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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


The Hallelujah Revolution: The Rise of the New Christians.

Cotton, Ian. (1996).
Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.


ISBN: 1-57392-055-X

Description: Hardcover, first American edition, xx + 242 pages. First published in Great Britain in 1995 by Little, Brown and Company.

Contents: Preface to the American edition, prologue, 15 chapters, index.

Excerpt(s): At the beginning of the twentieth century, Charismatic Christians accounted for less than 1 percent of the world Christian community. In less than one hundred years, their ranks have grown enormously until today they make up more than 25 percent of all Christians 400 million believers worldwide. By the year 2000, this figure is estimated to expand to over 30 percent.

Ian Cotton's vivid portrayal of the international dimensions of this new Christian religious revival captures a phenomenon that till recently was thought to be almost entirely American. New Christianity now embraces every continent, reaching from Canada to Zaire, from Brazil to Korea and Australia, even to mainland China. Cotton traces its roots to the sixties' counterculture and points out interesting connections with broader twentieth-century trends like the rise of postindustrial "irrationalism," the New Age and Green movements, the information revolution, social and political decentralization, and the pervasive malaise of mass uncertainty.

For American readers who think evangelism is just another name for right-wing conservatism, Cotton describes the new, left-of-center evangelism that is invading America from Europe, spearheaded by explosively growing global organizations like the March For Jesus.(front flap dust jacket blurb)

Ian had, in those heady Eighties days, been way out on the opposite pole of the hippy-yuppy nexus. While Psalm was Material-Girling in the Third World, Ian was spending six months a year traveling with the Peace Convoy that most outrageous caravanserai of heads, reds, Greens, spleen, and New Age ideology generally, not forgetting the presence of every last lingering noxious substance body or brain could dream of.

"I suppose," Ian said thoughtfully, "I was out of my head about nineteen hours a day." Yet now, since his conversion to Christianity (an LSD conversion, appropriately enough) he's eschewed drugs and become, like Psalm, a social worker at a hostel for homeless men. Despite the seeming polarity of their lifestyles back in the Eighties, Ian and Psalm are now at one in Evangelicalism and social concern--Nineties people with a Sixties feel. (pages 68-69)

Then there is that perhaps more familiar category of drugs ingested from outside rather than manufactured within. For they too have the capacity to induce the most profound transcendental experiences. ...

Out of all of this, finally, a mental map begins to emerge. Human stress, in its widest sense, can lead to brain "events," which can, in turn, lead to "conversions," or changes of state. The actual triggers of these processes within the brain impelled by existential pressures--can be electrical or chemical. Equally, both electrical (electric shock treatment) and chemical (Huxley and his drugs) input from outside the body can induce comparable effects.

There are, in fact, a whole range of potential triggers of such electrical or chemical effects. Stress, shock therapy, mescaline we are familiar with these. But many other agencies have been employed, throughout history and by all manner of belief systems, to similar ends: fasting diet has profound and swift effects on the brain; dancing the real reason for whirling of the Dervishes is that they whirl themselves into a trance; smell this too can have similar effects, as Proust famously records (hence the heavy use of incense in Roman Catholic services, and also the origins of aromatherapy) (pages 119-121).

It was while I was with Ichthus that I came across twenty-three-year-old Jill and twenty-four-year-old Edward, both members of the Wells Way Ichthus congregation down the road from Mike Pears. Their conversion had resulted from experiences with drugs experiences which had run the full gamut from dream-trippy rhapsody to the awesome terrors of the damned. Not that the fact that drugs were their particular "portal" meant their conversion in any sense lacked meaning. Indeed, it was two years after their conversion "event" that we met, and their Christian involvement was, if anything, steadily escalating, with both spending many hours a week on Ichthus worship, celebrations and projects. But then to Edward and Jill, their conversion experience, far from being less real (because drug-induced) than the rest of their lives, was a thousand times more real than anything they had ever known. So it is quite natural that their commitment, so deeply embedded in their consciousness, was so passionate and strong.

Their triggers had been two soft, green tablets they'd taken simultaneously in a club off the Charing Cross Road not so different, perhaps, from Persinger's minute quantities of electricity, or Huxley's "four-tenths of a gram of mescaline" dissolved in half a glass of water (page 124).

Everything in the world is now corpse-like, decomposing; their minds are desperately spinning, spiraling out of control; this filthy taste in their mouths, as of the very tang of Evil; and above all, this suffocating sense of wrap-round wickedness, immanent, somehow, in the very walls, the furniture, the ceiling! (page 126).

"I just hope pray I never feel fear like that again," says Edward and leaves it there.

The horrors kept on coming (that Devil image, in particular recurred) till well up to 12 o'clock in the morning; then a change came about. "Eventually we felt like we were coming down," said Edward, "and suddenly I had this really objective vision of myself. I saw myself as someone who'd taken money off my parents and bought drugs with it, how I was vain, selfish, and unthinking, and yet my mother was always writing me these beautiful letters, just full of love. So suddenly I realized just how little I really thought of myself and I felt this terrible rush of remorse and self-hatred and I cried out to God, " O God I'm so sorry, help me please!" And this extraordinary thing happened. I was sitting against the wall and suddenly I was hurled across the room, it was as if I was kicked by this electric shock at the base of my spine: as if something actually went into me, tingling up and down my body from the tips of my toes to the top of my head.

"And then I actually saw it, right there in front of my eyes. It was... like a strip of water hanging in the air yet made of light and shimmering and it was at that moment I realized what had shot through me: it was the Holy Ghost." (page 127).

"I saw this vision of the Cross,' says Edward. "I say vision, not hallucination, because with a hallucination-I've had plenty, what with the drugs-you see it yet you know it's false; but with this I saw it and I knew it was real. ...

From then on, the experience turned benign. "Put simply," said Edward, "God visited us for three hours."

For now that all-pervasive sense of wickedness was gradually replaced by the most profound joy either Edward or Jill had ever known. More, the voice of God Himself was in the flat there talking to them. Kindly, understanding, wise, telling them they'd be married eventually and have this wonderful life. Assuring them it would be Edward's calling to minister to adults, Jill's to help the young (pages 128-129).

Both Jill and Edward became steadily more confident in their faith. A few weeks after her deliverance, Jill talked in tongues; Edward developed a passion for Bible reading and traditional hymns; both felt, as Edward put it, that they'd somehow "come over the brow of the hill."

Peace, self-affirmation and sobriety became the keynotes of their lives. They plunged into a typically busy and highly structured Christian schedule. Out went the clubs, the drugs, the music, the sleeping around. In came a life of order, meetings and self-improvement: two days a week voluntary work for Jill at Ichthus primary school; two days at Welldiggers, another Ichthus group; prayer meetings on Monday for Edward, Welldiggers for him, too, on Wednesday; youth meetings for both of them on Friday (Jill is now an Ichthus youth leader). On Sunday they both might go to two services in one day. (pages 131-132).



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