Study Guide and Commentary

ACIM® Text, Chapter 16, Section V.9–17 

The Choice for Completion (Part 2)

blue text = Material from ACIM 3rd edition (FIP)
bold blue text = words emphasized in all caps in Urtext
red text = alternate or omitted material from the Urtext
light blue text = editorial comments
strikethrough blue text = Not in Urtext, in FIP edition

Review of Part 1 (first 8 paragraphs)

In the first part of this section, Jesus spoke about the necessity of looking honestly, without fear, at the pain and futility of the ego’s attempt to substitute for union with God: the special love relationship. He emphasized that what seems like love is actually a veiled attack, trying to make the other person guilty, and that—buried even deeper—it is the ego’s attempt to make us see God as guilty. We wanted special love from God, and (secretly, unconsciously) the ego is trying to make God guilty enough to give us special love. It is “the ego’s chief weapon for keeping you from Heaven” (2:3). It is an impossible attempt to find love in separation (specialness) rather than in union, singling out a particular person or persons for our love and excluding everyone else. It is our ego’s attempt to find the specialness that God—in His unconditional, universal love—has denied to us. To the ego, completion lies in triumph, instead of in union and the extension of union. 

Most peculiar of all, in the special relationship the ego leads us to give away our despised self in trade for the self of another, sacrificing our selves to cause the partner to give their “more special” selves to us. We give up our peace and endure pain to make our partner feel guilty, so he or she will sacrifice in return. We do not realize that, in seeking the “heaven” of the special relationship, we have really asked for hell.

Paragraph 9

9. 1The appeal of hell lies only in the terrible attraction of guilt, which the ego holds out to those who place their faith in littleness. 2The conviction of littleness lies in every special relationship, for only the deprived could value specialness. 3The demand for specialness, and the perception of the giving of specialness as an act of love, would make love hateful. 4[And] The real purpose of the special relationship, in strict accordance with the egos goals, is to destroy reality and substitute illusion. 5For the ego is itself an illusion, and only illusions can be the witnesses to its reality.

• Study Question •

1. This paragraph mentions several things about what really drives the special love relationship. Which of the following is not one of those things?

A. We are attracted to guilt.

B. We want to reinforce our faith that we are little and deprived.

C. We want to destroy reality and substitute illusion.

D. We are attracted to God and know that going through the difficult lesson of a relationship will lead us to Him.

E. We want to use illusions to make the ego--an illusion--seem real.

F. We find hell appealing.

Because we believe that we are “less than” or “little,” not good enough, we find special love attractive; it seems to offer a way for the pathetic self we think we are to somehow feel special and lovable (9:1). Our very guilt over being not good enough can become a “weapon” we can use to get someone else to give us what we lack, and to somehow complete us.

Think about it a bit. If you knew with absolute assurance that you were whole and complete just as you are, being seen as somehow “special” would have no attraction to you. You would not need to be someone’s special object of their affection. “Only the deprived could value specialness” (9:2). If love really meant demanding to be special and making someone else special, love itself would be a hateful thing (9:3)! To be special is to be separate, to be set apart from the crowd, and to ask for that and to give that is a terrible, unloving thing—which is exactly why God refuses to give any of us special love (T-13.III.10:2–3). 

We think our special relationship’s purpose is to complete us and make us happy. Its real purpose “is to destroy reality and substitute illusion,” thus carrying out the ego’s wishes (9:4). That must be so, because the special relationship, based on separation and exclusion, seems to confirm the ego’s reality. And since “the ego is itself an illusion, and only illusions can be the witnesses to its ‘reality’ (9:5), we must conclude that destroying reality and making illusion seem real is, in fact, the true purpose of special relationships. 

Paragraph 10

10. 1If you perceived the special relationship as a triumph over God, would you want it? 2Let us not think of its fearful nature, nor of the guilt it must entail, nor of the sadness and the loneliness. 3For these are only attributes of the whole religion of separation, and of [Ur: and the] the total context in which it is thought to occur. 4The central theme in its litany [a series of sung or spoken liturgical prayers] to sacrifice is that God must die so you can live. 5And it is this theme that is acted out in the special relationship. 6Through the death of your self you think you can attack another self, and snatch it from the other to replace the self that you despise. 7And you despise it because you do not think it offers the specialness that you demand. 8And hating it you have made it little and unworthy, because you are afraid of it [of its true magnitude].

