A Course in Miracles:
Spirituality or Spiritism?
In 1965 Helen Shucman began transcribing what has become an immensely popular text that many people consider divinely inspired. Her work "A Course in Miracles" has been described by some as being "the greatest literary work since the Bible". The text is largely metaphysical, meshing an inclusive and monistic world-view with the terms and phraseology of traditional Christianity. Many would hail this as a truly ecumenical and non-sectarian religion; one that would unite all people with the common substance of the best of all religions, yet avoid the division and squabbling that so frequently occurs over the varied forms of religion. Is "A Course in Miracles" indeed a divinely inspired writing? Even if that cannot be established, is it at least a valid and viable alternative to the dogmatic religions that we have become accustomed to? One might contend that there could be nothing harmful in a ideology that only sought to better our interpersonal relationships and help remove the obstacles that hinder us from experiencing unconditional love. Is this what "A Course in Miracles" delivers? It is this question that I would like to address.
The Philosophic Environment of "A Course in Miracles"
As in any piece of literature, the best tool for understanding the nuances and phraseology of the text is to understand the context in which the text was written. Even in the writings that are widely accepted as "divinely inspired" have a cultural and ideological context in which they were written. Nothing is ever produced in a vacuum. We can learn a lot about "A Course in Miracles" by looking at the ideological mindset of Helen Shucman and Bill Thetford, the two people who were involved first hand of the dictation of A Course in Miracles.
Helen Shucman: In the book "Journey Without Distance: The Story Behind A Course In Miracles" by Robert Skutch, Shucman gives a extensive narration about her upbringing and spiritual development. One would think that if the text which she wrote was dictated to her completely independent of her thoughts and her will, then her own personal beliefs would be irrelevant with respect to the Text. In the case of Shucman, she spends an inordinate amount of time describing her progressive understanding of the nature of God. She briefly identifies with Judaism, Baptist, then Roman Catholicism. None of them seem to have more than a superficial effect on her. Each religion was introduced to her through a friend or a relative. Throughout all of her religious experiences, she mentions the role of her mother, who seems to have happily supported her in her spiritual growth. It is ironic that Shucman does not mention how her mother's beliefs may have influenced her, especially since her mother was an avowed Theosophist, and the content of A Course in Miracles is closely intertwined with Theosophy from it's very beginning, to this day. For a closer look at the effect it may have had on the Text, it is important that we understand the origins of Theosophy.
Ideological Factor #1: Theosophy.
Theosophy is considered to have been founded by the Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky who was born in 1831 in Russia of a wealthy czarist family. From a very early age she espoused a self-made religion which is described as a mix of Hinduism and Spiritualism. She claimed that she received much of her doctrine by means of automatic handwriting. Being a woman of great persuasive ability, she traveled extensively around the would preaching what later would be coined in her book of the same name "The Secret Doctrine". Regarding her ability to convert people to her cause, she once remarked that people
"in every part of the world would have turned into asses at my whistle and obediently wagged their tails as long as I piped the tune."
Her interests were in contacting higher spiritual beings which she believed were going to soon rule the world, reincarnation, psychic demonstrations, astrology and the myths of Atlantis.
Helen Shucman does not detail how she stood on these issues before she produced A Course In Miracles, but it is very revealing that she and Thetford were deeply entrenched in the teaching of Edgar Cayce, and were closely and intimately familiar with his organization, the Association for Research and Enlightenment (A.R.E) which is an offshoot of Theosophy. Shucman herself records that she and Bill actually went to Virginia Beach to spend time with Hugh Lynn Cayce, the then president of A.R.E. before any of the text was ever transcribed. Let us now examine the nature of A.R.E. and it's founder Edgar Cayce.
Ideological Factor #2: Edgar Cayce and A.R.E.
Cayce was born in 1877 in Kentucky in a Christian family. He records from his earliest days that he wanted to help heal people. Having no education, however, prohibited him from entering any medical practice. When he was twenty-three, it is said that he helped cure himself of laryngitis. In 1909, it is said that Cayce was induced into a hypnotic trance in which he gave a homeopathic remedy for an associate's illness. His successes were only occasional, and the few reading that he did were sometimes accompanied by undeniable failures. Once he tried to use his psychic powers to locate oil in Texas. He clearly failed. Cayce continued to be employed as a photographer, and faithfully taught Sunday school in a Disciples of Christ church.
