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A Christian Approach To Psychedelics

Here’s the tl;dr version of this post: Michael Pollan’s new book, How To Change Your Mind: What The New Science of Psychedelics Tells Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence [1] is terrific, and ought to be read by my fellow conservative Christians. Yeah, you heard me: this is a book about LSD and magic mushrooms from which religious conservatives can learn a great deal. I encourage you to read it with an open but critical mind.

Let me explain. Sit down, this is going to take a while. And I’m going to ramble.

Pollan’s book (henceforth, HTCYM) is in part a history of psychedelic compounds (like LSD and psilocybin) in medical research and practice. I had no idea that in the 1950s, there was a lot of serious medical research on psychedelics as treatments for addiction and depression. The word “psychedelic” comes from the Greek word meaning “mind-manifesting,” and was not coined by 1960s hippies, but by 1950s scientists. It turns out that scientists experimenting with psychedelic compounds were getting good results treating depressives and addicts with it. In one of the more surprising facts reported by Pollan, Bill W., founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, kicked the bottle after an experimental treatment with belladonna.

Timothy Leary is a villain in Pollan’s narrative. Leary was such a reckless, vain showboater that he ended up making psychedelics into a weapon of the counterculture. His antics caused serious scientific research into psychedelics and their possible therapeutic value to fall into disrepute for decades. Only now are scientists picking up where their colleagues half a century ago left off.

There are two parts to the story Pollan tells that interest me.

The first is about how psychedelics, administered under certain conditions, can help people who are suffering greatly. I’m going to write a bit about that below.

The second is about what psychedelics may tell us about the nature of mind, of epistemology (how we know what we know), and of reality itself. If you’re the kind of religious believer who reflexively rejects this area of inquiry because it’s associated with the dopey 1960s counterculture, then I urge you to set aside your prejudices and read Pollan’s book.

In his introduction, Pollan talks about how reading the founder of psychiatry, William James, on religious experience, caused him to open his mind. Pollan:

“No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness disregarded.

“At any rate,” James concluded, these other states, the existence of which he believed was as real as the ink on this page, “forbid a premature closing of our accounts with reality.”

The first time I read that sentence, I realized James had my number: as a staunch materialist, and as an adult of a certain age [Pollan was born in 1955 — RD], I had pretty much closed my accounts with reality. Perhaps this had been premature.

LSD, commonly called “acid,” was discovered by accident in 1938 by Albert Hofmann, a Swiss chemist who had been working with the ergot fungus. He accidentally got some of a compound he had synthesized on his skin, and had the world’s first acid trip.

What had happened to Hofmann’s brain? As a general matter, psychedelic compounds work on receptors within the brain, somewhat short-circuiting the brain’s default mode network (DMN). This means parts of your brain that normally don’t communicate with each other do while under the influence of the drug. The DMN is what organizes sensory input, and allows you to order experience. The DMN blocks out a lot of sensory information, the admission of which into consciousness would pretty much disable one. The DMN is responsible for maintaining our sense of ego, of separateness, and subjectivity.

According to Pollan, when you’re tripping, the DMN is suppressed, and you lose the sense of a barrier between yourself and the world outside. You experience that world with a much heightened sense of wonder. Much of Pollan’s book is taken up with therapeutic use of psychedelics, and accounts of how they have helped people. Some who have been afflicted with addiction, compulsion, and depression find that a single psychedelic experience, under clinically supervised conditions, serves to “reboot” their brain, and to break that harmful patterns of thinking.

Others who are suffering from terminal diseases find that psychedelic experiences greatly ease, and even eliminate, their anxiety over death, easing their passage. There’s a powerful testimony in the book left behind by a terminally ill man who participated in NYU psilocybin trials. The experiences left him with a profound sense of peace and ultimate meaning, and helped him to meet his death with a sense of serenity.

Based on these stories alone — and there are lots of them in Pollan’s book — it seems immoral to deprive psychiatrists of these medicines to use on the suffering. These accounts in HTCYM struck a resonant chord within me. In college, I knew personally a man who had been suffering from depression for two years, and who was drinking heavily. He dropped acid for kicks one night, his first psychedelic experience. That single trip changed his life. As he later described it, it made him see that his sense of isolation and self-hatred were illusions, and the world itself was filled with beauty, life, and love. It convinced him that God was real.

Leaving aside the theological aspects of the story, I can confirm that that single drug experience changed his outlook and behavior overnight. The recollection of that story, in fact, is what prompted me to buy Pollan’s book at once when I heard about it. As Pollan writes, researchers are discovering that there is something about psychedelic drugs that breaks old patterns of thinking. Bill W.’s experience of the “Higher Power” that would become part of AA came from his belladonna event.

For me, though, the most interesting aspect of all this is what it might say to us about the nature of consciousness, and the existence of the transcendent realm — and ultimately, of God.

When you do psychedelics, are you in some sense encountering the transcendent realm? Or is it entirely a hallucination? Put another way, are the trippy perceptions you have manufactured entirely by your brain, or does the drug make you sense something that is actually there, but hidden from perception under normal conditions? Or some of both?

Bill Richards is a psychiatrist who was involved with the early scientific explorations of psychedelics. From Pollan’s book:

Richards emerged from those first psychedelic explorations in possession of three unshakable convictions.

The first is that the experience of the sacred reported both by the great mystics and by people on high-dose psychedelic journeys is the same experience and is “real” — that is, not just a figment of the imagination. “You go deep enough or far out enough in consciousness and you will bump into the sacred. It’s not something we generate; it’s something out there waiting to be discovered. And this reliably happens to nonbelievers as well as believers.”

Second, that whether occasioned by drugs or other means, these experiences of mystical consciousness are in all likelihood the primal basis for religion. (Partly for this reason Richards believes that psychedelics should be part of a divinity students’ education.)

And third, that consciousness is a property of the universe, not brains. On this question, he hold with Henri Bergson, the French philosopher, who conceived of the human mind as a kind of radio receiver, able to tune in to frequencies of energy and information that exist outside it. “If you wanted to find the blonde who delivered  the news last night, “Richards offered by way of an analogy, “you wouldn’t look for her in the TV set.” The television set is, like the human brain, necessary but not sufficient.


Pollan quotes another scientist who was involved with psychedelics as a volunteer in a 1999 Johns Hopkins trial:

Turner is now an ordained Zen monk, yet he is also still a physicist, working for a company that makes helium neon lasers. I asked him if he felt any tension between his science and his spiritual practice. “I don’t feel there’s a contradiction. Yet what happened at Hopkins has influenced my physics. I realize there are just some domains that science will not penetrate. Science can bring you to the big bang, but it can’t take you beyond it. You need a different kind of apparatus to peer into that.”


In 2006, Hopkins neuroscience research Roland Griffiths published a landmark paper based on these trials. Here’s a Hopkins press release on it.  [2]The famed religion scholar Huston Smith (d. 2016) had this to say about Griffiths’ work:

The Johns Hopkins experiment shows — proves — that under controlled, experimental conditions, psilocybin can occasion genuine mystical experiences. It uses science, which modernity trusts, to undermine modernity’s secularism. In doing so, it offers hope of nothing less than a re-sacralization of the natural and social world, a spiritual revival that is our best defense against not only soullessness, but against religious fanaticism. And it does so in the very teeth of the unscientific prejudices built into our current drug laws.

