Disclaimer: This Review Will Most Likely Evolve
In this article, I wish to explore the fundamental tenets of A Course In Miracles. I’ll do my earnest to circumvent any fluff and just cover the main points and my understanding of them. Of course, my opinion is liable to change, as to be expected for that is the nature of growth. Therefore, below is my personal experience with the material and my interpretation based on my “current” understanding.
A Quick Recap: history was quickly unfolding, noticeably bearing the philosophical markings of the Course.
- Platonic/Neoplatonic thought constructed a rational system composed of the invisible world and a phenomenal world. The former being the residence of the One (God) from which the individual soul and the phenomenal (visible) world emanates.
- René Descartes deconstructed the phenomenal world, making it basically unknowable apart from the mind, which being separate from the body must be somehow connected to that invisible world; likened to the soul.
- Franz Mesmer posited this invisible world was magnetized, and physical healing could occur by tuning the body magnetically with the invisible world i.e. animal magnetism. Emphasizing the power of the invisible world (think in terms of Spirit) – the world apart from our senses – and it’s healing effects.
- Phineas Quimby, as well as many others, proposed the invisible world is ultimately mental (Idealism), and any abnormality in the phenomenal world is due to a discontinuity with its mental counterpart (claiming what Mesmer did without the magnetic mumbo jumbo).
- Mary Baker Eddy synthesized Christian thought with this mental system, ultimately claiming that the phenomenal world is illusory, and used Christian terms to define and categorize this. In a word, she claimed that the visible world is merely a projection from one’s sin nature – an “extension” of a lie.
- Boom! A Course In Miracles was born.
Do your best to keep the above history of thought in mind while examining the following doctrines. Ultimately, it’s the framework for the subsequent discussion.
What Does The Historical Record Emphasize
The sequence outlined emphasizes the diminishing significance of the physical life i.e. matter, time, and space, and amplified significance of the mind i.e. that which is transcendent (in terms of matter, time, and space) – equating mind with soul or spirit.
Of course, a myriad of brilliant thinkers have filled in the immense gaps I left and history is saturated with arguments opposing these ideas. I do not have the space to record all the history of thought.
Read Bertrand Russell’s History Of Western Philosophy or Will Durant’s Story Of Philosophy for a more exhaustive record.
However, I am trying to mark the linear sequence of one way of thinking and also do so in a very limited fashion. In a manner of speaking, if you think of all the schools of thought as a massive web, I’m attempting to follow merely one string, and very broadly.
(I go more in-depth on schools which I believe had a profound influence on A Course In Miracles – read it here)
The Beginning – Transcription (Inner Dictation)
The author – Helen Schucman – claims to have not written the book. Instead, her story is that she followed the promptings of a voice within her – therefore, she declared herself a scribe rather than the writer – indeed, she merely transcribed the Course from inner dictation.
Perhaps this mode of dictation – “inner dictation” -can be traditionally traced back to Spiritism; though the use of mediums as a means to divine revelation is ancient, the founder of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy (who had a notable impact on Schucman), was an avid practitioner of Spiritism – or at least of a variety of principles inherent in the system.
Thus, when she began to hear a voice, which she claimed identified as Jesus of Nazareth, and it softly spoke, “This is a course in miracles, please take notes,” she naturally began to transcribe His words.
The result? A curriculum for spiritual transformation known as A Course In Miracles…
William Thetford also played a vital role in authoring the book. Schucman took notes shorthand which Thetford later wrote. It should be noted that he had a strong penchant for Vedanta Philosophy (as did Mary Baker Eddy) – do not be surprised to see strong Hindu elements within the Course.
Doctrinally The Course Can Be Difficult To Apprehend
“A Universal Theology Is Impossible, But A Universal Experience Is Not Only Possible But Necessary.”
Harkening back to Plato’s two worlds, the Course In like manner proposes two thought systems each representing their respective world – the world as it is and the world we see.