In 1923 he met a man named Arthur Lammers of Dayton Ohio. Lammers was a student of Theosophy and had considerable effect on Cayce. Through Lammers influence, Cayce became convinced of reincarnation, astrology, Atlantis, Lemuria ( the pacific version of Atlantis), as well as other Theosophic beliefs. Cayce departed from orthodox Christianity, quit his job as a photographer, and began doing "life readings" for people on a full time basis.
Although many people regard Cayce as a "prophet" it is clear that much of his readings cannot be regarded as valid. Besides the fact that many of his readings involved telling people of their former lives on Atlantis ( a theory now discredited) he also:
* predicted that Atlantis would rise from the ocean in the twentieth century
* New York would fall into the ocean in the 1970's
* California would slide into the Pacific at the same time
* Hitler (who incidentally happened to be a fellow Theosophist) would not pose a threat to the nations of Europe
* Cigarette smoking was not harmful to one's health
* Almonds will cure cancer, as well as untold number of bogus health tips.
Since Cayce's failures are not really central to the main issue here, we will not catalogue any more of them. It is significant in the fact that both Bill Thetford and Helen Shucman were very closely aligned with A.R.E. before the Text was ever dictated. When the text was in it's early stages of transcription, the only other person who was in on it was Hugh Lynn Cayce, president of A.R.E. and son of Edgar Cayce. Hugh Lynn Cayce had made numerous remarks to Shucman and Thetford about the similarity of the text to many of Edgar Cayce's readings. When the Course was first published, it was done so by Robert and Judy Skutch, two prominent members of A.R.E. When A Course in Miracles was being marketed, the advertising, the means of distribution and all the sales went through, you guessed it, the A.R.E.
Ideological Factor #3: Christian Science.
The only other factor to consider in the ideological environment of Thetford and Shucman is Bill Thetford's brief disclosure that his parents were Christian Scientists. He downplays this fact, saying that his parents involvement ended when he was very young. It is interesting to note that the very first stanza of "A Course In Miracles" is startlingly reminiscent of Christian Science teaching. the Course begins as it's theme
"Nothing real can be threatened, nothing unreal exists."
This might have well been written by Mary Baker Eddy, who founded Christian Science. Eddy's main supposition for her religion was that everything that was disharmonious with the principles of Life, Truth and Love are unreal. She said that "Sin, sickness and death must be deemed as being devoid of reality" ( Science and Health 525:28). They are merely illusion, and that illusion is dismissed by adherence to Christian Science. The New Age Encyclopedia says of A Course In Miracles that text of the course has as it's purpose helping people relinquish illusions,
"among these illusions is the belief in the reality of time and space, sin, death and illness" ( pg. 130)
The similarity is more than coincidental. As a matter of fact, the New Age Encyclopedia, a source which is very sympathetic to writings such as A Course in Miracles, mentions that many think of the Course as being merely a variation off of Christian Science. (pg. 93). Whether Shucman and Thetford merely borrowed their material from Theosophy, A.R.E., and Christian Science is something that cannot be proven, but their does seem to be the proverbial "smoking gun" present. We will now examine the events that surrounded the actual transcription of the text.
"This is A Course In Miracles..."
Helen Shucman says that she heard these words several times before she was convinced by Thetford to begin to transcribe the text. She describes herself as being reluctant to submit to this process. She denied that it came by automatic handwriting, yet she also denied that she actually had knowledge of the content of what the inner voice was transcribing. The denial that "automatic handwriting" was involved could be due to the fact that the founder of Theosophy, Helena Blavatsky, met her undoing by claiming to channel through a form of automatic handwriting. In Blavatsky's case, she claimed that she received message from the ascended masters on handwritten pieces of paper that would appear in a special cabinet that was in a hallway of her estate abutting her bedroom. In 1885, just 6 years before her death, it was discovered that Blavatsky was a fraud all along, and that she was slipping the papers through a slit in the wall from her bedroom into the cabinet.
