This is the long version of a much shorter article that appeared in the September/October issue of Miracles magazine, published by Jon Mundy. The issue included pieces by Jon Mundy and by Robert Perry, along with the shorter version of this article, all expressing disbelief in Gary Renard's ascended masters.
Update (April 2010): Please see "Gary Renard's Stolen Gospel" by Bruce Fraser MacDonald, PhD. This article shows that what Renard presents as "Pursah's Gospel of Thomas" (in Your Immortal Reality), a supposedly original version of Thomas straight from its author, is almost exactly the same as a contemporary translation of Thomas by Stephen Patterson and Marvin Meyer.
Gary Renard has claimed that the origin of his book The Disappearance of the Universe (called "DU" for short) was two "ascended masters" named Arten and Pursah, former disciples of Jesus who appeared to Renard in the flesh seventeen times over a period of nine years. This is quite a fantastic claim. Should we accept it as true? Although the book has been extremely popular, when we put this claim under the spotlight of honest intellectual inquiry, it simply does not hold up. I cannot find any good reasons to accept this claim and, I regret to say, many good reasons not to accept it.
I realize that some may think the question of the authenticity of Renard's account shouldn't even be raised: We should just trust him, and even if the story of the masters is false, it's the message of the book that really matters. There's certainly something appealing about this argument; all of us naturally want to believe what others tell us, especially when they're reporting something as miraculous as ascended masters appearing to them. Writing this article is not a pleasant task. Yet I feel it must be done, because this is an issue of truth, and I believe that truth matters. If the story at the heart of this book is a deception, why should we believe that anything else it says is true? If Marshall McLuhan was right when he said that "the medium is the message," what message does a book that rests on a false authorship claim really send?
Renard has strongly objected to people questioning his claims (as we'll see below), but ironically, he reports in DU that he had the same skeptical attitude toward the Course's authorship claims. In DU, we read that when Renard first learned that A Course in Miracles was purportedly written by Jesus, he had his doubts. So, he decided to take a "wait and see" approach: If his future experience supported this authorship claim, great. "But if my future experience told me that things just didn't add up, then despite Arten and Pursah's assurances I would still do everything I could to expose A Course in Miracles as a fraud" (88).1 So, Renard himself affirms that a person who doesn't believe an authorship claim should not hesitate to share this with others. On this point we are in full agreement. I don't believe his authorship claim, and I'm writing this article to share this with others.
In this article, then, I will list twelve reasons why I do not accept Renard's account of The Disappearance of the Universe.
The burden of proof is on Renard
Before we look at those reasons, I want to make a preliminary point about burden of proof. How do we know for certain something is true? Strictly speaking, one can never be absolutely certain about anything. Even though the evidence is overwhelming that the earth is round, I cannot say with total certainty that it isn't a cube. Maybe, as some fundamentalist Christians say about fossils that support evolution, the apparently round earth is simply a deception cooked up by the devil. Unfortunately, I have heard Renard apologists use this philosophical point to argue that since we can't be absolutely certain his claim is false, we must give him the benefit of the doubt. To doubt his story is to attack him by not being "trusting" enough.
This is simply poor reasoning. When someone makes a claim as extraordinary as Renard's, no one should accept the claim simply because there is no absolute proof of its falsity. The burden of proof is clearly on the one who's saying it's true. I personally believe that A Course in Miracles was dictated by Jesus, but I would never expect anyone else to believe that just because they can't prove it wrong. Those of us who doubt Renard's claim are not being insufficiently "trusting"; we are simply being discerning, refusing to believe an amazing and highly doubtful claim until we are given solid reasons to believe it. If Renard wants us to believe his fantastic tale, he must provide those solid reasons.
Twelve reasons I do not accept Renard's account of The Disappearance of the Universe
Unfortunately, Renard has provided no solid reasons to believe his tale, and there are a number of solid reasons to doubt it. Let's look at some of those reasons now.
1. It violates Occam's razor: "Entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity"
"Occam's razor" is a way of evaluating the probability of truth claims, associated with the medieval theologian William of Occam (though Occam himself never used that term). It has been expressed in various ways, but the most typical way of expressing it seems especially appropriate for the subject at hand: "Entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity." This essentially means that when developing a theory to explain something, you should not include any more elements ("entities") than are necessary to account for all the data. This is often taken to mean that when two theories equally account for all the data, the simplest theory is always the best. But a more precise and more useful formulation of the razor is this: When you have two theories that equally account for all the data, the one with the fewest unproven assumptions is most likely to be correct. This theory is thus the one we ought to accept, if we are using reason to guide our decisions.
What happens when we apply Occam's razor to The Disappearance of the Universe? We have two theories regarding its origin. One is that it is the product of Gary Renard's mind, his literary creation. The other is that it is the product of ascended masters who physically appeared to Renard repeatedly and engaged in extended dialogues with him. Occam's razor says that the literary creation theory is far more likely to be correct, because it doesn't require us to make the huge mental stretch of accepting all the unproven assumptions at the heart of Renard's wildly improbable tale. It is still possible that his account is true, but reason dictates that we accept the literary creation theory.
We will revisit Occam's razor throughout this article. Actually, in my opinion, the two theories don't equally account for all the data—the literary creation theory accounts for a lot more—so we don't even need Occam's razor to decide between them. But in cases where both theories can possibly account for particular pieces of data, we have to ask ourselves: Which explanation requires more unproven assumptions? Which is more plausible? Which is the most reasonable to accept?
2. All we have is Renard's word, which is the word of an interested party
Renard asks that we take his word for what happened, but this is highly problematic because he is an interested party—that is, a party who stands to benefit from the claim that Arten and Pursah are real. Indeed, he has benefited from this claim; the story of the origin of DU is undoubtedly a major factor—perhaps the primary factor—in the great sales of the book and in Renard's popularity as a speaker. Now of course, the fact that Renard benefits from the story doesn't prove he made it up. However, as the Course itself says, “No one with a personal investment is a reliable witness” (T-12.I.5:2). A person with a vested interest in something is not likely to be unbiased regarding it. For this reason, judges who have even the appearance of a conflict of interest regarding a particular case normally recuse themselves from that case. Renard, then, cannot be the judge to turn to if we want to assess the validity of his account. This is the job of someone without such a huge stake in the outcome.
