Today’s lesson (17) once again emphasizes the power of propaganda and brainwashing within Plato’s cave. We’re reminded that from the beginning of our lives we’re subjected to the “wisdom” of the world that supports imperialism, white supremacy, capitalism, and patriarchy.
We see nothing as it is – not even the walls of our room or our own bodies. Everything is shaped by what our keepers have taught us long before we’ve had a chance to think for ourselves.
So, we grow up believing that empire is good, that whites are genetically superior, that capitalism benefits everyone, and that men are naturally superior to women.
And it goes further than that:
We’re taught that laws are just and inviolable, and somehow divinely endorsed. In reality however, laws are fashioned by the rich and powerful to keep them wealthy and powerful. They can never be endorsed by the God Jesus embodied who champions the poor and oppressed, not their captors.
We’re taught that enforcement of those non-neutral laws is carried out fairly, when the truth is that the rich and powerful rarely pay the price for their crimes, while the poor and powerless are severely punished for the slightest missteps.
Similarly, we’re taught that what’s called “legal,” “rational,” and “logical” trumps other ways of knowing – e.g., through feeling, intuition in general, women’s intuition in particular, divine revelation. . .. Conviction of that sort is the basis of patriarchy.
You get the idea. Virtually everything in our world is not neutral but biased towards the rich and powerful.
This first part of A Course in Miracles calls us to decontaminate our minds from the sway of such convictions.
Put otherwise still, none of the thoughts just mentioned is neutral, much less true. Instead, each favors the interests of the teachers, priests, politicians, generals, and aristocrats who have created the shadow world in which we all live. As we’ll see in future lessons, those interests end up oppressing people Jesus identified with.
Here’s the way Lesson 17 puts its main thoughts:
“The thought comes first. . ..” (That is, before we’ve had the chance to develop discernment).
As a result, “You see no neutral things because you have no neutral thoughts.” (Only those that have been imposed on you since birth.
“Regardless of what you believe, you do not see anything that is really alive or really joyous.”
“You are unaware as yet of any thought that is really true, and therefore really happy.”
“I do not see a neutral wall, because my thoughts about walls are not neutral.”
“I do not see a neutral body, because my thoughts about bodies are not neutral.”
“This is not the way the world thinks, but you must learn that it is the way you think.”
Reversing your thought processes even about walls and bodies is difficult. But to repeat, that is the fundamental task of this first part of A Course in Miracles. Remind yourself of this task periodically throughout the day. Keep the thought before your mind: “I see no neutral things.”
Yesterday, on “Democracy Now,” Amy Goodman reported good news for the poor countries of the Global South. In the news headline portion of her show , she said, “Cuba has pledged to donate 200 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine to low-income countries in the Global South. The move was announced at talks hosted by the Progressive International and was heralded as a possible ‘historic turning point’ in the pandemic.”
You’d think that the announcement would be welcomed and celebrated everywhere and be given at least as much press coverage as the one-day protests in Cuba reported so breathlessly last November 15th. However, no such general celebration occurred. Even on “Democracy Now,” the story went undeveloped beyond the just-quoted headline. Meanwhile, in contrast to its hysteria over Cuban protests last fall, the U.S. government itself has been totally silent about this potentially game changing development.
Nevertheless, according to international health experts, Cuba’s achievement could make vaccinations much more available for example to 1.3 billion Africans whose continent has seen only 7% of its population receive even a single vaccination dose. (And this in contrast to 70% vaccination rates in richer countries.)
According to reports even on CNBC’s online source, the five Cuban vaccines in question:
Are a uniquely Cuban development among the former colonies
Have been administered in three doses to a higher percentage (86%) of Cuba’s 11 million people than in most of the world’s richest countries
Are not dependent on expensive mRNA technology using instead a “subunit protein” variety – like the Novavax vaccine
Are cheap to produce
Require no special refrigeration
Enjoy 90% effectiveness against all strains of COVID 19
Will have no patent restrictions on their recipes shared with low-income countries
Will be made available to them virtually at cost
Are a tribute to Cuba’s legendarily efficient health care system
Currently, Cuba’s prestigious biotech industry is awaiting approval for its vaccine developments from the World Health Organization. That approval is expected early this year. According to Helen Yaffee of the University of Glasgow, “. . . many countries and populations in the global south see the Cuban vaccine as their best hope for getting vaccinated by 2025.”
