A Response to Jessica Parker’s “Writing and Unwriting Race: Using Hip-Hop in Writing and Literature Classrooms”
March 14, 2017 § Leave a comment
Dr. Jessica Parker is the Director of Composition at Metropolitan State University of Denver. Parker’s “Writing and Unwriting Race: Using Hip-Hop in Writing and Literature Classrooms” appears in Performing Antiracist Pedagogy in Rhetoric, Writing, and Communication, edited by Vershawn Ashanti Young and Frankie Condon. It was published by University Press of Colorado in 2017, and it is available electronically for free at https://wac.colostate.edu/books/antiracist/.
Parker opens her article reflecting on her own background in coming to be a scholar of Hip-hop, noting the necessity to “strongly consider [her] own position in the culture and in the academy as white-person and white scholar” (195). This led her to begin using Hip-Hop as a vehicle to ask students “to reflect on and acknowledge their own identities and how these identities inform their readings of and writing about African American texts.”
Parker notes that an awareness of her own racial identification and position of authority and privilege goes beyond how she engages in texts. It also informs the ways students regard “texts, cultural issues, and historical information” related to African American traditions. She argues that students need guidance not only for contextualizing African American texts within broader literary traditions, they also need to examine their own positions, “both conscious and unconscious, about race” (196). This is true even of students who already have an interest in the material: “Many students are unfamiliar with or only partly understand terms like white privilege, benevolent racism, and essentialism.” Grounding the class in hip-hop allows students to approach this difficult material through a terrain with which they are often already familiar.
She tracks a professional discussion around hip-hop as pedagogically useful, noting a broad ground of existing scholarship. Her experience has been that when “using hip-hop in these ways, my students have been willing to engage deeply with difficult issues that they often are reluctant to discuss in the context of more traditional texts or simply ‘real life’” (197). Such discussions open up ways for students to discuss racial politics in their classrooms, and particularly tricky questions, such as: “what is the line between appreciation and appropriation?” They expose students to linguistic diversity within English and identify often unexamined notions about racial “progress” and post-racist attitudes. She sees her job not as to call out students who have reductive ideas but to journey with them “below the surface of spectacle” (199). Drawing on KRS-One’s insistence that Hip-hop is a way of life, she believes Hip-hop “provides the context in which students can resist the unwriting of race and class issues that it pervades the broader culture.” She says, “hip-hop authorizes the examination of race and racism, class and classism.” Examining issues of authenticity present in hip-hop presents an existing context for discussing the fact that issues with respect to race have certainly not gone away, despite claims that things have gotten better.
She outlines some specific activities for the opening days dealing with African American texts:
- On day one of class or at the beginning of a hip-hop unit, have students either in free write or brainstrorm on the board.
- Frame the discussion as non-evaluative. It is not about dislocating students from their positions so much as moving deeper into them with a critical eye.
- Then have a class discussion. Discuss what the list says “about the assumptions we are bringing to the texts,” how we read texts, and “how these assumptions affect how we see connections between the textual tradition (both oral and written) and racial issues” (200).
- Have the students reflect back again on their individual social positions, asking them to become conscious of their own positionalities.
Parker lists some of the common outcomes of such discussions, perhaps the most important being that the lists often tacitly suggest that African American texts only have meaning in relation to white people / culture. It is especially important in the process that she positions herself alongside her students as someone who is also working out these issues for herself, and that these conversations force her to reflect on her own pedagogy both in the classroom and in her syllabus policies. This has led her to include the following syllabus statement, which I have copied verbatim:
A Note on Language: Because many of the texts deal with race and racism, there is some use of offensive terms. There is also use of terms that were acceptable at the time some texts were written but that we may now find offensive (Negro for in- stance). The presence of derogatory terms in the texts does not mean that general use of derogatory terms is acceptable in the class. Certainly in quoting from or referring to the texts (offensive terms are in some titles), the use of the terms is allowable, but please think carefully about your use of these terms. Also, some of the texts use African American Vernacular English (AAVE), which at some points was referred to simply as “dialect.” AAVE is a recognized variant of English, as is Standard American English (SAE), and we will discuss it as such. It is important to understand that AAVE is not improper SAE; it is a variant with its own rules. (201-202)
Statements like this help both students and professors maintain vigilance that “our language is our power.” Acknowledging linguistic power means confronting offensive aspects of language such as racial slurs, which perform that power. It also allows her to foreground linguistic variations between AAVE and SAE with awareness of social power dynamics at work. Because many students are not aware of AAVE to begin with, the attention to such distinctions helps them confront assumptions about being “proper” or “educated” and a more robust distinction between “slang” (sloppy-language), code-switching, and code-meshing – although Parker does not use these terms explicitly, focusing more on developing historical cultural power dynamics than expressive conduct. Still, she says, “Students must consider whether they can ‘keep it real’ or ‘drop science’ in their own writing.”
Moreover, using a wide array of examples from within hip-hop, both well-known and not, Parker performs her mastery of the content without explicitly drawing attention to her knowledge bank. She says, “Part of a responsible pedagogy is helping students in this navigation [around issues of cultural appropriation]. Awareness of the history of appropriation (e.g., in rock and roll) is a starting point in helping students in this navigation and negotiation of their context” (204). Hip-hop as a pedagogical resource allows her to help students “confront the realities of the social iniquities and stereotypes predicated on race and class” (205). Students become both aware of “the system” and even more aware of how strong hip-hop’s attempts to “unwrite race and class is” (206).
With this emergent knowledge of social positionalities and attention to linguistic power, Parker is then able to address historical issues in relation to African American texts and the more “canonical” works of African American literature. She includes a hip-hop aesthetics exercise in which students look at statements about art and Blackness in W.E.B. DuBois and Amiri Baraka. The exercise helps students see hip-hop as existing in a larger historical and literary continuum. She also contrasts it with aesthetic statements by Beat Generation writer, John Clellon Holmes. The frame of the exercise makes African American voices dominant and emphasizes the troubling “mimetic” relationship some white writers have when their cultural imaginaries locate African Americans in certain positions while simultaneously aggrandizing them.
The last exercise is yet another tacit indicator of Parker’s larger position as a scholar. Although the references in the article are too many to mention here, Parker’s use of hip-hop examples throughout the text not only perform her expertise in the content area, they perform a cultural milieu in which African American aesthetics houses the space of the classroom rather than being refracted through the domestication of tacitly racist worldviews and pedagogical strategies.
March 13, 2017 § 1 Comment
Although it may at first seem a “no-brainer” to assume that the Christian Right’s stance on drug-use is one of both public and theological opposition, the evangelical presence in emergent ayahuasca religions and the changing status of entheogens with respect to public healthcare have created an exigence for a more nuanced study of evangelicals and entheogenic drugs. As substances such as marijuana and (increasingly) MDMA become less regulated, first through rhetorics of therapeutic use in healthcare and later through recreational usage, the traditionally moral stances of opposition to drug use among the Christian Right is changing. This is made more complex by the role of psychoactive substances such as ayahuasca being used in hybrid religions that frame themselves as Christian. Recently, public personas on the Christian Right such as Pat Robertson have changed their positions on drugs, claiming a long history of conservative skepticism about the Drug War as a covert liberal tactic for bigger government that has created the overpopulation in prisons. And Robertson is not alone.
Pointing to opposition within the evangelical community on drugs, a Christian Century article claims that evangelicals might actually benefit in conversions from their rhetoric on marijuana. Moreover, a few avowed conservatives are affiliated with Colorado’s Stoner Jesus Bible Study, where marijuana is used in more of an entheogenic sense to get closer to the divine. Clearly, conservative Christians’ moods are changing with respect to drugs, reflecting a shifting political theology in which worn out distinctions between left and right no longer accurately conceptualize public discourse.
This essay attempts to see more clearly how such changes might interact with the Christian Right’s dubious track record with respect to science. Implicitly of course, it also means one should not assume that deregulation of drugs is aligned with a Left whose pedigree reaches back to hippies in the 1960s either, but my focus here is on the under-discussed and too facilely constructed conceptions of the Christian Right. I ask: How might the Christian Right’s resistance to science or claims that say, Intelligent Design is “scientific,” interact with changing views on entheogens? With respect to entheogens, or substances that “generate the divine within,” I am particularly interested in the ways science and religion meet in recent psychedelic research. While I am not interested here in unrestricted use of drugs like heroin, there are Libertarian Christians who are. Instead, I am interested in entheogens and the difficult relationship the Christian Right has had with science and how that relationship plays into emergent Christianities that use entheogens in worship.
While offshoots of 19th century New Thought such as Christian Science may hold to Mary Baker Eddy’s view that sickness is an illusion and therefore reject all drugs, this does not appear to be the view of most of the Christian Right’s constituency, at least in the U.S. According to a Pew Research study, more than half of Americans believe that religious view conflict with science but when asked if their personal views conflict with science they say no. The Christian Right has had a more conflicted relationship with science when it conflicts with their political and religious agendas, however. The Christian Right was originally formed during the late 1970s, largely as a galvanizing effort against the U.S. government’s demands for desegregation in Christian schools. These efforts emerged years after both Roe v. Wade and the Nixon administration’s declaration of a “War on Drugs.” Yet a 2006 Supreme Court case ruled in favor of the UDV church in New Mexico allowing the church members the use of “hoasca” or ayahuasca, an entheogenic tea, in their ceremonies under the 1993 Religious Freedom Act. Moreover,
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the National Association of Evangelicals defended the UDV’s case for religious freedom, prompting psychedelic researcher and UCLA professor Charles Grob, an expert witness at the hearing, to notice that “religious rights can apparently trump the Drug War.”
