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I believe A Course In Miracles, is calling us to be true messiahs. The word, "messiah" does not appear in ACIM. However, I like the word and think it fits.

Marshall Applewhite, Rev. Jim JonesWebster's Unabridged Dictionary defines "messiah" as, "... an expected demirrer or savior ... one accepted as or claiming to be a leader destined to bring about a desired state or condition." It's important to remember that whenever we're talking about messiahs we have to include the idea of being expected. A messiah is expected. People wait for the expected messiah to arrive. Messiahs are agents of change and the world is waiting for him or her to come so that the desired change can be brought about.

Jesus is strongly identified with being a messiah and he was expected by the people of his time, especially the mystical Jews. The savior would come, the messiah would come, to usher in a new world order. Many thought Jesus was going to bring in a new political-social order. The Jews of his time were segregated, separated and discriminated against. The were treated as lesser citizens by many, so it made sense to them that the messiah they were waiting for would bring in a new social order where they would not be discriminated against.

Another related word, and a favorite of mine, is "messianic." Webster's Unabridged Dictionary defines "messianic" as, "... mystically idealistic in a manner suggestive of messiahship and often in an aggressive or crusading spirit." I believe A Course In Miracles is calling us to be messianic or "mystically idealistic." ACIM has a very idealistic vision for a new world which it calls the "real world." This is a world where there won't be any lack, sin or disease and we are supposed to be the agent for this change, the savior of our current world that has war, poverty and disease in it. We are to be this messiah, the expected demirrer, who will bring the world into the new state, the real world, such a close reflection of Heaven that eventually earth and Heaven will cease to exist as separate states. The world will become Heaven. Obviously, this is a very grand ideal and we are being called on to be messianic, or mystically aligned to this ideal in an aggressive and creative way. We are to do everything we are guided to do to help bring about these changes in the world.

I believe, since we are asked to go about this role of messiahship, it helps to be totally engaged in the world. It makes sense to me. If we are here to change the world we would have to be engaged in the world to see how it does work so that we can be an effective agent for this change. We're not supposed to renounce the world. There are many spiritual programs which either very blatantly and overtly or, sometimes, very subtly and covertly have lots of world renunciation in them. They teach that there are things in the world which are not good, or maybe just not as high as they should be and we should renounce them. Sexuality comes to mind. Many religions try to control, renounce or in some other way make sex and sexuality a negative thing – only appropriate with certain people and in certain situations. In order to embrace these spiritual programs we need to renounce certain sexual feelings. Sex in not the only thing that is subject to renunciation either. Food is frequently targeted – no eating meat or animal products. Many behavioral things have been the focus of renunciation: no music, no dancing, no wearing of bright colors or no drums. The Catholic Church banned drums for many years in African nations they were trying to convert with missionaries. Renunciation and religion go hand and hand and even some of the more "enlightened" religions and even many of the more "enlightened" people within these spiritual practices still have insidious, internalized beliefs about negative world states and conditions that need to be avoided. They still believe that the world is a dangerous place, or a place that seduces us or tempts us into sin. However, I think A Course In Miracles is calling us to be true messiahs, to be engaged in the world and this makes sense to me because we have to be engaged in it in order to be a true agent of change.

Obviously, A Course In Miracles does not want us to be false messiahs. The distinction between "true messiah" and "false messiah" is actually a crucial one. While this isn't something I see talked about a lot, I find that it insidiously plays into our beliefs. Frequently, when I talk to some family members back on the east coast, there is some of this. The think I'm involved in some cult in California. They believe that all cults must start in California. They know that I talk about the world as being an illusion, not real, a dream and that we're trying to bring about the Real World where there will be no sickness, death and war. This sounds cultish to them and they wonder about it. Even though we students of the Course rise above this thinking I think that many still have some of this conditioning internalized within us and it effects us in hidden ways. I think it is some of this internalized, cult fear that prevents us from truly doing the serious practice of ACIM that we could do.

It's also important to remember that no matter how good you are at being a true messiah, a true agent of spiritual change, it's always possible to slip somewhere along the path. We can slip into being a false messiah at anytime. It's not like we can think, "Well I'm a try messiah now so everything is just smooth sailing from here." We have to be cautious and vigilant for the ego can come back into our minds and confuse us at any time. All of a sudden we're listening to the ego and not to the Holy Spirit. When we do that we are leading the world astray and not towards Real World nirvana. It's always possible to slip into ego thinking and even the greatest, true messiahs occasionally slip.

