When She Told Me Her House Only Cost $4,000 I Knew I Had To See The Inside

What if I told you that an Austin-based startup company developed a home that could end the homelessness problem in America? After reading this article, you’ll start to believe it is possible. For just about $4,000, you can download a home, print it and have it up and ready for occupation in less than a day. Isn’t that amazing?

While the company’s printable dwellings are still in the concept phase, they offer a gargantuan opportunity to people who live on the streets or in shelters. Being able to have an affordable place of their own could be a game-changer.

Watch the video below to see the inside!

The homes will first debut in El Salvador. And if they work well there, their use could expand to other parts of the world. And the hope is that billions of people could have a safer and better place to sleep at night.

The homes currently cost about $10,000 and require about 24 hours of building time. But when things get up and running, they could cost as little as $4,000.

The startup company is based in the innovative Austin, Texas. And the home was unveiled at the popular SXSW festival. The house had 650 square feet and a workable inside.

About 1.2 billion people on the planet do not have adequate housing.

A spokesman from the World Resources Institute’s Ross Center for Sustainable Cities said, “History has been punctuated with advances in technology and materials that provide an order-of-magnitude decrease in cost and time required to build a new home. And while recent decades have brought major advances in personal technology, construction practices remain relatively unchanged since the 1950s. Icon aims to change this, ushering in a new era in construction to meet the needs of the future.”

The project is still being figured out. And Icon, the startup, has teamed up with New Story, a nonprofit organization that invests in international housing. Together they plan to introduce this new home to people in need in El Salvador. Over the next 18 months, they hope to build 100 of these affordable homes.

New Story has helped people in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake left millions without adequate housing.

Icon uses a Vulcan printer to create these homes. They create a schematic and upload that into the program. Then the printer takes that blueprint and “prints” the house. Basically, it does the work of contractors by laying the cement.

The model home that was on display in SWSW had a living room, a bathroom, a bedroom, and even an outdoor space (porch). Everything about the home is 3D printed except for the abode’s roof. It was built on the Icon lot. And they plan to use this 3D printed house as more office space so they can further tweak the design and make it better. Hopefully, they will be able to help homeless people sleep better at night very soon.

When prototyping is finished, Icon will relocate their Vulcan printer to El Salvador and start doing good work for people in need.

Do you think this new housing idea could change the world for the better?

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Seattle moves from soaking the rich to … soaking everyone else

As our friend Hugh Hewitt wonders, it’s tough to see why anyone does business in Seattle these days. Fresh off its imposition of a “head tax” on its most successful businesses, the city council has now begun an effort to raise the limit on property taxes on both businesses and homes, not long after the state of Washington already hiked their levies. The city wants to expand free preschool programs and offer free community college, but it will be anything but free to property owners and businesses:

People who own a home in King County are paying about 17% more in property taxes this year than last year to help pay for the state’s funding of public education.

But come November, Seattle leaders will be asking voters to approve a bit more of an increase for city dwellers.

City Council members say while the state funding property tax hike pays for basic education, the levy they want to be renewed will be an extra investment to ensure that kids from preschool to high school will have what it takes to succeed.

But don’t call it a tax hike, says one council member. It’s an enhancement!

In 2014, Seattle voters approved a $58 million levy allowing low-income kids to go to preschool for free. …

“So it’s just an enhancement of the property tax that people are currently paying and have been since 2011,” Gonzalez said.

The mayor’s office projects that it will cost Seattle homeowners an extra $5 a week, but that adds up — and it’s not the only tax enhancement they’ve faced over the last few years. Businesses will undoubtedly get hit harder, either on property they own directly or by increased lease costs from landlords. The Amazons of Seattle will likely be able to absorb it by passing costs on to their customers, as will the wealthier residents of the city so enamored of the idea of offering “free” services funded by others.

It’s the middle class that will get hammered with these tax hikes, and they’re already getting pummeled with all the tax hikes that came before it, as one resident explained:

“It’s not just homelessness. It’s the bike lanes and budget overruns, the Bertha tunnel, and the overruns on that, the First Ave streetcar and overruns on that,” Seattle resident Matt Dubin said. Dubin is a local attorney now running to become a state lawmaker this year. He says he is upset over city leaders squeezing out the middle class. “It’s making it impossible for the middle class to live in Seattle. If we keep going down this road nobody will be able to live in Seattle except for the very rich and the homeless,” Dubin said.

And it might not even stop there. The “very rich” have other options too, and they’ll eventually exercise them. That will leave the few middle-class residents and business owners remaining holding the bag. Better to get out now than get stuck with that bill. Or, better yet, elect city council members with a lick of economic sense and operational competency.

The post Seattle moves from soaking the rich to … soaking everyone else appeared first on Hot Air.

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NASCAR driver Martin Truex Jr. to honor Vietnam War hero

This weekend’s nod to America’s servicemen and women at Charlotte Motor Speedway will have a Kansas twist thanks to a driver who calls Kansas Speedway his home track.

Martin Truex Jr., the reigning champion of the Monster Energy Cup Series, will drive with the name of Arlen Del Richardson, a Lawrence, Kan., native who died during the Vietnam War in 1970, emblazoned across the top of his windshield.

Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte, N.C., is part of NASCAR’s “600 Miles of Remembrance.” Truex’s No. 78 Toyota will feature Richardson’s name throughout the race.

All NASCAR drivers are taking part of the 600 Miles of Remembrance. Truex’s Denver-based team is the only one on the Monster Energy Cup Series not based in North Carolina.

Richardson served in the Army for seven years and was 27 at the time of his death. During his service, Richardson was a medevac helicopter pilot in Vietnam. He also served in the 123rd Aviation Battalion.

He was killed on Feb. 17, 1970, during a reconnaissance mission in Quang Ngai Province. He was survived by his wife, Sharon Draper, and their son, Ryan, as well as parents Clara and Delbert, sisters Clarice and Dee Dee and brother Daryl.

Richardson’s wife has been remarried for 20 years to Ed Draper, a vice president at Furniture Row, which sponsors Truex’s car. Ed Draper was at a loss for words upon learning that Barney Visser, the owner of Furniture Row Racing, would be honoring Richardson in such a way.

“I don’t even know if I can come up with the right word,” Draper said. “We are ecstatic and thrilled that this is happening. It has been such a long time, but it’s honoring his memory for him and his family.”

Sharon Draper and sons Mark and Ryan, who was 5 months old when his dad died, plan to be at the race in matching shirts to help honor Richardson’s memory.

“Though it was 48 years ago when we received the news about Arlen, we continue to think about him and remember that day as if it were yesterday,” Sharon Draper said in a news release. “… We’ll be in Charlotte cheering on Arlen and Martin and hopefully take part in a victory celebration.”

That’s certainly a distinct possibility. Truex won the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte in 2016 and finished in third place last year.

