Tuesday, 20 April 2010

THREE QUESTIONS: From Mushrooms to the Nature of Religion

Psilocybin, or hallucinogenic mushroom, can give a genuine and life changing religious experience. This article is not all about drug based spirituality, but its thinking develops from the implications of psychedelics.

That psychedelic spirituality is genuine is a startling statement coming from a professional Christian authority. Mark Galli deserves all credit for his integrity in publicising the new interest emerging by science in hallucinogenics.

From there he examines three functions of religion. or as I put it, three useful questions we can ask about any religion, cult or tradition. This powerful triad gives us a definition or profile of the faith under scrutiny, in a nutshell.

Galli summarises the findings of a Johns Hopkins study in which a chronic depressive, at low ebb due to cancer, chemotherapy and other external factors that made life worthless to him, rediscovered a profound sense of meaning after taking a psilocybin mushroom.

Researchers from around the world are gathering this week in San Jose, Calif., for the largest conference on psychedelic science held in the United States in four decades. They plan to discuss studies of psychedelics for treating depression in cancer patients, obsessive-compulsive disorder, end-of-life anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and addiction to drugs or alcohol.

The results so far are encouraging. However the scientists participating make cautious comments, clearly wishing to distance themselves from the uncontrolled personal experimentation of the 60s and 70s. Participants are not only monitored carefully by human observation while placed in peaceful, gentle surroundings, but their brains are also scanned to study effects and alert to warning signs of distress.

Most of the participants report the experience as one of the top most meaningful personal events in their lives. Their reports mirrored closely the accounts of religious mystical experiences: a deep oneness, a lack of ego, a lack of the need to control others, instead an attunement with them. Researchers are reporting some success in using psilocybin to ease the anxiety of patients with terminal illnesses.

This strongly resembles the early work of Dr. Timothy Leary of 60s and 70s fame. It also resembles the teachings of many shamanic traditions, so much so that it is even irritating to see persons in white coats doing a gosh wow! type of research as if they are actually discovering something. But it is nonetheless a sign of progress. As one of the researchers says “Thanks to changes over the last 40 years in the social acceptance of the hospice movement and yoga and meditation, our culture is much more receptive now, and we’re showing that these drugs can provide benefits that current treatments can’t.

So good, great, let’s hope that a saner approach to spirituality and drugs develops, especially as all those working in the field of illegal drugs are virtually unanimous that the so-called “war on drugs” is not only useless but actively damaging to our society. We use drugs to heal our illnesses of body and mind, so why do we divide off some of them and make them illegal? It only creates funding for crime, and contributes mightily to a huge industry of destructive porn and prostitution.

Returning to Galli his courage does not falter in exploring the implications of drug based mysticism for an established religion. As he does so he uses a powerful analysis of what religion is about.

As he says, if mystical experience of the Divine can be gifted by a mushroom, then Christianity, and by implication, no religion, can claim it’s “the one” which can bring us to the Divine. Ecstasy, or the quiet oneness of prayer or meditation, are experiences on offer with or without religious structures like church, temple or ritual. Or as Pagans would put it, the sacred is anywhere and everywhere.

Galli continues by observing that another great teaching of Christianity, to find the Divine in “deeds not creeds” is not unique to his faith. With honourable generosity he recognises that Hindus, Muslims, Jews, and “others” live moral lives. As he puts it “You don't need revelation to figure out that adultery, stealing, and murder are really bad ideas, and that there is something noble about caring for other human beings.” We might add perhaps you don’t need a vision of unity but it certainly helps.

Pagans are not mentioned even though in Britain we number as many as the Hindus he places first on his list. Presumably we come under that blurred “others.” But we shall not pout at being slighted. He is after all an establishment Christian writing within the churches hierarchies. He would have difficulty getting published if he included trance drugs AND Pagans in one article!

What I like very much and find most useful is Galli’s three categories of what religion is about. Firstly the mystical experience of the Divine. Secondly a personal morality which emerges from the mystical experience of unity with others. Pagans would enlarge this to include “all our relations” the tree. stone, star and animal cousins in the great Family of Life, the Web.

Thirdly a mythos, a story, a Way to go into a relationship with the Divine that partners the formless profundity of the direct mystical experience. Once we leave that state we cannot retain its immensity so we need our Stories to companion and support our journeys.

For Galli this is the Story of the Divine Son who came to visit humanity and awaits a visit from us. Pagans would point to other faiths which have given us similar Stories: Inanna, Isis, Cybele, Astarte, Mithras, Odin, Esus, Brighde, Aradia. We also gladly honour other kinds of Stories like Lucifer Lord of Light; Rhiannon Lady of the Sun; Sulis the Healer, all the Ancestors, or the Guardians of Place, and so on.

I might quibble with a detail of Galli’s article here and there. His concept of religious experience is startlingly limited to Sunday worship. He says “If religious experience is something that a drug can induce even more easily than spiritual ritual and disciplines, it may be time, for example, to rethink what many churches are trying to do on Sunday morning: create a memorable "worship experience." “ Again we need to remember that he is speaking from within church hierarchy which needs to assert a need for churches and priests: a lot of salaries depend on it.

