Respondent 666

Posted on: April 9, 2023 | By: Tom Arcaro | Filed under: From Tom

“As a social and as a personal force, religion has become a dependent variable. It does not originate; it reacts. It does not denounce; it adapts. It does not set forth new models of conduct and sensibility; it imitates. Its rhetoric is without deep appeal; the worship it organizes is without piety. It has become less a revitalization of the spirit in permanent tension with the world than a respectable distraction from the sourness of life.”
-sociologist C. Wright Mills

Respondent 666

The Mark of the Beast
As we neared 600 respondents I joked with my collaborators that I wanted to feature the six hundred and sixty-sixth person who chose to complete our survey. This person of course would have no way of knowing they were the 666th respondent and there is absolutely no scientific significance to this number. That said, there are many layers of cultural richness around the Mark of the Beast and the interpretation of ‘666’, to be sure, and my thought was perhaps we could explore one of those layers as part of our exploration of the data.

As sociologist C. Wright Mills told us long ago, a good social scientist must “wallow around in the data” and so I have been spending a good deal of time reading through all the comments generously offered by our respondents.

Until today I had forgotten about the idea of a ‘666’ post but when I happened upon this respondent I was struck by a coincidence.

Q28 asked, “To what extent do you hold anger or resentment toward the Seventh-day Adventist Church?”

Of the close-ended response options they1 chose “Very angry and resentful.” In the comment box they wrote,

“I’ve seen so much BS and injustice working for the church. It is just toxic at all levels. I’ve seen such unChristian behavior towards pastors. The lawyers run things more than theology. Historians know prophetic interpretation (such as 666) is totally bogus, but the same old evangelistic series are preached, using the same old texts. Adventism is schizo.”

The next question, Q29 asks “Do you or have you struggled with any of the following, whether as an Adventist or ex-Adventist? (Check all that apply.)” This respondent selected the following from the options:

Acting out sexually: promiscuity, sexual infidelity, high-risk sexual encounters, excessive consumption of pornography, etc.
Depression, anxiety
PTSD, C-PTSD, religious trauma

Yes, you read that right. Quite randomly our 666th respondent mentions the teaching of the mark of the beast, ‘666’ and then indicates struggling with “PTSD, C-PTSD, religious trauma.”

Digging deeper
Q33 asks “To what extent did your experience as an Adventist impact your political views?” Number 666 chose “A great deal” and in the comment box argues that Adventism has drifted to the right, dramatically so.

“The Adventism I learned from “the pioneers” was very progressive and social-justice oriented. But white           Adventism today has swallowed evangelicalism and rightwing political views. Trumpism as a disease has infected white Adventism.”

Digging deeper into in response to Q34 “Have your political views changed since leaving Adventism?” our respondent chose, “Yes, I have become a great deal more liberal” and explains,

         “This started while within, because of the social justice witness of early Adventism and the Black church.”

In the next question, Q35, we asked “How do you think Adventist teachings about end-times impact most believers’ opinions related to the climate crisis and other environmental concerns?” Number 666 chose “End-times teachings generate greater concern regarding the climate crisis and other environmental concerns.” However they qualified their response noting that,

The official statements of the church express concern about climate change and the environment. But Trumpist Adventism doesn’t care.”

We see the same theme continue in response to Q36 (“How do you think Adventist teachings about end-times impact most believers’ opinions related to social justice issues like racism and women’s rights?”) where this respondent agrees that “End-times teachings generate greater concern related to social justice issues like racism and women’s rights.” They argue that,

“Again, this is true for SDA pioneers and Black Adventists and some institutional Adventists. But white Adventist churches or state conferences are thoroughly Trumpist.”

Having read countless other responses from our survey I can confidently observe the above responses and comments are by no means outliers; they seem in line with the majority perspective represented by our now 700+ sample.

Given the above responses from this individual, their choice of “strongly agree” on Q40 “In my opinion, the Seventh-day Adventist church is cult” was no surprise. Then went on to comment,

“The institution itself is increasingly cultic, and the right wing fringes have long been there.”

For further discussion of the ‘cult’ question you can read this previously published post.

Still learning from Mills
That more fundamentalist religions in recent years have embraced a more conservative political stance is well documented by many researches. This most recent rapid drift has many sources. ‘The Beast,’ as anyone educated in Adventist schools should know, is the institution of the Papacy. But looking at the responses from respondent number 666, it is tempting to find an analogue in the rise in modern Christian white nationalism and Trumpism specifically. Of course the Church does not does not officially endorse Trumpism. But according to at least one former Seventh-Day Adventist, the movement is already ‘infected.’

The quote from Mills above was written seventy years ago and seems to have anticipated the shape of the religious right today in the United Sates. “It [religion] does not denounce; it adapts” he wrote. For moments in the last century what was called ‘liberation theology’ seemed to contradict Mills’ prophecy, but in the US cooptation of religion as a political force has borne out his words. Mills teaches us always to be critical and to never shy from speaking truth to power. Many of our respondents have asked that we use the results of our survey do just that, advocating for a reversal of a perhaps seemingly toxic drift within Adventism in the last decade or so. Or, as respondent 666 observed, “Adventism is schizo.”

Please contact me if you have any thoughts, comments, or questions. Know any ex-SDA who have not taken the survey yet? Here’s the link.

1In order to maintain utmost confidentiality I have used the pronoun ‘they’ throughout.


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