[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]
Question: Let me play “devil’s advocate” for a moment. What if it were discovered that Helen Schucman made up the claim that Jesus is the source of ACIM. Would that change your appreciation for the Course? Put another way, do you see the Course’s ultimate value in its claim to authorship (Jesus) or in its message and content?
Answer: Let me just back up and first relate how I see the authorship issue. Clearly, the message is what is important. The message is what is ultimately going to save us, if we put it into practice. That’s why there is comparatively little content about Jesus himself in the Course, and almost all of that is about how he can help us live the Course’s message.
In fact, it’s really only the quality of that message that should make us seriously consider that Jesus in fact wrote the Course. In my mind, the message is of such an unbelievably high quality, like nothing I have ever seen, that it naturally propels my mind in the direction of considering a nonhuman author. I honestly don’t see how a human being, even the most brilliant among us, could have written this.
That makes me willing to consider the Course’s own authorship claim, that it really was written by Jesus. What makes me take this claim even more seriously is the fact that the Course’s message has truly remarkable parallels with the message of the historical Jesus as that is being slowly revealed by two centuries of Jesus scholarship. These parallels are so stunning that one has to wonder how on earth they got there.
For me, these and other considerations have tipped my mind over to actually believing that Jesus wrote A Course in Miracles through a human scribe. What does this do for me? First, it strengthens my confidence in the Course’s message. For it means that I believe that the Course has come from an absolutely reliable authority.
This may sound suspect to contemporary ears, as if I shouldn’t be relying on any outside authorities. But the fact is that we all rely on authorities all the time, and have very good reason to do so. Let’s say that my next door neighbor, who is not a trained physicist, says, “I heard the latest theory coming out of physics which says that dark energy makes up 62% of the universe’s mass. But you know, that can’t be, because there’s just so much light around, especially in the summer.” Do I have any reason whatsoever to believe him? No, of course not. I have far more reason to believe the physicists who gave me the 62% figure (even though they, too, may turn out to be incorrect). And, in fact, if I do believe that figure, it will be because I am relying on their authority. I haven’t made any such measurement myself and wouldn’t have the faintest idea how to do so.
The Course understands that we should rely on authorities who know more than we do. It even calls our resistance to this the authority problem, which it labels “the root of all evil” (T-3.VI.7:3). It then specifically applies the need to rely on authorities to the issue of the Course’s authorship:
No one on earth can grasp what Heaven is, or what its one Creator really means. Yet we have witnesses. It is to them that wisdom should appeal. There have been those whose learning far exceeds what we can learn….Then turn to one [Jesus] who laid all limits by, and went beyond the farthest reach of learning. (M-23.6:1-4, 8)
This passage makes the startling claim that no one on earth can really understand God or Heaven. While on earth, we are still learning, which means we don’t know. Therefore, we should turn to witnesses who have gone beyond the learning process and know God face to face. It then recommends Jesus as the particular witness we should turn to, which is not surprising, given that we are reading this passage in (what claims to be) his book.
The second thing that believing in Jesus as author does for me is that it means that I can appeal to Jesus directly to help me incorporate the Course’s message. The Course assures me that not only did he write it, but that he is still available to help me in a very personal and direct way. And if the Course really came from him, then I can count on this assurance. I can trust that he not only wrote the Course through Helen, but is also available to help me apply it, just as he helped her and Bill apply it. And why wouldn’t I want to avail myself of such help? If I had just started learning how to play guitar, and someone told me I could be helped along by history’s greatest guitarist, why wouldn’t I jump at the chance?
So, in the Course, it’s all about the message, but believing in Jesus as author helps me internalize the message. First, it helps me put my trust in the message. And who can internalize a message he doesn’t trust? And second, it means I can actually appeal to Jesus to guide me in internalizing his message.
What effect would it have on me if I found out that Helen made up the claim that it came from Jesus? It would have a huge effect, and I think rightly so. It would do more than take away Jesus’ authority from the Course. Since the Course itself claims to come from Jesus, it would mean that a lie stood right at the foundation of it. Why would I trust material that told me, for instance, that guilt is the source of all my suffering (a claim that I can’t really verify on my own), when right next to that claim is a lie—that Jesus wrote this? At that point, how much could I really trust anything in the Course?
This discovery wouldn’t completely invalidate the material for me. There would still be the fact that the quality of the wisdom is so high and so powerfully practical in my experience. But it would sully the Course in fundamental ways. And I think it should. It is a myth that we can neatly separate the message from its source. In responding to any message, we are always evaluating how reliable we think the source is. If, for example, we found out that Einstein had said that E = MC5, wouldn’t that shake our confidence in the familiar E = MC2?
Fortunately or unfortunately, we cannot make the issue of the Course’s authorship irrelevant. If Jesus really did write it, it means that the Course carries his authority, and that he is there to help every student in a very personal way. If he didn’t write it, it means that a lie exists at the foundation of the Course, naturally raising the question of how much else in there is a lie.