• Study Question •

2. This paragraph recaps the previous discussions saying that we try to kill our self and so snatch from another a more special self. In what two ways (from previous paragraphs) do we try to kill ourselves?

A. By attacking our body with guilt.

B. By attacking ourselves with pain to make another guilty.

C. By giving our "self" away as an expression of how much we despise it.

D. By forming relationships that just do not work.

E. By trying to perpetuate the ego, which is an attack on us.

As was pointed out in paragraphs 5 and 6, “To the ego completion lies in triumph, and in the extensions of the ‘victory’ even to the final triumph over God” (5:5). It may begin simply by beating out the competition for the attentions of a particular person, but the ego’s ultimate aim is to eliminate all the competition—even God. That’s what we are doing in validating the ‘reality’ of the ego.

Probably the idea that you were somehow eliminating God has never entered your mind. Jesus asks, however, “If you realized that was what your special relationship was, would you want it?” (10:1). He seems to be expecting a “No” answer. To me, this implies that Jesus realizes that this dark motivation to murder God is not in accord with our true nature. It is an ego strategy that survives in us only because it is kept secret even from ourselves. If we even begin to suspect it is there we shove it down again, out of awareness. The fear it arouses (“Attacking God! Are you crazy?”), the guilt of it, the sadness and the loneliness of abandonment by the Infinite, are too much to bear, so we suppress it again (10:2). And again. And again. And thus it survives.

Fear, guilt, sadness, and loneliness “are only attributes” of the whole religion of separation” (10:3); they are just the tip of the iceberg. The “central theme,” he tells us, is “that God must die so you can live” (10:4), a devilish affirmation that has become a “litany” to the ego, chanting it over and over, and acting it out in special relationships (10:5). 

Slow down and read that again: The central theme of special love relationships is that God must die so you can live. Harsh words, difficult to credit. If you resist them, try not to argue. Just sit with them and allow yourself to at least consider that what the Course is saying here may be true.

It is as if Jesus is viewing our special relationships as a kind of ritual that signifies something much deeper and, in this case, much darker. This paragraph begins to spell out the analogy, but it will take another few paragraphs to complete the picture, so suspend your skepticism for now, and just watch as the divine artist fills in the lines and the image takes full shape.

To begin, he said that we believe that by sacrificing ourselves—giving up our freedom, accepting the “bond” (bondage?) of marriage, and all the little sacrifices we make to prove our love—we are going to compel our partner to give us their self (which we perceive as being better than our own) in return, replacing our self that falls so far short of completion. It’s a kind of ritual suicide, by which you win the favor of that special person, so that you feel special. You bask in the light of their specialness. (10:5–7)

Why do we so despise our own self (10:6, 8), which is the foundation for this whole, insane ritual sacrifice? Because we are actually afraid of it (10:8). Afraid of our self? Yes; we are afraid to acknowledge its magnificence. That becomes clear in the next paragraph.

Paragraph 11

11. 1How can you grant unlimited power to what [the self] you think you have attacked [by making it little and unworthy]? 2So fearful has the truth [of who you are] become to you that unless it is weak and little, and unworthy of value, you would not dare to look upon it. 3You think it safer to endow the little self you made [in contrast to your glorious true Self] with power you wrested from truth, triumphing over it and leaving it helpless. 4See how exactly is this ritual enacted in the special relationship. 5An altar is erected in between two separate people, on which each seeks to kill his self, and on his body raise another self to take its power from his death [that takes his power from its death]. 6Over and over and over this ritual is enacted. 7And it is never completed, nor ever will be completed. 8[For] The ritual of completion cannot complete, for [and] life arises not from death, nor Heaven from hell.

• Study Question •

3. This paragraph actually explains the special relationship process twice (1-3 and 4-5). In both cases, there is something perceived as outside of you that you try to attack and disempower, in order to steal power from it and give that power to yourself. What are the two things in this paragraph that you try to attack and steal power from?

