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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

Psychedelic Drugs: Psychological, Medical and Social Issues.

Wells, Brian. (1973).
Harmondsworth, Middlesex.

ISBN: 0-14-080342-4

Description: paperback, 250 pages.

Contents: foreword by Humphrey Osmond, 11 chapters, references, index.

Excerpt(s): The sub-culture is not principally concerned with social issues or good works anymore than was the primitive church; at the centre of both Christian religion and serious psychedelic drug use lies the search for spiritual growth. (page 189)

The institutional churches have many centuries of domestication behind them now; plenty of time for skillful propagandists, theologians and church logicians to give some semblance of reconciliation between the logic of the mechanical world and the alogic, revelation, and miracles that are at the real centre of faiths like Christianity. But the attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable, though perhaps motivated by the generous wish to bring feelings and experiences within the ken of those who have not known them, has now resulted in a quasi-logical system of such an unconvincing sort as to undermine the credibility of what it purports to promote — spiritual or divine revelation. The claims of the psychedelic movement are no less incredible to most people — though for the opposite reasons; instead of relying on dubious argument it simply denies the relevance of logic and reasoning in this entire sphere.

Now to propose that there may be an association between religion and the use of any drug — even alcoholic communion wine — is very near blasphemy for many people. That cherished and sustaining beliefs should be equated with ‘mind-bending’ drugs — ones which have been widely publicized as being related to hallucinations, delusions, and insanity itself — may seem to the average person to be an absurdity, and an offensive one at that. Most of us would find it difficult to accept that psychedelic experiences can lead to genuine religious inspiration, because such a hedonistic and short-cut approach is so divorced from customary religious practice. Yet this is what many intelligent and experienced people are claiming and we must therefore examine their evidence. (page 190)

Despite the crucial value of the mystical experience to the established religions, it is they who are most condemnatory and harsh about new mystical movements. Inquisitors in all ages find their life’s work in discrediting and punishing the very process on which their own lives and beliefs depend. And one is not just thinking about the Spanish Inquisition type of situation, but all ‘defenders of the faith’ — including the gentle parish priest or minister who is totally distrustful of, and even repelled by, any contemporary examples of mystical experience. This is not to argue that all experiences which are claimed as mystical and divinely inspired are worthy, but simply to point out the paradoxical relationship which exists between religion and mysticism — being at the same time both its most cherished asset and its greatest perceived source of threat. Being aware of this paradox, Christian churches have been at pains to specify what is, and what is not, true revelation, psychedelic drugs apparently constituting one of the more recent, and pressing, reasons for trying to define the ways which accepted revelations differ from those now reported.

However, the simplest pragmatic solution to a difficult situation is simply to deny the validity of any drug-induced state of mind as being, by definition, a psychological aberration and therefore not of religious significance. Another solution is to back those people who would totally ban the substances and thus remove the source of the problem. Both solutions have been favoured by most churches. But banning has proved to be ineffective and the existing documentary evidence is such as cannot be ignored — especially as scholars have shown that the qualities which typify ‘religiously induced’ mysticism, i.e., prayer, fasting, mortification, etc., are so very similar to those reported in drug-induced states. The only honest thing for any churchman to do is to dispassionately consider whether psychedelic experiences are, as they are often claimed to be, of a similar type to those accepted as valid within his own church. Happily, there are a number of such people at work and the comparisons and conclusions make fascinating reading. (pages 191-192)

The findings vary with the nature of the group observed and their set and setting, the most striking effects occurring when the subjects are consciously religiously focused and in a religious context. Yet even in quite unpropitious circumstances the number of positive mystico-religious experiences is still surprisingly high. (pages 194-195)

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