I often receive emails with questions that highlight common points of confusion we can come across as students of ACIM. Two inter-related themes that come up are in relation to ACIM and Christianity, and the notion that the Course could, or should be, more fruitfully employed to make a positive impact on people and the world.
Perhaps you’ve pondered the same issues: does ACIM fall under the umbrella of Christianity? Should we be using the teachings of ACIM to try to change others or the world for the better? We’ll explore these two questions below and expose why they’re a lot more connected than they may initially seem.
ACIM IS CLOAKED IN THE LANGUAGE OF CHRISTIANITY BUT HAS THE HEART OF A HERETIC
One of the most striking things about ACIM is that it uses Christian terminology liberally and sounds practically biblical in statement. Due in large part to this, it’s very easy to mistake it as an extension, or part of, Christianity. However, ACIM is not a religion or a Christian denomination- never mind a cult (although you probably already know that if you’re reading this). While it is steeped in the language of Christianity, it is simply a spiritual path that is designed to be studied and practiced individually with the help of our internal Teacher. The primary learning material being the text, workbook, teachers’ manual, and supplements that comprise ACIM.
This does not mean you can’t or shouldn’t connect with like-minded others in study groups for example. It’s just that the principal emphasis is on cultivating an inner practice with an inner teacher who represents the Voice for God- the Holy Spirit or Jesus. This is opposed to having an outer spiritual practice that is dependent on cultivating relationships with external places, objects, or like-minded people by necessity. This is a major point of difference between ACIM and Christianity.
ACIM IS AN INNER SPIRITUALITY THAT IS NOT INTENDED TO BE GROUNDED IN THE WORLD
The Course is decidedly an individual inner practice that does not require external engagement with the world beyond your study of the work itself. And loosely speaking, Christian religions generally require participation in special public places of worship (e.g., churches), with special rituals (e.g., baptism), special dates (e.g., Easter), and special holy figures (e.g., priests or pastors) who are tasked with being God’s representatives on earth. None of these factors are necessary, a part of, or relevant to our study of the Course or our ability to live its teachings.
ACIM & CHRISTIANITY USE THE SAME TERMS WITH DIFFERENT MEANINGS
ACIM also re-defines a lot of Christian terms in its own way to support its metaphysical framework. ‘Forgiveness,’ ‘the Son of God,’ and ‘miracles’ are clear cases in point. Its re-definitions of traditionally Christian concepts aren’t slight deviations from the original meanings either; they are often, and deliberately, totally different to those used by Christian religions. And here we begin to get a glimpse into why ACIM might have been written using the language and concepts of Christianity.
MIRACLES AS EXTERNAL, GOD-INDUCED EVENTS IN THE WORLD TO INNER, SELF-CHOSEN CHANGES OF MIND
In a traditionally Christian sense, a miracle for example, refers to acts of God that are observable in the world, defy natural laws, and bear witness to God with the intention of inspiring faith in Him. On the other hand, ACIM redefines a miracle as something that occurs internally, not externally. It is a change in our own perception or interpretation of something in the world, within our mind, that we choose– not a change that God causes in the world.
THE SON OF GOD EXPANDED: FROM ONE INDIVIDUAL IN FORM, TO ALL PEOPLE IN SPIRIT
Similarly, the Son of God according to Christianity refers to Jesus Christ- the divine nature of the historical Jesus. ACIM however, uses the Son of God to refer to all of us equally as Christ, not just Jesus. We are all considered to be the one Son of God in truth. This incidentally means that salvation can be found in all of us. It’s not Jesus per say, who saves us. Rather, the Course emphasizes that we have the power to save ourselves from our own self-induced madness by practicing forgiveness.
This use of the term redefines the Christian meaning of the Son of God beyond its narrow association with form and one particular body. The Son of God is expanded to refer to all of us equally, and not as bodies but spirit. This makes the term inclusive, rather than exclusive to the holiness of one specific, previously embodied person, who alone can save us (i.e., Jesus).
