Rough Draft

On Marijuana: Understanding Why it is Immoral to Use Recreationally
Part V: Drugs and Mystical Experiences

By Jeremy Hausotter
Nov. 25, 2020


A particular question that is regularly mentioned in conversations about drug usage is the legitimacy as to whether or not one can use drugs to invoke religious experiences and have experiences of the mystical like the great religious mystics. Similarly, the question arises as to whether such experiences of drug euphoria can be of the same type of content as religious experience.


Historically, there are many religious traditions that have used drugs in order to induce religious experiences and connect to the divine. Early Vedic hymns celebrate soma, the Amanita muscaria mushroom.[1] Vikings used drugs to induce their fame berserker rage. The Indians of North America used peyote and coca, amongst other substances. One can no doubt cite many more examples across the globe as religious drug usage is found across several cultures on every continent.

Given the historical data, it is no surprise that there are those today who propose drugs as a gateway to the divine. Adolus Huxley, author of Brave New World, famously argued for the usage of mescaline to induce religious experience. One recent depiction among many in the media is found in Marvel’s movie Black Panther (2018) where drug use was ritualized for entering the spiritual realm and talking to the ancestors of the king.[2]

The question before us is properly philosophical, not theological, for it is a matter of discerning what is religious experience in essence. The nature of religion and religious experience can be approached as a philosophical or theological question, and from both simultaneously. For our investigation the question is whether drug usage is indeed a gateway to experiences of the divine as a philosophical topic. This requires an analysis of the essence of religious experience and understanding the existential-phenomenological distinction between such religious experiences and drug-induced euphoria. For our purposes here we will not give an in depth investigation of the philosophy of religious experience, but only emphasize certain characteristics or marks of religious experience that will be useful for the dialectical boundaries of our discussion. Methodologically, our method here is phenomenological-existential since here we follow the paths of Rudolph Otto and Martin Buber.[3] Our analysis here proceeds in four parts: first, Buber’s own critique of Huxley’s views; second, a critique inspired by Buber’s I and Thou; third, inspired by Rudolph Otto’s The Idea of the Holy concerning the essence of religious experience; and lastly, the theological significance of drug euphoria in light of Catholic demonology.

1. Martin Buber’s Critique of Aldous Huxley’s Views

1.1. Outline of Huxley’s Views

Martin Buber in his essay What is Common to All examines and harshly criticizes Huxley’s views.[4] Huxley’s central claim is that one can use drugs to experience what the mystics of every age experienced.[5] Huxley in particular was discussing the merits of mescaline for such purposes, though similar arguments today are made concerning cannabis. According to Huxley drugs allow one to reach the depth of the world of senses such that the distinctions between inner and outer, subject and object disappear. Drugs are hence a flight from selfhood, environment, surroundings, and other people into a situation he claims one can experience religion and become inspired.

1.2. Buber’s Criticisms

Buber compares such flights from selfhood and the environment as more like the renting of a private room or space for several hours.[6] These holidays which Huxley argued are a positive thing are in actuality a very negative occurrence according to Buber because these holidays are holidays from the community of being of the cosmos and logos, and also a holiday from that reminder that oneself is a person. It is a fleeing from reality since the drug user is retreating from the realm of being itself in favor of a solipsistic utopia immanent within himself. Such a solipsistic attitude is an active ignoring that man is a person and is called to be such, for personhood demands community and participation. Being a person is to be in relation, and to be in relation is to be in community.

Criticism of Holidays from One’s Surroundings

These holidays from one’s surroundings as Huxley describes them is a fugitive flight out of a situation into situationlessness, an state of affairs that is illegitimate in of itself.[7] Such flights are situationlessness because in order for one to have a situation requires him or her being enclosed in the community of logos and cosmos, to be anchored in being and reality. Buber reminds the reader that man is a free being in charge of his surroundings and can change them. It is hence illegitimate to flee from a repugnant surrounding through recourse in drugs because such is a misuse of man’s freedom to place himself in this situationlessness state. The drug induced utopia is in essence uncommunal because this situationlessness is a flight from the community of logos and cosmos.

Criticism of Holidays from Fellow Man

Huxley gives positive affirmation to mescaline usage as a holiday from man. Through the use of mescaline one’s surroundings are transformed into “sheer glory”.[8] People, on the other hand, do not undergo such transformation and so must be avoided as man belongs to the world which the drug user is intending to escape. As Buber correctly observes, such a view breeds a severe distrust of other persons to the point that isolation and alienation is preferred.[9] Solitude in of itself need not be a situationlessness state, for solitude can be done so as to still be enclosed in the community of being.[10] The drug user on the other hand as described by Huxley is not so much seeking solitude as alienation from the community of persons entirely when entering a drugged state. The mystic in principle does not seek such alienation even when in solitude. The mystic in fact seeks community, to be in communion with God, and as Catholicism teaches, the heavenly community is composed of God, angels and the saints.

