Sins

Question: Is forgiveness based on recognizing that our brothers' "sinful" character traits are projections of our own character traits? If the sins we see in our brothers are really our own sins, then is forgiveness based on recognizing that the particular "sinful" character trait that I'm seeing in my brother is really my projection of a character trait that I'm seeing and not acknowledging in myself?

Short answer: No, this is not the basis of forgiveness in the Course. When the Course says that we see our own sins in our brothers, it means that we project our own sense of sinfulness onto our brothers, and thus interpret their particular character traits and behaviors as sinful. Forgiveness is based on recognizing that this interpretation is our own projection, a recognition that enables us to reinterpret our brothers' character traits and behaviors as expressions of love or calls for love, rather than sins.


When the Course says that we see our own sins in our brothers, it means that we project our own sense of sinfulness onto our brothers, and thus interpret their particular character traits and behaviors as sinful.

This is my interpretation the following passage, which is one of the most direct statements in the Course of the idea that we see our own sins in our brothers:

You never hate your brother for his sins, but only for your own. Whatever form his sins appear to take, it but obscures the fact that you believe them to be yours. (T-31.III.1:5-6)

Another possible interpretation of this passage, of course, is that the specific sins that we see in our brothers are always projections of specific sins we see but don't acknowledge in ourselves. In other words, to illustrate this idea with an example, if I hate Bill Clinton because I see him as a philanderer, it must be because I secretly see myself as a philanderer (or at least a potential philanderer), and I'm projecting that character trait, along with the self-hatred that goes with it, onto him.

Certainly, this kind of thing often does happen. We've all heard of cases where the anti-homosexual activist turns out to be gay, the anti-porn crusader is caught with a prostitute, and the anti-Semite is found to have Jewish ancestry. However, I think this is too narrow an interpretation for the above passage. While it is undoubtedly true that we often hate our brothers because we're projecting our own unwanted character traits onto them, this particular dynamic isn't always the cause of our hatred. Thus, if it is true that we always hate our brothers for our own sins, the "sins" referred to in this passage must be something broader than the particular character traits that we dislike and disown in ourselves.

Why do I say that seeing our own unwanted character traits in our brothers isn't always the cause of our hatred? Because there are some situations in which this simply cannot be the case. For instance, it is clear that in the case of a white supremacist who hates black people, it isn't because he is a closet black person who has projected his unacknowledged black identity onto black people. Obviously, the hatred is based on an physical trait that the white supremacist doesn't have. Even with non-physical traits, there are many cases where one person hates another for a character trait that the hateful person clearly doesn't have. For instance, if a highly educated person condemns illiterate people, it is not because she is projecting her unacknowledged illiteracy onto these people.

In the above examples, the white supremacist's and educated person's hatred is based not on seeing their own traits in the people they hate, but on seeing different traits in those people. The Course, in fact, describes this very dynamic in its discussion of the first law of chaos (T-23.II.2). There, we are told that each of us develops our own "hierarchy of illusions" (T-23.II.2:3): our own personal ranking system in which we rate the world's illusions on the basis of which ones we prefer. It says further that we defend our own hierarchies and establish their "truth" by attacking the validity of other people's hierarchies. To illustrate this with one of our examples, when the educated person condemns an illiterate person, she does so to defend the "truth" of her own hierarchy (on which the trait of literacy ranks very high) against the "threat" of the illiterate person's hierarchy (on which the trait of literacy seemingly ranks very low). Everyone in this world is playing this game of dueling hierarchies, in which competing value systems battle for supremacy. The result is a world in which people hate and attack each other because their "values differ, and those who hold them seem to be unlike, and therefore enemies" (T-23.II.2:5). In short, people hate and attack each other because of their differences, not their similarities.

I'm sure there are situations in which one person hates another because of a combination of the two dynamics described above. For instance, a homophobic person might condemn homosexuals both because his overt values differ from theirs, and because he covertly shares their homosexual orientation, and is projecting his self-hatred for his own "sin" onto them. But my point is that since both of these dynamics can be a source of hatred, the idea that we always hate our brothers for our own sins can't refer only to the dynamic of hating our brothers for our own "sinful" character traits that we have projected onto them. At the very least, it has to refer to something that encompasses both dynamics. As I said above, the "sins" referred to in this passage must be something broader.

