Does the Holy Spirit Actually Do Things in the World?

by Greg Mackie

Note: This is a revised and expanded version of a "Course Q & A" Q&A that appears on The Circle of Atonement's website.

The question of whether the Holy Spirit acts in the world is a crucial one, because it has a direct impact on our understanding of God's relationship with the world, and our relationship with God. Did God actively respond to the separation by creating the Holy Spirit, a loving Being Who literally has a plan for the world's salvation and helps us bring that plan to fruition by actively guiding our thoughts, words, and actions if we will let Him? Or does God not even know about the separation, in which case the Holy Spirit is just an illusory split-off part of our own minds, a metaphorical symbol for the memory of God that we brought into our dream of separation, a memory that does not have a plan or actively help us in any way, but is simply a stationary lighthouse that passively illuminates the way back to our true home?

Clearly, these are two dramatically different views of God and the Holy Spirit. The first is the view of the Circle; the second is the view of Ken Wapnick. (This, at any rate, is our opinion, based on Wapnick's body of work.) In the Circle's view, then, the Holy Spirit definitely does act in the world; in Wapnick's view, He definitely does not. This is probably one of the most significant differences between our vision of the Course and Wapnick's.

Since Wapnick's views are so influential in the Course community, we thought it would be helpful to compare his view on this question with the Circle's. In this article, I will first present the Circle's position on this question and our reasons for holding it, and then present Wapnick's position (including quotations from his works) and our reasons for disagreeing with it. Some of the endnotes contain additional information, so please read those as well. It is my hope that this article will be helpful to Course students in their own efforts to discern where A Course in Miracles stands on this crucial issue.

The Circle's view: The Holy Spirit does do things in the world

Wapnick and we would probably agree that the resolution of this issue comes down to one very simple question: What does the Course say about it? We simply differ on how to interpret what the Course says about it. In a nutshell, the Circle's reasons for believing that the Holy Spirit does act in the world can be boiled down to the following two points: 1) The Course very clearly states that the Holy Spirit does things in the world, and 2) The Course offers no reason to believe that it doesn't mean these statements literally. In my presentation of the Circle's view, then, I will simply be presenting Course material describing how the Holy Spirit acts in the world, material that we take quite literally.

Before I do this, however, I want to clarify how I understand the question being posed here, and what I mean by the answer I'm presenting. As I am understanding it, the question basically means this: "Does the Holy Spirit actively do things in the world in the same sense that we, the members of the Sonship, actively do things in the world?" This is what I think most people mean when they ask whether the Holy Spirit does things in the world. So, while I know the Course teaches that the world is an illusion and therefore no real acts occur in the world, the question I'm addressing here is whether or not the Holy Spirit acts within the illusion. In the Circle's view of the Course's teachings, He does act within the illusion, in the same sense that everyone in the Sonship does. This is what we mean when we say that the Holy Spirit does things in the world.

With that clarification out of the way, I would now like to present some reasons for the Circle's view.

Our reasons for believing that the Holy Spirit does things in the world

While the Course tells us that the Holy Spirit's primary function is to teach us true perception-in other words, to help us change our minds, not our external world-it also tells us clearly that one means the Holy Spirit uses for changing minds is working within the world of form. The Holy Spirit Himself has taken form to teach us in this world (see C-6.1:4), and He uses the forms of the world for His teaching purpose. Indeed, there is literally no form in this world He cannot use for this purpose:

All that you made can serve salvation easily and well. The Son of God can make no choice the Holy Spirit cannot employ on his behalf. (T-25.VI.7:4-5)

And so, again and again, the Course depicts the Holy Spirit using things like time, bodies, relationships, situations, words, etc., as means to teach the lessons of salvation. Indeed, the Course itself-a form brought into the world by the Holy Spirit through Jesus-is a prime example of the Holy Spirit using form as a teaching tool.

Why does He use form as a teaching tool? Because we who are committed to the ego have a heavy investment in the world of form that the ego made. Form is what we believe in; it is a language we can understand. Therefore, in order to be an effective Teacher, the Holy Spirit needs "to use what the ego has made, to teach the opposite of what the ego has 'learned'" (T-7.IV.3:3). He needs to use the world of form as a means to teach us how to transcend the world of form.

Not only does the Holy Spirit use form to teach us, but He also uses it to enable us to teach others. This is an important emphasis in the Course. If we are to fulfill our function of extending healed perception to others, we must do so in a language they can understand. In order to get the message, they need "a body they can see. A voice they understand and listen to, without the fear that truth would encounter in them" (M-12.3:5-6). And so, the Holy Spirit guides us in using forms, like the body, to communicate with those who need to receive the message of salvation in a concrete, tangible way.

If the Holy Spirit does indeed work within the world of form, what exactly does He do? The following points are a list of some of the things the Course explicitly says the Holy Spirit does (or has done) in the world:

He has given us God's plan for salvation, which includes a script for our entire journey through the world.

