Question: I do not agree with the idea in A Course in Miracles that we totally manifest our lives through our thoughts. It just doesn't pass what Ken Wilbur calls the Auschwitz test. Is it really a part of the hardwire of the Universe that millions of Jews, because of their thoughts, were murdered in prison camps? Did all those children in China manifest the earthquake that took their lives? We are, to a very large extent, what we think. And we have the power to decide what we think. But we are also subject to the vagaries of the Universe. We can't change the weather with our thoughts but we sure can practice learning to enjoy it — rain or shine. Is that, then, what Lesson 152 is saying?
Answer: First, let me address the last part of your query, the part about not being able to change the weather but being able to change our thoughts about the weather. Workbook Lesson 152, "The power of decision is my own," is not saying that we can't change what happens to us but can only change our thoughts about what happens to us (though certainly we can and should change our thoughts about what happens to us; this is actually the Course's main emphasis). The lesson says loud and clear that the things that happen to us are themselves the result of our thoughts:
No one can suffer loss unless it be his own decision. No one suffers pain except his choice elects this state for him. No one can grieve nor fear nor think him sick unless these are the outcomes that he wants. And no one dies without his own consent. Nothing occurs but represents your wish, and nothing is omitted that you choose. Here is your world, complete in all details. Here is its whole reality for you. (1:1-7)
The lesson acknowledges that we will find this idea hard to swallow: "You may believe that this position is extreme, and too inclusive to be true" (2:1). Yet the Course answers our typical objections in a way that makes the idea at least plausible. We say, "Our minds are too small to do this." The Course answers that our true minds are not small at all, but are the limitless nonphysical minds of the Sons of God in Heaven, minds which have all the power of God. We say, "Why would anyone bring dark things like Auschwitz or an earthquake into his or her life?" The Course answers that the thoughts that bring such things into our lives are rooted in profound guilt for our attacks against God and our brothers, guilt that causes us to think that we deserve to be punished. We say, "But no one wants such pain and suffering." The Course answers that the guilty thoughts that bring such things to us are buried deep in our unconscious. We say, "But surely other minds are involved in these life events as well." The Course answers that yes, other minds are involved — aspects of this world are a collective dream — but that our own life events are nonetheless brought to us by our own thoughts (which means that there must be some kind of unconscious agreement between our minds and the other minds involved in our life events). Put all this together, and it is quite reasonable to believe that such massive unconscious madness generated by such powerful minds could produce an Auschwitz.
As much as I love the Course, I honestly don't know if any of this is true or not. But that's exactly the point I want to make here: We don't know. The Course's version of how things happen may or may not be true, but as I mentioned, it is at least plausible: It successfully accounts for all the data. How, then, do we really know that our deepest, unconscious thoughts can't make an Auschwitz, or an earthquake, or even change the weather? The Auschwitz test, then, is not really a test at all. In a test, you measure something against a known standard. But the standard we claim to "know" — that many life events happen independently of our thoughts — is something we don't really know. The Auschwitz test really amounts to saying, "We know such things can't be caused by our thoughts because…well, because we just know such things can't be caused by our thoughts." It is merely a statement of what we already believe.
Of course, the fact that we don't know doesn't prove that the Course's view is right, and the Course itself never offers an incontrovertible proof of its position. I'm not sure how you could prove such a thing. But Lesson 152 does provide an argument which, while it is not a proof, serves as food for thought which pulls the mind in the direction of accepting the idea that we made the world we see, including everything that happens to us.
The argument is rooted in a simple idea: that "truth cannot have an opposite," an idea that "can not be too often said and thought about" (3:5-6). In other words, if something is true, then its opposite can't be true. This is an idea that all of us accept in countless situations: For instance, if it is true that I am alive, it cannot be true that I am also dead. Yet we make exceptions to this rule: For instance, while we reject the idea that I can be both alive and dead at the same time, we nonetheless accept the idea that both life and death as general phenomena are real, and thus true. The Course, though, applies the principle that truth cannot have an opposite with far more rigor than we do. In its view, the principle applies absolutely across the board, so life and death (for instance) cannot both be true.
Lesson 152 applies this principle to God and what He creates. The Course's God possesses all positive qualities — love, life, joy, peace, holiness, etc. — to an absolute degree. This, too, is an idea that most people who believe in God accept; it is basic to traditional definitions of God, and even "spiritual but not religious" types who have largely abandoned traditional views generally believe that God is infinitely loving, etc. Yet we make exceptions to this rule as well: We may believe that God is sometimes angry and vengeful (the traditional view), and that He created suffering, death, conflict, sorrow, etc., or at least a world in which such things are real possibilities (a view even nontraditional believers generally accept).
