What Kind of ACIM Community Do You Want?

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

(This article is in part a response to “My Response to the Latest Absurd Accusations,” by Gary Renard, much of which is rather pointedly directed at me.)

In the end, we get the community we support. In A Course in Miracles, we have a written document of sublime truth, love, and holiness. It’s up to us, however, to surround that document with a human community that, to the best of our ability, reflects its lofty principles.

We need to surround it with love and forgiveness, as well as kindness, respect, and decency. But we also need to surround it with truth. Unless we care about truth, deeply and collectively, then those other values won’t be around, either. Once truth goes out the window, discernment is no longer allowed, and then viciousness gets passed off as kindness, and insanity as sanity, and we have renounced the mechanism for telling the difference.

Caring about truth means that when someone steps forward with a questionable claim, we calmly hold that claim up to scrutiny. We don’t castigate and condemn that person. But we don’t let the claim go unchallenged, either. And when someone who carries immense influence puts out questionable interpretations of the Course, we do the exact same thing. We never go after the person, but we do weigh the evidence, in search of the truth.

It may not be immediately apparent why it is absolutely crucial that we do this. It may even seem like doing this is unspiritual. Yet let’s look at the alternative.

The alternative is to have an unwritten rule that says that anyone can make any claim and put forth any view, and that these must go unchallenged. Direct criticism is the ultimate taboo. No matter how reasoned and neutrally stated the challenge, and no matter how outlandish the claim being challenged, the simple fact of challenging it violates that ultimate taboo. And in the face of that violation, we are forced to abandon our prohibition of direct criticism. Now, vicious smears, personal insults, untruths, and even incitements to physical violence become quite appropriate, all because, of course, direct criticism is always wrong. Truth has gone, and with it have gone all the rest of the values we cherish.

In such a community, we do more than fail to surround the Course with a living community reflective of its principles. We actually leave the canons of civilized society, and descend into chaos. Can you imagine what would happen if our larger society embraced these values? Imagine that a company could make any claim it wanted, and no one was allowed to challenge it. Or that a scientist, politician, or philosopher could put forth any view, and no one could voice disagreement. Would you want to live in the resulting society? At that point, would there be anything that could be called society?

Sadly, I believe that a significant element of our community has embraced these values when it comes to Gary Renard. We have invited into our midst someone with a rather incredible claim. But many of us decided that the truth of that claim didn’t matter, that the most unspiritual thing we could do was evaluate its truthfulness, and that those who did so were the bad guys. What we didn’t realize was that by setting aside the value of truth, we invited into our midst much more than we bargained for.

Since then, we as a community have had to turn one blind eye after another. From the extreme aggressiveness of his response to critics, to private threats sent to ACIM leaders (I’ve received a couple myself), to widely circulated stories of his behavior before and after workshops, Gary has earned the label he recently touted on his website: “The bad boy of spirituality.” No less than four Course leaders, representing three of the main Course organizations, have come forward with public statements about Gary (these include Beverly Hutchinson of Miracle Distribution Center, and myself and Greg Mackie of the Circle of Atonement). This is unheard of in the ACIM community. And many other leaders privately agree with us.

If you hear Gary’s response to this, you will hear that we all acted out of ulterior motives like jealousy. That is the logical fallacy called ad hominem, where you attack the person, rather than answer his argument—the opposite of what I advocated above. While it can sway the undiscerning, it basically signals that you’ve got nothing. Further, it is simply not true that my issue here is some personal grudge toward Gary. A few years ago, I wrote him a warm personal message and told him that if he ever did the courageous thing and came clean, I would support him both publicly and privately. (I won’t quote his response.)

Most recently, a man named Bruce MacDonald has brought to light the fact that the majority of verses in “Pursah’s Gospel of Thomas” are almost exactly the same as a contemporary translation of Thomas from Stephen Patterson and Marvin Meyer. (This actually is very similar to the borrowing from Ken Wapnick that I documented in 2006.) This is a weighty issue, one that will almost certainly have real-world repercussions. Gary is in a very difficult position. Not only is it a legal issue, but it also makes believing in his masters incredibly difficult, since it was one of those masters that supposedly gave forth this “original” version of Thomas.