Criticism of Huxley’s Notion of Religious Experience

The thrust of Buber’s main critique however is that Huxley radically misunderstands the nature of religious experience. Religious experience, as noted by Buber, is a being overtaken by a something that does not dwell within the realm of man or nature. This experience of being overtaken is common to all the mystics. The mystic in being overtaken resists the experience. Man “clings to the common world until he is torn from it.”[11] Religious experience is neither a flight, technique, or magical power, but a seizure, a being overpowered and called.[12] The mystic does not transpose himself into a religious experience, but beholds what overpowers himself and receives it. The drug user, on the other hand, seeks an experience, and attempts to artificially induce one. Drugs are hence the technique or power for such.  Man remains in control of his religious destiny as its Master. Authentic religious experience on the other hand always bring with it the consciousness that man is not in control of his religious destiny, but is overtaken, overpowered, seized upon by Someone outside the realm of nature, humanity, and ultimately the cosmos itself.

2. A Critique Based Upon Buber’s I and Thou

As penetrating and devastating Buber’s analysis is in this essay, it alone is insufficient for our purposes because it fails to address the existential weltanschauung of the I. To understand the problem of drug usage in regards to the divine at the innermost existential I in how the I lives and breathes within the community of being is underdeveloped. Buber certainly discusses the situationlessness of man in the essay due to his willful divorce from the community of the cosmos, but to understand why this occurs requires reference back to Buber’s foundational work I and Thou. We will hence give a brief overview of Buber’s work and then apply it to the problem of drugs and religious experience.

2.1. The Existential Twofold Modality of Man’s I[13]

I and Thou begins with the two following claims: that man is dialogical in nature; and that the I of man is twofold according to the two basic word (Grundworte) pairs I-You and I-It. Each word pair when spoken is a mode of existence of the person and are spoken with one’s being and essence, in the German his Wesen. Whenever man says You or It, he or she says the corresponding I. I and It, I and You are each inseparable from the other. These two basic word pairs exhaust the meaning of I, for there is no other meaning of I than the I found in I-You and I-It. Being I and saying I are the same, for when one says I he or she enters into that existential mode of being corresponding to It or You. You is properly understood as existential and cannot be reduced to linguistics.[14] You cannot also be reduced to a feeling for You is not a content of feelings since feelings are between an I and a You.[15]

Each word pair opens up before the I a corresponding world. There is a corresponding You-World the I enters when speaking You and a It-World when the I of I-It is spoken. The world of I-It consists of objects, objects of experience, and so is bordered. The world of I-You, on the other hand, has no borders for it is the world of relation. The real boundary of being and reality is between You and It.

2.2. Experience and It

Experience belongs to the realm of It-World. Experience alone cannot bring man to the world of relation. Alone experience belongs to the realm of It.[16] The experiencing agent remains in It-World. Experience itself is within the agent and so it alone does not establish a relationship between the human agent and a being in the world. The world itself does not participate in experience but allows itself to be experienced.[17] This however does not entail that one needs to strip away experience in order to enter into I-You.[18]


The world of It is characterized by particulars.[19] Man looks at the world through categories such as quantities, qualities, properties, and utility. It is the realm of sensation, practical needs and science. It-World is dominated by causality. Causality possesses ultimate authority and sway in It-World.[20]

2.3 The Word Pair I-You


You-World, or the world of relation, is not dominated by causality but is characterized by reciprocity, freedom and decision.[21] The world of relation is divided into three spheres: life with nature,[22] life with men, and life with spiritual beings.[23] In each sphere man gazes towards the eternal You. In each You man perceives a breath of the eternal and addresses the eternal You.[24] Entering into relation does not require ignoring It-World for man cannot live without the realm of It, but man must gaze at the world through You, seeing everything in the light of You.[25]

It and You and Space and Time

The man who becomes I through It does not confront being in reciprocity but he examines, objectifies, and investigates things as aggregates of qualities.[26] It-World is restricted to and coheres in space and time whereas You-World does not. You-World coheres in the eternal You. It-World only gives an understanding about an object, it does not give the object itself in encounter. Only in You-World is there encounter in presence. I-It has only the past, no present; experience and the use of things implies a life in the past.[27] It is in relation, in encounter with a You that one lives in presence.

The Human You

When man encounters the human You, he or she as You is no longer a thing among things. His or her You “fills the firmament. Not as if there were nothing but he; but everything else lives in his light.”[28] Man as You is irreducible to properties, components, and quantification. Man does not experience You but stands in a relation to a human You. I can say You to another but it can be the case that the other addresses me as It and not You.

