Full Transcripts, resources and more: hell.bio/notes
Santiago interviews the research team behind the ex-Adventist survey and research project called Eighth-day Freedom: Dr. Tom Arcaro, Dr. Duane McClearn, and Jeff, an ex-Adventist originally from Michigan.
Ex-Adventist Survey Links:
Links to other topics mentioned:
- Jesus and John Wayne
- The Outsider Test for Faith
- Rachel Klinger Cain (@IBlameBill TikTok)
- Vertical vs. Horizontal Morality
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Credits: 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] Santiago: Hey everyone, welcome back to Haystacks and Hell. I'm your host Santiago, and today we have another interview episode. I'm very excited to speak with Dr Tom Arcaro, Dr Duane McClearn, and Jeff, who is an ex-Adventist on the research team.
[00:00:34] Together, they are conducting a research project at Elon University, a private university located in the US state of North Carolina. Their goal is to learn about what led ex-Adventists to leave the SDA church, what it was like for those of us who left, and what life has been like since leaving.
[00:00:54] If you're an ex-Adventist and haven't already taken the survey, I highly encourage you to take it. I already did and have shared it with my ex-Adventist friends. To be clear, this is not a church-sponsored survey. It's not affiliated with the SDA church in any way, and no personally identifying information is being gathered.
[00:01:15] The survey link is in the show notes, as well as a link to the official blog for this project. As of today, the survey will be kept open until June 1st, 2023. So for anyone listening in the future, I'll plan to update the show notes with any updates and published results.
[00:01:33] Before we jump into the conversation, some introductions:
[00:01:36] Dr Tom Arcaro was raised in a Catholic family in Ashtabula, Ohio. He completed his undergraduate work in sociology at Ohio State University, and then was awarded his master's degree and PhD in anthropology and sociology from Purdue University. He has been researching and studying the humanitarian aid and development ecosystem for nearly two decades, and in 2016, published Aid Worker Voices.
[00:02:09] He recently published his second and third books related to the humanitarian sector with Confronting Toxic Othering published in 2021 and Dispatches from the Margins of the Humanitarian Sector in 2022. One of his favorite quotes comes from Thomas Paine, "My country is the world, and my religion is to do good." Long a convert to atheism, bordering on being an anti-theist, Tom lives with his family in North Carolina. And he is the principal investigator, or PI, for this research project.
[00:02:45] Dr Duane McClearn was raised in a secular family in California and Colorado. He obtained a bachelor's degree with a double major in psychology and history, then a master's degree and PhD in psychology, all from the University of Colorado Boulder.
[00:03:03] He has been a faculty member of the Department of Psychology at Elon University for many years. And among his many interests are the psychology of beliefs, particularly religious and superstitious beliefs, which he has been studying for years. He has a lovely wife and four lovely children.
[00:03:22] Last, but definitely not least, Jeff grew up as a Seventh-day Adventist in Michigan and attended Seventh-day Adventist schools from kindergarten through college, including four years at an SDA boarding academy called Adelphian Academy. He earned a bachelor's degree at Andrews University in the early 1990s, during which he also served as a student missionary in Thailand.
[00:03:47] After completing his formal education, Jeff worked for the Adventist Development and Relief Agency, or ADRA, in a variety of roles for more than a decade before leaving the Seventh-day Adventist system. Jeff holds a master's degree in cultural anthropology from Western Michigan University, and enjoys travel and the outdoors. These days, he's made his home in the Seattle area with his family. So with that background, let's jump into the conversation.
Interview with the Eighth-day Freedom Research Team
[00:04:17] Santiago: Gentlemen, thank you so much for your time and for the work you're doing. So the first question I want to ask you all is, how did the idea for this research project come about, and why is it called Eighth-day Freedom?
[00:04:30] Tom: [Laughing] Well, no, no, go ahead, Jeff. I mean, you came to me with the idea to do a survey.
[00:04:37] Jeff: Yeah, that's true.
[00:04:38] Tom: This has been part of your journey, I think exploring your long-term exit. And so this is your way of being more in-depth and thoughtful and systematic about getting some answers to questions that you have, and you know countless others have. And so, that's how it started, you know, just a curiosity.
[00:05:03] The first collaboration that Jeff and I did with each other is called Aid Worker Voices. And the intent of that research was to get at what aid workers were thinking, what their, give them voice. Not that they needed, you know, an external person to do that, but it turned out to be, just like this survey has been, it turned out to be a cathartic kind of experience for people to take that survey.
[00:05:29] And that's pretty much exactly what we're finding with this survey, is that a lot of people are saying it felt good to be asked those questions. The name of the website that we've got, I'm gonna take full credit for that [laughing] Jeff.
[00:05:45] Many years ago in another incarnation at Elon, I had a radio program called Eighth Day Review, and that was in the back of my head. And so Seventh-day Adventist, and what we know is that there's a transition that happens and it is felt as freedom to many people. And so Eighth-day Freedom, just to me, seemed, uh, like a nice hook.
[00:06:10] Santiago: Got it, so like the day after.
[00:06:12] Tom: Exactly, yeah.
[00:06:13] Santiago: Love that, okay, great. Jeff, anything you wanted to add to that?
[00:06:18] Jeff: I think Tom got it pretty well, right on the right, on the money there. That having said, I will add something. Yeah, this project is definitely, I think part of my own personal kind of late-stage deconstruction, wanting to, to see if there are others like me out there.
[00:06:37] If you know many of the things that I've felt and experienced over the last, basically 20 years of quiet quitting and then all the way being done, you know, resonate with other people. And it, I kind of always thought anecdotally that of course that would be the case, now I can see it empirically. So yeah, there's, there's definitely a personal aspect of this for me.
[00:06:59] Tom: I don't want to speak for Duane, but he and I collaborated on research a number of years ago on atheists and atheism. We had a similar survey and generated 8,000 responses from atheists around the world. And so I'm seeing this research as a reframing of and a more granular look at the same question: what does it feel like to leave faith and what kind of common experiences there are, et cetera, et cetera.
[00:07:31] And so,
[00:07:32] Dr. Tom Arcaro: the work that we're doing with Jeff right now is to me, organically connected to research that Duane and I have done in the past. So yeah, this is, uh, same topic, more specific and actually more interesting version. Duane and I come into this having virtually zero knowledge of Adventism and SDA life in general.
[00:07:57] And so this has been, for me, just a wonderful learning experience. I had to ask, uh, [laughing]
[00:08:05] last night, I had to ask Jeff, 'What's a haystack?' And so that in itself was kind of, a was kind of a neat learning experience.
[00:08:15] Santiago: Yeah, haystacks are definitely not universal to Adventism. I think it's primarily North America and predominantly English-speaking countries. But most of the people I've spoken to on the ex-Adventist subreddit, I think fondly recall haystacks. There's some people who vehemently oppose the memory of haystacks even being brought up. But yeah, it's, it's something that I still eat every now and then.
[00:08:39] So I'm glad you mentioned the previous survey that you've done, because actually one of my questions for Duane was around that survey. I was curious to see if those results were published or are available online and you know, some of the questions you were asking and any key takeaways that you had from that survey.
[00:09:00] Duane: No, we didn't publish research articles per se, but they're coming out in dribs and drabs on blog posts and whatnot. And some of the messages, well, as Tom mentioned, we had specific questions as well as open-ended questions where people could write in as much as they wanted. And what we got from that survey was, so many people were so glad to be out of the religion.
[00:09:29] There was some misgivings among some people because they, they didn't like losing family members, family member connections, or friends, or something of that nature. But by and large, they were grateful to be out and they were happy to be out of the religion, and they wished that they had done it sooner. So that, that was one of the big takeaway messages from, from that.
[00:10:00] Another was the amount of stigma that they felt being an atheist. And with so many, they had not yet revealed this fact, their atheism, to their family, friends, or the larger community because they, they feared losing their job, or their relationships, or what have you. And some of their stories were actually quite, uh, harrowing or well, sad. It was really sad what some people had gone through the, the kind of...
[00:10:35] Tom: Yeah, the stigma associated.
[00:10:36] Duane: The stigma was very serious. And it was overwhelming majorities of individuals who felt stigma associated with their atheism. And by the way, this was true whether they had become atheists while in a religion, or whether they had already been atheists.
[00:10:55] We were just asking people who were atheists, whether they had developed this atheism while already in, or had been this all their lives. And then we made the distinction at certain points about people who developed their atheism while being religious, first of all, and so on.
[00:11:15] Tom: Yeah, it's, it's interesting body of research. What we found also on the topic of stigma is that predictably, the stigma ranged from moderate in the Pacific Northwest and the Northeast, fairly high in the Midwest, and was very high in the Southeast, predictably in the Bible Belt where we sit right now.
