Friday, August 9, 2019

Entheogen: the Source, Substance, and Bane of Religions

Art by Alex Grey
The strangest thing about the major religions isn’t that their practitioners are adults that have childlike beliefs about invisible persons, miracles, and life after death. No, what’s most puzzling about religions is that they aren’t upfront about the fact that the entheogen or psychotropic substance is their source and essence. We know from ancient religious art and from scattered references in religions such as Hinduism and the Eleusinian Mysteries that their practitioners employed hallucinogenic drugs. We know also that shamanism is likely the oldest religion, associated as it was with Paleolithic animism, and that shamans used these drugs and other techniques to achieve altered states of consciousness.

There are at least three possible reasons for the religions’ coyness about their psychedelic basis.

First, assuming that the drug produces only hallucinations or perceptual illusions, the extent to which a religion is based on such experiences could easily be the extent to which the religion is a fraud, in which case this origin of theological content could be kept hidden out of embarrassment or denial.

Second, there’s the social need for the esoteric/exoteric divide, since the knowledge or experience nevertheless obtained from the use of entheogens is potentially harmful both to the individual’s mental integrity and to social organizations. This means that religious myths may refer obliquely to their true source and substance, as a test of the readiness of the audience to absorb the shocking truth. As Jesus says about his use of parables, “The mystery of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to those on the outside, everything is expressed in parables, so that, ‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven’” (Mark 4:11-12). Here Jesus quotes Isaiah 6, where the prophet receives his commission from an angry Yahweh who condemns the people of Judah for their faithlessness in the face of the Assyrian invaders. The message is that most people aren’t fit for spiritual wisdom and so the ultimate truths have to be protected with secrecy.

Third, the secrecy empowers some at the expense of others. The point needn’t be that those who have religious power are familiar with the psychedelic basis of religion, and that they mean to retain their advantages by guarding the source of their knowledge; on the contrary, the exploitation of others is a sign that the dominator has only a mundane mentality. (Even the psychopath who’s abandoned social norms and who is thus in some ways freer than the benighted followers typically reverts to a standpoint of genetic egoism.) The third possibility, rather, is that those with religious power over others mean to eliminate the substance of religion, such as by helping to ban entheogens, and to distract the masses with cheap and shallow substitutes, to ignore existential questions and indulge in profane games.

An Apparent Psychedelic Epiphany

But is psychedelic experience the basis of theistic beliefs? I suspect that it is. Here, for example, is a description of an experience I had recently in a relatively mild altered state of consciousness. I’ve never used any psychoactive drug beyond cannabis, and I’ve smoked that only a handful of times in total. Cannabis is now legal in Canada where I live, and a few weeks ago one of my brothers left me some marijuana and a vape pen on his way back to the States. One evening, I stepped outside and took two deep inhalations of the drug. I sat down on the couch and soon felt vibrations throughout my body, as though every part were being massaged even down to my feet. I had a glass of water with me, believing (wrongly) that water can moderate the effects. The last time I smoked cannabis, some years ago, I had a jarring experience since I had tried to fight the full impact on my mind. This time there would be no fighting that impact, since apparently my inhalations were more successful or the weed was stronger than in my previous attempts. As I write this, I can’t now recall the details as well as I did shortly after the experience, but there was an expanded sense of interoception, which is to say I felt more strongly my body’s interior processes such as my heartbeat, which sped up alarmingly. My mind felt like it was being ripped from my head and there was a strange sense that I was controlling my body as if in a video game. There were hypnagogic flashes of rectangular shapes in my field of vision, as though I had to mentally turn a few levers to break through to the higher state. In general, there was a sense that I was rushing internally elsewhere. By that point I thought I should be near a tap in case I needed more water, so I moved to the kitchen sink, which was soon to feel like my version of the Buddha’s Bodhi tree.

My mind seemed to shoot upward and then to swell with what felt like omniscience. It felt like I had access to all ultimate knowledge, but there was a duality, which is to say my ordinary consciousness or ego remained in the background. That limited, more familiar side of my mind asked the apparently omniscient side questions and received the answers. And what answers they were! The curious point is that when you’re in that state, there’s no doubt whatsoever about the truth of the answers you receive. There’s implicit trust or faith in the entheogenic partner, in the part of my brain that was possessed or inflamed by the cannabis. As strange as the psychedelic speculations were, when I was “high”—and that term itself is significant since you do feel literally high, as in an out-of-body experience—I felt like I knew the absolute truth of those thoughts, to the point where I kept thinking with respect to those thoughts, “This can’t be real,” and then came the sense, the feeling, the experience that of course it is indeed real, as mind-blowing as that may be.