The plan for salvation (also called the plan of the Atonement) is God's response to the separation, and we are told that the Holy Spirit has the function of "bringing the plan of the Atonement to us" (C-6.2:1). The content of that plan is forgiveness, the earthly reflection of the formless Love of God. Yet because we believe in a world of form, the plan has also taken form. In fact, we are told that the Holy Spirit has written the script (see W-pI.169.9:3) for every single thing that happens in the world.[1] Absolutely nothing is left to chance (M-9.1:3). While this may seem painfully restrictive at first glance, ultimately it is deeply reassuring, as the following passage invites us to recognize:

What could you not accept, if you but knew that everything that happens, all events, past, present and to come, are gently planned by One Whose only purpose is your good? (W-pI.135.18:1)

He gives each of us a function in His plan for salvation: both the general function of forgiveness, and a special function in the world.

In addition to giving us God's plan for salvation, the Holy Spirit has the function of "establishing our particular part in it and showing us exactly what it is" (C-6.2:1). Since the content of the plan is forgiveness, our general function in that plan is also forgiveness-primarily, extending forgiveness to others. Yet because each of us is different on the level of form, the Holy Spirit has given each of us a particular form in which we are to fulfill our function of forgiveness:

Such is the Holy Spirit's kind perception of specialness; His use of what you made, to heal instead of harm. To each He gives a special function in salvation he alone can fill; a part for only him. (T-25.VI.4:2)

Our special function is the specific form our forgiveness takes in the world, a form that is uniquely suited to our individual personalities, talents, and life circumstances (see T-25.VII.7:1-3 and W-pI.154.2:1-2). In short, it is the particular part each of us has been assigned in God's plan for salvation.

Our special function could take a wide variety of forms. For example, Helen and Bill had the special function of taking down the Course. A part of Bill's special function was to be a classroom teacher.[2] In the Course material, the Manual discusses the functions of teacher of pupils and healer of patients, and the Psychotherapy supplement discusses the function of psychotherapist. All of these are examples of forms our special function could take, though of course there are countless more. The key point is that each and every one of us has a special function assigned by the Holy Spirit, whatever it may be.

He chooses the people we are to help as part of our special function in the world, and puts us in contact with them.

The Course is clear that literally every encounter with another person is pre-arranged by the Holy Spirit. For instance, here is a description of how the teacher of God meets up with those he is to teach:

The plan includes very specific contacts to be made for each teacher of God. There are no accidents in salvation. Those who are to meet will meet. (M-3.1:5-7)

A later reference in the Manual says that even the specific purpose for each contact is pre-arranged: "Not one is sent without a learning goal already set, and one which can be learned that very day" (M-16.1:7). The bottom line is that our special function is always a way to help other people, and the Holy Spirit brings us together with those who will benefit the most from our particular form of help.

He gives us all the physical things and circumstances we need to fulfill our special function in the world.

To some Course students, it may seem almost sacrilegious to suggest that the Holy Spirit literally gives us things. Yet the Course unequivocally states that He supplies us with material possessions (see T-13.VII.12:-13) and money (see P-3.III.1,4-6). In addition, He takes care of the circumstances of our lives, including bringing about meetings with specific people (as we saw above) and arranging our life situations (see T-20.IV.8:1-8).

I want to say a little more about T-13.VII.12:-13, because I have heard some Course students claim that this passage isn't referring to material things, but to spiritual things like peace, forgiveness, etc. However, if we examine the passage and the paragraphs immediately preceding it, we can see that this simply isn't the case. The "things" referred to here (all references in this paragraph are from (T-13.VII) are described as things we buy in stores (1:3), things we need on earth (10:4), things that can be owned or possessed (10:10-12), things the ego wants for salvation (10:11), things that we need in time and need to be renewed (12:4), things that meet temporary needs (12:6), things the Holy Spirit has no investment in and doesn't emphasize (12:7, 13:2), and things that could be used by us "on behalf of lingering in time," but needn't be because the Holy Spirit can prevent this from happening (12:7). Given these descriptions, how could these things possibly be spiritual things like peace and forgiveness? There is only one class of things that fits all of these descriptions: material things.

Of course, the Holy Spirit does not give us things to serve our ego needs; He is not a divine butler at our beck and call, Who delivers worldly goodies to keep our egos fat and happy. Rather, He gives us things only to enable us to fulfill our special function in God's plan for salvation. Thus, the surprising answer to the often-asked question of whether the Holy Spirit manifests parking spaces is "Yes, He does, ifdoing so serves God's plan."

He gives us detailed guidance for all of our decisions and all of our actions in the world.

In the Course's view, we are utterly incapable of making sound decisions on our own. Our limited human judgment is simply not adequate to the task. Therefore, we need a Guide Whose judgment is unlimited, a Guide Who can make decisions for us. That Guide, of course, is the Holy Spirit.

Again and again, we are told to let go of our judgment and allow the Holy Spirit's judgment to replace it. An entire section of the Manual for Teachers (M-10) is devoted to this topic. And while the Holy Spirit's most important role is to guide our perception of the world, the Course is clear that He is to specifically guide our actions in the world as well. In fact, the Course goes so far as to say that Jesus-through whom the Holy Spirit works-will control all of our actions automatically if we allow him to guide our thoughts (see T-2.VI.2:8-9). Throughout the Course, we are told very explicitly that if we turn to the Holy Spirit, He will tell us "what to do and where to go; to whom to speak and what to say to him, what thoughts to think, what words to give the world" (W-pII.275.2:3; see also T-2.V.A.18:4-5, W-pI.71.9:3-5, and W-pI.rVI.In.7:2). Not only will He tell us what to do, but He will even "do it for [us]" (T-14.IV.6:6). It can't get any clearer than that. There is simply no doubt that the Course depicts the Holy Spirit doing things in the world.

