KEY DIFFERENCES BETWEEN ACIM & CHRISTIANITY
Part one of this current series on ACIM and Christianity explored key differences between both teachings. While the two share superficial similarities that are anchored in Christian terminology and concepts, ACIM is a sharp departure from traditional Christian theology.
ACIM uses traditional Christian terms but redefines them (e.g., miracles, Son of God, forgiveness), and also bases its entire teaching on core Christian concepts that it doesn’t simply change, but categorically rejects as untrue (e.g., sin, guilt, God’s creation of the world). These differences ultimately culminate in ACIM and Christianity’s distinct versions of salvation, which can be summed up as follows.
SALVATION ACCORDING TO ACIM
According to ACIM, salvation is attained by accepting that no one but yourself is responsible for your own salvation, which you attain through practicing forgiveness. This is motivated by our newfound, right-minded belief in our inherent innocence- by denying sin is real.
It results in thinking about, or viewing things from, the Holy Spirit’s perspective (true perception), with the awareness that we are a mind, not a body. What we are being saved from is our own secret, yet unfounded, self-condemnation that has driven us mad; the false belief that we are sinful and guilty because we attacked God by separating from Him.
SALVATION ACCORDING TO CHRISTIANITY
According to Christianity however, salvation can be earned by accepting that only Jesus Christ can save you, and doing “good” or behaving in certain morally prescribed ways, as individuals in the world. This is motivated by a desire to atone for our innate sinfulness, which we must first accept as true. In doing so, what we are being saved from is God’s judgement of us as sinners.
This belief that God has judged us as sinners is incidentally why the Course describes the fear of God as our greatest terror, and thus the final obstacle to peace; we expect and fear his wrath once we believe we have sinned against Him.
“The fear of God results as surely from the lesson that His Son is guilty as God’s Love must be remembered when he learns his innocence.” (T-31.I.10:1)
THE WIELDER OF CHOICE, VERDICT ON SIN, AGENT OF SALVATION, & PROPER SUBJECT OF CHANGE
ACIM teaches that salvation is all about your mind’s power and responsibility to choose right-minded (“holy/correct”) inner thinking (true perception), while Christianity’s version encourages right (“holy/correct”) external actions that we can take as a body. The Course aims to empower us to reject our pre-existing and false belief in sin, and save ourselves by changing/healing our mind with Jesus and the Holy Spirit’s support.
Christianity on the other hand, is predicated on us accepting our sinfulness, accepting Jesus as our sole holy redeemer, and changing others and the world of form for the better. All of which the Course points out, will not fix the fundamental problem in our mind; our belief that we are separate from God.
ACIM AS A CORRECTION OF TRADITIONAL CHRISTIAN BELIEFS
Far from being a continuation or extension of Christianity then, ACIM may be best understood as a correction of aspects of Christian doctrine, as Kenneth Wapnick taught. After all, it goes to lengths to couch its teachings in Christian terminology while changing its traditional meanings, and employing yet rejecting, some of its core tenets to advance and clarify its own teaching. In the process, it winds up correcting everything from the role of Jesus, the meaning of the crucifixion, forgiveness, the nature of reality, our relationship to God and Heaven, and how we can return to our Home and true identity as Christ.
In this sense, ACIM is certainly implying that, for those of us who find it helpful, it can teach us a better and faster way back to peace. And indeed, contrary to Christianity, it aims to steer us in a spiritual direction that is focused on helping us make increasingly conscious, the inner workings of our unconscious mind. This is in recognition that the true cause of our every distress and pain always found there, is singular, and entirely fixable, rather than in the external world of the body in which problems are multitudinous, and may not be resolvable.
RECOGNISING DIFFERENCES BETWEEN ACIM & CHRISTIANITY MAY LEAD TO ONE OF TWO EGO ERRORS
So what does examining the differences between ACIM and Christianity mean for you? You might want to take moment to clock your own reactions here, as untangling these distinctions might sound like a blanket critique of Christianity, done in the service of painting the Course as the more spiritually advanced path in comparison. If that’s how it’s landing for you, this can go in one of two ways depending on your own experience with, or views of Christianity or religion in general. If you’ve had issues with Christian religions, or organised religion of any kind, recognising how different ACIM is to Christian theology is likely to come as a very welcome relief, and at most, like triumphant confirmation of how right you were to get away from it.
