What 1844 Taught Me About Compassion for QAnon

The United States still reels from the events of January 6, 2021 at the U.S. Capitol Building. Thousands of protesters and rioters showed up to send a message to lawmakers about their dissatisfaction regarding the recent presidential elections. Many among them brandished apparel displaying a large Q, a reflection of their belief in the conspiracy theories collectively known as QAnon, following the teachings of a mysterious character known by the same letter.

For this group, the most earth-shattering events did not take place on January 6, but rather on January 20. On that day, Donald Trump did not declare martial law, nor did he orchestrate mass arrests of powerful pedophiles and Antifa members, unraveling the sequence of events also known as The Storm. Once Joe Biden was sworn in as president, the hope that Donald Trump would be reelected did not come to fruition and all that was left was major disappointment. No revelation, no vindication, no closure. The prophecies did not come true.

If you are a Seventh-day Adventist, this may ring eerily familiar. Like these believers of unfulfilled prophecies, including some who invested their time, money, jobs, and relationships in the propagation of the message, the Adventist Church knows a thing or two about disappointment. Like QAnon, the Millerites experienced ridicule for their seemingly wild beliefs in a world-ending event. Like the Millerites, QAnon followers went to conventions, developed theories together based on their source material, and established an incredible network of support. Both factions learned how to master marketing techniques that allowed them to reach a greater following. Yet the result in 1844 and 2021 was the same: intense dread, confusion, embarrassment, and disappointment.

Despite the similarities, major differences exist between the two movements. The most important one involves the source material for both prophetic events. The Millerites followed their best understanding of biblical prophecy through careful study while QAnon followers believed the predictions of a yet-to-be-revealed internet personality. Nor did the Millerites advocate for protesting or action against the government. Furthermore, these two groups are hardly the only ones to experience disappointment after an unfulfilled prophecy held its collective consciousness.

While it is easy to pile up on the criticism and the “what were they thinking?” in personal and public conversation, our heritage should teach us to lead with compassion rather than judgment. What if, while seeing the faces of confused individuals who may not appear to have anything in common with our personal beliefs, we choose to see the countenances of those in our heritage who suffered similar ridicule after believing something that was perceived as preposterous. What if we lend a hand of compassion to those in emotional need, regardless of how ridiculous their idea may seem? If our own history is anything to go by, the roots of the thought that led to the disappointing fruit on January 20 will not go away easily. Just as Millerite Adventism branched out and later blossomed as Seventh-day Adventism, the stump of QAnon could sprout again in a different manifestation. May history remember us as the people who, while respectfully disagreeing with the manifestations of QAnon, showed love rather than hate.

 

JosĂ­as A. Flores enjoys studying history and currently attends the Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University.

Photo by Wesley Tingey on Unsplash

 

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/11053

“The Millerites followed their best understanding of biblical prophecy through careful study while QAnon followers believed the predictions of a yet-to-be-revealed internet personality.”

Didn’t the Millerites base their beliefs on the historical text of Daniel? The text we have today was not written by a single historical Daniel, and is instead a composite of material from multiple authors, in multiple languages, and reflecting evolving views as anonymous authors wrote from different perspectives and periods in history. I’m sure many Adventists would disagree with this description of their authority, just as Qanon believers would bristle at any suggestion that Q is actually not a real insider from the intelligence community but an assortment of different people responding to current events with their own writings.

(In fact, even the method we use to tell that there are multiple sources behind Q and Daniel is the same! In both cases one kind or another of textual critics have analyzed the documents and discovered significant differences in things like language, style and themes that can be used to differentiate authors. Why are we so willing to discuss one of these cases and not the other, I wonder?)

The comparison seems apt indeed. In both cases, the solution to dogmatic belief is the careful and honest study of the sources of authority. But as humans, we tend to subject other people’s favorite beliefs to rigorous examination, while looking desperately for any evidence to support our own. It’s easy for us to be mistaken and very, very hard for us to admit to it. Take it from someone who discovered that 99% of their beliefs were mistaken. I did NOT want to give up my beliefs. It took me literal decades of resisting the truth in front of me until finally I couldn’t live with the intellectual dishonesty any longer.

Yes, of course we should treat all people with love and generosity, but if we care about truth, we must also analyze the factors that lead people to believe such deceptions. Otherwise, we may not see just how far the similarities go.

