I have received a number of e-mail queries about Bruce MacDonald's piece on A Course in Miracles, "Jesus, Abba and ACIM." In it, his guides, who claim to be Jesus and God, give their perspective on the Course, encouraging students to abandon it. I had initially written Bruce and asked why he was being critical of the Course when, as I said to him, "some of your issues with ACIM come from misunderstandings about what it teaches." He then sent me back the piece that he posted as "Jesus, Abba and ACIM." So I owed him a response. I also felt I owed a response to those people who had written me about his piece and who had likely only read it because the Circle of Atonement's website had linked to Bruce's site.
My response to him is included below. The angle I take is not to defend those positions in the Course criticized by his guides, but rather to show that, to a large extent, those positions are misrepresentations of the Course. His guides, in other words, are criticizing something of which they have a superficial acquaintance and a poor grasp. Their statements on the Course are simply too unschooled to be taken seriously.
I have also received some e-mails asking why I am "supporting Bruce," given his opposition to the Course. This surprised me, to be honest. I called attention to valuable evidence that he uncovered about the apparent source of "Pursah's Gospel of Thomas," by Gary Renard. That evidence speaks for itself, and would do so no matter who uncovered it. Calling attention to that evidence surely does not constitute an endorsement of Bruce MacDonald's (or his guides') personal opinions about everything under the sun. Indeed, his opinions on the Course are weak just where his piece on Pursah's Gospel of Thomas was strong—on careful grounding in the evidence.
June 10, 2010
Now that I am settling into my new home, I've had a chance to read the piece you've written communicating your guides' perspective on the Course.
You strike me as an honorable, reasonable, and cooperative person, and I've truly appreciated our communications. But in responding to this piece, I will need to say some very direct things. Please don't take them as anything but a review of the work you've produced. You and your guides are writing about my field of expertise, so imagine that you have just turned in a paper in a class and you are getting it back from the teacher with comments. You may disagree with the teacher. You may think he is biased or doesn't know his material very well. But if he's a decent teacher, his comments will simply be about the work you've produced, not about you personally.
As a stylistic matter, I'll refer to your guides collectively. If I start calling them Jesus and God, this is going to get very confusing!
My primary feedback is that your guides have a woefully inadequate understanding of the Course. Their understanding is cursory—it reads like the thoughts of someone whose acquaintance with the Course is largely a result of casually leafing through it, and not even all of it; mainly the Manual and early part of the Workbook. It is derivative, in that it clearly betrays the influence of Gary Renard (including five references to the universe disappearing), as if Gary really does accurately represent the Course. It is narrow, in that it returns again and again to a very few themes, as if the Course more or less consists of those few themes. It is shallow, in that it sets up oversimplified interpretations of the Course, so oversimplified that they are very easy to knock down. And most important of all, it is full of demonstrable inaccuracies.
You may respond that I am simply projecting my own thoughts onto the Course, an idea your guides seem to allude to. That's easy to say, and it may be true. All I can do is present my evidence, but I can do that in spades. Further, many of these issues are very basic and unambiguous ones.
For instance, one of the main objections put forward is the authorship issue. Your guides claim, "There is no conclusive sense of who is teaching and who is speaking in ACIM" and that "sometimes they [the books] claim to come from another voice [than Jesus'] entirely." This is simply not true. The only claim of authorship in the Course is that it comes from Jesus. Now, of course, no one can prove that it really does come from Jesus. How do you prove the identity of a nonphysical author? But the claim itself is perfectly consistent; it never once deviates. The passages your guides quote to prove the contrary all quickly evaporate upon inspection. For instance:
Your guides say that since "the man [Jesus] was an illusion" then Jesus is "no longer a separate ego through whom teachings can be given." This shows a lack of understanding of Course metaphysics. The Course teaches that each of us, including Jesus, is a Son of God, an "individual" part of the one Son, the Christ. Our appearance as human beings is an illusion, but our reality as Sons of God is eternal. In this metaphysical view, even once the illusory human is gone, that person is still a Son of God and can thus still communicate with others. When the author of the Course refers to himself "as a man and also one of God's creations" (T-5.I.4:6), he is referring to these two aspects. The man was the illusory aspect; God's creation is his real identity as a Son of God.
