Back in the 1960s the Mainline Protestant Christian church was declining in membership when the hippie movement began to provide proselytes for Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christian churches. The catalyst for the hippie fascination with religion was their use of mind-altering drugs like marijuana, LSD, mescaline, psilocybin, DMT, STP etc. Huston Smith is a professor of Religion who taught at a number of universities over the past five decades, including MIT and U. C. Berkeley. He has authored a number of books about the religions of the world as well as “Cleansing the Doors of Perception,” a book about “the religious significance of enteogenic plants and chemicals.”
One of the most famous experiments with psychedelic drugs and their relationship to religion was the “Good Friday Experiment.” It occurred on Good Friday 1962 at Boston University. Walter Pahnke conducted an experiment during the traditional Good Friday service in the chapel, by administering psilocybin to volunteer subjects for his doctoral research paper at Harvard. He was attempting to document the relationship that psychedelic drugs have to religion. Huston Smith was one of the participants in the experiment and wrote an article about it, which was published in his book.
People that Smith was involved with at the time include Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert, Aldous Huxley, Gordon Wasson and Albert Hoffman. All of them are pioneers of the psychedelic drug revolution that helped foment the cultural, political, and religious revolution that took place in America during the 1960s. At the same time that East Coast intellectuals were undergoing an ontological transformation, West Coast literary revolutionary Ken Kesey was spearheading a counter culture assault on the establishment.
Kesey used the royalties from his best selling book, “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” to finance a psychedelic experiment circumnavigating the continental United States. His band of co-conspirators included Jack Kerouac’s real life Dean Moriarty, Neal Cassady, as the driver of the psychedelic painted bus that the Merry Pranksters, which included the Grateful Dead, the house band, travelled on. In 1964 they spread the gospel of LSD as far as New York, where they found their counterpart, Timothy Leary.
By October 1966, LSD was made illegal by the establishment, which resulted in an unprecedented demand for it. By the end of the 1960s LSD could be obtained more readily than marijuana or other drugs. To say that LSD was not addicting could be misleading, because some individuals took it hundreds of times. However, one thing was consistent with all users, they eventually came to the realization that they had exhausted the drug’s potential for illumination and discontinued using it, voluntarily, at some point.
When the drug’s potential for illumination was exhausted, other means were sought to continue the journey, and religion was the first area that they looked towards. John Lennon and the Beatles, Donavan, the Beach Boys and others became followers of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and other Hindu Gurus. College students at the beginning of the 1960s were scrawling Nietzsche’s quote, “God is Dead,” on bathroom walls, but after tripping on psychedelics and dropping out of college, they began reading sacred scriptures that included the Bhagavad Gita, the Koran, and the Bible.
The search for answers to life’s mysteries and great questions were reflected in the music of the day, which included an assortment of religious compositions including Norman Greenbaum’s top 40 hit “Spirit In The Sky,” to Broadway musicals that produced hit albums and singles like Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell. There were even straight gospel songs that hit the top 40 like “Oh Happy Day,” by the Edwin Hawkins singers and “Put Your Hand In The Hand,” by Ocean. Song title’s ranged from “My Sweet Lord” to “In The Presence of the Lord, as rock and roll began to reflect religious fervor as much as it had youthful exuberance a decade earlier.
As long haired hippie freaks became Jesus freaks, they joined together with straight short haired fundamentalist, conservative, evangelical, and Pentecostal Christians. The result was a new paradigm hybrid church that included old established theology with a new way of presenting it. Instead of pipe organs accompanying choirs singing traditional hymns, new paradigm churches featured rock bands leading congregations in free spirited worship. The result was the birth of hippie evangelism and Jesus music led by former hippies that ingested thousands of hits of acid, mescaline, and psilocybin, as well as smoking kilos of marijuana prior to their conversions. Names like Lonnie Frisbee, Chuck Girard, Barry McGuire, and Oden Fong are some of the most famous out of thousands who like them found God through drugs.