Freedom of religion should be extended to the use of drugs in spiritual practice

By chillinwill · Oct 14, 2009 · ·
  1. chillinwill
    In the heavy, moist air of the Amazon rainforest, I sit waiting as an old shaman pours an ancient sacrament into a cup. The brew he has prepared is ayahuasca, a blend of two plants that provides a visionary experience of such sublime, boundary-dissolving beauty that it changes the way you see the world for ever.

    The shaman is participating in humanity's oldest form of spiritual practice. Not only does the use of visionary plants predate organised religion by tens of thousands of years, but many anthropologists believe that the presence of hallucinogens in the diet of our hunter-gatherer ancestors had a significant influence on the way our brains evolved. Millions of people, me included, use these substances for spiritual growth, metaphysical exploration and healing.

    However, shamanism cannot be described as a religion or a faith. No faith is needed in a visionary experience; in these states, the individual receives direct personal experience of the divine, becoming unified with their own subconscious and with the rest of the universe. In a timeless moment you realise that God is not an angry patriarch somewhere in the ether – God is within. We are the arbiters of good and evil, entirely responsible for creating our own reality. This ecstatic realisation cannot be enshrined in dogma, requires no priests and does not ask one to have faith in the ancient ideas of other people. It is no surprise that hallucinogenic plants and chemicals are also known as "entheogens", a word derived from Greek that means "that which generates the god within".

    Entheogens are illegal in most countries, but the same societies that condemn entheogens actively promote the use of alcohol, a drug that – according to a study by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health – may be responsible for 1 in 25 deaths worldwide. Plant medicines are incredibly safe by comparison and inspire peaceful and productive behaviour, which suggests that drug laws are based more on cultural conditioning and preconceptions than on reason.

    The legality of alcohol and cigarettes indicates that the danger of a drug is not the primary factor in deciding its legality. What matters is that the drug does not interfere with the dominant cultural ideology of a society. Entheogens destroy an individual's cultural conditioning, freeing them from a fixed perceptual framework and encouraging them to think independently. Western cultures cannot incorporate experiences like this into their cultural framework because to do so would be to risk a serious transformation of culture itself. One only has to look at the effect that mass use of LSD had in undermining the moral assumptions of the US in the late 1960s to see why governments are terrified of these substances.

    The tragedy of prohibition is that entheogens have the potential to be the most successful psychiatric medicines known to man. Fortunately, the medical community and some governments are beginning to recognise this, and there has been a resurgence in psychedelic research in the last five years. Organisations like the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies in the US have studied the use of MDMA, psilocybin and other psychedelics for a range of illnesses and conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder and drug addiction.

    As someone who uses psychedelics as a spiritual technology, I am not surprised by the very promising results of these studies. My first psychedelic experience completely changed my life and convinced me that the use of hallucinogenic plants is a human birthright. To find spiritual peace in this way and be told by your society that you were wrong for seeking it is saddening and frustrating. No one has the right to tell another person how they can experience the divine. Freedom of religion is an inalienable right, and until this right is extended to the oldest form of spiritual practice, our ability to explore who we truly are will be severely limited.

    Alexander Beiner
    October 10, 2009
    The Guardian

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  1. Nature Boy
    I don't know if this article actually makes any point. Without pointing to any organised religions in particular, you can't play the freedom of religion card. What he's essentially calling for is the legalisation of psychedelics. If it isn't under the umbrella of organisation, spiritual use equates recreational use in the eyes of the government. I see no distinction between them personally and I feel the laws should reflect this whether liberal or restrictive. We can't have special sets of laws for one branch of people who make unprovable claims and another set of law for people who would like to use psychedelics but don't necessarily believe that they have any metaphysical element about them.
  2. Coconut
    I agree with Nature Boy. Additionally, I am tired of people trying to use any and every argument to get drugs - especially psychedelics - legalised. Let us be honest with both ourselves and the world: we want drugs legal because it's our right to take them, and anyone who says otherwise can piss off. There is no point in tiptoeing around this issue. Sure, psychedelics are used by a few significant religions, but this is a silly and weak argument which will certainly not appeal to atheist prohibitionists or the "Christian" lunatics in government.

