Friday, September 15, 2006

A World Without Adventism

"We are all connected." -- Betsy Chasse, The Bleeping Herald

In many science fiction stories involving time travel or in alternate-history fiction, the removal of just one key, or somewhat important, person in the scheme of things changes future history beyond recognition. Imagine how different World War II would have been had Einstein not discovered E=MC². Nagasaki and Hiroshima and all its inhabitants would have been left untouched. The Cold War would have been colder or hotter, or maybe would have not existed at all. Today we'd have no fear of terrorists getting hold of a dirty bomb and possibly ushering in a nuclear winter or planetary devastation.

Imagine if William Miller had taken up farming seriously. Imagine if Ellen G. White had never been hit in the forehead with that infamous stone and had gone on to get a Master of Divinity from one of the prestigious New England Universities or if someone else had accepted the call to prophesy.

If Seventh-Day Adventism had never existed, Battle Creek and Kellogg Corn Flakes would never have come about. Baby Fae at Loma Linda Medical Center would never have received a baboon heart. Desmond Doss would never have received his Medal of Honor in World War II for being a "conscientious objector who helped his country by saving the lives of his comrades, while also adhering to his religious convictions." (

If you consult web sites listing famous Adventists you find more names that one doesn't have time to verify or ponder over, but let me just focus on two who would have changed the 60s counter-culture movement and its aftermath beyond recognition. It might seem to you that I exaggerate a bit, but, again, one key or somewhat important person can make astounding differences for never having been.

Without the rebelliousness and boundary-pushing excesses of Rock and Roll and, especially, The Beatles/Rolling Stones/Bob Dylan triumvirate, our world would be quite different. It would probably be unrecognizably different from what it is today. We might be awash in the third wave of Patti Page or Doris Day Garage Bands or Nat King Cole style recitation/rap experimental ditties. I'm referring to early Rock and Roll pioneer, Little Richard (Richard Penniman), of course. He's been in and out of the Adventist church all his life. I hope he's still in the church. Little Richard was admired by Beatle Sir Paul McCartney. Paul's vocal delivery in such songs as "Oh Darling," and in countless others, owes a great deal to his admiration for Little Richard. Both Paul McCartney and John Lennon, as well, as George Harrison and Ringo Starr were aware of and admired Little Richard for his earth-shaking gospel-flavored raucous musical style. The Beatles interpreted Little Richard songs on their world-famous albums. Little Richard once said he liked the Beatles, especially Paul who was known as the "cute Beatle." Little Richard was quoted in the 80s in Rolling Stone magazine as saying, “If God can have mercy on an old homosexual like me, He can have mercy on anyone.” But that is another story.

Without Little Richard, Paul McCartney would have sounded like someone else. The influence of the Everly Brothers would have been overwhelming and he probably would have recorded more ballads and follky songs, instead of adrenaline-producing rockers like Got to Get You into My Life. The Beatles would have been a different band. They may not have had the world-shaking effect that they had during the 60s, as well as afterwards through their followers. Innovators like Jimi Hendrix and Prince (a former Adventist) and their musical progeny would never have existed. Some might say that a world without Rock and Roll and its excesses would probably be a good thing. Others might not want to have missed out on the positive Art-Rock compositions of groups like Yes, King Crimson and Germany’s avant-garde rock group, Can, or the Beatles’ artier pieces, the second half of the Abbey Road album, or the larger-than-life White Album aka The Beatles. More recently, Jay-Z, the Rapper, would never have been part of the industry-shaking sampling touchstone of DJ Danger Mouse’s The Gray Album (a fusion of the Beatles' White Album and Jay-Z’s The Black Album.)

Perhaps you might think it strange to focus on popular culture instead of focusing on subjects that are more serious. I'll leave those "serious" subjects for someone else who likes to dabble in this type of "What If" scenarios.

Coincidentally, A.O. Scott in a recent New York Times film review says: “The U.S. vs. John Lennon” doesn’t really answer this question, beyond restating the notion, which can neither be proven nor dismissed, that musicians and artists can change the world. They can also, it is clear, drive presidents [Richard Nixon] and other people in power crazy, in part because the impact of popular culture can be so hard to measure or to predict. "

Popular culture surrounds us for better or worse and has had a lasting impact on at least one President of the United States, Bill Clinton. If Ms. Hillary is able to make history by being the first woman president in American history, then the popular culture of the late 60s will have had a major influence on at least two 20th and 21st century major political leaders.

The entire Western world, and its admirers, should be thankful, as should we that every Adventist that has ever existed, no matter how obscure, has had, or continues to have, an effect beyond the religious arena.

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