What is the Course’s view of entitlement?

Question: I've been seeing a therapist, and one of the major obstacles that we have identified is that I have a sense of entitlement. I make claims on things without doing the hard work of putting forth effort in order to achieve them. I feel I deserve something or the world somehow owes me the fulfillment of my expectations. What would be the view of A Course in Miracles on "entitlement"?

Answer: Interesting question! My short answer is that in the Course's view, there are ego-based and spirit-inspired versions of entitlement. We aren't entitled to use our brothers to fulfill our ego's needs and expectations, but we are entitled to the gifts of God, which are our birthright as His holy Sons.

The sense of entitlement your therapist is pointing out sounds like the ego-based version of entitlement. Though we try not to be too obvious about it, we all carry around the belief that the world owes us, that we have a right to take what we need from others and to give as little in return as possible. In our eyes, everyone else exists to serve us. Robert likes to sum up the ego's stance this way: "I am end and you are means."

If you doubt that you have this stance, try noticing the roles you assign to people as you go through your day. Your spouse's job is to make you breakfast and tell you how wonderful you are. The bus driver's job is to get you to your job on time. Your coworkers' job is to give you what you need to complete your work. The waiter's job is to get your lunch order right and bring it out pronto. And so on. The most powerful evidence for these roles is our response when someone fails to perform his or her role to our satisfaction: we attack that person in one form or another. "Attack is a response to function unfulfilled as you perceive the function" (T-29.IV.3:1). When someone doesn't give us what we believe we are entitled to, he or she must pay.

Since the world so often fails to meet our expectations, we feel perfectly entitled to our anger. But the Course tells us that the world is not to blame for our unhappiness, and "we are not entitled therefore to our bitterness" (W-pI.195.9:2). We have no right to use our brothers to serve our ego needs, nor do we have a right to resent them when they fail to do so. They don't owe our egos anything.

We are entitled, however, to the gifts of God. This is a major theme in the Course. Because we are God's Sons, we are fully entitled to the limitless inheritance He has given us, "fully entitled to everything Love has to offer" (S-1.I.5:3). We don't have to do anything to earn this inheritance; we deserve it and are given it freely, simply because we are the rightful heirs to God's Kingdom. It is precisely because we are entitled to the gifts of God, and in fact already have them, that we are not entitled to be bitter when the world doesn't serve our egos.

What are the gifts of God? Above all, they are the heavenly gifts God gave us in our creation: things like infinite peace, love, joy, etc. Each of us is "entitled to everything [in Heaven] because it is his birthright as a Son of God" (W-pI.37.1:6). They are also the earthly reflections of these heavenly gifts. A list of things that the Course specifically says we are "entitled" to includes "the perfect comfort that comes from perfect trust" (T-2.III.5:1), the Holy Spirit's "gift of healing and deliverance and peace" (T-25.IX.7:4), "confidence in your real strength" (W-pI.47.6:2), the vision of Christ (W-pI.75.7:1), and miracles (Lesson 77 is entirely devoted to this idea).

All of these things are intangible things, spiritual gifts. But what about earthly things? It may come as a surprise that the Course has a version of entitlement here as well: While we're not entitled to the earthly things the ego wants to reinforce itself, we are entitled to whatever earthly things we need to live here. We are told that "the right to live is something no one need fight for. It is promised him, and guaranteed by God" (P-3.III.4:1-2). What a reassuring thought!

However, there is something we must do in order to claim that entitlement: We must commit our minds to fulfilling the function the Holy Spirit has given us in His plan for salvation. When we do this, the Holy Spirit will give us whatever things we need, not to gratify our egos, but to serve His plan: "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" (T-20.IV.8:4). It's not that He refuses to provide for people who don't commit to His plan; the right to live is promised to everyone. Rather, refusing to commit to our function in His plan amounts to refusing Him — pushing Him away — and He will not force His gifts upon an unwilling recipient.

A great window into what we are and aren't entitled to on earth is the "Question of Payment" section in the Psychotherapy supplement. The specific topic of this section is whether a psychotherapist should charge for his or her services, but the principles it teaches can be applied more broadly. On the one hand, the section says that therapists are entitled to have their earthly needs met while they are here — this is the section from which that line about "the right to live" is drawn. "Even an advanced therapist has some earthly needs while he is here. Should he need money it will be given him…to help him better serve the plan" (P-3.III.1:3-4).

But on the other hand, the section says that therapists are not entitled to demand payment from their brothers for their services — the ego-based entitlement that says "you owe me." The repudiation of this ego-based entitlement is reflected in the section's central counsel on the question of payment: "No one should be turned away because he cannot pay" (P-3.III.6:1). It's perfectly fine for a therapist to have a standard rate or sliding scale for his services, but he must never make payment a requirement for services. Instead, the therapist should trust that because his right to live is guaranteed by God, he can afford to give up the false entitlement that demands payment from his patients. "While he stays [on earth] he will be given what he needs to stay" (P-3.III.1:3).

Do we need to put forth effort in order to earn the gifts of God? In one sense, no. He gives His gifts freely; we are entitled to our inheritance simply by virtue of being our Father's Sons. However, we do need to put forth effort to recognize and accept the gifts of God. In our current deluded state we have no idea what God has given us. Paradoxically, it takes the effort of constant mental vigilance to set aside the false "gifts" of the ego and recognize the gifts of God that are ours by right rather than by effort: "Vigilance does require effort, but only until you learn that effort itself is unnecessary" (T-6(V).C.10:4). And though the Course says that the Holy Spirit will arrange for our provisions without our effort once we accept our part in His plan for salvation, it does take effort both to accept that part and to do that part. We don't just flop on the couch and wait for His gifts to drop in our lap. As the Urtext tells us, we are called to be "active workers."

The key, though, is that when we truly recognize that we have the gifts of God, we are no longer dependent on the world serving our ravenous egos. Our acceptance of the gifts of God puts us in a position to give. And as we freely give the gifts of God to others — the content of which is true perception, but the form of which could be anything, including our time, our money, or physical things — we receive these gifts more fully for ourselves. For as the Course says countless times, giving is the way we truly receive; extending the gifts of God to others is how we keep them for ourselves.

Do you see what has happened here? Through our claiming the gifts of God to which we are entitled, the ego's form of entitlement has been reversed. Instead of thinking we're entitled to the world serving us, we serve the world by giving the gifts of God to which everyone is entitled. It is by serving the world that we are truly served. It is by giving the world its entitlement that we claim our own.

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