However, the A Course In Miracles posits a nonduality; that is, reality is only One. Therefore, space, time, and matter cannot exist since they are contingent on duality. Nonetheless, there is a world that we see and a world as it is – similar to Neoplatonism and it’s emanations from the Creator, wherein God extends His nature or projects His image resulting in creation and the appearance of duality.
The major difference being the Course seems to don humans with this capacity, thus the ability to extend oneself and project an illusory world – to create in one’s own image, in contrast to the image of God. This is, in my current understanding, the distinction that is crucial for the sound interpretation of the text.
“We see the world, not as it is, but as we are — or, as we are conditioned to see it. When we open our mouths to describe what we see, we in effect describe ourselves, our perceptions, our paradigms.”
– Stephen Covey
Truth Is Experiential; Facts Are Fictions
Nothing real can be threatened.
Nothing unreal exists.
Herein lies the peace of God
Schucman calls the thought system of the real world “knowledge,” since it corresponds with reality. Reality, however, exists only in the mind and only in a mind which corresponds with the Divine, aligning the emanations as it were.
Thus, the mind in right relationship with reality will project the thoughts from the Mind of God e.g. love, forgiveness, unity, creativity, etc. that which is likened to His nature. In the Course, this is called right-mindedness.
Perception Is Split In Two => Right-mindedness vs. Wrong-mindedness
It should be stated, however, that true knowledge can never be attained fully i.e. one-mindedness. Instead, we merely are granted glimpses; as perceptual beings, we can only arrive at true perception as mediated by the Holy Spirit, and even this is fleeting. This correction of the perception, aligning it with the emanations of the Source, is what the Course refers to as a miracle
In addition, the way the A Course In Miracles uses terms by necessity modifies their modern connotations. For example, “knowledge” usually implies a subject who knows and the object being known – a duality as it were. But recall from the beginning of the article that the Course subscribes to nonduality and therefore cannot adhere to a subject-object dichotomy. Consequently, this form of knowledge must be purely an experience with the One – disassembling the illusion of individuality viz. one-mindedness.
That being said, what the Course really presents is three individual thought systems because the world as we see it is divided into two parts:
- Knowledge – nonduality (one-mindedness)
- True Perception – duality becomes a classroom (right-mindedness)
- Perception – imprisoned in duality (wrong-mindedness)
If You Can’t Wrap Your Head Around Nonduality Then The Concept Of Space-Time Being Illusory Will Evade You, So Let Me Break It Down Further
Since reality is God, He could be the only source from which knowledge could be acquired. However, He must be a rational source, and thus being rational must also be Mind.
Moreover, since the human mind is an agent of the Spirit (Spirit being the thoughts of God – who is mental), it too exists outside of space-time (which can be used as a demarcation line of sorts in determining what mind you project: the image of self or the image of God?).
Let Me Paint A Picture Of The Image Of Self: The Illusion Is Simply A Time-Penitentiary
Space-time projections usually consist of regrets or resentments of the past, and/or fear and anxiety over whatever wreckage the future may hold. Rather than be consumed by the present eternal moment the extended image of self is always trapped in time, dwindling on sheer terror and madness…it separates itself from time eternal – this is ultimately the separation that begets illusion and every form of inner turmoil. No place is the time-penitentiary better captured than in the definition of the spiritual malady presented by Dr. Silkworth in the book Alcoholics Anonymous, wherein he described the ethos of space-time as “restless, irritable, and discontent.”
Why? Because the self-projected world is always lacking in something. Or, is under attack and thus may lose whatever provisions it does have at any moment. Yet, there is no lack and the attack is self-imposed – only a soul in a time-trap it can’t spring.
Must this necessarily be so? Does this not laugh at the reality of one’s current experiences? Does not the measurement of time appropriate invaluable information for the survival of the species?
The Real World Existing Is Dependent Upon The Operation Of Time
If God is immutable, changeless, and constant and, as truth, is also unalterable, eternal, and unambiguous then reality cannot be compatible with space and time which is the exact opposite of these attributes.. It must be something other than i.e. eternity (the unending succession of present moments). However, if the mind is of God, then the mind must also be other than (that is, capable of living in eternity now). The reality, defined in this way, must be seen as completely spiritual. A projection of the image of God as it were.