The Gift Character of You

You cannot be sought, it is a grace and hence a gift.[29] You is unmediated by anything. Speaking and responding with You is an existential utterance of one’s whole being, an essential deed of man. The relationship between I and You is one of election and electing. The I of man requires a You to become I and in becoming I, the I says You.

The Actuality of You

Buber will hence claim that “All actual life is encounter.”[30] The encounter of being as You is a participation in actuality. Actuality is identified with the world of relation and You, and so as man participates in You-World, his I is actualized.[31] When one steps outside of You this however does not imply the loss of I’s actuality since one can still live in a potency to the world of relation. Humanity hence has two poles: those who are oriented towards being a person and life, that is, oriented to You-World, and those who are oriented towards living in It-World.

Those who are oriented towards It-World live as egos and not persons. Egos are are conscious of oneself as a subject of experience and use. Egos naturally set themselves apart from other egos by association. You-World is characterized by persons who participate in being as being-with, being in relation. How much a man is a person depends upon how strong the I of I-You is in him.[32]

The Doom of You

The tragedy of You is that one cannot live in You and relation indefinitely but must return to It. Each You is doomed to thinghood. “This is the sublime melancholy of our lot that every You must become an It in our world.”[33] You alternates between actuality and latency,[34] oscillates between You and It.[35]

It-World has two privileges: man must live with it and can live comfortably in it. However: “without It a human being cannot live. But whoever lives only with that is not human.”[36] Those who accept the dominance of It-World enslave themselves. The biologistic and historiosophical orientations that characterize modernity breed a obdurant faith in doom[37] such that freedom nor even toleration for freedom is accepted, only enslavement. The world of It is in essence uncommunal, it breeds alienation since is a world without relation.

2.4. You and the Eternal You

We have already mentioned that every I-You is a breath of the eternal You. The You on earth is an encounter that gives a taste of fulfillment, but it is only when man finds God, the eternal You, that the I-You of man can be satiated.[38] All lines of relation and You intersect in the eternal You, every You a glimpse of the eternal You; each sphere is included in it.[39] The fullness of relation in You is grounded in the mediatorship of all You in the eternal You; this is the measure of the fulfillment or lack thereof in the life of man. One cannot find God if he remains in the world or flees from the world; it is only when man speaks the I of I-You with his whole being to the community of being that he finds the eternal You.[40]

The Nature of the Eternal You

God as the eternal You is wholly other and wholly same and present. The eternal You is You by nature,[41] and so He cannot become an It. The eternal You is beyond measurement, limit, not a sum of qualities (not even an infinite sum), nor even the measure of the immeasurable or limit of the unlimited.[42] It is only man who draws the eternal You into It-World due to how man’s I relates to Him.[43]

2.5. It and Modernity

Buber observes that the movement of history is the progressive increase of It-World.[44] The expansion of It-World comes with an increasing capacity for experience and use, and an improvement in the ability to experience. These movements of It-World likewise implies a decrease in man’s power to relate, to enter into the You. The healthy ages of human history are marked by the ability of man to return to the world of relation and have You-World mold and inform his life.[45] Sick ages, on the other hand, are dominated by It-World, severed from the fertilizer of You-World, and as such It-World overpowers man. The dominance of causality leads to a faith in doom.

The Capricious Man

Buber called the citizens of It-World the capricious man. The capricious man does not believe or encounter, but only knows the world in terms of use. He does not know of any other world. Possessions and work and things to be used and utilized. He forgets that possessions and work need to be redeemed by You and relation; for only when both are transfigured in You can work and things become meaningful such that joy and significance flows therefrom.[46] The capricious man is the man in joyless despair who lives a life devoid of meaning. Such a man only knows how to use the world, and so if he approaches the eternal You, this too is done in the mode of utility and It.[47] As Buber writes,

But the unbelieving marrow of the capricious man cannot perceive anything but unbelief and caprice, positing ends and devising means. His world is devoid of sacrifice and grace, encounter and present, but shot through with ends and means: it could not be different and its name is doom. For all his autocratic bearing, he is inextricably entangled in unreality; and he becomes aware of this whenever he recollects his own condition. Therefore he takes pains to use the best part of his mind to prevent or at least obscure such recollection.

But if this recollection is one’s falling off, of the actualized and the actual I, were permitted to reach down to the roots that man calls despair and from which self-destruction and rebirth grow, this would be the beginning of the return.[48]

The seemingly unlimited power of causality as understood by the denizens of It-World becomes the object of a crushing doom which oppresses man as a demonic absurdity.[49] Such denizens and citizens are unable to step into the world of Thou. It-World is a stranger to the world of Spirit; the tyranny of It and its ultimate meaninglessness arise due to the radical divorce from You-World.[50] One could say that those who live in It-World alone live a living asphyxiation. Man by himself cannot overcome the traversities an unhinged It-World proposes, he must play the game, “observe the rules or drop out.”[51] As long as man existentially remains in the world of It he cannot perceive the world of You and relation.

