Saturday, July 23, 2005

A Loving God

In the first few centuries after Jesus' ministry on earth, many different versions of his teachings, and varying understandings of them circulated, among whom only very gradually the precursors of later "Christianity," as a somewhat coherent religious whole, emerged. One way that early Christianity often sought to distinguish itself was in the concept that theirs was a God of Love, as compared to the Old Testament with its Vengeful, Jealous God. This seemed to be the clear message of Jesus' teachings, whith their focus on forgiveness, and on "seek first the Kingdom," all of which was clearly about a loving God, who would receive his lost sons with open arms, as in the parable of the prodigal son.

From what we know of that early history, there are no signs whatsoever that Jesus ever attempted to set himself apart from Judaism. By all accounts he was identified as a Jew, and saw no reason to change that, even if his teachings and his ministry might have relevance beyond the confines of Judaism. It was his followers after his death who sought to take his message to the world in which to some degree the Jerusalem community under Peter was focused on the Jewish world, while Paul was focused mostly on the gentiles - and they represented some of the major early factions, though by no means the only ones.
The fact that the Gospel according to Matthew was placed first in the NT canon once it became defined (ca 400CE), was purely and only in order to establish both the historical foundation of Jesus' authority and clothe it in the venerable tradition of Judaism, while at the same time proving once and for all why his teaching was superior to that tradition, which he was a part of and never abandoned himself. That relationship was forever after expressed in the notion of a New Testament that de facto was supposed to supersede the Old Testament. Luke and Acts were written by a companion of Paul's and served mostly to justify Paul's ministry and interpretations, as well as the subsequent developments of the early community. John is much later and has lots of other influences that require in depth discussion of their own, meanwhile Mark is the simplest, cleanest story that really should have come first.

But the most interesting is perhaps the Gospel which is now recognized to have pre-dated the others by at least 10-15 years, The Gospel according to Thomas. Notably absent is any talk of crucifixion and resurrection, eucharist, and other Christian ritual and theology; that is to say, nearly everything we are taught makes Christianity what it is, is not there. Notably present in the first statement is that understanding what Jesus teaches is the key to the Kingdom: "Whosoever discovers the interepretation of these sayings will not taste death." (Translation Marvin Meyer, "The Gospel of Thomas.") All of which lends gravity to the consideration that all the elements of what we consider to be Christianity, and which popular culture believes was founded by Jesus, was actually made up after his death, and is based on (mis-)interpretations of his life and teaching by others. And the historical parade of interpreters was of course headed by Paul, who was the architect of putting "Christianity" in Jesus' mouth, as well as the architect of setting it apart from Judaism. Researchers now are seriously considering that the form of some Jesus quotes in Thomas may be "more original" than what we have in other sources. (c.f. Bart D. Ehrman in "Lost Christianities")

One of the major themes was the difference between the more "gnostic" disciplines, and the Pauline community as the emerging "proto-orthodoxy." And while the Thomas Gospel has been called Gnostic, some researchers correctly identify that it really is not. Reading history critically one would have to say that gnostic Christianity was an accretion of the teachings of Jesus with other mythologies and beliefs, which simply put greater emphasis on the fact that the truth was within all of us as "gnosis," and generally emphasized more inner development, rather than external practice. Notably, to the Gnostics the relationship with God was an inner affair, while in mainstream practice we miserable sinners had to rely on the intermediation by layers of priests, ultimately under the Pope, as the Vicar of Christ--the substitute teacher who would be in place until the second coming (whenever that might be). In other words, Jesus was no gnostic in the religious-historic sense of the word, but Christian gnosis emphasized more the inner development and psycho/spiritual significance of Jesus' teachings, compared to those groups who eventually formed the church, which focused more on external religious practice. The careful reader of GoT almost has to conclude that the only consistent interpretation of it is as a non-dualist thought system, and indeed today "The Disappearance of the Universe" (DU) lays a strong link between GoT and ACIM.

We might also note how in some healings in the Gospels, Jesus tells people not to talk about it. In the Course there is a lot of emphasis on teaching by doing, not by telling, as in: "3 Teach not that I died in vain. 4 Teach rather that I did not die by demonstrating that I live in you." (ACIM:T-11.VI.7:3-4) and we might note a passage like:
2 He needs our voice that He may speak through us. 3 He needs our hands to hold His messages, and carry them to those whom He appoints. 4 He needs our feet to bring us where He wills, that those who wait in misery may be at last delivered. 5 And He needs our will united with His Own, that we may be the true receivers of the gifts He gives.
" (ACIM:W-154.11:2-5)