3. There are convenient reasons for lack of evidence or corroboration
Renard has presented no physical evidence for his story, nor does he have a single witness who could back it up. No one else saw Arten and Pursah in person, not even Renard's wife. He has no pictures of them, nor does he even give a detailed physical description of them. He claims that he took notes and made tape recordings of the masters' discourses, but no one has seen these. He even says that, since the masters come from the future, their names in the book have been changed so no one in the future could look them up. And he didn't show them to anyone while they were purportedly working with him on his second book, Your Immortal Reality.
Renard's primary explanation for the masters' elusiveness is that they themselves told him not to gather evidence. In DU, they tell him pictures would prove nothing, because he could have simply hired actors to play them (56). (Ironically, actors were hired to voice Arten and Pursah in the audio book version of DU.) They tell him not to describe them too much (149). They suggest that he destroy his notes and tapes (137, 402). They arrange for the appearances to occur when Renard's wife is out, saying that it wouldn't be helpful for her to see them (20, 56). They are the ones who change their names so they won't be found in the future (405). In short, as Arten says, "Physical evidence isn't necessary, Gary" (391). After all, as Pursah says, "It's the Holy Spirit's message that matters—not those who appear to be bringing it" (173). It's about the message, not the messenger. Perhaps all this is true, but isn't it an awfully convenient explanation for lack of physical evidence or corroboration?
Recently, I learned of one more convenient reason Renard can provide for lack of evidence: The masters say they will never appear to anyone but him. In Your Immortal Reality, they tell him: "[W]e want to make it clear that we only appear to you and will never appear to anyone else or give channeled information to anyone else" (YIR, 24).2 Applying Occam's razor to all of this, which explanation is more likely: The ascended masters told Renard that all evidence of them should be eliminated and that only he would ever see them, or there were no ascended masters?
4. There has never been a verified instance of ascended masters or other advanced spiritual beings appearing physically
There have been many legends and anecdotal accounts of such appearances. I'm willing to believe that such things are possible—indeed, I personally believe in Jesus' physical resurrection. But the simple fact is that there has never been an objectively verified instance of a spiritual being appearing in the flesh. Some accounts of such appearances are more credible than others, but these are rare, not repeating seventeen times under the same conditions. Though this doesn't prove Renard's account is false, is what he claims really credible? Occam's razor once again applies: Is the most likely explanation for Disappearance of the Universe that Renard wrote the book himself, or that beings appeared to him in a way that has never once been conclusively shown to happen in all of human history?
5. DU follows the typical pattern of the "message from advanced beings who appeared to me physically" genre: extraordinary claims that do not hold up under scrutiny
This is not the first time someone has claimed to receive special messages from an advanced being or beings. This genre of spiritual literature has a long history. Many ancient books claim to be dictated by divine beings. There are also more modern examples of the genre, such as the Book of Mormon, Carlos Castaneda's Don Juan books, Jimmy Twyman's Emissary of Light, and Marlo Morgan's Mutant Message Down Under. While these books differ in the details, they follow a typical pattern: Advanced beings appear physically to a person, to her great surprise. No one else ever sees them. They tell this person that she has been specially chosen to be their messenger to the world. She takes down their message and then shares it with the world, often establishing a career as a spiritual teacher or leader in the process. With the modern examples of this genre, including all of the ones I've listed here, this pattern has one more element: When the claims are investigated closely by objective researchers, serious reasons to doubt those claims emerge.
Marlo Morgan's Mutant Message Down Under is a particularly striking example. Morgan claimed that she went into the Australian Outback and made contact with a "secret" tribe of spiritually advanced Aborigines, the "Real People," who imparted a special message for her to take to the "mutants" in the outside world. The book sold extremely well and she established a lucrative career as a speaker. She insisted that "none of it is made up." However, Australians who were knowledgeable about Aborigines (including Aborigines themselves) saw that her account was riddled with errors; Aboriginal activist Bobby MacLeod described it as filled "cover to cover" with "fantasies, misinformation, and distortion." Eventually, under the pressure of those who questioned her claims, she apologized to a group of Aboriginal elders and admitted that the book was fiction. (She continued to insist, however, that her book was based on an actual event, and even wrote a second book.)3
Some books like this are designed to fool the experts, while others are designed to fool the masses. All I can say is that DU, like Mutant Message, is not an example of the former. DU fits the classic pattern to a tee. It too is a story of advanced spiritual beings physically appearing to someone and giving him a special message for the world. It too has sold lots of copies and led to a lucrative speaking career for its author. It too has gone over big with the masses but, as I hope to demonstrate in this article, doesn't hold together under careful examination. Time will tell what comes of DU, but since every other example of this genre has not passed the test of serious scrutiny, how likely is it that this will be the lone exception? Will Renard follow Marlo Morgan and one day apologize and confess that his story is fiction?
6. The book is stunningly similar to the work of Ken Wapnick
Robert Perry has an entire article on this point elsewhere on this website, so I won't spend a lot of time on it here. Perry concludes that the teachings about A Course in Miracles in DU mirror those of Wapnick to a simply stunning degree, both in ideas and presentation. I agree with his assessment. I read DU for the first time immediately after reading literally hundreds of pages of Wapnick's work and writing several essays on it. With Wapnick's work thus very fresh in my mind, DU's close similarity to it was immediately apparent. Of course there are differences as well; there is plenty of non-Course material in DU, and the crude humor and "smart ass" attitude are all his. But as I read the material about the Course in DU, it was as if I were reading another Wapnick book.
