‘A Course in Miracles’ was (it is claimed) channelled to the American psychologist Helen Schucman, assisted by her friend and colleague, William Thetford, in the early 1970’s. Although the experience was always somewhat mysterious as well as profound to both Schucman and her associates, there was a sense that contact was made with an entity identified as ‘Jesus.’ No authorship is claimed for the material, and Schucman is referred to as a ‘scribe.’ The material is divided into three volumes: a long ‘Text’ which seeks to explain numerous spiritual things in considerable depth; a ‘Workbook for Students’, consisting of 365 daily meditations and spiritual exercises; and a ‘Manual for Teachers,’ intended not for individuals who are ‘ordained’ in any specific way, but to anyone who wishes a constructive dialogue with others on higher spiritual insights.
Despite the many references to God and Jesus and the concurrence, on some points, with Christianity, Judaism and Islam, in many ways the course differs radically from traditional western religious beliefs. Thus, it should be considered a ‘novel’ set of spiritual writings, and not a recognizable form of ‘revived’ Christianity. It seems more in agreement with strongly mystical forms of religious experience, especially such eastern schools as Vedanta, Buddhism and Gnosticism.
The central metaphysical tenet of the course is that the physical world is a gigantic illusion that is being experienced by ‘the Son.’ ‘The Son’ is not an incarnation of the Second Person of a Trinity (as in orthodox Christianity), but a collective name for the entire creation of what Buddhists would call sentient beings. ‘God’ and the ‘Holy Spirit’ are undertaking to guide ‘The Son’ through the illusion, which resulted in the presentation of the course, and there is a promise that the illusion eventually will be removed. Although such metaphors as ‘illusion’ and ‘dream’ are used as metaphors to designate the totality of human experience, there is a strong message that experience is not immutable.
The ‘dream’ can be managed and persons can and should learn and practice ‘lessons’ in life, thus remediating pain and suffering.
The central ‘lesson’ is to master the principle of forgiveness, not simply as a sentimental ethical gesture but at the level of deep understanding. True forgiveness is universal and unconditional. Because any experience of wrongdoing has not, in fact, truly happened at the metaphysical level, we should not attach significance to the negative dramas of life that they do not deserve. Every wrongful act is actually a ‘cry for help’ by someone deeply lost in the illusion, and the ultimate remedy should be to reduce the power of the illusion, not plunge deeper into it. Forgiveness essentially lies at a deep subjective level. Nothing is said in the course that there should be wholesale abandonment of police forces, judicial systems or security, but there is the warning that if one cultivates a mindset of ‘defending oneself’ one ‘will be attacked.’
Because ‘A Course in Miracles’ is unorthodox, conservative Christians have condemned it, suggesting that it is demonically inspired. Persons with little spiritual interest have, of course, dismissed or ignored it. Yet anybody motivated by spirituality, of whatever form, or sensitive to poetry, will find the course material to be not only internally consistent but also rich in numinously beautiful literary passages. In the few decades that it has been with us, ‘A Course in Miracle’ has become a permanent part of the world’s spiritual literature.