In the June 2009 Issue of Miracles Monthly, Doug Thompson quotes a post that I made on April 4, 2009 at the Community Miracles Center’s On-Line Discussion Group. My post was a very strongly worded opinion against referring to the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) version of A Course In Miracles. Given that my post has now appeared in print, I would like to offer some reasons for my opinion.
First let me say that I am grateful to Foundation for Inner Peace for the service that they have rendered. From 1977 to 2007 the FIP version was the only bound version of A Course In Miracles that I knew of, and it served me well.
Let me give three examples that will help to illustrate the problem that I have with the Foundation for Inner Peace version.
First example. When I was an undergraduate at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I wrote a letter to the editor of the college newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel. The letter was in response to an opinion that the editors of The Daily Tar Heel had written about an upcoming election. Apparently they liked the content of my letter to some extent. It said almost, but not quite, what they wanted someone to say. So they printed parts of my letter. I had no problem with the fact that they didn’t print my entire letter. It was a long letter, and they had space limitations and other editorial considerations, so they didn’t print the entire letter, and I understood that. Unfortunately, they couldn’t resist the temptation to make up a few things that I never wrote and insert those into the part of my letter that they wanted to print, and present the result to the public above my name. The bottom line is that they made up words that I never wrote, added them to my letter, printed the words that I had never written, and attributed them to me. This was blatant, bald-faced dishonesty. Due to the fact that the opinions that they attributed to me were in fact quite different from the opinions that I had written to them, I spent the next several weeks telling friends that I had never written those words and that the editors had made them up and attributed them to me. What those editors did was surely wrong under every moral and ethical code ever known to man.
Second example. In about the spring of 1988 Time magazine published a big article on the New Age movement. As a member of the New Age movement, I thought they had it all wrong. My opinion was that the magazine addressed topics that seemed to me to be frivolous, like the supposed healing power of crystals, presented those elements as the essence of the New Age movement, and presented the entire movement as ridiculous. Although I no longer have a copy of the letter that I wrote to Time, I recall that the essence of my response was that the writers of their article had misunderstood the New Age movement because they hadn’t taken the time to do the hard work necessary to understand it. I cited the time and effort needed to comprehend A Course in Miracles as an example. I think I cited dedicated practice of spiritual disciplines like meditation over a period of years as another example. I set forth the opinion that certain age-old truths that tied together many spiritual disciplines, like the idea that all life is one, were part of the essence of the New Age movement. Essentially I was telling Time that the New Age movement was really deep and meaningful, and that their writers had gotten it all wrong because their approach was shallow. Time decided to publish my letter. Just like The Daily Tar Heel, they decided to publish only part of my letter, make up some of their own content, insert their content into my letter, publish their revised version, and attribute it to me. As I recall they only added a few words, but the effect of the words that they added was to make my letter look like I was agreeing with the writers with regards to their dismissal of the New Age movement.
Third example. Just a few days prior to my post at the On-Line Discussion group, I went to an A Course In Miracles study group that I had never attended before. We were studying a particular portion of the Text, reading through it line by line. As far as I could tell most of the students there were fairly new to ACIM. I was reading from my Course In Miracles Society version, but everyone else was reading from the Foundation for Inner Peace version. The facilitator had made a series of slides that projected the text that we were studying onto a screen at the front of the room, also using the FIP version. Each slide had a few sentences. At one point an alert student piped up with “Your slide is missing a sentence.” The facilitator replied, “I know. There are earlier versions of ACIM that tell us that Helen didn’t really hear Jesus say that. She just made it up, and you see it printed in the book. So I left it off of my slide because I know the earlier versions and I know that Jesus didn’t say it, but the people who published the book made it up.” I will always be proud of the fact that as he spoke those words I didn’t pass out, throw up, or fall out of my chair. I’m confident that the unruffled appearance I maintained was due to my years of studying ACIM.
I think it’s very important to consider the kind of message that we send to people when we attribute words to an author that the author never wrote. If I were a spiritual seeker who didn’t already know A Course In Miracles, and I had attended the study group to try to find out what ACIM was like, I can tell you what my response would have been. It would have been something like, “These people are lunatics. They’re so brazen with their lying that they don’t even try to hide the fact that they’re lying. They make up their own words and then present them as the words of Jesus of Nazareth. I’m finished with ACIM for good. Next week I go to Unity, or the Seth group, or Science of Mind, or the yoga class, or Conversations with God. Or maybe I’ll just watch Monday Night Football. Even Monday Night Football has more decency than these hypocrites.”
