Are There Many Sons or Just One Son?

by Robert Perry

A Course in Miracles states many times that "God has but one Son" (T-9.VI.3:5; T-10.III.10:1). This automatically raises a number of questions: Since we seem to be many, what are we? Is our individuality entirely illusory? Are we products of the separation rather than created by God? And why does the Course use plural words like "Sons" and "Sonship"?

This may sound like a highly abstruse theological issue, but at stake are some very practical issues. For instance, if we are illusory products of the separation, what is the basis for granting worth and dignity to the individual? If we have no individual self in any sense, what is the basis for self-determination? Might not our personal condition be the result, not of our choices, but the choices of the collective, even of a collective ego? And if other people are illusory products of the separation, what does that do to the notion of relationship? At that point, does relationship have any reality whatsoever?

In the end, where we fall on this single, seemingly arcane issue will shape how we see the entire Course, and not just in theoretical matters—in practical matters as well. It is no small issue.

In this paper, I will argue that the Course throughout teaches that God's one Son also contains an infinite number of Sons, and that this was how the Son was created. I will explore this from a number of angles.

The Course has a number of terms which it uses to speak of this plurality of Sons

The Course uses a number of terms to speak of the plurality of Sons.

Sons
The Course uses the term "Sons" 82 times. Simply using a plural term like this, of course, implies that there is more than one Son. Further, the Sons are often associated directly with Heaven, implying that they are not just post-separation illusions: "The Kingdom of God includes all His Sons" (T-7.XI.7:10).

Children
The Course uses the term "children" to refer to the "children of God" 42 times. This, of course, is another plural term. It, too, is often used to speak of God's children in Heaven, not just on earth, thus making clear that it's not just a post-separation concept. For example, "God knows His children with perfect certainty. He created them by knowing them" (T-3.III.7:9-10).

Creations
Creation is a technical term in the Course, referring to an act that takes place solely in Heaven. The Course is clear that no creation takes place in this world: "In this world it is impossible to create" (T-17.IV.2:1). Interestingly, the Course uses the plural word "creations" 118 times, mostly referring to God's creations (though many times to our own heavenly creations). For instance, "In the creation, God extended Himself to His creations and imbued them with the same loving Will to create" (T-2.I.1:2).

Sonship
The term "Sonship" is used 104 times. It is particularly significant because it at once captures both the unity and plurality of the Son. Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the suffix "-ship" as referring to "the body of persons participating in a specified activity <readership> <listenership>." The Sonship, then, is "the body of persons participating in the activity of being God's Son." It's clearly a membership concept. The Course refers to this, talking about "the members of the Sonship" (T-1.II.6:2). Further, the Course clearly links the Sonship with creation, which rules out the idea that the Sonship is a post-separation product: "The Sonship is the sum of all that God created" (T-1.I.19:2). "He [God] created the Sonship" (T-7.I.2:6).

Other terms
There are a number of other terms the Course uses to denote the plurality of Sons. Parts: "the parts of God's Son" (T-20.V.1:5), "parts of the Sonship" (T-12.IV.6:8). Aspects: "all aspects of the Sonship" (T-13.VI.6:4). Extensions: "His [God's] extensions are like Him" (T-12.IV.6:8). Channels: "His [God's] communication channels are not open to Him" (T-6.V.1:5). Brothers: "In every case you have thought wrongly about some brother God created" (T-4.IV.2:3). Minds: "all the minds which God created one with me" (W-pI.156.8:6). God's Thoughts: "All His Thoughts are thus perfectly united within themselves and with each other" (T-6.II.8:1-2). Souls: This term was used copiously in the original dictation of the Course, and eleven references to it remain. It, of course, captures exactly the notion we are talking about, that of a God-created spiritual identity that is in some sense individual.

The Course tells a consistent story from pre-separation Heaven to post-separation Heaven that includes this plurality at every step along the way
At every step of the Course's entire story, from creation to separation to return, this plurality is included.

