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Above the Battleground; Applying the Course to the War in Iraq

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

This article was originally written and posted onto the Circle’s website the week the war in Iraq began. The “Addendum” part that follows the main article was written for A Better Way – Summer 2003.

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Along with many people around the world, we at the Circle have been saddened by the recent beginning of the U.S.-led war against Iraq. As Course students who are committed to a path of peace, what can we do to deal with this situation? How can we respond to this war in a way that is in harmony with our spiritual path?

In a nutshell, the Course would have us respond to the current war the same way it would have us respond to any situation in our lives: with forgiveness. We are called to forgive Saddam Hussein, George W. Bush, and anyone or anything in this situation that arouses thoughts of anger and attack in us. Our model for forgiveness is Jesus himself, who forgave without limit, even to the point of forgiving those who crucified him. Of course, forgiveness can be challenging, especially in situations that arouse strong emotions in us. Forgiveness is usually a gradual process that takes real effort and deep commitment. Fortunately, though, we have a course that offers countless practices to help us forgive. For starters, I recommend six lessons in the Workbook that are especially designed to help us forgive specific people: Lessons 46, 68, 78, 121, 134, and 161.

Forgiveness entails looking upon all of the conflict in our world from a higher vantage point: a place above the battleground. With the Holy Spirit’s help, we can look upon the Iraq war with Christ’s vision. From our perspective, the war feels deeply, tragically real, but from His perspective, “God did not create that war, and so it is not real” (W-pI.14.4:5). Its unreality means that no matter how horrible the carnage may seem to be, the true Self of everyone involved is totally unharmed. Everyone is thus perfectly innocent in truth; seeing this in a deep way is forgiveness.

If the war is not real and we should forgive everyone involved, does it follow that we as Course students should do nothing to speak out against the war and the decisions that have brought it about? I have heard some Course students speak less than charitably of the peace activists who sought through political action to prevent the war (and are still seeking to end it).Some claim that such activism does more harm than good, because all it does is make the error real. Is this true? Does the Course’s way forbid us to act? Does it call us to refrain from standing up actively and publicly for peace?

I don’t think so. Yes, the Course tells us the world is an illusion, but it also calls us to be bringers of healing within the illusion. The pain of this illusion feels terribly real, however unreal it may be in truth, and so the Course implores us to bring the light of God’s Love to all who suffer. This is how the illusion and all the pain that comes with it are undone. I believe the Course intends to produce people who are positive, active catalysts for peace and love in this world—true miracle workers. Our miracle working can take many forms, and one form for some of us may be taking a strong public stand for peace. Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. were miracle workers of this sort, as are Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Jimmy Carter. They and others like them have demonstrated time and again that the fruit of true forgiveness is not inaction, but compassionate action grounded in love for all beings.

I myself have felt called to stand up publicly for peace in my own small way, and so I have participated in several peace marches. (I carried a sign that said, “Forgiveness sets us free,” which I hope had some effect on those carrying the more virulent anti-Bush signs.) Of course, others may be called to express peace in different ways—the Holy Spirit is our guide in this. The key is that whatever we feel called to do, our action must flow from that place in us above the battleground, that place of eternal love and peace that is our true nature. As Gandhi said, “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.”

In that spirit, I would like to present a visualization by Robert Perry, which he created for his workshop on ACIM conflict resolution. This visualization was designed to be applied to a situation in which you are having a conflict with another person. For that reason, some of the lines only make sense in a situation in which you have had an actual interaction with the other person. However, this visualization can easily be adapted to apply to Saddam Hussein, George W. Bush, or anyone involved with the war who arouses thoughts of anger and unforgiveness in you. Please feel free to change the wording as needed.

I hope you will find this visualization helpful in your efforts to look upon the Iraq war from a Course perspective. May we all find the peace of God above the battleground, and extend it to all of our brothers and sisters who are suffering in our war-torn world.

Rising Above the Battleground – A visualization based on T-23.IV

Call to mind your conflict and watch your behavior in this situation.
See how reasonable you have been,
or at least how justified and necessary your harshness has been.
You had good reasons for everything you did, no matter what it was.
You really had no choice.

You’ve tried to be considerate of the other person.
You’ve refrained from striking back so many times.
You’ve held your tongue.
You’ve tried so hard to be good.