When we reflect on this, we may consider that perhaps the sending out of the apostles, as we know it in the Gospels, was a little different than we have been taught traditionally. It is very clear that our job is to get the ego out of the way, and to let the Holy Spirit c.q. Jesus do the speaking through us. It pays to re-read Mk. VI:6-13. In the 11th verse Jesus says to the apostles "And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear you, when you depart thence, shake off the dust under your feet [for a testimony against them]." (I would suspect that the words in square brackets are a later addition to what Jesus really said.) And verse 12 continues: "And they went out, and preached that men should change their mind." (Note that the Greek word "metanoia" means "changing your mind," exactly like the English usage in the Course. It does not mean "repent," as it has often been translated - it was merely given that meaning by later Christian theology.) It should be clear that the emphasis is not on: convincing others that certain stories, theologies and beliefs about Jesus are right, and "better." Instead, the emphasis is on changing our mind. Just like it is in the Course. The emphasis is also on not wasting your time on convincing anyone. Surely a very different message than what we are to see later in Acts, and the letters of Paul, and later Christian practice with its emphasis on proselytizing, not to mention holy wars.

And here in this transition is where we might think again about the meaning of a Loving God, who surely would not instruct us to go tell the neighbors we are right and they are wrong. For surely Jesus taught (and teaches) of God as a Loving Father, however he also did not ask us to beat the neighbors over the head with ideas about him. Besides reading these quotes from Bible and Course, we may also think about our own practice of the Course. How often haven't we bothered others with our experiences with the Course, when they're not ready to hear. And the Course is very clear that it is our job to accept the atonement for ourselves, however, we are to leave it to the Holy Spirit when our brother is ready to accept the atonement for themselves. In other words convincing anyone of anything the Course says, is not what Jesus asks us to do, nor did he 2000 years ago.

Here is where things went horribly wrong very early. Jesus asked Simon the Doubter, to become like a rock, so he could build his church on it. Surely this was another parable, and meant that Jesus encouraged Simon to change his mind and to have solid faith in the Holy Spirit -- much like the Development of Trust (see the Manual for Teachers) in the Course. For we all waffle like Simon did, as long as we have a split mind and are going back and forth between ego and Holy Spirit, but we become Peter, the rock, whenever we make up our mind once and for all for the Holy Spirit, and on that Trust, Jesus' church is built, the oneness of the sonship which he teaches. He did not set Peter up in the real estate business, nor ask him to go proselytize and just gather unwilling people together.
And as we learn today with the Course, to bother anyone with information, if they are not ready to listen, is always an attack. Yet early Christianity went on the attack with their heavy proselytizing.

In looking back at that early Christian period, we see a theology emerging, a religion, which sets itself up a) separate from Judaism (because it is superior), and in general it is superior to both Judaism and Gentile religious practices (Roman Gods), as we see in the missionary zeal which develops. The energy behind this kind of proselytizing is "I'm right, you're wrong." And very much did it become denigrating to Judaism. In other words, as Christianity evolved from the earliest "following of Jesus" by the apostles in their daily life, into a proselitizing and gathering of souls, ultimately more and more by getting them to accept certain concepts about Jesus (in what ultimately became the Nicene creed), it became aggressive. And its supposedly loving God demanded the sacrifice of his own son, in the concept of vicarious salvation, as emphasized in the Pauline theology about him, and in his name a new religious institution was slowly being created, which battled it out with other religions, and ultimately "won" out under the Emperor Constantine. Constantine's victims might not have viewed his mysterious new God as all that loving...

The point is that the ego took over, and as always sees the problem outside. I.e. I project my own doubts outside, and I see some poor bastard who doesn't get it yet. Convincing somebody else that my idease are right, is somehow supposed to magically make my faith stronger. We are more psychologically astute today, and we can see that not only is it an attack on a brother, but it is really rooted in doubt about what it is we believe in the first place - it is a process of shouting over our own doubts, and has nothing to do with becoming the Rock that Jesus asked Simon to become. More in general by changing the emphasis from our own inner search for that relationship with our Internal Teacher, and ultimately teaching "only that I did not die, by demonstrating that I live in you," and thus living Jesus' teaching of the atonement in the world, towards an external process of convincing others of dogma about God and Jesus, we have made ourselves into an attacker, hardly a teacher of love and forgiveness. Reading just a few pages of Paul's letters will clarify this issue.

Some critical passages in the Course which can shed light on this are the following:
This is not a course in philosophical speculation, nor is it concerned with precise terminology. 2 It is concerned only with Atonement, or the correction of perception. 3 The means of the Atonement is forgiveness. 4 The structure of "individual consciousness" is essentially irrelevant because it is a concept representing the "original error" or the "original sin." 5 To study the error itself does not lead to correction, if you are indeed to succeed in overlooking the error. 6 And it is just this process of overlooking at which the course aims.
" (
You may complain that this course is not sufficiently specific for you to understand and use. 2 Yet perhaps you have not done what it specifically advocates. 3 This is not a course in the play of ideas, but in their practical application.
" (ACIM:T-11.VIII.5:1-3)
This is what is really meant by the statement that the one responsibility of the miracle worker is to accept the Atonement for himself. 3 The teacher of God is a miracle worker because he gives the gifts he has received.
" (ACIM:M-7.3:2-3)

