Am I a good person or a slug?

Having spent more than 35 years of my life on making a serious attempt at spiritual growth I have come to the unflattering conclusion that I am a lowly slug.

I did not approach God or religion for the purpose of “enhancing a positive state.” In spite of friends who always looked at my good side I found too much evidence, from sincere introspection, that in spite of what the world thought of me I was utterly depraved and quite capable of all sorts of ignoble behavior.

This is why I gravitated to the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and George Gurdjieff. Both men embraced cosmologies which included the ontological reality of a Spiritual Sun as God’s abode and that we had to procure a matrix or plane of existence for ourselves that could receive the influence of divine good and truth flowing out from this moral sun in a way that would keep its holy rays from passing through us as though we were made out of glass.

This plane of reality, which can be formed during our lives on earth to capture God’s benevolent influence, is called conscience and personal responsibility. (What else would keep God’s influence from passing through?)

Most importantly, both men recognized their depravity before they could make real advances in spiritual growth. As a result of their success (admittedly through God’s help) they wrote amazing books to pass this knowledge on to others.

While religion may teach that we are born sinners, its methodology is so general that it teaches us that God can magically wipe away our sins through simple belief and faith. Beyond that there is no responsibility or need for introspection.

However, the founders of such successful organizations as Alcoholics Anonymous and A Course In Miracles recognized their flawed behavior and set about to look more deeply into these matters. Simple faith was not enough. True relationship with God for them meant that we had to get into the weeds and make a true accounting of our “slug-ness.”

I like Swedenborg’s and Gurdjieff’s spiritual systems because they do their best to topple our false sense of importance and begin the true process of spiritual evolution from the resulting rubble (called vastation). In other words, they both bring home the fact that I am indeed a slug! While Swedenborg was less confrontational with the public than Gurdjieff, he made the unflattering remark that even the angels in the highest heaven would dive headlong into hell if it were not for God—implying that they, too, were essentially slugs.

The world is not yet ready for such an epiphany. This is why nothing gets better. This is why we always fall back on finger-pointing to cover our asses.

Any comments, complaints or challenges?


About thegodguy

EDWARD F. SYLVIA, M.T.S. Philosopher/Theologian Edward F. Sylvia attended the School of Visual Arts in New York and received his Master of Theological Studies at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, CA and a Certificate of Swedenborgian Studies from the Swedenborgian House of Studies. He is a member of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences (C.T.N.S.) and the Swedenborg Scientific Association (S.S.A.). Award-winning author of "Sermon From the Compost Pile: Seven Steps Toward Creating An Inner Garden" and "Proving God," which fulfills a continuing vision that God’s fingerprints of love can be found everywhere in the manifest universe. His most recent book, "Swedenborg & Gurdjieff: The Missing Links" is an edgy collection of anti-intuitive essays for personal transformation that challenges and inspires. He has been a student of the ideas of both Emanuel Swedenborg and George I. Gurdjieff for over thirty years. Read more about TheGodGuy, his books and his ideas at
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11 Responses to Am I a good person or a slug?

  1. Glenn Schoen says:

    Gurdjieff wrote, Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, and intentionally made it difficult to understand. He’s been quote as saying of it, “I bury the bone so deep that the dogs have to scratch for it.” (If they do, will slugs get clawed?)

    Swedenborg, on the other hand, tended to: a) include references to someone (or something from someone) from a more elevated sphere of influence in the titles of his books; and, b) was interested in making things clear to his readers. (Yes, ES had ‘memorable relations’ involving the kin of Beelzebub. These, however, tended to be both articulate and cogent. Or maybe it was the case that Swedenborg was a kind hearted soul, and put his blue pencil to good work.)

    Gurdjieff also wrote a book entitled, Life Is Real Only Then, When ‘I Am’. Swedenborg would say that a man is real only when he is not (i.e., he has died to self).

    I haven’t read G., so maybe by ‘I Am’ he was coyly saying that life is real only when God is. If so, amen.

    OTOH, I have attempted to read Ouspenky’s The Fourth Way. Not because I was particularly interested in doing so, but because someone I knew kept referring to him, and I figured that if I read it, I might get some clue as to why this man seemed to be so confused.

    Well, the headache started within five minutes, and after 30 minutes it became too unbearable for me to continue reading. Took an entire week for the headache to completely fade away. Regarding this, I have three possible explanations: a) my BS detector was overworked, and therefore burned out; b) my mind is not geared towards reading “lucid explanation[s] of the practical side of G. I. Gurdieff’s teachings” (from the back cover of the book); or, c) lucidity is a successively relative term, one whose meaning depends on, er, the value of Y.

    I’m a practical person. And killing the medusa seems best accomplished by lopping off the head, not spending years and years learning the ins and outs of the characteristics of each slithering snake. Ouspensky reminds me of Dobbs (Treasure of the Sierra Madre), wandering around the square in a state of amazement that he should be encountering so many look-a-likes wearing similar white suits (when actually he is encountering the same man multiple times). In a word, myopic. And if he is the lucid explicator of G. that he is alleged to be, then re G… yikes.

    I ran into a friend one Saturday evening. She seemed kind of depressed, so I cautiously asked how she was. “Ugh. I slept all day. Now I’m feeling like a slug.” Unable to think of anything else to say, I said, “Sans the slime, I hope.” Her sleep-induced ‘depression’ instantly dissipated. Poof!

