Forgetting Morality

I’m sure we’re all very familiar with the advice that Pres. Hinkley’s father gave to him shortly after Pres. Hinkley arrived in England on his mission and was feeling a little down and out: “Forget yourself and get to work!”. 

The notion of “forgetting” is rarely used in a positive sense in LDS discourse (and probably in Christian or even Western discourse in general). Indeed we are admonished to “remember” certain things such as the covenants we made when we were baptized, and to pay particular attention to versus of scripture that doubly exhort us to “remember, remember….” (for instance Helaman 5:9, and this from Spencer W. Kimball, quoted in the SS Manual: “When you look in the dictionary for the most important word, do you know what it is? It could be ‘remember.’ Because all of [us] have made covenants … our greatest need is to remember. That is why everyone goes to sacrament meeting every Sabbath day—to take the sacrament and listen to the priests pray that [we] ‘… may always remember him and keep his commandments which he has given [us].’ … ‘Remember’ is the word” (Circles of Exaltation [address to religious educators, Brigham Young University, 28 June 1968], 8)).

Forgetting, however, can sometimes be used in a positive sense in the cultivation of a religious self. In this context “forgetting” doesn’t necessarily mean to “neglect to remember”; rather it carries the connotation of “moving [something] to a state of lesser awareness”.  In the example of “forgetting one’s self, and getting to work”, “forgetting one’s self” in essence means, “Pay less attention to your self[ish desires]“. Perhaps read even more literally we could take it to mean, “Work such that you get to the point of no longer thinking about your self.” Indeed it might be possible to say that “forgetting” comes about through the constant practice of remembering.

Some religious traditions place a higher emphasis this notion of forgetting. Take for example the following passage from a text over 2000 years old: 

“You forget your feet when the shoe fits, and forget your waist when the belt fits. [Similarly], you forget right and wrong when the mind fits, and remain unwavering on the inside and unmoved by the outside when events come together in a fitting fashion. You begin with what is fitting and never experience what is not fitting when you experience the comfort of forgetting what is comfortable.” 

Later interpretations of this passage and others took the categories of “right” and “wrong” (and even “good” and “bad”), to in fact be lesser categories in the sense that a truly refined individual transcends (or “forgets”) these categories when s/he gets to the point of practicing good naturally. Of course part and parcel of the debate is if anyone can in fact reach this state (but that’s a story for another day).

We, as LDS, probably cannot accept this account in its entirety, however I’m interested in pursuing the issue of whether there’s space for “forgetting” in LDS thought/theology. Are there areas where this kind of thinking is already at play (such as the notion of “forgetting one’s self”), or areas where this thinking could benefit LDS thought?

IMO part of what makes this line of thinking difficult to integrate is the notion that “opposition” is seen as a positive tension. In other words, the fact that I have to choose, and exercise my agency is a key purpose of life, and this notion of forgetting, at least on its face, seems to suggest that this tension can be dissolved such that I operate without “opposition”.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com Mogget

    In Christian thought there is a positive use of forgetting in the sense that God forgets our sins when he “remembers them no more.”

    The idea of moving something to a lesser state of awareness seems inherent in the command to put God first. To that end, I might mention that much of the Sermon on the Mount seems to be aimed at teaching disciples about getting priorities right. Where your treasures are…and all that. In the end, this “forgetting” of lesser things leads to reconciliation with God. Although you weren’t really looking at it this way, God’s opposition (emnity) is a bit of a challenge.

    Mogs

  • http://www.newcoolthang.com Jacob J

    This post dovetails nicely with my post on habits (here) which describes how I work this concept into Mormon theology. Maybe I am off base, but I think we are describing a very similar concept using different words (the word “forgetting” doesn’t come up in my post). But please set me straight if I’m misunderstanding. At any rate, nice post.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com SmallAxe

    In Christian thought there is a positive use of forgetting in the sense that God forgets our sins when he “remembers them no more.”

    This crossed my mind briefly while composing this. I wonder why “forget” is not used here rather than a negation of “remember”. Does “God forgets our sins” mean something significantly different from “God remembers our sins no more”? On a side note, I wonder if “forgive” and “forget” don’t have overlapping etymologies…. IMO “forget” is often read as an unwillful act, while “remember no more” implies a willful removal to a state of lesser awareness.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com/ Mogget

    IMO “forget” is often read as an unwillful act, while “remember no more” implies a willful removal to a state of lesser awareness.

    Yeah, it’s probably theologically sensitive to have God forget something but a willed decision is okay. That verse in Hebrews is a quotation from Jeremiah. The basic meaning behind the Hebrew is to name or make mention. So probably it’s something like the idea that God in his mercy chooses not to act on [against] human sin rather than that he actually can’t remember what happened.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com SmallAxe

    This post dovetails nicely with my post on habits (here) which describes how I work this concept into Mormon theology.

    I certainly agree (for the psychology behind something like this check out Csíkszentmihály’s work on “flow”). At the same time, I would say that “forgetting” could have a different set of nuances at play. (although I think both, at least the way we’re using them here, have strong similarities such as a kind of embodied practice, etc.). Habituation, for instance, implies repetition and training. Forgetting, however, could imply a spontaneity not predicated on the same conditioning. Additionally forgetting could also be spoken about as the ability to approach a text, for instance, as a new object (e.g., reading the BoM as if it was my first time despite having read it numerous times before).


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