Contemplating these paragraphs carefully makes the distinction very clear. It is only by doing the inner work ourselves of constantly choosing the miracle, that we can be a conduit for the forgiveness and love, for the atonement, to our brothers, because we can extend the love to them, or rather because the atonement can then be extended to our brothers through us, since our ego is out of the way. That may not be in words, or at least not explicitly so. This is very different from the Christian tradition of proselytizing, in which we take beliefs we don't fully grasp ourselves, except we think they sound good, and we go and convince others, and somehow we believe that if we convince a lot of others, this makes our religion better than the next one, or will get us a spot in heaven. But this is what has led to is religious wars. We need to understand that the very thought of proselytizing is an attack. And for sure anytime we try foist our newfound happiness on anyone who is not ready, we can feel it, and we'll be reminded again that our only job is to accept the atonement for ourselves.

So by and large then the early followers did hear Jesus right that God was a loving God, except they immediately turned that into an attack on their brothers for not believing in that God, instead of understanding we all believe in that God. In the popular understanding, although some Gnostic sects were pretty sophisticated in their explanation of the Creator God, the God of Genesis, who made "Heaven and Earth" (duality, the manifest universe), there was not the foundation in psychology which the Course has today, which made it possible to be totally clear how that God is a projection of the ego's thought of separation. In other words, we all believer in that Creator God, as long as we buy into dualism. So, by projection, it was seen as the God of the "Jews," of "them" of the non-believers. On top of that they started arguing amongst themselves about if this message was only for Jews or also for gentiles, or if gentiles should convert to Judaism first, and so on. Jesus taught Religion as consistently practicing in our own life the reflection of the universal truth that God is love and forgiveness. We made it into a religion at war with all the other religions of the world. The Course provides the way back out of this hell towards the inner practice, which by the consistent practice of forgiveness it will lead us to:

The holiest of all the spots on earth is where an ancient hatred has become a present love. 2 And They come quickly to the living temple, where a home for Them has been set up. 3 There is no place in Heaven holier. 4 And They have come to dwell within the temple offered Them, to be Their resting place as well as yours. 5 What hatred has released to love becomes the brightest light in Heaven's radiance. 6 And all the lights in Heaven brighter grow, in gratitude for what has been restored.
" (ACIM:T-26.IX.6)

Now that is the foundation stone of his church, which Jesus talked about to Simon Peter.

Copyright, (c) 2005, Rogier F. van Vlissingen. All rights reserved.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Slavery Today in The Bateyes, and the Ego System

Clicking on the title of this post, will get you to the site for Samuel Augustin, Sam has an exhibition at The Lafayette Grill&Bar,, at 54-56 Franklin Street, in New York (3 blocks south of Canal, between Broadway and Lafayette Streets) from July 16th, 2005, till August 8th, 2005. The theme of the exhibition is "Life in the Bateyes," which are the sugar plantations in the Dominican Republic where upto one million Haitians reportedly work today, cutting the sugar cane, under conditions which are tantamount to slavery, except perhaps in the most narrow technical sense, since they're under contracts for upto 20 years, at below $1 per day, without any civil rights in the Dominican Republic, nor any right to return to Haiti until the "contract" is served out.
Sam's artwork is beautiful and it is worth seeing. His principal themes are "celebration," showing the performance of traditional Haitian (African) folklore and dances, and the power of the spirit expressed in that, and "conversation," which is either people in a circle talking about how to get out, how to get back home, or a pregnant mother in a quiet conversation with her unborn child, hoping for a better life. The background for all of it is the fields of sugar cane.

For me this exhibition was a good reminder of the powerful ways in which the Course speaks about slavery as an aspect of the ego system. In the Bible of course the stories of the Babylonian exile and the Egyptian exile are reminders of this theme, and implicitly so is the diaspora after the destruction of the Temple. In the New Testament there is the subtle aspect of the apostles dropping their line of work to "follow Jesus," which again implies something of a different order, and clearly Jesus is identified as Savior, and his Kingdom not of this World holds out an entirely different promise. Likewise the story of Exodus in the OT is as much a story of Salvation as are the Gospels. The Course merely puts it all in a modern form as a "self-study course," and removes many historical misinterpretations.

At the same time, like any other story of slavery in our modern world, this exhibition is an important reminder that the so-called abolition of slavery did not permanently solve the problem, though it did change the form for certain groups of people, and ultimately enable some improvements in circumstances. Fundamentally however the thought system of slavery is within, and is not changed by changing a specific form of it.

