I was born into a Seventh Day Adventist family. Even within the SDA church there are layers to things. In my particular corner of the country, Adventists tend to be pretty conservative, though “conservative” is a term that’s pretty subjective. The term “conservative” to an Adventist from California (you left cost liberal elites you!) is going to mean something different from the way an Adventist from Wisconsin or Florida would use the term. (Generally the further west you go, the less conservative any group of Adventists is. Please don’t ask me why this is, I don’t know and I don’t care.)
That being said, my parents were what I would consider “pretty damn liberal,” at least from an Adventist perspective. We were not liberal by Californian standards, but by the standards of the Adventists around us, we got away with a lot.
For example, one of my parents drank coffee, we read a wide variety of books (my reading material was limited only by its age appropriateness), and I was allowed to wear jewelry around the house. But my parents also were believers in Ellen White, thought dancing was like having sex standing up, only ate clean meat, and flipped the fuck out when I decided I wanted to listen to music made after 1979. They would have absolutely flipped out if they knew I drink alcohol on occasion.
If we’re only talking about Adventist standards, I wasn’t really raised in that extreme an environment. Yes a lot was prohibited, but a lot was allowed, too.
I was a true believer in childhood, and I even prayed that god would choose me as his next prophet. I dreamed about being the youngest person ever to be baptized, and I even fantasized about them adding a book to the Bible that was all about me and how good I was.
8 year olds think about dumb shit, give me a break, ok?
There were some of my parents’ rules that I pushed back against, but overall I was a good kid, and a true believer.
And then high school happened.
Some people talk about being forced to go to an Adventist school. This was me all through the 8th grade. Once I graduated the 8th grade (Yes, Adventists have 8th grade graduation ceremonies), I did a complete 180 and decided I wanted to get an Adventist education, lest I be confused about what the Bible actually said.
And so I enrolled in Academy. I am not at this time going to mention the name of the Academy, partly due to my wish to remain mostly anonymous and partly because I don’t, at this time, feel a desire to name and shame. But I did attend a Seventh Day Adventist boarding school for all 4 years of high school.
My freshman year of high school was good. My first or second month of school we had a week of prayer. I’ve already talked about Week of Prayer in another post, but basically “week of prayer” actually means “week of sermon.” A visiting pastor comes in and preaches 2 sermons a day, 3 on Sabbath. I do remember the pastor’s name, but I’m withholding it for obvious reasons.
This pastor was what I now recognize as a very conservative pastor. He preached ideas that I had never preached before.
Now, when you go to an Adventist school and you live at home, your parents can kind of step in and say, “what so and so said is extreme, you don’t have to be that way.” At Academy, there is no one to step in and do that for you. Academy was much more conservative than my parents, and I don’t think my parents quite understood that they wouldn’t have quite the same ability to mitigate some of that if they lived 300 miles away. By taking me away from my parents’ more moderate influence, the Academy basically placed me in a position where I had to make my own judgements. I was 14. This was an absolute recipe for disaster.
And so I followed the pastor down the rabbit hole of extreme Christianity. I was on fire for Jesus, and I was willing to do whatever he asked of me. Pastor J preached that we should all read Ellen White, so that’s what I did. I would go to the school library, plant myself in the White section*, open a book at random, and start reading. And I read. And I read. And I read…. .and eventually my reading started to get a little less random, as I realized I was probably missing some much needed context. But the disturbing thing was, sometimes the missing context made it worse, not better. With horror, I slowly realized that Ellen White was probably a false prophet.
It disturbed me even more when I read the Bible and Ellen White together. I noticed a lot of things just didn’t match up or make sense.
And so, at the age of 15-16ish, I was no longer a Seventh Day Adventist. I was out mentally, but not physically. And when you’re not out physically, you start to doubt. To wonder if everyone else is right and you’re the crazy one because you can’t see it. To wonder if you’re stupid, or if everyone around you is deceived. You start questioning what is and isn’t real.
I don’t think you can quite underestimate the damage that does to someone’s mind.
Then there was reading the Bible itself. I still believed in the Bible, but at 15-16ish, I was starting to notice that God was kind of an asshole. Up to this point, most of the Bible stories had been filtered through child appropriate lenses. Now the lenses were removed, and I was starting to see things for what they actually were.
I still believed in God, but what I was beginning to doubt was whether or not I wanted to worship him. I struggled to reconcile 2 conflicting opinions: God is good and loving, and God is an asshole in much of the Bible. I couldn’t do it, so my main strategy was not to think about it.
And so, for the majority of my teenage years, I bounced back and forth between wanting to be a Christian, and not wanting to be a Christian. I also, at this time, really really wanted to be convinced that Adventism was true. And so I stayed in the community for probably longer than I maybe should have.
