by Beverly Hutchinson McNeff
I recently ran across a report by the prestigious Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life which found that it is not the so-called faithful who are better informed about faith but rather the atheists and agnostics. Why you may wonder? According to those findings, atheists and agnostics are not simply heretics and non-believers but instead educated, thoughtful people who have probably had a religious tradition and consciously gave it up, often after a great deal of personal reflection. According to researchers, “These are people who have thought a lot about religion. They’re not indifferent. They care about it.”
On the flip side, the study found that in the case of Christians (who fared far worse in their knowledge), many accept their faith as accurate and simply stop examining it. Therefore, because they think it is true, they don’t examine other people’s faiths or even their own. “That, I think, is not healthy for a person of any faith,” said a professor of religion at Boston University, Stephen Prothero.
I find these surveys interesting in what they show us about ourselves. When I heard of this survey’s results, they made tremendous sense. I have had friends who have stated that they were atheist or agnostic, and they are people who have struggled to understand God and explored many of the mainline religions, only to find them wanting.
The scribe of A Course in Miracles, Helen Schucman, was a self-proclaimed “militant” atheist, and yet her devotion to God and her service to the Course are self-evident. The stories of Helen’s struggle with God are legendary and, frankly, do not diminish my faith in the Course but rather strengthen it.
In the Course, we don’t find a jealous or vicious God who expects blind loyalty but a God “big enough” to be questioned and scrutinized because there is nothing to hide or protect. The Course states, “In my defenselessness my safety lies,” and the “God” of the Course is the personification of that truth.
The famous 18th-century French philosopher Voltaire said, “If God created us in his own image, we have more than reciprocated.” We have made God as limited, hateful, and fearful as we see ourselves, and yet, according to the Course, we can awaken to the true image of love that created us at any instant. To do this, however, we must lift the cloud of guilt we have cast on everyone and everything.
Labels keep us safe?
I remember my experience with our son, Jeffrey, when he was in 6th grade, and he could not find his science workbook at school. He put it in his cubbyhole, but evidently, another child had mistaken Jeff’s cubby for his own and taken it. Because of school budget cuts, the kids couldn’t put their names on their books, so confusion was common. Jeff needed this book for his homework, so after school, we scoured the classroom thoroughly before admitting defeat. Finally, we found an absent student’s book and made copies of the pages so Jeffrey could complete his homework. I vowed from that moment on that we would put a “removable” name label on every one of his books, so this would not happen again!
We have labeled a lot in our lives, so things don’t happen to us again. We have labeled this idea as bad, that one as good, people of this ethnicity as dangerous, and people of another persuasion as acceptable. The Course is not asking us to be foolish or unsafe in life but to simply be willing to lift the labels and make them removable so that a new awareness might come to us. We won’t be lost without our divisive natures; we’ll actually find our true strengths.
How do we do it?
First, we should decide at the outset what we want to accomplish in our interactions. On this website, you can find our Pledge for Peace. The goal of this service is to make us aware of the choice we can make daily for a better way. If you decide to join us, we will not only join you in this commitment, but we will put a marker on our global map to represent you. What is our pledge? To make the peace of God our only goal today (and every day). If the peace of God is our goal today, then it must also be our goal in every interaction. That certainly simplifies our goal setting, doesn’t it? We can follow the path that brings us peace or choose again. But we need to be honest with ourselves and not just fall back into old patterns. Can excluding others or judging them because of their different behavior or religion bring us peace? If we do so, we are really the ones that are excluded in our minds and hearts. This does not mean that we have to believe, like, or agree with things they say or do, but we cannot exclude them from our hearts. Or allow their actions to rob us of our peace and place in the Mind of God.
In the section from the Course’s text entitled “Rules for Decision,” we are offered a way to have the kind of day we want by making no decisions by ourselves. This willingness says that a peaceful day comes to us when WE don’t get in the way. So if we want peace, if this is the goal we have set, then we need also to realize that our old habits and patterns are not serving us. We have to be willing to want what will heal us (peace) and then realize we need Help in achieving the way to do this.
