by Beverly Hutchinson McNeff
“A gassy modern-day gospel,” “an arcane religious tract,” “the escapist of all the pseudo-religious philosophies,” and “complete gibberish.” And the Jeopardy answer is, “What is A Course in Miracles?” Well, that is the right answer if you consider what has been written about A Course in Miracles in the years since its emergence. As a matter of fact, many of these comments were made in 1992 when a frenzy of popularity on the Course occurred in such periodicals as TIME, Newsweek, People Magazine, Vanity Fair, etc.
The surge of interest at that time was due to Marianne Williamson’s bestselling book, A Return to Love, which was published that year. The Course was relatively unheard of at the time, but this brought an examination by the media using some rather limited lenses. All of the attention did bring up some good questions, and we at Miracle Distribution Center were able to address some of those concerns then and we thought in light of the Center’s 40th anniversary, we would take this opportunity to briefly address some of the concerns and misunderstands we have heard from people.
A Course in Miracles has been accused of being a cult; it has been criticized as being escapist and it has been dismissed as being “Pollyannaish.” Let’s look at the last two points first.
The Course is anything but escapist. From a cursory viewing of the Course, one might perceive it that way, but as we go deeper into the thought system of the Course we find that it asks us to look very directly at our pains, fears and insecurities, “To learn this course requires a willingness to question every value that you hold,” (T-24.in.2:1) and it asks us to “recognize the problem so it can be solved.” (W-79) The Course recognizes that we value our problems and says that the Holy Spirit will not take them away from us until we are ready to let them be healed. It presents a solid therapy as it encourages us to look at our pains with love and understanding, and when we are ready to “choose again” we are supported, “The power of God will support every effort you make on behalf of His dear Son.” (T-15.III.4:8)
Are Course students “Pollyannas?” If you remember the delightful story of Pollyanna, you’ll recall she was a young girl who always looked for the best in people, always looked for the opportunity in situations, and she had a great faith that things would work out for the best. So, in a lot of respects, the Course is encouraging us to be like “Pollyanna.” Not because it promotes an attitude of denial, but because it fosters a perspective of truth.
Everyone is a child of God and if we are willing to look past the “mask” many of us wear we can find that loving presence; behind every painful problem, is a lesson: “All things are lessons God would have me learn.” (W-193) But, the choice is ours. It is our choice if we will learn this lesson in joy or perpetuate the lesson in pain. And, of course, the faith that Pollyanna had for things to work out for the best is echoed in the Course’s lesson, “A happy outcome to all things is sure,” not because we deny our pain but because beyond the shadows of pain the reality of God’s love and joy is guaranteed. So go ahead and say “thank you” to those “Pollyanna” critics.
The accusations that A Course in Miracles is a cult are probably the most unfounded of all the criticisms. First off, students of the Course are not encouraged to withdraw from existing contacts, are not forced to place management of their money or affairs in the hands of a guru (there are no gurus of the Course), are not subjected to a strict, worldly discipline, or any of the other well known trappings of abusive cult practices.
According to Roger Walsh, professor of psychiatry and philosophy at the University of California at Irvine, who has studied and written books on comparative religion for decades, “A cult is a group which restricts access to outside information, restricts competing viewpoints, and forces ideas and conformity on group participants. Cults are generally easy to get into and hard to get out of. A Course in Miracles has no organization, no membership, no enforcement of a doctrine, no inculcation of ideas, no group demanding conforming behavior, no restriction of information, and no limitation of discussion of ideas from outside the Course. There’s no difficulty in leaving. All you have to do is close the book.”
So, how can we best handle all the controversy that will always swirl around the Course? Well, let’s apply the principles of the Course. First, let’s not deny it, let’s look at the controversy and see it for what it is — an opportunity for us to learn something about ourselves. To ask as the Course suggests, “What is this for?” For every situation in which we find ourselves is always an opportunity for us to experience joining or for us to perpetuate separation. We are then asked to have the willingness to make the choice for peace through the power of forgiveness with the help of our Internal Teacher. Then, leave the healing to God!