“It is military members such as Arlen whose courage, dedication and selflessness allow us to enjoy our freedom,” Truex said in a statement. “His name on the windshield of our No. 78 race car will definitely be an inspiration to me. I want nothing more than to drive our car with Arlen’s name on it to Victory Lane.”

———

© 2018 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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How We Defined Deviancy Down and Got a Culture of Violence

“Was there a part of you that was like, this isn’t real, this would not happen in my school?” A ghoulish ABC television reporter asked a Santa Fe High School student this, expecting a stock answer that would fit the conventional wisdom.

“No there wasn’t,” she replied coolly. “It’s been happening everywhere. I’ve always kind of felt like eventually it was going to happen here too. So, I don’t know. I wasn’t surprised. I was just scared.”

Against our will, we are getting used to the carnage. This time, a spurned fatty given to black Goth-ish clothing and video games fatally shot 10 students and teachers and injured 13 others near Houston. “Surprise!” he shouted, as he jumped from the closet into a classroom, mowing down classmates and a would-be girlfriend.

On national television last weekend, National Rifle Association president-elect Oliver North tried to move public soul-searching towards prescribed drugs and the “culture of violence,” spinning what happened at Santa Fe away from mounting pressure for more gun restrictions. But what does this inadequate phrase even mean? Does North understand what he’s talking about?

“We are getting used to a lot of behavior that is not good for us,” said Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a Harvard professor of education and sociology and then U.S. senator, in his celebrated 1993 American Scholar essay “Defining Deviancy Down.” The nation had been “redefining deviancy so as to exempt much conduct previously stigmatized, and also quietly raising the ‘normal’ level in categories where behavior is now abnormal by any earlier standard,” Moynihan wrote.

Altruism was one broad public response to deepening social pathology, marked by denial, kindness, pity, or guilt, he noted, using as an example the closing of mental hospitals and rise of the homeless. Opportunism, he continued, was a second response, anticipating the advancement of government programs and vast, often lucrative social service, therapy, and diversity franchises, all of which would be “jeopardized if any serious effort were made to reduce the deviancy in question.”

This self-interest led to “assorted strategies for redefining the behavior in question as not all that deviant, really,” and to a third response, normalization, adapting to crime and violence, getting used to widespread coarseness and nihilism.

Moynihan wrote his essay 25 years ago. The insane and wayward—increasingly freed from stigma and shame—today terrify functional America even more so than in his time, on account of their shamelessness as well as increasing prevalence.

Homicidal gun violence is to a large degree a ghetto affair. Illegal and unlicensed handguns are the nation’s major killing machine. School menace is embodied in the angry lout in the suburban high school parking lot and seething introvert in the darkened bedroom. His ear buds are on, and his smartphone is turned up full-blast to hate rap.

Music is a leading indicator of the “culture of violence.” Primer 55’s Introduction to Mayhem, for example, produced in 2000, is a heavy metal classic from the Island Def Jam Music Group, standard teenage boy fare. The cuts include “Dose,” “The Big Fuck You,” “Violence,” “Hate,” “Tripinthehead,” “Loose,” “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” “Supa Freak Love,” “Chaos,” “Pigs,” “Stain,” and “Revolution.”

The “culture of violence” is box office. And if Island Def Jam has been selling socio-cultural poison like this for two decades, isn’t legendary record producer and Malibu guru Rick Rubin, 55, who is worth an estimated $250 million, worthy of at least disgrace, not Hollywood and public adulation?

Violent music, video games, and depraved entertainment are cash machines. Electronic tools provide America’s youth—and their parents—with easy, possibly irresistible portals to the dark side. The weakening of families and religion-based communities contribute to the void. So do social media and porn. Unstable adolescents, if they are identified and treated, get medicated on the chance that anti-depressants or uppers will do their mood magic. Drugs—legal and illegal and everything in between—are palliatives for Americans of all ages.

Sometimes there’s official neglect or bad local policy, as with Parkland student Nicholas Cruz. But most educators are doing their best. The really damaged kids, the heartbreakers and the throwaways, the deranged and the dangerous, are given over to social workers, foster parents, or the police, but under the circumstances no one expects much to come from the interventions.

I wasn’t surprised, the Santa Fe High School student said. I was just scared. And, really, shouldn’t we all be feeling the same way?

Gilbert T. Sewall is co-author of After Hiroshima: The United States Since 1945 and editor of The Eighties: A Reader.

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It Didn’t Use to Be This Way

One telling detail keeps escaping the men and women of words who would end school shootings by one expedient or another: gun control, better security, the arming of teachers, more careful vetting of potential gunmen and so forth.

The detail of which I speak: We didn’t use to endure this horror. It didn’t happen.

The urgent question that flows from this detail: Why not?

Well, to start with, because things were different, prior to the shooting fests, which break so many hearts and generate so much despair.

Right, yes — but different in what way?

I will take a crack at this: Our culture (as we have come to call the circumstances of daily life) was cooler, calmer, less emotional, more orderly than it has become since then — which is not the same as saying pre-massacre culture (what a term) was cool, calm, and unemotional. It was not. Those personally familiar with that culture know better, I hope, than to indulge in nose-honkings over the joys of the past.

Still, massacres, explosions of personal rage, were rare and generally connected with mental disorder, such as the case of Howard Unruh, the World War II vet who went wild in New Jersey in 1949, gunning down people on and off the street, including a barber and his 6-year-old customer. There were guns enough out there, no doubt; nevertheless, few thought of using them in today’s ghastly, almost customary, way.

We didn’t use to endure this horror. It didn’t happen (or, save for Howard Unruh, hardly ever).

I am still taking a crack at this thing, with no more deleterious effect, I hope, than would flow from an attack on the Second Amendment. I submit that the factor at which we should look for explanation is social control: its widespread presence in pre-massacre time and its absence in the present day.

I do not mean that the secret police ran life back then. I mean institutions did, more or less, and with a touch far lighter and more helpful, in most cases, than today’s advocates of liberation would admit under coaxing from a liberally applied cat o’ nine tails. Whee, we’re free! So goes the general apologia for the removal of rules and guidelines of all kinds.

Free we are, or there wouldn’t have been much point to America. Yet Americans, according to the manner of their (generally) British culture, acknowledged not just opportunities but obligations. Institutions took these obligations, and their (normally) gentle enforcement, with great seriousness and sense of duty.

Mothers and fathers were supposed to impart to children a sense of… well, plain old decent behavior would likely cover it. Churches posited their own senses of duty and right belief — often overlapping the teachings of parents. Schools, as virtually anybody who attended one in the pre-massacre era can testify, necessarily exerted forms of control. If they hadn’t, no teaching would have taken place.

Was it all done perfectly? Who’d make such a ridiculous claim as that? Of course it wasn’t done perfectly. Sometimes it was done wretchedly.

But we didn’t use to endure the horror of mass massacres. People didn’t fear taking their children to school. Now they do.

