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Drugs and Religion

Drugs have played a critical role in religion and spirituality for thousands of years. At times some religions celebrated and embraced the use of drugs like psilocybin, mescaline and cannabis, and at other times different religions set about to discourage and even ban the use of drugs and alcohol. However, even the major branches of organized religion allow certain tolerances to their rules regardless of whether they generally allow or disallow the consumption of mood-altering substances. This is evidenced by religious ceremony in nearly every nation in the world where psychoactive substances figure prominently in the practice of “getting closer to God.” However, the question of whether religion and spiritual expression naturally invite the use of mood altering substances or whether both religion and addiction are simply co-occurring conditions of man will likely be forever unanswered.

The lines between religious experience and the experiences brought about by the use of natural and synthetic drugs are often blurred. It is perhaps for this very reason that drug use has at times been alternately persecuted and embraced by major and minor organized religions. As Dr. Huston Smith stated in his paper titled Do Drugs Have Religious Import?, the observations related to religious experience and chemically altered states of perception could best be stated thus:

“Every experience is a mix of three ingredients: drug, set (the psychological makeup of the individual) and setting (the social and physical environment in which it is taken). But given the right set and setting, the drugs can induce religious experiences indistinguishable from ones that occur spontaneously.”(1)

This is likely the most balanced perception of the issue: that practiced religion can obviously lead to religious experience, but drugs must be tempered with mindset, environment and intent in order to produce a religious experience; although the mindset and environment do not necessarily need to be religious ones. While some religions seem to embrace this concept, such as Rastafarian, Hindi and Judaism, others scorn it as a matter of practice; especially Buddhism, Islam and many sects of Christianity.

Rastafarian: Embraces the use of Cannabis as a means to relax and channel spiritual and religious energy. Frowns on casual use of marijuana and all other types of drugs.

Hinduism: Encourages the use of Soma and Cannabis as plants given directly to the people for divine use, whether in personal or public ceremony or worship.

Judaism: Most Jewish sects regard the consumption of alcohol to achieve an altered state of consciousness as acceptable, and many require it as a part of certain rites of passage.

Christianity: There are many different types of Christianity, but most do not look well upon the use of illicit chemicals. Alcohol use in moderation is tolerated and even used as part of some rituals, but in general the religion advises that drinking to excess is sinful.

Islam: This faith believes that altering the mind or the body with chemicals or intoxicants of any type is not conducive to being a good Muslim, and in some cases strict penalties are laid out for those people who do use drugs or drink alcohol.

Buddhism: Buddhists believe similarly to Muslims in that the idea of harming or altering the mind or body is an affront to the very foundation of the religion.

Other, smaller religions around the world have included mind altering substances as a regular part of rituals: the Aztecs used hallucinogens as did the Mayans, Native Americans took spiritual journeys with the aid of peyote, and indigenous peoples from all over the world have used plants, herbs, mushrooms and even animals and fish to obtain a spiritual and physical “high.”

However, as Dr. Huston’s quote above indicates, drugs need the right mindset and the right environment in order to produce a religious experience. It could also be argued that religion has the same requirements and therefore spirituality is likely something that is inside people regardless of religious affiliation or drug use.

But no matter what your beliefs are, if you are struggling with a drug problem and need help, you can get it right now. All you have to do is dial the number at the top of your screen and you can get a free consultation without being judged in any way. Your spirituality and indeed your very life may depend on it.

(1) Huston Smith, PhD. Do Drugs Have Religious Import? The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. LXI, No. 18, September 17, 1964
http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/lsd/hsmith.htm
Accessed 06/15/2011

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