Serving on a jury

Question: May a Course student serve on a jury, and if so, how?

Short answer: I believe that a Course student can serve on a jury in a way that is true to the Course's path. It is true that the world's legal systems, like all of the world's systems, were devised to serve the ego's purposes. However, as forms, legal systems are neutral in themselves, and can be used by the Holy Spirit for His purposes as well. We can serve on a jury in a way that is true to the Course's path by allowing the Holy Spirit to guide our service, so that it will serve His purposes instead of the ego's.

The world's legal systems, like all of the world's systems, were devised to serve the ego's purposes.

Though I think serving on a jury is not necessarily contrary to the Course, there's no question that the author of the Course sees the world's legal systems and the concept of justice behind them as inventions of the ego. To provide background for this question about jury duty, it may be helpful to briefly discuss the Course's view of justice.

What is justice? One of my dictionaries defines "justice" as "fairness or reasonableness, especially in the way people are treated or decisions are made." Another defines it as "the rendering of what is due or merited," and "conformity to the law." In essence, then, justice is a principle of fairness which says that we should get what we deserve, based on how well we conform to some sort of law.

The Course accepts this basic definition of justice, and applies it to us in a radical way that reflects our true Identity. We are holy and innocent Sons of God, who have never broken God's laws, the only real laws. Therefore, this principle of fairness dictates that all of us deserve total love, and nothing else. This is true justice; nothing else really deserves the name. All of us, without exception, deserve the limitless, eternal gifts that God's laws of love have ordained for us. Not only do we deserve them, but we already have them and can never lose them. Thus, in the Course's view, "justice means no one can lose" (T-25.IX.5:4).

In this world, however, we do not see all people as holy and innocent Sons of God. The world has its own laws, laws very different from the laws of God. In the world's view, those who live according to its laws are "innocent," while those who violate its laws are "guilty." In this view, justice—the principle of fairness—dictates that guilty lawbreakers deserve punishment, while innocent victims of those lawbreakers deserve reward. The guilty must pay for their crimes; the innocent must be duly compensated for their loss. Thus, the world's conception of justice is the exact opposite of the Course's. In the world's view, justice means that some win, and others lose.

This is where the world's legal systems come in. The purpose of these systems is basically to determine who's innocent and who's guilty; who deserves reward and who deserves punishment; who wins and who loses. The Course describes the world's notion of justice in this way:

[The world] sees a resolution as a state in which it is decided who shall win and who shall lose; how much the one shall take, and how much can the loser still defend. (T-25.IX.4:5)

This is precisely what happens in a jury trial, is it not? A person is accused of breaking the law and unfairly taking something from another (or from society). The purpose of the trial is to decide whether this really happened, and if it did, to decide what must be taken from the lawbreaker in order to adequately compensate the victim. The "resolution" is the verdict that determines winner and loser.

All of this serves the ego's purposes quite well. The ego wants to keep us in fear, and legal systems serve this purpose by reinforcing our belief in a world of attack. It is a terrifying world that needs a legal system as a defense against "criminals" who, if not for the protection of the law, would run amok and take everything from us, even our very lives. Indeed, defense is what legal systems are all about: defense against the world's perceived threats, which is also a defense of the ego that made those threats. As the following passage indicates, the world's legal systems are part of the ego's overall system of defense, part of a long list of devices the ego uses to keep us in a state of fear:

And all [the world's] structures, all its thoughts and doubts, its penalties and heavy armaments, its legal definitions and its codes, its ethics and its leaders and its gods, all serve but to preserve its sense of threat. (W-pI.135.2:4, italics mine)

However, as forms, legal systems are neutral in themselves, and can be used by the Holy Spirit for His purposes as well.

The Course's stinging indictment of the world's concept of justice might lead us to believe that participating in the legal system in any way—including serving on a jury—is an ego trap that should always be avoided. However, I don't think this is so. Legal systems are only forms, and therefore have no meaning in themselves. As forms, they are free to be filled with different content by the Holy Spirit. "The Holy Spirit teaches you to use what the ego has made, to teach the opposite of what the ego has 'learned'" (T-7.IV.3:3). Therefore, while the ego made legal systems to serve its purposes, the Holy Spirit can use them to serve His purposes as well.

