Note: I don’t wish to spend too much time regarding how the Course was written. It is well known that it was written by Helen Schucman under the presumed guidance of a "Voice" which said it was Jesus. I find the story of how it came to be very interesting (and perhaps I’ll leave it for the end of these series), but for now suffice to say that there is a book on that subject which I recommend wholeheartedly: Kenneth Wapnick’s Absence from Felicity. In there, Wapnick explains in full detail what happened. I’ve searched online to see if I could find a reliable account on how it was written and the Course’s history, but such reliable information is difficult to find: all of them are too brief. In this article I’ll begin talking about what I understand is what the Course actually says.
Another thing I wish to say is that I will try my best to use the public domain part of the Course as much as I can. However, inevitably, I will use some parts of the Course and other texts which are still under copyright. In such case, I will use this material to a minimum, under "fair use". I’m not interested in making any commercial use of this material, I just wish to use it for exposition and discussion.
The references to the content of the Course will be based on the current third edition of the Course as published by the Foundation for Inner Peace. "T" will represent the "Text", "W" the "Workbook for Students", "M" the "Manual for Teachers", "P" for "Psychotherapy: Purpose, Process and Practice" and "S" for "The Song of Prayer: Prayer, Forgiveness, Healing". Portions of the Text, Psychotherapy, and Song of Prayer will be quoted following the numbers of chapter, section, paragraph and sentence; the Workbook will be quoted with the numbers of part, lesson, paragraph and sentence; finally the Manual and Clarification of Terms will be quoted by the number of subject, paragraph and sentence.
For purposes of analysis, I hope Course students and believers forgive me by not supposing that Jesus inspired the Course, but rather it was Helen herself who wrote it. I’m not saying that Helen lied (I don’t think so), but I do think that the Course is the result of a subconscious or unconscious effort of hers to solve some spiritual issues in her own mind. If you read Absence from Felicity, you will grasp much of the issues she dealt with.
Metaphysics of A Course in Miracles
For all practical purposes, the metaphysics of the Course provides the conceptual foundations for its practical dimension. Before anything, I have to clarify that the Course uses a lot of Christian language which stands for a completely different meaning from Christian doctrine in general. The words "God", "Christ", "Jesus", "Holy Spirit", "miracles", "forgiveness" and so on, have a completely different meaning in the Course. Keep this in mind, and you will avoid a lot of confusions when reading the book.
A Course in Miracles is a gem of a book, mostly because of its poetic nature . If you want to have an idea, let me quote you one of the most beautiful descriptions of Heaven I have ever found in it.
Listen, — perhaps you catch a hint of an ancient state not quite forgotten; dim, perhaps, and yet not altogether unfamiliar, like a song whose name is long forgotten, and the circumstances which you heard completely unremembered. Not the whole song has stayed with you, but just a little wisp of melody, attached not to a person or a place or anything particular. But you remember, from just this little part, how lovely was the song, how wonderful the setting where you heard it, and how you loved those who were there and listened with you.
. . .
Beyond the body, beyond the sun and stars, past everything you see and yet somehow familiar, is an arc of golden light that stretches as you look into a great and shining circle. And all the circle fills with light before your eyes. The edges of the circle disappear, and what is in it is no longer contained at all. The light expands and covers everything, extending to infinity forever shining and with no break or limit anywhere. Within it everything is joined in perfect continuity. nor is it possible to imagine that anything could be outside, for there is nowhere that this light is not.
This is the vision of the Son of God, whom you know well. Here is the sight of him who knows his Father. Here is a memory of what you are; a part of this, with all of it within, and joined to all as surely as all is joined in you. (T-21.I.6:1-3,8:1-6,9:1-3)
Of course, this passage alone can raise questions in my readers’ minds. Behind this lovely passage, there is a series of statements being made. Circle? Light everywhere? Song? and the one that beats all: "a vision of the Son of God… the one we are"? What is going on here?!
The Course teaches that our original state is the condition of being a spirit. Spirit is essentially abstract, changeless, perfect, and eternal. It is its nature to create by extension. The word "extension" does not mean to extend in spatial terms, but that everything that is created is an extension of the Creator’s own being, nothing is separate from the creations’ Source. The word "light" as it is being used in this passage is a metaphor, representing the spiritual state.
