Drugs

Psychedelic Drugs Can Deepen Religious Experiences

Image via agsandrew / Shutterstock / RNS

Religion can likely benefit from psychedelics, and now clergy can help prove it. Johns Hopkins Medical School’s Behavioral Pharmacology Research Unit is recruiting clergy as research volunteers in a study of “entheogens,” which are chemicals, usually derived from plants, that are ingested to produce an altered state of consciousness for religious or spiritual purposes.

Weekly Wrap 4.3.15: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week

1. At Least 10 Religious Groups Have Come Out Against Anti-LGBT 'Religious Liberty' Laws
"While substantial attention has been paid to the lawmakers, athletes, businesses, and celebrities who have challenged the new laws, less has been said about the steady flow of criticism from the exact group these RFRAs are ostensibly designed to protect: people of faith."

2. Stress and Hope in Tehran
On Thursday, the U.S. and Iran along with five world powers reached a preliminary deal that would curb Iran’s nuclear program and address sanctions imposed upon the country. The New York Times offers this glimpse into what those sanctions mean for ordinary Iranians.

3. Outcry Over RFRA Might Be a Fear of Christians
"The outcry isn’t about the law, it’s about us. It’s a fear that we will discriminate. And it is a fear based on a history that, whether we like it or not, is ours. We have, in no shortage of ways, broken relationships with the LGBTQ community. We have expelled our sons and daughters. We have protested them. We blamed them for the ills of society like a scapegoat. And no matter what we believe about same-sex marriage, that is wrong. Because of that, restoring relationship and trust with the LGBTQ community is on us."

4. Why I Won't Wear White on My Wedding Day
"As far as we have come, and as removed from these traditions’ origins as we may be, we are still attached to these remnants of a woman’s worth and identity being grounded in her sexual activity, importantly solely for the purposes of her pleasing a man."

Does Jesus Heal Drug Addicts?

Philip Seymour Hoffman, Dan Kosmayer / Shutterstock.com
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Dan Kosmayer / Shutterstock.com

I almost gave up on my drug-addict mother. But then I discovered that God never gives up.

In memory of Dorothy Molex (my mom), Philip Seymour Hoffman, and the countless others who battle the demons of addiction.

“What are you arguing with them about?” he asked. A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and be- comes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.” (Mark 9:16-18)

I never thought the Bible had anything to say about addiction. It’s not something that I ever heard preached or read in the Bible. As someone who grew up in a household with an addicted parent, I wanted answers, but church didn’t provide them and the Bible appeared to be silent — until I decided to read this story through the lens of my life and personal experiences.

Philip Seymour Hoffman's Invaluable Gift: Revealing Our Humanity

Philip Seymour Hoffman at a football game in 2011, Debby Wong / Shutterstock.com
Philip Seymour Hoffman at a football game in 2011, Debby Wong / Shutterstock.com

Tom Junod of Esquire wrote an insightful piece about the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman titled “ Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Final Secret: The cost of holding up a mirror to those who could barely stand to look at themselves .” The whole article is worth reading, but these words are especially important:

"There was no actor, in our time, who more ably suggested that each of us is the sum of our secrets … no actor who better let us know what he knew, which is that when each of us returns alone to our room, all bets are off. He used his approachability to play people who are unacceptable, especially to themselves; indeed, his whole career might be construed as a pre-emptive plea for forgiveness to those with the unfortunate job of cleaning up what he — and we — might leave behind."

In his roles, Hoffman played unacceptable, despicable, and broken characters. In other words, he played our cultural scapegoats. But the beauty of Hoffman’s work is that he humanized our scapegoats. Of course, his characters were unacceptable because they were guilty of being repellent jerks, underserving of love or sympathy, which is exactly why they made good scapegoats. The function of a scapegoat is to unite us in hatred against them, so the scapegoat who seems to us to be completely guilty, like a cartoon villain, the better sense of unity we can form against them. The best scapegoat is one who even agrees with us about just how terrible he is. As Junod writes, Hoffman “used his approachability to play people who are unacceptable, especially to themselves.”

Faith Leaders Wrestle Over Growing Support for Marijuana

Russell Moore at the Washington offices of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

Sunday’s Super Bowl was dubbed by some as the “pot bowl,” as the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks hail from the two states where fans can soon get marijuana as easily as they can get pizza. As public opinion has shifted in support of legalized marijuana, religious leaders are wrestling over competing interests, including high prison rates and legislating morality.

According to a 2013 survey from the Public Religion Research Institute, 58 percent of white mainline Protestants and 54 percent of black Protestants favor legalizing the use of marijuana. On the other side, nearly seven-in-10 (69 percent) white evangelical Protestants oppose it. 

Catholics appear to be the most divided Christian group, with 48 percent favoring legalization and 50 percent opposing it. Opinions on how states should handle those who possess or sell marijuana varies among Christian leaders.