Magic and Idolatry

Buber contrasts those who use magic versus prayer and sacrifice in religion as those who wish to practice their arts in the void.[52] It is a void the magic user enters because he wants efficacy without relationship and so approaches religion in terms of It-World. Magic is one way the capricious man gropes for the eternal You within the confines and parameters of It-World. It is only with prayer and sacrifice that man can say You and enter into relation and reciprocity with the eternal You.

In his penetrating critique of Max Scheler, Buber notes that Scheler fails to distinguish between the I-It and I-You modality of man’s I.[53] Scheler argued that the idolater’s error can be corrected by switching the idol for God. The idolater correctly worshipped an object, only the object of worship needs to be replaced. Buber emphasized that the idolater approaches the eternal You in terms of I-It, and hence simply replacing the idol with God does not resolve the idolater’s error for he will still refer to the eternal You as an It. What needs to be corrected is precisely this, to enter into relation through the I-You.

2.6. The Problem of Attempting to Use Drugs to Induce Religious Experience

The drug user is like the magic practitioner, he desires to be religious without being religious. He seeks experience without prayer and sacrifice. He uses technique to induce such experiences. In other words, the drug user attempts to approach the eternal You as if God were an It. The drug user never leaves the world of It and moves within its confines in his attempts to become religious. Using drugs themselves, outside of medical purposes, are anti-communal and anti-relational for by using them man does not speak the I of I-You but remains within It. Religious experience as a feeling Buber reminds us must always be accompanied by the feeling of a something, of a You and relation.[54] Here there is no You for the You is not only unaddressed, but is subverted into It-World. The drug user is like the idolater in that he shares the same error in approaching the eternal You as an It. The act of using drugs itself remains an act of It making man an I of I-It, a realm within which he essentially cannot come into relation with the eternal You since he apriori refuses such relation in the first place in his action. It is hence a grave delusion to believe that one can use drugs in order to experience what the great mystics beheld. The drug user sees It-World in its hideous oppressiveness and chooses a slow suicidal asphyxiation by consuming drugs. His solution to the problem of a brutalized world is self-destruction.

3. The Essence of Religious Experience

Rudolph Otto’s The Idea of the Holy cites six marks of the essence of religious experience: creature-feeling, awefulness, overpoweringness, urgency, wholly other, and fascination. Our method here is to briefly review these six marks and an additional comment on the Holy as its own category of value. Once these are understood it will become readily apparent why drugs cannot grant one religious experience. 

3.1. The Essence-Properties of Religious Experience

The Element of Creature-Feeling

There is a particular feeling man has in his experiential encounter with God. God is properly the Numinous. Religious experience as a feeling is not merely a feeling of one’s own subjectivity or self-valuation as Schleiermacher held. When man experiences the Numinous he immediately has a creature-consciousness. He has a consciousness that the religious feeling he is experiencing has its reference to an object outside of himself. Creature-feeling is “the emotion of a creature, submerged and overwhelmed by its own nothingness in contrast to that which is supreme above all creatures.”[55] Man feels his own nothingness and his dependence on Another. God as the Numinous must be present in order for such creature-feeling to arise. Further, this feeling is spontaneous, not something that can be conjured at the command of the will, man’s volitional faculty.

The Element of Awefulness

God as the Numinous in human experience and religious feeling is the mysterium tremendum, a feeling alone man has in this encounter with the Numinous.[56] The experience of the mysterium tremendum is a being in the “presence of that which is a mystery inexpressible and above all creatures.”[57] The feeling-experience of the mysterium tremendum Otto identifies as possessing three elements, awefulness, overpoweringness, and energy or urgency.

The element of awefulness is a kind of fear particularized by the category of the numinous. The Hebrew word hiqdīsh (hallow) is an example of a word used to describe this fear before the numinous. Otto notes that hiqdīsh means to “keep a thing holy in the heart” as a distinct kind of dread, one characterized by the numinous and so irreducible to dread in general.[58] The Hebrew word ’ēmāh used in “fear of the LORD” is another such expression.[59] The Greek word σεβαστός (augustus) is a corresponding term. The title of σεβαστός or augustus Otto observes the early Christians believed could not be applied to any creature including the Roman emperor because of the term’s reference to the numen, which only a Being that is uncreaturely, the object of this creature-feeling of religious experience, can fulfill, i.e. only God.

