When Adventist Literature Wasn’t Enough

(Spectrumbot) #1

Here’s a story: A man was born with inherent godliness. Briefly, he had a conflict with his faith and decided to rebel against the ideals he’s known his entire life. When he was at his worst, he turned to the Seventh-day Adventist God and boom — he’s saved. He’s now devoted the rest of his life to retelling this story, trying to lead others to Christ, and frequently quoting Philippians 4:13. Is this at all familiar?

This was the blueprint for most stories I read at my Seventh-day Adventist academy. I was born on Guam to a Pacific Islander mother and a Caucasian father. I went to the same school from Kindergarten to my senior year and was taught primarily by missionary teachers who didn’t know how long they’d stick around, as well as some local teachers who seemingly couldn’t leave. It was a mixed bag of sorts but their main focus, whether it be in math, social studies, science, etc. was to bring their students to Jesus. Assigned readings, that were often repeated, included: The Richest Caveman by Doug Batchelor, Escape from the Black Hole by Ivor Myers, and Gifted Hands by Ben Carson.

Growing up, I was always a bit of a brat. I thought I was smart — never smarter than those around me, but smart enough that I thought I didn’t require instruction to function. I was an avid reader, always trying to escape in someone else’s words rather than actively participate in the world around me, with my preference outside of the Adventist realm. To best understand the person I was is to take a look at the popular young-adult tropes from my youth. Was I a product of my time? Maybe. Was I an abominable cliché? Absolutely. I was so full of unfounded angst. I looked up to the moody heroes and heroines with vocabulary beyond their years in the contemporary literature at that time, as made popular by John Green. I was so unforgivably pretentious that it physically pained me to write this.

Although some may disagree, the problem was not my taste. My school was vehemently against any non-spiritual literature. They had a particular distaste for the Harry Potter and Twilight series and even hosted a bonfire to burn the books. They thought they could see the embers of their students’ faith waning and sought to fight back as hard as they could. One of my teachers even cited an incident where a young child climbed on top of a building and died trying to fly on a broomstick (the validity of which I have still been unable to confirm) as reason for why we, students, shouldn’t read secular literature — for we might end up the same way.

Even at a young age, I found this incredibly insulting. In my eyes, my teachers thought that I was too stupid to understand the concept of fiction and would unwittingly pay the price of death for my lack of understanding. Instead of trying to gauge my level of intelligence, I felt like they thought I was some savage that was incapable of thinking for myself. In order for me to live a halfway decent life, it seemed they thought I needed to be flooded with narratives so densely injected with Christian themes of morality that the spines of their books cracked under the weight.

Unfortunately, these books had just the opposite effect. Instead of making me a man of God, I became jaded and felt as though the authors of the books were talking down to me specifically. In all fairness to these writers, they just didn’t do it for me but have for many others. I’d simply become too familiar with them and I wanted to distance myself. I didn’t care about school. I almost didn’t care about reading and was exhausted by the idea of treating writing that exhilarated me as contraband. I wanted to be a bad kid to spite people I’d never met and shovel off the morals I was buried under but never connected to.

Hope came in the form of an English teacher that arrived in my junior year of high school. It was thanks to her that for the first time, I was able to actually study the art of language and literature. A lot of her work was remedial, given that she had to introduce books and authors I would have otherwise known in a different schooling system. We raced through literature as quickly as possible with the hopes that we might enter into college at the level they’d expect from us. I felt a sense of validation from knowing that in some part I was right. To get a college education in the Adventist system I was expected to learn material I was never given — material that I sought out. The spiritual literature enforcement died down and I was able to stop fighting against the invisible hands I’d imagined around my neck. The impact of studying English was felt so strongly within me that I chose to pursue it at the college level.

Reading revitalized me. Writing became my entire life. Through the pursuit of things that had variety and quality I gained a happiness I thought would perpetually evade me. Engaging with the world and the words it produces made me a better person and I would be lying to say I didn’t wish this could have come sooner. I do see the value in Adventist literature, but feel that it shouldn’t have been the only thing accessible to me. The freedom to hold a book not overtly centered on Christ without concealment is not lost on me to this day.

