Excerpts from: A Course
By Kenneth Wapnick, Ph.D.
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS
CLARKE: I think we have now covered the main points of disagreement between the Course and Christianity, as the two of us see it, and the time has now come to move toward a conclusion. Let me gather together into a condensed summary just how these differences work out.
1) Christianity believes that God created this material world, out of nothing preexisting, that it is imperfect but still an image of God and basically good, and a theater for our moral and spiritual growth toward the full stature of sons and daughters of God on pilgrimage toward final blissful union with God in transformed or "glorified" bodies in Heaven. The Course believes this material world is not the product of God at all, but of part of the original Christ consciousness that broke off in a kind of dream of separation from God (not a real separation) and produced this material world as a kind of dream world or thought projection as an expression of the ego's attempt to escape from God. God does not even know of the existence of this "dream world" because it is in fact unreal.
2) For Christianity, Jesus is the Son of God, Second Person of the Triune God, hence possessing the same divine nature as his Father, who has freely taken on a real body and human nature, born of Mary, walked the human journey in a body in this material world in order to show us how to live as authentic children of God, really died on the cross to atone for our sins, and rose again in a real but glorified body to dwell as such forever with his Father and the Holy Spirit in Heaven. The Course believes that Jesus is not really divine in nature, but is part of the original Christ consciousness that tried to break off from God to create the dream world we are living in now, but was the first one to wake up from this dream and recognize it as such, and is now a loving teacher who helps the rest of us wake up, too. Hence he has no real body, nor did he therefore really die on the cross nor rise from the dead holding on to a real body forever. All this is only part of the dream world of thought projection of the ego as separated from God.
3) According to Christianity, Jesus really died on the cross to atone for human sins, to teach us both the depth of evil in serious sin and the even greater depth of divine love as willing to forgive us and restore us to an even higher union with God. He rose from the dead in a real but glorified body to carry out effectively this restoration of us to an even closer union with God than we had before our sins. The Course, on the other hand, teaches that Jesus never really died on the cross; his "dream" body was indeed put on the cross but only appeared to die according to the thought projection of those who wished to put him to death and so get rid of him and of God in the process. He therefore did not really rise in a real body, which was never real in the first place. The Gospel account is just symbolic of the remembrance of Jesus by his disciples.
4) According to Christian teaching, the Eucharist is the sacrament of the transformation of bread and wine into the real body and blood of Christ, veiled under the appearances of bread and wine, which is the endlessly repeated memorial of the death of Jesus for our sins that takes place in the Catholic Mass or Eucharistic liturgy. For the Course, there cannot be any such real transformation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus, because he never had such a real body in the first place. It is only a memorial, therefore, of the love of Jesus for us.
5) According to the Course, the nature of the dream world we are now living in is that it does not represent a genuine reality but only a thought projection of an apparent separation from God from which arose our illusory ego and its weaving of this dream of a material world separate from God as an escape of the ego from its dream of the pursuing vengeance of God. This dream world was not produced by our present individual egos, but by one original ego which broke off in its thought world and then progressively fragmented into the multiple egos we experience as individual human beings today. But once in this dream world, we have to live in it and cope with it in a morally responsible and loving, forgiving way, as Jesus taught us, so that we may wake up from the dream as soon as the lesson of our schooling in this "classroom" is completed, and turn back again to the blissful union with God we never really lost. Christian thinkers object to the idea that we never really sinned or turned away from God, and that in a dream world we could have the necessary free will to make genuine moral decisions or decide to return to God. They fear the reality and central importance of the moral world would disappear, since only real persons, they believe, can make authentic moral decisions.
WAPNICK: Well, I think again we are quite in agreement over these main points, but I would like to restate some of the points you made regarding the Course, especially in relation to the position of Christianity.
To begin with, A Course in Miracles would certainly disagree that the "final blissful union with God" occurs in a transformed or "glorified" body. Its position, as we have seen, is that bodies keep us separate and in a state unlike our true Identity as spirit and Christ, God's one Son. Therefore, you would never find a dichotomy such as St. Paul made between God's only Son, Jesus, and the rest of us, God's adopted sons.