Supporters of the UDV church are quick to point out the support of Christian Fundamentalists. Many scientists have turned a deaf ear to Religious Right factions such as those supporting Intelligent Design, partly because many scientists do not believe the question of the existence of God is a scientific question. But as Randall Balmer has lamented, it is surprising that the Christian Right repeatedly claims an academic conspiracy against religion in films like Ben Stein’s Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (2008) and the Cornwall Alliance’s climate change skeptical Resisting the Green Dragon (2010), when in reality a huge amount of scientific research on psychedelics in relation to religion has emerged in the last twenty years.
The Christian Right’s fixation on scientists as being Darwinian materialists resistant to all religion blurs the actual relationship between science and religion. The situation is made blurrier by Intelligent Design supporters who claim they are doing science yet left out of scientific discussion. As Leah Ceccarelli has argued, some factions of the Christian Right have engaged in manufacturing scientific controversy where none exists:
those who manufacture a scientific controversy in the public sphere use the same rhetorical strategies to initiate an “epistemological filibuster” that delays policy change (like the regulation of carbon emissions), or to insert a “fairplay wedge” that enacts policy change (like a state government’s introduction of new “teach the controversy” directives for science education).
This essay argues that the current “blurriness” with respect to the Christian Right’s theological and (lack of) scientific views on drugs highlight not only the shifting attitudes among the Christian Right and its constituents, but the potential waning of the movement’s political dominance in the face of waxing Evangelical theologies more receptive to scientific study. In his forthcoming book, Paranoid Science, Antony Alumkal argues that the Christian Right invokes Richard Hofstadter’s “paranoid style” with selective scientific topics, particularly when its members perceive a potential threat to their faith. For the Christian Right:
The offending sectors of mainstream science are engaged in conspiratorial actions, misleading the public about their true natures. Even more significantly, these sectors threaten the moral foundation of American society. The appropriate response, according to Christian Right leaders, is to expose the deceptions, fight any further advances, and replace flawed scientific theories with more scientifically sound ones, which naturally come from the Christian Right and its allies.
The trouble is that the Christian Right’s tendency toward paranoia alienates them from actual scientific work being done that would be somewhat amenable to their theology (though not necessarily their politics). This exacerbates an existing conflict between self-representations of the Christian Right as marginalized while simultaneously claiming access to sentiments of a “moral majority.” In alienating themselves from science when they feel their faith is threatened, the Christian Right risks losing access to both scientific studies that would support them and emergent evangelical Christian religions that draw on such science. The specific scientific work I am referring to is taking place around emerging Christian theologies such as ayahuasca religions.
These emerging theologies blend traditional Evangelicalism with Pentecostalism and allow for a greater acceptance of the use of entheogens in Christian worship. Thus, a further implication of my argument is that the Christian Right’s traditional lack of engagement with secularly accepted scientific studies has the ultimate effect of limiting the Christian Right’s political impact. While some have noted growing tensions between Evangelicals and Catholics with respect to Pope Francis’s stance on climate change, little has been written with respect the Religious Right and scientific research on entheogens. As my argument suggests, the struggles of the religious conservatives with respect to science do not signal a triumphant secularization narrative of the decline and marginalization of religion, or to an anathema of religion among scientists, but rather to the decline of a specific brand of religion promoted within the political entity known as the Christian Right. This is a descriptive claim, however, and I will qualify my argument at the outset by stating that I am making no implicit claim of political primacy or of a “pendulum swinging” of political influence in the U.S. to either mainline Protestants or more “liberal” evangelicals. I am merely claiming that the Christian Right’s resistance to science and claims of an academic conspiracy against religion are not only unfounded, but that they alienate the Christian Right from evangelical theological and political agendas. When we look at the relatively inclusive acceptance among Evangelicals and Fundamentalists with respect to Brazilian ayahuasca religions relocating to the U. S. the conflicted relationship between the Christian Right and science is intensified.
What is the “Christian Right”?
Although I have claimed the left-right metaphor, which has its roots in the French Revolution is losing its tenor and vehicle with respect to current politics in the U.S., it is still necessary for clarity to distinguish what I mean by the Christian Right. As Daniel K. Williams covers in God’s Own Party: The Making of the Christian Right, the Protestant Christian community in the U.S. largely rallied alongside Jerry Falwell when the I.R.S. threatened by to revoke Lynchburg / Liberty University’s tax exempt status because it had segregationist policies. In response, Christian leaders organized what would become the “Moral Majority” in order to defend what they saw as the rights of Christian institutions to segregate and admit students as they say fit. From their perspective, the government, by way of civil rights legislation, had infringed on their religious rights; thus, it became for Protestant evangelicals and fundamentalists an issue related to the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. A broader historical narrative, however, has more to do with the development and influence of historical biblical criticism in the late nineteenth century and the rise of biblical fundamentalism against emergent scientific knowledge, and this is important for understanding the Christian Right’s relationship with science.
Often thematically aligned to the arrival of Darwinian natural selection, it is important to see the rise of Fundamentalism in the early twentieth century against the backdrop of the Social Gospel movement made popular by writers such as Walter Rauschenbusch’s Christianity and the Social Crisis. Against the more historicizing claims of the Social Gospel Movement and their resonance with the social critiques made by prophets in the Bible, Protestant Fundamentalism or “Biblical Fundamentalism” adopted a transhistorical or “literal” and “infallible” approach to scripture that importantly allowed for the existence of miraculous healings and the intervention of God in everyday lives of congregants. While there may be large amounts of conceptual crossover with respect to theology and the idea that God speaks to us as individuals, evangelical Christians can be distinguished from fundamentalists by being more amenable to historicized changes in what being Christian means with relation to earthly powers. Fundamentalists have tended to be more theologically ascetic with a transhistorical relation to their perception of biblical scriptures. Evangelicals, as the name suggests, also tend to be more about the spreading of faith and conversion that the preservation of one particular version of it. Thus we see with nineteenth-century figures like Dwight Moody an emphasis on the experience of the divine in one’s personal life an emphasis on the personal conversion experience.
With respect to psychedelic drugs in the twentieth century, some Protestants have indeed traditionally resisted the use of external “stimulants” but at the same time noted how their bad choices to experiment with such substances led them to religion. A 1968 booklet published by the Moody Press with an article titled, “What LSD Did For Me,” begins with the narrative of an acid trip but ends:
A glorious and permanent future awaits all those who belong to Jesus Christ but the root of spiritual problems behind the chimerical allure of the drug scene leads to chaos, emptiness, death, and destruction (Proverbs 7:27). Jesus Christ will prove Himself strong, adequate, and satisfying to every one who entrusts their lives into His hands. He is the most qualified of all men who have ever lived to be both Your Trip and your Guide. Why accept a substitute?
Such austerity is in some ways traditional and in line with a resistance toward modernization and science. At the same time, the rhetoric relies on modern experience for its evangelical message of “traditionalism.”
The political ramifications of the late nineteenth century, especially in relation to science, reach a boiling point in the popular memory of the Scopes trial in 1925 in which biblical fundamentalism “lost” against “modernist” accounts of evolution. Within U.S. culture this made the presence of Darwinian evolutionary theory central to the public presence of Christianity, especially with respect to public schools. It marked a retreat of public political advocacy by conservative Christian agendas that would re-emerge during the 1950s and 1960s and the emerging Cold War. While one strain of Christian religious thought sought to remove itself from the worldly realm of politics, another sought to align Christianity with American exceptionalism and patriotism against an increasingly liberal political landscape. Making things more complicated, at the same time that such perspectives rejected moral and political liberalism, they endorsed an economic liberalism against communism and an endorsement of capitalist economy. Thus, the personal, Protestant, theologically-individual experience of the divine set itself against a more social personalist agenda occupied by Catholics such as Jacques Maritain and, more radically, Dorothy Day. While Catholic personalism became associated with a human rights agenda during the post WWII years, Protestant individualism aligned itself with American patriotism and exceptionalism.
Another point of coalescence had to do with social justice, which had been traditionally associated with liberal, social gospel Christianity. During the 1960s, as Vatican II sought to modernize to some extent the Catholic Church, which moved away from miraculous intervention favored by the laity, the evangelical communities in the U.S. embraced Pentecostalism and the emphasis on the interactive presence of the divine in individual lives. Vatican II, for all its updating agenda, disaffected many would-be priests who left to pursue social justice issues while the “enchanted” character of evangelical Protestantism and charismatic religiosity overlapped with the “enchantment” of the hippy and psychedelic 1960s culture. At the same time, more conservative Christians lamented the liberal excesses of the hippies and the civil rights movements.