John Ethan Hoffman is an undergraduate at La Sierra University currently pursuing a BA in English: Creative Writing. He was born and raised on Guam and attended Guam Adventist Academy from Kindergarten through 12th grade. He currently lives in Riverside, California and serves as a Features Editor for the Criterion, a student-run newspaper at La Sierra.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9347

(Billman) #2

I threw out a lot of Adventist literature the other day. On reflection, it may not be literature. Old story books that I didn’t have the heart to inflict on future generations.

My bane when progressing through secondary education in the Adventist context wasn’t literature, which I really was quite hopeless at, but science. The science curriculum was careful to avoid anything that spoke of an old earth. In the end I ditched science and concentrated on commercially focused subjects. Eventually I developed quite an interest in earth sciences, and I consider that if I had been presented with opportunities in this area in my secondary education, my career could have looked considerably different.

(George Tichy) #3

John, I am glad you are a student at LSU. I live about 2 miles from the University.

I can certainly relate to what you went through studying for so many years at one and the same Adventist school. I went through it myself in Brazil, studying in the same SDA school from 1st grade until finishing college. That’s 16 years!

I only started reading non-SDA books when I was in college. In high school it was only chemistry, physics, math and science. I was ready to take chemistry Engineering in College, but ended up deciding to take Education and Theology. it’s interesting that it was in college that I read tens of books that were not actually related to the classes I was taking. I read them on the top of what was required, books about psychology, human behavior, and many other subjects.

Looking back I see that there was absolutely no encouragement (or requirement) for non-sda books. How limiting and detrimental that was to our intellectual development! Maybe a brainwashing and controlling maneuver? :thinking: :thinking:

(Cfowler) #4

I think thousands and thousands of careers, and paths of interest and abilities, would have been quite different if they had not been in a belief system that wasn’t “against” so much, and everything (including careers) dictated by Saturday.


Sad comment. I would hope such a statement would/could be shown to be erroneous.
Both Collonges and AUC in the 60’s never fostered such restrictions. Sabbath at Collonges were joyful experiences! However, Prof. Vaucher did call me aside to explain my O.T. essay grade of B+ instead of A+. He said that although he couldn’t agree with my conclusions, he applauded my well written arguments! By God’s grace, that gentleman lived to age 106!

(George Tichy) #6

I believe that regional culture play a strong role in this issue. In Brazil, in the 60’s a teacher would not dare to do that. That would be considered really scandalous.
Imagine that playing SOCCER was forbidden in any day of the week! In Brazil!!! A long term PE teacher one day decided to explain in a chapel that the “football” that EGW opposed was the "American football and not soccer, which is called “futebol” down there.

After some 20 years or more working in that school (former Brazilian College in São Paulo, now the biggest SDA University in the world) the poor guy, Professor Maneco (Emanuel Paulo Streithorst) was told that that was his last year. He was fired.

About 20 years later the school had a nice, well kept soccer field. The culture changed. Many old teachers retired or died, and the new generation allowed an upgrade of the local mentality.


True. The Allred Center for Financial Literacy on La Sierra Campus is named after a world-renown Abortionist, Horse Track and gambling site owner/breeder. 20 years ago that would have been an issue… well, maybe 40, I grew up there. :wink:

(George Tichy) #8

Still difficult for me to align soccer and abortion for comparison. Maybe I need another 20 years… :wink:

(Steve Mga) #9

Ellen was against COMPETITION. Also, there were a number of things that she
considered a waste of time.
But we now understand that Competition is essentially neutral. It is HOW it is used
by the individual.
Studies seem to indicate that puzzles and other mental gymnastic activities actually
helps the brain in older life. Chess and checkers would be 2 of these. When one goes
to the local grocery, WalMart, other places that sell magazines there are many word
puzzle books that people purchase.
Games such as “football”, basketball, baseball, other sports, [group or singular] assist
in developing the brain. Many of them require pulmonary-cardiovascular stress which is
also good for the body.
So it is beneficial to get kids to enjoy brain development activities at an early age.