Now be willing to consider that beneath this considerate and reasonable facade
there has been attack in your mind, in your unloving perception of the other person,
in your drive to get your needs met even if it meant sacrifice for them.
Most of the time you probably don’t even notice this attack,
yet its signs were there.
Do you recall feeling any of the following things:
“a stab of pain,
a twinge of guilt,
and above all, a loss of peace”? (6:3).

These are the signs that your justified exterior was concealing the intent of murder.
The Course says, “What is not love is murder.
What is not loving must be an attack” (1:10-11).
These are the signs that you have been on the battleground.
Can you see yourself on the battleground?
Maybe you’ve been on the offensive.
Maybe you’ve been hiding in your trench.
Perhaps you’ve been trying to lure the enemy into an ambush.
Perhaps you’ve been waving a white flag while you held a gun behind your back.
One thing is for sure: you’ve been going after the spoils of war.
What exactly have you been trying to win on this battleground?

Now ask yourself:
“Can it be anything that offers me a perfect calmness,
and a sense of love so deep and quiet that no touch of doubt can ever mar my certainty?
And that will last forever?” (adapted from 8:8-9).

These blessings can only be found above the battleground.
“When the temptation to attack arises to make your mind darkened and murderous,
remember you can see the battle from above” (6:1).

“This is your part; to realize that murder in any form is not your will.
The overlooking of the battleground is now your purpose” (4:6-7).

“Be lifted up, and from a higher place look down upon it” (5:1).
Imagine yourself rising up—physically,
but also mentally and emotionally.
“From there will your perspective be quite different” (5:2).
From this higher perspective, you see the battle as inconsequential and trivial.
Its forms are small, its sounds remote.
“The senselessness of conquest is quite apparent
from the quiet sphere above the battleground” (9:5).
In this quiet sphere you realize that this battle cannot touch you,
that your brother’s body and personality cannot harm you in any way.
In this quiet sphere you realize that the battle is not real,
and easily escaped.
And in this place you say to yourself:
I choose a miracle instead of murder” (adapted from 6:5).

This quiet sphere is more than just an absence of battle,
it is a place of peace.
Repeat these words to yourself:
In this place I want for nothing.
Sorrow of any kind is inconceivable.
Only the light I love is in awareness,
and only love shines upon me forever.
It is my past, my present, and my future;
always the same, eternally complete, and wholly shared.
I know it is impossible my happiness could ever suffer change of any kind” (adapted from 8:2-7).

Do you feel tempted to return to the battleground,
because you still think there is something you can win there?
If so, ask yourself again,
Can it be anything that offers me a perfect calmness,
and a sense of love so deep and quiet that no touch of doubt can ever mar my certainty?
And that will last forever?”

And so repeat, “I choose to remain above the battleground.
And God Himself and all the lights of Heaven will gently lean to me, and hold me up.
I choose a miracle instead of murder” (adapted from 6:5-6).

ADDENDUM: TO MARCH OR NOT TO MARCH?

A number of people responded to the Iraq war article when it was posted onto the Circle’s website. The responses varied, but one thing that seemed to strike a nerve was my decision to participate in peace marches. Several people objected to that because they felt it was contrary to the Course. Since the question of what to do in response to world events like the Iraq war is one that many Course students ponder, I would like to briefly respond to those objections.

The objections seemed to center around the issue of judgment. One person asked, “Is it possible to take up any cause, even the cause of peace, without casting judgment for the one[person] and against the other?” Another said, “As soon as you march for peace, you say that someone is right and someone is wrong. Now we are stuck in the world.” The basic idea behind the objections was that we should not participate in peace marches, because whenever we take a stand in the world for or against anything, we are automatically passing judgment on other people, and thus making the error of separation real (for more about the idea of making the error real, see my article elsewhere in this newsletter, entitled “Helping Others in the World Makes the Error Real: Does the Course Really Say This?”).

However, I do not believe this is the Course’s view. When the Course asks us to give up judgment, it does not mean that we should give up judgment in the sense of making decisions about things, including decisions about what we are for or against. As the Song of Prayer supplement says, “There are decisions to make here, and they must be made whether they be illusions or not” (S-1.I.2:4). Instead, the Course asks us to give up our own judgment, and let the Holy Spirit judge through us. It is His job to tell us what to think, say, and do, and so we are to leave all of our decisions to Him. If we let the Holy Spirit judge through us, then all of our decisions—even if they involve the form of expressing disagreement with the ideas and actions of other people—will express the content of healing, not separation.