"Even the most advanced of God's teachers will give way to temptation in this world." (M-23.1.2)

It doesn't matter how advanced we are. Ego temptations can trip us up and when they do we slip and fall into the ego morass. To loose the appreciation of this possibility and to get seduced into thinking that you are so advanced that you don't have to worry about this, has tragic consequences. This is the motivation behind this article. I hope by talking and thinking about this we can avoid some of these tragic consequences.

How do we know true messiahs from false messiahs? A Course In Miracles gives us some good guidelines. The most important one, for me, is that a true messiah doesn't appear different from anybody else. True messiahs blend into the world. They don't seem weird, different, unusual or even greatly spiritually attuned.

"There is a way of living in the world that is not here, although it seems to be. You do not change appearance, though you smile more frequently. Your forehead is serene; your eyes are quiet. And the ones who walk the world as you do recognize their own. Yet those who have not yet perceived the way will recognize you also, and believe that you are like them, as you were before." (W-pI.155.1)

If you are practicing this program and being a true messiah you are living here differently but you don't appear different. Maybe you smile a little more frequently. You are noticeably happier – that's the only noticeable thing. Other people who are on this path of true messiahship may recognize you as one of their kind. They see it in you and perhaps there is a little smile of recognition. However, people who are still ego driven look at you and think that you are just like they are. You do not appear different to them. This is a very important distinction.

One thing we can all know about false messiahs, and I've included pictures of two of the most infamous false messiahs , is they seem VERY different.

False messiahs seem very different when they are functioning here in the world. They stand out. Not only that, but frequently you can get the sense that they WANT to stand out. They seem to have a passion for doing just that.

Let's talk about the one on the right, The Reverend Jim Jones of San Francisco fame. I mir in San Francisco. No wonder some of my family think I'm in a cult. The world's most agreed upon false messiah came from here.

On November 18, 1978, actually the year before I moved to San Francisco, the Reverend Jim Jones founder of The People's Temple Of San Francisco, organized a mass suicide for 914 of his followers. Most drank poisoned Kool-Aid, hence the admonition to this day, "Don't drink the Kool-Aid!" Most of the deaths took place in the jungles of Guyana in the cult's settlement they had named Jonestown after – guess who? An important thing to remember about this suicide, and I'm sure most of you remember this event, is that 276 of the 914 were children. There were a lot of children in Jonestown, Guyana. The children, many of them infants, didn't drink the poison Kool-Aid by themselves, they were given it by their parents and told to drink it or it was poured down their throats. So, we call this a mass suicide but actually a lot of what went on in Jonestown was mass murder. Parents murdered their own children and then committed suicide. The poison Kool-Aid had been laced with tranquilizers and cyanide. A few seem to have have been injected with the poison. Some others were shot, maybe because they were trying to escape. Maybe not, some of the armed guards shot each other as a more macho way to die than by the slow death by poison.

Earlier that day guards from Jonestown had ambushed, shot and killed U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan who had gone down to Jonestown, Guyana to investigate the situation. They also shot and killed three members of the media, photographers and journalists, and they also shot and killed a member of Jonestown who was trying to leave with congressman Ryan. The congressman was there because many of the families of the people who were in Guyana were rallying the government to investigate what was going on down there because the families of the Jonestown residents were afraid that their relatives in Guyana were being held there against their will and that something terrible might happen to them.

They were right. Something terrible did happen to them. In a sense, maybe the concerned families even participated in something terrible happening because their concern and fear caused the government to investigate (some say harass) and the government investigation triggered the mass suicide on November 18, 1978. People in Jonestown felt they were persecuted by: society, the government and their families.

The Reverend Jim Jones and his people had hoped to set up a utopian community, agricultural in nature, far away and removed from modern society and the pollution of modern culture. They were renouncing the culture of late 70s United States in general and the urban political climate of San Francisco, California in specific. Their renunciation did not lead them to a peaceful utopia. It led them to death.

