Redeemed by the Blood of the Damned

Religion is belief in a supreme being. Science is belief in a supreme generalization. Essentially they are the same. Both are the suppressors of witchcraft.” —Charles Fort

Adventism, and Protestantism more broadly, sits in the foggy crossroads of two, vaguely described ideas: faith and science. These terms mask our un/willingness to listen to those who have epistemologies foreign to our own. We believe our own faith and our own science, but when faced with another we won’t even grant them those words but label them superstition and cynicism. For instance, with the scientific literature complicating a literal seven-day creation, it has become increasingly common to read the Creation poem as symbolism or mythology. And yet, that mythical reading is never extended to the Resurrection? The polarity of faith and science is a sham. Something else is going on. Faith and science do not describe established philosophies or epistemologies, but different ways to describe desires and fears of belief: what we want to believe in and what we are afraid to consider real.

The murder of George Floyd, and the international conversation this heartbreaking event inspired, has not yet extended into our spiritual epistemologies, at the bottom of which lies the traditions, lifeways, and bodies of Black, brown, and Indigenous civilizations. How do we honor the Indigenous heritage of the lands upon which our Adventist churches are built? Do our mission trips help locals (if at all) or just those employed by the church? How can we protest the state-allowed violence against Black and brown bodies and yet double down on the self-policing and shaming Protestant theology demands? While Adventism offers a purportedly less-psychologically damaging eschatology than eternal damnation, our parents still taught us that the one, true God of goodness and love wielded the justified power to kill us for eternity, making God as tyrannical as a corrupt cop.

This is where the dichotomy of faith and science leads us astray. We either declare that all spiritual traditions are superstitious, unscientific attempts at describing patterns from morality to ecological events (except for our own, of course) or we claim they are all real but some (i.e. those that are not of my culture, those that I do not understand) are diabolically misinformed and led astray, littered with traps for the unvigilant believer. Both of these assumptions toward other religions and lifeways maintain the same colonizing demand that other cultures be defined on our terms, not their own.

If we, from Adventists to Atheists or Evangelicals to Agnostics, want to overcome, or simply meditate upon, the different forms of spiritual colonialism, we can look toward foreign fields of study in order to analyze authoritative truth, how we serve and use it as a concept, and where it breaks. 

Parapsychology is a weird and oft-ridiculed field of study. You can hear everyone roll their eyes once they understand what it is. Yet it is a field filled with sincere and dedicated scientists who feel called to validate accounts of paranormal or psychic phenomena, also known as psi, the experiencers of which are often ridiculed and excluded by their communities. One such researcher, George P. Hansen, is the author of The Trickster and the Paranormal in which he uses anthropological and sociological concepts like binary opposition, liminality, anti-structure, and taboo to analyze cross-cultural accounts of paranormal activity. He begins the book with a set of questions, four of which serve as pertinent meditations for the faith following the paranormal experiences of Ellen White:

“Fortune-telling is often associated with carnivals, gypsies, and fraud. Yet many saints have had the gifts of prophecy and of knowing hearts. Do fraud and sainthood have something in common? ...

“Why do so many of the U.S. government’s psychic spies become interested in UFOs? [as did Ellen White] … 

“Today some liberal Christian Protestant denominations downplay miracles, seeing them as embarrassments, relics from a primitive, superstitious past. Likewise, they view prayer as having only psychological benefits for those who pray, but nothing more. What caused this dramatic shift in beliefs? ...

“Conservatives still see miracles and answers to prayer as God’s intervention in the world. Are these beliefs intellectually backward, superstitious, delusional, and maladapted to the modern world? The conservative denominations are flourishing while the liberal churches decline. Why?”

Hansen’s work is an analysis of the conditions in which psi occurs. “There is a pattern and generally the phenomena either provoke or accompany some kind of destructuring.” Hansen continues, “For instance, the phenomena do not flourish within stable institutions, and endless examples illustrate this.” Uncertainty is a feature, not a bug, of psi, occurring in marginalized, liminal spaces, like Adventism and Spiritualism beginning with the paranormal experiences of teenage girls in patriarchal religious communities or authentic mystical experiences recounted in combinations of original and plagiarized writings. 

