What does the Course mean by substitution?

Q. What does the Course mean by substitution? I have come across the term, but I’m a little confused as to the meaning.

A. “Substitute” is used in its normal sense throughout much of the Course, but in Chapters 15, 17, and 18, it sometimes takes on a more specific meaning. That specific meaning is to replace one person (or one relationship) with another. You can see that meaning in these passages:

Any relationship you would substitute for another has not been offered to the Holy Spirit for His use. (T-15.V.6:1)

Now the ego counsels thus; substitute for this [newly born holy relationship] another relationship to which your former goal was quite appropriate. (T-17.V.7:1)

To substitute is to choose between, renouncing one aspect of the Sonship [one brother] in favor of the other. For this special purpose, one is judged more valuable and the other is replaced by him. (T-18.I.1:3-4)

The mindset behind this kind of substitution is obvious: I consider any relationship in my life as being there to meet a particular set of needs that I have. If a person proves unsuitable for meeting those needs, I will discard that person and find someone more suitable. If someone isn’t suitable as a romantic partner, for instance, I’ll find someone else who is.

We consider substitution in this sense to be entirely normal. It’s so normal, in fact, that we don’t even question it; we just take it for granted. In our minds, the issue is not whether we make substitutions; it’s making sure we make the right ones.

However, as you can sense from the quotes above, the Course has a very different view. We can see this view quite clearly in the following passage:

It is impossible to use one relationship at the expense of another and not to suffer guilt. And it is equally impossible to condemn part of a relationship and find peace within it. Under the Holy Spirit’s teaching all relationships are seen as total commitments, yet they do not conflict with one another in any way. Perfect faith in each one, for its ability to satisfy you completely, arises only from perfect faith in yourself.  (T-15.VI.1;1-4)

This says that substitution leads to guilt, which I think we can all probably locate within ourselves. It also says that even if we preserve the relationship and just substitute for part of it, we will be unable to find peace in that relationship. Elsewhere, the Course says that “substitution is the strongest defense the ego has for separation” (T-18.I.1:6). It’s not hard to see how excluding one person to bring in another is separation.

But what is the alternative? The above passage tells us. We need to consider all relationships to be “total commitments,” which somehow “do not conflict with one another in any way.” We don’t see them this way out of an exaggerated sense of duty. Rather, each relationship is a total commitment because each one has the ability to satisfy us completely.

This doesn’t mean that the form of each relationship will be the same. That is impossible. We will still have different kinds of relationships, different forms. But the key difference is that we won’t see the forms as what satisfies us. And therefore we will see no need to replace someone when he or she doesn’t act out that form properly.

Browse the FAQ archive. FAQ Topic: . FAQ Tags: , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.