Some Thoughts On “Don’t Do This” and “Do Only That!”

Last week I received an email from Friend John Edminster that spoke of his “skeptical but fascinated” scrutiny in years past of A Course in Miracles, a phenomenon that became popular with a number of Liberal Friends beginning in the ‘80s, and whose following has continued into the present-day. Recently John had received an email in a mass mailing that told of the death of Judith Skutch Whitson (1931—2021), one of the founders of the organization that published A Course in Miracles. As a result, John was led to revisit some of the tenets of this belief system and wrote about one of them in his latest essay “Do Only That?”1 In that essay, John quotes the following lesson from A Course in Miracles:

A wise teacher teaches through approach, not avoidance. He does not emphasize what you must avoid to escape from harm, but what you need to learn to have joy. Consider the fear and confusion a child would experience if he were told, “Do not do this because it will hurt you and make you unsafe; but if you do that instead, you will escape from harm and be safe, and then you will not be afraid.” It is surely better to use only three words: “Do only that!” This simple statement is perfectly clear, easily understood and very easily memorized.2

The concluding paragraphs from John’s essay reflect upon this proposal to use only positive injunctions (Do only that!) when teaching the path to joy, and to eliminate admonitory restrictions (Don’t do this!) that are intended to keep from harm. In the final two paragraphs of John’s essay, he considers whether the right course requires the use of one or both of these injunctions:

After reading this, I wandered through the next few hours of my day asking the Lord, “Is this what You’re asking of me, to direct people only to the positive side of Your teachings, like ‘Love one another,’ ‘Love your enemies,’ and ‘Forgive everyone their trespasses’?” I was all but ready to silence my own impulses to warn people against damning themselves, for, even though I believe that people knowingly do much evil, and that we must all reap what we’ve sowed, I was starting to think myself a fool for believing that anyone might listen to “Don’t do this!” who couldn’t hear me calling “Do only that!” Why not try being Christ’s flower-child?

What brought me to my senses was my remembering the many recorded warnings of Jesus, such as His powerful conclusions in Luke 13:3 and 13:5 (nrsv): “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” So I intend to continue to warn people against doing “lesser evils,” “necessary evils,” telling “white lies,” “doing evil, that good may come” (see Romans 3:8), calling evil good, and good evil (Isaiah 5:20), and in general hardening their hearts against their fellow creatures in order to continue living selfishly. There is a bondage to evil that we fallen ones won’t likely escape unless we can hear the Savior calling “Don’t do this!” as well as His blessed “Do only that!”

After having read John’s essay and email, I responded to him with the following:

Your email from yesterday brought up an idea that has been floating around my mind for a few days. I’d read your [essay] . . . on Facebook but hadn’t felt the clarity to respond. Additionally, last night in Bible study, we examined the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13, and the same thought occurred that I’d been sensing as I read your essay. . . . Our tradition uses both admonitions (1) “don’t do this” and (2) “do only that” to move us from worldly (first-birth) into the heavenly (second-birth) consciousness, which is the conclusion you came to in your essay.  

Before we know the second birth, we have only our first-birth consciousness, which is hell-bent on making life good for ourselves. All the self-indulgent behaviors and ambitions (as well as the ideals, virtues, and innocent joys of life) are ways we go about trying to make life good. As we know nothing better and this can consume the entirety of our lives, we need the admonition “don’t do this.” The “don’t do this” alerts us (hopefully) to the futility of this way of being and specifically to avoid corruption/deceit. On a macro-scale, the Law of Moses was the Grand Inhibitor to first-birth methods of acquiring the good life! The Law of “thou shalt not,” or “don’t do this,” puts the brakes on the first-birth way of life. Jesus then refines the admonition when he states Moses’s Law is insufficient: “except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 5:20).

Even pursuit of righteousness through ideals and virtues cannot bring us into the Kingdom. A diligent pursuit of righteousness . . . [a]s you indicated in your email . . . is not enough. Behaving virtuously and imitating Christ doesn’t give us the Kingdom of peace that we need. And we simply cannot do the things we’re admonished to do: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you . . . [t]hat ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven” (Mt.5:44-45): [a few of] the “do only that” admonitions. 

Only the second birth is given power to perform the “do only that” commands. But we’re given these impossible commands in order to teach us of our incapacity and need. Paul’s state described in the Romans 7:24 passage, namely the “O wretched man that I am!” passage illustrates the place to which we’re to come: the final stage of first-birth suffering. The tradition is set up to make us keenly aware of our need for God, to make our lives unbearable without him, in fact, to raise our consciousness to the level of suffering that comes with dying to the self: the cross within. I think you know all this; this inward growth is essential and apparently not understood [or practiced] by many.

The admonition to “do only that” is [intended] to elicit the awareness of need for the power of God. Once we’re truly in that condition, God can work with us. We can’t follow “do only that” commands without Christ, the power of God (Jn. 15:5). The worldly usually think someone is full of pride if claiming to know this power (“whom makest thou thyself?” [Jn.8:53]), but it is utter humility – unknown to the worldly – that precedes receiving the gospel, the power of God.