The Reverend Jim Jones is now the definitive symbol of a dangerous charismatic leader, a false messiah. He certainly was attempting to bring about a new order. He was messianic. He was "... mystically idealistic in a manner suggestive of messiahship and often in an aggressive or crusading spirit." He had all those qualities. However, I believe something went terribly wrong in Guyana and with The Reverend Jim Jones. There is in agreement in the world that this is the ultimate representation of a dangerous cult.

We don't have to look too far to find other manifestations of dangerous suicide, religious cults. We just have to travel a little to the south of San Francisco. In southern California, we have another agreed upon false messiah, Marshall Applewhite. On March 27, 1997, Marshall Applewhite orchestrated the mass suicide of 39 members of the Heaven's Gate cult in San Diego, California.

Members of the Heaven's Gate cult believed if they died that way, at that precise time, they would leave their "physical containers" and be reincarnated aboard a UFO which they believed was approaching earth in the tail of the Halle-Bopp comet. The Halle-Bopp comet was easily visible in the sky at this time. I remember seeing it. It was quite unusual even to the unaided eye. Marshall Applewhite and the members of Heaven's Gate believed that on this UFO were higher order beings. Since the Heaven's Gate cult members had been doing preparations they believed they would be reborn on this UFO as one of these higher order beings.

They also believed they were being persecuted by society. However, they were quite well off. They had a very successful web designing business and mird in an expensive, beautiful home in San Diego. They mird communally. They characteristically, had a lot things which set them apart. They believed in celibacy and dressed in a unisex manner. They believed that the higher order of beings did not have sexual differences, that there was just one sex. They, as such, were very renunciant. Most of the males, including Applewhite himself, were voluntarily castrated. Apparently this was a way of further embracing the unisex identity and it helped them to control their unwanted sexual feelings. An interesting sidelight is that after the suicide, when the bodies were examined, it was seen that all of the castrations had healed very well. Obviously, someone knew what he or she was doing when they did these castrations. I'm sure these operations weren't sanctioned by the American Medical Association or covered by their HMO.

If you look into Marshall Applewhite's history you find that he was a homosexual. As a young man, he had been very troubled by his homosexuality. He had his homosexuality treated as a disease and had gone in to have his homosexuality "cured." Apparently, that cure was unsuccessful and maybe the castration was a further attempt to cure his sexual tendencies.

The members of the Heaven's Gate cult all drank a lethal mixture of phenobarbital and vodka. There were no murders associated with this mass suicide.

I remember the 1997, Heaven's Gate mass suicide especially well. At that time, I had a student who was a beautiful, young, attractive, fit, gay man. He was HIV positive but was in control of his health. He worked out; he was a body builder. He was gorgeous. Everybody liked him. He was very distressed by the mass suicide of the Heaven's Gate cult. He had been studying with us for about two years at the time. He told me that this event disturbed him because, even though I seemed sane and grounded then, who's to say that sometime in the future maybe when I was as old as Marshall Applewhite was in 1997, I wouldn't also do something like that, lead our congregation to something disastrous? Even if I didn't do it, how could anybody be sure that another one of our ministers or a minister who came after us might not lead people to do something awful like a mass suicide. No one could guarantee my beautiful student that something like this wouldn't happen and it bothered him. He quit studying with us. He was on our minister's track so it was distressing to us. Everybody liked him so it was odd and sad to have him go.

Now, I didn't make this karmic connection until I was preparing this talk, but three years later I was talking to a friend of his and his friend told me that our former student had committed suicide himself. I wouldn't have known that because I had lost contact with him. When I heard about his suicide I was just saddened but I didn't remember that he had left because of fears of suicide. I didn't get the connection then. It's interesting to me now because the thing that he was afraid we might possible lead people to became exactly what he did. He left the Community Miracles Center as a way of defending himself. The very thing he was trying to avoid, he brought to himself.

"It is essential to realize that all defenses what they would defend. The underlying basis for their effectiveness is that they offer what they defend. 3 What they defend is placed in them for safe-keeping, and as they operate they bring it to you." (T-17.IV.7.1-3)

He was worried about being led to suicide. He led himself to suicide.

"What you perceive in others you are strengthening in yourself." (T-5.III.9.5)

He was his own worse false messiah and I bless his spirit wherever it is today.