The economic crises of the early 1970s and the election of Richard Nixon signaled a less liberal agenda. It was during this period that Nixon, who had Quaker background but was politically affiliated with evangelicals, initiated his War on Drugs. That said, for the emerging Christian Right, it was always the “infection” of the civil rights movement, social in scope, which catalyzed its identity. In reacting to social liberalism of the civil rights movements, a large part of the formation of the Christian Right had to do with coalescing around issues traditionally separating Protestant Evangelicals and Catholics, with anti-abortion being perhaps the most crucial for the movement’s self-definition. Nixon’s (and later Reagan’s) War on Drugs and Law and Order politics have been well-documented in their focus on people of color in Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Thus, the pressure that the government put on Falwell’s Liberty University to be more inclusive was like pouring salt into the wounds the Christian Right had with respect to the civil rights gains of the 1960s. Drug War was a way to gain control over people of color and seem morally righteous in doing so.
It was only during a later meeting in 1978 that this group of Christian conservatives that the idea to use an anti-abortion stance was presented, years after the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. The strategic use of presenting an anti-abortion platform allowed for an alignment with a traditionally Catholic personalism against liberal policies advocating for women’s rights to choose, which Protestants saw as an attack on family values. Thus, the anti-civil rights agenda of white evangelical Protestants fused with the more human-rights emphasis of Catholics while coalescing with an American exceptionalism that emphasized classic distinctions between church and state and the affective patriotism afforded by the First Amendment. This galvanized a re-emergence of political involvement among Fundamentalists, Evangelicals, and some Catholics in U.S. political culture. Jerry Falwell and his cohorts called this the “Moral Majority,” also referred to as the “silent majority” – a political idea underwritten by the traditional aversion among evangelicals and fundamentalists to politics that gives politically active Christians special access to an assumed democratic majority. Importantly, this was in a way an inversion of Catholic leadership – from Vatican II to Pope Francis – which had created waves with the religiously conservative portions of their laity by embracing modernization and science. The emerging Christian Right could capitalize on conservative Catholics. It is this same “moral majority’s” association with Republican politics that established a cultural association between drug use and morality by aligning its position with Nixon’s “War on Drugs” by way of a larger “war on liberal excesses” waged by conservative evangelicals.
Science vs. The Christian Right
As Antony Alumkal notes, “The Christian Right’s battle against science is a selective one.” In fact, the relationship between the Christian Right and science has more to do with rhetoric than with science, which requires more positively testable criteria than hypotheses that there might be an Intelligent Designer who we cannot rule out. Alumkal notes that when it supports their cause, the Christian Right is often willing to uses outdated scientific knowledge. During the late 1970s, Christian Right thinkers advanced moral claims against the liberalizing and inclusive agendas promoted by the civil rights movements of the 1960s. It did so by emphasizing “family values,” and the movement sought to de-emphasize the modernizing agendas of more liberal Christian communities in order to appeal to traditionally fundamentalist and evangelical agendas that had distanced themselves from direct political engagement, favoring inerrancy of scripture and individual access to communication with the divine. Thus, the insulation of religious communities against modern liberalism could be intensified while simultaneously promoting civic and political engagement, all the while compounded by the attraction of nationalism and patriotism. The epistemological form of such thinking emerged as an anti-secularism that saw science as the antithesis of religiosity. Traditional “science” became equated with a liberalizing agenda that destroyed Christian values, particularly the emphasis on the nuclear family as the fundamental unit of procreation.
This constructed “traditionalism” created tension with mainline Protestant Christian denominations, which had long accepted scientific knowledge based on rational, Enlightenment values. As Alumkal notes,
While some strains of the Enlightenment were hostile to religious belief and attempted to pit science against religion, Protestant theologians in Europe (and later in the United States) attempted to find ways to reconcile their religious beliefs with the Enlightenment commitment to science. These efforts gained momentum in the nineteenth century and continue on to the present day.
Liberal rationalism is often seen as existing in direct conflict with the “enchanted” emphasis on miracles and daily interventions by the divine in human affairs. I use the term ‘enchanted’ here to invoke Max Weber’s claim that modernity “disenchants” religious belief, a claim that numerous recent scholars have rejected. Liberal Christian theology was not necessarily less “enchanted” (though conservatives viewed it as such); it had merely accepted the modern discoveries of science with an attitude of adaptation rather than outright rejection. What this meant was a less “literal” approach to scripture and more openness to synthesizing emergent scientific knowledge with theology.
According to Christian Right, however, science is controlled by Darwinist materialists who have a biased hostility to religion, and mainline Protestants stray from their faith by believing in Darwinism. The Right’s conflicted relationship with religion in public schools exacerbates their vilification of Darwin, whose thinking offers a slippery slope to the rejection of religion. This leads to concerns that the government is imposing a godless authoritarian regime of social control. “Big government,” like godless communism, will take away individual freedom. Emphasizing their defense of individual rights against an increasingly totalitarian government, they maintain their supposed moral and patriotic authority, but this can create confusion with respect to economic regulation, globalization, and “neo-liberalism” because both liberal and conservative Christian theologies emphasize individuality in different ways.
While liberal Christians accept a rights-based individual subjectivity with the capacity to make informed decisions based on a progressive unfolding of history, the more transhistorical nature of evangelical and fundamentalist theology sees the interactions of the divine as ever-present, unchanging, and individualistic. For that reason, the more traditional fundamentalist and evangelical positions advocated a complete removal from politics while promoters of the Christian Right worked to create a political force. This move toward political involvement has made writers such as Steven P. Miller refer to members of the Christian Right as “post-fundamentalists.” With respect to science then, two different eschatologies appear to be at work between the Christian Right and mainline Protestants: 1) The conservative, waiting for the Second Coming; 2) the more liberal assumption that God gradually illuminates an ongoing presence through the progression of time. Neither of these views is necessarily more “Christian” than the other. To believe the parousia will occur next week or in another thousand years does not fundamentally change the phenomenology of waiting so much as it heightens the exceptionality of the individual who will witness the event personally. The fact that one version is more anticipatory of Christ’s return within one’s own short-lived life does change its comportment in the real world in dramatic ways, especially with respect to science. For example, why worry about climate change if the world is ending anyway? Why build knowledge from a history of verifiable experimentation?
Ultimately, the conservative version of Christianity, with its emphasis on a transhistorical nature of the divine must inevitably advance an evangelical agenda that promotes a “the-sooner-the-better” mentality (dispensationalism). It cannot wait for a scientific revealing of truth that gets ever-closer to actual truth. The liberal version is perhaps more patient but often compounding that patience with incremental social “progress” which science could be used to support. It believes no less in God’s omnipotence but it is more capacious in the necessity of becoming, whether that be in “coming to Christ” or the “coming of Christ back to the world.” Modern scientific method after Sir Francis Bacon, like Protestantism, emphasizes the capacity of the individual to come-to-seeing the truth through the accurate representing of method. Science is an open-ended advance that is always “coming-to-be” built on positively tested criteria. In this view, which I align with liberal Protestant theology, science informs a “truthful” infinity that the individual cannot ever “know” yet constantly gets closer to.
In contrast, the conservative view locates its very individuality by “hearing” God speak. The conservative view is located by vocation or “calling,” as Max Weber describes. This is especially important for the Christian Right’s view of social justice. For evangelical anthropology, everything ultimately boils down to an individual’s choice, and the ongoing problem is that too many people are making what they take to be as morally wrong choices, whether it be to believe in science over scripture, to live a “gay lifestyle,” or to have an abortion. Yet it is essentially in the emphasis on individual choice that Christian Right conservatives align economically (but not necessarily intuitively) with “neo-liberalism,” and this globalized economic status comes into tension with older versions of evangelicalism and fundamentalism that aligned with American exceptionalism and patriotism with respect to laity. The Christian Right’s isolationism in terms of the rejection of science and American exceptionalist individualism makes it less capable of addressing entheogens in emergent evangelical Christianity.
For the American evangelical laity, a prosperity gospel (another extension of New Thought) merges with a hyper-individualism of choice. When something bad happens to you it is a matter of not being right with God. This theology traditionally informed a resistance to both politics and social justice, but the emergence of the Christian Right, with its defense of liberal market economy against communism, changed that. To them, everything “evil” about the 1960s took the form of sociality over individuality, and especially the nuclear family. In this thinking, if something bad is happening to you but you are a “good” person just trying to make your way, it is the socializing forces of a government overtaken by anti-Christian values becomes a likely target as the source of your misery. Libertarian values and conservatism align as a resistance to the “morally impure” version of “open individuality” espoused by liberals against a version of individualism that is radically choice-based and ahistorical. By ‘ahistorical’ I mean the familiar conservative “bootstraps” narrative associated with Calvinism by which it does not matter how poor you were growing up, your own personal gumption and your ability to respond to your vocation will “prove” your saving grace. The Christian Right sees science as being in conflict with individual choice and personal moral responsibility.
