We’ve been exploring some of the key differences between ACIM and Christianity that make them distinct, not equivalent teachings. Now we turn to the perennial question that confronts those who find solace in any spiritual or religious path: should we use the teaching we’ve benefited so much from, to change the world or others for the better?
To recap, in part one, we looked at the Course’s propensity to freely use but change the traditional meaning of Christian terms, and use but outright reject core Christian concepts. In part two we explored how these differences lead to very different views of what constitutes salvation, as well as the two ego errors that we might be making in our own relationship to Christianity.
In this third part, we’ll be coming back to the concept of salvation and how ACIM and Christianity’s divergent definitions of it result in very different ideas about what and where change needs to take place to accomplish spiritual salvation. We’ll specifically be addressing what each says about whether we should use our spiritual path to change the world and others, and why.
WANTING TO HELP OTHERS & CHANGE THE WORLD MAKES SENSE, HOWEVER…!
To circle back to the question of salvation then, you may have found that it can be very easy to get excited by the teachings of ACIM. This is especially so when you first start noticing that practicing it really does help you feel better. It’s usually at that point that it might occur to you that if it’s helped relieve your own suffering so much, ACIM could be used to help other people too, and also change the world for the better.
However, a word of forewarning before you jump at the idea of proselytizing for the Course under the assumption that its intention is to affect positive change in other people or the world at large. It’s true that ACIM can positively transform people by changing the way they think and feel. It’s the inevitable outcome of diligently doing the work of applying its teachings to your own life.
THE AIM OF ACIM: TO CHANGE YOUR MIND
Nevertheless, its crucial to understand that its aim is not to change anyone else or the world. Its aim is to change you. To be precise, its explicit aim is to help us change our own mind about the world, rather than try to change the world itself. That is, to get you– yes, just you alone, student of ACIM wherever you are- to change your mind.
Why? Because its core metaphysical teaching is that there is no world and there is no one else out there. To change our mind about the world essentially means to change the purpose for which we use the world and everything in it. This changes our perception (meaning interpretation) of what we see here, not necessarily what we do in the world.
WE NEED DO NOTHING TO EARN SALVATION AS A BODY
The Course’s emphatic insistence that we “need do nothing” speaks to this difference between the Christian and ACIM perspective on salvation. According to the Course, we need do nothing in the world as a body in order to attain salvation; to be cleansed of sin. We already are sinless.
We do however, need to “do” something different as the decision-making part of the split mind. And that something is to make another decision: to decide against our wrong-minded belief in sin. Jesus tells us that on this level, we only have two options that we as a mind can “act” on: we can choose the ego or choose the Holy Spirit. The Course makes clear that this is the one remaining choice we have as prisoners of this world.
The power of decision is your one remaining freedom as a prisoner of this world. You can decide to see it right (i.e., recognize there is no sin). (T-12.VII.9:1-2. Italics mine)
WE NEED TO CHOOSE TO ACCEPT SALVATION AS A MIND
On the level of the mind, we are the part that decides between truth and illusions, between the Holy Spirit and the ego’s belief system. The fact that we even find ourselves in a body demonstrates that on that level, we have already chosen, and continue to mindlessly choose, the ego as our inner teacher.
Now we are asked to become aware that we’ve already made that faulty choice; recognize the pain and suffering this choice results in; and decide once again whether we want to keep making the same error, or make a better choice to correct it by switching teachers. To dump the ego for Jesus and/or the Holy Spirit, and notice that this new choice results in a different outcome: peace and joy.
JESUS DOESN’T WANT TO TRAIN YOUR BEHAVIOR; HE WANTS TO TRAIN YOUR MIND
Absolutely nothing is said about the correct way to live or act in the world of form- not what or whether we should study, how we should earn money, where we should live, what we should eat, whether we should stay or leave relationships etc. Again, this is because Jesus is teaching us that we are not the body but the mind.
