Circle of Atonement

This post is about the organization Circle of Atonement. This post is about the course section of the same name.

The Circle of Atonement is an organization of teachers and students devoted to the practice of A Course in Miracles. My first encounter with them was through the controversy surrounding Gary Renard and his ascended masters. My sustained impression of the group, however, is one of love and helpfulness.

I’ve said before that one of the early and helpful ACIM-related texts that I read was Gary Renard’s The Disappearance of the Universe. Finding it useful, and being curious, I googled Renard and discovered that there were all sorts of people asking questions about him. Was he a scam artist? Were Arten and Pursah just a clever marketing gimmick or genuine ascended masters? How did Jesus fit into it?

Those who want conflict will find it, of course, and find conflict I did. And, I confess that I indulged it some, too – it’s sad how much time we can spend in what really amounts to little more than gossip. But there were two things that came out of that experience that I really valued. The first was that I learned an important lesson. Or rather, I re-learned a course lesson through application. The course encourages us to always ask “what is it for?” (T-24.VII.6:1)

That question is deeply related to the admonition that we not “value what is valueless” (W-pI.133.13:4).

After I was done dredging the mud about Gary Renard’s divorce, bad jokes and background as a freelance investment and business master, I remembered to ask what his book was for. Why was I reading it? What was my goal – truth or conflict?

The answer was not especially hard to find. For me, reading Gary’s book – and all the texts I read with respect to ACIM – was to help my slowly-evolving appreciation, understanding and application of A Course in Miracles. Disappearance did that wonderfully. I haven’t worried about Gary Renard’s personal life since.

Set the goal for truth, use what is helpful, discard what is not, and trust God. It really can be that simple.

The other thing that came out of that experience – somewhat related to the first – was that I discovered the Circle of Atonement. As noted, they were early on involved in the Renard controversy. But to see that group solely in the light of Renard and that (somewhat subsided now) controversy around his work would be a mistake. COA is a helpful and substantive resource for serious students of A Course in Miracles.

I add, however, this caveat: they are not the only helpful and substantive resource. There are a lot of study groups, teachers and organizations out there. Finding one that is helpful to us can be a valuable use of our time and attention. It’s true we can become distracted by teachers – finding the right one, denigrating others, second-guessing our judgment and so forth. But on balance, the abundance of guidance available is a blessing.  Ken Wapnick, who was often conflated with the course as a sort of de facto pope, was fond of pointing out that A Course in Miracles had no pope. There is no one single custodian of love and forgiveness, just as there is no one single form of the “universal curriculum.”

I learned several helpful things reading through the material at Circle of Atonement. It was an early example of alternative approaches to the courwse – that is, approaches that could be distinguished from Ken Wapnick’s and the Foundation for Inner Peace and so forth. I am not as bothered by Ken’s role in the course community as some folks are, but it was still interesting to realize there were other ways of viewing the course material. In a sense, my openness and receptivity with respect to Tara Singh was grounded in part on this understanding that what works is what’s helpful, rather than what someone else insists in the only way something works.

I intend no disrespect to anyone here – not to public teachers or their teachers. I am grateful for the help they offer and view forgetting their apparent mistakes and aggressions and so forth as essential to my practice of forgiveness. People – including those at the Circle of Atonement are having powerful, life-changing experiences without having been involved with the course’s inception or otherwise hewing to its institutional founders. These guys – notably Robert Perry, Greg Mackie and Allen Watson – are powerfully committed to teaching the Course. Their lives are given to it. Even if I am not always on board with this or that particular aspect of their teaching (and I am not!), their authenticity and willingness to help is palpable.

It was – it remains- an effective witness to the transformative potential of A Course in Miracles.

I remain impressed by how much material Robert Perry and his students share via their website. Like the Foundation for A Course in Miracles, there are enough articles, links, interviews, classes and workshops to last a lifetime.  I became motivated to reflect on how I might do something similar with own study and practice. I am a teacher and a writer by both training and calling; linking that up with ACIM seemed natural and positive. Circle of Atonement was a tangible – and inspiring – model for how to share and how to learn by sharing.


