Founder: Helen Schucman
Date of Birth: 1909
Year Founded: In 1965, Helen Schucman began hearing a voice that would later identify himself as Jesus. She and her colleague, William Thetford, scribed the conversations into a three volume series that was published in 1976. 1
Sacred or Revered Texts: A Course in Miracles is the sacred text, which includes a text, a workbook for students, and a teacher’s manual.
Size of Group: Over 1 and a half million copies of The Course have been sold, and over 2,200 study groups now meet worldwide
Helen Schucman was an associate professor of medical psychology at Columbia University in New York. 3 She had an interesting relationship with her colleague, Bill Thetford. When Schucman first saw Thetford she said to herself, “And there he is. He’s the one I’m supposed to help”. 4 Schuchman did not yet know what this help would be. “Helen and Bill were obviously drawn together, as if they both recognized on another level a purpose to their association greater than simply a professional one”. 5 They became very close friends, but also had a very strained relationship. As Schucman recalled, “The relationship between Bill and myself deteriorated steadily. We had come quite interdependent, but we had also developed considerable anger towards each other”. 6 As their relationship worsened, Schuchman and Thetford desperately sought solutions to fix their problems. One day Thetford came to Schuchman and said, “There must be another way” . 7
Schuchman then began having strange visions and dreams. In the autumn of 1965, Schuchman told Thetford she felt she was “about to do something very unexpected”. 8 Thetford advised her to write down everything that was happening to her. In her first attempts, not much transpired. But then on October 21, 1965, a voice said to her, “This is a course in miracles. Please take notes”. 9
This voice, claimed Schuchman, was the voice of Jesus. Schuchman recalled, “The voice made no sound, but seemed to be giving me a kind of rapid inner diction which I took down in a shorthand notebook”. 10 Schuchman began writing down everything the voice had to say. At first, the teachings were mixed in with material geared towards helping Schuchman and Thetford with their own relationships and lives. Jesus instructed that these passages be removed, “as they were not meant for the general readership”. 11
It took seven years, but finally A Course in Miracles was complete. In the winter of 1972, Schuchman and Thetford met Dr. Kenneth Wapnick through a mutual friend. He helped them edit the text and got it published through the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP.) In June of 1975, Schuchman turned over the copyrights to FIP, and in June of 1976, the three-volume work, including the text, a workbook for students and a teacher’s manual, was published. 12 Schuchman and Thetford wanted to remain anonymous in their association with The Course because they feared they would lose their jobs, and they did not want to be made into gurus or cult figures. 13 Ironically, neither Schuchman nor Thetford ever identified with the teachings of The Course. For Schuchman, ACIM “aroused tremendous anxiety”. 14 Shcuchman openly admitted that she was unable to, “integrate the teachings into her own life”. 15 Her own failure with The Course has led many people to doubt its relevance.
According to A Course in Miracles Homepage, “A Course in Miracles is a self-study spiritual thought system that teaches that the way to universal love and peace-or remembering God-is by undoing guilt through forgiveness”. 30 This forgiveness is for others as well as oneself. The Course believes that only love is real, and that everything negative is merely an illusion of one’s mind, including the world. Our world is made up of our own ideas, and this becomes truth as we know it. The world we see is simply a figment of one’s imagination and realizing this leads to the ultimate truth: Heaven. The Course teaches that ego (not God) created the world. The world we see is illusional, and God does not know it exists. 31 The Course stresses that it is not the only route people can follow, because “they all lead to God in the end”. 32
The Course refers to the illusionary view of the world as “ego” or “wrong-mindedness.” The ego has three parts: sin, guilt, and fear. Sin is “the belief that we have separated from God”; guilt is having sinned; fear is the belief that one deserves punishment for one’s sins. 33 Right-mindedness, on the other hand, occurs when one stops believing in the illusionary world and starts believing in God’s World. The Course describes darkness as wrong mindedness, and teaches the necessity to escape from darkness. The process has two steps: 1.) Recognition that darkness cannot hide; 2.) Recognition that there is nothing you want to hide even if you could. 34
Followers of The Course believe that Jesus came to Schuchman and presented The Course at that particular time for several reasons. These are outlined in the Foundation for A Course in Miracles (FACIM) Homepage. These include:
The Necessity of healing the mind of the belief that attack is salvation; this is accomplished through forgiveness, the undoing of the belief in the reality of separation in guilt.
