Material wealth

Question: Since the Course asserts that we are all equal and encourages sharing, would it advocate equal distribution of wealth?

Short answer: From the Course's standpoint, money is nothing — it is simply illusory form, with no meaning in itself. Any meaning or purpose money seems to have has been assigned to it by us. Therefore, the key question we should ask concerning money and material wealth is: "What is it for?" Used for the ego's purpose, it is an idol that reinforces separation; used for the Holy Spirit's purpose, it is a simple tool which can help us fulfill the function He has given us in His plan for salvation. When we accept the function the Holy Spirit has given us, He will give us everything we need, including money and material things, to fulfill that function. And as more and more people accept the function the Holy Spirit has given them, we will increasingly live in a world in which each brother gives freely of what he has to anyone who needs it.


Money is nothing, with no meaning in itself. Any meaning or purpose money seems to have has been assigned to it by us.

I think the most succinct statement about money in the Course material is from the Psychotherapy supplement: "Money is not evil. It is nothing" (P-3.III.1:5-6). I would add that since money is nothing, it is not good either. It is simply empty form, "green paper strips and piles of metal discs" (W-pI.76.3:2), with no real meaning whatsoever. Our problem is that we attach meaning to money. Rather than seeing money as nothing, we see it as something vitally important, something which we must have to sustain us in this world. In truth, only God can sustain us, both in Heaven and on earth. But

in this world, you believe you are sustained by everything but God. Your faith is placed in the most trivial and insane symbols…an endless list of forms of nothingness that you endow with magical powers. (W-pI.50.1:2-3)

Among those "trivial and insane symbols" is money. Money is one of the world's prime examples of what the Course calls idols: external things that we believe can give us the happiness and security that only God can truly provide — things that we use as substitutes for God. As substitutes for God, they are false gods whom we worship and "endow with magical powers," like the stone idols of ancient times.

I think it is clear that money is one of the most universally worshipped idols on earth. Virtually all of us see money as something very meaningful, something which has a powerful impact on our lives. All one has to do is throw a twenty dollar bill into a crowd to see what importance people attach to money. For some, this idol worship takes the form of loving money. They see acquiring money as the royal road to happiness. They glorify the rich, and promote political systems like laissez faire capitalism that support and encourage the accumulation of wealth. This even takes a "spiritualized" form in churches that emphasize material prosperity through positive thinking, proclaiming our "divine right to be rich." On the other end of the spectrum are those whose idol worship takes the form of despising money. They see money as "the root of all evil." They condemn the rich, and promote political systems like communism that aim to distribute wealth equally. This too has its "spiritualized" form in movements like liberation theology, and in ascetic religious orders that emphasize the virtue of poverty. (Of course, the form of either acquiring money or renouncing money is neutral in itself, and can be used just as easily by the Holy Spirit — it is the ego content of seeing money as an idol that I'm focusing on here.)

Most of us undoubtedly fall somewhere in between these extreme positions. But the irony, from the Course's point of view, is that these seemingly opposite poles — loving money and despising money — are actually different forms of the exact same thing. Both views assume that money is important in itself, that it is real and truly meaningful, rather than the nothingness it really is. Both views, then, are forms of idolatry, because both views grant meaning and power to money that in truth belongs to God alone.

The key question to ask about money and material wealth: "What is it for?" The ego uses it to reinforce separation; the Holy Spirit uses it to serve His plan for salvation.

Since money is nothing in itself and we assign meaning and purpose to it, the most important question to ask ourselves about money and material wealth is the same question that the Course would have us ask about everything in this world: "What is it for?" (T-24.VII.6:1). What purpose are we seeing in it? Of course, there are really only two choices in this matter, regardless of how many choices there seem to be: the ego's purpose, or the Holy Spirit's purpose.

The ego uses money, as it uses everything, to reinforce our belief in separation. More specifically, the ego uses money to reinforce body-identification, to "prove [the body] is autonomous and real" (T-27.VIII.2:1) — which is, of course, the ultimate proof of separation. Money is simply one of the myriad lures the ego dangles in front of us in an attempt to tie us to the body and blot out awareness of our true Self:

Power, fame, money, physical pleasure; who is the "hero" to whom all these things belong? Could they mean anything except to a body?….By seeking after such things the mind associates itself with the body, obscuring its Identity and losing sight of what it really is. (M-13.2:6-7,9)

I think it's pretty obvious that the ego's ploy to tie us to the body through money and other worldly goodies has been extremely successful. We've taken the bait and swallowed it hook, line, and sinker. We really do think that we are bodies, and that money and the things it buys are absolutely necessary for our survival. This belief seems to be the epitome of common sense, but it is instructive that the Course considers this belief extremely bizarre. At one point, Jesus remarks in an incredulous tone, "You really think you would starve unless you have stacks of green paper strips and piles of metal discs" (W-pI.76.3:2). Well, I have to admit that I really do think that. Don't you? The fact that the Course dismisses this belief as preposterous is a good indicator of just how divorced from reality our current view of things is. Our belief in separation is very strong, which is exactly what the ego strives to accomplish through money and material things.