By way of addendum: as I mentioned earlier, the brouhaha over Renard and his work has largely fallen away. More and more people seem to just accept the ways in which he can be helpful for some students and stand down from arguments about whether he’s telling the truth or not. Again, those who long for conflict will find it. But even when we do find it, it can – when given to the Holy Spirit – be an opportunity for forgiveness. In the end, neither Gary nor Robert Perry and the good teachers and students of Circle of Atonement should be viewed in the light of conflict. That’s not what they’re about. And really, neither are you and I.


By way of further addena, Robert Perry has released A Course in Miracles Complete & Annotated Edition, advertised as a restoration of the original work to the maximal degree possible (their website is down; I can’t link to a noncommercial overview of the project). Perry relies on Helen’s notes and believes this version will “allow the Course’s true meaning and character to shine through a little more clearly” and thus help students to “better see the Course for what it is, relate to it as it is, and apply its profound truths to their lives.”

I haven’t read this edition; I don’t feel especially called to read it. I’ve touched on my concerns about whether Helen or Jesus wrote the course and which version of A Course in Miracles one should read.

Although over the years I have stopped following Robert Perry’s work closely (somewhat the way I no longer follow Gary Renard’s work closely), I still consider him a thoughtful and devoted student of the course. It seems odd that a book which has been around for half a century and become – in Perry’s words – a “spiritual classic” should require revision that it’s “true meaning and character” might be revealed, but what do I know?

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  1. The Course is all about forgiveness of the self that we made up, so we could find our ”real” self. You have to feel more than you think and most people don’t want to do that. Would I accuse myself of doing this? is part of a wonderful lesson in the Course

    1. “You have to feel more than you think.”

      I love that line, Diane. It very much captures one of the (many) challenges of practicing ACIM for me. The desire to intellectually understand, or know, or be right can be an impediment to Course application. Instead of practicing forgiveness, one can analyze how forgiveness might apply to a given situation. And that’s not really helpful! Liz Cronkhite has written somewhere something to the effect that there are no right or wrong ways to read the Course, only helpful and unhelpful ways, and that the process is always evolving. I like that. It gives me hope!

      Thank you for reading & sharing!

  2. The tone of this article directly mirrors my experience w/ the Course, Renard’s book and the Circle of Atonement. I was a student of the Course for about a year, then came across DU and found it very helpful in understanding aspects of the Course’s meaning, and the metaphysical model. I, too, got sucked into the controversy … began to doubt Renard and, by extension, the Course itself … and then discovered the trap of doubt and fear so ingeniously used by our egos.

    It seems to me that Renard’s purported Masters themselves downplay the importance of the messengers, encouraging focus on the message. And, while questions may arise concerning Renard’s experience, no one seems to take issue with or challenge the Course concepts discussed in DU as being in conflict w/ the ACIM text. In that sense, DU is helpful to many.

    Many quotes from the Course came to mind during my witnessing of the controversy and the exchanges between parties …. (paraphrasing) … Attack is never justified … Those who don’t forgive must judge to justify their decision not to forgive … Love holds no grievances (one of Renard’s favorites ;). As these thoughts occurred to me, I felt like I was judging … then realized I was only witnessing my own guilt, doubt, fear played out in the world before me … my own judgement of myself, to be forgiven. Surely this has or will occur with all concerned.

    1. Hi Taylor.

      Thank you for reading & commenting. I think you’re right on when you write about Arten and Pursah downplaying the role of messengers in favor of focusing on the message. They aren’t the point. And I love that phrase – “the trap of doubt and fear.” It’s funny that the more I practice, the more I realize how fundamentally simple ACIM is – the complications (which can seem endless & dense) are really just road blocks thrown up by the ego. And yes – it all comes down to forgiveness, over and over, no matter what. That, for me, is increasingly what I remember from reading Gary Renard – that we are here to forgive whatever we perceive as “out there.” People, places, things, feelings – it’s all the projected guilt and doubt and fear.

