Should We Forgive the Ego?

Question: It seems to me that Course students are constantly condemning the ego and fighting against it. This seems to contradict the Course's teaching on forgiveness. Since the Course says we should forgive everyone, shouldn't we forgive the ego as well?

Answer: No, but I can certainly understand why the question comes up. In the Course, the ego is often depicted as if it were a kind of personal being. Since the Course definitely wants us to forgive all beings, it seems to make sense that we should forgive the ego. Thus, I've seen various attempts to portray the ego in a more positive light. One version of "forgiving the ego" is that the ego is basically a wounded inner child, whose negative behavior stems not from malevolence but from fear; its attacks are really just unskilled ways of calling for love. Therefore, we should love and forgive it.

I see at least two problems with this. First, the Course itself never portrays the ego in a positive light. The Course's ego is pure darkness, pure attack, "the evil self I made" (W-pII.303.2:2). In fact, the ego projected outward and symbolically personified is nothing less than "the 'devil'" (T-3.VII.5:1) himself. Second (and this is the most significant problem), though the Course often depicts the ego as if it were a personal being, it is not really a personal being. The Course says that it speaks of the ego "as if it were a separate thing, acting on its own" (T-4.VI.1:3) so we will not "dismiss it lightly" (T-4.VI.1:4). Depicting the ego as Satan certainly gets our attention. But in truth, the Course tells us, the ego is not a malevolent being but merely an idea in our minds. It is "nothing more than a part of your belief about yourself" (T-4.VI.1:6), a "false identification" (W-pI.25.2:3). And while you may forgive a person who has a false idea (which the Course definitely wants us to do), you don't forgive the false idea itself—nor do you condemn it. Once you realize an idea is false, the thing to do is simply to let it go.

To illustrate this, let's consider another false idea. Let's say that you have believed that the world is flat, but are now exposed to incontrovertible evidence that the world is in fact round. How do you now treat the idea that the world is flat? Do you treat it with love, saying, "Oh, bless your heart, you lovely little false idea. I forgive you for being false. I know you were trying your best—you just didn't know any better"? Or do you treat it with contempt, saying, "You despicable false idea, I hate your guts for making me look like an idiot. Go to hell you miserable liar"? Of course, you do neither. Once you see that an idea is false, you merely say something like this: "I now realize that this idea is false, so I give it up. I will accept the truth in its place." Indeed, once you really accept the truth, the false idea goes automatically. Once you've accepted that the world is round, you can no longer believe that it's flat unless you engage in some sort of weird dissociation. The two ideas simply can't be held at the same time.

This is what the Course has us do with the ego. In the Course's system, you neither love and forgive the ego, nor condemn and attack it. Instead, you see that it is a false idea in your mind, and then bring it to God's truth, where it is automatically dispelled because falsehood and truth cannot coexist when they are brought together:

Bringing the ego to God is but to bring error to truth, where it stands corrected because it is the opposite of what it meets. It is undone because the contradiction can no longer stand. How long can contradiction stand when its impossible nature is clearly revealed? What disappears in light is not attacked. It merely vanishes because it is not true. (T-14.IX.2:1-5)

Why is this idea of not forgiving the ego important? It's not just an academic point, but one with great practical value. If we view the ego as something to love and forgive, we will tend to coddle it and thus hang onto it. If we see it as a wounded inner child who needs our acknowledgment, it would feel downright cruel to simply abandon it. But if we see it as simply a false idea in our minds, we will have no qualms about getting rid of it, especially when we see what a horrible idea it really is. If we realize that our self-concept is an idea so malevolent and destructive that it has been personified as Satan, an idea so vile that we would kill ourselves out of self-loathing if it were fully revealed to us (see W-pI.93.1:3), we would want nothing more than to eradicate it from our minds as soon as possible. Why hold onto a false idea that causes you nothing but pain?

So, let's not forgive or condemn the ego. Let's simply let it go and set our minds free. With the Course's help, we can "undo this error quietly together, and then look beyond it to truth" (T-11.V.1:6). By forgiving our brothers who think they are egos rather than forgiving the ego itself, this false identification will be undone, and we will remember who we really are.

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