The real horror of the matter is the hand-waving futility the massacre debate engenders. No one can believe, with any depth of conviction, that tighter gun control laws would make life as safe as a public library story hour.

The rebuilding and refitting of our weakened institutions, public and private, is the only path toward peace. But how to bring that about? Through change in beliefs and commitments: which is where the heavy lifting begins, as old formulas for human flourishing (e.g., the indispensability of the two-parent family) are reinserted into the common life. Or, through human folly, not reinserted.

The fact is that too few acknowledge the unmatched power of benevolent institutions to shape character, maintain the general peace, and impart dignity to human life — as well as keep it safe and free. But they do. Or rather, they did: here, there — yes, and in Santa Fe, Texas.

William Murchison is writing a book on moral restoration.

COPYRIGHT 2018 CREATORS.COM

The post It Didn’t Use to Be This Way appeared first on The American Spectator.

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The Cult of Mohammed bin Salman

Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi responds to the news of the latest crackdown on activists:

Religious fanaticism that had tarnished Saudi Arabia’s image for decades has given way to a new and perhaps more pernicious fanaticism, a cult of blind loyalty to our leader.

Mohammed bin Salman’s Western cheerleaders have unfortunately helped to promote that cult because of their misplaced confidence in the crown prince’s judgment. The crown prince has done very little to earn the praise he has received from his fans in the West, and most of what he has done has been reckless and destructive. MbS’ approach to domestic “reform” has proven to be very similar to his handling of foreign affairs: the crown prince overreaches, sets unrealistic goals, acts impulsively, makes lots of enemies, and he manages to antagonize and attack even those that are ostensibly on his “side.”

I suspect for many of his admirers consider his record to be irrelevant as long as he persists in his hostility to Iran, but it is possible that some his fans will start to lose confidence if he keeps behaving this way. The latest crackdown should serve as a wake-up call for all of them that MbS is not the ruler they thought made him out to be. The same recklessness that has led Saudi Arabia into waging disastrous and atrocious war on Yemen mars everything the crown prince does, and it is more likely than not going to lead to greater instability and upheaval in the years to come.

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Orthodoxy & Psychedelics

I’ve been meaning to blog about this old Commonweal essay about Orthodox spirituality, by the late Orthodox priest Father John Garvey. It occurred to me that it might be a good follow-up to yesterday’s Christianity & psychedelics piece, because it touches on concerns I have about psychedelic experience. Father John writes:

The monasticism of the desert fathers is a major influence in Orthodoxy, and the Apophthegmata Patrum—the sayings of the fathers (and mothers) of the desert—range from remarkably practical advice to a startling sense of participation in the divine. Take these two selections, from Benedicta Ward’s translation in The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (Cistercian Publications):

Abba Pambo asked Abba Anthony, “What ought I to do?” and the old man said to him, “Do not trust in your own righteousness, do not worry about the past, but control your tongue and your stomach.”

Abba Lot went to Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba, as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?” Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands toward heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, “If you will, you can become all flame.”

Note the words, “the old man.” The idea is preserved in the Greek word for “an elder”—geron—still used of wise monks and spiritual directors, the idea being that it takes time and patience to get there.

It seems to me that “getting there” by virtue of ingesting a drug is cheating — not in a moral sense, but in a spiritual sense that could leave one spiritually vulnerable. This is just an intuition. As I said in yesterday’s post, the man who has $10 million because he labored for 30 years, and the man who has it in an instant because he won the lottery, both have $10 million, but only the man who has labored for it for many years understands the meaning of that richness, and is prepared to live with it. My suspicion is that same principle is at work with psychedelics.

More Garvey:

At the heart of the spiritual journey is the belief that we are all called to theosis, or deification. St. Athanasius wrote, “The Word became man so that man might become God.” The boldness of this sounds blasphemous to some, but it squares with Jesus’ words, “You are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Christian mysticism is grounded in what is called apophatic theology, the belief that God’s nature is so radically unknowable that ordinary language and concepts fail utterly to get at it—so it may even be said that God does not exist, as we ordinarily use the word “exist” to describe the being of an object among other objects. But God has made himself known, and by his gift we may share his being, as he shared ours. We are capable of receiving this gift because we have seen Christ’s willingness to empty himself and assume our nature. As he became one of us, we can share the divine nature to the extent that with God’s help we can empty ourselves.

And:

The idea that one could experience theosis in this life was at the heart of what became known as the hesychast controversy, from the Greek hesychia, or “stillness.” The anonymous author of The Way of a Pilgrim speaks of The Philokalia, a multivolume collection of writings on prayer, compiled in the eighteenth century. (The title means “love of the good.”) The many contributors include St. John Cassian (c. 346–c. 435), St. Maximos the Confessor (c. 580–662), and St. Gregory Palamas (c. 1296–1359), whose response to a challenge to hesychasm in the fourteenth century synthesized Orthodox ideas about grace and our participation in the divine life.

Gregory Palamas defended the belief that one could genuinely experience the presence of God. Grace is not a created gift but the divine energies of God. Barlaam the Calabrian (1290–1348) had taken the idea of apophaticism to an extreme, and argued against those monks who believed that it was possible to experience “the uncreated light of Tabor,” the light seen by Peter, James, and John at the Transfiguration. Gregory defended the monks, arguing that although God was in his nature unknowable, his energies were divine and could be shared with those who were capable of receiving them. Although it is possible to delude oneself, it is also possible to share in divinity, even in this life, just as Jesus shared our humanity.

It has to be said, however, that the point of prayer is not any particular experience, but rather turning one’s life over into God’s hands.

And:

Hesychios says that “all this happens naturally” and can be learned from experience. The naturalness and experiential aspects of the life of prayer assume an intermingling of the divine and the human that is revealed in the Incarnation. All of us are called to realize this, and to the extent that we are made capable of doing so, it involves our cooperation with the one who emptied himself to bring us into the fullness of his own being. A prayer sung during the liturgy of the Feast of the Transfiguration says, “You were transformed on the Mount, O Christ God, / Revealing your glory to your disciples as far as they could bear it.”

The idea that this glory draws us toward God is part of the vision of eternity of St. Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335–c. 395): “Every desire for the Beautiful which draws us on in this ascent is intensified by the soul’s very progress toward it. And this is the real meaning of seeing God: never to have this desire satisfied.” It is echoed in Pascal’s “The Mystery of Jesus,” a part of his Pensées: there Jesus says, “If you are seeking me, you have found me.”

Read the whole thing. 

It seems to me — notice that I’m writing “seems” when I talk about all this — that the Orthodox tradition wouldn’t necessarily deny the psychedelic experience outright, but it would say that it is dangerous to tread in that strange land, where the veil to some extent has been lifted, without great spiritual preparation. If God wants to show you those things, then you should get there via the long way. If not, not. What the psychonauts seek is in some sense real, but absent the kind of preparation that comes from many years of prayer, worship, and askesis, one could be badly misled by this knowledge. We may say that it is forbidden to access it through chemical means not because it is necessarily entirely untrue, but because we cannot make proper sense of it, and therefore could open ourselves to the demonic.

