Expert of Many Trades, Jack of None:
Interview with Steve Daily, Ph.D.
By Carin Chea
It takes a special type of courage to question the foundations of your upbringing, especially if that foundation is one of faith and spirituality.
Therapist, pastor, and author Steve Daily did exactly that (and more - much, much more) when he wrote his groundbreaking book, Ellen G. White - A Psychobiography, which serves to debunk the very fundamentals of Adventism.
While most of us can identify as a "jack of all trades, master of none" (as the saying goes), Daily is truly a master of many. An accomplished and rather prolific author, Daily is also a chaplain, adjunct professor, and (currently) a pastor.
Having grown up in an Adventist faith community, Daily rises above blasphemy and obtains a rarely reached pinnacle - the truth.
You have a master's degree in history and a doctorate in psychology. You're also a therapist, pastor, professor, and university chaplain. How did you become a published author?
I got a lot of writing experience through my academic degrees, my thesis and dissertation. I wrote a book in 1992 called Adventism for a New Generation that made quite an impact in our church.
That was also my first major book that sold quite well. A lot of the other books I've written are related to topics I've preached on.
It sounds like you've been writing for a while.
This is actually my 27th book.
Oh my Lord!
Once I got into writing, it seemed like I kept at it and kept steady. This last one [Ellen G. White - A Psychobiography] took me about 3 and a half years to write. It's a lot more research and it's a large book. It would be one of the more popular books I've written.
What is a psychobiography and how does it differ from a biography?
It's the combination of history and psychology. It's a more recent development in the last century during which it picked up a lot of momentum. Freud started it, but Erik Erikson was a favorite psychobiographer of mine. He wrote about Ghandi and Luther. Now it's a whole field in and of itself.
There are tons out there now, but there were none about Ellen White. I felt like I was uniquely qualified to write this because I was an Adventist historian and a licensed therapist.
The book is extremely highlighted, historically; it's got a ton of footnotes. It's not cumbersome, but there's a huge amount of historical evidence.
There are going to be people with such strong biases that they won't even read the book or consider it to be true. That's why I document it so heavily.
What do you consider your primary calling these days?
I was working as a licensed psychologist for UCLA (mainly doing addiction treatment) and retired right before COVID. I have a book I'm writing on that, too.
My biggest passion would be for God and trying to further the kingdom of God on earth. I love pastoring and the church I pastor. I'm a teacher by nature; I taught university classes in religion and psychology for over 20 years. That's my natural gift. I teach classes at my church as well.
I have a lot of interests and find life very fulfilling and stimulating even in semi-retirement.
What gives you inspiration as a writer? What inspired you to write Ellen G. White - A Psychobiography?
I grew up in the 7th day Adventist church so that has always been a natural interest to me. My grandmother was obsessed with Ellen White. She would always give me [Ellen White's] books for birthdays and Christmas. My brothers and I would laugh because we weren't all that thrilled with those books. But, once I decided to go into the ministry, my grandmother gave me all her manuscripts.
I always had an interest in Ellen White, and a lot of it was based in questions. My mom was a traditional Adventist, but my dad was a more skeptical person by nature. He was in the health profession.
One day, in my Adventist school class, I was assigned an article that Ellen White wrote about masturbation. My dad saw me reading this and asked me what I thought of it. I was 13-years old and Ellen White was attributing every huge disease to masturbation. It was like she had a masturbation phobia. She really wrote a lot of weird stuff in her time. But, she wasn't alone.
Ellen White went more overboard than most though. I told my dad "I don't know what to think of it." He smiled and said, "Don't let it bother you. She didn't always know what she was talking about." For an Adventist to say that back in the day was like blasphemy because she was supposedly this great prophet that got everything from God.
As I got older, I saw a lot of my peers get kicked out of school for weird Ellen White things, so I had a natural curiosity. So, I wrote a Master's thesis on her and two doctoral dissertations on her. This was just a big part of my life.
I had written a few popular books on her as well in 2008 and 2010 before I left the Adventist church. I wasn't planning on writing more on Adventism or Ellen White when I left the church in 2010.
But, in 2014 an insider in the White Estate released documents on the internet with references and without authorization which had even been withheld from historians and researchers like myself, who were granted access to the White vaults.
This material was very damning, revealing things like Ellen was an alcoholic who nearly died from her own addiction, according to her private diaries, when she claimed as a prohibitionist that God showed her that He condemned all forms of alcohol use and even the use of vinegar (how she made her vinegar wine).
Also, statements about how God hated children and other very embarrassing things that she supposedly got in vision. When I saw how these sad materials had been dishonestly withheld from us as researchers I knew I had to write a concluding book.
It's kind of like Mormonism: Their prophet was a fraud and exposed as a fraud. It has a crumbly foundation. But, that hasn't been as well understood with Adventism. This book really exposes Ellen White as a con artist in a way that no other book has done.
What do you want your readers to take away from your book?
I would hope that that there will be an ability in Adventism to admit its past and acknowledge the huge problems with their prophet co-founder, and that it'll give an opportunity for Adventists to move forward and move past this spirit of dishonesty.
People who have an interest in religious abuse will find this book relevant. Religion can be the worse form of abuse because it betrays its own power.
I also want people to be able to differentiate between healthy and unhealthy religion and spirituality. This will give anyone with an interest in Adventism a gold mine of information. I think people will be fascinated by the religious history.
What I show in the book is that every single thing Adventists believe and teach can be traced back to Ellen White. Adventists don't claim this; they claim their teachings come from the Bible.
But, in the book, I show that it's not true. It documents that White's claim to be getting all these visions from God were untrue. I show what her motivations were.
She exploited a lot of people financially. She kept saying that the world was going to end and encouraged people to sell their homes and give the money to the church, leaving these families completely destitute. So many lives were ruined by her. But, the church skips over that.
Who do you think would make a perfect Ellen G. White in her biopic?
I've actually thought about that. I think the book would make a fascinating movie. It'd certainly be 2 hours of riveting stuff. There's no actress that comes to mind.
For one thing, Ellen White wasn't very pleasant to look at because she had an accident when she was 9 that greatly affected her appearance. I'm sure with makeup they could find someone who could have some similarity to her looks.
But, even with personality - the actress would have to be someone who could play the amazing combination of someone who could get people to think she was a sweet old lady who loved everybody on the one hand.
She was also uneducated - she only had a 5th grade education. She was presented as loving and generous and giving. But, she really did have high emotional intelligence. She was great at manipulating people and had sociopathic tendencies. She just financially destroyed people and became a multi-millionaire herself.
So it would have to be a great actress like Meryl Streep.
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