Are we accountable for our actions?

Question: In religious traditions like Christianity and Judaism, we have an incentive to be good because God holds us accountable for all of our actions. But if the world is an illusion as A Course in Miracles says, it seems that there are no rules. What's to stop us from running amok? What incentive do we have to behave properly? Are we in any way accountable for what we do?

Answer: It's certainly true that the Course regards the world as an illusion, and the Course's God is not one Who makes us toe the line by keeping score and punishing us for our misbehavior. Yet I do think the Course has its own version of accountability, centered on its ideas that "As you teach so shall you learn" (T-5.IV.6:4) and "As you give you will receive" (W-pI.122.6:4).

Think about these ideas for a moment. They mean that whatever I give to others, that is what I will receive for myself, because "ideas leave not their source" (T-26.VII.4:7). This is a powerful kind of accountability: If we really get the idea that whatever we give to others is what we will experience for ourselves, we have all the incentive in the world to be good to them.

The Course is always encouraging us to avoid hurting others so we won't experience pain, and to bless others so we will experience blessing. A few examples:

Safety is the complete relinquishment of attack. No compromise is possible in this. Teach attack in any form, and you have learned it, and it will hurt you. Yet this learning is not immortal, and you can unlearn it by not teaching it. (T-6.III.3:7-9)

All that I do I do unto myself. If I attack, I suffer. But if I forgive, salvation will be given me. (W-pI.216.1:2-4)

Whenever you deny a blessing to a brother you will feel deprived, because denial is as total as love. (T-7.VII.1:1)

In any union with a brother in which you seek to lay your guilt upon him, or share it with him or perceive his own, you will feel guilty. (T-13.X.3:1)

Unless you think that all your brothers have an equal right to miracles with you, you will not claim your right to them because you were unjust to one with equal rights. Seek to deny and you will feel denied. Seek to deprive, and you have been deprived. (T-25.IX.8:1-3)

Therefore, hold no one prisoner. Release instead of bind, for thus are you made free. (W-pI.192.9:1-2)

While this teaching and learning (or giving and receiving) process ultimately takes place on the level of the mind, behavior is an important part of this process because behavior communicates to others whatever is in our minds: "All behavior teaches the beliefs that motivate it" (T-6.I.16:6). Therefore, Jesus stresses the importance of behavior. He tells us that "the Golden Rule is the rule for appropriate behavior" (T-1.III.6:2) and says, "I have enjoined you to behave as I behaved" (T-5.II.12:1). This world may be an illusion, but our behavior here matters very much. Indeed, "Everything I think or say or do teaches all the universe" (W-pI.54.4:3). And what I teach all the universe is what I learn for myself.

If we take all of this seriously, we have every reason to think, speak, and act in a loving way. The Course, in fact, says we have a responsibility to our brothers and ourselves to do so:

Whenever you are with a brother, you are learning what you are because you are teaching what you are. He will respond either with pain or with joy, depending on which teacher you are following. He will be imprisoned or released according to your decision, and so will you. Never forget your responsibility to him, because it is your responsibility to yourself. Give him his place in the Kingdom and you will have yours. (T-8.III.5:8-12)

Therefore, we are indeed accountable for what we do in this world in an important sense. God doesn't punish us for misdeeds, but what we do has a huge impact on others and ourselves. What we choose to teach to each person we meet determines whether both of us will experience the pain of the ego's imprisonment or the joy of God's release. Why would we run amok? Why would we want to behave in any way except that which reflects God's Love? Our very experience of the Kingdom of Heaven depends on it.

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