As for cost and distribution issues, John Kirk, professor of Latin American Studies at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia added, “The objective of Cuba is not to make a fast buck, unlike the multinational drug corporations, but rather to keep the planet healthy.”
But in news cycles dominated by pharmaceutical corporations that refuse to waive intellectual property rights to their largely publicly funded products, such contrasting humanitarian consciousness goes mostly underpublicized and by such silence, denied.
Denial like that prevails despite the appeals for sharing vaccine recipes by the World Health Organization itself supported by civil society groups, trade unions, former world leaders, international medical charities, Nobel laureates and human rights organizations.
Part of the reparations due Cuba for 60 years of economic embargo and for silence about its achievements is to at last recognize its socialism as a force for global humanitarianism much more beneficial to the world than international capitalism.
I’m probably the last person in “America” to finally watch the fantastically popular video series “Game of Thrones” which concluded in 2019. But that’s what I’ve done over the last month. In a very belated effort (initially at least) to see what all the fuss was about, I watched all 73 episodes.
Like most others, I was hooked from the get-go.
However, because of my peculiar theological background, the whole thing moved my octogenarian self far beyond any superficial desire for cultural literacy. It turned my thought squarely to what many still call “God.”
I mean the behavior of those playing the violent, sadistic game of musical thrones greatly resembled that of the God I and most others in the “Christian” west were taught to believe in. That’s because the dominant understandings of God as king, judge, condemner, and punisher were solidified precisely during the period depicted in the HBO series.
Let me show you what I mean by first briefly recalling what viewers saw on “Game of Thrones,” and then adding what the series revealed about medieval ideas of God. Finally, allow me to describe the alternative suggested by the insights of modern science – of quantum physics in particular.
My hope in doing this is to bring back from the dead a version of the divine that I at least find more worthy of belief, and helpful (if not necessary) to the project of saving the planet. The resurrected belief also holds promise of redeeming the rest of us from our age-old habit of unquestioning acquiescence while our “betters” repeat with impunity the atrocities depicted on HBO.
Game of Thrones
But first some reminders of what most of us witnessed in the series. It treated us all to kings, lords, and ladies beheading, castrating, and inflicting other forms of torture including skinning victims alive.
Then there were the endless swordfights and battlefield massacres – the spectacle of hundreds of thousands of armed men (and a few women) including spectacular giants, armored soldiers, terrifying ghosts, assaulting castles of various descriptions – wildly setting fires, swinging long knives, daggers, hammers, spears, and scythes, or launching flaming cannonballs, and shooting hundreds of arrows in deadly unison. Fire breathing dragons joined the mayhem to devastating effect.
Significantly, it was all, well, “biblical” in scope and carnage.
Even closer to the topic at hand, viewers witnessed supposed spiritual masters, witches, and military hierarchs supporting compulsory celibacy, slavery, shaming of women, and a sometimes-prudish morality also enforced by torture and death, along with solitary confinement to dungeons where prisoners were starved, and subjected to insistent commands to “confess.”
And the reactions of both palace officials and commoners to all of it? Apart from the Wildlings or Free Peoples, the universal response was blind obedience. Everybody but the Wildlings accorded to the royal classes absolute power even if orders given were foolish, cruel, selfish, suicidal, sadistic, genocidal, lustful, or completely demeaning. Everything was justified for the sake of “the realm.” Child sacrifice? “Yes, your grace, as you wish.”
Thrones and God
My point here is that all those medieval practices shaped western ideas of God who ends up being seen primarily as a potentate just like the ones in “Game of Thrones” – or in the Bible. As such he (sic) emerged for western believers primarily as a king, a legislator, judge, condemner, and punisher. God ended up being a torturer too. According to resultant doctrine, he was prepared to commit to an eternal lake of fire (hell) unconfessed sinners who (for Catholics at least) ate meat on Friday, did anything sexual outside of marriage, or even missed Mass on Sunday.
