Excerpts from the Academy class held at the
Foundation for A Course in Miracles
Kenneth Wapnick, Ph.D.
This topic, "I Will Forgive, but Never Forget," is a way of talking about what The Song of Prayer pamphlet refers to as "forgiveness-to-destroy" (S-2.II). The section in Chapter 30 called "The Justification for Forgiveness" is one of the few places in the Course where this concept of forgiveness-to-destroy is talked about—Lesson 126 is another—although the term itself is used only in the pamphlet.
The phrase "I will forgive, but never forget" is a well-known one and is used by many groups and people. It is typically what the world thinks of as forgiveness: Yes, you have done something terrible, unconscionable, and sinful, and I do forgive you, but I will not forget. One of the rationalizations for that position is that if I forget and if the world forgets what you did, then we can end up in the same boat again. That, for example, is what many Jewish groups and Jewish people say about the holocaust. "We will forgive, but we will not forget, because if we forget, it will happen again." A Course in Miracles is quite clear about why that does not work. People do not realize—because most people are not psychologically sophisticated—that when they adopt such a position they have made the sin real. If you make error real and call it sinful, the only reason for your doing that is that you believe it is real in you. That is what is important to understand. If you accuse someone of sin, whether you are doing it on a global scale or a personal scale, and then you adopt the position, "I will forgive, but I will never forget," you are accusing them of a sin because you do not want to see that sin in yourself.
Lesson 134, "Let me perceive forgiveness as it is," says that if you are tempted to accuse anyone of anything, stop first and ask yourself, "Would I accuse myself of doing this?" (W-pI.134.9:3). This does not necessarily mean that you are accusing yourself of the same form of the sin, but certainly of the same content. Therefore, when you make someone else's error real by calling it sinful, and you accuse and judge them for it, then you are secretly holding on to your own, not knowing that you are doing so. That is the problem.
While Jesus does not believe in sin in the Course, what would be a "sin" is remaining unaware of something inside. That is the worst possible thing. In a sense, that is being unaware of the guilt that allowed us to make the world, and it is that unawareness that sustains the world and the entire physical universe. Once you are aware of it, you will change your mind and the guilt will be gone. Then in your awareness, experience, and perception, the world will be gone, too, along with all the problems that appear to be so flagrant here.
Thus, the psychological problem with "I will forgive, but never forget" is that what I am really never forgetting is not your sin; what I am never forgetting is my sin. And if I am not aware of it, then whatever is buried in my unconscious, whatever awful things I am accusing myself of will inevitably get projected. Once they are projected and I am unaware of the source, I will believe that my attacks are justified, because, again, I am unaware of where they are coming from. We are all very good at justifying our attacks.
When one group, person, race, nation, or religious group takes the position "I will forgive, but never forget," it is ensuring that the same thing it is accusing another of will continue to happen and happen and happen. Further, there will be a need to see it continue to happen and happen and happen, because the need to perceive the sin in another and not in oneself will continue. That is what is wrong with the position of forgiveness-to-destroy, of which "I will forgive, but never forget" is one expression—"I will forgive the sinner, but not the sin" is another.
In The Song of Prayer, Jesus enumerates four different forms that forgiveness-to-destroy takes (S-2.II). The first form is "I will forgive, but never forget." He does not use that expression, but that is when you forgive someone for a sin that you have already made real, and by so doing, automatically put yourself in a superior position: "I am a wonderful, sincere, faithful Christian; therefore, I forgive you for what you have done, but you have done it." There is no way you can take that position without looking down on the person you are so-called forgiving. To say "I will forgive, but never forget" is really just an expression of that first form of forgiveness-to-destroy. The problem, once again, with the whole dynamic of forgiveness-to-destroy, and then specifically with "I will forgive, but never forget," is that you are not aware of your own complicity, not necessarily your behavioral complicity in the sense that you are responsible for what other people are doing, but your complicity in making the sin so real and judging against it.
It would literally be impossible to judge anyone for anything, no matter how heinous the crime, how egregious the sin, or how godawful the act, if you were experiencing the Love of God within you. You just could not do it. Love does not judge, condemn, make comparisons, or see sin. Therefore, if you see sin, if you accuse anyone of anything on any level, it must be because in the instant you are making that misperception, you have pushed love away in your mind. Whenever we push love away, as we all did right at the beginning when as one Son we pushed God's Love away, we must feel guilty. Must. There is no way we could avoid that, because we accuse ourselves of the sin of betraying, neglecting, abandoning, attacking, and rejecting love. From that "sin," the guilt we will feel will be so enormous, as guilt always is, that the only way we could survive is to get rid of it through projection. That is when we send out what "The Attraction of Guilt" in Chapter 19 describes as "the hungry dogs of fear" prowling around on a "savage search for sin" (T-19.IV-A.12:7) ready to pounce on anything that even hints of sin and guilt in another.
