Religion in America is in flux. As this AP story notes, the definition of a church – usually seen as a non-profit entity and protected as such by the federal government – is quickly evolving. On the right, they are becoming political juggernauts, swaying elections even as organized Christianity is on the wane. On the left and center, however, we get stuff like the Hummingbird Church where one visitor “started howling, sobbing, laughing and repeatedly babbling ‘wah, wah’ like a child.”

The church, based in Utah, focuses on ayahuasca and “sells” psychedelic retreats to parishioners. From the article:

The rising demand for ayahuasca has led to hundreds of churches like this one, which advocates say are protected from prosecution by a 2006 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. In that case, a New Mexico branch of a Brazilian-based ayahuasca church won the right to use the drug as a sacrament — even though its active ingredient remains illegal under U.S. federal law. A subsequent lower court decision ruled Oregon branches of a different ayahuasca church could use it. 

“In every major city in the United States, every weekend, there’s multiple ayahuasca ceremonies. It’s not just a twice-a-year thing,” said Sean McAllister, who represents an Arizona church in a lawsuit against the federal government after its ayahuasca from Peru was seized at the port of Los Angeles. 

The priests call it a weekend of healing and each session costs about $900.

Here’s the question: are these churches, businesses, or both? And are churches that espouse political beliefs and take in donations on the same spectrum? Ultimately, this battle will probably destroy religion and release psychedelics onto the world en masse, but it will take a while and places like the Hummingbird Church are leading the way.

By John Biggs

John Biggs is an entrepreneur, consultant, writer, and maker. He spent fifteen years as an editor for Gizmodo, CrunchGear, and TechCrunch and has a deep background in hardware startups, 3D printing, and blockchain. His work has appeared in Men’s Health, Wired, and the New York Times.

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