A follow up to Sex and A Course in Miracles
Some folks point out that the urtext manuscripts of A Course in Miracles are more sexually explicit (and, generally, behaviorally explicit) than later versions. This is a just observation, which raises two issues: what edition should we read, and what, in fact, do the early drafts say about sex?
We might summarize those issues this way: what am I missing if I do not give attention to early drafts of A Course in Miracles, especially with regard to sex?
Reading the early material of A Course in Miracles reminds us that Helen Schucman and Bill Thetford were essentially performing a sort of psychotherapy with one another. They were working through their own complicated relationship, the educational and health-related context it which it was enacted, and the various underlying issues that they perceived informed those relationships and contexts.
The material’s spiritual and supernatural overtones were a way of displacing responsibility for this project; it was too scary to face in ordinary dialogue.
I am not critical of this, by the way. I am hardly exempt from projection. It is important to find ways to talk about our living, including the material that is frightening, embarrassing, shameful and so forth. One way to handle psychological vulnerability and risk is to displace it. That is, we pretend that we aren’t talking about our issues with our father, we’re talking about our past life as a slave in Roman war camps. This can be a creative and helpful way to work through material that is otherwise too difficult to face directly. As Emily Dickinson pointed out, there is nothing wrong with coming at our living “slant.”
Relatedly, assigning supernatural origins to our present unhappiness can be an effective way to talk about our unhappiness. I am not writing this material, Jesus is writing it. Or Arten and Pursah are writing it. The risk in doing this is that we may also displace responsibility for healing.
So I am not mocking Helen and Bill for their projection. It was, in its way, deeply creative. And they were smart enough and responsible enough to bring along folks at different stages that vastly improved the material. The rough drafts of their therapy became a model for lots of folks to work through what it means to be an observer. I was helped by their work; possibly you were, too.
However, I think it’s clear why they didn’t want that early material shared publicly. It is very personal – sometimes intimately so – and also makes perfectly clear that the historical Jesus was not involved in any way with the material. On the other hand, a projected Jesus – one jointly constructed by Helen and Bill, significantly based on their experiences with Christian Science as children – was very much involved.
Once one no longer asserts that the historical Jesus authored the text, then the early material become simply rough drafts, and it’s easier to respect Helen and Bill’s intention that the public edition be the one published by the Foundation for Inner Peace.
However, because of the way the early manuscript was shared, copyright for it was lost to the public domain. This was established through nontrivial litigation and opened the door for many versions to emerge, including the urtext material.
What edition should you read? The one that is most helpful. And then get on with it. If you find yourself arguing with folks about whatever edition they’re reading, then you are distracting yourself – and indulging their own self-distraction – from the work A Course in Miracles contemplates which is to become responsible for your own salvation by bringing forth love with your brothers and sisters.
All that said, what the does the urtext material have to say about sex?
Clearly, in the early stages of bringing forth and revising the ACIM material, Helen and Bill conflated sexuality with miracles, and were confused about this conflation.
Sex & miracles are both WAYS OF RELATING. The nature of any interpersonal relationship is limited or defined by what you want it to DO which is WHY you want it in the first place. Relating is a way of achieving an outcome (T 1 B37o).
This represents the course’s suggestion that we shift our focus from external changes to changes in mind. Thus, we can ask with respect to anything, what is it for? If our goal is inner peace – rather than only satiation of bodily appetites – then effective communication remains intact, which in turn makes possible remembering the love which is our “natural inheritance” (In.1:8).
In early drafts, this focus – asking what is [this or that action] for – is subsumed by an emphasis on separating mind from body, and making happiness and inner peace contingent on choosing one (mind) over the other (body).
For example the urtext material suggests that indiscriminate use our sexuality (emphasizing pleasure over communication) “INDUCES rather than straightening out the basic level-confusion which underlies all those who seek happiness with the instruments of the world” (T 1 B 37ae).
Trying to achieve happiness through external means is analogized to being in a desert. One can do anything they want in a desert but they cannot change its fundamental nature. Whatever you do, you can’t turn a desert into a lush oasis. Thus, according to the urtext, “the thing to do with a desert is to LEAVE” (T 1 B 37ae).