While it might be argued that ascended masters could have ideas similar to Wapnick's, it is highly unlikely that their teaching discourses would be so similar not only in ideas but in style and presentation. Thinkers who are truly independent (especially spiritually advanced ones) would surely have something original to say, and there's nothing original in Arten and Pursah's Course teachings. This leads me once again to Occam's razor. Which explanation is more likely to be correct: Ascended masters just happened to independently duplicate Wapnick to an amazing degree, or Wapnick's work itself was, as Renard himself says, the source upon which "much of this book is based" (xv)?
7. Renard's response to the masters is unconvincing
How would you respond if ascended masters actually materialized in the flesh in your living room? How would you speak to such beings? Answers to these questions may vary in the details from person to person, but I suspect most of us would not respond with the cavalier attitude Renard displays. When the masters first appear, Renard immediately focuses his attention on the attractive woman, Pursah (5). After she begins the discussion with a long metaphysical discourse, he replies with the flippant remark, "Do you want to run that by me again?" (5).
The tone is set for the entire rest of the book. True, Renard does claim to initially be "stunned" (4) when they first pop into his living room, and he reports that his "mind was spinning" after they left the first time (19). There are also a number of places in DU where he clearly shows love and respect for the masters. But for the most part, there is very little real shock or awe at this amazing turn of events. Renard doesn't even try (at least not for quite a while) to touch the masters to test their solidity. Most of the time, he sounds more like he's schmoozing at a frat party with his drinking buddies than having an encounter with enlightened beings, as he regales them with a steady stream of smart-ass comments ("smart ass" is a phrase all three entities use frequently) and crude humor. Here are just a few of countless examples:
• "[I]t would probably go over about as big as a fart in an elevator" (13).
• "I wouldn't know whether to take a crap or go blind" (22).
• To Pursah: "[J]ust my luck. I get an ascended master with a chip on her shoulder" (47).
• "I'd rather stick broken pieces of glass up my butt" (55).
• To Pursah about the Gospel of Thomas, which she claims to have authored: "It didn't suck too much" (67).
• To Arten: "You're a smart ass, you know that?" (136).
• To Pursah: "[W]hy aren't you more polite, my spiritual smart ass?" (156).
• To Pursah about her former home in India, where she was killed: "Your old alma martyr" (247).
• To Arten, who lived together with Pursah in their final lifetime: "You rascal" (294).
• "[A] man who feels a need to fire a gun secretly feels inadequate about his penis. And a woman who feels a need to fire a gun is secretly jealous because she doesn't have a penis" (341).
• "Hey, I don't give a rat's ass!" (360).
• "Say, who was J [Jesus] married to, that Mary Magdalene chick?" (361).
• "[I]t's possible to have both an erection and a resurrection" (361).
There are also instances where he acts disrespectfully toward them. I've already mentioned his attraction to Pursah. He flirts with her and tosses out one-liners laced with sexual innuendo. At one point, in response to a crude pun of hers, he says, "I love it when you talk dirty" (285). I mentioned that he didn't touch the masters to test their solidity for quite a while, but later he does ask to touch Pursah, conveniently when he and Pursah are alone. Pursah asks where he would like to touch her, and he says, "Are you flirting, or is it me?" (243). We eventually find out in DU that Pursah is Renard's future self; in Your Immortal Reality, he says to her, " I must say, you look more beautiful than ever. Tell me something, just between you and me. Would it be incest to make love to your future self?" (YIR, 18).
Another example of disrespect is his disregard of the masters' wishes regarding taping their dialogues. First, he starts taping them during their second visit, without asking them. Later, while taping, he asks if he can tape them and they advise him not to (56). However, he continues taping anyway, until he finally confesses this to them during their fourth visit (137). Now, it's true that they then tell him it's okay, but all he knew before that moment was that they had advised him not to do it. Thus, according to his own account, Renard knowingly went against Arten and Pursah's wishes behind their backs. Does this sound like how a person would really respond and relate to actual ascended masters?
8. The masters are unconvincing and at times downright unattractive
What would ascended masters be like? Again, individual answers to this question may differ in the details, but it's reasonable to expect that such beings would be truly amazing, remarkably free of human foibles, beings of infinite love, kindness, and wisdom that transcends the world. While they would have the ability to relate to you personally, they would also be unlike any human being you ever met.
I don't find this to be the case with Arten and Pursah. True, they do exhibit love and kindness numerous times in the book, and they occasionally say some profound things. But they strike me throughout as very ordinary. While they occasionally bring up something I've never read about anywhere else (like their discussion of the "Great Sun," a purported spiritual master of ancient America), there is nothing especially striking about this material. Most of what they say about various topics (like the historical Jesus and Gnosticism) is nothing new and can be found in popular books. Their Course teachings, as I've mentioned, can mostly be found in Ken Wapnick's work. And the truly profound things they say can be found in A Course in Miracles itself. I'm reminded of a line attributed to Samuel Johnson: "Your manuscript is both good and original; but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good."
Some aspects of the masters are downright unattractive, at least to me. For starters, there is Pursah's apparent exploitation of Renard's attraction to her. Though she is often down on men (216, 243, 316-a strange attitude for a being that is supposedly neither male nor female and was a man in previous lifetimes), she is not above appealing to Renard's baser male inclinations when it suits her purpose. She does brush off his flirtations, but nonetheless is happy to titillate him with discussions of his sexual fetishes and wet dreams (243, 361). She claims late in the book that she chose her form with his inclinations in mind: "[Y]ou're seeing a 32-year-old version of Pursah's body to help you pay attention. I think it worked very nicely" (403). (This is especially creepy since she has just revealed on the same page that she is his future self.) In Your Immortal Reality, Pursah exploits Renard's belly-button fetish by showing up with a bare midriff to tease him (YIR, 130).
Another unsavory aspect of the masters is their cutting remarks about other people. At one point, Arten mocks Gentiles by saying, "Those silly bastards wouldn't even catch on to the Arabic number system for another 1200 years" (42). Pursah, not to be outdone, later refers to misguided religious people as "suffering bastards" (99). Then there's the place where Pursah calls Marianne Williamson "the holy rap artist" (95). It might be argued that this was intended as a compliment, but I doubt that Williamson would think so.