To us in the modern, rationalized age, this is a difficult concept to accept as it lies outside of our defined boundaries of what exists and what does not. Our rationalism is governed by binary, Aristotelian logic; something is either A or not-A, known as the law of the excluded middle. There is no middle ground, only clear-cut boundaries. The Gospel of John’s ambiguous opening lines was responding to (i.e. against) exactly this kind of logic that has overtaken our theology. The Word was with God and the Word was God, not distinct but confoundingly intertwined. (This is not to say Aristotelian logic is bad, but like any worldview it can be dangerous if we refuse to see anything outside of its walls.)

Hansen writes, “Psi interacts with our physical world, with our thoughts, and with our social institutions. Even contemplating certain ideas has consequences. The phenomena are not to be tamed by mere logic and rationality, and attempts to do so are doomed to failure.” Along with irrationality, anti-structure — instability, marginality, and transition — is a key component to psi phenomena as can be seen in psychedelic visions that evade literal description like that in the first chapter of Ezekiel, seeing a God of the Promised Land in the land of captivity, a respected priest risking religious and social status by a heretical vision, and losing control of language as in, “This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.” The Bible has plenty of paranormal accounts, yet we are illiterate in this open field, arbitrarily allowing only some things to be real. 

Alongside the academic rigor of George P. Hansen’s work, we have the research and anomalies of Charles Fort, who wrote his first book, The Book of the Damned, in 1919. The book begins, “A procession of the damned. By the damned, I mean the excluded. We shall have a procession of data that Science has excluded.” He compiled news reports of anomalous phenomena from bizarrely detailed synchronicities to UFOs to contemporary plagues of falling frogs.

Fort’s philosophy toward science is aptly summarized and applied to religion by anthropologist Jack Hunter: “Fort employed a philosophy that he called ‘Intermediatism,’ the basic tenet of which suggests ‘that nothing is real, but that nothing is unreal,’ and ‘that all phenomena are approximations in one way between realness and unrealness,’ a kind of ontological indeterminacy.”

With this approach, the universe and all phenomena therein, are in the process of becoming real out of unreality. Everything is fundamentally connected by its relation to existence and not-yet-existence. “The implication is, then, that the extraordinary phenomena and experiences reported by humankind, throughout history and across continents, may well prove fertile ground for investigating not only the nature of religion, culture, and human consciousness, but also of ‘reality’ itself, and should not be brushed under the carpet because they don’t yet make sense, nor because they contradict our currently dominant models of reality.” Hunter goes on to say that we do not need to subscribe to “the supernatural,” but simply need to be aware that our models are more than likely incomplete. “There may well, for example, be more going on than social functional processes, cognitive processes, power struggles, economic struggles, politics, doctrines or ideologies (of course, that is not to say that such factors are not involved, just that they are not necessarily all that is going on).”

A Fortean approach to religion gives us a framework for analyzing scientific, societal, and spiritual anomalies. It decentralizes a claim of truth from a singular order of seminarians, pastors, or church politicians (or scientists, doctors, and state politicians for that matter). Once decentralized, other voices and wisdoms make themselves available to us. We unite ourselves with the rest of humanity rather than insisting on our own culture’s supremacy over others. How lonely we have made ourselves, our spiritual culture little more than veggie meat, wishlist prayers, and praise muzak.

Decentralization may sound like destruction. However, per the work of media theorist, author, podcaster, and comic book writer Douglas Rushkoff, a decentralized form of religion, one striving for liberation, requires revitalizing innovation and participation. Rushkoff explains that our scriptures are the perfect examples of such spiritual innovation:

“The invention of text broke the monopoly that priests had on the collective story. Armed with a 22-letter alphabet, a ragtag bunch of Hebrew slaves went out into the desert and rewrote their reality from the beginning — along with a new set of laws based on living ethics instead of falsely promised rewards in the afterlife. It was an open source proposition — an ongoing conversation called Torah that eventually grew into what we now call the Bible…

“Likewise, the invention of the printing presses turned that sacred document into a mass-produced book. No longer dependent on a centralized priesthood for the holy word, people read the Bible for themselves, developed their own opinions and reinvented Christianity as Protestantism. And today, the emergence of interactive technologies like the computer has revived the open source tradition, providing the opportunity to again challenge unquestioned laws and beliefs and engage with our foundation myths as participatory narratives, as stories still in the making...

