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If the world we see is defective and unreal,
what is the meaning of life?
For that matter, is there a meaning to life?
A Course in Miracles begins its Workbook lessons with meaninglessness: “I am upset because I see a meaningless world. . . . A meaningless world engenders fear” (W, 19, 21). This “meaningless world” is described as “the world I see”: “The world I see holds nothing I want” (W, 233).
If we were left at this step, the only result could be nihilism and despair. But, the Course continues, “you cannot stop with the idea that the world is worthless, for unless you see that there is something else to hope for, you will only be depressed” (W, 235). Thus the next lesson says, “Beyond this world there is a world I want” (W, 235).
But the Course’s stance differs from the gloomy and pessimistic world denial that theologians criticize (usually in someone else’s theology).
The world is nothing in itself. Your mind must give it meaning. And what you behold upon it are your wishes, acted out so that you can look at them and think they are real. Perhaps you think that you did not make the world, but came unwillingly to what was made already. . . . Yet in truth you found exactly what you looked for when you came.
There is no world apart from what you wish, and herein lies your ultimate release.
Change but your mind on what you want to see, and all the world must change accordingly. Ideas leave not their source. (W, 242)
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The World of Mirrors
We are like the man in the box of mirrors. If he acknowledged his own madness, he would grow still more fearful, because he would realize that he is his own worst, indeed only, enemy. So he must protect himself from this fact by projecting his fear outward, onto all the grimacing faces that he sees in the mirrors. He believes that they are other people, some of them friendly, others menacing.
But, you may reply, we do not live in a box of mirrors. We live in a cold, hard, all-too-factual world, where threats are real and real damage can be done. So it would appear. But all this damage, all these threats, can only affect one thing—the body.
For the Course, the body is the concretization of the ego’s fears—the “‘hero’ of the dream” of separation (T, 585). “The body is the ego’s home by its own election. It is the only identification with which the ego feels safe, since the body’s vulnerability is its own best argument that you cannot be of God” (T, 66).
According to the Course, the body, like all things, is produced by thought. Thought is the cause; physical reality is the effect. “Thoughts can represent the lower or bodily level of experience, or the higher or spiritual level of experience. One makes the physical, and the other creates the spiritual” (T, 3).
The Body's Source and Its Purpose
The physical body, says the Course, cannot be the creation of an all-good God. If it were, it would not be a source of suffering, pain, and treacherous pleasures. Here the Course differs from conventional Christian theology. But in so doing, it evades many of the difficulties that ensue from believing that the body, which for all of its intricacy is far from perfect, is the creation of the perfect God. Instead, the Course says, the body was made by the ego.
But this does not mean that the body should be hated or punished. Instead it is to be regarded as a completely neutral thing (W, 445). “The body, valueless and hardly worth the least defense, need merely be perceived as quite apart from you, and it becomes a healthy, serviceable instrument through which the mind can operate until its [i.e., the body’s] usefulness is over” (W, 253).
There is no need for austerities or abstinences. The body’s sole value is to communicate the Holy Spirit’s message of love.
The Clouds of Your Ego's Grievances
If the body is the work of the ego, what is the ego? The Course uses the term the ego in a radically unusual manner. Usually the term refers to the conscious, street-level self that is ostensibly in control of an individual’s mind during the waking state. This is not the way the Course uses the word.
The ego, in the Course’s system, is not the street-level self. It is a primordial disassociation, one that is prior to waking existence and indeed to the physical world. The ego gave rise to the cloud of oblivion, out of which in turn our sense of five-dimensional reality arises. The ego, then, is not ordinary consciousness but a loss of consciousness at a level so deep that we do not recognize it has happened.
The Course is designed to strike at this cloud of unknowing. From its point of view, the clouds are your grievances—the things you hold against other people, against the world, against yourself. These grievances, the products of the ego, serve as cognitive blocks to your perception of what the Course calls the real world.
It follows, then, that the way past this cloud of oblivion is letting go of your grievances—in a word, forgiveness. The Course posits forgiveness as the sole possibility of escape for us, the sole hope of escaping from the meaningless “world I see”: “Forgiveness is the key to happiness. . . . Forgiveness offers everything I want ” (W, 214, 217).
