I am writing you publicly because my private efforts to invite you into dialogue have not succeeded. And I continue to believe that healthy dialogue is the road to take when we are faced with differences about the Course, either about interpretation or about copyright. The copyright situation in particular has prompted this letter, though it is simply the most pressing example of larger issues that I want to address, issues about the direction the Course should take in the world.
For over fifteen years, authors were able to quote virtually whatever they wanted from the Course. Then, in 1992, the permission-to-quote policy began to tighten. In that year, a book would not receive permission if it was a compilation of Course quotes (100% quotes). In 1993 a book could not be <primarily> excerpts from the Course (51% quotes). In 1994 a book could not contain quotes from the Course that exceeded 5% of the book's total word-count. In this same period, use of the Course's title began to be restricted. That title was trademarked and its use was discouraged in the titles and subtitles of new books, and in the names of organizations, newsletters, and magazines. This, rather predictably, changed the face of Course-related publishing.
In 1995, rather than submit to these restrictions, which we considered unreasonable, we at The Circle of Atonement asked to talk with the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP), the then-copyright holder of the Course. We eventually (in 1996) proposed the creation of a new category in the Foundation's policy. This category would allow greater freedom in using the Course's material and title to writers whose writings were commentaries on the Course. We based this proposal on fair use laws, which, as you probably know, acknowledge the need for authors to comment on and quote from the works of others in order to advance society's fund of knowledge. As your own works demonstrate, and the fair use laws recognize, it is impossible to do commentaries and exegesis of scripture and other works without extensive quoting. Fair use laws rest on the idea that the needs of society may outweigh, to a certain extent, the usual rights of a copyright holder--a very enlightened idea, from my point of view.
Judith Skutch-Whitson, President of FIP, expressed enthusiasm about this proposal, saying that the copyright pendulum needed to swing back to center. She even instructed her lawyer to get together with the lawyer who was helping us to amicably resolve these issues, and work out the details (though circumstances, it seemed, kept preventing this from happening).
Because I assumed that our "new category" suggestion had been accepted, I didn't expect any problem when, in January of 1998, I submitted a manuscript to FIP. I intended this manuscript to be my major statement to date about <A Course in Miracles>. I had a literary agent who felt there was a good possibility of having it published by a major New York publisher, although the agent made it clear that he couldn't represent me without official permission to quote from the Course.
Of course, things didn't go the way I expected. After over a year of waiting for what I was told would be a decision by the Foundation's Board, I discovered that the decision had been placed entirely in your hands. Then, on March 8 of this year, in a stunning and unexpected move, the copyright of <A Course in Miracles> was transferred to the Foundation for <A Course in Miracles> (FACIM), of which you are the president. Shortly afterward, I received a letter from you dated March 13 in which--without explanation--you denied me permission to quote from the Course in my manuscript. You have since stated in a second letter to me, "to the extent you choose to publish your manuscript, that the Foundation for <A Course in Miracles>, as owner of the copyright of the Course, intends to vigorously and vigilantly safeguard its rights with respect to protecting its legal interests."
What a strange situation. In my book, I present a vision of the Course that is quite different than yours. I even respond to your views in many places. In other words, one of the purposes of this book was to offer Course students a different vision of the Course than yours. How strange that you have been given the ability to stop it from being published. In most fields, if a thinker doesn't agree with the ideas of another thinker, he has to show the fallacy of those ideas in a public forum, in the marketplace of ideas. He doesn't have the ability to make sure they never make it to market.
Now, perhaps that wasn't your reason for denying permission. But it does appear that way, based on an explanation you gave me in that second letter: "I am sure that as a student of <A Course in Miracles> you can appreciate the importance of ensuring the integrity of its message and our decision to deny you permission to use the copyright, <A Course in Miracles>." Correct me if I have taken this wrong, but doesn't this say, in so many words, that my interpretations would compromise the integrity of the Course's message <as you see it> and that that is why I was denied permission to quote?
Since the transfer of the copyright to FACIM, the entire situation has rapidly intensified. Internet websites and discussion groups have been contacted; some, I understand, removed under pressure. At least two Course centers have been contacted about their alleged violations. A new, much stricter policy on permission to quote has been issued by FACIM. This policy (which is available on the FACIM Website: www.facim.org./announce.htm) gives the impression that if one wants to quote (or even paraphrase) one sentence from the Course (in a book, periodical, audio or video tape, or electronically), one has to supply FACIM with a manuscript or transcript, a list of the exact Course quotes used (and where and how they appear), a word-count sheet, and a figure showing what percentage of the overall work consists of quotations from the Course. If permission is granted one must then sign a contract and probably pay a royalty.