“The Bible has been intentionally framed as a dry and sanctimonious tome just to keep thinking people from getting near it. In reality, it’s powerfully dangerous stuff: the ultimate handbook for psychic revolt. It’s filled with sex, temple prostitutes, incantations, incest, travel to other dimensions, conversations with aliens, wars with giants and, on more than one occasion, ritualized anal rape…

“[B]y insisting we ‘believe’ that the Bible happened at some moment in distant history, the keepers of religion prevent us from realizing that the Bible is happening right now, in every moment.”

Rushkoff reminds us that if we only look at our own stories with open eyes, we can see how foreign they are to our world today. Our rationalism and literalism are more pagan to the writers of the Bible than the Baal and Asherah cults that inspired so much of the Old Testament. Elijah is not just a sermon illustration about faith in the still, small voice, but also a sorcerer abducted by a UFO who reincarnates as John the Baptist. Despite attempts of erasure, the psychoactive substances of the priests are still listed, calling to mind the work of medicine wo/men and ayahuasqueros. These are unfamiliar traditions to us today, but they are still part of our story, patiently waiting to be recalled and inspiring us to honor the cultures that have upheld the animist traditions of medicine in the face of institutional skepticism. Our holy words hold wholly other worlds, and they brought us together. 

If psi is irrational and real as Hansen tells us, if Fort’s universe is in the process of becoming real, if the Bible is happening now as Rushkoff says, and if all of those arguments are used in favor of our spiritual tradition, then how can we not share them with other religions and lifeways?

Ellen White becomes not just a bigheaded plagiarist, but a subject of bottomless fascination: a clairvoyant who did not allow herself to believe in anything she saw without her conservative theological interpretation. We do not need to subscribe solely to the Great Controversy (we’ll be mailed copies anyways) in order to analyze, learn from, or even experiment with her encounters with psi. As Adventists in an era of multiple apocalypses, now is the time to jailbreak Ellen White’s experiences rather than doubling down on her interpretation of them.

If we are hellbent on understanding the apocalypse, we can learn from those cultures who are already living in a post-apocalyptic world. This same decolonizing and decentralizing logic helps us find value and truth, not only in indigenous spiritualities, but in hoodoo christianities, in gnostic readings of Paul and the gospels, and in those late night conversations when stories of unusual miracles and guardian angels turn into reluctant accounts of spirits or UFOs and other mysteries. 

No one’s experience is excluded. These things happen. We can be as animist as we are Adventist. Our feelings become real to each other. The Bible blossoms, its leather binding falls like dried petals off forming fruit. Prayers become candles in a starry cathedral we return to in our hour of need. Ancestors and saints sing lullabies and hymns in our dreams. Church becomes a garden of souls. Communion becomes holier. Psalms become spells. We meet Elijah and Salome in the street. 


Bryan Nashed is one of the cohosts of The Badventist Podcast. A graduate of La Sierra Academy, he studied English and Media Studies at UC Berkeley. He works at a nonprofit career center in San Francisco and attends the LIFE Adventist Church in Berkeley, CA.

Image: Salvador Dali’s “Battle in the Clouds,” 1974. Credit: (fair use).


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A timely article cautioning Adventists to reconsider what they believed, especially regarding Ellen White!


On first reading- “say, what?!” Second reading - “OK, now what?” My personal take - it’s always wise, when presented with a choice of A or B, to go looking for C.

But, we don’t WANT all those possibilities. We would rather control all this psychological chaos. We create God in our image, and we want everything that flows from that to be controlled and packaged. We don’t want our children to know there actually is a boogieman under the bed.

