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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 Psychological Dynamics of Religious Experience (It Doesn't Fall Down from Heaven).

Godin, Andre. (1985).
Birmingham, AL: Religious Education Press.

ISBN: 0-89135-039-X

Description: Paperback, viii + 279 pages.

Contents: Foreword, 7 chapters divided into three parts: 1. Functional Religious Experiences, 2. Experiences of God, 3. Experience of Self or Transforming Experience in Faith, A Backward Glance and Conclusion, thematic glossary, index of names, index of subjects.

Note: Originally published as Psychologie des experiences religieuses: La desir et la realite. Paris: Le Centurion, 1981.

Excerpt(s): If we consider with Maslow that the most religious feature of peak-experiences is a vivid awareness that the entire universe is an integrated and unified whole, we cannot avoid a brief examination of certain ecstatic states that are systematically induced to that end. These "experimental" attempts have tempted psychologists of religion for a long time. As early as 1902, William James was writing that by the use of nitrous oxide he experienced "a vivid feeling of reconciliation . . . as if the opposites of the world, whose contradictoriness and conflict make all our difficulties and troubles, were melted into unity." The use of LSD-25 (lysergic acid) gave a new impetus to these experiments some fifteen years ago. In minute doses, possibly under medical supervision, LSD has an interesting characteristic: It gives many experimenters, not only the impression of "standing off from oneself" with wonderful visions such as other hallucinogens produce, but rather the impression of being "at the core of one's being" of having never been "so fully oneself." In spite of some regrettable excesses on the part of one of the American promoters (Timothy Leary), LSD (a formidable drug in large doses) is not in itself addictive and the contemplative state it releases has, according to certain authors, a lasting beneficial effect. (page 91)

Havens refuses to make a distinction, in this connection, between so-called subjective states and a pseudo-objective reality: the novelty of the affective contact, intensified, is a fact which is immediately enriched, if only in the mind of the subject, by metaphorical or symbolic interpretations which give it a social or religious bearing. Indeed, this seems to be of capital importance in order to go beyond subjectivism and approach the formally religious perspective of these vivid experiences, without abandoning the scientific approach.

The richness of this new emotional experience produced by LSD exposes the subject to two dangers, as Havens points out: (a) accentuating a notion of religion as withdrawal from the world, with a weakening of the will to work effectively in it; (b) developing a sort of cult centered on the ecstatic experience itself. It is known that drug smokers develop complicated rituals according to which they light the grass, pass the reefers round, swap recipes. On the same lines, we may recall that the Indians of Mexico and South American finished by making the peyotl plant itself sacred, just as the Indians and the Iranians did with the soma plant (or haoma in the hymns of the Rig-Veda). (page 92)

It is difficult to challenge a priori the analysis of the states produced by LSD and the religious transformations resulting from experiments as well-controlled as Clark's. Nobody disputes that these are artificially induced emotions, like those achieved by shamans and whirling dervishes in order to reach a state of trance. The Tibetan liturgy, too, uses resins from hallucinogenic plants in order to enable their soothsayer-priests to pronounce oracles, unintelligible words that others must interpret for worshipers. It is not a Christian tradition to use intermediaries like music, incense, architecture, prolonged silence, or fasting to produce devotional states? It is true that ordinarily the Christian neither wants nor claims to use these devotional states to achieve an encounter with God that can then be told, transposed into a useful tale for Christians. He would be much more inclined to wait for such states as unpredictable gifts from God (the "gift of tears" for example). Difficult though it may be, it is nevertheless essential to make a distinction between intense emotion, ecstasy with or without trance, trance with or without possession, and possession that is mute or issued forth in speech that may or may not be intelligible without interpretation. (pages 93-94)

Reflection on peak-experiences and on intense experiences, whether spontaneous or experimental, brings out more clearly the conditions in which other experiences, felt internally, can be said to be divine:

(a) They must first be interpreted in a religious manner. This interpretation bears, of necessity, the mark of the surrounding culture and the education received. Any state experienced will, as such, always be ambiguous: there must be a veil in relation to the Transcendent, but unveiling may be possible. There can be no mystic experiences without linguistic, and so hermeneutic, activity, however modest. Once told, these experiences become significant.

(b) They must be accepted according to their meaning and meditated in an attitude leaning towards commitment, which is the only means of ensuring that their value is permanently inscribed in the subject's existence and leaves a mark on society. No mystic experience exists without a reaction of liberty so as to outstrip the moment and inscribe the promise or invitation into conduct of daily life. By analogy with the movements of sexuality whose discontinuous impulses are transformed into a stable and lasting love, religiosity and its occasionally intense experiences expect to be actively built into faithfulness.

To sum up: No "pathic" experience, which is manifested affectively, constitutes an unambiguous revelation of the divine. Any experience of that kind, whether spontaneous or artificially induced, enjoys the same status: it appeals to or awakens an intentionality inherent in human existence, a polymorphous intentionality which tends to manifest itself in the ambiguity or intense experiences that are immediately picked up and shaped by the culture or religions in situ. (pages 95-96)

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