So what were those psychedelic thoughts? I came to know, in that seemingly omniscient state, that all of reality consists fundamentally of one mind and one body. Our creaturely-conscious selves are fragments or bridges to that omniscient mind, and the natural universe is that mind’s body. My mundane, limited self raised the doubt that any such revelation for me must be drawn merely from my philosophical and religious studies, meaning that I couldn’t be learning some great truth but was only magnifying or toying with ideas I read or wrote somewhere. The strangest response to that doubt popped into my head, and again this answer came with the implicit trust or ecstatic acceptance of the truth of that response. I wasn’t just receiving answers in the form of words or opinions but was experiencing the thoughts as ecstatic revelations. The response to that doubt—and I still shudder to think of it—was that all of cultural history consists of the attempt to remember the truth of our divine identity, so that the texts I read, such as Plato’s dialogues and various religious scriptures were so many attempts to recapture the one mind’s self-awareness via the imperfect means of mundane, often distant and garbled representations.

There was thus a chicken and egg problem: Which came first, the rapture or the series of philosophical and theological descriptions? Was I thinking about metaphysical matters in my altered state, because I enjoyed thinking about such things in my ordinary life? Or do philosophy and religion exist in the first place because of a universal psychedelic experience? I remember thinking how ironic it was that the truth is so near and yet so far. Just two puffs are all I took and suddenly my ordinary worldview was blown apart. So people throughout history would have come upon these altered states, thanks to entheogens or fasting, drumming, dancing or other ways of inducing a trance, including perhaps a near-death experience; the altered state would wear off and they’d try to put the pieces back together. More specifically, they would remember different fragments of the experience, depending on the drug they took or the assumptions they had brought to bear.

Thus, culture consists of something like memories in Plato’s sense: scattered echoes of euphoric self-knowledge, echoes which are eventually ossified and falsified like the artifacts that accumulate in the process of making copies of photocopies. Indeed, Plato loomed large in this experience, since he wrote of transdimensional memory, of the world-soul in the Timaeus, and of false or illusory reality as a system of second-rate copies. Again, I knew in the back of my mind that I’d already read about this, some years ago as a philosophy undergraduate, but now it felt like I knew the truth of such speculations, because it felt like a part of my mind was the omniscient One, the source with access to the Forms or general knowledge of all things. So which came first? Was Plato an initiate of the Eleusinian Mysteries in which he partook of a psychoactive substance? Was his Orphism based on altered states of mind, so that when his writings happened to survive and end up in my hands, many centuries later, they effectively forewarned what I might learn in a comparable altered state? Or putting aside Plato, did the concepts similar to that of the world-soul or anima mundi, found in numerous major religions and philosophies, including Christianity (Holy Spirit), Taoism (Tao), Hinduism (Atman), and Mahayana Buddhism (Buddha-nature) derive from a real, psychedelic feeling of being one with a universal mind?

Another of the thoughts that seemed to come to me from a higher source was that prophets or charismatic individuals who lead religious movements without cynicism or ulterior motives must be precisely those who do remember the experience of feeling like God, but who are overwhelmed by these memories so that they lose their mundane preoccupations. Their minds become completed bridges to or vessels for the higher Mind. I mused what it would be like if I were lost in that state, if the drug were to permanently rewire my brain so that I’d have to try to function throughout life with a sky-high mind. Would I come across as profound or as pretentious and incoherent like Gerald in the South Park episode “Major Boobage”?

In any case, each of these revelations felt like a wave crashing through my limbs. So standing at the sink, hunched over, my arms spread apart and my hands grasping the edges of the counter, my limbs would periodically go weak as one after another Thought flashed through me. This was due to the drug’s relaxing effect on my muscles: although my heart was seemingly racing to keep up with the expanded consciousness, my limbs and neck felt as loose as water, so I was waving along with the rhythm of the divine discourse. At the start of the high I drank lots of water, but it didn’t reduce the high, so eventually I remember putting the glass into the sink for fear that I’d drop it in my relaxed state. Gradually, the high faded and ordinary objects like the window and cabinets snapped back into their familiar forms, without the background hyper-awareness. But the high dissipated in waves, not all at once, so the great understanding would return but for shorter and shorter durations. I recall looking at the clock over the stove to determine how much time I’d been standing there, and it was around thirty or forty minutes. One of the last of the “high” thoughts I had was, “…if you can remember it,” as in, “All of which revelations are there for the taking, but good luck remembering them or feeling their profundity for long.”

