From Abracadabra to Zombies
reader comments: A Course in Miracles
September 8, 2013
Thank you for your comments on A Course in Miracles. I saw a message someone sent you defending "The Course."
They sound like a friend of mine who believes I would grow to a higher consciousness were I to study it. Being openminded, I tried for about an hour, and it is nuts. The commenter said something about how you had never read it. I assure you, if you read a single lesson from it, you would have a field day.
I needed someone else's rational analysis to remember I am not nuts. Thank you for that.
The gist of the entire course appears to be inanely stating completely illogical and unreasonable propositions. In fact, from what I can see, the more willing you are to buy into a preposterous concept, the more "spiritual" you are by Course standards. This encourages lemmings to believe ever more insane concepts as they work this "Course." It made me feel like Alice in Wonderland.
Additionally, if you try to reason with a follower of the Course, they apply an incredible double standard. You are clearly blocked by your ego and cannot see the truth, and you are unwilling & closed minded. However, they will not consider that perhaps they are blocked by their ego, their investment in this weird spiritual path, and an unwillingness to apply simple logic and rational analysis. They are beyond closed minded. I'm pretty sure it enters into the category of deluded. You are being negative for even mentioning that the course may not be very reasonable.
Anyway, thank you for having a brain and using it. It is comforting after dealing with my friend.
31 March 2012
Would you please post this in reader comments under A Course in Miracles?
"Workbook Lesson 135: If I defend myself I am attacked."
Thank You so much.
1 April 2011
Please allow me to quote you in your own words:
"The goal of critical thinking is to arrive at the most reasonable beliefs and take the most reasonable actions. We have evolved, however, not to seek the truth, but to survive and reproduce. Critical thinking is an unnatural act. By nature, we're driven to confirm and defend our current beliefs, even to the point of irrationality. We are prone to reject evidence that conflicts with our beliefs and to attack those who offer such evidence."
Your critique of "A Course In Miracles" lacks any evidence of critical thinking as you have described the term. You (a) denounce "channeling" without considering whether such a phenomenon can and does occur, (b) state unequivocally that the subject of the book is what Jesus thought before first appearing on Earth [how do you know that he thought - ever?], (c) state your profound conclusion that "A Course In Miracles" was designed to, and is, make money off the gullible, and (d) you have not read the book or practiced the exercises once per day for 365 as you worked your way through the text.
reply: (a) the link to the channeling entry in the "see also" section is where I consider the alleged phenomenon in detail. Schucman is just one of several people I write about who claim to be channeling entities. It would be tedious and redundant to repeat the channeling entry every time I write about a channeler.
(b) In addition to not being able to think critically, I must not be able to read, either, since I can't find the passage you refer to where I state unequivocally that the subject of the book is what Jesus thought before first appearing on Earth. I write "A Course in Miracles [ACIM] is the name of a book, allegedly dictated by Jesus to Helen Schucman" and "To find out what Jesus really had in mind when he came to save the world, you can buy ACIM or one of a dozen similar books from the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP)." The latter statement is a figure of speech. I am obviously being facetious. I do not think that Schucman heard from Jesus, so I obviously do not think that her books reveal what Jesus really had in mind and apparently didn't get across to his disciples. When the fog lifts, you might want to read the passage again and see if you understand it differently.
(c) I don't draw any conclusions, profound or trivial, in the CIM entry. I don't present any arguments (premises in support of conclusions). Rather, I provide a simple description of CIM and its author, a caricature if you will. I make no such claim as you assert that she wrote the stuff to dupe the gullible and make money. That's you drawing your own conclusion. I don't claim to know her motives. She may have been a very sincere, deluded lady who heard voices, and she may have put it down in writing to help the world become a better place.
"A Course In Miracles" advises the student that it is a self-study course and that's the way I did it. No Marianne Williamses, study groups or cushy retreats on the East coast.
You don't know for a fact whether God exists, what Jesus thought, whether the Course is a fraud perpetrated by Helen Schucman (a non-observant Jew) or even whether the book makes some rational sense after careful study and contemplation.
reply: True, but I think the odds are that no gods exist and that it is a good bet that many of the teachings make sense.
The scientific method requires rigorous testing and analysis taking all possible explanations into consideration.
reply: Unlike some people, I don't think science should try to do everything. Describing a book that the author says was dictated to her by Jesus is not something I would think of as a scientific problem or issue. Hence, whatever the scientific method might require is irrelevant here.
However, you have driven yourself to confirm and defend your current beliefs, even to the point of irrationality.
Kurt E. Matthews
Los Angeles, CA
reply: Maybe so, but you've been no help in guiding me to recognize my irrationality since you haven't even done me the courtesy of reading my work carefully before launching into your little tirade.
