Oprah and A Course in Miracles
Oprah Winfrey is the highest ranked TV talk show host in history, and every day millions of Americans tune in to The Oprah Winfrey Show. There is much to admire about her, including the philanthropic efforts of her various charities. She is deeply respected by her many viewers, and was able to become one of the most well-known media magnates despite a difficult childhood.
A 2004 study concluded that the “Oprah effect” of her endorsement of a book on her show equals on average $80million in sales. With such great influence should come great responsibility. Many of Oprah’s viewers are eager to embrace whatever she recommends, so she should use careful judgment when making endorsements on her show.
Recently Oprah began promoting something called “A Course in Miracles” (hereafter ACIM) on her show and website. This course is described on the site as “a self-study program of spiritual psychotherapy” and “an educational program for retraining the mind that is spiritual, rather than religious.” This teaching, by Oprah’s close friend Marianne Williamson, offers a way to live a “more loving and peaceful life.” What is the origin of this teaching, and what does ACIM actually teach?
Although ACIM claims not to be a religion (the website explicitly states the course “is not a religion”) the teaching has a religious foundation. In 1965 psychologist Helen Schucman claimed she began dramatically experiencing an inner voice saying “This is a course in miracles; please take notes.” With help of fellow professor William Thetford she transcribed what she claimed the Voice was saying to her. The result was eventually edited by Ken Wapnick and published in 1975 by the Foundation for Inner Peace (formerly known as the Foundation for Parasensory Investigation) .
Religion scholar Dr James A. Beverley notes, regarding the formative years of the movement, that
“it was regularly claimed that Jesus was the ultimate source of ACIM. In fact, Wapnick stated at one point, “It was very clear to me that Helen could not have written it and I just could not imagine it having any other source than Jesus himself.”” 
If true, this would be a valuable resource which would help us understand Jesus’ life and teachings better. What, then, does ACIM teach? Among other things, the course teaches that:
“The recognition of God is the recognition of yourself.”
“God’s Name is holy, but no holier than yours. To call upon His Name is to call upon your own.”
“There is no sin.”
“The Name of Jesus Christ as such is but a symbol … It is a symbol that is safely used as a replacement for the many names of all the gods to which you pray.”
“Do not make the pathetic error of ‘clinging to the old rugged cross.’”
Regardless of what we conclude about ACIM, we must at least admit that the Jesus we find here is nothing like the Jesus of the Bible. Much like The Secret (last year’s New Age fad which was also featured on Oprah’s show) ACIM claims that we are all “God”. Also like The Secret, ACIM sometimes uses Christian language, but changes the meanings of the words so that they convey entirely different messages, and even ends up disrespecting Jesus by remaking him how they would like him to be rather than how he really was.
The New Testament documents, which were written in the first century AD by eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life and ministry (or those who consulted eyewitnesses) describe a very real Jesus (ie not just a symbol) who acknowledged the reality of God and sin, and called people back into full relationship with God. There is no evidence of the ACIM‘s Jesus to be found in the New Testament. Why trust ACIM instead of the Bible, which was written about 1900 years before Helen Schucman claimed to have her visions?
Some who embrace ACIM do so, in part, out of rebellion against the perceived dogmatism, blind faith and exclusivity of the Christian faith. Ironically, ACIM is extremely dogmatic. Its purpose is “thought reversal” and it encourages readers to practice its ideas without exception even if they find them to be unbelievable. In other words, simply believe and follow its exclusive truth without questioning … some of the very things many find distasteful about traditional religions.
As it turns out, all beliefs are exclusive, even the belief that there are no true beliefs… that belief excludes those who think there are true beliefs! The question is: Which beliefs are right and which are wrong? We’ve seen that the Jesus of the Bible and the Jesus described in ACIM cannot both be described accurately. Which, then, is true? The question is not merely an academic one; it has practical implications for our daily lives.
Take a look at your life. How would you describe it? Contented? Rushed? Exciting? Stressful? Moving forward? Holding back? For many of us it’s all of the above at times. How do our lives become this way? Is it the case that, as ACIM teaches, there really is no evil in the world, and that we can all have peace in our lives if we merely believe that we can? Or is the deeper problem that our pain isn’t just imaginary, it is real?
If you sometimes feel guilty, you’re … well, just like everyone else on the planet. Why do we feel guilty? Perhaps we feel guilty because we are guilty. Guilty of what? Turning away from God and living a life apart from Him.
The bad news is that all of the self-help lectures and affirmative thinking in the world won’t save us. A person drowning in quicksand cannot struggle their way out. Their struggles will inevitably just pull them further down.
The good news of the Gospel is that, through Jesus’ self-sacrifice on the cross, we may restore our relationship with God, if we accept the gift God presents to us, renounce our former lives and put our trust in God as the center of our lives. Although we lack the ability, by our own efforts, to bridge the gap between God and us, Jesus, being simultaneously and uniquely fully God and fully a human being, took initiative and the punishment we deserved on our behalf so that our relationship with God could be renewed.
You can start a new life (be “reborn”) right now by faith (trust) through prayer. Praying is simply talking to God. Praying gives us the opportunity to begin to know and have a loving relationship with God, who doesn’t answer our requests like a genie from a lamp but instead promises to listen and to love us. God knows your heart and is not so concerned with your words as He is with the attitude of your heart. Here’s a suggested prayer:
Lord Jesus, I want to know you personally. Thank you for dying on the cross for my sins. I open the door of my life to you and ask you to come in as my Savior and Lord. Take control of my life. Thank you for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life. Make me the kind of person you want me to be.