The Conspiracy of Authentic Religious Experience

The religious implications even of that low-grade altered state are obvious. Hinduism, in particular, could easily have arisen from similar states, as could the prophetic tradition of Judaism. Moses saw God in a burning bush, he heard God’s voice, and he asked God questions and received divine answers. Is the reference to a bush a faded reflection of the fact that, when ingested, certain plants actually produce the feeling that you’re talking to a deity? The duality of theophanies, their question-and-answer dialectic could be due to the fact that certain entheogens don’t obliterate the ego, so that your ordinary conscious self is left to gape in awe at the Mind encountered with the drug. The entheogen may relax the mind as well as the body, removing your pragmatic focus on what you deem rationally probable, so that you implicitly trust or marvel at whatever you receive in that altered state. Could that drug-induced ecstasy be the source of genuine religious faith, with dogmatic certainty in uninspired or contrived theological doctrines being due more to the exploitation of the child’s comparable innocence in the societal process of religious indoctrination?

There are two big questions raised by this hypothesis, that religions are based on altered states of consciousness caused by the use of psychoactive plants. The first question is whether the experiences are of some supernatural reality. For example, do you feel like you’re in touch with God, while high, because you really are so? Does the drug alter the brain and somehow liberate the mind to literally contact a divine intelligence? Are some or all of the entities hallucinated in psychedelic trips real rather than illusory?

Surprisingly, that first question seems less important than the second, which is this: Is culture largely a linguistic or behavioural echo of the ecstatic, entheogenic experience? Do some of the foundational presuppositions of most cultures derive from so many interpretations of firsthand altered states of awareness? The reason the second question seems more important is that, given the universality both of religions and of entheogens in both history and around the planet, the answer to the second question is more clearly in the affirmative. Occam’s razor precludes a realist answer to the first question. In the case of my experience, for example, I was indeed just going with the flow of enhanced imagination, riffing on my various studies. Cannabis is famous for opening up the mind’s creativity, freeing it to explore ideas by dampening your skeptical or cynical impulses and imbuing each idea with a magical aura.

But this only pushes the problem back a step. If my seeming epiphany was influenced by specific writings in the culture, what would have been the content of such an entheogenic experience in prehistoric times, prior to writing? The hunter-gatherer’s oral traditions maintained by the tribe’s elders might have dictated the contents of the revelations, and the drug would have been revered and might have been reserved for the shaman’s use. At some point, though, entheogens were discovered and used for the first time in a cultural lineage. Intuitions, instincts, and the background assumptions of hunter-gatherer life, then, would have directed the contents of the first apparent theophanies, as would the phenomenological structure of the experience.

That structure is universal for each entheogen, since the physiological changes underlie any theological or skeptical interpretation of the altered state’s contents. I’ve already suggested some elements of that structure for cannabis: the muscle relaxation, the reduction of inhibitions, the enhanced creativity, the duality in the question-and-answer dialectic, and the enchantment of the ensuing introspection that inspires faith and euphoria. In the Paleolithic period, there must have been early, relatively unprejudiced encounters with entheogens, which could have initiated the animistic beliefs and shamanic practices of the earliest religions. Philosophy and theology unfolded by cultural memory (oral and written traditions) and cross-cultural interactions up to the present, as civilized ways of coping with the potential for what feels like real theophany or for re-immersion into a mythopoeic headspace.

What’s at least as certain as the unlikelihood of any supernatural effect of entheogens is that the religious experience itself is real, historically very early, and universally available. This isn’t to say that the contents of everyone’s altered states are identical. Different drugs, ideological intentions, and settings will produce different psychedelic trips. But according to my readings, what’s universal is the religious overtone of these trips, particularly with respect to certain psychoactive plants such as cannabis, psilocybin mushrooms, DMT, and ayahuasca. The drug’s effects may fade, allowing the skeptical, pragmatic mindset to reassert its control, but the experience isn’t easily shaken off. What persists is the memory that the experience felt far more real even than ordinary perceptions.

This must be comparable to the through-the-looking-glass glee of the conspiracy theorist who’s undergone a permanent gestalt switch. There’s consensus reality, dictated largely by the powers that be, and then there are radicals who challenge conventional wisdom. Conspiracy theorists differ from philosophers, though, in that the former don’t know how to think well, so they end up fallaciously assimilating the evidence to suit their radical presumptions. But the point is that you can be radicalized, meaning that you can reject a popular worldview in favour of a bizarre minority viewpoint. Unless you unquestionably witness a UFO or Bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster, you have little reason to regard such wild things as real. However, it’s a lot easier to have a seeming epiphany than it is to break into Area 51 or to track down a fabled creature in the forest; all you have to do is take a proper dose of the right intoxicant.