What purpose might the Holy Spirit have for the world's legal systems? I suspect He regards them much as He regards physical medicine. Just as physical medicine is useful for temporarily relieving symptoms when a person is too fearful to accept true healing, so legal systems can serve the same basic purpose. We are far too fearful at our current level of spiritual development to simply give up human laws cold turkey. I said earlier that legal systems generate fear by reinforcing our belief in a world of attack. But as long as we do believe in such a world, we will fear the absence of legal systems even more. Can you imagine what would happen if, without any change in people's current level of spiritual maturity, our entire system of laws and law enforcement were to disappear overnight? The result would be chaos and sheer terror. We need only look at the situation in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime to see a graphic example of this. Terror is the last thing the Holy Spirit wants, "because the last thing that can help the non-right-minded…is an increase in fear" (T-2.IV.4:7). So, like physical medicine, human laws can be a helpful temporary expedient to keep society functioning relatively smoothly, and to reduce our fear until we are ready for a true mental healing.

Therefore, I don't think the Course is asking us not to participate in human legal systems because the ego made them. On the contrary, rejecting the form of legal systems will not, in itself, lead to the change of mind that undoes the ego. "You cannot change your mind by changing your behavior" (T-4.IV.2:1). The Course discusses many forms that were invented by the ego—the body, physical medicine, special relationships, words, etc.—and it never says, "The ego made that form, so you must give that form up." Trying to change the form without changing the mind is magic. Not participating in a jury trial because the justice system was made by the ego is like not eating because physical appetites were made by the ego (see T-4.II.7:5-8).

We can serve on a jury in a way that is true to the Course's path by allowing the Holy Spirit to guide our service, so that it will serve His purposes instead of the ego's.

Instead of giving up the form of serving on a jury, what the Course would have us do is allow the Holy Spirit to transform that service by filling it with His loving content. As with every aspect of our lives, we can and must allow the Holy Spirit to guide our jury duty. There are many Course practices to help us do this; one I recommend is the well-known "I am here only to be truly helpful" prayer (T-2.V(A).18:2-6). The more we are able to turn our experience of serving on a jury over to Him, the more it can become a blessing to everyone involved. The following two points represent two aspects of giving our jury duty into His loving Hands.

1. We let Him guide our perception of the situation; He shows us that everyone involved is an innocent Son of God, and everything that seems to contradict this is only illusion.

We spend most of our lives listening to the ego's judgment of the people and situations we encounter. In a courtroom, a shrine dedicated to judgment, the temptation to listen to the ego can be especially strong. As we look upon the prosecutor and the defense attorney, the plaintiff and the defendant, the judge and the accused, it can be easy to mentally divide the courtroom into good guys and bad guys. We may find ourselves making snap decisions about who's innocent and who's guilty (and not just about the person who is actually on trial) before the trial even begins.

Therefore, we need the Holy Spirit to judge for us. However we may label the people we see in the courtroom, all who are taking part "have a Judge Who knows that they are wholly innocent in truth" (T-25.VIII.8:1). Whatever they look like, whatever their role in the proceedings, whatever their bodies say and do, whatever may eventually be decided in this trial, all of them are innocent Sons of God who deserve only love. The Holy Spirit sees this, and with His help, we can too.

But how can we see this total innocence, and at the same time make a decision about legal innocence or guilt in our role as jurors? Jesus once gave some personal guidance to Helen that I find helpful in answering this question. The specific subject of the guidance is psychological tests. Helen, as a psychologist, was sometimes required to administer such tests to others in order to assess their mental health, and she wondered how she could do so in a way that was compatible with the Course. This is part of the answer Jesus gave her:

As you see him [your patient], you will see yourself. Whether this be through the use of psychological tests, or by making judgment in some other way, the effect is still the same….Take heed then when you [and Bill] are called upon to fulfill your function as teachers that you teach the truth about God's Son. The only way that you can experience any peace while this unfortunate necessity for interpreting illusions remains is to recognize that you are discussing only illusions, and that this has no real meaning at all. Try to say a prayer for your brother while doing this and you will call forth and experience a miracle instead. (Absence from Felicity, by Ken Wapnick, p. 327)