Ken Wapnick's view: The Holy Spirit does not do things in the world [3]

In spite of all of the evidence presented above for the Holy Spirit's activity in the world, Wapnick has a very different view of the Holy Spirit: "He does not actively do anything."[4] Not only does He not actively do anything in the world, but He doesn't even actively do anything in our minds; as we will see below, He is not a real Being, and thus cannot act in any way.

Given the evidence, why does Wapnick hold the view he does? It certainly isn't because he is unaware of the evidence. He does not deny that the Course depicts the Holy Spirit doing things in the world. What he does deny is that those depictions are to be taken literally. He offers various reasons for why the Course doesn't literally mean the things it says about the Holy Spirit, reasons that are based on the underlying assumption that the Course can't possibly mean these things, given its overall thought system. (We will explore that assumption in more detail below.)

As I've already made clear, we disagree with Wapnick's view. We can find no evidence whatsoever in the Course to support it. We can find nothing in its overall thought system that precludes the possibility of the Holy Spirit acting in the world. In fact, the thought system we see in the Course makes the Holy Spirit's activity in the world absolutely indispensable to our salvation.

Wapnick's reasons for believing that the Holy Spirit does not do things in the world, and our reasons for disagreeing with him

Before beginning this exploration of Wapnick's view, I would like to briefly address a couple of issues that came up in my recent reading of Wapnick's work: First, Wapnick does occasionally make statements that suggest the Holy Spirit does act in the world, at least in the role of guiding behavior. Here is one example: "Our function in the world is therefore not to feed the hungry, free the oppressed, nor to serve any other social or benevolent cause, although certainly our behavior may be so guided by the Holy Spirit" [5] (emphasis in final phrase mine).

I do not know what to make of such statements. It seems to me that Wapnick is contradicting himself. Wapnick may argue that he doesn't intend these statements to be taken literally, but that instead they should be interpreted in the context of his overall teaching that the Holy Spirit does not act in the world. This is actually the same way that he says we should interpret the Course's statements about the Holy Spirit acting in the world.

However, this strikes me as a very confusing way to proceed. Why state in such plain, literal language that the Holy Spirit guides behavior, when you actually believe He doesn't guide behavior? Such an approach seems bound to lead to misunderstandings. At any rate, Wapnick's references to the Holy Spirit guiding behavior are very rare. His overall position on the Holy Spirit is abundantly clear, and it doesn't include the Holy Spirit guiding behavior.

Second, it should be said that Wapnick seems to have changed his mind on this issue. In his early works, up until about the mid-1980's, he clearly taught that the Holy Spirit does act in the world. For instance, in the very first piece Wapnick wrote about the Course, Christian Psychology in 'A Course in Miracles,' he says that we should find out from the Holy Spirit "the particular function He has reserved for us in His plan for salvation"[6] and "turn over to the Holy Spirit all our problems regardless of their form, and…refer to His wisdom all questions for which we need answers." [7] Then he adds, "Perhaps it seems at first to be the height of arrogance to believe that the Holy Spirit is so intimately involved with the minutia of our daily lives."[8] In The Fifty Miracle Principles of 'A Course in Miracles'(1985), he says that the Holy Spirit is a Being Who "can function in a world of symbols [this world],"[9] and "can use all situations and relationships to teach us the single lesson that the separation is unreal." [10]

Wapnick's earlier works certainly seem to present a view of the Holy Spirit that has much more in common with Circle's view. But as I've said, he really seems to have changed his mind since the early days of his writing about the Course. All of his current works heavily stress that the Holy Spirit does not do things in the world in any way, and it is his current position that I will focus on here.

With these issues out of the way, the following italicized points present some of Wapnick's main arguments for the idea that the Holy Spirit does not do things in the world. I will also present our response to those arguments.

The Holy Spirit doesn't do things in the world because the world is an illusion.

This argument runs basically as follows: The Holy Spirit can't really act in the world, because there is no world to act in. The world is just an illusion in our minds. If the world is an illusion, then the Holy Spirit's seeming "acts" in the world must be illusions as well. Wapnick puts it this way:

In fact, the Holy Spirit or Jesus do nothing in the world, because all correction and healing occur at the level of the mind. "There is no world!" [W-pI.132.6:2]. [11]

This point is perfectly logical, and we have no argument with it as far as it goes. From the Course's standpoint, the world is indeed an illusion in our minds. Therefore, all acts in the illusory world, whether they are ours or the Holy Spirit's, are illusions. Given this, we wholeheartedly agree with Wapnick that the Holy Spirit doesn't do real things in the world, just as we don't do real things in the world.

But this valid point doesn't really address the question I think most people have in mind when they ask if the Holy Spirit does things in the world. The question isn't whether or not the Holy Spirit's acts within the illusion are real, but whether or not He does act within the illusion. In other words, to repeat the version of the question I presented above: Does the Holy Spirit actively do things in the world in the same sense that we, the members of the Sonship, actively do things in the world? The ultimate reality-status of those things and of that world is not really relevant to this question. Therefore, the world's illusory nature can't be used to refute the idea that the Holy Spirit does things in the world.