But will permission be granted? I have a friend here in Sedona, George McOwen, who submitted a manuscript to FACIM. This manuscript used Course ideas which, of course, are not subject to copyright, and it had a few paraphrases of Course quotes. But it did not even contain one single direct quote from the Course. Yet FACIM refused to grant permission (permission for <what>, I don't know). This naturally raises the question: Will anyone be granted permission to quote from <A Course in Miracles>?
What is important in this situation, I believe, are the needs of the Course, where the Course is going, where it's <supposed> to go. I realize that this is your central concern as well. I know you well enough to realize that your motivation is not money or self-aggrandizement. I know that you have labored tirelessly for one reason: to help the Course go where it's supposed to go. What you said in a recent interview with Ian Patrick of the UK Miracle Network (the March/April issue of <Miracle Worker>) captures perfectly what I know to be your motivation: "The Course does stand on its own but, just as with a little tree that begins to grow, you have to nourish and protect it. I think that we see our work as being to ensure that the Course grows the way it is supposed to, however that is."
I could not agree more. And I would add that the way it is supposed to grow is the way Jesus <intends> for it to grow. I think you would probably agree on some version of that, too, even though you and I differ on specific notions about Jesus and divine plans. To put it in my language: The only thing that counts is Jesus' plan for the Course's growth. Just as he had a plan for its words, ideas, and volumes, so, I believe, he has a plan for its growth in the world. How does <he> want it to go? That, I believe, is the single question that should be in all of our minds. Though you and I are united on that question, still our answers to it are very different. It seems to me, in fact, that, despite good intentions, your recent policies would take the Course down a path that repeats some of the core mistakes we made with Jesus' message 2,000 years ago. You referred to these same mistakes in writing about the Church's tragic suppression of the Gnostics. You even sketched this beautiful vision: "Without the ego's investment in separateness, all Christian groups could have remained united in their devotion to Jesus, yet accepting of different interpretations" (<Love Does Not Condemn>, p. 85). How I wish we could follow that vision.
As a result of the transfer of the copyright to your organization, <A Course in Miracles> stands at a crossroads. The Course is a spiritual path available to all in book form. The students of this path have been served by a decentralized network of centers, teachers, and study groups. They have been aided by a variety of Course- based authors, who for most of the Course's history could quote freely from the Course.
Now, however, you who are the most influential interpreter of this path also effectively control the copyright on the book. Now, to all outward appearances, you have become the official voice of the Course. You can quote profusely from the Course, and at the same time can stop others from quoting at all. You can use the Course's title in your book titles and in everything you do, while stopping others from using it "in the titles of their written, audio, visual, or electronic works, products, or activities" (from FACIM's copyright and trademark/service mark policies). This quoted sentence suggests that others cannot even publicize that they are holding an "<A Course in Miracles> study group." As proprietor of the copyright, FACIM can even perhaps put them and their centers out of business through expensive legal suits. In the end, depending on your intentions, you can quite possibly emerge as the <de facto> central authority of a heretofore decentralized spiritual movement.
As we stand at this crossroads, I feel a great sadness. I find myself wondering what so many students are wondering: How on earth did we get to this point? How could this happen to our beloved Course? Many questions arise in my mind, and it is about these questions that I invite you to dialogue with me. I ask these questions in all sincerity, as one person who has devoted his life to the Course to another who has done the same. I ask, not just for myself, but on behalf of the many students who are asking the same things.
I know that you believe you have been given a custodial role in relation to the Course, and that is the focus of my first question (I'll only be numbering the main questions): What do you believe your role is and what are your reasons for thinking you have been given it? Your idea of your role is in the process of seriously impacting all of our lives, perhaps even changing the overall face of involvement with the Course. Given this impact, I think we all deserve your account of what that role is and what qualifies you to assume it.
You said, in <Absence from Felicity>, that Helen remained faithful to the Course by not becoming its dominant external authority figure. You said, "Part of Helen's mind realized that such a situation regarding <A Course in Miracles> would have been a disaster, for it would have shifted people's focus from the inner Teacher to an external figure, a process of specialness directly antithetical to the Course's message of equality and unity" (p. 383). Is it possible that you are falling prey to the very temptation she avoided?