OK, there’s a lot to process here.

What is a mystical experience? According to Pollan, William James set out four criteria that he says separate authentic mystical experiences from counterfeit ones:

1. The experience is ineffable. People who have undergone them struggle to convey what the experience is like.

2. The experience is noetic. You have the sense that you have learned some profound truth or truths that you couldn’t have learned any other way. “Dreams cannot stand this test,” James wrote. People who have these experiences often change their lives in meaningful ways.

3. The experience is transient. It lasts only a short time, but its effects do not.

4. The experience is passive. People who have the mystical experience aren’t seeking it, but only receive it.

I have to interject something personal here. In my life, I have had four or five mystical experiences. Two of them were profound, life-changing events. One of them I may write about one day. The other I never will. In both of the profound cases, all of James’s criteria were met. Those experiences not only have to do with why I am a religious believer, but also with why I am the kind of religious believer that I am. I’m not going to elaborate on either of those cases here, so don’t ask.

Reading the descriptions in Pollan’s book that psychedelic users give of their trips sounded quite familiar to me. Note well that Pollan himself tries several types of psychedelics as research for this book, under supervised conditions, and does not become a religious person because of it. But it did give him profound experiences of awe, experiences that changed the way he saw himself and the world. Pollan points out something that everyone I know who has done psychedelics have said to me: it’s not like a narcotic, in that you feel stoned or drunk. You are in most cases lucid.

Are these experiences less authentic when induced by a chemical, as opposed to by intense prayer, meditation, fasting, and the like? Not from a neurological point of view. It turns out that under observation with fMRI machines, the brains of experienced meditators and the brains of people on psilocybin look at lot alike. Pollan writes that “the practice and the medicine both dramatically reduce activity in the default mode network.”

To put it more crudely, the money a man puts in the bank after 30 years of hard work is no more or no less valuable than the money put in the bank by a man who won the lottery. But then, the man who acquired that money through hard work will regard it differently. This may be why the psychedelic experience is wasted on many people.

Nevertheless, reading Pollan makes me far less inclined to dismiss the value of hallucinogenic experiences because they were acquired cheaply. He writes:

What is more material than a chemical? One could reasonably conclude from the action of psychedelics that the gods are nothing more than chemically induced figments of the hominid imagination. Yet, surprisingly, most of the people who have had these experiences don’t see the matter that way at all. Even the most secular among them come away from their journeys convinced there exists something that transcends a material understanding of reality: some sort of a “Beyond.”

It’s not that they deny a naturalistic basis for this revelation; they just interpret it differently. If the experience of transcendence is mediated by molecules that flow through both our brains and the natural world of plants and fungi, then perhaps nature is not as mute as Science has told us, and “Spirit,” however defined, exists out there is immanent in nature, in other words, just as countless premodern cultures have believed. What to my (spiritually impoverished) mind seemed to constitute a good case for the disenchantment of the world become in the minds of the more psychedelically experienced irrefutable proof of its fundamental enchantment.

… So here was a curious paradox. The same phenomenon that pointed to a materialist explanation for spiritual and religious belief gave people an experience so powerful it convinced them of the existence of a nonmaterial reality — the very basis of religious belief.

This is heavy stuff. Eastern Orthodox Christianity teaches that the cosmos is panentheistic. What does that mean? From Orthodox Wiki: [3]

In panentheism, God is viewed as creator and/or animating force behind the universe, and the source of universal truth. This concept of God is closely associated with the Logos  [4]as stated in the 5th century BC works of Heraclitus [5] (ca. 535 BC — 475 BC), in which the Logos pervades the cosmos [6] and whereby all thoughts and things originate; e.g., “He who hears not me but the Logos will say: All is one.” A similar statement attributed to Jesus [7] by John 10:30 [8].

While pantheism asserts that God and the universe are coextensive, panentheism claims that God is greater than the universe and that the universe is contained within God. Panentheism holds that God is the “supreme affect and effect” of the universe.

In Eastern Orthodox Christianity, creation is not “part of” God, and the Godhead is still distinct from creation; however, God is “within” all creation, thus the parsing of the word in Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Christianity is “pan-entheism” (God indwells in all things) and not “panen-theism” (All things are part of God but God is more than the sum of all things).

The Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches have a doctrine called panentheism to describe the relationship between the Uncreated (God, who is omnipotent, eternal, and constant) and His creation that bears surface similarities with the panentheism described above but maintains a critical distinction.

Most specifically, these Churches teach that God is not the “watchmaker God” or mechanical God of philosophy found in Western European Enlightenment. Likewise, they teach that God is not the “stage magician God” who only shows up when performing miracles. Instead, the teaching of both these Churches is that God is not merely necessary to have created the universe, but that His active presence is necessary in some way for every bit of creation, from smallest to greatest, to continue to exist at all. That is, God’s energies maintain all things and all beings, even if those beings have explicitly rejected Him. His love of creation is such that he will not withdraw His presence, which would be the ultimate form of slaughter, not merely imposing death but ending existence, altogether. By this token, the entirety of creation is sanctified, and thus no part of creation can be considered innately evil. This does not deny the existence of evil in a fallen universe, only that it is not an innate property of creation.

This Orthodox Christian panentheism is distinct from a fundamentalist panentheism in that it maintains an ontological gulf or distance between the created and the Uncreated.

If this is true — and I believe it is — then it strikes me as likely consonant with Henri Bergson’s theory of consciousness: that it does not emerge from the brain, but that the brain is rather a receptor of the consciousness that is really there. In my own mystical experience, which occurred many years before I became Orthodox, I felt the presence of the divine filling all things, and that all things are connected. This, by the way, is classical mysticism, not just Christian mysticism. When I first happened upon Orthodox Christianity, I thought, “Of course! That’s how it was for me!”

It’s hard to talk about this stuff for reasons that Pollan elaborates. He writes that people who are trying to recall the things they experienced on psychedelics end up saying things that are totally banal, e.g., “Love is all there is.”

The mystical journey seems to offer a graduate education in the obvious. Yet people come out of the experience understanding these platitudes in a new way; what was merely known is now felt, takes on the authority of a deeply rooted conviction. And, more often than not, that conviction concerns the supreme importance of love.

Anyway, Pollan’s book makes me reflect on how religious ritual and material expressions (e.g, in church architecture) exist both to replicate the foundational encounter with the Divine, but also to create environments in which it becomes more likely that ordinary people will experience at least a glimmer of those numinous events. For me, my encounter with the Gothic cathedral in Chartres, while not precisely mystical, provoked an awareness of the transcendent realm immanent in those stones and stained glass.

Pollan concludes that the psychedelic experiences compels us to question our notion of reality:

The model suggests that our perceptions of the world offer us not a literal transcription of reality but rather a seamless illusion woven from both the data of our senses and the models in our memories. Normal waking consciousness feels perfectly transparent, and yet it is less a window on reality than the product of our imaginations — a kind of controlled hallucination.

Huston Smith on this point: “A spiritual experience does not by itself make a spiritual life.” Integration is essential to making sense of the experience, whether in or out of the medical context. Or else it remains just a drug experience.

