The last time I wrote about reading, I talked about how reading fiction led me out of Christianity. As I wrote it, though, I realized that there was actually more to the story, so I decided to split it up a bit. In the next part we will talk about how reading the Bible led me out of Christianity. For now, we’re going to talk about how Ellen White led me out of Adventist.
Ellen Harmon (and her twin sister Elizabeth, who never made it to adulthood) were born on November 26, 1827. One day in 3rd grade as she was walking home from school, another girl got angry at her and threw a rock at her head. This incident almost killed her, and left her forever damaged.*
Ellen Harmon became a teenager just as the Millerite movement was in full swing, and had her first vision just after The Great Disappointment of 1844. She was not the sole person responsible for the Seventh Day Adventist church, but she was one of the key players in its development. All but the most liberal of Seventh Day Adventists consider her to be an inspired prophet of God. She and her writings have been referred to as “Inspiration,” “The Spirit of Prophecy,” and “The lesser light.”*
The fact that Ellen White wrote a lot of books in spite of having to quit school due to her head injury, is taken by Adventists as proof that Ellen White is inspired of God.
And so, by the time she died in 1915, she’d left behind a good many works. Libraries at SDA schools have stacks upon stacks of Ellen White books, most of which are compilations and some of which are heavily edited.**
When I was a Freshman in High School, I really started to read Ellen White. I had tried to read Ellen White before, but her books were very hard for me to understand. The language, by the time I was born, was rather antiquated. There has been at least one attempt to update the language in Ellen White’s writings, but the person doing it received so much backlash that only one book managed to be published.
When I was 14 I was finally able to read her and understand what it was I was reading. After class I would go to the library at Academy and pull out a book from the Ellen White section.
I’d sit for hours in the library reading and copying out what I wrote. I didn’t like all of what she wrote, but I was willing to battle it out and ultimately surrender myself to God. Thus began many battles that today I regret fighting. I wish I’d never read her, never even heard of her.
As I began to read and study for myself, the first thing I noticed was that Ellen White contradicted science. This was a huge deal, because Adventists actually think the opposite. They love to talk about how Ellen White knew smoking was bad for you before the general public did. In Ellen White’s time, doctors were prescribing cigar smoking.** God clearly gave her a message, because she was ahead of her time.
I first noticed scientific contradiction in the astronomy vision. This infamous astronomy vision isn’t recorded in any of her official books, and I think the reason is obvious. Here’s a quote I found on the White Estate website.
J. N. Loughborough’s work, The Great Second Advent Movement, page 258, says:
“‘One evening at the conference above mentioned [Topsham, Maine, 1846], in the house of Mr. Curtis, and in the presence of Elder (Captain) Bates, who was yet undecided in regard to the manifestations, Mrs. White, while in vision, began to talk about the stars, giving a glowing description of the rosy-tinted belts which she saw across the surface of some planet, and added, “I see four moons.”
“Oh,” said Elder Bates, “she is viewing Jupiter.”
Then, having made motions as though traveling through space, she began giving descriptions of belts and rings in their ever-varying beauty, and said, “I see eight † moons.”
“She is describing Saturn.”
Next came a description of Uranus with his six moons, then a wonderful description of the “opening heavens.”’
“This was sufficient, and accomplished its purpose. Elder Bates was convinced, and became a firm believer in the visions.
Basically, Elder Bates doubted Ellen White was inspired of God, so God sent Ellen White this vision because He knew it would convince Mr. Bates. Or so goes the SDA interpretation. They also will tell you that Ellen White didn’t say she was viewing Saturn, she just described what she saw. For all we know, she could have been describing something in a completely different galaxy. Bates just conveniently mistook this completely different galaxy for our own, and God never bothered with sending a second vision to correct him.
From the same source:
On January 27, 1891, Mrs. M. C. Truesdail (nee Stowell), who, as a girl of about sixteen, was present when the vision was given, wrote a letter of reminiscences in which she included this statement:
“Sister White was in very feeble health, and while prayers were offered in her behalf, the Spirit of God rested upon us. We soon noticed that she was insensible to earthly things. This was her first view of the planetary world. After counting aloud the moons of Jupiter, and soon after those of Saturn, she gave a beautiful description of the rings of the latter. She then said, ‘The inhabitants are a tall, majestic people, so unlike the inhabitants of earth. Sin has never entered here.’
It was evident from Brother Bates’s smiling face that his past doubts in regard to the source of her visions were fast leaving him. We all knew that Captain Bates was a great lover of astronomy, as he would often locate many of the heavenly bodies for our instruction.