One of the most important teachings of the Course is to make us aware of the holographic nature of reality, and the illusory nature of the ego's thought system of sin, guilt and fear, which convinces us of a past cause(sin), which makes us fearful at present, (of the future, and therefore shifts our attention out of the present), and projecting a future which is bound to be a repetition of the past. The closest we can come to this is in meditation or in the holy instant, when we can let go of past and future, to be at rest in the eternal now, and be at peace, without any projection. We just can't stand that for too long. In regards of the Crucifixion Jesus offers a very poignant comment as follows, pertaining to our ability to change our mind (the NT Greek is Metanoia, which has generally been mistranslated as "repentance"):
The journey to the cross should be the last "useless journey." 2 Do not dwell upon it, but dismiss it as accomplished. 3 If you can accept it as your own last useless journey, you are also free to join my resurrection. 4 Until you do so your life is indeed wasted. 5 It merely re-enacts the separation, the loss of power, the futile attempts of the ego at reparation, and finally the crucifixion of the body, or death. 6 Such repetitions are endless until they are voluntarily given up. 7 Do not make the pathetic error of "clinging to the old rugged cross." 8 The only message of the crucifixion is that you can overcome the cross. 9 Until then you are free to crucify yourself as often as you choose. 10 This is not the gospel I intended to offer you. 11 We have another journey to undertake, and if you will read these lessons carefully they will help prepare you to undertake it.
" (
and later he says:
Each day, each hour and minute, even each second, you are deciding between the crucifixion and the resurrection; between the ego and the Holy Spirit. 2 The ego is the choice for guilt; the Holy Spirit the choice for guiltlessness. 3 The power of decision is all that is yours. 4 What you can decide between is fixed, because there are no alternatives except truth and illusion. 5 And there is no overlap between them, because they are opposites which cannot be reconciled and cannot both be true. 6 You are guilty or guiltless, bound or free, unhappy or happy.
" (ACIM:T-14.III.4)

Notice also the connection here to "guilty or guiltless, bound or free..." in other words a strong underlying theme of the Course, which decisively plays on these themes as they are present in various Biblical stories, is our slavery to the ego system. It is the ego system which really is the fierce taskmaster that keeps us beholden to it, and does not allow us to be free. This may manifest in our lives in a variety of ways, slavery, jail, and various addictive behaviors, from abusive relationships (often with our work, as well as with spouses!) to substance abuse, and first and foremost in the experience of diaspora - the realization that this world is not our home. In other words slavery is something we are doomed to keep acting out as long as we live our lives as children of the ego. And undertaking the way home, such as Jesus proposes in the Course does not even begin until we sincerely ask for "another way," as did Helen Schucman and Bill Thetford at the outset of the Course.

Throughout the Course images are used that are reflective of the idea that the victim/victimizer in the world are really two sides of the same coin, so that neither jailer nor prisoner can be free unless the thought system is let go of.
Who can be born again in Christ but him who has forgiven everyone he sees or thinks of or imagines? 2 Who could be set free while he imprisons anyone? 3 A jailer is not free, for he is bound together with his prisoner. 4 He must be sure that he does not escape, and so he spends his time in keeping watch on him. 5 The bars that limit him become the world in which his jailer lives, along with him. 6 And it is on his freedom that the way to liberty depends for both of them.
" (ACIM:W-192.7)

Throughout the Course then, there are reminders that forgiveness as a process, which does not mean grandiosely "forgiving" another because we are "bigger than that," (a process which the Course calls "forgiveness to destroy"), but does mean that we are letting go of the accusation of another which we hold against them, by projecting onto them what is really going on inside ourselves. This forgiveness process loosens the ball and chain with which we enslave our brothers and ourselves, because, as in the above cited paragraph, the jailer is inevitably tied to the prisoner. It is this forgiveness process then by which we free ourselves by freeing our brothers. This is the inner release from slavery.

The realization is that in the world, changing the form is always passed off as a material change, which it is not, unless it is a reflection of this inner change. Without the inner change, the process will merely continue under other guises, as the history of the Bateyes clearly shows. A million people in slavery only an armslength away from us.

In a different way we are also reminded of the same thing in connection with China, and the recent signs of new capitalist power to potentially take over major American corporations. Our capitalist model, which makes the mistake of thinking that the purpose of business is to make money (when it should be to create value for all stakeholders), inevitably creates conditions that favor slavery, and it's just a question who can get away with it, and they must win this game. I learnt this early on in my own business career in the shipping business, when I realized that one of our competitors, who had a seemingly permanent newbuilding program going, when we could not even build one ship profitably--but we could afford to charter ships from them. They were prominent Hong Kong shipowners at the time, Wah Kwong Shipping, headed by an Oxford educated magnate, Mr. Frank Chao. We found out the hard way that they were keeping a double set of books, and that while under their contract with us they were supposed to pay union wages, in fact they were not, and people were paid a rough equivalent in HK$ instead of US$, even while signing receipts for the union wages. That meant these people were paying their crew 20% of what we paid ours, and the difference explained the company's economic successes, and their huge newbuilding program.

