Opiates of the People


I do not consider it that insightful to consider and dismiss religion as garbage.  That would be the easy way to approach the presence of the Noss boys' and Smith's histories of religion at the dump.  A collection of trash that has poisoned minds all over the world.  I could also take a cheap shot and suggest that the books represent religion hanging around the gutter prostituting itself, but I prefer to thing that they are merely proselytizing amongst the fallen.

It is much more fruitful to think about religions as junk in a Marxist and Burroughsian sense.  It is no mistake that books on religion rest side by side with books on sex and alcohol addiction.  Both habits (it should be noted that The Nun by Margaret Trouncer and Convent Life by Joan M. Lexan were also serving God at the dump) fill a dire need for love and for easing pain, doubt, and suffering.

If one thinks about religion as a drug, the figure of Huston Smith is a very interesting one.  He came to religion not because it provided the right Answer, but because religion asked and allowed one to pursue the Big Questions.  Smith is The Seeker a la The Who and by that I mean, quite literally, that song could have been about Smith.  Take the line:  "I asked Timothy Leary, and he could not help me either."  As detailed in Don Lattin's fascinating and entertaining, The Harvard Psychedelic Club:  How Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Huston Smith, and Andrew Weil Killed the Fifties and Ushered in a New Age for America, Smith, while Head of Philosophy at MIT, immersed himself in LSD experimentation in an attempt to expand his consciousness and have a religious experience.  Leary's tests with psychedelic drugs quickly shifted from those of a scholarly nature to those of the Ken Kesey variety, but many of the early experiments involved safeguards like placebos and actual documentation in order to explore the religious nature of the drugs and to determine whether they provided a true spiritual awakening.  In that regard Smith wrote, among other books, Cleansing the Doors of Perception:  The Religious Significance of Entheogenic Plants and Chemicals.

I like to think that Smith is at the dump as a mycologist rather than as a scholar of religion.  Smith's open mind and thirst for knowledge and experience demonstrate a mind, body and spirit that are young and alive.  Smith is still seeking; he is 93 years old.

JB 

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