When Sister White replied to his questions, after the vision, saying that she had never studied or otherwise received knowledge in this direction, he was filled with joy and happiness. He praised God, and expressed his belief that this vision concerning the planets was given that he might never again doubt.”—Quoted by J. N. Loughborough in Rise and Progress of the Seventh-day Adventists, p. 127. (The Great Second Advent Movement, pp. 260, 261.) (Emphasis mine.)
We know today that Ellen White could not have been describing Saturn, first because there is no life on Saturn and second because Saturn and Jupiter actually have way more moons than that.
I wasn’t wholly satisfied with the explanation the White Estate gives. If God had given Ellen White that vision in order to convince Bates that she was his prophet, then God was telling a lie. A lie of omission, but a lie nonetheless. Adventists believe that God is incapable of lying, and I believed that too.
So, what was this, then? If Ellen White was inspired, by whom was she inspired? If not God, was it Satan? Could I have been listening to and reading Satanic writings? For the first time in my life, I began to doubt.
It was like a house of cards. Once I doubted Ellen White, I started questioning other Adventist doctrines too, particularly those which seemed to come from Ellen White. For instance, Seventh Day Adventists believe that they are God’s remnant church. Yet you can only arrive at this conclusion after studying the Bible in a very specific way, pulling verses out of context.
While I was studying the Bible, I began to notice that Ellen White did not just contradict Science as we knew it, she contradicted the Bible, or at the very least took things way out of context. As I read more, I learned that Ellen White contradicted the Bible quite a bit.
Ok, so she contradicted modern science and the bible, but what about all those prophecies? Modern science could be wrong, after all, and the Bible contradictions could be explained away if I refused to focus on them.
Then I came across this as I was reading the testimonies. Reference is Testimonies for the Church Volume 1 p. 131-132
I was shown the company present at the Conference. Said the angel: “Some food for worms, [Sister Clarissa M. Bonfoey, who fell asleep in Jesus only three days after this vision was given, was present in usual health, and was deeply impressed that she was one who would go into the grave, and stated her convictions to others.] some subjects of the seven last plagues, some will be alive and remain upon the earth to be translated at the coming of Jesus.” (Emphasis mine)
I read the pages immediately before and after, and I didn’t see where it said which conference exactly she is referring to. An outside source says that this is the Battle Creek Conference and she said this on May 27, 1856.***
Seventh Day Adventists believe that all it takes is one failed prophecy to make you a false prophet. Yet this prophecy could not ever be fulfilled. I think it is quite safe to say that every single person who was ever alive in 1856 is now long dead.
Adventists get around this by saying that this prophecy was conditional. It would only be fulfilled if we did things that could hasten the second coming. I was never too clear on what these things were, mind you, but if we had done them, Jesus would have already come. And besides, didn’t Jesus make such prophecies? If Jesus made conditional prophecies, why can’t Ellen White?
This explanation satisfied many, but I was not among them. If Jesus and Ellen White made conditional prophecies without specifying that they were conditional (where in Ellen White’s statement do you see an “if?”), maybe both of them were full of shit? I brushed that thought aside quickly. I was not yet ready to throw the baby out with the bathwater. My mind could handle doubting Adventism and Ellen White. At age 14, however, it could not yet handle doubting God and Christianity.
Mentally speaking, I left the Adventist church roughly 2 years later, at 16. But I was still immersed in the culture, and when you are immersed in a culture like that, stuff still gets in around the edges. For years, in the back of my mind, doubt was lurking. What if White was right? You are wrong. You are going to hell. You know this in your heart to be true….
Even though I no longer believed in Ellen White as God’s prophet, I believed she was inspired by someone. It did not yet occur to me that the head injury had anything to do with it. The nagging doubts continued for a long time, until I was 23. When I was 23, I went canvassing. I figured that even if Ellen White was a kook, her books could at least still bring people to Jesus. Since I was selling her books, I figured I should probably read them. And I read them like I was told she would have wanted me to; with a bible in the other hand.
It was this experience that, in my mind, slammed forever a door that can never be reopened. Ellen White contradicted the Bible, she contradicted real science, and she even contradicted herself. She was absolutely a false prophet.
There is no one alive today who can answer my next questions: did Ellen White sincerely believe she was the Lord’s prophet? Was she only playing at prophet to manipulate and control people? To make herself more important than she actually was? We may never know the answers to these questions. It could very well be that Ellen White never had the intention of inflicting the great damage she has dealt to people through her books over the last century. In a sense, it doesn’t matter. Whether or not her intentions were pure, my life was affected. My mind was affected. Because of Ellen White’s writings, I lost myself. My greatest fear is that I will never find me again.
**Allegedly these books are edited by Ellen White herself, as if realizing that her views were too extreme even by 1800s standards.
***Or so we were told