Psychedelic Priests

A Catholic Priest, a Rabbi and a Buddhist walk into a bar and order some magic mushrooms.

Although this reads like the first line of a bad joke this situation is currently playing out in a laboratory- not a bar-with one of the first scientific experiments of its kind examining the effects of psychedelic drugs on religious experience.

Neuroscientists have long nursed a special interest- some might say obsession- about how religious beliefs and experiences affect the brain and recently two dozen religious leaders comprising of Catholic, Orthodox and Presbyterian priests, a Zen Buddhist and several rabbis signed up with the programme conducted by scientists from John Hopkins University.

Still-it’s difficult to understand why people volunteer as test subjects in a field open to the risk of abuse by special interest groups –with the MK Ultra Mind Control Project rolled out by the CIA more than forty years ago a glaring example.

It’s also a given that the soft sciences–of which there are many under the Neuroscience umbrella-are more prone to ideological manipulation.

The volunteers will be administered two powerful doses of psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, ‘known to commonly induce profound mystical experiences’ in the words of John Hopkins psychologist-Dr William Richards.

The experiment is to assess whether transcendental experience make leaders more effective and confident in addition to how it alters their religious thinking.

To date Muslim imams and Hindu priests have not been persuaded to take part but all other bases have been covered according to Richards.

Two dosages of psilocybin will be administered in two sessions- one month apart.

The backdrop of the experiment will be conducted in a living-room-like setting at the University with two “guides” present.

Once given the drug participants will spend time lying on a couch, wearing eyeshades and listening to religious music on headphones.

“Their instruction is to go within and collect experiences” said Richards.

Based on his reasoning the premise for having a religious experience rests on serene surroundings and induced feelings of euphoria-but what if his assumptions are totally off.

In the 1960’s such states were referred to as ‘trips’ by LSD users and regarded as a type of spiritual experience but certainly not religious in any properly understood sense of the word.

As Christians with transcendent experiences will testify-euphoric emotions aren’t part and parcel of these episodes at all for the most part-in fact the expression “ I was not prepared for it in any way” might sound clichéd but that’s exactly how it is.

Anyway- a full analysis of the experiment will take place after a one-year follow up with the participants.

The identities of the participants are being kept anonymous.

According to Richards-again-people have been getting a deeper appreciation of their heritage-“The dead dogma comes alive for them in a meaningful way.”

Now here comes the clue to where this is leading-or the crux of the matter.

In the words of Richards; “They get a better appreciation for other world religions- or other ways up the mountain, if you will”.

There has been a tiny hint of a suggestion- no kidding- that after their psychedelic journey, the leaders’ notions of religion shifted away from the sectarian towards something more universal.

The message is that all religions are the same so creeds are redundant and ecumenism is the operative word with a bit of Aldous Huxley’s take on the use of mind altering drugs for pleasure thrown in for good measure.

Not for nothing did I mention the dangers of mind control- and it appears I’m onto something.

So a good rabbi can encounter the Buddha within him added Richards.

Apparently the notion that hallucinogenic drugs can bring about mystical experiences is not new and was studied in a Harvard study known as the “Good Friday Experiment” although this is the first experiment involving different faiths.

The report then asks the million dollar question: Is this work really science?

Of course Richards argues that it is saying the team is using detailed psychological questionnaires and independent raters (sic) in their assessments.

It seems like he sidestepped the question as his so-called criteria can be claimed to be used in any opinion poll but that doesn’t guarantee an objective outcome let alone a scientific one.

If the criterion is biased toward achieving a specific result it’s what’s known as manipulation.

Ben Sessa- clinical psychological and researcher at Imperial College London offers an opposing take-
He’s urged journalists to focus on the “rigorous science” saying; Are you going to focus on the tie-dye and the dreads……or are you going to look at the cutting-edge neuroscience here?”

According to Richards his wild inner hippie fantasy is that these drugs be used in seminary and rabbinical training in future-he asks why the opportunity shouldn’t be there to explore deeply spiritual states of consciousness in a legal way.

It should be noted that Richards began his research into psychedelic drug use in the 1960’s.

Staying with neuroscience are we heading for a scientific spiritual revolution in this area as has been claimed?

Enter Biocentrism-or the world of non-materialism which teaches that life and consciousness are central to the universe and that consciousness creates the material universe.


This type of mind experiment involving magic mushrooms certainly ties in with the theme of a new type of Zen-like spiritualism in the offing in the field of neuroscience.

The Zen Influence in the Sciences