22 Aug 2003
I’ll get right to the point. Your assumption that Helen Schucman faked the fact that she "channeled" the text of A Course in Miracles is unsubstantiated. You don't buy the idea that a man who died two millennia ago dictated the text of this book to Helen psychically. Fine. That's an extremely reasonable position to take. However, in making the assumption that EITHER Helen psychically "channeled" the teachings of a famous long-dead Jew OR she sat down and wrote the thing herself, then consciously and intentionally lied about it, you are excluding all kinds of viable alternative possibilities. This is akin to making the assertion that a given number is EITHER- an integer OR an irrational number. Is there an established rational fallacy that corresponds to this sort of reasoning? I don't know. If there isn't, let's make one up. Let's call it the “Unimaginative Analysis Fallacy.” Here are some alternative explanations that— likely or not— are still possible.
reply: The fallacy has several names, all of them better than your suggestion: false dilemma, black & white fallacy, and either/or fallacy are just three of them. In any case, I have revised this entry to match the book but have never assumed these were the only two alternative explanations for the origin of this book. Some explanations, however, are more plausible than others. The two most plausible are: She was deluded or she perpetrated a conscious fraud.
A Course in Miracles could be the result of cryptomnesia. Helen was an exceptionally well-read, intellectually-minded person with an interest in religion. Her husband owned his own bookstore and has been quoted (in biographical studies on the Course) as claiming to have read many texts on metaphysics. Helen had certainly read her share of psychology textbooks. She might have actually "heard" thoughts in her head [that] were nothing more than hashed up bits and pieces of metaphysical and theological writings that she'd long since read and forgotten. Since she’d long since forgotten these ideas, and since she didn’t consciously compose their wording, she might have taken them as being alien to her own cognitive processes. Imagine that you were sitting in your kitchen eating breakfast when the poem “Jabberwocky” or a few paragraphs from Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet” are suddenly recited in your head. If you didn’t remember ever hearing these words before, you might get the impression that they are coming from a source outside your own mind. The ideas are intelligently and skillfully worded, but you aren’t generating them. Who is? Perhaps the words themselves contain a clue? Who is narrating them?
reply: Cryptomnesia is consistent with the delusion hypothesis.
Another possibility, given the fact that the text of the Course doesn’t appear to be a disjointed mishmash of metaphysical and theological quotations, is the possibility that a part of Helen's psyche had become split off from her conscious personality. In other words, that she had something akin to a multiple personality "disorder” or schizophrenia. Helen was said to have had frequent vivid visions and other “mystical” experiences in which she saw “film-like” scenes of people and places. The line between schizophrenia and mystical experience can be a fine one.
reply: No doubt some of the great religious leaders of the world suffered from disorders such as schizophrenia and Schucman may have been one them. But let's get it straight that schizophrenia and multiple personality disorder have nearly nothing in common.
What would make Helen’s split personality or schizophrenia unique is that the split-off portion of her psyche was wiser and relatively more enlightened than her conscious personality. I say "relatively" because not everyone who reads A Course in Miracles might agree that the text is the product of an enlightened master-- but everyone would probably agree that these teachings contain a philosophy for forgiveness and unconditional love that Helen's conscious personality is said to have lacked completely.
One point of clarification really should be made here. The Course in Miracles is often said to have been “channeled,” but this is not true— not in the sense that the term “channeled” is typically used. “Channeled” teachings are typically generated through a process whereby a “psychic” person goes into a trance state, then allows a non-physical entity from higher dimensions (eg. Edgar Cayce’s higher Self, Seth, or Abraham) to take over their body and use it to communicate the “channeled” message. This is the commonly accepted meaning of the term “channeled.” A Course in Miracles was not “received” in this manner. Rather, Helen Schucman claimed to have heard a “silent voice” in her head— rather like the voice of her own thoughts— but claimed that these thoughts were not her own. They functioned autonomously, she claimed, and she had no control over what they were saying. The text of A Course in Miracles was “channeled” only in the sense that Helen Schucman heard and wrote down words that (she claimed) her conscious mind did not produce.
reply: Point granted but this seems like a minor quibble. Whether you claim to be channeling or hearing voices, if you claim to be a medium for the words of some spirit you are doing essentially the same kind of thing: You are passing on ideas and disclaiming responsibility for them.
This means that the second “personality” hypothesized above need only exist as a splintered part of Helen’s psyche which generated thoughts that differed radically from Helen’s consciously generated thoughts. It would not need to take over her body as Sybil’s personalities are said to have done. It would not even need to speak aloud to convey its wisdom as Edgar Cayce and Seth are said to have done. All it need do is act as the (invisible) source of some radical metaphysical and theological ideas, and as a part of Helen’s mind that felt insistent that these ideas somehow be expressed. That’s all.
