Catholics across the country are alarmed at the increasing popularity of a New
Age phenomenon known as "A Course in Miracles," a system of spirituality
proponents claim is the "Third Testament" of God to His people.
Even more alarming, critics say, is that the movement is gaining a foothold
among some Catholics.
"A Course in Miracles," a 1,249-page study manual, was authored by the "inner
voice" of research psychologist Helen Schucman between 1965 and 1972. Schucman,
a professor at Columbia University and a self-described atheist at the time,
claims the "voice" was that of Jesus Christ.
In 1977, New Age guru and best-selling author Marianne Williamson discovered "A
Course in Miracles" and helped spread its message internationally, reeling in
stars such as Oprah Winfrey and Shirley MacLaine along the way.
Today, the course has sold more than 1 million copies, and more than 2,000
groups in the United States meet to study the course, which Williamson calls "a
self-study program of spiritual psychotherapy."
But a former disciple of "A Course in Miracles" who returned to the Catholic
Church calls it a course in brainwashing. Moira Noonan, once a New Age minister
and psychic, was introduced to the course 20 years ago. Upon returning to the
Church, she was shocked to find that "A Course in Miracles" is sold in some
Catholic bookstores and that many fellow believers are studying it.
"They say in the course that the Holy Spirit wants us to have these new
thoughts, a new reality," Noonan explained. "It says right in the beginning of
the course to question everything.... The course is Satan's mockbible," she
said, adding that its disciples "want people to think it's a religion, but it's
The Foundation for a "A Course in Miracles," based in Roscoe, N.Y., is not
affiliated with any church or denomination. Dr. Kenneth Wapnick, the
foundation's director, was a Catholic seminarian about to enter the monastery
when he met Schucman and read the manuscript for the course.
A clinical psychologist, Wapnick claims the course teaches that the way to
recover one's buried knowledge and memories of God is by "undoing" guilt through
forgiving others. It aims to remove "the blocks to one's awareness of love's
presence," which is every person's natural state of mind.
Jesuit Father Mitch Pacwa, who has written on New Age religions, sees how such
language can resonate with Catholics, luring them to study the course.
"The key problem is the [course's] pseudo - Christian vocabulary and ideas,"
said Father Pacwa. "People don't know the Catechism, they don't know their
faith.... The course strongly rejects the use of reason and thinking.... This is
precisely what makes the course feasible. Once you get rid of reason, you get
rid of discussion."
Noonan explained the course's attraction to Catholics by noting that "in our
culture, we want a quick fix. [The course] teaches that you can claim a miracle.
It's part of the individualistic attitude we have in this society."
Noonan said some Catholics pick up the course thinking: "I never really liked or
understood the Bible anyway, so why don't I read this? The language is easier
for me to understand."
Critics of "A Course in Miracles" warn that Catholics who try to incorporate its
principles into their faith will severely compromise their beliefs because the
two theologies are completely incompatible.
Father Pacwa said the course repeatedly misquotes the Bible and "presents a
false Jesus." Even though Jesus supposedly dictated the course to Schucman, the
course's Jesus "does not like the Crucifixion," Father Pacwa said. "One of the
things said repeatedly and forcefully in the course is that sacrifice has
nothing to do with love-they are incompatible."
The "Jesus" of "A Course in Miracles" is not really the Son of God, never really
had a physical body, and hence never really suffered on the cross. He even
rephrases the Lord's Prayer, replacing "hallowed be thy name" with "Our holiness
is Yours," Father Pacwa pointed out.
With such glaring differences between Christianity and the course, it is no
wonder Father Benedict Groeschel, C.F.R., another critic, said the movement "has
become something of a sophisticated cult." And he should know, having studied at
Columbia University under Schucman.
In his book, "A Still, Small Voice," Father Groeschel recounts his "utter
astonishment" when he was told in 1969 about Schucman's alleged encounter with
"the Son of God." According to Father Groeschel, the course that resulted from
this encounter is "centered on a Son of God who at times seems to be the Christ
of orthodox Christianity and sometimes an avatar of an Eastern religion."
Father Groeschel said that among clergy and Religious, "There's a lot of
suspicion about the course right now."
And suspicion seems warranted, considering that the course denies the existence
of suffering and sin, claims the Holy Spirit's main purpose is to heal people's
unconscious thoughts, and reinterprets the word "miracle" into psychological
According to a recent book promoting the course, the "purpose of this system . .
. is to draw our minds into a completely different way of thinking.... Education
on this level is clearly re-education, which demands, first of all, unlearning."
Moreover, "A Course in Miracles" purports to be a "purifier of Christianity," as
explained in the book: "Echoing the Bible, [the course] thus presents the image
of a contemporary revealed scripture, a modern-day message from God to mankind."
Yet, ironically, perhaps the strongest argument against wedding Christianity
with the course comes from Wapnick himself. In the book "A Course in Miracles
and Christianity: A Dialogue," published by his foundation, Wapnick and Jesuit
Father W. Norris Clarke map out the sharp differences of the two theologies,
defining them as "mutually exclusive."
Wapnick writes that "to attempt reconciliation between [the two] must inevitably
lead to frustration at best and severe distortion at worst.... 'A Course in
Miracles' directly refutes the very basis of the Christian faith, leaving
nothing on which Christians can base their beliefs."
Whatever the course's true intention, however, Father Pacwa warns that the
course "presents a false Jesus, false Spirit and false Gospel, and therefore it
deserves simple rejection."
And even if the
course <does> attempt to "purify" the Gospel, its effort is fruitless, as Father
Clarke points out in the "Dialogue":
"Traditional Christianity maintains that human beings have really sinned and
turned away from God, hence [they] have the burden of a genuine (not merely
neurotic) guilt.... Then Jesus took on the burden of our own sins and truly
suffered and died on the cross to make reparation for them. He then truly rose
from the dead, with a real, though transformed or glorified body, and is forever
united with His Father now in glory."
Moran writes from San Diego, Calif. For more information on "A Course in
Miracles," contact Moira Noonan at: P.O. Box 232716, Encinitas, CA 92023
This article was taken from the June 2, 1996 issue of Our Sunday Visitor. To
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