This bouncing back and forth lasted for a period of, oh gosh, I dunno, about 5 years. I decided I was fed up with bouncing around, and I was going to worship God, and so on December 31st, 2010, I gave my heart to Jesus for what I was convinced would be the last time. **
After this, I would go to Adventist churches because I was simply too scared to go church shopping. I am not the type of person who is comfortable just walking into a church by herself and meeting new people and being smiled at and hugged and given what I considered “the 3rd degree” by well meaning people. I am the type of person who wants to walk into a church, not talk to anybody, and leave. Maybe stick around for potluck if I feel like meeting people. Unfortunately, there were no mega churches in my area, so, Adventism.
But was I an Adventist? No. Did I want to be? Well…. yes and no. I wanted someone to convince me I was wrong, but I did not want it so badly that I was willing to start lying to myself.
And so off I went to college, a little bit later in life than I’d have liked, but sure. I fell in with both an Adventist group and another Christian group that I don’t really talk about much. The name of the non SDA Christian group I was part of is being withheld. What I was trying to do was have a foot in both worlds. I saw that as a good way of balancing things. I thought that I would have no problems trying to fit into the non denominational Christian group.
But I didn’t fit in there, for 2 reasons. Part of it because, as a former/semi current Adventist, I didn’t know how to fit in anywhere. And so I didn’t really have any friends in the non denominational group because I was just plain weird.
Another reason I didn’t fit in is because, quite frankly, the non denominational church’s sermons were very different from the SDA church’s sermons. At the Adventist church, sermons were what I would call meatier. They had depth. You really felt like you learned something, even if you may not have agreed with everything they were preaching. The non denominational group, in comparison, preached sermons that were, from my perspective, kind of shallow.
Except for that one crazy sermon that we should really talk about at some point… but I am getting off the subject.
The summer after that, when I went canvassing, I again had the chance to study the Bible and Ellen White. There are a lot of reasons I decided to go canvassing, but mostly, I was just trying to convince myself that Ellen White was right and that Adventists were the true church.
It backfired. It backfired horribly. I wound up questioning everything.
There was a time when I wanted to be convinced Ellen White was a real prophet, and that the SDA church was God’s one true church. That time is over and done with. It’s all gone. I no longer want to be convinced. I am no longer convinced that I can be convinced. I am no longer convinced that Adventism is what it claims to be, and the more I read Ellen White and the Bible, the more convinced I am that Planet Adventist is synonymous with “weirdo fringe religion that makes no sense once you dig past the surface.”
Not only did my reading of the Bible in my early 20s convince me not to be an Adventist, It’s also why I began to doubt Christianity. There were just too many gaps, too many contradictions, and you begin to suspect that some of it never happened at all. Add to that the fact that when you start reading about how the Bible was formed, what the historical period was actually like, how there’s different manuscripts, different languages, etc etc, it’s just hard not to come to the conclusion that the Bible was probably just written by people thousands of years ago for people thousands of years ago. I noticed that things made more sense when put in that perspective. (The Biblical writers were not thinking about 21st century Americans, ok?)
In my search for truth, I read other books. I read books like The Case for Christ, creation vs evolution books, and The God Delusion. All of these books disappointed me. None of the answers were there. I did find that The God Delusion at least asked the right questions, but there was nothing in that book that convinced me one way or the other.
So what did convince me to become an atheist? A slow, dawning realization that Christians didn’t have the answers either. Not only that, the Christian literature that was supposedly marketed at people like me (people who doubt God’s existence) didn’t even ask the right questions. They didn’t address my concerns at all. It was like they’d only read about skeptics in a book without ever having actually met any in real life.
And so I guess you could say I became an atheist by default. Now, that’s not why I’m still an atheist. I’m still an atheist because the more I read, the more I think, the less likely it seems that God is real. I think God was something that was invented by mankind for a variety of reasons, and I’ve so far read nothing to disprove that.
Now, you may have noticed that I left something out, and you’re probably going to ask:
Could I, at this point, be convinced that God does exist?
Yes, I think at this point I think I could if someone put forth a convincing argument.
Do I think that will happen? Probably not.
Part of the reason I write this blog is because it is so healing.
But is part of why I blog about Christianity because I want to be convinced there’s a God? Well, that depends: Am I on an airplane? If the answer is yes, then I would LOVE to be convinced that there is a god and that he does care about me and that there is no way he’d let the plane crash and that even if he did, there is a heaven for me to go to.
But I am not currently on an airplane, and so the answer is a solid “maybe.”
*That’s White as in “Ellen White,” not “this part of the library is only for white students.” The Academy, at the time I attended, was not segregated.
**To date, this is still true.