Ami, Abby, and Misty talk about worldly literature, fiction, and the church. They discuss their experiences with forbidden books and the Adventist attitude towards fiction in general, and ask their friends if they read any forbidden books.
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Credits: Abby and Ami, creators of the Seventh-day Atheist Podcast • Music: Hall of the Mountain King Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) • Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
[00:00:00] Santiago: Welcome to Haystacks and Hell, an ex-Adventist podcast where we tell stories about growing up Seventh-day Adventist, leaving faith behind, and building new, fulfilling lives.
[00:00:16] Ami: Were there any books when you were a kid that were forbidden, that you had to sneak around to read?
[00:00:23] Guest 2: Yeah, absolutely, there was books that I was not allowed to read. Um, when I was a teenager, my parents found my Monster Compendiums for uh, Dungeons and Dragons. And my dad kind of flipped out and was like, 'I don't want that devil stuff in my house.'
[00:00:40] Guest 1: Absolutely not. My parents were teachers, reading was very much encouraged.
[00:00:44] Guest 5: For me, it wasn't really a, a book that I was forbidden to read. But for me it was a movie. And of course the ultimate movie that would be forbidden would be The Exorcist, of course. 'Cause you know, growing up, watching the movie would make you devil possessed.
Coming Up: Ooooh, "Worldly Literature"
[00:01:05] Santiago: Hey everyone, welcome back to Haystacks and Hell. I'm your host Santiago and today, we're talking about Adventist attitudes on literature. Abby and Ami have talked about this a little bit in previous episodes and my brother and I also talked about this briefly in our conversation in episode six.
[00:01:25] As kids, some Adventists were allowed to read quote unquote "worldly books," but some only had access to Adventist books and literally nothing else. Even Melissa Spiers who talks about being a writer, in episodes 10 and 11, had a very limited set of books available to her as a kid, despite her dad being a huge reader and having a dedicated library in their home.
[00:01:51] I don't have too much to say on this other than that I never felt too restricted in what I could read with the exception of Harry Potter. Harry Potter was totally off limits, and anything else that seemed like it dealt with magic. I remember specifically that all of Pokemon was off limits because my mom was convinced, I don't know where she heard it, but she was convinced that if you played the theme song backwards, you could clearly hear someone say, "I love Satan."
[00:02:25] [Laughing] That good old backward masking satanic panic. You'll also hear Abby, Ami, and Ami's sister Misty talk about how Adventists believe in real magic and evil spirits. And I'm sure this varies among Adventists, but that was definitely true in my family and church.
[00:02:47] I remember being afraid if I accidentally came across a horror movie or TV show, and just generally feeling uncomfortable with any occult themes. Later in this episode, you'll hear Ami recall being afraid whenever kids would talk about saying "Bloody Mary" in front of a mirror, and how she thought that an evil spirit could actually show up.
[00:03:10] And I distinctly remember some of the girls from my Adventist school talking about this exact thing, and that I was afraid that it was real. But I eventually got the courage to try it at home just to see if it was actually true. And I remember being excitedly nervous and scared. But spoiler alert, nothing happened.
[00:03:33] Later on in this episode, you'll also hear Abby, Ami, and Misty joke about how, if you're ever living in a fascist dictatorship, find yourself an ex-Adventist, especially one who went to a boarding school, because they were probably experts at smuggling books and other things.
[00:03:52] And it's hilarious or hilariously sad because that episode was originally recorded in 2014. And here we are in 2023, when this is being recorded, and this is literally happening in Florida and other states in the US as we speak. Where entire classroom libraries have been temporarily closed because of uncertainty around legislation to ban quote unquote "undesirable books" about LGBTQ people and topics like racism.
[00:04:29] Anyway, I hope you'll listen all the way through because it's a really great conversation and at the end, you'll get to hear Abby and Ami's friends talk about their experiences with SDA attitudes on literature and forbidden books.
Abby, Ami, and Misty on Literature and Adventism
[00:04:47] Abby: Hi, this is Abby.
[00:04:48] Ami: And this is Ami.
[00:04:50] Abby: And today we have with us...
[00:04:52] Misty: Misty!
[00:04:53] Abby: And you are listening to the Seventh-day Atheist Podcast. We are going to talk about worldly literature.
[00:04:59] Ami: Muahahaha.
[00:05:02] Misty: Devil books.
[00:05:03] Abby: [Laughing] So, for the people who are just listening to this out of sick curiosity of fundamentalist Adventism, strict Adventism is actually very anti fiction. Ellen White, the church prophet, speaks at length against fiction. She speaks against fiction that was... Basically the novel was just coming into its own in her time. So really, they hardly even had the novel. They did have romance novels. She was very down on romance novels.
[00:05:32] She speaks against Robinson Crusoe It was a popular book in, in her time. And she has lots of bad things to say about that. Pretty much the only fiction that she praises is Pilgrim's Progress. That was okay. But, she speaks very in broad, broad terms about the evils of fiction. And so a lot of Adventists concluded that it's just wrong to read fiction of any kind.
[00:05:56] And as you can tell this creates a problem for literature teachers and all kinds of other people. And so, this is one of those things that's really, really not subscribed to by most Adventists in the same way that most Adventists don't believe in "marital excess." However, it's still there, like it's still in the underlying zeitgeist of the church. Just like all the sex negative stuff is, and so you get really weird attitudes towards literature in the Adventist church. And that's what we're gonna talk about.
[00:06:25] Ami: Maybe similar, actually, to some of the stuff that we talked about, about sex, I think is that same suspicion of something pleasurable or something that's sort of frivolous, you know? We can justify literature if it is, or, you know, fiction if it is teaching us something. If there's a moral of the story. Pilgrim's Progress is great 'cause...
[00:06:45] Abby: If it's a watch and not a ring.
[00:06:47] Ami: [Laughing] And not a ring. But if it's just something that's just a good story, that's "worldly" and not great. And all three of us have strong feels about this, because we're all three writers and all three, you know, lifelong rabid readers, so...
[00:07:05] Abby: Ami and Misty have MFAs.
[00:07:08] Misty: I don't.