    Swedenborg mentions that even angels have self-images, and they become depressed when immersed in them. From the little that I’ve read about G., he sounds like he was a raconteur, and strove to get people involved in their self-images so he could be the hero by showing them a (labyrinthian and arduous) way out. (Sort of like Rasputin–in a movie of him that I saw; don’t know how much is fact and how much embellishment–telling the married ladies that Jesus loves to save sinners, but they first have to be sinners before they can be saved, so come on, let’s hop into bed.)

    ‘Poof!’ is easier, and more direct. Not to mention more honest, and more moral.

    This sounds like criticism. But only three choices were offered, so let’s file this under ‘challenges’.

  2. thegodguy says:

    Dear Glenn,

    Now you have given me a headache! I know people who have gotten a headache from reading Swedenborg too!

    When Gurdjieff was asked why he “buried the bone deeper” he replied that he was actually “burying the the dog deeper.” In other words, it was not the intellectual information that he put deeper but the living principle working behind that information (which animates it and makes it alive).

    (Certainly God buried the bone deeper in the Genesis story of Eve being made from Adam’s rib.)

    If you haven’t read Gurdjieff then why form such strong judgments on the matter?

    Both Swedenborg and Gurdjieff state that “man is asleep.” I find that both men provide useful insights as to what this human predicament really means.

    Spiritually yours,

  3. Glenn Schoen says:

    Dear TheGodGuy,

    I know people who don’t get sick when eating spinach, while I myself do. The difference and variety is not a problem. This, however, does not mean that I don’t have strong opinions about spinach.

    My “strong judgments”–none of which were directed to the previously unmentioned claim that “man is asleep”–were offered in response to the request, “Any comments, complaints, or challenges?” And the basis of those judgments is mentioned in the response you replied to.

    Hoping your headache doesn’t last a week,

  4. Sue says:

    The first time I heard “Swedenborg” was when an elderly customer told me a guy named Swedenborg believed in transmigration of souls. That conversation changed my life. The goofy idea of transmigration of souls didn’t detract from it.

    Swedenborg has never caught on: he’s the real deal and that goes unrecognized. He gets lumped in with regular goofy gurus. But if and when God wants Swedenborg to go mainstream, it will not be all roses and violins. His message will get annectdoted by a bunch of regular people who are sure to say “Swedenborg said … (insert well-meaning nonsense)”. Like an out of control game of telephone. I flatter myself that I’m somewhere in the first third of the game – I have an almost correct view of him. GodGuy, you are somewhere upfront also. Glenn is at the very beginning. When he hears what comes around after the game is over … ouch! Sorry, Glenn.
    Cover your ears.

    It’s how God lets us hear about Swedenborg if He wants us to though. Scrambled Swedenborg is probably better than no Swedenborg at all.

  5. thegodguy says:

    Dear Glenn,

    After working outside on my homestead this afternoon I feel clear-headed again.

    Now then, my use of the phrase that “man is asleep” is not to change the subject but to fortify the main subject of my topic – that both Swedenborg and Gurdjieff augment each other’s points about the human predicament.

    You seem to challenge Gurdjieff’s relevancy. Are your “strong opinions” based on a rigorous study of his ideas? I not only have studied his ideas for several decades I have participated in Gurdjieffian groups and their techniques. They tend to be more conscious of their flaws (slug-ness) than Swedenborgians are. Sorry.

    Swedenborg said that a new church was being created on earth. Gurdjieff said that a new school was being created on earth. Both terms are synonymous when you consider that a “manger” represents “instruction.”

    Spiritually yours,

  6. thegodguy says:

    Dear Sue,

    Few people take into account that we possess a higher mind. This mind is not activated by someone offering a simple explanation of a challenging topic. It is activated by challenging the mind to work harder. Therefore, Gurdjieff was constantly burying the “bone” deeper.

    Even with Swedenborg’s approachable explanations there are deeper bones to be found!

    Spiritually yours,

  7. sks says:

    Hey GodGuy, Glenn, Sue, Andrei (from other posts) and all,
    Thanks for the good exchanges that are taking place here on this blog! I appreciate you all and your sincere interest in discussing important topics and asking good questions and sharing ideas. Having just wrapped up a really mundane day at a boring office job, surrounded by many “sleeping people” I am delighted to return to this blog for fresh insights and inspiration! Keep it up!
    PS: I agree, Swedenborg’s concepts often help me make sense of this otherwise “weird” world and Gurdjieff’s work seems to complement that nicely.

  8. thegodguy says:

    Dear sks,

    Thanks for your support. I am glad you find helpful insights within these very complex subjects!

    Spiritually yours,

  9. sks says:

    Days later, it occurs to me that in our comments here we have all focused more on the merits of Swedenborg and Gurdjieff than on our own level of “goodness vs. slugness,” which was probably why you posed the original question. (Proving your point about how “asleep” we really are, and in our own way, sort of doing that very finger-pointing thing you were talking about. DUH!) It’s so easy to get all hung up in whatever dogma we’re embracing at the moment, but to be a bit more self-aware as we slide through each day would be really beneficial, even if not always comfortable. I’m going to try to work on that a little bit more today. Thanks for waking me up a bit, even though it took time to sink in! 🙂

  10. thegodguy says:

    Dear sks,

    You read my mind! The main topic was “slug-ness” not whether Swedenborg’s and Gurdjieff’s ideas can be harmonized!

    Spiritually yours,

  11. Glenn Schoen says:

    Good and helpful observation, sks.

    Yes, flew over my head it did.

    Past experiences with each of S. and G. have been opposites, and on seeing a combination of the two, there was a subjective reaction on my part, “One is pitted against the other.” And from there I went.

    Thanks for calling attention to what is now obvious.


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