Weekly Questions and Answers about A Course in Miracles: 08/23/2006

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This week's questions/topics:
Q #992 If I'm not aware of my own thoughts, how can I know what they are causing?
Q #993 What are the parallels between the Course and the Gnostic writings?
Q #994 If God does not exist, who the hell have we been praying to all these years?

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Q #992: I have a question related to Lesson 16. It says "I have no neutral thoughts" and that "Every thought you have contributes to truth or to illusion." When I began the first practice period, I started to feel intense fear that every thought I have contributes to the awfulness I perceive in this world, to making things worse instead of better, and to furthering the illusion. I am certainly not adept at controlling the content of my thoughts --likely I'm not even aware of many of my thoughts. I guess that's what's frightening me -- since I'm not aware of many of my own thoughts, let alone of their content, I don't know what they are causing! And I just wanted to stop thinking, but I couldn't. I suppose this is an example of my self-protective ego in action? Until today, I had not experienced fear like this in relation to A Course in Miracles . In fact, I have been finding in it a completeness or wholeness that no other spiritual road I have explored -- as much as they contributed to my spiritual growth -- seemed to possess. I need some advice.

A: You are absolutely right that this is an example of your ego trying to preserve itself. Your description makes it clear that Lesson 16 brought up guilt for you, which in turn led to feelings of intense fear. We can think of the ego's relationship with guilt as being similar to the body's relationship to oxygen -- take away guilt and the ego is finished. So the ego will do anything it can to ensure itself a steady supply of guilt. The Course tells us that "The ego will attack your motives as soon as they become clearly out of accord with its perception of you. This is when it will shift abruptly from suspiciousness to viciousness, since its uncertainty is increased" (T.9.VII.4:6,7) . It sounds like, for whatever reason, Lesson 16 was the point in your study of the Course at which your ego decided to make that shift -- instantly seeming to turn what had been a source of spiritual inspiration into a source of guilt.

To further complicate matters, one of the ego's key principles, repeated in various forms throughout the Course, is that guilt demands punishment. And so you fell into a trap that nearly every Course student's ego sets at some point. Having become aware of the darkness in your mind, you took the ego seriously as it told you that this newly-discovered darkness proves its evaluation of you as a vicious destroyer of Heaven (and, by implication, justified in your guilt and deserving of punishment).

However, in that very lesson, Jesus lets us know that despite the seeming power of our thoughts, we have not destroyed Heaven. He tells us that they give rise to the perception of a whole world (W.pI.16.2:2) . In other words, they do not actually make a world; they merely cause us to think one exists. Our thoughts are not neutral because they have the power to either keep us asleep (if we choose the ego's thoughts), or lead us to awakening (if we think with the Holy Spirit). Within this dream, the choice we make will seem to bring us either peace or war. But this has no effect on reality, which is entirely outside of this dream. Thus, we do not need to feel guilty about the effects of our thoughts on the external world because in reality there is no external world. Furthermore, since love can have no opposite, our attack is not real either. As the Course says, "if all condemnation is unreal, and it must be unreal since it is a form of attack, then it can have no results" (T.8.VII.15:8) .

So when we find ourselves worrying about the results of our thoughts, we do not need to stop thinking (which, as you found out, is impossible). Rather, we need simply recognize that we have once again grabbed the ego's hand and encountered the pain that comes from placing value in its raucous shrieking. Then we can ask the Holy Spirit to help us discern the one and only thing we need ever know about the content of our thoughts -- whether they reflect love or are calls for it (T.14.X.7:1) . Better still, regardless of the answer to that question, we can ask Him to help us respond to our own thoughts, be they fearful or loving, with love -- the only response that is ever justified or helpf ul.

Q #993: In Question #48 you state that “ A Course in Miracles is unique among spiritualities or spiritual approaches, both contemporary and ancient ones." I have found remarkable parallels between the Course and the ancient Gnostic writings, in particular that the world was made in error, not by God. While there apparently was never one organized creed of Gnosticism, it does appear that its teachings and gospels were part of early Christian thought, and then stamped out, as the Christian Church that we know today established its formal creed. Kenneth Wapnick's book Love Does Not Condemn deals with the subject of Gnosticism and its relation to the Course. It might be helpful to readers of this forum to provide a brief explanation regarding the relationship, similarities, and differences of the early Gnostic writings to the principles contained in the Course.

A: Interestingly, Ken's original intention was to write a brief article on this topic; but he found his “article” expanding rather quickly as he read more of the Gnostic and related literature, until finally he decided a full-length book would be needed in order to do justice to this important dimension of Course. Thus, his six-hundred-page book. So to ask for a “brief explanation” is quite a challenge. At the risk of oversimplifying a complex topic -- there were several schools of Gnosticism, with differing views among the schools, and within each school as well -- we will give it a try by presenting some general contours.

The Course and Gnosticism are similar in maintaining that the world was not created by the true God, but by a false god. In the higher teachings, primarily the Valentinian school, which differed significantly from others, the world was regarded as an illusion. Valentinus called it a fantasy or “Sophia's folly.” This resulted in a generally negative attitude toward the world; in fact, Gnostics despised the world and sought to avoid being “contaminated” by it. So, while they said the world was not real, they made it real in their minds by seeing it as the locus of sin -- which led many Gnostics to avoid involvement with the world and the body. The behavioral and practical implications of the metaphysics varied greatly among the different groups, some of which were shared with early Christians.