As the text for the Course became transcribed page by page, Thetford had the responsibility to check each page "for content" (Pg. 61, Journey Without Distance). Since Helen herself checked the pages for proper grammar and punctuation, it can only be assumed that, when necessary, Thetford made alterations in the text to maintain consistency. That would help explain the constant tendency towards doctrine touted by A.R.E., Christian Science and Eastern Mysticism. According to "Journey Without Distance", Thetford claimed to have virtually "no knowledge of spiritual or mystical writing" when he began the project with Shucman. This as we have documented, is a somewhat disingenuous statement. He also previously claimed to have delved whole-heartedly into the writings of Cayce, which encompassed not only mystical and esoteric writing, but the world-view of Theosophy, a blend of Hindu and Spiritualist doctrine. When the text was complete, Thetford recognized it as being "closely related to a non-dualistic Vedanta form of Hinduism". ( Pg. 72) As anyone who has studied comparative religion can tell you, such a precise description of the text hardly befits someone who claims to have just recently "taken a crash course" in spiritual writing. I do not mean to imply that they conspired together to manufacture a devotional text and then lied when they said that they received it through some type of mediumship. I do think that it is far more likely, knowing their backgrounds, that Shucman and Thetford, with artistic skill, brought forth a manuscript that idealized their perception of the perfect life philosophy. There is nothing wrong with this per se. I particularly do not doubt the sincerity of Shucman's motives in the light of the fact that she remained anonymous after the Course began to sell. The only other alternative to account for the manuscript is to take it at face value, and to accept that it was supernaturally transmitted to Shucman. If we accept that, then we must then ask "who transmitted it?" Shucman sincerely believes that it was Jesus. In examining the content of the course, we can only conclude that it certainly wasn't the Jesus of the New Testament. Why must we conclude that? A brief look at the teaching of the course will reveal why.
The Content of A Course in Miracles
The actual content of the course is very interesting to read. Written in a contemporary esoteric fashion, it has lent itself to quite a variance in interpretation among it's admirers. One thing can be sure, however, is that it is at odds with historical Christianity. Despite the fact that it is well written, and embodies some noble ideals, it contradicts the essence of Christianity in numerous places. To name a few:
The Bible from beginning to end has always rejected reincarnation: Shucman mentions that initially, the idea of reincarnation was repugnant to her. However, her involvement with the A.R.E. would predispose her to believe in it, especially since she was so dependent upon them for the publication of the text. The Bible never states or implies reincarnation exists, and rules out any possibility in many places. For example, Hebrews 9:27 states that " It is appointed unto men to die once, and after that, the judgment." Reincarnation was a pagan Hindu concept that was originally considered a curse. No Hindu wanted to have to live again in this world permeated by suffering, but instead, wanted to break the cycle of rebirth and be absorbed into the great Divine Essence. Theosophy and the A.R.E. glamorized reincarnation, the fruit of which can be seen in all of the supermarket tabloids. The Course itself, opts not to take an official stand on reincarnation ( See Manual for Teachers, pg. 57,58) but only because it considered to sectarian of an issue, and not related to the "here and now", which is the essence of the Course. Shucman, however, mentions in Journey Without Distance that the visions that she received just prior to the reception of the Text made her believe that she and Bill had numerous lives together in the past.
Jesus Christ is uniquely God Almighty, not merely a manifestation of numerous messiahs or gods, or avatars: Helena Blavatsky popularized the idea that Jesus was just one of the many "ascended masters" that she communicated with. Theosophy stated that as a divine entity, he appeared under many different names and forms. Likewise, A Course in Miracles downplays any real significance to Jesus Christ, other than him being a "Son of God" in the same degree that we are. The Course states:
The name of Jesus is but a symbol. It stands for the love that is not of this world. It is a symbol that is safely used as a replacement for all of the gods to which you pray.
This stands in stark contrast to the biblical theme that Jesus is the "Name above all names" and "is the same yesterday, today, and forever". While he was on the earth, Jesus claimed on numerous occasions to be the sole savior of the world. He presented himself as the one and only sacrifice that satisfied God's justice, and therefore became the purchaser of our salvation. This beautiful picture of God's mercy and forgiveness is completely obliterated in the Course in Miracles, which claims numerous times that no reconciliation with God was ever necessary for the human race. The historical truth of Jesus' sacrifice on Calvary is rejected in the Text, on the grounds that the apostles "misunderstood" it and "misrepresented" it. The Course claims that the concept that Jesus was the Redeemer of mankind was merely a product of the apostles fear and guilt complex ( Pg. 87). The Text also categorically denies most of the events surrounding Jesus' betrayal and crucifixion (idem).
