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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

Revivals, Awakenings, and Reform: An Essay on Religion and Social Change in America, 1607-1977.

McLoughlin, William G. (1978).
Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

ISBN:0-226-56092-9, paperback
0-226-56091-0, hardcover
Description: Paperback, xvi + 239 pages. Chicago History of American Religion Series.

Contents: Foreword by Martin E. Marty, preface, 6 chapters, suggestions for furthur reading, index.

Excerpt(s): Awakenings have been the shaping power of American culture from its inception. The first settlers came to British North America in the midst of the great Puritan Awakening in England bringing with them the basic beliefs and values that provided the original core of our culture. Our Revolution came after the First Great Awakening on American soil had made the thirteen colonies into a cohesive unit (e pluribus unum), had given them a sense of unique nationality, and had inspired them with the belief that they were, "and of right ought to be," a free and independent people.

Shortly after the Constitution had launched the American republic, a second era of religious revivals created the definitions of what it meant to be "an American" and what the manifest destiny of the new nation was. After the Civil War had cemented our sense of the Union ("One nation, indivisible under God, with liberty and justice for all"), the Third Great Awakening helped us to understand the meaning of evolutionary science and industrial progress and led us into the crusades "to make the world safe for democracy" in 1917 and 1941.

Since 1960, Americans have been in the midst of their Fourth Great Awakening (or their fifth, if we include the Puritan Awakening). Once again we are in a difficult period of reorientation, seeking an understanding of who we are, how we relate to the rest of the universe, and what the meaning is of the manifold crises that threaten our sense of order at home and our commitments as a world power abroad.

Great awakenings (and the revivals that are part of them) are the results, not of depressions, wars, or epidemics, but of critical disjunctions in our self-understanding. They are not brief outbursts of mass emotionalism by one group or another but profound cultural transformations affecting all Americans and extending over a generation or more. ...

Great awakenings are not periods of social neurosis (though they begin in times of cultural confusion). They are times of revitalization. They are therapeutic and cathartic, not pathological. They restore our cultural verve and our self-confidence, helping us to maintain faith in ourselves, our ideals, and our "covenant with God" even while they compel us to reinterpret that covenant in the light of new experience. Through awakenings a nation grows in wisdom, in respect for itself, and into more harmonious relations with other peoples and the physical universe. Without them our social order would cease to be dynamic; our culture would whither, fragment, and dissolve in confusion, as many civilizations have done before (pages 1-2).

Closely related to the Beat movement and the interest in Oriental religions were the experimental life-styles associated with drugs, the hippies, the practice of occultism, and rock concerts. To many hippies the answer to the world's problems was for everyone simply to be "nice" to everyone else: "Make love, not war." In smoking pot they developed a ritual of sharing experiences of tranquillity and good fellowship. Passing the reefer from hand to hand had many of the elements of passing the communion cup among church brethren. As they sat casually about in silent harmony, relaxed, happy, and "mellow," they seemed to come in closer touch with each other and with a power of benevolence beyond themselves yet linking them to everyone else. Reversing the acquisitive, competitive-comparative values of the Protestant ethic, the hippie counterculture stressed sharing, giving, loving. Lysergic acid diehtylamide provided the emotional excitement for the hippie religious experience. Dropping acid "blew the mind," cleared it of the "bad vibrations" of bourgeois society, producing psychedelic trips out of this world, demonstrating astonishing powers of awareness and sensibility within men and women that had been locked up by the repressive routines of bureaucratic life in school, business, and suburbia. The mass production of LSD after 1963 opened up a whole new realm of experience for millions of Americans. What "baptism by fire" did for the Pentecostalist and Zen satori did for the disciplined practitioner of Zen became immediately available at any time to anyone who could afford a couple of dollars for a "hit" or a "tab" of acid. To get "high" on LSD was to transcend this grey world and enter a many-splendored paradise ("bad trips " excepted). Timothy Leary and Ken Kesey became the high priests or gurus of this new form of spiritual ecstasy, and in spontaneous groups all around the country people found an alternative to Judeo-Christian worship and church brotherhood. For many it was a miraculous revelation; and though they never established formal organizations, they constituted a phenomenal new-light movement.(pages 202-203)

In all these (and other) alternate life-styles and ritual performances there were conversion experiences comparable in power and effect to those in the Christian tradition. Hippie communities, Hare Krishna groups, and drug experiences did change lives and often made them more healthy, functional, and creative, though by the standards of outsiders they seemed abnormal, strange, "weird," or "freaky." Richard Alpert, who performed with Timothy Leary some of the first experiments with lysergic acid while he was a professor of psychology at Harvard in 1961, described his conversion in his book Be Here Now. With only slight changes it could pass for the conversion of a Christian who had lived in sin, caught up in material pleasures, but had then found new light. ...

Alpert concluded that LSD was only a partial and inadequate means of finding truth, so he went to India to study Oriental philosophy. Here he found that he could experience a more deep, pure, and lasting sense of spiritual awareness without drugs. He studied under a guru, changed his name to Ram Dass, and became "a new man" (pages 204-205).

In many respects the rock concerts and festivals deserve comparison to the old camp meetings, where people entered into a special arena of religious enthusiasm with like-minded souls seeking release from confusion and ready to "let loose" in orgies of emotional enthusiasm. ...

The high priests of these revivalistic ceremonies alternately mixed songs of love and songs of protest, which kept the emotions in constant tension. It was a new form of folk art; the words and music brought the varied feelings of unrest into articulate configurations that to outsiders (those not "with it") appeared to be little more than senseless clamor and cacophony. Rock music and folk songs expressed the various moods of the new-light movement but could give it no direction. Like a Pentecostal meeting, the Spirit gripped different people in different ways, and each was left to express it in the form in which it spoke to him or her (pages 208-209).

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