[00:11:40] And so I remember when I first came to Elon in the mid eighties, one of the first questions people would ask you is, 'What church do you go to?' And, you know, and at that point I was, I had not used the "A word" to describe myself because the stigma was that deep. I had always known I was an atheist, but I had never had the self-awareness enough to actually say to myself, 'Yes, I am an atheist.'
[00:12:09] And it wasn't until I began doing the research that I made that transition to, 'Yeah, I am one of those.' And you know, despite the stigma, I am an atheist. And even, when I talk to a lot of other people about the same phenomena, they have exactly the same experience.
[00:12:24] And so this self labeling is kind of interesting and I think what we're seeing already in these data with this survey, is that it's a similar kind of phenomena. It's like people make these internal, uh, awareness, they connect the dots in their head and they realize, 'Oh, yeah, I'm one of those and, and I just haven't admitted it to myself.'
[00:12:49] Santiago: Yeah, I remember hearing the last, I think in the last year or so, I learned the acronym PIMO, or Physically In, Mentally Out. And based on the survey responses so far, have a significant percentage of people indicated that they're still physically in the SDA system, you know, perhaps attending church, but are actually mentally checked out?
[00:13:15] Jeff: Well, that'd be question, question one, if I'm not mistaken, is one place to get there. Yeah, non-believing Adventist: "I no longer believe in the Seventh-day Adventist message or movement, but I maintain the behavior and appearance of being Adventist in order to remain part of the community." As of right now, 9.29% of respondents check that box.
[00:13:39] Santiago: Okay.
[00:13:40] Jeff: So, I honestly expected it would be a little higher, but this is probably an artifact of the sample that we've got. But yeah, just under 10%.
[00:13:50] Duane: On the other hand, checking the box "I have left the Seventh-day Adventist Church, I no longer pay tithe, no longer participate, I no longer follow Adventist Rules," that's a whopping 87%. So I mean, those people seem completely out.
[00:14:07] Santiago: Mm-hmm.
[00:14:09] Jeff: Yeah, most people who have taken the survey are all the way out.
[00:14:12] Duane: Yeah.
[00:14:13] Santiago: Interesting, okay. If you don't mind me asking, because I, Duane, I know you mentioned in your bio that you were raised in a secular family, so I'm assuming you didn't grow up religious and didn't necessarily have a religion to leave. Is, is that correct?
[00:14:26] Duane: That is correct.
[00:14:27] Santiago: Okay, so then for Jeff and Tom, if you don't mind me asking, what caused each of you to leave the faiths that you were raised in?
[00:14:35] Tom: Mine's short. I was raised nominally Catholic. I remember going to church, probably for the first, you know, to Catholic mass, probably for the first, I don't know, 5, 6, 7 years of my life. And then for whatever reason, I never knew, we just quit going to church. And I remember very distinctly, that it just didn't pass the sniff test for me.
[00:15:01] It just didn't, it just didn't make sense. It literally didn't pass the sniff test, 'This can't be right!' You know, and I put it in the same category of Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. Uh, it was like, yeah, no, not so much. 'I get people that believe this, but not me.' I mentally, you know, couldn't make that leap of, well, literally a leap of faith.
[00:15:22] I just, I couldn't do that. So I, I never was, I would never consider myself having been brought up in a religious tradition in any, any real way. So I'm kind of more similar to Duane, and I'm, certainly am pretty far away from, from Jeff and his upbringing.
[00:15:38] Santiago: Mm-hmm.
[00:15:40] Jeff: Yeah for me, you know, I've, I've certainly devoted a lot of time to thinking about this, my answer to this exact question, you know, over the years, and I can talk for a very long time about it. Let me know if you need me back on future episodes.
[00:15:52] Santiago: Oh, I'm sure I will.
[00:15:54] Jeff: At, any rate, I think my trajectory is pretty similar to a lot of people that I know in that, that are in my life, you know, even today, which is to say that I was born and raised deep inside the bubble. My parents did not work for the church system, but we were very invested in it.
[00:16:12] Seventh-day Adventist schools from K all the way through my college degree. I went outside the, the system to a worldly university for grad school. But my bachelor's degree is from Andrews University. And I was in my late thirties before I seriously began kind of my slow, what's the word? Slow extrication from the system and that, that took many years.
[00:16:38] And it took a while just to even kind of say the words in the, the solitude of my own head. That experience I think is really reflective of a lot of people, certainly of my generation, ones that I know personally. And what I think happened as a young adult was that basically, you know, I started [sigh], yeah, seeing that it just kind of didn't align with the life that I wanted to live.
[00:17:03] And for a period of, you know, many years, made concessions and found ways to make it work until I could no longer do that. And at that point, kind of set myself free, basically decided that the rules didn't apply to me and I wasn't gonna, you know, live my life based on a code of conduct that was grounded in things that I ultimately didn't believe. That's, I think about as succinct as I can put it.
[00:17:28] Santiago: Yeah, I definitely appreciate the idea of feeling like... I think Abby in, in one of the episodes mentions that when she told her parents that she no longer believed in the Adventist faith, that she had trouble holding conflicting beliefs in her mind at the same time. This idea of cognitive dissonance, right?
[00:17:49] And I think for some people they lean further into their belief when they experience that cognitive dissonance. And I think people like you and me, when we experienced that, we went the other direction and we actually started questioning and decided we ultimately didn't believe it anymore.
[00:18:06] Jeff: I think many Adventists would parse it as an issue of faith, right? That faith is what you, what makes you lean into those beliefs. One thought that kind of came to my head as you were speaking as well, is that Adventism, and it's certainly not the only religion or religious movement out there that's like this, but it, it, it's very kind of stark in terms of "you're in or you're out."
[00:18:27] I think of the friends, I have dear friends for many years who have left Catholicism, and I get the sense, maybe I'm wrong, but I get the sense that leaving Catholicism is, it's not quite the same. I get the sense that kind of day-to-day Catholic culture, at least in North America, makes a lot more concession and allowance for people who are kind of marginally part of the, part of the movement.
[00:18:53] You can be a really kind of Laodicean, lukewarm Catholic and still be considered part of it. I don't sense any, any such concession within Adventism. There definitely comes a point where you have to make a, take a stand and make a choice. And Adventists will resonate with this language, you have to kind of, you know, "choose you this day whom you will serve." And, um it really comes to that.
[00:19:16] Santiago: Yeah, yeah, absolutely.
[00:19:17] Tom: Can I go in a slightly different direction for a second, Santiago?
[00:19:21] Santiago: Sure.
[00:19:21] Tom: One of the things that Duane and I have, have researched and looked at, and in fact written a little bit about, is the fact that atheism is on the rise globally. That is, people are leaving the church in droves. And we saw in the Super Bowl a metaphorical Hail Mary pass with those first half commercial and second half commercial.
[00:19:43] Santiago: Just a quick side note: Tom is referring to the "He Gets Us" marketing campaign. If you didn't see the Superbowl, which I didn't either, you've probably seen some of those ads with the black and white photos and white and yellow text.
[00:20:00] They can seem pretty edgy and inclusive by Christian standards, but they're actually funded by people like David Green, the billionaire founder and CEO of Hobby Lobby, which refused to cover any contraceptives like IUDs and the morning after pill, as part of their employee health insurance plan. This is because they take the extreme view that contraceptives supposedly "take life." Anyway, I agree with Tom here. It's a desperate move by people who aren't really telling the truth about their motives.
[00:20:34] Tom: That is figuratively, a Hail Mary pass, trying to get people to come back to the church. And so if you look at all of the statistics, the percentage of "Nones," people that don't believe in religion, click "None" on boxes of religion, those numbers are going up precipitously in the last 15 years.
[00:20:57] And one of the things that I think is a contributing factor to this current high rise in people leaving the church is COVID. I think when we had lockdown and people couldn't go to church, we know this, I know this from people here in, in hometown. Church attendance before COVID and church attendance after COVID, it's like night and day.
[00:21:22] After COVID when people got out of the habit of spending Saturday or Sunday in a church or a mosque, or a temple, after they got out of that habit, it was easy to just kind of keep going in that direction. And so there's been a spike of people leaving the church, all churches, associated directly with those...
[00:21:42] It was a couple months' worth of quarantine where people just didn't leave the house, or didn't leave the house in the same way they did before. And so, you know, I think we're seeing a kind of, a connection between this historical quirk of COVID and it accelerating the exodus from religion, including SDA.
[00:22:03] Duane: Could I just add something else, if we're on the topic of leaving the church. And that is, in the United States and in other places, and right now, I'm in the process of reading a book about Ireland and the crisis that the church is facing there. It's all these scandals within various church organizations, in particularly the Catholic church in Ireland, Catholic church here in this country, with the abuse of children and so on.