The Human Race is not, by it's own accord, perfect and holy in complete unity with God. This is where the real heart of A Course in Miracles can be found. Although we must stress that those who have come to God through Jesus Christ are indeed reconciled and made righteous in God's sight, it borders on lunacy to insist that everyone, everywhere, for all time, are in reality just as holy as God Himself. The Course reiterates again and again that "atonement" means that we are truly as perfect as God, and any errors, mistakes or perceived sins are merely illusions. The great liberation of our condition, according to the Course, is our awakening to the fact that we are actually identified as part of the Godhead itself, as God's Son, and only the false perception of our separateness from the Godhead has kept us in bondage this whole time. Thus, the Course makes it perfectly clear that the our Self is really God! If one were to sum up A Course in Miracles in a nutshell, this would be the core truth. I find the statements like "God is no more holy than your Self" and references to everyone's complete perpetual innocence extremely hard to reconcile with the real world. For example, would we all agree that Adolph Hitler was completely innocent, and his alleged errors merely illusions? Was Jeffrey Dahmer mistaken when he confessed to being a perverted cannibal, because in reality he is the second person of the Trinity? If I were a wife-beater, should I happily persist in my domestic habits, undaunted because I have knowledge that "God's Son" is always without guilt? Could I convince my wife not to prosecute me, on the grounds that, as the Course definitively teaches, my attacks on her were illusionary and we are both completely forgiven and obligated to forgive? Such a view is impossible to square with the real world. At best, it serves as a mental defense to cushion our soul against the harsh realities of life.
The equating of our Self with God is also an untenable position. This was the feature of the Course that Bill Thetford recognized as a "non-dualistic Vedanta Hindu" ideal. Early Hinduism stressed that everything was really part of God ( Brahman). The individual soul ( atman) was regarded in early Vedic literature, as equivalent to Brahman. Thus the wisdom persisted that one would be "enlightened" when they realized that there was no deity other than Self. In the Upanishads of Hinduism we read
There is one Ruler, the Self within all things, who makes the one form manifold. The wise who perceive Him within their Self, to them belongs eternal peace, not to others. (The House of Death)
In the Course, we seem this exact same sentiment echoed over and over. It says on page 334 of the Workbook For Students that
God's Name is holy, but no holier than yours. To call upon His Name is to call upon your own... Repeat the Name of God, and call upon your Self, Whose Name is His.
The Course insists that our failure to recognize our own Identity as God is the source of all errors. Like early Hinduism, the Course must deny the existence of moral evil and injustice in order to maintain the position that all is God. Early Hinduism, however, could not maintain the charade. Hinduism eventually adopted the belief in the existence of hundred of thousands of gods, some good, some evil, and evolved into full-fledged paganism. In order to reconcile the suffering in life with the view that we are inherently divine, the belief in reincarnation was formulated. Hardship in life was caused by bad karma, or bad deeds we committed in a previous life. Eventually, according to this belief, we will fully realize our divinity, demonstrate only good karma, and be absorbed into the Absolute. The Course provides no explanation for evil, other than it is all an illusion.
How does this compare with the Bible? The Bible does not deny the existence of injustice or moral evil. Nor does the Bible deny that we can do wrong and injure another person. The solution to our own shortcomings is not to "psyche" ourselves up to believe that we can do no wrong, but to repent, and find forgiveness from a Loving and Merciful Father. If we are in Christ, according to the Bible, we do have a spiritual union with God and are justified in His sight, but we are never identified as God. Thus, true biblical Christianity has all the benefits that are offered in the Course (complete reconciliation with God, assured forgiveness, imputed righteousness) without the liabilities ( the foolish proposition that we are, in reality, all God).
Does The Bible Mention The Belief of Self As God?