    Legalisation or decriminalisation of certain substances for religious use is worse than outright prohibition because it is means discrimination against people without any faith. Laws which grants rights to some and not others are what we should always try to avoid.
  3. podge
    Let me start by saying that i am in agreement that psychedelics should be available to all who have educated themselves on the matter. Period.

    But with that said it wouldnt upset me if they were legalized for spiritual purposes and not for simple recreational purposes, i wouldnt want to deprive somebody of their right to explore consciousness and their spirituality in their own way. Ya id be a bit pissed if i was on the outside looking in at people who were allowed use psychedelics and i wasnt, but at least its a step in the right direction and it may ultimately lead to psychedelics for anybody who has done their research. Im not of the opinion that : if i have to suffer, so in that case so does everybody else. The current laws are bullshit, most of us are in agreement here - if some lucky guy/girl can take advantage of a loop hole or he/she is recognized as having a right to use psychedelics for whatever reason then i think all power to them.

    If psychedelic were legalized for medicinal use nobody would complain saying : its not fair he's allowed use psychedelics for healing and im not allowed go tripping for fun. Yes we'd all be a bit jealous but we'd get over it and chalk it down as a victory for common sense. If they legalized for spiritual purposes then look at it as a stepping stone in the right direction - not as an attack of your freedoms, because the current situation is already the attack on our freedoms.

    As cocunut said it wouldnt go down well with religous fundamentalists, this is very true. But as far as pissing off "atheist prohibitionists" - i think this is likely to be a very small group as atheists pride themselves on being rational, and most rational people agree prohibition is irrational and unworkable. But it will certainly piss off atheists in general there being a law for people of certain beliefs and not for everyone.

    And lets not forget that native americans are already allowed use peyote for spiritual purposes, and the same is true for Sainto Daime and UDV members who use ayahuasca for spiritual purposes in certain countries. And nobody in their right mind would consider it "justice" to deprive these peoples of their way of life.

    I also believe its unjust for the rest of us to suffer through these laws, but i dont get angry at those people who dont have to suffer through this particular form of illogical injustice.
  4. Sven99
    The current laws are discrimination against all drug users that prefer to use drugs that are illegal. Any reduction of the level of discrimination is a good thing.

    Furthermore there are many good arguments for legalising all drugs. Personal or religious freedoms are just two. We also have to reduce harm associated with black markets, to control supply, to save wasted tax money, to reduce our prison population, to get addicts into treatment.. its a very long list, and I support anyone who argues for drug regulation regardless of their reasons.

    I however won't be arguing the freedoms aspect because I don't think its a well received message. Its much easier to persuade people that the drug war is a waste of money than it is to persuade them of your right to get off your face.
  5. Routemaster Flash
    I read this article in the Guardian the other day, and I think the argument's bollocks. Either everyone (above a certain age and mentally competent) should have the right to take drugs, or no-one should.

    I may enlarge on this tomorrow, but my basic conviction is that being religious certainly doesn't entitle you to any more rights than anyone else. Or at least, it shouldn't.
  6. jgarlopa
    Cowboy very strongly agrees that drugs (specifically) should be de-criminalised; not for spiritual reasons, but just because it makes a lot of sense. Cowboy comes from a very bad family that has been torn apart by alcohol, which most would agree causes MUCH more harm to society than weed ever did. Cowboy has lost 3 family members to lung cancer and other diseases related to smoking cigarettes, as well as an uncle to drunk driving. Where is the sense in all of that?
  7. Terrapinzflyer
    In the US the right to use psychedelics for religious purposes has usually been upheld by the high courts- but very rigidly, in the sense that one can not simply claim religious use, it must truly be a part of ones culture.

    Turtle would argue strongly against widening this interpertation- religion and psychedelics can be a very bad mix. Too many religious fanatics already. And turtle knows a lot of white boys on the fringes of the native american church / peyote clan and by and large it has not served them well.