The Holy Spirit doesn't do things in the world, because His role is to help us change our minds, not to guide us in the world.

This is closely related to the first point. Wapnick is emphatic that the Holy Spirit's "activity" takes place only within our minds, not the world: "We are taught in the text that it is not the role of the Holy Spirit to guide us in the world of effects-the material world of specifics-but rather to help us change our minds about the cause of our problems: our belief in the reality of sin and guilt."[12] He often cites the following passage from the Text as evidence for this:

In gentle laughter does the Holy Spirit perceive the cause, and looks not to effects. How else could He correct your error, who have overlooked the cause entirely?….You judge effects, but He has judged their cause. And by His judgment are effects removed. (T-27.VIII.9:1-2,4-5)

Of course it is true, as I said above, that the Holy Spirit's function is to teach us true perception-to help us change our minds. That is what this passage is getting at. We think the cause of our pain is an outside world independent of our own minds, but in fact the outside world is only an effect generated by the real cause of our pain: the guilt in our own minds. The Holy Spirit knows this, and has already undone the guilt in our minds through His judgment that we did nothing meriting guilt. This passage is encouraging us to acknowledge the real cause of our pain (the guilt in our minds) and the Holy Spirit's undoing of that cause, so that we can change our minds, let go of guilt, and relieve our pain.

But it simply doesn't follow that because the Holy Spirit sees the cause of our pain as in our minds instead of out in the world, He therefore does not do anything in the world. When this passage says He "looks not to effects," it doesn't mean that He has nothing to do with effects; it simply means that He does not erroneously ascribe the cause of our pain to those effects, as we do. This doesn't in any way overrule all the evidence already presented that He does things in this world. And, as we will see in the next point, His activity in the world of effects actually plays a role in facilitating the change of mind that is the Holy Spirit's goal.

The Holy Spirit doesn't do things in the world because if He did, that would make the error real.

This is a major argument of Wapnick's; he says that if God or His agents were to act in the world, they "would be violating the Course's 'prime directive' (to borrow a term from Star Trek), which is not to make the error real."[13]

My first response to this argument is that Wapnick seems to have radically redefined the Course idea of making error real. I am aware of six Course passages that refer more or less directly to this idea.[14] In every one of these passages (read in light of its immediate context), making error real means making the errors of other people into real sins through focusing on and magnifying those errors in our minds. This, the Course says, makes forgiveness impossible because seeing our brothers as sinners blinds us to the Christ in them.

But in Wapnick's view, making error real-which he has rephrased in his writings as "making the error real"-seems to mean the act of accepting as true any idea that (in Wapnick's view) implies the physical world is real. In this reinterpretation, the word "error" no longer refers to the mistakes of another person, but instead to "the error" of the separation, and the universe of time and space that stems from it. What ideas make the error real, according to Wapnick? For the most part, they seem to boil down to this: any idea that suggests that activity in the world-such as the activity of God or His agents-has an important role in salvation.

As you can see, the Course's idea of making error real and Wapnick's version of it are quite different. The Course's idea addresses the practical concern of our dwelling on other people's mistakes. But Wapnick's version addresses his theological concern of avoiding anything that seems to imply that the world of time and space is real. The two are quite far apart. However, by grafting his meaning onto the Course's phrase-by using "making error real" to refer to his concept-he makes it appear that the Course is holding the same theological concern he is. He makes it appear that the Course's "prime directive" is concerned not with focusing on the errors of others, but with believing in ideas that seem to imply that the physical world is real.

"Not to make the error real," as Wapnick uses the phrase, is thus not the "prime directive" of the Course at all. Wapnick's theological concern does not really seem to be shared by the Course. Certainly the Course doesn't share Wapnick's theological concern about the Holy Spirit; I cannot think of anyplace in the Course where it says anything like, "Don't you realize that seeing the Holy Spirit as active in the world would imply that the physical world is real?" On the contrary, we have already seen that His activity has a prominent role in salvation. The Course never says that such activity inevitably makes the physical world real.

In fact, there are passages in the Course that indicate the Holy Spirit acts in the physical world to prove that it is unreal. One example is in Chapter 30, Section VIII of the Text. The second paragraph of that section discusses a miracle that brings about a positive external change in a brother's life situation. According to that paragraph, one powerful effect of that miracle and the external change it brings about is the following:

The miracle attests salvation from appearances by showing they can change….The miracle is proof [your brother] is not bound by loss or suffering in any form, because it can so easily be changed. This demonstrates that it was never real, and could not stem from his reality. (T-30.VIII.2:2,6-7)

In other words, the miracle changes external situations, and in so doing proves that those external situations are only illusory appearances, not reality. We are thus saved from those appearances.

Think about the implications of that. Miracles come from the Holy Spirit, "Who gives all miracles" (T-30.VIII.4:7). Their primary result is a change of mind, but they also produce positive external effects. And these external effects are not simply pleasant by-products of miracles, but actually perform a vital role in reinforcing that change of mind: They prove the unreality of appearances. Therefore, the result of the Holy Spirit's intervention in the world (through the external effects of the miracles He gives) is that the physical world is shown to be unreal. This is reason enough to dismiss the idea that the Holy Spirit cannot do things in the world because that would automatically make the error real.

