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.
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