Weekly Questions and Answers, 10/30/2002

This week's questions:
Q #5:  A question about the use of gender-specific language.
Q #6:  A question about the uniqueness of the Course as a spiritual path.
Q #7:  A question about forgiving yourself.
Q #8:  A question about looking at the world without judgement.


Q #5: So what's with all of the male gender-specific language? So far I've not come across one reference to 50% of the worlds population. Or are females just another illusion? I still love the Course, but this gender language thing is an annoyance.

A: This question is similar to #10 found in the Foundation’s publication, "The Most Commonly Asked Questions About A Course in Miracles," authored by Gloria and Kenneth Wapnick. A slightly modified answer from this book is that Jesus does not practice the art of "political correctness." Rather, his Course is written linguistically within the male-dominated Judaeo-Christian tradition, and uses the patriarchal biblical language on which that tradition is based. Consequently, the Course conforms to this religious culture by using terms that are exclusively masculine. Jesus himself speaks of his use of ego-oriented language:

This course remains within the ego framework, where it is needed.…It uses words, which are symbolic, and cannot express what lies beyond symbols (C.in.3:1,3).

And so it is clear that the Course’s meaning in using this masculine language lies elsewhere. While the form of the Course’s words is the same as the twenty-five-hundred-year-old Western tradition, its content is exactly the opposite. This provides a good example of a principle enunciated twice in the text, that the Holy Spirit does not take our special relationships (the form) away from us, but instead transforms them (by changing their purpose -- the content) (T.17.IV.2:3,4,5,6; T.18.II.6). Therefore, the reader is given a wonderful opportunity to practice forgiveness by having whatever buried judgmental thoughts are unconsciously present be raised to awareness by the Course’s "sexist" language, so that they may now be looked at differently with the Holy Spirit’s help. In this way, a special hate (or love) relationship with patriarchal authorities -- religious or secular -- may be transformed into a holy relationship, the relationship now having forgiveness and peace as its purpose, instead of judgment and attack.

In like manner, we can understand the Course’s usage of the term Son of God. For two thousand years, it has exclusively been used in Christian theology to denote only Jesus, the biblical God’s only begotten Son, and Second Person of the Trinity. Moreover, Jesus’ specialness was accentuated by St. Paul’s relegating the rest of humanity to the status of "adopted sons" of God (Galatians 4:4). To accentuate the point that he is our equal, Jesus in A Course in Miracles uses the same term that heretofore had excluded everyone except himself. Now, however, it denotes all people: God’s children who yet believe they are bodies and separate from their Source and therefore different from Him. And even more specifically, the term Son of God denotes the students who are reading and studying A Course in Miracles, a usage clearly made regardless of their gender.

This term is thus deliberately used to help correct two thousand years of what A Course in Miracles sees as Christianity’s distortion of Jesus’ basic message, in this case the perfect equality and unity of the Sonship of God. And so in the Course Jesus presents himself as no different from anyone else in reality (although certainly he is different from us in time). Therefore, to state it once again, the same term -- Son of God -- that was used only for Jesus is now used for all of us. Moreover, the term is also used to denote Christ, God’s pre-separation creation, His one Son. Again, we see usage of the same form as in traditional Christianity, but with a totally different content. The phrase Son of God can also be easily understood as synonymous with child, a term which is also often used in the Course.

The reinterpretation of Son of God from exclusive to totally inclusive is crucial to the Course’s thought system. And because of Jesus’ reason for using this term, students -- men and women alike -- should be vigilant against the temptation to change the Course’s "offensive" language. While such practice is understandable, it does serve to undermine one of Jesus’ pedagogical purposes. It would be much more in keeping with the teachings of A Course in Miracles to leave the form as it is, and change one’s mind instead. In these circumstances, one would do well to paraphrase a famous line from the text: Therefore, seek not to change the course, but choose to change your mind about the course (T.21.in.1:7). Therefore, since the Course’s form will not be changed, students would be wise to use their reactions as a classroom in which they can learn to forgive, not only Jesus, Helen, or A Course in Miracles itself, but also all those in the past (or present) who have been perceived as treating them or others unfairly.

One final note on the subject of the Course’s masculine language: It has long been a grammatical convention that pronouns referring back to a neuter noun, such as "one" or "person," take the masculine form of "he." Clearly, since a central teaching of A Course in Miracles is that we are not bodies, the issue, once again, is merely one of form or style.


Q #6: Can you please explain how and why the Course is unlike any other spiritual path? I have studied other non-dualistic teachings but seem to always come back to the Course.

A: First, let us say that by non-duality we mean that A Course in Miracles recognizes only one dimension of reality -- spirit and the state of perfect oneness, what the Course refers to as the realm of knowledge. Everything else -- the dualistic world of separation and perception, of form and matter, of thinking and concepts -- is illusion, and thus does not really exist.

This non-dualism is what you find in the higher teachings of Hinduism and Buddhism, but rarely in the West. What makes A Course in Miracles unique as a spiritual system -- ancient and contemporary -- is its integration of this non-dualistic metaphysics with a sophisticated psychology, heavily based on the insights of Freud and his followers. This means essentially that at the same time that the Course teaches that the world is an illusion and is nothing but a dream, outside the Mind of God, we are urged to practice our daily lessons of forgiveness, paying careful attention to our everyday experiences here. Key to this integration is the Course’s emphasis on purpose, the introduction of which idea sets A Course in Miracles apart from other spiritual paths. The Course teaches that not only is the world an illusion, but that it is a purposive illusion; the purpose being to make a world of bodies, thoroughly focused on solving the myriad number of physical and psychological problems that beset us daily, clamoring for attention and solution. In this way the mind, the true source of our problems, is kept hidden from awareness.