However, if on the whole, you’ve had warm and positive experiences with Christianity or Christians in your life, clarifying the differences between it and the Course’s teachings, might make for very uncomfortable reading. You might notice that you feel somewhat, or even deeply, conflicted; like you’re being pitted against people or traditions you feel a fond connection to, and appreciation for. In either case, it’s important to recognise that both of these responses can hide two superficially opposite, yet equally unnecessary, sides of the same ego trap.
ARE YOUR NEGATIVE EXPERIENCES & ASSOCIATIONS WITH CHRISTIANITY FUELING THE EGO’S AGENDA?
If you’ve had issues with Christianity, its history, the bible, an established Church, or organised religion, seeing the Course as the more advanced teaching might lead you to feel spiritually superior to those who follow Christian and/or other religious faiths. However, this is by no means the point of understanding the discrepancies between them.
Far from it, the benefit in clearly elucidating the differences between ACIM and Christianity- or other different paths- is not to confer a sense of superiority to one, and relegate to inferiority the other. This is exactly how the ego would like you to see it because doing so would reinforce our egoic belief in separation, which is the exact opposite to what ACIM is advocating. Jesus’ objective with the Course, is to have us learn to recognise our underlying unity beneath, and in spite of, all our differences in form.
EGO ERROR 1: SPIRITUAL SPECIALNESS/ SPIRITUAL ARROGANCE/ SPIRITUAL SUPERIORITY
Under the guise of indignant “righteousness,” this very slippery ego trap hides none other than the seductive drug that is specialness, hiding under the cover of spirituality. Specialness is at the heart of the ego’s agenda. It is the idea that there is something, or various things, in the world that can make you fundamentally different- notably better or worse- in a truly meaningful way, to someone else.
Once I use my beliefs or anything about someone else (e.g., spirituality), to see them as ‘less than’ me or others- less deserving of respect, of care, or love, or more deserving or mockery- I forget our inherent sameness as the one Son of God. And in forgetting who they truly are, I forget who I truly am. This is how I make myself inaccessible to the peace of God.
Spiritual specialness is how the ego weaponises spirituality and reinforces the idea of separation within our mind. You can sniff it out whenever you notice a whiff of spiritual arrogance or spiritual superiority in yourself, in relation to other paths or people who believe different spiritual, religious, or philosophical ideas.
ACIM & CHRISTIANITY SHARE SIMILARITIES BUT DO NOT TEACH THE SAME THING
To be clear then, it’s important to not confuse the two teachings. Not because one is “holier” than the other, but simply because they are different. From the Course’s perspective, many Christian beliefs are actually an expression of the ego thought system that need to be corrected within our mind (e.g., the belief in our sin, guilt, and the fear of God). However, the Course never refers to holiness as inherent to any form– be it a body, a book, an object, or place in the world.
Some of their teachings clearly overlap; notably their appeals for us to love one another as God loves us. However, on the whole, ACIM and Christianity are not teaching the same thing, so to believe that they are is to misunderstand both. Sharing some similarities does not make them equivalent, so it’s best to understand where the similarities end to get a firm grasp of the teaching that’s right for you.
ARE YOUR POSITIVE EXPERIENCES & ASSOCIATIONS WITH CHRISTIANITY FUELING THE EGO’S AGENDA?
On the other end of the spectrum, if you’ve had positive experiences with, or sympathise with Christianity or Christians, it’s likely that exploring the differences between Christian theology and the Course’s teachings may feel a bit unsettling. However, it’s important to understand that any discomfort around this often hides the other side of the same ego trap of a coin. This is the case if you equate pointing out differences with judgement in a critical, condemning sense.
It’s crucial to understand that recognizing these differences does not mean you have to negatively judge or belittle either path- let alone other religions, philosophies, or spiritual paths that may not be for you. Rather, it’s important purely for your own learning; that you clearly comprehend what each is actually teaching so you can sincerely follow the one that you find most helpful. Otherwise, you run the risk of unintentionally distorting or watering down what they say, which does a disservice to both, and is likely to only delay your own learning.
EGO ERROR 2: EQUATING NAMING & EVALUATING TO DISCERN DIFFERENCES WITH CRITICAL & CONDEMNING JUDGEMENT
Considering some of their foundational premises differ, it’s true that the teachings of both ACIM and Christianity are often in disagreement. From the Course’s perspective, Christian theology is technically incorrect on many points, as is true that from Christianity’s point of view, the Course’s teachings are incorrect, as are other religious or spiritual teachings.