There are also a few places (though these are relatively rare) where the masters seem to glibly condone violence. For example, Arten claims that there are times when you must defend yourself from bodily harm. He says, without any trace of irony, that at such times "you have permission to kick ass" (187). (He does add, however, that it would be better to think of a way out.) Now, it's one thing to say that even a forgiving person may face situations where violence is an unfortunate necessity, but quite another to glorify it by giving someone "permission to kick ass."
One more unattractive thing the masters is that they are every bit as crude and smart ass as Renard. Here are just a few examples. Notice how similar they are to both each other and to Renard's own "smart ass" attitude:
• Arten, in response to Renard's comment about the fart in the elevator: "Let's handle the fart first" (13).
• Arten: "[T]he world needs another religion like it needs a bigger hole in the ozone layer" (13).
• Arten: "So God goes on and creates Adam and then gets him a date, Eve" (25).
• Pursah: "You're throwing off my rap" (38).
• Pursah: "We have places to go and minds to blow" (95).
• Arten: "Right now, the world has its head planted firmly up its butt looking for the light" (136-37).
• Arten: "I'm already visualizing duct tape over your mouth" (142).
• Arten, in response to one of Renard's jokes: "Knock it off. Religious jokes are our job" (166).
• Pursah, to Renard: "Did we forget to take our anti-smart ass pill this morning?" (230).
• Pursah: "I'm glad I wasn't misconscrewed" (285).
• Pursah: "That's right, you lucky stiff. Oh wait; I was going to save that particular description of you for the discussion about sex" (328).
• Arten: "[S]ex is nothing. But I wouldn't recommend that you turn to your partner after making love and say, 'That was nothing'" (357-58).
• Arten, in response to Renard's statement that he could have both an erection and a resurrection: "That's true-just not at the same time!" (361).
• Pursah, in response to Renard's request for advice to women about sex: "Beware the one-eyed serpent" (363).
At one point, Arten promises Renard that he (Arten) will stop being a smart ass when Renard stops (213), but unfortunately neither one stops. The same crudity and sophomoric humor persists throughout the book. It actually reaches its lowest point in the late chapter about sex.
One subcategory of smart-ass humor that deserves special mention is the masters' putdowns of Renard. Indeed, their teaching style seems to include a mixture of excessively lavish praise and barbs worthy of an insult comic. One minute they're calling Renard a "luminous," "radiant," "brilliant, "timeless," "inspired," or "cool" student (199, 219, 254, 288, 306), and the next minute they're are saying things like this:
• Pursah: "I knew you weren't as dumb as you look. You know I'm kidding, right?" (47).
• Pursah: "The bodies we project are just a dense as yours, although our brains aren't. Just kidding" (56).
• Arten: "I knew you weren't a dumb bastard. I tried to tell J, but he wouldn't listen. Just kidding" (144).
• Arten: "That high school diploma is finally starting to pay off" (213).
• Arten: "We tried [to heal your mind], but the damage was just too much. I'm kidding" (261).
• Pursah: "You're slow, but you're not hopeless. Just kidding" (285).
• Arten: "Whatever it takes to get a lazy guy like you moving. Just kidding" (304).
As you can see, they usually say they are "kidding" when they put Renard down, as if saying that makes it okay. But does it really? How would you feel if your teacher regularly said things like this to you, even in jest? How do you think your child would feel if you told her, "You're slow, but you're not hopeless. Just kidding"? Normally, such behavior would be regarded as passive-aggressive, even abusive.
The masters defend all this by saying that it is "[o]nly for teaching purposes" (136)-a way to reach Renard in a way that he can understand, a way that will get his attention. But is this really a good teaching technique? I don't think so. It is not necessary or desirable to pander to students' lowest impulses in order to "connect" with them. I've taught in many environments, and have never needed to lower myself to my students' level by using crude language, playground insults, sexual attraction, etc. A good teacher raises students to his or her level by setting an example of maturity for them to follow. (Besides, wouldn't materializing in his living room be enough to get Renard's attention?)
Moreover, Arten and Pursah's way of teaching unnecessarily turns off students who might otherwise be interested in what they have to say. I've heard that even some readers who like the teachings of DU are put off by the book's crudity. Since the masters knew this would eventually become a book, why add such a stumbling block to an already challenging teaching? Renard notes in a couple of places that readers may misinterpret Arten and Pursah's attitude because the readers are not in the room and don't get the tone-the masters come off more arrogant in print than in person (xiv, 162). If this is so, then why did the masters talk this way? Since they knew the material was to become a book, why did they speak in a way so likely to be misinterpreted?
In short, these "masters" are human, all too human. In my mind, they are utterly unconvincing as "ascended masters."
9. The dialogue is unconvincing as a dialogue between different entities; it looks like a literary creation
At least to my eye, the dialogue between Renard, Arten, and Pursah does not read like a dialogue between truly different entities. Rather, it looks to me like a literary dialogue, where a single author expresses his or her thoughts in dialogue form as a teaching device. I've read many such works, from Plato's famous dialogues to Ken Wilber's A Brief History of Everything. Such invented dialogues usually look pretty artificial, which is not a problem because their goal isn't realism but to convey the author's teaching. When a dialogue purporting to be an actual dialogue looks artificial, however, that becomes a problem. And the dialogue in DU looks highly artificial to me.
For starters, there are lines in the book that look much more like Renard's writing than anything that could have come up in a conversation. For instance, very early in the book, Renard says that "the truth is true and nothing else is true" (34). This is a verbatim quote from A Course in Miracles, but at this point in the dialogue, Renard has never even heard of A Course in Miracles, let alone read it. It seems likely that this line was composed after he had read the Course. Later on, Renard responds to a statement about Plato and Plotinus with a tongue twister: "So Plato's popular pupil Plotinus was possibly a plagiarist of Platonist postulations" (58). How likely is it that Renard ad-libbed this in an actual conversation? It has all the earmarks of a literary construction, something Renard composed in writing.