The Course says that in heaven (this spiritual state), God (the Father) is the Primer Creator. Through the act of extending, He creates what the Course calls Christ or Son of God. The Course claims that this is our true identity, that we are all the Son of God, the Christ (C-5.5:1). We are part of what the Course calls Sonship, because essentially we are extensions of God, and that we have forgotten this.
It should especially be noted that God has only one Son. If all His creations are His Sons, every one must be an integral part of the whole Sonship. The Sonship in its Oneness transcends the sum of its parts. (T-2.VIII.6:1-3)
This means that Christ is Himself is, properly speaking, "made up" (so-to-speak) but not reducible to extensions of God (Sons of God). This is not elaborated further in the Course, and we assume that this is quite beyond our ability to grasp this reality.
Also, the Course claims that Christ, as every spirit in Heaven, extends himself and creates what it calls his creations. The Course never quite explains what they are, but it is understood that the whole process of extensions goes eternally and infinitely.
As God’s creative Thought proceeds from Him to you, so must your creative thought proceed from you to your creations. Only in this way can all creative power extend outward. God’s accomplishments are not yours, but yours are like His. He created the Sonship and you increase it. You have the power to add to the Kingdom, though not to add to the Creator of the Kingdom. You claim this power when you become vigilant only for God and His Kingdom. By accepting this power as yours you have learned to remember what you are.
Your creations belong in you, as you belong in God. You are part of God, as your sons are part of His Sons. (T-7.I.2:3-3:1).
This is a very important point. God created us as Christ, as His Son, and then we as spirits extend ourselves and create our creations.
The Course often describes Heaven as a state of knowledge and awareness. We know about God and Our Creations, as well as being aware of our true nature. It is a state of pure love which extends itself constantly, and keeps on the creative activity in Heaven. This occurs in eternity, which is not to be understood in temporal terms (as we shall see later). Let us not understand the creative process in terms of temporal causality, but as something that is, has been, and always will be. God, Christ, our creations have always existed.
Another very important principle suggested by the Course is that "ideas leave not their source" (T-26.VII.4:7). An effect can never abandon its source . Christ is a Thought in the Mind of God, and He is the effect of that Thought. We cannot leave our Source or God’s Love even if we wanted to. Our Will is His.
The Separation and the Origins of the Physical World
The Course says that at some point in Heaven, there was a "tiny, mad idea" which the Son of God forgot to laugh at (T-27.VIII.6:2). What was this "tiny, mad idea" we took seriously? The Course does not talk about it in a story-like manner, but it does offer an accurate picture of what was this all about. Part of the Sonship, of the Christ, believed that it could actually leave His Source, God. That even though God is the Primer Creator, the Son of God believed that He could become His own Prime Creator (T-2.I.1:9-12). When that happened, Christ invented another sort of self, which the Course calls the ego (T-4.VII.1:5). It is essentially an attack on God and everything He is, the way He created us in Heaven, and that we can choose to be different. This is the Course’s version of original sin (C-Intro.1:4). The term sin in this context means our choice to separate from God and each other. If God is Love, then sin, by definition, is "lack of love" (T-1.IV.3:1). As we shall see in our next blog post in this series, all of our sins are rooted in this one.
Now, the Course says that in reality this is an illusory state, Christ believed that He could actually change the state of affairs in Heaven (T-2.I.1:8-12). There is absolutely no way Heaven can change, therefore, any experience of whatever is different from Heaven is inherently a dream. As the Course says, Heaven has absolutely no idea about this "false self", this ego, we have made (T-4.II.8:6). The Course describes us as being "at home in God, dreaming of exile but perfectly capable of awakening to reality" (T-10.I.2:1).
Apparently, this original sin led to guilt and fear in the Son of God. According to the Course, the choice to be other than Heaven implies that the world we make will be different from the one God created. Notice that there is a difference between making and creating. For the Course, the ego makes the world, creation can only happen in Heaven. The Course goes on to clarify that God creates by extension, but the ego makes by projection (T-11.intro.3:1), which the Course defines as an inappropriate use of extension (T-2.I.2:7). We will go into the details of projection in other posts, suffice to say that this is the original projection by the ego (what we believe we are), which was the means to make a physical world of time and space. As we shall see in other blog posts, the term "projection" is used here in the Freudian sense of the world, we "project" the content of our mind "outwards" to make the world.