Religious dread or awe are also terms which can be used to describe this feeling of awefulness. This religious dread has an associated shuddering or horror before the Numinous that is greater than any natural fear. With reference to Martin Luther, Otto argues that the natural man cannot fear God, unable to shudder; for this supranatural fear in such shuddering “implies that the mysterious is already beginning to loom before the mind, to touch the feelings.”[60] This awakening of the mind requires a mental disposition not found in a natural faculty or the natural everyday world.

The awe or ‘dread’ may indeed be so overwhelmingly great that it seems to penetrate to the very marrow, making the man’s hair bristle and his limbs quake. But it may also steal upon him almost unobserved as the gentlest of agitations, a mere fleeting shadow passing across his mood. It has therefore nothing to do with intensity, and no natural fear passes over it merely by being intensified. I may be beyond all measure afraid and terrified without there being even a trace of the feeling of uncanniness in my emotion.[61]

The Element of Fascination

The mysterium tremendum while being the object of religious awe is also the object of fascination or fascinans. God as the mysterious Being man stand before is also attractive, even intoxicating, captivating, and ultimately ecstatic. Fascination here in general is alive in feelings of longing and solemnity, but also in the more ecstatic experiences of the mystics. Fascination in general “appears as a strange and mighty propulsion towards an ideal good known only to religion and in its nature fundamentally non-rational…”[62] Fascination is the general ground from which these higher religious experiences emerge.

 The Element of Overpoweringness

The element of overpoweringness could also be denoted by ‘might’ or ‘power’, but majesty, majestas, is the term Otto ultimately adopts to describe this overpoweringness. The mysterium tremendum is also the tremenda majestas, the aweful majesty. Man feels the overpoweringness of God as the Numinous in which he experiences his creaturehood. He feels his own nothingness before He who is identified with Reality and of a plenitude of power and being. In mysticism then, man self-depreciates himself before the Being of beings. Creature-feeling hence comes with the experience of one’s own nothingness and being overpowered before the majestas of Him who is above every creature, within which man recognizes he is dust and ashes before transcendent Reality.

The Element of Energy

The experience of God as the living God comes with an energy and urgency. Isaiah proclaimed: “prepare the way of the LORD”,[63] and Jesus: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel.”[64] Religious experience possesses a vitality, activity, impetus, passion, will, force and movement.[65] Such energy and urgency are found particularly in the urgency of the need to evangelize, repent, and the experiences of union of God, beatitude, mystical love.

The Element of the Wholly Other

God as the mysterium tremendum and truly mysterious being who is the object of our dread and fascination can only be so if His being is not that of man or creation, but wholly other.

The truly ‘mysterious’ object is beyond our apprehension and comprehension, not only because our knowledge has certain irremovable limits, but because in it we come upon something inherently ‘wholly other’, whose kind and character are incommensurable with our own, and before which we therefore recoil in a wonder that strikes us chill and numb.[66]

The Holy as a Category of Value

Lastly, an additional point that needs to be made is that the holy itself is a category of value. Otto identifies the fascinans as the element grounding the subjective value of the holy and majestas for the claim that the mysterium tremendum is the object of objective value which claims our homage.[67] God possesses the supremest right to be honored and served because God “is in an absolute sense worthy to be praised.”[68] “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power…”[69] Hence the term augustus refers to the supreme worth or value of God.

3.2. Religious Experience Versus Drug Usage

Using drugs to induce religious experience is an attempt to reduce religion to experience alone. Advocates of this fail to observe that religious experience is always a relationship between oneself and another Being who is wholly other. Instead, the drug user merely enters a drug-induced solipsistic world generated by his hallucinations. He creates a vacuum and void for his drugged mind to fill with whatever imaginary phenomena that comes to mind or is autogenerated by it. This emphasizes the disparity between religion as supra-rational and drug-induced utopia which is arbitrary and irrational. The first is above reason while not conflicting with reason, while the second is an assault on reason itself since it eliminates the rationality of religious experience and replaces it with chemical-induced hallucinatory phenomenon.

Furthermore, drug-induced utopias in essence does not arouse creature-feeling because this arises when one is confronted with what is properly numinous, namely God the wholly other. The drug user does not feel his creaturehoodedness before his Creator and the Being of being. This entails that the drug user does not have the experience of God’s overwhelmingness and awefulness, His majestas, and man’s own nothingness before Being. Rather, the drug user is his own master of his own fantasy. He decides when to experience it, its duration, and in some respect, its contents as it is generated from his mind and hallucinations. The drug user is the god of his own paradise founded upon a chemical fiction.

The drug user does not experience the six marks of religious experience as laid out by Rudolph Otto in his chemical paradise. Only those who fail to understand the essence of religious experience can propose that a drug can bring one into contact with the divine. In taking drugs, the drug user is in reality rejecting God and attempting to replace his own spiritual void with a narcotic. Drug abuse implies an existential atheism. He or she may believe God exists but chooses to live in a manner as if He is not.