I also think it’s crucially important to consider the special ramifications attached to attributing words to Jesus of Nazareth. Something like two billion people consider him to be the ultimate authority, the most important human who has ever mird. Now comes that A Course In Miracles community saying that he dictated a book of profound wisdom. And when they take a closer look at what the ACIM community is presenting, they find that the editors of that book weren’t exactly comfortable with what Jesus said, so they changed some of the words to reflect what they wished he had said instead of what he actually did say. Furthermore, they stated that they did not change the words, thereby implicitly attributing all of the words in the book to Jesus. And just to make the story spicier, the community could be using a less edited version of the book, but for some reason much of the community doesn’t know or doesn’t care. This is a pattern of behavior that falls below standards that have been accepted and adhered to for thousands of years. One of the Ten Commandments is, “Thou shalt not bear false witness.” If “I heard Jesus say [blank]”, when in fact I didn’t hear Jesus say [blank] is not bearing false witness, then nothing is. Many traditional Christians have serious problems with ACIM. Changing Jesus’ words while saying that they weren’t changed can only reinforce their misgivings about ACIM.
The essence of the problem is a short passage found in the Preface of the Foundation for Inner Peace version on page viii (I’m using the 1992 printing). It reads as follows: “Only a few minor changes have been made. Chapter titles and subheadings have been inserted in the Text, and some of the more personal references that occurred at the beginning have been omitted. Otherwise the material is substantially unchanged.”
Now to be fair, let me point out that the Foundation for Inner Peace Preface does not present those statements as fact. Rather, it presents them as a quote from Helen Schucman’s “first-person account.” But they are quoted as if they were fact, and the effect upon the reader is the same as if those statements were presented as fact. I studied the FIP version continuously for twenty-one years. During all that time I neither cared nor remembered much about what the rest of the Preface said. Those three sentences were the only thing that really mattered in the Preface. They gave the clear-cut impression that Jesus dictated, Helen took dictation, the personal material was removed, chapter titles and subheadings were added to the Text, and the books were published. Now we know that the way it really happened was radically different. We know that significant changes, other than those disclosed in the Preface of the FIP version, were made at every step of a process of changes that occurred over a period of years. We know that changes were made when Helen dictated and Bill typed. We know that the early chapters of the Text were re-typed one or more times, so it is possible or even likely that changes were introduced during those retypings. Why else would it have been retyped if not to make changes? At any rate, one of these early versions has been available on the web since 2000, and it is commonly called the Urtext. Bill and Helen edited the Text further to produce the version of the Text known as the “Hugh Lynn Cayce” (HLC) version. The HLC has also been available on the web since 2000, and we can see that major changes were made as the HLC was derived from the Urtext. Finally, we know that major changes were made during the final editing, by Helen and Ken, that became the FIP version.
One problem that arises from the Foundation for Inner Peace Preface is that when it quotes Helen’s “first-person account” as saying that “Otherwise the material is substantially unchanged,” we don’t know what stage of the material she was referring to. She couldn’t have been referring to the Urtext, because it still contained personal material. But for all we know she may have written those words in about 1972 when she and Bill had completed the Hugh Lynn Cayce version and before she and Ken began the further editing that yielded the FIP version.
Another problem that arises from the Foundation for Inner Peace Prefaceis that it gives an impression of a combination of clarity in the channeling and integrity in the editing that is simply not accurate. It’s conceivable that Jesus dictated Helen’s editing in the same way that he dictated the original channeling. For example, “Helen, drop out this particular sentence. And change this other sentence to read as follows ....” Personally, I doubt it happened that way, but I admit the possibility that it could have. There are a few possibilities here. One is that Jesus decided that he didn’t like the way he said it the first time and asked Helen to change his words. One is Jesus knew Helen’s ego wouldn’t let her hear it a certain way in the early years, so he said it in a way that could get through her ego, and revised it later when she was more used to the process. Another is that Jesus didn’t change his words, but that Helen wrote them down incorrectly, and Jesus corrected her later. All of these possibilities mean that the original channeling lacked clarity. Another possibility is that Helen and/or Bill and/or Ken was/were unsatisfied with the original channeling and changed the words accordingly. This possibility means that the editing, when combined with the Preface, lacks integrity. No matter which way it happened, the Preface to the FIP version presents a major problem, because it says, “the material is substantially unchanged” when in fact the material was substantially changed. It gives an impression of a combination of rock-solid clarity in channeling and integrity in editing when in fact either the channeling lacked clarity, or the editing lacked integrity, or both.