Not only that but, according to the extremely influential Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), one of the principal delights of those lucky enough to “get to heaven” would be their witnessing the torments of those tortured in hell. They’d take great pleasure in observing the agony of others.
To that point, here’s what Aquinas said: “In order that the happiness of the saints may be more delightful to them and that they may render more copious thanks to God for it, they are allowed to perfectly see the sufferings of the damned …” [Summa Theologica, Third Part, Supplement, Question XCIV, “Of the Relations of the Saints Towards the Damned,” First Article]
It’s no wonder then that so many Christians accept torture on the one hand, but on the other have left aside unacceptable theological convictions straight out of Kings’ Landing, Winterfell, and the Seven Kingdoms depicted in “Game of Thrones.”
Problem is that the removal of such beliefs has confined us to a meaningless world in terms of life’s transcendent dimensions. And it apparently has done little to make us less obedient subjects of the realm.
A Quantum Alternative
Despite everything however, at least according to the Pew Research Center, 90% of Americans retain belief in some sort of Higher Power, though not always in the God of the Bible. But if “God” is neither that deity described by the bloodier passages in the sacred scripture, nor the eternal torturer celebrated by Thomas Aquinas, what is left to believe in?
It’s here that quantum physics might offer some help. I mean, even those only marginally acquainted with the subject know that contemporary physicists see everything in the universe not as ultimately solid objects, but as packages of light waves – of energy.
Such understanding suggests not only that in a very real sense all of us form a single substance united with each other and with everything that exists – with animals, plants, minerals, soil, air, and water. All of it expresses the same energy, including that of consciousness. In some sense then, everything is united and aware. All reality is one.
Scientific insights like those suggest a Ground of Being who might be described simply as the sum of all the energy in the universe and in the universe of universes of which our solar system is an infinitesimal part. That unfathomable quantum would include, of course, the energy of consciousness. It might even be addressed personally as a Thou. It finds incarnation in each of our apparently solid bodies.
Such realizations have salutary consequences. That is, if we are one with each other, with the natural world, and ultimately with the one we used to call “God,” then wars, borders, and us-and-them thinking of any type should find no place among any but the psychopathically insane.
Moreover, the wisdom of one of the world’s great prophets, Jesus of Nazareth, who instructed us to “Love your neighbor as yourself” becomes evident. Our neighbor is everyone. And everyone is our Self. There is no real distinction, no real separation among us. Loving one’s neighbor makes sense because one’s neighbor is in fact oneself.
I suppose what I’m saying is that my binge watching of “Game of Thrones” helped me better understand firstly where our ideas of a sadistic god come from. Secondly, it made clear why so many of us have abandoned belief in that God. We can’t any longer accept a deity who acts as cruelly and arbitrarily as King Robert, Cersei, Joffrey, Ramsey Bolton, or Daenerys.
Thirdly, and even more importantly, such rejection yields practical conclusions that might save us from the insanities of our contemporary political powers whose slaughters, genocides, ecocides – their omnicides – massively eclipse anything depicted in “Game of Thrones.” I’m thinking of modern weapons of war even well below civilization-ending nuclear weapons. So many of them make the fire breathing dragons and “Game of Thrones” massacres look like children’s pets.
And finally, all of this suggests resistance on the part of citizens like us. I mean, when you think about it, we’re not much different from those commoner subjects of the kings and royalty depicted in “Game of Thrones.” “Nuclear war, Mr. President? As you wish, your grace.”
I mean, most of us stand quite ready to turn off our rationality and consciousness and proceed to sacrifice our children and ourselves at the whim of those whose words and actions reveal them to be psychopathic and quite stupid.
It’s time we realize our “kings’” lunatic nature and deny them any authority whatsoever. The revolution against the medieval mindset of “Game of Thrones” is still incomplete.
Welcome, my friends to Episode 24 of “A Course in Miracles for Social Justice Activists.” My name Is Mike Rivage-Seul and I’m your host for this series.
Today’s central teaching in Lesson 16 of A Course in Miracles Workbook for Students is “I have no neutral thoughts.”