Not only is this the predominant theme of the tradition, but it’s also stated in single Bible verses.  Matthew 6:12 is one such verse: “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” Our only hope of fully forgiving our debtors (I’m referring not solely to finances but to the many ways others can impact our well-being) is to know that our treasure in heaven is not subject to thievery or corruption (Mt. 6:19), and having been given that treasure, i.e., having life eternal, we are immune to loss from such “debtors” or detractors. As we are inwardly assured of Christ’s Presence—that nothing has been or could be lost—-we have nothing to forgive, which is another way of saying, we forgive our debtors, knowing their worldly ways and means are of no account. So much of Scripture is to inform us of this possibility of entering a way of life that has overcome our initial ignorance of and separation from God, and to urge us toward receiving the way of life He alone provides.

1 John writes in his email to me: “Do Only That?” . . . describes my inner processing of what I’d read on that page in A Course in Miracles, which led me from wavering skepticism to outright rejection of at least one of its tenets. And if one of its corner-posts is on a sandy foundation, I think that that house will not stand. But I may yet find sand under other of its corner-posts, too, and find words to name it.” (I’m hoping to add a link to John’s essay titled “Do Only That?” in the near future, and will provide it in the comment section.)

2 John provides information on this excerpt’s location in the text: “The page in the 2007 Third Edition of Combined Volume of A Course in Miracles on which (T-6.V-A) appears is page 104. A bit higher on that page I read a paragraph numbered 3.”

Rev. 12:13-14, Manuscript from France 1290-1299, The Morgan Library and Museum
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5 Responses to Some Thoughts On “Don’t Do This” and “Do Only That!”

  1. Patricia, this is exquisite. Thank you!
    Other readers of Patricia’s _Abiding Quaker_blog, I hope to have my original essay, “Do Only That?” revised and posted at a permanent URL soon.

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  2. John Edminster’s essay “‘Do Only That?’ Observations on A Course in Miracles” has now been posted on his blog “Among Friends.” It can be found here: https://wp.me/P6EeA-i7. Thank you, John. It’s a pleasure to read this piece that is both wise and well-expressed.

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  3. You’re welcome, Patricia. Thank you for your encouragement! This morning I posted a Facebook link to my “Among Friends” posting, with an introductory comment that might make my argument clearer for some readers:
    “Yesterday I found the freedom to better express the thoughts I posted here on the thirteenth of Eleventh Month, about what seemed to me an inconsistency between the ethical teaching of A Course in Miracles and the ethical teaching of Jesus, as expressed in the New Testament. Both ACIM and the NT agree that we humans living on earth are “dumbed down” (“to a debased mind,” Romans 1:28 NRSV), and have been taught to believe lies: by the Ego, according to ACIM; or by the “god of this world,” the Devil, according to 2 Cor 4:4.
    “Both systems agree that we ought to obey the guidance of the Holy Spirit. But ACIM is a species of _māyāvāda_, a teaching that what we fallen humans experience in this world of space and time is illusory, and only the eternal is real. Jesus and His apostles may have believed that, too, but whether they did or not, they taught us to take seriously the experiences we actually have in this transient world. This meant that we should warn erring souls whose behavior is putting them in danger of (self-) damnation. Not so, says ACIM: we should see only their guiltlessness, which is what their Creator sees. Here I break with ACIM and align myself with what I believe Jesus taught: [link to the blog posting].”

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  4. Reading your revised essay, John, I found your idea on the reality of suffering to be a key to identifying the crucial difference between ACIM and our tradition. As these issues of the Spirit always do, this one, too, comes down to siding with the truth or reality one perceives. Here’s the excerpt from your essay that spoke to this issue:

    But since it has pleased the Lord to place me in this world as a sufferer among sufferers, where I’ve come to know a Savior who walked this world as a sufferer, I have no reason to think that my Savior now wants me to teach the illusoriness of suffering contrary to my own experience that suffering is real. It feels real, and none of us can make it stop by calling it illusory, least of all the souls in hell!

    This statement of yours undercuts the ACIM idea of the “illusoriness of suffering” (as well as the one of seeing only “guiltlessness” in fellow human beings). ACIM seems to offer pragmatic techniques that allow people in an unredeemed state to graciously handle their first-birth inclinations: not focusing upon pain, eliminates suffering, and not seeing guilt, eliminates the cause for/ response of blame and anger. This shifting of focus reminds me of the Lamaze technique of childbirth where one turns one’s attention away from the pain and toward one’s breathing. It works . . . somewhat, but the birth process is painful regardless of techniques used to render it otherwise.

    Our tradition doesn’t rely on technique; it drives us down to the root of the problem and leaves us in a dire place out of which only God can lift and restore us. Only then – without technique or effort – do we experience the exalted perspective of Divine love, which has no truck with blame or suffering. The birth process can’t be bypassed or ignored. Attempting to do so is “to climb up some other way” (Jn. 10:1), fit only for “theives and robbers”: guilty ones who strive to annul suffering through techniques of self-exaltation/self-resurrection.

    Jesus used the birth metaphor in the same way when he said: “A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world” (Jn. 16:21). There’s no knowing the birth without suffering in and for the truth that requires all one’s perspicacity and integrity. As the Eliot poem says:” I had seen birth and death, / But thought they were different.”

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    • Thank you so much for this, Patricia! This isn’t the first time you’ve taken a thought or insight of mine (or perhaps of the Holy Spirit’s, expressed through my mind), and made me aware of its many important consequences, and resonances with Scripture. I won’t forget the analogy with the LaMaze technique and the suffering of childbirth.
      I also won’t forget the kindness God showed to Cain after he complained, “My punishment is greater than I can bear” (Gen 4:13), by making it bearable.

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