S1, E 22: God Did Not Create a Meaningless World

Welcome to Episode 22 of “A Course in Miracles for Social Justice Activists.” I’m your host, Mike Rivage-Seul. And today we’re focusing on Lesson 14 of ACIM’s Workbook for Students. Its leading thought reads, “God did not create a meaningless world.”

The lesson is extraordinarily important, because its elaboration highlights an ACIM idea that is often misunderstood by social justice activists – even to the point of their discontinuing the course at this point – that is, if they didn’t already do so on page one where the course is summarized in the memorable words, “Nothing real can be threatened. Nothing unreal exists. Herein lies the peace of God.”

Following that line, Lesson 14 puts the same thought this way (and I’m quoting here): “A meaningless world is impossible because:

  • The world you see has nothing to do with reality. It is of your own making, and it does not exist.”
  • “Think of all the horrors of the world that cross your mind. Name each one as it occurs to you, and then deny its reality.”
  • “Say, for example, ‘God did not create that war, and so it is not real.’ ‘God did not create that airplane crash, and so it is not real.’ ‘God did not create that disaster (specify), and so it is not real.’”
  • “God did not create cancer or heart attacks,” and so they are not real.
  • “God did not create (specify a situation that is disturbing you) and so it is not real.”

What?

Does A Course in Miracles really saying that “It’s all in your mind?”  Does it teach that I’ve somehow created the world that I see; that I should ignore evil simply by denying its reality, and instead think only positive thoughts about some imagined perfect world “as God created it?”

Isn’t that what philosophers call solipsism? I mean is ACIM trying to convince me that I alone exist; that I’ve created the entire world in my mind; that I’ve created you as well? Isn’t that what solipsism is?

If so (I’m thinking as a social justice warrior) show me the exit. I’ve already had enough of A Course in Miracles. I refuse to deny the reality of war, hunger, preventable disease, racism, patriarchy, and imperialism. That’s what I want to see ended. And I believe that was true for Jesus too. (Remember, ACIM claims to embody his voice and teachings.)

But (let me assure you) solipsism is not what A Course in Miracles teaches.

Instead, what it does propose is a profound redefinition of reality – of the word “real.” (Now please try to stick with me here.)

For ACIM “real” means what is permanent, what is lasting and indestructible, what will never disappear. For instance, today’s war in Yemen is not real because it will eventually disappear.  One day, it will seem like a bad dream. The same is true even for severe illness like cancer. If I have it, a day will come when I won’t. I’ll die or be cured. My personal tragedies will also one day end. In the language of ACIM, they are not real.

In fact, for A Course in Miracles, since everything except God’s ultimate being will pass, nothing apart from God’s reality truly exits. Nothing apart from God has any meaning. Meaninglessness belongs to the human realm. It’s found in Plato’s Cave.

That’s a central teaching of ACIM: This too will pass. God’s reality is all that truly exists.

And who is this God that alone exists? Let me put it this way:

  • In a universe where (as quantum physicists have discovered) everything is energy (even though much of it appears to be solid), God is the sum total of all such vitality in the universe.
  • This includes the energy of consciousness.
  • Such Universal Conscious Energy finds expression in what human perception identifies as solid objects – animals, plants, minerals, soil, water, human bodies.
  • So, (contrary to common belief) God’s energy as it appears not only in human beings, but in those animals, mountains, rocks, water, and soil is conscious and can be addressed interpersonally and prayerfully.
  • However, in the language of A Course in Miracles, none of the externals of those objects is “real” in the sense of everlasting. Each will pass away as it now appears as its energy melts back into God’s Universal Quantum.
  • The bottom line here is that for A Course in Miracles, only the divine energy underlying the objects’ appearance is truly “real,” truly “exists,” has any “meaning.”

What I’m saying here is that ACIM uses the term “real” analogously. In fact, analogy is all we’ve got to discuss ultimate realities and the meaning of life. And that’s because human language was invented to describe objects encountered by human beings in everyday life.

So, when our necessarily limited human categories are compared to invisible, transcendent Reality, our perceptions necessarily appear as comparisons such as “It’s like a dream;” or “It’s like a world of shadows.;” or “It’s all illusion.”