There are also places where Renard's line in the dialogue looks like a setup for a discourse by Arten or Pursah—a common technique in literary dialogues. For instance, near the very beginning Arten is speaking of correction by the Holy Spirit, and Renard responds: "This correction you speak of, does it have anything to do with political correctness?" (8). Who would ever link the Holy Spirit's correction with political correctness? This line seems like a setup for what follows: a comment by Pursah on political correctness. Later on (72), Renard asks if the Gospel of Thomas is the same as Q, the hypothetical gospel scholars postulate as a source for some material in Matthew and Luke. Since Renard already knows at this point both that Thomas is a gospel discovered in 1945 and Q is a hypothetical gospel that no one has ever discovered, the question makes no sense at all; the only purpose I can see for it is to set up Pursah's discourse on Q, which immediately follows. In another place (100), Renard acts as if he knows nothing whatsoever about true perception, even though by that point he's read the entire Text of A Course in Miracles, which is full of material about true perception. As in the other two examples, this seems to be a set up for material that follows: in this case, material about true perception.
Finally, all three entities sound the same, which strongly suggests that they are creations of a single mind. As we've seen above, they have the same smart-ass sense of humor. They have the same political views (compare Arten's political views on 337-339 to Renard's on 346-347). And once Renard starts launching into teaching discourses himself, the teaching of all three is virtually indistinguishable. To demonstrate this, I've quoted teaching discourses from all three entities below. (I've made only very minor changes to a few references that would give a speaker away.) Can you tell which entity is speaking in each example?
1. Unfortunately, the eventual, logical extension of this projection is violence against the ones who are being made wrong in the mind—regardless of the form the violence takes. So you may have hate crimes, or on an international level, wars. On the domestic level, you have political struggles that result in people attacking each other verbally or, depending on the place and time, you could have a political argument that results in an all out civil war-as it did, even in America.
It's all duality, which is symbolic of the conflict of the split, ego mind-in everything from the forces of nature to economic expansion and contraction-both on an individual and macro level.
2. It's all some kind of judgment, regardless of the form. As soon as you make that judgment, you give validity to the ego's world and reinforce the seeming reality of the separation and everything that goes with it.
Within its script, which includes all of time, the ego has every possible variation of separation scripted out in such a way as to insure perpetual conflict. This is mixed in with your good times in order to make them seem more real, except that this mixture is really just another example of duality. Even though what you really are-spirit-cannot be divided, the ego tries to suck you into the belief in division.
3. In every single phase of your life-your childhood, your schooling, all the participatory activities you engage in over the decades, and different careers that feature their own variations of Machiavellian bull, you will have the conflicts that symbolize division. If you're lucky, your country won't go into that most special of all conflicts, war-but you can't count on that. Never mind the countless opportunities for violence that are there from cradle to grave, whether or not you are living during what is ironically referred to as peacetime.
The first passage is from Renard (191-192), the second from Arten (181), and the third from Pursah (182). Could you tell them apart?
The last three numbered points—the unconvincing nature of Renard's response to the masters, the unconvincing nature of the masters themselves, and the unconvincing nature of the dialogue—all point to the problem I've mentioned here: All three entities sound like the same person. Everything in DU appears to be a product of a single mind. Now, it is possible that the various explanations for this in the book are true, but let's evoke Occam's razor once again. If DU sounds not like a true dialogue between different entities but a literary creation of a single mind, isn't the most likely explanation that it did come from a single mind-Renard's?
10. DU contains numerous factual errors and extremely unlikely assertions
Arten and Pursah are depicted as ascended masters who possess all knowledge. What Pursah says about Jesus clearly applies to them as well: "It's not easy being humble when you know everything" (379). Therefore, it is reasonable to expect that they would never make a mistake. Such is not the case, however, as there are numerous factual errors in the book, as well as assertions that are extremely unlikely to be true. Here is a short list of some of the factual errors I found:
• Arten: "The Vedanta is a non-dualistic spiritual document" (34). This is wrong on two counts. First, Vedanta is not a document, it is a collection of writings, including the Upanishads and interpretations of the Upanishads. Second, not all Vedanta is nondualistic—there are at least three distinct schools, including nondualistic (advaita), qualified nondualistic (visistadvaita), and dualistic (dvaita). (Arten does refer to the founder of the dualistic school, Madva, but wrongly regards his work as not part of Vedanta.)
• Pursah: "[T]he word Christ is from the Greek psychological term" (48). "Christ" is not a psychological term. The Greek word christos is a translation of the Hebrew word mashiah (Messiah), and means "anointed one" or "the Lord's anointed." It literally refers to the practice of anointing the heads of kings with oil.
• Pursah: "Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire…by law any other religions or spiritual ideas were outlawed" (50). Constantine legalized and supported Christianity, but he did not make it the only legal religion of the Roman Empire. This was done by a later emperor, Theodosius (who reigned from 379 to 395 C.E.).
• Pursah: The Middle East during Roman times is described as "the Arab world" (52). It was no such thing in Roman times; the Arabs at that time were insignificant tribes on the Arabian Peninsula. The "Arab world" did not come into being until the rapid spread of Islam in the seventh and eighth centuries.
• Pursah (agreeing with Renard): The Jesus Seminar claims that Jesus said only about twenty percent of the things attributed to him in the New Testament (54). Actually, the Jesus Seminar's figure refers to the percentage of things attributed to Jesus in all Christian texts from the first three centuries. The percentage for the four gospels of the New Testament (especially the first three) is significantly higher.
• Arten (agreeing with Renard): The Catholic Church only allowed clergy to read the scriptures (101). In general, this statement is false. There were isolated times and places where lay people were prohibited from reading the scriptures, but this was the exception, not the rule. During most of the Church's history, lay people who could read (and could afford to buy books) were allowed to and even encouraged to read the scriptures.
• Arten: An issue of Time Magazine in the 1970s had the words "God is dead" on the cover (121). (He doesn't say "on the cover," but it is clear that he is referring to the famous Time Magazine cover.) Actually, the issue came out in 1966 and had "Is God dead?" on the cover.