However, resistance to science among the Christian Right, whether it is in terms of climate-change denial, stem cell research, or “Intelligent Design,” has often surprisingly accompanied a tacit acceptance of medical technology. What I mean by this is that most conservative evangelicals will not balk at surgery restoring a torn ACL or replacing a hip for an elderly person, nor will they resist the powerful painkillers used in recovery. Likewise, we hear no public outcries from the Christian Right over the theological problems of Prozac or SSRI’s from Protestant evangelicals. Interestingly, it appears to be the opposite. A 1995 article in Christianity Today entitled “The Gospel According to Prozac,” explores the pros and cons of mental health drugs in relation to Christian faith. Archibald Hart, dean of the School of Psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary, claimed, “The human discovery of God’s creation is what science is all about. For example, God has created substances from which we make anesthetics. This is a wonderful gift from God. As is Prozac.” The article goes on to say,
Hart and bioethicist Nigel Cameron at Trinity International University are cautious about the use of Prozac. “If a person is clinically depressed, it is no different than giving insulin to a diabetic,” says Hart. “But I don’t believe it should be used on mildly depressed people or to enhance performance.”
Although the message is to proceed with caution, there is general acceptance of drug use for the right purposes. Science is always subordinated to the rhetorical agendas of the Christian Right, which at times tend to manipulate truth by providing a selective picture of a situation.
A big part of manipulation has to do with rhetorical framing. For example, with respect to stem cell research, Chuck Colson and Nigel M. de S. Cameron frame their edited volume Human Dignity in the Biotech Century on a calculated misreading of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. As such, these bioethicists pull from genres that only tangentially relate to the science in question. For example, Huxley, whose emerging interest in Vedanta was coming into full fruition as Brave New World was published in 1931, had long-since rejected the kind of Christianity promoted by the Christian Right. This resistance to ‘religion’ had been present since he was young, yet it did not quench his interest in theology. Although he aspired to be a biologist, a bout with Streptococcus aureus left him struggling with near blindness, and he turned his studies to Literature and Divinity. As Huxley scholar, David Bradshaw notes:
Chapel was obligatory in all Oxford colleges at this time, but since the Mastership (1870-1893) of Benjamin Jowett, “only gently and minimally required, with easy let outs” at Balliol.” But it was not just the religious worship that took place inside the chapel that deterred Huxley from entering it: he also loathed the architecture.
Bradshaw discusses Huxley’s letters home to his father, who had written Balliol College to excuse his son from attending the obligatory chapel, expressing his annoyance of the view of the chapel. Huxley would be the last person to resist stem-cell research, but Colson and Cameron neglect to include that information. And although Colson and Cameron mention Huxley’s grandfather’s relationship to Charles Darwin, they neglect any discussion of Huxley’s own views. Had they done any actual research on Huxley, they would know that the references to the soma drug in Brave New World become the psilocybin-like, moksha (liberation) inducing, entheogen in his final novel, Island after Huxley’s more famously psychedelic friendly works like The Doors of Perception and “Heaven & Hell.” Moreover, with the general acceptance of Prozac for the right reasons among conservative Christians, there is largely an acceptance of the most soma like of recent drugs. Huxley’s later emphasis on psychedelics, like current uses of entheogens, sought to liberate consciousness from such drugs.
Literary criticism is not science in the traditional sense, yet Colson and Cameron’s reading of Huxley frames their entire discussion, which relies more on rhetoric than on science. Despite the characters’ central roles in Brave New World, neither Bernard Marx nor Helmholtz Watson, who are exiled from society due to their refusal of soma medicine are necessarily heroes, nor is John “Savage” who ends up killing himself. Moreover, as I have written in “Aldous Huxley the Political Theologian,” even early on, Huxley displays an aversion to formal religion while cultivating an interest in mysticism. In both civic morality and theology Huxley would be opposed to the use of Brave New World in arguments from the Christian Right.
Colson and Cameron, echoing Francis Fukuyama, invoke Brave New World as a rhetorical tactic to invoke a conspiracy between scientists and the government against religion, neglecting that religion is just as much a part of the problem for Huxley and mistaking science fiction for science. Huxley remained optimistic throughout his life that a close relationship between science and religious thought, and particularly of mystical experience, could democratize access to the divine for those undisciplined enough to do the rigorous meditative work of those who dedicate their lives to refining spiritual insight, and it was this kind of thinking that led Huxley himself to suggest to Timothy Leary and his cohorts at Harvard in the early 1960s write a manual describing the psychedelic experience based on The Tibetan Book of the Dead. This broader look at Huxley reveals that the Christian Right is willing to coopt even the foundations of the human potential movement to bewail transhumanism and carve out an essentialist definition of humanity (which rejects “humanism”) based on rhetoric rather than on science.
I have spent time with Huxley not to condemn the Christian Right but to point to Huxley as a possible source of commensurability between religion and science that is lacking in the conspiratorial view that the Christian Right has of science – that is, if Christian Right thinkers would read him in more depth. In other words, I am not making an anti-religious argument; I am saying that dropping some of the conspiratorial view that science leads to a slippery slope where Darwinist materialists create disenchanted secularists is not necessary, especially with recent research in science and religion. I turn in the final part of this paper to explore some of this research, but I will suggest one more caveat: When it comes to the term “drugs,” the Protestant evangelicals need to resist associating it immediately with “drug addiction” as sinful or at least immoral. This merely adds to the blurriness with respect to entheogens comes into question. As William A. Richards, clinical psychologist at Johns Hopkins University, who has been involved with psychedelic research, says:
Most of us in Western cultures have collections of drugs in our medicine cabinets and tend to expect receipt of a prescription or two when we visit our physicians, often for medications that have been promised to help us cope with anxiety or depression if taken regularly. In addition, whether responsibly or irresponsibly, many if us freely consume drugs such as caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and marijuana. “Just say no,” well intentioned as it was when Nancy Reagan’s words were incorporated into an advertising campaign sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, has been firmly countered in recent years by “just say know.”
Far from being a government conspiracy with a scientific elite, Reagan’s words have shifted in resonance with greater knowledge in recent decades. The Christian Right’s eclectic use of sources to politically promote distinct argumentation have lost their kairotic appeal over time as their constituencies and laities have changed.
“Entheogens” vs. “Drugs”
According to Focus on the Family’s article, “The Vicious Truth about Drug Addiction and Alcohol,” the authors argue, “Do not be fooled by those who claim they use drugs as a means to enhance their spirituality. It works just the opposite. Many drug users find the only way to relieve their guilt is to turn their backs on God.” Again here, the theological burden emphasizes the individual: “To put it simply, what you want to do with your life is up to you. This is what the drug dilemma comes down to: Is a temporary high and all its “benefits” worth the physical, mental, spiritual and social risks that follow?” Focus on the Family’s view is that drugs offer an “escape” from that guilt or individuality, or they use a slippery slope argument of “gateway” drugs. But they run into trouble when they claim:
Drugs were virtually nonexistent during biblical times. Thus, substances such as LSD, marijuana, heroin, Ecstasy, cocaine, methamphetamine and any number of others aren’t mentioned in Scripture. However, God makes it clear that He prohibits drunkenness (see Proverbs 23:20-21, 29-35; 1 Corinthians 5:11; 1 Peter 4:3).
Scientifically (if not hermeneutically), this statement is false. In the early 20th century, William James had already mentioned in Varieties of Religious Experience the ancient link between “intoxication” and religion, and the Rig Veda contains multiple descriptions of the mysterious substance, soma, which many believe to be a mind-altering plant (a discussion present in the early 20th century and slyly invoked by Huxley in Brave New World), even very recent archaeological evidence suggests the “relationship with mind-altering organisms is very old. It may have even originated before the evolution of our own genus, but more probably within the temporal span of our own species well back into the Pleistocene.”
Such science may not at first seem admissible for fundamentalists, but while emergent sources are inconsistent and may even seem far-fetched at first glance, some scholars have attempted to find psychedelic substances in the Old Testament that would support conservative theology. In “Biblical Entheogens: A Speculative Hypothesis,” for example, Benny Shanon has argued for the possibility of the biblical use of acacia trees and harmal in the near east as entheogens. Shanon, however, is a psychologist by trade and author of The Antipodes of the Mind: Charting the Phenomenology of the Ayahuasca Experience published by Oxford University. Shanon and other ayahuasca enthusiasts are partly motivated by trying to establish links between entheogen use in South America and Judeo-Christian religion. He claims, “In the Bible we discover clear indications that psychoactive plants were highly valued in ancient Israelite society.” This is largely in defense of syncretic or hybrid religions developed in the 20th century, fusing Christianity with indigenous practices and using entheogens as sacrament. Whether or not Shanon is ultimately correct, the Christian Right’s reluctance to engage with such science prevents a theological view of entheogens that will hold them back as entheogenic substances are deregulated in the 21st century. With respect to Shanon’s research on ayahuasca users who claim to see Jesus Christ while taking the sacrament, he “implies that, from a cognitive-psychological point of view, if the figure seen was identified as being Jesus, then phenomenologically this is indeed who was seen.”
