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Uncle Tom and Sister Ellen

How Ellen White forbid others from reading fiction all the while she was reading it and incorporating it into her own writings!

By Dirk Anderson

Ellen White warned against the horrendous dangers of reading fiction:
"The readers of fiction are indulging an evil that destroys spirituality, eclipsing the beauty of the sacred page. It creates an unhealthy excitement, fevers the imagination, unfits the mind for usefulness, weans the soul from prayer, and disqualifies it for any spiritual exercise."1
Mrs. White instructed Adventist youth that they, "should keep the mind pure by avoiding the reading of novels."2 She cautioned the youth to, "cease to read the magazines containing stories. Put away every novel."3

Did Sister White "put away every novel"?

Ellen White had an interesting practice. She clipped out stories from magazines she was reading, and she made scrapbooks of those articles. She made nine scrapbooks of clippings. Dr. John Waller of Andrews University analyzed the contents of five of those scrapbooks....

"...and found that most of the stories were anonymous, that many of them were fiction, and that a few of them were by recognized and well-known fiction writers of her time, including Hans Christian Andersen, who is noted for his fairy tales, and Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom's Cabin. Dr. Waller reached the conclusion that 'On the evidence of the scrapbooks and Sabbath Readings . . . between 1850 and 1880 she herself read and preserved for future reference many relatively short, . . . non-factual stories that appeared in various magazines..."4
Mrs. White was secretly reading fiction in magazines and making scrapbooks of it for future use, while she was publicly telling the youth to "cease to read the magazines containing stories". Perhaps one of the reasons she did not want the youth reading such magazines is because Mrs. White was incorporating fictional accounts into her "inspired" writings.

Although she told the youth to "put away every novel", she called John Bunyan's novel, Pilgrim's Progress, "wonderful" in The Great Controversy.5 Does Ellen White's endorsement of Bunyan's fictional story tell us that fiction is okay to read as long as it teaches good lessons? Not according to the prophetess:

"Even fiction which contains no suggestion of impurity, and which may be intended to teach excellent principles, is harmful."6

White copied "fiction" into her own "inspired" writings

Notice how Mrs. White describes her book Desire of Ages:

"The larger books, Patriarchs and Prophets, The Great Controversy, and The Desire of Ages, should be sold everywhere. These books contain truth for this time,--truth that is to be proclaimed in all parts of the world."7
Where did Ellen White obtain the wonderful "truth for this time"? From heavenly visions? Revelations? Dreams? No, not exactly. She obtained at least some of her "inspiration" from the same fictional writings that she told others to avoid!

In 1982, Dr. Fred Veltman, then chairman of the religion department of Pacific Union College, was asked by the Seventh-day Adventist church to analyze the charges of plagiarism brought by Walter Rea and others against Ellen White. Dr. Veltman spent eight years at church expense studying The Desire of Ages. When he finally published his findings in 1990, he announced that one of the 23 sources Ellen White used in writing the book was an "obviously fictional account."8 More examples of Ellen White's use of fictional material in her writings can be found in Walter Rea's, The Making of a Prophet: How Ellen White turned FICTION into "truth".

White has racist novels in her private library

According to the list of books in Ellen White's private library, Mrs. White owned several works of fiction.9 The Ellen White Estate compiled a list of books in her private libraries, and here are a few of the works of fiction:

  • The Baron's Children, by Sarah Ann Myers
  • The Clansman, by Thomas Dixon
  • The Leopard's Spots, by Thomas Dixon
The fact that Ellen White had Thomas Dixon's books in her personal library is of special interest. Dixon's father and uncle were at one time members of the Klu Klux Klan, and The Clansman portrays the Klan in a relatively positive light. Wikipedia describes Thomas Dixon's books as follows:
"His 'Trilogy of Reconstruction' consisted of The Leopard's Spots, The Clansman (1905), and The Traitor (1907). In these best-selling novels, which presented highly imaginative fiction as hard historical fact, Dixon used historical romance to present Negroes as inferior to whites and to glorify the antebellum American South. While he claimed to oppose slavery, he believed in racial segregation."10

"Dixon wrote The Clansman as a message to Northerners to maintain racial segregation, as the work claims that blacks when free turn savage."11

"In the novel [The Leopard's Spots] Dixon offers a very unreconstructed account of Reconstruction, in which the villains are Simon Legree-types, Northern liberals and emancipated slaves, and the hero is the Ku Klux Klan."12

One can only wonder why she kept these racist works of fiction in her library if fiction was indeed as harmful as she said it was.

White blasts Uncle Tom's Cabin, Robinson Crusoe

Ellen White makes it abundantly clear that Uncle Tom's Cabin and Robinson Crusoe are (1) evil, (2) Satan's work, and (3) destroy interest in the Bible:

"Dear Brother E: I have just read the Review and Herald and have seen your article giving a list of good books for our youth. I was much surprised to read your recommendation of Uncle Tom's Cabin, Robinson Crusoe, and such books. You are in danger of becoming somewhat careless in your writing. It would be well to give thought and careful study to whatever is to be immortalized in print. I am really alarmed to see that your spiritual eyesight is not more clear in the matter of selecting and recommending reading for our youth. I know that the recommendation in our papers of such infatuating books as Uncle Tom's Cabin will in many minds justify the reading of other books which are nothing but fiction. . . . I have repeatedly seen the evil of reading such books as you recommend, and have an article all prepared, cautioning our youth in this very matter. ... But I hope no more such recommendations will appear. You must be getting away from Jesus and His teachings and do not realize it. It is Satan's work to present to our youth newspaper stories and storybooks that fascinate the senses and thus destroy their relish for the word of God. ... "13