Regarding Jesus, A Course in Miracles would not deny that Jesus is divine, as long as it is understood that so is everyone else as Christ, and that ontologically there is no difference between us. However, it is also the case that in Christ there is no individuality. God's one Son has but one name: Christ. The Course would also not speak of Jesus as having been part of the "original Christ consciousness that tried to break off from God," etc. Again, to speak in such a manner gives the separation a reality the Course emphatically states never happened. Nor would it even use the word "consciousness" to describe the state of Christ, since that is an inherently dualistic term that belies the non-dualistic unity of Heaven.
Coming to the crucifixion of Jesus, I would like to add to your comments, Norris. The Jesus of A Course in Miracles was demonstrating the inherent falsity of the unconscious thought we hold that we have killed God and His Love. By allowing the dreamers of the world's dream -- the separated ones -- to act out in form their unconscious belief of murdering God and crucifying His Son, Jesus demonstrated: 1) the body is not our reality; 2) God, His Son, and Their Love cannot be destroyed; and 3) the dream of death had no effect on him, since he was not asleep, and therefore invulnerable to the attack thoughts and behavior within the dream. As I said before, the Course states that the message of the crucifixion is: "Teach only love, for that is what you are."
One more point about Jesus and the Gospels: Since the biblical account of Jesus is so discrepant from the one in the Course, one could not truly say, as you did, that according to the Course "the Gospel account is just symbolic of the remembrance of Jesus by his disciples." I am reminded of something you said to me many years ago, Norris. After hearing me state that the Course came as a correction to Christianity, you commented, and quite accurately, that when you correct something you retain the basic framework of the original. But A Course in Miracles retains nothing of the original framework of Christianity. And the same could just as truly be said about the Course and the biblical account of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection.
Similarly regarding the doctrine of the Eucharist: As we have seen, there are at least two passages in the Course that specifically refute the Church's teachings about Jesus' desire to share his body with his followers. However, like anything else of the egos world, the ritual of communion could be used by the Holy Spirit to serve a different purpose -- in this case, as a reminder that Jesus came to share his mind with us, not his body. But in and of itself, the sacrament has no meaning apart from this general purpose of forgiveness.
Finally, while A Course in Miracles would not really use the term "morally responsible" as it is commonly used in our society, it certainly would encourage its students to live in a loving and forgiving way, as you mentioned. Moreover, as we have discussed, the Course quite emphatically encourages its students to be responsible, but on a much deeper level. As students of A Course in Miracles, we are asked to be totally responsible for all our thoughts, which come from our mind's decision to join with the ego or with Jesus. From that decision come our beliefs, feelings, and behavior. If this underlying decision is not changed from the ego to the Holy Spirit -- from the wrong to the right mind -- then simply modifying behavior will never heal. And in the long run this would reinforce a lack of responsibility on all levels of our experience -- as is witnessed by the history of this planet -- since we had not assumed the primary responsibility for our original decision to be separate from the Love of God.
To make the point still once again, the essential characteristic of A Course in Miracles that lies at the core of the differences you have nicely summarized is that it is a non-dualistic spirituality. Christianity, as Judaism before it, is a dualistic thought system in which God and the world, spirit and matter, co-exist as separate states, both of which are real. Reality is thus seen to be a dimension of opposites -- as with good and evil -- in marked distinction from the Course's understanding of reality as being only perfect unity in which there are no opposites.
But we certainly, once again, agree that it is not helpful for people, whether they are students of the Course, Roman Catholics, Protestants, Hindus, or whatever their spiritual path, to confuse the different paths. As was mentioned right at the beginning, the Course says it is only one path among many thousands.