Many people have misconceptions about the differences between entheogens and “drugs.” The equation of “getting high” and being “drunk,” for example, is perpetuated in Colorado law where driving while high on marijuana is equivalent to a DUI. Kendrick Oliver sees this as an overtly Protestant Christian bias in the U.S. penal system perpetuated by Christian Right thinkers like Charles Colson. But the problem with such thinking respective to entheogens is that, physiologically, the two substances act radically different and in fact psychedelics have a long tradition of being used to therapeutically treat drug addiction.
The tendency to lump all “substances” into one category of “drugs” also ignores the fact that many Americans regularly use mind-altering substances (from coffee to SSRI’s) legally. This displays a heavy public reliance on scientific “experts,” to whom the contemporary formation of the FDA in the early 1960s was reacting against. This culminated in Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970 under Richard Nixon, which created drug scheduling. Building on Oliver’s view, there appears to be a two-fold reaction against entheogens built into Protestant evangelical frames of American legal practice: 1) the assumption that drugs are inherently addictive and destroy one’s sense of personal agency and responsibility; 2) the more theologically rooted assumption that drugs somehow relieve one of one’s responsibility (or guilt). Far from being rejected and marginalized as a minority, which is a recurring theme in Christian Right rhetoric, Protestant Christianity is entrenched in legislature.
Both reactions presented above prompt interesting historical aspects of Protestant evangelicalism in the United States. Axel R. Schäfer traces the development of the Jesus Movement or “Jesus Freaks,” former hippies who turned to evangelical Christianity during the 1970s. Countering Robert Wuthnow’s claims that “hippie conversions were an altogether limited phenomenon,” Schäfer discusses evangelical “reconceptualizing” of drug experiences as “a key component in the process of establishing biblical authority via the appropriation of countercultural images.” But this was more than merely co-opting drug language.
Drug ideology also counseled letting oneself go, which matched the Christian concept of self-surrender: “Acid enabled you to sit down and stop reacting to things and just perceive where you are and what you are doing.” This notion of perception without reaction, observation without evaluation, seeing without thinking. Knowing without words, was similar to the evangelical reliance upon the authentic, unmediated, emotional experience of the divine. Religious imagery could thus be grafted onto the countercultural notion of drugs as a means of self-transcendence and self-revaluation.
The assumption that drugs are inherently addictive and destroy one’s sense of personal agency and responsibility has its roots in the invention of drug scheduling in the early 1970s and the general conservative Christian reaction to the social movements of the late 1960s, which were anathema to the emerging Christian Right in the 1970s. According to the 2010 Annual Review of Sociology, right wing movements coalesce as a reaction to the state: “A disorganized network of self-styled patriots was transformed into a cohesive force of antigovernment warriors in the late twentieth century as they adopted military tactics and language used by federal agencies in the war on drugs.” The emergence of social evangelicalism has its roots in longstanding tensions within the evangelical community. For example, Kendrick Oliver writes,
Behind the scenes at Christianity Today, throughout the mid-to-late 1960s, the issue [of social justice] was a source of considerable tension. The editor, Carl Henry, had long believed that evangelicals should speak out against social evils. The magazine’s principle benefactor, J. Harold Pew of the Sun Oil Corporation, objected to any church involvement in economic, social, or political affairs.
This resulted in an editorial focus on individuals rather than the position of “the church.” However, as both Emma Long and Albert R. Schäfer note, despite an overt rhetoric against state involvement with religion, Protestant evangelicals benefited handsomely from government subsidies after the Johnson administration particularly in education and healthcare. As Schafer notes discussing the co-optation of the Chicago, “Among the political ironies of subsidarist welfare-state building in the 1960s is that liberal policies primarily benefited the Right within the evangelical fold. Indeed the Great Society programs ushered in the conversion of evangelicals to public funding.” In brief, the emerging Christian Right demanded more government money when it benefited them but bewailed against “big government” when they did not directly benefit from spending:
The Christian Right’s ability to combine aversion to the state with embracing the instrumentalities of government funding helped bridge the ideological gap within conservatism between calls for restoring the free market and the broad-based acceptance of Social Security, Medicare, deficit spending, military contracting, and corporate subsidies.
It is within this shift toward a moral view that was “anti-drugs” fueled by conservative alignment with the Nixon administration’s War on Drugs and compounded by the Christian Right’s tendency to confuse their religious rhetoric with legitimately scientific discourse through tactics of mimicry of “scientific language” and media that we must situate a discussion of entheogens in relation to Protestant evangelicals and the Christian Right, because the Christian Right’s aversion to actual science, masked by a particular “human” rights / dignity discourse that cannot be conflated with the U.N.’s Universal Declaration Human Rights, distracts them from emergent scientific work on entheogens and spirituality. It also likely prevents them from receiving monetary support for drug addiction treatment by entheogens.
As we know in 2017, the War on Drugs was no more effective than the Christian Right’s attempts at “ex-gay” therapy, yet the group’s identity is based on the same reaction-formation between “gay lifestyle” and drugs. This creates a tendency to be suspicious of science altogether and alienates the Christian Right from legitimate scientific research that may not be so far from their own theological views. Yet, like the growing divide between Christian Right climate change skeptics and more liberal evangelicals who embrace science, the tactic of rhetorical mimicry as a substitute for embracing actual scientific knowledge is likely to undue the Christian Right’s political hold and re-establish the divisions among evangelicals more robustly present in the early 1970s. More importantly, such neglect of science has led the Christian Right to neglect theological implications of entheogen research.
The more compelling aspects of Protestant evangelicalism’s relationship to entheogens is theologically rooted in the assumption that drugs somehow relieve one of one’s responsibility (or guilt). In that sense, drugs or alcohol take me “outside” of myself and in that ecstasy my faculties of responsibility are diminished. I am less “me” and therefore less capable of “hearing god.” The position that appears especially rooted here is something like, “I am most me when I am completely pure or separate from my ‘worldly’ existence.” The favor here, theologically, derives from a kind of transcendence, and transcendence with respect to sacrament is at the root of the “blurriness” of dealing with evangelical Protestants and entheogens. This can be easily be made thematic by reference to theologies of the Eucharist and the body of Christ.
Protestant doctrine traditionally upholds a theology of consubstantiality against Catholic transubstantiation. The Catholic view that the bread and wine truly become the body of Christ is opposed by the Lutheran view that Christ is temporarily added to the bread and wine. Despite the confusing terminology, the consubstantial view maintains a more transcendent view of the divine, while the Catholic view remains potentially more immanent. It is perhaps because of the longer colonial history of South America by Catholics that underwrites the use of entheogens as sacrament in Ayahuasca religions, even though such religions are more akin to Protestant evangelicalism (and Pentecostalism in particular) in other respects. As Stephen Selka writes, “While Pentecostalism has largely been “indigenized” in Brazil, to take one example, it also clearly represents a critique of many aspects of mainstream Brazilian culture and opposes itself to Catholicism and African-derived religions in particular.” So, while from the perspective of Christianity in the U.S., Ayahuasca religion may seem “syncretic” or “hybrid,” it is important to practitioners in Brazil to maintain its uniqueness against traditionally colonial forces and theologies. Lisa Maria Madera describes the appropriation of Christianity by what she sees as distinctly indigenous, anti-colonial South American perspectives with respect to Santo Daime church.
The sacrament of Santo Daime parallels the Catholic theology of transubstantiation where, as a result of the priest’s blessing, the wine and the wafer miraculously transform into the redemptive blood and body of Christ consumed by Christians in Mass. Like the Catholic Eucharist, in this radical botanical theology of transubstantiation, when adherents drink the wine of the souls they partake of the living Christ Child, becoming infused by his being which then unveils the true nature of the spiritual and physical world.
Although one might again be tempted by the use of transubstantiation to see Brazilian entheogen use as theologically “Catholic,” the socio-historical situation problematizes such a view, even if one is to use such names as “Charismatic Catholicism.” “Neo-Pentecostals,” like North American evangelical prayer warriors, are often concerned with “demons and money.” Moreover, it is inaccurate to romantically assert the emergence of Ayahuasca religion within a perspective that sees “authentic” roots in indigenous “religion.” While there may be some truth to the fact that ayahuasca was used by indigenous peoples before colonization, the ritual use of the substance as an entheogen is thoroughly caught up in the drama of colonization, and it is more and more associated with evangelical Christianity. As Richards describes it,
Evangelical Protestantism has especially emphasized the “decision for Christ, an active choosing to be receptive, to entrust one’s self to something greater than one’s everyday personality, and to allow a sacred dimension of life, however conceptualized, to enter, change, and transform one’s being. This moment or process of awakening usually requires more than passivity symbolized by listlessly lying on pavement while a steamroller approaches. Viewed from a psychological perspective, this also acknowledges the importance of ego-strength, how when one “has an ego” or some sense of a developed personal identity, it becomes easier under the right conditions to choose to relinquish ego controls.
As Selka writes, “Urban-dwelling practitioners of ayahuasca religions ingest the compound to help them engage a variety of spirits and, like the practitioners of neo-esoteric religions, to discover their higher selves.” Neither of these attitudes fit a conception of drug abuse or seeking to “escape,” and perhaps that is one reason conservative Christians have been increasingly supportive of ayahuasca using versions of Christianity. Moreover, as Selka notes the emergence of ayahuasca religions follows a liberalizing economic situation in Brazil during the mid-twentieth century in which Liberation Theology lost its hold. The economic situation fostered more evangelical approaches to religion.