It would be well if the emerging Pagan temple building projects were to stay aware of this issue. We must never, never lose the radical understanding that experience of the Divine lies all around us in toilets, rubbish heaps, washing up bowls, babies’ tummy rumbles, tree roots, sunsets and sex. It’s not to be found in any better way through those who hold certificates or in buildings used as ritual spaces over time.

Though that’s a very important quibble I am happy to return to Galli’s three way examination of religion, so Celtic in its triad. In asking what is THIS religion, THIS faith about? we have three useful questions.

How does it help us encounter the Divine as a real Other, a living relationship with the unity of life?

How does it help us grasp a morality to guide us to make that unity more of an everyday reality, living in awareness of others’ needs in relation to ours?

What Stories does it offer us that help us stay in touch with the first two?


“The End of Christianity as We Know It”
Mark Galli | posted 4/15/2010 09:10AM
Mark Galli is senior managing editor of Christianity Today, and author of “A Great and Terrible Love: A Spiritual Journey into the Attributes of God” (Baker).

Psychedelic Science in the 21st Century. April 15-18, 2010 • San Jose, California

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Goddess, feminist, women-only

A post about the Goddess movement. About manhating. About what others think about women-only Goddessing (or feminism) and the particular case of transgender women.

Quotes are from this page by a Goddess priestess, except where I show I'm quoting Robin Morgan.

"The Goddess movement, as I would define it, focuses on an awareness of the primordial creation force which is found within ourselves and in the world around us. We call this force the Goddess, …”
Mostly YES but why limit the Goddess to the Creation theolgy? That leads to dualism. Goddess as immanent is so much greater, more whole, radically different from the supernatural boss figure (in drag).

… I believe is inherent in the Goddess movement is the idea that most modern religions are primarily intended to bring power and profit to some corrupt ruling elite. At best they are misguided, and at worst, they are nothing more than patriarchal systems of domination and control.

If that is true it is remarkably ignorant and limited. While much of Christianity is bound up with corruption, terrorisation and control, there is much that is not: house church for example or some Celtic church traditions. Buddhism is sexist in the final analysis but not cruelly so, and much of it affords a substantial degree of female freedom. Liberal Islam is almost as as aghast by what we hate about women’s suppression as we are.

.. there was a much more natural and genuine form of spirituality which existed long before people began to seek power and profit through religion. … offer great hope”


“"women only" … discrimination … a serious problem”


“Unfortunately, Goddess groups which are not open to men have already made a very bad impression on the general public.”

Yes but why? Why are a minority of women who get together to do their own thing seen as such a threat? Why is “women together” seen as dangerous? Why is this immediately described by outsiders as manhating – on very little evidence?
The majority of women-only work is peaceful and frankly not interested in men as part of the group. Members may or may not have much to do with men. that’s not the point.
But for men, who typically find it very tough to be treated as irrelevant! not their usual experience, this IS the point. Understandable they find it uncomfortable and in the case of weak stunted men, enraging.

I am one of the lucky few who shares my life with a strong, caring man who wouldn’t dream of criticising me when I want to be women-only. I know he’d be very shocked to read that a Goddess woman criticised women-only work and assumed it was about manhating. (I include his reaction not as central to a debate between women, but as an interesting additional point.)

So let’s now look at manhating. Perfectly sensible. A natural response to a world where far too many men hate women. Why shouldn’t we hate them in return? If you’ve suffered at their hands right on. If you care deeply about those who have suffered at men’s hands, right on.

Why do we have to be NICE? That’s part of the whole oppression feminine insy pinsy sweetie pie footbinding put on women for centuries. Strong women don’t need to be NICE - unless we genuinely feel it.

Yes liberation will in the end include us all. Yes there are men who care, who help, who have reworked themselves into maturity. Goddess bless them I say.
But I will not accept any feminist or Goddess thought police telling me or other women we have no right to hate, nor that it has no place among us. Hate is strong. Hate is healing. Hate rebalances.

I would not support the torture or murder of men to punish them, for two reasons.
They are children of the Goddess too. Whatever a man has done to outrage a woman or women he was once an innocent baby. Somewhere deep buried that original Child is still there. It may tragically be too far buried beneath his damaged distorted adult self so that all we can do is quarantine him. But for the sake of what he once was I do not support torture or killing him.
Secondly being civilised means not killing the killers, not torturing the torturers, unless we're in the heat of immediate reaction.. We don’t build peace by using (extreme) violence. A measured dose of discipline to curb a dangerous person, yes, or to protect others. But in a civilised society we examine even that to see if restraint or discipline is tipping over into unnecessary violence.
I think women do need to think seriously about how we are going to wield authority over dangerous men. The world cannot be safe and sane until we do.

But hate? yes at times I do and I strongly support others who feel it too.
Robin Morgan my beloved mentor elder sister helps out here.
“I hate not men but what they do.”

