Bryan and Anthony from the Badventist podcast, can Christians access extended consciousness?
photo by: Skeptiko
Sometimes people say to me, “Pastor Jeff, how do you know there’s a God?” and I say, “It’s simple math. God either exists or he doesn’t.” So, let’s be cynical, worst-case scenario, there’s a 50/50 chance, and I like those odds.
That’s a clip from Young Sheldon, a TV show about a brainiac kid who likes to tell adults how stupid they are and how smart he is for following science and logic.
You’ve confused possibilities with probabilities. According to your analogy, when I go home, I might find a million dollars on my bed or I might not. In what universe is that 50/50?
Alex Tsakiris: Now, if you’ve listened to this show very much you know that the science versus religion debate (non-debate), is an itch I can’t resist scratching…
…And when I say, is Christianity worth saving, why is it necessary? I mean, it’s really cool that if you travel to a foreign country and you get really sick that you have a network that you can tie into. That’s awesome on a practical level, but on a spiritual level, if that is based on some things that are not true, in the way that we normally think about things being true, have you kind of made some compromises there that may inhibit your spiritual growth?
Bryan: I struggled with that question, like, oh yeah, why don’t I study Sufism or pickup Zen Buddhism?
Alex Tsakiris: That’s Bryan Nashed from The Badventist podcast. Bryan’s a young guy in his early 20s who along with his podcasting partner Anthony joined me today to rehash these questions about Christianity and about, regardless of whether or not it can hold up to the scrutiny of Young Sheldon, it might still offer a language with which to access the very real, scientifically established, realms of extended consciousness.
Bryan: The answer that I came up with was, “Oh, because the Christian language that I grew up with is the most accessible language for me to interact with the spiritual.”
Alex Tsakiris: Stick around, my interview with Bryan and Anthony from The Badventist podcast is coming up on Skeptiko.
Today we welcome Bryan and Anthony from The Badventist podcast. Two young guys who are really blazing a new trail in the progressive Christian movement.
I met Bryan a few months ago and he helped me out a great deal with some Skeptiko projects and then I was super excited to hear that he had started his own podcast along with Anthony. I listened to a couple of them and I thought they were so relevant to some of the topics that I’ve been haranguing people about lately, that I really wanted to have these guys on.
Bryan: Thanks so much for having us in our cartoonishly large headphones.
Anthony: Yeah, thank you very much, this is quite an honor.
Alex Tsakiris: Wow, honor, jeez! Great. Well, I’ll tell you what, I don’t know about that, we’ll see how we all feel at the end. But I do say, I really did enjoy The Badventist, the episodes that I’ve listened to. I think you guys have a great vibe and a great way of working together and I think you have a fresh approach to these topics.
So, let’s start, just tell folks a little bit, each one of you, about who you are and how you came to do this podcast maybe.
Bryan: We both grew up in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which is in a very American Protestant conservative denomination and it’s an institution that raised us. I grew up going to a private Christian school, Adventist Academy. So, the Seventh-day Adventist Church pretty much raised us.
Anthony, his family, converted when he was very young. I come from, like a very diverse, ethnically diverse background and so I feel like I’m more Adventist than I am any of my respective heritages.
We met in college. He graduated the year I started going to UC Berkeley, and we met each other at the church there and it’s a lovely little hub of like very liberal people in a very conservative…
Anthony: It’s an enclave.
Bryan: A real enclave, yeah.
Anthony: Yeah, and it seems, kind of like a surreal place because like Bryan mentioned, the denomination is very conservative, almost laughingly so, and the Berkeley enclave, the Berkeley group is so diverse, so progressive, so exciting to talk to, to be around. In my opinion we’re all very sincere Adventists and we really want to be Adventists and by any one else’s metric, by the Church’s own metric, I don’t think we make the cut.
Anthony: And we’ve decided to, sort of, amend the metric and just, “Okay we’re Badventists.”
Bryan: And these are topics and issues that we talk about normally and so we just decided, “Let’s turn on the microphone and try to find other people like us.”
Anthony: And in doing so I think Bryan and I have sort of had to flash out what we believe and what our journeys have been and sometimes we disagree and sometimes we’re surprised by the fact that we disagree, sometimes we don’t disagree.
Anthony: That was my, sort of like, “Okay, look, evolution.” I have an answer for everything and that’s very Adventist to have an answer for everything.
Bryan: It’s very conspiratorial, applying a literalist view of the Bible, Daniel and Revelation in particular. It leads to this very parapolitical fever dream of, okay the Catholic papacy is going to take over the world and make everyone worship on Sunday.
Anthony: And it’s not if, it’s when it happens.
Bryan: Yeah. So, it feels that our generation is like, “Okay, that’s a little paranoid, that’s a little wild,” and we’re slowly opening up to other things. But there’s this tension of like, how much do you open and how much do you lose with that?
