The Confessions of a Psychedelic Christian by Sebastian Gaete | Self-Published | 2020
The Confessions of a Psychedelic Christian by Sebastian Gaete is a perennial exploration of the ideas and philosophies of different religions and spiritualities. In the introduction, Gaete writes: ‘This is not a book about crazy psychedelic experiences. The psychedelics are not really that important, except as gateway drugs to waking up.’ It is written, he concludes, for people who wish to explore their own spirituality. At its core, therefore, the book challenges its reader to think through the different ways religious ideas might aid personal enlightenment.
The book begins with Gaetes describing two personal trips: a heaven and hell. The heaven occurred with friends in Oxford by the River Isis, during which he experienced a type of oneness with the world. Curiously, while he ‘understood, in the core of my being, that I was the same as everything else’, he also saw other people as ‘basically sleepwalking through their own private dreams’. This seemingly contradictory distinction between interconnectedness and yet the persistent sense of the separateness of other people reflects the tone of the whole book. At times, extolling mystical worldviews, at others polemical.
Indeed, there is an underlying reactionary streak in Confessions. Using quotes from two poles of modernist reaction, DH Lawrence and TS Eliot, is one implicit example of this playing out. The former on a quest to return us to Nature, the latter a conservative, wary of social and political progress. (Not to mention the inclusion of others such as GK Chesterton and CS Lewis.) These writers are at the very crossroads of a quickly secularising Britain in the early twentieth century. Interestingly, like Eliot, Gaete also converted to the Anglican church, and was baptised in St Paul’s Cathedral, with his partner and two friends in attendance.
Gaete’s girlfriend, who he describes as an ‘atheist feminist socialist Jew’, told him that she felt uncomfortable being in the Cathedral because she perceived it as being a threat to her identity. While calmly meditating during the service, however, her defenses relaxed, and ‘The light became infused with a numinous quality, colours were richer and brighter, the sounds of the choir swirled through her like a delicious perfume’.
Noting the ongoing internal battle between progressives and conservatives within the Church of England, Gaete argues that when his girlfriend’s identity fell away in meditation, the ‘beauty and grace’ of the occasion were allowed in. In this sense, he is not only describing the illusion of separateness that identity creates, but he is also alluding to a perennial spirituality to which everyone theoretically has access.
While the author clearly wishes the reader to move beyond ideology, it is at times unclear whether spiritual practice itself is the means, or if the social or political aspects that he deconstructs are merely replaced by the religious. Indeed, the Confession is quite combative so far as competing worldviews are concerned. Existentialists are described as ‘innocent simpletons’, while New Atheists are displaying ‘something like “spiritual autism”’. What that religious replacement really is, however, is experience: mystical; enlightened; satori.
While the book is of course a Christian confession, this specificity is quite limited (although it does end with some discussion of the topic). Instead, it is a broad ranging perennialism, with a preference for Zen Buddhism, nonduality (his favoured position), Hinduism and Egyptian cosmology. These are the very perennialist steps of ideological progression that helped transform the youth’s understanding of spirituality in the 1960s and 1970s, and which contributed towards an abeyance of undergoing church rites among them. Confessions is in some sense a product of this ideological situation, and is more profound for it.