Pardon me if I banter Christians more than the other organized religionists; I’m a product of the Catholic school system from grammar school to Boston College. The other religions are equally as farfetched. It’s just that I’m better acquainted with the doctrines of the church than the conventions and convictions of Judaism or Islam.
I rejected religious ideas at a very early age. The fables were too unbelievable, even to a seven year old: Jonah living in the belly of a whale; Adam and Eve chatting with that slimy, duplicitous snake; Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego hopping out of the furnace and scaring the piss out of mean King Nebuchadnezzar. Jesus thrashing the money changers for doing business in the temple was another one; He should at least have been as non-violent as Confucius or Buddha, methinks. What a tragic example he set by condoning violence when morally offended. How many fanatical soldiers lost their lives fighting while morally vexed —even in foreign lands where they didn’t belong?
In high school the fundamental concepts of Christianity perplexed and irritated me: An omnipotent being creates a peculiar ape that disobeys and offends him. He is angry and his feelings are hurt. So He wills that his only son transmogrifies into a peculiar ape and gets tortured by His brutish, bloodthirsty creation. All so God could appease himself.
So my first argument for legalized pot is to appeal to the country’s sense of fair play. Weed is to my religion what Holy Communion is to Catholicism. Communicants are told to believe bread and wine are the actual body and blood of Christ—no symbolism, we’re talking about real meat you can chew on. That’s okay. If they want to make believe they are sanctified and blessed by carrying the lord around in their bodies, that’s fine. It’s far out but à chaqu’un son gout. It’s a free country.
But grass has a tangible, perceivable effect on my brain at the molecular level. Neurotransmitters get stimulated and turned on. The basal ganglia and the limbic system in all of us— including other mammals—are rich in CBI receptors. These receptors are essentially absent in the medulla oblongata, the part of the brain stem that is responsible for respiratory and cardiovascular functions. There is no risk of respiratory or cardiovascular dysfunction as there is with many other drugs. CBI receptors appear to be responsible for the euphoric and anticonvulsive effects of cannabis.
The high’s quite real and I feel euphoric. Tetrahydrocanabinol is a euphoriant. At this very moment I’m as high as a GPS satellite, observing and enjoying earthly phenomena with godlike fancy. I’m listening to the glorious Camille Saint-Saens Organ Symphony, and at the organ’s grand entrance in the third movement, I feel I’m standing at the portals of heaven. Order, peace, harmony, reason. Art is the human intellect at its most sublime. The high leads me to believe that heaven on Earth is possible for all human beings once we shirk the stultifying effects of mine-controlling ideolgy and we resume evolving. Unlike Holy Communion, where the communicants feel a self-delusionary, make-believe high, there is an actual change of consciousness on grass.
I’ll never forget the first time a smoked some good weed. It was the time of Woodstock Nation, John Lennon, Allan Ginsberg and Bob Dylan. A psych major from NYU’s class of ’66 marched to the beat of different drummer, that’s for sure. When I witnessed how people acted on TV commercials—deranged by consumerism—I felt like I was from another planet.
Twenty-six years old, standing on the banks of Lake Willoughby in the lovely, rolling Green Mountains of northern Vermont. A kaleidoscope of chlorophylls and carotenes tickled my retina with shimmering light—earthy colors of rust and yellow, brown and beige, every shade of red that sunrays could irradiate. The leaves on the far embankment seemed to sparkle in the midday sun. The glinting crests of tiny wavelets on the lake blended with the leaves so as to present a panorama of continuous light—like a Monet or Cezanne.
As a NYC boy, the amorphous lake was the most beautiful natural beauty I had ever seen. Before that day, Central Park was the most beautiful nature I had ever experienced. The rise in consciousness was palpable.
On a nearby white birch tree, a lazy squirrel hung by his hind claws. Dangling upside down, propped up on his elbows, he confidently held an acorn like a kid with a bag of popcorn in front of a TV. He wasn’t afraid but with my delightful high I could absolutely determine he was wondering what I was doing there emitting such a peculiar ropy smell. I felt a holy communion all right, but with the living— mammal to mammal, each enjoying life in our own way.
Grass increases one’s connection with nature. I hesitate to make a blanket statement but it sure does for me and many people I know. The image of the squirrel stayed with me nearly fifty years.
Along Foliage Road on the other side of the lake, a dump truck intruded into my personal heaven. It hissed, growled and devoured the sleepy country road. The sounds were threatening and a conspicuous intrusion into the peacefulness of the lake. Over the tops of the tree, I could make out in the back of the truck plastic pipes and rubber tubing, flailing and whirling in all directions like the snakes of Hydra’s hair. The monster was undoubtedly headed for some construction site to devastate scenery as lovely as this.
With grass, the indoctrination and conditioning of school melt away like chains of ice. I didn’t passively accept that the driver had to earn a living. I viewed the lake and thought of Henry David Thoreau. What would he say about the dump truck meeting up with bull dozers and other earth movers? What misguided powers have preordained the truck to invade my idyllic reverie? Powers far-away, in glass and aluminum, cubical skyscraper offices. They have no idea what they are doing because they forfeited feeling for Lake Willoughby. Their religions have numbed their sensibilities and ability to empathize with nature and the biodiversity of life. Love and respect that belongs to Nature are diverted to a hallucinatory Moloch.
“Religion,” an interesting etymology. “Re,” of course, “again” or “back.” But “lig” refers to a tying, as in “ligature.” We’re talking about a reconnect, but unfortunately for humanity the retying has been to human organizations with bank accounts, presidents, boards of directors, real property and an army of working professionals. The Mother Church has usurped love and devotion that belongs to nature.