• Pursah: The last four syllables in the word "individuality" ("duality") are "not just a semantic accident" (141). Actually, they are. The word "individual" means "undivided" and has no etymological relationship with "duality," which refers to "two."
• Arten: The Jefferson Bible "will be made available soon for those who want to see it" (218). It has been available at least since 1904 (some sources say 1903), when it was first published.
• Pursah: Pursah implies that the Muslim holy month of Ramadan occurs around the same time as Christmas (297). Ramadan is based on the lunar calendar and therefore can occur any time of year.
Here are some examples of statements that are extremely unlikely to be true:
• Pursah: It was John the Baptist, not Jesus, who said "Love your enemies" (26). This statement is very uncharacteristic of John, and modern Jesus scholars regard "Love your enemies" as almost certainly a saying that came from Jesus.
• Arten: There have been "many highly technologically advanced civilizations on this planet" before the current one (53).
• Arten and Pursah: There was an enlightened American Indian spiritual teacher called "the Great Sun," who lived a thousand years ago in a city near modern St. Louis that was bigger than Boston or Philadelphia in the early 1800s (62-65).
• Pursah: Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon religion, "wrote down what he was supposed to from these metal plates he was translating" (63). While Mormons continue to believe this story, of course, objective investigators have shown it to be highly doubtful.
• Arten: Human beings are not related to apes; instead, "intelligent humanoid life [humans] migrated from Mars to the Earth" (342). If this is so, then why do human beings and apes have virtually identical genes? In addition, "humanoid" isn't even the right word. "Humanoid" means a being from another planet that is like a human being, but Arten is referring to humanity itself.
The masters even make grammatical errors, such as the following:
• Arten: "[T]he old scripture was very dear to Thomas and I" (25). In this and the "Arten and I" example below, the correct form is "[name] and me," since the two entities are grammatically objects, not subjects. (The quick way to test this is to remove the name and try the sentence with only the pronoun. Obviously, the correct form would be "The old scripture was very dear to me," not "The old scripture was very dear to I.")
• Arten: "Today, you and your friends believe in the existence of a trilogy-body, mind and spirit" (76). The word "trilogy" means a series of three connected literary or dramatic works, like The Lord of the Rings. Arten should have used a generic word for a set of three things, like "trio."
• Arten: "[T]here is a very simple criteria that the Course gives you to distinguish between the real and the unreal" (104). "Criteria" is wrong; the correct word is the singular form, "criterion."
• Pursah: "[D]on't bother describing Arten and I very much" (149).
• Arten: "Acts like murder and suicide do recycle the guilt that everyone unconsciously thinks is real, and keeps it going" (176). The final phrase should be "keep it going": "Acts like murder and suicide do recycle the guilt…and keep it going."
• Arten: "The United States…has much more of a responsibility when it comes to diffusing situations than anybody else does" (337). This one is worthy of George W. Bush; the correct word is not "diffusing" but "defusing."
The grammatical errors may be trivial in the grand scheme of things, but they are quite telling with regard to the question of authorship. Wouldn't you expect ascended masters with all knowledge to get something as simple as basic English grammar correct? And why wouldn't Renard get it right if he had their discourses on tape? After all, he claims on his website (www.garyrenard.com) that he "used the tapes for…writing the book and then checking its accuracy." It's telling as well that the masters make the same kinds of grammatical errors Renard makes in his own writing. For instance, on page 367 he writes: "The end of the millennium was a time of changes for Karen and I." Like the "Thomas and I" and "Arten and I" examples above, the final word should be "me."
DU offers some reasons for these various errors. First, although the masters supposedly have all knowledge, they give themselves an out when they say that even enlightened Beings make mistakes (63). At one point, Pursah even says that she "forgot to mention something" (48), which seems like an odd mistake for an ascended master to make. (Later, on page 264, Pursah says that when she forgets things, she does it on purpose. How does an ascended master forget something on purpose?) Second, Renard gives the masters another out by saying in his Author's Note that all the mistakes in the book are his (xiv). Even the grammatical mistakes seem to have Arten and Pursah's blessing, as they tell him, "Don't worry about the rules too much" (285).
All of these explanations could be true, but to invoke Occam's razor yet again, isn't it more likely that the reason for the mistakes is simply that the entire book was written by Renard, a fallible human being who makes mistakes as we all do?
11. The few arguments in support of his account are not convincing
A number of arguments have been put forward to support Renard's account, some by Renard himself and others by his supporters. I'll cover five here.
First, Renard argues that he was there, so we must just take his word for what happened. As I've already said, though, the burden of proof is on him. None of us needs to take his word for anything. Indeed, the idea of blindly accepting whatever anyone says to you is so unreasonable that Renard himself cannot live by it; for instance, it is clear that he doesn't take the word of the government officials who proclaimed George W. Bush the legitimate winner of the 2000 election (382-84). A final conundrum: What if two people who were "there" in any given situation give contradictory accounts of what happened? You can't possibly accept both accounts as true, so you can't just take both people's word for what happened.
Second, Renard claims that he was incapable of writing such a book himself. On his website, he says: "[I]f anyone who reads the whole book actually thinks I could write it by myself without inspiration from these masters, then that would be an even bigger compliment to me than the fact that the masters appeared to me." I've read the whole book, and I definitely think Renard was capable of it. He's obviously intelligent and well read. The questions he asks the masters reveal his knowledge of topics like Jesus scholarship, Gnosticism, world religions, and many others. He refers to himself as a "metaphysically inclined guy" (260). As we've seen, the Course teachings in the book can be found in Ken Wapnick's work. In sum, just as it is difficult to tell the three speakers apart, in my eyes the level of intelligence displayed by the three is also virtually indistinguishable. There is no reason to believe that Renard could not have written this.
