From time to time I am asked whether A Course in Miracles is Christian. Often, the question is raised when Christianity is front and center in some national or global debate. Lately, for example, there has been a lot of hullabaloo over Indiana senatorial candidate Richard Mourdock’s debate comments suggesting that a child born of rape is an intentional gift from God. A lot of people are appalled at this conflation of rape – a violent act directed against women – and the sacredness of life.
The gist of the problem – at least theologically – is this: If God is all-knowing and all-powerful, and if God intends for life to happen, then God must also intend and allow – and thus endorse – all the horrifying ways that life can come about. Including rape.
People seem shocked at this but if you are paying attention to Christianity it is nothing new. This is a religion which has as its cornerstone the torture and execution of its savior. And that mythology is not unique to the New Testament. What about poor Isaac on the mountain with his blade-wielding father? Or Job, whose misery at God’s hands make him seem like nothing so much as a mouse trapped by a bored and murderous cat?
Suffering has always been part and parcel of the Judeo-Christian spiritual tradition and all the torturous (no pun intended) intellectual wrangling by brilliant theologians from Origen to Augustine to Merton to Pagels can’t undo that. Mourdock is not being extremist or hateful – he is being coherent and logical, according to his faith.
A Course in Miracles offers a simple – and to my mind helpful – answer to the question of why God allows bad things to happen: God doesn’t allow them to happen. They aren’t really happening.
It is easy to forget, given its language and mythology, but A Course in Miracles is at best only nominally Christian. In theology and practice, it is much closer to the Hindu philosophy of Advaita Vedanta. God is truth, or Love, and the world – and our lives in the world – are illusory. It is only when we confuse the illusion with reality – with God – that we suffer. Everything from a headache to a holocaust are symptoms of our perceived separation from God.
I realize that this is not much more palatable to some people than the punitive and violent judge of traditional Christianity. My point isn’t really to advocate for one or the other but rather to be clear about what A Course in Miracles is and what it is not.
My own practice of A Course in Miracles is deeply inflected by nearly four decades of Catholicism. Indeed, without that influence I doubt the course would have held my attention at the outset. And yet the deeper I go, the more I realize how deeply entrenched is my idea of suffering – that it is somehow virtuous and altogether necessary. It is hard to be angry with Mourdock under those circumstances. You peel back another layer of the interior onion and there is the crucifixion again in all its gory horror. And I stand before it, reminded of Macbeth’s grim realization that his actions have consequences: “It will have blood, they say. Blood will have blood.”
That’s traditional Christianity. That’s the illusory world of the ego. We are sinners who broke faith with God and we will pay for that crime with our lives.
But that is not the Jesus of A Course in Miracles talking. The Jesus of the course is happy to laugh at the cross and skip merrily beyond it. None of this happened and God waits only to welcome us back into Heaven. The question is: do we trust that Jesus enough to follow him down that happy path? Or do we remain – as Richard Mourdock so aptly demonstrated – bound to the Jesus of pain and the world that crucifies him anew?
Lady Macbeth upbraided her despairing husband, telling him “what’s done is done” and “what’s done cannot be undone.” But undoing is the very essence of A Course in Miracles (see e.g., T-2.IV.2:1 and T-1.I.26:2-3). We are forever capable of choosing to end the separation and thus ending the illusory world of anguish and horror and pain. I am not saying it is easy, but it is simple. The means have been given us. Why delay?