Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Miracles R Us...

I try not to be dogmatic about atheism. I try to remain open to the possibility that the universe is more magical than it seems.

Poking around on the Web the other day, I stumbled on a blog written by a devotee of "A Course in Miracles." Twenty years or so ago, I looked at ACIM briefly, but the Jesus talk kind of put me off. This week I thought, "What the heck -- let's see what's on their website. I could sure use a miracle!"

Their methods read like a kinder, gentler form of Scientology. The system is right out in the open, not shrouded in secrecy. That's the good news. The bad news....

The "lessons" involve daily meditation on specific phrases. (I'm not sure I want to dignify them by calling them "ideas.") The first few phrases seem designed to break down the seeker's intellectual preconceptions. ("Nothing I see in this room means anything." "These thoughts do not mean anything. They are like the things I see in this room." "My meaningless thoughts are showing me a meaningless world.") Breaking down preconceptions is not a bad thing to do. If you have real spiritual insights to impart, it may even be necessary.

The breakdown continues:

"I am never upset for the reason I think." "I am upset because I see a meaningless world." "God did not create a meaningless world." "I have invented the world I see."

But as new ideas are introduced to replace those you showed up with, a curious cloud of illogic settles over the scene:

"I am under no laws but God's." Isn't that what fanatics always say when they set out to butcher their enemies? Well, yes, it is.

"Sickness is a defense against the truth." Without denying that some illnesses are caused or influenced by mental and emotional events, I think we need to consider that this blanket assertion quickly leads to a "blame the victim" stance -- that if someone is ill, it's because they haven't embraced The Truth.

"Forgiveness recognizes what you thought your brother did to you has not occurred. It does not pardon sins and make them real. It sees there was no sin." By the time the acolyte has been led this far down the garden path, the reality of evil and suffering is being flatly denied. Holocaust? If "A Course in Miracles" is to be taken at face value, it never happened. That's the plain meaning of those sentences.

"Whatever suffers is not part of me. What grieves is not myself. What is in pain is but illusion in my mind. What dies was never living in reality...." At this point, it seems, compassion for our fellow humans has been replaced by the numbness of the True Believer. When bad things happen, I do not grieve. When I feel pain, I cut off all feeling in myself so as to maintain steadfastly my faith.

That anyone gets sucked into believing this stuff -- that's the miracle. Or, unfortunately, it's not. There is clearly a human propensity to get sucked into it. How sad.


lilyputzz said...

Some are ready for A Course In Miracles and some are not. Jim might be ready, he protesteth too much.

Jim Aikin said...

I'd love to be involved in something like ACIM -- you're right about that. But I decline to check my brains at the door. This post was not intended to rag on ACIM in particular, but simply to use it as a convenient example of a tendency that seems well-nigh universal among religions: In order to get the benefits (real and alleged), you're expected to buy into a whole package of absurdities. As you become more committed to a given path, you'll be swallowing progressively larger absurdities.

If I could swallow a camel whole, I'm sure I'd be very happy devoting my life to ACIM!

Chris Cade said...

I understand entirely where you're coming from. I wouldn't say I'm a "student" of ACIM, but I do see the great value it brings to the world when people use it as a tool for reflection and inquiry rather than an absolute truth.

I wrote a great Squidoo article that talks about the difference between interpreting and understanding a spiritual text, and it's written in the context of ACIM:

Understanding A Course In Miracles

In my experience, any spiritual path that borders religion (i.e. "believe me without experience) is only helpful as an opening... but for people to truly awaken to themselves, at some point, they have to ask, "Does this bring me closer or further from my essential qualities of peace and joy?"

I do have a website devotet to ACIM, and it offers people to get the course by email daily. I feel that ACIM is a really great opening for a spiritual path for the reasons you cited - that it helps people break down preconceived notions, encourages them to let go of guilt, and ultimately move towards a place of peace and joy.

Whether or not anybody agrees with everything in the course is irrelevant in my eyes... as long as they're willing to look at themselves in relation to ACIM.

Some people get more or less from ACIM, but I do believe that everybody could get a few really helpful things from it if they have the discernment to know which parts of the course resonate, and which don't.

Like you, I can't swallow a camel whole nor would I devote my life to ACIM - but I am grateful the course exists because of the many spiritual paths and religions out there, good and bad compared, ACIM is one of the paths out there that seems to be less guilt-focused and more self-discovery focused.

And for what it's worth, sometimes I still have trouble with the heavy Christian terminology. But that's just my preconceived notions :)

Spiritual Stories and Parables
ACIM Workbook Resources