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i don’t agree…QAnon is what it is because its “stump” is false, and rotten to the core…it won’t and can’t blossom into anything commendable over time…

i do agree that QAnon followers must be dealt with gently, and with love…many of these people are sincerely deceived…but something tells me they’ll recover themselves relatively soon, for the most part…the biden inauguration, and now the trump impeachment trial, not to mention the ongoing FBI investigations and arrests, will have an impact…i’ve already seen several TV interviews of individuals who say they understand now that they’ve been lied to…

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However, there are times when “gentle” does not communicate. When a trial witness repeatedly insists he “saw” or “heard” something he honestly believe is true, when cross-examined he realizes that like a machine-gun, he has fallen for something that will not stand up. Evidentially and then factually, his belief falls apart. I recall a number of cases over my lifetime when a white woman, sure of her identifying a black assailant, later learned when DNA became a certain kind of evidence, that she was so, so wrong. And when that same DNA identified the true assailant, his photo did bear an eerie resemblance to the one wrongly convicted. It’s the “shock” of realizing how one’s mistake did such damage that forces the truth on those who embraced, even if sincerely, a falsehood.

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I don’t believe there is a similarity between the two. Being mistaken about what would happen at a certain time prophetically isn’t the same as being attracted to lies, and willing to kill for those lies.

I can’t get past the misapplication…I think a far better example would have been the lie the disciples and so many others had bought into, that of Jesus becoming King and reversing everything for them.

Otherwise, yes, I do believe we should have compassion for them rather than disgust or derision, because more than likely there is some lie we find so attractive we buy into it and hold on for dear life.

At least, I have not only seen that as true in myself, I have seen it in too many others in some form.

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Sorry to say this is a poorly written essay right from the parallels it draws between the so-called QAnon group and Seventh Day Adventists – they have nothing in common. Even though the author does expand on some major differences between the groups, the poor analogy does set some incorrect, and even dangerous reference points for those who don’t understand the SDA Church and, knowingly or unknowingly, may someday soon play right into the hands of others who would expand the false correlations into a “guilty-by-association” verdict .

If you think I am exaggerating or acting paranoid please read the very recent and unusually similar articles written on this topic:

05/14/2020
https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/06/qanon-nothing-can-stop-what-is coming/610567/
Adrienne LaFrance - Editor

10/15/2020


Daniel Burke – CNN Editor - graduate of Georgetown Univ.

11/10/2020

1/22/2021


Candida Moss, a Professor in the Theology Department of Notre Dame,
Heather Dietrick – Editor and CEO of the Daily Beast – graduate of Georgetown Univ. https://www.bloomberg.com/profile/person/18976359

1/22/2021
https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-01-22/how-cults-like-qanon-respond-to-embarrassing-failures
Peter Coy – Cornell Univ.

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Are you a recent convert to the Seventh-day Adventist Church? Do you ever go online and read what certain Seventh-day Adventists write?

Seventh-day Adventists have historically been easy suckers for loony conspiracy theories. 1844 and the Great Disappointment. Hundreds of SDAs in Berrien Springs during the early 1980s believing John Todd’s assertion that the world is controlled by the Illuminati. An entire community of people with an SDA background dying in a ball of flames in Waco. Deranged beliefs about Catholics, especially Jesuits.

There are many SDAs who have been cult supporters of QAnon. Some have shared their experiences online.

Maybe you have never visited Fulcrum7 run by David Read and Gerry Wagoner. They are probably the most notorious loony conspiracy theorists in the history of Seventh-day Adventism. The 2020 presidential election was rigged, the people who stormed the Capitol were Antifa, climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the pope for the purpose of controlling the world and enforcing Sunday sacredness, Covid-19 is no worse than the flu, certain black people were not actually killed by police officers but died from something else, the mainstream media cannot be trusted, “liberals” are trying to replace white Americans with non-white immigrants and refugees in an effort to destroy Western Civilization, Muslims are inherently dangerous and should not be allowed to come to America, Joe Biden as a Catholic is in the service of the pope, science with respect to origins is a fraudulent conspiracy–these are just some of the many loony conspiracy theories promoted on that website.