CLARKE: You are very honest and forthright about that, and I admire this very much. In fact, you are the one who invited me to share this dialogue with you, in order to make perfectly clear to people interested in the Course the differences between it and traditional Christianity, that the two are not compatible. You asked me to state the differences clearly and strongly, not gloss them over. One of the difficulties, as the Course moves around and spreads its influence, is that not a few people, including some Catholic priests and nuns, do tend to gloss over these differences or try to combine things from both or assimilate the Course into Christianity because both speak of Jesus. This ends up causing considerable confusion, I regret to say.
WAPNICK: It is very confusing. What it ends up doing is watering down both the richness of the Christian tradition as well as the richness of A Course in Miracles. And I agree with you, that it is much more honest to say that these are the differences, and that if this is the path that brings me closer to God, then this is the path I will follow; and if another path does the same thing, then that is the path I should follow.
CLARKE: Yes, I have no difficulty in people following different paths, as long as they do it sincerely, honestly...
WAPNICK: I know you don't. That's unusual, you know.
CLARKE: I have seen so many people who have followed different paths with great fruit, East and West. I have known many such wonderful people in the Eastern tradition.
WAPNICK: There is a line in the Course, actually, that states: "A universal theology is impossible, but a universal experience is not only possible but necessary" (manual, p. 73; C-in.2:5). And that universal experience would be the experience of the Love of God.
CLARKE: Well said!
WAPNICK: I think that because we are so fragmented, so separate, and so different, that to reach the goal of having that universal experience we each need different spiritual paths. And that in the end, one path is not any better than any other. In the end, in fact, all paths disappear into the Love of God.
CLARKE: Well, one could argue whether one is better than the other.
WAPNICK: That is another dialogue...
CLARKE: With respect to this point of not confusing different paths, let me ask you a practical question which has me a bit puzzled. I feel there are a number of particular spiritual and psychological insights from the practical level of the Course, such as I mentioned earlier, that can be used with profit by all religious people, including Christians. But it seems that many teachers of the Course throughout the country, and elsewhere, focus just on the practical teachings on this level and omit, almost entirely, mention of the deeper metaphysical and theological teachings of Level One -- the dream and its origins, etc. This, too, can cause confusion for some Christians. So may I ask you what you think of this practice, whether it is sound practice in the true spirit of the Course to teach Level Two without the background and foundation of Level One, in a word, to separate the practice from the theory. Is this legitimate and wise to try to help people this way?
WAPNICK: No, not in my opinion. There are many other spiritualities that would teach, as does A Course in Miracles, that forgiveness is to be preferred to holding grievances, that developing a relationship with Jesus or the Holy Spirit is essential to our return home, that God loves us and does not seek to destroy us, etc. However, there is no other spirituality that I am aware of that combines a nondualistic metaphysics with the very sophisticated psychology one finds in the Course. And one that places the meaning of forgiveness in the context of this non-dualistic metaphysics. When one removes this context from the teaching of forgiveness, one has truly lost the meaning Jesus has given it in the Course -- which is, once again, that in the end there is nothing to forgive because nothing happened to disturb the peace and love that is God's Son. And so at the point that one has removed the concept of forgiveness from the Course's metaphysics, one has taken away the very heart of A Course in Miracles -- its non-duality. And one then can no longer be said to be speaking about A Course in Miracles at all, but rather some other spiritual path that is dualistic. And again, it is a disservice to everyone to misrepresent the Course that way.
CLARKE: Let me conclude now by suggesting that despite all our differences, we can work together in our own ways toward healing one of the great illusions of the modem secularist world: the belief that we are empty in ourselves (partly true) but that the way to fill up this emptiness is by filling it with creatures, with what is not of God. There is a great restlessness and sense of inner emptiness in so much of the modern world, together with the illusion of consumerism, that somehow possessing and consuming more and more material goods will assuage this restlessness and fill this emptiness, always with something other than and less than God himself. But the more material possessions we gather, the poorer we seem to get interiorly. As St. Augustine noted with great insight long ago, forgetting our own interior spiritual riches, we think we are poor, and go begging outside ourselves among material things seeking to become rich, but in the process become poorer and poorer, since the lower cannot satisfy the higher. This illusion of paradise without God is a profound illusion indeed.