Which is why so many people who dropped acid or did mushrooms at Grateful Dead concerts did not become spiritual. Which is why other people run smack dab into the paranormal, and don’t allow it to change their lives. My own father was at the center of a poltergeist situation after his father died, and accepted it as real … but it changed nothing in his life, even though the clear lesson of it was about the power of forgiveness.

What if what we consider to be normality is, in fact, simply a “take” on experience? Rice University’s Jeffrey Kripal has written about how “dogmatic materialism” [9]has caused science and scholars to wrongly dismiss experiences and phenomena that don’t fit into their materialist boxes. Readers from a long time back will recall my writing about linguist Daniel Everett’s experiences with the Piraha tribe of the Amazon [10], and how the tribespeople claimed to be seeing a spiritual entity that neither Everett nor his daughter could see. From that post:

Even I could tell that there was nothing on that white, sandy beach no more than one hundred yards away. And yet as certain as I was about this, the Pirahas were equally certain that there was something there. Maybe there had been something there that I missed seeing, but they insisted that what they were seeing, Xigagai, was still there.

His young daughter came out to have a look, and like her father, saw nothing. Everett continues:

What had I just witnessed? Over the more than two decades since that summer morning, I have tried to come to grips with the significance of how two cultures, my European-based culture and the Pirahas culture, could see reality so differently. I could never have proved to the Pirahas that the beach was empty. Nor could they have convinced me that there was anything, much less a spirit, on it.

As a scientist, objectivity is one of my most deeply held values. If we could just try harder, I once thought, surely we could each see the world as others see it and learn to respect one another’s views more readily. But as I learned from the Pirahas, our expectations, our culture, and our experiences can render even perceptions of the environment nearly incommensurable cross-culturally.

Everett is an atheist and a scientist, but he cannot deny the power of what happened to him that day by the river. It indicates that our ability to see what is actually there depends on our subjectivity. Either the Piraha were hallucinating, or Everett and his daughter were. Either there was a jungle god (or demon) present, or there wasn’t. Some of them were seeing something that wasn’t really there (was a projection of their minds), or the Everetts were blind to something that was truly present. The fact that Daniel Everett doesn’t actually believe in the existence of jungle gods, but cannot bring himself to dismiss the Pirahas here, is hugely significant, and speaks to the WEIRD phenomenon [11] we’ve talked about in his space before. That is, what we in the secular, rationalist West call “normal” and “objective reality” is far more subjective than we think.

I like this passage from Pollan:

Even in the case of the minerals, modern physics (forget psychedelics!) gives us reason to wonder if perhaps some form of consciousness might not figure in the construction of reality. Quantum mechanics holds that matter may not be as innocent of mind as the materialist would have us believe. For example, a subatomic particle can exist simultaneously in multiple locations, is pure possibility, until it is measured — that is, perceived by a mind. Only then and not a moment sooner does it drop into reality as we know it: acquire fixed coordinates in time and space. The implication here is that matter might not exists as such in the absence of a perceiving subject. Needless to say, this raises tricky questions for a materialist understanding of consciousness. The ground underfoot may be much less solid than we think.

So, I promised to discuss “a Christian approach to psychedelics”. What would that look like? Here are some suggestions and thoughts:

These are my first reactions to Pollan’s book. I’m going to give it a lot more thought, as preparation for writing my next book, which is going to be about the re-enchantment of the world (though I do not foresee advocating the use of psychedelics to that end, my priest will be happy to hear). I believe that Christianity is true — not just true for me, but true for everybody. I have long pondered how to be faithful to that conviction while honoring the mystical insights of those outside the Christian religion. I struggle to know how to fit into a Christian framework the experiences of people like my friend the nonbeliever who had an ayahuasca experience as she was dying of cancer. I mentioned it in this 2014 post: [13]

My Dutch friend Miriam, who died of cancer late last year, told me last summer that she had recently visited a shaman who induced, as Miriam’s request, an experience with ayahuasca, the psychedelic plant used ritualistically in South America. It was a terrifying event for Miriam, but in the end, cleansing, and healing, she said. I won’t reveal what she told me she learned, but I can tell you that it left me sitting at her table weeping over its profundity — in particular, what she learned about the roots and the character of the intense suffering she had been going through for a decade. The ayahuasca experience did not save her from cancer, but it helped prepare her to die. I didn’t know what to make of it, personally. I had no doubt at all that her experience was real, and healing. But was it entirely contained within the subconscious depths of her mind — or did the chemicals in the plant unlock the doors of perception of a reality beyond her ordinary cognition? Miriam, who was New Agey, would not have seen the difference. And maybe there’s wisdom in that. For her, a woman facing death, it was all useful to bring her to a point of peace.

The question doesn’t resolve itself, however: did she hallucinate, or did she experience a dimension of reality closed off to most of us?

I wish I could tell you that Miriam’s experience under ayahuasca had been a Christian one. It wasn’t. It was about reconciliation with her late mother, and her worries about the teenage son she was going to leave behind when she died. But it was a healing one. And get this weird sign of the White Moth [14] that happened to me and to us on my last visit to her.

In that 2014 post, I cite an experience by the worldly, even hedonistic, Dutch film director Paul Verhoeven, who had a powerful mystical experience among Dutch Pentecostals, but was so shaken up by it that he ran as far from the mystical as he could.

I’ve written about Pollan and psychedelics before, in a post titled “The Psychedelic Dante.” [15] In it, I mentioned my college friend who changed after his experience with LSD. And I mention Dante:

As a freshman in college, B. was very depressed (though not diagnosed as such). His girlfriend had broken up with him, and he was drinking way too much to dull the pain. That spring semester, he would go down to the pub and drink himself silly. He was caught up in dark, sad music, and couldn’t seem to break out of the fog.

Then a mutual friend of ours asked him to try LSD one weekend. B. was not a drug user, but at that time, he was in such a state that he was willing to do anything to think about something other than his own misery. It turned out to have been one of the most profound experiences of his life.

B. told his friends later that he had felt a sense of oneness of all things, the presence of God filling the universe, and an overwhelming sense of gratitude for life. His depressed self, he said, had been turned relentlessly inward, and he was blind to the reality around him: that God exists, that He is love, that He is calling us all to unity with Him. He wasn’t a religious believer at the time, or at least not much of one, and he didn’t have a specifically Christian experience. He says that when the drug wore off, he had been — the phrasing here is mine — given a glimpse behind the veil, and seen things as they truly are. That was the end of his depression. He ended up becoming a Christian, and still is, thirty years later.

As B. saw it through the psychedelic experience, he had a choice: to turn outward, see the beauty of the world and God’s presence in it, because that was the truth; or stay mired in solipsistic, drunken, morose brooding. The fact that this choice occurred while under the influence of a drug did not make him — nor does it make me — doubt the truths revealed. It was as if B. had badly defective vision, but had been given a magic pair of eyeglasses that showed him what the world really looked like with corrected vision.

I absolutely do not want to give the impression that I am in any way endorsing recreational use of psychedelics. I knew others in college who used these drugs and did not appear to gain any sort of life-changing insights from them. They just had fun. I knew a couple of people who ruined their minds with them.

I also believe that psychedelics can be spiritually dangerous, because if they open you up to a different level of spiritual reality on the good side, they also open you up to the dark side. It seems to me risky to have a spiritual experience so profound that is unearned, that you haven’t prepared for, as a mystic would have prepared through years of prayer. A man who makes his millions slowly, through hard work, regards his fortune differently than a man who made his millions by winning the lottery. I could be wrong about this.

