America. Once upon a time its citizens actually held a worldview much in common with that of Seventh-day Adventists. From its very beginning and indeed, even until today, the American nation was understood to have been largely Judeo Christian in values.
Seventh-day Adventism, among other things was distinguished by its biblical prophetic interpretation that included America, where religious fervor would be at odds with the spirit of free inquiry enshrined in America’s founding documents. It was almost impossible for rational minds to believe such a thing could ever happen.
But, oh! How times have changed! In fact, in recent decades, North Americans have experienced an even more accelerated rate of change, as never before. These changes have impacted the lives of all people of all walks of life and persuasion.
One striking example has been the experience of Edward Snowden, a young national security dissenter. His story, initially publically released on his own terms, has since been widely discussed, thrashed and excoriated.
Glenn Greenwald, Guardian newspaper journalist, chronicled his quest for a visceral response. Once the hard-hitting stories began to make headlines, would Snowden’s courage fail?
“I wanted to be sure he had made his choice with a genuine and rational understanding of the consequences,” Greenwald wrote (No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State, Glenn Greenwald).
Finally, Snowden gave him an answer that felt vibrant and real.
“The true measurement of a person's worth isn't what they say they believe in, but what they do in defense of those beliefs. If you’re not acting on your beliefs, then they probably aren’t real” Snowden said.
MY MIND WENT OFF IN A BRIEF REVERIE
Reading those lines while sitting quietly in the grandeur of the highland forests of northern Arizona during summer camp meeting this past July, my mind went off in a brief reverie of my own religious experience. Sitting there, ensconced in the sound of high winds buffeting the high forest towering above me, I wondered what my own religious commitment might hold for me in the future.
It suddenly hit me that the young dissenter, an avowedly uber-secular techie far from anything resembling a religious man, is first and foremost an avid learner. He is a passionate explorer and an avid questioner, one guided by and obedient to his conscience in the here and now.
WHEN UNDER NO HUMAN SCRUTINY IT IS EASY TO TAKE OUR RELIGION IRRESPONSIBLY
Think about that. Privately, when under no human scrutiny of any kind, it is easy to take our religion irresponsibly. A sea of competing desires and ideologies push and pull at us every day. Some of these we see in the tangible tasks our hands are occupied with. Others are less clear, more hazy and nebulous, like a pregnant thundercloud lumbering ominously overhead. Faced with our own existential challenges, we avoid direct confrontation and move away from hard moral choices.
The courage displayed by Snowden seems ethereal and unreal, like the easy, unflappable courage of the characters in an engrossing novel. But his courage is in fact very real. Sadly, it came with real and ongoing consequences to a man acting under conscience without regard for consequences. His story is a shot across the bow of our collective ship’s paucity as we move along in a society drifting ever more rapidly into a culture whose norms are now radically departing from the freedom-loving course we once thought was immovably bequeathed to us at no cost.
Imagine two thick magnetized steel lines racing rigidly in parallel through empty space. One line represents society, the other, Seventh-day Adventist beliefs. Initially there may be only a small space between both. As they grow evenly forward, racing as they go, slowly and at first imperceptibly, one line begins diverging. The second line struggles with the magnetic force field fighting to hold both lines together but manages to maintain its initial trajectory. Over time, the diverging line plots widely of the second and we surreptitiously accept the now yawning distance between both. We settle into the new normal.
But suddenly the societal line takes off in a rakish departure, now traveling in a completely opposite direction relative to the Seventh-day Adventist line. We knew this might happen somewhere down the line but here we are, now jolted awake by the realization that our job, to leaven global society with an attitude open to the Third Angel’s Message, is suddenly sabotaged by the renegade movement of the first line. How will we react?
Are you acting on your Seventh-day Adventist beliefs?
Very soon the magnetized lines will crash into each other again with all the hardness and cold tensile strength of steel.
Ellen White warns us in Testimonies Volume 8, “The end is very near. We who know the truth should be preparing for what is soon to break upon the world as an overwhelming surprise” (27-28).
We are Seventh-day Adventists, and very soon it will be time to bury our proverbial hatchets; the competing ideologies buzzing like so many flies in the ointment of truth. Time to lift up the cleaver of truth.
We have been told in Prophets and Kings how to prepare and be ready: “And this preparation they should make by diligently studying the word of God and striving to conform their lives to its precepts” (White, 626).