That’s a theory. Thoughts welcome.

By the way, some of you got the idea that I’m promoting Christians using psychedelics. Not at all! I’m trying to figure out how to think of those compounds in a Christian way, even if we reject their use.

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How Muslim Migrants Are Reshaping Russia’s Dying Countryside, One Village at a Time

Or more specifically, the 35-year-old native of Tajikistan, the most impoverished of Central Asia’s five former Soviet republics, says his presence here, 200 kilometers northwest of Moscow, is good for his adopted homeland.

“‘Better you than the Chinese,’ that’s what my ex-boss told me,” the small-framed Soliev says between double shifts as a stoker at the village school, earning him around $250 a month, nearly twice the average Tajik wage.

The “you” is a reference to Soliev, who speaks fluent Russian and also routinely quotes ancient Persian thinker Omar Khayyam’s poems in Farsi, a linguistic sibling of his mother tongue, and 46 other families whose resettlement from Tajikistan over the past decade almost doubled Rozhdestveno’s aging population of about 200.

Half of the students in Soliev’s school are their raven-haired children, and their wives, in long skirts and head scarves, shop for groceries at a store next to the Orthodox church.

The arrival to urban centers and the countryside of Soliev and millions of other mostly Muslim labor migrants from Central Asia is at the center of what could emerge as Russia’s most radical ethnic makeover in centuries.

And some residents of Rozhdestveno and nearby villages speak caustically of the immigrants and forebodingly of an uncertain future.

“In 10 years, the village will either disappear or become foreign,” says retiree Viktor Yerofoeyevich, declining to give his last name. He is a resident of the neighboring village of Bortnikovo, where a paltry 12 houses have full-time residents.

Polls point to fears among many of Russia’s 142 million people of an uncontrolled influx of migrants eager to snatch up jobs and wildly tilt the country’s demographics in favor of the newcomers.

Vyacheslav Postavnin, a former deputy director of Russia’s Federal Migration Service who now heads the 21st Century Migration Fund, a Moscow-based think tank, compares it to the storied Mongol invasion of the 13th century that was followed by Islamization and the settling of former nomads in what is now southern Russia.

“The last bastion is the quick construction of Orthodox churches,” Postavnin says of ethnic Russians’ mistrust of the cultural and religious implications of immigration, “because the number of adherents of Islam is growing.”

Four-fifths of Russians say the Kremlin “must limit” the flow of migrants, and two-fifths believe migrants should live in “specially assigned areas,” according to a survey last year by state-run pollster VTsIOM.

And more than one in four Russians feels “irritation, dislike, or fear” specifically toward Central Asians, according to a more recent survey by independent pollster Levada.

Bucking A Trend

In its recent Revision Of World Urbanization Prospects report, the United Nations predicted that the current decline in Russia’s rural population would accelerate in the coming decades, from nearly 37 million now to just 22 million Russians residing in the countryside by the year 2050.

Stretched along the road between the ancient city of Tver and the Volga River, Rozhdestveno and a cluster of smaller villages around it exemplify the agony of Russia’s countryside.

Here, as in many rural areas mired in joblessness since the post-Soviet collapse of collective farms, decimated by low birthrates and migration to big cities, and barely held together by potholed roads, there is a perception that this kind of national heartland is no longer a pillar of Russian identity, prosperity, and tsarist-era expansion from the Baltic to the Pacific.

The trends have been accompanied by cutbacks in the number of village hospitals, schools, and administrative resources that further encourage locals to flee dwindling villages. Almost 36,000 Russian villages, or one in four, are home to 10 or fewer residents, and 20,000 more have been abandoned altogether, according to the latest Russian census, conducted in 2010.

Rozhdestveno is lucky to be larger than the nearby villages, but fallow fields covered with birch and pine saplings and poisonous giant hogweed surround it in every direction. The saplings herald the return of dense forests from which these villages were carved out centuries ago.

While the elderly in the area are forced to make do on meager pensions, many of the younger residents who haven’t left for the city subsist on potatoes from backyard gardens and pick mushrooms and berries to supplement their incomes. They sell whatever they can pick to middlemen from Tver or to affluent neighbors — frequently dacha owners from big cities who only show up in summer.

“I can sell mushrooms, sell cranberries. How else can I earn money?” says Vladimir, a jobless man from the village of Nesterovo, lisping through missing teeth. Clad in a greasy jacket and standing on a dirt road, he sums up his quarter century since the Soviet collapse.

“All of our household economy was destroyed, all the animal farms,” he says. “Every old lady used to have sheep, cows. Now, no one has any. Even chickens are gone.”

‘Not Afraid To Work’

Almost all of Rozhdestveno’s Tajik families hail from Gorno-Badakhshan, an especially poor, mountainous region that accounts for nearly half of Tajikistan’s territory. Tajiks were early and eager labor migrants to post-Soviet Russia, and hundreds of thousands now have citizenship there, officials say.

While it didn’t distinguish between Russian nationals and foreigners, the last nationwide census, in 2010, showed fourfold increases in the number of ethnic Tajiks and Kyrgyz in the Russian countryside, although there was a steep decline in the number of ethnic Uzbeks.

But the census generally excludes temporary labor migrants, according to Yevgeniya Chernina of the Center of Labor Studies at Moscow’s Higher School of Economy, of which there are millions, on and off the books.

The Tajik men around Rozhdestveno — from teenagers to forty-something men — are said to be generally eager to accept any employment opportunity that presents itself. They compete with locals in picking mushrooms and berries, and work at a nearby sawmill, on farms and construction sites in Tver, and drive cabs and buses.

“They’re not afraid to work,” Mayor Dmitry Kirdanov says. “It’s a helpful difference from the native population.”

Immigrants renovated several three-story apartment buildings that stood empty after the demise of the village’s collective farm, bought up dilapidating wooden houses, and enrolled three dozen children in school — doubling the number of students and providing teachers with more work.

There have been inevitable tensions, but locals say they have generally been tackled before they were allowed to fester.

The imposing, taciturn leader of Rozhdestveno’s Tajik community routinely finds himself thrust into the center of such quarrels.

Pairavsho, as he is known, manages a storage facility in Tver and arbitrates disputes between Tajiks and locals, a cultural holdover from the common Central Asian practice of tapping the wisdom of elders.

“If there’s a misunderstanding, they come to me, and we sort things out right away,” the father of two says on a Sunday evening, as dozens of Tajiks play soccer on the field in front of him.

Kirdanov cites an example, saying the immigrants’ children “brought a specifically [Central] Asian attitude to women” that some locals found objectionable. In that case, he says, a “conference” was convened to prevail upon the immigrants and soon the boys “stopped treating girls rudely.”