That said, I can’t deny the change I saw in B., and for that reason am excited to see medical science once again researching therapeutic uses for this category of drug. I believe that for many people, it can give them profound relief. If these drugs eventually become approved for use in controlled therapeutic sessions, good.

So what’s the Dante connection? Reading the Pollan article and thinking about my friend’s transformative experience thirty years ago with psychedelics, I kept thinking about Dante’s Paradiso, and how the poet’s imaginative description of heaven — as a realm of light, love, and harmony — is what B. says he sensed during his experience. The glimpse that the pilgrim Dante has of heaven in the poem changes his life, and causes him to return to the world moving in harmony with the God Who is love. Many people who have had life-after-death experiences come back changed in a similar way. This is a fair approximation of what happened to B., though again, it wasn’t specifically Christian.

The question remains: have B. and others experienced things as they truly are, or merely an illusion conjured by the brain? Does it matter? If these depressed people and others are having these life-changing positive experiences under the influence of psychedelics, should it matter if they are real, or a hallucination?

Your thoughts? Please be serious. I’m not asking you to agree with any of this, but I am asking you to take it seriously, even if you dismiss it. I want to have a real conversation about this, not just deflect wisecracks and potshots.

UPDATE: I have an exchange in the comments with commenter MrsCole:

Mrs Cole: I’ve often wondered if this is why small children more often report seeing things that “aren’t there”– they haven’t pruned that off yet. It wasn’t so long ago that my then-2-year-old stared over my shoulder into the back of the nave at a sparsely-attended weekday liturgy, giggled, and asked me repeatedly: “Mama, what are those birds doing?” “What birds?” “Those birds” he pointed. I didn’t see anything. Couldn’t see out any windows from there. Nobody in the back… whatever he was seeing was not available to me, but I don’t doubt he saw it.

Me: My son Lucas, when he was around the same age, maybe a bit younger, was resting on my shoulder during Catholic mass (we were Catholic then). I was standing at the back of the church, holding him, because he had been restless in the pew. He was trying to fall asleep. Suddenly, he rose in my arms, pointed to the side, and said, “Angel!” His eyes and his pointing finger followed something I could not see, as it moved out over the congregation. “Angel! Angel!” he said. Then he put his head back on my shoulder and fell asleep. There were no images of angels anywhere in that (alas, modernist) church. I believe he saw an angel. While not crediting the existence of angels, Pollan would say that children have not yet learned how to suppress sensory inputs. They haven’t learned that you’re not supposed to see angels, so to speak. So they see angels. Pollan quotes the child psychiatrist Alison Gopnik as saying little kids process the world neurologically as if they are tripping all the time. Reading that made me think about Jesus’s words that we must come to him as little children. I’ve always taken that to read with the trust that little children have, but what if He meant the sense of wonder that they have too?

Second, I want to underscore that I do not wish to be read as encouraging people to fool with psychedelics. If they really do lift the veil, so to speak, that’s incredibly powerful, and an experience that could be overwhelming. I also believe it could open one up to malign spiritual influences. I just posted in an exchange in the comments a story about a goodtime Charlie I knew in college who I saw one night evangelizing people in the parking lot of a disco where a lot of us students went. Normally we’d see him bellied up to the bar, but there he was standing with a couple of hardcore student evangelists, warning us all about hellfire.

“Frank, what happened?” I asked him. He told me that he had been dropping acid in that same parking lot a week or so before, and saw a large demon. It scared him so much that he converted to Christianity, and was there trying to warn everybody else about that bar. His warnings didn’t work on me or anybody else, but Frank’s change was so dramatic that like Daniel Everett and the Piraha, I couldn’t get out of my head the possibility that he really had seen exactly what he said he’d seen — that the drug hadn’t caused him to hallucinate, but to seem something that was actually there, but that was hidden from view from most of us.

UPDATE.2: The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that that Huston Smith quote about how psychedelics stand to “re-enchant” the world is dangerously utopian. I can recognize that a mystical experience sparked by a psychedelic drug can be life-changing; the stories told by those interviewed by Pollan sound credible to me. But the idea that a drug experience can permanent re-vivify a way of moving through the world for most people strikes me as wildly idealistic. The people I have known who used psychedelics seemed to me no better and no worse than anybody else for having done it. I imagine that if you are someone of the caliber and temperament of Huston Smith, and you ingest psychedelic drugs (he did as part of a famous experiment [16]when he was a student at Harvard in 1962), it might have that effect. But most of us? No, you can’t convince me of that. And it strikes me as dangerous to think that we can have enlightenment so cheaply and easily. There’s a reason why so many people who win the lottery end up ruining themselves. They don’t know how to handle what they’ve been given.

As ever, I welcome your thoughts. I’m still trying to work my way through the meaning of this book.

180 Comments (Open | Close)

180 Comments To "A Christian Approach To Psychedelics"

#1 Comment By Frankie T. On May 23, 2018 @ 12:54 am

Rod, thanks for this post and creating space here for a conversation about psychedelics and religion. Alan Watts wrote two very intelligent and thoughtful essays on this subject: “The Joyous Cosmology”, in which he compares mystical experiences arising out of his Zen practice with his experiments with LSD; and “The New Alchemy”, in which he addresses the argument that profound, life-changing spiritual experiences can never be accessed with something as banal and materialistic as a psychedelic drug.

#2 Comment By Brendan from Oz On May 23, 2018 @ 2:36 am

Christianity is Idealism? Try Cornelius Van Til.

#3 Comment By Jefferson Smith On May 23, 2018 @ 5:11 am

@Brendan from Oz:

Thanks for your further comment. To be honest, I’m a terrible candidate for psychedelic experience; I don’t even like rollercoasters. So yes, I think I’ll just stick to CGI. Good advice. 😉

#4 Comment By JonF On May 23, 2018 @ 8:54 am

Re: Also, just fyi, Christianity is not a materialist philosophy. It is Idealist.

It is both– Christianity does not dismiss material creation as an epiphenomenon of the mind. I’m probably friendlier to metaphysical idealism than many people here but I do understand that you can’t junk matter entirely without falluting right off into the gnonsense of Gnosticism. Traditionally Christianity saw the human person as a trinity comprised body, mind and soul, none of which can be dismissed as an illusion cast by the others.

#5 Comment By JonF On May 23, 2018 @ 8:59 am

Re: I don’t want to interfere with your vehemence, but you should keep in mind that many Christians have felt that their depression was indeed a spiritual state; two in English are Coleridge and Hopkins. As far as I’m concerned, you’re right on the money.

Well, as I said I disagree. When I experienced depression part of the healing process involved NOT internalizing depression as something that was an intrinsic part of me, but rather seeing it as an affliction visited upon me, no different in kind from a serious infection or a malignant tumor. I said to myself “This isn’t me, it’s just something I’m feeling and it doesn’t have to mean anything if I don’t want it to.”

#6 Comment By Franklin Evans On May 23, 2018 @ 9:09 am

Randomly ordered comments on some comments…

I read in what was styled a very credible source (including both sides of the debate) that the translation from the Greek to “witch” and “witchcraft” was King James’ imposition on what became the King James Bible. It was distinctly linked to the culture, politics and religious maneuvering of his time.

