When A Course in Miracles says that the world is an illusion or that we made the world, what does it mean by "world"? Does it mean the actual physical world seen by our eyes, or does it mean "the world as we see it"? Obviously, depending on how we interpret "world," statements like "you made the world" mean entirely different things.
What, then, does the Course mean by "world"? We can speculate on this question all we wish, but the only way to actually answer it is to go into specific passages and see the meaning given to "world" by the immediate context. That is what I have done here. I put together several passages that, in my mind, speak strongly of "world" as "physical world." There is a reason I have looked for passages like that. When you hear a statement like "God did not create the world," you naturally hear that as referring to the physical world. To interpret it as "God did not create the world as you see it" is not normal. It is not how most English speakers would interpret that word. We would need, in other words, a very good reason to interpret it that way. I believe that our usual "very good reason" is the assumption that, surely, the Course can't mean that God didn't create the actual physical world. Surely it can't mean that we made the actual physical world.
That is why I looked for passages in the Course in which "world" clearly means "the physical world seen by our eyes." If we can establish that the Course does indeed use that more normal sense of "world" in a number of places, that deprives us of a good reason for mentally inserting the non-normal "as you see it" every time you read the word "world." At that point, such an insertion is revealed to be unwarranted, a simple act of injecting one's own meaning into the words of the Course.
So the question is: What is the world that we made? Is it the world that our eyes see, the world of changing forms? Or is it the world as we see it—the interpretation we place on the changing forms that our eyes see?
Passage 1: "What can He know of the ephemeral?"
Is it not strange that you believe to think you made the world you see is arrogance? God made it not. Of this you can be sure. What can He know of the ephemeral, the sinful and the guilty, the afraid, the suffering and lonely, and the mind that lives within a body that must die? You but accuse Him of insanity, to think He made a world where such things seem to have reality. He is not mad. Yet only madness makes a world like this. (W-pI.152.6:1-7)
Some of the things listed here are inner conditions (suffering, loneliness). I'll ignore those. But several of the things are basic structural characteristics of this world. According to this passage, we, not God, made: the ephemeral, the mind that lives within a body, a body that must die. The passing, minds within bodies, bodies that die—these are fundamental characteristics of the physical world, characteristics so fundamental that it seems grandiose to think we could have made them. And that is exactly what this passage addresses—our belief that it is arrogant to claim that we made such basic structural characteristics of the world. Yet what is really arrogant is to think that God made a world like this, for it claims that God is insane.
Passage 2: "The delusional system of those made mad by guilt"
The world you see is the delusional system of those made mad by guilt. Look carefully at this world, and you will realize that this is so. For this world is the symbol of punishment, and all the laws that seem to govern it are the laws of death. Children are born into it through pain and in pain. Their growth is attended by suffering, and they learn of sorrow and separation and death. Their minds seem to be trapped in their brain, and its powers to decline if their bodies are hurt. They seem to love, yet they desert and are deserted. They appear to lose what they love, perhaps the most insane belief of all. And their bodies wither and gasp and are laid in the ground, and are no more. Not one of them but has thought that God is cruel.
If this were the real world, God would be cruel. (T-13.In.2:2-3:1)
This world is a delusional system of those made mad by guilt. We can see the evidence of this if we just look around. What is the evidence? The evidence is that everyone here spends their lives getting punished. If guilt-crazed beings made the world, what else would they build but a torture chamber where everyone is forever punished for their (purported) sins? Note the specific examples:
- Childbirth is painful for infant and mother
- Children suffer as they grow up
- Children learn of suffering and death as they grow up
- Their minds are trapped in their brains (another reference to the mind being within the body)
- Brain-damage can seemingly impair their minds
- They fall in love, but leave and get left by their love
- They grow old and start losing all that they loved
- Their health and vitality progressively fail
- They die
Note how physical this list is. It is full of things that have nothing to do with how we perceive the world. It is not just our interpretation that says that bodies die. They die. All bodies stop functioning and then decay. If we perceive otherwise, then we are seriously out of touch. And again, like the previous passage, this one says it is wrong to attribute such phenomena to God. It is our delusional system, not His creation. If He created it, He would be cruel.
Passage 3: "A world…made up of bodies"
For sin has changed creation from an Idea of God to an ideal the ego wants; a world it rules, made up of bodies, mindless and capable of complete corruption and decay. (T-19.II.6:5)
Sin, not God, made this world. What is the world that sin (or, as it also implies, the ego) made? It is a world of mindless bodies that can become corrupted and decay. If you take away from this world all of bodies that can decay, what exactly is left? This passage is not talking about the world as we see it; it is talking about the world as it is.