In the language of The Course, war and evil don’t exist; they have no meaning; they too will pass. As a result, we’ll end up wondering if events (like war, plane crashes, and other tragedies) really happened, or if they actually occurred as we remember them.

Confusion like that is compounded by the cultural distortions of Plato’s Cave, where “thought leaders” lie about and misrepresent objects of perception. For sure, such fabrications have no reality, no meaning.

So, with all of this in mind, what is Lesson 14 really saying in its leading thought, “God did not make a meaningless world?”

Well, it is not saying that we should ignore wars, plane crashes, cancer, or personal tragedies. God’s underlying presence is somehow manifest or contradicted even in events like those.  And no manifestation of God should ever be ignored. All such apparent tragedies should be taken seriously, analyzed, prayed over, and (as we’ll see in future workbook lessons), “forgiven” (which also has a special ACIM meaning).

And yet, it remains true (as Lesson 14 says) that “God did not create a meaningless world.”

No, the statue bearers in Plato’s Cave have created meaninglessness. We’ve created it ourselves by attempting to endow with ultimate meaning the appearances that have caught our attention – our bodies, our money, our country, our wars, homes, cars, computers, and all the apparently concrete forms that Life’s Energy takes.

Compared with God’s Self-conscious energy, all those entities are unreal. They’re a giant step below the Reality that is ultimately important. In that sense, they are meaningless creations of our minds and culture.

In conclusion and departing from ACIM’s insistence on its terms “unreal” and “illusion,” while understanding those terms analogously, we might say there are at least four levels of reality, each one more “real” than the previous one. They include:

  1. What passes for reality within Plato’s Cave
  2. The reality reflected in our actual dreams
  3. The reality of the conscious universe as incarnated in bodies like yours and mine and in the apparently physical world.
  4. God’s ultimate reality which I earlier described as the sum total of energy in the universe, and which includes consciousness.

Along the lines of those distinctions, my own meditation teacher of 22 years, Eknath Easwaran put it this way:

Dreams are real 
As long as they last.
When we awake
We do not pass
From unreality to reality,
But from a lower level of reality
To a higher one.
Is it not possible that
There exists
A level of reality
That is higher still
Compared with which
The passing satisfactions of everyday life
Are no more lasting
Than a dream.

“Yet until we do wake up,” Easwaran continues, “nothing sounds more absurd than the assertion that we are dreaming, and nothing seems more solid than this world of the senses. Why should this be so? If original goodness is our real nature, why are we unable to see it? The answer is simple: because we see life not as it is but as we are. We see “through a glass darkly,” through the distorting lenses of the mind – all the layers of feeling, habit, instinct, and memory that cover the pure core of goodness deep within.”

Easwaran’s words, I think, well summarize the teaching of ACIM’s Lesson 14 – and of A Course in Miracles in general. We’d all do well to meditate on those words as a practical response to the lesson at hand.

A Close Call on I 95: A New Normal?

Last week Peggy and I took off from our home in Westport, CT to Clearwater Beach FLA where we’ll be snow-birding till the beginning of April. We’ve rented a condo in the Regatta Beach Club in North Clearwater. Such is octogenarian privilege (for some).

On the way, however, we ran into a dangerous snowstorm in the Washington D.C. area. It turned out to be truly frightening in a way that likely portends a new normal of systemic breakdown in the face of climate change and the inability and/or unwillingness of government to respond to associated problems.

Here’s what happened.

As we drove down I 95 on the outskirts of D.C., downed trees inhibited passage all along the way. Fallen trees overburdened by a wet snowfall blocked entire lanes while the rest of the highway was covered with snow, ice, and slush. Such conditions and innumerable accidents (with many cars stuck in the median) reduced highway passage to a crawl. There was not an emergency vehicle in sight.

Then suddenly everything stopped completely. Unbeknownst to anyone, a huge accident involving long-haul trailers lay some miles ahead. At least one of the truck drivers was trapped inside his tractor and had to be extricated by emergency crews. The process took hours.