Seven sleepers’ idealism-vs-materialism tangent is interesting, but it misses a point I’ve found in my personal experience: humans are both, together and sometimes simultaneously. I respect the debate, but it fails for me when I meditate. The open mind starts with silence. Silence is a state of waiting, not a void to be filled. The strongest obstacle to attaining silence is the “noise” generated by the body. Entheogens (personal opinion) temporarily “cut” the connection between mind and body. Meditation is slower, but with practice attains a more pure and longer lasting silence which is also under my conscious control.

The strongest foundation of faith is acceptance. It perhaps counter-intuitively stands opposed to protection of the self, or the notion that we must avoid certain practices because it leaves us vulnerable. Intuitively, acceptance and vulnerability are synonymous. It comes down to a question, answered in various ways in various traditions. If we accept the reality of something, like evil, isn’t rejection a form of hypocrisy? I don’t mean we should embrace those things we find abhorrent, but I find myself meditating on something my mother said when she and I would converse about the Holocaust and her experiences.

There is nothing that cannot be examined in the light of day. Rejecting a thing without fully examining it gives that thing power, gives it the sanctuary of darkness to grow stronger and become a true threat and objective danger.

That is why I emphasize so strongly the notion that understanding must be the first step, and the fear that understanding necessarily leads to agreement is delusional, or at least the product of a weak mind. If strong faith does not include strong personal integrity, it is not strong.

#7 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On May 23, 2018 @ 10:25 am

To me, it still doesn’t hold a candle to the psychadelic experience. One’s like a pond and other is like an ocean. Of course, if all you see in daily life is a bathtub, a decent-sized pond might seem like a very large body of water.

I can relate to that, sort of. I’ve never done psychedelics, unfortunately, but then, I’ve never had much success having any kind of supernatural vision during prayer, either. (I have had one or two supernatural experiences in the past, never during prayer). Prayer seems like such a, frankly, milquetoast and pedestrian substitute for a spiritual experience, based on the way I’ve heard them described, that, yea, comparing them to a bathtub vs. the ocean sounds like a perfect analogy. Both of them contain water, but if you’re confining yourself to a bathtub, or even to a swimming pool, you’re missing out on something big. One could also compare it to, I don’t know, fruit juice versus wine.

I think the world that we perceive through our senses is just the surface layer of a much deeper reality, that’s permeated by spiritual entities (both benevolent and malevolent), and that psychedelics (as well as other kinds of religious experience) offer us a way to see some of those underlying realities. I’m sure it’s extremely difficult for you to explain what you saw to the rest of us, just the same way it would be difficult to explain what the world looks like to a person born blind. One could naively ask “if these realities are out there, why don’t we perceive them all the time”. The reality is though, if you look at nature, there are tons and tons of animals that have lost the power of sight, even though they’re descended from ancestors who had it. There are also lots of creatures out there that can no longer fly, even though their ancestors had the power of flight. It’s not at all impossible that there might be underlying layers to reality that our ancestors, or premodern peoples in various corners of the world, or even ourselves as children, might be able to see, but that we’ve lost the power to perceive.

I don’t share Rod’s ‘panentheism’, personally. At some point Turmarion, in these comboxes, said his personal temperament was more Hellenic than Semitic: well, I guess mine is more Persian than either Hellenic or Semitic. I think evil is almost as powerful and basic a component of nature as good is, and that the universe is characterized by conflict between supernatural powers rather than something permeated through by God. That being said, I think materialism is *even more false* than any rival religious views might be out there. I think Rod is wrong about the nature of the supernatural but he actually recognizes the existence of a supernatural realm, instead of closing his mind to its reality.


I’d point out there’s another big difference between psychedelics on the one hand, and prayer/meditation in the Catholic tradition on the other. Besides just the intensity and depth of the experiences, I mean. In the one case you’re experiencing the supernatural as mediated *through a tradition*, i.e., you’re experiencing the supernatural on the Church’s terms, in ways that she sanctions, allows and terms to be legitimate, and through channels that are in accordance with the Catholic Church believes. In the other, you’re experiencing the supernatural ‘raw’, unmediated by any constraints or limits. The first alternative is great, and might even be preferable, if you believe that the Catholic Church is the true church, and if you believe that what she teaches is true. If all that is true, then prayer and meditation would be the safer path. If it’s not true, though, then you’re surrendering control over your experience of the supernatural to an institution that’s trapped in error. I’m not a Catholic, so I have no desire to let the orthodoxy of the Catholic Church or any other church, for that matter, condition the way I experience the supernatural. I want my vision of the deeper realities that are out there to be, as I said, raw, unmediated and untrammeled

#8 Comment By Seven sleepers On May 23, 2018 @ 1:55 pm

Always a tough crowd.

Well, starting with Brendan from Oz, you’d have to elaborate. Van Til came to my attention a few years ago (and some of his less capable acolytes). I would need to know what you think is not Idealism about his take. I would say the complete opposite.

As for JonF, I try to rattle the cage. Look, my close friend had ptsd. The drugs helped him get back on track. Not saying they didnt. If you were staring down suicide and the drugs helped you. Great. I feel better when I take vitamin D.

But as usual you like to take peoples sarcasm and make a molehill out of it. Aspirin? No issues there. Reason being is, pain is actually pain. It is not an image or series of thoughts (or audible or visual hallucinations). For pain, a drug is fine OF COURSE JON. Cmon.

For the EXPLICIT use of making bad thoughts and images and voices disappear, sorry, it is actually philosophically impossible to prove the mind/body connection (A) and (2) its therefore impossible to know how jacking with peoples serotonin levels has anything to do with making traumatic images and fears and anxieties go away.

However, what you are conveniently missing is the ACTUAL warnings on these drugs and the ACTUAL evidence of their efficacy. Instead, you are retreating to personal anectdote and insecurity (due to the unacceptable level of stigma that depression and medication carry, I understand). But you are retreating nonetheless.

These drugs are in fact mostly useless and OFTEN induce violent erratic behavior. I find it hilarious that a country is endlessly debating removing all or many guns from the market because a few people have “bad reactions”. While an alarming number of people who are being medicated for an, at best, tenuous relationship between their depression and their body, are committing mass atrocities, and you are dismissing, out of hand, even the simple conversation that powerful psychotropic drugs being adminstered TO CHILDREN in over 75% of all school shootings is even a thing to be investigated? Big pharma has a son in you Jon.

Not to mention folks, Idealism is not opposed to Dualism. Idealism and Materialism are opposing philosophical arguments, and that are technical terms. THis is not about gnostic “rejection of matter”. I am not making up the rules. Either the WORD preceded all creation, or the WORD is a creation that is emergent from the physical body. You have no other option. One is called Christianity, an Idealist position if ever there was one (though it is certainly not the only one). And the other which states that our bodies create thought. Choose wisely. But first, hit the books!

#9 Comment By darcie On May 23, 2018 @ 3:14 pm

This Hebrew Professor Claims The Bible’s Moses Was On DMT
Scientists think Moses was tripping on DMT…

#10 Comment By Michael Redmond On May 23, 2018 @ 3:27 pm

Re Protestantism & the “pre-modern” sacramental worldview:

I’m jumping into the comments very late & so may repeat what others have said. This issue is much more complicated than it appears.

