A major motive for being a Christian and participating in its rituals and disciplines is about to collapse. This is going to make a lot of Christians panic, but I believe the recent development will be all to the good.
The development is the discovery that hallucinogenic drugs can give people an experience seemingly identical to powerful religious experiences. A recent New York Times article by John Tierney describes the experience of retired clinical psychologist Clark Martin. Martin had been treated for depression for years, but counseling and antidepressants did nothing to help. At age 65, he enrolled in an experiment at Johns Hopkins medical school that gave people psilocybin, a psychoactive ingredient found in some mushrooms.
When Martin was administered the drug, he says, "All of a sudden, everything familiar started evaporating … . Imagine you fall off a boat out in the open ocean, and you turn around, and the boat is gone. And then the water's gone. And then you're gone...."
His experience, writes Tierney, is not all that unusual, and he says, "Scientists are especially intrigued by the similarities between hallucinogenic experiences and the life-changing revelations reported throughout history by religious mystics and those who meditate."
1. Archer_of_the_Forest wrote:
I believe they tried this experiment before. It was called “the 1960’s.”
April 27, 7:23 am | [comment link]
2. Truly Robert wrote:
I certainly hope that I’m not the only one here whose expectation of religion is quite different from the described hallucinogenic effects.
April 27, 8:30 am | [comment link]
3. Paula Loughlin wrote:
Close but no cigar. I am not sure how to put this but personal experience and readings on the subject do indeed confirm that the use of hallucinogens can indeed mimic spiritual/religious experiences. The caveat is that those experiences are generally occultic in nature and such drugs have been used by adepts of the occult as a shortcut alternative to very involved rituals. And I don’t mean rituals lasting the typical church service length.
In simplist terms a door is opened that can allow quite a few uninvited dangerous guests in. The good scientists may well scoff at that assertion. But any Christian should take it seriously as we do believe in a world outside of our own.
Not all religious or spiritual experiences are good. And the ones that are not grounded in God (as we Jews and Christians understand HIm) are more likely to separate us from Him and lead us down some very dark paths.
So to me this news means zip, nada, cause my religious reality is Christ not any emotional or physical response I have to Him.
April 27, 8:38 am | [comment link]
4. rugbyplayingpriest wrote:
What rot! Whilst I have bad spiritual experiences my ‘feelings’ profound or otherwise have little to do with m obedience to Christ. This may rock the low church charismatic world but Catholicism will carry on regardless
April 27, 8:53 am | [comment link]
5. LumenChristie wrote:
The author says:
“It would seem that just as God has given us [my emphasis] the ingenuity and resources to heal the body of disease, he seems to have given us the tools to help us have religious experiences. Some Christians balk at the artificiality of drug induced mysticism, but that may merely be an aesthetic distaste. In the long run, it may not end up being any more serious than those who at first thought it unnatural to use penicillin to heal infections.”
There were several studies done beginning in the 1950s on the effects of LSD, psilocybin and other psychedelics. Julian and Alduous Huxley among others advocated for exactly what this author is describing: forcing open the “doors of perception” with a chemical crowbar. This led to the rampant use of psychedelics in the 1960s and 70s.
A particular study was done by Masters and Huston at the end of the 1970s which catalogued 4 levels of “mystical” experience in the participants. Only a minority reached the deepest level of “cosmic consciousness” which is what is described in the article. But, what were they experiencing? Answering this question would require a long and complicated article to do any kind adequate job. However a couple of things must be said.
First, none of the methods of asceticism was ever properly understood to be merely a technology for producing spiritual experiences. Those who mistakenly thought that they would automatically produce results were always sadly disappointed.
Second, This is certainly not a “gift from God” only just now given in 2010. From the Soma ritual of early Hinduism (referenced in Huxley’s Brave New World) to peyote cults in the US Southwest and parts of Latin America and all the ecstatic religions in between, this method of forcing open one’s consciousness never delivers on its promises but only ultimately causes psychological damage. This is why even the Vedas forbid the use of “The Left-hand path” of drugs and magic for spiritual development. The reason is because—
—Third, all genuine mystics (go back and read Evelyn Underhill’s compendium, Mysticism) will always point out that it is not the having of particular experiences that matters at all, it is the integration of these experiences into a total process of personality development that makes any difference in the person’s relationship with God—which is, or at least should be the real goal of any spiritual path. Because—
—Fourth, God is a Person Who loves us and wants to be in relationship with us, not some kind of cosmic roller coaster who exists only to give us spiritual fun-sies. This has always been the pitfall of any “ecstatic” kind of religion including Christian Charismatic movements, which might otherwise be genuine.
