Someone asked me to elucidate, the other day, on how exactly reading led me out of Adventism. The answer is a bit too long for small message, so you get to read this 10 page essay. You’re welcome.
Messages to Young People, Page 272
Could a large share of the books published be consumed, a plague would be stayed that is doing a fearful work upon mind and heart. Love stories, frivolous and exciting tales, and even that class of books called religious novels,—books in which the author attaches to his story a moral lesson,—are a curse to the readers. Religious sentiments may be woven all through a story-book, but, in most cases, Satan is but clothed in angel-robes, the more effectively to deceive and allure. None are so confirmed in right principles, none so secure from temptation, that they are safe in reading these stories.
The readers of fiction are indulging an evil that destroys spirituality, eclipsing the beauty of the sacred page. It creates an unhealthy excitement, fevers the imagination, unfits the mind for usefulness, weans the soul from prayer, and disqualifies it for any spiritual exercise.
God has endowed many of our youth with superior capabilities; but too often they have enervated their powers, confused and enfeebled their minds…
My dear young friends, question your own experience as to the influence of exciting stories. Can you, after such reading, open the Bible and read with interest the words of life? Do you not find the Book of God uninteresting? The charm of that love story is upon the mind, destroying its healthy tone, and making it impossible for you to fix the attention upon the important, solemn truths that concern your eternal welfare.
Resolutely discard all trashy reading. It will…..introduce into the mind sentiments that pervert the imagination, causing you to think less of Jesus and to dwell less upon His precious lessons…. Do not encumber [the mind] with trashy stories, which impart no strength to the mental powers.
Adventist Home, Chapter 68 (AH 413.3)
In the education of children and youth fairy tales, myths, and fictitious stories are now given a large place. Books of this character are used in schools, and they are to be found in many homes. How can Christian parents permit their children to use books so filled with falsehood? When the children ask the meaning of stories so contrary to the teaching of their parents, the answer is that the stories are not true; but this does not do away with the evil results of their use. The ideas presented in these books mislead the children. They impart false views of life and beget and foster a desire for the unreal….
I was born to two lifelong bibliophiles, who were themselves the son/daughter of bibliophiles. So, despite the above quotes, it was only natural that I, their daughter, would also be exposed to a wide range of reading material. My earliest memories are of my mother reading to me*. My mom and dad were a bit on the liberal side, at least for Michigan Adventists, so my reading material was only limited to that which was age appropriate.** (They stopped me from checking out a murder mystery from the library at the age of 8. Spoilsports.) Among my childhood reading lists were Clifford the Big Red Dog, The Berenstain Bears, Dr Seuss, The Little Engine That Could, etc. As I got older, reading material included American Girl books, Little House, Margaret Peterson Haddix, anything to do with Nazi Germany and the Civil war, The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and pretty much everything I could get my hands on.
Unbeknownst to my parents, this very thing was the thing that would ultimately lead me out of Adventism and Christianity. This is because the books I read taught me feminism, they taught me other views on the bible, and I learned that the bible wasn’t really that different from any other fairy tale I read. I also learned that a spoonfull of rebellion helps the medicine go down.
As a child, my favorite characters,real or fiction, were girls who were supposed to be girly but weren’t. I would read books about Suffragettes, and the things they endured trying to win the vote. My parents weren’t against girls doing “boy” things, and they weren’t against women getting the vote. They probably thought all this stuff was harmless. What they didn’t realize was that it was also teaching me my first lessons about feminism. These books taught me that women and men were equals, and that women shouldn’t have to submit to men. They also taught me that Girls can do things just as well as boys can, and that shoving girls into the “girly” box against their will is wrong.
As a result, I was genuinely shocked when, at the age of 18-19 ish, I learned that, even in the 21st century, Adventists still believed otherwise. Even Adventist women. Even my own parents believed this! And I had no idea! When I was 18/19 and finally heard about it from some old fart with one foot in the grave, I read my bible and cried. I’d always seen everything good as something God would support, because God was good. Women having rights and the ability to leave abusive husbands and not have to obey them was good, so how could God be against it?
Then there was the exposure to other forms of Christianity. Often, the religious books I read would contain views that were different from my parents’ beliefs. It wasn’t necessarily anything big and obvious, and my parents probably thought that all this incorrect theology would be covered in Bible class. But it didn’t.
See, I used to think that they couldn’t put in a book if it wasn’t true. Thus, I believed everything I read in (non fiction) books. For example, I was confused as to whether or not people went to heaven when they died, whether or not hell lasted forever, and other minor theological concerns that most Adventists are rock solid on. I somehow managed to make it to age 14 without knowing these things. Being confused about certain Adventist “truths” was inoculating me from the “one true church” mindset. It made me open minded, and more open to admitting that Adventists might be wrong about certain topics.
Then there are fantasy novels. Ellen White is particularly concerned about fantasy novels, and it turns out she was right. Reading Fantasy led me to see God as just another wizard type character. When I would read fantasy novels, I’d see similarities to the bible right off the bat. Mainly in the type of character God/Jesus was. In fantasy novels, sometimes a character must undergo a test set by the magical person. For example, sometimes the Wizard/Witch/Whatever is disguised as a poor person, and if the testee treats the poor person badly, they are cursed. If the testee treats the poor person well, the testee is rewarded. Good behavior is rewarded, bad behavior is punished. (Despite the whole “saved by grace not works” verses Christians like to go on and on about, The theme of the bible really is Good/bad behavior get rewarded/punished.)
Sometimes the Wizard/Witch/Magical Person just got mad for no obvious reason and decided to punish everybody. So, while I was not consciously aware of it, I grew up viewing God as just another powerful magical fairy tale character.
In fantasy and mystery novels, it was often seen as a good thing to go against the Authority, whether that was a magical character or a parent. In Adventism, you are bombarded with “always obey parents and authority. They know best. Even if they are wrong, they are right, because they are your authority.” However, books like Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, and other mystery books for children, often featured plots where the children really did know better than the parents. This is incredibly important, because Adventists, or at least, those who read Ellen White’s writings faithfully, have this thing about authority always being right, even when they’re wrong. The authority (parent or teacher or pastor or whatnot), once they make a decision, can never change their mind. They must follow through on what they have said no matter what.
My parents were not as strict about this as some. They would admit, sometimes, when they were wrong, but they were still of the “obey every single authority always” mindset that is so damaging. However, the books they allowed me to read, either subtly or not, undermined this when they taught me that sometimes kids know better than the parents, particularly when the parent doesn’t have all the information and refuses to listen to the child, who has more information than they do.
I spent most of my teen years alternating between, “Ellen White is right, these things are keeping me away from Jesus,” and, “Ellen White is wrong. I can still be a good Christian and love to read Science Fiction and Fantasy***.” This is why, over the years, I collected and then threw away a good many books. It’s probably one of my worst regrets. Those first editions of Harry Potter…..
Ahem. Anyway. I learned in the end, too late, that Ellen White was right. Reading did take me away from Jesus. And that’s ok.
*(Sometimes my father would too, but his TS usually acted up when he read. Also, he liked to change the story around. For YEARS I actually believed Jesus brought Shadrach, Meshack, and Abednego ice cream in the fiery furnace. Hey, with God, all things are possible.)
**Except for Harry Potter. Harry Potter was bad. Because witchcraft…. or something. Well, the pastor said it was bad, so, it’s bad.
***For the record, I still believe this one. There are Christians who choose to read these things and find that they don’t interfere with their relationship with God. That’s a valid way to feel.