1. God created this plurality of Sons.
The Course is repeatedly clear that the plurality of Sons we are talking about is God-created. I'll list a number of quotes that make this plain:

God, Who encompasses all being, created beings who have everything individually, but who want to share it to increase their joy. (T-4.VII.5:1)

God created His Sons by extending His Thought, and retaining the extensions of His Thought in His Mind. All His Thoughts are thus perfectly united within themselves and with each other. (T-6.II.8:1-2)

Creation is the sum of all God's Thoughts, in number infinite. (W-pII.11.1:1)

God knows His children with perfect certainty. He created them by knowing them. (T-3.III.7:9-10)

In the creation, God extended Himself to His creations and imbued them with the same loving Will to create. (T-2.I.1:2)

These passages make clear that God Himself created plurality. Two of these quotes especially stand out. One says that "God…created beings who have everything individually." In other words, God created beings who can be spoken of individually. The other says that these beings are "in number infinite." They can even, in other words, be counted (even if, being infinite in number, the counting would never end).

2. The separation depended on the prior existence of this plurality of Sons.
The Course says that the separation began when we asked God for special love: "You were at peace until you asked for special favor" (T-13.III.10:2; see also T-16.V.4:1-2). You (meaning, each of us) asked God to "single out" (T-13.III.12:1), to "set you apart" (T-13.III.12:2), to make you His favorite Son. What can this mean, though, except that before the separation there were many Sons? How can you ask for special favor if you are already the only one? This means that the separation is actually inexplicable without the pre-separation existence of many Sons.

3. We separated as multiple Sons, not as one Son.
Did we separate as one Son or many Sons? The Course often speaks of what separated from God in terms of multiple Sons. Here are two examples:

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.6:7)

What God does know is that His communication channels are not open to Him, so that He cannot impart His joy and know that His children are wholly joyous….God's extending outward, though not His completeness, is blocked when the Sonship does not communicate with Him as one. So He thought, "My children sleep and must be awakened." (T-6.V.1:5,7,8)

Notice all the plurality in these passages. What separated from God? "His channels," "the minds He created," "His communication channels," "His children," "the Sonship," "My children." All of these are plural terms. These passages do not say: The constant going out of His Love is blocked when His channel is closed, and He is lonely when the mind He created does not communicate with Him.

4. The plurality of Sons shows up as a plurality of people.
The Course speaks of this same plurality of Sons as what shows up on earth as a plurality of people. In speaking to us on earth, the Course constantly calls us God's Sons, sometimes even calling us His "separated Sons." For instance: "You may still think this [total commitment to the Atonement] is associated with loss, a mistake all the separated Sons of God make in one way or another" (T-2.II.7:2). Clearly, in this passage, "you" are one of the separated Sons of God. Your body and personality may be illusions, but the "you" who identifies with them is a real Son of God.

5. The plurality of Sons will exist in Heaven after we return. The Course often speaks of the post-separation state of Heaven in terms of a plurality of Sons:

When the Atonement has been completed [and we are back in Heaven], all talents will be shared by all the Sons of God. (T-1.V.3:1)

When the Atonement is complete and the whole Sonship is healed…the Holy Spirit will remain with the Sons of God, to bless their creations and keep them in the light of joy. (T-5.I.5:5,7)

The Holy Spirit promotes healing by looking beyond it to what the children of God were before healing was needed, and will be when they have been healed. (T-5.II.1:2)

Each of these passages speaks of the post-separation Heaven and each mentions a plurality of Sons being there. In that Heaven, "all the Sons of God" will share the same talents. In that Heaven, "the Holy Spirit will remain with the Sons of God." And in that Heaven will be "the children of God…when they have been healed."

The conclusion appears inescapable: The plurality of Sons that God created is the same plurality of Sons that each wanted to be God's favorite, the same plurality of Sons that fell into the dream of separation, the same plurality of Sons that shows up on earth in the form of billions of human beings, and the same plurality of Sons that will be in Heaven once they wake up.

The Course resolves conceptual problems associated with this plurality
There are a number of ways in which the Course directly and indirectly sweeps aside the conceptual objections to the existence of a plurality of God-created Sons. The major objection, of course, is that this is logically incompatible with the idea that there is only one Son. As we will see, the Course answers that objection in several ways.