The Holy Spirit doesn't do things in the world; if we believe He does, we are falling into the trap of "spiritual specialness."

According to Wapnick, the belief that the Holy Spirit does things in the world is not only incorrect, but is actually a sneaky ego ploy to get us to engage in what he calls "spiritual specialness." [15] In his view, the belief that the Holy Spirit does things in the world is simply the ego's insatiable drive for specialness masquerading in a "spiritualized" form. In particular, seeing the Holy Spirit as a personal Being Who has "specially chosen [us] to do holy, special, and very important work in this world" [16] is nothing more than the ego's last-ditch effort to make the error real, to defend its specialness against the threat posed by the ego-undoing message of A Course in Miracles. Therefore, Wapnick concludes, we really shouldn't seek guidance concerning our function at all: "Focusing on hearing Jesus or the Holy Spirit is clearly setting oneself up for a painful fall, for such a practice grossly underestimates the unconscious investment in the reality of the ego's thought system of specialness." [17]

Certainly, the idea that we have a special function in the world can be a fertile ground for ego-based specialness. But to say that this idea is inherently ego-based is a classic case of throwing out the baby with the bathwater. As we saw above, the Course clearly says that the Holy Spirit has given us a special function in the world. Rather than being an ego trap, this special function is, in the words previously quoted, "the Holy Spirit's kind perception of specialness; His use of what you made, to heal instead of harm" (T-25.VI.4:2). It is the Holy Spirit's reinterpretation of our desire for specialness, in which He converts it from an ego trap to a means to serve God's plan.

Far from discouraging the idea, then, Jesus really wants us to know that we do have a special function, because "[our] part is essential to God's plan for salvation" (W-pI.100.Heading). If we totally reject the idea that the Holy Spirit has given us a special function and does things in the world to help us fulfill that function, it will have the devastating effect of causing us to reject our part in God's plan. Ironically, in trying to escape "spiritual specialness," we will end up playing right into the ego's hands.

The Holy Spirit doesn't do things in the world because only our own minds really do things; the Holy Spirit only seems to do things.

This is Wapnick's explanation for the many passages in the Course that depict the Holy Spirit doing things in our lives. Such passages, in his view, aren't meant to be taken literally, but simply "reflect…the experience within our split minds of the abstract Presence of God's Love."[18] In truth, Wapnick says, only our own minds actually do anything; it only seems that the Holy Spirit does things for us.[19]

Wapnick uses the following analogy to make his point: Just as our experience is that the sun moves when in fact the earth is moving around a (relatively) stationary sun, so our experience is that the Holy Spirit "moves" and does things for us when in fact our minds are "moving" in relation to the "stationary" Presence of God's Love.[20] Thus, what seems to be the Holy Spirit's activity in the world is actually a deception of our ego-driven minds, which "interpret our change of mind as being done for us by the Holy Spirit."[21]

The problem with this theory is that it finds absolutely no support in the Course. Of course, our minds do "move," but so does the Holy Spirit. Recall the line from the Text I quoted above, which said that not only will the Holy Spirit tell us what to do, but He will even "do it for [us]" (T-14.IV.6:6). Wapnick's idea that the Holy Spirit does nothing seems to be based not on evidence from the Course, but on his own logic, rooted in the idea I will discuss in the next point.

The Holy Spirit doesn't do things in the world because God does not even know about the separation.

According to Wapnick, the Holy Spirit does nothing because the Course's "basic metaphysical premise is that God does not even know about the dream." [22] This idea is central to Wapnick's view of the Course: "This God [the God of the Course] does not even know about the separation…and thus does not and cannot respond to it." [23] Therefore, God could not possibly have literally created a Being like the Holy Spirit in response to the separation. Given this, it goes without saying that He didn't create a Being Who could actually act within the illusory world of separation.

But the Course never actually says that God doesn't know about the separation. In fact, there are two passages that directly say otherwise. One is T-6.V.1:5-8; the other is the following:

Unless you take your part in the creation, [God's] joy is not complete because yours is incomplete. And this He does know. He knows it in His Own Being and its experience of His Son's experience. The constant going out of His Love is blocked when His channels are closed, and He is lonely when the minds He created do not communicate fully with Him. (T-4.VII.6:4-7, emphasis mine)

Clearly, this passage tells us that God knows we have somehow cut off our minds from Him-or at least cut off our awareness of Him. Wapnick may dismiss this passage as metaphor, but we at the Circle find that very hard to do. A metaphor usually brings to mind a specific concrete image, an image that represents or symbolizes a more abstract idea. A Course example would be the metaphor of giving your brother lilies, which represents forgiveness. But this passage doesn't contain such language; instead, it speaks in abstract terms about things like God's Being, knowledge, and experience-language that is more philosophical, theological, and metaphysical in nature. The two sentences I emphasized in particular look a lot more like the technical language of abstract theology than the colorful language of concrete imagery; they are more metaphysics than metaphor. Therefore, we have every reason to believe that this passage represents Jesus' literal teaching about the nature of God, a teaching that he wants us to take seriously as a statement of the Course's theology.

