Why bother having this conversation? Have you ever had an experience where there is something in your life where at first you kinda don't like, or think is boring, or completely irrelevant? And then something changes and it becomes very important to you."
What thoughts come to mind with the "R-word?" It is a very charged and loaded word with many meanings for many people. What words come to mind? (watch video above for positive and negative answers)
From The Psychology of Religion (1958) by Walter Houston Clark,
There is no more difficult word to define than "religion." ... With the full recognition that we are on ground where the experts disagree, and thus well aware of the hazards involved, we will venture our own definition. It is our feeling that religion can be most characteristically described as the inner experience of the individual when he senses a Beyond, especially as evidenced by the effect of this experience on his behavior when he actively attempts to harmonize his life with the Beyond.
Experiencing that feeling of a Beyond, a mystical, primary religious experience leads to the establishment of Doctrine, the first core element of religion.
W.T. Stace said that we shouldn’t be concerned about what triggered this initial experience of a Beyond... we should look at the experience itself. If it came from fasting, childbirth, psilocybin, or a near-death experience... how the experience originated does not prejudice the results.
Three elements at the heart of religion, according to Brother David
Steindl-Rast, Catholic Benedictine monk:
Something you now consider true about the world. The first eye-opening experience where you learn something or get a new perspective on ultimate reality. When you say, “Things are more connected than I thought they were.”
Once you have this doctrine where you feel.. believe.. experience that things are more connected than you once thought, maybe that called for you to live your life a little differently. Make better decisions about yourself, your livelihood, your health. Decisions about what to do and not to do….this is the seed of ethics.
Let’s suppose that you find these changes changes enlivening, it’s a quality of life improvement, this is a major gift that you have been given, actually, and you would like to give thanks for it. This gives rise to Ritual.
There can be multiple kinds of ritual... Simple, like just giving thanks when you wake up in the morning by saying, “Wow, it’s amazing that there’s something instead of nothing. I’m just so grateful to be alive. Ritual can also take profound forms that have the purpose of introducing new people, or yourself again, to mystical experience. So some ritual takes us back to mystical experience for you or for other people. The mystical experience gives you an opportunity to sanity check your doctrine, to make course corrections. The Church after Galileo probably needed to make a course correction.
This is the cycle, the system of religion when it works well. It regenerates itself. The doctrine does not harden or ossify because there is always a new mystical experience that can give rise to revisions of the cycle.
History tells us, however, that not all religions are renewed by mystical experience. The link back to mystical experience is broken. What happens when it’s broken and stays broken for too long? Brother David says, “Sad as it is, religion left to itself turns irreligious.”
Can you see how those things might flow from a failure of a healthy renewal system when that cycle stops, when these things ossify and then time goes on but they haven’t changed? How that, as amplified through hierarchy, through control structures, leads to a lot of the bad stuff that we uncovered in the beginning of this talk. So, no wonder the R-word is such a mixed and charged word.
“Spiritual but not religious” is
wrong, a mistake, it doesn’t serve.
History would show that in the middle of the last century or so, the words religion and spirituality were not sharply distinguished. In a more globally connected environment of news reports, suppose you’re swimming around in all the words that characterize the R-word, all the good stuff and all the bad stuff. Psychologists have this verb, “To Load.” A sociologist approaches you and says,
“Are you religious or are you spiritual?”
You have all this bad stuff and good stuff cooking up in your head…You’re going to load the bad stuff onto one word just because you were given the opportunity to do it, and you’re going to load all the good stuff onto the other word because you were given the opportunity to do it. Rinse, repeat. Rinse, repeat. Fifty years later, there’s a lot of people who quickly respond, “Oh, oh, I’m not religious, but I’m spiritual.” And I think we’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater.
If we can keep the teacup empty of the bad stuff and we can look at this very simplified model of religion, it will give us eyes to see something you couldn’t otherwise see. And that is, that religion turns up, or religious aspects, the phenomenon of religion, that cycle, turn up in a lot of places.
If part of the game of this presentation is to not be so prejudicial about the word religion, use adjectives instead of the word religion so that “religion,” by itself, is nonprejudicial. For example, speaking of religious communities as being immature vs. mature, or pathological ones vs. wholesome ones, or describe ones that haven’t gone through the mystical renewal in a long time that are kind of dead, they’re stuck. And then there are ones that are vital in renewing. Do you see the huge opportunity that opens up when we use adjectives instead of throwing all the bad things under one word that we’ve put in the trash bin? So if you do this enough, if you get steeped in the idea of trying to be more targeted in what you’re criticizing, we can see religion–its good aspects–thrive in more places.