‘Better Off in yhe Village’

Some of the immigrants’ personal trajectories fit patterns described by Shukhrat Ganiev, a labor migration expert with the Humanitarian Rights Center, a think tank in the central Uzbek city of Bukhara. He has made two extensive trips across Russia since 2000 to document the emergence of what he calls “Uzbek villages” there.

Village officials or farmers in northern regions and Siberia frequently allow labor migrants to squat in abandoned houses and help them get work and residency permits, he says, sometimes inducing nearly whole villages to follow.

“Usually, this is a perennial practice with further integration into the local society,” Ganiev says in a reference to migrants who get Russian passports and send their children to Russian-language schools.

Other migrants are hired as seasonal farmhands, he says, mostly in southern Russian regions with booming, industrialized agriculture, and return home in winter.

Even more often, Ganiev says, migrants working in big cities move their families to the countryside because of lower rent and food costs and a safer, healthier environment.

“They’re better off in the village,” says Rovshan Khushvaktov, a 28-year-old cabbie who arrived four years ago from the central Uzbek city of Bukhara. “It’s so hard to keep an eye on children in Moscow.”

His wife and three children live in a small rented house in the village of Khoroshevo, some 180 kilometers southwest of Moscow. He sleeps in his white Hyundai between 18-hour shifts and tries to visit them each week.

Once they get Russian citizenship, many migrants become an important asset for local politicians.

In Rozhdestveno, where the overwhelming majority of Tajiks boast red Russian passports, Pairavsho declines to discuss his community’s political preferences, saying only that they “take part in every election.”

But the indications are that they vote overwhelmingly for the ruling United Russia party.

“Through their leaders, we always get a high turnout,” Kirdanov says in a reference to influential elders like Pairavsho.

“All sorts of outside political carpetbaggers tried to use them,” he adds, “but now they trust the [Kremlin’s] power, and openly say they won’t sell their political favors anymore.”

The post How Muslim Migrants Are Reshaping Russia’s Dying Countryside, One Village at a Time appeared first on American Renaissance.

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A Christian Approach To Psychedelics

Here’s the tl;dr version of this post: Michael Pollan’s new book, How To Change Your Mind: What The New Science of Psychedelics Tells Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence is terrific, and ought to be read by my fellow conservative Christians. Yeah, you heard me: this is a book about LSD and magic mushrooms from which religious conservatives can learn a great deal. I encourage you to read it with an open but critical mind.

Let me explain. Sit down, this is going to take a while. And I’m going to ramble.

Pollan’s book (henceforth, HTCYM) is in part a history of psychedelic compounds (like LSD and psilocybin) in medical research and practice. I had no idea that in the 1950s, there was a lot of serious medical research on psychedelics as treatments for addiction and depression. The word “psychedelic” comes from the Greek word meaning “mind-manifesting,” and was not coined by 1960s hippies, but by 1950s scientists. It turns out that scientists experimenting with psychedelic compounds were getting good results treating depressives and addicts with it. In one of the more surprising facts reported by Pollan, Bill W., founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, kicked the bottle after an experimental treatment with belladonna.

Timothy Leary is a villain in Pollan’s narrative. Leary was such a reckless, vain showboater that he ended up making psychedelics into a weapon of the counterculture. His antics caused serious scientific research into psychedelics and their possible therapeutic value to fall into disrepute for decades. Only now are scientists picking up where their colleagues half a century ago left off.

There are two parts to the story Pollan tells that interest me.

The first is about how psychedelics, administered under certain conditions, can help people who are suffering greatly. I’m going to write a bit about that below.

The second is about what psychedelics may tell us about the nature of mind, of epistemology (how we know what we know), and of reality itself. If you’re the kind of religious believer who reflexively rejects this area of inquiry because it’s associated with the dopey 1960s counterculture, then I urge you to set aside your prejudices and read Pollan’s book.

In his introduction, Pollan talks about how reading the founder of psychiatry, William James, on religious experience, caused him to open his mind. Pollan:

“No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness disregarded.

“At any rate,” James concluded, these other states, the existence of which he believed was as real as the ink on this page, “forbid a premature closing of our accounts with reality.”

The first time I read that sentence, I realized James had my number: as a staunch materialist, and as an adult of a certain age [Pollan was born in 1955 — RD], I had pretty much closed my accounts with reality. Perhaps this had been premature.

LSD, commonly called “acid,” was discovered by accident in 1938 by Albert Hofmann, a Swiss chemist who had been working with the ergot fungus. He accidentally got some of a compound he had synthesized on his skin, and had the world’s first acid trip.

What had happened to Hofmann’s brain? As a general matter, psychedelic compounds work on receptors within the brain, somewhat short-circuiting the brain’s default mode network (DMN). This means parts of your brain that normally don’t communicate with each other do while under the influence of the drug. The DMN is what organizes sensory input, and allows you to order experience. The DMN blocks out a lot of sensory information, the admission of which into consciousness would pretty much disable one. The DMN is responsible for maintaining our sense of ego, of separateness, and subjectivity.

According to Pollan, when you’re tripping, the DMN is suppressed, and you lose the sense of a barrier between yourself and the world outside. You experience that world with a much heightened sense of wonder. Much of Pollan’s book is taken up with therapeutic use of psychedelics, and accounts of how they have helped people. Some who have been afflicted with addiction, compulsion, and depression find that a single psychedelic experience, under clinically supervised conditions, serves to “reboot” their brain, and to break that harmful patterns of thinking.

Others who are suffering from terminal diseases find that psychedelic experiences greatly ease, and even eliminate, their anxiety over death, easing their passage. There’s a powerful testimony in the book left behind by a terminally ill man who participated in NYU psilocybin trials. The experiences left him with a profound sense of peace and ultimate meaning, and helped him to meet his death with a sense of serenity.

Based on these stories alone — and there are lots of them in Pollan’s book — it seems immoral to deprive psychiatrists of these medicines to use on the suffering. These accounts in HTCYM struck a resonant chord within me. In college, I knew personally a man who had been suffering from depression for two years, and who was drinking heavily. He dropped acid for kicks one night, his first psychedelic experience. That single trip changed his life. As he later described it, it made him see that his sense of isolation and self-hatred were illusions, and the world itself was filled with beauty, life, and love. It convinced him that God was real.

Leaving aside the theological aspects of the story, I can confirm that that single drug experience changed his outlook and behavior overnight. The recollection of that story, in fact, is what prompted me to buy Pollan’s book at once when I heard about it. As Pollan writes, researchers are discovering that there is something about psychedelic drugs that breaks old patterns of thinking. Bill W.’s experience of the “Higher Power” that would become part of AA came from his belladonna event.

For me, though, the most interesting aspect of all this is what it might say to us about the nature of consciousness, and the existence of the transcendent realm — and ultimately, of God.