Anthony: I feel like our generation, “We’re going to put those things on hold, the mark of the beast and the Sunday law, and they sound a little crazy, but sure we’ll believe them, sure. Let’s put them on hold though and how do we solve problems like, can women be ordained pastors or can our gay people…?”
I feel that’s where our addition to the conversation has been noticed as of late.
Alex Tsakiris: Okay, can you get there from here? Anthony, you mentioned a minute ago that you had listened to my dialogue on Skeptiko, “Is Christianity worth saving?” Is the Seventh-day Adventist Church worth saving? Can you get there from here? Are you, in your attempt to kind of bring people along, maybe compromising too much, in terms of the core issues?
Anthony: So here’s what’s interesting when you ask it, in terms of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, I think yes, it is worth saving. But the Seventh-day Adventist Church, as an institution, is going to fight that change tooth and nail, probably into its own extinction and that’s where things, from my point of view, get really interesting. Because Bryan and I, I don’t want to speak for you, but we do think that there is a Christian shift going on in this country. We do think that Christianity, Catholicism sure, but Protestant Christianity is having an identity crisis and the Christians of tomorrow are not going to be the Christians of yesterday.
Is the Adventist Church going to survive that? That is a great question. Is it worth saving? Yes. Is it going to survive it? I don’t know.
Anthony: At the very least, the Adventist Church is this global network, this global community of people who care for each other. If you’re an Adventist from California and you get lost in Italy and you find a Church, you might find someone who knows someone who knows someone who knew your parents and they’ll take care of you.
The Church is also very big on medicine and hospitals and education with other unconscious agendas as to what education is.
Anthony: This is just an aside, but it’s fine. Other than the Catholic Church, the Adventist Church is the largest landowner in denominations that exist.
Bryan: And it does have this framework of biblical literalism but it’s also a framework of community.
So, I think one of the things that we want to achieve with our podcast is to be able to find that sense of community and realize that that is worth saving. And that even if you take biblical literalism out of it, there are other narratives of the human experience that you can plug, like Ellen White fitting into the scene in Upstate New York or mysticism and narcissism in the Bible and realizing that there is still a spiritual dimension to it, that you can access and interact with, without losing that sense of community.
So, I don’t know if it’s worth saving but I think it’s worth…
Alex Tsakiris: Well, let me go all Bill Moore on you. You’re demanding a lot. Religious people are demanding a lot and asking a lot and really not giving back much in return. What you’re demanding is special treatment really.
Over and over again you’re telling us that you deserve to be treated special in the marketplace of ideas, that you shouldn’t be challenged on some of these beliefs that are highly questionable, that don’t hold to a worldwide standard, in terms of both morally as well as scientifically.
The scientific part, I’m going to go all Bill Moore on you, it’s not only that it doesn’t fit with one particular branch of science, because you know I can really get down on science, I mean, it’s refuted from so many different areas that you’re asking us to treat your faith beliefs in a special way that we just wouldn’t accept from anyone else who stepped into the public arena and said, “This is true.”
Anthony: I don’t understand what you mean by special treatment, what does that mean?
Alex Tsakiris: Well, you’re asking us to kind of go along, wink and nod, with the story that we’re saying on the other we know can’t possibly be true. You’re not willing to apply the basic scrutiny that we would in anyone else who makes similar kinds of claims about something they believe. Whether it’s Santa Clause or anything else, we’d say, “Well, we really have to challenge that, whether there really is a Santa Clause or whether there really is an Easter Bunny,” and when we challenge faith people on those kinds of beliefs, it gets nasty really quick.
Anthony: I think that the pressure is being felt. I don’t think that Christianity is coasting along in any capacity. That’s why it’s at a breaking point I think, because of that pressure.
Now, is it persecution? No, no it’s not. Everyone calm down. The Adventists are very good at highlighting, “Oh Adventists are being persecuted,” no we’re not, at least not in America.
But I think that the pressure is building. I think maybe that was true a few years ago. Maybe the Christian supremacy was unchallenged for a long time. I think to characterize it as going unchallenged now, I look around and churches are losing membership left and right and it maybe [unclear 00:31:15] winning.
Bryan: There’s an interesting tension. At Loma Linda University, we have a friend who’s studying medicine there, it’s an Adventist institution. This is just an illustration, but in a lecture about sexuality they were told about a study that said the risk of suicide for transgender people goes down from 20% to 0.05% after operation. I was blown away when my friend just casually mentioned that because this is something that’s being taught inside the austere institution of medicine, but you’ll never hear that from a pulpit.
So, I feel that that is an interesting illustration of this interior struggle.
Anthony: Yeah and in very real ways, not only are outsiders, as you would characterize them maybe, putting the pressure on institutions of faith, but I think now insiders are saying, “Hey, I am not comfortable with my institution doing harm to people.