First, I’m coming from the Anglican tradition, wherein a sacramental worldview consonant with Orthodoxy and Catholicism persists pretty widely, just as it does in Lutheranism.

Second, I’ve known quite a few ordinary Christians in explicitly non-sacramental traditions, such as Calvinism and Anabaptism (“it’s not real, it’s symbolic of the real”) who neither know nor care what the official line is & simply embrace the sacramental experience they undergo, i.e.,”it’s real.”

Thank you, Mr. Dreher, for a fascinating piece. I do not intend to read Mr. Pollan’s book & have no interest in taking a psychedelic trip, but I deeply appreciate your well balanced remarks about the broader context of this discussion — consciousness, epistemology,”phronema,” the materialist straitjacket, etc. And I do support serious R&D into the therapeutic potential of psychedelic substances.

#11 Comment By wmwa On May 23, 2018 @ 7:10 pm

Wow, first all I would like to say is I have been waiting for years to hear a smart, thoughtful, orthodox Christian or Catholic write about psychedelics. So: Thank you. I Google those search terms from time to time, hoping to find something outside of Reddit that isn’t completely dismissive.

I grew up with a Catholic background (my parents weren’t devout, but it was the only religious background I knew), and I rejected it until about five years ago. I have since embraced Catholicism, we plan to raise our kids Catholic. So there’s that.

I have done psychedelics regularly (ave. 1-2 times a year) for about 14 years.

My experiences with psychedelics seemed to work in tandem with my Catholic background to turn me into the Catholic I am today. The blueprint of Christian truth must have been etched into me from my childhood, if not from birth (that’s what we believe after all, isn’t it?), but the drugs helped illuminate that same blueprint in the outside world, which in turn allowed me to see it within and as part of myself. (I know I sound like a stoner!! Ineffable indeed.) It’s important to know that it took me several times of doing these drugs before I accepted “the pattern*” as the flesh, veins, and breath of the living Christ, and began to assimilate my own spiritual poverty.

*That vague resemblance between trippy/hippie/hollow art, and the fuller, more ornate and complex beauty in old Churches (and art of other religions, probably) — that is the “pattern” I am talking about. You “experienced” people know what I mean. When you are tripping (or perhaps deep in meditation – I wouldn’t know, I’m afraid), this pattern seems to breathe through every scene and vision and object and person. It’s inescapable.

This is not very compelling, I realize, so I’ll sum up this way: John 15:1 is the passage that ultimately got me. I was a goner after that. And I’m not sure I’d have been primed for that particular reading without having done psychedelics.

It’s also impossible to know if I’d have found my way back to the Church without drugs. I might’ve, and I’d like to think that I would have. But again, it’s impossible to know. Mysterious ways indeed.

I also want to stress to those who are considering trying psychedelics: They can be very, very scary. Terrifying. (The phrase “takes you through your own personal hell and back” is a frequent description I hear, and in my experience, it’s apt.) If you’re spiritually healthy you probably don’t need them, and if you’re spiritually unhealthy they could ruin you. Use serious caution, and only with people and places you trust — literally with your life.

I was in a bad, blind way when I first started doing drugs. After I ‘woke up,’ the experiences became much more positive, up to a peak. But then, while my latest experiences were plenty of “fun,” they were also relatively empty. I think the emptiness was God saying “You had your fun, you know this terrain, you don’t need to explore it more. It’s past time to grow up.” That said, if my husband and I do psychedelics again in, say, 20 years, there might be more to learn 😉

My husband and I know we are ready to have children now, and we just aren’t interested in the drugs anymore. God has perfect timing?

#12 Comment By wmwa On May 23, 2018 @ 7:18 pm

**John 15:1-8, aka the Vine and the Branches.

#13 Comment By Brendan from Oz On May 23, 2018 @ 8:48 pm

From Cornelius Van Til, “Christianity and Idealism”:

“The Idealist has not presupposed his Absolute, and therefore his Absolute is or tends to become the God of the Pragmatist. Such is our main contention. The Idealist has
recognized the necessity of presupposing the Absolute but has not been able to do so
because of the “neutrality” involved in his logic. As in the case of the Pragmatist
“neutrality” leads the Idealist to and is itself an evidence of his metaphysical relativism.

First, then, we would note that the Idealist definitely sides with the Theist against the
Pragmatist according to his own statements. The Idealist has been very insistent against
the Pragmatist on the necessity of presupposing an Absolute. Many mediating
theologians were led to believe that Christianity must look to Idealism for a genuine metaphysical defense for its position. The Idealist would not come one whit behind the
chiefest apostle of Theism in his protestation that God is absolute.

The Idealist even uses interchangeably the terms “Absolute” and “God.” The Idealist
says not only that he presupposes the Absolute, but that the Absolute is God. Thus the Idealist’s claim that his Absolute is the God of Theism looks very plausible. It is this plausibility, we believe, that led many to a hasty identification of the Absolute with God.”

#14 Comment By Brendan from Oz On May 23, 2018 @ 9:39 pm

Perhaps this passage from Adam Cooper’s “The Body in Maximus the Confessor: Holy Flesh Wholly Deified” can help illustrate.

The Incarnation messes with Idealism as much as transcendence messes with Materialism.

From the Conclusion:

“Material reality functions as a single though indispensable dimension of a multi-faceted pedagogy that engages the soul through history, Scripture, Christ and Church. By concealing himself within these analogous yet irreducibly distinct physical media, the invisible God has affirmed the corporeal world – bodily and cosmic – as essential mean of access to intelligible reality and as the providential locus of communion between creature and creator.

The pedagogical function of the material cosmos in turn depends upon the existence of a stable metaphysical substructure according to which the universe was created out of nothing by God and continues to subsist.

In the express desire of God the Word to become embodied “always and in all” lies the possibility of a fallen creation’s return to and fulfilment of its true destiny. And in the Incarnation, established in history as the person and work of Jesus Christ and worked out in the lives of the baptized, that possibility has become an empirical fact.”

Idealism, at least according to Van Til among many others, is a relativistic metaphysics and so contrary to this line of thought and experience.

#15 Comment By Seven sleepers On May 23, 2018 @ 10:07 pm

Yes. Commented on the other one. The second post is totally and completely not the same idealism/materialism divide that is argued in philosophy.

As for Van Tils argument above, how coherent is that? This is a man struggling to escape the label of idealist, which no actual Christian theologian ever attempted before WWI, until the Germans began bending it into something that, well, compelled people to attempt to distance themselves from let’s say. Van Til, who later in life did some amazing work, is here at his worst, absolute nonsense, as he tries to create a wedge between idealism/materialism for which no philosopher or theologian will grant.

Ambitious? Sure. Convincing? Not in the slightest.

#16 Comment By JonF On May 24, 2018 @ 6:39 am

Re: These drugs are in fact mostly useless and OFTEN induce violent erratic behavior.

“Often”? That is a misuse of language for which there is no evidence. The vast majority of people prescribed anti-depressant drugs do not become violent. And even for the minute fraction who do you do not offer up any evidence the drug is at fault. Correlation, let’s remember, does not equal causation.
Seven Sleepers, your assertions have as much grounding in facts as the claims of the anti-vax folks and I feel justified in dismissing them as pseudo-science.

On the much larger topic Mind and Matter are both artifacts of creation. God, who Being, is prior to both. Neither Idealism not Materialism can stand as the last word.