1. There are passages that explicitly reconcile the concepts of many Sons and one Son.
The Course's language around the Son frequently displays both sides of the equation, that the Son is both one and many. We saw that this was implicit in the term "Sonship." However, there are places that make this especially clear and even attempt to reconcile the tension between the oneness and the many-ness. Here is one:

God has but one Son, knowing them all as one. (T-9.VI.3:5)

This passage is brief, but it does weave together the two sides. It says that God has plurality of Sons (referring to the Sons as "them all"), but that He knows them as one Son. So in a sense they are one and in a sense they are many.

The following passage is the best example that I've been able to find of reconciling the oneness and many-ness:

It should especially be noted that God has only one Son. If all His creations are His Sons, every one must be an integral part of the whole Sonship. The Sonship in its oneness transcends the sum of its parts. However, this is obscured as long as any of its parts is missing. That is why the conflict cannot ultimately be resolved until all the parts of the Sonship have returned. (T-2.VII.6:1-5)

This passage opens by making a strong statement that "God has only one Son." This would seem to rule out many Sons, yet the passage goes on to openly mention a number of the plural terms we have already discussed: creations, Sons, Sonship (three references), and parts (four references). So it clearly includes both one Son and many Sons. How does it reconcile them? I find this passage to be a little clearer in its original form in the Urtext, so let's quote that:

It should be noted that God has begotten only one Son. If you believe that all of the Souls that God created are His Sons, and if you also believe that the Sonship is One, then every Soul must be a Son of God, or an integral part of the Sonship. You do not find the concept that the whole is greater than its parts difficult to understand. You should therefore not have too great difficulty with this. The Sonship in its Oneness does transcend the sum of its parts. However, it loses this special state as long as any of its parts are missing. This is why the conflict cannot ultimately be resolved until all of the individual parts of the Sonship have returned. Only then, in the true sense, can the meaning of wholeness be understood.

I don't think I fully understand the reasoning here. But I will present what I do understand. The Son is both one and many, and there is a relationship between the oneness and many-ness. Each Son is an essential part of the whole, of the oneness. Without each part, the oneness cannot be what it is, or at least cannot be seen for what it is. However, when all the parts are present, there is something, a wholeness, that goes beyond the mere sum of these parts. There is a quality of wholeness that is its own reality and is not just a product of adding up all the parts.

I am sure I haven't captured the full range of thought in this passage. My point is that the Course clearly does not see the oneness of the Son as being in conflict with the many-ness of the Son, because it includes both in the same passage and sketches a sophisticated relationship between them.

2. Heaven already includes plurality—that of Father and Son—so what's the problem?
If we think that a plurality in Heaven contradicts the oneness of Heaven, our problem is much more basic than a plurality of Sons. For central to the Course's view of Heaven is a Father and a Son. That's only two, but two is still plural. It is still not one. If we can accept that the Father and Son are one yet at the same time somehow distinct (God created the Son, the Son didn't create God), then we have managed to get over the same hurdle that we are faced with in the issue of the oneness vs. the many-ness of the Son.

If we want to say that there can be no many-ness of any kind in Heaven, then we have to do away with the Son entirely, along with creation and extension in Heaven. We have to have a Heaven in which there is only the Father (only He wouldn't be a Father anymore, since He wouldn't have a Son). These are such basic components of all the Course's discussions of Heaven that we would really need to fundamentally rewrite the Course.

3. The Course reconciles the paradox by saying that the parts are not the kind of parts we are familiar with.
The Course actually has an entire developed philosophy around the Sons or parts, which makes them profoundly different from the separate parts we encounter in this world. This view makes their part-ness no longer contradictory with oneness. Here is a quote from my book, Return to the Heart of God:

Yet even though these members are called parts, they are completely unlike parts as we know them. A car is a good example of how parts operate in this world. To make a car, you take separate parts, which are different in size, shape, and function, and assemble them together into a larger whole. The parts of God's Son, however, are nothing like that. They are not separate from each other; they are all one. They are not different in size, shape and function; they are exactly the same in every way. And they are not smaller pieces of a larger whole. Every part contains the whole; each part has the entire whole inside of it. Indeed, "every aspect is the whole" (T-13.VIII.5:3). Thus, the whole is not made up of smaller parts. Rather, each part is literally made of the whole. Though we cannot truly imagine this state, a useful analogy in our world is the hologram, every part of which contains the same three-dimensional image; each part contains the whole.

