Are Drugs a Path to the Divine?

Can we find God in a pill? Back when he did his interviews with Bill Moyers, Joseph Campbell lamented that religion wasn’t doing it for young people anymore so they were turning to drugs as a way to experience transcendence. They weren’t the first.   Rimbaud, Coleridge, Baudelaire all used drugs as a path to art, to heighten consciousness, which is a path to transcendence. Timothy Leary tried to tell us that LSD was a sacrament, calling it a ”chemico-mystical union of the self and the universe…” Was he right? Radio Lab recently had a segment on the early LSD experiments with some haunting commentary by one of the participants who said the experience was so profound it defies description. This is one way people often talk about the Divine, a numinous experience, beyond words, beyond thought, just pure connection with something out there.

Can we find God in a bottle? William James said in his inimitable style: “The sway of alcohol over mankind is unquestionably due to its power to stimulate the mystical faculties of human nature, usually crushed to earth by the cold facts and dry criticisms of the sober hour…It brings its votary from the chill periphery of things to the radiant core…To the poor and the unlettered it stands in the place of symphony concerts and of literature.” Whoa. Is he saying if we had more orchestras we’d need fewer bars?

Can we find God in a helmet? Michael Persinger at the U of Ontario claims to have replicated the feeling of the presence of God through a helmet that creates a weak magnetic field Put it on the market and who wouldn’t want one? Grab your helmet for a quick walk with God.

Is it all a mirage? How could you ever prove it was or it wasn’t? No one can get inside your head but you–so far. But what’s interesting in all these examples, is that we Homo sapiens seem driven to search for that kind of transcendental experience, that feeling we get when we get “out of ourselves”—ek stase…as the Old Greeks said, that deep, satisfying sense of connection to the Sublime. Apparently there are many out there who believe that we can get to this point very quickly with a pill, a drink, or a magnet. But it’s the theme of my book, that human-to-human contact is the path we ought to be most interested in. It’s by looking deep into the eyes of another that we will find the highs. Drugs may do it too, but my guess is, it’s so much more satisfying to embrace your fellow travelers, to link arms with them and face life, than to escape into a pill or bottle.

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