Regardless of whether mainstream religious folks are aware of what they’re doing, the function of these religions seems to be to suppress religious experience, by the devious method of offering up a debased, milquetoast form of that experience. The more acceptable the religion is to conventional society and the more dependent the religious institution is on secular mores, the more likely that religion will call for the prohibition of psychoactive drugs for recreational or entheogenic use. This is like a painter who produces scores of paintings which are systematically stolen, scribbled over, and sold as if they were the originals, while the fraudster bans the original artist from producing more paintings. The chutzpah of organized religionists is off the charts and this audacity is only an indirect measure of the strangeness of the psychedelic religious experience: to cover up something so world-altering and so readily available, you need to resort to the least honourable tactics. Thus, religions are supposed to be about finding God, but instead of wholeheartedly recommending the use of entheogens to mass produce religious experiences, organized religions hold out their institutions as socially-acceptable intermediaries. To be sure, these religions pretend to long for God’s final judgment, even though God would be least inclined to accept any human society. But rather than subvert societies by way of foreshadowing God’s apocalyptic judgment, organized religions compromise with secular, implicitly atheistic goals.

Of course, the mainstream religionist will say that psychoactive drugs produce only illusions that have nothing to do with God. In that case the religionist will have shot herself in the foot, since the very concept of God surely derives from interpretations of altered states of consciousness. If even the prehistoric origin and apparent experiential essence of religions is hallucinatory or otherwise mentally projective, how could lame theological substitutes, such as mere creeds and doctrines bring anyone closer to divine reality? If the actual feeling of talking to God in an altered state is an illusion, how could the mere preposterous assertion that you’ll talk to God after you die be at all trustworthy, let alone central to a respectable way of life?

18 comments:

  1. Cannabis has been underrated as a psychedelic. I ate two marijuana cookies once and the results were so mind-blowingly horrific that I vowed never to take the drug again. The whole five hour ordeal was like living through a Lovecraft story. I have also had many experiences like the one you describe here, but nearly all of them occured during meditation; the only one I had under the influence of any drug was when I drank some 16 year old shu puerh tea - but that could have been a coincidence.

    Organized theism could be defined as a conspiracy to suppress spiritual experiences. It's why they forbid not only drugs, but meditation and yoga. The charlatans who run these churches at least understand enough about psychedelic or spiritual experiences to know that no one who's experienced the real deal would ever have any interest in organized religion ever again. Having said that, there are a few exceptions such as the Quakers, Shakers and Pentecostals that do encourage members to enter altered states of consciousnees; though whether these sects can be described as 'organized' is debatable.

    I don't believe that the information received during altered states of consciousness is necessarily delusional. The delusion comes afterward when the subject tries to fit that experience within the narrow box of their belief system. If you study the mystical literature of various religions the common denominators stand out remarkably. Notice, however, that mysticism tends to be a later development in most cases. Muhammad may have heard the voice of Gabriel and Moses may have spoken to the burning bush, but there doesn't seem to be anything particularily mystical about these experiences. Yahweh was a fierce tribal deity, not some mystical ground of being. Allah is more universal than Yahweh, but he seems more like a mental projection of Muhammad's egoism than the kind of being the Sufis believe in. Mystics enter these altered states through either prayer or drugs and then go on to use religious language to describe the experience; but it doesn't follow from there that religion arose from these experiences. Theistic religion, in my opinion, is the product of either charlatanism or mental illness.

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    1. It’s interesting how “set and setting” help determine the contents of the psychedelic trip. I suspect this need to purify your intentions, to fix your life to the point of not having much stress or anxiety before taking a strong psychoactive drug may be the origin of the theological idea of God’s judgment in the end times. The only verifiable “divine” judgment is when a shaman or initiate has the courage to take the entheogen, whereupon he or she will either have a good or a bad trip. The drug amplifies our prior mental states, so the trip effectively tests whether we’ve been naughty or nice. (The colours of Santa Claus’s outfit are the same as the fly agaric mushroom. Read the Inhabitat article linked below for a fascinating example of how religion eliminates authentic religious experience by co-opting the psychedelic tradition and offering up a bastardized shell in its place).

      I wonder which religions forbid meditation and yoga. There were underground Tantric movements in India, I believe, but I’d have thought yoga was developed by ascetics who were “banned” only in that they’d have voluntarily removed themselves from society.

      Mysticism would indeed be a late religious development, because it’s a type of subversive, parasitic, antisocial interpretation—“everything is one, so nothing really matters or we should all hold hands and stop fighting”—that has to be supported by a thriving civilization. The earliest psychedelic trips were taken by shamans (or by Paleolithic medicine men), and those trips were eminently practical. The shaman’s job was to use the religious experience to arrive at solutions to the tribe’s real-world problems, not just to sit there stoned and useless, to selfishly achieve moksha. Of course, many societies deserve to be subverted or renounced, but that’s another story.

      I agree that Yahweh began as a warrior sky god, not as anything like the Hindu ground of being (although Yahweh develops into that ground as Judaism became more and more monotheistic, in competition with Zoroastrianism). But the burning bush story still has those features in common with a cannabis high: the question-and-answer dialectic between the humbled ego and some omniscient mind, or at least the ecstatic trust you feel when these wild thoughts or “commandments” flow through your stoned, open mind.