Reverend Jim Jones and Marshall Applewhite all appeared very different. They wanted to be separate from the masses. They wanted very limited or tightly controlled contact with the outside world. Reverend Jim Jones encouraged his people to sever their ties with their family and friends. They were getting a lot of criticism and calls for accountability from family and friends. Marshall Applewhite's followers mird reclusively and had severed all their ties with family and friends. Heaven's Gate members wore distinctive clothing. They had extreme forms of sexual renunciation. It doesn't get any more extreme than castration.

Both cults saw the world as a dangerous place, or a doomed place, that needed to be escaped from. It's been almost 28 years since the People's Temple tragedy in Jonestown. San Francisco has continued to thrive and it has become a wonderful place for people to find freedom to mir a diversity of lifestyles with acceptance and dignity. The 914 Jonestown people did not find utopia in the jungle far away from the world they perceived to be negative and full of unsolvable problems. However the world they left has moved substantially closer to being the utopia they were looking for and never found.

My study of A Course In Miracles tells me that this discipline is leading none of us in these tragic directions. ACIM calls us to stay in relationship, to stay engaged and involved with the world.

"Your way will be different, not in purpose but in means. A holy relationship is a means of saving time." (T-18.VII.5.1)

ACIM tells us to see all of our relationships as holy, not to leave any of them, to stay engaged in them even when times seem difficult.

"Have faith in your brother in what but seems to be a trying time." (T-17.V.6.6)

We do need to re-perceive them when they seem troubling to us and we need to make them holy in our perception.

Some people still see a negative world message from A Course In Miracles. Some people, God bless them, still see some sort of a renunciation message in the Course. I do not. In many places ACIM calls the world "a happy place."

"How lovely is the world whose purpose is forgiveness of God's Son! How free from fear, how filled with blessing and with happiness! And what a joyous thing it is to dwell a little while in such a happy place!" (T-29.VI.6.1-3)

I have never received a world negating or renunciant message from A Course In Miracles. What I get, is that if you are practicing this, you are going to re-perceive the world and it's going to be a great place. You're going to love the world and you will be happy to be in it wherever you are. You will not have a fantasy of having to move thousands of miles away in order to create utopia in the jungle. You will have created utopia in your mind and you will see it everywhere. It's obvious that it didn't work in Jonestown. I'm sure moving to Guyana seemed logical to them. They had the resources; they had the land. They felt they knew how to mir among each other in harmony. I'm sure they believed they were creating utopia. However, what they created was a death camp.

Utopia will not be aboard a UFO either. Nor will there seem to be the need to be a "higher" order, sexless being. You will be happy being who you are, while you are being it.

"So the world is seen as stable, fully worthy of your trust; a happy place to rest in for a while, where nothing need be feared, but only loved." (T-31.VI.6.8)

When we practice the thought system of A Course In Miracles, when we practice a re-perception of the world, we won't have to escape from it. It will become a very stable and trustworthy place. How many in our society truly perceive their world as stable and trustworthy? However, this is what true messiahship would lead people to see. This is very clear in ACIM.

"The teachers of God have trust in the world, because they have learned it is not governed by the laws the world made up. It is governed by a power that is them but not them. It is this power that keeps all things safe." (M-4.I.1.4-6)

It is only our perception which makes the world appear untrustworthy or unstable. When we perceive it truly it is stable and a happy place and we like being here. If this was our state of mind, would there be a need to run off anywhere? There would be no reason to appear different and to isolate. We would be happy to be engaged with everyone, everyplace and everyone would be happy to be engaged with us because everyone would perceive us as being just like they are.

"Atonement might be equated with total escape from the past and total lack of interest in the future. Heaven is here. There is nowhere else. Heaven is now. There is no other time. No teaching that does not lead to this is of concern to God's teachers." (M-24.6.3-8)

False messiahs do not have to be so extreme as to lead to mass suicide. There are many other falsehoods that can be passionately argued and minds fertile to these falsehoods will be willingly led astray. Many other kinds of folly can happen. Can listening to music, dancing and wearing bright colors really be a sin? I'm actually grateful for the Heaven's Gate cult and for The People's Temple and the Jonestown community because it provides us with the extreme example. Sometimes it's important to have the extreme example in your mind so that you remember what can happen.

