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Religion and Psychoactive Sacraments:
An Entheogen Chrestomathy
Thomas B. Roberts, Ph.D. and Paula Jo Hruby, Ed.D.
Author Index | Title Index

An Appraisal of the Hallucinogenic Drugs

From the Standpoint of a Christian Person-Agapeic Ethic

Provonsha, Jack Wendell. (1967)
Claremont, CA: Claremont Graduate School

ISBN: none

Description: Unpublished doctoral dissertation, 361 pages.

Note: Available from UMI, Ann Arbor, MI, in large and small formats, hardcopy or paperback.

Excerpt(s): An adequate ethic must possess two elements, (1) a norm or highest value giving continuity and meaning to ethical terms like right and wrong, and (2) a method for applying this norm to a situation of discontinuity and change. The term " person-agapeic" is proposed as characterizing such an ethic.

The issues raised by the various uses of the hallucinogenic drugs, LSD being the best known, provide a case-illustration of this ethic. These issues are drawn from the now-extensive literature covering past and recent uses of hallucinogens, the theories of their mechanism of action, their physiological and psychological effects, and their short and long- range supposed benefits and dangers.

Basic conflicts of world-view and life-style underlie the attitudes of value and disvalue these substances elicit, but in spite of the subjective bias expressed in the terms used to interpret them, a common thread runs throughout descriptions of the experience. This is the increased vulnerability these drugs produce to both "set" (personality and expectation predisposition) and "setting" (the environmental context including the persons in it). These drugs join a number of other modalities such as hypnosis, sleep and sensory deprivation, religious ecstasy and "brainwashing," in producing a state of heightened suggestibility. The ethical question the drugs thus raise concerns the induction of a state in which the individual is potentially hetero-determined.

The norm of the person-agapeic ethic is love (agape) described by Nygren and others as unmotivated, spontaneous, nonsentimental, rational, benevolent, deep-level volitional concern and commitment. Love so characterized has as its precondition the self-determinate person, and ethical action has primarily to do with producing and preserving this precondition--hence the term "person-agapeic" (agapeic in the sense of "tending toward"). The practical categorical imperative of this ethic is, "so act as to enhance personhood for the sake of agape." Since the highest level of personhood possesses the greatest agapeic value, a relative scale of personal value is possible, ranging upward from thing to high-level person, as the means of resolving conflicting interpersonal claims. A similar scale may also be drawn for social institutions relative to their impact on truly creative personality.

As the uses of the hallucinogens are explored, it is apparent that they potentially threaten self-determination and thus the precondition of agape. Their supposed benefits are most often achieved at the expense of the agapeic person even while creating illusions of openness and greater freedom. This is true both of their "psychedelic" and "therapeutic" use. Psychedelists, for example, tend to become detached from and uninvolved in the responsible concerns that are characteristic of agape. There is a possibility that these changes are organic and irreversible in nature.

A therapeutic method which bypasses and undermines the ego is not compatible with the person-agapeic conception of man. Lifton's distinction between education and brainwashing affords a good contrast between a therapeutic method which is sensitive to personal value and one that is not.

Further investigation into the subtle and long-range effects of these drugs is indicated but present evidence places their casual use under indictment.

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