We cannot acknowledge the “unlimited power” and the magnificence of our true Self because it would mean we are not the “self” that we have made (11:0–2). We think we have “attacked” the Self God created by denying God and by choosing to be independent of God, so we choose instead of take the power we think we have robbed from God (and our Self) and “endow the little self you made with power” (11:3). Thus we “triumph” over our God-created Self and “leave it helpless” (11:3).

Now, says Jesus, notice “how exactly is this ritual enacted in the special relationship” (11:4). By attacking my true Self I imagine that somehow I am augmenting the power of my ego self. I am attacking one self and substituting another in its place. That is exactly what I try to do in a special love relationship. The two of us erect (symbolically) an altar between us, and each of us sacrifices our self for the other, and raises another self that derives its power from the death of our two selves (11:5). We do this “over and over and over” (11:6), and no matter how many times we do it, “it is never completed, nor ever will be completed” (11:7). It is an empty ritual of completion that has nothing to do with the reality of completion. “Life arises not from death, nor Heaven from hell” (11:8). So our special relationships, where the ritual of sacrificial death is constantly re-enacted, will never bring us the life and the Heaven we want.

But there is yet more going on here. This has been just the first level of symbolism. We have yet to delve into how all this acts out the central theme of the ego, that “God must die so you can live.” As we shall see, just as we are replacing our non-special (and therefore, to us, undesirable) self with the special self of the other, so too we are trying to replace the Self that God gave us (which is non-special in a positive sense) with the special self we get from our special love partner. And, since our Self is part of God, to accomplish that, God must die.

The next paragraph completes the picture.

Paragraph 12

12. 1Whenever any form of special relationship tempts you to seek for love in ritual, remember love is content, and not form of any kind. 2The special relationship is a ritual of form, aimed at the raising of the form to take the place of God at the expense of content. 3There is no meaning in the form, and there will never be. 4The special relationship must be recognized for what it is; a senseless ritual in which strength is extracted from the death of God, and invested in His killer as the sign that form has triumphed over content, and love has lost its meaning. 5Would you want this to be possible, even apart from its evident impossibility? 6If it were possible, you would have made yourself helpless. 7God is not angry. 8He merely could not let this happen. 9You cannot change His Mind. 10No rituals that you have set up in which the dance of death delights you can bring death to the eternal. 11Nor can your chosen substitute for the Wholeness of God have any influence at all upon it.

• Study Question •

4. According to this paragraph, what is happening when two people enter into a special love arrangement—for example, when two people exchange wedding vows? There may be more than one correct answer.

A. They are conducting a ritual that seeks to use form to triumph over content.

B. They are using the relationship to try to kill God and endow their little selves with strength they extracted from Him.

C. They are attempting the impossible, for the eternal cannot die.

D. They are really embarrassed.

E. They are using the ancient avenue of ritual and ceremony to draw closer to the Divine.

F. They are wondering what the hell they have gotten themselves into.

Remember, in love (as in most everything) what matters is content, not form (12:1). And “the special relationship is a ritual of form” (12:2). It is an outward form, a set of actions we carry out hoping to replace the reality of God’s love (the content) with that form of specialness (12:2). It is about as meaningless as the voodoo priest sticking a needle into a doll, hoping to injure the person the doll represents. We are acting out a transaction that symbolizes what we (in our egos) want to do with God. We sacrifice our “worthless” self in exchange for the self of our partner, who represents God in the transaction. We hope, and the ego somehow believes, that this transaction with the partner will make the same thing true in regard to God: We sacrifice our worthless self and God will give us His special self, and we will have the special love from God we always wanted. Of course it’s ridiculous (12:3). God is totally unaffected by it all.

Of course it’s impossible that we could effect such an exchange of selves with God. But even if it were possible—would you really want it? Would you truly want to sacrifice yourself in this way? 

God is unmoved by it all. He isn’t angry because you have tried to stage a coup (12:7), as we have been told before:

The Holy Spirit teaches only that the "sin" of self-replacement on the throne of God is not a source of guilt (T-14.III.15:3).