Peggy and I were part of the lineup for about 5 hours – crawling forward only occasionally at less than a snail’s pace.

Luckily, our crawl eventually took us near an exit. On cellphone advice from our son, Patrick, we decided to leave the traffic jam then and there. We could see that there were several motels in the vicinity. We drove towards them, leaving the highway for a service road.

However, we found all the lodgings in darkness with empty parking lots. Evidently, electrical service had been lost to the entire area. And now we were on an uncleared side road and in danger of getting stuck in the snow with no one around to help. With difficulty, we made it back to the highway.

Peggy then secured a room for us via her Hilton app at a Comfort Inn about 20 miles from I 95. She also phoned ahead to confirm the reservation. The first words she heard from the motel desk were, “Thank you for calling Comfort Inn. All rooms are taken this evening. None are available.”

Peggy responded, “Yes, but I’ve just made a reservation online and it was accepted. Please check your records.”

“Oh, yes, here it is,” came the response. “You got the last available room.”

Relieved, we arrived at the Inn and were in bed by midnight.

The next morning, we found out how unbelievably fortunate we had been. I 95 was still closed and would remain so for most of the day. Many people, we read, had been forced to abandon their unheated cars now out of gas or electrical charge. They had to walk through the ice and snow to – who knows where?

The highway was closed for most of the next day. [Can you imagine the complications involved in removing (and retrieving) all those abandoned cars?]

Meanwhile, Peggy and I were able to continue towards Florida on secondary roads. It took us an extra day to reach our destination. But we were so much more fortunate than those other stranded motorists.

It was a close call indeed – for us, but a real tragedy for so many others.

However, the whole affair made us reflect on what promises to be a new normal. It demonstrates the inability of laissez-faire government to deal even with comparatively minor and predictable emergencies, much less with major ones looming on the climate-chaos horizon.  For instance:

  • Virginia governor Ralph Northam refused to deploy the National Guard to help stranded motorists by clearing even a single lane to safety – or to distribute food, blankets, and information.
  • More specifically, despite unprecedented communications technology at their disposal (including at the very least helicopters with loudspeakers) motorists were left without basic information about the severity and likely time span of their situation.
  • They were stranded without means of mass transportation at highway exists to bring them to safety and warming centers which did not become available till noon the next day.
  • At the most basic level, highway crews left entire lanes blocked by fallen trees on I 95 for more than 24 hours despite possessing the machinery for debris removal.

All of this raises questions about government and its purpose in the face of (once again) entirely predictable and more severe emergencies ahead. As one stranded motorist put it, “No one came. It was just shocking. Being in the most advanced country in the world, no one knew how to even clear one lane for all of us to get out of that mess?”

Get ready, this promises to be the new normal. Evidently, despite our tax dollars and the predictability of emergencies much worse than the I 95 occurrence, we’re all on our own.

“A Meaningless World Engenders Fear”

Welcome to Episode 21 in this series called “A Course in Miracles for Social Justice Warriors.” My name is Mike Rivage-Seul, and I’m your host on this podcast.

Today we’ll focus on Lesson 13 of ACIM’s Workbook for Students. Its main idea is summarized in these words, “A meaningless world engenders fear.” That is, today’s lesson expands Lesson 12’s insight that “I am upset because I see a meaningless world.” Today’s instruction identifies the specific emotion aroused by meaninglessness. The emotion in question is fear.

Before we turn to that notion, let me remind you of our podcast’s general approach to A Course in Miracles. As I pointed out in episodes 3 and 4, we’re interpreting ACIM as though it was written primarily for U.S. citizens living in the belly of the U.S. empire that is the latest iteration of global domination embodied, for instance in Rome and the British Empire.

A Course in Miracle’s Historical context, authorship, language, and literary genre makes that clear. The voice of Jesus in ACIM is not the voice of the historical Jesus, but of a Christ addressing well-educated, well-to-do Americans far removed from the poor, uneducated, and mostly illiterate victims of empire the Jewish master addressed in the first century of our era. As well see later in much greater detail, ACIM calls Americans away from imperial values of individualism, competition, separation, domination, and patriarchy.