Mrs. White expounds further upon the great dangers of reading Uncle Tom's Cabin, saying it (1) destroys interest in the Bible, (2) destroys interest in prayer meetings, (3) caused evil imaginations, (4) led to immorality, (5) led to disobedience, (6) led to deception:

"It has destroyed appetite for the Bible, and the desire to attend prayer-meetings; for everything was stale and without interest after feasting upon the diet found in this book. The food taken into the mind was of such a character that heavenly and divine things found no place in the thoughts, and the imaginations were evil, and these youth have made confessions that this was caused by the reading of Uncle Tom's Cabin. This laid the foundations for a train of evils, and the imaginations became intensely excited, and the thoughts would recur again and again to immoral subjects which led to sin of licentiousness and impurity, to disobedience, to secret plannings, and to deception."14
That is quite an astonishing array of evil caused by one book! Is Uncle Tom's Cabin indeed such a harmful book?

Uncle Tom's Cabin is a novel that "depicts the cruel reality of slavery while also asserting that Christian love can overcome something as destructive as enslavement of fellow human beings."15 The book was partly inspired by the true story of a slave named Josiah Henson. The book, written by a teacher from Connecticut named Harriet Beecher Stowe, helped to fuel the abolitionist movement that eventually led to the end of slavery in the United States. Mrs. Stowe became an icon of freedom in the northern United States, and President Abraham Lincoln met with her prior to the start of the American Civil War. This immensely popular book became the second best-selling book in the world during the 19th century (following only the Bible), with the book being translated into every major human language.16 There is no doubt this book was the most important book written in the 19th century.

Conclusion

Does reading Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe--an innocent adventure based upon an incident that actually happened--really destoy a person's interest in the Bible? Is Uncle Tom's Cabin--a book written by a Christian encouraging the end of slavery, with a foreward written by an ordained minister of the gospel--really that terrible? One must wonder, because Mrs. White later clipped stories written by Harriet Stowe and put them into her scrapbooks.

Some may find it astonishing that Mrs. White condemned the reading of Uncle Tom's Cabin, an anti-racist book, and yet she kept the racist novels The Clansman and The Leopard's Spots in her own private library.

So why did she forbid Adventists from reading any fiction? Why did she call for "total abstinence" from fiction, even high class fiction?17 The idea that reading good-quality fictional accounts is somehow harmful to the spiritual life is absolutely ludicrous. Even Jesus spoke in parables to his disciples. Even Sister White did not seem to believe her own testimonies about fiction because she contradicted them by...

  1. Clipping out fictional stories and saving them in scrapbooks
  2. Incorporating fiction into her "inspired" books
  3. Keeping works of fiction in her personal library

NOTES

1. Ellen White, The Youth's Instructor, Oct. 9, 1902.

2. Ellen White, The Youth's Instructor , Feb. 20, 1896.

3. Ellen White, The Youth's Instructor, Aug. 14, 1906.

4. Charles H. Tidwell, Jr., PhD, "Ellen White and Fiction", online article extracted from Andrews University web site on Feb. 20, 2008, http://www.andrews.edu/~tidwell/407egw.htm. For additional reference, see the paper presented by Dr. John O. Waller's (former head of Andrews University English department) at the quadrennial meeting of SDA College English Teachers at La Sierra College, August 1965, entitled “A Contextual Study of Ellen G. White’s Counsel Concerning Fiction,” on file at Andrews University (catalogued in 1970).

5. Ellen White, Great Controversy, p. 252. Also The Spirit of Prophecy Vol. 4 (1884), p. 174. As to whether or not Pilgrim's Progress can rightly be classed as a "novel" or "fiction", consider what Dr. Charles Tidwell of Andrews University English department wrote in the above cited article:
"While some have argued that this work is not a novel but that it is really an allegory, this misses the point entirely. To be an allegory does not mean that it can not also be a novel or a work of fiction. Literary critics recognize it as such and, in most literary histories, it is pointed to as one of the pivotal early works that helped establish the novel as a major literary form in the eighteenth and subsequent centuries. Pilgrim's Progress has all the characteristics of a novel -- imagined settings, imagined characters who are not true to historical fact, plot, dialogue, conflict, and all the whole parphrenalia that novelists and fiction writers use today as their primary writing techniques."

6. Ellen White, The Ministry of Healing (1905), p. 445.

7. Ellen White, Review and Herald, Jan. 20, 1903.

8. Fred Veltman, Ph.D, Ministry, December 1990.

9. Ellen G. White's Private and Office Libraries File, on file at Loma Linda University, Compiled by: Warren H. Johns, Tim Poirier, and Ron Graybill of the Ellen G. White Estate.

10. Wikipedia, "Thomas Dixon, Jr.", http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Dixon,_Jr., extracted March 2, 2008.

11. Wikipedia, "The Clansman", http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Clansman, extracted March 2, 2008.

12. Wikipedia, "The Leopard's Spots", http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Leopard%27s_Spots, extracted March 2, 2008.

13. Ellen White, Testimonies for the Church Vol. 5, pp. 516-517.

14. Ellen White, Manuscript Releases Vol. 6, p. 257.

15. "Uncle Tom's Cabin", Wikipedia, extracted Feb. 20, 2008.

16. Ibid.

17. Ellen White, The Ministry of Healing (1905), p. 446.


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