Some pathologies of religion:
Separated from personal experience, uninspiring, unengaged, quietism, idolatry, hypocritical, corrupt, oppressive, paternalistic, sexual exploitation
Religion... Religious... Religious aspects?
Are there examples of new or flexible religious groups today? Is it possible to structure religion anew in ways that minimize the likelihood of pathologies and the bad thoughts?
A brief history of psychedelic psychiatry.
Nature: LSD helps to treat alcoholism.
Psilocybin-assisted treatment for alcohol dependence:
A proof-of-concept study.
They not only have the 12 Steps, but also have something called the 12 Traditions.
Here are a few...
“minimize problems of money, property and prestige”
They don’t own very much. They don’t own the buildings they have their meetings in. They pass the hat to collect money to cover the rent. They stay anonymous, in part, because they want to avoid problems of ego.
“Each group needs the least possible organization”
Why? There is less to go wrong. There is less structure that gets ossified and outgrow its usefulness.
“Rotating leadership is best”
They do acknowledge that there may be some specialists that they want to keep on to keep in a particular role, but the general role of leadership can be shared and passed around the circle.
“Authority from God as expressed in group conscience, not in the individual. ‘leaders serve,' not govern.’”
They’re kind of buffering themselves from delusion, if one person is going off on a tangent, it’s going to get checked. So we know that God is speaking more loudly if it’s coming through more people than just one.
“Each group is self-supporting”
There’s no big hierarchy with some sovereign state over in Europe with its own international country code, etc.
“Attraction rather than promotion”
They’ve decided to grow through attraction, not promotion. What does that have the effect of? It has the effect of saying, “We’re not proselytizing. If we are attractive to you, you will come to us.” So they’re not really competing. They’ve taken themselves out of competition.
“Common welfare comes first”
Quakers (Religious Society of Friends)
One reason I’ve heard in casual conversation about why people don’t like religion is that they think that being part of a religion means you have to believe something. And you may show up in a building where you’re required to say words out loud about what you believe, and what happens if you don’t believe exactly that thing. You’re basically forced to perjure yourself. But it’s not true that religions need to be creedal. The Quakers are a non-creedal religion. You can come believing anything or nothing.
"Heavily engaged in social justice"
Mystical experience --> Doctrine --> Ethics
If you’ve had the experience of a Beyond, there’s stuff you feel compelled to do in the world out of compassion because nothing is separate from you. The Quakers are considered a religion. When is the last time you’ve heard of a sex scandal with a Quaker clerk?
"Something of God in everyone"
"Voteless decisions by “unity” (concord)"
Final thoughts on religion from Mr. Jesse...
The phenomenon ‘religion’ is here to stay, not just ‘spirituality.’
Aikido teaches to blend instead of oppose.
We’re learning to do religion better, potentially to great good.
Direct experience, tempered through community, keeps it vital.
Psilocybin, Not Prozac or Xanax, Shows Promise for Existential and Spiritual Distress
Alexander "Sasha" Shulgin: Why I Do What I Do (1983). Santa Barbara, CA
Top Ayahuasca Researchers Discuss Challenges and Achievements
NIMH Director Thomas Insel & Meditation Researcher Richard Davidson Deconstruct Mindfulness Meditation at Davos 2015
Psychology Study Explains Psychedelic Ethics: Awe, the Small Self, and Prosocial Behavior
LSD Neuroscience: David Nichols, Ph.D. PsychedelicScience2013
Science & Sacraments: Psychedelic Research & Mystical Experiences - Purdue University Psychoactive Substances Research Collection
Light at the End of the Tunnel for Heffter Research Institute and the Acceptance of Entheogens?
Krebs & Johansen of Norway Top Supporters of Well-Being in US & World
Mindfulness Coach, a Meditation App for Veterans
Non-Partisan Marijuana Bill Introduced that Could Justify Re-Scheduling of Psilocybin, LSD
Robert Jesse bio from the Erowid character vaults:
He also lead the writing of an amicus brief for the U.S. Supreme Court in support of the União do Vegetal's use of a sacramental tea containing DMT, a controlled substance. The Supreme Court unanimously upheld the UdV’s right to its practice.
Mr. Jesse was at one time a vice president at Oracle and has formal training in electrical engineering and computer science.