Emphasizing the importance of Jesus and/or the Holy Spirit as our loving and gentle Teacher, and developing a personal relationship with his Teacher.
Correcting the errors of Christianity, particularly where it has emphasized suffering, sacrifice, separation, and sacrament as being inherent to God’s plan of salvation “. 35
The Course is Christian in terminology, referring to Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and God, but its beliefs stray from the traditional ideals of Christianity. 36 According to The Course, Jesus is one of many Christs, and we all have the possibility of becoming Christ. Jesus is, “an elder brother…entitled to respect for his greater experience”. 37 The Course also differs from Christianity in its belief of Heaven. The Course believes that man has never really left Heaven; we are still there but simply in a dream from which we need to awaken. 38 This process is atonement. The Course defines atonement as, “a lesson in sharing, which is given to you because you have forgotten how to do it”. 39 Unlike Christianity, The Course does not call for “worship, ritual, tithing, a formal church, conventional prayer, priesthood, hierarchy, or even a congregation”. 40
The Course defines terms in a different manner than usually defined in the English language. According to The Course, a miracle is “the change of mind that shifts our perception from the ego’s world of sin, guilt, and fear, to the Holy Spirit’s world of forgiveness”. 41 The miracle occurs when we realize that the word is illusionary. The ego is the belief in the false self; that the world actually exists. Atonement is the way to, “undo the ego and heal the belief in separation,” and Jesus is the first person to complete this atonement. 42 ACIM sees the body as a consequence of the mind and a device which is only used to help heal the mind. 43 Death, according to The Course, is the “central dream from which all illusions stem,” and is the “symbol of the fear of God”. 44 It goes on to add, “If God created bodies, death would be real”. 45 But according to The Course, God does not create bodies.
The workbook serves to help students in their studies. “The purpose of the workbook is to train your mind in a systematic way to a different perception of everyone and everything in the world”. 46 The workbook consists of 365 daily lessons, but one may choose to spend more than a day on one lesson. The lessons start out simple, but then build to more complex ideas. Lesson one states, “Nothing I see in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place] means anything”. 47 The student then applies that idea to things around him, “this pen does not mean anything”. 48
The manual for teachers is a guidebook to help them enhance the students’ learning. It begins by describing the characteristics of ‘God’s Teachers’: trust, honesty, tolerance, gentleness, joy, defenselessness, generosity, patience, faithfulness, and open mindedness. 49 . The manual “is written in question and answer form and provides answers to some of the more likely questions a student might ask”. 50
Since the book’s publication, over one and a half million copies of The Course have been sold and over 2,200 study groups have formed. 16 From the FIP, the Foundation for A Course in Miracles (FACIM) was formed by Kenneth Wapnick in 1983. FIP remained primarily in charge of publishing ACIM, while FACIM focused on teaching it. The main campus is located in Roscoe, NY. It has lodging, dining, classrooms, a bookstore, and a library, as well as recreational facilities, including swimming, boating, tennis, badminton, volleyball, and hiking. 17 In 1997, a West Coast branch opened in La Jolla, CA. The West Coast branch does not offer dining or lodging. FACIM founded the Institute for Teaching Inner Peace through A Course in Miracles (ITIP-ACIM), which is a credited teaching institution chartered by the New York State Department of Education. 18 The ITIP-ACIM focuses on both study and application in teaching The Course. Its goals for their programs are for students to develop a deeper understanding of The Course. 19