I think this advice is perfectly applicable to serving on a jury, which is certainly "making judgment in some other way." Notice that Jesus did not instruct Helen to stop administering psychological tests. In my mind, this gives us a clear answer to the title question of this Q & A: just as a Course student can make judgment in the form of administering psychological tests, so a Course student can make judgment in the form of serving on a jury. Judgment in the simple sense of making decisions about forms in this world cannot be avoided. Indeed, there are countless roles in everyday life—parent, coach, teacher, voter, supervisor, doctor, and many, many more—in which we are called to evaluate other people on a form level. In this world, interpreting illusions is an "unfortunate necessity."

However, to be in harmony with the Course, we must certainly do this in a different way. We must remember that if we listen to the ego and look down upon those we are evaluating, we will belittle ourselves in the same way. We must remind ourselves that whatever decisions we make about the forms in front of us, everyone involved is still a holy, innocent Son of God—we must "teach the truth about God's Son." We can do this by remembering that as we consider these decisions, we are discussing only meaningless illusions, empty forms that have nothing to do with reality. And we can transform this entire process of judgment into an opportunity for miracles, simply by praying for those whom we are evaluating in this way.

The basic principle reflected in the advice Jesus gave to Helen could be summed up in a single sentence: You don't have to give up your unfortunately necessary evaluative role, but you do have to perform that role in a way that reflects the truth. The same principle is echoed in a passage from the Psychotherapy supplement. The passage begins by telling us bluntly that psychotherapy as it is taught in this world, and indeed all of the world's learning, is heavily laced with the ego's notion of judgment:

The curriculum by which [a therapist] became a therapist probably taught him little or nothing about the real principles of healing. In fact, it probably taught him how to make healing impossible. Most of the world's teaching follows a curriculum in judgment, with the aim of making the therapist a judge. (P-3.II.2:2-4)

This is a stinging indictment. At this point, the reader may well conclude that the world's training in psychotherapy should be thrown out with the rest of the ego's trash. But the very next sentence turns the tables on this initial conclusion: "Even this the Holy Spirit can use, and will use, given the slightest invitation" (P-3.II.3:1). "This" refers to the world's teaching, the same teaching that in the ego's hands, makes healing impossible. In the Holy Spirit's hands, that same teaching becomes a means for healing, because He will use it in a way that reflects the truth. Therefore, the therapist doesn't have to give up what he has learned in his worldly training, however distorted it may be; he just needs to give it to the Holy Spirit to use. I think the exact same principle applies to jury duty. Certainly, the world's legal systems are a curriculum in judgment, and the role of juror is quite literally the role of judge. But we are not asked to throw it all out; we are simply asked to give it all to the Holy Spirit to use.

All of this material on psychotherapy was practical advice that Jesus gave Helen to help her with her work as a psychologist, and I think we would do well to follow this same advice when we serve on a jury. Imagine how different your experience of jury duty would be if you gave it to the Holy Spirit to use. What would happen if you affirmed that everyone involved is an innocent Son of God, reminded yourself that the trial deliberations are just discussions of meaningless illusions, and prayed for all of your fellow participants throughout? This could lead to a shift in perception that would totally transform your experience of the trial. From the perspective of healed perception, you could make a decision about legal innocence or guilt, while simultaneously affirming that everyone is innocent in the sense that really matters. With the Holy Spirit's help, you could become a miracle-working juror, extending healed perception to everyone you see.

2. We let Him guide our decisions about what to do; He gives us His perfect judgment, which if followed, ensures that we will render the best verdict for all concerned.

Knowing that we're discussing only illusions doesn't mean the decision we are called upon to make as jurors is of no importance whatsoever. However unreal it may be ultimately, the verdict we deliver will have a profound impact on people's lives within the illusion. In a death penalty case, our verdict is literally one of life or death.

