Oprah and A Course in Miracles

Written by Darren Hewer

faith_oprahOprah 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.[1] 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.”” [2]

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.

62 Responses to “Oprah and A Course in Miracles”

  • Sc says:

    But a parent who sees the childs behavior as just that, and does not budge from the unconditional love he has for WHO the child really is (beyond his negative behavior or bad actions) is what the Course is talking about. Unconditional love is the opposite of judgement and sin. Because man judges, we project our negativity onto God in order to relieve our own guilt.

  • Sharon says:

    interesting article thank you for sharing

  • Ally says:

    Hello,

    Thank you for sharing your love of Jesus. I will be very upfront by saying I have been learning and practicing the principles of ACIM for a few years now. This course has absolutely changed my life for the better and I have the most beautiful relationship with Jesus because of ACIM. I think unless you truly read and study the Course you could not understand the implications of it. I am going to leave below a more accurate and in-depth clarification of ACIM’s explantation of Jesus than the one you gave above. ACIM teaches that the Holy Spirit uses absolutely everything in our lives to teach us and help us remember God and how he created us like Himself, that means He is guiding us regardless of what book we choose to study.

    “There is no need for help to enter Heaven for you have never left. But there is need for help beyond yourself as you are circumscribed by false beliefs of your Identity, which God alone established in reality. Helpers are given you in many forms, although upon the altar they are one. Beyond each one there is a Thought of God, and this will never change. But they have names which differ for a time, for time needs symbols, being itself unreal. Their names are legion, but we will not go beyond the names the course itself employs. God does not help because He knows no need. But He creates all Helpers of His Son while he believes his fantasies are true. Thank God for them for they will lead you home.

    The name of , Jesus, is the name of one who was a man but saw the face of Christ in all his brothers and remembered God. So he became identified with Christ, a man no longer, but at one with God. The man was an illusion, for he seemed to be a separate being, walking by himself, within a body that appeared to hold his self from Self, as all illusions do. Yet who can save unless he sees illusions and then identifies them as what they are? Jesus remains a Savior because he saw the false without accepting it as true. And Christ needed his form that He might appear to men and save them from their own illusions.

    In his complete identification with the Christ–the perfect Son of God, His one creation and His happiness, forever like Himself and One with Him–Jesus became what all of you must be. He led the way for you to follow him. He leads you back to God because he saw the road before him, and he followed it. He made a clear distinction, still obscure to you, between the false and true. He offered you a final demonstration that it is impossible to kill God’s Son; nor can his life in any way be changed by sin and evil, malice, fear or death.

    And therefore all your sins have been forgiven because they carried no effects at all. And so they were but dreams. Arise with him who showed you this because you owe him this who shared your dreams that they might be dispelled. And shares them still, to be at one with you.

    Is he the Christ? O yes, along with you. His little life on earth was not enough to teach the mighty lesson that he learned for all of you. He will remain with you to lead you from the hell you made to God. And when you join your will with his, your sight will be his vision, for the eyes of Christ are shared. Walking with him is just as natural as walking with a brother whom you knew since you were born, for such indeed he is. Some bitter idols have been made of him who would be only brother to the world. Forgive him your illusions, and behold how dear a brother he would be to you. For he will set your mind at rest at last and carry it with you unto your God.

    Is he God’s only Helper? No, indeed. For Christ takes many forms with different names until their oneness can be recognized. But Jesus is for you the bearer of Christ’s single message of the Love of God. You need no other. It is possible to read his words and benefit from them without accepting him into your life. Yet he would help you yet a little more if you will share your pains and joys with him, and leave them both to find the peace of God. Yet still it is his lesson most of all that he would have you learn, and it is this:

    There is no death because the Son of God is like his Father. Nothing you can do can change Eternal Love. Forget your dreams of sin and guilt, and come with me instead to share the resurrection of God’s Son. And bring with you all those whom He has sent to you to care for as I care for you.”

  • Jamie Jamie says:

    Hi David, there are a lot of things that you have listed of which I have no desire to convince you because I don’t believe they are true. It is not true that God acts like man because it is humanity that was made in the image of God, so it is us that reflects Him. Unfortunately, because we have rebelled against Him that image has been distorted which means we no longer reflect His character as we were created to. However, we have God’s revelation of Himself through the Bible and so we can know what He is like; the apostle Paul also wrote that we can still see God’s reflection in ourselves, even though it is like looking into a dim mirror (1Corinthians 13:12); so we know what justice is even if our selfishness gets in the way and distorts our acts of justice. We know what love is, even though our self-centredness leads us to take advantage of others. Most people I know have an idea of the difference between good and evil even though they do not always do what is good; wouldn’t you agree?

    I would never try to convince you that God is like us, because He is so much more than we are. God spoke through the prophet Isaiah, “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,and my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9) That fits for a God that has no limits compared to us finite creatures.

    Are you saying that free will means that we can do anything we want without consequences? Can you imagine a society where that would be the policy? That is not what we mean when we say that people have rights; yes they have rights but that comes with responsibility and limits when the rights of one infringes on the rights of others. There is also good choices and evil choices; yes you are free to choose evil but there are consequences for those evil choices. I don’t see that as ‘stingy’ on free-will; I see that as justice. Are you suggesting that Hitler be allowed to learn from his mistakes without a ‘reprimand’? And if we expect God to stand against that degree of wickedness, why would you expect Him not to oppose my ‘little’ indiscretions? Isn’t that hypocritical to condemn evil in others but excuse it in myself?