This statistic right here that Bryan mentioned is one of them, right? I don’t want those beliefs to be part of what I call my faith. So, I think now, more than ever, you’re seeing members even now saying, “Hey, maybe we shouldn’t have sexist beliefs, maybe we shouldn’t have transphobic, homophobic beliefs.”
And you’re not only seeing this in our Church, you’ll see this is the Methodist Church, you’ll see this in the United Church of Christ. They’re having conferences where they’re voting on, “Hey, are we going to be accepting and affirming?” And some people within those denominations don’t want to be. At least in the Methodist, for example, they’re going to have a conference this spring and they might split, there might be two branches of the Methodist Church.
So, this struggle, if anything it’s intensifying and it’s going internally.
Bryan: I think this is a roundabout way of agreeing with you, that institutions of faith do need this pressure, not so much nailing the 95 Theses to the door, but it’s being felt on the inside. I think it’s making plenty of people think and it’s overdue, but I think it’s worth pushing for it and that’s why we have a podcast at the moment, trying to do that.
Alex Tsakiris: Does it make it harder to resist the spiritual social engineering from inside of a tradition like yours?
Bryan: That’s a paranoia of mine. The fact that the Bible has beautiful literature and a lot of entangled meanings but at the same time, as great dense literature in mythology as it is, yes it was ministered throughout the world through very loving and intentional people but also by the sword and by the gun. So, I think a fun tension that helps me get through that is that Christianity itself has this very anti-imperial movement towards spirituality.
Alex Tsakiris: Maybe, but…
Bryan: There are gnostic anti-imperial movements that are interwoven inside. So, to know that some of that is there, that that can be the ethos with which I try to navigate the world, my spirituality and those of others around me.
So, for me, trying to broaden the definitions of what spirituality and religion are. Like someone having a UFO encounter, seeing a ghost and then saying it was a demon or it was an angel, to try to broaden the vocabulary of that which we can describe the spiritual experiences and trying to bring the excluded into the conversation. That’s what I’m wrestling with, that’s how I can try to navigate it and it’s tough with other people.
Anthony: Yeah. I look at the last 2000 years and Christianity has won. I don’t want to quote a now disgraced comedian, but the Christians have won big time. Like, how do you know, what year is it? And I think that Christians today don’t know what to do with that. I think we apologize, and we should. But that was what they set out to do. They were supposed to take over the world, that was the great commission. I think we did it the wrong way.
Alex Tsakiris: Hold on Anthony, I don’t want to go too far down that path. I feel a need to kind of jump in there and say, well it was a social engineering project from the beginning. Where that really shows up is with Constantine at 400.
Anthony: You’re right and that’s my point. By being a social engineered project, that’s why it’s on every single continent now, including Antarctica probably.
Alex Tsakiris: I don’t think so. Just a slight twist on that, my read of it is, it was expedient at the time, it was like, “Shit, why not? If we can control everybody with this thing and we don’t have to go to war and we don’t have to do it with the sword,” it was a one-time thing, they weren’t thinking that they were going to keep winning. A win and win and win. It just became a tool that later generations picked up and said, “Hey, it’s our go to.” This is my read on that history, and all along there were people who were having these genuine spiritual experiences who we’re saying, “Hold on, there’s something really here.”
It’s funny, but I think there are a lot of parallels with the psychedelic movement that we talk about on this show, where you introduce this substance and it’s the evil CIA PSYOP guys who are saying, “Hey man, maybe we can mind-control everybody and maybe we could use it as a truth serum,” and meanwhile these people are going, “You don’t know what you have here. This is my God experience and you don’t know how to do that.”
So, I think that is a theme that we see over and over and over again, which is that the control group, they’re using it for very sinister, but materialistic kinds of means, and there are these other people who are having these spiritual experiences.
Bryan: I think there is always going to be that tension between, “Alright, this is how we’re going to take over the world,” and, “Wait a minute, no, this is supposed to be a religion and philosophy.” I think the story of Christianity is a battle between those two groups and it’s still going on today. There are these people who want to continue this idea of control because it’s been good to them, because it’s been good to the people that look like them, the people that believe like them, the people that love like them, and of course they’re going to want to keep that because life has been good to them and forget all of the people they’ve oppressed through what was supposed to be a redeeming philosophy.
So, I think every Christian should be outraged that our faith has been used like this.
Anthony: It’s very poignant, like just in the narrative of the Bible, in Genesis we start off with these nomadic people that are terrified of cities and cities like Sodom and Gomorrah deserve to be burned or the Tower of Babel deserves to be destroyed. And then, at the end of Revelation we can only imagine God coming, by sending us another city and it feels like that tension of control is something deeply entrenched and a constant tension throughout the narrative of the Christian story..
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