#17 Comment By Seven sleepers On May 25, 2018 @ 6:35 am


Dismiss all you like. And please please do not taper bc of me. That is a responsibility I do not want. That is exactly when and where pseudoscientific journals and organizations, like the FDA earlier this year, warned about VIOLENT and SUICIDAL ideation and behavior as increasingly being reported and investigated. Glaxo settled a case a decade ago that MAKES them carry the warning of possible side effects which, in your view, is pseudo science. You mistake behavior to mean “death dealing”. I meant even thinking violent thoughts, especially against oneself. Again, I know someone who self-tapered and almost went mad. I know children who were prescribed and became violent and erratic. I have now provided anectdotal AND non-anectdotal evidence. Find some sand, and return your head to its place before I commented. Meanwhile, depression is a spiritual state and Paxil is FAR WORSE than just having a shot of whisky. Neither can treat the content of your mind. The BEST they can do is tranquilize you enough to get you past the anxiety part, which you self-reported. Great. There are less powerful tranquilizers out there. Ones that certainly dont have to place a pseudoscientific label like this!

“A small number of people have become suicidal after taking Zoloft®. This is more common in people younger than age 25. It is important for you to be aware of this risk while taking Zoloft®. Report any extreme changes in your mood or any suicidal impulses, thoughts, or actions or call 911 if an emergency.”

Small number! hah! And the Catholic Church said abuse was a “small, limited issue!”

Believe as you wish. Prescribing *psychotropic* drugs to children is an abomination. Vaccines are not. Man…you have issues with logic and are always parsing individual words which are too obvious to spell out. Vaccines actually prevent disease. Anti-Depressants, actually cannot prevent or fix anything. You did that, when you stopped thinking the way you were thinking.

#18 Comment By nemo On May 26, 2018 @ 6:12 pm

“I believe that Christianity is true — not just true for me, but true for everybody. I have long pondered how to be faithful to that conviction while honoring the mystical insights of those outside the Christian religion.”

See: ‘The Transcendent Unity of Religions’ by Frithjof Schuon.

#19 Comment By Marsh Moyle On May 29, 2018 @ 4:46 pm

A useful resource might be: Frank Lake. Clinical Theology 1966, which documents his use of LSD in therapy as a Christian Psychiatrist.

Gill, Anton. The Journey Back From Hell: Conversations with Concentration Camp Survivors (Kindle Location 11). Endeavour Press. Kindle Edition. discusses the use of LSD in therapy to recover repressed memory in camp survivors until it was banned.

#20 Comment By Jonathan Massey On May 31, 2018 @ 9:39 pm

Rod, I strongly recommend that you acquire CLINICAL THEOLOGY: A THEOLOGICAL AND PSYCHIATRIC BASIS TO CLINICAL PASTORAL CARE by Frank Lake. Dr. Lake was one of the original LSD researchers. The original tome, published by Darton Longman & Todd in 1966 is extremely hard to acquire, but not impossible. I believe it was finally reprinted some years ago in two volumes. (You would want to make sure you get and edition with his charts, too.)

#21 Comment By Kent Farish On August 25, 2018 @ 4:24 pm

Chemical Worship
If a man should go about and utter wind and lies, saying, “I will preach to you of wine and strong drink,” he would be the preacher for this people!
Micah 2:11 ESV….
The use of mind-altering drugs to simulate a worship experience is not new, but is on the rebound. Its value is based on the idea that we are basically good, and we can discover that goodness by looking within. The chemicals just break down some of the barriers to that. It may be possible to open the mind to alternative experiences. There certainly are aspects of our selves that escape everyday conscious awareness. We can even be controlled by them in ways that are undesirable. However unless we gain an experience of the depth of human depravity, and our need for a deliverer, we would be deceived.

#22 Comment By Andrew M. On September 21, 2018 @ 4:31 pm

I certainly think that psychedelics and mystical experiences need to be considered, but I do not agree that these things bring about genuine experiences of Truth.

I was a mystic and a psychedelic user for quite a few years, and I indeed had quite a few experiences which at the time seemed to be of an ineffable and undeniable quality. However, upon reflection, the only real reason I accepted these experiences as completely truthful was because I had no previous reference as to what Absolute Truth was. As such,I have concluded that any sufficiently profound experience could be enough for someone divorced from any sense of the Absolute to believe they’ve discovered “truth” or “god”, yet this does not mean it is so. It merely means that an experience was profound and penetrating enough to alter one’s thought patterns according to its influence.

I later was confronted with true revelation, and it was a revelation so different from all previous “mystical” experiences that it remained an anomaly for me which I mostly rejected for a couple of years because of what it implied. Ever so gently, the suggestion that this was God, and that Christianity was true, and that the Bible was true, and that Jesus Christ was the Incarnate Son of God who actually died, was buried, and rose again… became too much to ignore, and the more I investigated the claims of Christianity and the apologetic defenses given throughout the last 2000 years, the more I came to see that this was a much more rational description of the way things truly are than all of the mystical traditions or psychedelic experiences combined could even begin to compete with without sounding completely absurd.

One of the key tenents of Christianity is “faith in things unseen” and “faith in God’s promises”. This so blatantly conflicts with the insistence upon “spiritual experience” over a more common sense of reason that we must ask ourselves if it is possible that more common and accessible reason, available to any believer no matter how “experienced” is actually far more trust-worthy than the mind-bending (and many times mind-shattering) abstractions encountered on psychedelics and in the midst of mystical practices. Is it actually far more reasonable for a lay person to say “I believe without evidence.” than for some uber-spiritual psychonaut to say “I believe because I have experienced it.”?

For the preaching of the cross is foolishness to those that perish, but to those who are saved, it is the power of God.
Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men.It pleased God to use foolishness to confound the wise.

So, many “experienced” people who believe themselves to be wise look down with disdain or simplistic pity towards those seemingly banal believers who flock to church every sunday and proselytize the simple message of faith by grace and belief in Jesus Christ as the only way to salvation… yet in the end I believe it is those simplistic believers the world regards as foolish, not wise, who are possessed of a greater Truth.

Why? Because they have been humbled by Jesus Christ Himself, and they have been convicted of their sinful state and their need for redemption, all without having it vividly portrayed to them. They UNDERSTOOD it without having to have some sort of wild mystical trip.

The Bible says that the heart is deceitful above all things, and is DESPERATELY wicked so that no one can know it. I believe these mystical experiences are flat out deceptions, forgeries, and Satanic lies to which the heart aligns with because to know the truth is to know the depth of your own depravity, so that you cannot even lift a finger, let alone change your life seemingly for the better, without the putrid stench of corruption infecting your every thought and action.

The Bible teaches salvation by faith in Jesus Christ, not salvation by mystical practices, psychedelic chemicals, or self-willed work. All salvation is both initiated and finished by God alone, not any actions of man.

#23 Comment By James On September 23, 2018 @ 7:23 pm

I am a pastor and I have used shrooms a few times with positive and negative results.

I used a ton of psychedelics when I was a teenager. It was my drug of choice, while doing every drug I could get my hands on, for around four years. When I got right with God I stopped all drug and alcohol use for over 20 years.

I went through a very dark season where I grew depressed and hopeless. As a result I started experimenting with drugs again. I was looking for happiness and relief and not a spiritual experience.