Even though this paragraph only includes one quotation, its ideas rest on a pattern of quotations found throughout the Course. We'll see more such quotes under the following point. The point here, though, is that "part" is conceptualized in a way that reconciles it with the whole. Our usual notion of "part" is such that a part is a very different thing than a whole. In the Course's notion of a heavenly "part," however, the part is one with the whole, contains the whole, and even is the whole.

4. The Course explicitly says that we cannot understand the oneness of part and whole.
There are at least two passages in which the Course says that our current minds are unable to comprehend the perfect unity of parts and whole:

One brother is all brothers. Every mind contains all minds, for every mind is one. Such is the truth. Yet do these thoughts make clear the meaning of creation? Do these words bring perfect clarity with them to you? What can they seem to be but empty sounds; pretty, perhaps, correct in sentiment, yet fundamentally not understood nor understandable. The mind that taught itself to think specifically can no longer grasp abstraction in the sense that it is all encompassing. We need to see a little, that we learn a lot. (W-pI.161.4:1 8)

When you are told what is natural, you cannot understand it. The recognition of the part as whole, and of the whole in every part is perfectly natural, for it is the way God thinks, and what is natural to Him is natural to you. (T-16.II.3:2-3)

What is it that we cannot understand? We cannot understand that "one brother is all brothers," that "every mind contains all minds," that the part is the whole ("the recognition of the part as whole"), that "the whole [is] in every part." These things are true, the Course says, yet to us they are "fundamentally not understood nor understandable." Why? We have so limited our minds that we "can no longer grasp [true] abstraction." We can no longer think truly naturally.

These passages are crucial, for they explicitly state that the apparent contradiction of one Son and many Sons is not a real contradiction at all. At the heavenly level we would instantly see that the two go together perfectly. Yet they also state that it is impossible for us to understand that with our current minds. From the standpoint of these minds, it is "fundamentally not…understandable."

The Course only occasionally pulls this card, which we might call the "this paradox is only resolved at a higher level of mind" card. It only does so when it is talking about truths that reasonably do transcend our current level, as this one does (we are, after all, talking about the nature of transcendental oneness). Most of the time, of course, the Course uses the principle of non-contradiction as part of the backbone of its system. This fact, that the Course is so relentlessly logical and only steps outside normal either-or logic for special transcendental matters, makes me more inclined to trust it when it does.

Summary

As you can see, the notion that there is a plurality of God-created Sons is found throughout the Course in many ways. The Course uses a number of terms to speak of this plurality (Sons, children, creations, Sonship, parts, aspects, extensions, channels, brothers, minds, Thoughts, souls). It speaks of this plurality being present at creation and being what made the separation possible. It speaks of it being present during the separation, on earth, and after the separation is over. And it presents a view of reality in which oneness and many-ness are perfectly reconciled, in which oneness includes parts and each part contains the whole. It further explains that this reconciliation is something that our current minds are unable to grasp.

Set against this overall pattern is, to my knowledge, not a single passage that says that there are no parts, no Sons, no creations, not a single passage that says that instead of being God-created Sons, we are mere illusions. I do not know of one passage, in other words, that we can use to refute the multifaceted pattern that I have sketched here. And if such a passage did exist, we would have a big problem. We would have the Course teaching one thing in one passage and another thing in hundreds of other passages. Which would we go with? What would that do to the credibility of the Course? Thankfully, we are spared this dilemma. The Course only talks one way on this issue.