Finally, the bottom line is that throughout the epistles, St. Paul warns that they are condemned to outer darkness who commit a list of sins, which lists always include the term: “sorcery.” Sorcery is used to translate the Greek word, Pharmekia (spelling?) This word means: the use of drugs to alter one’s consciousness. Doing exactly what this foolish author advocates is precisely what St. Paul is telling us is forbidden by God. Why? Because once the “doors of perception” are forcibly ripped open, the person is helpless to close them if need be. Therefore, any spiritual entity that comes along can enter. No kidding here, more than one person has experienced demonic possession through drug use. Even New Age practitioners themselves have worked on developing methods (largely ineffective) of exorcism to address this problem which even they have come to recognize as serious. The other reason why pharmekia is forbidden (stated in #4) is that it is deeply offensive to our personal and loving God to treat Him this way.
So this is not a matter of “aesthetic distaste” This is a crucial and extremely dangerous error. This author does not know his history, Bible, psychology or anything else about which he is trying to teach. God help us!
April 27, 9:04 am | [comment link]
6. j.m.c. wrote:
LumenChristi, I’d be very much interested in hearing more about New Age’s recognition of the problems of the demonic.
April 27, 9:13 am | [comment link]
7. Paula Loughlin wrote:
Very well put LumenChristie.
April 27, 9:14 am | [comment link]
8. Daniel wrote:
I can’t speak for “magic mushrooms,” but LSD permanently poisons the body’s brain chemistry by binding to chemical receptor sites and never being metabolized out of the body. This is what causes the dreaded “flashbacks” that can occur long after ingesting LSD. This was part of a stern lecture by my college biochem professor warning his students to stay entirely away from LSD. He said if you wanted to get high, stick to smoking weed.
April 27, 11:33 am | [comment link]
9. New Reformation Advocate wrote:
I’ll join Paula in thanks LumenChristie for #4, which was clear and incisive. Since I know Mark Galli personally (not well, but my kids go to his church in Wheaton), let me add that this rather provocative article shouldn’t be taken to imply any encouragement to try using drugs to induce spiritual experiences. As pointed out in #4, mystical or seemingly transcendant experiences aren’t self-validating.
Rather, it is the changed behavior and character transformation shown through changed habits that is the real test that demonstrates genuinely Christian experiences and proves their value.
For a wonderfully profound exploration of the idea that Christianity as a religious system stands under the judgment of God, just like all other man-made religious systems, see Lesslie Newbigin’s masterful treatment of the story of Peter and Cornelius (Acts 10) in his superb book on missiology, The Open Secret. That’s not to deny, of course, that there are God-given elements within Christianity’s various institutional forms (as the catholics among us will especially insist), but only to say that not everything in them comes directly from God. A lot is merely human in origin.
But not the gospel itself. And for Christians, everything without exception must be subject to critical evaluation on the basis of the authentic, biblical gospel. And that certainly includes our “spiritual experiences.” And as #3 rightly pointed out, such experiences must not be confused with our subjective feelings about them.
April 27, 12:29 pm | [comment link]
10. Br. Michael wrote:
I don’t know applies, but isn’t sampling single malt whiskey a religious experience?
April 27, 1:30 pm | [comment link]
11. Sick & Tired of Nuance wrote:
“This may rock the low church charismatic…”
April 27, 1:33 pm | [comment link]
12. Drew Na wrote:
If they discover something that replicates how we feel when we’re in love, how does that cheapen love? As long as the relationship was actually a relationship and not a search for a disconnected emotional high, I think love would be able to emerge unscathed from such a discovery.
April 27, 1:39 pm | [comment link]
13. rugbyplayingpriest wrote:
Not a cheap shot but an honest presumption, many charismatics I have met (but certainly not all) seem overly dependent on chasing ecstatic experiences
April 27, 1:49 pm | [comment link]
14. LumenChristie wrote:
J.M.C. # 6: People who have made use of various forms of New Age style meditation and drug use for spiritual experiences have often found themselves to be invaded by vicious voices and uncontrollable compulsive behaviors. They sometimes come to realize that an evil entity has attached itself to them or even invaded their personalities. I can’t name any specific names here, but quite a few leaders of New Age type meditation and consciousness altering groups, retreat houses, etc. report that they have had clients come to them for help in trying to be released from these unwanted “hitchhikers.” Some use things like Native American “smudging” (waving around smoldering bundles of herbs like sage), chanting, cleansing rituals such as “sweat lodge,” placing of crystals, special baths and diets, etc., etc. in order to try to gain peace and release for the sufferers. Sometimes they gain some temporary relief, but ultimately cannot gain total and permanent freedom.