With that said, let’s turn our attention specifically to Lesson 13. It reminds us that the cause of our fear is our country’s loss of meaning. To repeat: Lesson 13’s main idea is “A meaningless world engenders fear.”     

Such expression insists that although our national anthem identifies “America” as “the home of the brave,” we are in reality an extremely fearful people. In fact, ours is better described as “the home of the frightened.”  

Today’s lesson 13 calls ACIM students to come to grips with the most profound reason for our fear. It’s because the meaning stories we were raised on have disintegrated before our eyes leaving us with a meaningless world. Understandably, we find that extremely unnerving.

As we’ve seen before, we once thought that:

  • Our country is the greatest in the world
  • We’re a Christian nation
  • God is on our side
  • We live in a democracy
  • Our politicians represent “the people”
  • Our wars are just
  • Our armed forces are invincible
  • Our soldiers are heroic
  • Law enforcement protects and serves us

None of these formerly self-evident statements any longer proves convincing:

  • As Dr. King pointed out, far from being the “greatest” in terms of virtue and goodness, our country is instead the world’s “greatest purveyor of violence.” As such, it is the root cause of most of the world’s problems.
  • This means that the God of Jesus is not our God; we are therefore not his followers; we are not “Christian.”
  •  God is not on our side; we are not divinely favored. Instead, America is more like the Roman Empire responsible for the execution of Yeshua of Nazareth.
  • Neither is the United States a democracy. In fact, it never was. As Federalist Paper # 10 makes clear, the Founding Fathers specifically rejected democracy in favor of a republic where (as John Jay put it) “Those who own the country ought to govern it.” 
  • And Jay’s imperative has been obeyed throughout U.S. history. This truism has been unmistakably underlined in the Citizens United SCOTUS decision. Its aftermath shows that politicians represent their donors rather than “the people.” (This is why a coal baron like Joe Manchin can defy the will of West Virginians on issues they overwhelmingly favor like Medicare for all, a $15.00 minimum wage, pharmaceutical pricing, family leave, and college debt forgiveness.
  • As for our wars being just, think about the lies that got us into Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
  • Those same conflicts give the lie to convictions about the heroism of service in the U.S. military, whose personnel General Smedley Butler (already in the 1930s) implied are no better than brainwashed Mafia foot soldiers.
  • And just try to convince any black people you know that the police protect and serve them. Most would laugh in your face, if they didn’t burst into tears.

As pointed out in Lesson 12, A Course in Miracles itself can also engender fear. That’s because its relentless insistence that our favorite convictions (like those just mentioned) are 180 degrees opposite those of the divine order, can be extremely disorienting.

In the words of today’s lesson, “Recognition of meaninglessness arouses intense anxiety in all the separated ones” – that is, in everyone who sees herself or himself in competition and strife with fellow human beings. And that includes most of us.

And just whom is it that we Americans see ourselves in competition with? Largely, it’s with the poor, but ultimately, it’s with God.

Competition with the poor is evinced by that fact that (at least since the end of the Second Inter-capitalist War) ALL our wars have been fought against the impoverished identified as terrorists, communists, Muslims, and (as a Great Man once put it) “bad hombres.” (On this, please view the speech of the highly decorated ex-CIA operative John Stockwell.)

The real crime of the poor, however, is simply their poverty. It makes us afraid that they’ll rise and take our stuff [which our ancestors – and current wars – have taken from them (e.g., from Native Americans, from 250 years of enslaved Africans, in wars over oil, markets, water, raw materials etc.)].

Lesson 13 goes even further, however. It’s not only the poor we fear. It’s God we’re afraid of because (as the lesson puts it) “we think we’re in competition with God.” That is, we’re afraid of God whose primary function (we’re taught) is to legislate, judge, condemn, and punish. We’re afraid of this oppositional God. We might even say that he turns out to be not only our competitor, but an abusive enemy who threatens us all with eternal torture.

No wonder we’re upset.  No wonder we’re all afraid. No wonder that we find all that questionable if not downright meaningless.

Lesson 13 asks us to face that discordant music. Again, it says, “A meaningless world engenders fear.”