That "something broader" is the general sense of sinfulness that I referred to in my interpretation above. To restate that interpretation: The idea that we see our own sins in our brothers means that we project our own sense of sinfulness onto our brothers, and thus interpret their particular character traits and behaviors as sinful. How we see ourselves determines how we see the world. Because we believe we have separated from God, we see ourselves as guilty sinners, and "who looks upon himself as guilty and sees a sinless world?" (T-21.VI.2:4). Seeing ourselves as sinners leads inevitably to the perception of a sinful world.

The bottom line is that the particular form this takes doesn't matter. In a situation in which I hate a brother for his "sins," he may actually have the particular character trait that I hate, or he may not. I may actually have the particular character trait that I hate in him, or I may not. He may have actually done the thing I hate, or he may not have. All of this is beside the point. The point is that whenever I condemn a brother's character traits or behaviors, it is always because I am projecting my own belief that I am a sinner onto him, and thus seeing him as a sinner too. I see my own sinful nature in him, and so I interpret his character traits and actions as sins. This is true "whatever form his sins appear to take" (T-31.III.1:6). Undoing this interpretation and allowing a new interpretation to replace it is the true basis of forgiveness, which brings me to my next point.

Forgiveness is based on recognizing that this interpretation is our own projection, a recognition that enables us to reinterpret our brothers' character traits and behaviors as expressions of love or calls for love, rather than sins.

This is how forgiveness is accomplished. The problem isn't that we're seeing the form of our own sins in our brothers, but that we're seeing the content of our own perceived sinfulness in them. The first step in forgiveness, then, is simply the recognition that the sinful content we're currently seeing in our brothers' character traits and behaviors comes from our own mind, and nowhere else. Our first task is to remind ourselves that "I have given what I see all the meaning it has for me" (W-pI.51.2:1). By recognizing that our current view of our brothers is our interpretation rather than a fact, we open the door to a new interpretation that is not the projection of our own sense of sinfulness.

Once the door is open to a new interpretation, how do we invite this new interpretation in? The Course provides a number of practices to help us do this, such as the following practice from Lesson 21 of the Workbook, " I am determined to see things differently" (W-pI.21.Heading). This lesson says that when we are angry with a brother because of a particular attribute of his, we should apply the idea for the day to that situation by saying the following: "I am determined to see ___ [specify the attribute] in ___ [name of person] differently" (W-pI.21.5:4). Notice that this does not say, "I am determined to see this attribute in this person as the projection of an attribute that I'm not acknowledging in myself." Rather, it is simply a declaration of our willingness to see a different content in the empty form of that attribute, something other than the sinful content that seems to justify our anger. It is an invitation to a new interpretation of our brother's attribute.

What is this new interpretation? It is the Holy Spirit's interpretation. And, as virtually every Course student knows, everything in His eyes is either an expression of love or a call for love. This is the new interpretation we can give to all of our brothers' character traits and behaviors, with the Holy Spirit's help. As we learn to see through His eyes, we begin to withdraw our projection of sin from our brothers. When this is fully accomplished (a process that will take a lot of time and practice for most of us), we will no longer see our brothers as sinners, and therefore will not interpret their traits and behaviors as sins. Instead, our brothers' authentic expressions of love will be seen as such, and we will gratefully extend a loving response. Our brothers' expressions of attack will be seen as innocent mistakes that also call for a loving response. Thus, regardless of what form our brothers' traits and behaviors take, our minds will see only the content of love in all of them. This is the vision that forgiveness through the Holy Spirit reveals.

Conclusion

In conclusion, forgiveness is not based on recognizing that the form of our brothers' sins is a projection of the form of our own sins. Rather, it is based on recognizing that the content of sinfulness that we see in our brothers is a projection of the content of sinfulness we see in ourselves.

Personally, I find this to be a much more solid basis for forgiveness. The idea of tying forgiveness to the particular form of sin we see in a brother, besides being unsupported in the Course, has a fatal flaw: It subtly implies that if the form we see is not our projection—if that brother really has that particular character trait, or really did that particular thing—then it is not forgivable. But if forgiveness has nothing to do with forms and everything to do with healing our interpretation of forms, then everything is forgivable. Through forgiveness, we learn that our interpretation of our brothers as sinners is always false, no matter what form their seeming sins take. This ultimately teaches us that our brothers' sins are unreal, and it is on this foundation that forgiveness—both for our brothers and for ourselves—ultimately rests. Forgiveness "sees there was no sin. And in that view are all your sins forgiven" (W-pII.1.1:3-4).

Browse the FAQ archive. FAQ Topic: . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.