What is the evidence that the world is the result of this original separation from God? The fact that this world is the exact opposite of Heaven. This is a world of separated beings, we perceive ourselves as imperfect physical bodies. It is a world of time where everything begins and ends, very different from that of eternity. A world of concrete forms, the opposite of a Heaven, which is formless and abstract. A world of projection, where we make the world, but in which, ironically we perceive ourselves as bodies, which are the confirmation that somehow the world "created us".
More to the point, this world is in direct contradiction to Heaven. Heaven is a non-dualistic place, because it is the only thing that exists. Yet, this world is dualistic: there is good and evil, good things happen as well as bad things. There is always internal conflict, for good or bad reasons. There is conflict at every level of the world, especially among living beings which seek to survive and to kill. The world was made as an act of separating from God, which is in itself an attack on God (W-p.II.3.2:1-2). This "original sin" leads us to our original guilt. In this new illusory framework, once we made an attack on God, we should expect retaliation from Him, that we will be "punished for our sin". This itself leads to fear. The whole world reflects all of this. The Course describes the physical world in very crude terms:
The world you see is a delusional system of those made mad by guilt. Look carefully at this world, and you will realize that this is so. For this world is the symbol of punishment, and all the laws that seem to govern it are the laws of death. Children are born into it through pain and in pain. Their growth is attended by suffering, and they learn of sorrow and separation and death. Their minds seem to be trapped in their brain, and its powers to decline if their bodies are hurt. They seem to love, yet they desert and are deserted. They appear to lose what they love, perhaps the most insane belief of all. And their bodies wither and grasp and are laid in the ground, and are no more. Not one of them but has thought that God is cruel. (T-13.in.2:2-11)
Heaven is also a world of unity. Since every entity in heaven is perfectly joined with the other, even to the point of Mind and Will (all of God’s creations sharing God’s own Will), this world is one of separation, where everything in the world is ontologically separate from the other. The Course describes it this way.
You who believe that God is fear made but one substitution. It has taken many forms, because it was the substitution of illusion for truth; of fragmentation for wholeness. It has become so splintered and subdivided and divided again, over and over, that it is now almost impossible to perceive it once ws one, and still is what it was. That one error, which brought truth to illusion, infinity to time, and life to death, was all you ever made. Your whole world rests upon it. Everything you see reflects it, and every special relationship that you ever made is part of it.
You may be surprised to hear how very different is reality from what you see. You do not realize the magnitude of that one error. It was so vast and so completely incredible that from it a world of total unreality had to emerge. What else could come of it? Its fragmented aspects are fearful enough, as you begin to look at them. But nothing you have seen begins to show you the enormity of the original error, which seemed to cast you out of Heaven, to shatter knowledge into meaningless bits of disunited perceptions, and to force you to make further substitutions.
That was the first projection of error outward. The world arose to hide it, and became the screen on which it was projected and drawn between you and the truth. (T-18.I.4:1-6:2).
God’s Correction to the Original Error
Although this world seems so real, and it is perceived as very vivid for us, it is almost impossible to imagine for us about the actual existence of Heaven or that the world is our own making. That is the whole idea! The world of perception is a smokescreen to hide the world of knowledge and truth. Yet, was Heaven aware of this? The answer is "no". We can pick some passages of the Course which tell us clearly that Heaven itself has no idea of the separation:
Spirit in its knowledge is unaware of the ego. (T-4.II.8:6)
When God created you He made you part of Him. That is why attack within the Kingdom is impossible. (T-6.IV.2:1-2)
The tiny instant you would keep and make eternal, passed away in Heaven too soon for anything to notice it had come. What disappeared too quickly to affect the simple knowledge of the Son of God can hardly still be there . . . So very long ago, for such a tiny interval of time, that not one note in Heaven’s song was missed. (T-26.V.5:1-2,4).
