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Leary, Timothy

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Seattle activist Vivian McPeak and countercult...

Seattle activist Vivian McPeak and countercultural icon Timothy Leary at PeaceWorks Park vigil via Wikipedia

Timothy Leary (1920-1996) was an American psychologist who believed that mind-altering substances such as THC and LSD facilitated self-discovery.

Leary’s ideas remain controversial, not only because he advocated what in many countries is illegal, but also because an increasing body of scientific research suggests that street drugs can be deleterious to users’ physical, psychological and spiritual health.

The Christian scholar J.N.D. Anderson questions whether the experiential quality, orientation and commitment of drug induced mysticism are equal to those of the sincere seeker who aims to know and serve God, and in so doing, encounters grace without chemical intervention or, for that matter, direct personal effort.¹

Some minority groups claim that drugs like THC, if taken ‘responsibly,’ are liberating and therapeutic. But the vast majority of people see illegal drugs as debilitating and enslaving.

Another perspective deconstructs the issue by noting that alcohol was once prohibited but is now legal.

Meanwhile, medical watchdog groups and organizations critical of allopathic medicine say that some legal medications have serious long-term side effects that can be harmful to patients’ health. Tom Cruise, representing the views of the Church of Scientology, has taken an extreme position in this controversy with regard to psychiatric medications, one not necessarily reflecting the varying needs of different individuals over the course of a lifetime.

These contemporary issues about the safety and efficacy of so-called ‘drugs’ and ‘medications’ aside, Leary’s popularity among the hippies of the late 1960’s is attested in the Moody Blues song “Legend of a Mind” (1968):

He’ll fly his astral plane.
He’ll take you trips around the bay.
He’ll bring you back the same day.
Timothy Leary…

¹ See J. N. D. Anderson, Christianity and Comparative Religion, The Tyndale Press: 1970, pp. 20-26. Of course, one could argue that praying the Rosary, for instance, is a technique and therefore an “effort” to attract graces. And other Christians, especially fundamentalists, ask God to “cover them” with Jesus’ “precious blood” in order to be washed of their sins, just as most Christians invoke the “Holy Spirit” to come and shower them with grace. So although many uphold Christianity as a religion where grace comes without any special effort, this might seem a bit misleading. However, the Christian asks, whereas some conjurers may command spirits to protect or assist them–spirits which they believe are essentially under their personal control. Moreover, some meditators say that once they achieve a certain level of awareness, their meditative technique – be it a mantra, the development of inner silence or assuming bodily postures – will undoubtedly lead to mystical experience. By way of contrast, Christians hope for assistance but never command nor expect with certainty, for this kind of attitude is anathema to having a humble relationship with God who created them. In a nutshell, a sincere Christian would never claim to be able to control or have mastery over God’s supernatural graces. And that’s why it’s so distasteful to them when some New Age enthusiasts use the term “Christ Consciousness” as if to imply that, by perhaps listening to a mediation CD or through some other store-bought technique, one can definitively turn on God’s grace like water from a tap.

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