Accordingly, the lesson asks us to spend 3 or 4 periods of no more than a minute each doing the following: “With eyes closed, repeat today’s idea to yourself. Then open your eyes and look about you slowly saying: ‘I am looking at a meaningless world.’ Repeat this statement to yourself as you look about. Then close your eyes and conclude with: ‘A meaningless world engenders fear because I think I am in competition with God.’”

As usual, I’ll fulfill this assignment today as well. Remember that specifically as North American inhabitants of empire, we are at this point in The Course attempting to clear our minds of common misconceptions that have encumbered and polluted our consciousness. With that uncomfortable task foremost in my mind, this is Mike Rivage-Seul wishing you well and God’s abundant blessings.  

Episode 20, Lesson 12: “I Am Upset Because I See a Meaningless World”

None of the most common convictions of our culture is anything more than a human creation Not one of them is part of Life’s inherent order.

Has our study of ACIM’s Workbook for Students upset you yet? According to today’s lesson 12, it should have. You should be upset to learn that you’ve been tricked and fooled all your life. So have I.

We’ve been falsely taught, for instance, that the world is inherently frightening, sad, violent, and insane. However, it is none of these things. Instead, our so-called “leaders” carrying those statues before the fire in Plato’s Cave have created a fake world for us. And that world has filled us with an unnecessary, paralyzing fear since birth.  

That’s upsetting to admit, don’t you agree? (It is for me especially at this age of 81. Why has it taken me so long to wake up?)

To be more specific, all our culture’s favorite convictions turn out to be untrue. For instance, we’ve been lied to:

  • About the importance of our personal histories where “my story” and “my” experience are supremely significant. (They are not!)
  • About individualism as somehow central to life in this world. (On the contrary, we’re all connected. There is no real distinction between any of us.)
  • About innate human competitiveness. (That’s a lie arbitrarily imposed by the reigning, time-bound capitalist economic system.)
  • About a God whose essence is to legislate, judge, condemn and punish
  • About an afterlife consisting in consignment an eternal lake of fire or of playing a harp on a cloud somewhere up in the sky
  • About the legitimacy of power claimed by politicians, generals, priests, and other manipulators who in the end are like the emperor without his clothes. (Their power is completely illusory.)
  • About laws of all kinds (They’re all creations of the wealthy and powerful statue-bearers – to keep wealth where it is. Apart from traffic regulations and the like, laws are generally instruments of oppression.)
  • About the goodness of the United States. (As Dr. King said, it’s the world’s “greatest purveyor of violence.” That’s not good!! The U.S. is as vile as any other empire.)
  • About the sacredness and inviolability of borders. [Capitalists ignore and cross them all the time (with devastating effect), while forbidding workers to do the same.]
  • About the importance of power, profit, pleasure, and prestige (None of them is lasting or real.)
  • Etc., etc., etc.

It can’t be repeated enough: Today’s lesson’s insistence that ALL these convictions are illusory or meaningless is very upsetting. But, let me say it again this way: None of the convictions I’ve listed and many, many more are anything more than human creations. Not one of them is part of Life’s inherent order.

Doesn’t that irritate you?

Nonetheless (as Lesson 12 points out) the realization of the world’s meaninglessness could also make us “indescribably happy.” The happiness would come from the realization that the world does not have to be crazy, insane, violent, sad, or under anything like its present “leadership.”

As we’ll discover in future lessons, the revelation of God’s order (once we’ve detached from the world’s meaningless disorder) will disclose glorious, undreamt of horizons of meaning.

In the meantime though, keep working on the task of dispelling the cultural illusions this first part of A Course in Miracles sets before us. Follow Lesson 12’s instructions:

Quite deliberately, three or four times during the day, for just a minute or so, “(W)ith eyes open. . . look around you, this time quite slowly. . . from one thing to another. . . ” saying to yourself, “I think I see a fearful world, a dangerous world, a hostile world, a sad world, a wicked world, a crazy world. . . But I am upset because I see a meaningless world.”  

As usual, I’ll join you in performing this exercise.

So, till next time, this is Mike Rivage-Seul wishing you well and God’s blessings.