In our opinion, this passage (along with T-6.V.1:5-8) is strong evidence that God knows about the separation, and could therefore respond to it by creating a Being capable of acting within the illusion of separation. Indeed, T-6.V.1:5-8 concludes with a statement that God did respond to it: "So He thought, 'My children sleep and must be awakened'" (T-6.V.1:8). [24]

The Holy Spirit doesn't do things in the world because He is only an illusion.

This point follows from the previous one. For if the Holy Spirit is not a Being created by God in response to the separation, then just what is He? Clearly, He can't really be anything substantial. Wapnick, in fact, says point-blank that "the Holy Spirit is an illusion." [25] One of the Course passages he offers as evidence for this rather startling claim that the Holy Spirit is only "a symbol and not reality" [26] is this one from the Manual:

His [the Holy Spirit's] is the Voice for God, and has therefore taken form. This form is not His reality, which God alone knows along with Christ….And then the Voice is gone, no longer to take form, but to return to the eternal formlessness of God. (C-6.1:4-5,5:8)

Wapnick's claim apparently rests on the lines in this passage referring to the unreality of the Holy Spirit's form, and the fact that His form will disappear once the dream is over. But while these lines do say that the forms He takes are unreal (as all forms are), they certainly don't say that He is unreal. On the contrary, we see in this passage a direct reference to "His reality, which God alone knows along with Christ."

Moreover, the section from which these lines are drawn (C-6) says that the Holy Spirit is "a creation of the One Creator, creating with Him and in His likeness or spirit," a creation that "is eternal" (1:2). An eternal creation of God is real by definition. Throughout this section, the Holy Spirit is described as a real Being Who works in the world (see especially 2:1). He does this in order to accomplish His "dual function" (3:2) of serving as a bridge between Heaven's knowledge and the world's perception: "He knows because He is part of God; He perceives because He was sent to save humanity" (3:3). And even though His form will disappear when the dream is over, the Course assures us elsewhere that He will remain with us forever in Heaven when the dream is done (see T-5.I.5:5-7).

Therefore, the passage Wapnick quotes here does not depict the Holy Spirit as an illusion; rather, it depicts Him as a real, eternal Being Who takes on illusory, temporary forms in order to serve His function of mediating between the reality of Heaven and our illusory world.[27]

The Holy Spirit doesn't do things in the world because He is only the memory of God.

What is the nature of the illusion described in the previous point? According to Wapnick, the Holy Spirit is simply "the memory of God's Love and the Son's true Identity as Christ that he carried with him into his dream." [28] He is "a distant memory of our Source,"[29] a memory that comforts us within the dream of separation just as the memory of a human loved one comforts us when we feel lonely and cut off from our earthly home. We experience this memory as a personal Being external to ourselves only because we have projected this ego-threatening memory outside of our minds: "The figures of Jesus or the Holy Spirit are really the projections (reflections) of the memory of a non-dualistic God within our dualistic minds."[30] The Holy Spirit is thus nothing more than a "projected split-off part of our self," [31] the part that remembers God.

But there are at least two problems with this definition of the Holy Spirit as the memory of God. First, the Course itself never uses anything like this definition. The closest it ever comes is to say that the Holy Spirit reminds us of God (see, for instance, T-5.II.7:1-5), but saying that He reminds us of God is quite different than saying that He is actually the memory of God. That would be like saying that when my wife reminds me of the trip to San Francisco we took ten years ago, she herself is my memory of that trip.

Second, the term "memory of God" has a specific, technical meaning in the Course, and it is not synonymous with the Holy Spirit. Rather, the term "memory of God" refers to our final awakening in Heaven, accomplished by God in His last step (see, for instance, (W-pII.8.5 and C-3.4). One passage, in fact, spells out the relationship between the memory of God and the Holy Spirit: "I have within me both the memory of You [God], and One [the Holy Spirit] Who leads me to it" (W-pII.352.1:7), emphasis mine). Here, the memory of God and the Holy Spirit are clearly depicted as different things. Thus, rather than defining the Holy Spirit as the memory of God, I think we are wiser to adhere to the definition of the Holy Spirit that the Course itself gives us: a Being Whom God created in response to the separation, a Being Who can and does do things in the world to carry out God's plan of salvation.

The Holy Spirit doesn't do things in the world because pure, non-dualistic spirit simply cannot interact with a dualistic world without compromising spirit's non-dualistic nature.

This is the heart of the matter. This is the fundamental assumption underlying all of the arguments presented above against the idea of the Holy Spirit doing things in the world-the assumption at the core of Ken Wapnick's entire view of the Course's thought system. He explains his basic interpretive stance toward the Course in a section of Few Choose to Listen entitled "An Uncompromising Non-Dualism." [32] In that section, one way in which he expresses his basic rule of Course interpretation is to paraphrase (M-27.7:1), replacing the word "death" with "duality," as follows: "Accept no compromise in which duality plays a part." [33]

In this view, God's Heaven is so purely non-dualistic, so absolutely One, that nothing within it can possibly reach down and interact with a dualistic, separated world in any way, shape, or form. If anything in this realm of pure spirit were to do so, its purity and Oneness would be impossibly compromised. Therefore, whenever the Course talks about spirit interacting with the world (as when it describes the Holy Spirit doing things in the world), it simply can't be taken literally.