If that’s a bit much to swallow, here’s an even simpler hypothetical explanation. Suppose that Helen had a tendency to dis-identify with any thoughts that popped into her head which were not in line with her chosen political, philosophical and theological opinions. This is not unusual or unprecedented behavior. Christians who see themselves as being decent, God-fearing, moral beings have been known to dis-identify with their own “sinful” thoughts, attributing them to “Satan.” Satan is, in a sense, a mirror image of Jesus— Jesus’ shadow. If Helen refused to accept metaphysical-spiritual thoughts that clashed with her consciously chosen world-view and values— and if those thoughts were “spoken” as a narrative of Jesus— Helen could have convinced herself that she was not the source of the ideas. In this scenario there would be no need for an actual split personality— only a perceived split. How simple and how tidy an explanation! Helen was a closet guru— a philosopher-mystic in denial of her own spiritual inclinations and abilities.
Another important point of clarification needs to be made concerning the “channeling” of A Course in Miracles. This concerns the identity of the narrator of the text. In large part, your criticism of the claim that the author of A Course in Miracles is Jesus is based on the assumption that “Jesus” is a particular man who walked the Earth two millennia ago. This is an unfounded assumption— but one that is, admittedly made by a large number of New Age Course in Miracles fans. In my experience, few of the nationally known teachers of the Course currently take the position that the narrator of the work is actually the disembodied spirit of that famous Jew who was nailed to a tree two thousand years ago. Jesus to them is something else— a famous character from Christian mythology, a symbol, a pop culture icon whose philosophy and attributes are known to all.
There is no incontrovertible evidence that a historical Jesus ever even existed. Most archeologists, historians, and biblical scholars do believe that the gospels were based upon the life of a historical person— Jesus of Nazareth— but we don’t know this for a fact. What we DO know is that Jesus is a universally known character in Christian mythology. Everyone knows the character “Jesus”— just as everyone knows Santa Claus, Robin Hood, and Sherlock Holmes. A popular misconception is that “mythical” means “not-real” or “fictional.” Sherlock Holmes is a fictional character. In contrast, Adam and Eve are mythological characters— regardless of whether or not they ever walked the Earth. This is because the story of Genesis is true and real, regardless of whether it is a depiction of historical events. It is true in the sense that it depicts a timeless and universal reality— the existential reality of humanity’s “fall from grace.” Some interpret the Fall as a spiritual separation from God. Some see it as Man’s transition from animal to personhood. For others, it is a depiction of the process by which human beings lost awareness of the intrinsic wholeness of the universe through excessive use of language, logic and reason— cognitive processes that break the world apart into arbitrary pieces. However one interprets it, the story of Genesis is mythological in that (whether or not it is historically true) it still depicts profound truths. Adam and Eve are mythological entities— not simply fictional entities— for that same reason.
reply: As to your point about the historical Jesus, I recommend Albert Schweitzer's The Quest of the Historical Jesus. As to your point about Biblical myths depicting profound truths: Some of us consider these myths profound falsehoods.
The Course in Miracles refers to Jesus as “a symbol.” That’s exactly how it depicts him— as a well-known symbol for the embodiment of unconditional love and forgiveness, and as a role model. In my experience, this is how the majority of nationally known teachers of A Course in Miracles view and depict the Jesus of the Course— as a familiar character who’s characteristics and life philosophy are well-known by just about everyone living in the Western world. When Melville narrated the novel Moby-Dick in the voice of Ishmael— a sailor aboard Captain Ahab’s vessel, he didn’t expect that readers would believe that the book was actually written by a sailor-whale hunter. He used the character as a literary device. That’s all. A Course in Miracles does the same thing. Who better to narrate a self-study course on forgiveness, unconditional love, and spiritual healing than Jesus? Can you think of a more appropriate person to take on that role? If Helen was, in fact, borderline schizophrenic— would it be so surprising that the narrator of this “silent voice” should manifest in her imagination as Jesus?
reply: You're getting a bit repetitious. Saying something twice doesn't make it twice as believable.
