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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

Drug Use in America: Problem in Perspective. Second Report of the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse.

National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse (1973).
Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office

ISBN: none

Description: wrappered, xviii + 481 pages.

Contents: letter of transmittal by Raymond P. Shafer, commission members, commission staff, introduction, 5 chapters, sources: bibliography, consultants, contractors and contributors, research papers prepared for commission, recommendations.

Note: This commission is popularly known as the Shafer Commission. GPO stock number 5266-00003.

Excerpt(s): Like Alice on the other side of the looking glass, our two year examination of drug use, misuse, and "abuse" has given us a constantly reinforced perception that all is not as it seems and that beliefs and realities are not always equal. All to often, familiar guideposts and landmarks, which we assumed could give us direction and purpose, faded, changed shape or simply disappeared when carefully scrutinized. All too often, plans and policies conceived in good will and high hopes had unanticipated negative aspects which created as many problems as they did solutions. Because of the scope of the drug issue, we realized that the old definitions, the old ways of looking at these signs and symptoms of social dysfunction, required a new set of working terms and a new perspective. This is what we have attempted to do in the Report. (opening paragraph, page 1)

Religious bodies must enter public discussion of such policy issues as the role of the criminal sanction in the area of drug consumption, the ethical questions surrounding methadone and other forms of chemical therapy, and the objectives of drug education programs. As with other social institutions, we would expect religious groups to differ widely on these issues. Still we believe that open, rational debate of the moral and ethical implications of particular policy issues will always enhance the decision-making process.

... The Commission has identified four important issues in the realm of private moral choice on which the religious community needs to focus its expertise and insight.

First are the moral issues surrounding risk-taking behavior of all kinds. Clearly, neither society nor religious doctrine considers all risk-taking behavior morally wrong. ... On most behavior, the risk-benefits ratio is weighed and a judgment made about whether it is "worth the risk."

Drug use, too, is a form of risk-taking behavior, the degree of risk depending on the drug, dosage, circumstances and individual characteristics. On what basis is the individual to decide whether the risk is an acceptable one and whether the benefits he perceives are appropriate? Is there a line on the continuum where it is appropriate for other institutions to intervene to stop the behavior, or should the individual be completely free to choose? To answer these questions requires coming to terms with fundamental questions of the purpose and meaning of life. In this sphere of discourse, the moral counsel of the religious community is indispensable.

Another important issue is the role of drug use in the pursuit of personal happiness. Drugs are used for recreational as well as self-medication purposes. With the exception of alcohol and tobacco, society has formally condemned the use of drugs for personal pleasure; yet many individuals take other drugs recreationally without apparent harm to themselves or others. On what moral grounds, then, do we condemn this behavior? (pages 392-393)

There are also moral questions surrounding the exploration of consciousness. Western culture has stressed rational analysis and synthesis as the most valid form of experience and denigrated other forms of consciousness, such as the drug-induced "high." Yet the heritage of all the world's major religions is rich with the experiences of prophets, seers, saints and mystics. The religious community thus has a strong interest, as well as the moral basis, for exploring altered states of consciousness and evaluating the perceptions and insights which result.

The religious community must address the nature of the inner-directed spiritual experience. Users of hallucinogenic drugs have reported religious or mystical experiences. These experiences cannot be dismissed simply by dogmatic refusal to examine the evidence; instead, both theologians and scientists must look at them closely. The mystical tradition of the religious community should offer valuable insight and guidance on the nature and value of such experiences. These four issues in the realm of private moral choice clearly indicate that the religious community must reassert its counseling role regarding behavior with moral overtones. Equally important is religion's role in promoting non-drug alternatives in coping behavior. (pages 393-394)

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