ACIM & CHRISTIANITY SHARE THE SAME FOUNDATIONAL IDEAS WITH OPPOSITE MEANINGS
These points all highlight something incredibly significant about the Course: its key foundational ideas are actually the opposite of those that are the basis of Christianity. Two specific illustrations of this include the fact that the Course teaches that there is no sin, and God did not create the world.
“There is no sin.” (T-26.VII.10:5)
“The world as you perceive it cannot have been created by the Father, for the world is not as you see it. God created only the eternal, and everything you see is perishable. Therefore, there must be another world that you do not see.” (T-11.VII.1:1-3)
ACIM TEACHES THAT THERE IS NO SIN, NO WORLD, YOU MADE UP BOTH (UNBEKNOWNST TO GOD), & IT’S NOT A BIG DEAL
It goes even further by stating that we as the one seemingly separated Son of God, made up the world of form, and God does not know about it because there really was no separation from Him in truth. Everything that appears to exist apart from Him is an illusion or silly dream without reality.
“You are the dreamer of the world of dreams. No other cause it has, nor ever will. Nothing more fearful than an idle dream has terrified God’s Son, and made him think that he has lost his innocence, denied his Father, and made war upon himself.” (T-27.VII.13:1-4)
“God does not know of separation.” (P-2.VII.1:11)
“God knows not form.” (T-30.III.4:5)
“The world you see is an illusion of a world. God did not create it, for what He creates must be eternal as Himself. Yet there is nothing in the world you see that will endure forever.” (C-4.1:1-4)
“The world is an illusion. Those who choose to come to it are seeking for a place where they can be illusions, and avoid their own reality.” (W-155.2:1-2)
CHRISTIANITY TEACHES THAT SIN IS REAL, GOD CREATED THE WORLD, & HE’S INVOLVED IN OUR LIVES, SO IT IS A BIG DEAL
On the other hand, the reality of sin is a core pillar of Christian theology, as is the idea that God created the world and is involved with it and our lives here. The emphasis on sin being real adds a weight of seriousness and fear to the world because it implies that God somehow has something to do with- or at least passively allows- all the awful things that happen here, despite His ability to stop them.
Conversely, the belief that God created the world simultaneously imparts the world with reality, and a sense of sacredness, majesty, and value because it implies that as an extension of God’s creation, the world must also be like God, who is the very epitome of true sanctity, majesty, and value.
THE OUTCOME OF OPPOSITE BELIEFS: FEAR, REVERENCE & ATTACHMENT VS FEARLESSNESS, IRREVERENCE, & DETACHMENT
These ideas certainly do not dismiss the world as an inconsequential and meaningless illusion, as the Course asserts it is. On the contrary, the belief in sin and that God created the world, cannot but inspire a deep attachment to it, as well as a contradictory cocktail of fear and reverence for the world. This is an extension of the fear and reverence we hold for a God we believe both punishes and protects us, by offering us a home and life in which pain, tragedy, and horrors but also pleasure, beauty, joy and the sacred, seem to coexist.
On the other hand, ACIM’s contention that there is no sin and God did not create the world is what establishes that the world is nothing but an illusion, because God is everything. And being nothing, we need not fear or revere the world. Neither do we need to be attached to it as a means to determine our identity and measure our worth.
SALVATION ACCORDING TO CHRISTIANITY IS ATTAINED BY REPENTING YOUR SIN & ACCEPTING JESUS AS ONES SAVIOUR
This divergence between ACIM and Christianity on the question of sin and the reality of the world also leads to their different definitions on what constitutes salvation. Considering Christianity deems both the world and sin to be very real and grave, salvation often entails two general components among prominent Christian denominations.
Firstly, salvation hinges on having faith in God, which is often based in repenting for one’s sins and accepting Jesus as one’s Lord and saviour. And second, doing charitable acts of service in the world as a way of atoning for one’s sins and demonstrating one’s faith. These twin routes usually delineate the Christian path to salvation.
