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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 New Age Movement and the Biblical Worldview

Newport, John P. (1998).
Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.


ISBN: 0-8028-4430-8

Description: Paperback, xvi + 614 pages.

Contents: Acknowledgment, preface, 15 chapters, index.

Excerpt(s): This study, approached from an evangelical perspective, is designed to provide a basis of study for churches, colleges, seminaries, and laypeople. In 1996, under the leadership of Tom and Karen Cowley, some thirty-five evangelical churches in the San Francisco Bay area conducted a lay-led seminar based on the contents of this book. I was a leader and respondent. The success of that seminar revealed how dialogue can open an avenue to a fresh understanding and appreciation of the biblical worldview.

Unfortunately, many professed Christians are caught up in certain phases of the New Age movement without realizing that the New Age worldview is contrary in most of its teachings to a basic biblical perspective.

This study, which describes and evaluates the New Age and biblical worldviews in eleven key areas, should give Christians and New Age advocates alike a better understanding of both sides. Of central concern throughout are the nature, structure, and increasing impact of the New Age worldview. (page xv)

But in his Doors of Perception he makes perhaps his strongest theoretical case for the essential sameness of mystical forms. Huxley stipulates a mental function that he calls the "Mind-at-Large." This Mind-at-Large is the human capacity for transcending usual cerebral processes and thereby even the self. An accepted form of self-transcendence is religion, which, however, may not work for everyone. He states, "Ideally, everyone should be able to find self-transcendence in some form of pure or applied religion. In practice it seems unlikely that this hoped for consummation will ever be realized."

But if religious self-transcendence is not attained, it becomes just as legitimate in Huxley's view to use drugs to achieve the same goal. "The urge to transcend self-conscious selfhood is, as I have said, a principal appetite of the soul. When, for whatever reason, men and women fail to transcend themselves by means of worship, good works and spiritual exercises, they are apt to resort to religion's chemical surrogates." In fact, Huxley goes so far as to wish to mandate that thinking people be subjected to a chemical experience of transcendence. As long as some form of transcendence is achieved, the means of bringing it about are irrelevant. Huxley can maintain such a stance only if he believes that all forms of self-transcendence (i.e., mysticism) are inherently the same. (page 100)

Carlos Castaneda was invited to an East Village party in New York City which was attended by such luminaries as Timothy Leary. Under drug influence, Castaneda reported that the partygoers were like silly children indulging in incoherent revelations. He was disgusted with the acid heads. He stated that an authentic sorcerer takes drugs for a different reason than do the acid heads. Drugs are only a means to an end. As ends in themselves, drugs are pathologically regressive and spiritually stultifying. Castaneda further suggested that Timothy Leary was only improvising in his drug-taking from within his Western view and merely rearranging old perspectives. There was no authentic breakthrough for Leary, according to Castaneda.

The negative statements by Carlos Castaneda on drugs came as quite a shock to many of his psychedelic admirers. They thought he would be stoned most of the time. The psychedelic crowd wanted him to tell them to turn on and blow their minds. These drug devotees were further upset when they learned that he does not smoke, drink hard liquor, or even use marijuana. In fact, Castaneda reports that his only drug experiences took place under the careful guidance of Don Juan.

DRUG MYSTICISM VERSUS CHRISTIAN MYSTICISM

In 1957, the prominent Oxford scholar R. C. Zaehner wrote Mysticism Sacred and Profane. In this book he challenged the teaching of Aldous Huxley that there was a positive relationship between drugs and Christian mysticism. Zaehner asserts that it is an absurd arrogance to state that a mescaline drug high is the same as an authentic Christian mystical experience. According to Zaehner, psychedelic experiences may have some similarity to a nontheistic, monistic mysticism. The characteristics of monistic mysticism include cosmic oneness, transcendence of space and time, feelings of well-being, and increased sensory perception of color and sound. This type of mysticism is not in the biblical tradition but, as we have seen, more appropriate to India.

The Christian mystic would say that any mystical absorption restricted to one's self or with nature falls short of biblical mysticism. The idea of a world force or an absolute is not the same as belief in a personal God.

Wayne Oates notes the differences between the Christian's experience of the Holy Spirit and the mystical opening of consciousness through psychedelic drugs. First, the Christian experience of the Holy Spirit arises from a clearly defined community of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord. The Christian experience of the Holy Spirit itself becomes specious and untested when separated from the prior encounter with Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection.

The account in the Book of Acts of the creation of the Christian community says it took place through the gift of the Holy Sprit to those who had attested to the resurrection of Christ. In Galatians, freedom from constriction of the law and access to the fruit of the Spirit-love, joy, peace-are brought about by the Spirit as an aftermath of having been crucified with Christ, in spite of which one has new life.

Second, Christians experiencing the Holy Spirit tend to consider it a lifelong journey or pilgrimage. The drug-induced "trips" tend to telescope all eternity into the very "nowness" of a given moment. Then the experience lives in memory until another "trip" is induced. Contrast this drug experience with the long, unremitting pilgrimage of the Apostle Paul after receiving the Holy Spirit. The spiritual life in the Holy Spirit is experienced as a "long haul and not a short "trip." God pours his Holy Spirit into people's spirits, energizing them with ethical power (Rom. 5:5). He has given us a spirit of power, love, and self-control (2 Tim. 1:7).

Thus we see that the Christian calls for the use of criteria to evaluate the results of various kinds of reported mystic or religious experiences. For Christians it is both faith and reason. Furthermore, Christianity is rooted in verifiable Christian history.

PSYCHOLOGICALLY RELATED TRANSFORMATION

W. J. Hanegraaff of the Netherlands contends that it is primarily in America that we have seen New Age's psychologization of religion and sacralization of psychology. This so-called "Psychology and Religion Movement" can be traced from the 1880s to today's Human Potential movement. For the New Age, the "fact" that God can be approached through our own unconscious minds suggests that only a self-imposed, psychological barrier separates us from an immanent divinity. The cultivation of receptivity to the unconscious is thus a spiritually as well as psychologically regenerative act of the whole personality. (pages 101-103)



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