The claim that one can experience what is properly religious through taking drugs is really a claim of enthroning oneself as his own idol in place of God and the drug itself becomes the “liturgical” action through which the religious is pursued and by which man enters paradise. God is not the object sought, the object of fascinans, but drugs. Drugs replace God as the object of fascinans since now the quality of religious experience is identified with the “trip” and drug preparation, and man must now go to extremes to procure these illegal substances at great costs. This replacement requires however the realization that drugs cannot properly be the object of fascinans, and so, what is replaced is a contorted perversion no longer identifiable as fascinans. This is not to say that the drug user cannot experience fascinans, only that insofar as he seeks out a religious experience through drugs the focus is shifted to the technical questions of drug preparation and pharmacology while disguising it in religious terms.

4. Drugs and the Demonic

4.1. Drugs as a Mortal Sin

A common theme one discovers when reading about the demonic from Catholic exorcists is that the extraordinary actions of demons are found mainly when one commits grave sin or has been around those or places where such has taken place. Gabriele Amorth, famous exorcist of the Vatican, has written several books on exorcisms and demonology. One particular theme from his books is that drug usage can lead towards demonic afflictions such as oppression, possession, and obsession.[70] When people enter a grave and hardened state of sin through sexual sins, abortion, drug usage and alcohol abuse, this lack of faith allows people to become prey to extraordinary demonic activity.[71]  In fact, drug usage and abortion are often elements of satanic rites.[72] In addition to these various afflictions upon man, houses and places can become sites of demonic infestations if the locality was the residence of a drug dealer, a satanic ritual, or place of habitual mortal sin.[73] Not only is using drugs immoral, but they can lead one to grave afflictions from demons because the kind of sin committed in abusing drugs is so egregious.

4.2. Drugs, Demons, and Visions

At this point, we have covered in depth the role, or lack thereof, of drugs in generating religious experience and how the essence of the action of abusing drugs is a perfect perversion of religious experience. Our main criticisms focused on the facts that drug abuse opens one to an existential situationlessness or void, that one is forced to operate within the world of I-It unable to breathe the air of I-Thou, and that there is nothing to be found in the drug user’s experience that resembles religious experience.

The problem now is this: the drug user turns to drugs out of despair and creates an existential void in the drugged state. This existential void is an I reaching out, opening the user up to a nothing, a nothing to be filled. This nothingness is typically filled up with hallucinations, imaginary phenomena generated by the mind and intertwined with disturbed sense perception while remaining existentially void. The I however is still reaching out, open to voidness.

This turning to despair and abdicating of one’s personhood provides an opening for Satan and demons to afflict the individual in extraordinary ways as observed by the exorcists. Once such a void is open, the demon or demons can enter and fill that void. They can even supply their own content and supplement or create hallucinatory phenomena which the drug user confuses as his own addled creations or enlightenments from divine beings. St. Augustine attests to this in fact of the work of demons to generate false visions due to disease and drug abuse:  


Think also of the delusive visions by which in some diseases and as the result of some drugs the patient is even more pitiably disturbed while awake; indeed, so multifarious is the trickery practised by malignant demons that by such visions they often deceive men in perfect health, so that if they cannot seduce the subjects to their side, they may at least play tricks on them, for the sole delight of imposing false impressions in whatever way they can.[74]


Such a view can easily be reconciled once we understand the nature of imagination and the role an angel or demon can have in generating visionary phenomena. Here we turn to St. Thomas Aquinas.

According to St. Thomas’ epistemology the phantasm is the image produced by the form of an external object once perceived. The power which produces these phantasms is the imagination.[75] Now, sometimes it is the case that phenomena of the imagination originate due to corporeal processes, and since this is the case it is possible for an angel or demon to interfere with man’s imagination. St. Thomas had argued that the nature of corporeality obeys angelic beings in the mode of local movement, and so in this mode an angel or demon can influence man.[76]

We must clarify ourselves in noting that angels and demons cannot introduce new content for the imagination, i.e. create new phantasms within man’s mind. Since the angel or demon changes the imagination according to local movement of the body, the demon or angel can only draw upon previous impressions already found within man for the angel to conjure up new visions.[77]


The theological argument St. Thomas makes for the ability of angelic nature to influence the imagination is Scripture itself. St. Thomas cites Matt 1:20; 2:13, 19 wherein angels reveal in dreams. If angels can reveal in dreams then they can influence man’s power of imagination.


Therefore we must be clear: since abusing any drug is a mortal sin, he or she who does so and has visions is either seeing phenomena generated from the human mind, phenomena conjured up by demons, or a combination of both. Drug induced mysticism reaches the zenith of parody here for those who propose that narcotics are the gateway to the Divine for they are taking what may have demonic origins and professing it as authentic religious experience. It is no wonder then that such perversities are uttered after undergoing such experiences.