My second question: Do you regard your views on the Course as infallible? The very question sounds absurd, but I must ask it given what you have publicly stated. In that interview with Ian Patrick mentioned above, when asked if your comments on the Course are your interpretations, you basically said no, and then confirmed that the following is what you claim: "What I say it says, <is> what it says." You then clarified, "I think I would be dishonest if I kept saying: 'This is what I <think> it says,' but I really <know> it." This sounds to me like you are claiming infallibility for your views.
I have always believed that Jesus gave you an important role to play with the Course. But I don't think that this implies anything like infallibility. Look at the other people Jesus hired for this enterprise: Helen, Bill, Judy. Even in your version of the story of the Course, their fallibility is a keynote. So why not yours? The same is true when we look at those whom Jesus hired two thousand years ago. He even cautions us about them in the Course: "As you read the teachings of the Apostles, remember that I told them myself that there was much they would understand later, because they were not wholly ready to follow me at the time" (T-6.I.16:1). Why wouldn't this caution hold true for your teachings as well? Choosing highly fallible people almost seems to be a rule for Jesus. Why would you be the exception to this rule?
Third question: Do you believe that you are the only one whom Jesus intended to have the role of teaching the Course? Again this may sound like a presumptuous question, yet I have never heard you acknowledge the value of any other teacher's role. You seem, in fact, to describe all interpretations besides your own as the result of the "tremendous ego need to change <A Course in Miracles> to protect itself" (<Few Choose to Listen>, p. 224). Please correct me if I am wrong, but this seems to suggest that, while your views are beyond error, the views of others represent the ego's desire to pervert the Course. If so, doesn't that imply that Jesus wants only you (and perhaps those few who teach with you) to teach the Course? And if so, doesn't that constitute (to use your words) a "specialness directly antithetical to the Course's message"?
I cannot imagine Jesus' plans being that exclusive. The genesis of the Course, after all, was a collaborative venture. To bring it to publication required four people with different temperaments and perspectives. If this diversity was Jesus' plan for the genesis of the Course, why wouldn't it be his plan for the <teaching> of the Course? Your own writings seem to indicate that this is the case. In <Absence from Felicity> you say that Jesus' guidance about Helen and Bill "pointed to an even greater role for both of them [beyond the scribing of the Course], and one which definitely involved more of a teaching function, and themselves in a leadership capacity" (p. 380). Yet I know that Bill did not entirely share your views on the Course. So you do believe that someone besides you was called by Jesus to teach the Course, and even provide leadership for its public life, someone who, moreover, did not entirely share your views. If Jesus called one such person, why not others? Why not a multitude of others?
It seems so natural to have multiple teachers of the Course because its meaning is publicly available to all. In our path, the authority does not lie in a special prophet's private store of knowledge. Helen wrote it all down. The authority lies in the words she wrote. And these words are accessible to us all. We all have the same book. We all can take a shot at interpreting what its words mean. There is, I believe, an important place for those of us who devote our lives to interpreting the Course. But our interpretations only carry authority to the extent that they are in accord with the real authority, with the words she wrote down. Our interpretations must always be measured against those words. And this, again, is something everyone can do. There is thus a certain democracy built into the very nature of the Course.
Yet I can't help, nor can a growing number of others, but get the distinct impression that you believe your role is to protect the Course from other interpreters. It appears to me that you increasingly see your role, as a teacher, and now as a copyright holder, as being to "protect the purity" of the Course. You even used a similar phrase in that sentence I quoted earlier: "I am sure that as a student of <A Course in Miracles> you can appreciate the importance of ensuring the integrity of its message and our decision to deny you permission to use the copyright, <A Course in Miracles>." I must admit that that sentence totally mystified me. Why on earth would I appreciate the importance of protecting the Course against <me>? The driving motivation behind my teaching, my writing, and my life has been to <reveal> the integrity of the Course.
This notion of protecting the purity of the Course lies at the heart of the copyright issue, and of all the issues surrounding your role. I think every Course student would benefit from hearing your explanation of this notion. Hence, my fourth question: Why exactly do you believe that the Course needs your protection? What misfortune would happen to it without your protection?
To a degree I think I know how you feel. I too feel a deep responsibility for the Course and am profoundly concerned about its welfare. I too wince at times when I see what people say and do in its name. Certain ones of us <have> been called to be its custodians (though I suspect that a great many, rather than just a few, are called to this role). Our concern for it goes far beyond our personal usage of it. More than anything we want to see the Course go the way it was originally intended to go.
But there has to be another way of protecting the Course, a healthy way. Denying people the ability to quote from it and use its title--that sounds like plain old defensiveness. If so, and if "defenses are but foolish guardians of mad illusions" (M- 4.VI.1:6), then such a defensive posture protects not the Course, but one's own illusion of the Course.
