There are a couple of ideas that I want to pull out of this section of A Course in Miracles and explore a bit. Maybe three. Basically, this is yet another perspective or angle on the idea that our thoughts are powerful and that we cannot achieve real peace without coming to terms with that fact. It also continues its theme of revising – or reimagining perhaps – traditional Christian imagery and themes, sometimes to a visceral degree.
It is a mistake to believe that a thought system based on lies is weak. Nothing made by a child of God is without power. It is essential to realize this, because otherwise you will be unable to escape from the prison you have made (T-3.VII.1:6-8).
We have seen this idea before. In Fear and Conflict, Jesus talks about the fact that we can denigrate the mind’s power in an attempt to minimize its effects, but that is not an ideal or permanent solution because seeing the mind as weak compromises our respect for its powers (T-2.VI.9:12). In these early sections, Jesus is very clear – to the point of being redundant at times – that we really need to come to terms with how powerful our minds – and hence the we we really are – are. Faith and belief can move mountains (T-2.VI.9:8)!
That we choose not to so use our minds leads directly to one of the more challenging – at least for me – portions of the entire text. Jesus begins talking about the devil. In the FIP version (also the Hugh Lyn Casey version), this word is placed in quotes. But in the urtext it was not. The quotes, I think, are meant to soften what is actually a very powerful word. The psychologist James Hillman (I am paraphrasing – I think it is from Inter Views) once said that the most fascinating thing about Christianity to his (brilliant and religious (if not Christian)) mind was that the devil was still conceived of as being a real presence, a real being.
In A Course in Miracles, at least, the devil is defined quite literally as the “belief in separation” (T-3.VII.5:1). And earlier, the text’s author makes clear just what we will do for that belief:
The devil deceives by lies, and builds kingdoms in which everything is in direct opposition to God. Yet he attracts men rather than repels them, and they are willing to “sell” him their souls in return for gifts of no real worth. This makes absolutely no sense (T-3.VII.2:6-8).
In the process of turning the devil from a fallen angel to a mistaken belief in what we and God are, the Course also turns its attention back to the Garden of Eden, or the pre-separation condition. Any interpretation of the apple consumed from the tree of knowledge that depicts God as vengeful or tricking his creations is flat-out wrong. What happened (in this new interpretation) was that men and women first entertained and then fell for the idea that separation from God was possible and as a result took up on themselves the responsibility for their creation (i.e., the authority problem).
The result is that we make images of ourselves – and each other and the world. But we are not the images we make. We are what God created. And while we can believe for a long long time that we are self-creators, sooner or later we’re going to come to terms with the fact that the only thing to do with snakes (devils, bad ideas) is laugh at them. Laughter is surprisingly healthy, a spiritual balm of unparalleled quality.
The separation “is a system of thought real enough in time . . . ” (T-3.VII.3:2). This is an important point and cannot be overstated. In a metaphysical way, the separation never happened. But because we believe otherwise, it did happen. In other words, our belief in it makes it real. What is unreal about it is the ease with which it can be undone – and that happens naturally as we accept the power of our minds and bring them back into alignment with God.
I often say to people that it is a mistake to underestimate viciousness of the ego. Remember that it is fighting for its life – literally. Look again at how this section describes the nature of the separation: “It is powerful, active,destructive and clearly in opposition to God . . ” (T-3.VII.5:2). Just because the end is sure doesn’t mean the stakes aren’t high. I say often that Jesus vacillates between being a coach cheering us on and a coach who is trying to scare the hell out of us (pun intended). This is one of those pep talks that is designed to motivate us to work. We have to end the separation and we have to be vigilant in doing so. If you are committed to waking up, if you are are committed to being a miracle worker, if this is your spiritual path then you have work to do and it’s not going to be easy.
Your Self is still in peace, even though your mind is in conflict. You have not yet gone back far enough, and that is why you become so fearful. As you approach the Beginning, you feel the fear of the destruction of your thought system upon you as if it were the fear of death. There is not death, but there is a belief in death (T-3.VII.5:8-11).
We have not yet gone back far enough . . . Those words can temporarily fill us with dismay. I know they do that to me. I want to stop Jesus and say, “seriously? There’s more work? More undoing?”
And yet once having set foot on the path – once having offered that fundamental unequivocal yes – there is really nothing else to do but keep on keeping on (as Bob Dylan once said). The Kingdom of Heaven was created for us – and it awaits our decision to wake up.