SALVATION ACCORDING TO ACIM IS DEPENDENT ON ACCEPTING YOUR ABILITY TO SAVE YOURSELF WITH JESUS & THE HOLY SPIRIT’S HELP
According to the Course however, Jesus is not portrayed as our saviour nor our Lord. God is our Lord- Creator, Father, Source- and Jesus is described as our equal. In ACIM, Jesus likens his role to that of an older brother who can lead us, and teach us the way home to God simply because he managed to make his way back before us. Having awakened to the truth, he’s simply saner than we are right now.
While Jesus is completely healed and sane, we remain partially insane while we appear to be separate from God, so naturally, we could benefit from his help. Rather than being our personal saviour then, Jesus describes us as our own saviour.
“My salvation comes from me and only from me.” (W-70.7:8)
THERE ARE NO EXTERNAL SAVIOURS: ONLY WE CONDEMNED OURSELVES SO ONLY WE CAN SAVE OURSELVES
As he explains in ACIM, we are the only ones who have condemned ourselves- not God, not the Holy Spirit, not Jesus, not even any of the people who populate our lives here (no matter what they may have done or said). We therefore have the power to save ourselves by forgiving or releasing ourselves from the seeming sin of having separated from God that we falsely accuse ourselves of having committed.
Others are also referred to as our saviours if we choose to view them through our right-minded lens, and use our relationship with everyone for salvation’s purpose by practicing forgiveness. Keep in mind that if we are not the body but the dreamer of the dream, all seemingly separated ‘others’ are really just us. In other words, there are no “real” external saviours- we save ourselves by choosing to forgive everyone and everything without exception. We don’t need to wait on anyone else’s forgiveness but our own. And ideally, nor need we wait. We are free to forgive at any and every point in time.
“As you condemn only yourself, so do you forgive only yourself.” (W-46.1:5)
SALVATION ACCORDING TO ACIM IS ATTAINED BY GIVING UP THE FALSE IDEA OF SIN WE ALREADY SECRETLY ACCEPTED
Moreover, considering ACIM refutes the reality of both sin and the world, its definition of salvation has nothing to do with renouncing sin that we first accept as real, nor doing anything specific in the world to make it a better place. Rather, it is our secret, pre-existing belief in sin we all share, that the Course attempts to bring to our awareness, and urges us to give up and undo, simply because it is not true.
“The purpose of Atonement is to dispel illusions, not to establish them as real and then forgive them.” (T-13.X.6:6)
“Forgiveness is not pity, which but seeks to pardon what it thinks to be the truth. Good cannot be returned for evil, for forgiveness does not first establish sin and then forgive it.” (T-27.II.2:6-7)
“Forgiveness recognizes what you thought your brother did to you has not occurred. It does not pardon sins and make them real. It sees there was no sin. And in that view are all your sins forgiven. What is sin, except a false idea about God’s Son? Forgiveness merely sees its falsity, and therefore lets it go. What then is free to take its place is now the Will of God.” (W-pII.1.1:1-7)
“Forgiveness, on the other hand, is still, and quietly does nothing. It offends no aspect of reality, nor seeks to twist it to appearances it likes. It merely looks, and waits, and judges not.” (W-pII.1.4:1-3)
ACCORDING TO ACIM, YOUR SALVATION LIES IN YOUR FORGIVENESS
“Salvation and forgiveness are the same.” (W-99.1:1)
Salvation in short, is attained through the practice of forgiveness, which systematically heals our mind by progressively erasing our belief in sin (guilt and fear). Given it is our mind that cherishes the belief in sin, it is our mind we have to change.
What this translates to in practice is changing how we think: how we interpret ourselves, others, and everything in the world of form that seems to be our reality. This is what gives way to the internal experience of peace.
“Through your forgiveness does the truth about yourself return to your memory. Therefore, in your forgiveness lies your salvation.” (W-62.1:4-5)
ACIM AND CHRISTIANITY: SAME IDEAS DIFFERENT TEACHINGS
All in all, the theory of ACIM makes one thing clear: ACIM and Christianity are not similar teachings. ACIM uses traditional Christian terms and concepts in a revised fashion that leads to very different conclusions.
*This concludes the first part of the 4-part series titled, “ACIM & Christianity.” Please click on the arrow below to continue reading the second article in this series.