvassing under my belt, I was just perfect for the ministry. Next year at school I was to be involved in giving bible studies, speaking more often at Wed night bible study (I do have a talent for pubic speaking, shame I’ll never get to use it again.), etc. I was going to do all this work for the Lord! James was really excited about all this. He was really going to disciple me, and become my mentor.

I told James that God had told me the exact opposite, that God had shown me these past 3 months that he did not want me in the ministry at all.

James countered back that God had told him that I should be in ministry, and of course he was the one listening to the “right” Jesus, whatever that meant.

I was very very confused.

But I couldn’t think about it. If I wanted my best friend Callie back, I couldn’t think about it. Otherwise, Callie would never speak to me again. Jesus would tell her I still loved her more than him, and that’d be the end of it. Even worse than that, I wouldn’t love Jesus if I thought he wasn’t real. And loving Jesus was something I did want, at the time.

So I stuffed the confusion and questions down deep inside me, same as I always did when I had questions that, after prayer and bible study and seeking the advice of pastors, I couldn’t find answers to. Conceal it, don’t feel it, don’t let it show. Love Jesus. You have to, or you’ll never hear from your best friend again. Also, you’ll never love Jesus.

Callie eventually did start speaking to me again, sometime in late September or early October.

All I could feel was relief that it was no longer so urgent that I learn to love Jesus, and that made me feel angry. I had wanted to love Jesus, regardless of whether or not I got my best friend back. And now, it seemed that all that had really mattered to me while I was trying to love Jesus was that I wanted my best friend back?

I was even more confused now than I was in canvassing.

I couldn’t stuff things down anymore, I just couldn’t. “Conceal, don’t feel” wasn’t working, and all the doubts and questions I had ever had in my life came boiling to the surface like a volcano. I stopped going to bible study, I stopped going to classes. Going to work was the only thing I COULD do. I failed every single class that last semester.

I spent most of my time researching whether or not god was real.This took up the entire portion of the schoolyear and the summer after that.

Then there was some drama that went down, about a year after canvassing, this was, with the pastor of the local SDA church. He acted like a total asshole, and it took me months to deal with the fallout. When the dust settled, I returned back to the question of “is there a god,” and found out that my faith was just gone. There were other things besides canvassing that led up to this, and there are other reasons why I came to this conclusion. However, canvassing was the catalyst that triggered the whole thing, or at least, expedited a process that could’ve easily taken another decade.

This has been by far the most devastating experience of my life, but, I’m glad it happened now while I am still young. Now I can begin the process of picking up the pieces and starting over.

It has been two years since I left Christianity, and 11 since I left Adventism. It has been the hardest experience of my life, but through it all, through the dark times, the darker times, and the utter loneliness and isolation I feel after losing my whole community, I knew that I had made the right decision. There is no going back, and I have no regrets.