But the Course, again, applies the principle that truth cannot have an opposite with greater rigor. If it is true that God has all these positive qualities to an absolute degree, then it must be true that these qualities never waver in Him, and that everything He creates must have these qualities to an absolute degree as well. This means that anything other than these qualities simply cannot be true:
Can truth have exceptions? If you have the gift of everything, can loss be real? Can pain be part of peace, or grief of joy? Can fear and sickness enter in a mind where love and perfect holiness abide? Truth must be all-inclusive, if it be the truth at all. Accept no opposites and no exceptions, for to do so is to contradict the truth entirely. (2:2-7)
This leads directly to the idea that we bring all those painful events into our lives with our thoughts. Our usual explanation for such events, if we believe in God, is that God either causes them directly, or causes them indirectly by creating a world in which we are subject to "vagaries," a word that means "an unexpected and inexplicable change in a situation." But from the Course's standpoint, what God created shares His positive attributes eternally, and this cannot change:
As God created you, you must remain unchangeable, with transitory states by definition false. And that includes all shifts in feeling, alterations in conditions of the body and the mind; in all awareness and in all response. (5:1-2)
If there appears to be a change in the eternal positive state that God created (and the world we seem to live in is a manifestation of this apparent change), this change cannot be true, because the fact that truth cannot have an opposite makes such change "by definition false." Therefore, all such changes must be illusions, "contradictions introduced by you" (4:4). They must be caused by our thoughts apart from God.
This line of reasoning climaxes with a remarkable discussion of the idea that God created the world. The belief that He did so is, of course, a basic belief of theistic religions. (And various forms of the idea that the world is the product of a loving divine Presence are common outside of traditional theistic religions — for instance, there is the idea that the world is an emanation of God or the Absolute, and the idea that the world is the "body" of the Goddess.) For those who believe that God created the world, the claim that we made the world ourselves is sheer arrogance. This lesson, however, turns this idea on its ear:
Is it not strange that you believe [that] 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.
To think that God made chaos, contradicts His Will, invented opposites to truth, and suffers death to triumph over life; all this is arrogance. Humility would see at once these things are not of Him. And can you see what God created not? To think you can is merely to believe you can perceive what God willed not to be. And what could be more arrogant than this? (6:1-7:5)
These paragraphs bring together two ideas that so many of us hold side by side in our minds without noticing how contradictory they really are. The first is that an infinitely loving God created this world. The second is that this world is a madhouse of suffering and death. (And let's face it, Auschwitz is only an extreme example of the madness that happens here every day.) The Course dares to ask the question we so rarely ask: How can both of these ideas be true? We come up with all sorts of ways to cobble them together, but how successful are these attempts really? Do they really make any sense?
The Course answers with an emphatic no. It tells us that, because truth cannot have an opposite, it simply must be that the madhouse we see all around us is an illusion generated by our thoughts, not a creation of God. To attribute this insane world to God is to claim that He is insane, so crazy that He contradicts His own Will for love and life by creating a world of chaos and death. This is the height of arrogance, is it not? Therefore, the truly arrogant position isn't to believe that we made the world, but to believe that God did.
Of course, as I've mentioned, there's no way to prove all this. And since we don't know, it is always possible that there's some unknown way of reconciling this crazy world with a loving God Who created it. Perhaps it is truly a mystery, as so many people say. But I find the Course's argument compelling, because it simply takes principles we already broadly accept — that pairs of opposites can't both be true, and (if we believe in God) that God is Love — and strips out the exceptions we normally make to them. The Course is asking us to do something that is the mark of sanity: to be consistent in our thinking, to stop trying to mix together ideas that are blatantly contradictory.
If we believe this crazy world is real, it says, then let's be consistent enough to admit either that there is no God or, to paraphrase the title of an old movie, that God must be crazy. Conversely, if we really do believe that God is Love, it says, then let's be consistent enough to recognize that it simply can't be true that He created such a godawful mess. It must be that somehow, we made the mess ourselves, including all those painful life events. The Course calls us to take a firm stand on one side or the other, instead of engaging in futile attempts to reconcile this slaughterhouse with a loving God.
Though the idea that we bring all our life events to us with our thoughts is sobering at first, I think it is far better than the alternative. If God created a world in which we are victims of the "vagaries of the Universe," what hope do we really have? Can we ever really learn to "enjoy" a world where Holocausts and killer earthquakes (plus a million other sufferings large and small) happen to us when we least expect it, and there's not a thing we can do about it? But if these things are illusory nightmares we have made with our own thoughts, then we have a strong foundation for hope: If we made this mess ourselves, then the God of pure Love can save us from this mess by lifting our minds back to the glorious truth of who we really are. We simply need to turn our minds back to Him. This will not happen overnight, of course, but the return of our minds to awareness of the loving God they never really left is exactly what the spiritual path of A Course in Miracles ultimately aims to accomplish.
Are we helpless victims of a cruel world, or powerful Sons of God who can awaken from our own nightmare with our Father's loving Help? I don't know, but given that both positions are genuine possibilities, would we not rather take a chance on believing what the Course is telling us?