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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


Richardson, Herbert W., and Cutler, Donald R. (Editors) (1969).
Boston: Beacon Press.

ISBN: none

Description: Hardcover, xvi + 176 pages.

Contents: Foreword, 11 nunumbered chapters, index.

Contributors: Robert N. Bellah, Harvey Cox, Emil L. Fackenheim, Charles Hartshorne, Gordon D. Kaufman, Sam Keen, Michael Murphy, Herbert W. Richardson, Donald Schon, Huston Smith, Henry Nelson Wieman.

Excerpt(s): This volume had its genesis in one of a series of symposia that the Church Society for College Work of Cambridge, Massachusetts, has been administering for the purpose of exploring themes of great intellectual and cultural import for our time. ... Late in 1967, and somewhat nervously, Myron D. Bloy, Jr., the executive director of the Church Society, sent out invitations to a symposium on "Transcendence in Contemporary Culture" ... a number of persons gathered at the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge in December to plan an exploration of contemporary ideas about transcendence ... . Several essays were commissioned and the group met again for a weekend in May of 1968 at Endicott House in Dedham, Massachusetts. ... When the papers prepared for the symposium had been acquired for publication, we decided to augment them by adding a few other essays to estgablish more clearly the very extensive and promising boundaries of the discussion of transcendeince today. (Donald R. Cutler, "Foreword," page vii)

Transcendence should be defined neither quantitatively as "more of the same" nor qualitatively as "better than anything previously experienced" but in terms of the kind of value it designates. The effect of its appearance is to counter predicaments that are ingrained in the human situation; predicaments which, being not fully remediable, are constitutional.

What are these predicaments? Existentialists have described them adequately but have produced no resume as compact as Gautama's "Three Signs of Being." As I wish to explore the transcendence of life's predicaments, not their description, I shall work with the Buddhist formulation. The predicaments which man must come to terms with in one way or another are:

  1. Dukkha, suffering.
  2. Anicca, transitoriness.
  3. Anatta, no soul. Read "no personal significance." Individually we are nothing.
How does Transcendence counter these predicaments? To begin with, it counters them categorically rather than piecemeal. Denistry remedies certain evils without affecting others. By contrast, transcendence, when it touches disvalue, alters the entire field. It is a gestalt phenomenon, changing nothing within the field unless in some way it changes the field as a whole. Secondly, it counters disvalues paradoxically. Instead of eliminating them, it transmutes them. If a man hits his thumb with a hammer, the fact that he lives sub species transcendentia doesn't keep his thumb from hurting. Transcendence doesn't work on suffering like anaesthesia does, by simply blotting it out. The pain remains; it is the quality (significance, import) of pain that has been affected. Thirdly, transcendence effects its results noetically, through insight. Noetically here differs from emotively, through emotion. Emotion is involved, but it is consequent upon insight, like the joy brought on by the discovery that "she loves me." Thus, transcendence is a state of actual or potential being, the discernment of which counters categorically, paradoxically, and noetically the disvalues of suffering, transience, and insignificance or futility (as implied by Ecclesiastes' "Vanity of vanities! All is vanity"). (page 3).

If we had to nominate a group that faces in the rawest form life's three disvalues as enumerated at the start of this essay, terminal cancer patients would be a logical choice. Their suffering tends to be acute and unrelieved. Their time is fast running out, and with it their personal significance. When their neural circuitry is rerouted by LSD, however, surprising things happen in about fifty per cent of the cases. The following descriptions are quoted from Sidney Cohen's "LSD and the Anguish of Dying": [Harper's Magazine, Sept. 1965, pp. 69-78]

The pain is changed. I know that when I pressed here yesterday, I had an unendurable pain. I couldn't even stand the weight of a blanket. Now I press hard it hurts, it hurts all right but it doesn't register as terrifying.

I could die now, quietly, uncomplaining like those early Christians in the arena who must have watched the lions eating their entrails.

I see that the hard deaths too, must be born like the difficult births, it is a part of you.

When I die I won't be remembered long there aren't many friends and hardly any relatives left. Nothing much accomplished no children nothing. But that's all right too.

Has the chemical recircuiting anesthetized these patients or opened the doors of perception to enable them to see more of reality, or reality more objectively, than they and we normally do?


There seems to be two routes to human fulfillment, psychological and ontological. The former accepts more or less standard views of reality and seeks psychological resolution within those limits; when successful the result is either Immanence or this-worldly Transcendence, the difference being that in the latter fulfillment derives from something specifiable, a loved one, hope, a cause, or whatever. Ontological Transcendence, for its part, accepts the permanence of psychological tensions that cannot be resolved within reality as normally conceived, and so presses the possibility that reality includes surprising corridors of worth that elude ordinary eyes. Things are as they seem; things are not as they seem: that is the great divide. (Huston Smith, Chapter 1, "The Reach and the Grasp: Transcendence Today," pages 15-16).

This compilation by Thomas B. Roberts & Paula Jo Hruby, © 1995-2003 CSP

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