Issue #19 (March 1983)
Have you ever wondered about ecstasy? Religious rapture? The peace that passeth understanding? Scientific research suggests that there's a chemical basis for these altered states of consciousness.
[quoteleft]Drugs discovered in the past few years can mimic religious states, but ecstasy without drugs has remained shrouded in mystery.
Until Dr. Faust came along.
Faust is the head of Ecclesiastical, Sacred and Profane Drug Research at the now-famous Addictive Conundrum Institute. For years he sought the roots of mysticism, tried to tease out the secrets of religious rapture. In vain.
But just as he was beginning to think all was vanity and vexation of the spirit, Dr. Faust read a paper in the Journal of Drug Issues that described the ease with which alcoholics and drug addicts converted to drug-free life in the Pentacostal religion. The paper suggested that the new converts simply switched drugs - in effect, the glossolalia (speaking in tongues) and trance behavior released endogenous opiodes (powerful drugs manufactured by the brain, called enkephalins and endorphins). These substances, in turn, triggered a physical rush, the sense of being bathed in the Holy Spirit.
This clicked with Dr. Faust. He recalled Karl Marx's famous comment: Religion is the opiate of the masses. Faust also knew that William James had said, "The only radical remedy I know for dipsomania is religiomania." Then there's addiction to video games. And to poetry. Someone wrote a book about TV - the plug-in drug.
But it took Faust to see the full implications. "Cross tolerance," he told me. "There's obviously a cross-tolerance between religion and drugs. My research bears this out."
Unable to get government funding for his project, Dr. Faust approached mysterious financier, B. L. Zebubb. (Not much is known about wealthy patron Zebubb, except that he has clearly transcended his lowly Slavic origins and made millions through uncanny investments in micromolecular biology.) B. L. Zebubb refused to comment on the details of his contract with Faust. Said Zebubb, "We have a very firm and binding arrangement. I made him an offer he couldn't resist."
What's Faust's breakthrough? He located ecstasy receptors in the brain. "I reasoned that if the body makes chemicals that produce ecstasy, then there are receptors in the brain. And if there are receptors, obviously the rapture, or high, could be blocked by an ecstatic-antagonist."
Faust's research team tried a group of opiate-antagonists on a number of Pentacostal volunteers. "We found just what we expected," Faust said. "They prayed, they sang, they chanted and meditated. Nothing worked. No matter how hard they worshipped, not one of them became ecstatic. Not one experienced the peace that passeth understanding.
Proudly, Faust added, "In effect we successfully blocked spiritual illumination and baptism in the Holy Spirit. It was a thrilling moment in science."
Using immunoradioassay and mass spectrometry, Faust identified the ecstatic molecules. More: "Basically we have finally synthesized Aldous Huxley's famous soma. But the chemical occurs naturally in the body and truly does seem to have all the advantages, and none of the defects, of Christianity and alcohol. It's a neurotransmitter, gammaocto-dopamine," Faust said solemnly. "We call it G*O*D."
"G*O*D," I reflected. It had a good solid ring to it. I tried not to think about the brains that had been centrifuged to isolate the substance.
At that point B. L. Zebubb spoke up with quiet, but zealous, enthusiasm. "Once we have patented and produced G*O*D in quantity - why, people will sell their souls to get it!"
Faust plans to publish his work in the Journal of Evangelistic Studies, Utopiates, and Soteriology (JESUS).
And the enigmatic B. L. Zebubb? With a mephistophelian gleam in his eye, he told me he planned to corner the recombinant DNA market.