This is where we see a major difference between Gnosticism and A Course in Miracles . The Course's position is inherent in the title of Ken's book: Love Does Not Condemn , which comes from a passage about the body, but implicitly includes the world: “The body was not made by love. Yet love does not condemn it and can use it lovingly, respecting what the Son of God has made and using it to save him from illusions” (T.18.VI.4:7,8) . The entire physical universe is seen as illusory -- as part of the ego's defensive war against God -- but it is not judged inherently evil or sinful, as it now can serve the Holy Spirit's purpose of correcting our purpose in having made it. Thus, the problem is not the world or the body, but our use of it, which is entirely a function of our decision-making minds. This is why the Course says nothing about behavior, much to the frustration of many of its students. It teaches us how to be in the world but not of it; but the focus is exclusively on bringing out of concealment the purpose we have chosen in our minds: namely, to use the world and the body to keep the separation real, while not accepting responsibility for it. Our salvation comes, therefore, not in avoiding involvement with the world, but by seeing it as a classroom in which we learn how to use it to undo our belief in separation through forgiveness. The non-dualism of the Course's metaphysics is thus maintained.

Q #994: If God doesn't know we exist, who the hell have we all been praying to for thousands of years? Have we been choreographing our own answers? If our prayers were not answered, was it because we couldn't create properly? Is this why millions of people were killed during the Holocaust although they were devout, prayerful people -- because there was no one to hear their prayers and help them? Has everyone that thought there was a God who cared about them, guided them, and loved them been duped? Am I interpreting all of this correctly?

A: No, you are not quite interpreting the message of A Course in Miracles correctly. The Course does give us a way of thinking about God and the nature of this world that is radically different from what western religions have taught for centuries. However, its central message is not that we suffer because God cannot hear us or because we cannot "create properly," but rather that we suffer because we actively choose to experience suffering instead of the Love of God. The Course informs us that we have been wrong about God because we have been so very wrong about ourselves. Let us take a closer look at how it explains these dynamics.

Jesus tells us that God does not know we are here because we are not here . In the original instant, filled with imaginary guilt, we wanted to escape from God -- simultaneously believing that we had killed Him and that He would rise again and give us the punishment we thought we deserved for daring to consider the idea of separation. So we chose to listen to the ego, fall asleep, and dream up this world. Having been birthed by a thought of guilt, this is a guilt-filled world in which everyone appears to lead lives that overflow with punishing pain. While, as you mentioned, Holocaust victims provide an example of extreme physical and psychological anguish, we need hardly look to them to find proof of human suffering that one would expect a Loving God to alleviate. Indeed, simply living as a body is a set up for almost continual pain -- the pain of material need, illness, aging, loss, dependency, and so on. The Course asks us to look honestly at this and admit that, as much as we may profess to love Him, if we believe that God created and controls the events in this world and our lives, a part of our minds must hate Him for not doing more to improve things.

And yet, ultimately, the Course's message is a happy one, which lets us know that God's Love is much closer than most of us ever imagined. We do not need to beseech God, please Him, or struggle to earn His Love because, in reality, we remain safely enveloped in it, at home in Heaven. As the Course says "Life not in Heaven is impossible, and what is not in Heaven is not anywhere. Outside of Heaven, only the conflict of illusion stands; senseless, impossible and beyond all reason, and yet perceived as an eternal barrier to Heaven" (T.23.II.19:6,7).

So all we need do to begin to awaken to that reality is undo the one mistake that we have made from the moment time seemed to begin -- choosing the thought system of the ego rather than the Holy Spirit (Who represents the memory of God's Love in our mind). When we choose the Holy Spirit's Love, we will be happy regardless of whether the circumstances in our lives are ones that the world would judge to be pleasant or miserable. Likewise, when we choose the ego, we will be unhappy no matter how good or bad our external situation appears to be. For this reason, we cannot judge someone else's life as being fair or unfair. While certainly the outer life of virtually every human being seems filled with gross injustices, we cannot know why each of us chooses a particular script or the lessons we may be learning as a result of our choice.

Those who have believed that God cared about them, guided them, and loved them have not been duped if this belief helped them to get in touch with His Love in their mind. In the end, it does not really matter how we conceptualize God or our relationship to Him, so long as we find a way of doing so that helps us replace our guilt and fear with love and inner peace. Basically, Jesus just wants to help us find our way home and has given us the Course as a tool to help us make the journey. But this does not make the Course any more or less true than other tools people have used for the same purpose. Remember, nothing in this world is true, and anything in this world can help us move closer to truth (love) in our mind if that is the purpose we give it. This is why, after establishing the illusory nature of the physical world and the body, Jesus can make a statement like, "If it helps you, think of me holding your hand and leading you. And I assure you this will be no idle fantasy" (W.pI.70.9:3,4) . Similarly, if people throughout history have felt God's Love even while conceptualizing it in a way that is clearly at odds from how it is presented in the Course, this has been no idle fantasy.