What is our problem with honesty?

I’ve written a couple of brief pieces about honesty in A Course in Miracles (“Does the Course Tell Us to Be Honest” and “Honesty“). In this post, I’d like to be more honest about why I wrote them.

Although the Course mentions self-honesty many times, it only devotes two paragraphs to the issue of being honest to others. These are found in the Manual, in M-4.II. Given the brevity of this discussion, it is striking how often, going back many years, I have heard Course students refer to it.

What is more striking is the near-unanimity of the comments I’ve heard. Almost everyone acknowledges, “The Course does talk about honesty, but it’s not talking about the usual ‘tell the truth’ sort of honesty. It’s talking about a different kind of honesty.”

What is even more striking is how obviously false this is. The Course actually says the exact opposite of this. Here is what it says,

Honesty does not apply only to what you say. The term actually means consistency. There is nothing you say that contradicts what you think or do; no thought opposes any other thought; no act belies your word; and no word lacks agreement with another. (M-4.II.1:4-6)

First, it says that honesty does not apply “only” to what you say. We all know enough English to realize this means that honesty applies to what you say and more. Then this “more” is described in four ways:

  1. Nothing you say contradicts what you think or do.
  2. No thought opposes any other thought.
  3. No act goes against your word (presumably, your promise—what you said you’d do).
  4. Nothing you say goes against anything else you said.

Question: How many of these four explicitly mention what you say (or “your word”)? Answer: 3 out of 4. What else would we expect? These four items are an expansion of the idea that honesty applies to what you say and more. So of course they would mention, well, what you say and more. Which is exactly what they so obviously do.

Now, all it takes is a rudimentary grasp of English to spot this at once. So why have I heard so many Course students volunteer, unprompted, the exact opposite of what is being so plainly said here?

We can only assume that this passage on honesty strikes a nerve. Where is that nerve coming from? When we interpret the Course as primarily about finding inner peace through realizing the illusory nature of the world, then we are very likely to class ethical rules as part of the illusory nature of the world. At that point, ethical constraints (like being honest) appear to be part of what gets in the way of our peace, part of what we need to shake free from, through realizing their illusory nature.

If you take a minute and start thinking this through, it gets pretty scary. I once had a Course student tell me, “I was filling out a job application this morning and where it asked if I had a college degree, it felt right to say I had one, even though I don’t. So I put one in. I don’t see anything in the Course that tells us we have to be honest.” We could imagine stretching this example to even more extreme situations.

The result is a monster Course, where we all aspire to become peaceful sociopaths, not caring who we run over, since that would compromise our peace. Is that the path we want? Is that the Course as it is?

I think the Course is the polar opposite of this. Rather than finding peace through getting free of ethical constraints, it wants us to find peace through an incredibly lofty ethical stance. To see what I mean, let’s go back to the description of honesty. Please read over those four numbered points again, imagining that you actually possess that kind of honesty. It’s really a sort of ultra-honesty, a kind of perfect integrity, isn’t it? Significantly, right after setting the ethical bar that remarkably high, the Course says this:

The peace of mind which the advanced teachers of God experience is largely due to their perfect honesty. (M-4.II.2:1)

There we have it. Not peace through casting aside ethical constraints, but rather peace through rising up to being perfectly ethical. Now that is real peace. And that, I believe, is where the Course is really leading us.


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

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