The Miracle Distribution Center is another organization founded around the teachings of The Course. Founded by Beverly Hutchinson and her brother in 1978, the organization began as a four person operation, and has now grown into a networking center for people studying The Course. 20 MDC serves several purposes: a networking center, an educational center, and a spiritual counseling center. As a networking center, it publishes a bi-monthly newsletter entitled The Holy Encounter, compiles a listing of study groups, and sponsors a pen-pal project to connect students from all over. As an educational center, MDC facilitates weekly study groups, hosts annual conferences, sponsors lectures, and provides a 24 hour phone service that gives daily lessons from the workbook. As a spiritual counseling center, it offers help through e-mail, mail, fax, and phone; prayers through the Miracle Prayer Ministry; and assistance through the Counseling Referral Service. 21
ACIM brought about other organizations, such as the Community Miracles Center, Miracles Counseling, and the Circle of Atonement. CMC “exists to provide supportive community relationships for A Course in Miracles students worldwide”. 22 CMC began in 1987, and offers online study groups, a monthly publication, and links to many other ACIM resources. Miracles Counseling “is an online counseling service”. 23 Their counseling is based on the principles of A Course in Miracles. The Circle of Atonement is a teaching and healing center located in Sedona, AZ. It is a non-profit organization that teaches ACIM through weekly study classes, workshops, seminars, correspondence courses, booklets, newsletters, and books. 24
The Course received a lot of publicity due to believers such as Marianne Williamson. Williamson is the author of A Return to Love, which is her reflection on The Course. She promotes The Course through lectures and even on TV, appearing on the Oprah Winfrey show. Williamson preaches weekly to packed audiences. The majority of her followers are “guiltless baby boomers” and many were once involved in twelve-step programs. 25 She also has many celebrity followers, earning her the nickname ” Hollywood’s Guru”. 26 She officiated at Elizabeth Taylor’s wedding, and has other celebrity followers such as Cher, Bette Midler, and Shirley MacLaine. 27
Williamson is an inspirational speaker, telling her followers, “Align your mind with God and watch the miracles happen”. 28 Williamson believes the core teaching of ACIM, “is simply that God is love”. 29
The Course angers many Christians due to its contradictions with the Bible. One such contradiction is concerning Creation. The Course teaches that the world is an illusion created by man, whereas the Bible explicitly states, “In the beginning, God created the heaven and earth”. 51
Another big difference between The Course and The Bible is that The Course teaches that Jesus is not the only savior. According to The Course, “We don’t need a savior. Salvation is nothing more than right-mindedness. We are the source of our own salvation”. 52 This belief obviously strays greatly from what Christianity teaches. Therefore, many Christians cannot accept The Course as legitimate. Christians argue that The Course is not a religion, “it is in reality nothing more than cloaked New Age philosophy lurking in the shadows waiting to spring on the unaware”. 53 They are also resentful towards The Course because one of the purposes of the Foundation for A Course in Miracles (FACIM) is to correct, “the errors of Christianity”. 54
Many Christians are alarmed by the growing popularity of The Course. “A growing number of Christians are being sucked into this whirlpool of spiritual confusion in which they exchange the truth for a lie,” writes one critic of The Course. He goes on to write, “It is unequivocally anti-biblical and it is without a doubt promoted by satanic deception”. 55 A former Course believer, Moira Noonan, describes The Course as, “Satan’s mock-bible,” and also calls it a “course in brainwashing”. 56
One avid critic of The Course sums up his opinion, warning that, “It is a series of books and an organization whose existence every Christian should not only be aware of, but also have a biblical answer for, in order to refute its heretical teachings”. 57
Jesus advised Schuchman and Thetman to copyright The Course, however, he “cautioned her against publicly associating her name with it”. 58 At the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress, they were told that a copyright could not be assigned to ‘Jesus’ or ‘Anonymous.’ They eventually decided to register the copyright in the name of Anonymous, followed by Helen Schucman. Helen then assigned the copyright to FIP. 59 In 1999, FIP transferred the copyrights over to FACIM.