    I would also never try to convince you that Jesus died only for some people’s sins; His disciple John wrote, “He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the world.” (1John 2:2) So Jesus’ death paid the penalty for the sins of the whole world but He does not force anyone to accept His gift. If someone insists on trying to pay the penalty for their sin in some other way He is not going to ignore their choice. To accept Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf is to acknowledge that we could never pay the penalty for our offense against God.

    Justice demands that the more valuable the victim of an offense, the more severe the penalty is. If I swat a mosquito very few people care. If I swat another person’s dog people respond very differently. If I swat a child, suddenly the consequence of that action is significantly more severe. If I were to swat the Queen of England I would be instantly pounced on by her security forces and dealt with extreme severity. The action is the same in all situations but consequences become more severe as the value of the victim increases. It is not that the Queen Elizabeth is anymore important as a human being than a child, but her title as Queen is something of greater value. Now, if my offense is against the Creator of everything, who is of infinite value, then the consequences of such an offense are equally infinite. As a finite creature, I am woefully unable to pay such an unlimited penalty. And to suggest that my penalty is something within my capability of paying is to say that God is of less than infinite value, which is an offense in and of itself.

    The Good News of Jesus is that as God, He is of infinite value, and so His sacrifice is infinitely able to cover our offense against God. And because He is of infinite value, His sacrifice is not only able to pay the infinite penalty of my offense, but it is sufficient to pay the penalty of an infinite number of other people just like me. So His death did pay the penalty for the whole world, and is available to any who would receive it.

    Now, in my understanding of the teaching of ACIM, the reason that humanity is in the predicament that we are in is that we have lied to ourselves that we are separated from God, and all the other ‘evil’ things we do are just part of the illusion of that separateness. If God created us to be with Him in Heaven, that lie that we told ourselves is an offense against God’s plan and purpose. If that is the case then even if all other actions and thoughts are not real, but only an illusion, we still are guilty of that first lie against the truth of God. Since God is of infinite value that lie has an infinite consequence that we in our finiteness are unable to pay. To suggest anything else is to diminish the value of God. So ACIM breaks down at that point: either God is of less value so our lie against Him has lesser consequence, or we are fooling ourselves into thinking that we can pay an infinite penalty with our finite resources.

    Am I understanding ACIM correctly? How do you explain how ‘forgiving ourself of the first lie’ does not diminish the value of God?

  • David says:

    Jamie, …

    Well, when you can convince me that a perfect, all-knowing god, can only see far enough to come to the same realizations and conclusions of man, … We should talk.

    When you can convince me that God acts like man, punishes like man, wages injustice like man, essentially man. And somehow this is god, … We should talk.

    If you can only envision god, in all God’s perfection, to be only like ourself, … I see this not as God, but man-kind envisioning a god that is only capable of being like ourselves.

    If this is god to you, … Well, I see this “god” as no different than the people who vote in politics, electing leaders of a nation forgetting how the candidates actions had very little to do with their promises, … And voting them in again.

    If this is god, only capable of forgetting oversights that robbed a nation of freedoms and enslaved it’s population to debts, …

    I instead see God as one who trusts that we can learn on our own, even if we stumble a few times. I see a God who has patience that one day we will get the right message. I see a God that when tells us we have free will means it, not to punish, but to give us the freedom to learn from our mistakes and lets us try again without reprimand.

    But if you can convince me that God is stingy on “free will” (you know, you have a choice, but your only allowed to choose what I say you must, or I’ll punish you) … If you can convince me that is a perfect god, … Without using “Jesus died for our sins, but you’ll be punished for sinning” … I’m not in favor of double-standards, I’m not in favor of hypocrisy.

    When you can tell me the Bible has no contradictions, … Jesus told us to pray as if the right hand does not know what the left is doing, … Yet church and attending and proclaiming is rather in defiance of Jesus.

    When Jesus said do not collect money, and the church does this very thing, … When Jesus said do not collect money and the Apostles not only where they collecting, but killed a couple because the husband said he had none to give, … The Apostles were in defiance of Jesus.

    So tell me again of perfection.

  • Jamie Jamie says:

    Hi David, I would suggest that a God who does not see the evil, hurtfulness of our self centred actions, attitudes, and words is a ‘less-than-perfect’ God. We don’t admire a parent that ignores their child’s misbehaviour; when a judge ignores a person’s guilt we call that an injustice. How can we laud such actions from a God that we condemn in humanity?

    God presents Himself in the Bible as a perfect balance between love for humanity, shown in HIs grace and mercy, while at the same time not compromising His perfect justice. God has indeed created humanity with the freedom to choose but He also holds us responsible for those choices. He has delegated responsibility for justice here on Earth to humanity, establishing governments through whom laws are passed and enforced. He also is active in opposing those governments that are corrupt and take advantage of the vulnerable. Ultimately, every selfish thought, attitude and action brings will be dealt with in eternity, so that those who persist in rebellion against God’s standard will pay the penalty of an eternal separation from God; the Bible calls that Hell. If God is the source of every good and perfect gift, then to be separated from Him means we are separated from everything that is good.

    But God does not abandon us in the consequences of our rebellion against Him because He loves us and has created us to be in relationship with Him. So He sacrificed Himself to pay the penalty for us all, and graciously offers that gift freely to all who would trust Him. It is like a judge who rightfully condemns the criminal for his/her action. and the steps down off the bench to pay the fine on their behalf. If the criminal refuses to accept the judges act of grace will have to pay their own penalty. God does not force anyone to accept His gift, because each one has the freedom to choose for themselves.

    That makes more logical sense than a God who is unwilling or unable to see our selfishness, don’t you think?

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