In essence, the Course does tell us that this original error of the separation did not happen, again, it is all an illusion. We have never separated from God, it never really happened, there is no world, there is reality no world of suffering and death. But what does the Course mean that this all just stopped existing? We are right now, as we speak, surrounded by this world; clearly this whole thing hasn’t "disappeared" in any sense.
The Course uses a wonderful metaphorical language to refer to how has this whole thing disappeared:
You did not believe in your own perfection [in the moment of the separation]. Would God teach you that you had made a split mind, when He knows your mind only as a whole? What God does know is that His communication channels are not open to Him, so that He cannot impart His joy and know is that His communication channels are not open to Him, so that He cannot impart His joy and know that His children are wholly joyous. Giving His joy is an ongoing process, not in time but in eternity. God’s extending outward, though not His completeness, is blocked when the Sonship does not communicate with Him as one. So He thought, "My children sleep and must be awakened."
How can you wake children in a more kindly way than by a gentle Voice that will not frighten them, but will merely remind them that the night is over and the light has come? You merely reassure them that they are safe now. (T-6.V.1:3-2:1)
Of course, since this is all metaphorical, this passage is a bit obscure, but let’s make sense out of that. God does not know the content of our dreams at all, since they are impossible to know. However, when God’s Son "fell asleep", the perfect communication with God is hindered somehow, so God wants to "wake us up".
God’s response, or more properly "God’s Answer", to this falling asleep is to create what the Course calls the Holy Spirit in the Mind of God’s Son, which corrected the error of the separation. As we will learn later, the Holy Spirit offers our split mind the choice of correcting all of the different ways we reaffirm our separated mind. Since the Holy Spirit is the communication link between God and our separated mind, His existence is the reaffirmation that the separation never happened. We should not assume that what the Course describes metaphorically happened in temporal terms. Time only exists in this world, not in heaven. So, the whole separation and correction did not happen at all. Thus the Holy Spirit is the Voice for God in our split mind, and invites us gently to come back home.
Some Critical Comments
All of this metaphysical doctrine is the foundation for the practical side of the Course. One word ahead of time, though. The Course does not actually advocate its students in real practical denial of the world’s existence. According to the Course, we actually do believe in it, and we should operate according to that belief. The undoing of our ego comes from other sorts of suggestions made by the Course, especially following our right mind or the Holy Spirit.
This entire metaphysical thought system reminds me of the Ancient Gnostics. In fact, I knew about the Gnostics precisely during my years in the Course, especially through a conference given by Kenneth Wapnick called Atonement without Sacrifice which is no longer available for purchase (and I suggest that if he won’t make it into a commercial product, he should release it to the public at least under a CC-BY-ND-NC license, although I would recommend a CC-BY-ND license). However, I will suggest you go and read his book Love Does not Condemn, which discusses the relationship between Judeo-Christianity, Gnosticism and the Course. It is very well written, based on the most solid Bible scholarship available when he wrote it, and it is very, very illuminating on the matter.
Ancient Gnosticism taught something very closely similar to the Course. When Christianity began growing in regions of gentility, it was greatly influenced by Platonism and Stoicism. We can see Middle Platonism evolve in Christianity shortly after being adopted by the late-first century Church, as we can see in the Post-Pauline letters and the Johanine community. This Platonist branch further evolved into other branches, one of them are historically known as Gnostics. Gnosticism in all of its forms established that the true nature of the members of Gnosticism came from a place they called a "Pleroma", which is their equivalent of Heaven. One of God’s emanations (aeons) called by some Sophia, separated from God, an act which made possible the creation of another being which, depending on which Gnostic group, it would be called the "Damiurge" (using Platonic terminology), "Ialtabaoth", "Yaltabaoth", "Ialdabaoth", or even "Tetragrammaton". For Gnostics, this was Yahweh, the god of the Old Testament, who established some rulers of this world (archons) and trapped souls from the Pleroma in the human body. Yet, for Gnostics, this world is not an illusion. Yet, the duty of every Gnostic was to reject the world in one way or another. This was the message of ancient Gnostic texts such as The Gospel of Mary Magdalen and The Gospel of Judas.