However, naming and recognising the differences between anything or anyone in form, is not the same as criticising or condemning. Recognising differences between teachings, and agreeing with one, does not automatically mean you have to hate or demean the other, or those who disagree with you. That is, you don’t need to judge those differences as capable of altering our underlying sameness, equality, and worth.
DON’T CONFUSE BENIGN JUDGEMENT (EVALUATION & DISCERNMENT) FOR THE EGO’S TOXIC JUDGEMENT (CRITICISM & CONTEMPT)
This fear of being “judgemental” if one recognises and notes differences between things, is based on a common and detrimental misunderstanding of ACIM’s teaching on the folly of judgement. When the Course refers to our need to give up judgement, it is referring to judgement as condemnation- not judgement as basic discernment. While your capacity to discern and evaluate differences remains crucial to your ability to function in this world, it is your condemnation or contempt that the Course would have you learn that you can do without, because they cannot be justified.
In the context of this discussion, this fear of judgement often leads to trying to fuse or follow two contradictory paths by willfully ignoring the differences between them, and pretending they’re the same. However, this is not very helpful- any more than is maligning other paths (or people who follow them) as “bad, stupid, or backwards” simply because they are not helpful to you. It’s one thing to appreciate aspects of truth in other paths. But it’s another to use that recognition of similarities, to prevent you from deepening your understanding of your path by refusing to confront the differences between them.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO IGNORE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN TEACHINGS TO RESPECT OTHER PATHS & PEOPLE
Trying to follow two different spiritual paths out of a desire to respect all paths, is only likely to lead to internal conflict if the teachings are inescapably opposed. And this is the case with ACIM and Christianity. In other words, do yourself a favour and don’t ignore their differences for fear of being “judgemental.” There is no need to contort either teaching to convince yourself that they say the same thing. It’s possible to disagree with different teachings or views, while maintaining respect for the glimmers of truth you may see in them, the helpfulness they may offer others, and for the people who do find value and comfort in them.
Simply be mindful that you don’t fall into the ego’s trap of looking with disdain, antagonism, or a sense of superiority at other paths, or people, who believe something other than you do. It is the underlying condemnation (toxic egoic judgement) of others as ‘less than’ in meaningful ways that is what keeps us rooted in our false guilt- not the unavoidable differences we encounter in everything within form.
Clearly examine what different spiritual philosophies teach if you’re curious. By all means appreciate the universal kernels of truth you may find in all of them, but don’t overlook how they differ either. This can then help you earnestly study and follow the one that best helps, comforts, uplifts, and resonates most with you.
“You are not making use of the course if you insist on using means which have served others well, neglecting what was made for you.” (T-18.VII.6:5)
THERE ARE MANY PATHS BUT ONLY ONE THING THAT TRULY MATTERS
As Jesus teaches in the Course, there are many paths in the universal curriculum and ACIM is but one of those many. Whichever is right for you can help lead you to the same place they all have the potential to lead you back to eventually- to the peace and love of God. The one that is right for you- that has the best possibility of leading you back home- is whichever one makes most sense to you right now.
As the Course says, a universal theology is not possible, but a universal experience is. The core lesson here is that it’s not form that matters but content. It’s not the clothes you wear, the things you say or do, the spirituality you subscribe to that matters- or anything else in the world that informs your individual identity.
You could be a deeply loving, kind, and peaceful Christian or Course student (or belong to any other spiritual path, or none at all for that matter). You could also be a very fearful, hate-filled and unkind Christian or Course student. What matters is which thought system (contents) you’re choosing to reinforce in your mind. Do you use your spiritual beliefs to mire you in the hate, anger, and fear of your wrong mind, or to bring you nearer to the love, peace and joy of God reflected in your right mind?
DON’T CONFUSE THE EXTERNAL FORM OF THE PATH FOR THE INNER CONTENT OF YOUR MIND & ULTIMATE DESTINATION
“A universal theology is impossible, but a universal experience is not only possible but necessary. It is this experience toward which the course is directed.” (C-in.2:5-6)
Considering its the purpose we use things in form for- to strengthen the right or wrong-minded contents in our mind- every path has the ability to lead us to that one universal experience of God’s love and peace. This is because His love and peace is all there is in truth, and is actually within you. The experience of peace is not inherent in the form of the path you take. All paths can only but eventually lead us back to God because only God is real. The real question then is one of time: when (rather than whether) will we be ready and willing to come back to Him?