Showing Deference to the Rich: 'Affluenza' and 'The House I Live In'

Courtesy WFAA-TV and Charlotte Street Films
Ethan Crouch (left) and Kevin Ott (right). Courtesy WFAA-TV and Charlotte Street Films

I recently watched Eugene Jarecki’s remarkable documentary, The House I Live In, which is about the American ‘war on drugs’ and the burgeoning prison population it engendered and continues to engender.

Rarely do I find myself murmuring and tsk-tsking during a movie, but this one was highly affecting — an intimate look at how history, racism, economics, and politics have created a system that no one is proud of and no one really likes. Even the cops and prison guards who claim to love their jobs express unease with the human suffering and unbalanced scales of justice that lead to it.

One particular story has stayed with me.

A man named Kevin Ott was found in possession of a small envelope of meth; prior to that he’d been arrested twice, again for possessing small amounts of illegal drugs (meth and marijuana).

He’s been in prison for seventeen years. And he will be there until he dies: Ott is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. Because he was a three-time offender, his state’s mandatory sentencing laws required that he be put away for life.

Making a Difference in a World That's Falling Apart

Airbrush illustration courtesy leonello calvetti via Shutterstock. Via RNS.

While church planners listened, a five-person focus group described life outside the congregation’s doors: A world falling apart.

Families are in disarray, the group said. Parents are refusing, or unable, to do the basic work of parenting, from giving guidance to saying “no.” Instead, they are prepping their children to join a national epidemic of narcissism.

Obesity is rampant, along with obesity-related diseases such as diabetes. Infant mortality is worsening as pregnant girls routinely continue smoking, doing drugs and drinking during pregnancy.

Clueless parents are buying heroin — today’s drug of choice — for their children, so the little ones don’t get beat up by dealers. Parents buy cases of beer for their underage children so they can drink at home, rather than drive drunk. Methamphetamine usage is widespread.

From the Archives: November-December 1999

THIS STORY IS about the loss of a war and the sin and insanity of continuing to wage that war with the same weapon: prisons. From the well-meaning but naive “solution” of “just say no” to the equally well-meaning but equally naive mandatory minimum sentences, we have been defeated in our War on Drugs.

When we finally realized that we had lost the undeclared war in Vietnam, those remaining in Saigon climbed to the highest building and clung to the last helicopter leaving the country. Now it is time for the metaphor to be exercised in the drug war. We have lost.

But there are those who will not admit defeat. Who are they? First and foremost they are the ones who make enormous profits from what is now recognized as the prison-industrial complex.

Locking people up is big business. Not just for construction companies but for such private enterprises as the Corrections Corporation of America, a Tennessee-based company that is leading the way in the effort to turn all prisons over to private enterprise. Last year its net profit was $53.9 million. Since corporate prisons make their profits based on the daily number of prisoners, longer sentences are the strategy. Not rehabilitation. Not justice. 

Will Campbell was a preacher, activist, and author of Race and the Renewal of the Church (1962) and Brother to a Dragonfly (1977) when this article appeared.

Image: Cannabis plant, Hamik / Shutterstock.com

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Walter White and the Gospel According to ‘Breaking Bad’

Breaking Bad cast at its July 2013 premiere, s_bukley / Shutterstock.com
Breaking Bad cast at its July 2013 premiere, s_bukley / Shutterstock.com

Wither Walter White?

How the morality tale of a cancer-stricken chemistry teacher who transforms himself (first by desperation and then through sheer hubris) into a cold-blooded, Machiavellian drug kingpin will end is what legions of fans of AMC’s Emmy-winning Breaking Bad want to know.

But after the first episode of the series’ final season aired on Aug. 11, the answer to what happens to Walter White (Bryan Cranston) remains a mystery — at least for another seven weeks.

Since its debut in January 2008, Breaking Bad has taken its audience on a spiritual journey — following Walt’s soul on a slow, steady descent into a hell of his own creation.

“Fleeting moments of possible restoration for Walter occur throughout the series,” Blake Atwood writes in the new book The Gospel According to Breaking Bad, which was released as an e-book to coincide with the season premiere.

Baseball’s Darryl Strawberry Buries his Past in New Career as a Pastor

Photo courtesy RNS
Former MLB player Darryl Strawberry, right, and his wife Tracy pose for a portrait at their home. Photo courtesy RNS.

The four-bedroom, two-story modest house sits on a corner in this planned bedroom community, and when this 6-6 muscular-toned man welcomes you inside his home, there is no evidence Darryl Strawberry the player ever existed.

There are no pictures of Strawberry in a Mets uniform. No trophies. No plaques. None of his four World Series rings. Nothing from his eight All-Star Games. None of his 335 home run balls.

“I got rid of it all. I was never attached to none of that stuff,” says Strawberry, 51. “I don’t want it. It’s not part of my life anymore.”

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