Novak (novak) wrote,

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Theology Notebook

The following was my response to a major discussion in kesil's journal on the following question:

If you could take a drug that would significantly enhance your reverence for God and wonder at life, would you do so?

My initial response, due to a need to get to bed, was simply to write that I denied the premise. As this did not satisfy anyone, I was asked in several emails to expand my response. What I have written, under increasing need for sleep, .

Urg. Late at night, still haven't read the whole thread, but I'd go like this:

Since a drug creates an altered view of reality and since God is that which is the most Real, I cannot help but think that ultimately a drug, by interfering with the very process of perception, could not help but be an impediment rather than an aid to reverence, which comes from a true perception and appreciation of the depths of God's Reality. I would be dependent on the drug--not on God--for my feeling and perception, which would ultimately lead me to the conclusion that what I am feeling and perceiving is in fact the drug, and not God.

This, or course, is the argument against any use of drugs at all, not simply with regard to God, but with all of life. Or even pleasure itself, since I think one can draw a distinction between a real pleasure--that which is induced by something that is true, good and beautiful--and a false pleasure, which would be the same feeling--whether induced by a substance or an electrode attached to the pleasure centers of the brain--but which is not connected to anything true, good or beautiful.

Now, the best argument that I can make against my position above is, in fact, an exegetical one. A reading from Psalm 104, although not a part that made the reading during the Easter Vigil Mass:

He waters the mountains from his upper chambers;
the earth is satisfied by the fruit of his work.
He makes grass grow for the cattle,
and plants for man to cultivate--
bringing forth food from the earth:
wine that gladdens the heart of man,
oil to make his face shine,
and bread that sustains his heart.

Now, if wine is to gladden the hearts of man--and I can testify to this effect--that is clearly a good thing. I noticed that wine is called a food here, and it surely is; and a healthy one at that, as we know. We also know, however, that some people can become addicted to it, and everyone can abuse it. So it seems to me here we already have the very product that this "theoretical" discussion is talking about, given (and authorized as such?) by God. And even used as a dangerous sacramental symbol (sorry, Baptists--no non-alcoholic wine in the ancient world.) I think that wine's being a food distinguishes it as a drug from the other drugs we know whose sole effect is the distortion of mental processes. I also think there's a distinction to consider in wine (and other food products) being either stimulant or depressant--which seems to me that "natural" give-and-take of food effects on our body, although wine alcohol is clearly cultivated and enhanced from its natural potency--and other drugs whose effects are hallucinogenic.

Hmmm.... Where am I going with all this? A couple of glasses of wine will make me very gladdened indeed, being quite the lightweight that I am. But I don't see that as a window into a truer perception of God. I do think that God wants to me to rejoice and that God is joyful indeed. Not for no reason does Jesus describe the Kingdom of God as one of those big Middle-Eastern blow-out wedding bashes. So there is truth in gladness being a fundamental part of reality.

Are you drunk,
with the wine of God?

--"Miles" Over The Rhine

The medievals often used inebriation as a description of what our experience of God was, but I think that the real point is that this is result and reaction to the reality, not the means and avenue by which we may attain it.

So I guess that I conclude that God even gives us realities like wine to make us giddy and glad because these are good things, but they--like all other goods--are not unqualified goods. He also gave us stones and rock, which are good for so many things: building great halls, using for metals and fuels, and keeping us from plummeting into the depths of the Earth's molten core. We also learned, however, that we can use them to knock one another's brains out in a most satisfying way. But to lead us as a stepping stone to the truth of God Himself? Even in all of the good uses of rock, they only in the most oblique way cry out to the glory of God. Mostly, all they can tell me is about themselves.

Applying this principle to the theoretical idea of your drug, I therefore deny the premise.

And now I should go to bed, because as the above likely illustrates, it's way late....

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