Indeed, it is literally impossible not to take a stand in this world. Everything we think, say, or do asserts—explicitly or implicitly—that some idea is right, and the opposite idea is wrong. If I choose to eat Cheerios instead of Corn Flakes for breakfast, I am saying that eating Cheerios is right and eating Corn Flakes is wrong, at least for me at that particular time. Those who wrote to object to my participation in peace marches were themselves implicitly saying that not participating in peace marches is right and participating in peace marches is wrong. Taking stands is simply unavoidable, but fortunately, there is no need to avoid it. From the Course’s perspective, the key issue isn’t whether or not we take stands, but whether or not those stands are motivated by true love and guided by the Holy Spirit. If they are, then they are stands the Course wants us to take.

For a good example of someone taking a firm stand in a truly loving way, we need look no further than Jesus himself, our “model for decision” (T-5.II.9:6). He seems to have no qualms about declaring that some ideas are right and others wrong. In his earthly life, he confronted the rich and powerful of his time, to the point that they crucified him. In the Course, he expresses strong disagreement with traditional Christianity, conventional psychotherapy, and all sorts of other things, including the idea of war. He unabashedly tells us numerous times that we are wrong. There’s nothing wishy-washy about him.

Given Jesus’ own example, I think it is clearly possible to take up a cause, express disagreement, or take a stand for something without passing judgment on other people. Disagreeing with another person’s ideas or actions does not require us to condemn that person as a guilty sinner. We can take a stand with love, just as Jesus has done. If it is really true that the Course forbids us from doing this, I think we have to admit that the author of the Course does not practice what he preaches.

With this in mind, I’d like to share a little about my own stand for peace. While I have no way of knowing for certain if my decision to attend some peace marches has truly been guided by the Holy Spirit, I suspect that it has been. This has come as a surprise to me, because I have never been much of a political activist. The fact that this runs so counter to my normal personal inclinations is one reason I suspect that the guidance I’ve gotten is the real thing.

I’ve attended these marches because I believe that George W. Bush’s doctrine of pre-emptive war is wrong, and I feel called to express that view publicly, especially in apolitical climate where dissent is branded as unpatriotic. But I am first and foremost a Course student, and so my aim has been to bring my Course perspective to this endeavor as much as possible. So, during these marches, I’ve been doing Course practices, asking for the Holy Spirit’s guidance about what to say and do, and trying my best to have truly holy encounters with everyone involved in the marches. This desire to bring my Course perspective with me is also the motivation for the sign I’ve carried, which reads, “Forgiveness sets us free.” In making this sign, I wanted to express succinctly the Course’s way to true peace.

The results of this have been interesting and rewarding. People have looked at my sign and done a doubletake, as if surprised by it. It certainly has stood out among the many angry anti-Bush signs. (I must say, though, that I’ve seen plenty of more positive signs as well, from “Love your neighbor” to “Blessed are the peacemakers” to “Hate is only overcome by love.” The Quakers, Catholic nuns, and Buddhists at the marches have been a welcome counterpoint to the angry revolutionary types.) My sign has led to conversations about forgiveness. People have told me how hard it has been for them to forgive President Bush and company, but that they know they need to do it. I remember in particular an encounter with a woman named Sally. She asked to see my sign as we were marching, and when she saw it, she told me that she hated Bush and wasn’t willing to forgive him. But she wanted to talk, and so we talked for a while about what forgiveness is, and how important it is to forgive if we want to find real peace. As our conversation went on, she became more and more willing to give forgiveness a try, and so I shared with her a few of the techniques I use. It was a wonderful encounter—a holy encounter, it seemed to me—and based on her positive response, I really felt like I helped her to some degree. That encounter alone made going to that march worth it.

There are, of course, many ways to stand up for peace. Peace marches aren’t for everyone. I’m not even sure myself how many more I will attend (of course, with the war over, there probably won’t be any more for a while). What I do from here on out is up to the Holy Spirit. But the main point I want to make here is this: As Course students, we need not shy away from speaking out for what we believe in. In my opinion, there is nothing in the Course that tells us not to do this. On the contrary, if our speaking out is indeed a calling from the Holy Spirit, we must follow that calling if we want to fulfill our part in God’s plan for salvation. Let’s be willing to answer the Holy Spirit’s call, whatever it may be. Let’s be willing to “take [our] rightful place among the saviors of the world” (W-pI.65.2:1).