We all are going about savagely searching for sin in someone—anyone. When other people cooperate by doing things that are clearly, in the eyes of the world, sinful, evil, and wicked, it is a no-brainer for us. It is very easy to attack and accuse, and we find lots of other people to support us. We forget that people we accuse of sin, no matter what they have done in the world, are suffering from the same malady and illness that we all suffer from: the insane belief we have separated ourselves from God. Everyone suffers from that. Some people deal with the guilt over that in socially acceptable ways; other people deal with it in socially unacceptable ways; still others deal with it in most socially unacceptable ways—by committing mass murders or genocide.
Many of you know that wonderful speech from The Merchant of Venice where Shylock, the old Jew who is a moneylender and is not portrayed very nicely in the play, talks about all the persecution he has felt. In effect he says, "Doth not a Jew bleed? If you prick him, does he not bleed like everyone else?" Well, does not a Nazi bleed? Does not a "terrorist" bleed? Do not the people who sit in the White House bleed? Does not everyone bleed? Everyone suffers and everyone is in pain. That is the true perception of the Holy Spirit, the vision of Christ that sees everyone here as the same.
Perception is clouded and distorted when we begin with a self-perception of our own sinfulness. Once we believe, as the workbook says, that we "are the home of evil, darkness and sin" (W-pI.93.1:1), there is no recourse available to us other than to project that, in a most maladaptive attempt on the ego's part to get rid of the problem. This is an incredibly successful dynamic that has worked since the beginning of time. Indeed, it is the beginning of time, as well as of the world. Very, very effective, except it does not really work! It is very effective because it does not work. The ego does not want it to work because if we were really able to get rid of sin by projecting it onto someone else and seeing it in that person, there would be none left in us to project. The problem is that ideas leave not their source: sin leaves not its source in the mind, which means we have to keep projecting. As long as sin and guilt (which we can use interchangeably) remain within us, we will project them. There is no way we can avoid that.
The world has Freud to thank as the first to clearly enunciate and brilliantly describe that dynamic. People built on it after him, but he was the first to systematically describe how it works, which is that whatever is unconscious will somehow, by hook or by crook, find its way out, but you will not know it. You project your guilt, magically hoping to get rid of it, but it stays, which means you have to keep projecting. Not only that, the whole thing gets reinforced because on some level you know that your accusations of another are false, no matter what the person did. You are attacking not because the person actually did what you are accusing him or her of doing, but because you believe you did what you are accusing that person of doing.
It is an endless cycle that is the history of the world and will continue to be the history of the world until an individual in the world (because it only takes one) is able to shine the light of truth on that unconscious guilt. When you shine the light on the darkness, which is what it means to bring the darkness to the light, the darkness is gone, and if there is no guilt, there is no projection. If there is no projection, there is no hate, judgment, attack, murder, international murder, or genocide. There is nothing. But if you have the insane idea that you can forgive and not forget, and you believe that is a good thing, then you are ensuring that it will continue to happen.
That is always what happens when there is a victimized and oppressed people. It is the history of the world. If they are religious, they may try to forgive, but they do not forget what was done to them. Then, when in time they get power, we all know what they will do. The history of the world is like a seesaw; we go up and down and up and down. The French Revolution is probably one of the most blatant, flagrant, and bloody examples of that. You rebel and revolt for seemingly justified causes, and then you get the power and do exactly what was done to you. You end up with Napoleon declaring himself emperor, as he did in the aftermath of the French Revolution, and then the same stuff happens all over again. It just keeps recycling and recycling. Watch out for anyone who says, "I will forgive, but never forget." That is even worse than simply saying, "I will never forget," because at least when someone says, "I will never forget" you do not have the illusion of forgiveness. It is when you add the "I will forgive" piece to it that you then adopt a holier-than-thou attitude: I am being a very good Christian, Jew, Muslim, atheist, whatever, and I am forgiving because that is a good thing to do, but I am still holding on to it.
It is important to understand why it does not work so that you will be motivated to do what does work, which is to forgive without the "never forgetting" part; i.e., you truly forget. Another reason that "I will forgive, but never forget" does not work is that you are saying, "You did something terrible in the past, and I will never let it go." You are obviously making the past real, by definition. Well, what is the past? If we step aside from our current topic and look briefly at time, it becomes very clear why this does not work.