[00:07:09] Abby: Okay.
[00:07:10] Misty: I just have a bachelor's degree.
[00:07:11] Abby: You have a bachelor in English?
[00:07:14] Misty: English literature.
[00:07:14] Abby: Yes, English literature. Ami has an MFA and I write fiction and get paid for it. So all of us had this experience growing up of, um, of having sort of a falling out with people in the church about...
[00:07:28] Misty: Oh yeah.
[00:07:28] Ami: We all had to fight with somebody about what we were reading at some point.
[00:07:32] Abby: Yes.
[00:07:33] Misty: I was yelled at one time because I was reading The Witch of Blackbird Pond, which I'd actually checked out from our school's library. And I was yelled at by a teacher because they didn't know what it was about, but the title was, you know, "The Witch of," and it must be evil because, witchcraft.
[00:07:50] Ami: Which is hilarious because The Witch of Blackbird Pond is about someone being falsely accused of witchcraft by a puritanical community.
[00:07:59] Misty: Burn her!
[00:08:00] Abby: So you have like the crazy, like the clearly crazy stuff like that where just people overreact at any title that, that trips their... I mean, that's clearly stupid people. But then you also have, uh, people like my Adventist literature professors who published an entire sheaf of essays of these convoluted academic arguments about why it's okay for them to teach Homer and Shakespeare. Like, it's just sad to me that the level of intellectual time and energy that is going into, just making an excuse of why it's okay that they teach basic literature.
[00:08:39] Because I wanted so badly to be a good Adventist when I was younger, I wrestled with this a lot because there was really nothing that I could find in Adventist literature about writing fiction. It was all about reading fiction and why that was wrong, but there was nothing about writing fiction.
[00:08:53] And so I struggled with this a lot. And in college, I actually put this question to some of my professors and I remember one of them, I was wanting to submit, I wanted to submit things to publishers and of course nobody could help me at all. 'Cause none, none of them had ever submitted anything to a worldly publisher.
[00:09:11] And like I had an outline of a novel that I showed, uh, to one teacher. And I, I came to get her, you know, very respectfully, to get her comments on it 'cause she had published Adventist romance novels of all things with the ABC. And like, she was just very, very cold. She handed it back to me and she says, 'I think this will suit your purposes.'
[00:09:30] And, and like, and like, you know, and with, with the attitude of like, 'And now go out into the outer darkness.' Like I could tell she thought it was, that what I was doing was just very, very wrong and, and then I had a conversation with another professor who I respected a lot who basically said he thought that the, that the excitement and fear that, that creates plot in fiction is in and of itself probably sinful.
[00:10:00] Ami: Wow. Not even the content of the book, but the whole idea of, you know, rising action and conflict and climax and descending...
[00:10:10] Misty: Too, it's too close to sex.
[00:10:12] Ami: Just stop.
[00:10:13] Misty: There's rising action, there's a climax. You come down, like you've got...
[00:10:18] Ami: Oh...
[00:10:19] Abby: Because this wouldn't be in heaven, this was his comment. We couldn't have anything like this in heaven. And why should we get used to those sorts of things?
[00:10:25] Misty: We won't have stories in heaven?
[00:10:27] Abby: Nope.
[00:10:27] Misty: Wow, this is why heaven sounds terrible!
[00:10:31] Abby: No conflict, there can be no conflict.
[00:10:33] Ami: It's, it is just so, so ridiculous because storytelling is such a human thing and this is why there is, say, the Bible or Homer or any of these stories. Even if they're based in fact, you know, we're, we tell, we make sense of our lives, even, of real events by telling the story of the event to each other and aggrandizing it and making something new out of it. So, I don't know, the idea of fiction and stories being sinful, to me, has always irked me. Even when I wanted to not be sinful.
[00:11:12] Misty: The older I get though, and the more I read, I can understand why it would be scary to people in a fundamentalist religion. There have been more and more studies that show people are more likely to be swayed by narrative than they are by anything else. And so if you're, if you're trying to teach people what to believe and keep them in this little box, and then they read a narrative that doesn't fit into that box...
[00:11:43] Abby: Two nice, friendly gay people who are very sympathetic.
[00:11:46] Misty: And they didn't become gay because they were molested. 'Oh no!' They were just born that way!
[00:11:51] Abby: Even when you know it's fiction, those characters become real to you. And you are a little bit less, it's like now you know two gay people.
[00:12:00] Misty: Yeah, and you care about them. So when people are mean about gay people, all of a sudden...
[00:12:05] Abby: Yeah, no, you're right. I, I think the, the skills that I learned deconstructing literary texts were absolutely skills that I employed when escaping from the church. Those teachers taught me how to think, and they, they gave me the tools to get out. So I think that on, in, in one sense, it, yeah, it makes perfect sense for fundamentalism to fear literature, literary criticism, the logical reasoning skills that literary classes teach.
[00:12:34] Ami: So, apart from just the suspicion about fiction in general, and not liking the idea of you empathizing with someone who's not a very, you know, straight and narrow Adventist, what are some of the things that are very scandalous, even to Adventists, that obviously don't think that all fiction is bad? I immediately think of magic.
[00:12:57] Abby: Mm-hmm.
[00:12:58] Ami: You know, fantasy and sci-fi would definitely, you know, beyond what most people would...
[00:13:05] Abby: And just for the record, we're gonna have a different episode on Adventist lit, literature written by and for Adventists, because that is a completely different can of worms. So we're all aware that fiction is sold in the ABC, like we know that. We're gonna talk about that on another show. Yeah, magic, definitely. Sex, definitely.
[00:13:26] Ami: Horror is certainly. We were, I was talking about this with Alex earlier. And he reminded me that when we were probably early in college, Alex has and his dad both have always been big fantasy and sci-fi fans. And he was talking to you, Abby, about fantasy books and you said that you had tried to read one of The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks'...
[00:13:54] Abby: Well, to be fair, I don't think it was a, I think it was a different, Terry Brooks. It was a later one, 'cause I read the first one and it was so bad. I got halfway through it and it was just, because...
[00:14:03] Misty: How dare you?