“He merely could not let this happen” (12:8). The ritual is a fraud, an empty ceremony that has absolutely no effect (12:10). Nothing we do can deflect the love of God (12:9)! As the Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans:

I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38–39 ESV)

Paragraph 13

13. 1See in the special relationship nothing more than a meaningless attempt to raise other gods before Him1, and by worshipping them to obscure their tininess and His greatness. 2In the name of your completion you do not want this. 3For every idol that you raise to place before Him stands before you, in place of what you are.

• Study Question •

5. Why do you think that this section uses so much religious imagery (rituals, altars, idols, litanies) to speak about the special relationship? There may be more than one correct answer.

A. Because, like a ritual, it is really a symbolic act. In other words, its goal lies not in the interaction between the two people, but in what they think they are symbolically accomplishing by that interaction.

B. Because it is really intended to be a symbolic transaction with God, just like a religious ritual.

C. Because the Course is implying that all religion is necessarily of the ego.

D. Because so much of human religion is really inspired by the principles of the special love relationship.

E. Because the special love relationship is an expression of the ego's religion--its total dedication to certain ultimate goals and principles.

F. Because the special relationship is only possible when one is a believer in conventional religion, especially Catholicism.

Yes, the ritual of the special love relationship is idolatry, just like the Israelites in the wilderness who worshipped a golden calf when they thought Moses had died up on Mount Sinai. But our “idolatry” and that of Israel were both equally “meaningless” attempts to place another god before the true God. They were just attempts to cover up our littleness and God’s greatness (13:1), and if we ever hope to realize our own completion we must see that we do not want to do this (13:2)! We don’t want to imprison another person and bind them to us by guilt. When we realize that is what we’ve been doing, how could we possibly want to do that? Because in running after idols we are blinding ourselves to the magnificence of what we are, as God created us (13:3). 

Paragraph 14

14. 1Salvation lies in the simple fact that illusions are not fearful because they are not true. 2They but seem to be fearful to the extent to which you fail to recognize them for what they are; and you will fail to do this to the extent to which you want them to be true. 3And to the same extent you are denying truth, and so are failing [making yourself unable] to make the simple choice between truth and illusion; God and fantasy. 4Remember this, and you will have no difficulty in perceiving the decision as just what it is, and nothing more.

• Study Question •

6. What do you think sentence 4 means?

A. Remember that when you are denying truth you will not recognize your decision as what it really is: a denial of truth.

B. If you remember that denying truth causes you to not choose truth over illusion, you will recognize your denial for what it is.

C. Remember that only your wanting of illusions makes you deny truth and fear illusions, and you will realize that the decision you must make is an easy one--being between truth and God on the one side, and illusions and fantasy on the other.

Perhaps we’ve been afraid to recognize the sickness hiding in our relationships, afraid that these dark rituals are dangerous and have real effects. Salvation, Jesus says, lies in realizing that these illusions are not fearful because they are not true—they are just foolish fantasies (14:1). Nothing has really been harmed. What makes them fearful is failing to see their emptiness (14:2), and we only fail “to the extent to which you want them to be true” (14:2). We want to cling to the fantasy; we don’t want to be disillusioned of our illusions! We insanely cling to the hope that this special relationship is really, this time, going to make us happy.

To the extent that we cling, we are denying the truth—the truth about ourselves, the truth of what truly completes us and makes us happy. This clinging clouds our minds and prevents us from making the simple choice between truth and illusion, God and fantasy (14:3). If we remember that our wish that the illusion be real (our wish that the special relationship can really fulfill us) causes us to lose the reality of our Being, our Christ nature, we will realize that the choice we have to make is an easy one: 

Do I want a fantasy, or do I want God? 

Paragraph 15

15. 1The core of the separation illusion [delusion] lies simply in the fantasy of destruction of loves meaning. 2And unless loves meaning is restored to you, you cannot know yourself who share its meaning. 3Separation is only the decision not to know yourself. 4This [Its] whole thought system is a carefully contrived learning experience, designed to lead away from truth and into fantasy. 5Yet for every learning that would hurt you, God offers you correction and complete escape from all its consequences.

• Study Question •

7. The separation is based on the attempt to not know yourself by destroying love's meaning. How is love's meaning (apparently) destroyed, according to this section? There may be more than one right answer.