As a child, laying in the dark, I would face the wall, placing it right by my nose, and tremble at the sound of branches hitting the window, or the dripping faucet - but only for so long, and then I would fling myself over and face the empty darkness. I tend to still do that, but now the room isn’t empty- it’s filled with possibilities and that’s even scarier.


I imagine Mr. Nashed keeps his Sabbath School class on their toes.


Mr. Nashed is correct but the scientific literature is not the threat to a literal six-day creation: our own lazy theology is. Genesis does not teach a six-day creation. The author deliberately did not apply the evening and morning formula to the seventh day because he did not expect the seven-days as closed. From his perspective we are still living in the seventh day.
In so doing he established a scientific principle that modern scientists only discovered at the end of the twentieth century, when Carl Sagan introduced us to the Cosmic Calendar. Sagan compressed the history of the Universe into one calendar year thousands of years after the author of Genesis compressed it into one calendar week.
Interestingly, both representations made it clear that they were offered to answer the same question. It is equally unfortunate that Sagan made the same mistake we made with the Genesis week by considering his week to be the first of many. That error has prevented us from discovering the answer to the question posed.
Further, I wish Nashed had explained what a mythical reading of the Resurrection would look like.


It’s disingenuous to equate the creation narrative (prehistorical for sure) with the resurrection narrative which allegedly transpired in a historical place and time, allegedly had witnesses, allegedly produced an extensive literature and interpretive commentators who tried to make sense of it all. AND, some of them allegedly died proclaiming their convictions about the historicity of that event. Very different narratives which beg for a different historical evaluation.

That said, much of the rest of the article is suggestive and interesting.


Faith is a function of religion. More specifically, I do not know what is vague about religion and science. Both are the sides of the same coin just like the left wing and right wing is from the same bird. Science is meant to get a better understanding of our physical world by deconstructing matter. Religion is meant to form structure and find meanings in life. To compare both would be similar to comparing a head MRI and a photograph. Both are images of the same person meant for specific purposes. Both can be inconsistent only to the user who expects to force a circle into a square.


Over the years I have avoided philosophy like the plague, but there are some things that do not seem to fit in either the field of science nor the field of religion. Maybe this would be a good place to put them.

I have a special shelf where I put these gems. Once in a while I will take one down, brush away the cobwebs and put it back for future reference. Could we be honest enough to just admit, “I don’t know the answer”?


Philosophy and religion (faith?) begin with an overpowering sense of wonder or awe. More than one I have studied admits that standing under a starry heaven bereft of city lights for half an hour leaves one puzzled, “shook” to one’s being, especially “knowing as we now do” that what we see is a mystery, not to be explained, but to be admired . . .


… but it seems that science and religion are not created equal. Admittedly, science, as much as religion is interpreted, but science seems to accept growth and change more easily as it is based on an on-going search for truth. When new information counters what is known, the entire scientific family is eager to find out why. Religion always wants to guard against growth and thereby, change. Science seems to operate from a quest to know more…, while religion fears new knowledge.


Did you mean religion as practiced by fundamentalists? By definition, fundamentalist “fear new knowledge.” There are those such as Paul the apostle, George @GeorgeTichy, Kim @cincerity, Anne @laurel, Patti @pattigrant and a dear friend of ours @Sirje :wink: and their respective tribes who think otherwise.


"Could we be honest enough to just admit, “I don’t know the answer”?"

We could if our “faith” wasn’t so mired and engrained in “certainty”. It really is the antithesis of creativity.

It is no wonder that the typical Adventist response to professed boredom in church is: “You will find something there for you if you look for it.”

Boredom is simply the mind saying that it is not being fed nourishment. Having absolute “certitude” keeps honest question(s) from even being formed or uttered. Stagnation of mind and spirit is the result.

But being “certain” is always of higher value in Adventism…“We have the TRUTH”.


Certainty is also the antithesis of faith. Certainty doesn’t need faith; it either magically fills in the gaps or ignores them. Certainty is also the antithesis of growth.

True spiritual life is fluttering through space hanging onto the knot at the end of the rope.

The closest we can get to certainty is clinging to belief that Jesus has saved us. But then, that’s primarily what counts in the spiritual life.


