Beyond the Narcissistic Interpretation of Forgiveness

I hear it from so many quarters: In A Course in Miracles, we can forgive because the world we see is our own subjective creation, and therefore has no power to really hurt us. I hear this in so many forms. We are the storyteller. The  world is merely the mirror of our own state of mind. What we see is only our projection. What we resent never happened in reality. The world is just an illusion. There is nobody out there. There is nothing to forgive.

Much of this, of course, is absolutely true, and completely true to the Course (except “There is nobody out there”). Yet this overall perspective is simply one bookend in the Course’s view of forgiveness. We need the other bookend, and if I were to guess, I would say that that other bookend is actually the main emphasis in the Course.

What is the other bookend? It is this: We can forgive because our brother’s worth and innocence are completely intact, regardless of anything he has done. Forgiveness is all about the realization of who my brother really is. The Course cannot stop singing the praises of who my brother is, cannot stop telling me how transfixed and enraptured and humbled and transformed I will be if I catch even a brief glimpse of his reality. If I really saw my brother, the Course says, I “could scarce refrain from kneeling at his feet” (W-pI.161.9:3). I would be like one of those visionaries of Mary, “unheeding of the body’s witnesses before the rapture of Christ’s holy face” (W-pI.151.8:4).

If we look at the forgiveness exercises in the Workbook, we see an overwhelming emphasis on forgiveness as the acknowledgment of who my brother is. The six lessons in the Workbook that have us choose people and then forgive them have the following rationales:

Lesson 46: God’s unconditional Love of my brother is the basis for my forgiveness of my brother.

Lesson 68: Seeing my brother as my friend who is one with me is the basis of forgiving him.

Lesson 78: Seeing my brother as my holy savior who leads me to the light is the basis of forgiveness.

Lesson 121: Seeing my brother as shining with rays of light, which bless and illumine me, is the basis of forgiveness.

Lesson 134: Realizing that if I condemn my brother for something I will condemn myself for that same thing is the basis of forgiveness.

Lesson 161: Realizing that my brother is really the Christ, my savior, whose blessing can reveal to me my sinlessness, is the basis of forgiveness.

Notice that five out of these six lessons (with the exception of 134) have us forgive based on the idea that our brother is absolutely loveable in spite of anything he has done. God loves him (46). He’s my friend (68). He’s my savior (78). He’s my savior (121). He’s my savior (161).

And when it says (over and over) that he’s my savior, let’s read that according to what it actually means in those lessons. In all three of those lessons (as throughout the Course), my brother is my savior because he is so holy that the light in him can shine on me and awaken me. That is the opposite of the usual idea that he’s my savior because he’s so adept at flushing my ego to the surface.

If this theme of my brother’s untarnished worth and value is so central to the Course’s notion of forgiveness, why don’t we talk about it more? Why doesn’t it show up in our teachings on the basis of forgiveness? Why do we seem to have almost read it out of the Course?

I think the reason is clear: It doesn’t fit with the contemporary attitude that says it’s all about me. This attitude pervades all aspects of today’s spirituality, which as a result constantly sings the chorus of how amazing, glorious, powerful, and deserving we are. This same attitude, which is rolling over the cultural landscape like a tsunami, has washed right into our little Course in Miracles pond, where it has us reading out of the Course all themes that grant full reality to others and make us accountable to that reality. Forgiveness is about there being nobody out there. My brother is my savior because he brings out the worst in me. Holy relationships only take one. Extension to others is something I leave entirely to the Holy Spirit. The miracle is a shift in my mind, not an expression of love to others. My behavior (which includes my physical interaction with others) is not part of the Course. Etc., etc., etc.

If we could manage to stop seeing the Course through this narcissistic lens, how would we see forgiveness? We first would realize that unforgiveness is primarily a feeling not about an event, but about a person. It is a choice within a relationship. Unforgiveness means that I judge a person as unworthy of my love because of the things she has done. Forgiveness, then, involves both of those bookends I’ve discussed: I realize my unforgiving perception of her is my own subjective story (first bookend); and that in reality she is still as pure and loveable as when God created her (second bookend). I realize that my lack of love was just my own false perception (first bookend) and that as she really is, she deserves my total love (second bookend).

Proving that the Course really does teach this may have some effect, but what can really move us toward this view is realizing the attractiveness of it. First, we can acknowledge just how lonely the first bookend is all by itself. Doesn’t it get lonely to look at your life and constantly repeat the mantra “I am the storyteller”? At the end of the day, doesn’t every storyteller need to knock off work and share his life with real people? And second, we can realize just how deeply we want to ove others. Isn’t it true that we are profoundly disheartened by our perception that others do not warrant our love? Isn’t there a need in there to really love them, no matter what? And if we could be convinced that we could actually do that, that such love is fully justified, wouldn’t we leap at the chance?

[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]

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