Out there in real life and on the internet there is a huge collection of anti-Catholic propaganda waiting for gullible Catholics, and others, to ensnare them.
When a Catholic meets a certain type of Adventist, this sort of propaganda abounds. Adventists have a reputation for their dishonesty, and not just among Catholics.
Why? I have some theories.
In all the years I’ve had this website, I’ve had hundreds of Adventists e-mailing in their responses. In fact, I started this website because of my exposure to dishonest anti-Catholic “evidence”. In all that time, I’ve found it very rare to have an Adventist deal truthfully when the Catholic Church is the topic of discussion. Occasionally one will apologise for the terrible untruths told about the Catholic Church. For those Adventists, I am grateful. I don’t know what percentage of the denomination is the honest type. I do know that the denomination itself has a lot to answer for.
Examples of misrepresentation of Catholicism:
- Catholics worship statues
- Catholics worship Mary
- Catholics believe the pope is God, or greater than God
- Catholics changed the 10 commandments and deleted the 2nd commandment
- Catholics don’t read or believe the Bible
- Vicarius Filii Dei is a papal title, and it adds up to 666
- The Pope changed the Sabbath to Sunday
- The Catholic Church considers Sunday to be its mark of authority over Protestants
- The Jesuits have an oath that includes bashing in babies’ heads
Very often, and usually in the case of the last 5 on the list, Adventists will produce bogus quotes or quotes from unofficial Catholic sources like parish bulletins.
The appendix to this post has some examples from recent discussions. I’ll quote one here.
Adventist: Sunday is the mark of the beast [shows an image with Pope Benedict XVI over a quote supposedly by Catholics claiming that Sunday is the mark of Catholic authority, and holding up a sign saying “Sunday must be enforced“.]
Catholic: Bogus quote. And nowhere does the Bible say Sunday is the mark of the beast. Should we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection on Saturdays?
Adventist: Where in Bible Paul or others celebrate resurrection? You need to be sober
Catholic: So we should rather celebrate the old creation than the new creation, and we should rather celebrate the symbolic freeing from sin than the actual event? It’s about priorities. Catholic priority – Christ. Our worship centres around Christ. We celebrate his birth, his resurrection, his baptism, his ascension. We’ve moved beyond the shadows of the Old Testament.
Adventist: You are child of Satan, that’s why you have many ways to reject God’s word, MARK 7:6-9
Catholic: Thanks. I will pray for you too.
When Catholics debate Adventist teachings, do we do the same? By and large, no. Adventism isn’t very high up on the radar of the Catholic Church at all, and that goes for most Catholics too. Some of us pay more attention to Adventism because of the problem of Catholics (and others) being taken in by the lies.
So then we disagree with Ellen White, for example, we quote her in context, showing that context to be valid, and our showing supporting evidence as to what she believed when she wrote what she did is not dishonest. Maybe we make a mistake occasionally, but then show us where our mistake is. I’ve dumped 75% of the arguments against Ellen White because I don’t think they’re sound. But more than enough remain to make a case against her.
The difference is that when Adventists quote Catholicism they do so selectively, choosing only what suits them, and usually not anything official. Indeed, they often can’t quote anything official, because most of what Adventists claim the Catholic Church teaches was never written down in any official document simply because it’s not what Catholicism teaches. Actual evidence from official Catholic documents usually gets ignored, because it doesn’t fit the Adventist world-view that Catholicism is corrupt and unscriptural and claims all sorts of nonsense.
In general, Adventist claims about Catholic admissions do not hold up under even minor scrutiny. They end up being real papal quotes ripped from context and re-interpreted as only Adventists know how, or they’re not official Catholic statements at all. Any Catholic can say anything, but that doesn’t make it official Catholic teaching. For example, the Catholic Church officially teaches (not in newspaper clippings) that the Apostles began Sunday observance. So only ignorant or deliberately dishonest Adventists can claim that the Catholic Church teaches otherwise. History shows that 538 AD was a non-date in the history of the Ostrogoths. 538 AD was somewhere in the middle of a 20 year war they were involved in. Yet Adventists have their own version of history, just as they have their own version of Catholicism.
Think about someone standing on the street corner shouting to all who can hear that the Jews kill babies and drink their blood. That is how Adventists sound to the rest of Christianity. And there is little to support their credibility.
What happens when the facts are explained to Adventists?
Take a Catholic practice or doctrine. It’s foreign to Adventists, AND it’s Catholic, so they automatically assume it’s satanic or pagan. They conveniently ignore the biblical basis for this, and don’t give us the benefit of the doubt when we say we find it in the Bible. Hardly the basis for intelligent discussion. So what next? Presenting them with the biblical and historical evidence doesn’t work. They usually just go into denial.