Before we get to that, let me remind you that my podcast’s approach to ACIM is different from most interpretations. As seen in Episode 3, it’s taking the position that A Course in Miracles ‘authorship, literary form, historical context, language, and content all indicate that Jesus’ revelation there was intended not primarily for humankind as a whole, but for North Americans living specifically in the belly of the beast of the U.S. system of white supremacist, capitalist, imperialist patriarchy that is waging a war (i.e., attacking) the world’s non-white poor majority. ACIM’s overall appeal is to stop the attacks.
Put otherwise, ACIM implicitly recognizes that our world is engaged in a bloody class conflict in which we must take sides. We’re either on the side of the poor or the world’s aristocratic oppressors. Neutrality is impossible. And since our world is shaped by white supremacy, capitalism, imperialism, and patriarchy, those who claim to be neutral end up on the side of the dominant aristocrats. Not to decide – not to take sides – is to decide in favor or the given order.
With all of that in mind, here are the most salient assertions of Lesson 16 which is the focus of today’s episode:
Everything you see is the result of your thoughts.
Every thought you have brings either peace or war
Therefore, none of your thoughts are neutral or idle.
Instead, they are either true or false.
Peaceful thoughts are true and come from love.
Warlike thoughts are false and come from fear.
Please pause over those assertions and see if they resonate. Even if they don’t, nonetheless, give them serious and prayerful thought.
Personally, I can think of no better commentary on this lesson than the famous “Twin Verses” from the Buddhist Dhammapada. I learned them years ago from my meditation teacher, Eknath Easwaran who recommended spending even up to half an hour going slowly over the verses’ words:
Of course, you don’t need to go that far today. But please give them serious thought anyhow.
Here they are:
“All that we are is the result of what we have thought: we are formed and molded by our thoughts. Those whose minds are shaped by selfish thoughts cause misery when they speak or act. Sorrows roll over them as the wheels of a cart roll over the tracks of the bullock that draws it.
“All that we are is the result of what we have thought: we are formed and molded by our thoughts. Those whose minds are shaped by selfless thoughts give joy whenever they speak or act. Joy follows them like a shadow that never leaves them.”
Please try to recall today’s ACIM teaching throughout the day: Remember, neutrality is impossible in this life characterized by class conflict. In questions of war and peace, you must take sides. If you refuse to do so, you’ve already taken the side of the imperial warmongers who are driven by fear rather than love.
It’s the goal of A Course in Miracles to have our every thought, word, and deed driven by love.
Here’s a simple reflection to put in perspective Lesson 15 of ACIM’s Workbook for Students. Please read the lesson first (here) then my reflection.
My thoughts in Plato's Dark Cave
My keepers and I
Made them all up.
They are no more than
ILLUSIONS, I'm told
On a dank moss-covered wall
Where nonsense penumbra flicker
From opaque flat screens,
Computers, and vagrant iphones.
It's all mirrors and smoke
Projected by cruel and powerful
Who lie through their teeth.
That our country is somehow
Free and virtuous,
That our borders are sacred
While those of others
Must be kept open
To the plunder
Of those same manipulators
Who (we're told)
Are just doing business
Waging "just wars"
To keep us all
Prosperous and safe.
But that's just a lie
Don't you see?
We've bought their images
Slurped their Kool-Aid
Worshipped their projections
To the truth
That "America" is
"The world's greatest purveyor"
Not of prosperity,
But "of violence."
The lies masquerade
As common sense
Only to free our captors
Transfers (i.e. steals) resources
From the world's
Whose brave resistance
As socialism, communism
And illegal immigration.
All those shadow projections
But stand 180 degrees opposed
To God's honest truth
That sees no separation
No impoverished enemies
From people oppressed
By "American" crimes --
Not even from Muslims
Russia, Cuba, Venezuela,
North Korea, Nicaragua,
Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq,
Think on that
Then see how many
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.”
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:
What passes for reality within Plato’s Cave
The reality reflected in our actual dreams
The reality of the conscious universe as incarnated in bodies like yours and mine and in the apparently physical world.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.