But this is not forgiveness of the conventional kind, which a supplement to the Course calls “forgiveness-to-destroy,” contending, “No gift of Heaven has been more misunderstood than has forgiveness. It has, in fact, become a scourge; a curse where it was meant to bless, a cruel mockery of grace, a parody upon the holy peace of God.” [The Song of Prayer]
“Forgiveness-to-destroy” includes nearly all of what passes for forgiveness in this world. Often it involves a lordly disdain, “in which a ‘better’ person deigns to stoop to save a ‘baser’ one from what he truly is.” In another form, ostensibly more humble, “the one who would forgive the other does not claim to be better. Now he says instead that here is one whose sinfulness he shares, since both have been unworthy and deserve the retribution of the wrath of God. This can appear to be a humble thought, and may indeed induce a rivalry in sinfulness and guilt.” [The discussion of this topic, along with the quotations cited, are from The Song of Prayer.]
Still another version of forgiveness-to-destroy takes the form of -bargaining: “‘I will forgive you if you meet my needs, for in your slavery is your release.’ Say this to anyone and you are slave.”
Much of what the world calls forgiveness falls into these categories.
Forgiveness Is An Illusion, A Happy Fiction
True forgiveness, or “forgiveness-for-salvation,” is the opposite. It follows rigorously from the premises that the Course sets out. If this world is a fiction concocted by a mad belief in separation, then only one sane response is possible: to recognize that, whatever form sin appears to take, it is part of the “meaningless world” and therefore simply does not exist—in anyone, ourselves as well as everyone else.
“Forgiveness . . . is an illusion, but because of its purpose, which is the Holy Spirit’s, it has one difference. Unlike all other illusions it leads away from error and not towards it. Forgiveness might be called a happy fiction; a way in which the unknowing can bridge the gap between their perceptions and the truth” (M, 83).
Forgiveness, then, is the principal means of Atonement. To a mind oriented toward the world we know, this sounds -ridiculous—sweet, maybe, noble, maybe, but quite naive. But it may be otherwise.
In my book The Deal: A Guide to Radical and Complete Forgiveness, I have argued how, even from a conventional point of view, forgiveness is not only more powerful but more advantageous than many believe. Grievances are enormous obstacles to happiness and success. Even apart from any spiritual element, forgiving grievances can provide an enormous boost for anyone who attempts it sincerely. It also follows naturally from the premises that the Course sets out.
Accepting the Fictitious Matrix as Reality?
The Matrix shows a dystopian future in which humans are kept submerged in a trance while their energy is siphoned off to power a race of automatons. To keep the humans in their stupor, the automatons have created a virtual reality—the Matrix—in which the humans appear to have ordinary existences. (Significantly, the automatons first attempted to create a paradisaical Matrix, but the humans would not accept it and obnoxiously kept waking up, so a second version, replicating the relatively sustainable misery of late twentieth-century America, was fabricated.)
Nearly everyone submerged in this fictitious reality accepts it as the truth. Only the tiniest remnant are capable of awakening from it.
Everyone in this Matrix accepts it as reality. There are friendships, quarrels, rivalries, just as in the world we know. But all of it is fictitious. What could you say about “injustices” and “crimes” here? They are all equally illusory. Should you hold a grievance against someone who harmed you in this nonexistent world? At the very least it will not improve your chances of waking up.
The World We Live In Is Fiction
The world we live in is equally fictitious. There is no point in holding grievances against people for what they are doing here, any more than you ought to be angry at someone who has hurt you in a dream.
Holding grievances will only “make error real” (T, 215) and hinder you from awakening.
That is what the Course is trying to say. “The full awareness of the Atonement, then, is the recognition that the separation never occurred. The ego cannot prevail against this because it is an explicit statement that the ego never occurred” (T, 98; emphasis in the original).
©2019 by Richard Smoley. All Rights Reserved.
Excerpted with permission from A Theology of Love.
Publisher: Inner Traditions Intl.www.innertraditions.com
A Theology of Love: Reimagining Christianity through A Course in Miracles
by Richard Smoley
Richard Smoley reframes Christian theology using logical, consistent, and easy-to-understand teachings of unconditional love and forgiveness. He draws inspiration not only from the Bible, but also from Hinduism, Buddhism, Gnosticism, and from esoteric and mystical teachings, such as A Course in Miracles and the Sefer Yetzirah, the oldest known Kabbalistic text. He explains how the “fallen” state of the human condition, not one of sin but of oblivion, leads us to experience the world as flawed and problematic--not wholly evil, but not wholly good. (Also available as an Audiobook and e-Textbook edition.)
About the Author
Richard Smoley is one of the world’s leading authorities on the Western esoteric traditions, with degrees from both Harvard and Oxford. His many books include Inner Christianity: A Guide to the Esoteric Tradition and How God Became God: What Scholars Are Really Saying about God and the Bible. Former editor of Gnosis, he is now editor of Quest: Journal of the Theosophical Society in America. Visit his website: http://www.innerchristianity.com/