You might counter that Fulcrum7 is not within the ambit of respectable Seventh-day Adventism.
That is a fair point. But is Doug Batchelor a respectable SDA? He serves on various SDA Church committees, including the GC Executive Committee. Go to the homepage of his website and read what he thinks about the pope and climate change.

Recently, Conrad Vine gave a series of presentations at the Village SDA Church in Berrien Springs. Go to Youtube and listen to that long flowing river of derangement. That church is within a mile or so of Andrews University. Too close for comfort.

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This is my new favorite piece in Spectrum.

But then again, I’m an ex-SDA, and it doesn’t suprise me that based on the comments so far, some of the “good enough for EGW is good enough for me” crowd have cried “foul” after reading it, as if Jesus’ admonition to love they neighbor only applied to neighbors who believe in the same conspiracy theories that you do.

I don’t think this attempt to demean and cut off any further conversation on the topic with alleged statements of the absolute will surprise anyone else outside the church either, however, given that one of the primary reasons many credulous and judgemental people don’t give up on organized religion is because their supposed religiosity allows them to do exactly what Jesus said not to do, which is “Judge not…”

With Adventism this admonition appears to fall on particularly deaf ears as their term “spirit of prophecy” might as well be a euphemism for “we are free to judge everyone based on the words and example of the founder of our faith” who made a career out of using her “gift” as a cludgeon of condemnation on anyone deemed worthy of her “loving” Testimonies.

So the way I see it, no “good” Advetist is going to take this article to heart and any conspiracy theorist, right winger and free thinker looking for compassion from Christians and Adventism had better keep her or his opinions to themselves and go elsewhere to find brotherly love.

BTW, SAD-ism is still NOT the mainstream christian sect it has pretentions of being and given that Ms. White’s prediction that the mainstream will one day conspire against her sycophants is still in the offing, it seems it would be prudent to not use phrases like “rotten to the core”, “false”, “paranoid” and “deranged” to describe those whom are believed to be beneath oneself, both mentally and morally, as these judgements may–according to Jesus “…lest ye be judege” dictum–be considered instances of self-incrimination.

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There are countless historical examples of how humans tend to behave when deeply held beliefs are disconfirmed evidentially. In each case, there are many who do exactly this, and admit they were mistaken, abandoning the movement forever. But in each group there are also those who will double-down on their belief, recontextualize their previous beliefs in light of newer events, and believe even more strongly. In fact, often it is immediately in the wake of radical disconfirmation that new faith movements organize and begin to proselytize. The classic book “When Prophecy Fails” provides a good case study, and honestly, so does early Adventism. Some might even argue these same psychological factors were central to the origin of Christianity itself. When we are faced with radical disconfirmation, many humans pivot to a revised set of beliefs that are able to accommodate or explain away the new reality instead of simply admitting we were mistaken. Sometimes our sunk costs are simply too great.

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Yeah, you’re seeing all this analysis that compares these similar movements because… they are similar. The most significant difference I can see between the origins of unique SDA doctrines and Qanon is in the elapsed time these traditions have each had to intrench dogmas and indoctrinate subsequent generations of children. If you disagree perhaps you can explain why? I offered some additional comparisons of the sources of authority behind Qanon and prophetic interpretations of the text of Daniel in a comment above. What parts of these comparisons in particular do you find inaccurate?

“dangerous reference points for those who don’t understand the SDA Church and, knowingly or unknowingly, may someday soon play right into the hands of others who would expand the false correlations into a “guilty-by-association” verdict .”

For the record, I at least was raised as a third generation Adventist, with two pastor grandfathers and a dad with a career in the church. I’m an SAU graduate who worked in the GC for a total of about 8 years. I’ve been to all the evangelistic meetings, I’ve read (and distributed) all the tracts. I understand the church well. These panicked calls are coming from inside the house my friend, or else from those like myself who managed to get out and are now frantically yelling and pointing at the billowing smoke from the safety of the front lawn…

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I guess I have to admit I never heard of 1844 being a looney conspiracy theory before, as you just “established” it. I wonder if this has to do with me being somewhat of a “newbie” to the term itself, with which I was not very familiar until I asked a long-time friend about what he thought of that week’s reported news back in 2002, concerning the Senate’s inquiry findings on Pearl Harbor. As I mentioned that the findings seemed perhaps “improbable” just to get the conversation going, he burst out laughing saying I was a “conspiracy theorist”.