We will see though, as I pointed out, that rejecting the world is not the Course’s answer. I think that Helen Schucman, the scribe of the Course, wanted to solve many spiritual conflicts within her. As it happens to all of us, religious and non-religious people who are acquainted with theistic religions, we all ask the same question: if God is Love, is all good, why is there evil in the world? Schucman’s answer was to establish a Gnostic-like (although unlike in other aspects) universe, where Heaven and God are real, and He can only create perfect creations, the world as such is an illusion He didn’t create. I don’t know if Helen knew about Gnosticism when she was writing the Course, but even if she didn’t, this would be a natural way to conceive God, even when it radically departs from Christianity.
Of course, about 99.99% of the people who know about the Course, and is acquainted with the doctrine of the separation and origin of the world, don’t fail to ask the following question: "If Heaven was perfect, and Christ was perfect, and His Mind is part of God’s Mind … etc … etc… etc… how come did the Son of God "make a mistake" and believe in the separation? The Course answers this question in three different ways … none of which satisfies me nor any student of the Course:
1. First, it says that the separation itself did not happen at all, so in no real sense the separation (the original error) happened. However, our ego, our own false self, gives itself reality by asking this very question on how it occurred.
Who asks you to define the ego and explain how it arose can be but he who thinks it real, and seeks by definition to ensure that its illusive nature is concealed behind the words that seem to make it so.
There is no definition for a lie that serves to make it true. (C-2:5-3:1)
2. Second, the Course says that asking this is a meaningless question, since the Course states that it didn’t happen at all, it is an impossibility. Why ask, then, if an impossibility really happen?
The ego will demand many answers that this course does not give. It does not recognize as questions the mere form of a question to which an answer is impossible. The ego may ask, "How did the impossible occur?, "To what did the impossible happen?", and may ask this in many forms. Yet there is no answer; only an experience. Seek only this, and do not let theology delay you. (C-intro.4)
3. Finally, the Course asks us to wait, because eventually we will have a revelatory experience which will answer that and many other questions. So, we must, essentially stop wasting our time thinking and researching about this question:
There is no need to further clarify what no one in the world can understand. When revelation of your oneness comes, it will be known and fully understood. Now we have work to do, for those in time can speak of things beyond, and listen to words which explain what is to come is past already. Yet what meaning can the words convey to those who count the hours still, and rise and work and go to sleep by them? (W-169.10).
How does all of this fit with any practical aspects of an every day life? We will see that in other posts.
There is one final matter, though. If the separation didn’t really happen, how did God "feel" (so-to-speak) the need to provide an Answer and create the Holy Spirit. There are two answers possible views to the question. The first possible answer to the question is that this whole story of God creating the Holy Spirit is another metaphoric language of the Course. Kenneth Wapnick initially took a more traditional view of the Course, that the Holy Spirit is a real being created by God, Who extends in the Son’s mind. Yet at some point, he changed his mind, and Wapnick started saying that the Holy Spirit could not be really God’s Answer to something which didn’t happen and that God was not even aware of. That the Holy Spirit is a perfect memory of God which came into the dream when we separated from God.
The other point of view is the traditional one, which has been championed by the Circle of Atonement, and that is to take the Course more or less at its word. That indeed the creation of the Holy Spirit actually is the evidence that the separation did not happen.
From my point of view, it seems to me that both of these answers have their problems. As it has been pointed out accurately by the Circle of Atonement, Wapnick’s views on this issue are not supported in any way by the Course, and there is no explicit association of the Holy Spirit with a memory which the Son carried in his split mind at the moment of the separation. On the other hand, the problem of the Circle of Atonement is that, even when it tries to provide textual arguments for their position (and they have the textual evidence), it all comes back to how did God respond to something that didn’t happen. Even the Course says that the separation ended as soon as it began, even to the point of Heaven not even being aware that such a thing happened (T-26.V.5:1). As I said in my previous post on these series, the reason for the confusion regarding this subject is that the Course is not clear where we would like it to be clear. At the end of the day, the ontology of the Holy Spirit is directly linked to the separation from God, whose question on how "it happened" the Course never really answers.
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