Such an impactful decision can be a daunting prospect. As we listen to the attorneys' arguments, hear the testimony of witnesses, and weigh the evidence presented, we may find ourselves terrified at the prospect that we might really blow it. We could mistakenly convict an innocent man, or send a dangerous criminal back onto the streets. Are we sure we know all the facts? Are we aware of all the effects our decision will have? Can we be truly unbiased and fair to everyone involved? As we consider all of this, we may wonder if we really have what it takes to render a proper verdict.

The fact is, we don't have what it takes. Fortunately, the Course assures us that there is Someone with us Who does:

There is Someone with you Whose judgment is perfect. He does know all the facts; past, present and to come. He does know all the effects of His judgment on everyone and everything involved in any way. And He is wholly fair to everyone, for there is no distortion in His perception. (M-10.4:7-10)

That Someone, of course, is the Holy Spirit. Since He is utterly incapable of making a mistake, the way to overcome our fear of blowing it is to turn the verdict we must deliver completely over to Him. (Of course, a jury verdict is a collective decision, and fellow jurors may not be listening to the Holy Spirit. But our decision to listen to Him can at least influence the collective decision.) We will still be evaluating the evidence presented to us in the trial, but we will no longer be doing so alone. Imagine what a relief it would be to hand over this difficult decision to Someone "Whose Judgment is perfect."

Turning the verdict over to the Holy Spirit raises an interesting question: Given that justice means no one can lose, would the Holy Spirit ever counsel us to deliver a "guilty" verdict? I believe so. A "guilty" verdict, strictly speaking, simply means that the defendant did the thing he is accused of within the illusion. Of course, the ego sees that verdict as confirmation that the defendant is a dirty rotten sinner, but in the Holy Spirit's eyes, it has no effect on his eternal innocence. More to the point of our question, the principle that justice means no one can lose doesn't mean no one will lose on a form level. Whichever way we decide the case, someone is going to lose in the ordinary sense of losing the case. In this world, winning and losing in that sense, like interpreting illusions in general, is simply unavoidable.

I think we need to look beyond the ordinary sense of winning and losing, and remember that the Holy Spirit has a larger plan in mind. Since He is just, His decision will be one in which everyone does win, whether it looks that way or not. His decision will be the one that best serves His plan of salvation, a plan that benefits all equally. From our perspective, we may not see how it does that, but our perspective is distorted. The Course tells us plainly that we often don't know what really benefits us and what really hurts us: "Some of your greatest advances you have judged as failures, and some of your deepest retreats you have evaluated as success" (T-18.V.1:6). Our distorted perception is the reason we must ask the Holy Spirit for help in the first place. We need to be careful not to use that same distorted perception to evaluate His answer.

It certainly can be difficult and painful to render a verdict that, say, sends someone to prison. (A death penalty case is even more difficult—I'm honestly not sure how the Holy Spirit would handle that.) However, I have personally known people who have regarded a "guilty" verdict rendered against them as a great blessing. In my work as a Course teacher I have corresponded with prisoners, and more than one has told me that going to prison was a tremendous gift, because it gave him an opportunity to straighten out his life. One even told me as his release date approached that he was worried, because in the outside world he wouldn't have so much time for Course practice! So, I think we shouldn't be too quick to judge the effects of our verdict. If it truly comes from the Holy Spirit, we can trust that it will serve His purpose instead of the ego's, and bring blessing to all concerned.


I am convinced that we as Course students can serve on a jury in a way that is in harmony with our path, if we are called to do so. But to do this, we must bring a Heavenly perspective to our earthly jury duty. As we participate in the forms of an earthly court, in our minds we must appeal the entire situation to "God's Own Higher Court" (T-5.VI.10:4). As we evaluate the evidence, we must remember that God's Higher Court has already dismissed the case against everyone, "however carefully you have built it up" (T-5.VI.10:5). And as we render a verdict of "guilty" or "not guilty" in the world's terms, we must extend to everyone the Holy Spirit's verdict, a joyous reminder of the eternal inheritance that is ours now, and will be ours long after the verdicts of earthly courts have been forgotten: "His verdict will always be 'thine is the Kingdom'" (T-5.VI.10:8). Amen.

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