[00:22:36] But in this country, it's also a lot of the Protestant denominations have been having their own scandals, with abuse of women or children, what have you. And it's, it's reducing the confidence of the membership. And so the people are not so willing anymore just to let it be swept under the carpet.
[00:23:01] And there are more journalists, politicians, law enforcement people and so on, who are willing to proceed in investigating these charges and taking them to their conclusion, I think, than in the past. So the churches are coming to have a lot more accountability and, and ignominy heaped upon them. So the people are getting, a lot of, people are getting very tired of all the failings of the church leadership.
[00:23:33] Santiago: Agreed.
[00:23:34] Jeff: Yeah, agree with everything. If I could just for a moment, maybe jump on some of the comments about, you know, the way that COVID kind of accelerated the departure. And I think that's really, I think that's really correct and some of the things that are coming out in responses to the survey really sort of bear that out in, in ways that you, you may not expect.
[00:23:58] And when I think about it in, in terms of my own experience and, and that of many people that I've spoken to just personally, maybe not that they left during COVID, but that some of the, how can I put this? I think one of the real draws of Adventism and any kind of clan and community like Adventism, right, is the sense of community.
[00:24:21] And if you look at the, the responses to question 31, "What are the things that you miss about Adventism?" I mean, the number one thing is "Sense of belonging to a community," 45%. The other high response rate options kind of cluster around that sense of community. Some people miss the food, some people miss the music. But that, that idea of community is really powerful. It's the thing that the ex-Adventists, you know, miss about it.
[00:24:47] Relating that to my own experience, you know, one of the things that really kind of cemented my break from the system was moving. Moving away from a church where we did have a strong community where, you know, my wife was supported well when I traveled internationally, it was my job to do it often.
[00:25:05] We had all the benefits of a, of a nice, vibrant community of Adventists who were about our age and in our, about our station of life. And when that was suddenly, when we no longer had that, it, you know, the, the kind of beliefs that underpin that community go into real sharp relief.
[00:25:24] And then, uh, it really has a clarifying effect on how you actually feel about it and what you think about it and well, what you believe and who you're gonna serve this day. And it becomes a lot more kind of straightforward to say, 'You know what, actually, yeah, I, I, I don't believe this. I'm, I'm gonna set myself free.'
[00:25:44] Santiago: It's interesting you mentioned that because I talked about in an earlier episode how, or at least, I don't know if I've talked about it on the podcast, but I know I've posted somewhere at some point, that COVID made leaving easier for me.
[00:25:59] It kind of gave me a cover as I had already essentially finished both deconstruction and deconversion, it gave me a convenient excuse to not show up in person every single week for the brief period that our church didn't meet in person. I still helped out with a couple things with some of the online services we did, but yeah, that really kind of made it easier to pull away without immediately raising some red flags and uncomfortable questions that I wasn't ready to answer at that moment.
[00:26:36] I think if somebody were to ask me today, that maybe I had a close enough relationship with and trusted, I would maybe be a little bit more open with them. There is actually one person at my old church who knows everything. I told them that not only was I no longer Adventist, but I also identified as an atheist.
[00:26:56] But yeah, I agree, I think COVID definitely made it perhaps easier for some folks to make that break. And I think, uh, for somebody who's maybe a little bit more conspiratorial, they might argue that, 'Oh, well that was the purpose, that was the plan behind, behind...'
[00:27:11] Jeff: You know, I, I, I can picture specific Adventists that I know personally, having exactly that perspective. I don't know that they do, but I can picture it.
[00:27:20] Santiago: Yeah, I'm curious since we touched briefly on the topic of abuse, absolutely cases of abuse within the Catholic Church. I think more recently within the Southern Baptist Convention, have also come out. We don't see too many headlines about that within the Adventist Church, so I'm wondering what kind of responses you've seen so far around this. On average, are people aware or unaware of instances of abuse within the SDA church?
[00:27:49] Tom: Go ahead Jeff, I'm looking at the data now.
[00:27:51] Jeff: Oh, okay. There are certainly a number of pretty egregious sounding things being reported in some of the comments. Some of the people who have made those comments have reached out to me personally and elaborated their story a bit.
[00:28:05] Those things that have happened, you know, at the hands of, of other Seventh-day Adventists are certainly terrible and there's no way of kind of sugarcoating it. I don't have a sense, and the purpose of this survey wasn't really to get at to what extent is abuse of different kinds prevalent within the Seventh-day Adventist structure.
[00:28:24] I assume that it is, personally, I was more kind of interested in how many people perceive that or is that a, a common thing that, that people perceive as they leave. And I would say that, Tom's gonna tell you the data in a minute, or refer to it in a minute, but my sense is that it's, it's probably not as rampant and as widespread as, as maybe I thought it might be.
[00:28:45] Tom: I hate to contradict what you just said, Jeff, but well, the number, the numbers are, I think I was kind of startled at this. Here's the question: "Are you aware of any sexual abuse perpetuated by lay members of the Adventist church?" And 57% said, "Yes, I am aware of sexual abuse by a lay member or members, but was not personally abused."
[00:29:11] 13% said "Yes, I was personally sexually abused by a lay member or members, and I know of other cases." 28% said, "No, I am unaware of any sexual abuse perpetuated by a lay member or members of the Adventist Church." So, if that's 28% that hadn't heard of it, that means the other 72% had in one way or another. And to me, that, that's pretty overwhelming.
[00:29:39] And so that's with lay members. We separated these questions out to focus on lay members as opposed to leadership. And so the next question, "Are you aware of instances of sexual abuse by Seventh-day Adventist church leaders?" And we said, pastors, deacons, employees of the church, teachers in Adventist schools, and so on. And here, again, essentially the same numbers. 64% said, "Yes, I am aware of sexual abuse by an Adventist leader or leaders, but was not personally abused."
[00:30:10] 8% said, "Yes, I was sexually abused by an Adventist leader or leaders." 28% saying, "I am unaware of sexual abuse by Adventist leaders or leaders." And so about 72% are saying, 'Yeah, this happens and I know about it.' So those numbers, to me as a sociologist looking at this, no matter what group we're talking about, wow, that looks like sexual abuse is not uncommon within this particular subculture.
[00:30:40] Jeff: That's interesting, I guess from having grown up in the system, it seemed like I was always aware of something being whispered about it. It seemed quite common as I was growing up to hear about, I don't know this church elder or that teacher in some other academy or, or something. And so I guess to me 28% who haven't heard of anything is, is pretty high. Wow, whole, whole 28% didn't know, 'cause it seems like it was kind of common knowledge as I was growing up.
[00:31:13] Santiago: Yeah, I definitely count myself among the majority that knows about cases. Fortunately, I was never personally abused in that way. And you know, some people might disagree depending on your definition of abuse. Spiritual abuse is a legitimate form of abuse. But I would argue, at least for me personally, I don't feel like I was abused by the system.
[00:31:36] My brother and I talked about this and we feel that we were very fortunate. One, I think part of it is that we are men. We, you know, we grew up as guys within the church, and it's definitely different for people who are women or people who are queer and don't fit within kind of the heteronormative, patriarchal structure that follows most Abrahamic religions.
[00:32:00] I'm very curious to see as, as the survey goes on, how people's experiences differ based off of the responses they give on gender and whether they came out as other than, I think the question was cis or straight within the Adventist system.
[00:32:17] Jeff: Yeah I agree, Santiago. As a White, cisgendered, straight man, I definitely had an easier time than many people. Lo these many years later, I still struggle myself to, to say that what happened to me was abuse in some way. Because again, years after the fact, the, the tendency is to kind of normalize it and to say, 'Well, you know, that was just, they meant well, they're just, you know, following their truth, Adventists being Adventists,' you know, that kind of thing.
[00:32:48] Tom: To follow up on the psychological abuse that, that you were referring to, Santiago, question 43. When we looked at just psychological abuse, not sexual abuse, we differentiated between lay members and leadership. And so question 43, "Are you aware of instances of psychological abuse by lay members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church?"
[00:33:09] And if you add up the people that responded "Yes, I was psychologically abused" and the ones that say "I'm aware of it, but I wasn't personally abused," you come up with essentially the same number except it's a little bit higher. It's about 78% agree that there's psychological abuse. So yeah, when we finally get around to publishing this, I think the numbers are going to be poured over by some folks, and it's gonna be interesting.
[00:33:40] Santiago: Yeah, there's a really good book I read not too long ago, which I've mentioned on this podcast before. It's called #ChurchToo, and it's written by a woman who grew up in a fundamentalist Evangelical Christian home. She wasn't raised Adventist, but she touches on how this idea of purity culture really perpetuates this cycle of abuse where, especially women, but children in general are taught to be very submissive to leadership, especially male leadership.