The northward movement of ayahuasca religions, such as Santo Daime and the UDV Church, has received support in court cases against the government’s drug laws from evangelical and fundamentalist communities in the United States. Clearly, the theological aspect of the migration of these religions is fairing better than immigrant people coming north into the United States. Indeed, the issues with respect to indigenous people and the persistence of colonialism with its emphasis on a transhistorical category of ‘Religion’ underwrite the formations of the UDV and Santo Daime churches with difficult ethical questions that I will address in future work but do not have space for here. It is, for example, partly because they have become accepted and Christianized by an urban, non-indigenous, middle class that has allowed them to be regarded as “legitimate” religions in Brazil and thus reinforced the cultural appropriation of indigenous peoples in South America. But in North America, aligning with The Religious Freedom Act and with long accepted use of Peyote in American Indian Religion, the inclusion of Christianized use of entheogens has faired well in recent years, partly because it eases the moral consciences of those who have traditionally oppressed indigenous peoples in the North. Moreover, as mentioned earlier, evangelicals in Colorado have not been especially concerned over the legalization of Marijuana, even if some may regard it as a “gateway drug.” The problem again is one of a misconception between entheogens and drugs, and this is a problem that science can help to resolve, which means the Christian Right thinkers’ resistance to science hurts them.
Ben Sessa and Eileen Worthley’s Psychedelic Drug Treatments: Assisting the Therapeutic Process gives concise and accurate descriptions of psychedelics as opposed to other substances. According to drug scheduling, psychedelics are classes as “hallucinogens,” but this is misleading because with psychedelics “there is no complete break with reality” while other substances classified as hallucinogens do. Unlike other hallucinogens, most psychedelics (Ibogaine, which is used in east Africa, is an exception) are neither Dissociatives, nor are they Deliriants. Moreover, narrowing the field further, with the exception of Mescaline in Peyote cactus, it appears that tryptamine-based psychedelics such as LSD, psilocybin, and DMT tend to be used more often as entheogens in religious settings, as opposed to phenethylamine psychedelics like MDMA, though MDMA is quickly becoming deregulated for psychotherapeutic uses. Ayahuasca is particularly interesting not only for its release of DMT, which is naturally made in the pineal gland, but because it was made legal in Brazil, and by extension in the U.S. for use in religious settings, which means that as more scientific research is done with respect to ayahuasca’s therapeutic qualities, it will require that scientists and religious practitioners work together.
The Christian Right’s traditional resistance to engaging with scientific research, underwritten by the conspiratorial notion that scientists are scheming Darwinian naturalists seeking to destroy religious faith, prevents the Christian Right from adequately addressing emergent evangelical Christian movements that are supported by fundamentalist Christians as well. It seems only logical that if neglect of actual science continues to be substituted with rhetorics that manipulate scientific language and texts, the Christian Right will increasingly alienate its own voting constituents. If this seems to some conservatives a strange victory of thinking from the 1960s, take Benjamin Wallace-Wells’ words under consideration:
It was once precisely their own radical individualism that isolated the outlaws. But America’s communitarian instinct has dissipated a bit since the sixties, and the politics that have replaced it are a politics of outsiders, of civil-liberties individualism on the left and capitalist individualism on the right. We have, in other words, already surrendered something: the insistence, even against all reason and practicality, that in this instance at least a free marketplace is too ruthless to be tolerated. In this sense, our drugs politics are catching up to the rest of our politics.
And so the emergence of entheogens with respect to both science and religion occur not with the demise of the Christian Right, but with a re-ordering of what we mean by Right and Left in what some have called a ‘postsecular’ era. However the traditional Christian Right chooses to engage or refuses to engage with science will become ever more crucial for them in the 21st century. And for those on the traditional Left, there is little that is particularly progressive about neoliberal and biopolitical arguments in favor of deregulating controlled substances. Perhaps a theological argument is one’s best bet.
 Clint Rainey, “Colorado’s Pro-Pot Vote Shows the Fading of Evangelical Fervor: The religious conservatives who brought you Reefer Madness rolled over for Amendment 64,” Slate.com. January 4, 2013, accessed May 7, 2016, http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2013/01/colorado_drug_legalization_and_evangelicals_why_didn_t_religious_right_fight.html
 Anthony Gregory, “The Right and the Drug War,” The American Conservative, September 12, 2012, accessed May 19, 2016. http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/the-right-the-drug-war/
 Aaron Griffith, “How Evangelicals Use Marijuana to Sell Religion,” The Christian Century, March 26, 2014, accessed May 19th 2016, http://www.christiancentury.org/blogs/archive/2014-03/how-evangelicals-use-marijuana-sell-religion
 Ben Sessa and Eileen Worthley, Psychedelic Drug Treatments: Assisting the Therapeutic Process, Dulles: Mercury Learning and Information, 2016, 28.
 Libertarian Christians are more likely to argue against all drug laws: Lawrence M. Vance, “Christianity, Libertarianism, and the Drug War,” Libertarian Christian Institute, September 8, 2015, accessed May 25, 2016, http://libertarianchristians.com/2015/09/30/christianity-libertarianism-drug-war/
 Cary Funk and Becka A. Alper, Religion and Science: Highly religious Americans are less likely than others to see conflict between faith and science,” October 15, 2015, accessed June 22, 2016, http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/10/22/science-and-religion/
 Charles Hayes, “Can Science Validate the Psychedelic Experience?” Tikkun 22, no. 2 (2007): 66-67.
 Beatriz Caiuby Labate, Edward MacRae and Sandra Lucia Goulart, “Brazilian Ayhuasca Religions in Perspective,” Ayahuasca, Ritual and Religion in Brazil, Ed. Beatriz Caiuby Labate and Edward MacRae, Trans. Christian Frenopoulo, London: Equinox, 2010, 17.
 Randall Balmer, Thy Kingdom Come: How The Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America, an Evangelical’s Lament, New York: Basic Books, 121.
 For a critique of the film see Antony Alumkal, “Chapter 4,” Paranoid Science, (forthcoming unpublished manuscript).
 Leah Ceccarelli, “Manufactured Scientific Controversy: Science, Rhetoric, And Public Debate.” Rhetoric & Public Affairs 14.2 (2011): 195-228. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 22 May 2016.
 Antony Alumkal, Paranoid Science, (forthcoming unpublished manuscript), 9.
 Heather Digby Parton, “Why the Christian Right Is Going to War (With Itself),” Alternet.org, June 30, 2015, accessed May 17, 2016, http://www.alternet.org/tea-party-and-right/why-christian-right-going-war-itself
 See Robert Orsi, Between Heaven and Earth: The Religious World’s People Make and the Scholars Who Study Them, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006.
 Antony Alumkal, “Introduction,” Paranoid Science, (forthcoming unpublished manuscript), 8.
 Antony Alumkal, “Chapter 1,” Paranoid Science, (forthcoming unpublished manuscript), 2.
 Cornel West, “Dialogue: Judith Butler and Cornel West,” The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere, Ed. Eduardo Mendieta and Jonathan Vanantwerpen, New York: Columbia UP, 2011, 105.
 Antony Alumkal notes that the slippery slope fallacy is a feature of Hofstadter’s “paranoid style”: Antony Alumkal, Paranoid Science, (forthcoming unpublished manuscript), 4.
 Steven P. Miller, “The Persistence of Antiliberalism,” American Evangelicals and the 1960s, Ed. Axel R. Schäfer, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 84.
 Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, New York: Routledge, 1930 / 1992, 39.
 Clark E. Barshinger, Lojan E. Larowe, and Andres Tapia, “The Gospel According to Prozac
Can a pill do what the Holy Spirit could not?” Christianity Today, August 1, 1995, accessed May 17, 2016, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/1995/august1/5t9034.html?start=1
 David Bradshaw, “A Blind Stay-At-Home-Mole,” Aldous Huxley Annual 12/13: (2012/2013), 197.
 I actually sat in Balliol Chapel at Oxford in 2013 and listened to Bradshaw give this paper. As we left he pointed out the window of Huxley’s dorm room that looks down on the chapel. David Bradshaw, “Aldous Huxley at Oxford 1913-1916,” plenary talk for The Condemned Playground, Aldous Huxley Conference, Balliol College, Oxford, September 1, 2013.
 Human Dignity in the Biotech Century, Ed. Charles Colson and Nigel M. de S. Cameron, Downers Grove: Intra Varsity Press Academic, 2004, 17.
 Roger Green, “Aldous Huxley the Political Theologian,” Aldous Huxley Annual 14/15: (2014 /2015).
 Francis Fukuyama, Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution, New York: Picador, 2002, 3-7.
 Human Dignity in the Biotech Century, Ed. Charles Colson and Nigel M. de S. Cameron, Downers Grove: Intra Varsity Press Academic, 2004, 86-87.
 William A. Richards, Sacred Knowledge: Psychedelics and Religious Experiences, New York: Columbia University Press, 18.