The big pagan yearly “Burning Man” Festival includes booths of practitioners trying to help people with demonic infestations. A group of Christians took a booth at last year’s “Burning Man” and offered “spiritual cleansing and healing.” They prayed, of course, in the Name of Jesus and were so successful that they had a huge line waiting to get in to their booth.
Thanks, Paula, for your encouraging word. We were writing and posting our statements at exactly the same time or I would have thanked you also for your succinct and accurate understanding of the problem.
And David (#9) if you know Mark Galli, please try to get him to read my little posting here and see if he might be willing to do some serious research into this topic. Even in “controlled” environments or with “guides” to help, the person taking drugs in order to meet God is taking a BIG risk of meeting Something else instead. And It isn’t friendly.
April 27, 3:04 pm | [comment link]
15. Knapsack wrote:
I think his attempt at irony re: “drug induced mysticism” went awry—his point, in sum, seems pretty clearly to be: the creation of rewarding religious experiences is not the purpose of Christian worship, let alone of faith.
So if you can create close analogues of “rewarding religious experiences” in the absence of faith, it’s a hint that the former is not the purpose of the latter . . . just as with modern contraception (our other hot topic du jour, or du month), when satisfying sexual experiences are available outside of faithful and committed marriage, it’s a hint that the core purposes of marriage are not sexual in nature, but much more than that.
I can’t imagine any way in which Galli is commending “juiced” church services anymore than I’d think he was recommending fornication by making the second point. But some irony is so ironic as to ironically not be able to hold an edge. I look forward to his *next* essay on worship as something other than a venue for creating religious experiences.
April 27, 4:39 pm | [comment link]
16. NewTrollObserver wrote:
I’m not so sure that one can summarily dismiss the peyote practices of the Native Americans as only causing damage.
April 27, 7:13 pm | [comment link]
17. Sick & Tired of Nuance wrote:
Not a cheap shot but an honest presumption, many charismatics I have met (but certainly not all) seem overly dependent on chasing ecstatic experiences
Ok, that is a fair criticism about chasing ecstatic experiences, but I don’t think many would go the route of pharmikia, which is associated with witchcraft. No, they wouldn’t do that any more than they would ordain an openly practicing homosexual. These things are clearly spelled out as being sins in the Scripture and though you may have valid criticisms about the charismatics, one thing that I think is pretty certain of them is their love of God and their desire to do what is right and holy. They often make mistakes and are overly zealous and emotional, but love covers a multitude of sins. If my choices were limited to the Anglican North or charismatics from anywhere, I would go with the charismatics in a heartbeat. At least they have a genuine love for God. Besides, their music is way better. lol
That’s my 2 cents.
April 27, 11:22 pm | [comment link]
18. Jim the Puritan wrote:
The Bible specifically commands us to stay away from sorcery, literally, “pharmakeia,” use of magic potions or drugs.
A number of Christians I know in healing and prayer ministries whose opinions I respect, including physicians, say that use of mind-altering drugs (including chronic or acute abuse of alcohol) is the quickest way to open yourself up to demonic possession. And once they’re in, for most people they are not going away.
Every day outside my office in the middle of the financial district, there are literally dozens of homeless people walking up and down the street muttering and talking to themselves. Sometimes I can hear them yelling and screaming from all the way up on the 14th floor (there’s a transit stop they congregate at across the street). I understand a lot of them are constantly trying to get the voices out of their heads. I suspect this is something you now see in every city in this country. We euphemistically call it “mental illness,” although I would bet for almost all of these poor folks, it’s actually the result of substance abuse.
It’s something we in our big comfortable office buiildings try to pretend isn’t there, and we have our pleasantly dressed building security officers in their blue blazers and grey slacks constantly making sure the deranged stay out of the building and off the property, but the demonically possessed are always there, perching on the edge of our existence.
April 28, 1:19 am | [comment link]
19. j.m.c. wrote:
Thank You LumenChristi ! Wow !!!
April 28, 12:52 pm | [comment link]