[00:14:04] Abby: Because I was very familiar with Tolkien, the [unclear] was really obvious to me. And, and, and, and so that made it impossible for me to enjoy it. If I'd encountered The Sword of Shannara first, and when I was about eight, I would've loved it. But I encountered it when I was in my twenties and very familiar with Tolkien.
[00:14:18] Ami: Well, I'm not... I'm, this is not an endorsement of Terry Brooks' novels in any way...
[00:14:24] Abby: But this was another Terry Brooks, maybe a later...
[00:14:27] Ami: I think it was maybe, I think it's maybe The Wishsong, that starts with, they go to this magical pool and like, it's very much like in Homer, you know, they go and they speak to the shades of the dead. And so the, the ghosts come and talk to them. And you're like, the book starts with a seance and I just couldn't get past that. And uh, so anything with ghosts, anything that was like, that sort of mysticism or whatever...
[00:14:52] Which definitely, Adventists have more than other fundamentalist religions, because Adventists don't believe that your spirit lives on after your body is dead. At least not until you're, you know, brought back to life in the second coming. We believe, or we, I say, um, Adventists believe that if you see an apparition, a ghost, it is an evil spirit. Which, evil spirits are a whole other topic, but a story that has ghosts in some sort of positive sense would definitely not be cool. And that's probably more specifically Adventist than the fear of magic and witchcraft or something.
[00:15:33] Abby: Yeah, certain kinds of magic were definitely more suspect than others, at least in the group that I grew up around. This was highly individual, but talking animals in general were okay. They were not a form of magic that intimidated most Adventists that I knew growing up, but anything involving, uh, ghosts or the dead. And also any ritualized magic that sounded to an Adventist like it might be real, which is hilarious, but Adventists believe in magic! They believe in real magic. They believe in witchcraft.
[00:16:05] Misty: Tarot is why we weren't allowed to play with playing cards. Which, those aren't really related.
[00:16:13] Group: [Laughing]
[00:16:14] Ami: Well obviously, I mean, I think we can...
[00:16:15] Abby: But gambling, gambling is so that's all tied up in the fear that you will gamble as well.
[00:16:19] Misty: That's true too.
[00:16:20] Ami: But we were, I think we can all remember some of the fervor over Harry Potter, which obviously was not limited to the Adventist church. But Adventists definitely had a problem with it. My younger cousin was at the exact right age for all the Harry Potter books and he loved them.
[00:16:36] And my grandma was just scandalized and she bought this book. He came with her on a trip down here to visit when he was, you know, maybe 10 or 11. And she bought this book that was explaining all the evils of Harry Potter. And in the car ride, like between Michigan and Florida, she has this captive audience of my little like 10 or 11 year old cousin, and she sits there and reads him out loud this book about how evil his favorite book is.
[00:17:03] Abby: Wow.
[00:17:04] Ami: Ridiculous.
[00:17:05] Abby: We could have a whole episode on Harry Potter.
[00:17:08] Misty: Yes, please.
[00:17:08] Ami: Here's a funny story, my brother actually decided to read the books because there were a bunch of people at church who were talking about how evil they were. So he's like, 'Fine, I will read them and report back!' So he reads the first, you know, two or three...
[00:17:24] Abby: Three days later...
[00:17:26] Ami: And he does a little research and one of the things that he read that was someone explaining why Harry Potter was evil cited the fact that JK Rowling says that she was riding on a train and she had this mental image of a little boy with unruly black hair and round glasses. And she thought, the thought came fully formed in her mind, 'That's Harry, he's a wizard.' And that was the, you know, genesis of Harry Potter.
[00:17:56] Abby: As all characters occur! This is the way all characters... this is how all characters come into being. But I remember hearing, reading, I must have read the same...
[00:18:04] Ami: Someone, someone was saying that this was clear evidence that these books are evil because obviously, Satan put that idea in your head.
[00:18:14] Misty: 'Satan is the muse.'
[00:18:16] Ami: [Laughing] 'Satan is the muse. All creative anything comes from Satan.'
[00:18:21] Abby: [Laughing]
[00:18:22] Ami: So stupid.
[00:18:25] Abby: I was in my early twenties by the time I encountered Harry Potter, so I was a little bit late to the party and they were just a little bit after my time. But my grandfather, who loves that kind of book and is not in the church anymore, found these books first and he was like, 'You guys have to read these.' And so he gives them to, to my brother.
[00:18:44] My brother is in Adventist boarding academy in Mississippi at the time, so he like kind of sneaks, sneaks them around, sneaks them in, and then he passes them to me. So it was like, you know, again, this attitude that these very fun, simple things were like heroin.
[00:18:59] Misty: There's an underground book trading?
[00:19:01] Abby: Yeah, yeah, this is totally how it went. And then, and then we both gave 'em to my mother. And my father kind of got wind of this. And my, my dad is really on those things, he's a pretty easygoing person. But someone got to him first. That's what happened. I think the pastor had a sermon on it or something. And, and like, some idea penetrated first, that these were very evil books that taught witchcraft. 'Cause again, the problem here, ladies and gentlemen, is that Adventists believe in witchcraft.
[00:19:29] And so, he was just, he was just dead set that these books were not gonna be in his house. And so my mother snuck around to read them. And this, this, this touches on a very different issue, which is misogyny and the treatment of women. But my mother believes that men should be the head of the household. My dad does too, but in a sort of more passive sense.
[00:19:50] And my mother will not be honest about stuff like this. Like if she had just gone to bat and been like, 'I'm reading these books. You don't have to, but...'
[00:19:57] Ami: 'I'm an adult.'
[00:19:58] Abby: 'I get to read whatever I damn well please cause I'm a grownup.' But you know, instead, you know, this was a, she, she would like be like, 'Do do you have the next one?' You know, and like she's hiding them and stuff. And this sort of like, this was one of those things that I saw when I was a young person and I was like, I am, 'If I marry, have to marry an Adventist, I will never marry,' you know, and just decided I wasn't even gonna marry at all because I was, I was gonna be damned if I was having somebody tell me what I could and could not read. But, um, you know, Harry Potter was a, was a big deal for a while there.