When you do psychedelics, are you in some sense encountering the transcendent realm? Or is it entirely a hallucination? Put another way, are the trippy perceptions you have manufactured entirely by your brain, or does the drug make you sense something that is actually there, but hidden from perception under normal conditions? Or some of both?

Bill Richards is a psychiatrist who was involved with the early scientific explorations of psychedelics. From Pollan’s book:

Richards emerged from those first psychedelic explorations in possession of three unshakable convictions.

The first is that the experience of the sacred reported both by the great mystics and by people on high-dose psychedelic journeys is the same experience and is “real” — that is, not just a figment of the imagination. “You go deep enough or far out enough in consciousness and you will bump into the sacred. It’s not something we generate; it’s something out there waiting to be discovered. And this reliably happens to nonbelievers as well as believers.”

Second, that whether occasioned by drugs or other means, these experiences of mystical consciousness are in all likelihood the primal basis for religion. (Partly for this reason Richards believes that psychedelics should be part of a divinity students’ education.)

And third, that consciousness is a property of the universe, not brains. On this question, he hold with Henri Bergson, the French philosopher, who conceived of the human mind as a kind of radio receiver, able to tune in to frequencies of energy and information that exist outside it. “If you wanted to find the blonde who delivered  the news last night, “Richards offered by way of an analogy, “you wouldn’t look for her in the TV set.” The television set is, like the human brain, necessary but not sufficient.

 

Pollan quotes another scientist who was involved with psychedelics as a volunteer in a 1999 Johns Hopkins trial:

Turner is now an ordained Zen monk, yet he is also still a physicist, working for a company that makes helium neon lasers. I asked him if he felt any tension between his science and his spiritual practice. “I don’t feel there’s a contradiction. Yet what happened at Hopkins has influenced my physics. I realize there are just some domains that science will not penetrate. Science can bring you to the big bang, but it can’t take you beyond it. You need a different kind of apparatus to peer into that.”

 

In 2006, Hopkins neuroscience research Roland Griffiths published a landmark paper based on these trials. Here’s a Hopkins press release on it. The famed religion scholar Huston Smith (d. 2016) had this to say about Griffiths’ work:

The Johns Hopkins experiment shows — proves — that under controlled, experimental conditions, psilocybin can occasion genuine mystical experiences. It uses science, which modernity trusts, to undermine modernity’s secularism. In doing so, it offers hope of nothing less than a re-sacralization of the natural and social world, a spiritual revival that is our best defense against not only soullessness, but against religious fanaticism. And it does so in the very teeth of the unscientific prejudices built into our current drug laws.

OK, there’s a lot to process here.

What is a mystical experience? According to Pollan, William James set out four criteria that he says separate authentic mystical experiences from counterfeit ones:

1. The experience is ineffable. People who have undergone them struggle to convey what the experience is like.

2. The experience is noetic. You have the sense that you have learned some profound truth or truths that you couldn’t have learned any other way. “Dreams cannot stand this test,” James wrote. People who have these experiences often change their lives in meaningful ways.

3. The experience is transient. It lasts only a short time, but its effects do not.

4. The experience is passive. People who have the mystical experience aren’t seeking it, but only receive it.

I have to interject something personal here. In my life, I have had four or five mystical experiences. Two of them were profound, life-changing events. One of them I may write about one day. The other I never will. In both of the profound cases, all of James’s criteria were met. Those experiences not only have to do with why I am a religious believer, but also with why I am the kind of religious believer that I am. I’m not going to elaborate on either of those cases here, so don’t ask.

Reading the descriptions in Pollan’s book that psychedelic users give of their trips sounded quite familiar to me. Note well that Pollan himself tries several types of psychedelics as research for this book, under supervised conditions, and does not become a religious person because of it. But it did give him profound experiences of awe, experiences that changed the way he saw himself and the world. Pollan points out something that everyone I know who has done psychedelics have said to me: it’s not like a narcotic, in that you feel stoned or drunk. You are in most cases lucid.

Are these experiences less authentic when induced by a chemical, as opposed to by intense prayer, meditation, fasting, and the like? Not from a neurological point of view. It turns out that under observation with fMRI machines, the brains of experienced meditators and the brains of people on psilocybin look at lot alike. Pollan writes that “the practice and the medicine both dramatically reduce activity in the default mode network.”

To put it more crudely, the money a man puts in the bank after 30 years of hard work is no more or no less valuable than the money put in the bank by a man who won the lottery. But then, the man who acquired that money through hard work will regard it differently. This may be why the psychedelic experience is wasted on many people.

Nevertheless, reading Pollan makes me far less inclined to dismiss the value of hallucinogenic experiences because they were acquired cheaply. He writes:

What is more material than a chemical? One could reasonably conclude from the action of psychedelics that the gods are nothing more than chemically induced figments of the hominid imagination. Yet, surprisingly, most of the people who have had these experiences don’t see the matter that way at all. Even the most secular among them come away from their journeys convinced there exists something that transcends a material understanding of reality: some sort of a “Beyond.”

It’s not that they deny a naturalistic basis for this revelation; they just interpret it differently. If the experience of transcendence is mediated by molecules that flow through both our brains and the natural world of plants and fungi, then perhaps nature is not as mute as Science has told us, and “Spirit,” however defined, exists out there is immanent in nature, in other words, just as countless premodern cultures have believed. What to my (spiritually impoverished) mind seemed to constitute a good case for the disenchantment of the world become in the minds of the more psychedelically experienced irrefutable proof of its fundamental enchantment.

… So here was a curious paradox. The same phenomenon that pointed to a materialist explanation for spiritual and religious belief gave people an experience so powerful it convinced them of the existence of a nonmaterial reality — the very basis of religious belief.

This is heavy stuff. Eastern Orthodox Christianity teaches that the cosmos is panentheistic. What does that mean? From Orthodox Wiki:

In panentheism, God is viewed as creator and/or animating force behind the universe, and the source of universal truth. This concept of God is closely associated with the Logos as stated in the 5th century BC works of Heraclitus (ca. 535 BC — 475 BC), in which the Logos pervades the cosmos and whereby all thoughts and things originate; e.g., “He who hears not me but the Logos will say: All is one.” A similar statement attributed to Jesus by John 10:30.

While pantheism asserts that God and the universe are coextensive, panentheism claims that God is greater than the universe and that the universe is contained within God. Panentheism holds that God is the “supreme affect and effect” of the universe.

In Eastern Orthodox Christianity, creation is not “part of” God, and the Godhead is still distinct from creation; however, God is “within” all creation, thus the parsing of the word in Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Christianity is “pan-entheism” (God indwells in all things) and not “panen-theism” (All things are part of God but God is more than the sum of all things).

The Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches have a doctrine called panentheism to describe the relationship between the Uncreated (God, who is omnipotent, eternal, and constant) and His creation that bears surface similarities with the panentheism described above but maintains a critical distinction.