While I don’t deny that there are individuals and even groups of people that tend to generalize and see intrigues and plots where they don’t exist, I actually believe that the term “conspiracy theorist or theory” is one the most misused and abused cliches in our Western culture, especially in the last for or five decades. It has become an easy weapon in the hands of people like you, who instead of exercising logic and good-faith debates to explore differences would just rather attack, embarrass, and ultimately intimidate people into not voicing their opinion or beliefs. This is a tactic used by the public media at large and it shamefully empowers those who agree with them to restrict and control opinion. Soon enough, if you have it your way, you may just be talking to yourself and a few others like you, the rest will just be banned or perhaps re-educated.

Since you make it obvious that you don’t believe that the Pope is potentially using climate change for other ulterior motives he may have, I hope you can share with us how you feel about his statement concerning the “climate crisis” being responsible for the “Coronavirus pandemic”. Does this sound scientific to you? In addition, please provide us with a serious analysis concerning how 1844 was a “looney conspiracy” and also with specific religious/cultural/historical or other relevant parallels between the SDA Church and QAnon.

Matt
Do you really believe this is what happened to Jesus’ disciples? Clearly you are going through a critical time concerning life-long held beliefs. My only suggestion for you is to connect with God and ask for wisdom and faith, if you are sincere you will receive guidance.

1844 was the result of Martin Luther’s polemic that a barely-literate farmer is just as capable of interpreting Scripture as a scholar. This polemic, haughty and arrogant as it most certainly is, has always been a fundamental characteristic, sociologically speaking, of Seventh-day Adventism. The Adventists chose to be suckered by William Miller, a farmer, rather than be educated by reputable scholars. Similarly, certain SDAs today choose to be suckered, with respect to COVID-19 for example, by the likes of David Read, who has no expertise in epidemiology, rather than be educated by Dr. Fauci. All of the loony conspiracy theories that have flourished throughout the history of our faith community are the result of a collective prejudice against the concept of expertise and those persons who possess relevant expertise.

What makes Luther’s polemic so problematic is that it is a corollary to Augustine’s hermeneutic that misinterpretation of Scripture is OK so long as the misinterpretation builds up the believer and the church. Of course, SDAs do not realize that they have been highly influenced by Luther and Augustine, the most important theologian since Bible times. Consequently, we see in our faith community not only a refusal to be educated by experts but a willy-nilly “I don’t care” attitude about being wrong. What makes loony conspiracy theories so intoxicating is that those suckered by them experience a rush of excitement and other sensations that feel good, all of which compensate, psychologically speaking, for being wrong.

Meekness is a Christian virtue. SDAs should not feel attacked, embarrassed, and intimidated by people who are trying to teach them something. But as your comment suggests, many SDAs feel that way. We all need to join together in cultivating a stronger commitment to truth. Toward that end, I have chosen not to mollycoddle loony conspiracy theorists.

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Yeah, I guess us common folk are just too stupid to understand God’s word for ourselves without some fallible human who often disagree amongst themselves like, for example, women in ministry. Studying history and doing mathematical calculations are just so far over our head that who do we think we are to think we could possible figure anything out! And for certain we should never even try to rely on the Holy Spirit rather than man…

Aside from that insulting, opinionated, self-aggrandizement, I do agree with how many Adventists have chosen to be caught up in the Qanon type conspiracies believing whatever lies they choose to believe by so and so. Nor is there any way to convince them differently.

But there is little hope for any of us who go the other direction thinking way too highly of ourselves…oh wait. Its the same thing on both extremes. sigh

I don’t like the word stupid when it’s applied to interpretation of the Bible. But believing we can know when Jesus will return based on passages Like Num 14:34 certainly qualifies as foolishness.

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Not with anything like certainty, but yes, I think these psychological factors likely played a significant role in the formation of Christianity. My “critical-time” is entering at least it’s second decade now, and I certainly hope I continue to think critically. It’s the only way I know of to differentiate between true and false beliefs.

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Yeah, I guess us common folk are just too stupid to understand God’s word for ourselves without some fallible human who often disagree amongst themselves like, for example, women in ministry. Studying history and doing mathematical calculations are just so far over our head that who do we think we are to think we could possible figure anything out! And for certain we should never even try to rely on the Holy Spirit rather than man…

Aside from that insulting, opinionated, self-aggrandizement, I do agree with how many Adventists have chosen to be caught up in the Qanon type conspiracies believing whatever lies they choose to believe by so and so. Nor is there any way to convince them differently.