      As to the historical origins, Islam and Christianity came from Judaism, of course; Judaism came from Canaanite religion, and that latter religion was heavily influenced by Egyptian and Mesopotamian religions. There’s some evidence that those latter cultures employed psychoactive substances (see the Ancient Origins link below). In any case, my main point here is broader: religions in general derive ultimately from prehistoric animism, which in turn was associated with the equivalent of shamanism, and shamans used psychoactive drugs to achieve altered states of consciousness. So indirectly, at least, the concepts of life after death and of invisible spirits that could be socialized with seem to originate from the bizarre mental projections or intensified intuitions featured in the psychedelic trip.

      There is some evidence of psychedelic trips in the Bible, though. See the excellent third article linked below. Ezekiel, for example, has a trippy vision of angels (Ezek. Chapt.1). Revelations, too, is pretty out there.

      https://inhabitat.com/santa-and-the-shrooms-the-real-story-behind-the-design-of-christmas/

      https://www.ancient-origins.net/news-history-archaeology/new-research-provides-first-peek-ancient-mesopotamian-drug-use-009934

      https://akademiai.com/doi/full/10.1556/2054.2019.004

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  2. Those were some interesting articles. I knew Santa Claus was pre-Christian, but I had no knowledge of the Siberian shamanic connection. I thought I knew the Bible pretty well, but I guess you have to know what to look for to catch the drug references. Maybe the burning bush was really a burning weed.

    Regarding drug induced experiences: I make a sharp distinction between hallucinations and blissful feelings. The blissful states I associate with genuine insight, but the hallucinations are just delusions as far as I'm concerned (at least I hope they are). Most religions seem to be based on drug or mental illness induced hallucinations, while mysticism arises from samadhi or other altered states. Both delusions and insight can arise from taking entheogens, but I think it's important to distinguish the two.

    When I said 'theism is a conspiracy to supress spirituality', maybe I should have replaced 'theism' with 'Christianity'. When I was a kid we were all warned by the adults that using meditation to empty the mind opens the door to demonic possession. This belief comes from a common interpretation of Matthew 13:43-45:

    "When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. Then it says: 'I will return to my house from which I came.' And when it comes it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings back with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there..."

    Needless to say, I didn't heed their advice and, in a fit of imprudent, youthful enthusiasm, announced that I had meditated without any demonic repercussions; I wasn't believed (after all, isn't that exactly what a demonaic would say if he wanted to lure others into meditating). My mother then had what appeared to be a full-blown psychotic episode: She said that I was possessed by Satan and that I had threatened to kill her; that she had seen a demon in my room in the form of a two foot little man dressed in black and heard me consorting with demons at night. Since she had never done anything like this before (no history of schizophrenia), there was a time when I entertained the possibility that maybe she was right and I was possessed. But in the end I just couldn't accept it and I frankly don't believe in demons. But she believes to this day that I opened a door to the spirit world and in fact has never fully recovered from the mental illness that my meditation seems to have provoked in her. She blames my interest in meditation, but I blame Christianity for putting the idea in her head. Christianity is truly a disease; a psychic plague that needs to be purged from the earth before any lasting social progress can be made (and yeah, I know that makes me sound like a demonaic).

    This objection to meditation is not unique to Jehovah's Witnesses. It's pervasive throughout Christendom. Even as late as 2016 the Vatican's chief exorcist warned that meditation and yoga can lead to demonic possession. See the links below for a more comprehensive explanation written by a Christian.

    'Harry Potter and yoga are evil', says Catholic Church exorcist
    https://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/harry-potter/8915691/Harry-Potter-and-yoga-are-evil-says-Catholic-Church-exorcist.html

    Yoga's Terrifying Demonic Reality
    http://patriotsandliberty.com/lindas-latest/2015/12/15/yogas-terrifying-demonic-reality

    Kundalini Rising Exposed
    http://www.fmh-child.org/The_Nazarite/Kundalini_Rising.html

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    1. I was aware that Western churches ban whatever they can't assimilate or co-opt, but I didn't know that even meditation or yoga (systematic exercise?) was forbidden. Christianity has its own limited version of prayer, but I suppose that "atheistic prayer," or meditation that's not being led by slavish references to Jesus would have to be sinful.

      I see now your reason for thinking that Christianity and perhaps theism in general are based on mental disorder. I don't know if that generalization can be sustained. Freud may have argued as much, that theism is wishful-thinking or based on mental projections, and so on. The problem with that kind of reductionistic view is that a so-called normal attitude or healthy-mindedness is likewise caused or brought into being, and the scientific, causal perspective gives us precisely zero resources for praising or condemning anything whatsoever. A causal explanation of theism as disordered or of human normality as ordered would be like the Buddhist's ego-less description of events as just happening due to their neutral interconnections or flow.