The Holy Spirit uses money, as He uses everything, to serve His plan for salvation. In a section of the Psychotherapy supplement which deals specifically with the issue of whether psychotherapists should accept money for their services, we are told that "it is…part of His plan that everything in this world be used by the Holy Spirit to help in carrying out the plan" (P-3.III.1:2) — including money. While the ego sees money as a powerful means of hooking us into separation, the Holy Spirit sees it as a simple, neutral tool which can be used to help free us from the belief in separation. We will explore how the Holy Spirit uses money to serve His plan below.

When we accept the function the Holy Spirit has given us, He will give us everything we need, including money and material things, to fulfill that function.

Even though money is nothing and, strictly speaking, we don't really need it to survive, the Course material does acknowledge that as long as we live in this world, we do have earthly needs. In a line which speaks of psychotherapists but certainly applies to us all, the Psychotherapy supplement says, "Even an advanced therapist has some earthly needs while he is here" (P-3.III.1:3). Those needs are ultimately illusory, but as long as we believe in the illusion, these needs must be met.

How, then, do we meet our earthly needs? In a nutshell, the Course tells us that the Holy Spirit will give us whatever we need, including money and material things, to fulfill our function in His plan for salvation. That is the message of this well-known passage from the Text:

Once you accept His plan as the one function that you would fulfill, there will be nothing else the Holy Spirit will not arrange for you without your effort. He will go before you making straight your path, and leaving in your way no stones to trip on, and no obstacles to bar your way. Nothing you need will be denied you. Not one seeming difficulty but will melt away before you reach it. You need take thought for nothing, careless of everything except the only purpose that you would fulfill. (T-20.IV.8:4-8)

We can boil down the teaching in this beautiful and uplifting passage to the following two points:

  1. If you focus only on fulfilling your function in the Holy Spirit's plan for salvation, rather than on meeting your needs…
  2. Then the Holy Spirit will give you everything you need to fulfill your function.

The key, then, is to focus our minds on discovering and fulfilling the Holy Spirit's function for us: the function of forgiveness or healing, in whatever form He has specifically designed for us. Discovering and accepting His function for us is a long-term goal that will not be accomplished overnight, but to the degree we can do this, our earthly needs will be met. We tend to think that we must first meet our earthly needs before we can even think about serving a larger function, but in truth, accepting our function comes first. If we don't accept our function, the Holy Spirit can't give us what we need — not because He is withholding anything from us, but because we are refusing to ask Him for what we need. We've thrown in our lot with the ego, and are thus at the mercy of its laws of lack and deprivation.

Indeed, even the idea that the Holy Spirit can meet our earthly needs can be co-opted by the ego. Once we get ahold of this idea, it is easy to begin seeing Him as a kind of divine butler who will dutifully bring us all the goodies our ego craves. But the Holy Spirit only gives us things to serve His agenda, not ours. In the Text (T-13.VII.10-13), Jesus says that if we strive for what the ego tells us we need, we will be hurt, because we will be reinforcing our belief in separation (as we saw above). Instead, we should ask the Holy Spirit for what we really need. If we do so, He will give us what we really need, and nothing else. He understands that our earthly needs are only temporary illusions, and so He will give us things in a way that does not reinforce our belief of separation. He will even make sure that we don't misuse the things He gives us. In short, He will give us only those things which help us make progress to salvation, and keep us away from things that hinder it.

The punch line in this Text passage is perhaps my favorite line in the Course concerning our earthly needs and the attitude we should have toward them: "Leave, then, your needs to Him. He will supply them with no emphasis at all upon them" (T-13.VII.13:1-2). This line tells us two very important things: First, it reassures us that the Holy Spirit will supply our earthly needs. Second, it tells us that the Holy Spirit doesn't emphasize those needs, an attitude I think Jesus wants us to adopt as well. We should rest assured that the Holy Spirit will meet our needs as long as we do our part in His plan, and with that assurance, not spend a lot of time dwelling on them.

I don't think this means we should never think about our earthly needs or ask the Holy Spirit for specific things. I think that's a pretty unrealistic standard for most of us. In The Song of Prayer, we are told that a certain amount of "asking-out-of-need" (S-1.II.2:1) is inevitable at the beginning stages of our journey. We are also told that, while God's Love is our only real need, we certainly believe that we need earthly things, and we "cannot be asked to accept answers which are beyond the level of need that [we] can recognize" (S-1.I.2:5). Therefore, we shouldn't consider ourselves bad Course students if we occasionally ask the Holy Spirit for earthly things. Yet this should never be our emphasis, for as we saw above, this kind of asking can very easily become an invitation to the ego. Instead, our emphasis should be on finding and fulfilling our function, and giving the Holy Spirit free rein to supply our earthly needs as He sees fit. To whatever degree we are able, we should turn our minds away from our earthly needs and toward the Love of God which alone can truly satisfy us. As much as possible, we should bring to our asking the attitude exemplified by this prayer from the Workbook:

We come with wholly open minds. We do not ask for anything that we may think we want. Give us what You would have received by us. You know all our desires and our wants. And You will give us everything we need in helping us to find the way to You. (W-pII.242.2:2-6)

The Course material applies these ideas to a specific earthly situation in a section of the Psychotherapy supplement that I've quoted from already: "The Question of Payment" (P-3.III). This section contains profound and radical teaching about the place of money in healing professions, and I recommend reading it in its entirely. For the sake of brevity, here is my summary of the section's basic teaching:

  1. Healing is a free gift from God, so no therapist should attempt to give healing to a patient for the purpose of receiving money. To do so is not to heal the patient, but to demand a sacrifice of him.
  2. However, if a therapist extends genuine healing to her patients, she will be given money in one way or another (including often receiving money from her patients) in order to get her earthly needs met so she can continue to fulfill her function as a healer.

Notice that these two points are essentially a specific application of the two points I mentioned above: 1. If you focus only on fulfilling your function rather than on your own needs, 2. Then you will be given everything you need to fulfill your function. The practical import of this teaching for psychotherapists is summed up in one succinct line, the only firm behavioral rule given in all of the Course material: "No one should be turned away because he cannot pay" (P-3.III.6:1). This rule makes perfect sense in light of the section's teaching: If you're turning away people who cannot pay, then you must be healing for the purpose of money, and anyone who does this "loses the name of healer" (P-3.III.2:9). Yet this rule is flexible enough to allow the therapist a variety of options for how she handles the question of money. She might accept only free-will offerings, she might offer a sliding scale starting at zero, or she might even charge a flat fee, with the understanding that those who can't pay it don't have to. As long as she doesn't turn away anyone, she can be a true healer to all whom the Holy Spirit has sent to her.

As more and more people accept the function the Holy Spirit has given them, we will increasingly live in a world in which each brother gives freely of what he has to anyone who needs it.

What would our world be like if a sizable number of people — both within healing professions and in society at large — really took the radical teaching of "The Question of Payment" to heart? What would it be like if more people truly lived by the dictum "No one should be turned away because he cannot pay"? To say the least, we would live in a radically transformed world, a world in which the old Communist party slogan, "From each according to his ability; to each according to his needs," would become more and more a living reality.

Yet the key to this transformation, as always with the Course, is in changing our entire perception of needs, not in what we do outwardly to meet people's material needs. In spite of the idealistic vision of that old Communist party slogan, large-scale communist systems like the former Soviet Union failed, because their ideology was rooted in the ego thought system. Orthodox Marxism rejected God entirely, and insisted that material needs were the only needs that really mattered (a perfect expression of the ego's teaching that we are bodies). Needless to say, Marxist regimes didn't ask the Holy Spirit for guidance, but tried instead to determine for themselves both what people's abilities were and what people needed. The result was really no different in content than the capitalist systems they aimed to replace; anything rooted in the idea that only material needs are important will be a system of greed and exploitation, regardless of its form. Only a true change of mind — not a mere rearranging of form through revolution or governmental legislation — will give birth to a world in which people are truly helpful to one another, a world in which people meet each other's material needs simply as an outward expression of meeting their real need: the need for love, forgiveness, and healing.

This leads to the whole question of equal distribution of wealth. Personally, I doubt this will happen anytime soon if at all, but if we truly took to heart the idea that whatever one needs the other gives, it wouldn't really matter. Certainly the Course says that we are equal, but this is a matter of content, not form. We are equal Sons of God, equally deserving of His and each other's everlasting Love, but on a form level, we are different. As I said above, the Holy Spirit will give each of us what we need to fulfill our function in His plan for salvation — no more, no less. And since each of us has a different special function in that plan, it stands to reason that each of us will have different material requirements to fulfill our special function. I'm convinced that there are some people whose role in the Holy Spirit's plan requires them to be rich, and others whose role requires them to renounce riches. Some will give to the world as Princess Diana did; some will give to the world as Mother Teresa did. I don't think any of us is in a position to judge someone's acceptance of the Holy Spirit's function on the basis of her bank account.

Conclusion

The vision of money and material wealth I have presented here is an extraordinarily lofty vision to be sure. It is not something that is likely to be fully attained right away, either individually or collectively. On an individual level, it will take most of us some time to really accept the Holy Spirit's function for us as our only function, and until then we will undoubtedly use money to pursue ego goals much of the time. I'm sure it will be even longer before we will see real changes on a global scale concerning money and distribution of material goods. Yet even as we acknowledge this, we can aspire to the lofty goal the Course has given us, set our sights firmly on that goal, and resolutely move in that direction. As we do so, we bring the Course's vision of truly selfless giving and receiving that much closer to fruition:

The right to live is something no one need fight for. It is promised him, and guaranteed by God. Therefore it is a right the therapist and patient [and all brothers] share alike. If their relationship is to be holy, whatever one needs is given by the other; whatever one lacks the other supplies. Herein is the relationship made holy, for herein both are healed. (P-3.III.4:1-5)

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