      Thanks again for your thoughts!

  3. Without any agenda against Gary Renard, I recognized his first book immediately as a hoax, learned from direct conversations that Arten and Pursah were a total fabrication, and acknowledged Robert Perry’s scholarship which proved Gary’s plagiarism of Ken Wapnick in DU. What was even more clear was Gary’s defensiveness against Jon Mundy, Robert Perry, and others. I experienced this directly when Gary once refused to speak at a conference when he learned I was involved. That Gary’s work has influenced many, many people and furthered the “ministry” of A Course in Miracles is not to be questioned. This is why, for the most part, the “attack” against Gary was called off by the international ACIM Community. But always it is important to remember Gary’s frailty as a person, not to become mystified that he has any “inside information” on ACIM. He is a true charlatan, however congenial, and one piece of evidence of this is the legion of supporters and followers.

    1. Hi Louis,

      Thank you for your note. I do sometimes think of Renard’s teaching as a sexier version of Ken Wapnick’s. I agree with you that Robert Perry’s scholarship (here’s an example, if anybody reading is interested) is sound and helpful in this regard. By and large, most of the students I know who are helped by Gary tend to put the ascended masters drama to the side and focus on the course material, which I recall as being generally sound (if derivative). I haven’t followed his subsequent work but DOTU was helpful in its way. I’m glad any “attack” on Renard was called off, whatever that means. People will find their way, one way or the other and as the course points out so often, Truth is beyond our ability to damage (thought we are expert indeed at obscuring it).

      ~ Sean

  4. This conflict has had the unfortunate consequence of turning me off to the Course as a whole. Perhaps this is throwing the baby out with the bath water, but it is deeply frustrating to see the divisions amongst course students/teachers this early in its life. This divisiviness is one of the main reasons I am no longer part of the Christian church. Maybe I should just accept that I live in the seperated world and this kind of thing is inevitable. Any words of advice?

    1. Hi Greg.

      That conflict – and others like it (did Ken Wapnick over-edit the course? Is Marianne Williamson teaching the nondualism of the course? Should you read the urtext or the FIP edition, etc.) – can be a real drag. I’ve certainly spent a fair share of time giving attention to them, breathing a little more life into them. It’s okay in the sense that it doesn’t make Jesus want to pound whiskey shots in a roadhouse, but it can have the effect of postponing our experience of inner peace.

      In a sense, conflict is hardly surprising. The truth is, if we aren’t seeing it in the course community, then we’re going to see it somewhere else. It is part of the relative, dualistic mindset in which we are naturally invested in these bodies in this world. If we accept that premise – we don’t have to, of course, but it seems reasonable to me – then the presence of conflict can be a blessing because it is a chance to look closely – to see in action, to grasp in essence – the real problem. It is only when I can really look at the problem that I can begin to perceive the solution.

      And A Course in Miracles teaches me that the only problem I have is my belief that I am separated from God. Heal that and the rest of it will go the way of the hula hoop (even though I do appreciate a good hula hoop).

      For example, there was a period of time when I was very concerned about whether Gary Renard was telling the truth. The ascended masters felt very dramatic to me, some of Gary’s predictions felt unncessary, I was uncomfortable with how aggressive and sometimes mean-spirited he was with his detractors, I thought Robert’s insights about how close the teachings of Arten and Pursah were to Ken Wapnick’s was pretty persuasive and so on and so forth . . .

      At first, it seemed to me that I had to take a stand with all of this – Gary was a fraud/Gary was a genuine mystic, Arten and Pursah were real/not real. But over time I began to simply let the conflict be – I didn’t rush to “solve or “resolve” it. And slowly – perhaps slower than I would have liked – I began to sift down to the levels beneath that apparent conflict. I began to perceive my own insecurity around spirituality (why don’t I get ascended masters?), my own spiritual greed (I want to be “bigger” and “more popular” than Gary) and then – slower yet – I began to perceive that those issues were really just the separation playing itself out in my mind. I believed that I was separate from God, that God was the opposite of Love and played favorites and all of that. And then – because at last I could see the problem clearly – I could begin to see it to its undoing. I haven’t worried about Gary Renard much since.