[00:34:11] And how that essentially creates a breeding ground for just cases of abuse and grooming. And I think now that people are starting to remove some of the stigma of what comes with being the survivor of abuse, I think people are more willing to speak up about it. The Me Too movement came before the hashtag #ChurchToo.
[00:34:34] And I think there's a lot of overlap in terms of the broader culture being willing to speak up and people within churches finally taking their heads out of the sand and saying, 'Okay, we need to take a look at this.' Obviously not everybody is willing to. There's, right now on Christian Twitter, there is a raging debate over John MacArthur and his culpability of a case of abuse that happened within his church.
[00:35:02] One of his members, and I think a, a youth leader or some sort of lay leader in his church sexually abused and physically abused his own children. And John MacArthur from the pulpit, publicly shamed the wife for choosing to leave her abusive husband who was arrested and convicted and sent to prison. And throughout all of that, church leadership backed him over her and her children.
[00:35:28] And I had somebody submit a story through the website sharing about how her own Adventist husband was abusive and had actually cheated on her at some point. And despite that information being known to her pastor and pastor's wife, when she decided that it was time to leave him, they came to her and said that she was in the wrong.
[00:35:51] There is a pattern within Evangelical Christianity, Adventism included, where leadership in some of these more fundamentalist circles automatically tends to side with the man and says, 'Hey, even if you're being abused, you need to put up with it.'
[00:36:07] John Piper has, uh, he's not Adventist, but another Evangelical Christian preacher, thought leader, he literally published a, a blog post some years ago where he talks about 'If you're a woman and you're being abused, put up with it for a season because you know, God needs to work through that relationship and, and he'll get you through it.' And I'm just reading this and I'm like, I, I can't believe that this is being said, but it's being said, and some people still believe that today.
[00:36:40] Duane: I've read many stories of the Mormon Church where that exact sort of thing happens and the woman is blamed and told, 'Go back, be patient, be tolerant, accept the abuse, that is your lot in life.' So it's very pervasive.
[00:37:00] Santiago: Yeah, it's, it's amazing to me, and I'm hopeful that more people continue to speak up and break away from those cycles of abuse. Speaking of kind of the, the diversity that exists within Adventism and religion in general, I read your blog post titled One Size Does Not Fit All, and how somebody had taken the survey and left this piece of feedback.
[00:37:24] I'm gonna quote from part of it: "It felt like this survey was more relevant to people who grew up in North America and never experienced Adventism in other parts of the world." End quote. And you did address this in the post, which I'm gonna link in the show notes. So I wanted to ask A) if you've received any more constructive criticism like this, and B) if you've gotten any positive or neutral feedback from people who are outside of North America.
[00:37:52] Tom: I would have to go back through the data and I'd want to do that before I answered that question thoroughly, Santiago. But in general, just glancing over some of the responses, there is a small percentage of people that did point out the North American bias and Western bias of the survey.
[00:38:13] You know, I have that question on there about race, and that was also a point of contention for some people. I'm gonna stand by that question, though. There are a, a strong number of sociologists who would agree that globally, there is a "white" and "non-white." That is, whiteness is something that is now globally seen as an important variable.
[00:38:40] And so you can, and this is from a, from a very critical race theory perspective, you can look at, globally, race being white or non-white. And the non-white are certainly very heterogeneous, there's a big mixture there. But in terms of global dynamics and how things work around the globe, there is certainly a undertone of white supremacy and kind of a colonial power, kind of dominance.
[00:39:08] And so, a survey like this that tries to get at people from around the world is always going to have that burden of not being able to have one size fitting all. It's, it's a very interesting subtopic, kind of off the main point that we're talking about today, but yes, it was interesting.
[00:39:28] Santiago: Just a heads up: Dr Arcaro added a footnote to the blog post I mentioned earlier, linked in the show notes. It now includes an article that provides support for the idea of including "white" and "nonwhite" as a variable in surveys like this. So if you've had any questions about that, or you want to learn more, check out the blog post.
[00:39:49] Tom: One thing I want to make sure that we cover in the time we have remaining is something I think is going to be important in this next election cycle. And this is why I think we had those Super Bowl commercials, and why they were paid for and produced and shown.
[00:40:07] Question 34 asks just very simply, "Have your political views changed since leaving Adventism?" And we gave them a bunch of choices, one being "Yes, I have become a great deal more liberal," "I have become a little more liberal," "My political views have not changed," "Yes, I've become a little more conservative," and "Yes, I've become a great deal more conservative."
[00:40:30] And the numbers are just stark. If you add up "Yes, I've become a great deal more liberal" and "a little bit more liberal," you get 76%. Three quarters of people, on this survey, report having much more liberal perspectives. And that would bode well for, just generally speaking, for Democratic folks as opposed to Republican folks.
[00:40:57] And so, if I'm looking at this from a political perspective and I'm a Republican, this is kind of a red flag. I don't want people to leave Adventism or other faiths like that because once they leave, they become more liberal and 'We don't want that.'
[00:41:13] Santiago: Yeah, there's definitely a huge overlap between political belief, at least in the United States, and I imagine in other predominantly Christian nations, between politics and the church. I touched on this in the very first episode and we can't talk about it enough. Christian Nationalism, in my opinion, is a very real and present threat to democracy...
[00:41:38] Tom: Absolutely.
[00:41:39] Duane: Yes, yes.
[00:41:40] Santiago: ...to individual liberty. And I've talked about before on the podcast how I don't want this to become a political podcast. And I don't think a lot of the topics we talk about are inherently political. I think they're often politicized, but they're not inherently political. But the reality is, politics touches every part of our lives, whether we like it or not.
[00:42:03] For me personally, I can say that my political views actually shifted a little bit more while I was still an Adventist, and then have shifted even further since leaving Adventism. But yeah, I'm, I'm curious to see as more people continue sending in responses, to see how that result changes over time.
[00:42:24] Another quick side note: there's a great book linked in the show notes called Jesus and John Wayne which examines the link between Evangelical Christianity in the US, and the fight for political power. If this is interesting to you, I highly recommend that book.
[00:42:41] Jeff: I'll share an anecdote with you that illustrates my perspective on that one. When I was in Seventh-day Adventist boarding high school as a senior, you know, one of the things you had to do, in those days anyway, I guess people still do it, uh, divide the class into, into two and have a Democratic and Republican.
[00:42:57] You run a presidential election and you've gotta study... Anyway, I was the Democratic presidential candidate and I lost the election to my Republican opponent. And that was not unexpected, I didn't do a great job campaigning.
[00:43:14] But the thing that really kind of stuck with me about that is then, went home for home leave from my boarding academy. And sitting in adult Sabbath school listening to the teacher kind of carry on about how, and this would've been in the late eighties, right?
[00:43:31] The Sabbath school teacher kind of carrying on about how the United States was on the brink of collapse and you could link it all to the Democratic Party. And I just felt so incensed by that because I was the Democratic presidential candidate. Really, who was this idiot? And what gives him the right to say that, you know, so.
[00:43:50] Santiago: Yeah, oh man, we're, we're gonna have to have, definitely some more conversations about your time in boarding school.
[00:43:56] Jeff: [Laughing]
[00:43:57] Santiago: I never attended a boarding academy, but just having heard Abby, Ami, Alex, and some of their friends talk about their Adventist boarding experiences, my mind is blown. It's a whole other side of Adventism that I personally wasn't exposed to.
[00:44:11] Jeff: I promise, you can't imagine unless you've been through it.
[00:44:13] Santiago: Oh my goodness.
[00:44:14] Jeff: Good thing no one signed an NDA in those days.
[00:44:17] Santiago: [Laughing] Yeah, that is another thing I've heard, which is perhaps why we don't see as many news stories about abuse within Adventism. I have heard that the Adventist church requires survivors of abuse, if they have reported it to the church and the church lawyers become aware, that they require them to sign a non-disclosure agreement.
[00:44:38] I don't know how prevalent that is within the denomination, if that's true, or whether that's true within other denominations. But that was, um, a piece of information that I heard that I found very interesting and I'm curious to learn more about.
[00:44:51] Jeff: I've never heard that. Doesn't mean it's not true, I just haven't heard it.
[00:44:55] Santiago: Yeah. I'm curious, I know Tom, you've almost gotta go, but before you do, as the principal investigator for this research project, I wanted to ask you if there is a specific hypothesis or some main questions that you're trying to address. 'Cause the survey covers kind of a wide range of questions about leaving Adventism, but are there specific questions that you're really interested in, in exploring?
