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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 Religious Situation: 1968.

Cutler, Donald R. (editor) (1968)
Boston: Beacon Press.

ISBN: none

Description: Hardcover, xlvii + 986 pages.

Contents: Foreword by Reinhold Niebuhr, 24 chapters in 3 parts: 1. The Experience and Expression of Religion, 2. Defining the Religious Dimension, 3. Social Indicators of the Religious Situation, notes on contributors, index.

Contributors: Thomas J. J. Altizer, Hasan Askari, Robert N. Bellah, Lowell L. Bennion, Norman Birnbaum, Robert T. Bibilin, David L. Brewer, D. W. Brogan, Daniel Callahan, Joseph Campbell, John B. Carman, Gonzalo Castillo-Cardenas, Arthur A. Cohen, Harvey Cox, Arthur J. Dyck, Erik H. Erikson, Emil L. Fackenheim, Edwin S. Gaustad, Clifford Geertz, Irving Greenberg, Guild of St. Ives, Philip E. Hammond, Vincent Harding, Richard Shelly Hartigan, Milton Himmelfarb, Robert G. Hoyt, Julian S. Huxley, Eugene Irschick, Dimitry Konstantinov, Allen Lacy, David Little, Konrad Lornez, William F. Lynch, Martin E. Marty, Jack Mendelsohn, Reinhold Niebuhr, Michael Novak, Thomas F. O'Dea, Talcott Parsons, Leo Pfeffer, Ralph B. Potter, Richard L. Rubenstein, Zalman M. Schachter, Edward Shils, Philip E. Slater, Huston Smith, Max L. Stackhouse, Nikita Struve, Guy E. Swanson, John R. Whitney, Brian Wicker, and M. Yamunacharya.

The New Relativism in American Theology. Chapter 5. Michael Novak.

There is, on the other hand, the "pelagian" prejudice that spiritual achievement is proportionate to personal effort. Those who share this prejudice cannot conceive of the possibility that the Creator may have graced his creation with drugs which, discovered in due time, might be instrumental in preparing people to understand the gentleness, brotherhood, and peace of the gospels. Spiritual achievement is not won only through will and effort; often, it is a grace. Drugs humble the spiritual pretensions of men, effecting through the psychoneural organism what conscious effort does not bring about.

One effect of taking drugs appears to be the capacity to perceive the world in a way that is "not American"; for the first time, some users of drugs report, they are able to look at things outside the perspective of "usefulness." It seems to be as if blinders had fallen from their eyes. Sometimes the psychological reorientation is painful and terrifying. But often, as well, the user reports feeling liberated, seems to feel as if he were at one with the universe, and is able to notice the rich complexity and variety present even in prosaic things like a tabletop, a candle, a tree. The users of drugs report the experience not as if the world appeared suddenly chaotic and "subjective," but as if they could now see it "more objectively." These remarks are based immediately on term papers written by my students at Stanford and on conversations and observations of related phenomena in the San Francisco area. Incidentally, the resemblance of the new California Man to Camus' Mediterranean man is worth working out.

The possibility has been raised that what seems "realistic" to the ordinary, well educated, pragmatic, technologically oriented American is highly "subjective"; the world is perceived only insofar as it suits his purposes. The user of drugs feels liberated to perceive the world more nearly as artists, mystics, and primitive people perceive it; the world is more alive, more personal, more resonant with unity, more terrifying, full of variety, of complexity, and of astonishing surprise. The language of function recedes; the language of being expresses the experience more accurately. (pages 205-207)

Secularization of the Sacred, Chapter 16. Huston Smith

It has been known for some time that the human brain consists of two hemispheres, each of which controls, substantially, the opposite side of the body. To this familiar fact are now added two new ones. After the age of four, speech faculties become concentrated in the brain's left hemisphere, leaving the right hemisphere almost completely nonverbal but - this is the companion discovery - not unintelligent. ...

This discovery that half of our brain is nonverbally intelligent bears on the present discussion by advancing our understanding of one way in which the unconscious figures in our lives. Half our lives - the half governed by our right hemispheres - floats and swims in media and ways which, not provisionally but in principle, defy comprehension because it bypasses speech, the prerequisite of reflective, self-conscious awareness. The finding helps us to understand experiences that impress themselves on us as noetic while remaining ineffable, a class of experiences with which religion (through mysticism) has been involved from its inception to LSD. (pages 588-589)

Man is a creature who, because he is still evolving, is in transition, in passage. In evolutionary perspective he walks backward into the future, able to look retrospectively over the road he has traveled but not forward to what lies ahead. Thus he lives always on the verge, always on the brink of a "something more." His outreach for this "more" effervesces as a restlessness built into his very nature. Like the expanding universe itself, man is bent on pouring over endless horizons. The intimation of "something waiting, go and find it" belongs to the very essence of his humanity.