Thank-you for adding to my comment.

I do believe that “faith” is how you describe it. Too often “faith” (as too many of us were taught) was simply belief in prescribed beliefs (i.e. doctrine).


Ellen White’s supernatural manifestations compared with the possessed, and visionaries:
J. N. Loughborough (1832-1924): Reporting his experience in 1862. "…used many tests to satisfy himself that she did not breathe, that she knew nothing of what transpired around her, and that she was controlled by a superior power. Mr. Diagneau was a strong man, a stone mason. While in vision Mrs. White would clasp her hands together upon her chest, and he could not by the utmost exertion raise one finger sufficiently to get his thumb and finger between her finger and hand". (Miracles In My Life, pp. 34, 35, 1987).
Manifestations by the possessed:
F. C. Gilbert (1867-1947): “Immediately on entering vision, her muscles become rigid , and joints fixed, so far as any external force can influence them. At the same time her movements and gestures, which are frequent, are free and graceful, and cannot be hindered nor controlled by the strongest person ” (Divine Predictions of Mrs. Ellen G. White Fulfilled, pp. 35, 36, 1922). (Emphasis added).

George Sinclair (1654-1696): “Supper being ended, they went all to prayer, and she rising from her place, went and kneeled down in another place, and there also a knocking was heard below her, even during the time of prayer. When she was put to bed, many persons attending, she fell into a deep sleep. Then her body was so lifted up, that many strong men were not able to keep her down” (Satan’s Invisible world Discovered, p. 200, 201, 1871 [1685]).

George Sinclair (1654-1696): “As also while he was in those fits, and after them a considerable while, his body became rigede and no strength could fold his arms nor move his body . Several times some very strong men, both in place and the strangers also, endeavoured to lift his head and shoulders from the bed; but not one of them could ever be able to do it ” (Ibid., p. Iiii). (Emphasis added).

Do not breathe but have normal pulse:
J. N. Loughborough (1832-1924): “For about four or five seconds she seems to drop down like a person in swoon, or one having lost strength… She does not breathe, yet her pulse beats regularly. Her countenance is pleasant, and the color of her face as florid as in her natural state” (Heavenly visions; Additional testimony of Eye Witnesses to the Visions, p. 76).
The possessed:
George Sinclair (1654-1696): “… yet when he was in those deep swoons his pulse was in good order, and his face and lips lively” (Satan’s Invisible world Discovered, p. Iiii, 1685).
Claimed genuine:
Richard McNemar (1770-1839): “At first they were taken with an inward throbbing of heart; then with weeping and trembling…in apparent agony of soul; falling down and swooning away, till every appearance of animal life was suspended, and the person appeared to be in a trance…They all seem to be wrought in an extraordinary way; lie as though they were dead for some time, without pulse or breath; some longer, some shorter time. Some rise with joy and triumph; others crying for mecy” (The Kentucky Revival, p. 20, 1808).

Testing these experience:
**D. T. Bourdeau: June 28, 1857: ** "I first put my hand on her chest sufficiently long to know that there was no more heaving of the lungs than there would have been had she been a corpse. I then took my hand and placed it over her mouth, pinching her nostrils between my thumb and forefinger, so that it was impossible for her to exhale or inhale air , even if she had desired to do so. I held her thus with my hand about ten minutes, long enough for her to suffocate under ordinary circumstances; she was not in the least affected by this ordeal. Since witnessing this wonderful phenomenon, I have not once been inclined to doubt the divine origin of her visions .” Signed, “D. T. Bourdeau, Battle Creek, Mich., Feb. 4, 1891.”

Claimed to be genuine:
Richard McNemar (1770-1839): “Could any one, with the rationality of a man, suppose that anything short of the power of God, could suspend the functions of animal life, for an hour, a day, or a week; and again restore them with additional brightness?” (The Kentucky Revival, p. 33, 1808).