We still ask today: "Am I my brother's keeper?" (Gen 4:9) and the logic of the ego system is that if we can make twenty-five cents, we will still sell our brother down the river, just as happily as ever. Various explicit forms of slavery in the modern world, like the example in the Bateyes, tend to take place in cross border forms, as it does in that case. Or in other socially more obscure forms, including dysfunctional people being emotionally abused in dysfuncitional companies. So instead of being deluded about 'progress," we can see how nothing really changes in the outside world, and the old latin saying: "nil novi sub sole," (nothing new under the sun) is as true as ever, as also the French saying: "l"Histoire se repète,"(history repeats itself). They are the sad refrains of the ego system.

But by looking in the mirror we can use these events to realize that the only change we can make is inside, whenever we are ready to ask from the bottom of our hearts: "there must be another way." And by following Jesus, (inside) we will increasingly let go of the ego's temptation of pretending change, by moving around the deck chairs on the Titanic. For we can only make a difference if we are different. The illusion of changing anyone else, keeps us firmly on the ego's chain gang, by avoiding change ourselves - which is the very purpose of the tactic. Through forgiveness we can let go of the ego's judgment and indictment, and it will come easier and easier as we realize that our indictment of another puts ourselves in chains. For we will join then with our brother in the present moment, in the Holy Instant. After all we cannot go home without taking our brother with us, and surely what our hands do then will be guided not by our guilty projections, but by the love that inspires us then.

I am resurrection and life. 2 You live in me because you live in God. 3 And everyone lives in you, as you live in everyone. 4 Can you, then, perceive unworthiness in a brother and not perceive it in yourself? 5 And can you perceive it in yourself and not perceive it in God? 6 Believe in the resurrection because it has been accomplished, and it has been accomplished in you. 7 This is as true now as it will ever be, for the resurrection is the Will of God, which knows no time and no exceptions. 8 But make no exceptions yourself, or you will not perceive what has been accomplished for you. 9 For we ascend unto the Father together, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, for such is the nature of God's Son as his Father created him.
" (ACIM:T-11.VI.4)
and one of the many places where the Course expresses that freedom is not exclusive, but inclusive of our brothers is the following:
You do not offer God your gratitude because your brother is more slave than you, nor could you sanely be enraged if he seems freer. 2 Love makes no comparisons. 3 And gratitude can only be sincere if it be joined to love. 4 We offer thanks to God our Father that in us all things will find their freedom. 5 It will never be that some are loosed while others still are bound. 6 For who can bargain in the name of love?
" (ACIM:W-195.4)

Copyright, (c) 2005, Rogier F. van Vlissingen. All rights reserved.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Jesus and the Teaching Framework of ACIM

Jesus presents himself in the introduction to the Course as our Internal Teacher, and it is clear that a living relationship with him in some form is central to our work with the Course. To emphasize the importance of this, I started off this article with a link to Kenneth Wapnick's article "JESUS: COMPANION ON OUR JOURNEY" (Lighthouse newsletter Vol 11, No 4, Dec. 2000). (Please click on the title to link to that article).

In the spirit of this forum, I want to explore the teaching framework of ACIM and its relationship to the Judaeo-Christian tradition which it uses as THE frame of reference for its presentation, and in fact as a culture specific example of how the ego system works, for the Course is only one form of the universal course. (c.f. ACIM:M-1.4:1-3):
This is a manual for a special curriculum, intended for teachers of a special form of the universal course. 2 There are many thousands of other forms, all with the same outcome. 3 They merely save time.

As a personal confession, I want to state up front that when I first listened to Ken Wapnick teaching on the Course and the Bible, I felt almost as if he was speaking only to Catholics, for I did not consciously ever believe that Jesus died for our sins, nor did I believe any other significant tenets of Christianity, having been raised with the notion that Christianity was a distortion of Jesus' teachings by Paul. Hence my focus had always been on what Jesus teaches, not on what Christianity says he said. I looked at Jesus more as a Jewish teacher than as anything Christian. My NT consisted largely of the Gospel according to Mark, supplemented at times by the Gospel of Thomas, and my Bible included the OT.
I was raised with a strong sense of Jesus as a presence in our lives, as God's Help that would always be there when we were ready to go to him for help. And from very little I was taught as well that asking for that help was different than asking Santa Claus for a toy, and that it crucially meant accepting the help in whatever form it came in, and accepting the very form as a material part of the help.

However as my work with the Course progressed it became ever clearer to me that we all do believe in this thought system of the crucifixion, and that while yes, I had been (thankfully) exposed to other thinking from very early on, that did not mean I did not subscribe to the ego thought system, and that the model of it that Christianity provides in our culture is indeed a wonderful teaching example, for we've all been exposed to it, regardless of what we think we believe. In short, I began to understand more and more that even though I consciously thought I had not bought into the crucifixion, and the central role it plays in the Christian faith,
that in identifying with the ego thought system I did believe that I had killed God--which is what the crucifixion symbolizes--for that is the fundamental ego thought: if I live you die; if I'm right you're wrong.
And thus it was via the Course that I began to really come to grips with the true meaning of the very different reading of Jesus' teachings with which I did grow up in the form of the work of Jan Willem Kaiser. I began to make more and more sense of my own erstwhile interest in learning Hebrew and Aramaic, focusing very deeply on the fact that Jesus seemed to self-identify as a Jew in his behavior. This besides being reading fluent in Greek, and frequently reverting to the Greek NT. Along with that voyage of discovery, I also saw more and more clearly that many fellow Course students go through a period of sorting out of the relationship of ACIM to the faith(s) they were raised with. And so I want to share some of my findings with others going through that sorting-out process.

The Course states in the introduction that "It is not intended to become the basis for another cult. Its only purpose is to provide a way in which some people will be able to find their own Internal Teacher." This is a direct subversion of the underlying assumptions of Christianity, and a return to the teachings of Jesus which were in fact suppressed at the onset of Christianity by an emerging orthodoxy, which became the Catholic Church. For easy reference it pays to look up the Nicene Creed, see:
The difference is clear, an external Jesus versus an Internal Jesus. He's coming down to us, vs. he says : follow me (even in the Gospels). In other words, in the Nicene creed the world is given a status of reality (having been created by God), and Jesus comes down into it, and he will come back (Second Coming and Last Judgment). This leaves the clear impression that living in the world is the point of the exercise, at least until..., even though Jesus--even in the NT Gospels--emphasizes all the time that his Kingdom is NOT of this world. In this version of the story the resurrection is given short shrift, for he goes back to Heaven, to return who knows when.

The Course focuses on very different matters, namely on assuming the journey home by undoing our unconscous beliefs, under the guidance of a living Jesus within, as in:
You will not find peace until you have removed the nails from the hands of God's Son, and taken the last thorn from his forehead. 2 The Love of God surrounds His Son whom the god of crucifixion condemns. 3 Teach not that I died in vain. 4 Teach rather that I did not die by demonstrating that I live in you. 5 For the undoing of the crucifixion of God's Son is the work of the redemption, in which everyone has a part of equal value. 6 God does not judge His guiltless Son. 7 Having given Himself to him, how could it be otherwise?
" (ACIM:T-11.VI.7)
The focus here is on Jesus being alive within us, as demonstrated in deed (not word!) by our being faithful to what he stood for, which is the Kingdom not of this world, which is peace, love, and forgiveness. And the undoing of the crucifixion is the undoing of our belief in the ego thought system, step by step, the elements of which are indeed the "nails," with which we've crucified God's son.

This distinction, with the emphasis which the Course places on a living relationship with a living Jesus within, is the first major distinction from the Christian traditon, and it harks back to the very dissensions which were prevalent in early Christianity, namely with the so-called "Gnostics" focusing mostly on the idea that the "knowlege" (of salvation) is within, versus the proto-orthodox church, after Paul in particular, believing we were sinners all, and needed external guidance under the Pope as the Vicar of Christ, until at least the second coming.
The gnostics lost, the proto-orthodox became the Catholic Church, which then proceeded to split and split and split, until today we have many Christianities again, perhaps as many or more as before it was all pulled together to form one faith under he emperor Augustine at the Council of Nicea. However all of these Christianities tend to share certain major assumptions, and God creating the world, as well as vicarious salvation (Jesus died for our sins), tend to be major tenets that all have in common, and they symbolize foundation beliefs of the ego thought system. The Course on the contrary sees these as central beliefs of the ego.

The Course says:
To learn this course requires willingness to question every value that you hold. 2 Not one can be kept hidden and obscure but it will jeopardize your learning. 3 No belief is neutral. 4 Every one has the power to dictate each decision you make. 5 For a decision is a conclusion based on everything that you believe. 6 It is the outcome of belief, and follows it as surely as does suffering follow guilt and freedom sinlessness. 7 There is no substitute for peace. 8 What God creates has no alternative. 9 The truth arises from what He knows. 10 And your decisions come from your beliefs as certainly as all creation rose in His Mind of what He knows.
" (

You may complain that this course is not sufficiently specific for you to understand and use. 2 Yet perhaps you have not done what it specifically advocates. 3 This is not a course in the play of ideas, but in their practical application.
" (ACIM:T-11.VIII.5)

The clear connection here is that the promise of the Course of leading a more peaceful life hinges on doing what it says, including questioning every value that we hold. It's those ego-nails again, which we need to be pulling out of the cross, its those splinters we need to be pulling out of our eyes. Very clearly then, while the Course comes as a very comprehensive and beautiful book, being a student means practicing what it says, not saying what it does. And therein lies another distinction with the Nicene Creed, which focuses on a rational statement of belief, and bypasses any interest in the underlying psychological motivators, which is what the Course means with "beliefs."

In short, what the Course sets up as the framework of its curriculum really undoes from the outset the entire frame of reference of Judaeo-Christian culture, at the same time implying that this is what Jesus taught in the first place. It invites us constantly to question all the implicit assumptions around which our world is ordered, since without doing so we cannot change our mind about it. And the central focus of the whole teaching is forgiveness, forgiveness, and more forgiveness, as an undoing of our ego's quick judgements of how the world and everything in it works.

We might also notice that the Christian model very much reinforces the linear model of time: he came, he was crucified, he was resurrected, he's back in Heaven until the Second Coming, and then he'll hold the final judgment. One of the outflows of the Reformation was in fact the search for the historical Jesus, a Protestant affair at first, later (post Vatican II) coopted by Catholic scholars, which again very much re-emphasizes historicity of events, and the linear time model. A Course in Miracles instead not only teaches a holographic model of the world, but in its very presentation it demonstrates it. It emphasizes Jesus alive within, as our elder brother who can lead us back home, yet he self-identifies with the "historical" Jesus (who may or may not have been historical), and criticizes "the Bible," by correcting specific statements, referencing the KJV (1611CE) as he does so. In the process part of his Course is dictated in Shakespearean Pentameter, the allegory of the cave is a clear reference, and last but not least without the psychoanalytical work of Freud, the psychological model of the Course could not have been developed. In short this presentation full of anachronisms most specifically his living presence within us, implies a different model of the world, best approach by the holographic model of Quantum Physics, in which Jesus can indeed be present at all those times and now as well. In other words he's really addressing us from a place in the mind, outside of the time and space continuum.

I am pointing out the historical reference to the gnostics merely to show that similar notions existed within early Christianity, but were suppressed. Perhaps the teachings of the Valentinian school come closest to what the Course teaches today. The Course however also has the benefit of being able to reference a lot that transpired in between then and now, and even from before "then," everything from Plato/Socrates (BC), to Shakespeare, to Freud, etc. So the Course presents a level of psychological sophistication that did not come around before. These days we should also note that the Gospel of Thomas presents a rather similar message, i.e. that he who understands its teachings will know salvation. There's that inner knowledge again, and by means of Gary Renard's "The Disappearance of the Universe," the Voice of the Course is strongly identified with the Voice of the sayings we find in Thomas.

Within the teaching material itself the Course proceeds to offer corrections--and remember all the while Jesus is "the Voice" of the Course--on one hand by using familiar words and giving them different meanings: salvation, crucifixion, resurrection, atonement, etc. etc. etc. and on the other with explicit Biblical references and corrections. Chapter 6 provides the most interesting material in this regard, in particular the section "The Message of the Crucifixion," and I'll cite one choice passage:
You have probably reacted for years as if you were being crucified. 2 This is a marked tendency of the separated, who always refuse to consider what they have done to themselves. 3 Projection means anger, anger fosters assault, and assault promotes fear. 4 The real meaning of the crucifixion lies in the intensity of the assault of some of the Sons of God upon another. 5 This, of course, is impossible, and must be fully understood impossible. 6 Otherwise, I cannot serve as a model for learning.
" (ACIM:T-6.I.3)

In other words our choice of the crucifixion is our choice FOR the ego thought system, and the journey home is the undoing of that choice.

In this post I wanted to focus on how the whole teaching concept of the Course itself is a complete change from how Christianity has presented the message of Jesus. I do not want to go more in depth at this moment about the various interesting aspects of difference between the Course and Christianity. The best reference materials, besides the Course itself, are Kenneth Wapnick's books "Forgiveness and Jesus," and "A Course in Miracles and Christianity: A Dialogue." The latter book in particular is invaluable, especially because it is a very evenhanded presentation, written jointly with Father W. Norris Clarke, S.J., Ph.D., in which the Course and Christianity are presented side by side, and the differences highlighted. The underlying message is that it simply would not help anyone to mix the two together, as sometimes happens because of confusion about the use of words.

Meanwhile, it remains important to realize that the Course makes no greater claim than that it's but one among thousands of paths, and that if you feel it's for you, you should probably stick to it and do what it says. So nothing here says truth could not be found through the Christian faith, as examples like Mother Theresa would show. The potential for confusion with Christianity is especially great however, because many of its terminology and concepts are so ingrained in our culture, that it's tough to sort them out. Yet sort them out we must--for ourselves--if we want to study the Course. Again it's not the nominal belief that's the problem it is the psychological content hiding underneath, and that is what the Course addresses in its teaching of forgivenss.

Copyright, (c) 2005, Rogier F. van Vlissingen. All rights reserved.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Introducing the ACIM&Abraham blog

This blog will be focused on explorations of "A Course in Miracles" in the context of the faith(s) of our fathers, i.e. the Abrahamic religions in general, and Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in particular. In actual fact, given that one central themes of the Course really is the correction of Jesus' teachings as they have come through from the canonical New Testament, and the predominant Christian theology, the main focus is likely to be on Christianity and Christian theology, but that is by no means exclusive.

