This is a truly profound lesson, one of the greats, in my view. I'll try to briefly summarize what I see as its train of thought.
In response to our attacks, we often say, "I didn't mean it. I wasn't trying to hurt anyone." We might even cite (our understanding of) the Course as support for this: "I was just afraid. I was just looking for love." The opening paragraph says no, you were trying to hurt. That is what attack does—it is the expression of the "intent to hurt" (1:1).
All attack, therefore, is cruel. We may balk at this identification, but all we need do is consult a dictionary. Cruelty is defined as "Behavior that causes pain or suffering to a person or animal." The conclusion is inescapable. Attack intends to cause pain and suffering—that's what it's all about. All attack, therefore, is cruel.
The other thing we tell ourselves, of course, is that we were merely attacking in self-defense, which means we weren't being cruel. It wasn't about hurting the other guy, it was just about protecting ourselves. We were forced to attack, to keep ourselves safe. Yet what that means, says this paragraph, is that we believe that being cruel to another is what keeps us safe, what protects us from fear. Thus, in our minds, cruelty equals freedom from fear.
This conclusion seems inescapable in this world. If we didn't attack, it seems as if we would soon be toast. Without claws, without fangs, all we are is a tasty, defenseless piece of meat. All we are is someone's lunch.
This lesson, however, says that however inescapable this view may seem, we have got it all wrong. It says that cruelty is not a way out of fear. Rather, it is a way of feeding fear, so that it grows from a tiny embryo into an uncontrollable monster, who continually rages inside of us, leaving us not a shred of peace. How can this be?
First, we make our perception of danger out there. There is no real danger. We conjure it up through our own thought processes. And one of the main ways we conjure it is through our defense against it. For defending against it affirms that it really is there, and this mental affirmation produces a perception of danger where no real danger exists. So defense doesn't protect us from real danger; it conjures up the illusion of danger. It makes the very danger it seeks to protect us from.
Second, even though our attack originates in us, comes out of our own intent to hurt, we think that this thought can leave its source. We think it can leave our mind and go out into the world and hurt someone apart from us. But can ideas leave their source? Can this intent to hurt be placed outside of our mind, while leaving its home (our mind) untouched? Can we unleash the raging monster on others and expect it to behave well at home, to be gentle and docile and leave all the china on the shelves? I don't think so.
But this is just the beginning of the effects of attack. The real problem is that our mind's nature is love, the very opposite of cruelty and of fear. So when we take into our mind cruelty/fear (two sides of the same coin), we split our mind into two camps: our mind's actual nature of love and the alien presence of fear (with its flip side of cruelty). Now we are deeply divided. We feel like a walking contradiction. We mouth the truth of love, but we wield the sword of cruelty.
But it gets worse than this. For we mainly identify with the fear. We see the cruelty as our savior and protector. This identification reverses the actual relationship between love and fear. For now, love, our nature, becomes the alien. And fear, the alien, becomes our nature.
And this reversal keeps going. In truth, love is our protection, the source of our peace, the basis for our strength. But we now assign these attributes to cruelty instead. As we saw earlier, we see cruelty as what protects us.
Having given the alien the attributes of love, we assign to love the attributes of the alien. Now love seems like the threat. When we are under attack and the voice of love whispers to us, "Don't attack him, he's your brother," we see that as suicidal. Now love is the alien, the danger, the threat to our peace, the source of fear. "For love would ask you lay down all defense as merely foolish" (5:4).
This reversal takes one last step. Inside our mind's marginalized "love camp" is the Presence of God, for God is Love. Yet here again we have reversed the attributes. What this means is that we have assigned to God the attributes of fear and cruelty. We see God as the monster, Who demands that we submit to Him and sacrifice for Him and accept our punishment before we can stand in His Presence. In short, we see God as cruel, as the source of fear.
And then we assign to cruelty the attribute of being God, so that cruelty has now become our god. It is what we worship. This may seem hard to accept, yet if we are truly honest, I don't think it is that hard. The fact is that we make our way in this world to a large degree through attack. We count on attack to work. We count on it to defeat our competitors, scare off potential enemies, and forge the bonds of loyalty with our allies. We may hide our attacks. We may look the other way even while doing them. We may say we didn't mean it. We may say we had to attack in self-defense. But the fact is that we do it. And we not only do it, we rely on it. Without our teeth and claws, how would we eat?
