Higher Learning | By D. Patrick Miller | Issue 231 | The Sun Magazine

Higher Learning

Kenneth And Gloria Wapnick On A Course In Miracles

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Correspondence

D. Patrick Miller responds:

Look, it’s just a book. It costs twenty-five bucks. I don’t get a kickback.

Editor’s note:

Readers who wish to learn more about A Course in Miracles may be interested in an article Miller wrote for Free Spirit in 1990. It includes vociferous criticism of the Course from several sources, including archetypal psychologist James Hillman and Christian evangelical scholar Dean Halversen. Miller says he’d be happy to send a copy of the article at cost (one dollar) to anyone who writes him at 1678 Shattuck Avenue, #319, Berkeley, CA 94709.

Thanks for the interview with Kenneth and Gloria Wapnick on A Course in Miracles [“Higher Learning,” March 1995]. I often feel that everyone else’s ego causes the problems in the world. As a result, I become oblivious to the fact that my ego is the problem with me, so I need to be reminded. I’m less of a grouch today because of D. Patrick Miller’s interview. Thanks.

Bill Appledorf Omaha, Nebraska

I applaud Seth Mirsky’s lucid and serious objections to A Course in Miracles and I found D. Patrick Miller’s response both disturbing and revealing, a series of personal attacks cloaked in self-serving and unconvincing assertions. Nowhere does he address Mirsky’s concerns, nor demonstrate any understanding of why the Course is problematic for many of us.

I have had considerable experience with A Course in Miracles, which I found unnecessarily opaque, long-winded, inconsistent, and simplistic. I did like the Course’s focus on daily practice and personal involvement with the text, but, frankly, reading Shakespeare every day would have repaid the same effort a thousandfold.

Miller says to look to a teaching’s “principles” and “real effects.” One such real effect is his response. Miller calls Mirsky a bad journalist who lacks the discipline for “tedious journalistic footwork” to support his “passionate” conclusions. But don’t look for evidence for this attack. Then, to answer Mirsky’s challenge that the Course may lead to social inaction, Miller merely lists his own Course-stimulated political activism. Is his self-serving list offered as serious evidence to defend a belief system that sees the world as a complete illusion in which “nothing works”? In short, his is an argument of alleged virtue and alleged vice, not acknowledgment and disputation.

The real illusion here is one of logic and evidence. Miller proposes that if Mirsky only knew more, and followed the discipline of the Course, he wouldn’t confuse “reality” with his “presumptions.” And would probably be a better person and better journalist, too, we might assume. Beware the logician who says, “If you just follow my way and my dogma, your skepticism and bad habits will vanish.”

I have to question the editorial judgment that first decides to print a major piece on the Course, then muddies the water by allowing this dreadful response to stand, in effect, as the sole defense of that decision. To echo Mirsky, why is any of this appearing in The Sun?

I am not saying that Miller is a bad journalist or doesn’t know what he is talking about. I only allege he is an incompetent commentator on his stated topic. It’s sad to observe ten years of spiritual seeking culminating not in openness and tolerance but in abuse against those who disagree. Whether this behavior emanates from the Course I leave for others to decide.

Robert Becker Rumsey, California

D. Patrick Miller’s lengthy piece on A Course in Miracles left me feeling vaguely uneasy, so I was pleased to find similar concerns so well articulated in Seth Mirsky’s letter. I was disappointed in Miller’s reply, however. He addressed very little of the substance of Mirsky’s argument, preferring instead to establish his own credentials and to attack Mirsky for daring such heretical criticism. Attacking the author rather than his arguments distracts the reader from the issue at hand. Am I to conclude that there is no convincing argument against Mirsky’s assertion that the Course is merely a repackaged variety of Christian fundamentalism?

Miller proved to me that he is defensive and that his own journalistic professionalism is still growing. I would suggest that he remember his journalistic objectivity when “closely studying [a teaching’s] principles and then talking to followers of the path.” When a reporter is so involved that he becomes a follower, his objectivity is seriously at risk.

Wasn’t there time to send Miller’s letter back for improvement? Or do we just use these pages to throw mud at each other?

Milton Hanzel Haydenville, Massachusetts

My personal thanks for Seth Mirsky’s welcome message in the Correspondence section concerning A Course in Miracles. Having read several Course-related articles in The Sun over the years, I’d begun to think that all of you had lost your minds. It’s encouraging to discover that a voice of sanity is still present; one who can serve as the designated driver when everyone else is too drunk to think.

I have a very close friend who is a devout Course groupie. Talking with her is like talking to a cadaver. Her speech is slurred, her mind out wandering somewhere. Yet she thinks she gets great personal insight from Schucman’s channeled crap. The Course is just so much word-sugar for the pathetic dogma junkies of the world.

Steven Kale Junction City, Oregon

I was astounded to read the letter from Seth Mirsky in your April issue. I have never before seen a magazine that would tolerate, let alone publicly welcome, such open disagreement with a senior decision maker. Even in groups that supposedly celebrate diversity, I have found fearful bosses who cannot abide differences from their own belief systems.