Richard McNemar (1770-1839): “…let him find a man, or woman, whose immortal part, for hours, and days, traversed the regions of eternity, while breathless body lay as a spectacle of terror to surrounding friendsAll their experiments and researches were in vain, to reduce this operation to some natural cause. Their feeling pulse, changing situation of the person, applying smelling bottles, bathing with camphor or cold water, letting of blood, &c., could never make half the discovery in the case” (The Kentucky Revival, pp. 33, 34, 1808).
Is there a difference between Ellen White and the others in regard to these paranormal manifestations?


Conversation with aliens was common among the mystics, and false prophets and visionaries.
The Lord has given me a view of other worlds . …The inhabitants of the place were of all sizes; they were noble, majestic, and lovely. They bore express image of JesusThen my attending angel said to me, ‘None in this place have tasted of the forbidden tree; but if they should eat, they would fall’” (EW, pp. 39, 40).

Thomas Dick (1774-1857): “These [intelligent beings] may differ in size and form in different planets…But I cannot acquiesce in a supposition lately thrown out by a certain reviewer, that “in some worlds the inhabitants may be as large as mountains, and in others as small as emmets”” (Sidereal Heavens, p. 290, 1840).

Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772): “Insamuch as, by the Divine mercy of the Lord, things interior are open to me, which appertain to my spirit, and thereby it has been granted to me to discourse not only with spirits and angels who are near our earth, but also with those who are near other earths; and whereas I had a desire to know whether other earths exist, and what sort they are, and what in nature and quality of their habitations, therefore it has been granted me of the Lord to discourse and converse with spirits and angels who are from other earths, with some for a day, with some for a week, and with some for months; … wherefore he whose interiors are opened by the Lord, may discourse with them, as man with man; which privilege has been granted me now for twelve years daily” (Miscellaneous Theological Works Of Emanuel Swedenborg [1758], p. 327, 1850).


Great compilation, Christopher! She acknowledged that before she began to experience visions or “views”, she had “fits”. A physician told her that they would cease when she reached menopause and sure enough, at about that age the visions tapered off to none. She reported that they began to occur instead in the very early morning (when there were no witnesses).

After her death a letter from Joseph Bates surfaced that the secret for which the holder was able to extract a secret price (blackmail?). I think it was Nichol who purchased it and kept it secret. After a wait of secret duration he revealed the letter to other trustees of her Estate with the last portion mysteriously missing (and it still is).

She reported late in life that Jesus secretly visited her in person over a hundred times, always preceded by the scent of flowers. I think she kept that secret from everyone but her son.


The scent of flowers was also common for 1808 second great awakening visionaries as reported by Richard McNemar. She was no different from any of these so called visioaries, prophets and mystics. There were many other mystics who reported to have been visited by a handsome young man.


The young man who often visited Ellen White:
“The following night I dreamed that a young man of noble appearance came into the room where I was, immediately after I had been speaking. This same person has appeared before me in important dreams to instruct me from time to time during the past twenty-six years” (RH, November 4, 1875; Ellen G. White: The Progressive Years [BIO]: 1862-1876, vol. 2, 480, 1986; Counsels on Health, p. 465).
“…in a dream or vision of the night – I cannot tell certainly which – a person of tall, commanding appearance brought me a message and revealed to me that it was God’s will for me to stand at my post of duty” (Lt85, 1889).

The mystics who had been visited by a young man:
Jane Lead (1624 –1704): “There appeared to me an Hand put forth toward me, while looking upon, musing I was in my mind, why the Body, to which the hand did pertain, was vailed. So looking for its breaking forth, I accordingly did see it, in the figure and stature of a young man, that was Comely: and with his Hand he thrust me forward” (A Fountain of gardens, vol. iii, part ii, January 28, 1679 [published in 1701]).

Kingsford, Anna Bonus (1846-1888): “I found myself—accompanied by a guide, a young man of Oriental aspect and habitI looked at my guide, and said… Then the young man my guide turned again to me and waved his hand towards the stone before me… And my guide said, “Before these stones were, the Tree of Life stood in the midst of the Universe.”… in the midst of which stood a great golden crucifix, and I turned to my guide wishing to question him, but he had disappeared, and I could not find him” (Dreams and Dream Stories: The forest cathedral, 1877).


They say the devil is quite handsome…