At this point I’d like to make it clear that I am not suggesting that Helen Schucman was a “nut case,” or that A Course in Miracles is nothing more than the product of cryptomnesia or Helen Schucman’s imagination. I’m not suggesting that the historical Jesus’ soul or spirit did not survive crucifixion, or that that same Spirit is not the source of the Course. I’m not suggesting any of those things, and I’m not denying any of those things. I’m simply not going there. That’s not what this commentary is about, and in my opinion those are all moot points anyway. The person for whom this commentary was written is a skeptic who can’t even begin to embrace the idea that Helen Schucman’s mind was not the source of A Course in Miracles. As such, I didn’t even bother to broach the topic of that possibility. My only point is that Robert’s assertion that Helen must have been faking the whole thing if she didn’t actually channel teachings from the disembodied spirit of Jesus of Nazareth is unfounded.
reply: This point was covered long ago.
So, Robert— regardless of whether or not the above hypothetical explanations strike you as being the slightest bit viable— and regardless of whether or not you still prefer your own interpretation of the phenomenon— are you prepared to concede the **possibility** that you **might** have succumbed to the Unimaginative Analysis Fallacy? Yours Truly,
reply: I love your name. I also love the story of Salomé.
13 Nov 1997
I did want to express my personal experience with A Course in Miracles. I have studied the material very intensively for about 5 years. It would be absolutely impossible to write any kind of a summary with any understanding unless you have spent a great deal of time and especially practice with the material. To scan the book and pick out a few passages and then announce to the whole world what it says does enormous injustice to this incredibly beautiful and life changing material.
Reply: Why distort what I have done? Why twist my words into something they are not and do not claim to be? I do not say any more about the content of the book than that it calls for more forgiveness and less suffering. I focus on the deluded or dishonest method your hero uses to get her message across. If she has a problem with Christianity why doesn't she have the courage to come out and say it? Christianity is not a religion of forgiveness and it has always preached the necessity of suffering. If she thinks this is a bad message, why doesn't she come right out and say it, instead of pretending that the book was dictated to her by an Inner Voice.
The Course is in its entirely a perfect practice of forgiveness. It is a step by step process by which you break down the walls of separation between yourself and your fellow man. And it works. It does not claim exclusivity or specialness, it is not a religion or a cult. It is a completely individual practice of learning to love your fellow man through forgiveness. It is a book in complete self-responsibility. And that is what it is. How could anyone criticize that?
Reply: It is an allegedly channeled book. That is where I aim my criticisms. I have no problem with a message of forgiveness. I can tell you straight out that a person who does not know how to forgive will be miserable all her days. As Spinoza said: "To understand is to forgive." I don't need to pretend to hear voices to get this message across, nor do I think that the voices give the message any validity. The validity is in the utility of the message, not in the self-anointed messenger.
I have gone from being a very selfish, self-centered, angry, irritable person who blamed everyone one else for my problems to someone who has complete peace and many moments of great joy. I feel joined and connected with my fellow man. I see innocence where I used to see evil. The world has not changed, but I look at it differently. How could anyone criticize a practice that leads to this except through ignorance and lack of understanding.
reply: Again, I reiterate that I do not criticize the practice of forgiveness. You may not be selfish, etc., anymore, but you certainly have not learned how to treat fairly another's criticisms. I guess I just don't understand why anyone would want to make a business out of encouraging others to be more forgiving and less troublesome. To behave with kindness and sympathy towards others seems to me such an obviously wise thing to do that I guess I am incapable of understanding the need to sanction such behavior with any higher authority, whether that authority be an inner voice or a multitude of like-minded reformers.
I urge you not to be so "skeptical" - open your eyes and your heart to everything that speaks of good out there.
reply: And I urge you to continue being unselfish and loving. I will try to do the same.
5 Nov 1997
Although I am a theist, I cannot help but cringe over what passes for 'spiritual truth.' In applying the techniques found in A Handbook of Hypnotic Suggestions and Metaphors, ed. by D. Corydon Hammond, Ph.D. (W.W. Norton & Co. New York, 1990) to the 'channeled', A Course in Miracles, it is so blatant that ACIM is nothing but the presentation of gnosticism in a self-hypnotic script.
Helen Schucman, Ph.D., the 'channeler', both taught psychology and maintained her own clinical practice. She would have knowledge of gnosticism and Christianity, and most assuredly would have practiced hypnotherapy. True, she felt or believed she was channeling "the Voice", but "the Course" obviously lacks original content.
Or maybe, I'm wrong and Jesus was a hypnotherapist after all. It's not the gnosticism I object to, it's the slick packaging of circular logic, self referencing definitions, redundancy and needless repetition to get the message delivered to the "unconscious". Advertising, propaganda, and seduction use the same techniques. Old Fred Nietzsche was right in comparing the uncritical public to sheep. I may be a slave, but I am fat, easily entertained, and have a convenient god to follow. God bless the remaining skeptics, may this small band multiply.
reply: I can't speak for other skeptics, but even blessings from theists are welcome here.