Monday, June 21, 2004

Selective memory...

Here's the deal: if any of you have things that are interesting to write about, please do. There's no rule that says you have to comment on what is up there, especially if it takes a while to read, like this one or the one before. I was gonna lead off with something provocative like facial hair at BYU or homosexual marriages, but instead I think I'll start with something I heard on NPR this morning.

Someone was talking about (Jewish Thinker) Elie Wisel and his theological obsession with remembering. For him, salvation lies in our ability to remember. Now I don't know all the specifics behind his reasoning besides he was a holocaust survivor, but the idea sounds good to me. I mean, the BoM is all about remembering the past and the same goes for a good portion of the rituals we do in the temple and otherwise.

In response this commentator from Yale divinity school, Miroslav Volf, said something along these lines: Memory can be a shield and a sword. In other words, memory can be dangerous. Volf says that people remember similar things in different ways, and use those remembrances as motivation for less-than-noble causes. Just look at fascism in the 20s and 30s.

This led me to another thought. Really, christianity requires us to do a lot of forgetting as well. The trite way to say it is that we are required to "forgive and forget." Shouldn't we magnamiously erase from our memories the wrongs others have done to us "seventy times seven"?

So what determines what we should remember and what we should forget? So I ask this, how and what should we remember? How and what should we forget?

3 Comments:

At 6/25/2004 09:36:00 PM,

Wow Chris, it's been a while, but it was fun to hear (read) your thoughts again. I'm sorry if my comments are a bit cryptic, I've been writing computer code for the last month and little else.
I am reminded of an elderly Jewish (by birth) member of the Church who stressed to me his opinion that to forget the wrongs against us (or the ones that we've committed) is the 0th commandment, one that modern Jews struggle mightily with. This was his explanation of why they hold such grudges as we see asserting themselves in the middleast. It would seem his perception that Jews don't forget (or don't want to) was correct so far as Elie Wisel is concerned.
I have thought about the responsibility to remember or forget certain things many times. It seems like some of the most important things to remember (the goals and experiences that have shaped my life) easily slip out of consciousness, while other things that I would rather forget (painful or angry memories) lie just underneath the surface for extended periods of time despite my conscious desire to let them go. So often, the right thing to do is the most difficult and the aforementioned pattern fits the bill. However, I prefer to assume that my life will be enjoyable, and thus not always uphill.
**My officemate, Adam, just read over my shoulder and commented "You should forget all the bad that other people have done to you and remember all the good they've done to you. And you should forget all the good you've done to other people." In this way, we'll be happier because we'll always be thankful and we won't be expecting any repayment. He's not sure if we should remember the bad we've done to other people or not. I would claim "no", since that comes with the process of seeking forgiveness and forgiving ourselves, but only after having repented.**
I think much of the forgetting that I should do does not take place because there are subconscious tendencies to harbor vengeful emotions. And I think much of the remembering I should do does not take place because I don't place the priority to remember them. If that doesn't make for circular logic, I don't know what does. Can I say that remembering as I call it has two parts? The act of being held in memory, and the act of being called to remembrance. If I want to record something in my mind, the only purpose should be for recall later (which is the implication of the word record) so as to experience the emotion again or reuse the information stored. It is this re-experiencing or reuse that enables me to hold things in memory for a longer period of time. Things that should be important to me should be recalled, otherwise what use are they? I don't know if Wisel referred to the regularity with which we actively recall the information stored in our minds or if he referred to only having information stored in our minds. If the latter is his emphasis, I'm sure he still follows both, for how can you prove it is stored if you never recall it? I think this reveals something in the command to remember our ancestors. We won't be strengthened by their lives, feel the spirit of Elijah, or cultivate gratitude for our lot in life near as well if we don't first think of our forebears.
I don't think our ability to remember mountains of material is requisite to attain salvation. The learned may attain it, but not as easily as the humble (the classifications are not mutually exclusive...to be both would truly be a great thing). Otherwise there is little hope for the elderly person with failing mental capacity.
Perhaps remembering is the most important thing, but only the memory of principles is what matters. Thus, those who face the struggle of memory loss near the end of life will not be eternally condemned for a loss of memory (a loss that I would argue is temporary), but would be lauded for retaining a cheerful attitude and Christlike demeanor in the face of adversity. Their attitude and demeanor would have been earned and burned into their lifestyle, a type or evidence of memory, by their past actions and changes affected inwardly. Sadly, I know very little of memory loss with aging, and I can't prove this is to be a true phenomenon or not. If it does work this way, it provides mercy for those with greater trials (memory loss, in this case) and still requires responsible use of existence.
Regardless, I feel best when I remember the good and true things and forget the painful and wrong things. So I will try to forget grudges and misdeeds and fill that time with...I don't know...thoughts of butterflies and bunny rabbits? Something constructive I hope--maybe figuring that out and committing that to memory is the idea most worthwhile.