    Turtles really not sure what the answer is. psychedelics can be a wonderful tool, but there are certainly not for everyone (or even most people). Does turtle think people should go to jail for them? No. Does he think everyone who wants to get fucked up should be able to go the corner story and buy some 3-c-p-o or r2-d2? no. Should the government decide who is capaple of using such substances? no :confused::confused::confused::confused::confused:
  8. LysergicButterfly
    It's not about going to the corner store and going "Erm...can I have 5 tabs of LSD, please?"

    They legalised/decriminalised drugs in Argentina and Portugal but you can't buy drugs at a shop, you still have to go to dealers as far as I am aware.
    Drugs would more than likely still be in the hands of the people, it's about eradicating all the ignorance that surrounds drug use and users and allowing people to be free.

    I don't like the "religious" argument toward allowing certain groups of people to take drugs, everyone should be free to be allowed to take drugs. Hallucinogens are amazing and consciousness expanding but we shouldn't alienate those who don't want that. It's just another form of heirarchy which shouldn't be a part of freedom.
  9. CoryInJapan
    we can In America...Freedom od religion is our right and its what this country was founded on...I 100% agree with this article.
  10. Nature Boy
    ^ And that's why L. Ron Hubbard invented Scientology. IMO, since everything gets taxed these days, all organised religions should be taxed just like any other business. This would avoid the racketeering that goes on and in no way does it infringe on peoples' personal rights to believe whatever they want. As for freedom of religion giving you special legal allowances, I have to call bullshit. Conversations with imaginary friends don't give you the right to break laws that other people aren't allowed break. If religions get special allowances, where do you draw the line? Human sacrifice?

    Of course this wouldn't even be an issue up for debate if silly drug laws were changed in the first place.
  11. MrG
    No, they should be taxed double that of a regular business simply out of recourse for the huge waste of natural resources devoted to a ridiculous and worthless construct along with firms who manufacture crappy plastic McDonalds Happymeal toys.

    It's environmental policy for the 21st century!

    I agree with the notion that drug legislation should have nothing to do with religion or 'spirituality' and trying to worm some sort of exemption on the basis of being an apologist for mumbo-jumbo is bunk.
  12. Nature Boy
    Interesting idea. Some religions, not all mind you, remind me of the old-fashioned pound shop probably better known as one Euro stores nowadays. I'm not sure what the US equivalent is but they're basically places that sell substandard products for the sake of making a quick buck off shoddy manufacturing. The kind of place where you can buy a set of fifty cigarette lighters where a third of them work, a third of them don't work and another third snap into pieces in the clasp of your hand when finding out whether they work or not. Products for the sake of products. Capitalism gone mad.

    I've never been to the American south but I have seen a couple of documentaries about how ridiculously commercialised religion has become there. Churches of all shapes and sizes lining the streets, each one with a different gimmick but the same mindless target market. No honest believer could earnestly condone that sort of grotesque exploitation. And then there are super churches. Pastor Ted Haggard and his Nuremburg-esque ceremonies. It's puzzling how so many people can be so dumb. Old school ignorance wrapped in old school American stubborness. Bibles in biology classes. Truly warped.
  13. Terrapinzflyer
    Some interesting, if somewhat off topic points in this thread.

    Turtle would say one of the major issues he has with religions has also manifested in those he has known that use psychedelics for "spiritual purposes" - they tend to believe they are the ones chosen to receive some divine knowledge, some truth. All others are heretics.
  14. cra$h
    Sounds like you're talking about a dollar store here in the states, every thing's made by some chinese child-slave factory and the only price in the store is $1. Actually, if you look deep enough, they do have some worthwhile shit.

    As for religion as an excuse to use drugs, it's a pretty gray area. A dark gray area. Anyone who's high of a drug can say oh, it's my religion, I belong to the church of (insert your name here) and this is how I prey. Every day. Its just that obscure religions take advantage of the potential psychedelics possess, and the main ones (Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, etc.) simply don't. And guess what? They're the ones that run the house.