Several court cases have sprung up over the copyrights of ACIM. One such case involved Penguin Books (who publishes The Course) and Endeavor Academy in Wisconsin. Penguin sued Endeavor for copyright infringement. However, Endeavor Academy argues that Jesus wrote The Course, and therefore it is not copyrightable. Penguin responded that Helen Schucman, not Jesus, wrote The Course. Schuchman simply used Jesus as “a symbol of the love of God,” and The Course is actually her words for the idea of the eternal love of God. 60 Penguin’s response has an impact on students of ACIM because it challenges the authenticity of their beliefs. For some, the authorship is crucial to their relationship with it. If it is not Jesus, their relationship to The Course would greatly change; words that come from Jesus himself are very powerful; words that come from Helen Schucman do not carry as much weight. 61 Since an important aspect of The Course is developing a personal relationship with Jesus, it is crucial to understand if the words are coming from him or not. 62
Another such court case was filed by Robert Perry (of the Circle of Atonement) against FACIM. When copyrights were turned over to FACIM, FACIM sent letters to several organizations that used ACIM at the core of their groups and told them that any material making any use of The Course had to be submitted to FACIM for approval. 63 FACIM denied Robert Perry permission to use excerpts from ACIM in his upcoming book. Perry then filed “a legal motion calling for a judge to ‘establish the right of COA to fairly use A Course in Miracles and other related works in its publications'”. 64 FACIM filed a counterclaim for 52 infringing works. FACIM also filed suits against several other groups for copyright violations. Many of these suits are still pending. A website started by Tom Whitmore outlines the history of The Course’s copyright struggles. That website can be found at http://www.whitmorelaw.com/CIM_Copyright.html.
Branch, Rick. “A Course in Miracles: Biblical Response to the Course.” Watchman Expositor 1996. http://www.watchman.org/corsein.html
Branch, Rick. 1996. “Another New Age Fraud: A Course in Miracles Denies All.” Watchman Expositor http://www.watchman.org/corsebib.html
Bromley, David. 1994. “Between Sacred and Secular: Research and Theory on Quasi-Religion.” Religion and the Social Order, Vol. 4, Greenwich, CT: Jai Press Inc, 1994.
A Course in Miracles Combined Volume. New York: Viking Penguin, 1996. 2nd Ed.
Dalin, Shera. 1999. “Book Helps People Find Love, Forgiveness.” St. Louis Post Dispatch, (9 January). Five Star Lift Ed; p 31.
Hryczyk, Edward. 1995. “A Course in Miracles.” Trinity Communications. http://www.ewtn.com/library/NEWAGE/COURSE.txt
Holt, Patricia. 1993. “Exploring Women’s Spirituality.” The San Francisco Chronicle, (22 April). Final Ed; sec E, p5.
Knowlton, Leslie. 1993. “Divine Lessons in Study of Miracles.” Los Angeles Times, (18 April). Orange County Ed; part E, p1, col 3.
Moran, Tracy. 1996. “A Course in Brainwashing.” EWTN Online Services. http://www.ewtn.com/library/NEWAGE/BRAINWAS.txt
McNichol, Tim. “Women’s Message of the Moment?” USA Weekend, p10.
Perry, Robert. “Who Wrote A Course in Miracles? Part I.”ht tp://nen.sedona.net/circleofa/whowroteI.html
Schwiesow, Deirdre. 1996. “A Course in Miracles’ Opened Up to the Masses.” USA Today (29 March). Final Ed; p9D.
Smilgis, Martha. 1991. “Mother Teresa for the ’90’s?” Time Magazine. (29 July) v138 n4 p60.
Wapnick, Kenneth. 1991. Absence From Felicity: The Story of Helen Schucman and Her Scribing of A COURSE IN MIRACLES. Roscoe, NY: Foundation for A Course in Miracles.
Wapnick, Kenneth, Gloria Wapnick, Judith Skutch Whitson, and Robert Skutch. 1992. “A Course in Miracles Comes of Age.” The Lighthouse, (Dec) Vol 3, No 4.
Weiss, Arnold. 1994. “A New Religious Movement and Spiritual Healing Psychology Based on A Course in Miracles.” Religion and The Social Order. Vol 4.
White, Cecile. 1992. “Her Crash ‘Course in Miracles’: God is Love.” The Houston Chronicle. (16 Feb) 2 STAR Ed; Lifestyle.
Wise, Russ. 1996. “A Course in Miracles, A Biblical Evaluation.” Probe Ministries.
