Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Psychedelic Christianity

I have a little unexpected timelessness this morning to ponder the imponderable...

Back when I was in graduate school, I happily toiled as a retail clerk, often on the graveyard shift. The tranquility and silence of an empty supermarket afforded me much facetime with myself; this forced contact between me and my own dreadful abyss helps explain why, to this very day, I am able to live with myself. Or at least tolerate the bastard.

But that gets old after awhile, so I started listening to a portable radio. This was before the days of widespread talk radio, plus I was a lefty back then, so I would frequently tune into the barking lefthound side of the dial, i.e., public- and listener-supported radio. If you think what goes on there during the day is crazy, you should listen in at 3:00 AM, when no one's listening.

For many years I was devoted to a program on Pacifica Radio called Something's Happening. It was on Sunday through Friday mornings, like midnight to 6:00 AM, and featured all kinds of counter-cultural metaphysical, mystical, scientific, political, and religious sense and nonsense. (Looks like it is still on to this day.) For example, once a week it featured lectures by Alan Watts and Krishnamurti. I also remember frequent talks by Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Noam Chomsky, Joseph Campbell, David Bohm, and various Buddhists, Jungian psychologists, astrologers, and sundry healers and holy men.

But the guest who made the biggest impression on me was the "ethnobotanist" Terence McKenna. Many if not most readers will have heard of him. He was one of the most mesmerizing speakers I had ever heard, able to somehow combine science with the psychedelic experience in such away that he made the weirdness of it all seem plausible. At least at 3:00 AM, when the world was soundasleep but the right brain was wideawake.

Although I reject a lot of his details, he definitely helped open me to the transdimensional nature of reality. Through him I was introduced to Whitehead, Joyce, mystical Christianity, and other enduring themes and interests. Ultimately I think it's because of him that I wanted to write a Really Weird Book. In fact, one of my problems with Christianity was that it wasn't weird enough. In reality it's plenty weird, but the weirdness tends to get worn away as the shocking message tumbles down the centuries.

Anyway, I was recently thumbing through a volume of his works and was reminded of how I am still attracted to the idea of a psychedelic Christianity, minus the psychedelics.

In the preface to the book, he (humbly) speaks of how he "had apparently evolved into a sort of mouthpiece for the incarnate Logos," based upon the startled reaction of his listeners: "I could talk to small groups of people with what appeared to be electrifying effect about the peculiarly transcendental matters that you will read about in these pages."

I well remember the electrifying effect, although I don't know that it would occur today, some thirty or more years later. But I know what he means when he writes that "It was as though my ordinary, rather humdrum personality had simply been turned off and speaking through me was the voice of another, a voice that was steady, unhesitating, and articulate -- a voice seeking to inform others about the power and promise" of other dimensions.

Now, religion as such is obviously about the power and promise of these other dimensions, and about revealing the hidden vertical continuity between Here and There. Back when I was conceiving the book, I concluded that, just as animals presumably evolved into a specifically human consciousness, human consciousness was evolving further into a spiritual dimension; or rather, animal neurology evolved to the point that it could enter the human space (or they could sponsor the ingression of a soul), and it is the task of human beings to further explore and acclimate themselves to a spiritual space that is prior to them. "Civilization" is its terrestrial residue.

McKenna speaks of consciousness as a "hyper-organ" that gives access "to the doorway" through which "the dead pass daily." What I would say is that mind is the first nonlocal organ, not bound by space and time but able to rise above and beyond it into realms of truth, beauty, goodness and unity. But we need to develop it in order "to navigate in hyperspace" and get to know the area.

McKenna helped me to connect everyday language to the Logos, and to show their necessary relationship. The trick is "to describe the phenomenon as accurately as possible. My task is compounded by the fact that the phenomenon I must try to describe has itself to do with the very tools of description; i.e., language.... since the phenomenon begins at the edge of language, where the concept-forming faculty gropes but finds no words, I must be careful to avoid not distinguishing between mere language-symbol-metaphor and the reality I am attempting to apply it to."

This is precisely what I attempted to do in the prologue and epilogue of the book. I'm not saying I succeeded, only that I was toying or playing with the idea of deploying language to make present the reality to which it is pointing. Or as McKenna describes it, it is a making visible of "the normally invisible syntactical web that holds both language and the world together." Hey, someone's gotta do it.

McKenna also helped me make sense of Christian eschatology, the idea that history aims at its own fulfillment beyond history; history is "the shock wave of the final actualization of the potential of the human psyche." Thus, the thing we call history is a kind of race down from the trees of west Africa, to the wide open spaces of temporal change and development, and back up the nonlocal tree whose roots are aloft and branches down below.

To be continued...


julie said...

In fact, one of my problems with Christianity was that it wasn't weird enough.

It's easy to see where people make that mistake. Or else they think it's weird in all the ways they don't like.

mushroom said...

That's what I focused on, too. I think some people are drawn to pentecostal/charismatic Christianity as "Jesus -- Now with extra weirdness".

Note that I say that as a Pentecostal myself. I do draw the line at snake-handling. I think it is possible to be realistically weird without being delusional.

ted said... wasn't weird enough

Now that's where the drugs do come in.

William Wildblood said...

Hm, I think you're off base with this one, Bob, if you don't mind me saying so. I see McKenna as someone who had broken through to the psychic plane but was a long way off from spiritual understanding. Psychedelic drugs don't reveal reality. They just expose one to the substratum of physical matter, the psychic energy field of the planet. When I see a saint coming out of that background I might recant but I don't expect that at any time soon. It's the world of the gods perhaps but not that of God.

Gagdad Bob said...

I agree about McKenna. I wasn't praising him per se, only suggesting that he opened me up to some other important perspectives at the time. As with anyone who isn't guided by tradition, he was often quite wrong about things. He was like a channel but with no discipline, so he opened himself up to both good and bad spiritual influences.

William Wildblood said...

Sorry, I misunderstood. It's true, I liked Dark Star by the Grateful Dead but I wouldn't look to it for enlightenment!

julie said...

Sometimes, simply the exposure to the idea that there really is Something More creates enough of a crack in the old block that the true light can find its way in.

EbonyRaptor said...

Yeah in this wasteland where I'm livin'
There is a crack in the door filled with light
And it's all that I need to get by