He tells us ACIM is a course in mind-training, not body-based behavioral training. As such, the entire teaching is dedicated to helping us learn the correct- right-minded and sane- way of viewing ourselves, others, and the world. This right-minded (or true) perception, is the by-product of learning that we are the mind, and deciding to choose the Holy Spirit and undo the ego.
This is a course in mind training. (T-1.VII.4:1. Italics mine)
CHRISTIANITY TEACHES SACRIFICE CAN PROVE WE DESERVE SALVATION
This approach is in stark contrast to Christianity’s version of salvation that emphasizes doing “good” in the world through acts of charity, helping others, and saving others by converting them to the same faith. Traditionally, it has promoted the value of suffering and sacrifice as the path to atonement. And in a more contemporary sense, the focus is on engaging in altruistic behavior.
Nevertheless, Christianity’s message is that we need to do things in the world to earn salvation through deeds that entail “honorable” sacrifices. The idea is that we can be saved from our sinfulness by proving how virtuous we are; how deserving we are of salvation.
ACIM & CHRISTIANITY START WITH DIFFERENT PREMISES & END WITH DIFFERENT CONCLUSIONS
The basis for this approach to salvation is rooted in the fact that Christian theology and the Course both start with different foundational premises about who we are. ACIM begins with the assertion that we are not the body but the mind, and God did not create the world. We made it up as a way to hide from God, conceal our belief in our sinfulness, and to preserve our dream of separation and wish for specialness. Christianity, however, validates our embodied identity by claiming that God created it and the world, therefore making what we do here very important.
Considering these opposing definitions of who we are, the Course concludes that salvation can only be found by making a different choice in the mind. Christianity however, can’t help but conclude that we can achieve salvation through different behavior as bodies in the world.
TRYING TO CHANGE OTHERS & THE WORLD PRESUPPOSES THAT WE PERCEIVE THEIR BEST INTERESTS
It’s also important to underscore that the Christian approach to salvation, which champions helping others and changing the world for the better, presupposes that we know what is in other people’s best interests. ACIM takes the contrary view. One of its core lessons is that we don’t know what is in our own best interests, let alone that of others. As Jesus explains in the Course, we have such a limited frame of reference as individuals that it’s impossible to know what anyone’s best interests truly are in the grand scheme of things.
The real issue though is that we have a split mind. Given half of it is dedicated to the ego’s insane thought system of separation, our perception isn’t exactly reliable. It’s tainted and distorted by our wrong-minded drive to meet our ego needs at any cost. We don’t know our own best interests because we don’t know who we really are, and our right-minded thought system that remembers the truth, has been completely obscured by our choice for the ego.
I do not perceive my own best interests. How could I recognize my own best interests when I do not know who I am? What I think are my best interests would merely bind me closer to the world of illusions. I am willing to follow the Guide God has given me to find out what my own best interests are, recognizing that I cannot perceive them by myself. (W-55.4:1-4)
BE AWARE THAT THE EGO LIKES TO MASQUERADE AS THE HOLY SPIRIT
Even as we begin doing the work of actively and willingly returning our awareness to the Holy Spirit, our ego’s intrusions in the process will remain a constant temptation until we manage to heal our mind completely. Our ego is adept at deviously masquerading as the Holy Spirit in an attempt to deceive us into thinking it’s the Holy Spirit’s guidance we’re following. It’s common to be unable to tell the difference between the two at times- often when we need to make an important life choice- as we flip between both our right and wrong-minded perception.
This is why Jesus cautions us in the Course by telling us our good intentions alone are not enough. Our good intentions can seem helpful and kind at face value. Yet beneath the surface, they may secretly be self-serving and misguided- that is, ego-motivated. The dark history of religion, including Christianity’s, provides numerous illustrations of how what one believes to be well-intentioned at the time, may actually be incredibly harmful and self-interested.
