Why and how did the separation occur?

Answer: This is probably the single most-frequently-asked question among Course students. I know it was one of the first ones I asked. The Course has a few things to say about this question, which I’d like to summarize here.

I’ll say right off the bat that the Course does not offer any airtight, intellectually satisfying answers to this question. Since the state of Heaven cannot really be described in words, the words we use to describe it (and how we could have left it) confront us with all sorts of paradoxes, which I believe are intellectually unresolvable. I think we just have to accept the fact that there are certain things words simply can’t describe. With that little disclaimer in mind, here are some things the Course says about this issue:

I. Why would part of the Sonship want to separate from God? (Why did the separation occur?)

To understand the Course’s answer to this, it is important to recognize that even in the Oneness of Heaven, the Sonship consists of “parts.” The Course says or implies this in a number of places. Here is one: “Creation is the sum of all God’s Thoughts, in number infinite, and everywhere without all limit” (W-pII.11.1:1). In this sentence, note the references to “sum,” “Thoughts,” and “number,” which suggest multiple parts. The Sonship contains parts (the Sons of God) which in some inscrutable way are distinct from each other, yet at the same time are absolutely one: “The Sonship in its Oneness transcends the sum of its parts” (T-2.VII.6:3) This, as you have probably guessed, is one of those unresolvable paradoxes.

But this idea of a kind of “partness” even in Heaven’s Oneness is necessary to understand how part of the Sonship would want to separate. For, the Course tells us, the main reason that we separated was because parts of the Sonship wanted special favor from God: “You were at peace until you asked for special favor [from God]” (T-13.III.10:2). The “tiny, mad idea” that the Course tells us started the separation was “the tiny, mad desire to be separate, different, and special” (T-25.I.5:5). In other words, parts of the Sonship wanted more of God’s Love than the others—they wanted to be His favorites.

Of course, God could not give any part more love than any other: “And God did not give [special favor] for the request was alien to Him, and you could not ask this of a Father Who truly loved His Son” (T-13.III.10:3). And so, we decided that if God would not make us special, we would usurp His creative power and re-create ourselves, giving ourselves what God wouldn’t give us (specialness)—we declared our independence, and thus the whole process of separation began. And the rest, as they say, is history.

In summary, then, here is why parts of the Sonship wanted to separate from God:

  1. The Sonship consists of parts even in the Oneness of Heaven.
  2. Some of these parts wanted special love from God.
  3. God, loving all equally, could not grant this request.
  4. So these parts of the Sonship chose to rebel against the Creator, usurping His role as Creator by re-creating themselves, giving themselves what they Creator wouldn’t give them (of course, this happened only in their minds: they were not really capable of re-creating themselves and overturning the Laws of Heaven).

II. How could part of the Sonship accomplish this? (How did the separation occur?)

This is basically the same thing as asking, “How did the ego originate?” There are three places in the Course that discuss this, and each gives us a slightly different (but related) answer:

1. The separation did not occur.

Who asks you to define the ego and explain how it arose can be but he that thinks it real, and seeks by definition to ensure that its illusive nature is concealed behind the words that seem to make it so.
There is no definition for a lie that serves to make it true (C-2.2:5-3:1).

In reality, the separation (and the separate self—the ego) did not occur at all. By asking the question “How did the separation occur?”, we are affirming our belief that it did occur.

2. The mind that made the ego (the separate self) originally is remaking it every moment of the day. This tells us how it was made originally, and recognizing this process in the present is the key to undoing it.

It is reasonable to ask how the mind could ever have made the ego. In fact, it is the best question you could ask. There is, however, no point in giving an answer in terms of the past because the past does not matter, and history would not exist if the same errors were not being repeated in the present….
Your own state of mind is a good example of how the ego was made. When you threw knowledge away, it is as if you never had it. This is so apparent that one need only recognize it to see that it does happen. If this occurs in the present, why is it surprising that it occurred in the past? (T-4.II.1:1-3,3:1-4).

The basic idea here is that when we deny and suppress knowledge (“throw it away”) from our conscious awareness, it seems from the point of view of our conscious awareness that we never had this knowledge at all, even though we actually still have it, buried deep in our minds. That we do this all the time with all sorts of things is obvious, as any psychologist can tell you. So if we do it all the time now, why is it surprising that we did it in the past?

So the ego originated when we buried our knowledge of Heaven and thus forgot that we had this knowledge, even though it remained with us, deep in our minds. But the key point is that we are still actively burying that knowledge now, every second of our lives, thus keeping the ego and the separation going. Like the previous passage, this passage tells us that it is useless to ask about how the ego arose in the past. This passage does say that asking how we could have made the ego is “the best question you could ask,” but this is so only if we focus our question on our present making of the ego, not the past. Our focus should be on confronting what our minds are doing now, so we can make a new choice and thus reclaim the knowledge we have denied, but which remains with us.

3. There is no intellectual answer to the question of how the separation occurred; the only real answer is the experience of Heaven, which ends the separation once and for all.

The ego will demand many answers that this course does not give. It does not recognize as questions the mere form of a question to which an answer is impossible. The ego may ask, “How did the impossible occur?”, “To what did the impossible happen?”, and may ask this in many forms. Yet there is no answer; only an experience. Seek only this, and do not let theology delay you (C-In.4:1-5).

I love the way the Course phrases this question: “How did the impossible occur?” This is its form of the question of how the separation, the ego, the world, etc. originated. It is, of course, a nonsensical, absurd question: “How could that which could not possibly happen (the separation) actually happen?”

How could anyone possibly come up with an answer to such an absurd question? “There is no answer; only an experience.” I think that “experience” here refers to the experience that the Course is leading us to: the experience of reality, of Heaven. There is no intellectual answer to the question of how the separation occurred; rather, the only real answer is the experience of Heaven, which ends the separation—and this is what we should be shooting for. Rather than answering the question of the ego by explaining it, this experience answers the problem of the ego by dispelling it. And with the problem of the ego resolved once and for all, who remains to ask the question?

In summary, then, here is what the Course says about the question of how part of the Sonship could accomplish separation from God (“How did the separation occur?”, or “How did the ego originate?”):

  1. The separation did not occur.
  2. The ego (the separate self) is seeming to occur now because the mind that made it originally is remaking it each moment in the same manner that it was originally made. Recognizing this process in the present is the key to undoing it.
  3. There is no intellectual answer to the question of how the separation occurred; the only real answer is the experience of Heaven, which ends the separation once and for all.

As I said, these questions confront us with all sorts of paradoxes that I think will forever escape the power of words to resolve. Some people have seen this as a weakness in the Course, but I do not—or perhaps I should say that if it is a weakness, then it is a weakness shared by every religious, metaphysical, or scientific system that attempts to explain the origin of the world. All of them, at least the ones I’m aware of, end up in unresolvable paradoxes.

The question of how and why the separation occurred is a form of the famous “problem of evil” question: “How could a loving God allow evil?” I’ve never seen a fully intellectually satisfying answer to that question from any religious or metaphysical system. I think it finally comes down to which of the various explanations resonates with you the most. For me, that is the Course.

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