I felt like grabbing the truck driver (the logger, construction worker, land surveyor) and getting in his/er face: “Look, man, with all due respect, you don’t know what you’re doing. Think of how unfeeling and robotic you have to be to mutilate the land itself. What kind of people would devastate our nation’s ineffable natural beauty in favor of strip malls and shopping malls, chemical plants and plastic factories? You need to reconnect. Hop out of your mental cage and smell the wildflowers—the bars of the cage are all in your head.”
As I stared across the shimmering lake, a chilly New England breeze made me feel the hair on my arms and blood streaming faster down my legs. A dappled rock bass jumped a few yards away.
How wrong and sad it is that the truck driver pays respect, homage and love to a non-existent god rather than Nature. If he weren’t sidetracked by mythological, conditioned beliefs, he’d probably be getting high, enjoying the beauty of nature and art, striving to be a good person and caring about generations to follow. We grew out of the planet; there’s no doubt about it to a bio teacher. The wellbeing of all future life depends powerfully on how well we understand the cosmos and planet from which we arose abiogenetically (without parents) and evolved.
Now nearly fifty years after Lake Willoughby, Carl Sagan urges a new religion based on our perception of the cosmos as revealed by science. Instead of the writings of ancient goat-herders and fishermen, we need a religion based on information revealed by telescopes and microscopes, computers and spacecraft sent to the outer reaches of the solar system.
I dreamed of a new religion when I fantasized about scolding the truck driver. Weed can be our holy eucharist. Instead of each person mutely receiving a sterile wafer, people of a New Age religion will pass around a joint thumb to thumb and rap about philosophy, science and art, instead of maintaining humiliating silence with simulated piety. They’ll actively participate; they’ll be the religion because they are real. Instead of making sacrifices, they’ll share a peace pipe and have fun listening to music, perhaps enjoying views of nature by a pristine mountain lake.
How about John Lennon for the hippie religion’s first martyr and saint?
James Dean could be John the Baptist, urging the young not to repent but rebel. How wrong it is for professional clerics to teach kids that they are born in sin; how ungrateful to the serendipity of evolution to inculcate students with the belief that sex and their naked bodies are shameful and dirty.
Bob Dylan could be the first prophet.
Okay, maybe Dean shouldn’t be John the Baptist and John Lennon the first voice in the wilderness. Imagine there’s no religion at all. What difference does it make? It’ll be a disorganized religion. Some days we’ll meet on Wednesdays at 10 am, some nights on Tuesday at 11 pm. Who needs dogma and rituals? A disorganized religion belongs in a free country.
Churches and synagogues could be converted into community centers where lovers of the human condition congregate to have fun and get to know one another. Let’s produce plays and bring back poetry instead of watching TV. Let’s play our own game of baseball instead watching overpaid cheaters. Enjoying educational and humanistic activities is more beneficial to the community than listening to the same tiresome sermon week after week. Education makes you a better person.
(Please note: I’m not talking of any seizure of property. I’m speaking about the legal sale of church property due to lack of interest by the public—or when the churches are asked to pay their fair share of taxes.)
A 1960s song title: They called for a war and nobody volunteered. They called for a mass and nobody was interested.
Visionaries don’t care how unpopular or farfetched their ideas. I know humanity can not go on worshipping plastic idols forever: we are reproducing exponentially as millions starve every year. Every religion exhorts its following to spawn as many babies as possible. The planet is at its carrying capacity right now. It’s certain Gaia eventually will have enough of this nonsense and refuse to take any more abuse from the apish bipeds. If unbridled reproduction continues, Gaia will punish mankind’s imagined self importance and contemptible arrogance. Most of the world’s religionists have the delusion that we have some privilege in this vast cosmos other than our humble and limited consciousness.
As far as the slippery-slope argument goes, people don’t become homeless winos from a sip of burgundy. THC isn’t chemically related to the hard drugs. It’s not even close in composition. Legal oxycodone and its derivatives like Oxycortin and Percocet are chemically closer to heroin than marijuana. They are addictive and scientifically- documented depressants to the central nervous system. Plus there are terrible side effects like constipation and lethargy. With grass you can’t even overdose because you’ll pass out and wake up in the morning without even a hangover.
Denis Miller asserts in one of his gigs, “If Prozac and marijuana went head to head as the drug of choice, Prozac would lose.” Pot is illegal because Big Pharma wants it that way and wastes millions on bogus organizations like Partnership for a Drug-free America and DARE. Money that could have been used fixing up inner city schools or sheltering the homeless.
To present evidence that marijuana is not a source of disease, I end this post with a link to an interview last year with my friends Dr. Lester Grinspoon of Harvard and radio host, Lynn Thompson of Living on Purpose.com.
As far as psychological addiction goes, I’m reminded of the late comedian Bill Hicks’ comment about Art Linkletter’s kid who jumped out the window. “Dork, why did she have to ruin it for everybody?” (Ironically, toxicology tests confirmed there was no evidence of LSD usage.) Just because something is good doesn’t mean you have the right to abuse it. We recommend responsible use. I’ve been smoking nearly 50 years but only on special occasions like parties or an opera. I don’t even like the sight of needles.
Perhaps President Obama at the 2012 Democratic Convention will repeat the words of FDR in ’32: "This convention wants repeal. Your candidate wants repeal.And I am confident that the United States of America wants repeal."
But he’ll be talking about grass instead of booze. Just ask the eighty million of our citizens who have tried grass with zesty inhales