Why, then, does the Course talk this way? According to Wapnick, Jesus' purpose for this "metaphorical" language is to comfort beginners on the path by "couch[ing] his teachings in words that his students-always referred to as children (or sometimes even younger)-can understand without fear." [34] Taking this language literally is fine for beginners, but once we have progressed beyond the beginning stage, we should give up childish notions like the idea of spirit interacting with the world, or we will "find ourselves back in our childhood world of fairy godmothers, Santa Claus, and a Sugar Daddy for a God." [35]

But how do we know that Wapnick's assumption that spirit cannot interact with the world is correct? The Course itself never states this once; it is only a logical inference based on a particular interpretation of certain passages. Not only does the Course not state this, but it states the opposite-that spirit can and does interact with the world-countless times. How do we know that it does not mean what it says? If the choice is between a questionable logical inference never stated in the Course and a teaching stated again and again in the Course, which should we choose?

In the Circle's view, the clear choice is the latter. Whenever we are trying to determine what the Course teaches, I think we are on much firmer ground when we stick to what the Course itself actually says, rather than taking unwarranted logical leaps. And besides, we actually have a very obvious, irrefutable example of non-dualistic spirit interacting with a dualistic world without compromising spirit's non-dualistic nature. That example is us: the Sonship.

Think about the current situation of the Sonship as the Course describes it. Our true nature is spirit. Our home is the absolute Oneness of Heaven. Yet somehow, in a way that the Course says is unexplainable, we managed to convince ourselves that we are something other than spirit. Out of this mental error, we managed to project a dualistic, illusory world with which we interact. But in spite of this, we are told, we have not really compromised our spiritual nature. We remain in the Oneness of Heaven, which we never really left.

Clearly, then, it is possible for a non-dualistic Sonship to somehow mentally separate from God, make an illusory, dualistic world, and interact with that world without compromising the Sonship's non-dualistic nature. Now, here's the punch line: If this is so, then why can't a non-dualistic God respond to the separation by sending a Teacher and Comforter Who can and does interact with the illusory, dualistic world without compromising God's non-dualistic nature? Personally, I see no reason why He cannot.

Conclusion

We at the Circle have every reason to believe that the Course literally "means exactly what it says" (T-8.IX.8:1) when it tells us that the Holy Spirit does things in the world. We see no reason to believe otherwise. Personally, I am immensely comforted by this, because it means that we are not cut off from God, all alone in a nightmare world that our remote Father can't help us out of because He does not even know about it. Instead, He knows in His Own Being that we are suffering in seeming exile. And so, out of His Love for us, He created the Holy Spirit, a Guide Who leads us home using every means at His disposal. Nothing is too "impure" for our Guide to use; He even uses the illusory world that we made to imprison ourselves as a means to set us free. In the pages of the Course, Jesus assures us that we have Help in this world. Why not take him at his word?

[1]. For more about the Holy Spirit's script and how it relates to the Course's idea that we are responsible for everything that happens to us in our lives, see my "Course Q & A" article on the Circle's website, entitled "Are all the events and circumstances in our lives predetermined, or do we have free choice?"

[2]. See the section entitled "Bill's Class" in Ken Wapnick's Absence from Felicity, pp. 269-280.

[3]. All of the works cited below as sources of Ken Wapnick's views are published by the Foundation for A Course in Miracles, located in Temecula, California. All of the works were written by Wapnick; one work, The Most Commonly Asked Questions about 'A Course in Miracles,' was co-written with his wife Gloria.

[4]. The Message of 'A Course in Miracles,' Volume One: All Are Called (1997), p. 247.

[5]. All Are Called, p. 341.

[6]. Christian Psychology in 'A Course in Miracles,' 2nd ed. (1st ed. 1978; 2nd ed. 1992), p. 38.

[7]. Christian Psychology, p. 40.

[8]. Christian Psychology, p. 41.

[9]. The Fifty Miracle Principles of 'A Course in Miracles,' 2nd ed. (1st ed. 1985; 2nd ed. 1990), p. 93.

[10]. Fifty Miracle Principles, p. 95.

[11]. The Most Commonly Asked Questions about 'A Course in Miracles' (1995), p. 86.

[12]. Commonly Asked Questions, p. 119.

[13]. Commonly Asked Questions, p. 90.

[14]. T-9.III.6, T-9.IV.4-5, T-11.V.14, T-12.I.1, T-12.III.2, and S-2.I.3.

[15]. See the discussion on pp. 137-142 of The Message of 'A Course in Miracles,' Volume Two: Few Choose to Listen(1997).

[16]. Few Choose to Listen, p. 137.

[17]. Few Choose to Listen, p. 142.

[18]. All Are Called, p. 314.

[19]. One ramification of this is that Wapnick disagrees with the Circle's view that the Holy Spirit has written the script for our journey through the world. Instead, "We-the decision maker in our minds-are the ones who write and choose our scripts" (Commonly Asked Questions, p. 88).

[20]. See Few Choose to Listen, pp. 125-126.

[21]. All Are Called, p. 314.

[22]. All Are Called, p. 314.

[23]. Commonly Asked Questions, p. 4.

[24]. For more on the topic of whether God knows about the separation, see Robert Perry's article entitled "Does God Know We Are Here?" This article is available in Issue #21 of the Circle's newsletter A Better Way, or on the Circle's website.