 Bob Waliszewski , Loren Eaton , and Adam Holz, “The Vicious Truth about Drug Addiction and Alcohol,” accessed May 17, 2016, http://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/teens/vicious-truth-about-drugs-and-alcohol
 See John A. Rush, Entheogens and Human Culture, New York: North Atlantic Books, 2013.
 M. D. Merlin, “Archaeological Evidence for the Tradition of Psychoactive Plant Use in the Old World,” Economic Botany 57, No. 3 (Autumn, 2003), pp. 295-323. Accessed May 18, 2016, http://www.jstor.org/stable/4256701
 Benny Shanon, “Biblical Entheogens: a Speculative Hypothesis,”Time and Mind: The Journal of Archaeology, Consciousness and Culture, 1: no. 1 (2008), 51-74. http://dx.doi.org/10.2752/175169608783489116
 Benny Shanon, The Antipodes of the Mind: Charting the Phenomenology of the Ayahuasca Experience, Oxford: Ocford University Press, 2002, 252.
 “Drugged Driving,” Colorado Department of Transportation, accessed May 17, 2016, https://www.codot.gov/safety/alcohol-and-impaired-driving/druggeddriving
 Kendrick Oliver, “Watergate, Attica, and Prison Ministry,” American Evangelicals and the 1960s, Ed. Axel R. Schäfer, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 124.
 Nicolas Langlitz, Neuropsychedelia: The Revival of Hallucinogen Research since the Decade of the Brain, Berkeley, University of California Press, 2012, 29.
 Robert Schäfer, Countercultural Conservatives: American Evangelicalism from the Postwar Revival to the New Christian Right, Madison: Wisconsin University Press, 2011, 99.
 Ibid., 99.
 Kathleen M. Blee and Kimberly A Creasap, “Conservative and Right-Wing Movements,” Annual Review of Sociology 36 (2010), 217. doi: 10.1146/annurev.soc.012809.102602
 Kendrick Oliver, “Wategate, Attica, and Prison Ministry,” American Evangelicals and the 1960s, Ed. Axel R. Schäfer, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 127.
 Emma Long, “Making Lemonade from Lemon: Evangelicals, the Supreme Court, and the Constituionality of School Aid.” American Evangelicals and the 1960s, Ed. Axel R. Schäfer, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 155.
 Axel R. Schäfer, “Great Society, Evangelicals, and the Public Funding of Religious Agencies,” American Evangelicals and the 1960s, Ed. Axel R. Schäfer, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 174.
 Ibid., 180.
 See Eileen Luhr, “A Revolutionary Mission: Young Evangelicals and the Language of the Sixties,” American Evangelicals and the 1960s, Ed. Axel R. Schäfer, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 61-80.
 See Tanya Erzen, Straight to Jesus: Sexual and Christian Conversions in the Ex-Gay Movement, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006.
 Brian McCammack, “Hot Damned America: Evangelicalism and the Climate Change Policy Debate,” American Quarterly 59: No. 3 (September 2007), pp. 645-668.
 Stephen Selka, “New Religious Movements in Brazil,” Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions 15: no. 4 (May 2012), 4.
 Lisa Maria Madera, “Visions of Christ in the Amazon: The Gospel According to Ayahuasca and Santo Daime,” Journal For The Study Of Religion, Nature And Culture 3, no. 1 (2009) 90. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost, accessed May 18, 2016.
 Stephen Selka, “New Religious Movements in Brazil,” Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions 15: no. 4 (May 2012), 8.
 William A. Richards, Sacred Knowledge: Psychedelics and Religious Experiences, New York: Columbia University Press, 173.
 Stephen Selka, “New Religious Movements in Brazil,” Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions 15: no. 4 (May 2012), 9.
 Ibid., 3.
 See Miguel A. De La Torre, Trails of Hope and Terror: Testimonies on Immigration, New York: Orbis, 2009.
 Stephen Selka, “New Religious Movements in Brazil,” Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions 15: no. 4 (May 2012), 9.
 Ben Sessa and Eileen Worthley, Psychedelic Drug Treatments: Assisting the Therapeutic Process, Dulles: Mercury Learning and Information, 2016, 14.
 Ibid., 18-20.
 José Carlos Bouso and Jordi Riba, “Ayahuasca and the Treatment of Drug Addiction,” The Therapeutic Uses of Ayahuasca, Ed. Beatriz Caiuby Labate and Clancy Cavnar, New York: Springer-Verlag, 2014, 105.
 Benjamin Wallace-Wells, “The Truce on Drugs,” New York Magazine, November 25 2012, accessed May 17, 2016, http://nymag.com/news/features/war-on-drugs-2012-12/
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February 15, 2017 § Leave a comment
Emmanuel Levinas’s essay, “Reality and Its Shadow” was published in Les Temps Modernes in 1948. Although Levinas was 42 years old and had been working in philosophy for some time, he was not nearly as famous as Jean-Paul Sartre, although Sartre would not have had access to Martin Heidegger’s writings which inspired his phenomenology had Levinas not translated them into French in the 1930s. Les Temps Modernes was an avowedly left-leaning journal, but it would be a mistake to read Levinas as a Marxist. In his magnum opus, published in 1961 as Totality and Infinity, Levinas importantly writes:
Demented pretension to the invisible, when the acute experience of the human in the twentieth century teaches that the thoughts of men are borne by needs which explain society and history, that hunger and fear can prevail over every human resistance and every freedom! There is no question of doubting this human misery, this dominion the things and the wicked exercise over man, this animality. But to be a man is to know that this is so. Freedom consists in knowing that freedom is in peril. But to know or to be conscious is to have time to avoid and forestall the instant of inhumanity. It is this perpetual postponing of the hour of treason – infinitesimal difference between man and non-man – that implies the disinterestedness of goodness, the desire of the absolutely other or nobility, the dimension of metaphysics.
In this important distinction between human and animal, Levinas is simultaneously qualifying Satrean notions of freedom and politics by appealing to what he calls the metaphysical desire, a desire which is more than lack and “non-adequation,” unable to be understood as a concept or the grasping of vision. It is all the more significant then, that in “Reality and Its Shadow,” we get some of Levinas’s work related to aesthetics. What is important to note is his use of sound and music in his discussion. In this post, I will offer a close analysis of Levinas’s essay while relating its contents to Levinas’s larger project of ethics as “first” philosophy.
Levinas opens “Reality and Its Shadow” stating that, generally, people think of Art as extraordinary. It is “more real than real” and thus maintains a metaphysical position. In other words, people tend to relate Art to a metaphysical desire, a desire for an Other. Realism thus “retains its prestige” because Art, in capturing the Invisible, is able to capture how things really are. Criticism then supports the metaphysical place of art as extraordinary and professes, through a “parasitic” existence and explication, to access a “depth of reality inaccessible to conceptual intelligence” which “becomes [criticism’s] prey.” Criticism, as the metaphor implies, is bestial and predatory. It seeks to do violence to the Invisible by making it visible, by saying more than the work can say. Either that, or criticism professes to be Art itself.
Criticism, Levinas says, is “the public’s mode of comportment. Not content with being absorbed in aesthetic, the public feels the irresistible need to speak.” The critic is “the one that still has something to say when everything has been said, that can say about the work something else from the work.” In this view criticism aims to produce an adequation or understanding of the higher truth that the work represents, and in Plotinian and Augustinian hermeneutic fashion (literal, allegorical, parable, anagogical) align the public with true reality. Levinas uses literature as an example: “We are not always attentive to the transformation that speech undergoes in literature. Art as speech, art as knowledge, then brings on the problem of committed art, which is a problem of committed literature. Here Levinas cites Sartre’s Literature and Existentialism. A relevant passage from Sartre might be:
One does not write for slaves. The art of prose is bound up with the only regime in which prose has meaning, democracy. When one is threatened, the other is too. And it is not enough to defend them with the pen. A day comes when the pen is forced to stop, and the writer must then take up arms. Thus, however you might have come to it, whatever the opinions you might have professed, literature throws you into battle. Writing is a certain way of wanting freedom; once you have begun, you are engaged, willy-nilly. (65)
Sartre’s words here profess the kind of committed Art to which Levinas is referring. But Levinas is saying that in our conventional dogma, we underestimate the way a completed artwork disengages from the material production. Or, on the flipside, we might seek to see an element of art in the process of craft. In either case, the artist eventually stops because the work “refuses to accept anything more.” In emphasizing the overlooked detachment of art, Levinas is quick to say that he is not valorizing “art for art’s sake,” which he regards as “immoral inasmuch as it liberates the artist from his duties as a man and assures him of a pretentious and facile nobility.” For Levinas, the “disengaged” “formal structure of completion” is essential for a work to become art, and so it is by attending to the disengagement that we come to understand aesthetics. He moves on to question if disengagement must always move toward Platonic ideals or if there is something else. He thinks there might be something in art that exceeds the understanding. Contrary to conventional notions of art in the Plotinian sense above, Levinas sees something obscuring and unrevealing about art: “it is the very event of obscuring, a descent of the night, an invasion of shadow.” Thus, Levinas’s thesis is that, far from illuminating reality, Art is created by an eventual rupture in time that obscures reality, moving “in just the opposite direction” of creation.