[00:20:29] Ami: Passing the books around, it's like, you know, people in fascist dictatorships like getting xeroxed copies of, you know, forbidden pamphlets and sneaking them to each other through some sort of underground system. We've said it before and we'll say it again: if we ever are living in a fascist dictatorship, find yourself a former Adventist. Preferably one who lived in a dormitory, 'cause uh...
[00:20:58] Misty: They'll know all the secrets.
[00:21:00] Ami: We'll know all the ways to get you your Harry Potter novels. There's a, there's a good question though. What is a book that you can remember sneaking to read or having snuck to you?
[00:21:13] Abby: That's def... okay, okay, so about the same time that I discovered Harry Potter, I discovered Mary Renault. That happened at about the, actually Mary Renault was much earlier, but The Persian Boy was a, I remember just oh, distinctly reading The Persian Boy right after and went, and in between my first readings of the Harry Potter books, and that was a book that I loved and was definitely instrumental in my — as was The King Must Die. They were both very instrumental. But Misty had experiences...
[00:21:38] Misty: Oh, did I ever. So I read The King Must Die probably my sophomore year of high school. And then, my senior year of high school, we were given an assignment that we were supposed to read 800 pages of fiction, and we had to keep a journal about what we were reading and like plot points and characterization and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. But our teacher had to approve what we were reading and I was like, oh man, I would really love to read another of these novels.
[00:22:11] So I emailed my teacher and I asked if I could read this. And I was told no, but instead of just saying, 'No, I don't agree with this author's viewpoint,' or 'I don't agree with this author's lifestyle,' she said something which made me realize she had no idea who she was talking about. Because she said, 'You know, this author is just not really well respected at all, and I just don't think you should — I think you can find someone who's a little more respected within the literary community.
[00:22:44] Ami: What bullshit!
[00:22:46] Misty: And so I said, 'Huh, okay, I guess. Can, can I read Little Women?'
[00:22:53] Group: [Laughing]
[00:22:53] Misty: And by read, I mean just write, like a couple pages about the book that I read when I was 10. And that's what I did. I don't think I read a single new thing for that assignment. I just wrote about 800 pages worth of things that I've read.
[00:23:07] Ami: Well, for people who don't know who Mary Renault is, she's a modernist author who was a lesbian.
[00:23:14] Abby: World War II, she was a ambulance nurse.
[00:23:17] Ami: She writes a lot of very well researched historical fiction, a lot about the Greeks. Like The Persian Boy is about Alexander the Great. The King Must Die is like, is about Theseus.
[00:23:30] Misty: We all know the Greeks were "evil" and I should not have been reading about them.
[00:23:34] Abby: But they're beau...
[00:23:34] Ami: They're so good. The Last of the Wine is, is probably her most famous thing, and it is...
[00:23:42] Abby: I dunno, I think The King Must Die is more widely read.
[00:23:45] Ami: Well, I think that the most, well in my mind, the most treasured is The Last of the Wine because it is such a, it is a pillar of queer lit. I mean, it is like, it is a really important book, because it is, it's about these two Greek young men who are friends, and they are — it is this beautiful, beautiful story of love and friendship. And they're lovers, but it's not particular, it's not an explicit book. It's not a book that's about sex. It's a book that's about friendship. But you know, it's also pretty clear based on history and based on the story that they are also lovers and that they're...
[00:24:29] Misty: Well, and if all you, if you, all you knew about her was what you Googled...
[00:24:33] Ami: Yeah.
[00:24:34] Misty: You probably wouldn't let your, you know, Adventist class read her.
[00:24:39] Abby: It's so cloaked because at the time when she was writing, it was not okay to have explicit gay scenes in books. And because she is so surpassingly skillful that she can write a beautiful love scene. And if you're not looking for it, you will, you will miss it.
[00:24:57] You'll not even know that happened. I re, I remember I said something about, um, Alexander and Hephaestion to Hughes. And he's like, 'They, they didn't have sex in Fire from Heaven. And I was like, 'Oh, yes they did'. And, and, and he's like, 'I don't remember that.' And I'm like, 'Uh, go back...' Because it's, it's, um, it's very beautiful.
[00:25:21] It's like one of those pictures that you can look at and see two ways. And you can also just, if you're interested in Greek history, she had her books go pretty much through the whole scope of Greek history. And if you ever want to visit that part of the world and have things be meaningful to you, if you read her books, it will make everything 10 times more interesting.
[00:25:42] Misty: I will say this about the gay sex scenes in her novels.
[00:25:46] Abby: Such as they are.
[00:25:47] Misty: I didn't realize what they were until after I realized what David and Jonathan were doing when they were hugging and removing each other's armor.
[00:25:55] Abby: 'Oh, they didn't have, they didn't have sex in the Bible, Misty.'
[00:25:58] Ami: 'No, no, they just exchanged swords...'
[00:26:00] Abby: And kisses.
[00:26:01] Ami: '...kissed each other and took their armor off.'
[00:26:03] Misty: Tenderly removed their clothes, exchanged swords, and held each other. Also, 'No, I don't wanna make out with your sister, Jonathan.'
[00:26:11] Abby: It's the same kind of thing.
[00:26:13] Misty: No, I mean, it's beautifully written...
[00:26:15] Ami: It is, it is a beautiful story of the relationship between these two men, and whether you read it as friendship or as lovers, it's still a beautiful story one way or another. But it is pretty clear that that's what it is. Anyway, I have a, the distinct feeling that Misty's high school teacher didn't know who this author was, Googled her, went 'What!? Her books are about gay stuff?' And then said, 'No, you can't, because she's not respectable.'
[00:26:43] Misty: Yeah, yeah. Instead of saying, 'No, you can't, because gay stuff,' she literally, really, she was too afraid to type out the word "homosexual," I think. And so she just went with...
[00:26:54] Ami: Well that's leaving a paper trail, Misty. You can't have that in your email, the NSA is listening.
[00:27:00] Group: [Laughing]
[00:27:00] Abby: The Adventist NSA is watching you.
[00:27:02] Misty: I'm sure they were.