Third, Renard suggests that his outstanding book sales support the authenticity of his account. (I'll be discussing that more thoroughly below.) But of course, book sales have nothing to do with whether a book is true, as the recent example of James Frey's A Million Little Pieces made abundantly clear. Moreover, DU has yet to equal the reported 24 million copies sold worldwide of Marlo Morgan's Mutant Message Down Under, a thoroughly discredited book.
Fourth, some people have told me that Renard is such a nice guy, even shy, that he would never do something like this. I've never met Renard so I won't speculate on his personality, but the truth is that people described as "nice" have proven capable of doing just about anything. Even murderers have been described as "nice" and "shy" before the crime, so why not a guy who simply made up a book and told people it's true?
The fifth argument is not really an argument for authenticity, but rather a stance that I referred to at the beginning of this article: We shouldn't even raise the question. I've heard that the very enterprise of trying to discern the truth of Renard's account is an ego trap designed to distract us from what's really important, which is the message. But as I said above, the issue of the truth of Renard's authorship claim does matter, because if this central aspect of the book is false, why should we trust anything else in it? In my mind, the whole "it doesn't matter-you're coming from your ego" defense has a suspicious head-in-the-sand tinge to it. In Course circles, this is a classic way to end conversation about things a person finds threatening.
12. Renard's public stance regarding DU does not suggest that he has really spoken to ascended masters
This point is the most difficult to discuss, because it is about Renard himself and his communications with others. This section will contain the strongest language in the entire piece. I regret the need for it, but feel that this issue simply must be addressed.
One would expect someone who has truly spoken to ascended masters in the flesh to convey humility, integrity, graciousness, and love in his communications with others. This person would make every effort to act in a way that honors the rare and awesome gift he has been given. Sadly, though, Renard's public stance regarding DU has, in my opinion, frequently fallen short of this. I'll look at four aspects of this here.
First, Renard has a tendency to boast about how well his book and his speaking career are doing. Now, one would naturally expect advertising material written by Renard's publishers to praise him and his work—that's just part of the publishing business. What I'm talking about here is not that, but Renard himself bragging about his success in communications that ostensibly have nothing to do with promoting him or his book, using his worldly success (as we saw in the last point) as an argument for the authenticity and quality of his work. Here are just a few examples from his public communications with others:
• From an e-mail to a group of Course teachers: "[M]y book has done very well so far, and that success is accelerating, so I can't say that I haven't been well Guided."
• From a later e-mail in the same exchange: "[DU is] the most talked about, widely read and critically acclaimed book about the Course in over a decade, which has been bought and will be published internationally by Hay House, the biggest spiritual publisher in the world in October." (This is followed by an invitation to peruse positive reviews of the book on his publisher's website.)
• From a letter to the Community Miracle Center newsletter, Miracles Monthly (September 2005): "I've appeared as a guest teacher for the Community Miracles Center, during which we had your biggest crowd ever."
• From the same letter: "[I am] the author of the third most popular book ever written about the Course."
Again, these comments are not from DU ad copy, but from Renard's own communications about topics that are totally unrelated to book promotion.
Second, it appears that Renard, was associated with an attempt to artificially manufacture "outside" praise for his book. On a DU Internet discussion board run by Renard and his original publisher, D. Patrick Miller, his wife posted messages using the pseudonym "Karen Winston" ("Karen" is her real first name), an alias under which she also wrote a positive review of DU for Miller's website. On the discussion board, she praised DU ("This book is making history") and defended it against those who questioned the authorship claims (those who don't see its "excellence" are "dinosaurs" who "didn't get the memo"). When people began to suspect that this unknown person might have some vested interest in Renard's work, she vehemently denied it, saying that "I have no financial interest in Gary Renard or his book or any stake in his success" and warning that "Making false insinuations and accusations can result in very unpleasant consequences."
But finally, the cat came out of the bag; she was forced to admit that "I am Gary's wife" and apologized. Now, it's possible that she was acting alone here, but it seems unlikely to me that Renard didn't know about it. She is his wife, after all, and she was posting to a group he sponsored and was participating in. This whole affair has a disturbing implication: Renard's wife, likely with his approval (though of course I can't be certain about this), creates a false identity to enhance the sales of his book. If they are willing to do this, is it that much of a stretch to think that they might create other false identities (Arten and Pursah) to enhance the sales of his book?
Third, Renard has engaged in personal attacks on those who question his account. I know of a number of examples of this from various sources, but a representative one is an e-mail exchange regarding Robert Perry (from which I took the first two boasts above). Perry had been telling people who asked him about DU that he didn't believe that it came from ascended masters. Renard got wind of this and then wrote an "open letter to Robert Perry" that he shared publicly with a number of Course teachers, in which he wondered "how many people you're going to tell you don't believe that the teachers in my book, Arten and Pursah, really appeared to me before you ask me?" Perry responded by affirming his right to express his opinion. Renard responded to that with a number of attacks on Perry, including the following:
• He accused Perry of being on a "covert, private" campaign to defame him.
• He accused Perry of "hypocrisy," and of spending "many years fanning the flames of attack and controversy."
• He accused Perry of attempting to "hurt my speaking career, which he may be jealous of because it's taken off so fast."
• He hinted that someone Perry had corresponded with was displeased with Perry's stance. (This person actually wrote back to Renard and said she was quite fine with Perry's stance, but was disappointed that Renard was using her correspondence to attack him.)
• Referring to another e-mail from Circle teacher Allen Watson, he accused the Circle of Atonement of "underhanded attempts to discredit me."
• On his website, he "jokingly" commented that that Perry shouldn't live in Sedona because "all that magnetism isn't good for your mind." (He added an "LOL"—this sounds a lot like one of those passive-aggressive "just kidding" putdowns from Arten and Pursah.)
Renard summed up his view of Perry expressing his opinion as follows: " So cut the crap, Robert. Your comments on me were beneath the dignity of an advanced spiritual teacher."