It feels good to type in English again. Thanks.

 
At 6/26/2004 05:16:00 PM,

I think the discussion of "Memory" is a rich and fruitful field to explore, Chris, and I'm glad you introduced it. There are several different kinds of memory that I think it is useful to discuss. Personal memory, and collective memory. Short term-memory and long-term memory. Each of these may be profitably combined with the others (personal short-term, personal long-term, collective short-term, collective long-term) to enrich the discussion. I will outline brief definitions of each of them and leave anyone who so wishes to expand.
In a relative sense, I think that we could consider everything that we remember from this life as short-term memory. We've all existed for a very, very long time. I think one of the goals of our existence is to learn to remember that which we have been, in order to understand that which we are. As we do so, we become that which we will be. We learn from the Doctrine and Covenants that Christ himself "received not of the fulness at the first, but received grace for grace." I think this could equally have been said, "but received memory for memory." That is to say, Christ, like all of us, began life with the veil drawn over his eyes. As he matured spiritually he, like Abraham, partook of the visions of the eternities and came to understand the role he was to play in the eternal cosmic drama. He remembered himself, and so became himself.
I, as I'm sure many of you, often feel that there is a secret locked inside of me. It is a language I could speak fluently, one that would explode out of me in a waterfall like a repressed song, if only I could remember the first note. I think that living the gospel gives us access to the knowledge of the Father, who pours out upon us memories of what we covenanted with him to do before we were born. With those memories come power to accomplish those things that we see. As we accomplish them, that which we were in the spirit becomes that which we are in the flesh, things temporal being created in the likeness of things spiritual.
I would go off on that for awhile more, but I'd like to move on to a few other things, and leave anyone interested to pick up the discussion later on. In addition to individual memory, we have collective memory to consider. Collective short-term memory could be described as the way that groups of people remember things that have happened in their own lives (as in the cases of families). Collective long-term memory, I think, includes those things that we remember as a group as though they happened to us, though we were not alive when they took place. Strong in LDS collective memory is the story of the pioneers crossing the plains. Strong in Jewish collective memory is the Holocaust, as is Moses' leading Israel out of captivity from Egypt. Collective memory is just as powerful (and often more powerful) a force as individual memory, though it is a memory that we experience, that we grow into, as opposed to a memory that we control and revise according to our own whims.
Lastly, there is super-long-term collective memory. Jung calls it a "collective unconscious." I think it simply refers to humanity's collective memory of the pre-mortal life. What it was like to be in the presence of The Father; the tribulations associated with the war in heaven. I think that this collective memory governs far more than we are aware of, and it woudl be extremely useful for someone to write a book about how an collective unconscious memory of the pre-mortal life effects how we consider politics, and how our emotional anticipations are hard-wired on what love is supposed to feel like.
In response to Chris' question on what we are to remember and what we are to forget, I think the number one answer in all cases is to remember the Lord, and to forget the adversary. Remember how the Lord has delivered you from bondage; remember how he protects you from bondage now. Be grateful to the way that he acts through his children to bless your lives and remember those things; forgive the times that your brothers and sisters are overcome by the adversary and hurt you, and forget these things. The atonement makes memory not only bearable, but joyful as well.
Well, I've been incredibly sloppy and inconsistent in how I use "short-term" and "long-term" in this post. As you respond, please remember that I write this not as a coherent, publishable doccument; rather as something to spark response and conversation.

 
At 7/24/2004 03:37:00 AM,

This is a balance between forgiveness (not forgetting) and judgement. Not all judgements are wrong. Consider a case: a known sex offender lives in your neighborhood. How far will you overlook (forget) your neighbor's past in consideration of your family's interaction with the individual? Will you ignore the past? Would you trust the neighbor with the care of your children, if only for a moment? Would you let the neighbor near them? The answer is a resounding no for me.

On the other hand, what will you do to allow the individual an opportunity to repent and change? Doing so is the necessary Christian thing to do. This raises legal issues, such as sex-offender watch lists.

The Lord forgets nothing. Otherwise, he would not be omniscient. He does, however, leave the opportunity to start anew and do the right thing. This does not pass without a probationary period in which the individual must prove one’s self. I feel it is irresponsible of us to simply forget every bad thing done to us, but it is wrong to exclude someone from the benefits of a reformed life.

 

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