Every day brings something new and unpredictable, but for the most part this new isn't new in kind; it's more of the same - minor variations of familiar themes. We move closer to what I wish to point to when we think of new stages in life's development: when a person moves for the first time into sexual love, for example; or senses with excitement the endless possibilities of human thought; or confronts existentially not death in general but his own death. At such times we encounter not just new experiences but new kinds of experience. The evolutionarily new that I wish to identify is like this and at the same time different. It resembles life's new stages in heralding experiences that are new in kind, but differs from them in that they cannot be expected to appear at roughly predictable points in the natural unfolding of a normal life. Instead of being predictable, they are unexpected; instead of typical, they are atypical; instead of natural, they seem to be in ways quite unnatural. They have the feel of opposing our lives, not perhaps in their inclusive possibilities but at least in their present, standard, common-to-everyone conditions. Thus cognitively the experiences present themselves as mysterious: they don't just introduce information of which we were heretofore ignorant; their disclosures are in an unusually precise sense an affront to intelligence because they seem true - truer, la Plato's Myth of the Cave, than what we ordinarily know - while refusing to fit not only into our standard frames of reference but into our normal modes of knowing. Similarly affectively. The experiences feel simultaneously threatening and promising, like that (we may imagine) of the amphibians when they first flapped their way onto mudbanks wondering if they could survive in their new medium while sensing at some level the larger life that would be theirs if they did. And just as mystery defies (in ways) knowledge, so too this larger life, when it glimmers, has the feel of countermanding in important ways our natural existence. The "better" which it intimates, for example, is as discontinuous with our normal value experiences as so-called spiritual values differ from values that are purely physical. Just as mystery isn't information in overload, "the peace that passeth understanding" isn't an orgy of pleasure. It is value of a distinctive kind - blessedness? - which has the character of in-spite-of. It is symbolized by the Indian doctrine of lila which holds that, despite the fact that things are in just about the worst state imaginable, nevertheless all is well. It is the experience reported by a New York housewife who, in the midst of a deep depression caused by her sister's suicide which left three children motherless, found her depression suddenly lifted and replaced by an inexplicable serenity that embraced rather than eclipsed clear-eyed cognizance of all that had happened. It appears again in the terminal cancer patients who, as reported by Sidney Cohen in "LSD and the Anguish of Dying," Harper's, Sept. 1965, continue under LSD to feel their pain but in a way which no longer matters, so completely is it set in cosmic perspective.

I am suggesting that philogony recapitulates ontogony; that experiences of radical novelty, signaling the advent of amplier being, that come to all of us as individuals when we move into a new life stage are paralleled on a different level in certain individuals who represent, as it were, the human species moving into a new stage of its existence. (pages 589-591)

Ritual in Human Society, Chapter 19. Julian Huxley

The proper development of personality involves a somewhat similar process of ritualization, sensu lato, in demanding the integration of diverse and sometimes conflicting elements or factors into an effectively organized and meaningful whole. ... The powerful formalizing effect of this ritualization of thought and feeling, even when unconscious, is revealed by our various escapes from it - into the fantasy-organized world of our dreams; or the disturbing world induced by sensory deprivation; or the ecstatic but profoundly significant world into which we are conveyed by what are appropriately termed the transports of sexual love at its highest and deepest; or the supernormal visionary world revealed by psychedelic drugs; or, the abnormal world into which schizophrenics and other psychotics are driven; or the new world of behavior imposed on the personality by hypnotically induced alterations of perception; the transcendent inner world discovered by the great painters, poets, and composers; or the transcendent inner world discovered by the disciplined and ritualized explorations of mediation, mysticism, and yoga.

Both schizophrenia and psychedelic substances like LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) seem to exert their effects by interfering with the "normal" ritualization of the perception-building process. ...

Psychedelic substances frequently enhance and distort visual perception of form and color, distort spatial perception, radically alter time-perception, and enhance the sense of significance (e.g., they can exert profound emotional and spiritual effects: they may induce an intensely rewarding state of well-being but in other subjects and other circumstances an appalling state of horror or despair). (pages 700-701)

An extension of one aspect of play is seen in escape rituals - organized activities in which man can escape briefly from the disciplined morality and monotony of everyday working life. They include carnivals and fairs, Dionysiac orgies, pharmaco-logico-religious rituals like the peyote ceremony of some Amerindians, cup finals, and organized holidays la Butlin. Theaters and cinemas and dance halls also provide an escape into the formalized other world of the stage-play, the film, and the dance.

Escape rituals are important social safety-valves: when traditional escape rituals have died out or been suppressed, safety-valve rituals spring up to take their place, sometimes ludicrously orgiastic like Beatlemania, sometimes socially anti-adaptive like teenage gang rivalry: one of the tasks of present-day industrialized societies is to provide adequate escape rituals for their members. (page 706)

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