Yet, how do we account for the reality of space and time? In my understanding, it is a result of a hiccup in the emanations of God’s eternal nature wherein man seeks to create emanations of his own image – the result is a temporal-illusory nature.
To dig a bit deeper, qualities such as fear, self-pity, self-centeredness, bitterness, and death are similar projections of the image of man and by that very fact they require hidden assumptions of transience, scarcity, and separation – all contingent upon time to exist and since existence is eternal, time in this sense cannot exist – they are then unreal. Once more, the above attributes (transience, scarcity, and separation) are contrary to the nature of God – who is EVERYTHING – and therefore technically cannot exist.
Perception Is That Which Separates From Eternity, Time Is Then Best Understood As A Dream
The “perception” is then likened to a dream, or faulty core belief of disconnect, separation, and scarcity. In this dream world of warring fragments and wanting resources, an individual will foster a voracious appetite for self-gratification and will do so by any means. The dilemma only deepens when the realization dawns that this misperception only grows stronger when fought against. Why? Because it projects a world which validates its flawed beliefs.
Every worldview is dependent upon presuppositions, or assumptions necessary to make sense of human experience. However, the startling dilemma with this is that anything in disagreement with those initial presuppositions cannot be reconciled with the worldview, regardless of how obvious they may be. For example, if one of my presuppositions is that no one can be trusted, then I will be unable to see trustworthy people. Why? Because those who appear trustworthy I will rationalize as being not so. I will unconsciously seek out friendships and relationships with individuals who will verify my belief – that’s the nature of the myopic mind; detached from the larger much broader vision of The Mind.
When Postmodernism Strikes! An Interesting Side Note.
In addition, since perception resides within space-time it is thus victim to change, flux, and chance and therefore cannot claim facts; what’s left are mere interpretations – which the course claims is illusory because with no regularity nothing can actually be known, what’s left is fiction…and a divisive fiction at that.
if this doesn’t scream postmodernism then I don’t know what does; but, when in Rome do as the Romans do right? And was this not the craze of the late twentieth century? There was not a better time in history for the Course to postulate this doctrine…interesting right?
So Where Do Focus Our Attention If Everything Is Seemingly Fictitious
The mind, therefore, is clothed in divine nature and is consequently the only locality of truth or error, fact or fiction, and ultimately three different worlds. So, what do we do? How do we handle it?
Is science just a waste of time? Are all the lives saved every second from modern medicine just illusory? Why not just kill our body if it is actually doesn’t exist?
Beyond Philosophical Implications
I do not believe Schucman is arguing against the validity of Scientific claims. Furthermore, I do not even slightly think this book is a polemic against any philosophical school of thought. Instead, I believe this book bears the markings of what I call an “emotional treatise.”
Indeed, it’s a discourse on the internal life – the world of emotions, values, faith, intimacy, love, and other “passions” to which science cannot account. Thus, rather than a philosophical battleground, I would argue the course is more of an epic, a poem which flows from the passions made legible in space-time.
Though undergirded by philosophical and psychological concepts, it seeks not “prove” itself but rather seeks to carry the reader into a transformative experience. Therefore, read the book as you would mythology, looking for the deeper meaning behind the signs and symbols.
The difficult aspect of the course is that its sole aim is altering perception or renewing/recreating/correcting a faulty worldview. However, it fails to deliver practical or pragmatic ways to sustain this in one’s daily living. The assumption is that once the alteration has taken place the practical application naturally follows – however, this is where I believe it falls short.
Myriad programs have been offering methods or knowledge necessary for this “rebirth” while leaving the spiritual neonate unsure what to do other than just think really hard.
This is where programs like the 12-Steps, in utter simplicity, blast people to the fourth dimension of existence.
