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Derek Best has contributed to several publications, including Macleans Magazine Canada, and Omni Magazine, USA. He is has also produced many documentary films for Television. For many years, he has been interested in A Course in Miracles, a metaphysical thought system, and maintains the official website for that organization. "ACIM", he says "is central to my personal way of seeing the world." This site is strictly personal however. Derek has an eclectic range of interests, and writes about them here as the mood strikes him.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Are You Serious?

Someone contributed a comment about my last post which perhaps deserves a post of its own. This is what it said:
I have been reading the Q and A section that you provide, well done. However, in one question you answer by stating that the Gospels are unreliable, yet Helen and the Course are reliable. Are you serious? Please tell me that you don't think that only Helen can be inspired. Please tell me that you think the apostles, who traveled and live with Jesus are not less reliable than the Course. To be honest, even while studying the Course, I still only see the "dialogue" of Jesus as a metaphor. I highly suspect that any actual "dictation" actually took place. The fact that you seem to want to disparage the long standing accounts in favor of your own makes the Course suspect to me... Anonymous. (Empasis added)
Dear Anonymous: First, please let me clear up something. I am the webmaster for the FACIM Question-and-Answer website, but that does not mean that I write the answers, and it does not necessarily mean I agree with them. The metaphysics of the Course takes us into uncharted territory where the likelihood of a perfect consensus is small. In this case however I do agree with the answer. You seem to be experiencing some conflict about this issue. It is as if you very much want to embrace a new idea, but are unwilling to do so because it would violate other dearly held beliefs. I notice the "Tell me it ain't so" structure of your comment.

It may well be that the bible and traditional Christianity are the best path for you. The Course is not for everyone, and it makes no sense to anguish over its perceived inadequacies if another way works better for you. The same underlying message of love is the basis for many different spiritual practices. This is one case where the destination, not the journey, is important.

It is actually quite common to encounter people who have a problem with the credibility of the Course because it attempts to correct (and frequently contradicts) traditional Christian teachings. A lot of the questions on the website are about just this issue, which seems to keep cropping up no matter how often it is discussed. It is important to note that sometimes (not always) this can be a sign that the student is starting to adapt to the new thought system, since no-one defends themself against a threat they do not perceive as real. If a student finds himself defending his established way of thought, it is possible the newer ideas are starting to seem valid to him.

In all compassion, one cannot and should not make light of this confusion. In Judeo-Christian cultures we are raised with a firm and authoritative world-view from our earliest formative years. This is not a matter of lifestyle or taste, like preferring Coke over Pepsi, or classical music over jazz. People can change their tastes in soda or music without a major crisis -- but it is much harder to change fundamental convictions about who we are and where we come from. Imagine if I asked you to change your beliefs about who your parents are. I am sure you would tell me I was crazy, because you "know" what you "know" to be "true". For many people, the fundamentals of Christianity are the unshakeable ingrained kernel of what is "true". It's what they "know". Everything else must be twisted to fit. Not to get too sidetracked -- but with the creationism issue for example, we see the tremendous power of what is "known" overruling all evidence to the contrary.

In our culture and in our very language, the word "gospel" is synonymous with "truth". How can the truth not be inspired? So how can the gospels not be inspired?

Well of course they are inspired. As a matter of fact I was driving on a long highway trip just yesterday and my car radio found a Christian station which was broadcasting a bible reading of Luke: 7, 8, and 9. It was fresh, riveting, relevant, and (for me) deeply moving. It was inspired! But a nagging thought ran through my mind... Was it moving because it was inspired, or was it inspired because it was moving? Don't dismiss that question as pedagogical too quickly. I think we all have favorite works, or poems, or songs, or stories that simply cut through all the layers of crap and reach us on a core level, bringing tears to our eyes or a shudder to our body, with a profound sense of having uncovered the naked soul and brought us face to face with an eternal truth.

For devout Christians the gospels always have that power. For instance:
Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.
For devout Muslims it is the Koran that has the same effect:
Do not say, that if the people do good to us, we will do good to them; and if the people oppress us, we will oppress them;
but determine that if people do you good, you will do good to them; and if they oppress you, you will not oppress them.
For Taoists it might be "The Way" of Lao Tse
Respond to anger with virtue. . .
... and so on. Or there need not be any religious association at all. Some people are profoundly inspired by Aristotle, or by Brahms, or by Carvaggio, or John Cage, or Henry Moore, or Maya Angelou. There is a way into any subconscious past any defenses. It is simply more likely to be carved out during formative years ... that's why they are called formative. So to come back to your comment, and your question -- can only Helen (Schucman) be inspired? No of course not. Whoever or whatever has the power to reach you and feel like core truth is inspired, including Helen in my case, and also including the gospels. This is if we accept the definition of "inspired" as being "able to speak the truth to us on a profound level. Since the exact color, flavor, or language can vary, it is obviously the message that matters, not the packaging. The Course clears this up near the beginning with the well-known words:
A universal theology is impossible, but a universal experience is not only possible but necessary
Think of the theology as the packaging or "form", and the experience as the message, or "content", or more simply "truth". To re-phrase this a little: "No matter how it is delivered, the truth must always be the same."

But with respect: what seems to cause you some anxiety is your definition of the word "inspired". If I understand your comment correctly, you feel that "inspired" means the physical source of the message must be directly attributable to Jesus of Nazareth. Thus the new testament would be inspired if the words were handed down directly from the mouth of Jesus (via various scribes, apostles, oral re-tellings, and translations). Helen's words could not be inspired because she obviously never met Jesus of Nazareth and she never knew anyone who did meet him.

In this sense you are technically right, but that rightness comes with some problems. First and foremost: by definition you are saying that the Koran - the words of the prophet Mohammed - is not inspired. Likewise, nor is the Talmud, nor is the Book of Mormon, nor the Bhagavad Gita, nor any other so-called "holy book." To get around this you would have to re-define "inspired" to mean - having come "from God" in some way. Jesus is presented in the gospels as being the son of God, thus he spoke for his Father, thus his words were obviously "inspired", however God also spoke directly to Mohammed, so the Koran is inspired too. He also spoke directly to Moses, so the ten commandments are inspired, and so on... All "holy books" might be said to have originated with God and reached us through some divinely chosen voice or scribe.

But that of course would also allow the Course to be "inspired". I do not see how you can have it both ways.

It does not "prove" the Course was inspired, of course. Helen could have made the whole thing up as you imply. For that matter so could Moses. Those who knew Helen felt her to be completely sincere and without any motivation to do such a thing. Her struggle spoke for itself. But let us assume the worst: let us assume that one day Helen conceived an idea to write a fictitious spiritual book, which would occupy her the rest of her life and for which she would receive no material reward. Suppose she did make it up as she went along. Suppose her local hairdresser told her what to write. Suppose her dog told her what to write. Or suppose, more realistically that she wrote whatever came into her head. Does this mean the words were not "inspired"? As a Christian you surely believe that God is the ultimate author of Heaven and Earth? God could speak to Helen (or Helen's dog) as surely as God could speak to Mohammed or Jesus or Moses ... or Beethoven or Mozart or anyone else with seemingly divinely inspired abilities. Did Mozart hear God? We can never know. If he were here today he would probably say he heard "music" ... but that may be how he heard God. Helen said she heard an "inner dictation," and perhaps that is how she heard God. No, you may say, she heard nothing. It was all an invention. But It is a challenge to understand how we can invent anything without first conceiving it and manifesting it in our minds, and there is no reason to believe we are the sole agent of that process.

Similarly, there is no reason to think that God should take a particular form - such as the spoken word. Do we really think God has a mouth and a larynx, and speaks English? Or do we really believe God is a great piano and came to Mozart in the form of concertos? Are we not in a sense limiting our own creator? This kind of thinking is called anthropomorphization (thinking of "Him" as a being with human or superhuman motives and characteristics). Indeed that is one of the major problems for those coming to the Course from traditional Christianity: they tend to interpret the word "God" in just this way, because that is the concept the Church tends to instill, and they think that what the Course is teaching is that God is still a "father", however not a wrathful vengeful disciplinarian father, but a kind, loving father, who wants us all to go home and be happy together in his nice house. Initially, this kind of metaphor is necessary, to understand the corrections to Christianity the Course would have us learn. But as we move away from the need for comforting human-like entities, and neat divisions of mind into little flow-chart boxes, we reach the deeper levels of pure un-utterable beingness where all form is unmanifest and only love exists. We say God is, and then we cease to speak. "We" has no more meaning.

Personally I think it is highly likely that people like Jesus of Nazareth and probably others have naturally understood this, and have had (if you will pardon the expression) only one foot in this illusion. I feel that the gospels were well-meaning attempts to record the life and circumstances of an extraordinary man... but a man nonetheless. The underlying principles the man represented and the manner in which he taught them are beyond words. There are metaphysical mysteries here we may never understand until we reach our own atonement. Nonetheless it is what he symbolized, not who he was that is the true message. A modern day book inspired by "Jesus" is not in any way connected with the body of a man who lived two thousand years ago. "Jesus" in this sense is not a person but a symbol for a being who lives in the light of God, and thus represents that part of us -- the only true part -- which is eternal love. The book is inspired not by the symbol but by the underlying Love.

We frequently adopt symbols as a means to comprehend the deeper meaning. The early Egyptians believed that the star Sirius was a goddess (Sopdet) and that it was she who caused the flooding of the Nile when she appeared each year. The appearance of the star was merely a symptom of the seasonal rotation of the Earth... It symbolized a larger underlying principle. This was something the Egyptians could not possibly comprehend, but they could certainly comprehend the shining light in the dark sky, and the rising, life-giving waters of the fertile river. They did not actively seek to find or elect a symbol, and in fact were not aware that it was a symbol. They worshipped it as though it were a holy first-cause.

Finally regarding the reliability of those gospels, perhaps it is helpful to review the answer to a previous similar question on the website, which explains it much better than I can:
Since the Gospels were written down approximately 50 years after the historical Jesus' death, there is no certainty that any of the accounts accurately report what the he actually said. In fact, Scripture scholars have established that Jesus probably did not say most of the things that are recorded in the Gospels. The Lord's Prayer, therefore, would not necessarily have come directly from Jesus. It is compatible with the entire teaching of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, which, as you say, make sin and the world very real. From the perspective of A Course in Miracles, the only explanation for this is that the teaching of the Bible is not the teaching of the Course. They are not similar and can be compared only in contrast, since the Course uses terms found in the Bible but with a different interpretation. You should do whatever you are comfortable with, whatever helps you feel loved and forgiven. If the Bible and Christianity help you achieve that, it would be foolish not to follow that path.
So, dear "Anonymous," I really don't think anyone wants to "disparage" the gospels that you love, as you put it. To do so simply would not be loving, and would be against all principles of the Course, which explicitly states that it will never attack your ego, but it will try to teach how your thought system arose.

Thank you very much for your comment. Perhaps you will write again.

D.

7 Comments:

Anonymous marian said...

A thorough, beautifully-written response. I have a hard time with this kind of question and find myself unable or maybe unwilling to formulate a decent response mostly because I so dislike any feeling of defensiveness in myself.

It's difficult to rise above that reaction and write a well-thought-out answer that is informative but not attacking and that doesn't foster an us vs. them mentality. I think you did it.

5:46 PM  
Blogger Simon said...

Hi Derek. I was directed here (to this post specifically) by Marian (*waves!*) since she thought I may be interested in a snippet of discussion on ACIM. She's foisting the book on me (completely willingly) and I expect to receive it from Amazon directly.

Now, it appears I'll have to bookmark you and hie my way here every now and again once I get right into it to engage in whatever discussion tickles my brain. I'm incredibly engaged by what Marian's mentioned so far and eagerly look forward to going through the process of ACIM.

All best.

12:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I will say your response was thought out, and it is appreciate. However, you makes some assumptions that are incorrect. You assume that I am in conflict, which is not the case. You also assume I am defensive, which you actually become as your response goes further. You state, "it makes no sense to anguish over its perceived inadequacies if another way works better for you." in other words, no sense in questioning, as if the Course is above such questions. Seems a pretty protective stance, dont you think? ANother sense of a touch of arrogance is in your "understanding" and "compassionate" statement that "It is actually quite common to encounter people who have a problem with the credibility of the Course because it attempts to correct (and frequently contradicts) traditional Christian teachings.", as if it necessarily needs the Course's correction. You then state, "The same underlying message of love is the basis for many different spiritual practices." SO if it exists in Christianity already, why does it need correction? That seems like circular semantics.
What I also find a bit distasteful is your attempts to characterize my questions as filled with anxiety. So I must be filled with anxiety and angst if I question the Course?
And speaking of principals of the Course. It states near the beginning of the book that it is not to be taken as a base for another cult. Yet, I read about "Master Teacher" who has some wisdom to awaken the world with his resurrected mind. Not exactly method of operation uncommon to cults.
I do give you credit for posting my writing and responding to it, though the response seems to have defensiveness while trying to have the facade of "compassion".

7:47 PM  
Anonymous Don said...

I'm not much of an expert on the "Course in Miracles" in fact I'm not too sure where its coming from either, I'm still trying to learn and decide for myself. But I agree with "Marian" that Derek's response was well thought out and patient. I do think "anonymous" you should do more basic research. It seems to me all the questions you raise have been answered time and again on the Course website and aren't really valid points. To be honest I can't help feeling most of the rest of your objection is just personal attack, not real objection. I don't know why this is. Excuse me for saying this but I really sense a lot of fear in your thoughts and I guess the thing to do is to wish you peace, although I suspect that will just piss you off. BTW the stuff about cults and the master-teacher, I've heard of him too but as far as I know he has no official connection with the course, heis just an individual who has created a following for himself using the course as a basis. So he might be a cultist, I don't know, but I don't see it as relevant. Wasn't Jim Jones an ordained christian minister? Does that make christianity a cult? Of course not, he was just one man gone wrong.
I have a question for Derek. What do you mean when you say we are "not the sole agent of that process" ?

best wishes, Don.

12:56 PM  
Anonymous Brian said...

Just my two cents worth: I think anonymous comments would have a lot more credibility if they were not anonymous.

Brian.

5:59 PM  
Anonymous Derek said...

Marian:
Thanks for the encouragement

Simon:
Welcome, and look forward to further communication with you.

Anonymous:
Good grief, have a cup of tea and relax will you!

Don:
Good question. Broadly speaking we may have created the brain but not the mind. The former exists within the latter, not the other way around. Our mind though, is co-creator with God, of Whom it is a part. For more detail please email me OK?

Brian: I'll see your two cents and raise you two :-)

3:44 PM  
Anonymous marian said...

Derek old friend, I know you're still alive because the Q&A service is still functioning. Just checking in to make sure you are actually just not having time to post -- as opposed to having a good reason not to. And to wish you a forgiving 2007. xoxom.

10:25 AM  

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