We don't need to tease indirect implications out of the Course regarding the ability of Jesus to teach us and communicate with us. That same section which says "the man was an illusion" also affirms that Jesus continues to teach us: "His little life on earth was not enough to teach the mighty lesson that he learned for all of you. He will remain with you to lead you from the hell you made to God." There are many, many other passages which affirm his ongoing ability to teach and communicate.
Your guides say, "In this passage, as in many, Jesus is described by the narrator in the third person — he is not the speaker." Actually, there are just two sections in which this is the case, one in the Manual and one in the Clarification of Terms. These do not negate Jesus being the author, especially since one of those sections says "This course has come from him." Are these sections really a problem regarding the authorship claim? Surely you have read writers who have written about themselves in the third person.
Your guides refer to Lesson 166, which talks about feeling "Christ's touch upon your shoulder." Your guides then say, "This passage seems to revert to the customary Christian teaching that 'the Christ' is another name for Jesus, so this is Jesus touching us on the shoulder." The reason is that "Christ could not touch anyone on the shoulder and another phrase would have been used. The narrator is obviously confused." None of this is accurate. In the Course, "Christ" and "Jesus" are distinct terms. The Course never uses "Christ" as a title that is synonymous with Jesus. So this passage is in fact about Christ, not Jesus. Christ is said to touch you on the shoulder because, as we all know, being touched (or tapped) on the shoulder has a metaphorical meaning. If I say, "I had this experience last night in which it really felt like that God kind of tapped me on the shoulder," everyone would know what I meant. No one would say, "Hey, God can't do that. He doesn't have fingers."
In another place, your guides offer this: "the narrator says, 'We have repeatedly said. . . ' (55). Who is this 'we'? From whom do the teachings come? If it is a 'we' who is talking, it is not Jesus or the Christ but someone else entirely, someone or a group which can be addressed as a plural." Haven't your guides heard of the editorial we or the royal we? Writers use this device all the time. When a reviewer says, "We found this movie pretentious," no one wonders why the by-line lists only one person. When the Queen says, "We are not amused," no one thinks she is talking about a collective lack of amusement.
Even though your guides unequivocally state that sometimes the books "claim to come from another voice entirely," notice that your guides don't actually produce any such claims; nothing like "This course was written by Buddha (or a soul group, or Seth, or Simon Magus, etc.)." They only produce passages (drawn almost exclusively from just two sections in the Course's brief third volume) that, according to them, imply another voice. But if you know something about Course metaphysics, and especially if you know something about common writing conventions (like metaphor and the editorial we), you can readily see that those passages imply no such thing.
Then, on the strength of all that, your guides boldly conclude, "ACIM thus has a primary level of its meaning which came from a major deception when it claimed to come from me. It is built on a lie, and your confidence in it is based on a lie."
These are just a few examples of a long list of inaccuracies. To review all of the things your guides said about the Course would take a great deal of space. What I can say, though, is that their track record concerning accuracy to the Course is unfortunately just as poor throughout as it is with the authorship issue. The claims, for instance, that the Course does not care about honesty ("no one is held to account for honesty"), that "It is better, in this view of the universe, to commit suicide," that "there is no purpose in putting effort even into love and mercy and forgiveness which themselves must end in illusion," and that "It [ACIM] wants to say that God is far away, hiding in the past," all run directly counter to clear and repeated statements in the Course.
Many of the misrepresentations come down to a single and very basic idea, that while in the Course learning, change, effort, forgiveness, mercy, and the consequences of our actions are not ultimately real, they are all an essential part of the dream of this world. As a result, as long as we experience ourselves as here, our actions will have consequences and our job will be to continually give our effort to learning and change, so that we increasingly embody forgiveness and mercy and become increasingly potent agents of healing and change in the world. Your guides consistently act as if all that can't be true if the world is an illusion. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of the Course. It is a poor grade in the first week of Course 101.