In addition, A Course in Miracles is unique among spiritualities in its insistence that we look at the ego -- the dark side -- as the way of moving beyond to the light. Its focus, therefore, is not on the truth, but on removing our ego’s thought system of guilt, fear, and attack, which allows the light of truth to shine. As Jesus teaches in one representative passage: "Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all of the barriers within yourself that you have built against it. It is not necessary to seek for what is true, but it is necessary to seek for what is false" (T.16.IV.6:1,2).


Q #7: How does one forgive oneself? I have a pen pal in prison who is new to the Course. He is in prison for assaulting his girlfriend. He says he is learning to forgive others but not himself. He is angry and ashamed of himself for hurting her. I can see his actions as a "call for love," a mistake to be corrected and not a sin to be punished. He no doubt was a victim who became a victimizer, and keeps reliving it now. I would tell him to let it go -- "Brother, choose again." But could I say this to myself? I have dealt with depression most of my life and guilt is a familiar companion. My ego's accusations seem overwhelming when I do one thing wrong. I see when I project my guilt onto others and I know it's not helpful to blame and accuse myself when I judge others. But what if I really hurt someone else in some way? I could try to make amends and move on, but I don't think my ego would let me off the hook that easily. I seem only to be able to release myself from guilt by experiencing pain for the length of time my ego dictates. I know there has to be "another way." Why am I kind to others and mean to myself? To top it all off, I seek my addictions to get some relief from the pain of the guilt, and then I feel guilty for indulging in the addiction. I need a way out of this. Can we project guilt onto ourselves as well as others? I know I will come to understand why I don't love myself and why I even hate myself at times. I am still learning. It is ironic that, as my friend in prison is trying to forgive himself, I am in my own prison trying to do the same.

A: It does seem that as we learn more and more to release others from the projections of our own guilt, we then feel stuck with the guilt ourselves. Jesus tells us that "as blame is withdrawn from without, there is a strong tendency to harbor it within" (T.11.IV.4:5). But he goes on to say, "It is difficult at first to realize that this is exactly the same thing, for there is no distinction between within and without" (4:6), and then, "Blame must be undone, not seen elsewhere" (5:3). So how do we do that?

The question you raise, "How does one forgive oneself?", is a good one, but it is actually the wrong question. Because we are still so strongly identified with our egos, we can not forgive ourselves, at least not by ourselves (i.e., on our own, which is the ego state). That is why we need Jesus or the Holy Spirit, or whatever nonjudgmental symbol of love and acceptance we feel comfortable with, to look with us at our "sins". We need someone outside of our guilt-based thought system who knows the truth about who we really are, to whom we can give our guilt, once we have uncovered it and recognized its purpose and its cost. We believe that we are bodies that can hurt and be hurt by each other. Jesus knows we are spirit, the guiltless Son of God who is incapable of attack. We don't believe that and in fact we don't want to believe it, because we still want the separation and our own individuality to be real. And so the forgiveness process must involve joining with someone or something outside of ourselves, such as Jesus, who knows separation and attack and guilt are not real. We are incapable of this realization on our own, by definition.

The ego, as you are experiencing it for yourself, tells us that we need to atone for our sins through suffering and sacrifice. But that only reinforces our belief that our guilt is real and that God is a punishing God who seeks revenge for our very real sins. And all of our attempts then to gain release through expiation are just forms of magic that fail to address the real problem in the mind. We need to understand that the problem is not the guilt we believe we are experiencing for our transgressions here in the world. Those "sins" are really deliberate distractions, serving the purpose of keeping our focus here in the world, looking for magical solutions to release our guilt (e.g., making amends) or to avoid experiencing it (e.g., addictions). But these only prevent us from looking deeper into our mind to the real source of all of our pain and guilt (and everyone else's) -- the belief that we have not only separated ourselves from our loving Source, but that we have been willing to kill Him, to destroy Love, to be on our own. However, if we can join with a reflection of that Love, such as Jesus or the Holy Spirit, and look at our self-accusations with their loving presence beside us, we will have to realize at some level that we have not destroyed love. And in that recognition, real forgiveness -- for what has never happened -- is possible, dissolving all guilt and releasing us from our self-imposed prison. And then whatever action or behavior, if any, may be most helpful and healing in response to our so-called transgressions against others in the world will simply flow through us.


Q #8: When we try to look at our ego, shall we look without judgment at the problems of the world or shall we only realize, that we choose the ego? Or is this the same?

A: Your questions presuppose that one can choose the ego and look without judgment, which is only possible if one is in a state of denial. The ego knows only judgment, which is based on its fundamental mistake of making the error real. What you want to do is live your life by paying attention to what you think and how you feel. If you find yourself getting angry, fearful, gleeful, etc. from problems in the world, whether personal or general, recognize that you have chosen the ego. It is this recognition that is the "looking." You look at your ego’s choices with Jesus beside you. You look without judgment as illustrated in this quote:

Call it not sin but madness, for such it was and so it still remains. Invest it not with guilt, for guilt implies it was accomplished in reality. And above all, be not afraid of it (T.18.I.6:7,8,9).

Remembering that the ego is a choice, you simply acknowledge the choice you have made without giving it power to take away your peace.


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