Friday, December 27, 2013

On "A Course in Miracles"

From the December 2010 E-Block.


Some time ago a reader requested that we have a look at A Course in Miracles (CiM), a document supposedly brokered via Helen Schucman via a “rapid inner dictation” over 7 years. This volume, which ends up being over 1000 pages long, uses Christian terminology to relate a sort of universalist/pantheist/Buddhist message of salvation that some believe was inspired by demons.

As a preterist, demonic inspiration is an option I’m not able to countenance, but even if I were of a different persuasion I’d likely not opt for it anyway. The message of CiM is so dull, so repetitive, so vain, and so much like what one can read in countless other volumes of pop psyco-spirituality, that I’d have to say that a demon would have to have done a much better job. Indeed, rather than Helen Schucman being the author, it could be marketed under the name of Eckhart Tolle and no one would be the wiser.

CiM is somewhat evasive for most of its text about what exactly the “miracles” are that you ought to be learning to do. A full 99.5% of the text is mere exhortation; actual instruction has to be rooted out with a microscope. In the end, it is clear that a “miracle” is not so much some sort of feat of divine strength, but rather, in the manner of Dyer and Tolle, a rewriting of your contract with reality so that the problem requiring miraculous intervention doesn’t bother you any more. Thus some of the first lessons in the student workbook say:

#1 – The student is to look around at objects and say, “That ____ does not mean anything.”

#2 - The student is to look around at objects and say, “The meaning that ____ has is all given to it by me.”

#3 – The student is to say of objects, “I do not understand that ___.” (This is meant to “clear your mind of past associations”. Good luck with this tactic in your college coursework, though.)

#6- The student is to say, “I am upset because I see something that is not there.” All objects are seen in light of past experience, we are told; how do you know this object will not be different?

#32 – “I have invented the world I see.”

So it is that at one place in CiM, a miracle is defined as “a correction” that “looks on devastation, and reminds the mind that what it sees is false.” Elsewhere it is said, “Miracles enable you to heal the sick and raise the dead because you made sickness and death yourself, and can therefore abolish both. You are a miracle, capable of creating in the likeness of your Creator. Everything else is your own nightmare, and does not exist. Only the creations of light are real.” That’s no doubt useful thinking in the cancer ward, as long as everyone is properly anesthetized.

The voice of CiM, it becomes clear, is meant to be that of Jesus, but it is a Jesus who would have ended up thrown out of first century Jewish Palestine for lunacy. Many Biblical statements and doctrines are force-reinterpreted into the CiM worldview, for example:

‘No man cometh to the Father but by me’ does not mean that I am in any way separate or different from you except in time, and time does not really exist. The statement is more meaningful in terms of a vertical rather than a horizontal axis. You stand below me and I stand below God….

The Second Coming of Christ means nothing more than the end of the ego’s rule and the healing of the mind.

If a demon inspired this, though, it was a demon that wasn’t very competent at exegesis; and indeed, at one point, doesn’t even seem to know the Bible well:

The Bible tells you to know yourself, or to be certain. Certainty is always of God.

Unfortunately, “know thyself” isn’t actually in the Bible, unless Socrates’ words were snuck in there while we were not looking.

As with the other Tolle-like messages, the epistemology of CiM is also conveniently nondisprovable. If you can’t do “miracles,” the problem is you’re afraid:

The real purpose of this world is to use it to correct your unbelief. You can never control the effects of fear yourself, because you made fear, and you believe in what you made.

You may insist that the Holy Spirit does not answer you, but it might be wiser to consider the kind of questioner you are. You do not ask only for what you want. This is because you are afraid you might receive it, and you would.

You retain thousands of little scraps of fear that prevent the Holy One from entering.

So if you fail the course, there’s always some reason why that is your fault. Fear, we are told, keeps you from realization of what to do, but we’re never told clearly what to do. Most of instructional message of CiM reduces to:

1) You have to do this right for it to work.
2)If you don’t do it right, it won’t work.
3) Here are the things you’ll be able to do if you do it right.

Instructions for doing these miracles, though, never get more specific than such as this:

The miracle abolishes the need for lower-order concerns. Since it is an out-of-patterns time interval, the ordinary considerations of time and space do not apply. When you perform a miracle, I will arrange both time and space to adjust to it.

And you are given instructions to be sure that any time your beliefs are questioned, it is the other guy’s fault; Lesson #135 – “If I defend myself I am attacked.” So no one can correct your epistemology, and you don’t need to defend the authenticity of the CiM message.

Another element imitated in Tolle, et al is that CiM promotes in its readers an egotism so pure that it is practically innocent. This is ironic inasmuch as “ego” is designated as the enemy. Yet the self-image CiM designates for reader is such that it is effectively self-worship, as in:

The Kingdom of Heaven is you. What else but you did the Creator create, and what else but you is His Kingdom?

God Himself orders your thought because you were created by Him.

The lessons offer the same message, one guaranteed to assure the student that they are never in the wrong:

Lesson #35- “My mind is part of God’s. I am very holy.”
Lesson # 36 – “My holiness envelops everything I see” e.g., “My holiness envelops that rug.”
Lesson #38 – “There is nothing my holiness cannot do.” “Your holiness reverses all the laws of the world…[and] is totally unlimited in its power because it establishes you as a Son of God, at one with the Mind of his Creator.”
Lesson #49 – “God’s Voice speaks to me all through the day.”

Unfortunately, CiM is no better than Joyce Meyer, or the Mormons, at explaining the how-to of identification of this voice. Lesson #106 says, “If you will lay aside the ego’s voice, however loudly it may seem to call; if you will not accept its petty gifts that give you nothing that you really want; if you listen with an open mind, that has not told you what salvation is; then you will hear the mighty Voice of truth, quiet in power, strong in stillness, and completely certain in Its messages.” So what it boils down to is, you know when you’ve failed because you have failed.

But there’s more to feed the non-egotistical ego in the CiM graduate:

Lesson #61 – “I am the light of the world.” (And, it’s your job to enlighten those lacking these truths.)
Lesson #77 – “I am entitled to miracles.”
Lesson #124 – “Let me remember I am one with God…How holy are our minds! And everything we see reflects the holiness within the mind at one with God and with itself.”
Lesson #186 – “Salvation of the world depends on me.”

Finally, CiM offers its own correctives to Christian concepts, such as:

God does not believe in retribution…He does not hold your ‘evil’ deeds against you.

Sacrifice is a notion totally unknown to God. It arises solely from fear, and frightened people can be vicious.

When you recognize what you are and what your brothers are, you will realize that judging them in any way is without meaning.

Lesson #101 – “God’s will for me is perfect happiness…There is no sin, it has no consequence.”

Lesson #103 – “God, being love, is also happiness.” (That’s a definition of agape that the ancients would have had some fun with.)

So what can we say in close? CiM is a thousand plus pages of virtually nothing, and especially nothing with any epistemic warrant. It offers a self-closing system whereby the student can assure themselves that the CiM system cannot be proven wrong by any means.

In other places, something like that would be called a cult.

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