Higher being: Can legalizing drugs bring us closer to God?

By Katharine Mieszkowski


Salon Staff
August 8, 2000 11:40PM (UTC)

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I want to applaud Salon for posting those columns other media sites refuse to touch. To read about psychoactive drugs being used in spiritual, even religious, ceremonies in a major media outlet is unheard of.

I am a 25-year-old who has spent the last seven years using psychoactive drugs as well as traditional meditative exercises to achieve states of higher being. I feel that society has lost a valuable tool by banning such substances and has fallen into dire straits with our loss of spirituality. Where are our elders who are supposed to be teaching us how to reach God and each other? Finally we have Huston Smith, a respected writer who is willing to question what religious freedom really means. It is unfortunate that our society has forgotten what other societies have learned over the last several thousand years. We need to remember that there are multiple ways to experience God and it is none of our government's business telling us how to do so, let alone keeping us from the information and substances which may mean the difference between personal salvation and destruction.

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-- John Martincic

Kudos for addressing the connection between spirituality and psychoactive substances. However, the fundamental freedom to use these substances rests within the freedom of speech clause of the Constitution. Without freedom of thought there is no freedom of speech. Government regulation of psychoactive substances is about controlling the chemical content of the brain. By controlling the chemicals in the brain, the government controls the contents of our minds, dictating our perception of the world.

-- Patrick Love

God via drugs? Yeah, right. As one who had a genuine spiritual experience on LSD in the '60s, I have to say "One step forward, three steps back." It took me the better part of 25 years to achieve normalcy following my brief experiments with LSD and methamphetamine.

I took the harder path and switched from drugs to yoga. Not by choice: I crashed for nine weeks at UCLA's Neuropsychiatric Institute following my last LSD trip. But all that I sought through acid, I found through meditation.

-- George Beinhorn

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The headline of Katharine Mieszkowski's otherwise excellent article on Huston Smith's new book, "Cleansing the Doors of Perception," asks the question "Can legalizing drugs bring us closer to God?"

That question is terribly misleading, and it is impossible to answer it meaningfully, accurately and briefly. The most nearly correct short answer is "no." A better question would be, "What can bring us closer to God?"

"Legalizing" "drugs" is not a necessary condition, and not even a sufficient one, to increase the frequency of the sort of primary religious experience that leads to lasting beneficial changes in people's lives.

The notion that all "drugs" are fundamentally alike is at the root of the confusion in our drug laws and the debate about them. Drugs differ. Uses and occasions differ. Policies ought to differ appropriately.

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The fact that the entheogens can trigger primary religious experience has nothing to do with the broader question of "legalizing drugs" as it applies to the problems caused by cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine. It doesn't even argue for "legalizing" an entheogen, if "legalization" means the commercial marketing we now allow with tobacco. All it says is that we should try to carve out an exemption from the current drug laws for bona fide religious use of the relatively small number of psychoactive substances that can, for some people under some circumstances, be safe and effective tools for spiritual exploration.

Much as the Council on Spiritual Practices regrets the mistaking of responsible sacramental use of the entheogens as "drug abuse," we also regret the attempts to use their religious significance as a weapon in the debate about what to do with drugs generally. We regard the fact that the current drug laws stand in the way of religion as a mostly accidental impediment. We suggest removing the impediment, not the drug laws.

-- Bob Jesse
president, Council on Spiritual Practices

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