Why is this the case?
I think half the problem with dishonesty is this: they believe without questioning the absolutely infallible teachings of Ellen White passed down through their pastors and teachers. Their world-view is so narrow, and it has been entrenched in them so deeply that many are incapable of dealing with the possibility that things could be different. So when confronted with facts indicating that diverge from their world of possibilities, they close off and go into denial. And because those facts are about something they have been taught to hate and despise, they often react with venom.
In other words, if they’re told that Catholics don’t worship Mary, or that Catholics read the Bible and are not slaves to every word of every cleric or pope, it’s the same to them as being told that the moon doesn’t exist and is painted onto the sky. It’s an absolute impossibility in their minds that what they’ve been taught could possibly be wrong. To consider such a thing would undermine a world-view built on anti-Catholic misunderstandings, and that is something more central to their faith than most other things, and more so for Adventists than the average anti-Catholic because the reliability of their prophetess, and their entire faith, would fall without it.
This is called cognitive dissonance, which Wikipedia defines as follows:
In psychology, cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values.
This basically means that when an Adventist is confronted with facts they don’t like, because it is so contradictory to their world-view, they can’t process it properly, and react badly.
And, interestingly enough, this is one of the characteristics of a cult.
The only way to get through the barrier is a slow, persistent flow of information that eventually will allow questions to be asked.
The ideal conclusion to a discussion between Adventists and Catholics goes like this:
Adventist: Catholic, I understand now why you think XYZ is biblical, but I disagree with your interpretation of the Bible, and think ABC is the correct interpretation.
Catholic: Adventist, I see why you think ABC is supported by biblical evidence, but I still disagree and think XYZ fits the Bible best.
That is something I’ve only seen once or twice.
I’d like to see more Adventists willing to acknowledge that most of what Adventists claim about the Church is drivel. Those Adventists exist. They just don’t frequent groups like the ones I’ve been on much because they see little need in antagonising Catholics. These Adventists are probably the type of Adventist many here would consider to have forgotten the importance of some of their so-called truth – I’ve seen them accused of this before.
The communal problem
A further problem on the various forums is that, when one Adventist is shown to be giving dishonest information, it’s rare to see another Adventist reprimand them. When one Adventist clearly blatantly lies about someone one has just said, not even then do they chime in and say anything.
Why is this? Wikipedia’s entry on cognitive dissonance includes the following: “Students judge cheating less harshly after being induced to cheat on a test.” And double standards – Adventists expect Catholics to be honest, but they don’t expect or demand the same level of honesty amongst themselves. This is another characteristic of a cult.
What are the characteristics of a cult?
The Cult Information Centre in the UK needs the following 5 criteria. The criteria are in red, and my commentary indented in black after each point.
- It uses psychological coercion to recruit, indoctrinate and retain its members
- See my discussion of the creation of cognitive dissonance (above) and poisoning the well (below)
- It forms an elitist totalitarian society.
- Adventists believe they are the true church, an elite called-out group. Yes, other groups believe they are the true church too, but not with the same sort of psychological grip as Adventism and Jehovah’s Witnesses and others.
- Its founder leader is self-appointed, dogmatic, messianic, not accountable and has charisma.
- Ellen White declared herself to be a prophet, is considered to be inspired and therefore cannot be questioned, and her plagiarism goes unacknowledged by many Adventists (basically she copied from other people’s writings, and even copied from them and claimed that these were visions)
- It believes ‘the end justifies the means’ in order to solicit funds recruit people.
- Partially applies, because the dishonesty in their portrayal of the Catholic Church (and Protestantism) is a form of “the end justifies the means” reasoning.
- Its wealth does not benefit its members or society.
- Does not apply.
According to this definition, Adventism is not a cult, but it certainly has some of characteristics of one.
CARM lists the following characteristics of a cult that fit Adventism:
- Leaders are often seen as prophets, apostles, or special individuals with unusual connections to God. This helps a person give themselves over psychologically to trusting someone else for their spiritual welfare.
- Persecution complex
- Special Knowledge
- Group Think
- Cognitive Dissonance
The poisoned well
Another problem with Adventism, highlighted recently by Tesa Beem on Facebook, is that of poisoning the well.
Tesa highlighted it in the context of Ellen White, who poisoned the well in such a way that contemplating leaving Adventism would be horrendous.