Passage 4: "The world was made as an attack on God"
The world was made as an attack on God. It symbolizes fear. And what is fear except love's absence? Thus the world was meant to be a place where God could enter not, and where His Son could be apart from Him. Here was perception born, for knowledge could not cause such insane thoughts. But eyes deceive, and ears hear falsely. Now mistakes become quite possible, for certainty has gone. (W-pII.3.2:1-7)
Here is that famous passage where it says we made the world as an attack on God. But what "world" did we make? According to this passage, it is the world where beings perceive. More specifically, it is the world where beings perceive through their eyes and ears, through their senses. If I were to ask you, "Is the world really a place where beings perceive through their eyes and ears, or is that only the world as I see it?" the answer is obvious.
Passage 5: "God did not create it"
The world you see is an illusion of a world. God did not create it, for what He creates must be eternal as Himself. Yet there is nothing in the world you see that will endure forever. Some things will last in time a little while longer than others. But the time will come when all things visible will have an end.
The body's eyes are therefore not the means by which the real world can be seen, for the illusions that they look upon must lead to more illusions of reality." (C-4.1:1-2:1)
God did not create the world. Why not? Because nothing in it will last forever. "All things visible will have an end." "All things visible" can be restated as "all things seen by the body's eyes." He is talking here about the visible world, the world as seen by our eyes, not the world as merely interpreted by our minds.
Passage 6: "God created only the eternal"
The world as you perceive it cannot have been created by the Father, for the world is not as you see it. God created only the eternal, and everything you see is perishable. Therefore, there must be another world that you do not see. (T-11.VII.1:1-3)
This passage makes the same point as the previous one. "God created only the eternal, and everything you see is perishable." God cannot have created this world, because nothing in it will last forever. Everything in it will perish. To state the obvious, the quality of not lasting forever is not a mental interpretation we impose on the world, it is a physical fact.
Passage 7: "The stars will disappear"
What seems eternal all will have an end. The stars will disappear, and night and day will be no more. All things that come and go, the tides, the seasons and the lives of men; all things that change with time and bloom and fade will not return. Where time has set an end is not where the eternal is. God's Son can never change by what men made of him." (T-29.VI.2:7-11)
Here is a list of what our eyes see that seems to last forever but does not: The stars, night and day, the tides, the seasons, the lives of men. These things last so long that they can seem eternal. But ultimately they are ephemeral. Therefore, they cannot have been created by God. This passage does not use the word "world," but it does talk like other passages that do, especially in its contrast of the ephemeral with the eternal. Also, its talk of stars and night and day disappearing is strikingly similar to (T-17.II.4:1), which says, "The stars will disappear in light, and the sun that opened up the world to beauty will vanish."
Passage 8: "There are no stores"
Sit quietly and look upon the world you see, and tell yourself: "The real world is not like this. It has no buildings and there are no streets where people walk alone and separate. There are no stores where people buy an endless list of things they do not need. It is not lit with artificial light, and night comes not upon it. There is no day that brightens and grows dim. There is no loss. Nothing is there but shines, and shines forever." (T-13.VII.1)
What is puzzling about this passage is that the Course tells us repeatedly that the real world is not some kind of afterlife state, but something we experience while still in this world. Yet this passage instructs us to sit down, look around us, and tell ourselves that the real world has none of the things we see before us. It has no buildings, streets, stores, nor artificial light. At this point we may be thinking that it has nothing man-made, perhaps only natural things like trees, streams, hills and maybe tofu. But then we are asked to say to ourselves that the real world does not contain a cycle of day and night (which the last passage referred to also), one of the most basic elements of the natural world. If "nothing is there but shines, and shines forever," then the changing light of the daily cycle is excluded.
By defining what the real world is not, this passage also defines what this world is. It is a place that has buildings, streets, stores, consumer goods, separate bodies walking around, and the cycle of day and night. Those are not simply features of the world as I see it; they are features of the objective, physical world.
Passage 9: "And no one asks if a benign Creator could will this"
Death is the central dream from which all illusions stem. Is it not madness to think of life as being born, aging, losing vitality, and dying in the end? We have asked this question before, but now we need to consider it more carefully. It is the one fixed, unchangeable belief of the world that all things in it are born only to die. This is regarded as "the way of nature," not to be raised to question, but to be accepted as the "natural" law of life. The cyclical, the changing and unsure; the undependable and the unsteady, waxing and waning in a certain way upon a certain path, all this is taken as the Will of God. And no one asks if a benign Creator could will this.