You can claim that I am just speaking from my well-intentioned projections onto the Course, but in each case I can marshal a sizable pile of textual evidence in response to what are really very ham-handed arguments made by your guides. They are not hard to refute. If you want to focus at length on any individual points, I would be happy to show you what I mean. Unfortunately, when it comes to the Course, your guides cannot be considered reliable sources of information. If I as a teacher were grading their paper, suffice it to say they would not get high marks. And if their understanding of what the Course says and teaches is so poor, what would compel someone to listen to their evaluations of the Course?
It's as if someone were trying to refute the theory of Darwinian evolution, and in the process said things like, "Evolution is false because it teaches that species appear out of nowhere, with no similar species leading up to them." At that point, this person would have shown himself to have such a poor understanding of Darwinian evolution that we would not listen to anything else he had to say on the subject.
Given your guides' poor knowledge and grasp of the Course, the appropriate stance on their part in relation to the Course would be a willingness to learn more about it, or at least silence. Yet instead, they proceed to try to publicly take the Course down, in authoritative language and in unflattering terms. Your guides tell people to "abandon ACIM." They declare, "It is now time to leave the Course." They say, "It is a self-destructive philosophy." They speak of "the lie of ACIM." They say, "ACIM is now obsolete." They refer to "the harm which the Course has done you." They assert that "the Course argues through the twisting of words and meanings." They speak of the Course's "tyrant God."
This combination of a poor knowledge of the Course and the attempt to publicly tear it down is frankly unsightly. It is definitely not to your guides' credit. If you are going to try to demolish something, especially something that is deeply cherished by many people, you not only need to handle it respectfully, you also better know your material (as you did in comparing Pursah's Gospel of Thomas with the Patterson/Meyer translation). Your level of certainty needs to rise no higher than your level of expertise. Otherwise, you're just prejudiced. Indeed, that's what we associate with the word "prejudice"—a negative and ultimately destructive attitude toward something one has in ignorance prejudged. We have all experienced something we cherish being torn down out of prejudice. It's not hard to spot.
This prejudice leads to the odd phenomenon of your guides criticizing the Course where there is actual agreement. Your guides say a number of things as disagreements with the Course which are actually in genuine harmony with the Course. For instance, "Decisions you make have effects which stretch through centuries," and "no one is held to account for honesty" (implying that people should be held to account for honesty), and "you must learn the effects of the causes you put in motion," and "Without change there can be no learning," and "You can change it [the world] immediately by changing yourself," and "Out of the freedom which people have been given, they have been allowed to manifest whatever they wished in order to learn of the real meaning of freedom and ultimately of love and joy and bliss." That is another effect of prejudice: You end up denouncing the object of your prejudice even where there is common ground.
This is not to say that your guides are bogus. They may well have given you very helpful guidance in your life. My only knowledge of them is what you have passed on to me in your piece. However, what I can say is that their guidance about the Course simply can't be taken seriously. And I suspect the same would be true in other areas that you yourself are not an expert in. Similar to the point I made in my e-mail, if you asked them about theoretical physics, I suspect you'd get the same quality of result. In my experience, that is the norm with channeling (though I've seen exceptions).
If you and your guides want to criticize the Course, then quite simply it is incumbent upon you to learn more about it. And if you did, I think several things would result. First, you would no longer link it so closely with Gary Renard. If you think Gary has linked himself falsely with the Gospel of Thomas, why would you so implicitly trust him linking himself with the Course? Second, you would realize that you have a good deal of common ground with the Course, that there is much in there that you could agree with and celebrate. Third, you would come to respect the Course, as many very intelligent and learned people have who don't entirely agree with it. You would no longer equate it with the flimsy straw man you have erected and then knocked down. You would see it in a whole new light. And in that light it would look like a brother in the larger goal of bringing Heaven to earth and earth to Heaven, something you formerly saw through the eyes of prejudice, but now see as a true brother.
I don't know if you will ever take the time to go through this process, but I hope you can at least open your mind to the possibility that this would be the outcome of learning more about the Course.
I would be happy to address in more detail anything about the Course that you would like.