In other words, returning to our true reality in Him is inevitable no matter what we do or believe at any given point in time. In the meantime, everything here in form can, at best, merely serve as stepping stones back to our true Reality in Him. Those stepping stones are likely to change depending on your individual need and level of readiness, but the outcome is as certain, and formless, as God Himself.
“There is no road that leads away from Him. A journey from yourself does not exist. How foolish and insane it is to think that there could be a road with such an aim! Where could it go? And how could you be made to travel on it, walking there without your own reality at one with you?” (T-31.IV.10:4-8)
“Nowhere but where He is can you be found. There is no path that does not lead to Him.” (T-31.IV.11:6-7)
*This concludes the second part of the 4-part series titled, “ACIM & Christianity.” Please click on the arrow below to continue reading the third article in this series.
Carla van Raay says
This is so beautifully and clearly written, that it constitutes a treasure in itself.
Thank you for your kind comment Carla! I’m so glad you enjoyed the article. 🙂
Thanks for the great writing on the site in general. I am really enjoying the content. Here, though, I have to say we depart. I think your reading of Christianity is indeed very narrow and does not acknowledge that Christianity is practiced, understood and felt in many different ways by many different people across time and cultures. Moreover, the Bible alludes many times to “memory” and “imagination”, as well as experiences that are not accessible to the conscious mind. Concepts like “faith” and “sin” in the Bible also have much to do with the mind. While I agree that there are differences of terminology and approach between Biblical texts and ACIM, the underlying messages are ultimately quite resonant with each other and with other belief systems including some Eastern religions, which only confirms that which we already Know. Truth is absolute.
Hi Danielle, thank you for your comment. I’m happy to hear you’re enjoying the content overall! I agree with you that, “Christianity is practiced, understood and felt in many different ways by many different people across time and cultures.” However, going into too much depth or nuance about Christianity and all the various ways it can be, or has been, understood or practiced was beyond the scope of this article.
My intention with this series was just to point out that there are significant differences between ACIM and Christian theology, and take a very broad look at the core differences. To highlight that the foundational ideas (like faith and sin that you mention) are defined differently by both camps and, most importantly, why that matters. Not that these differences make either bad, but rather that these differences are meaningful.
Jesus’ use of the language and symbolism of Christianity is designed to serve a purpose. It’s not to mock Christianity, but simply to correct the egoic errors found within it (from its perspective), as a way to advance and clarify its own teaching in contrast to it.
To clarify, my point is that the terminology used by both is similar (not different), but the meaning given to those terms is different, which makes the Course’s approach radically unlike that of Christianity, and most other religions in fact.
Putting a fine point on these distinctions can be incredibly helpful if you’re an ACIM student because understanding the implications of these differences, and the why behind them, can help you understand the teachings of ACIM better for what they are. Conflating the Course’s teachings with other spiritual or religious beliefs however, may be a hinderance to appreciating how unique and transgressive its message really is. And this greater understanding of its metaphysical underpinnings can in turn help you practice its teachings more faithfully. The theory very much elucidates the practice because it provides the basis and rationale for it. And applying the teachings is really what ultimately matters because practice is what will lead us back to that universal oneness that is the Truth.
The overarching point is that differences exist between all spiritual and religious theologies. Their explanations of God and our relationship to Him, how we got here and how we can get back to Him, are couched in different cultural and historical frameworks, so they are bound to conflict theologically. Yet none of these theological disagreements matter in terms of what’s really important- the Truth. The Course says the Truth is absolute in the sense that it is beyond all concepts, and therefore is beyond all religious and spiritual philosophy. It cannot be found in any theology, because it cannot be found in form. Rather it will be found in an experience of God, in which words and symbols have no use.
You can indeed use any path to get back to the Truth that resonates with you, precisely because it can never be quantified, limited to, or adequately conveyed with words or ideas, and thus any theology. You could consider yourself a Christian or a member of any other religion, and study the Course. It’s just that it might either become a barrier in your understanding of the Course’s message, or it will become harder to remain faithful to certain Christian beliefs the more you accept and integrate the teachings of ACIM into your life. Said differently, your understanding of ACIM will either be limited, or expand as the differences between both teachings becomes more apparent.
If you don’t find this perspective or some points made in the article helpful, by all means please disregard them, and use whatever does serve you in getting closer to peace. In other words, please feel free to forgive me and/or whatever ideas you find disturbing to your peace of mind. 😊
Great article. Clearly written and understandable, even for a novice like me.
Thanks for reading Joe! I’m glad you enjoyed it. 🙂