      This world is a world of separation! That is its purpose! Until we change our minds to think with God – that is, until we begin to realign our thinking with a consitently coherent nondualism – then we are going to experience the illusion of separation and all the anquish and grief that entails. Period.

      For me – as for others – A Course in Miracles has been a useful tool to begin that correction. It’s not the only way. Krishnamurti’s teachings are very consistent with the essence of the course. Sri Aurobindo is consistent with it, and also offers deeply practical ways to change one’s mind, to heal, to become whole. So I don’t think anybody has to stick with ACIM, especially if they feel a strong call to not stick with it.

      On the other hand, as I said, I think some degree of conflict is inevitable and shouldn’t deter us from getting on with the work of healing. I come from a Catholic background and there are amazing human beings in that tradition – Meister Eckhart, Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, Therese of Lisieux. But I could catalogue all night and part of tomorrow the many wrongs and injustices perpetrated by that institution.

      Perhaps what I am saying is that we need to be careful not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good (or, as you put, throw the baby out with the bath water). Look closely at your resistance, at your frustration and disappointment with these course community conflicts. Take time and go deep with them. At some level you will perceive with clarity whether a) you are using the conflicts to avoid the spiritual healing you so deeply long for or b) the Holy Spirit is using the conflicts to urge you on to a different spiritual path that will provide the spiritual healing you so deeply long for.

      Be unafraid and patient and know that it is not possible to make a mistake!

      I hope that’s helpful, Greg. Let me know if you have any questions or concerns.

      ~ Sean

  5. Truth vs intentional deception seems to be at the heart of the the Gary Renard controversy. First, let me say that the Renard’s second book (the only one I have read) helped me to understand the importance of forgiveness. This is exceedingly important, and I have chosen to practice forgiveness in each situation. Life changing to be sure, and I am eternally grateful.

    The problem I encountered with the book is two fold:

    First: Mr. Renard chooses to sexually hit on the female Ascended Master Pursah as if she was an 18 year old hottie in a nightclub, who has had too much to drink and has Daddy issues. This is passed off as humorous and just good fun.

    Second: At the end of the book the Ascendant Masters make several predictions about the future. Since the book has been published, most of the predictions have been an epic fail, with some yet to unfold acceding to a time line. How is it possible for Ascendant Masters to make such incorrect predictions? I know the answer, and everyone else must decide for themselves.

    1. The idea that everyone must decide for themselves is really where it begins and ends, for me, for now. What is helpful? What isn’t? Nobody can do the figuring out for us. Gary Renard – like Robert Perry, like Ken Wapnick, like Marianne Williamson – is simply one of many teachers, neither the first nor the last, neither the best nor the worst. There is nothing to do, and nobody else can do it for us.

  6. I began stydying ACIM in 93 and I am so grateful COA was my introduction to ACIM. I agree. Robert Perry, Watson, Mackie they all have the heart of ACIM in mind seems to me. I am constantly bringing about peace in my mind more & more often while reading the Text and the commentary they provide. I still adore the writings of Wapnick and listen to them as well on YouTube. But COA has helped me break through hidden ego patterns of mine…most I didn’t even know I had. I am so grateful for COA dedication and integrity.????

  7. Thank you for responding in the manner you did on the various “issues” that seemed to appear in regards to all the teaching associated with ACIM (FFIP and COA editions).

    I also appreciated some of the other discussion that followed in the comments section. The ego strives to distract and confuse….. it helped me get back on track with the work at hand.
    Blessings and peace. -Kate

  8. Whenever I have a heavy heart about something Course-related, I seem to be led to one of your posts and find comfort in your perspective. MUCH gratitude to you!! Keep on keeping on, Sean. xo, Patricia

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