Let's take a step back here and examine just what Renard considers "beneath the dignity of an advanced spiritual teacher." All Perry has done is have an opinion about the book and express that opinion to others. Yet in Renard's eyes, this is an outrage. It is an attempt to undermine his career, an attempt made out of jealousy. It is sneaky and covert, simply because it is expressed to individuals, not publicly. (He has written about DU publicly since this e-mail exchange took place.) Apparently, the only acceptable thing to do is to ask Renard what happened; anything else is an outrageous campaign to underhandedly scuttle his wonderfully guided and successful career. This is a truly amazing stance. Does Renard truly not understand how completely expected and appropriate it is that people will make up their own minds about such a fantastic claim and discuss their views with others? Is this really beneath the dignity of anyone?
This stance toward skeptics is at odds both with Renard's own stance toward debunking false authorship claims (which I discussed at the beginning of this article) and with the stance his "masters" purportedly counseled him to take. Renard himself says in his Author's Note in DU, "I leave it up to readers to think whatever they choose about the book's origins" (xiii). And throughout DU, Arten and Pursah give him advice like the following:
• Arten: "What if you don't try to convince anyone to believe anything?" (55).
• Pursah: "[I]f someone thinks badly about what you write, or even if they're just not positive about it, forgive them" (285-86).
• Pursah: "Always remember to let other people have their beliefs" (369).
• Pursah: "Don't disagree with [others]; just say what you know is true in a nice way. Then back off; never confront" (370).
Yet Renard's actual responses to those who doubt his book fall short of this advice. Look at this passage from his "open letter to Robert Perry" and ask yourself how well it follows Arten and Pursah's instructions:
You see [Robert], I'm the one who was there. I didn't see you there. So I've got news for you. My book is true; all of it. It's not, as you have described, a made up book "Like The Celestine Prophecy." That book wasn't true, The Disappearance of the Universe is true. And with the Holy Spirit's Guidance, it's not going away. If you have a problem with that then feel free to e-mail me or call me on the phone and we can discuss this further.
Renard seems to be unaware of just how aggressive these communications really are. In the March 2006 letter to Miracles Monthly I quoted from above, Renard addressed Rev. Tony Ponticello's suggestion that he has a tendency to "pounce" on people who question his story. Renard's response was that he had spoken to Course students all over the world and "You will not be able to find one person who will say that I have answered them with anything but kindness and respect." Given what we've seen here, is this claim really plausible?
Fourth, Renard has denied that a controversy about the authorship even exists. His March 2006 letter to Miracles Monthly went on to say this:
The "wave of emails" you talk about that make up this phony controversy about The Disappearance Of The Universe does not exist. I've seen the two emails you're talking about, and one of them was from Robert Perry, who is the real instigator of controversy in the Course community.
Not only is this yet another dig at Perry ("the real instigator of controversy in the Course community"), but the statement that the wave of e-mails "does not exist" is simply not correct. Ponticello actually referred to several "waves" of e-mails, including (I think it is safe to say) the wave that started with Renard's "open letter to Robert Perry." These waves certainly exist, and consist of far more than "two e-mails" (Ponticello never referred to a specific number of e-mails). I have a whole collection of e-mails from these waves on my computer right now. Far from being a "phony controversy," the issue of the authorship of DU has been a lively topic of discussion.
We've looked at four aspects of Renard's public stance regarding DU: 1) boasting about his book and speaking career, 2) apparently being associated with artificially manufacturing "outside" praise for the book, 3) engaging in public attacks on skeptics, and 4) denying that an authorship controversy even exists. I see a disturbing pattern here. In all of these aspects, public communication is used to artificially create a positive public perception of DU, either by inflating it (the first two aspects) or by fending off anything that would deflate it (the second two aspects). This pattern also includes a willingness to at least bend the truth (especially in the second and fourth aspects). What's striking to me is that my contention that Renard invented the masters fits right into this same pattern. After all, inventing "ascended masters" and attributing the contents of DU to them would be a fantastic way to artificially generate a positive public perception of a book geared toward spiritual seekers, would it not? Fitting this pattern doesn't prove that he did invent the masters, but it certainly raises questions.
What are we to make of all this? Of course, no one lives up to his or her highest spiritual ideals perfectly. We all make mistakes; it wouldn't be realistic to expect even a person who spoke with enlightened beings to be completely free of human foibles. That being said, Renard's public stance regarding DU raises serious questions at the very least. Does what I've described here really sound like the behavior of a person who truly encountered ascended masters and (according to DU) was St. Thomas in a previous life and will become an ascended master himself in his next lifetime (403-405)? More importantly, does this really sound like the stance of a person who is secure in the knowledge that he is telling the truth?
Conclusion: There is no necessity to multiply entities here
In conclusion, I must say that this is one of the most unconvincing stories I've ever seen. The whole thing rings false to me. There are some extraordinary stories that have good arguments both for and against their truth, so evaluating them becomes a matter of carefully weighing the pros and cons and making a decision about which side is more convincing. But in this case, I simply cannot find any pros. There's nothing to weigh; the decision isn't even close.
Now, I'm sure not everyone will accept the conclusion of that last paragraph, but I think it's at least safe to say that Renard has not met the burden of proof. If I had found solid support for his story anywhere, I would have included it here, but I could not find any. Every piece of evidence I see tips the scales in the same direction. Applying Occam's razor one final time: I see absolutely no reason to bring in two unproven and improbable entities to explain DU. At one point in DU, Arten gives Renard the following advice for how to begin writing it: "Start writing it like it's just a story-as though you made it up" (55). Everything I've seen converges on the conclusion that he did exactly that. He made Arten and Pursah up. The Disappearance of the Universe is Gary Renard's own literary creation.
1. All parenthetical references except the ones including the initials "YIR" (which I will explain in the next note) are page numbers from the first edition of The Disappearance of the Universe (Berkeley: Fearless Books, 2002, 2003).
2. This reference is from Renard's second book, Your Immortal Reality (Carlsbad, Calif.: Hay House, 2006). Parenthetical references from this work will be indicated with the initials "YIR."
3. For an excellent timeline of the Marlo Morgan controversy up to 2001, go to this webpage (from which I drew the quotes in this section):