Religion and Drugs

July 2007

Religion and Drugs:

Pursuing the religious life today without using psychedelic drugs is like studying astronomy with the naked eye because that's how they did it in the first century AD, and besides, telescopes are unnatural.

 — Timothy Leary, The Politics of Ecstasy

Brehaut commented:

That seems akin to saying 'we can learn more about electricity with a multimeter that gives unreliable readings'.

Just sayin'.

era commented:

Aren't telescopes more reliable than the naked eye?

Jim Bier commented:

telescopes are only more reliable for things that are very far away... for things that are near/ that surround you, your eye is better suited. Telescopes also have quite a narrow field of view.

Brehaut commented:

Seeing as somehow people may have missed my point, heres my beef with this quote.

The analogy used suggests that it is possible to threat theology scientifically. It also decides to throw out basic experimental method right from the get go. This being that you have optimally one variable.

The point of psychadelics and a trip is the continued novelty of the experience, otherwise it would be a buisness trip not an acid trip. This is not a tool that produces reliable results. If your equipment is unreliable you are studying your equipment (your brain on drugs) not the subject that you are intended to investigate.

Feel free to not treat theology scientifically, but if you choose to be scientific, bloody well be scientific. Gosh. Frickin idiots.

Matt commented:

Okay, I am totally going to slap you with some background. In the 60s and 70s there were a number of controlled experiments with drugs and 'religious experiments' – large groups of people, double- and triple-blind controlled experiments with placebo groups testing different variables.

The result of many of these experiments were consistent, repeatable phenomena, related directly to particular variables – specifically, the drug (usually LSD or mescaline) and the environment (a 'religious' environment, for instance, significantly changed the nature of the results.)

Also, Timothy Leary was "Assistant Professor at Berkeley (1950-1955), a director of psychiatric research at the Kaiser Family Foundation (1955-1958), and a lecturer in psychology at Harvard University (1959-1963)" (from his Wikipedia page), so I'm going to give him a little credit that he knew something of what he was doing.

But still, point taken.

era commented:

Jim: Given that the analogy was with astronomy, pointing out that a telescope isn't best instrument to see things near us is slightly beside the point.

Brehaut: I don't think Leary was suggesting that we treat theology scientifically, but instead that we study religious experiences scientifically. Now, I'm not entirely convinced that it is possible to study experience scientifically, but that is an issue with psychology in general.

Matt: Let me know what you make of his final lecture before he was fired. I remember it having a bit of influence on my world view at the time I read it. (I cannot recall what it is called, but it should be in 'the politics of ecstasy'.)

Nato commented:

Erm, matt, you've provided a number of manipulated variables (religious environment, drugs), but you haven't provided the measured variables. Hence I've no idea what effects you're talking about.

I think the main issue with the quote is that it confuses exactly why one is pursuing a religious life. If you are pursuing it merely for the experience, then by all means, take drugs that mess with your mind. If you are pursuing it as virtue, as a way of changing the world for the better, then I suggest you'll do this best by sticking with reality, and leave psychedelics alone.

Matt commented:

Allow me to add this, again from Timothy Leary:

The early people who discovered the microscopes, before they really knew how to grind lenses, were getting different amplifications and flaws in the lens. There's no security and there's no guarantee of complete safety in life—and the realistic attitude, the scientific attitude, is to check out, recognize, compare, but keep doing it, because you're only going to learn by trial and error.