[00:27:04] Abby: They have a flag for "homosexual" in the FLA system.
[00:27:07] Ami: I'm sure they do. Anyway, that kind of stuff is so stupid, but it's also demonstrating your ignorance to someone who has studied literature and is you know, participating in that outside the Adventist system.
[00:27:26] Misty: Well, and the thing that is sad about it, or was sad about it to me was how excited I was to read those books. And not for any deviant reason, not because I was looking for something outside the Adventist system. Simply because I liked moving stories. And then another teacher of mine was looking over what I had written and his comment was, 'Oh, you just picked a bunch of chick stuff, huh?'
[00:27:53] Ami: Oh my god.
[00:27:54] Misty: When, and because I had written about Little Women, Pride and Prejudice.
[00:27:59] Abby: 'I wanted a book all about men.'
[00:28:01] Ami: 'But I wasn't allowed to write about that one.'
[00:28:04] Abby: 'That was denied.'
[00:28:05] Misty: Yeah so it, it was like these two, I don't know, sometimes it felt like any way you turned you were going to get in trouble.
[00:28:12] Ami: Yeah, I remember sneaking our cousin The Westing Game, which is a children's mystery story. But she had to sneak it into her house to read it, because the edition of the book that I happened to have had a picture of some of the characters. And part of the story takes place on Halloween, and the main character dresses as a witch on Halloween.
[00:28:37] So on the cover there's a picture of a little girl in a witch costume, and so she wasn't allowed to read the story because it has a witch in it. And so that was our first experience at like, you know, 11 or something, with defying this rule and sneaking these things back and forth between our two houses.
[00:28:58] Abby: This could have all been solved if you just borrowed my copy of The Westing Game which had the chalk outline of a dead body on it.
[00:29:04] Misty: It would've been solved then. I also remember, um, our mom was pretty cool with us reading whatever we wanted to. When I started reading a lot of fantasy when I was about 12, she sat down and she wanted to know if I thought Jesus would be okay with this. And I told her that I thought he probably would be because fantasy is kind of allegorical. You have good versus evil, and it plays out in this dramatic scale. And she bought it because she, I don't think she really cared, but...
[00:29:35] Ami: She just wanted to challenge you to make your case, which is teaching you critical thinking.
[00:29:38] Misty: Yeah, um, but like my grandmother was a big reader and my mom and my dad both are. And so we definitely didn't come from a home where the "all fiction is bad." But I can remember a couple, when I was like a teenager, like kind of the teenage romance books were a little bit frowned upon, and our cousins would sneak those to me too. I can remember that.
[00:30:01] Ami: I remember a lot of questions about like, 'What are you getting out of this? Like what are you, what is good about this to you?' Which I don't think that that is a wrong thing for a person to ask themselves about the media that they consume, even in a secular mindset.
[00:30:18] I don't think it's wrong to think 'I'm spending my time on this thing, what is its value to me?' You know? 'What is it...' I don't think that that's a wrong way of thinking about things. I ask myself that about TV occasionally, you know, 'What did I get out of watching reality shows,' or something. So I don't think that that's a bad thing if it is genuinely presented in a spirit of critical thought and making choices for yourself.
[00:30:48] But when it is like this arbitrary nonsense, a girl at school was not allowed to read the, uh, To Kill a Mockingbird because there was swearing in it. Again, all the things that you know, go to the ALA's website and look at the list of banned books for a particular year. Books that are banned or challenged are almost always like a list of the best young adult literature from a particular year.
[00:31:15] Abby: They really are, like the best thing is to have your book banned, 'cause that means it's gonna be up there beside like...
[00:31:21] Misty: Judy Blume and Sherman Alexie. Like, get on that, writers.
[00:31:25] Ami: But usually they're banned for the silliest things that are just, if you read To Kill a Mockingbird and what you remember about it is that there was swearing in it, you kind of missed the point.
[00:31:35] Misty: You read it wrong.
[00:31:36] Ami: The fucking point.
[00:31:38] Group: [Laughing]
[00:31:39] Misty: 'How lewd!'
[00:31:40] Ami: Uh, but there was all this, I don't know...
[00:31:44] Misty: I had to get a special note from my mom, 'cause we had to read AR books and by the time I was in like seventh or eighth grade, my reading level was very, very high and you had to read within your reading level. And you had to get so many points. But our library at our Seventh-day Adventist school was very small and some of the only AR books that I had not read were, uh, Shakespeare plays.
[00:32:12] And so in eighth grade, I had to get special permi, permission, like a signed note to check out Romeo and Juliet so that I could read to take a test on it to pass my English class. Because, you know, it's "evil," obviously. And you know, your parent has to decide if you can be exposed to...
[00:32:32] Abby: It's not, it's not evil, it's "dangerous." And I do remember, um, I remember in college, in our 400 level ancient history or, uh, ancient literature class, uh, our professor who was a very good teacher, a bit of a fanatic, but a, a superb literature teacher. And he gets up and he tells us, 'We're going to study all of this pagan literature. Some of it's very beautiful. It's very enticing. We are on enchanted ground.'
[00:33:02] And it's, it's silly. Like I look back at, at it now, I'm like, it's silly. But it also lent... I don't know. I, I never get that feeling anymore. Like, there was a feeling of dangerousness and daring and like, you know, these were the people writing before Christ, so they didn't know as much, and like they had some light, they were also influenced by evil spirits. Like it was, it was, it was a world of magic that I no longer live in. And I'm, I miss that sometimes. Like, I never feel like I'm on enchanted ground anymore.
[00:33:34] Ami: I definitely remember some things that I read that I felt like, 'Oh man, I can't hear this. Like I can't...' I don't know, like it starts with a seance or whatever it was, you know, something that you were like, 'Oh no, if I, if I think about this too hard, this is gonna get in my head.'
[00:33:52] And, and turns out I was right, it did. And they were right to think that it was dangerous because studying literature in college was definitely an important part of my leaving Adventism. I, I, um, remember reading a whole lot of modernist literature in my undergrad. And all those wonderful humanist poets and stuff were a big deal to me.