[00:45:21] Tom: Short answer to that is I would,
[00:45:23] Dr. Tom Arcaro: I would characterize this as exploratory research. Not so much a quest to
[00:45:28] answer specific questions, but, more of an exploration of a wide range of topics that would lead to the construction of more precise hypotheses. And so that would be the outcome of this research, would be to produce some more granular hypotheses.
[00:45:49] Tom: That said, I think what we're looking for are some patterns. What we're looking for are some, like Jeff just mentioned, with being a, a boarding school person. I think those people, what we're hypothesizing, is that their experiences will be somewhat different than the people that didn't go to boarding school, right?
[00:46:10] And so we can begin using the data to answer the question, you know, 'How is Jeff different from other people because of his experience in boarding school?' And so we can get into things like that. So no, we,
[00:46:25] Dr. Tom Arcaro: the short answer is no, we didn't have a list of hypotheses that we were gonna prove or disprove going into this. It's more exploratory, but I think within the array of questions we asked, there is a lot of grist for going the next step and asking more precise questions in subsequent surveys.
[00:46:45] Santiago: Got it, okay, thanks.
[00:46:46] Tom: I really, I can't tell you how much I appreciate this, Santiago. I looked at your website and clicked around on a few of the stories and listened to a couple of the podcasts. You're doing an amazing job and an amazing service for the, the listening public out there to know more about this phenomena, so, fantastic.
[00:47:06] Santiago: I appreciate that, thank you!
[00:47:09] Tom: Yeah.
[00:47:09] Duane: Now we can have some fun!
[00:47:13] Group: [Laughing]
[00:47:14] Santiago: So my, my next question was actually for you, Duane, which is having been raised secular, what made you interested in the study of religious beliefs?
[00:47:24] Duane: Oh, well, you know what? I'm not sure exactly, but
[00:47:28] Dr. Duane McClearn: one thing that happened was,
[00:47:32] Duane: well, I'll tell you several things happened, I suppose, in my upbringing. One was
[00:47:37] Dr. Duane McClearn: I went to a Scottish school when I was in first grade,
[00:47:42] Duane: and they do not have separation of church and state. So
[00:47:46] Dr. Duane McClearn: once a week, all the children would gather
[00:47:50] Duane: in a particular room and there's a big box on the wall and it was an intercom.
[00:47:59] And we would sit there and look at it
[00:48:01] Dr. Duane McClearn: and the headmaster would tell religious stories from the New Testament,
[00:48:07] Duane: if my memory serves.
[00:48:09] Dr. Duane McClearn: And I would sit there and listen to these, and I would think to myself, 'If these are fairy tales, which it seems like they are, they're really boring. And if they're supposed to be true stories, they don't seem like they're true.'
[00:48:28] So I just didn't understand what was going on, but they were stories about Jesus and things of that nature. But maybe more to the point, I took a course because I realized I didn't know much about the Bible. And I thought since it's important in just being a civilized human, I guess, in Western culture, when I was in high school, I had some elective slots to fill.
[00:48:54] And well, in one semester I took Greek mythology, and I liked that a lot. And in another slot, I took biblical literature. The Bible as literature, and so in that course we read the Bible, or at least big parts of it. Then we had class conversations, and I was surprised to find out that there were certain students in there who were taking it every single word, exactly true as written.
[00:49:28] And I thought, 'Well, how can you do that?' I was kind of flabbergasted, and so I studied real hard the Bible so I could come back the next day and argue with them. And so that, maybe that's where I first got started on this. I was very argumentative and it led to some really nice conversations, in all.
[00:49:52] But I, I also just generally, since I'm trained in psychology, my specialty actually is neuroscience. So there's a long hiatus where I wasn't really spending much time at all in, in the psychology of beliefs. But once I came to Elon University, I started doing research on just that topic, the psychology of beliefs and attitudes.
[00:50:16] And I taught a senior seminar in the Psychology of Superstition, and I just found that really interesting. So a whole bunch of things started just merging together, I guess. And I just thought it was really very, very interesting how people form their beliefs.
[00:50:35] Santiago: That's really interesting because I found, for some people who are raised secular, they either have no interest in it, or they have, they seem to have a lot of interest in it. My best friend comes from a secular family and was raised secular, and he's, he's been supportive of me in my transition, but he had a hard time empathizing with what I was going through and kind of understanding where I was coming from.
[00:51:03] We, we had many conversations over many hours about this, and it was interesting for me to see that he, he couldn't really understand it because he grew up so far removed from it. So that's, that's interesting. I, I did briefly read something you published around, I think it's superstitions within sports fans or, or people who...
[00:51:24] Duane: Oh, right, right, that was a long time ago, yeah.
[00:51:28] Santiago: Yeah, I found that very interesting. And someone on the ex-Adventist subreddit actually asked a question about research on the intersection between religion, they said especially Adventism, and belief in conspiracy theories. And I'm curious if you're familiar with any research on those topics.
[00:51:46] Duane: I've read a lot about research in conspiracy theories, but not the connection between religion and conspiracy theories. But I know that there are certain individuals who've got, let's say, personality disorders who tend to believe almost anything like, for instance, schizotypal personality disorder.
[00:52:10] They tend to believe in a lot of conspiracy theories, and in a lot of new age beliefs, and things of that nature, so there's that. And I've done other studies that I've presented at conferences that, that have dealt with certain kinds of religious beliefs and things along those lines.
[00:52:29] And by the way, I should say, I have friends who are religious. I like them very much, and we just don't talk about religion, and we kind of laugh about the fact that there are certain areas we don't talk about. And this one woman in particular that I'm thinking of, she'll say something of a religious nature, and then she'll say to me and my wife, my wife, who's also an atheist, she'll say, 'Well, now I know you don't believe that, but, but you know, I do, so I, I will pray for you.'
[00:53:06] And so she'll say things like that, and we'll just kind of laugh along, and we just accept that. And nobody takes offense either way. We get along extremely well, and it's all okay. My wife and I have several friends that fall into that category where, you know, we just accept it and we talk about other things, and we're okay.
[00:53:37] So it's not in, in my case, it's not that I view religious people as the enemy. I just, I get to know people and if they're religious, but they're nice, friendly, and have all these other qualities, then okay, then we'll be friends and that's fine.
[00:53:59] Santiago: Agreed, yeah, absolutely. I think there are many people who are great people and who want to practice their religion and faith peacefully without controlling other people. And I think if religion is to survive, Christianity especially in the United States and other countries that are turning to leave it, I think it's going to have to transform from a fundamentalist and in some cases literal interpretation of the Bible and, and many of these strongly held beliefs.
[00:54:33] Duane: I would agree with that. Especially the, well, the Christian Nationalism, not to harp on that, but I agree with you that that represents a very dangerous force, indeed.
[00:54:45] Jeff: The thing kind of coming in my head, I guess, during the exchange that the two of you just had was that it, it seems that, well, this is a podcast for former Seventh-day Adventist, ex-Adventists. And yeah, Duane, what you described with your friend sounds, sounds very healthy.
[00:55:03] And I have that kind of relationship as well with a number of people from different religious traditions who can practice their ritual, and we laugh about the sacred ritual and saying the magic words, and you know, kind of move on from that thing and, and talk about other things.
[00:55:21] As a no longer Seventh-day Adventist kind of person, this is a very difficult relationship to have with those who still believe. I can have the relationship you described with Catholics, with Muslims, with Buddhists, with, you know, other kinds of Protestants. But with still Adventists who know that I am no longer a believer, that's a very awkward kind of space to be in.
[00:55:44] Well, Santiago, I'm, I assume you've, you've had similar experiences. There, there's kind of very little joking, or even the, the kind of smallest attempt to make what seems like a benign joke about, I don't know, Ellen White or whatever, is very quickly taken as, you know, being antagonistic.
[00:56:04] And I was also reflecting even prior to this call that, you know, one of the things that, uh, well, and this is also an answer to another one of your questions, Santiago. But you know, one of the, one of the things that I'd like to get out of this exercise with this survey and the analysis that comes out of it, is maybe just kind of a general composite picture of who are the ex-Adventists.
[00:56:25] I think that within Adventism, there's a very kind of specific, identifiable set of assumptions about who the ex-Adventists are. I know how we thought and spoke about the ex-Adventists when I was still inside the movement. You know, I think there's one, being an assumption that they're all angry and certainly, there's some anger coming through in some of the responses to the survey.
[00:56:50] But by and large, my perception is that these are not people who live angry lives, who live, who whose, whose free time is kind of occupied with how angry they are at God or at Adventism. I don't think that's the reason people leave. I don't think that's how, how people are now. Anyway, a digression, but all to say, it is still an awkward space to be in as a non, as a no longer Adventist, in the company of, of still Adventists.
