February 24, 2020

Marianne Williamson Isn't Kooky. She's Religious.

“The book that changed lecturer, activist, and current presidential candidate Marianne Williamson’s life, A Course in Miracles, is not available for free online, but its workbook is. You can find it on the website for the Foundation for Inner Peace, which includes a gif of what I assume is a third eye, blinking. The Workbook’s introduction explains that, while “[s]ome of the ideas the workbook presents you will find hard to believe…. [t]his does not matter. You are merely asked to apply the ideas as you are directed to do.” The ideas do not need to be accepted or believed; they simply need to be applied, and they will work.

The ideas include the illusory nature of the world, which is a malignant dream created by humanity’s desire to prove its separation from God, who made it. Our guilt over this willed separation is projected outward, into external evil, which we control: Everything we want to happen does; nothing we don’t want to happen can. Our consciousness is actually collective, because we all collectively are the Son of God, who is Christ. The first lesson is “Nothing I see in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place] means anything,” and the exercises involve applying the sentence to specific things one sees. The 223rd lesson, the one open in another tab as I write this, is “God is my life. I have no life but His,” and is a meditation on the practitioner’s total oneness with God (“I was mistaken when I thought I lived apart from God, a separate entity that moved in isolation, unattached, and housed within a body. Now I know my life is God’s, I have no other home, and I do not exist apart from Him. He has no Thoughts that are not part of me, and I have none but those which are of Him”). It ends with a prayer.

A Course in Miracles does not purport itself to be a religious book, but rather to describe objective laws, and the school grown up around the book since its publication in 1976 considers it a “spiritual self-study program.” Inasmuch as the definition of “religion” has been debated for the century-plus that religious studies has existed as a field, that’s a defensible position. It’s certainly no more tendentious or self-serving than the insistence of white post-Christians that Buddhism isn’t a religion, either. But A Course in Miracles posits a God, a Christ, a metaphysics, true things we do not immediately grasp or see, an explanation for suffering, categories of sin and forgiveness, power beyond us that can be used, and a goal for the spiritual person to pursue. It was written by a psychologist and professor at Columbia University, Helen Shucman, who took shorthand notes on what the clear inner voice she identified as Jesus dictated to her between 1965 and 1972. Shucman then read the notes to her department head, William Thetford, who typed them out. She was not identified as the writer of the work until after her death, at her own request.”

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