Though the Course’s message certainly is universal, we believe it uses Christian language because its main target audience is a group whom well-known author John Shelby Spong has called “the church alumni association”: people who have a history with Christianity and still find aspects of it attractive, yet who have become disillusioned with traditional Christian teachings and churches. Course scribe Helen Schucman herself, while ethnically Jewish and a self-professed atheist, had a lifelong fascination with Christianity. During her childhood, she explored Catholicism and the Baptist church, and embarked on a “failed” quest for God that actually led to her later profession of atheism. In retrospect, her “militant atheism” seems more like anger at God than actual belief that there is no God.
Therefore, a major task of the Course’s author—who claimed to be Jesus—was to help Helen see God, Jesus, and Christianity in a whole new way. And we at the Circle believe that a major purpose of the Course is to reinterpret Christianity for everyone—to present Jesus’ message once again, stripped of the distortions that have been added to it by Christian tradition, yet retaining the positive aspects and emotional resonance of that tradition. So, in the Course, Jesus uses the old Christian terms, but imbues them with radical new meanings. For instance, the term “hell,” which Christian tradition has used to refer to an abode of eternal damnation for unbelievers, is reinterpreted in the Course to mean our current condition of illusory separation from God. No one is damned, and we can undo the illusory condition of hell simply by changing our minds. By reinterpreting Christian terms, Jesus hopes to heal our wounds associated with those terms and help us to see them in a fresh new way.
For more on this topic, you may want to order Allen Watson’s book: Seeing the Bible Differently: How ‘A Course in Miracles’ Views the Bible.
Q: What are the similarities and differences between the Course and traditional Christianity?
There are both similarities and differences between the two paths. The following lists are not exhaustive, but include some of the more significant examples of each category. (Note: We are certainly aware of the great diversity within the Christian tradition; when we speak of “traditional Christianity,” we are speaking of beliefs that have been widely held by Christians throughout history, even if not held by everyone):
- Both teach that God is love.
- Both see God as a Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
- Both are historical, in the sense that they see time having a definite beginning and end, rather than being a repeating cycle.
- Both teach that some sort of “fall” or separation from God happened, a “fall” which brought about the current condition of our world.
- Both depict God as a loving father eagerly waiting for his prodigal son to return home.
- Both see forgiveness as crucial to salvation.
- Both see Jesus as a central figure.
- Both see the guidance of the Holy Spirit as important.
- Both see the ultimate goal as reunion with God.
- Traditional Christianity says that God created the world. The Course says that the world is a product of the ego, an illusory consequence of the illusory “fall” from awareness of God.
- Traditional Christianity sees Jesus as the unique, “only begotten” Son of God, and the rest of us as, at best, adopted sons. It sees Jesus as a deity to be worshiped. The Course uses the term “Son of God” to refer to all created beings. Jesus is not a deity to be worshiped, but an elder brother, differing from the rest of us only in time, in that he was the first to remember his true Identity as the Christ, an Identity shared by us all.
- Traditional Christianity depicts two powers at war with one another: good and evil, God and the devil. The Course depicts only one power, God, unopposed by any real evil force. The only opposition to God in the Course is the ego, which is an illusion with no real power.
- Traditional Christianity has usually seen hell as a real abode where unbelievers will suffer eternal damnation. The Course sees “hell” as a current state of mind that is caused by our thoughts of self-punishment. The Course teaches that no one is damned; everyone will eventually remember God and return to Him, because in fact no one has ever left Him except in his or her own imagination.
- Traditional Christianity teaches the idea of substitutionary atonement or “vicarious salvation”; that is, the concept that when Jesus died upon the cross, God was punishing him for the sins of all mankind, so that he suffered death in our place in order for us to receive life. The Course directly refutes this idea. It sees sin as unreal, a mistake to be corrected rather than punished, and asserts that salvation has no cost. Atonement is not the price paid for sin, but simply the correction of our error in believing separation from God to be real.