I ended up finding 4-aco-dmt online. It is basically the same thing as shrooms. I took the stuff to have a “trip” and have some fun but it was drastically different than expected. I had deep encounters with darkness, ego death and spiritual truth.

I have had many spiritual experiences without drugs and I am very strong in my beliefs in Christ. I am saying that because I believe those beliefs kept me on track with these experiences. Nearly every time they would begin with silly nonsense that I believe comes from the devil. Then they would progress into deep introspection where I would see the problems with self. Then the answer would always become clear and that is the Truth that Christ crucified self and faith in the true work of the Cross is the only way to be free from ego and iniquity.

These experiences were life changing and got me back on track but were also dangerous and caused some very erratic and scary behaviors around my family. I would never recommend taking anything like this is you are going to be around your loved ones. I have never seen anyone do anything violent on such substances but your “deeper” thoughts and ideas can be very strange and scary to a sober person to say the least.

#24 Comment By Rupert On October 14, 2018 @ 3:07 pm

My first experience of the truth came through a high dose of LSD about 20 years ago. I heard the voice of Jesus, not audible, but rather a purer/ direct communication….no sound waves required. The ‘words’ were clearer than anything I’d ever heard or thought “I am Jesus Christ the way the truth and the life, no one can come to the father except through me” my first encounter with Truth…..this was an experience completely free of dogmatism and without the trappings of indoctrination. Not to say that any of the latter have no function, after all everything works together for the good of those who love him. As a previous commenter said it is God alone who brings(brought) about salvation and no chemical, man or church can claim that…..but that’s not to say these can/ cannot be his tools. As long as these things don’t take the place of the gospel I think they can find a useful place in the world, much like everything else in creation. I don’t believe God does things by accident or with ill intent in terms of his creation, he is perfect and fair and lacks no wisdom. “And he saw that it was good” so then if he knows the end from the beginning we should have no difficulty believing that it IS infact good. One thing that keeps me focused is the scripture that states “everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial” that about sums up the do’s and dont’s. I’m in the middle of reading Pollon’s book and I find it healthy reading. So all these years later I can not deny that pivitol point/ experience in my life that gave way to a wonderful (and at times downright difficult!) walk with Jesus. At the time in my life when I was chasing after highs I lacked experience and wisdom to fully make use/ sense of what was revealed to me, and I’d be foolish to think I wasn’t playing Russian rollette with my still developing mind, but now having the luxury of looking back in hindsight I’m glad I had it. Ultimately it was all through his amazing grace and faithfulness, a number of my friends were sadly not so fortunate (we didn’t only use psychedelics).

#25 Comment By Ken On October 22, 2018 @ 10:33 am

The Bible states, “Be not drunk with wine but be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

There is no hard evidence from the Bible that God encourages or advances the use of altered states of mind. Chemically altered states are all from the misguided teachings of man. This apologetics for drugs is just another example of foolish or false Christians integrating the world into Christianity, in other words, polluting the true teachings of Yahweh, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

#26 Comment By Theo On December 23, 2018 @ 2:08 am

Wow. What a fantastic read. I found this because I’m still exploring the subject myself. I became a Christian because of similar experiences of the divine or whatever one wants to call it. But it was a thing, and I wasn’t on psychedelics. Now I believe I’ve seen prayer come to fruition, and I have some what of a grasp on what I think Jesus is about (I have a religious studies degree and still dont have a lot of it down. I sometimes ask questions that are very difficult to answer- is hell metaphorical? Can one lose their salvation? Do I work, or does Jesus work through me?etc)

The problem is that I believe in God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit, but I can’t decide which stuff is God speaking to me and what stuff is just me talking to myself. I pray. I go to church and bible studies. I fellowship. I beg. I’m honest with God. and I’m tired of being left with so many questions and not feeling like I’m in a relationship with God, but more of a relationship with rules, and I dont know how to get out of it. I hate it. I’ve considered psychedelics in order to get a deeper vision, because I know and have seen for myself that they can do that.

Anyways, you didn’t ask for all that. I just wanted to say that I thought it was a neat subject for someone to tackle. Thank you.

#27 Comment By keith On January 14, 2019 @ 8:10 pm

I recently participated in a group weekend retreat involving psychedelics led by an experienced and highly skilled guide. The weekend’s dominant residual effect on me is an outpouring of love, which may not be spiritual experience per se, but seems consistent with the message of Jesus. I wonder what it would be like to bring a group of conservatives and liberals together for such a retreat. Might some barriers to seeing each other’s common humanity be broken down?

#28 Comment By Jordan On January 22, 2019 @ 11:36 am

Thanks for writing. For those people who are adamantly opposed to chemically altered states, how’s your coffee?

It is also important to note that these substances only provoke a reaction in the brain – this reaction is, itself, achievable apart from consuming the substance. Our brains already have the capacity to achieve these states, the drugs simply help it along, they are the shortcut that avoids all the hard work.

These states can be achieved with prolonged prayer/fasting/ and in some cases holotropic breathwork. The thing is, who wants to fast and pray when you can just pop a pill?

What gets people high is not the drug, but a chemical that is already native to our systems that is generated as a reaction to the drug. What does this tell us about our God given design?

#29 Comment By Bevan On April 4, 2019 @ 10:11 pm

LSD and mushrooms introduced me to the reality of Christ, not as a ‘religious’ figure but as real and eternal consciousness that is here and now. All Christians should try it one time. I was born again in Jesus Christ through LSD in 1974 and it is still the pivotal moment in my life, and which I have been using the experience as a point of reference for decades of daily yoga and zen meditation. Don’t take too much. Do it in a peaceful and natural environment.

#30 Comment By Mike N On April 25, 2019 @ 5:52 pm

It looks like I stumbled across this article a year too late, but I’ll go ahead and share a very abbreviated version of my story along with a few comments.

I was raised nominally Catholic but became agnostic by high school. I went through the whole catechism but never read the Bible or really heard the gospel. As a teenager I discovered the Romantic poets and started experimenting with psychedelics. My experiences convinced me that God was real and that the world was infused with his glory, but they didn’t reveal who he is or how to relate to him. When I went away to college, these questions weighed heavily on me. God providentially introduced me to a former acid head Zen Buddhist and summa-cum-laude philosophy major who had become a Christian. He was able to share with me how he discovered that everything he sought in his quest for enlightenment had been done for him in the person of Christ. Through my friendship with him, I came to know Christ personally and remain an evangelical Christian nearly 30 years later. I’ve developed an appreciation for the writings of Catholic and Orthodox mystics, but I can’t accept the non-biblical dogmas of these churches.

Looking back on my psychedelic journey, I think it awakened a spiritual longing within me but was unable to satisfy it. Only the special revelation of Christ in Scripture could do that. I can’t see endorsing use of psychedelics by Christians, but I’m sympathetic to spiritual seekers who use them. They can be instrumental in shattering (or at least undermining) a mechanistic worldview. However, at best, they can raise important questions; they don’t provide answers. To paraphrase Ken Kesey, they can open doors, but it does people no good to get stuck in these doors.

On a side note, I find the “pharmakeia” argument against psychedelics to be biblically weak. The few actual examples in Scripture (such as Pharaoh’s magicians mimicking the miracles of Moses and Aaron) depict something very different.