Representatives of the world’s major religions–well, not ALL of the world’s major religions–are being given the active ingredient in “magic mushrooms” in a scientific study of religious experience.
The Johns Hopkins and New York University study has enlisted two dozen participants, including Catholic and Orthodox priests, Presbyterian ministers, Jewish rabbis, and Zen Buddhists. No Muslims or Hindus have agreed to participate. There is no mention of evangelicals or other conservative groups, such as confessional Lutherans.
Preliminary findings indicate that the psychedelic drugs make the subjects appreciate their own traditions more, but also make them more universalistic in appreciating the mystical dimension of other religions.
Notice the assumptions: Religion has to do with inner experiences rather than objective truths. Religion has to do with non-rational mysticism–the sort that can be duplicated by psychedelic drugs–rather than doctrine, worship, and a relationship with God and other people. Also non-factors are morality, sin, forgiveness, salvation. . . .
This mindset turns religion into just another way of getting high. It isn’t just that drugs become religious. Religion becomes a drug.
A Catholic priest, a Rabbi and a Buddhist walk into a bar and order some magic mushrooms. It may sound like the first line of a bad joke, but this scenario is playing out in one of the first scientific investigations into the effects of psychedelic drugs on religious experience – albeit in a laboratory rather than a bar.
Scientists at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore have enlisted two dozen religious leaders from a wide range of denominations, to participate in a study in which they will be given two powerful doses of psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms.Dr William Richards, a psychologist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland who is involved in the work, said: “With psilocybin these profound mystical experiences are quite common. It seemed like a no-brainer that they might be of interest, if not valuable, to clergy.”
The experiment, which is currently under way, aims to assess whether a transcendental experience makes the leaders more effective and confident in their work and how it alters their religious thinking.
Despite most organised religions frowning on the use of illicit substances, Catholic, Orthodox and Presbyterian priests, a Zen Buddhist and several rabbis were recruited. The team has yet to persuade a Muslim imam or Hindu priest to take part, but “just about all the other bases are covered,” according to Richards. . . .
The sessions will be conducted in a living room-like setting at New York University and Johns Hopkins in Baltimore with two “guides” present. The participants will be given the drug and then spend time lying on a couch, wearing eyeshades and listening to religious music on headphones to augment their inward spiritual journey. . . .
A full analysis of the outcomes will take place after a one-year follow-up with the participants, whose identities are being kept anonymous. “It is too early to talk about results, but generally people seem to be getting a deeper appreciation of their own religious heritage,” he said. “The dead dogma comes alive for them in a meaningful way. They discover they really believe this stuff they’re talking about.”
There is also a suggestion that after their psychedelic journey, the leaders’ notions of religion shifted away from the sectarian towards something more universal. “They get a greater appreciation for other world religions. Other ways up the mountain, if you will,” said Richards.
Illustration from Pixabay, CC0, Public Domain