The ultimate goal of demons is to oppress man to the point that he despairs to such an extent that he kills himself. Despair induced suicide is the goal of demons. Abusing drugs is an act of despair that serves the purposes and end goals of Satan. Coincidentally there has been much research on the correlation between drugs and suicide. We have already commented previously upon such links concerning marijuana.

4.3. Experiences of the God while Drugged


With this said it is possible that God does speak to man when he is high, for God is the loving Father always waiting for the prodigal son to return home.[78] It would however be a serious mistake to conclude from such an experience that one can morally take drugs in order to have God speak to him, because such an experience does not negate the moral facts of the matter of the immorality of the drug usage in the first place. Using drugs outside of the parameters of legitimate medicine is immoral. Further, to do so is to act in a way which treats God as an It and not as a You.


What such experiences teach us on the other hand is that God can make something good come out of an evil action, especially if it leads the drug abuser to contrition and conversion. While being a testimony to God’s power over sin and death, God is not granting permission to abuse drugs.



Using drugs in order to obtain religious experience represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the essence of religious experience. There are two main objections to this proposal. First, religious experience is always an encounter between and I and a You and the Divine You must be approached as You. To use drugs in order to attempt this ascent replaces the You as an It. Man no longer sees the Divine as You but as an It to which one can find a technological solution to experience, namely through careful technique and preparation of drugs.


Second, religious experience itself in this encounter with the Divine You has several marks outlining the boundaries of its essence. Otto described the elements of creature-feeling, majestas, fascinans, awefulness, wholly other, and energy. These elements or marks of religious experience are absent from the experiences of drug induced euphoria. In addition, drug use does not bring one to the encounter of the Holy as a category of value.


From these two basic positions one can situate the reason as to why the exorcists observe a pattern between drug abuse and the demonic. The situationless spiritual void drugs leave open up the individual in a particular way to the extraordinary activities of demons. The abdication of one’s personhood for a brief duration of time allows oneself to fall under the influence of demons and their antics, such that what is seen in the ravings of the drugged mind can in actuality be the conjurations of demons in conjunction with the brain and the abuser would most likely not know better due his addled state.

The inability of people to understand the evil of drugs is in part due to the prevalence of It-World within society. As technology increases, man’s ability to say You diminishes, not because of man’s nature undergoing some change for the worse but due to an increasingly nonpoetic or antipoetic world that naturally evaluates itself as It and so man caught in the tidal wave comes to naturally see world and self as It. It and It and It, He and She and It.



[1] Man, Myth and Magic, vol 5, “Drugs”, p. 649.

[2] This raises some questions as to Disney’s understanding of drug usage. Does Disney condone religious drug usage? Is such usage supposed to be an argument that drugs in religious contexts are an element of black culture in particular? Or more generally, does Disney approve of recreational drug use? One can always adopt a skeptical hermeneutics stating that movies are simply entertainment and do not present ideas concerning our world and reality. This is a philosophical question which itself demands further thought. It is fitting that the Marvel mythic narrative concerning this drug is linked to Bast, a panther goddess of Wakandan religion, who revealed the herb to a warrior shaman who became the first black panther, themes consistent with historical drug usage as it has strong links to shamanism and revelations from deities. The Delphic oracle, for example, is hypothesized to be influenced by the drug effect of gaseous emissions within the temple. It must be noted as a caveat that the origin of the drug is explained in a comic as the accident of an meteorite mutating a plant (Avengers #87), meaning that the drug has a demythologized origin, and secondly, I do not ascribe to one view or another concerning the questions raised here about Disney but only bring them to the reader’s attention given the fact that drugs are represented positively in a recent Disney film as a normal behavior.

[3] For a more complete investigation on the philosophy of religious experience I refer the reader to Rudolph Otto’s The Idea of the Holy.

[4] Found in The Knowledge of Man, 79-99.

[5] Ibid, 89.

[6] Ibid, 90.

[7] Ibid, 90.

[8] Ibid, 90.

[9] Ibid, 91.

[10] Ibid, 90. Cf. I and Thou, trans. Walter Kaufmann, 151-153.

[11] Ibid, 92.

[12] “The shaman, the yogi have their methods though whose practice they acquire, or imagine they acquire, power of magic and power of absorption; the man of whom we speak has nothing other than his way on which he is assaulted, on which he is led. What takes place here is no flight: one is seized, one is overpowered, one is called.” Ibid, 92.

[13] I and Thou, 53-54.

[14] Ibid, 111.

[15] Ibid, 66.

[16] “But it is not experiences alone that bring the world to man. For what they bring to him is only a world that consists of It and It and It, of He and He and She and She and It.” Ibid, 55.