[25]. Duality as Metaphor in 'A Course in Miracles' (tape set of Ken Wapnick workshop). See also Few Choose to Listen, p. 88, where Wapnick says, "Just as forgiveness remains an illusion because it corrects the sin that never was, so too must the Holy Spirit be an illusion as well, because he corrects (or translates) what is useless and meaningless."

[26]. Few Choose to Listen, p. 124.

[27]. This is another instance in which Wapnick has changed his mind compared to his stance in earlier works. In Fifty Miracle Principles (p. 93), a work that is a combined transcript of two taped workshops done in 1985, a questioner asks Wapnick: "If the separation is an illusion, and the Holy Spirit came into existence to solve that, is not the Holy Spirit an illusion?" Wapnick's answer: "No, because God created Him. It is a good question though. The Course's answer is that when the separation is totally healed and the Holy Spirit is no longer needed, He still exists because God created Him. And then the Course says that He returns to Heaven and blesses our creations (text, p. 68) [Second Edition: text, p. 74; T-5.I.5:5-7]."

[28]. Commonly Asked Questions, p. 103.

[29]. All Are Called, p. 33.

[30]. Few Choose to Listen, p. 108.

[31]. Few Choose to Listen, p. 108.

[32]. Few Choose to Listen, pp. 94-99.

[33]. Few Choose to Listen, p. 94.

[34]. Commonly Asked Questions, pp. 85-86.

[35]. Few Choose to Listen, p. 69.

5 Comments

  1. Gig
    Posted October 3, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    I think I've finally summed up, or bridged the gap between the two camps, although it's not really a compromise, but more of an understanding of where Mr. Wapnick's reasoning goes astray, and it is simply this:
    God does NOT respond to the separation as if it was real, because it's not and He knows it's not. God DOES respond (through the Holy Spirit) to the separation because He knows WE believe (erroneously) that it's real.
    Mr. Wapnick's view ignores our power to create, because he denies the mind's power by ignoring the fact that we can create the BELIEF in separation and believe it to be REAL. The BELIEF itself is REAL (though not Reality) and God knows this because he gave us the power to create. But like Mickey Mouse in The Sorcerer's Apprentice, we just lost site of the fact that on our own, that power of creation will be turned against ourselves. The power to create is real, though we can create reality (with God) or unreality (without God). Obviously, unreality is not real. We just believe it is.
    In short, God saves us (responds) from our belief in unreality.
    Gig

  2. Amber
    Posted October 3, 2012 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for informing me that this is NOT what the course said. Yes, I was/am confused between what the course teaches and what Ken teaches. I however, thought that if he was going against the course, that Helen would at least stand up and say something about it, but I never heard anything, until now. At least the bible only judged half of our acts as sin, but it appears that Ken Wapnick's Bible judges ALL our acts as sins.
    When I read that statement years ago, this is how my mind registered it, weather it was what Ken meant or not.
    1. All actions are a sign of spiritual specialness, and therefore a sin
    2. If the holy spirit doesn't act, then I shouldn't act, because I am one with the holy spitit.
    3. Since I act, I must be a sin, unless I refrain from all action, which I literally tried to do. I feared any time I tried to do something or actually did something, I would make the error real
    Thank you for bringing this to my attention
    Amber

  3. John
    Posted October 3, 2012 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    My response every time I see you criticize, find fault with, take exception to, or otherwise use Ken Wapnick's view and interpretation of The Course as different from yours is to wonder if you aren't using him as a way of bolstering your own ego, to show that you're right and he's wrong. This, seemingly, reinforces your separateness, and positions you as someone who isn't understanding the full message The Course would teach.
    Would it not be preferable to simply state your position, interpretation, and let it go at that? Students could come to their own conclusion. The more I see you stand in opposition to Ken Wapnick, the less weight I give your words.
    John

    • Nicci Barker
      Posted May 28, 2015 at 6:13 am | Permalink

      brother,
      john’s experience of this echoes mine exactly. i gain much when you use your postings to share stories of forgiveness in the world. but even when they may carry perspectives that could have been instructive to my practice, these oppositional messages are not helpful.
      nicci

  4. Diann
    Posted August 19, 2014 at 7:49 am | Permalink

    Thanks, Greg, for a very insightful analysis of these two views. Even though I did hear Ken Wapnick make these statements, I guess it didn’t stick because of the many, many times I called on the Holy Spirit to help me make concrete decisions (like which house to make an offer on when moving, or receiving help with a potentially volatile situation at work).

    Over the years, I have learned through trail and error that I can indulge my ego and get angry or I can ask the Holy Spirit to help me see the Christ in this person. And every time I ask for help, something happens that turns the situation around so that peace prevails. Just yesterday, I talked to my son’s landlord and asked about getting the security deposit back. He said the house was in bad shape, even though cleaners were hired and according to my son, left the house spotless. Instead of getting angry, I asked him to meet my son at the house and show him what was left undone. I hung up and said a prayer for him, blessing him and seeing him in my mind’s eye as a holy son of God. A few minutes later, my son called him and the landlord said the house was actually in good shape, just a few minor areas needed cleaning, which my son did. I smiled when I heard this because I am so used to this happening ALL THE TIME, provided I remember to call for help.

    Your article confirmed what my experience has taught me, that the Holy Spirit does help us over and over again in very concrete ways. Thanks.

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