Fortunately, I think there is a better way. I think the way to protect the Course's message lies in a much more positive and fruitful direction, based on a different idea of custodianship. I think we protect the Course through helping new interpreters develop and come into their own, rather than shutting them out. I think we protect it through speaking our views on it loudly and clearly, and encouraging others to compare our views with the Course's own words. I think we protect it through dialoguing within our community about what it really says. I think we protect it through developing traditions of scholarly interpretation and discourse, as spiritual traditions have done for thousands of years. I think we protect it through dialoguing with other paths and traditions. In short, I think we throw open the doors and let the Course and our views on it fully enter the marketplace of ideas. Jesus' words are so clear and his truths so compelling that in the end, I believe, his true message will naturally emerge and be acknowledged.
I believe that Jesus' plan is for his message to go out to the world, to receive the broadest possible exposure. If this is true, then the tide of events will serve to undo anything that restricts its extension. Jesus has a way of making sure his message gets out. Just as the tide of history kept Christianity from being confined to some tiny province, so I think that tide will free up the Course. Just as Jesus arranged for the Course to get out of Helen and Bill's closet, so I believe he will arrange for it to get out of the strictures you are seeking to impose on it.
As I said, I believe that the Course stands at a crossroads in its history. Will you dialogue with me about the issues central to its welfare? Will you clarify to all of us why you are taking the actions that you are, and why you think these are not in conflict with the Course's principles? I know that you and I have deep disagreements, but in talking there is the potential for discovering areas of agreement, clarifying misunderstandings, and bringing about a meeting of the minds. I look forward to your response.
Respectfully, Robert Perry
Addendum from Allen Watson:
As co-author with Robert of many of the Circle's books and booklets, and sole author of a number of others, I want to add my voice to his in the above concerns. You were my first Course teacher, and I owe you a great deal. I have an enormous respect for you and a deep sense of gratitude. Yet, even at the time I attended many of your workshops, I questioned some of your interpretations of the Course. I felt at that time that you were willing to accept questions concerning your interpretations and to dialogue about them, but over time it appears you have become less and less willing to do so. I also feel that, despite the untold benefits your work has brought to the world, the current copyright policies being instituted by your organization repress and damage the well-being of the Course community.
I came to work with Robert Perry because he and I shared a similar approach to the Course, consisting primarily of repeatedly querying the Course itself for what it means, and finding that meaning from the Course's own context, rather than from the application of our own reasoning. When we have disagreed, as we still do about particular passages from time to time, we discuss it and debate it. We nearly always arrive at a common understanding. At this time, I find myself in close agreement with Robert on every point I know of at which his understanding of the Course differs from yours. If his writings are to be denied publication by your Foundation, I can only assume the same policy will be applied to my own.
For these reasons, I want to join with Robert in his appeal for an open discussion of the questions he has raised in this letter. I encourage you to open yourself to honest questions concerning your interpretations of the Course. Neither Robert nor I want to "be right" about any of these points. We simply desire to come to the clearest understanding possible of what the Course is actually saying about any given issue, and when there is disagreement--as there is between our respective understandings of the Course--to dialogue, so that we can more fully understand one another's thoughts, help others who may be interested to weigh the issues, and, ideally, come to a common understanding. If the latter proves impossible, we will at least be able, in love, to agree to disagree. Without dialogue, we can only nay-say each other without any confidence that we actually understand what the other means to say.
I also appeal to you as my brother and my one-time mentor: End this rigorous policing of the use of Course quotes and the Course title. There is no real danger of anyone's mistaking Robert's work, or mine, or anyone's except yours for that matter, for "official" or "authorized" Course materials. And if the Foundation would simply stop its attempts to control what is or is not said about the Course--to "authorize" some (perhaps only its own) and not others, in a manner reminiscent of the "imprimatur" of the Roman Catholic Church--there would be no danger at all of anyone's mistakenly thinking that some book or other was authorized, because <no> books would be authorized. Each would stand or fall on its own merits or, as Robert says, by virtue of its harmony or disharmony with the Course's own words.
Sincerely, Allen Watson Robert Perry The Circle of Atonement, P.O. Box 4238, W. Sedona, AZ 86340 firstname.lastname@example.org
-- In love, Allen Watson
The Circle of Atonement, P.O. Box 4238, W. Sedona, AZ 86340 email@example.com (520)282-0790 WWW address: http://www.sedona.net/nen/circleofa