      In any case, the more specific claim I've certainly explored is that _American_ Christianity is liable to generate vast hypocrisy, because of the obvious conflicts between the New Testament and Americanism (American culture). Presumably, the cognitive dissonance caused by that conflict, and the stress involved in trying to pretend there's no such conflict could produce various mental disorders too. And this point about the conflict would hold for Christendom in general, or for all "Christian" empires.

      Just a note regarding the psychedelic articles: I haven't investigated the Santa Claus explanation and related matters enough to get a real sense of the probabilities, so these accounts of the psychedelic basis of specific religious traditions shouldn't, of course, be taken as certain, as far as I'm aware. Religion surely has various causes at different levels of analysis. Even the point about shamanism isn't decisive, because the shamans likely weren't the sole causes of animism. Animism had to do with a childlike, innocent, intuitive mode of perception in which prehistoric people freely projected their mental states onto everything else. Shamans and entheogens just helped navigate those waters. But some aspects of religion could easily have been inspired by the entheogen's intensification or distortion of consciousness.

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  3. Perhaps I was over-generalizing about mental illness. From a strictly clinical perspective sanity is just a case of being well adapted to whatever society the person lives in. But I think where psychiatrists really drop the ball is in their refusual to judge society within the broader context of what's necessary for most humans to live fulfilling lives. In order to function in certain societies, the majority of people might be required to do all sorts of things that make them unhappy. But if people have to live a basically unhappy, unfulfilling life to function within this society, then maybe it's society that is sick while those who refuse to adapt to its demands are at least trying to live healthy lives.

    A good example of what I mean is the case of homosexuality. Until 1973, the DSM classified homosexuality as a disorder presumably because at that time homosexual behavior was at odds with society's expectations. If society expects everyone to be heterosexual, but some people insist on doing otherwise, then their behavior is dysfunctional. But is it? The truth is that plenty of gay men and women lived largely fulfilling lives before 1973 while at least giving the appearence of satisfying social expectations.The ones who didn't live fulfilling lives were, I suspect, those who actually tried to adapt to society's expectations and be heterosexual. Evidently, a person's 'sanity' is less a matter of conforming to their society than it is their ability to appear to conform while privately doing as they please. Hence, 'mental health' boils down to an individual's capacity to be a two-faced hypocrite.

    Another problem that arises from the social interpretation of mental health is that there are plenty of subcultures that are dysfunctional within the context of the broader culture they exist within. It may be perfectly sane within certain Christian subcultures to believe in demonic possession or the imminent end of the world, but within the context of the broader, secular society in which these groups exist, those beliefs can be very dysfunctional. Children die every year in this country because their parents deny them medical treatment on religious grounds. Other parents refuse to provide for their children's education because they think the world will have ended by the time their kids reach adulthood. These beliefs are obviously dysfunctional within the context of mainstream society, so why don't the psychiatrists condemn them as mentally disordered?

    The unpleasant truth is that many religious beliefs are, even by psychiatry's flexible definitions, literally insane; but psychiatrists don't want to admit it because they know just how much power the religious right wields in the U.S. and they're afraid to question the fundamental right to not only practice one's religion, but to impose it on others. To put it within perspective: when a business uses false advertising to sell products, it's illegal. When quack doctors sell snake oil, the legal consequences can be even more dire. But when religions make all sorts of outrageous promises to potential converts that they never, ever fulfill, no one charges them with false advertising. And when they give advice to gullible people that ends in medical emergencies, bankruptcy, or psychotic breakdowns, they are hardly ever brought to justice.

    Sorry for venturing way off topic, but I think it just needed to be said. Maybe you can post this one under one of your religious articles.

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    1. Sybok, I agree with your criticisms of so-called mental health. Your point that individual unhappiness could be society's fault has been a theme in my mental health articles on this blog. I think the underlying problem is that psychiatry is scientistic, so it has to presuppose its values rather than justifying them at the philosophical level, to seem more neutral and scientific than it really is as a discipline. Many of its philosophical assumptions are tucked away in its DSM definitions. Thus, the DSM defines "mental health" in terms of social function, which makes it relative to social conventions. It's about fitting into society, not changing society for the better. Psychiatrists see their business as helping individuals, not society.

      For the same reason, psychiatrists don't criticize major religions, since those are part of the social order, which is the source of psychiatric values. Psychiatrists presuppose the validity of social conventions and norms, to avoid having to appear to be engaged in philosophical or religious criticism. Strictly speaking, lots of religious beliefs fit most of the definition of "delusion," except for the part about social relativity.

