Friday, September 26, 2008

I Am a Course in Miracles

by Karl Mamer

Alright, I'm back with another Podcasting Without Pity, wherein your intrepid skeptical podcast listener finds a True Believer podcast and reviews a representative (i.e., the easiest to make fun of) episode and reviews it without pity.

This week we have the I Am A Course in Miracles podcast. It's based on some book from the 1970s called A Course In Miracles. Let me take you back, for a moment, to the 1970s. The Arabs and Israelis were conducting open warfare, America lost a war to Buddhists carrying AK-47s, Nixon went to China. Christians were basically getting their asses kicked by followers of Eastern religions. The time was ripe to take a long, hard squint at that dusty old Bible and recast it in a more eastern mystical light, and maybe add some Chinese gongs. A Course in Miracles was cooked up by Helen Schucman, a professor of psychology. She started hearing voices. Instead of getting medicated she decided Jesus was talking to her and began writing it all down.

Why wouldn't God talk to her?

Eventually she published a book based on the voices in her head called A Course In Miracles. And anytime someone has written a book they claim is a transcript of voices they hear in their head, you just know it's going to be, cover to cover, clear, succinct prose. No?


The podcast itself doesn't appear to be associated with the publishers of the book, just some devotee cranking it out. And I mean cranking it out. He's got 160 episodes (as of this writing). Actually, it's more like 320 episodes. The podcast is kind of split into two. There's one mp3 that's just the weekly reading from the book and, in case you listen to that and come out going "what the fuck?" there's also an mp3 that repeats the weekly reading along with the host's comments. That one appears more fun. So I'm going to review that one. I grabbed episode 159.

The episode starts with a new age version of the Star Trek: Voyager theme. The host welcomes his listeners in a voice that sounds like, after 159 episodes, he's still quite terrified of this broadcasting stuff. And maybe I'm not quite understanding what the podcast host and the author of the book mean by "miracles" but shouldn't the host have, by maybe episode 114, transformed into a shaft of pure white light that can bend space/time to his will? What sort of miracles are we talking about? The miracle of being able to defy the laws of the universe or the miracle I can bend over and tie my shoes? And why does he still sound like he's terrified of the outdoors and probably wears Kleenex boxes on his feet? What single course takes you 160 (and counting) lessons to learn? Most competent universities can turn out someone with a highly useful bachelor's degree in accounting or education after about 160 lessons.

The first minute and a half of the show is basic boiler plate, giving the show's web site and inviting fellow "energy healers" to visit the web site and give lessons. We then get into the lesson with a greeting by the host that sounds a lot like Reverend Schuller's line from Hour of Power about this being a perfect day but delivered by a guy who sounds like a terrified Doug Henning.

Soon enough we get into the, umm, course, which I might add is backed with this low, humming music mixed in with the sound of croaking frogs. I suppose it is meant to put us at ease. Our host Frightened Doug Henning plays back the start of the lesson, this one titled "I give back the miracles I have received". The lesson starts from first principles. "No one can give what he has not received." Sun goes up. Sun goes down. What part of the brain needs that special mutation that allows some of us to think selling the blindingly obvious is ethical?

Keep reading...

Frightened Doug Henning fears his listeners might have missed the obvious and tries to illustrate with several examples.

"You can't give heaven unless you receive heaven." I dunno about that. I've been with a few women who sure seem to like getting a bit of the ol' heaven and I'm always coming up short in the gettin' some heaven department.

"You have to be able to know something to teach something." Has this guy ever taught English in Korea? He wouldn't say that if he met some of the people flopping around Asia claiming to be qualified English teachers.

The lesson's voice over (which sounds a lot like the voice of God from Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments) then tells us humans always mess up on this giving what you receive bit. We always want to keep what we get. Is that so wrong? This is the very message I keep trying to impart to my mutual fund broker. I just want a fund where I can keep what I get. Quit selling me those guaranteed wealth reduction plans.

The voice-of-God-over then lays on some wisdom our podcast host Frightened Doug Henning has some trouble justifying. The-voice-of-God-over tells us giving away what we have is proof we have it and it's ours. And I got the tenses right. See if you get something and then turn around and give it away, then that's great proof you have it. Not had it. Not watched it drive off in your ex-girlfriend's Prius. Frightened Doug Henning tries to underscore this point by giving the example you can't give your body away because it's not actually yours. But then for a guy who sounds like he's sold a bit too much of his own plasma this month, it's no surprise that it quickly dawns on him you can actually give away your body. If not in whole then you can give it away in part or you can at least rent it out for $200 for a full, unhurried hour session or $150 for a half hour.

We get about another two minutes of psychobabble about giving away miracles although not one mention of an actual miracle we can give away. Water into wine? Walking on water? Raising the dead? What exactly?

Frightened Doug Henning then goes into his marital problems and surmises they're because he's not viewing his wife as sinless. Yeah, nothing about spending hours a day working on some stupid podcast while she's working ten hours a day at Walmart trying to make rent. The real problem is he's not viewing her as God. Assuming this guy has completed the course in miracles (after all, he is teaching it and by lesson 159's logic he must have it to give it away) should he still be fighting with the wife over whose turn it is to take out the trash? If my accountant freely admitted he couldn't add, despite the diploma on the wall of his office that says he's completed a B.Comm, should I even be listening to that guy? Wouldn't I take my business elsewhere? Frightened Doug Henning then suggests we should try and view our co-workers as the people they really are. Ah, you mean as incompetent assholes who keep asking me how to set tabs in Microsoft Word? I'll go with that.

The voice-of-God-over then intones that earth is a reflection of the innocence found in heaven. Frightened Doug Henning suggests we should view people as mirrors of heaven. In fact, we should view ourselves as such mirrors of heaven. Should you doubt it, Frightened Doug Henning proposes a sure-fire exercise. Sit in front of a mirror. Look at yourself. And talk to yourself. This will reveal that the mirror, amazingly, reflects you, reflects what's really going on, namely you're there talking to yourself in your underwear. I'm so glad Frightened Doug Henning is here to help clear this all up.

The voice-of-God-over chirps up that Christ beholds no sin in anyone. Wow, even Hitler? Frightened Doug Henning tells us sin is actually not all that killing and gassing of Jews stuff. No no. Sin is viewing other people as not you. Ummm. Sin is viewing other people as dangerous or evil. Sin is viewing that punk kid as a threat simply because he's threatening to beat you to death with his skateboard unless you hand over your iPod. That's sin.

After that stunning revelation, that people who lock their doors at night are actually committing a sin, the voice-of-God-over intones about Christ's vision. His vision is the bridge between the worlds. In the power of this vision you can safely trust that you'll be able to make it from this world to the next. Frightened Doug Henning breathes a sigh of relief. "I'm glad we're getting into the discussion of what is Christ's vision because we were trying to learn it yesterday. In almost every paragraph he talks about Christ's vision this, Christ's vision that." Perceptive one here has finally noticed after 159 lessons his course has yet to even define basic terminology? Isn't that like your accounting student noticing after three years of education none of his textbooks have yet to actually define "debit" and "credit"?

Turns out, according to the voice-over of God, that Christ's vision means we can't see his vision. Everything in this world is just shadows. Wow, that cleared it up.

Karl Mamer is host of The Conspiracy Skeptic podcast, a 12 part look at conspiracies of today and the not too distant past. Karl is also the world's greatest living proponent of Franglais. He also likes to bait Nigerian Bank Scammers and hosted his own podcast about teaching English in Seoul, South Korea. Karl lives in Toronto, Canada and works as a senior technical writer to pay the bills.

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