NR: Another difficult
concept to deal with in the Course is that when we recognize illusions
for what they are we can laugh at them. Well, certainly emotional
crises are very real and not funny to most folks, such as death, grief,
pain, starvation, and so on. How do you deal with this?
THETFORD: The Course suggests
that we forgot to laugh at the moment we first began to believe illusions
were real. Perhaps one way we can find our way back to our true nature
is to begin to laugh at the foolishness of many of our beliefs. Norman
Cousins has already demonstrated the importance of laughter in the healing
For example, in order to help anyone,
whether in psychotherapy or in everyday life, I don't think we can identify
with the problem. What we need to do is to identify with the answer.
Since any problem is always some form of fear, guilt or separation, our
responsibility is to identify with the only answer that works. In
offering God's love in whatever form is appropriate, we are offering the
only answer that is possible within this world. This certainly does
not imply a lack of compassion, quite the contrary. If I identify
with the problem that you or anyone else has, it simply means that I will
suffer too. And when I join you in suffering, no one gains - rather
we both lose by reinforcing the problem.
The Course says that all of our
problems stem from the belief that we are separated from God, and the only
way out of this is to extend the miracle of love, which is our natural
NR: Some of the people who
begin studying the Course initially are disappointed that it doesn't deal
specifically with some personal, vital questions, such as sex. Why
you know, the Course's real focus is on mind-training. Its emphasis
is on spiritual development rather than the reinforcement of our ego-body
But there's nothing in the Course
that prohibits sex. What it does say is that the body is a neutral
vehicle for the communication of love. What I think the Course is
trying to underscore is that physical union can never solve the problem
of our sense of separation from God, it can only be a substitute for our
attempted union with God. That's why physical gratification as a
goal in a relationship is never lasting, never permanent in unifying individuals.
And that's also true of many other physical and emotional drives we have
that stem from the ego - things that we do to try to permanently unite
us with others, which always result in failure.
NR: Another specific subject
not addressed in the Course and a concern to those who study it is murder
- dealing with it as an illusion or through forgiveness.
THETFORD: Perhaps the difficulty
comes in perceiving another as a body only. I think that's the fundamental
ego-body equation, which is responsible for an enormous amount of our unhappiness,
the very core of it.
Without any doubt, murder is a very
emotional subject for all of us. But the inner transformation that
we are concerned with here has to do with our own shift in perception,
our own ability to recognize that fear is a problem we all have.
Whether it takes the form of murder, attack or loss, what we want to learn
is how to teach love so that fear is no longer a part of our consciousness
and our own awareness, we are helping everyone else do the same thing,
and I think it is through this process that we make our contribution to
a more sane society and world.
NR: Another vital concern
of living this life is death, dying. Why doesn't the Course deal
with this for our peace of mind?
THETFORD: I think it does.
The Course states very clearly that “There is no death. The Son of
God is free.”
In a sense, since we were created
eternal, we literally were never born, hence we can never die. That
is, within the framework of eternity, we have always existed as an extension
of God's love. I think the notion of freshly minted souls coming
into this material world for a few years, and then going into the great
beyond is not the lesson that the Course would teach. The Course
repeatedly states that we remain as God created us; we remain as eternal
aspects of spirit and have never been limited by form. When the body
is no longer alive and animated, it simply means we no longer have a use
for it. Our body has nothing to do with our being alive or dead because
our body is not our true reality.
NR: What about
animals, then? Since the Course doesn't mention them either, where do they
fit in? Or even insects or plants and trees?
THETFORD: The Course frequently
uses the phrase “all living things”. Again, whatever has life has
eternal life. Since all life stems from God and is one and inseparable,
certainly the life force that animates animals and plants is the same as
the life force that animates us.
And I'm always amazed at what animals
can teach us. How quickly a dog for instance can forgive us for stepping
on its paw. It doesn't harbor grudges but shows us instant love the
moment we open the door. Whatever grievances there might have been
are not carried over in a dog's mind. So I think pets are wonderful
teachers of forgiveness for all of us. They are extensions of the
love of God in bringing joy and additional dimensions of love into our
NR: What about killing certain
animals and eating them? How does this fit in with embracing all
life and trying not to be separate from it?
THETFORD: Many people choose
to be vegetarians for very good reasons. Anything that increases
our sense of guilt would not be in our own enlightened self-interest.
So I think students of the Course will determine what is right for them
through listening to their inner guidance.
Jesus taught us not to be so much
concerned about what we put into our mouth as to what we let come out of
it. So it's not what we eat, but our thoughts and how we relate to
others that witnesses to our spiritual progress. What is important
is the opportunity we have each moment to choose between expressing fear
or love in our lives.
NR: From this
premise, then, one could conclude that bodies are not life.
THETFORD: The body is a vehicle
for communication and learning - the source of life is always spiritual.
The Course also teaches us that
whenever we have questions or choices in this life we can ask for help
in make them from our inner guide or as, the Course refers to It, the Holy
NR: Regarding one's inner
guidance, the Course cautions about getting it from the ego, doesn't it?
How do you distinguish between it and the Holy Spirit? How do you
know who's talking?
THETFORD: Well, the Course
says the ego always speaks first and that it's wrong. In order to
hear our inner guidance we must quiet our minds, be willing to let go of
any investment in the answer and listen to that still, small voice within
us. The fact that our inner guidance is never strident, but speaks
to us in a peaceful, loving voice, is a sign of its authenticity, and I
think all of us have to learn with practice to make that distinction.
NR: How do you personally
deal with this problem?
THETFORD: If I am not feeling
peaceful, I know I am listening to the surface static of my ego.
Then I choose once again, and try to let go of the interference so that
I can listen to the gentle voice of my inner guide.
The Course identifies this Voice
as the Holy Spirit. It also says that Jesus is equally available
to us for help in this manner, at all times. In this sense, Jesus
is regarded as our wise older brother, whose message is no different than
the Holy Spirit's, since God's teachers all have the same message.
NR: Do you think such unconventional
references to Jesus and the Holy Spirit, as well as to other “new” concepts
with regard to Christianity are contradictory to traditional Christians?
THETFORD: Well, I think if
you go back to the original teachings of Jesus, the answer is no.
For example, the Course illuminates
and amplifies Jesus’ teachings on the fundamental importance of love and
forgiveness. I think, perhaps, institutionalized religion has sometimes
lost sight of the essence of that message, by its emphasis on guilt.
NR: Then you don't think
the Course challenges Christianity, or any of today's religions?
THETFORD: I think the Course
is clearly in accord with the perennial philosophy underlying all the great
religions. However, there are some fundamental differences, such
as the Course's emphasis on giving up our belief in the reality of sin
and guilt. Religion, as I experienced it when I was younger, seemed
to stress these negative aspects.
The Course, however, continually
tells us that we are guiltless; that we may be mistaken, but that mistakes
call for correction not for punishment. Concepts of guilt, sin, and
punishment are totally alien to the Course's orientation. The Course
states unequivocally that love is our only reality and, “Love does not
kill to save.”
Any religion that emphasizes fear,
guilt, and separation from God would obviously have trouble with the Course's
concept of total unity and love. However, the Course does not discuss
institutional religion, and does not advise anyone to give up membership
in a church. In fact, I think the Course material would be very enhancing
to people who want to develop a richer spiritual life within their own
tradition; it's ecumenical.