1 A Course in Miracles Homepage http://www.acim.org/about_acim_section/intro_to_acim.html
2 A Course in Miracles Homepage http://www.acim.org/about_acim_section/intro_to_acim.html
3 A Course in Miracles Homepage http://www.acim.org/about_acim_section/intro_to_acim.html
4 Wapnick, Kenneth Absence From Felicity p86
5 Wapnick, Kenneth Absence From Felicity p88
6 Wapnick, Kenneth Absence From Felicity p91
7 A Course in Miracles Homepage http://www.acim.org/about_acim_section/scribes.html
8 Wapnick, Kenneth Absence From Felicity p165
9 A Course in Miracles Homepage http://www.acim.org/about_acim_section/scribes.html
10 A Course in Miracles Homepage http://www.acim.org/about_acim_section/scribes.html
11 Wapnick, Kenneth Absence From Felicity p200
12 Watchman Fellowship http://www.watchman.org/corsfact.htm
13 Weiss, Arnold p198
14 Wapnick, Kenneth Absence from Felicityp381
15 Wapnick, Kenneth Absence from Felicityp382
16 A Course in Miracles Homepage
17 FACIM Homepage http://www.facim.org/maincampus.htm
18 FACIM Homepage http://www.facim.org/itip.htm
19 FACIM Homepage http://www.facim.org/itip.htm
20 Knowlton, Leslie “Divine Lessons in Study of Miracles”
21 Miracle Distribution Center Homepage http://www.miraclecenter.org/newoutline.htm
22 Community Miracles Center Homepage http://www.miracles-course.org
23 Miracles Counseling Homepage http://www.miraclescounseling.com/index2.htm
24 Circle of Atonement Homepage http://nen.sedona.net/circleofa/cofaoffr.html
25 Smilgis, Martha “Mother Theresa for the’90’s?”
26 Holt, Patricia “Exploring Women’s Spirituality”
27 McNichol, Tim “Women’s Message of the Moment”
28 White, Cecil “Her Crash ‘Course in Miracles’: God is Love”
29 White, Cecil “Her Crash ‘Course in Miracles’: God is Love”
30 A Course in Miracles Homepage http://www.acim.org/about_acim_section/intro_to_acim.html
31 White, Cecil “Her Crash ‘Course in Miracles’: God is Love”
32 ACIM Homepage http://www.acim.org/about_acim_section/what_it_is.html
33 FACIM Homepage http://www.facim.org/acim/theory.htm
34 A Course in Miracles Text p168
35 FACIM Homepage http://www.facim.org/vision.htm
36 Weiss, Arnold p199
37 Watchman Fellowship http://www.watchman.org/corseim.htm
38 Watchman Fellowship http://www.watchman.org/corseim.htm
39 A Course in Miracles Text p168
40 Weiss, Arnold p199
41 FACIM Homepage http://www.facim.org/acim/glossary.htm
42 FACIM Homepage http://www.facim.org/acim/glossary.htm
43 Weiss, Arnold p199
44 A Course in Miracles Teacher’s Manual p66
45 A Course in Miracles Teacher’s Manual p67
46 A Course in Miracles Workbook p1
47 A Course in Miracles Workbook p3
48 A Course in Miracles Workbook p3
49 A Course in Miracles Teacher’s Manual p9
50 A Course in Miracles Homepage http://www.acim.org/about_acim_section/intro_to_acim.html
51 Watchman Fellowship http://www.watchman.org/corsebib.htm
52 Hryczyk, Edward “A Course in Miracles”
53 Watchman Fellowship http://www.watchman.org/corseim.htm
54 FACIM Homepage http://www.facim.org
55 Probe Ministries http://www.leaderu.com/orgs/probe/docs/thcourse.html
56 Moran, Tracy “A Course in Brainwashing”
57 Watchman Fellowship http://www.watchman.org/corseim.htm
58 Wapnick et al “A Course in Miracles Comes of Age”
59 Wapnick et al “A Course in Miracles Comes of Age”
60 Circle of Atonement Homepage http://nen.sedona.net/circleofa/whowroteI.html
61 Circle of Atonement Homepage http://nen.sedona.net/circleofa/whowroteI.html
62 Circle of Atonement Homepage http://nen.sedona.net/circleofa/whowroteI.html
63 Miller, Patrick “The Course, the Copyright, and the Controversy: A Brief History” http://www.miraclecenter.org/miller.htm
64 Miller, Patrick “The Course, the Copyright, and the Controversy: A Brief History” http://www.miraclecenter.org/miller.htm
Created by Holly Whittaker
For Soc 452: Sociology of Religious Behavior
University of Virginia
Spring Term, 2000
Last modified: 04/19/01