      Here's the DSM-5 definition (including my emphasis with underscoring):

      "Delusions are fixed beliefs that are not amenable to change in light of conflicting evidence. Their content may include a variety of themes (e.g. persecutory, referential, somatic, religious, grandiose).[…] Delusions are deemed bizarre if they are clearly implausible ___and not understandable to same-culture peers___ and do not derive from ordinary life experiences. […] The distinction between a delusion and a strongly held idea is sometimes difficult to make and depends in part on the degree of conviction with which the belief is held despite clear or reasonable contradictory evidence regarding its veracity."

      DSM-4 was clearer about the social relativity: "Delusion. A false belief based on incorrect inference about external reality that is firmly sustained ___despite what almost everyone else believes___ and despite what constitutes incontrovertible and obvious proof or evidence to the contrary. The belief is not one ordinarily accepted by other members of the person's culture or subculture (e.g., it is not an article of religious faith)." Notice especially that last sentence which is explicit about its religious exception.

      It looks like some atheist was in on the meetings for writing the DSM-5 definition, since that update includes "religious" as a possible type of disorder, but that's only superficially so. As long as the crazy belief has mass appeal or is "understandable to same-culture peers," it won't count as delusive, even in DSM-5. A prerequisite of any mental illness is that the suffering caused by the mental condition has to be produced by some way of not fitting into society. So only losers, in social terms, can suffer from mental disorders. Delusive religious beliefs would have to be those of some tiny minority sect so that no appeal could be made to popularity in defense of the belief or of the suffering. As long as the craziness has mass appeal, such as that of the cult of Trumpism, psychiatry has to let it pass, due to its scientistic strategy.

      Have you read my articles on mental health? If not, you might be interested in them. They're near the bottom of the list of main articles in the Map of Articles.

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    2. Thanks for the articles. It seems that we basically agree that psychiatry is pseudo-science meant to justify the status quo. Trump is a prime example: classic sociopathic and/or narcissistic behavior and yet because he clearly isn't *suffering* from his condition, it isn't an illness. Of course, when your money and power render you totally independent from society, you can act as crazy as you like without suffering any consequences; which means that the rich and powerful are sane no matter what they do.

      I'm just waiting for the day that normal human empathy will be diagnosed as a mental disorder. I mean, what could be more dysfunctional in 21st C, America than having scruples & actually caring about the impact your actions might have on others? What shall we call it? Maybe, 'over-socialization disorder' or OSD for short. If a patient displays three or more of the following symptoms, he or she might be suffering from OSD:

      1. A blurring of boundries between self and others such that the sufferer confuses the feelings of others with their own emotions.

      2. A scrupulous compulsion to obey rules even when no one is present to enforce them.

      3.Taking social roles at face value. Like expecting priests, paragons of morality, to refrain from raping children.

      4. Compulsively honesty. Telling the truth even when doing so would cause the sufferer to lose face or could lead to punishment.

      5. An overall pervasive pattern of putting the needs of others before one's own personal interests.

      Yup, sounds like a severe nental disorder to me! Soon big pharma will invent a pill that turns us into high functioning sociopaths.

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    3. I consider whether Trump is mentally ill in the article linked below. On that point I argue against Allen Frances, the psychiatrist who wrote the definition of "narcissism" in one of the DSMs. Hint: Trump is obviously mentally deranged (monstrous, specifically known as being "malignantly narcissistic"), and if psychiatry says otherwise, so much the worse for psychiatry.

      I also make the point that psychiatry implies that the wealthy can't be mentally ill, since their wealth spares them from suffering as much as poor people. (A good example might be Jeffrey Epstein, the late pedophile and sex addict who was certainly insulated by his wealth and by the whole secret society of the top one percent.) As I say in the article, "American psychiatry presupposes and prioritizes the imperatives of capitalism."

      That's an interesting point, that empathy (slave morality?) might one day be demonized as a mental illness. Indeed, the roots of that diagnosis are already there with the concept of the "highly sensitive person" or of "hypersensitivity." It's not yet considered a disorder, but some have written about its ill effects (in our disordered, extroverted, materialistic Western societies). See the second link below, for example.

      Note that I believe I have that hypersensitive condition. Indeed, hypersensitivity seems associated with introversion (and with the ASMR phenomenon on YouTube), since it's about being easily overwhelmed by stimuli because the senses, as it were, are tuned too high so that they aim to take in superhuman levels of sensory information.

      http://rantswithintheundeadgod.blogspot.com/2017/09/is-donald-trump-mentally-ill.html

      https://www.additudemag.com/hypersensitivity-disorder-with-adhd/

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    4. Loved the Trump article. Some psychiatrists have brought up the Goldwater rule to defend the president, but in Trump's case the symptoms are so pronounced (and exaggerated) that their objection becomes laughable.