Having made cruelty a god, we relate to the voice of cruelty in our head as a devotee relates to its god. Thus, when that voice tells us to attack, we obey. And if we don't, if we hesitate, that voice rains scorn and threats down on us. If we question it, it turns its wrath on us, haranguing us for being wimps, wusses, doormats, spineless jellyfish. It tells us we will pay for this transgression. So now we live in fear of the voice of cruelty in our mind, the very voice that was supposed to deliver us from fear.
One of the greatest costs of all this is only implied within the body of the lesson, but is central to today's idea. It is that by identifying with cruelty, we have become deeply convinced that cruelty is our nature. Attack is part of who we are. We would like to be loving, but that seems like a distant future goal. We seem to lack even the capacity to truly love. With all of the attacking we have done, how can we believe that love is our very nature, that we are love? A great line from the Text says, "When you hear the Holy Spirit you may feel better because loving then seems possible to you, but you do not remember yet that it once was so" (T-10.I.3:3).
Our goal today is to stand before the god of cruelty not as a devotee, but as an objective observer. We need to examine this god dispassionately and see if he really has the power, see if he really should be worshipped, and most of all, see if he really does protect us. Maybe it's all smoke and mirrors. Maybe this god is no more omnipotent than the great and powerful Oz.
Today can be a turning point in our lives. We have probably all had moments when we realized that something that seemed to have great power over us in fact had none, or when we realized that something that seemed essential to our safety was actually itself what put us in danger. Today we can realize that in relation to our belief in attack. We can realize that our assumption that attack is essential to our safety and essential to our nature was only an illusion and never contained an ounce of truth.
Purpose: to stand before your devotion to cruelty as a means of safety, see it as a meaningless idol, and choose to serve this idol no longer.
Morning/evening quiet time: at least 5 minutes; ideally, 30 or more
We need to look honestly at our belief that attacking others in self-defense keeps us safe. This amounts to a belief that cruelty keeps us safe, since all attack intends to hurt and the intent to hurt is cruel. This has enthroned cruelty as a god in our mind, a god we dare not question.
Yet today, we must question this god. We must look dispassionately at our belief that cruelty means safety. So first, get in touch with this belief in you. Note how you do believe that, when attacked, your attack in return will keep you safe. Then be willing to question this belief. Consider the possibility that your own defense against an attack is what gives it power in your eyes. Consider the possibility that your own cruelty is ultimately what makes you afraid. And consider that this belief that cruelty equals safety is just that—a belief, an idea to be calmly re-examined, not a god to be worshipped.
Now turn to another aspect of this belief. You realize that God wants you to lay down your arms, to give up attack and defense. This makes Him appear to be cruel, for He seems to want to strip you of your protection. He apparently wants you to be all meek and saintly while you get run over. As soon as you see cruelty as the god that protects you, then the real God of Love will seem cruel, as if your protection does not matter to Him. Look at this belief. Be willing to question it. Is it possible be that He wants your safety more than you do? Is it possible that "love is your safety" (W-pII.5.5:4)?
In looking at both beliefs—that cruelty is your god and that God is cruel—you are standing before the same idol, and making a choice. "Will you restore to love what you have sought to wrest from it and lay before this mindless piece of stone?" (8:4). While trying to make this choice, keep repeating the idea, "There is no cruelty in God and none in me." Consider that God is only Love and that your nature is like His, that cruelty is quite simply unnatural for you. Genuinely try to "look for the last time upon this bit of carven stone you made, and call it god no longer" (11:2).
If you succeed, you will walk out upon a new world, which you will see through new eyes. You will look on the same people, but whereas before you saw danger in them, now you will see God's glory in them. Where before your heart was filled with fear and cruelty, now it will be filled with nothing but love.
Hourly remembrance: 1 or 2 minutes as the hour strikes (reduce if circumstances do not permit)
Repeat the idea, trying to renounce your allegiance to cruelty and to accept the love that is your true nature. Then thank God for the gifts of His Love that came your way in the hour gone by. And let Him tell you how to express the newfound love in your heart in the hour to come.