Most specifically, these Churches teach that God is not the “watchmaker God” or mechanical God of philosophy found in Western European Enlightenment. Likewise, they teach that God is not the “stage magician God” who only shows up when performing miracles. Instead, the teaching of both these Churches is that God is not merely necessary to have created the universe, but that His active presence is necessary in some way for every bit of creation, from smallest to greatest, to continue to exist at all. That is, God’s energies maintain all things and all beings, even if those beings have explicitly rejected Him. His love of creation is such that he will not withdraw His presence, which would be the ultimate form of slaughter, not merely imposing death but ending existence, altogether. By this token, the entirety of creation is sanctified, and thus no part of creation can be considered innately evil. This does not deny the existence of evil in a fallen universe, only that it is not an innate property of creation.

This Orthodox Christian panentheism is distinct from a fundamentalist panentheism in that it maintains an ontological gulf or distance between the created and the Uncreated.

If this is true — and I believe it is — then it strikes me as likely consonant with Henri Bergson’s theory of consciousness: that it does not emerge from the brain, but that the brain is rather a receptor of the consciousness that is really there. In my own mystical experience, which occurred many years before I became Orthodox, I felt the presence of the divine filling all things, and that all things are connected. This, by the way, is classical mysticism, not just Christian mysticism. When I first happened upon Orthodox Christianity, I thought, “Of course! That’s how it was for me!”

It’s hard to talk about this stuff for reasons that Pollan elaborates. He writes that people who are trying to recall the things they experienced on psychedelics end up saying things that are totally banal, e.g., “Love is all there is.”

The mystical journey seems to offer a graduate education in the obvious. Yet people come out of the experience understanding these platitudes in a new way; what was merely known is now felt, takes on the authority of a deeply rooted conviction. And, more often than not, that conviction concerns the supreme importance of love.

Anyway, Pollan’s book makes me reflect on how religious ritual and material expressions (e.g, in church architecture) exist both to replicate the foundational encounter with the Divine, but also to create environments in which it becomes more likely that ordinary people will experience at least a glimmer of those numinous events. For me, my encounter with the Gothic cathedral in Chartres, while not precisely mystical, provoked an awareness of the transcendent realm immanent in those stones and stained glass.

Pollan concludes that the psychedelic experiences compels us to question our notion of reality:

The model suggests that our perceptions of the world offer us not a literal transcription of reality but rather a seamless illusion woven from both the data of our senses and the models in our memories. Normal waking consciousness feels perfectly transparent, and yet it is less a window on reality than the product of our imaginations — a kind of controlled hallucination.

Huston Smith on this point: “A spiritual experience does not by itself make a spiritual life.” Integration is essential to making sense of the experience, whether in or out of the medical context. Or else it remains just a drug experience.

Which is why so many people who dropped acid or did mushrooms at Grateful Dead concerts did not become spiritual. Which is why other people run smack dab into the paranormal, and don’t allow it to change their lives. My own father was at the center of a poltergeist situation after his father died, and accepted it as real … but it changed nothing in his life, even though the clear lesson of it was about the power of forgiveness.

What if what we consider to be normality is, in fact, simply a “take” on experience? Rice University’s Jeffrey Kripal has written about how “dogmatic materialism” has caused science and scholars to wrongly dismiss experiences and phenomena that don’t fit into their materialist boxes. Readers from a long time back will recall my writing about linguist Daniel Everett’s experiences with the Piraha tribe of the Amazon, and how the tribespeople claimed to be seeing a spiritual entity that neither Everett nor his daughter could see. From that post:

Even I could tell that there was nothing on that white, sandy beach no more than one hundred yards away. And yet as certain as I was about this, the Pirahas were equally certain that there was something there. Maybe there had been something there that I missed seeing, but they insisted that what they were seeing, Xigagai, was still there.

His young daughter came out to have a look, and like her father, saw nothing. Everett continues:

What had I just witnessed? Over the more than two decades since that summer morning, I have tried to come to grips with the significance of how two cultures, my European-based culture and the Pirahas culture, could see reality so differently. I could never have proved to the Pirahas that the beach was empty. Nor could they have convinced me that there was anything, much less a spirit, on it.

As a scientist, objectivity is one of my most deeply held values. If we could just try harder, I once thought, surely we could each see the world as others see it and learn to respect one another’s views more readily. But as I learned from the Pirahas, our expectations, our culture, and our experiences can render even perceptions of the environment nearly incommensurable cross-culturally.

Everett is an atheist and a scientist, but he cannot deny the power of what happened to him that day by the river. It indicates that our ability to see what is actually there depends on our subjectivity. Either the Piraha were hallucinating, or Everett and his daughter were. Either there was a jungle god (or demon) present, or there wasn’t. Some of them were seeing something that wasn’t really there (was a projection of their minds), or the Everetts were blind to something that was truly present. The fact that Daniel Everett doesn’t actually believe in the existence of jungle gods, but cannot bring himself to dismiss the Pirahas here, is hugely significant, and speaks to the WEIRD phenomenon we’ve talked about in his space before. That is, what we in the secular, rationalist West call “normal” and “objective reality” is far more subjective than we think.

I like this passage from Pollan:

Even in the case of the minerals, modern physics (forget psychedelics!) gives us reason to wonder if perhaps some form of consciousness might not figure in the construction of reality. Quantum mechanics holds that matter may not be as innocent of mind as the materialist would have us believe. For example, a subatomic particle can exist simultaneously in multiple locations, is pure possibility, until it is measured — that is, perceived by a mind. Only then and not a moment sooner does it drop into reality as we know it: acquire fixed coordinates in time and space. The implication here is that matter might not exists as such in the absence of a perceiving subject. Needless to say, this raises tricky questions for a materialist understanding of consciousness. The ground underfoot may be much less solid than we think.

So, I promised to discuss “a Christian approach to psychedelics”. What would that look like? Here are some suggestions and thoughts:

  • We should not dismiss psychedelics out of hand — not for the sake of treating those suffering from mental disorders or terminal illness, but also for those interested in studying consciousness.
  • It is compatible with the metaphysics of premodern Christian tradition — especially Eastern Christianity — to believe that God is everywhere present, and in some sense (not just symbolic) fills all things. Orthodox Christianity (and Catholicism?) posits that this is a theological and metaphysical truth. It has been confirmed by Christian mystics. Psychedelic drugs may reveal this truth in a different way.
  • Pollan is correct to say that a purely neurochemical explanation for these states doesn’t negate their spiritual meaning. Certainly not for Christians in the sacramental tradition, who take for granted that God can and does communicate with His creation through matter.
  • On the other hand, Christians should approach these things with extreme caution. Opening yourself up to the numinous  is spiritually risky. Not every spiritual presence wishes us well, or tells the truth.
  • Pollan writes that people who bring Christian expectations to psychedelic experiences often have Christian experiences. Those who do not, do not. If psychedelic experiences are real, why wouldn’t God reveal Himself in Christian symbols to non-Christians having them?
  • Science finds no neurological difference between brains deep in meditation, and brains in the grips of a psychedelic experience. From the point of view of Christian mysticism, is there a difference? If so, what is it?
  • Huston Smith says (accurately, I think) that having a spiritual experience is not the same as having a spiritual life. If you don’t integrate the insights of your experience into daily life, it’s meaningless. Smith also says that psilocybin “undermines modernity’s secularism”. How might it do that? How can we be sure that people won’t simply drop acid, do mushrooms, or whatever, and then go back to ordinary life, as if nothing meaningful had happened? Perhaps psilocybin use can undermine confidence in materialism as an explanation for reality, but I don’t see how it could effect mass transformation, and the re-enchantment of the world. Though I’d certainly like to hear Christians discuss it.
  • Can psychedelic data be accounted for within a Protestant worldview? Do psychedelics undermine Protestantism in a particular way? If a Protestant pastor took psilocybin in a controlled experiment, he would have many of the same experiences as everybody else who takes them, because they work on the brain the same way. How would he explain them? Maybe some of you readers are Protestants who have done psychedelics as believers, or before you were believers. How do you regard that experience?
  • Do Catholics, Orthodox, and other sacramental Christians whose Christianity comes from the pre-modern (that is, pre-Reformation) era, have a particular vantage point from which to evaluate the psychedelic experience? If so, what is it?

These are my first reactions to Pollan’s book. I’m going to give it a lot more thought, as preparation for writing my next book, which is going to be about the re-enchantment of the world (though I do not foresee advocating the use of psychedelics to that end, my priest will be happy to hear). I believe that Christianity is true — not just true for me, but true for everybody. I have long pondered how to be faithful to that conviction while honoring the mystical insights of those outside the Christian religion. I struggle to know how to fit into a Christian framework the experiences of people like my friend the nonbeliever who had an ayahuasca experience as she was dying of cancer. I mentioned it in this 2014 post:

My Dutch friend Miriam, who died of cancer late last year, told me last summer that she had recently visited a shaman who induced, as Miriam’s request, an experience with ayahuasca, the psychedelic plant used ritualistically in South America. It was a terrifying event for Miriam, but in the end, cleansing, and healing, she said. I won’t reveal what she told me she learned, but I can tell you that it left me sitting at her table weeping over its profundity — in particular, what she learned about the roots and the character of the intense suffering she had been going through for a decade. The ayahuasca experience did not save her from cancer, but it helped prepare her to die. I didn’t know what to make of it, personally. I had no doubt at all that her experience was real, and healing. But was it entirely contained within the subconscious depths of her mind — or did the chemicals in the plant unlock the doors of perception of a reality beyond her ordinary cognition? Miriam, who was New Agey, would not have seen the difference. And maybe there’s wisdom in that. For her, a woman facing death, it was all useful to bring her to a point of peace.

The question doesn’t resolve itself, however: did she hallucinate, or did she experience a dimension of reality closed off to most of us?

I wish I could tell you that Miriam’s experience under ayahuasca had been a Christian one. It wasn’t. It was about reconciliation with her late mother, and her worries about the teenage son she was going to leave behind when she died. But it was a healing one. And get this weird sign of the White Moth that happened to me and to us on my last visit to her.

In that 2014 post, I cite an experience by the worldly, even hedonistic, Dutch film director Paul Verhoeven, who had a powerful mystical experience among Dutch Pentecostals, but was so shaken up by it that he ran as far from the mystical as he could.

I’ve written about Pollan and psychedelics before, in a post titled “The Psychedelic Dante.” In it, I mentioned my college friend who changed after his experience with LSD. And I mention Dante:

As a freshman in college, B. was very depressed (though not diagnosed as such). His girlfriend had broken up with him, and he was drinking way too much to dull the pain. That spring semester, he would go down to the pub and drink himself silly. He was caught up in dark, sad music, and couldn’t seem to break out of the fog.

Then a mutual friend of ours asked him to try LSD one weekend. B. was not a drug user, but at that time, he was in such a state that he was willing to do anything to think about something other than his own misery. It turned out to have been one of the most profound experiences of his life.

B. told his friends later that he had felt a sense of oneness of all things, the presence of God filling the universe, and an overwhelming sense of gratitude for life. His depressed self, he said, had been turned relentlessly inward, and he was blind to the reality around him: that God exists, that He is love, that He is calling us all to unity with Him. He wasn’t a religious believer at the time, or at least not much of one, and he didn’t have a specifically Christian experience. He says that when the drug wore off, he had been — the phrasing here is mine — given a glimpse behind the veil, and seen things as they truly are. That was the end of his depression. He ended up becoming a Christian, and still is, thirty years later.

As B. saw it through the psychedelic experience, he had a choice: to turn outward, see the beauty of the world and God’s presence in it, because that was the truth; or stay mired in solipsistic, drunken, morose brooding. The fact that this choice occurred while under the influence of a drug did not make him — nor does it make me — doubt the truths revealed. It was as if B. had badly defective vision, but had been given a magic pair of eyeglasses that showed him what the world really looked like with corrected vision.

I absolutely do not want to give the impression that I am in any way endorsing recreational use of psychedelics. I knew others in college who used these drugs and did not appear to gain any sort of life-changing insights from them. They just had fun. I knew a couple of people who ruined their minds with them.

I also believe that psychedelics can be spiritually dangerous, because if they open you up to a different level of spiritual reality on the good side, they also open you up to the dark side. It seems to me risky to have a spiritual experience so profound that is unearned, that you haven’t prepared for, as a mystic would have prepared through years of prayer. A man who makes his millions slowly, through hard work, regards his fortune differently than a man who made his millions by winning the lottery. I could be wrong about this.

That said, I can’t deny the change I saw in B., and for that reason am excited to see medical science once again researching therapeutic uses for this category of drug. I believe that for many people, it can give them profound relief. If these drugs eventually become approved for use in controlled therapeutic sessions, good.

So what’s the Dante connection? Reading the Pollan article and thinking about my friend’s transformative experience thirty years ago with psychedelics, I kept thinking about Dante’s Paradiso, and how the poet’s imaginative description of heaven — as a realm of light, love, and harmony — is what B. says he sensed during his experience. The glimpse that the pilgrim Dante has of heaven in the poem changes his life, and causes him to return to the world moving in harmony with the God Who is love. Many people who have had life-after-death experiences come back changed in a similar way. This is a fair approximation of what happened to B., though again, it wasn’t specifically Christian.

The question remains: have B. and others experienced things as they truly are, or merely an illusion conjured by the brain? Does it matter? If these depressed people and others are having these life-changing positive experiences under the influence of psychedelics, should it matter if they are real, or a hallucination?

Your thoughts? Please be serious. I’m not asking you to agree with any of this, but I am asking you to take it seriously, even if you dismiss it. I want to have a real conversation about this, not just deflect wisecracks and potshots.

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