One might think that Gary would do his utmost to sincerely explain this disturbing evidence. His response, however, is in character. It is a lengthy exercise in overt character assassination. Strangely, this is mostly directed a full two steps away from the evidence—specifically, at me—for asking MacDonald to summarize his evidence in an article and then providing a link to that article on my website. I’m not quite sure how disparaging me explains away the evidence. Clearly, Gary would like you to believe that the evidence is not the issue here.
His rhetoric is uncorked, with statements like, “He’s an emotional cripple.” This rhetoric reaches a new low when, after speaking of “the bond that exist [sic] between my readers and I [sic],” he says, “the only thing that would stop [Perry] from trying to attack me would be if someone drove a wooden stake through his heart.” One can only hope that his bond with his readers isn’t such that one of them will decide to become that “someone.” I realize it’s just a dumb vampire joke, but the danger with such careless and excessive rhetoric is that some disturbed person could act on it. How have we gotten to this place as a community?

As we know from the Course, such language is not a sin, but as many have pointed out to me, it certainly is a call for help. And if Gary did reach out for that help, I am sure he would have many, many loving friends and supporters who would offer it.

Only after lengthy fireworks, at the very end of his piece, does he offer a brief explanation for the word-for-word similarity between his version of Thomas and the Patterson/Meyer translation. He quotes a friend who says, “Most translations of any document into any language are going to be similar in contents, and even in form.” And then he gives this example: “If one person translated a phrase from the Coptic language into English and it came out, ‘Mary had a little lamb,’ and someone else translated the same phrase from the Coptic language into English and it came out, ‘Mary had a little lamb,’ is the second translator a plagiarist? Does anybody really believe that? They’re the same phrase! Dah!”

Despite Gary’s dismissive attitude, this, of course, is simply not how it works, as anyone who owns different translations of the Bible knows. To see this, all you need do is set different translations of Thomas side by side. Here are three prominent translations of Saying 92:2. Please take a minute and compare them very carefully:

Patterson/Meyer (1992) – In the past, however, I did not tell you the things about which you asked me then. Now I am willing to tell them, but you are not seeking them.

Lambdin (1988) – Yet, what you asked me about in former times and which I did not tell you then, now I do desire to tell, but you do not inquire after it.

Blatz-NTA (1991) –  …but the things you asked me in those days and I did not tell you then, now I desire to tell them, but you do not ask about them.

All three translations are presumably accurate, yet they are markedly different. It’s not just the wording that is different, it is also the ordering (in the first, the reference to the past is at the start; in the others, it comes later), and the punctuation (one translation is two sentences, the others are one). Given that, how do we explain the fact that “Pursah’s” version of this saying is exactly the same as Patterson/Meyer? Below is Saying 92:2 from Your Immortal Reality. Compare it carefully with the left column in the above table:

In the past, however, I did not tell you the things about which you asked me then. Now I am willing to tell them, but you are not seeking them. (Your Immortal Reality, p. 169)

Recently, I mentioned to a leading New Testament scholar the correspondences between Gary’s version and the Patterson/Meyer version, and the first thing he said was, “But the Patterson/Meyer translation is so distinctive.”
Make no mistake—the evidence of plagiarism is the issue here. The fact that Gary focuses mainly on character assassination and leaves for the end a weak treatment of the real issue tells you everything you need to know.
I don’t mind Gary’s schoolyard insults. However, I do want to set straight certain stories presented as fact. In the original version of his piece, he told stories about shaking my hand and me refusing to speak to him (to my knowledge, we’ve never actually met), about me sending someone into his discussion group to ask him if he’s deluded, and about me whining “like a baby” to someone connected with the publication of DU, saying, “How could you do this to me? How could you do this to me?” I had no idea where he was getting these stories. The leader of a prominent ACIM organization helped fill in the gap with the second story. He e-mailed Gary and said (the following paragraphs are from different e-mails),

I was the Course teacher who came to your meeting in Salt Lake City and asked you whether it was possible you might be delusional regarding Arten and Pursah. I want to put on record that I was not put up to asking the question by Robert Perry, or anyone else. And I would be grateful if you would issue a correction and not repeat the story again, as it’s just not true.