[00:57:15] Santiago: Yeah, I think it definitely depends on the church, maybe the region that you're in. I can think of some people that I probably could have some conversations with. Duane, thinking about the friendships you mentioned, I'm very fortunate to have a very close family friend from my old church. This is the person I mentioned earlier who I shared that I no longer believed and had left religion behind, and they were very gracious when I mentioned that to them.
[00:57:43] We still get dinner every now and then. They're the one true friend that I've maintained, because, like you described with your friendships, we can have those conversations and it doesn't become a debate. It's not, uh, they're not trying to save my soul or, or anything...
[00:57:58] Jeff: Feelings aren't hurt, feathers don't get ruffled.
[00:58:01] Santiago: Exactly, but on the other hand, Jeff, like you mentioned, there are definitely folks that I can think of that I would never dream of having that conversation with them. 'Cause I know, to use Christian terminology, it wouldn't bear any fruit.
[00:58:13] There's, there's just no point. It, it would be pointless to try and have a conversation with them 'cause you can't find any common ground. So I think there's absolutely a spectrum of that within the Adventist Church.
[00:58:25] Jeff: Yeah, yeah, definitely, definitely.
[00:58:27] Santiago: And I'm glad you mentioned some people who leave, maybe they've been hurt, maybe they are angry, but I agree with you that that is definitely not the case for everybody. There's this common misconception that people leave churches just because somebody hurt them or because they couldn't keep the rules.
[00:58:44] And you know, that can be true in some cases, but, I think it's question 19 touches on this. What do the responses to date actually indicate? Do negative experiences or a desire to break rules seem to, you know, how do they factor in compared to just changes in belief?
[00:59:02] Jeff: Yeah, let me just refresh quickly and make sure I have the latest stats.
[00:59:07] Duane: Well, I, I have it now right in front of me: "Which of the following were factors in your decision to become ex-Adventist?" And they can check more than one box. The one that got the most hits was they stopped believing in the teaching and writing of Ellen White.
[00:59:26] Jeff: Yeah, 82%.
[00:59:28] Duane: Yep, and then the next was "Stopped believing in the foundational doctrines of the Seventh-day Adventist Church." And another big hit was "The rules, norms, and taboos of Adventism were too restrictive." Another was "Negative experiences with Seventh-day Adventist people. Those both were in the 60% area, and another one was, and this is real important, 61% stopped believing in God, became an atheist or agnostic.
[01:00:03] Santiago: 61%.
[01:00:05] Duane: Yeah.
[01:00:06] Santiago: Wow, okay.
[01:00:07] Duane: Could I make a, a comment about the atheist survey that Tom and I did several years ago? Several people there commented on the subject of being called "angry atheists," that people would accuse them of being atheists because they were mad at God or something like that. And so many people commented, 'I'm not angry at God. I don't believe in God, so it doesn't make sense for me to be angry at God.'
[01:00:42] And they say, 'I left being religious because I became angry at God? No, for one thing, I never believed in the first place.' That's what many said. And others said, 'No, it was a gradual process. I just started reading the Bible more carefully. I started reading science books in college carefully. I wasn't angry at anybody. I didn't have negative experiences. I wasn't abused by anybody. I just started thinking, that's what caused me to become an atheist. No anger about anybody, and I'm not angry now.'
[01:01:25] So many people who are atheists, in our survey, they didn't like being, didn't like having it framed as, 'Oh, you're just a bunch of angry people. You're bitter, you're angry at God.' No, it, it's, 'I'm, I'm not angry, I'm not bitter. I'm not angry at God, that doesn't make sense.'
[01:01:49] Santiago: I'm really glad you mentioned that because I had that exact conversation with my mother when I told her and my family that I no longer believed. She specifically said, 'What are you blaming God for?' Or 'Why are you angry at him?' And I told her exactly that. I said, 'I can't blame something on something I don't believe in.'
[01:02:12] So I'm so glad that I'm not alone in that area. I am one of those people who did not have a falling out with people at church. In fact, I sat on the church board, which I know in some churches could be pretty toxic. But my church was fortunate that our board was not a very toxic environment.
[01:02:32] For the most part, we got along. I sat on the pastoral search committee a couple of times. I was valued within my community and respected the people there, and felt that respect back. And I did not have any one particular negative experience that sent me away or caused me to leave my faith. It truly was asking questions that I had asked before, but truly letting myself go all the way, and I stopped making excuses at some point.
[01:03:04] I talked in one of the last episodes about how I used to make excuses, teaching Sabbath school to the youth at my church, for genocide. And you'll still, you'll still see people say this today on Christian Twitter and within sermons, 'Hey, there's a justification for slavery in the Bible. There's a justification for genocide in the Bible.'
[01:03:27] And we're willing, as humans who have these deeply held beliefs because of how we were raised or because of the community we're in, we're willing to defend reprehensible ideas because of our belief. But then when you start to ask questions and allow yourself to stop making defenses for it, those questions then kind of blow the whole thing apart. At least that's how it was for me.
[01:03:52] Jeff: Definitely.
[01:03:53] Duane: Have you heard of the outsider argument, or the outsider approach? If I'm getting the name correct, the idea is to approach your particular religion as if you're an outsider. Just as you might approach, let's say you're an Adventist, how would you approach Hinduism? Why do you reject Hinduism?
[01:04:18] Why do you reject the Greek pantheon of Zeus and Hera, and all that? Why do you reject that? Okay, now, use those same rules and apply those rules to your particular religion. And if you do that in a systematic way, and if you're honest, you'll probably find that you will reject your own religion.
[01:04:46] Now, I can't remember who came up with the outsider approach, but it's, it's a prominent atheist, I think his name is Loftus. When you do this, it's pretty telling. I think it's a good way of approaching things.
[01:05:03] Santiago: Hey, it's me from the future again: I did some searching after the interview, and Duane is referring to John Loftus. He wrote a book called The Outsider Test for Faith, which looks interesting and is also linked in the show notes. Now, back to the interview.
[01:05:19] Yeah, there is another podcast... Coincidentally, I named mine Haystacks and Hell, this one is just called Haystacks, but it is by former Adventists who apparently briefly identified with atheism and then came back to theism, but a very different kind of non-fundamentalist theism.
[01:05:42] I think one of them shared that she kind of identifies with process theology, which I am interested in learning more about. They talked about how there seems to be an Adventist to atheist pipeline, and how Adventism and fundamentalism is structured in such a way that if you can no longer believe in the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible, it's sort of like a house of cards that just sort of crumbles.
[01:06:13] Because if you can no longer believe the creation myth in Genesis, then it brings all sorts of other questions. And you know, I think a more progressive Christian might say, 'Well, some things are clearly allegories, some things are clearly poetic in nature.' And I think even within my own church, we recognized that not everything was to be taken 100% literally.
[01:06:38] I remember having conversations where people questioned whether the story of Job and the torture that he endured, whether that was to be taken literally or not. But I think, it's very difficult to take a worldview that is so dependent on certain foundational beliefs, and that have everything else built on top of them. That once those foundational beliefs start to crack, everything else kind of falls away.
[01:07:05] That's how it was for my younger brother, who, like me, was raised as a young earth creationist. And in middle school he had his first small exposure to the concept of evolution. And then in high school he had another class where they dove deeper into that. And that for him was one of the things that kind of undid his faith.
[01:07:29] He talked about how he wasn't the most Christian or the most committed Adventist ever to walk the face of the earth, but he still had faith up until his, like mid-teens. And then it eventually fell away because of that. And I've talked about before how I think the Adventist church with the leadership it has today, at least in North America, is shooting itself in the foot by staying committed to Young Earth creationism.
[01:07:53] Duane: Yeah, it's... [Laughing]
[01:07:55] Jeff: But I mean, you pick away at Young Earth creationism and suddenly there are, I mean, tons of Ellen White quotes that you then have to defend, or as you say, Santiago, make excuses for, or make apologies for. Try to do exegesis on, 'Oh, she meant something else. Oh, she had a closed head injury.' Oh wait, then suddenly the visions are in question and the whole thing crumbles quickly. They can't, they can't, they can't relent on Young Earth creationism, or it will all fall apart.
[01:08:23] Santiago: Yeah, I saw a mini poll done on Instagram, on the Instagram account for this research project, asking what the first thing was that caused people to doubt Adventism. And I noticed that most people did answer "Pseudoscience and Young Earth creationism," followed by "Ellen White."
[01:08:40] And I think that tracks with some of the survey responses we talked about earlier. Jeff, in your experience, and based on the responses so far, would you say that these are probably the most common issues that cause people to question Adventist teachings?
