There are two aspects of drug use that I think are worth considering as part of this question. The first is that they tend to impair us. The second is how they can expose us to a transcendent reality.
So in looking at that first aspect. What do we mean by impairment? Well, all those qualities that help us exercise our free will: our reason, our good judgement, our physical and mental faculties, become compromised when we’re impaired.
I’d say that these qualities that are impaired are the qualities that make us uniquely human and if you’re a Christian, you should understand it in even more significant terms. We believe that God made us in his image. This spark of divinity is what we’re talking about here. Freedom, intelligence, the ability to make sound judgements and actions; these are the things we forfeit when we become impaired.
So, in re-examining that question, if impairing and suppressing the qualities that make us more like God, is the outcome of our drug use, do you think it’s something that God approves of?
The other aspect that I mentioned earlier is that some drugs are said to open us up to profound transcendent or mystical experiences, so, some might argue, that this is a really good thing for someone wanting to grow in their spirituality.
There are even clinical studies that have considered the implications of this kind of thing. William James, who is considered, by many, to be forefather of American psychology looked extensively at mystical religious experiences as an antidote to many of the psychological disorders that we suffer from. He noticed that mystical religious experiences help us find more permanent forms of happiness and help us more easily embrace altruistic behaviours.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins have tried to recreate these kinds of mystical experiences using psilocybin, which is the active ingredient in magic mushrooms. But in their experiment, they’ve introduced an interesting variable. They’ve recruited volunteers who are leaders in their respective religious communities to undergo the trials.
Their hope, I think, is that these individuals will be able to bring some insight to those mystical experiences based on the fact that they are living lives that would be most exposed to naturally occurring mystical experiences.
And that’s where I’d like to draw some conclusions. I think there’s a principle that they are drawing from which is that profound experiences or knowledge should only come to those who are ready for it. Those who have a certain level of experience and training for which those kinds of experiences might be the natural consequence of the way they live their lives.
So, for us Christians, that might look like someone who has lived a life that is very close to God, so that if they were to have a mystical revelation, it would be something that they could handle and gain some growth and insight from. Like the Stigmata of St. Francis. Most of us would probably be traumatized by that, but for him, it only helped him grow in intimacy with God.
For those of us that haven’t reached those heights, to artificially produce a mystical experience might have dangerous consequences because of the lack of preparedness for that kind of thing.
Knowledge is a powerful thing and should be disseminated gradually. Like in an education scenario, you don’t introduce immature students to the most difficult concepts. You build up to that so that when they do encounter the tough stuff, they’re ready for it.
Another analogy that might help is money or power. If you give money or power to a person that hasn’t earned it, then they won’t appreciate the value of it because it hasn’t cost them anything. A person who has had to earn their wealth knows the value of it because they likely had to make sacrifices for it and by the time they receive their reward, they will have probably learned a thing or two about using it and managing it with maturity.
But if you were to give millions of dollars to your average 20 something bro, he’d likely make some pretty stupid decisions with it.
In Christianity, mystical experiences aren’t very common. God chose to reveal himself in the incarnation of his son by becoming one of us. He meets us where we are at in a way that is accessible and not overwhelming. It’s only the saints among us that get to peak behind the curtain for a reason. They’re ready for that vision. Most of us are not.
I don’t know if psychedelic drugs produce authentic spiritual experiences or not, but whether they’re artificial or the real thing, there’s something to it that contradicts the pattern that God has set for us.
If we want mystical experiences, we should pray for them and leave it to God to decide if we’re ready for them or not.