Please, therefore, send out a correction to that list [the list Gary’s article was initially sent to]. I’m happy for you to quote me. And I think an apology to Robert Perry would be appropriate, now that you know the facts.

Gary has written to say he will in fact remove that particular story from the online version (no word about sending out a correction to his e-mail list; my comments here will have to serve as that correction). Tellingly, he said that he had believed the story to be true based not on physical evidence, but on “Guidance.” He adds that this same Guidance tells him to stand by the rest of the article.

The point of Gary’s stories is to prove how spitefully I am willing to treat him. All I can say is that in place of stories that are at best questionable (I certainly have no memory of the first and third, and the second, as we saw, didn’t happen), I have a record of all of my e-mail correspondence with him over the last six years, and I would happily make every word of it public. The decency with which he has been treated by me is there for anyone to see.

One story Gary relates, however, has some truth to it. He speaks of an international ACIM conference in San Francisco and says, “Robert called people connected with the Conference and threatened to boycott the Conference if I was allowed to talk!” Actually, something like this did happen. It wasn’t about Gary not being able to talk, it was about him addressing the entire audience, and it wasn’t me alone. When you have a community-wide gathering, and only a few big names are allowed to address the entire audience, that says something about those few. It’s a powerful implied endorsement of them. And in Gary’s case, I don’t think it’s right to give that kind of endorsement. Therefore, I, along with two other speakers, indicated we would not come if he addressed the entire audience. However, it was eventually agreed that the audience would be informed that the primary speakers were chosen strictly on the basis of who sold more tickets, and with that understanding I did end up coming.

I firmly believe in the rightness of the stand I took. I want to be in a community that stands for truth, and I’m willing to act accordingly. If it costs me personally, that’s fine. That is the only way you get the community you want. The question is not why I and the other two speakers took that stand, but why a similar stance hasn’t become the response of our community.

And now let me ask you: If you have read Gary’s piece, are you comfortable with that kind of rhetoric coming from one of the most high-profile representatives of A Course in Miracles? Are you comfortable with the specter of plagiarism, and with this “shoot the messenger” response to compelling evidence of plagiarism? Perhaps you are tempted to say, “Well, I think his rhetoric is over the top, but then you attacked him, too. So you’ve both done the same thing.”

Don’t you realize that that way lies madness? If simply providing neutrally toned evidence of falsehood is viewed as inherently an attack, and even seen as being on a par with vitriolic character assassination, don’t you see where that will lead us as a community? At that point, truth has become a crime, and in its place we welcome all manner of falsehood. And we become a laughingstock to the rest of the world, which understands that truth matters. When The Smoking Gun website exposed the fiction in James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces, and when journalist Gabriel Sherman exposed the fiction in Herman Rosenblat’s Angel at the Fence, they were viewed, correctly, as having performed a valued service. As far as I know, no one said “How dare you expose him!” Can you imagine a society in which, once those investigators put forth their evidence, they became the villains? In which the truth of their case didn’t matter, only the crime of presenting it?

Perhaps you still might think that such whistleblowers should hold their tongues, for the sake of peace and harmony. But, as I said, once the standard of truth goes, the rest of our higher values go with it, peace and harmony included. We make a devil’s bargain, in which we are forced to accept ever more compromises of the principles we hold dear. Truth is the levee that keeps the floodwaters of insanity at bay. When that levee breaks, you have no control over what comes rushing in. For an example of this we need look no further than the case at hand.

I envision an ACIM community in which truth really does matter. In this community, if people come peddling falsehood or spouting poison, we don’t judge their worth and innocence as Sons of God. We treat them kindly and respectfully, in conscious acknowledgment of their true nature. But we also evaluate their claims and their behavior. We have to. And then, as with any salesman selling something we don’t want, we politely say no thanks. There needn’t be any malice, but there must be discernment. And if these people do ask for help, there will be an abundance of caring friends at their disposal. Such a community would stand for kindness and sanity. Who of us wouldn’t love to be part of a community like that?

What kind of ACIM community do you want? Whichever you want, you will vote with your feet. You will shape this community with where you put your support. In the end, it’s in your hands.