WAPNICK: I think that we would both agree, certainly, that no love is possible in this world without its Source being God. And the whole idea of A Course in Miracles is to help us bring to the Holy Spirit all of the ego's interferences to love that are in our minds -- i.e., switch to our right minds, where at last we can become an instrument of the Holy Spirit. His Love then can extend through us and so, in this world, we do become more peaceful and more loving to ourselves and to each other. There is a beautiful passage in the workbook where Jesus says:
CLARKE: In one of the articles I wrote, "What It Means To Be a Person," based on the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas, I gave three stages: self-possession through self-awareness and self-governing of your actions; then self-communication; finally self-transcendence, where you go out of your own limited point of view to take on the point of view of the Mind and the Will of God, to see the whole world as God sees it, and then to love all the good as God loves it in its proper order. That is a taking on of the very Mind and Love of God; that is a self-transcendence that then brings great joy. So to be yourself, you have to really step out of yourself -- that limited self. It is not for the self to disappear entirely, I think, but it is to be fulfilled in taking something larger, the true Center, as one's own center.For this alone I need; that you will hear the words I speak, and give them to the world. You are my voice, my eyes, my feet, my hands through which I save the world (workbook, p. 322; W-pl.rV.9:2-3).
WAPNICK: Yes, I think I might mention one other thing in view of what you just said, that the goal of A Course in Miracles is not really to be without a self, or to disappear from this world into the heart of God, as it says in one beautiful poetic passage. Its goal is to have us live without any guilt, without any sin, without any fear, without attack of any kind. That is the goal of the Course: to be present in this world, but to have all of our mistaken thoughts of judgment, hatred, fear, and guilt removed. And again, this is frequently misunderstood by students of the Course. As is said in John's Gospel, we are to live in the world, yet not be of it; i.e., live within the dream, but aware that we are not truly of it, and that our true Identify is outside the dream. In other words, we are to be in the world the way Jesus was.
CLARKE: But to live in this world as long as we are in it. So, there is a kind of death here, a kind of physical death.
WAPNICK: Yes, A Course in Miracles does not deny a physical death within the level of the dream. What it does say, actually, is that there are two kinds of death. There is the death that comes through guilt and fear, and the fear of judgment from the ego's projected image of God. And then there is the death which is described as a quiet laying down of the body when our work is done, recognizing that we have fulfilled the purpose of being here; namely, to have learned to be more loving and forgiving. And then our death is a peaceful one.
Another way of stating the goal of A Course in Miracles is that it is to live in this world in a peaceful way, not with all the conflict, both international as well as personal. And it does say, in fact, that knowledge -- which is the Course's synonym for Heaven (actually a kind of Gnostic use of the word "knowledge") -- is not the goal of this Course, peace is: the experience of peace here within the dream. It is a way of living with each other -- both individually, as well as among nations -- having the state of mind in which there is no conflict, no desire to usurp other people's place, and no need to steal what is not ours.
CLARKE: As Jesus said, I came that you might have peace; I came to give you my peace.
WAPNICK: The Jesus of A Course in Miracles would echo that too, certainly.
CLARKE: So we differ on much, but also agree on much. Let me give one last quotation from Charles Morgan, the novelist: "There is no surprise more magical than the surprise of being loved; it is God's finger on man's shoulder."
WAPNICK: That's wonderful. If I could add something relevant to that: A Course in Miracles would say that there is no greater joy in this world than the joy of knowing that one is forgiven, and that forgiveness can only come through experiencing the Love of God through Jesus or the Holy Spirit.
TO KEN WAPNICK LINKS PAGE
Miracle Studies Navigation Table
|Index of Resources||Discussion Group||FAQ about ACIM||50 Miracle Principles|
|Biographical: Helen, Bill, Ken||Unauthorized Manuscripts||The Story of A Course in Miracles||The Psychology of ACIM|
|The Course's Use of Language||What is Forgiveness?||Copyright Related Info||Question/Answer Service|