Now I want to reiterate my opinion that the Foundation for Inner Peace version is a fine book. Scholars who have studied the earlier versions more than I have can opine on whether it is a fine representation of what Jesus said. But as a stand-alone book, I think it’s great. And I want to state my opinion, based on some study of these matters but not nearly as much study as some scholars have done, that there is no perfect version of A Course In Miracles and it’s not possible that there ever will be, but that’s a topic that falls outside the scope of this missive. So ultimately the point that I’m getting to is that my problem is not with the FIP version of the Text, Workbook, or Manual. My problem is with what the FIP Preface says, and, in the bigger picture, the fact that the lack of further explanations in the FIP version presents an inaccurate impression simply by their absence. If the Preface had been honest about the scope of the changes, or if there were appendices that explained the changes, then I would feel differently about the FIP version.
Two thousand years ago Jesus told Pontius Pilate “I came to bear witness to the truth.” This wasn’t just a random statement – it was his summary of his purpose and his ministry. In other words, it is one of the most important of his recorded statements. At lesson 251 we practice “I am in need of nothing but the truth.” At Manual part 4 we learn that a characteristic of God’s teachers is honesty. When we read this book that appears to be the most profound spiritual document ever written and presents itself as the words of Jesus, the first question we have to ask is, “What do I really have in my hands?” If the Preface to the book answers that question, but the answer is not the honest truth, then we’re off to a poor start. As a community we have to decide whether we stand for anything, and in particular, whether we stand for the principles presented in the book, including honesty. If we can’t stand for them then we can’t teach them, and we can’t very well learn them.
The big lesson that I think we can learn from this is the importance of the front matter (preface, foreword, etc.) and the appendices. I advocated the Course In Miracles Society’s Original Edition because I felt that in the first printing the combination of the Foreword and the Appendix “The Earlier Versions and Editing of A Course in Miracles” gave a vastly enhanced picture of what the reader was holding in his hands. I was disappointed to see that the Appendix was dropped from the second printing. In my opinion that leaves the CIMS version as bordering on the same problems that the FIP version has.
Recently Doug Thompson’s Urtext Manuscripts has been published. This version provides extensive appendices that address the topic of the various versions and of what the reader is holding is his hands. I think Doug has set a good example that the other publishers would do well to follow.
There is no need for the cloud of mystery that often surrounds A Course In Miracles. The book itself is very long and very profound. Anyone who is intelligent enough to understand the content of ACIM is way beyond the level of intelligence needed to understand the relevant facts about the different scribal versions and the editorial decisions that were made in the published version that he is reading. This information is of crucial importance to some readers. Other readers won’t care about it and will perhaps not read the preface, forewords, or appendices that explain these topics. But simply by recognizing some readers will ignore these editor/publisher materials, we also recognize that they won’t do any harm to those readers. I have learned that the ego thrives in obscurity and ignorance, and the right mind promotes clarity and knowledge. It’s time to remove the cloud of obscurity that has surrounded the various versions of ACIM. It’s time for readers to be able to read, within the covers of the book, what types of editorial judgment calls were made to produce the version that they hold in their hands. The substantive issues here are not simplistic. I am very much of the opinion that these are not the places for brevity and conciseness. I think the more the editors and publishers say about what kind of choices they made, the better. Readers who aren’t interested will skip it. But at least no one will be misled. Urtext Manuscripts has set a worthy example I hope that future editors and publishers will continue the practice of telling the reader, as clearly as possible and in as much detail as necessary, what it is that they are actually reading. Y
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This article appeared in the August 2009 (Vol. 23 No. 6) issue of Miracles Monthly. Miracles Monthly is published by Community Miracles Center in San Francisco, CA. CMC is supported solely by people just like you who: become CMC Supporting Members, Give Donations and Purchase Books and Products through us.