[00:34:19] Like a landmark event in my life was reading Wallace Stevens for the first time and being like, 'Oh shit, this could all fall apart.' Because he's, he's a humanist and he believes that, you know, humans are what matter and that what we make is what exists. And all of this stuff about the meaning of life and the universe being whatever meaning we give it was an important starting place for me.
[00:34:55] Misty: I can remember thinking 'No one can find out I'm reading this because if I do, I'll be in trouble,' but I can't... I don't know. Reading was such an escape for me that so much of what I read felt disconnected to everything else that I did. So like I can remember, I read a book called The Dark is Rising and again, it's a book I checked out from our school library.
[00:35:21] Abby: Hughes read part of that series and mother actually took them away from him and made him throw them in the trash. Like, that's one of the only times I've ever seen her do that. But she got really upset about those books.
[00:35:30] Misty: See, they were in our school's library and I remember the librarian asking me after I went to check, to like turn it back in. Asking me, 'Oh, I've never read this one, was it good?' And, like a sixth grader, I'm sitting there like, 'Play it cool, keep your face straight, because if she reads it, she'll pull everything by this author off the shelf and then you won't get to read it anymore.' I didn't feel guilty for having read it. It was a really good book, or it was when I was in sixth grade. I really enjoyed it... Hughes really, Hughes liked them until he had throw them away.
[00:36:01] Abby: I think he sneak, I think he, Hughes was not a very defiant child, but if I remember correctly, he, uh, found them again and finished them without her knowing. Like years later, like several years later, he like went and hunted them down again.
[00:36:15] Misty: They were very interesting and I can remember because...
[00:36:19] Abby: They're pagan lit, I would describe them as pagan fantasy. I read part of, I was too old for them by the time I got 'em in my hands.
[00:36:24] Misty: Yeah, I mean they are, they are filled with, with magic and rituals.
[00:36:28] Abby: Very pagan magic, not Christian magic. Solstice kind of stuff.
[00:36:33] Misty: Yeah, like druids and um, Celtic magic. And I loved it, but I can remember very vividly like returning this book going...
[00:36:42] Ami: 'Don't let on.'
[00:36:43] Misty: 'Don't let on, play it cool.' Maybe you should've put another book on top, you idiot.' But I, I don't remember feeling, I don't remember feeling deviant about that at all.
[00:36:55] Abby: Were you guys ever, I was guilty all the time about stuff I read. Were, were you guys ever, you, you guys don't seem to, um, have internalized any of the guilt?
[00:37:04] Misty: Um, not about reading, about a lot of other things I've internalized the guilt. But I, I think that our uncle... How to say this nicely? Our uncle was crazy, and he was...
[00:37:17] Ami: Well, in that he genuinely suffered from...
[00:37:21] Misty: Mental illness.
[00:37:22] Ami: Mental illness that he was never properly treated for.
[00:37:26] Misty: And he definitely went the route of like, I can remember him yelling at our grandmother because she had all of The Boxcar Children books, and we were all allowed to borrow them whenever we wanted. And he said that there is something sinister about these four children living on their own. And 'Even when they get the adults, they still go on adventures!' And I can remember him being very, and...
[00:37:51] Ami: Well he just, he was contentious about everything, though. I mean, anything that he could find to fight with anyone in the family about. But yeah, I mean, even something as completely innocuous as The Boxcar Children could potentially be evil. I was always more likely to get mad than to feel guilty. I have a certain healthy disdain for authority, which protected me against some of that. But there were definitely things that I thought, 'Oh man, if they knew that I was reading this, I would be in trouble.' Like I wouldn't be allowed to read it.
[00:38:22] But I think that part of that is necessary for kids anyway. You need to read beyond your grade level a little bit. You need to... Encountering something that you're not quite ready for in a story is sort of a good way to handle it, maybe? Like, I remember reading about sex long before I was ready to actually participate in any sexual activity or even really understand it very well.
[00:38:49] But I remember reading, and there are a few things that I couldn't even tell you the book they're in, but I remember the way a certain thing was described, even now. And the description has really stuck with me. And I remember feeling uncomfortable sometimes with reading that stuff, but not necessarily guilty.
[00:39:06] Abby: I remember, well the, the things that I was read — the things that were read to me before I can remember, the things I cannot remember hearing the first reading of, are almost all of my Bible stories. Almost all of James Harriet, all of Narnia and The Hobbit. Those things are, were read to me when I was probably less than two years old and read repeatedly, and I don't, they're, they're deep, deep in my psyche. Like I can't remember the first time I heard any of those stories. But The Lord of the Rings, they, they didn't forbid me from reading that, but they didn't read it to me. They waited till I was old enough to read it myself, and so when...
[00:39:46] Ami: It's 'cause it's too boring to read out loud to someone.
[00:39:48] Abby: [Laughing] That's probably true. My mother did not want during nap time to read, you know, Tom Bombadil, or whatever. She wanted to read The Hobbit, so that probably was part of it.
[00:39:59] Misty: Tolkien, edit yourself for the love of god!
[00:40:02] Abby: But it is perfect for like an eight year old because I read so many boring things when I was like eight to 12.
[00:40:09] Ami: You had so much more resilience for that.
[00:40:12] Abby: I just read everything. It didn't, I read Nathaniel Hawthorne, which is one of those boring authors in the United States history. So, so, um, so I read these books...
[00:40:22] Misty: You definitely didn't get Nathaniel Hawthorne at eight years old, did you?
[00:40:25] Abby: No, but I read it. [Laughing] I thought The Scarlet Letter was gonna be way racier than it actually was.
[00:40:32] Misty: Again, just boring.
[00:40:33] Abby: Anyway, just boring. So, so I, I read The Hobbit and I was like, I don't know, maybe eight the first time I had to go at it. Or excuse me, not that The Lord of the Rings. And I got to the Barrow-wights scene. And I was, again, it's the whole evil spirits thing. That, that's, that was the biggest...
[00:40:51] Ami: That's what is scary to an Adventist kid.
[00:40:54] Abby: ...believed in evil spirits! They might, if they saw you reading about them, they might come start, you know, haunting you.