      I don't have ADHD, but hypersensitivity really rings true. I've  suffered from loud (to me) noises as far back as I can remember. I can't even go to bars because the music & television seems so loud in these places that I'm baffled that the patrons can hear themselves speak, let alone understand each other. One thing I have noticed is that this appears to be a uniquely  American problem. My dad was Scottish & whenever we visited the UK I noticed  everything was much quieter; even the bars ('pubs') kept the noise level down to a comfortable  level.

      I think  the issue of emotional sensitivity is relative. Some of the things people get incensed  about these days seem like toddlerish overreactions to me. I'm  thinking specifically about  the SJW crowd who seem to be actively searching for hidden, offensive subtexts in everything. But on the other hand there is this pervasive cavalier attitude towards friendship and sexuality that to me seems pathological. The overwhelming success of the Tom Leykis Show is a prime example of how mercenary & purile the sexuality of most Americans is; and what's worse is that as much as I hate to love the guy, Tom's advice to men is prudent & practical. I recall how shocked I was as a teen by my own mother's insensitivity after my 'best friend' kicked me to the curb when I was convicted of apostasy. She didn't  seem to understand why I should be so upset over loosing someone whom I had known since early childhood; "Plenty of fish in the sea..." was all the consolation she offered me. It was only years later that I began to appreciate just how 'normal' her attitude is in American society. 

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    5. There's a lot written about how extroverted the US is. Extroversion is taken as a sign of ambition, and the capitalist ethos is pretty much in line with Trump's dichotomy between winners and losers. American culture is pragmatic and driven to succeed and innovate, or at least that's the myth.

      Regarding friends, I read recently that the UK appointed a loneliness minister, to deal with the epidemic of loneliness caused largely by its aging population and by social media and TV addictions. Secular countries tend to have lower birth rates, so as long as the elderly are treated in the West in the way that's been well-satirized by The Simpsons, we should expect a more general rise in loneliness (friendlessness). There are lots and lots of reasons why in these societies the young don't want to see the old and why the old therefore become isolated and lonely.

      https://www.gov.uk/government/news/pm-launches-governments-first-loneliness-strategy

      https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk/2018/11/britain-s-loneliness-epidemic-was-best-day-out-ages-said-mary-after-trip-doctor

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  4. is dph an enthogen? is cough syrup? hmm?

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    1. Unknown, An entheogen is a drug taken for religious rather than just recreational purposes. It's not about momentary pleasure, but about changing your worldview and character, making them more "spiritual" or "existential."

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  5. Sybok,
    your references to kundalini are really freaking hard to read, because there is nothing to read about in there, not even wrong, pure noise...
    want a good study on kundalini. one name, lilian silburn, a legendary french yogini, there is even an article about her in la recherche, dec '72. read her book for a change.

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    1. Unknown,
      The thing about kundalini yoga is that in a very small number of cases it does seem to provoke psychotic episodes (and occasionally schizophrenia) in those who practice it when, instead of following directions, they try to FORCE the kundalini up the sushumna and end up frying their nervous system. The Christians then  jump all over these extremely rare incidents in an effort to prove that all yoga is demonic. This is flagrant misinformation and it pisses me off that they not only use a minority of cases to 'prove' that yoga is evil but totally ignore how many Christians go completely nuts upon their conversion (hardly a minority in my experience). I've  practiced meditation for over 20 years and kundalini for 6 years so I know from personal experience that this is all total BS intended invented by priests and pastors to keep their sheep enslaved.

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  6. about amanita, please listen carefully to the appropriate episode of dosenation to get a realistic view, don't get bogged down by hilarious speculations. in general, dosenation is solidly researched, no bullshit, and because of that, very interesting, clears all sorts of misconceptions...

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    1. Would you include the Santa Claus stuff as one such "hilarious speculation"? Just curious, since I haven't researched or thought much about the matter. I see that Dosentation includes an article that backs up that Christmas speculation, called "The Shamanic Origins of Christmas":

      http://www.dosenation.com/listing.php?id=5514

      Anyway, thanks for the relevant reference site.

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  7. Out of curiosity, did the experince alter your views or did they not interesting article?

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    1. If you'd have asked me that while I was high, I'd have said, my views had changed. But once the experience fades and I realized more fully I must have been riffing off some of my recent readings, I became more intrigued than radically altered by the experience, I would say. The high added to my sense that the world is very strange, but I still don't have strong enough evidence to rationally justify such a crazy belief, that the universe equals God's mind and body. I suppose I also don't have enough irrational causes to force me to adopt that crazy belief on a nonrational, faithful basis.

      Likely, if I kept getting high or took stronger and stronger psychedelic drugs, my beliefs would indeed change. I'd become a sort of hippie or New Ager. Likewise, if I underwent Buddhist training, I expect my beliefs would come to conform with that philosophical religion. Our deepest beliefs largely reflect our experience. What else can we do?

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