This endorses – obliquely because Helen and Bill had not finished thinking the material through – a mind/body duality (or body/soul, a semantic choice the early ACIM material flirted with). The overarching point – sex alone can’t make you happy – is fine, so long as it doesn’t move one in the direction of impossible physical ideals like expecting a chorus of angels to attend every orgasm or, at another extreme, abstaining from sex altogether.
The problem, as such, is never sex per se but rather the meaning and value one assigns to sex, which is what determines – and thus can shift – its purpose. If the goal of sex is to learn to bring forth love, then great. In that sense, sex can be a useful classroom. But if the goal is to celebrate the self and its apparent physical domain, well, that might net short-term bliss but it’s unlikely to facilitate the long-term change of mind the course aims to help us experience.
As I said, Helen and Bill were confused, too. Later, their shared writing project announces its intention to clarify its position on sex because it’s “an area the miracle worker MUST understand” (T 1 B 40b).
Sex was intended as an instrument for physical creation to enable Souls to embark on new chapters in their experience, and thus improve their record . . . The whole process was set up as a learning experience in gaining Grace (T 1 B 40d).
This is a spiritualized interpretation of a very conservative view of human sexuality, one that limits its function to biology.
The only VALID use of sex is procreation. It’s NOT truly pleasureable in itself. “Lead us not into Temptation” means “Do not let us deceive ourselves into believing that we can relate in peace to God or to our brothers with ANYTHING external” (T 1 B 40f).
Thus, masturbation is a sin (or error) because “it involved a related typ of self-delusion: namely, that pleasures WITHOUT relating can exist” (T 1 B 40g).
But this is silly on its face. Masturbation may take place in a solo context (and naturally may be included in consensual shared contexts) but it always involves the other. When we fantasize about someone, we are relating to them. In a nontrivial way, we are present to them and they to us. As the course points out, “there are no private thoughts” (W-pI.19.2:3). On this view, masturbation is a natural and healthy expression of one’s sexual impulse.
The emphasis on procreation also restricts the natural range of sexual pleasure: oral sex, anal sex, cyber sex . . . None of that begets babies. Are we being indiscriminate when we give or receive a blowjob? Masturbate at a distance with the help of a phone?
Privileging the procreative impulse also raises important questions around birth control, the use of which is essential to women’s health, wellness and freedom. Are condoms an error? How about fertility treatments? How does abortion play into this?
The sex impulse IS a miracle impulse when it is in proper focus. One individual sees in aother the right partner for ‘procreating the stock . . . and for their joint establishment of a creative home. This does not involve fantasy at all. If I am asked to participate in the decision, the decision will be a Right one, too (T 1 B 41t).
On this view, the “right” view of sexuality – the one apparently endorsed by Jesus – is to a) perpetuate the species and b) make and live in creative homes and families.
But this is a narrow and heteronormative definition of family. It leaves aside folks who cannot procreate but would like to and folks who can procreate but choose not to. Critically, it also excludes gay folks. Indeed, the material emphasizes that that gay sex is inherently problematic.
. . . homosexuality is INHERENTLY (underlined) more risky (or error prone) than heterosexuality, but both can be undertaken on an equally false basis. The falseness of the basis is clear in the accompanying fantasies. Homosexuality ALWAYS involved misperceptions of the self OR the partner, and generally both (T 1 B 41ay).
So a couple of thoughts on this material.
First, as I pointed out earlier, it is quite conservative, hewing to a fairly traditional view of Christianity and family. While it may have been helpful to Helen and Bill (there are explicit personal references to their sexual fantasies, flirtations and desires in the material), its general applicability is obviously compromised.
Thus, I think there are good reasons it was excluded from later editions of A Course in Miracles that were intended for public consumption. I appreciate Helen and Bill’s desire to maintain a degree of privacy with respect to their own learning, and I think the overall conservative focus on sexuality reflects a judgment with respect to behavior that the overarching tenor of the course utterly rejects.
I asked at the outset of this post what are we missing if we do not read the urtext (or other earlier versions of A Course in Miracles), especially with regard to sex?
I submit a fair and reasonable answer is: not much. The ACIM urtext reflects a narrow, conservative and traditional Christian view of human sexuality, one that is confused about healthy sexual expression and should not be taken either literally or seriously.