It is a type of ad hominem trick that makes one suspicious of another person. … Many people today use the term a little more loosely, they may say that “poisoning the well” is for anything that can be pre-corrupted through suspicion. …
She made the statement that there would be those who would come and seek to discredit her and something to the effect that you can know they are in error by the fact that they seek to discredit her.
Boy, can you imagine a politician saying that? “There will be those who come in and seek to run against me. You can KNOW they are corrupt and evil because they seek to unseat me…..”
However, for many Adventists, Ellen has so effectively poisoned the well, that they are fearful of questioning her prophecies or writings. My husband expresses this with the idea that she had booby trapped all the exits.
The same can be said for the way Adventism has poisoned the well of Catholicism. By indoctrinating her followers to the extent that serious cognitive dissonance results when they are exposed to the truth about what Catholicism teaches, they have effectively poisoned the Catholic well, making it even harder to a) treat Catholics fairly in a discussion, and b) consider their own errors in their understanding of Catholicism.
As someone pointed out in the comments on Tesa’s post:
On my journey to the Catholic Faith, my greatest fear as I was beginning to understand exactly what Catholicism actually believed and taught (as opposed to what Adventists and Amazing Facts said Catholicism believed and taught) was that I was being deceived by satan. There is not enough space here to describe how deep and painful that fear and struggle was, but suffice it to say, much prayer and an open mind and God’s mercy and grace allowed me to see that most of what I believed about Catholicism as an SDA was false and untrue. Even if a person were to not become a Catholic after discovering what Catholicism actually teaches, an honest person would have to at least admit that what they previously believed about Catholicism was an error, and that they were wrong.
It’s a difficult journey for Adventists towards understanding what Catholicism really teaches, and because of the harm done by Adventism. it must be many times more difficult to eventually accept the Catholic faith as truth. Yet many have. They’re both saints and martyrs.
And also from the same person:
This is one of the hallmark characteristics of a cult…if anyone disagrees with the leader they are in error and the enemy of the “truth” espoused by that leader. Result: Close your mind, trust no one….and develop creative justifications for doing so.
This is why I am continually being accused of leaving because I wanted to live in open sin. When I respond that I left because of thorough Bible study and a desire to be true to my conscience, I am often met with a blank, questioning stare.
Not all Adventists are like this. My contact with Adventism is mostly online, and biased in favour of the dishonest type, and the semi-honest type that sits back and watches the dishonesty without giving a reprimand. However, most Adventists I know in real life harbour the same idea of Catholicism – the imaginary Catholicism of Adventism. My understanding is that Ellen White’s sway is declining, and the anti-Catholicism is lessening. But it’s still a strong, and powerful, and probably majority movement in Adventist activism.
Here is an interesting admission from Adventist Today, back in 2010, Loren Seibold [dead link]:
Ellen White fingered Catholicism in a very different world. Historians have shown that 19th-century American anti-Catholicism grew out of a general anti-immigrant nativism. In an era when we have had and could again have a liberty-loving Roman Catholic president, when Catholic immigrants have become our young work force, why can’t we preach the gospel without identifying Roman Catholicism as Satan’s exclusive tool?
– Letting Roman Catholics off the Hook, Adventist Today
Adventists can, and should, abandon a culturally-based unjustified and dishonest anti-Catholic attitude.
Is there any use to which this dishonesty problem amongst Adventists can be put?
Yes – since their theology is, to a very significant extent, built on misinformation about the Catholic Church, this means that simply showing it to be false fairly rapidly destroys any further consideration of the theology by people looking into it.
When Adventists misrepresent the Catholic faith in order to make themselves look better, instead of just acknowledging the truth, it’s the sort of thing that is the most powerful witness against Adventism.
When one religion has to lie about another religion in order for itself to look Christian, you know there is something seriously wrong with it.
Bishop Fulton Sheen: “Not 100 in the United States hate the Roman Catholic Church, but millions hate what they mistakenly think the Roman Catholic Church is.”
And to close, a reminder from their prophetess Ellen White:
“Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”
False speaking in any matter, every attempt or purpose to deceive our neighbor, is here included. An intention to deceive is what constitutes falsehood. By a glance of the eye, a motion of the hand, an expression of the countenance, a falsehood may be told as effectually as by words. All intentional overstatement, every hint or insinuation calculated to convey an erroneous or exaggerated impression, even the statement of facts in such a manner as to mislead, is falsehood. This precept forbids every effort to injure our neighbor’s reputation by misrepresentation or evil surmising, by slander or tale bearing. Even the intentional suppression of truth, by which injury may result to others, is a violation of the ninth commandment.
– Ellen G White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p309