Does the Bible mention this concept of the Self as God? It actually mentions it frequently, but never in a positive sense. If we go back to the very beginning, we see in Genesis 3 that the temptation that Satan offered Adam and Eve was that if they obeyed him and ate the forbidden fruit, they "would be as God". Satan himself, we are shown in Ezekiel 28, lost his original standing as an angel when he aspired to "raise his throne" and "be like the Most High God". We are told in the New Testament that in the Last Days before Christ's return, many deceivers would come in Christ's name, asserting that they were he. The apostle Paul tells us that in the Last Days, many people would become "lovers of their selves, rather than lovers of God". And lastly, he mentions that the antichrist, the spirit that would come to sway people from the truth of the Gospel, would try to demonstrate that he (his Self) was God. From these biblical texts, we can see that the primary deception that the devil has used and will use is the ego-boosting message that we are in reality God. The idea that we are God appeals to our self-centered and egotistical minds. It is complete contradistinction to what Jesus and his prophets have always consistently taught, which was focused on a denial of our self-life, and living a holy life in submission to God and service to others.
Where Then Did A Course in Miracles Come From?
We have already shown that it is very possible that Shucman and Thetford created the Course as a devotional work. There is nothing amazing about it with regard to content or length that would give credence otherwise. That would cast their claims that it was dictated as being spurious. If it seems that I am being unfair in judgment, keep in mind the context that Course was produced in. Helena Blavatsky was a proven fraud. Edgar Cayce has been shown to be more wrong than right. The Skutches, who published the Course claim that the greatest achievements of their foundation ( barring the Course's publication) was bringing psychic Uri Geller and Kirlian photography to the forefront of parapsychology studies. Both Geller and Kirlian photography have since been discovered to be fraudulent. Christian Science has been proven to be fraudulent (Mary Baker Eddy plagiarized her Science and Health from a man named Quimby). The Course was created in a veritable sea of deceit and fraud. If, however, we maintain the assumption that Shucman was completely sincere in her transcription, and it was indeed delivered to her by an inner voice, then we also can be fairly certain the source of that voice. We know that it certainly wasn't Jesus. There probably is not another religious work in existence that claims to be delivered by Jesus that is so hostile to the Christian message. Besides the fact that it goes through great lengths to belittle the Bible and redefine basic biblical concepts, the reader of the Course is encouraged to
Think not ancient thoughts. Forget the dismal lessons that you learned about the Son of God who calls you. ( pg. 604)
We are forced by this confrontation, to either believe the Gospel as Jesus preached, or the metaphysics from this occultic voice. Do we heed the faith that was passed on by sincere believers and martyrs over the centuries, or this ideology from the dubious personalities of Blavatsky, Cayce. and Mary Baker Eddy? If the Course was dictated by an inner voice than we can be certain who that voice was. The Bible says that Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. We are warned by the apostle John that regarding prophecy, we must not believe every spirit, but to "test the spirits, to see if they are from God". (I John 4:1) Paul had warned that if even an angel had appeared and delivered another gospel other than the one which they had received, then that angel was accursed (Galatians 1:8). Certainly, if the devil wanted to deceive people, he would appear as Christ or Mary or some other trustworthy Bible character and deliver a deceptive message, which we have seen, would probably revolve around the doctrine of our own divinity.
A Course in Miracles fits that bill exactly. For these reasons, I must urged the greatest caution to those who are engaged in studies of A Course in Miracles. It is not sound logically nor spiritually beneficial. We cannot ignore it's ties to the occult and spiritualism through Theosophy, and the occultic overtones found in the A.R.E. It is mutually exclusive with the Christian message.
A Course in Miracles does not deliver on it's claim to be a way of life that helps us experience God's love. Instead, it is a dogmatic form of Hinduism framed in words of Christian terminology. It's appeal is the egotistical view that we are really God, and ought to feel good about ourselves as such. Unfortunately, such a view is merely a mental exercise in futility, and can greatly hinder us in achieving the high calling that God actually has for us. Many people who have found help and solace in A Course in Miracles have done so because they have become disillusioned with organized Christianity. I can empathize with this, however, the solution to the human condition is not found in embracing error, but in seeking the truth. Many churches today do not represent true biblical Christianity, and some do put forth a view of God which is just as erroneous as in A Course in Miracles. If we can help you in your quest for objective and verifiable truth with regard to God and the spiritual world, you may write to us at the address below. All resources are free of charge, and no one will call on you if you do not want them to. (EWF)