[01:08:54] Jeff: Yeah, you know, just to note, we're only 270 responses in, two of which checked "Still Adventist" on question one and skipped every question thereafter. So 268 responses in. But yeah, you know, that really tracks. That was one of those things that I thought we'd probably find and so far, it's not a huge data set, but so far it, seems that we are.
[01:09:18] It's, it's questions around the veracity of Ellen White that probably in, in the Adventist doctrines more broadly speaking, probably exacerbated by traditional Adventist views of science and origins that, that are kind of the biggest stumbling block for a lot of people.
[01:09:35] I don't think, now I'm speaking entirely on the basis of kind of personal experience and anecdote: people don't typically leave the movement because they want to drink alcohol or because they want to have premarital sex. In my experience, Adventist just did those things when they wanted and then atoned for it later, or whatever. No one leaves over bacon, they they leave over substantive issues, typically.
[01:10:02] Santiago: Yeah, yeah.
[01:10:03] Duane: Research studies on this have shown that the more scientific based a culture becomes, the more educated the people become, the less religious they become. So as a culture, as a country, the more educated and so on, it becomes, the more secular it becomes. And also among people within that culture. You know, as people go from high school to college, and if their major is science in college, the more likely they are to let religion fall away.
[01:10:39] And then if they go to graduate school in a science, even more likely they will let religion fall away. So there is this real strong relationship between scientific training, scientific education, among individuals and among societies, and religiosity going down. So that, yeah, that's a real strong relationship.
[01:11:06] Jeff: You know, and when I went to do my graduate study in cultural anthropology, there were people in my life at that time who really tried to talk me out of it for exactly that reason, Duane. 'Oh, you're gonna question your faith. You're gonna, you're gonna end up leaving the church.' Well, they weren't wrong.
[01:11:23] Although that process had already kind of started, and they just didn't know it. And maybe I didn't even articulate it that way, but, but yeah, so all to say... My study was culture anthropology, but I did have to take, you know, courses in human evolution and, and all of that, and certainly got my share of "indoctrination" on the other side.
[01:11:42] Duane: Yep, yep. [Laughing]
[01:11:44] Santiago: Jeff, I'm curious, as far as I'm aware, pretty much everyone at my old church believed in Young Earth creationism. Did you ever know or meet any Adventists who believe in theistic evolution?
[01:11:58] Jeff: Uh, yeah, one or two. I don't want to out anybody, but there were a couple of professors at Andrews when I attended there, who I kind of talked to about some of this stuff early on. The age of the earth, you know, what do you do with the fossil record, et cetera.
[01:12:13] And, yeah, they were, I don't know that they would identify as theistic evolutionists, but they, at that time anyway, early nineties, had perspectives like, 'There's a lot that we don't know and can't explain. Hard to argue those fossils exist for real.' You know, 'Kind of hard to argue with that,' that was kind of as far as they went.
[01:12:35] Santiago: Okay. Chances are I know somebody who believes in theistic evolution, but I'm not aware of it, so definitely not something that was talked about. And definitely not something that I even knew was possible until, I think I reached my late teens, uh, or early twenties.
[01:12:52] Jeff: Well, with Adventist, I mean even theistic evolution is problematic, right? Because then you get away from the creation week was seven literal 24 hour days. And if that's not true, then the Seventh Day Sabbath is also mythology. And without that, then why are we here?
[01:13:11] Santiago: Hmm.
[01:13:11] Duane: Yep. [Laughing]
[01:13:13] Santiago: That's a good point. Duane, I'm, I'm curious, in one of the blog posts you wrote, you referenced a 2021 Pew Research poll, which estimates that as many as 52% of people in the US may identify with no religion, I think it's by 2070. So based on what you've seen there and the surveys you've done, have you noticed some common drivers for this beyond what you've already touched on with education and kind of more general awareness about science?
[01:13:48] Duane: Well, I'm not sure what the drivers are. I mean, I think education and science, but also people getting, as I've talked about before, getting tired of the scandals of the church, things of that nature. Something else is, generally speaking, the better off an economy is, what is found generally, generally, the less religious the nation is.
[01:14:17] So in this study of Ireland that I'm reading, this book about Ireland, it is going right now, and has been for a couple of decades, going through this huge secularization. And it seems to be due to two reasons. One, at least, one is the tremendous number of scandals and the other is that their economy just took off in the nineties.
[01:14:45] And so these seem to be two forces that are typical. The rapid increase in the economy tends to lead to greater secularization. The scandals have turned people off to the Catholic church in particular. And you see it in the United States. The states that have, on average, the states that have the better economies tend to have lower religiosity. I think the counties within the states that have better economies, have lower religiosity. I, I think those studies have been done, too.
[01:15:23] Santiago: Interesting.
[01:15:24] Duane: Individuals, on average, that have better finances, tend to have less religiosity. Those are averages, of course. So there's, you know, the, the financial picture, the educational status, especially if it's grounded in science, and then the extent to which people are aware of and turned off by the scandals.
[01:15:52] And of course there's something else going on there. And that is, if the person is inherently conservative, I think, then they tend more to be religious. So there's that, there's that political dynamic that is, is relevant. So a lot of things are going on there. It is complex, it is nuanced.
[01:16:13] The US is moving in the direction of more secularization, but there are countries in Europe that are, for instance, very secular. Just on a side note here, it's interesting that a lot of the religious leaders in this country talk about how the US is going to be in huge, huge trouble because we're becoming more secular and, you know, we'll just be an awful place to live, and...
[01:16:43] Santiago: Uh-huh.
[01:16:44] Duane: And with more crime, and more drugs, and more teenage pregnancy, and more of every sort of social problem...
[01:16:50] Santiago: 'Too many drag queens.'
[01:16:52] Duane: Too many drag queens and yeah, too many, too much confusion in the bathrooms, or whatever. But if you look at some of the most secular countries in the world, they're some of the most prosperous, well-run countries in the world, such as Denmark and Sweden. So these claims by the religious leaders just don't make sense.
[01:17:15] Santiago: Mm-hmm. Something I'm very interested in is the idea of where people get their morality from. There is a woman I follow on TikTok, I think her handle is @IBlameBill, just as it sounds. And she's actually gonna be speaking at the American Atheists convention coming up. And she has a really great analogy that I like about...
[01:17:41] Morality for people within fundamentalist faiths is generally vertical. It's between you and your higher power. And when you harm somebody else, or when you do something quote unquote "wrong," you are sinning against that higher power, you're breaking their rules.
[01:17:59] Versus a morality that's more rooted in empathy, she would consider that being kind of on a horizontal plane where you are directly harming the person that you know, you're acting out against.
[01:18:12] I think if you ask 10 different Adventists, you might get 10 different answers. But I think there are some people who believe you can do literally whatever you want in this world and as long as you believe in Jesus and repent, you'll be able to go to heaven.
[01:18:28] And I've asked myself before, where is the accountability in a system like that? And I feel like that sort of morality that is rooted in a fundamentalist religious belief, in some cases, I think can be very harmful compared to a morality that is rooted in empathy and care for the living things around you.
[01:18:51] Duane: I have given that a tremendous amount of thought, actually. I have some examples off the top of my head because I was reading about some of this stuff recently. There was a camp commandant of one of the death camps in the Nazi regime. I don't know if the death camp was in Poland or, or Germany itself.
[01:19:15] So he was in charge of the, the killing of many Jews and other people deemed undesirable by the Nazi regime. The war ended, he was captured, he was awaiting trial. And in that time, he converted to Catholicism or, or no, he converted to Protestantism, I think, and he accepted Jesus.
[01:19:46] And so I thought, alright, this guy, now, according to the rules of many Christian groups... Apparently, he became quite sincere in his acceptance of Jesus as his savior. He gets to go to heaven when he dies, and all those Jews that he was responsible for killing do not. They go to hell, because they have not accepted Jesus.
[01:20:17] Santiago: Wow, yeah.
[01:20:18] Duane: Now, if you think about that, that seems... Not good, it seems very weird. David Berkowitz, the Son of Sam serial killer, in prison, has accepted Jesus as his savior. So, he will get to go to heaven by these rules. So once again, he gets to go to heaven and sit with God, with this Nazi war criminal, by the way.
[01:20:54] Santiago: Mm-hmm.
[01:20:55] Duane: And there are certain other people that I looked into the backgrounds of that fit this exact bill. And so what you have there is a whole bunch of truly wicked people who have done the foulest of deeds. But in the very last days, well, in David Berkowitz's case, it, it wasn't the very last days. He's been a Christian for, I guess, years. But they get to, get to go in the nice place the victims go to hell to burn in perpetuity. That doesn't seem like very good morality to me.
[01:21:40] Santiago: Agreed.