Perhaps it’s the practical application first (give a man a fish and he eats for the day) and an internal paradigm shift naturally follows (teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime). While learning, a man must still eat, and this is where he is fed the practical application.
The Most Practical Truth I Could Flesh Out
The Gospel Principle
Of first importance is a principle which has fueled Christian spirituality for two millennia: the gospel. Despite the deviation from traditional doctrines, for all intents and purposes, The Course uses the gospel as a framework for its system albeit in a heretical way at least per Biblical literalist.
Fundamentalism notwithstanding, to ignore the influence of Christianity on the book and to dismiss gospel relevance is to simply willfully ignore the obvious.
The gospel has a specific trajectory; one the Course follows as well. It’s one from
How this is maintained on a daily basis I believe is where one departs from theory and moves into the realm of application.
Individual-Oriented Identity Versus Communal-Oriented Identity
Let’s consider that the common plight of man is to envision a world myopically and to act accordingly. Unfortunately, never seeing the picture in its entirety one’s left attempting to justify what is absent. This incessant justification and need “to prove” is what leads to shame – because one is never proven, one is never justified.
Recall, the temporal-illusory world is a result of man attempting to play God and creatively project his image onto the world. When man plays God and extends himself on the universe, he creates a limited universe, bound by time, matter, and space. Yet, by taking on the duty of God (projecting his image) he falls prey to the delusion that he too is unlimited. And failing in this endeavor, he lives with deep shame and condemnation.
Thus, the need for forgiveness. This has little to do with pardoning what should be punishment, but an undoing of sorts, a clearing away a system of misperception. This is the miracle, this is the atonement, this is salvation.
Thus, forgiveness is a form of transcendence. And this miracle is deeply interpersonal for it requires seeing oneself as ultimately part of collective sonship (The Christ is the term The Course uses). It’s breaking free from individuality and understanding oneself communally or relationally.
Live With “The Other” In Mind
In short, it’s recognizing one’s limitations, embracing them wholeheartedly, and acceptance that together we can never fall short. Hence why forgiveness is born out of love. For love implies relationship and truth is relational (the Trinity is relational yet a nonduality – an antimony for sure but I believe represents consummate individuality in a comma context).
Thus, true perception is to act with the “other” in mind. This is super practical. When faced with a decision simply act in accord with this principle…” do unto others.”
Follow this exercise:
- Every night make a written record of all the decisions throughout the day that were made with the other in mind. Then record all the decisions that were not.
- Were you selfish or selfless? Give examples.
- Were you honest or dishonest? Give examples? Did you naturally think of yourself only or were others naturally a part of the equation?
- Were you inconvenienced for another today? If not, how could you be inconvenienced for another person tomorrow?
This is the catalyst for growth – the miracle-gro for the spirit.
Simplicity, that’s what Dr. Bob, co-founder of A.A., always raved about. And I know for certain he would have lambasted the Course; though Bill W, the other co-founder, would have revered it. See, AA was founded upon practical application (Dr. Bob style) grounded by deep theological speculation (Bill W style).
Think about it. The Bible is literally about grace – in its entirety – but the one Bible passage they chose for their book was “faith without works is dead.”
Indeed, seemingly the most controversial scripture regarding grace. However, spiritual transformation is found at the nexus where grace (input) meets effort (output). This is what makes A.A. so brilliant, the emphasis on the mind meeting the feet. Why am I mentioning this?
Let me explain…
A Course In Miracles presents a very real danger of fostering deep theological speculation and inhibiting life transformation – even though that’s the main drive of the book. The sheer size of the book can create students who, in the words of J.I. Packer, “know a lot about God but little of him.”
Focus on the experience it seeks to carry you into, do not get caught up in concepts, dogma, or doctrines. Forms are fun for inquisitive minds but do not allow those forms to be hollow, void of substance. Wrestle with concepts, dogma, and doctrine only inasmuch as they are fleshed out into your day to day encounters. How do you know when you’re accomplishing this ideal? Well, examine your relationship with others.