The Help We Want
The first step is wanting peace. This is the little willingness to turn to the constant help of God’s Love through the Holy Spirit that the Course speaks of. We want or are willing to value what will bring us our goal of healing. First, though, we must realize we don’t know how to do it ourselves. The Course tells us we need help from outside of our problems because we believe in the reality of our problems from our current perspective.
We will always be able to rationalize why peace can’t work here or why this person is unworthy of forgiveness (including ourselves), but love looks through different eyes. It does not look through the eyes of an ego that sees some sin or guilt beyond help; rather, it looks with gentle eyes of love saying, “My brother, what you think is not the truth.” (W-134) The lie we have looked at has become so real to us that we have forgotten it is a lie, but the Voice for God is here to show us the way and lead us home.
Look but don’t dwell
With all this said, the Course does tell us we must look. What we have made “real” must be looked at and passed by. The anger, fear, hurt, depression, etc., cannot be ignored, but instead clearly seen as not of value when the peace of God is so near.
Have you ever seen a car wreck on the side of a road? It usually slows down traffic for miles. When you finally come up next to it, there is a weird desire to stare, but if you dwell on the sight, you cause more problems than help. Likewise, let us look quickly at the seeming problems in life and then move on to the solution God is holding out to us.
Replace, Refocus, Live
Throughout the Course, we are instructed to replace the lies of the ego with the truth of God. We are given a great thought in the fifth review section in the Course’s workbook. It says that whenever we are tempted to be distracted from our lesson, we should proclaim our freedom as we say, “This thought I do not want. I choose instead _________” (insert your daily workbook lesson or the Pledge for Peace: the peace of God is my one goal). Doing so allows this thought to take the place of what we thought before. By replacing the pain and suffering of our lives and this world with the truth, we can refocus our minds on the love of God and thereby finally live the life we are intended to live instead of a parody of life.
One of Jeff’s favorite authors growing up was Rick Riordan, who wrote a series of books based on his character, Percy Jackson — a teenage boy who never seemed to fit into school or life. Percy was raised by a single mom, was dyslexic, had a terrible time in school, and felt like an outcast. In reality, Percy was actually the son of Neptune, the Olympian God of the sea. All of his handicaps in this world were his greatest assets in the world of the gods, but he didn’t know it until his mind was refocused on the truth of who he was. He was the son of a god…sound familiar?
Once we know the truth of who we are, it should be easy, right? Yes, but perhaps not at first. In the case of Percy Jackson, it took him some time to get used to his new truth, and so it is with us. Because we have become accustomed to a life of pain, fear, and suffering, we must practice living from the truth that we are entitled to peace and healing. Similarly, when you are driving at a high speed, and you stop suddenly, it takes a while to come to a complete stop. You may hit the brakes but continue to slide along in a forward motion before you can actually stop.
We are getting there. We are slowing down. Let us be patient as we begin again, and again, and again. I know it seems as if there are many things in your life and the life of this world that need to be fixed, but we are not capable of doing the fixing. As the Course tells us, we made the problem, and because we did, we believe in it. Therefore, we need help from outside of the problem; that is what God’s Voice, the Holy Spirit, is here to help us do.
Only that Voice can lift the cloud of guilt we feel we and others deserve. God’s loving guidance can begin to show us a light beyond the darkness and hope where no possible solution seems to be. It is not a voice of religion, yet it is found in every religion. It is not a voice of separation, and yet it is the potential of joining in every separating thought. It is the Voice of love and sanity in every thought of fear or confusion. It was not only born some 2,000 years ago but is born each moment we lay down our need to be right and embrace peace on earth and goodwill toward all.
“There is not a moment in which His Voice fails to direct my thoughts, guide my actions and lead my feet. I am walking steadily on toward truth.” (W-60)