To my memory there was a great deal achieved by strong separatist women holding apart, being angry, hating.
I actually SAW men working it out. Oooh er ... If I don’t treat my lady better – she might go and join THEM.
Fear in moderate doses is educational.

“Many feminist groups have made it clear that they don't regard transgender women as genuine women,”

Good. I’m glad this is clear that “some” feminist groups take this position.
So it is clear that some don’t. Which means there are places for transgender women to go. So, no problem.

Or yes there is. Two problems.

Before looking at these two problems I feel I should “come out” as one of those who does not accept a transgender woman as a full woman. Yells of horror from the gallery? no I will not be silenced. I don’t.

I would go out of my way to support their rights to fair and decent treatment. I would defend a transgender woman being bullied – if she needed me to. But that doesn’t mean I HAVE TO accept her as a woman.
I will also call her a woman, as a courtesy, as ‘she’ or ‘her.’ etc. Politeness is a civilised grease that eases our connections and as such I value it highly.

But just like a transvestite, or an effeminate gay man, this is not being a woman. Being a woman is about being a PERSON shaped by FEMALE experience.

Female experience means being a little girl, relating to others as a little girl with all the power and vulnerability that involves. It means approaching puberty via menstruation, early, late, or painfully finding it doesn’t happen as expected. The growth of breasts, early, late, or adapting to something not working right in a female body. All the complex weaving of female hormones as we grow up mixed with deeply conditioned stereotyped feminine trappings going baxck to being a tiny baby. The massive issue of mothering, of living in fear of pregnancy or yearning for it. The pain if it is found to be not possible, or for a few the relief.

None of this happens for transgenders as it does for "born women." They are not women but men who have adopted some of the physical characteristics of women. That is different.

I could not possibly share women’s space and open out my inner feelings as a woman in that space if it included a transgender. It wouldn’t be women’s space – to me.

I am glad there are women’s spaces that are not so restrictive. I'm glad transgenders have women's space to go. But I do not see why I or other women MUST accept a restriction on how WE can be fully women, in order to include someone on a profound level with us. That is forced spirituality and a horror.

Taking this to an extreme what if all women-only groups refused access to transgenders? Or all women-only groups a particular transgender can get to? Well then there would have to be special groups for transgender women. There's always online options too.
But this extreme argument is pretty artificial. Goddessry and feminism - contrary to the critics view of them - are robustly independent so groups are not uniform, following party lines. Well some are but there are plenty of others. So the variety is likely to provide an accepting group.
Last resort for the lonely transgender is - start one! It's no more than many born-women have to do if what they want is not available to them. Nowadays there are plenty of books with loads of ideas on what to do to get going.

Back to the two problems I mentioned of women-only space that excludes transgenders.
One is that it is hurtful for transgender women to feel excluded. That’s especially hard in a society that already hurts them so much.
So OK we accept that, face it, work with it.
It doesn’t have to mean we hurriedly tidy it out the way. Forcing women to accept a transgender among them in their most sensitive personal sharing times, hurts THEM. So why select who is best to hurt? Why is the outsider, the newcomer, more important than the womwen who have created the group for what they want of it?
I do think keeping the dialogue going is important and shows respect for transgenders. So we can better understand each other, too. But understanding doesn't mean feeling that we are born-women have to fall over backwards to be a service system for what transgenders need. We MUST break out of always putting others first if we are to be fully human and not female slaves. (See Valerie Saiving's excellent analysis.)

Second problem is excluding transgenders plays into the hands of those only too eager to put us down. You see they’ll say, these radical sisters are harsh, narrowminded, cruel and nasty. Not POLITICALLY CORRECT. Oops oh dear bring on a trolley full of wittery feminine apologies and we’ll buckle down to being good ittle girlies and toe the line. I DON'T think.

We’re the women that men warned us about! (Robin Morgan again).
Nowadays it’s not just men of course who warn us about becoming one of “those women.”
Bitch they say. Slut they say. Hag they say. Monster Fat Old Worthless Dangerous Evil Witch BadMother DumbBlonde Manhater … all this hurls at us to push us back in line. To make us be the good girls who beg for approval. Who act NICE.
So play together NICELY girlies and share the sandpit with the nice transgenders who are so cute and sweet how can you resist them poor things?

No thanks. A woman’s right to choose includes who I choose to accept as a woman.
Not on the big things like jobs, medical treatment, freedom from harassment and violence. But in the personal area of who I choose to share MYSELF with.

Which to me means I will defend transgenders politically and socially against injustice that bars them from getting what they need. But getting needs met doesn’t involve the right to join any private group you want. It has to balance against the members of that private group and what THEY want.
Otherwise the next thing is we have to include is transvestites, or effeminate men. Which might be fine with some but not with others. I don’t expect to be included in a group that only wants black women, or only wants seriously disabled women, or only wants young women, or only bisexuals. I accept their right to exclude me so why is it so awful to exclude transgenders?

We have to be free to create our safe spiritual PRIVATE spaces around OUR needs. That must not be dictated by anything except OUR needs.