Me and a group of friends thought it would be a nice way to kick off the New Year by having an ACIM study group together. I didn’t really know that much about the book other than that it was written in the 70s and that I had only ever heard good things about it. So we decided to dive in and boy oh boy do I have a lot of comments to make about this book already. If you are curious about ACIM or are thinking about reading it yourself, you’re definitely going to want to read this first.
First of all, this book is VERY religious. It is written in the style of the New Testament and uses very absolutist language. It’s not stated outright that the text is channeled directly from Jesus, but several times in the book it will refer to a bible passage about Jesus and then say “that passage is referring to me”, so I don’t see how you could interpret the book any other way.
I do want to note that I haven’t come close to finishing the book yet, so I suppose it’s possible my opinion will change after I’ve finished it, but I’ve also flipped ahead in the book and I’m feeling pretty confident that my initial impressions will carry through. This book stresses a couple of things:
1. Forgiveness is the absolute rule of law here. “Forgiveness, then, is all that need be taught, because it is all that need be learned.”
2. If you have chronic conditions in your life (could be referring to chronic health problems or something like depression/anxiety, etc) it’s because you are getting some kind of secondary gain from that. In other words, you’re staying sick because you want to stay sick. “Since only the mind can be sick, only the mind can be healed.
3. People who abuse others do so because they lack love. You can heal them and yourself by forgiving them. “…their own perception of themselves is distorted. The miracle worker can only bless them, and this undoes their distortions and frees them from prison.”
If you’ve been reading my blog, then you probably know already the problems I have with this. I’m not saying forgiveness is a bad thing, but the attribution error we see here is that it’s saying that forgiveness causes healing, when in reality forgiveness will happen as a natural consequence of having healed. How does healing happen then? Healing happens when the person is able to get in touch with the suffering they experienced and give voice to that suffering. Once they are safely away from the person or situation that was inflicting harm (abusive spouse, workplace, environment, etc), over time they will start to feel safe again. Research has shown that it takes about two years for a sense of trust and safety to return. But again, this is AFTER you’ve completely shut the door on whatever that abusive situation was.
I’ve brought this up before, but if you look at the Cycle of Abuse, Stage 3 is Forgiveness. Forgiveness keeps this cycle going. It’s only when the victim says “I’m not going to forgive you anymore” and leaves that the cycle finally comes to an end. In my experience, victims will forgive again and again. If love and forgiveness was really all that was needed to heal everybody, we wouldn’t have a such thing as serial offenders.
I’m also at a loss of words for the implication that people don’t heal because they don’t want to, because they enjoy being victims. I’m not saying that never happens, obviously there are cases of Munchausen and malingering, but that’s more the minority rather than the majority of cases. I discussed earlier that healing happens when people are able to give voice to their suffering, and that on top of that it’s going to take some time. After reading this text, I worry that such people would instead be shamed into silence.
Reading ACIM, I can definitely see how this is THE BOOK that influenced the current generation of influential new-agers, and probably why I so often find myself in disagreement with them. I think part of the reason why the message of this book is so popular is that it’s so simple. In theory, you could accomplish all the goals of this book in one day, versus the years it takes to get in touch with your feelings and free your authentic self. The problem with burying your feelings is that they never truly go away. Eventually they will emerge in the form of “unexplained symptoms” or feelings of depression/anxiety that occur “for no reason”. I speak from experience here.
Have I met people who will hold a grudge against you for years because of that one time you accidentally bumped into them in the hallway? Definitely. Do I think that they could benefit a lot from practicing forgiveness and grace? Absolutely. I recently learned that there are organizations that run ACIM study groups in prisons. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Essentially my gripe is that there isn’t any nuance in this book. It’s written in an absolutist manner where there is no room for exceptions. People who have experienced trauma and abuse are not rare. They are very common in our society and are exactly the type pf people who would be drawn to reading ACIM. And it’s also why I feel the need to offer a counter balance to what could be a harmful rhetoric.