Neo-American Church

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Seal of the Church. The Three-Eyed Toad shows the absurdist/humorous/satirical bent of the church (the Church's house organ was titled "Divine Toad Sweat"). The motto ("Victory Over Horseshit!") was taken seriously: Timothy Leary himself was excommunicated in 1973 for "excessive horse shit".[1]

The Original Kleptonian Neo-American Church is a religious organization based on the use of psychedelic drugs (the "True Host") as a sacrament.

Founding[edit]

The Church was founded in 1965[3] or 1966[4][5] at Cranberry Lake, New York, by Arthur Kleps,[6] a participant in Timothy Leary's circle based at the Hitchcock Estate in Millbrook, New York. The organization was founded partly as an absurdist religion, partly as a religious expression of the psychedelic movement, and partly as a device to gain religious exemption from American drug laws such as those outlawing LSD.

Church clergy, known as Boo Hoos,[note 1] claimed LSD as a sacrament. The original primary religious text of the church was The Boo Hoo Bible: The Neo-American Church Catechism and Handbook (1967),[7] written by Kleps, a mixed-media work integrating comics, news clippings, senate testimonies, and political-religious diatribes.[1] The Boo Hoo Bible has been described as "requiring its reader to transcend the personal in an act that simultaneously simulates and dissimulates, establishing and overcoming the ironic.... present[ing] a cosmology of simultaneity, which Kleps considers essential to psychedelic experience. A radical solipsism emerges that sees all conscious and unconscious life as part of one dream where meaning-making becomes completely associative";[1] it also includes the declaration that the ultimate goal of mankind is (or should be) the bombardment and destruction of the planet Saturn (which hoped-for event was depicted on the book's cover).[7]

The Boo Hoo Bible was supplemented or superseded by Kleps' later book Millbrook: A Narrative of the Early Years of American Psychedelianism (1975, with new editions in 1977 and 2005) which provides an account of Kleps' founding of the organization along with a narrative of his experiences at the Hitchcock estate in Millbrook, New York, between 1963 and 1970, and describes the church's principles and doctrine as of the date of publication.[6] Millbrook also includes philosophical interpretations of psychedelic experience and synchronicity and social and political commentary on aspects of the psychedelic movement.

While it incorporated whimsical or even absurdist motifs – for instance, Church hymns included "Puff the Magic Dragon"[5] and "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" (with its solipsistic refrain of "Life is but a dream"), which fact did not help them in establishing their bona fides as a serious religion to the judge in United States vs. Kuch (see below)[1] – this mainly extended to matters of form and organization. The actual theology was fully formed, serious, and culturally revolutionary in intent.[1] Kleps testified that the absurdist elements of the Church were intended to show that all religions are invented and silly.[5]

United States vs. Kuch[edit]

The Native American Church (no relation) was around this time fighting successfully in several state courts to uphold its legal permission to use peyote (normally a banned substance) in religious ceremonies;[8] the Neo-American Church hoped to gain the same right, by analogy.[1] One of the Church's ministers, Judith H. Kuch, was arrested and put on federal trial on narcotics charges in 1968. Kuch claimed that her use of LSD was a religious requirement.

The judge ruled that the Church's rituals did not merit protection under the First Amendment as he could find no evidence of "a religious discipline, a ritual, or tenets to guide one's daily existence"[9] and that "...the [Neo-American Church] membership is mocking established institutions [and] playing with words... There is a conscious effort to assert in passing the attributes of religion but obviously only for tactical purposes"[10] and that "[i]t is clear that the desire to use drugs and to enjoy drugs for their own sake, regardless of religious experience, is the coagulant of this organization and the reason for its existence."[11] This was an instance, rare in American Constitutional jurisprudence, of a judge finding as an issue of fact that someone does not actually hold the religious views she professes.[11] (Regardless of the merits of the religion, the judge in any case found substantial state interest in denying the exemption.[12])

Later years[edit]

The Church reached its greatest notoriety around the time of this 1968 United States of America vs. Kuch case but continues into the 21st century as a small, loose organization. Membership in the Church is loosely defined but is based on assent to three principles: holding the psychedelic substances as sacraments, claiming their use as a basic human right, and defining enlightenment as "the recognition that life is a dream and the externality of relations an illusion (solipsistic nihilism)".[13]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "Boo-hoo" or "big boo-hoo" (now archaic) was an obscure and mildly derisory 20th-century American slang term for "important person", similar to "muckety-muck" or "big shot"; it was used ironically by the Church.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g Roger K. Green (April 11, 2013). "Psychedelic Citizenship and Re-enchantment: Affective Aesthetics as Political Instantiation". TELOScope. Telos Press. Retrieved June 16, 2016. 
  2. ^ Versluis, Arthur (2014). American Gurus: From Transcendentalism to New Age Religion. Oxford University Press. p. 117. ISBN 978-0199368136. Retrieved June 14, 2016. 
  3. ^ "About the OKNeoAC". Original Kleptonian Neo-American Church website. 
  4. ^ Lee, Martina A.; Shlain, Bruce (1994). Acid Dreams: The Complete Social History of LSD: The CIA, the Sixties, and Beyond (Revised ed.). Grove Press. ISBN 978-0802130624. 
  5. ^ a b c Joseph Laycock (December 12, 2013). "Satanist Monument Shines Light on Christian Privilege". Religion Dispatches. Retrieved June 16, 2016. 
  6. ^ a b Kleps, Art (2005) [1975, 1977]. Millbrook: A Narrative of the Early Years of American Psychedelianism. OKNeoAC. ISBN 978-0960038800. 
  7. ^ a b Kleps, Art (1971) [1967]. The Boo Hoo Bible: The Neo-American Church Catechism and Handbook. Toad Books. ISBN 978-0960038817. 
  8. ^ Stewart, Omer C. (1993). Peyote Religion. University of Oklahoma Press. p. 326. ISBN 0-8061-2457-1. 
  9. ^ Bates, Stephen (February 11, 2009). "Blessed Be the Newsmakers. A new business model for the press: Declare itself a religion.". Slate. 
  10. ^ Brief excerpts from the Boo-Hoo Bible and United States of America v. Judith H. Kuch
  11. ^ a b Mike Dorf (December 24, 2010). "Boo Hoo for the rest of us". Dorf on Law. Retrieved June 14, 2016. 
  12. ^ Leone Zaretsky, Irving; Leone Zaretsky, Mark P. (1974). Religious Movements in Contemporary America. Princeton University Press. pp. 39–40. Retrieved June 14, 2016. 
  13. ^ a b "Membership". Original Kleptonian Neo-American Church website. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Newman, Joel S. (December 2015). "What is a Church? A Look at Tax Exemptions for the Original Kleptonian Neo-American Church and the First Church of Cannabis". Lexis Federal Tax Journal Quarterly. LexisNexis. SSRN 2714965Freely accessible. 

External links[edit]