By most standards, I would be considered a heathen. Dictionary.com, that wormhole for word nerds, provides the primary definition for “heathen” thusly: “an individual of a people that do not acknowledge the God of the Bible; a person who is neither a Jew, Christian, nor Muslim; a pagan.”
The entry also says “heathen” is a word that is “disparaging and offensive,” although I have never felt it to be so. Still, any right-wing-leaning readers with a strong religious bent (provided you even exist) are welcome to hurl it at me. Trust me, I’ve heard far worse.
But I may be willing to cleave unto the Lord by way of a recently opened church in Denver, Colorado, which was profiled in an article by the Guardian.
The Church of Cannabis opened in 2017, on April 20, because of course it did. It’s the brainchild of Yale University graduate Steve Berke and his fellow stoner buddy, Lee Molloy. Berke had relocated to Denver to enter the cannabis industry, and was living in a 113-year-old church his parents had purchased with plans to convert it into apartments. In a conversation that I would have loved to have heard, Berke convinced his parents to lease him the church so that he could start up a place of worship with some unique facets.
Doing away with the traditional dour imagery found in many mainstream houses of worship—but keeping the stained glass windows—Berke and Molloy engaged the services of Kenny Scharf and Okuda San Miguel, whose murals are bright, bold, semi-hallucinatory, and a strong indicator that there may be some cannabis consumption among the flock.
About that consumption: Colorado only allows it in private homes and clubs, and those clubs must be members only. And what is a church but a kind of club? The online membership for the Church of Cannabis is presently around 3,000 and growing, with 500 within an easy drive of the church, and public viewings of the building are available Thursdays through Sundays. On Friday nights, they hold private, members-only services... and worshippers take a certain kind of, shall we say, communion.
This hasn’t sat well with local officials (surprised?), and they’ve cited three of the church’s founding members for, among other things, violating the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act. State Representative Dan Pabon went so far as to tell the New York Times that the church “offends both religious beliefs everywhere as well as the voter’s intent on allowing legalization of marijuana in Colorado.”
Attendees refer to themselves as “elevationists,” which Molloy—a former Bible quiz champion—explains as a term they came up with to cover their broad-based belief system. “Our spiritual journey is one of self-discovery, not one of dogma,” he told the Guardian. “We believe there is no one-path solution to life’s big questions. This is simply a supportive place for each one of us to find a pathway to our own spirituality, whatever that may be.”
Members get to know one another while passing joints, singing songs, and through general fellowship, which is made all the more appealing by the on-site video arcade and ping-pong tables.
Altered states in religious practice is hardly new: Sufis, Rastafarians, Haitian Voodoo priests, and many others have used all manner of mind-transforming substances for centuries. Even the Catholic church offers wine during communion.
In the end, anything that’s light on dogma and judgment—and heavy on community, peaceful gathering, and the exploration of one’s belief system in relationship to the cosmos—seems worthy of support and encouragement. These are the darkest of days for many Americans, and the technology that serves us well in many ways has severed us from each other in ways we never planned for or considered. Often, cannabis use lends itself to friends gathering together for an uplifting of the heart and spirit (and, sometimes, the ordering of copious amounts of takeout), so it seems natural to marry that with a place of congregation for people to appreciate the numerous benefits that cannabis offers.
Praise the Lord and pass the dutchie on the left-hand side.