Trust not your good intentions. They are not enough. But trust implicitly your willingness, whatever else may enter. Concentrate only on this, and be not disturbed that shadows surround it. That is why you came. If you could come without them you would not need the holy instant. (T-18.IV.2:1-6)
GOOD INTENTIONS CAN BE EGO-CORRUPTED SO FOCUS ON THE PURPOSE BENEATH THE SURFACE
As high-minded as the intention to help others can be, it’s something that can be done with the ego’s harmful “blessing” or the Holy Spirit’s healing blessing. Given how cunning the ego is, it can be hard to really know which inner teacher’s agenda you’re serving. This is why the Course is not concerned with form or observable actions- what our intentions may look like on the surface and whether our behavior is correct, right, or moral.
This isn’t to say that He wants us to behave inappropriately, or in destructive and hurtful ways. The point is that Jesus wants us to focus on content- what we think and feel, and the purpose we are serving beneath the surface. That is, what thought system we choose to adopt and reinforce on the level of the mind.
The question he wants us to ask of everything is what is it for on the level of the mind? Are we using this situation, issue, or relationship to serve my ego’s purpose of keeping me mindless, guilty, separate, and in fear? Or am I using this situation, issue or relationship to serve the Holy Spirit’s right-minded purpose of reminding me I’m the mind, sinless, one with God, and there is nothing to fear?
In any situation in which you are uncertain, the first thing to consider, very simply, is “What do I want to come of this? What is it for?” (T-17.VI.2:1-2)
To extend the principle, the idea is not to make your spiritual practice about trying to change others or the world at large, but to change how we ourselves view (aka perceive) them. The goal is to assume personal responsibility for what we alone can control- how we think, or rather who (which inner teacher) we think with.
FOCUS ON FIRST ADDRESSING THE PROBLEM’S CAUSE IN THE MIND (UNDOING THE EGO) NOT ITS EFFECT IN FORM (APPROPRIATE BEHAVIORAL RESPONSE)
In no situation that arises do you realize the outcome that would make you happy. Therefore, you have no guide to appropriate action, and no way of judging the result. What you do is determined by your perception of the situation, and that perception is wrong. It is inevitable, then, that you will not serve your own best interests…. If you realized that you do not perceive your own best interests, you could be taught what they are. (W-24.1:1-4; 2:1)
In other words, we have no guide to appropriate action because our perception- being ego tainted- is flawed (false perception). As such, we can’t help but be unaware of what would make us truly happy- which would be to remember the truth and return to God- while part of our mind is devoted to the ego’s desire to keep us from God. Accordingly, the Course has no interest in teaching us how to identify appropriate action in any situation.
Its aim is to help us address the source of our problems- the problematic root cause in the mind- which is always a decision to be separate. Renouncing the ego for the Holy Spirit then purifies and corrects our perception of everything. This is the only thing that can guarantee our true inner peace and happiness because it reminds us that we are still one with, and loved by, God.
BE WILLING TO THINK LIKE THE HOLY SPIRIT & THE MOST HELPFUL BEHAVIORAL RESPONSES WILL BE MORE LIKELY TO FLOW THROUGH YOU
This is how the Holy Spirit teaches us to serve our best, or highest Self-interest. Being aware of what’s in our true best interests gets mirrored here in an attitude that recognizes that our best interests are always shared with everyone because we are one and the same. We all share the same one need for salvation; for forgiveness. This is the same as recognizing that our only need is to heal our split mind, as only this can return us to God.
The Course’s focus then is on developing our willingness to learn how to think like the Holy Spirit. Incidentally, the inner peace and joy that results from adopting His right-minded thought system is what can and will then guide our actions in the world to be truly helpful. This is despite our limited awareness and inability to consciously ascertain all the information necessary to know what the most helpful behavioral response to any situation is.
You may believe that you are responsible for what you do, but not for what you think. The truth is that you are responsible for what you think, because it is only at this level that you can exercise choice. What you do comes from what you think. (T-2.VI.2:5-7)
You must change your mind, not your behavior, and this is a matter of willingness. You do not need guidance except at the mind level. Correction belongs only at the level where change is possible. (T-2.VI.3:4-6)
*This concludes the third part of the 4-part series titled, “ACIM & Christianity.” Please click on the arrow below to continue reading the fourth and final article in this series.
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