[00:41:00] Misty: Yeah, 'cause you're "susceptible" to it.
[00:41:03] Abby: Exactly, like so, so I reached this scene and I was very disturbed. I, I couldn't, and of course, our copy, we had these hard copy versions of the book that our granddaddy gave us that had like the Eye of Sauron on the front. So like, then this came, this took on a much more sinister thing in my head. And so I, I go to my mother and I say, 'Is this wrong?'
[00:41:26] And I, what I really wanna say is, 'Just tell me this is okay.' And she kind of gave me a wishy-washy answer and I was like, 'No, just, is this, is this good or bad? Is this, is this wrong?' And she got really upset and was like, 'Abby, I don't know.' And she wasn't forbidding me to read it. She was like, 'I've, I've wondered that.' She said, 'I threw these books away years ago, and then I bought them again.'
[00:41:52] And, and, and she's like, and so then as a, you know, eight or nine year old, I am saddled with this...
[00:41:58] Misty: Existential crisis.
[00:41:59] Ami: Moral dilemma.
[00:42:00] Abby: It would've been less traumatic in some ways if she'd just been like, 'You're right, maybe for you right now, this isn't right.' And just taken it away from me, but she didn't. And, and so I put the books down for right about a year. And then a year later I came back and started reading again and, and finished the story.
[00:42:17] But it was, I was a very guilty child and it was, I don't know, it was, it was a traumatic experience in some ways. But there was also this kind of excitement to it that would never have been present if I had not been afraid [laughing] that I might summon evil spirits. Um, I don't, I don't know how to explain it to someone who never lived in that, or never believed that.
[00:42:42] Ami: I remember kids talking about like, you know, saying Bloody Mary three times, make a ghost appear in the mirror or whatever. And I remember being afraid that that could really happen, because Satan could really send an evil spirit. So, I mean, I think that that kind of thing was scary to us growing up because we did believe it and the grownups in our lives did believe it.
[00:43:05] So, you know, my kid read the scary thing in a book that she's not quite ready for, and I go, 'Dude, that's pretend, don't, there's nothing under your bed, just go to sleep.' You know, and that's kind of, you know, she might feel scared for a night, but it's not like... Plus you have this added burden of like, 'Am I sinning? Am I doing something wrong? Am I d...' you know, not just, this is giving scary imagery to me that I am gonna have a hard time processing right now, but also...
[00:43:35] Abby: Nightmares about going to hell.
[00:43:37] Ami: Nightmares about going to hell.
[00:43:38] Misty: Oh man, yeah, those will get you every time.
[00:43:43] Abby: [Laughing]
[00:43:44] Misty: I had nightmares about my siblings telling me to turn my back on God.
[00:43:49] Ami: [Laughing] Oh, we'll have to tell like Adventist horror stories or something. I mean, I know that's what we're doing all the time, but specifically, like Adventist nightmares, that'll be our evil spirits episode.
[00:44:04] Abby: I'm sure we'll address this topic again. Is there anything else we need to say in our first foray into literature?
[00:44:13] Ami: Read Mary Renault.
[00:44:15] Misty: Mm-hmm.
[00:44:15] Abby: Yes.
[00:44:16] Misty: Books are good.
[00:44:18] Abby: Really good. The, if you want the most explicit gay one, it is The Persian Boy.
[00:44:22] Ami: My favorite is The Praise Singer.
[00:44:24] Abby: My, my favorite is The King Must Die followed closely by The Persian Boy, but I have never read one of her books that I did not enjoy. And most of them I would say I loved and I have been rationing them out over my life, like as I have gotten towards, 'cause now all I've got left are the contemporary romances. And I like, when I go on vacation, I will read one and then I will not let myself read it when I'm not on vacation.
[00:44:48] Ami: You start reading somebody who, a author who's already died and you have to save their books. She has this thing in all those Greek stories in particular, the main character will struggle with something, that their personal sense of right and wrong conflicts with what the society tells them is right and wrong.
[00:45:09] Abby: That resonated with me.
[00:45:10] Ami: That resonates so strongly.
[00:45:12] Misty: Again, the more we talk about it, the more I think that my Adventist teacher was really right when she, like, if you're an Adventist teacher listening to this, you should not let your students read her. Because she will be instrumental in them following their own moral compass and questioning things.
[00:45:32] Abby: Yeah, that is a trope in her stories and it's...
[00:45:35] Ami: And sympathizing with gay people.
[00:45:36] Abby: Yeah, it's, it's a trope in my stories too, so.
[00:45:40] Misty: Yeah, but we all know that you're "leading people astray."
[00:45:43] Abby: You're right [laughing]. 'That's my agenda. It's on my list, the secret list.' The other thing I was gonna say about Harry Potter was, it was funny to me that this was such a big deal in the Adventist church because aside from the whole witchcraft thing, Harry Potter is about boarding school.
[00:46:01] And she gets some aspects of boarding school so spot on, like in a way that people who didn't go to boarding school probably don't, doesn't even register with. We had a Filch at our boarding academy. We had a groundskeeper who literally wore a tin foil hat and liked to, um, stalk around in the dark with a flashlight and then turn it on suddenly at people who were like, he caught making out or holding hands. I mean, he was just, he was crazy and that he's reminded me of the Filch character immediately as do other characters in those books.
[00:46:35] Misty: Oh man, I just thought of something hilarious that I hadn't thought of in probably 10 years, is I got yelled at by one of my friends for reading a fantasy novel that had... I can't even remember what the cover was, but it was something that like two mythological creatures were like kissing or something and they're like, 'Oh, there's gotta be sex in that.' And so they were yelling at me.
[00:46:58] Abby: Piers Anthony, probably.
[00:46:59] Misty: Yeah, probably somebody like that. But anyway, later that day, a girl that I was not particularly friends with came up to me and under a table slid me a VC Andrews novel and was like, 'If you like that, you should read this, but don't read it where people can see.'
[00:47:16] Group: [Laughing]
[00:47:17] Misty: In the whole like underground book trading, I just thought of that.
[00:47:22] Abby: And isn't there something exciting about that?
