Emanuel Swedenborg, whose theology I fully embrace, makes the claim in his book Heaven and Hell that living a heaven-bound life is not as hard as people believe. However, this statement was made for those who falsely believe that one must reject all worldly wealth, prestige and pleasure in order to live a truly spiritual life.
Swedenborg maintained that in order to properly accept heaven’s life, a person must live in the world and be fully involved in its functions and dealings.
This indeed makes things easier and less doleful. However, to explain where the true difficulty of spiritual evolution lies requires a greater understanding of the human psyche and its idiosyncrasies. Swedenborg wrote on such a wide variety of topics that certain details can be easily overlooked or not sufficiently grasped.
So consider this an advanced course in Swedenborgian studies.
A man or woman is born into many evil inclinations, which are implanted deep within the human will, and this flawed will induces the understanding to agree with it. Spiritual growth and salvation requires that a new will (based on following God’s tenets) replaces the old will that we were born with.
A young child lives in pure volition. As a child grows up in life they learn from parents and teachers what constitutes proper behavior in the world. However, these lessons simply become mere data implanted in the memory function, which over time acts in an automatic way to cause the body and tongue to behave in proper manner—especially around others. Therefore a person learns how to appear “good.”
Swedenborg says that this process causes a real split in the human psyche that produces the external and internal natural man (hidden agendas and hypocrisy require such a split). This is where the real difficulty of spiritual growth emerges.
Unfortunately, a person is conditioned during his or her formative years to believe that by modifying one’s outer actions in life (from data in the memory) one is on a moral and spiritual path. In fact, a person is conditioned to believe that this habitual mind is one’s true consciousness and contains one’s true depth.
Swedenborg likens this false or artificial consciousness to the outer shell of a seed, which encloses the more vital and living kernel deep within. But in humans, the all-important inner kernel is rotting because it represents a flawed will that we’ve learned to keep in a safe place. It is this flawed and rotting will that religion targets and seeks to expose. But God’s message and teachings are intercepted by the outer habitual/corporeal mind, which merely uses this memory-data to mask (persona) one’s inner inclinations and proclivities. So nothing ever changes essentially. (This is why religion can fail to make a real difference.)
An individual can deceive himself (not just others) simply by changing his outward masks. True spiritual growth, however, requires that God’s lessons crack through the habitual mind and make contact with the negative aspects of our inner volitions. This does not happen from mere intellectual thought, but through acceptance from the heart and will to remove the protective and bogus mask of the habitual mind and its artificial consciousness. One must do this from sincere love, rather than for the sake of reputation or worldly gain. A battle then ensues between one’s outer and inner realities. Swedenborg says that a person is undergoing this spiritual combat when he or she is experiencing real temptations.
This is what is so hard to do in living a heaven-bound life—to go up against oneself and seek out unflattering aspects of ourselves. As someone who has attended seminary, I experienced first-hand that the focus of religion today is on pastoral care and social justice—not on addressing the deeper chronic problem of human self-deception.
There is much more to this important topic (like hypnosis), which I address in my upcoming book “Proving God.”