Religion and Psychoactive Sacraments:
An Entheogen Chrestomathy
Thomas B. Roberts, Ph.D. and Paula Jo Hruby, Ed.D.
Author Index | Title Index
Adventures in Immortality
Gallup, George, Jr., with William Proctor. (1982).
New York: McGraw-Hall.
Description: Hardcover, 182 pages
Contents: 14 chapters, appendix (questionnaires and data), index
Excerpt(s): In conjunction with this special focus, we conducted two small-scale but statistically representative surveys of national leaders in the fields of science and medicine. The results of these two surveys will be referred to throughout the book, and in accordance with our usual reporting methods, the responses of the scientists and physicians, as of the other respondents, will be quoted anonymously. (page 2)
In the following pages, we explore near-death experiences in detail. The Gallup Poll did not try to distinguish between a mystical experience caused by a change in the brain's chemistry and an experience that would best be explained as a revelation of God. Nor did we attempt to learn whether the near-death events that triggered mystical incidents involved what scientists today call brain death (or total cessation of brain wave activity) or merely a close call with death where bodily functions were still operating. (page 3)
Entrance 3: Hospital Operations and Other Illnesses Involving Drugs or Anesthetics. Whenever the individual underwent a near-death or temporary death event, I've felt it essential to indicate explicitly when anesthetics or drugs were definitely or probably involved. This is, of course, because the drugs themselves may have caused a seemingly supernatural experience. It's interesting to note, however, that there tends to be a certain similarity between the accounts of those who were on drugs and those who were not. (page 7)
Our surveys have also shown that nearly one-third of all Americans-or about 47 million people-have had what they call a religious or mystical experience. Of this group, about 15 million report an otherworldly feeling of union with a divine being. They describe such things as special communications from deceased people or divine beings, visions of unusual lights, and out-of-body experiences (page 13)
A professor of pharmacology told us: "These experiences are most probably attributable to derangements of brain function in some patients near death, caused either by oxygen deficiency, drugs or products of faulty metabolism, and are essentially not different from the so-called 'psychedelic trip' elicited by LSD or other psychoactive drugs or poisons. The classical description of such an experience was given by the great American physician Oliver Wendell Holmes in a self-experiment with ethyl ether, and I quote, in part, 'The mighty music of the triumphal march into nothingness reverberated through my brain, and filled me with a sense of infinite possibilities, which made me an archangel for the moment. The veil of eternity was lifted. The one great truth which underlies all human experience, and is the key to all the mysteries that philosophy has sought in vain to solve, flashed on me in a sudden revelation. Henceforth all was clear; a few words had lifted my intelligence to the level of knowledge of the cherubim. As my natural condition returned, I remembered my resolution; and staggering to my desk, I wrote, in ill-shaped, straggling characters, the all-embracing truth still glimmering in my consciousness. The words were these . . . A strong smell of turpentine prevails throughout.'" (pages 114-115)
One of the most interesting chemically oriented explanations we received came from a chemical physicist from Iowa: "These are likely a manifestation of the biochemistry of the brain which has become oxygen deficient during these episodes. Also, the hormonal system is likely to change, thereby producing hallucinations.
"These reported experiences differ little from those given by those under the influence of drugs, such as LSD. The body can produce similar altered states, e.g., the runner's high. Thus, such feelings on return from the threshold of death may be expected. They may be nature's defense from the terror of death. After all, it is something nature must have evolved as a defense." (page 116)
Whatever these experiences represent-a physical metamorphosis brought on by the approach of death or a spiritual window providing an actual look beyond the threshold of death-the mere fact of their occurrence may tell us something about our own human nature. They hold a fascination for us that transcends a question of belief or proof.
Personally, I prefer to keep an open mind as to what the near-death reports may really mean. There are certainly strong scientific and theological arguments stating that the near-death adventures may have nothing to do with the afterlife or heaven. But at the same time, the scientific explanations fall short of being completely convincing because at this stage they rest more on speculation than on hard facts or evidence. So it seems best at least to remain open to the possibility that many of those who have had a "strange encounter" during their close brush with death may have had some sort of adventure in immortality.
Or to use the words of psychologist J. William Worden, I suppose you might say that I'm ready to be "surprised" at whatever the future may bring forth. (page 136)
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Compilation copyright © 1995 2001 CSP