(Steve Mga) #10

When I was in 10th grade at my church school we had a “Secular” Literature Book that
introduced one to many different writers. [this was late 1950s]. Also my teacher put up
a chart on the wall with little book cutouts. He encouraged the reading of books. When
one would finish a book then one of those cutouts could be put up next to your name.
I had heard of Uncle Tom’s Cabin so got it from the library. Took me 3 tries to finish it.
But I ended up enjoying it. Read a very scholarly written book on John Greenleaf Whittier.
Would not have done so without that Literature class and book. We had to memorize
“in flanders field” and the Gettysburg Address. We also discussed Edgar Allen Poe’s
The Raven.

(Cfowler) #11

Probably not a comparison, but a sign of how things change, sometimes for the better, but not always. We each have to decide for ourselves what is an important issue, and what is not. It is hard to imagine another Christian school naming a building after a doctor who runs a chain of abortion clinics. But, they certainly have the freedom to do so, and others have the freedom to disagree with their decision.

Oh yeah…and the gambling. Now that is a very Adventist activity. :rofl:

(Cfowler) #12

Is it sad because it is true, or sad because…? I’m not sure what you are actually saying is sad. Thanks.


Only pointing out, to your point, what can become acceptable based on the culture changing.

(Billman) #14

But was EGW against all forms of competition. Is not working to sign up members to your denomination or creed a form of competition. And writing books to sell, which is competition with other uses the dollar could be spent on, is certainly another form of competiton. And one could also wonder about competition as it relates to education, health, and even getting her house built.

(Johnny Carson) #15

Indeed. I think my own saving grace was provided to me by an English teacher I had in Adventist school from grades 7-10. My school used secularly published literature books but always informed us which tales presented therein we were forbidden to read. Of course you know what we did at the earliest opportunity. This particular teacher passed out the list then told us that she’d be willing to discuss any of the works contained in the book. All we had to do was ask. We did.

She was a smart lady. I think she understood that the best way for her students to learn balance in their lives was to allow us to be exposed to the world as it was, not as the church would like it to be. I wish all my teachers had possessed her wisdom. I do believe that her students moved on from her classes better equipped to handle life than if she’d tried to enforce the nonsense and the dogma that she was requested to enforce.

(Cfowler) #16

Thank goodness for a bit of sanity! :slightly_smiling_face: I know there are moderate people in the SDA church. Still though, careers are determined by the Sabbath, and many things can’t be considered because of it. Or for some other reasons, in combination with the Sabbath issues.


So, help me understand, whatever progressive society/culture evolves to is enlightenment? Does modern culture lighten our path? Is this the “latter rain”? Is there some kind of biblical source you would point to that directs us to culture as our guide? Is that our que? I read scripture all the time that doesn’t align with modern memes,does that mean I disallow them because of the way modern culture has evolved and given the fact Satan’s influence on the world?

Sincere questions I do not understand.

(George Tichy) #18

In my opinion, there are no perfect answers to your questions.
But…, we cannot of course equate the soccer story with the other issues you are concerned with. People quarreling about soccer is nothing but ridiculous, and has nothing to do with religion or spirituality.

But you are right when you say, “I read scripture all the time that doesn’t align with modern memes.” Those issues are, indeed, most probably related to religion and spirituality.

I believe that what can help us in this quest is making sure that we always choose what is right. And I don’t think that it is difficult to discern, to know what is right and wrong.

I mean, what could possibly be an issue that one would not know whether it is right or wrong? Is robbing a bank right, or wrong? Is being dishonest right, or wrong? And so on.

Therefore, it should not be that difficult to separate the right and wrong for purposes of a genuine Christian life. I agree that there is a gray zone, but this is why I also endorse agnostic views.

Keep digging my friend! There is a lot to dig before finding the gold!.. :wink:

(Spectrumbot) closed #19

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