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
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 not."
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
Jesuit Father Mitch Pacwa, who has written on New Age religions, sees
how such language can resonate with Catholics, luring them to study the
"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
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
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
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 terms.
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
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
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
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