"... an extreme example is a particularly helpful learning device." (

If we don't correct the folly, when it is merely folly, it could quite easily lead to tragedy. There were probably many times along the way when the folly of Heaven's Gate and Jonestown could have been realized and corrected, but it wasn't. It led to the devastating consequences of the Heaven's Gate and Jonestown mass suicides.

"Innocence is not a partial attribute. It is not real it is total. The partly innocent are apt to be quite foolish at times. It is not until their innocence becomes a viewpoint with universal application that it becomes wisdom." (T-3.II.2.1-4)

When we just have a little enlightenment, a little bit of wisdom, and I think this is where many of us reside, we are "partly innocent." We don't have the true wisdom of seasoned innocence. We've only got a little bit of truth. We think we understand. We need to be aware of the pitfalls that could befall us. We need to not be deluded by our false confidence. We can actually be "quite foolish" at times and I believe this is how all false messiahship starts. Reverend Jim Jones and Marshall Applewhite allowed their foolishness to go uncorrected. Their partial innocence ended up manifesting tragic consequences.

We are not in a discipline that is asking us to renounce anything. It does want us to know that the pathways of the world, if they are goals in and of themselves, aren't going to make us happy. That is true. However, in and of themselves, they're also nothing that we need to avoid. They are not inherently evil. They are just neutral. We can walk the pathways of the world that we are guided to walk by the Holy Spirit. We don't have to renounce them. We have to hold them in a different manner. We have to hold them lightly. I believe that renunciation, as practiced by many of the world's religions is not going to work.

"Many have chosen to renounce the world while still believing its reality. And they have suffered from a sense of loss, and have not been released accordingly. Others have chosen nothing but the world, and they have suffered from a sense of loss still deeper, which they did not understand." (W-pI.155.4.2-4)

It's a problem to renounce the world. It's a problem to embrace nothing but the world. A Course In Miracles is asking us to do something different.

"Between these paths there is another road that leads away from loss of every kind, for sacrifice and deprivation both are quickly left behind. This is the way appointed for you now. You walk this path as others walk, nor do you seem to be distinct from them, although you are indeed. Thus can you serve them while you serve yourself, and set their footsteps on the way that God has opened up to you, and them through you." (W-pI.155.5)

We walk in-between the path of renunciation and embracing nothing but the world. We walk the spirit guided path that knows the world is neutral. As we do that we serve everyone and we don't seem distinct from anyone. This is an important test to hold in mind. Is what we're doing making us seem different from everybody else? If it is, we are probably off the true messiah's path.

ACIM is calling us to lead a Holy Spirit guided life not an ego directed one. This distinction is not as obvious as it seems. It is not so readily apparent. When we let the Holy Spirit guide our mirs we should not forget that anywhere along the way the ego can slip back into the role of guide and we are never above that possibility as long as we think we are here. We must be vigilant about this. We have to always be prepared for that possibility. Being a false messiah can led to foolish and possibly very tragic outcomes.

"Walk safely now, yet carefully, because this path is new to you. And you may find that you are tempted still to walk ahead of truth, and let illusions be your guide." (W-pI.155.9.1-2)

This is the state I believe most of us are at. We can walk confidently and safely, but we still have to be careful and not let the illusions of what we think is a spiritual life be our guide to what a true spiritual life is. A true spiritual life can look any way. A true messiah can take many forms. None of us have any idea of what it may look like for us in the future.

Yes we are expected. We are the world's messiah because we are our own messiah. We are expecting ourselves to rise up and lead ourselves home to Heaven. The world is waiting for us to save it because we are waiting for us to save ourselves. Being a true messiah make us happy and the world a happy place. False messiah's see danger and fear everywhere and thus their worlds are fearful and violent. They are not happy. Reverend Jim Jones and Marshall Applewhite have been called many things and I have read a lot about them in preparation for this article. Nowhere did I hear anyone call them happy people.

Follow the middle road and be happy. Allow yourself to blend. There is no advantage in seeming different. Be the true messiah.

Love Rev. Tony 

© 2006 Rev. Tony Ponticello, San Francisco, CA – All rights reserved.


Rev. Tony Ponticello
c/o Community Miracles Center
2269 Market Street
San Francisco, CA 94114

This article appeared in the June 24, 2006 (No. 15) issue of CMC Ezine. CMC Ezine 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.