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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 Scientific Study of Religion.

Yinger, J. Milton. (1970).
New York: Macmillan.

ISBN: None

Description: Hardcover, x + 593 pages.

Contents: Preface, 22 chapters, bibliography, author index, subject index.

Excerpt(s): From the perspective we have adopted, we must ask: What combination of structural, cultural, and character sources supports the use of drugs on religious activities? For a number of reasons, this is a difficult question to answer. First, it is difficult to specify with any confidence when drug use is in any sense a religious act. (page 164)

A second problem springs from the extraordinary difficulty in maintaining some objectivity in the study of drug use. In those societies where it is illegal and generally regarded as immoral, it is mainly persons with unusually strong feelings of resentment against authority, or who have problems of self-discovery, or feelings of anxiety who are motivated to take the risks involved in using drugs. What appear to be the consequences, therefore, are based on a highly selective sample, a situation that compounds the problem of objectivity. (page 165)

Michael Novak speaks of 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 grace." Those who approach religion through mysticism are most likely to accept this point of view.

Those close to an ascetic tradition, on the other hand, suspect that those who see religious possibilities in drug use are not so much emphasizing some message of gentleness found in the gospels as expressing their extensive secular training for "instant success." ... There's a religious genius-or at least a religious experience-in each of us, waiting to get out, if we can only learn how to pry off the lid. ...

These two interpretations are a modern form of the ancient clash between ascetic and mystic. (pages 165-166)

A third difficulty faced by one seeking to discover the structural, cultural, and character sources that support drug use grows largely from the other two: there has been little empirical study. Thus all we have to offer are highly tentative observations, designed more to define the problem as a field of study than to answer questions related to it. (page 166)


I. Structural Conditions

A. General. The major social changes, tragedies, and upheavals of our time. Relative failure of societies based on faith in science and reason. ...

B. Specific. The relative availability of drugs in some settings. The networks of communication indicating how one obtains them and indicating group support in their use. Availability of knowledge of Eastern religions ...

II. Cultural Conditions:

A. General. Norms that support a religious search. Approval of mystical religious experience ... Normative support for quick, "magical" solutions to problems, an extension of the romantic tradition. ...

B. Specific. Subcultural norms alien to, in part hostile to, general cultural supports are found in some groups. Such groups may also draw selectively from the general culture, being differentiated by emphasis as well as norms. ...

III. Characterological Conditions:

A. General. A fairly large number of persons in Western societies have experienced the volatile mixture of affluence and tragedy. Having experienced "success" or been reared in families that experienced success, and found it wanting, they no longer seek confident living; they seek self-discovery and meaning. ...

Many affluent and relatively permissive homes are also of liberal persuasion. Children have been made aware of other cultures, made sensitive to injustice, and informed about the disparities around the world; thus they are peculiarly sensitive to the value contradictions they see around them. ...

B. Specific. Some of those who have the tendencies mentioned under general characterological influences, which can lead to a wide variety of actions, have other tendencies that encourage experimental religious behavior. Both adjectives are essential qualifiers. ...

What we have sketched, then, is a series of six clusters of conditions, all of which are essential to persons trained in the West before participating in a religious cult that involves the use of drugs can occur. (pages 166-168)

Compilation copyright © 1995 – 2001 CSP

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