Benefits

The benefits of including many-ness in the oneness are immense. When you see these benefits, the motivation for stripping out the many-ness tends to evaporate. I will mention three benefits:

1. The individual is granted infinite dignity and worth.
If I am a God-created part of the Sonship, a part that simultaneously contains the whole, then I have infinite dignity and worth. In contrast, if I am an illusory fragment of some primordial ego, how do I have any dignity or worth at all? How much worth does an illusion have? Granted, in the Course's view, my body, personality, and self-image are illusory. But beyond them there is a being, a mind, a Son, that is eternally real, even if he has currently confused himself with illusory images. In this view, forgiveness largely involves seeing past the illusions that our brother has identified with, to the true worth and dignity he possesses as one of God's creations.

2. Relationships are granted reality, in this world and in eternity.
If there is only oneness, and we different human beings are just illusions, then what does that mean for our relationships? If, as some teachers claim, "there is no one out there," how can we talk about relationships as being in any way real? Obviously, we can't. However, if I am a real, God-created part of the Sonship, and you are, too, then our relationship is also real, both in this world and in eternity (where the Course says that we will actually create together). Now, how I treat you—whether I help or hinder you on your way, and whether I join with you or separate—becomes extremely important. Since you are an integral part of reality, what I do to you, I do to reality itself. Now there is a metaphysical basis for all the talk in the Course of helping, healing, giving to, extending to, sharing with, and joining with others. Now there is a metaphysical basis for holy relationships, in which two people actually unite with each other on earth and serve the Sonship together.

3. I have a real power of choice.
If I am just an illusion, if there is only the oneness, then what would give me power to individually determine my condition? Why wouldn't my life be the product of what everyone is choosing? Or of what a single collective decision-maker is choosing? Why would it be the product of my choices in particular? However, if I am a God-created Son, a specific Thought of His, then why wouldn't I have the power of self-determination? At that point, I could choose to descend into the most hellish nightmare or choose to wake up to Heaven, regardless of what everyone else chooses. And this, of course, is exactly how the Course talks. It makes clear that the choices of others do influence us, since they are one with us, but it also puts the primary responsibility in our own laps. For instance, it says that we are only vulnerable to the mistaken choices of others if their choices reinforce mistakes we have already made, and thus presumably want to have reinforced (T-1.III.5:9-10).

Final comments

The reason I have dealt with this at such length is that, in the end, where we fall on this issue shapes the entire way in which we see the Course. Views of the Course that don't acknowledge the plurality of Sons also tend to de-emphasize the ultimate worth and dignity of the individual, the importance of relationships, and the power of individual choice. Talk about helping, giving to, and joining with others, along with discussion of holy relationships, tends to be absent or downplayed. All these things are treated as vaguely un-Course-like, for the metaphysical basis for them has gone. In contrast, views of the Course that do acknowledge the plurality of Sons have full permission to include all of these things, for now the basis for them lies both in the words of the Course and in the nature of reality itself.

3 Comments

  1. Mary Benton
    Posted October 3, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    Robert,
    Our understanding of the Special Function in the Course's teaching must begin with Chapter 25, Section 6 "The Special Function", where its meaning is made quite explicit. Nowhere in this Section do we get stipulation about how many people we are forgiving: it could be one or many, depending on our own individualized curriculum. Moreover, nowhere does the Course describe forgiveness as " a private act of inwardly forgiving". Throughout the teaching, forgiveness and its extension are inextricably connected. Extension itself could take several forms, some "external", some not; some with our conscious intent, some not.
    In summary, I think your treatment of this subject does not do justice to the bedrock content of Chapter 25, Section 6, which states quite explicitly that the special function is forgiveness. This is not a limiting concept at all, on the contrary, it is the core of the curriculum. I think much more attention needs to be paid to this crucial Section, which was the purpose of my article The Special Function: an interpretation.
    In peace,
    Mary

  2. Charles Vensel
    Posted January 19, 2014 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    I think your understanding and discussion of plurality is not only brilliant but basic to understanding the Course. I had never really thought it through but it is extremely helpful to me in my learning as it deals with such a basic concept necessary to the proper understanding. I am grateful for you concern for this topic.

  3. Mary Benton
    Posted January 20, 2014 at 2:45 am | Permalink

    A very good article on this important subject. (By the way, my response about the special function, posted above, does not belong to this article). Mary.

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