Levinas goes on to critique Kantian aesthetic disinterest and “grasped” concepts. Images rather interest us by taking possession of our senses. He appeals to rhythm’s incantatory nature which brings about a transformation: “in rhythm there is no longer a oneself, but rather a sort of passage from oneself into anonymity. This is the captivation or incantation of poetry and music.” Art puts us into a state of waking dreams. This phenomenon he calls “an exteriority of the inward,” equating it to the “ecstatic rites” described in ethnology. There is thus a kind of primitivism at work in Levinas’s conception of the experience of art as de-subjectivizing the self and producing fodder for a sacrifice.
Music and rhythm take us away from concepts. To the extent that an image is musical, it entrances us: “Sensation is not a residue of perception, but has a function of its own – the hold that an image has over us, a function of rhythm.” Because art “consists in substituting an image for being, the aesthetic element, as its etymology indicates, is sensation.” Because the entire world can be reduced to sensation there is always something representational about art, whether it is abstract art or classical art. Levinas then goes on to critique transparency of images. Again, Levinas implicitly invokes the Plotinian or Augustinian hermeneutic model in which the interpreter moves toward abstraction, toward an anagogical engagement. Images differ from the “pure transparency” of signs and symbols precisely in resemblance. Image produces the shadow of reality. A duality occurs within the internalized projection by which the imagination brackets the world. Levinas specifically addresses allegory as “an ambiguous commerce with reality in which reality does not refer to itself but to reflection, its shadow.” Note that Levinas places allegory in the imaginative construction of the artist. This, however, glosses over something historical and temporal. Hermeneutic reading of early written work imposes allegory and typological readings through divinatory uses of texts. Although this does not counter Levinas’s point, it does qualify it with respect to his focus on the artist. He seems to have in mind an artist who knows “himself” as such. He notes that in animal stories “men are seen as these animals and not only through these animals.”
The internalization of an image whose rhythm captures being, which Levinas describes as “that which reveals itself in its truth,” emphasize again that art produces reality’s shadow “on the hither side” of “inner life.” The notion of the shadow affords us the ability to “situate the economy of resemblance within the general economy of being.”
While Levinas is sounding sufficiently Platonic in his resonance to the allegory of the cave, his locating the shadow on “the hither side” of being is uniquely modern. It is in locating this place that he invokes the problem of idol worship. The phenomenon of the idol is more present in the plastic arts than in literature and music. Even in masterpieces the figures are caricatures of aspiration to be alive. Tragedy is embedded within this caricature.
The paradoxical static-dynamic nature of resemblance produces the idea of fate, as in the ways characters are frozen into the repetition of the same actions in a novel over and over. Here, we must note that Levinas is prioritizing the power of the text in itself as opposed to the hermeneutic ability of the reader, whose life would necessarily change between different readings of a novel and producing different resonances with its contents. He moves backward historically to Greek drama to say “That is what myth is: the plasticity of history.” There is something of a euhemerist quality to Levinas’s theory of literary development here. The genius of modern literature, for Levinas, is in its way of “seeing inwardness from the outside.” Writers like Poe are especially able to capture the “interval” of the anxiety of being-toward-death: “It is as though death were never dead enough, as though the parallel with the duration of the living ran the eternal duration of the interval – the meanwhile.” He then takes a religious turn: “The proscription of images is truly the supreme commandment of monotheism, a doctrine that overcomes fate, that creation and revelation in reverse.”
Returning to his initial metaphor of predator and prey, Levinas begins his conclusion saying, “Art then lets go of the prey for the shadow.” There is something about art that, more than distorting reality or merely offering a bad copy, actually dissuades us from doing violence to the metaphysical Other – although he has only implied that Other in this essay. Art’s value is in its suspended state of duration: “The value of this instant is thus made of its misfortune. This sad value is indeed the beautiful of modern art, opposed to the happy beauty of classical art.” At the same time, art risks evasion from “initiative and responsibility.” He goes on a bit more harshly:
Myth takes the place of mystery. The world to be built is replaced by the essential completion of its shadow. This is not the disinterestedness of contemplation but of irresponsibility. The poet exiles himself from the city. From this point of view, the value of the beautiful is relative. There is something wicked and egoist and cowardly in artistic enjoyment. There are times when one can be ashamed of it, as of feasting during a plague.
Here Plato’s Republic resounds over post World War II Europe. Art, by itself, is not committed. So, for Levinas, Art cannot be the “supreme value of civilization” – it cannot, in a Kantian sense, mediate a dialectic by substituting symbols for human conflict and producing a conversation through which a progressive Enlightenment may occur. Levinas laments that in his postwar moment, “for almost everyone, [art] is identified with spiritual life.” It is that very sentiment, a carryover of humanism, that is irresponsible for Levinas’s kairotic moment.
Criticism, then, has the possibility of integrating “the human work of the artist into the human world.” It is in doing so that criticism “links this disengaged and proud man to real history.” For Levinas, “the artwork must be treated as myth: the immobile statue has to be put into movement and made to speak.” Myth becomes, “the source of philosophical truth.” By nature, criticism must “choose and limit.” It is in the interpretation of criticism that we speak in “full self-possession.” Modern literature, according to Levinas, although it is “disparaged for its intellectualism” is to be praised for manifesting “a more and more clear awareness of this fundamental insufficiency of artistic idolatry.” The artist comes to be an interpreter of myths “himself.” The modern artist has the possibility of moving beyond the Renaissance mimetic “creator-God,” but that remains only a possibility. Criticism remains necessary in its return to the living from the shadows.
One hears in Levinas’s conclusion at once the distant echoes of Odysseus leaving the underworld, leaving Circe’s helpful magic behind; and simultaneously his invocation of an emergent ethical conversation concerning “the relation with the other” that will become the focus of Totality and Infinity.
The “last gasp of humanism” associated with French existentialism and Les Temps Modernes is certainly apparent in Levinas’s essay here, but in retrospect what he is saying is even more pregnant. During the 1950s, many former Nazi intellectuals turned toward art criticism. Martin Heidegger, Hans Robert Jauss, and Carl Schmitt are among the most famous. Importantly, in Schmitt’s Hamlet or Hecuba (1956), Schmitt notes the elevation of modern tragedy through the introduction of time into the play. Analyzing Hamlet through the historical situation of King James I’s mother, Mary, Queen of Scots and her “overhasty” third marriage to James Hepburn, with whom she may have plotted the murder of her second husband (and James’s father), Schmitt accounts for the “event” that lifts Shakespeare to “true tragedy” and the founding myth for modernity in the specificity of the historical moment. He is not claiming that later audiences necessarily know that history but that the “introduction of the real” – which some scholars see as preceding Lacan’s “Real” and thus theoretically important – infuses tragedy. Implicitly, Carl Schmitt, who refused to go through denazification, is refusing to disavow his own past and critiquing a German tendency to turn to aesthetics to mask their own pasts. Levinas’s “Reality and Its Shadow” also (and before Schmitt) calls for the intrusion of time both in the initial event that breaks the work into its “finished state,” producing resemblance that obscures and casts a shadow, as well as in the necessity for the critic to bring the work back from the shadows. One is tempted to see two sides of one coin in comparing Levinas and Schmitt here: while Levinas invokes the possibility for a heightened attention to the ethical relationship with the metaphysical Other, Schmitt announces, rather proudly, his complicity with National Socialism. It is between these two modes and desires that I believe criticism must – and I am following Levinas here – do its work of demystification in a public forum that not only “understands” a work but maintains an ethical dialectic. Art, no matter how pessimistic Levinas may seem about it, has an important part to play in this process, especially for the committed artist, committed politically and committed to the prison of resemblance. While I am critical of Levinas’s privileging of monotheism over the “subsistence” of paganism, and his seeming disdain for “ecstatic rites,” his argument implies more broadly that in engaging with Art we are engaging in the sacrifice, and that in engaging in criticism we are engaging in maintaining an awareness of the performative nature of sacrifice and, above all, what sacrifice is for in the first place: the maintaining of human community, not against outsiders or strangers, who are after all cyphers, but against the violence that arises from our very selves and the meanings we construct. The ongoing question is how to remain vigilant in our ethically critical stances in relation to aesthetics.
 Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity, Trans. Alphonso Lingis, Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1969, 35.
 Emmanuel Levinas, “Reality and Its Shadow,” Collected Philosophical Papers, Trans. Alphonso Lingis, Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1987, 1.
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 Ibid., 4.
January 29, 2017 § Leave a comment
In the scholarly discussion around political theology — and more broadly, “theory” — the theme of insurrection recurs both in various texts published by semiotext(e) and recently in an essay collection entitled The Insurrectionist Manifesto and Carl Raschke’s Force of God, which are published with Columbia University Press in their Insurrections series. Much of this literature is part of a larger philosophical interest in St. Paul among thinkers such as Alain Badiou and Slavoj Žižek. In this recent post for the blog, Political Theology Today, I offer a different genealogy for a current political exigence.
December 19, 2016 § Leave a comment
Please check out my new article on Deleuze and Barthes in The Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory