Weekly Questions and Answers, 12/15/2004

This week's questions/topics:

Q #637  If sin is not real, how can there be right or wrong behavior, or morality?
Q #638  How can we perceive forgiveness?

Q #639  Is there a "right time" to end a special relationship?.
Q #640  I am very conflicted and ambivalent about my current relationship

Chronological List of All Questions.
Interactive Index of all topics

Q #637: Can you address a couple of issues I’m having difficulty grasping about the Course?

i. A Course in Miracles claims that anger is simply a manifestation of the ego, based on fear. Yet scripture often talks about God's anger -- e.g., the Great Flood, Sodom and Gomorra, the Israelites’ idolatry in the desert. If God has no ego, how could He show anger? Or was it really something else? If it wasn't anger, what was it?

ii. I am beginning to realize that the Course deals only with thoughts, not behavior. Yet the age-old behavioral questions still remain. If we treat the traditional concept of "sin" as merely an illusion of the ego self, how does one determine right from wrong? If sin is not real then I can do anything I want without fear of punishment or disciplinary action. If the justice system was governed by the Course, does that mean that there would be no punishment because the "attack" was only an illusion of the ego acting through the body? Does the Course mean to imply that society's response to criminal acts should be to forgive the offender rather than punish or otherwise "discipline" them? How are we as a society supposed to function without agreed-upon rules of conduct and the means to enforce them?

A: 1) Your confusion about God is not surprising -- many students new to the Course, coming from traditional Jewish or Christian backgrounds, share in it. But it can be easily addressed, although you’ll have to decide for yourself on which side of the issue you’d like to settle. Quite simply, the God of the bible is not the God of A Course in Miracles. The Course does describe and offer a correction for a "God" who gets angry, condemns and punishes, and demands sacrifice to appease His anger (e.g., T.3.I.1,2,3,4; T.9.V.3; T.23.II.4,5,6,7,8; W.pI.170; M.17.5,6,7). But according to the Course, this is the ego’s made-up God, a major character in its elaborate myth, which asserts that the separation from God is real and actually happened, that it involved an attack on God, and that He is angry about that attack and is seeking retribution. None of this, according to the Course, is true, since the separation never happened in reality and God would no longer be God -- perfect Love -- if anger could be a part of Him. But this, the Course tells us, is what our ego wants us to believe, to assure its own survival. For the ego thrives on conflict -- it literally is a thought of conflict -- and it requires an enemy to maintain its own existence as something separate and apart.

The real God of the Course is perfect Love and perfect Oneness, incapable of anger or condemnation, and completely unaffected by the Sonship’s illusory thought of separation and attack. From these distinctions it follows that the God of the bible can not be the same as the Course’s true God, but rather bears a striking resemblance to the ego’s made-up, angry, wrathful God. And there are many other differences between the bible’s God and the Course’s God. In the bible, God creates the physical world and everything that inhabits that world, including man and woman. He condemns and punishes Adam and Eve for their sin of disobedience against Him, and eventually sends His only Son to be sacrificed so that the otherwise irreversible effects of that sin that we all inherit can be atoned for. As you study the Course, it will become increasingly apparent that this God and the God of the Course share nothing in common. Jesus in the Course makes it clear that God did not create the world or bodies (e.g., T.4.I.11:6,7), has never been affected by our belief in separation and sin (e.g., T.30.III.10), and so could never demand sacrifice (e.g., T.3.I.4; T.11.VI.5). Furthermore, the Jesus of the Course is not God, but rather an aspect of the Sonship, equal to all his brothers and sisters, who has remembered the truth of Who he and all of us are as the one perfect Christ (T.1.II.3; C.5.2,3,4,5). Although each student should follow whatever path or paths he feels guided to, these differences in the nature of God are at the base of our position that the Course and traditional Christianity are mutually exclusive spiritual teachings that cannot be reconciled. Question #439, as well as the audiotape set, The Bible from the Perspective of A Course in Miracles, also address the issue of the relationship between the Course and biblical teachings.

2) Out of context, it may seem that to say sin is not real means it does not matter what we do. And at an ultimate metaphysical level, this is true. But the problem is, all of us who believe we are here in the world must also believe in sin and its laws of pain and punishment, and so to think that we can behave in any way we want with no consequences to ourselves would be foolish at best and tragic at worst (T.5.VI.1:3,4). The Course is never making any statements about what is or is not acceptable behavior, and for most minds, not ready to accept the complete responsibility for our own experience that the Course teaches we must eventually learn to accept (T.21.II.2), rules governing external behavior are a practical necessity. There is nothing in the Course that says these should be ignored or eliminated. And it is possible to provide consequences for behavioral transgressions with the intent of restraining harmful and destructive behavior, but without the intention of punishing (you may wish to review Questions #371, #484, and #584 for further discussion of the issues around setting limits and making decisions within the illusion). However, behaving "appropriately" will not in itself lead to salvation. Change must occur at the level of mind, from which "appropriate" behavior will then follow.

The Course, while not concerned with right and wrong behavior, does distinguish between right- and wrong-minded thinking or perception (T.3.IV.4), asserting that thought is the level at which the distinction needs to be made, since behavior is only ever an effect or result of the thoughts in the mind. Jesus makes this point several times early in the Course:

"You cannot behave appropriately unless you perceive correctly" (T.1.III.6:5).

"I have said that you cannot change your mind by changing your behavior, but I have also said, and many times, that you can change your mind" (T.4.IV.2:1). .

"I have enjoined you to behave as I behaved, but we must respond to the same Mind to do this. This Mind is the Holy Spirit, Whose Will is for God always. He teaches you how to keep me as the model for your thought, and to behave like me as a result"(T.5.II.12:1,2,3).

"We have learned that behavior is not the level for either teaching or learning, since you can act in accordance with what you do not believe" (T.7.V.2:4).

And later in the text, "Seek not to change the world, but choose to change your mind about the world" (T.21.in.1:7).

In perhaps the clearest discussion of this point in the Course, Jesus says:

"You would not excuse insane behavior on your part by saying you could not help it. Why should you condone insane thinking? There is a confusion here that you would do well to look at clearly. You may believe that you are responsible for what you do, but not for what you think. The truth is that you are responsible for what you think, because it is only at this level that you can exercise choice. What you do comes from what you think. ... It is pointless to believe that controlling the outcome of misthought can result in healing. ...You must change your mind, not your behavior, and this is a matter of willingness. You do not need guidance except at the mind level. Correction belongs only at the level where change is possible. Change does not mean anything at the symptom [behavioral] level, where it cannot work (T.2.VI.2:2,3,4,5,6,7;3:1,4,5,6,7).

Wrong-minded, or ego-based, thinking is always predicated on the belief in separate interests, which must produce pain and guilt for the wrong-minded thinker, who is identifying with the ego. For in his own mind he is making sin -- the separation -- real, and the ego thought system has been set up in such a way that pain and guilt inevitably follow. So it would be self-destructive and self- defeating to believe that we can act any way we want with impunity. If we fully understood and appreciated the Course’s teachings on the cause of our own pain and suffering, we would never consider using any of the Course’s principles as justification for attacking anyone.

The recognition that sin is not real is not simply an intellectual understanding. We will know that we truly have accepted sin’s unreality when we are no longer identified with the physical self and personality we now we believe we are. Until then, since the world is literally a projection of our own guilty self, any seeming attack on the world outside ourselves must be an attack on ourselves, with all the painful consequences (e.g., W.pI.196). So whatever you may have been thinking of doing, don’t do it!

Q #638: "Let me perceive forgiveness as it is" is a prayer from the student's workbook (W.pI.134). In the text we learn that forgiveness is a kind of selective remembering (T.17.III.1:3). This refers to the mind. In my opinion perception takes place on the material plane using our senses. Following this: How can we than perceive forgiveness in any way?

A: This is extremely difficult for us to comprehend, but the teachings of A Course in Miracles always pertain to the mind, because the body with its senses, along with the external world in which it seems to exist are nothing but the projection of thoughts in the mind: thoughts of separation and the sin, guilt, and fear associated with separation from God. The body is the embodiment of these thoughts, not something autonomous. This is the basis for some very radical -- shocking, to many -- statements in the Course, such as: "Yet sights and sounds the body can perceive are meaningless. It cannot see or hear. It does not know what seeing is; what listening is for. It is as little able to perceive as it can judge or understand or know. Its eyes are blind; its ears are deaf. . . . They were made to look upon a world that is not there . . ." (T.28.V.4:4,5,6,7,8; 5:4).The Course uses the term false perception for this.

So forgiveness is part of the process of replacing the ego’s purpose for the body (to reinforce the belief in separation) with the Holy Spirit’s purpose, which is to restore true perception to our minds, where we perceive everyone as the same, sharing the same goal of returning home to God. We thus learn how to remember only what reflects the truth of our oneness as God’s Son, and forget all else, because all else is meaningless. This is the function of true perception, the correction for false perception (C.4).

Q #639: I've had a troubled marriage and my question is how do you know when to end a special relationship? Is there some part of the Course I could read to help me with this issue? My wife and I have been to counseling, but I wanted to look at it through A Course in Miracles’ view which is altogether different.

A: The Course says nothing about staying or leaving a relationship, since its message is not about behavior. It is only about the thought system and the teacher we have chosen in our minds. There does not have to be a conflict between marriage counseling and the Course approach to relationships, just as there need not be a conflict between practicing the Course’s approach to healing and using traditional medicine for health problems at the same time. Jesus, as our kind, wise teacher, encourages us to use this compromise approach as we progress along our spiritual path with him. Eventually, we will not need the "magic," but most of us are not that far along yet. There is nothing wrong in pursuing marriage counseling while you are studying the Course’s view of relationships. In essence, the advice of the Course is that your decision to leave or stay be made in a state of peace within your mind. It never advocates "sticking it out" for the purpose of forgiveness even though you find the pain of staying unbearable. Whatever lesson is not learned can be learned in another relationship; we never have only one chance to learn forgiveness. The Course, above all, is a gentle path, and Jesus as our teacher, above all, is patient, as he knows time is unreal and in the end we are undoing something that never happened.

Looking at relationships from the Course’s view means asking for help to look within your mind at your thoughts of specialness, judgment, victimization, guilt, and fear, and then observing how these influence the way you relate to your spouse. If you are coming from your wrong mind (the ego thought system of separation), you will always experience your interests as conflicting with your spouse’s in some way, and that in order to have your needs met, your spouse must sacrifice, and vice versa. In the ego thought system, it is always one or the other. That is the source of a great deal of the tension in relationships; and as long as the relationship is rooted in the ego thought system, that can never change. The good feelings usually are a result of having one’s needs met. That is the core of the special love relationship, because all special love is based on the need to fill the emptiness and lack within that is a result of our having split off the love that is our true Identity. There is something missing, and we turn to someone outside us to make us complete. So special love involves taking something from someone and giving in return -- which supposedly makes it a "happy" relationship.

True happiness, however, can be achieved only when the purpose of the relationship shifts from specialness (having one’s needs fulfilled) to the holiness inspired by the Holy Spirit’s or Jesus’ purpose of forgiveness, which means that the value of the relationship is now seen to lie solely in its potential to be a means of learning that you and your spouse ultimately share the same interests: You share a wrong mind contaminated with the self-centered goal of specialness and separation, a right mind infused with the selfless goal of inclusiveness and unity, and a decision- making mind that always chooses one of these. So the question Jesus asks us to ask ourselves in relation to another person is "Do I wish to see my brother sinless?" (T.20.VII.9:2). That forces us to look deep beneath the surface at the purpose of the relationship. If it is grounded in the one- or-the-other ego principle, the relationship would have as its purpose your maintaining your innocence at the expense of your spouse’s sinfulness, so you would tend to put the blame for problems on your spouse. Fault-finding is very important to the ego! If it is grounded in the Holy Spirit’s principle of oneness, the relationship would have as its purpose your willingness to look with Jesus at the interests you share in common with your spouse, so that you would wind up saying nothing about your spouse that you would not be willing to say about yourself. There would be a growing sense of the sameness you share, and the differences would decrease in importance. This holds for you, regardless of what is going on with your spouse.

