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Why is the Course’s language so difficult?

[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]

CCC member Ken Huggins writes:

My question has to do with the difficulty of the language used in ACIM that make it inaccessible to a large segment of the population. Robert, I know you have written about how it is a work of art, with its metaphors and iambic pentameter. Yet as a retired English teacher who focused on trying to help students write concisely, a lot of the Course bothers me. Jesus’ repeated use of rhetorical questions, a no-no in the mind of most teachers of writing, is puzzling.  He should just make statements, as He often does. There are other problems, reversal of syntax, double negatives, simply not using “that” or other such conjunctions to introduce a subordinate clause. Reading specialists, who can evaluate reading and give a grade level, if asked to evaluate the Course, would probably say that it is beyond grade 12, college or even graduate school level.

Just look at how much of the writing from the Circle is explaining the Course in terms that regular readers can understand.  If Jesus had used such language, much of your writing would be unnecessary.

You are admirably concerned with bringing the Course to others and not letting it get locked up in a Wapnickian fortress.  I just don’t understand why Jesus didn’t make things clearer, writing at a level that the average reader could understand.

Perhaps the question is unanswerable.  In any case, keep up your good work because you really write lucidly and in an entertaining manner.

Greg’s answer:

Thank you very much for your compliments on our work. I can certainly understand your frustration with the Course’s writing style; just about every Course student experiences that at first. Yet the longer I’ve been with the Course, the more I’ve come to realize that there is a method to Jesus’ apparent madness. Robert has an article on the PathMap called “The Course’s Unique Style of Writing,” which offers an in-depth answer to your question. I recommend reading it. (You may also benefit from another PathMap article, “How to Study the Text.”) Here, I will just offer a few brief thoughts.

As you can see from that article, we believe that the Course’s densely interconnected writing style is meant not only to inform the reader but to transform his or her mind. (The rhetorical questions serve this purpose.) Jesus wants to accomplish much more in the pages of the Course than simply present information and teaching. He wants to change our minds on a fundamental level. I think it is at least in part to serve this purpose that he wrote the Course the way he did.

At the Circle, we have come to discover that the Course’s writing is actually crystal clear, even more clear than ordinary writing. However, the Course’s clarity is not immediate clarity: It is a clarity that emerges only with careful reading, done in harmony with the Course’s unique style. (The Circle has materials to help students learn how to read the Course in this way, including the “How to Study the Text” article I referred to above.) When we do read the Course in this way, we find both great clarity and a profound depth of content that I don’t Jesus could have conveyed any other way.

The “depth” part of that last sentence is important, because the assumption behind your question is that Jesus could have conveyed the exact same content (or at least something very close to the same content) in a simpler form. If he could have, why wouldn’t he do that? But I don’t think he could have. Now of course, on the level of individual sentences here and there, one could certainly argue that he might have worded a sentence more clearly. For instance, I think “Hear not this now!” (T-17.V.7:5) would be easier to understand if it said “Do not hear this now!” (though I don’t have any trouble understanding it in its current form). But if Jesus had gone for a more conventional style throughout, there might have been more immediate clarity, but so much deep content and transformative power would have been sacrificed. The Course would be a shadow of what it is now.

I think the Circle’s writings demonstrate this very point. Yes, we are able to convey some Course concepts in a simpler style. But nothing we write holds a candle to the Course itself. Our commentaries don’t come close to conveying the depth and interconnectedness and transformative impact of the work we’re commenting on. If Jesus did manage to simplify the Course to the level that our writings were unnecessary, the result would have been a Course that was essentially no better than our writings. Thank God he didn’t do that!

Of course, a significant downside of this style of writing is, as you say, that it renders the Course “inaccessible to a large segment of the population” (at least at first). But I think Jesus has a remedy for this in the pages of the Course itself. Based especially on the Manual for Teachers, we believe that Jesus didn’t see this path as simply a book you buy at the bookstore and read on your own, but rather as a path given by a teacher to his or her pupil. And one of the teacher’s jobs is to serve as a bridge between the Course’s writing and the pupil – to both share the wisdom gleaned from his or her  years of experience reading the Course, and to help the pupil read the Course more effectively. This, of course, is one of the roles we are trying to fulfill at the Circle. I think that with the bridge good teachers can provide, the Course can become accessible to far more people. And I think Jesus built that bridge right into the Course.

Well, those are my thoughts. I hope they are helpful. Again, I recommend those two PathMap articles if you’d like more on this topic. We also have a number of articles, especially in the Manual > Teacher of Pupils section of the PathMap, on our contention that Jesus meant the Course to be passed from teacher to pupil.