    Can't say I agree with having to be "qualified" for psychedelic use. Who would say who could and couldn't? Think about it, would you rather have a government agency or your best friend tell you whether it's OK to try some LSD? If you think you can handle it, go for it. If not, maybe another day. I know if I had a shop that legally sold psychedelics, I'd sell it to 18+ adults and still have them sign saying that what they bought is only for them and I'm not liable for any misfortune that happens, and give them a pamphlet giving solid advice for a deep, spiritual trip and what to do if shit hits the fan.
  15. MrG
    I don't just mean the huge production of iconic junk for sale either (let alone the vast waste of resources used for the printing and distribution of bibles, koran's and talmud's), I also mean the wasted natural resources from people driving to and from church and the food energy used in their pointless posturing and prostrations.

    I mean it, we are expected to manage our carbon footprint so why do we turn a blind eye to this monstrosity of a polluter?
  16. Master_Khan
    Anyone who is clever enough to find a way to piss on the Narco's parade has my blessing. Who cares if it's done under the guise of spirituality or anything else; drug prohibition is a tool of the jack-booted oppressors who use their power and authority to deny other humans liberty and happiness.

    Interesting to see that the familiar group of axe grinders against God are so steeped in their intransigence that they are quick to cast their lot with the fascists if it means the 'god botherers' might be granted an exemption based on their beliefs.
  17. Nature Boy
    Imagine two kids. Little Jimmy aged 8 and little Billy aged 6. Billy throws a hissy fit because mommy decides that he's had enough cartoons for the day. Bawling like a brat, mommy gives him a cookie to shut his mouth. Naturally, Jimmy's gonna be a little pissed off if this undeserving little shit gets a cookie for basically being a pain in the ass. Do you see my point?
  18. podge
    Agreed. Instead of setting up a church of Atheism or Jedi simply to loophole around the law people would be more willing to just let everybody suffer? Its seems fairly irrational an bitter really.

    At first it was argued to be unfair that there be different laws for spiritual people and non-spiritual people, now it seems its more than fair as long as the laws negatively impact them. I agree we need to manage our carbon footprint, but this this is highly irrational. Perhaps its just joke - but its hard to tell without a : lol or a smiley face in there.
  19. Master_Khan
    Thank you NB; so you are saying that the axe grinders are acting like a bunch of little kids. Excellent observation! I wasn't going to take it that far, but when the ball is bouncing around on the rim, it's hard not to tap it in, lol! :vibes:
  20. MrG
    Put it this way, I watched a program on the British National Party (BNP), a racist and xenophobic political organisation in the UK and, whilst one of the scenes showed them campaigning against the building of a mosque in their local area, I wouldn't wish to sign up to their petition, yet I despise the idea of building yet more temples of delusion.

    According to what is being suggested in this thread, I should indeed prefer to sign up to the BNP's protest simply because I am against the building of *any* religious shrines.

    The BNP would be all in favour of a christian church you see, so what I feel is that it is more damaging to sign up to a cause simply because it addresses a single issue that you agree with, than to acknowledge that the nature of the organisation you are signing up to will serve to perpetuate the misery and hate in society through racist policy that is still being capped by the acceptance of 'their' type of religious insanity.

    Ergo, I do not accept that it is ok to support the idea of further validating the cause of religion by declaring that I support the use of drugs as "spiritual" tools when I, quite clearly, do not support religiosity. I would, however, support the use of drugs as psychological tools, which makes far more sense.

    It is not a matter of being bitter, it is one of rational balance and honesty.

    Why, especially when we are so close to the tide turning on something like marijuana use as a result of economic factors (the only thing that was going to change 'their' minds was always the amount of tax that could be generated by legalisation and control anyway) should we accept a fudged provision for allowing use of drugs under the guise of a construct that does far more harm to society than the continuing prohibition anyway?

    p.s. I never said it was ok as long as the law negatively impacted religion, I simply stated that, whether it is related to drug laws or not, I firmly believe that there is a vast and undeniable waste of natural resources that is used up by religion and, just because you want to dance around and praise the sun god Ra, or whatever other of the myriad of deities you might choose to believe in (although how you think that choosing one god over another could ever be a rational decision is beyond me) does not make it ok for the financial organisation you submit your will to, to either not pay tax or, outside of the US, to not be fined for their carbon footprint.
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