The readings we recommend are: "The Healed Relationship" and "Setting the Goal" (T.17.V,VI).

Q #640: I have always had difficulty with special love relationships, searching for a partner who matched certain ego criteria such as intelligence, similar aesthetic sensibilities, and a sense of adventure. Needless to say, none of them lasted. Then three years ago I met someone who did not match my criteria, but I was struck by his kindness, and what appears to be the closest thing to unconditional love that I have found. Although I find my love for him to be very deep, it did not originate with the bells and "GA GA I am so in love" drama that I have experienced before. And I have had one foot in and one foot out for the duration, causing him much harm. I experience great bouts of fear and the majority of the time I feel overwhelmed and guilty for not being able to develop a stronger internal peace that would make this relationship a more joyful and fulfilling experience. I have been willing to recognize all the beliefs and judgments and to question them in light of A Course in Miracles’ teachings in order to change the purpose from the ego's goal to the Holy Spirit’s. I am clearly fighting myself, but giving up seems like a cop out. Many times, I have told my partner that I can not continue, and that we need to part ways. What unfolds then is peace, where I feel settled again in my own skin, and do not feel trapped. I then see all kinds of possibilities for making it work, and none of my concerns have any power. This is very short lived, and then I am right back where I started.

A: Ambivalence, or conflict, is the hallmark of the ego’s special love relationship (T.4.III.4:6), as you’ve experienced with the romantic relationships you describe, including your current one. The real problem however is not in the relationship with the other person but in your relationship with yourself in your own mind. Your experience with your partner only symbolizes the conflict in your mind about accepting the love that you really want but that your choice to identify with your ego denies you. Your observations suggest you have some awareness of this dynamic, but let’s elaborate on it.

The desire to get something from the other must pervade our perception of romantic relationships, for the desire for any form of special love relationship means we are operating from the ego premise that something is missing in us that we need to seek outside ourselves to find (T.29.VII). This perception only reinforces the ambivalence, for in wanting something from others, we must at some level resent that we have to try to get it from them. And this is all part of the ego’s setup to make certain that we are never happy. The fact is there is no one outside of ourselves who could ever fulfill our need for love -- in reality there is no one outside of ourselves! All that we truly need is within, awaiting but our invitation.

That you did not use your ego "criteria" to evaluate your current partner before deciding to enter into the relationship does not mean that those expectations are not still operating and reinforcing your ambivalence. For you have to resent that you are settling for something less than what you believe you really want and need. And your ego would have you believe that if those specific needs are not somehow being met, you are sacrificing something. But the external criteria are only the ego’s diversionary tactics to make sure that you don’t address the real ambivalence within. If we don’t feel complete and fulfilled and loved and loving, it has nothing to do with the other person. We are continuing to refuse the love within that Jesus holds out to us in every moment, insisting instead that we must have it on our own terms, in a form we have defined as acceptable. And so we remain unhappy and empty -- by our own choice. The real value of the special love relationship, under the Holy Spirit’s guidance, is that it serves as a reminder of the choice within that we stubbornly keep making against love, which, when we acknowledge it, leaves the door open for a different choice and a different Voice. So you want continue to look at all the judgments and beliefs about the relationship and your partner and recognize that, whatever form they take, they all reflect the same recurring decision to identify with the ego and its dedication to lack.

Whether we remain in any particular relationship or decide to leave it is, in the end, irrelevant to the solution. If the choice within remains for the ego and its belief in lack, each future relationship will be as fruitless and unsatisfying as the present one. But the opportunity to welcome a different inner Teacher is always available. We can delay as long as we want but, as Jesus implores, "How soon will you be ready to come home? Perhaps today? There is no sin. Creation is unchanged. Would you still hold return to Heaven back? How long, O holy Son of God, how long?" (W.pII.4.5:3,4,5,6,7,8).

For more on the ego’s ambivalence in special relationships, see Question #359.