[17] Ibid, 56.

[18] Ibid, 125.

[19] Ibid, 61.

[20] “In the It-world causality holds unlimited sway.” Ibid, 100.

[21] Ibid, 100.

[22] There is a remarkable passage where Buber describes the I-You encounter with a tree (p. 57-59). It must be clear that when You and relation are ascribed to nature and natural objects such as trees, Buber is not ascribing consciousness to the tree, nor describing the You encounter as a contact with the tree’s soul or a dryad; rather, when one encounters the tree as You the tree is encountered as itself in its being and allowed to speak for itself in its being. I mention this since I had a debate with a philosopher who argued that Buber was ascribing personhood to trees but such a view cannot be textually supported.

[23] Ibid, 56-57, 149-150. I and Thou is broken up into three parts, where each part corresponds to one of the three spheres of relation.

[24] “In every sphere, through everything that becomes present to us, we gaze toward the train of the eternal You; in each we perceive a breath of it; in every You we address the eternal You, in every sphere according to its manner.” Ibid, 57.

[25] Ibid, 127.

[26] Ibid, 80-81.

[27] Ibid, 63.

[28] Ibid, 59. Note that this is not restricted to only addressing fellow man as You, as Buber elsewhere writes: “Every actual relationship to another being in the world is exclusive. Its You is freed and steps forth to confront us in its uniqueness. It fills the firmament — not as if there were nothing else, but everything else lives in its light.” Ibid, 126.

[29] “The You encounters me by grace — it cannot be found by seeking.” Ibid, 62.

[30] Ibid, 62.

[31] Ibid, 113.

[32] Ibid, 115.

[33] “This is the sublime melancholy of our lot that every You must become an It in our world. However exclusively present it may have been in the direct relationship — as soon as the relationship has run its course or is permeated by means, the You becomes an object among objects, possibly the noblest one and yet one of them, assigned its measure and boundary.” Ibid, 68.

[34] Ibid, 69.

[35] Ibid, 101.

[36] Ibid, 85.

[37] Ibid, 105.

[38] Ibid, 128.

[39] Ibid, 123, 150.

[40] Ibid, 127.

[41] Ibid, 148.

[42] Ibid, 160-161.

[43] Ibid, 148.

[44] Ibid, 87-92.

[45] Ibid, 102.

[46] Ibid, 99.

[47] Ibid, 156.

[48] Ibid, 110.

[49] Ibid, 100, 103.

[50] Ibid, 104.

[51] Ibid, 106.

[52] Ibid, 131.

[53] Ibid, 153-155.

[54] Ibid, 129.

[55] The Idea of the Holy, 10.

[56] “Conceptually mysterium denotes merely that which is hidden and esoteric, that which is beyond conception or understanding, extraordinary and unfamiliar. The term does not define the object more positively in its qualitative character. But though what is enunciated in the word is negative, what is meant is something absolutely and intensely positive. This pure positive we can experience in feelings, feelings which our discussion can help to make clear to us, in so far as it arouses them actually in our hearts.” Ibid, 13.

[57] Ibid, 13.

[58] Ibid, 13.

[59] Note that the Israelite/Jewish custom is to not pronounce the name of God, YHWH, and why I used the phrase “fear of the LORD” with ‘lord’ capitalized to denote that YHWH is the Hebrew word used for God.

[60] Ibid, 15.

[61] Ibid, 16.

[62] Ibid, 36.

[63] Isaiah 40:3.

[64] Mark 1:15.

[65] The Idea of the Holy, 23.

[66] Ibid, 28.

[67] Ibid, 52.

[68] Ibid, 52.

[69] Rev. 4:11.

[70] Amorth distinguishes between ordinary and extraordinary power of demons. There are six different manifestations of their extraordinary power. See An Exorcist Tells His Story, 32-35.

[71] An Exorcist Tells His Story, 59, and An Exorcist: More Stories, 63. Cf. An Exorcist Tells His Story, 86-87, An Exorcist: More Stories, 78. An Exorcist Explains the Demonic, 79.

[72] An Exorcist: More Stories, 13, 139-143.

[73] Ibid, 158.

[74] City of God, 22, 22.

[75] Cf. John Wippel’s The Metaphysical Thought of Thomas Aquinas, 37.

[76] Cf. STh I, 110, 3.

[77] “An angel changes the imagination, not indeed by the impression of an imaginative form in no way previously received from the senses (for he cannot make a man born blind imagine color), but by local movement of the spirits and humors…” STh I, Q111,3, Ad Secundum. “Sometimes, however, the imagination is informed in such a way that the act of the imaginative movement arises from the impressions preserved within.”, Ibid, Ad Primum.

[78] Luke 15:11-32.


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The Course of Empire - Destruction by Thomas Cole

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