[01:21:41] Duane: I like the secular humanist idea, which is do good to others in the same way that you would want them to do good to you, and try to do the maximum amount of good. And in the survey that Tom and I did some years ago, we had some questions about morality.
[01:22:04] We asked the question, "Do you think atheists are more or less moral than religious people?" And they tended to say, actually by large percentages, that atheists were more moral than religious people. And the sorts of things that they put as their responses when they had open-ended places to do so were, 'Religious people discriminate against gays. Religious people are mean and racist. Religious people start the crusades. Religious people do all kinds of bad stuff like that, and they often do it in the guise of their religiosity or under the banner of their, of their faith.'
[01:22:52] Whereas the atheists, certainly you can have bad atheists, but they're not doing it, you know, with, with this in mind. And a lot of them said, you know, it's interesting that so many religious people say to them, 'How can you be good if you don't believe in God? If you're an atheist, then you, you feel like you've got the freedom to do anything you want, to go out and rape, and steal, and murder. So why aren't you doing that?'
[01:23:23] Well, the funny thing is, atheists aren't out there doing that. They don't want to do that, for the most part. And so this charge that if you become an atheist, that's what you'll do, is absurd because that's not what atheists do. And as a matter of fact, in prisons, you find actually a low percentage of people who are atheist. You find a much higher percentage of people who are Christians or religious in some fashion.
[01:23:55] and so this idea that without religion, you automatically turn into some kind of evil, lurking, predatory creature, is just simply not born out by the facts. So once again, this image that Christian leaders and so many Christians have of what atheists do, or want to do, is just simply misguided.
[01:24:24] Santiago: Yeah, no, I definitely agree. I, I had a conversation, again, the same day when I told my parents I no longer believed. My mother straight up told me to not join any atheist groups because they didn't have any morals or values. [Laughing]
[01:24:39] And, and, uh, you know, I, I hope now that she has two sons who, well, my brother does not identify as an atheist. He, he could be considered more of an agnostic deist. But, she has two sons who do not believe in the Abrahamic god and do not subscribe to any particular religion.
[01:24:59] And I would argue that we are just as moral as the next person, and in some cases more moral than people who consider themselves to be deeply religious. But I'm curious, Jeff, in, in your experience within Adventist circles, did you ever really hear atheism or agnosticism talked about, and did you get a sense of Adventist attitudes toward that?
[01:25:22] Jeff: Yeah, definitely. Let me first reference back to the part of what you were saying, Duane, about the, the Nazi guard who, you know, converts to Christianity at the last moment and all that. And just share an anecdote that in kinda late 2013 for work, I was part of the inter-agency humanitarian response to the Syria conflict.
[01:25:41] And I was based in Turkey and we were running cross border operations. And one of the things that was a thing then is that, uh, particularly foreign humanitarians being captured by ISIS and executed.
[01:25:55] Duane: Wow.
[01:25:56] Jeff: I didn't go into Syria personally, I stayed in Turkey and we sent Syrians back and forth. But there were a few international humanitarians who went over and, you know, ultimately lost their lives at the hands of, of ISIS in that setting. And one of the things that was kind of talked about is how when they catch you, what they're gonna do is basically try to get you to convert to Islam.
[01:26:16] And many people, several people would do that, and then they'd say, 'Great, your name, your Muslim name's now, whatever, and you're gonna die a Muslim. Congratulations.' So, I, I guess there's the idea of heavenly salvation, but still earthly accountability. Um, so anyway... Not to be dire, but there you, there, there you have it.
[01:26:42] It's been a few years since I, you know, have moved seriously inside Seventh-day Adventist circles. But for sure, during the time that I did, the first, you know, 30 something years of my life, I would say that discussion, portrayal, et cetera, of atheists and atheism would be almost uniformly negative.
[01:27:04] And if there was somebody who we knew to be a non-Adventist, who was also, you know, atheist, there was always a caveat, 'But he's a good person,' or 'She's open-minded.' Um, somebody that we can feel comfortable in the company of, was always, always clarified or, you know, 'This person's angry, just FYI,' you know, kind of thing.
[01:27:30] So I would say, yeah, that, that portrayal was always negative, or almost always negative. I can't think of very many exceptions, certainly stigma. You know, as we talked about earlier, Adventism is pretty stark in terms of, 'You're either with us or you're against us.' There's not a lot of distinction between atheists and Lutherans, and Mormons, and Hindus, right? They're all non-Adventist. They're all kind of in that "othered," that general "othered" category.
[01:28:00] Santiago: Yeah, I think it depends on the circle, but I know some Adventists believe that if you're not an Adventist, you're not gonna be saved. Because everyone will have had to hear the Seventh-day Sabbath message and make a decision.
[01:28:14] And in the circles I ran in, it was a little bit more forgiving in that we did read the verse that says that Jesus has sheep in other folds, and took that to mean that there were people in other denominations and other faiths that would be judged according to the light they had received and would have the opportunity of salvation even if they weren't Adventists.
[01:28:38] I know there's only so many questions you can ask within a survey before it gets really burdensome to answer. But there's just so many questions, I think, and I hope to see more research inspired by the work that you all are doing so that we continue to get more questions answered and, and more discussions around this.
[01:28:56] Jeff: Absolutely.
[01:28:57] Santiago: I have a follower on Instagram who asked if you think the results might be used to yield better treatment for those with religious trauma. And I'm curious if you've had any discussions or any thought around that in relation to this survey.
[01:29:13] Jeff: Well, it seems to me that there is quite a bit out there right now on religious trauma and recovering from fundamentalism, recovering from religion. There are certainly lots of social media accounts related to this. I get the sense that there is some actual scholarly, clinical research on this stuff as well. And so I would like to think that what we get out of this will certainly add to that.
[01:29:40] I'm not aware of any similar study of former Seventh-day Adventists. It's my perception that ex-Jehovah's Witnesses, ex-Mormons, are kind of dominating the space, at least again, in social media, which I realize is not necessarily an indicator of, you know, wider reality. But I don't sense that there's a lot out there for, for ex-Adventists.
[01:29:59] I see a lot of, kind of still maybe PIMO, Physically In, Mentally Out Adventists on Twitter who seem to, in some way be part of the system, but definitely outspoken against it. But not a lot for actual ex-Adventists. Anyway, I guess I personally hope that, uh, this can both contribute to the body that already exists on recovering from religion, as well as, as you said, Santiago, probably stimulate further research on the, the uniquenesses of that, that ex Seventh-day Adventists have.
[01:30:32] Santiago: Yeah, absolutely. Speaking of that, I'm wondering if you both can briefly share a bit more about what's gonna happen after the survey closes. My understanding is you're hoping to have it open up until, I think, uh, June of 2023? So can you share a little bit about what you expect to happen after the, the survey's closed?
[01:30:53] Jeff: It's kind of general, at least for me at this point. But I think that once it closes, we're probably in a couple of months of analysis and writing. There's no kind of concrete plan. I think we're all agreed, and correct me if I'm wrong, Duane, but I think we're all agreed that some combination of academic articles, book or books, maybe live speaking, if that's of interest to people, that sort of thing. Absolutely, we want to make the results and our analysis of that data available.
[01:31:23] Duane: That's absolutely correct. It hasn't been, as you say, put in concrete yet, but we will see what comes up.
[01:31:30] Santiago: Okay, well I'm definitely looking forward to, if you're up for it, having another conversation once those have been made. I know we are, I think over the initial time we planned for, so I appreciate you sticking with me and sharing your insights. And again, for the work you're doing, I think it's so important. Before we go, I just wanted to give you both the opportunity to see if there's any last thoughts or any parting comments you wanted to share with everyone listening.
[01:31:56] Jeff: Please take the survey. If you haven't done it already, please take it and be sure to send the link to literally every marginal and or former Adventist in your life. We need all these responses, please, thank you.
[01:32:10] Duane: Those are great last words and I would like to say thank you, Santiago, for this opportunity.
[01:32:15] Jeff: Indeed, thank you.
[01:32:16] Santiago: It's been a pleasure! I look forward to speaking with you all again at some point. And Jeff, I am gonna take you up on that. I would love to hear more about your time in boarding school, in ADRA, and everything in between.
[01:32:29] Jeff: Absolutely, I've got some great fodder.
Take the survey!
[01:32:30] Santiago: Thanks so much for listening, especially if you made it all the way through. I realize the interview audio quality isn't the best, and I'll be working to improve that going forward. And for anyone interested in hearing more of Jeff's story, we're planning to do a one-on-one interview later on.
[01:32:48] Make sure to follow the show on any of our social media to see when that interview gets published. And again, if you're hearing this before the survey's closed, please take it and share it with all the ex-Adventists you know.