In this perception of the universe as God created it, it would be impossible to think of Him as loving. For who has decreed that all things pass away, ending in dust and disappointment and despair, can but be feared. He holds your little life in his hand but by a thread, ready to break it off without regret or care, perhaps today. Or if he waits, yet is the ending certain. Who loves such a god knows not of love, because he has denied that life is real. Death has become life's symbol. His world is now a battleground, where contradiction reigns and opposites make endless war. Where there is death is peace impossible." (M-27.1-2)
This passage describes death as the core of the illusory world, the world that God did not create. This passage, in other words, is able tell us a good deal about what the Course means by "world"—the world that we think God created ("His world"—2:7), the universe as we think He created it (2:1). What is this world, this universe? It is a place where the way of nature, the natural law of life, is that living things are born, age, and die. It is a place where everything changes, everything waxes and wanes, everything moves in natural cycles.
Putting the passages together
Let's put all this together and see what we get.
What is this world that we, not God, made?
- the world that is seen by the eyes (4)
- a world in which everything is temporary (1, 4, 6, 7, 9)
- a world of bodies (3, 8)
- a world of stars, tides, seasons (7)
- a world of buildings, streets, stores, consumer goods (8)
- a world containing the cycle of night and day (7, 8)
- a world of cycles (night and day, seasons, tides, cycle of birth and death) (2, 7, 8, 9)
- a world containing the human life cycle (2, 7, 9)
- In this cycle, life first is born (2, 9)
- This birth is painful for infant and mother (2)
- The body that is born contains a mind (1, 2)
- This mind can seemingly be impaired by damage to the brain (2)
- This mind perceives the world through the body's eyes and ears (4)
- Eventually, the body's health and vitality will progressively fail (2, 9)
- The body will inevitably die (1, 2, 3, 7, 9)
- The body, once dead, will decay (3, 9)
There are clearly spatial elements in here—bodies, stars, buildings, perception through the eyes and ears—all of which imply separation. But I think it is clear that temporal elements dominate the list—all things are temporary, the focus on cycles, the focus on death. In fact, what really stands out is the connection between time and death. Temporal = temporary = passing = perishable. The connection between cycles and death is also obvious, once you think about it. Death is the endpoint of every cycle. This same focus comes out in a passage I didn't use. T-26.V.13 characterizes time as a collection of repeating cycles, some small, some large, that are all repetitions of the original choice to replace life with death. The original separation, therefore, was one pulse of birth/death, of birth being replaced by death. And since time is just the repetition, in umpteen forms, of that single instant, all time is a collection of cycles that begin with birth and end with death and keep repeating on and on and on.
My main point, however, is that the world in these passages is clearly the world of time and space—of separate forms, containing separate minds, that perceive the world through physical senses, that change with time, and that eventually die. It is not just the world as we see it; it is the world we are seeing. I really see no way around that.
Who made the world?
- We did (1, 4)
- Insanity did (1, 2)
- Those made mad by guilt (2)
- Sin (3)
- The ego (3)
Why didn't God make it?
- God would be insane to make a world of lonely, fearful, suffering minds trapped within separate bodies that must die (1)
- God would be cruel if He made a world in which we go through the human life cycle, where we suffer from birth to inevitable death (2)
- The world is ruled by sin, which is why everything decays; and sin is not of God. (3)
- The world is an attack on God. Why? It is the embodiment of fear, and fear is the opposite of God, since He is Love. (4)
- God creates only the eternal, and everything in the world is temporary. (5, 6)
- A benign Creator could never will a place where all things pass away in death, and where, in the meantime, He holds their little lives by a thread, waiting to break it off according to His whim. (9)
In summary, it is not loving to make such a place. It is not loving to make a world of space (separateness) and a world of time (death). The most basic, fundamental characteristics of the physical world—space and time—make it a place that only a cruel, insane god would create. And God is not cruel and insane.
There is absolutely no doubt that these nine passages are saying that we, not God, made the world of bodies, stars, night, and day; that we, not God, made the world of cycles, the world of birth and death. In short, we made space and we made time. God did not create those things, for space means separation and time means death, and only an insane God would create separation and death.
Given that these passages clearly speak of "world" as "the physical world seen by our eyes," this undercuts the reason to read into "world" in the Course the non-normal sense of "world as you see it." When the Course talks about us, not God, making the world, it means much more than the world as we see it. It means the world. It means what it sounds like it means.
This may seem like a downer, but, in my opinion, that is only because we don't realize that all of our pain is associated with those very elements of the world that the Course is talking about here. Think of the things we complain about day-in and day-out. Think about the things that occasionally devastate us, that we take years to recover from. Are they not the normal elements of the human life cycle? Are they not the attack, brutality, and death that are fundamental to the nature of this world? Wouldn't it, then, be great news if this world was not real, was not created by God, and therefore ultimately had no power over us?