I find The Sun wonderful and refreshing because it allows for something that I, personally, try hard to communicate: that we can have different views, opinions, positions, backgrounds, lives, and religions, and not only still be friends, associates, and co-workers, but also enjoy our diversities. And when someone feels passionately that a matter demands sounding out, as Mirsky did, we do not have to silence expressions of opposition.

R. B. S. Ann Arbor, Michigan
D. Patrick Miller responds:

As a journalist with ten years’ experience investigating a wide variety of spiritual paths, I have learned that it is unwise to assess the value of any teaching without closely studying its principles, and then talking to followers of the path to learn of its real effects (as opposed to what I might presume to be its effects). Seth Mirsky apparently didn’t have the time for such tedious journalistic footwork before announcing his passionate conclusions about A Course in Miracles.

As a student of the Course since 1985, I can certify that its principles have only intensified my political activism in the everyday world. The Course’s teaching has helped encourage me to march against the war on Iraq; it has motivated me to write about the issue of capital punishment and support prison reform; and it has inspired me to support a wide variety of activist organizations, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, Earth Island Institute, Oxfam America, Working Assets, Habitat for Humanity, and Amnesty International. (The latter organization will receive a percentage of the royalties from my Course-inspired book, A Little Book of Forgiveness.)

These are not the involvements of someone following a “world-denying, escapist spiritual philosophy,” as Mirsky describes the Course. There’s a simple explanation for this paradox: Mirsky doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He has not investigated the subject sufficiently to discriminate between its reality and his presumptions. Ironically, such discrimination is precisely the discipline that the Course offers.

Shooting from the hip is common in letters of opinion. But if Mirsky considers himself a journalist capable of exercising editorial discretion, he should know better.

As copy editor for The Sun, I have the opportunity to see virtually all that goes into each issue several times before it is printed, as well as to offer my opinion about the material selected for publication. Very rarely do I come across a piece to which I object so strongly that I argue against running it at all. Such, however, is the case with the interview on and excerpts from A Course in Miracles [“Higher Learning,” March 1995].

It pains me to see The Sun promoting a spiritual philosophy so antithetical to what I value about this magazine: its taking seriously of the social and natural worlds, as well as the spiritual realm; its appreciation for the dark in life, as well as the light; its insistence on intellectual and emotional honesty; its refusal to buy any spiritual bill of goods, however facilely packaged. All these qualities I find sadly lacking in the Course as presented by its students Kenneth and Gloria Wapnick (and D. Patrick Miller), and in the excerpts from the Course itself.

If one looks beyond the defensive protestations of Kenneth Wapnick (“It’s not biblical; it’s neither Judaism nor Christianity; it’s not Christian Science; it’s not new age. . . .”), one finds in the Course what could fairly be described as a variety of Christian fundamentalism, updated for “this psychological age”: the material world is not so much sinful as “unreal”; “the ego” stands in for Satan. Like other fundamentalist philosophies, the Course offers an infallible guide to living — not, in this case, the Bible, but the Course itself (“a perfectly integrated whole,” in Kenneth Wapnick’s words), which is not to be questioned, for, as Course author Helen Schucman’s “Jesus” instructs, “You either believe all of this course or none of it.”

What I find most disturbing and irresponsible about the Course, beyond its evident hostility to free thought and critical reason, is its hatred of the world — the real, messy world of social interaction and finite lives bound up in political, economic, and ecological systems; the world in which, according to Gloria Wapnick, “nothing works.” There is nothing new about such an attitude; within Christianity it dates back at least to Augustine (as Matthew Fox notes in the interview in this issue). Nor is the Course’s spiritualized conception of Jesus, which seeks to erase his engagement with the social issues of his own time, anything out of the ordinary for a particular strand of Christian theology. What is new — or, more accurately, new age — about the Course is its steadfast adherence to an it’s-all-in-your-mind philosophy: “this is a course in changing your mind — which is the cause of everything — and not your behavior, which is the effect,” says Kenneth Wapnick. In the Course’s proudly solipsistic universe, politics and ethics are matters of no concern (except insofar as they are said to change “automatically” under the benign influence of “Jesus” or “the Holy Spirit”).

Needless to say, not all spiritual philosophies seek personal solace by making the troubled world disappear, nor must all mysticisms be otherworldly (I think of the everyday mysticism finely depicted by James P. Carse in “Breakfast at the Victory” [January 1995], or the creation spirituality discussed by Fox in this issue). In this time of accelerating ecological destruction, with multiple wars raging around the world and the triumph of meanness and selfishness in our national political culture, A Course in Miracles presents us with just what we surely do not need: another world-denying, escapist spiritual philosophy — comfort for the comfortable, affliction for the afflicted. I very much regret its appearance in The Sun.

Seth Mirsky Pittsboro, North Carolina
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