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Sunday, 11 October 2009

Religion and drugs

“Freedom of religion is an inalienable right, and until this right is extended to the oldest form of spiritual practice, our ability to explore who we truly are will be severely limited.”

The words are those of Alexander Beiner, author of the novel Beyond the Basin, which draws on his studies of shamanism and the use of sacred plants in South America.

His plea – and it’s in the standfirst in a Guardian “Comment is Free” feature – is that this “oldest form of spiritual practice”, the use of mind-changing drugs, should be allowed in law. That standfirst: “Freedom of religion should be extended to the use of drugs in spiritual practice”.

No, no, no.

Allow the use of the drug, yes, but why just because for some people it’s a religious practice?

Beiner makes the perfectly logical point that our society allows ciggies and booze to be consumed in whatever quantities we wish, so why not plant-based drugs?

Well, one reason could be that when these plant-based drugs are refined, they become more dangerous and have to be controlled. In their raw state, though, yes, why not let us use them if we wish? That doesn’t, of course, excuse the fact that tobacco and alcohol are capable of harm when misused – and harm to people other than the user, too – but it’s a point worth pondering.

But leave religion out of it, Alexander. Freedom of religion is not, as you say, an inalienable right, in that it extends only as far as it doesn’t tread on the rights of others. Often, it does.

I agree that to have a religion is an inalienable right. It’s in the how of practising it that things can get tricky. So let us not complicate matters further by having more special privileges – just because something is classed as a religion.

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