[00:47:24] Misty: Oh yeah.
[00:47:24] Abby: Same way that it's exciting to sneak off and make out with your boyfriend when you can get kicked out for it. It's not nearly as exciting when...
[00:47:32] Misty: Nobody cares...
[00:47:32] Abby: ...nobody cares.
[00:47:33] Misty: ...anymore?
[00:47:34] Ami: The allure of the forbidden...
[00:47:37] Abby: It's fucked up. Okay, thank you for joining us. We'll be back next week.
[00:47:49] Ami: So what I wanna ask you, John, is were there any books when you were a kid that were forbidden, that you had to sneak around to read or that you knew would have been forbidden if they knew what you were reading?
[00:48:05] Guest 1: Absolutely not. My parents were teachers, reading was very much encouraged. Uh, I tell this anecdote a lot actually, how when I was like 10, uh 12, I bought a college textbook at a thrift store. That, the biology textbook that was mostly, um, I remember, uh, Origin of Species by Darwin being prominent. And that's the first time I'd ever really been exposed to it.
[00:48:24] I remember my dad found me reading it, and it wasn't 'Get that,' you know, creationists that they were, it wasn't 'Get that trash outta my house.' It was like, 'Oh, what are you reading there?' And I told him, he was like, 'Eh, that's what some people think.' Like that kind of stuff. But it was never, 'You can't have that,' which I think would've been very taboo in a lot of Adventist houses — but no, reading was always encouraged. I don't, I've not, the idea of bad books was something I only discovered later in life that other people thought that way.
[00:48:48] Ami: Alex, same question.
[00:48:50] Guest 2: Yeah, absolutely. There was, uh, there was books that I was not allowed to read. Um, when I was a teenager, my parents found my Monster Compendiums for uh, Dungeons and Dragons. And they kind of, my dad kind of flipped out and was like, 'I don't want that devil stuff in my house.'
[00:49:13] And so there was that. But mostly what I remember reading that I felt, felt like I had to kind of keep on the down low was my comic books. 'Cause a lot of the comic books I read were, you know, X-Men and, you know, titles like that, but those were so much more adult than I think my parents really knew. To them, I was reading funny books, but really I was reading these incredibly complex, you know, dramas essentially.
[00:49:38] And I, I got the feeling that if my parents read these books, they would not let me continue reading. But the only ones that they, the only ones that they flipped out on me were the Dungeons and Dragons Monster Compendiums. 'Cause that was specifically "Satanic."
[00:49:55] Ami: So Ryan, were there forbidden books?
[00:49:58] Guest 3: No, I was more of what you'd call a jock kid, so I had sticks that resembled guns, but if my parents asked, I was like, 'Oh, no way am I pretending this is a gun to play, like, army men with. Um, that kind of thing. I didn't, I didn't so much have any books around that I was reading that were forbidden.
[00:50:19] Ami: Were there any books when you were a kid that were forbidden? Or that you perceived that if your parents knew what you were reading, they would have been forbidden?
[00:50:29] Guest 4: Oh, okay. No, uh, my parents were really open. I mean, I could, like, my dad had a, a subscription to Playboy and I could look at 'em anytime I wanted, although I didn't want them to know that. Uh, but they were free with books, they wanted me to read, they encouraged it. And I don't think anything was forbidden. They, they saw knowledge as being good and empowering.
[00:50:54] Ami: Man!
[00:50:54] Guest 2: Follow up question, were you raised Adventist?
[00:50:57] Guest 4: I was not, no.
[00:50:59] Ami: I was gonna say man, being not religious as a kid was awesome.
[00:51:03] Guest 1: ... I was raised as Adventist as anybody but some of these, your stories particularly, I'm like, 'Wow, what was that like, man?' It's like, I feel like I was raised atheist compared to you. Like so conservative.
[00:51:14] Guest 2: Well, to show you the hypocrisy, like I wasn't allowed, like my parents, my dad specifically flipped out about the Dungeons and Dragons Monster Compendium. But my dad read Dungeons and Dragons fantasy novels!
[00:51:26] Guest 1: That's why he knew it was "blood magic."
[00:51:28] Guest 2: Blood magic.
[00:51:29] Guest 1: And blood music, it was all blood.
[00:51:32] Guest 5: For me, it wasn't really a, a book that I was forbidden to read. But for me it was a movie. And of course the ultimate movie that would be forbidden would be The Exorcist, of course. 'Cause you know, growing up, watching the movie would make you devil possessed. And I, uh, remember it was probably 19, uh 99 or 2000 where I decided that I was going to go ahead and watch the movie.
[00:52:03] And I was alone, and I saw the movie and when I was done with the movie, I said, 'That is it?' The production values were so amateur. I personally could have made that movie myself, just put a bunch of scary music in the background, scare people, but it's only scary to people that really believed that that is like reality.
[00:52:24] Like when you watch Star Wars or Star Trek, it's like, as much as I love science fiction, if you asked me point blank 'Is this reality?' I hate to admit this to my Star Trek friends and, uh...
[00:52:36] Guest 1: Tread lightly, my friend.
[00:52:37] Guest 5: I know, I'm surrounded with Star Trek fans. But I mean, in reality, I, I know it's science fiction. I hate to admit that, but these people believe it's real. So it, for them it's extra scary. But when I saw it, it was like, 'Okay, am I devil possessed? No.' And that was just like a joke that this was the big forbidden fruit for me to partake of. And it was like a joke after that. So I actually didn't become devil possessed after I watched it.
[00:53:10] Guest 1: Probably scary for Catholics 'cause of all the priests in it. Wouldn't be an Adventist podcast without some good old Adventist anti-Catholicism.
[00:53:18] Group: [Laughing]
Haystacks & Hell Outro
[00:53:19] Santiago: Thanks for listening. If you have a story to share about your Adventist or fundamentalist experience, we'd love to hear it. You can submit stories on our website at hell.bio (that's H E L L dot B I O) or leave us a voicemail at 301-750-8648 and we might feature it in a future episode. Thanks to Abby and Ami for their original podcast audio, and thanks again for listening. We'll see you on the next one!