Even a superficial exposure to Jesus' teachings in the Course, as well as careful study of the history of Early Christianity, would make it obvious to anyone that the founding of Christianity was not something that had any relevance to Jesus, or which he pursued in any meaningful way -- all of that transpired after his time. So that without Christianity, on a practical level Jesus' ministry would have likely remained an inner Jewish phenomenon, even though his actual teachings were actually more universal in nature, and transcended Judaism per se.
As far as Islam is concerned, the connection appears more tenuous there, except to note that the Islamic reading of Jesus is interesting if for no other reason than the fact that it differed from the Christian reading. Most notably Islam does not make the critical mistake of declaring Jesus the last prophet, and putting him on a pedestal. It may not be clear to some why anyone else should be either.

On the level of personal experience I have seen many times that people get confused about the religious traditions they grew up with once they have studied the Course for a while. I thoroughly believe that this experience is an important part of people's learning experiences with the Course, and thus fundamental to integration of the Course's teachings in our lives. It also is rife with forgiveness opportunities, since so many feel negatively impacted by at least some of the religious beliefs they were raised with.

Specifically I feel that in the Course and related literature there are two major themes at work as related to Judaeo-Christian framework. One is the extensive implicit and explicit corrections of what the Course calls "The Bible," which in the narrow sence is really the KJV, but in the wider sense stands for the complex of mainstream Christian theology. These corrections include both specific references and statements which Jesus explains have been misunderstood, as well as implicit references by juxtaposing his teachings which are very obviously at odds with generally accepted notions of Christianity. There is also the very deliberate use of Christian terminology in new and unexpected ways. The framework of the teaching starts with the notions that the Course is coming from Jesus as the "I-person," that he is alive within us as our Inner Teacher, and that a relationship with him is a central focus of the Course. All of which are quite at odds with the Nicene Creed, and religious institutions and hiearchies. It is a self-study course, and specifically not meant to be the basis of any new cult--all of which is spelled out clearly in the introduction.

Secondly, the book "The Disappearance of the Universe," by Gary Renard has appeared on the market, and while on one hand it is a very accessible popular introduction to the Course, in a very profound sense it also is an important historical link, since it makes strong references to the Gospel according to Thomas. This comes at a time when many Christians are studying the Thomas Gospel, and some other apocryphal books, and are struggling to comprehend these very different teachings, which almost force on us the type of non-dualistic reading which the Course would offer. In other words through the implication of this inner consistency with the Jesus who spoke to us in the Thomas Gospel, a strong link is made between Jesus' teachings then - pre-Christianity, and his teachings now in the Course. This teaching model really highlights how the ego and the world got in the way of our understanding of him, by providing a set of explanations that might have been pleasing to Caesar--the ruler of THIS world, symbolic for the ego system--but had nothing to do with what he taught. The role of Caesar of course was filled to overflowing by the Emperor Constantine, and his triumphs were truly the fall of Christianity if it ever had any hope of reflecting Jesus' teachings in the first place. Thus when the Course suggests that "To learn this Course requires willingness to question every value that you hold." (, then the entire Judaeo-Christian value system and morality stands as model for the ego system that needs to be questioned at all levels.

In a very practical sense this blog will also be closely in tune with my work on translating the writings of the Dutch spiritual teacher Jan Willem Kaiser. Kaiser published his work mostly between 1929 and 1960, the year of his death. He wrote before the Course, but for me at least, the view he took on Jesus and the meaning of the Gospel prefigured the teachings of the Course I was to run into lateron. In 1987 I published the first English edition of a work by Kaiser, "Four Open Field Books," which contains for monographs which he presented originally as speeches at the Open Field Conferences, at Zeist, Holland, which were a series of international spiritual conferences with a very interdenominational focus, which sought to explore the meaning of religion and spirituality in a very open minded fashion, with the purpose of clarifying man's relationship to God.
Although "Four Open Field Books" had an introduction, I knew more was needed, and in 2003 I published "The Gospel as a Spiritual Path," which was that more extensive introduction, based on an article by Kaiser about the Gospel, and explanations of his vocabulary extracted from his own works, brought together as an introduction to his work, along with an exploration of my own work with "A Course In Miracles," as it was helping me to deepen my relationship with Kaiser's work in turn.

While I like to pursue a certain scholarly rigor in the presentation of some of this material, I do want to maintain an overall focus on the development of our own relationship to our Inner Teacher, which is the central focus of "A Course In Miracles." Thus, that personal experience and validation is the only final check that matters.

From a more technical standpoint this blog is an experiment. I am co-moderator of the Course Talk forum on Yahoo, and I run a closed - invitation only (for now) - group on Google, called ACIM&Abraham, which shares the same purpose as this blog. This blog will be the vehicle to present some more polished materials, which might have arisen from my translation work, or from the work on both forums listed above. At the outset of this blog it is an open question to me if it complements the Google forum of the same name, or competes with it. I will simply watch developments to see which will provide the better vehicle, but it may well be that both will exist side by side indefinitely.

Copyright, (c) 2005, Rogier F. van Vlissingen. All rights reserved.