But there is little hope for any of us who go the other direction thinking way too highly of ourselves…oh wait. Its the same thing on both extremes. sigh

It seems like there’s a common misunderstanding among believers when it comes to thinking skeptically. I get the impression that many people think that humans are incapable of not “worshipping” something or someone. I often hear people say or imply that we are either serving Satan or God, and of course relying on “human” wisdom or ourselves is the same as worshipping or serving Satan.

Under this paradigm, Christians hear freethinkers and skeptics and think they must be “worshipping” themselves or their own ideas, but this is so wrong it is difficult to know where to start. All humans are at risk of ego-driven biases and mistakes, we make them ALL the time. This is where the skeptic begins, with skepticism and uncertainty of themselves! NOT with some kind of dogmatic view of their own or humanity’s perfection. It’s the exact opposite. To get closer to true beliefs, we must vigorously and fearlessly interrogate our own dearest-held ideas, and never believe things without good, rational, reasons to do so.

At times it seems like Christians are so unused to the idea of humans making independent free decisions and holding themselves intellectually and morally accountable for them, that they actually believe it’s impossible. So they assume that everyone else, like them, looks to a source of absolute authority from which to draw their beliefs and learn how to behave.

Some us are not arrogant enough to believe we can understand the will of an all-powerful deity, especially when millions of others make the same claim but preach vastly different things. Perhaps we humans are not so good at understanding the divine as we might wish to think… At least, that’s the viewpoint from the freethinkers and skeptics out here. :slight_smile:

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teresa_q: too stupid to understand God’s word for ourselves

Not the point.

Phil,
Your Catholic edge comes through loud and clear. Unfortunately, and predictably, you are either completely mistaken or totally wrong on practically everything you have said here. The polemic from Luther you describe was actually Tyndale’s, who in a reply to one his fellow priests at Little Sodbury Manor, stated that he would make a boy who “driveth the plough know more of Scripture than the priest himself”, and the “haughty and arrogant“ attitude you attribute to Luther was actually the Catholic Church’s modus operandi for well over a millennia at that time, who also burned an slaughtered untold millions who dared own or even read the Bible.

It was precisely Augustine, whom you call the “the most important theologian since Bible times” who started the concept of limiting biblical knowledge to the common person by initiating the catechumen into a baptismal rite (Patrologia Latina) , which was expanded into the Disciplina Arcanis or secret discipline, resulting in the systematic development of “awe-inspiring mysteries”—a term borrowed from the pagan mystery-religions. Scriptures predicted this would happen and labeled the culprit “Mystery Babylon”. Ultimately, the RCC hid Scriptures In a dead language only they knew at that time.

In contrast, Jesus, the Living Word and author of the Written Word said: “ In secret I have said noting ”, and concerning prophecies he told his disciples “ I have told you now before it happens. Then when it does happen, you will believe :”

Not sure where you get this from (maybe your Catholic perspective again) but I grew up in the home of an SDA Pastor, and we were always taught that we all have a personal responsibility to know the truth, The Scriptures and EGW also make a large emphasis on this topic.

As much as you continue to deride SDA members and pastors on many topics, even as they don’t represent the official SDA Church’s position, you seem quite peeved about their position on the Pope’s official stand on the climate and Coronavirus, and yet you ignore responding to my previous post question on your own take on these issues:

“ I hope you can share with us how you feel about his statement concerning the “climate crisis” being responsible for the “Coronavirus pandemic ” – will you now provide it for this forum?

We love to hear from and engage our Catholic brothers on biblical discussions, but the only condition we ask for is that they must be held in good faith and in respectful terms.

Regards,

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Forgot to mention; this is not at all what I meant. The strategy of using the label “conspiracy theorist” is not necessarily to target SDAs in particular, nor do SDAs represent a group that feels especially embarrased or intimidated by it.
My point rather is that this tactic is used in the entire world, especially by extreme liberal media (is there any other kind these days) including the highest levels of academia. It has prevented many scientists from publishing work that may be ridiculed, and it has shuttered many brilliant careers.