A. By trying make love a matter of form--a physical interaction--when love is actually content (12:1-2).

B. By trying to obscure love's true meaning by mixing it with hate and separation (3:8, 6:2).

C. By trying to substitute special love for real love.

D. By trying to kill God, who is true Love.

E. By getting comfortable in the relationship and letting yourself go so that you get those nasty "love handles."

This paragraph begins by talking about “the core of the separation delusion” (15:1). We need to pay attention here; this is crucial stuff. What is it that is the core of our delusion of separation? “The fantasy destruction of love’s meaning.” I think what is meant here is that we are trying to make love be special, to make it something that belongs just to a tiny part of the Sonship, to one other individual. We are trying to prop up our separateness and prove that, even in isolation, we can have love. And that is a fantasy; it cannot happen. What we are trying to create is not love. We’ve lost what love means.

And unless we have love’s meaning restored to us we cannot know ourselves, because we are love, we share its meaning (15:2). To be a separate self “is only the decision not to know yourself” (15:3). Love is one. Love is All. Love does not exclude anything. The whole thought system of the ego, of separation, is “a carefully contrived learning experience, designed to lead away from truth and into fantasy” (15:4). 

How many millions of people have been hurt and injured by special relationships they thought would make them happy? Most of the drama of the world revolves around the pain of special relationships. And “yet, for every learning that would hurt you, God offers you correction and complete escape from all its consequences” (15:5). Surely, as he says, this should be an easy choice!

Paragraph 16

16. 1The decision whether or not to listen to this course and follow it is but the choice between truth and illusion. 2For here is truth, separated from illusion and not confused with it at all. 3How simple does this choice become when it is perceived as only what it is. 4For only fantasies make confusion in choosing possible, and they are totally unreal.

• Study Question •

8. Paragraph 16 claims that the Course has separated illusion completely from truth, making the decision between them very easy. What has been this section's main example of our attempt to mix truth and illusion?

How we respond to this course all comes down to that choice, between truth and illusion, between fantasy (which promises joy and brings so much pain) and God (16:1). This course is the truth, plain and simple, with illusion exposed and laid bare as meaningless and completely unsatisfying (16:2). When we are able to see the choice clearly in this way, it becomes simple (16:3).

Paragraph 17

17. 1This year is thus the time to make the easiest decision that ever confronted you, and also the only one. 2You will cross the bridge into reality simply because you will recognize that God is on the other side, and nothing at all is here. 3It is impossible not to make the natural decision as this is realized.

• Study Question •

9. What is the “easiest” and “natural” decision we can make this year (according to this section)?

A. The decision for the holy instant.

B. The decision between truth and illusion.

C. The decision to marry that special someone.

D. The decision to kill our special self and gain power from truth.

Because the choice is so easy, it’s time now to make it. This year—this day—is the time (17:1). “Now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2).2 It is an easy choice, and indeed, it is the only choice that ever confronts us. On the one hand, the One Truth; on the other hand, a thousand forms of illusion. On one side of the bridge, God; on the other side, nothing at all (17:2). When are eyes are opened to see the situation that way, the way it truly is, we “will cross the bridge into reality” (17:2). It will be evident there is no alternative choice. It will be a done deal. It will be impossible not to make the natural decision (17:3). 

Think about it: God, or nothing? Which shall I choose? 

10. Summary: Please give a one paragraph summary of this section's main message, or at least that portion of its message that most affected you.

Answer Key

1. D

2. B and C

3. Truth and the self of another.

4. A,B,C

5. A,B,D,E

6. C

7. A,B,C,D

8. Special love relationships.

9. B

10. My summary: In the special love relationship you sacrifice your self to another so that he will feel guilty and give his more special self to you. This is really a ritual whereby the ego tries to defeat God by making Him guilty, taking the specialness He denied and replacing His real Love with fake love. Do you want this?

1 A reference to the first of the Ten Commandments, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3, KJV). Our substitution of a special relationship for love and union with God is an attempt at idolatry, as blatant as Aaron’s creation of the golden calf (Exodus 32:4).

2 "Now is the time of salvation, for now is the release from time" (T-13.VI.8:1).