The Great Swedenborgian Debate!

Once upon a time a denomination of the Swedenborgian Church hosted a debate between two Swedenborgian experts on various spiritual topics. The first panelist had suggested that hell was eternal, that the human will was totally corrupt and the kingdom of heaven was not easy to obtain.

The second panelist eventually agreed, reluctantly, that “hell,” at least as theologian Emanuel Swedenborg described it, is an eternal outcome. The reason why this agreement was not immediate was because it seemingly challenged the idea of God’s Infinite love and mercy—which is what gets church pews to fill up.

We now cut to the live and continuing discussion over the other two highly contested remarks made by the first panelist:

“Swedenborg states in many places in his theological writings that the human will has complete control over the human intellect and makes it conform to its own disposition,” said the second panelist. “Therefore, something in the human will must be good in order for individuals to discern and make the best moral choices. So the human will cannot be totally corrupt.”

The second panelist notices the first panelist is shaking his head and immediately begins to provide more supportive ideas for his belief that the human will is not totally corrupt.

“The human understanding is capable of learning and considering nobler ideas, like God’s Ten Commandments, which challenge us to transcend the flawed proclivities of our worldly will. These higher principles of living can last long enough in the brain so that one’s earth-bound will, little by little, gets used to heaven-bound thinking and begin to make better choices,” said panelist number two.

“Nope,” said the first panelist. “The will that we are born with, including all its inclinations and compulsions, is put off during one’s spiritual evolution and salvation. An entirely new ‘heavenly will’ must be created by the Lord God to set the process of salvation in motion. God does not make the old will better.”

Clinging to some residual effect of his earth-born will, the second panelist reacted as if this statement were a personal attack. “Read Swedenborg’s statement in his work Heaven and Hell, number 533. It suggests to me, at least, that the process of salvation is continuous and commences from the old will as it gets better information,” said the visibly irritated second panelist.

“You cannot simply pick a quote by Swedenborg to get the big picture,” replied the first panelist. “My statement that the human will is totally corrupt comes from a synthesis of many of his writings. If we are attentive and look further into this matter we learn that it is not from our native will that God conducts His work of salvation. The Lord works from what Swedenborg called ‘remains.’ These are affections and bits of information that a child experiences in life and the Lord secretly stores away for safekeeping within the unconscious or involuntary mind.  The remains keep the child inwardly connected to heaven and its angels. When the process of spiritual regeneration begins, the Lord activates a person’s remains so that it can become a matrix or plane by which a new will and intellect is generated. This can also be understood as the formation of both a new conscience and a spiritual body, capable of living in heaven’s unique ecosystem.”

“Well, even if you are correct, that doesn’t mean it is difficult to get to heaven,” said the second panelist as he sat back in his seat and folded his arms over his chest.

“Proper humility is the hurdle,” replied the first panelist. “Unfortunately, the human race is allowed to sensate on earth that life and goodness flows out from the person—rather than flow into the person from God and heaven. Even when novice spirits are being prepared for a heavenly life after their departure from this terrestrial orb, they can unexpectedly be put into a situation whereby they experience a most unflattering revelation. Spirits communicate their affections and thoughts with others of their spiritual community. Swedenborg observed an experiment where spirits were temporarily removed from the spiritual community their hearts and minds were intimately conjoined with. This separation caused these particular spirits to enter into a diminished cognitive state whereby they falsely perceived that all goodness and truth proceeded from themselves and was their own. When their error was pointed out to them they became indignant. (Angels have no such illusion.) Accepting such a reality is anti-intuitive to human experience from living on earth, and creates a real challenge to one’s worldview and self-esteem. Acquiring this kind of humility, which is angelic, is not as ‘easy as pie.’”

Dear readers, please comment on which debater you believe made the most convincing points.

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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25 Responses to The Great Swedenborgian Debate!

  1. Sue says:

    “Human will has complete control over human intellect, and makes it conform to its own disposition.” you say as you summarize Swedenborg.

    That means that intention/love has control over mere facts. That means in a case like this people decide which is correct and then absorb facts to back that up.

    That means we use common sense. I can ignore these debaters, jump to the solution (my will at birth was not totally evil), and then go back and use the facts to back up my position.

    I agree with the second debater, but not because he convinced me. I was thinking backwards. My will controls my intellect.

  2. Kathryn Pruiett says:


  3. Roger says:

    I have a question before I can answer your survey – you talk about spirits and the communities they are at home in, and you talk about angels. I assume the spirits and communities you are talking about are within the first heaven (the natural heaven), right? Somewhere in Swedenborg it says that spirits do not live in the world of spirits for more than 30 years, although in prior eras this could have been much longer. So there are probably no ‘communities’ as such in the world of spirits. When you talk about communities of spirits who are not angels, you are probably referring to the ‘natural angels’. Right? Roger

  4. thegodguy says:

    Dear Roger,

    Every spirit, at every stage, belongs to some community (in the Grand Human). In my blog post above Swedenborg was describing spirits who were being prepared (like food) for one of the three heavens – called angelic spirits. Where each ends up depends on the internal qualities of their hearts and minds.

    The natural (lowest) heavens correspond to the “digestive and vital organs” of the Grand Human, whereas the higher heavens correspond to the brain, nervous system and its neurons.

    Spiritually yours,

  5. thegodguy says:

    Dear Sue,

    Yes, your will (love) controls your intellect – but which will? Does your thinking come from the will you are born with or the new will that God is forming in you? They are not the same!

    The same will cannot embrace two opposing qualities of love – rather, spiritual combat takes place between two opposing wills!

    To be more specific, it is better to look at “will” and “love” from the point of USE. For our intentions are directed at a function. The will that we are born with is purely corporeal and worldly, and therefore, its intentions are not directed towards a spiritual function. A new will must be implanted by God. Swedenborg calls this divine impregnation the “remains.” When we recognize a new truth in later life it is because it resonates with our remains (if they have been activated).

    Also, the idea that love and will controls info/facts is better understood when you consider that knowledge becomes the form that our love takes in reaching its aim. Information and truth are also recipient forms (vessels) for love’s various qualities. When we acquire some new teaching or truth a new quality of love can flow in as well and take up residence.

    But the old will fights this new intruder!

    Swedenborgians do not speak much about the remains, so it is a most obscure topic.

    Spiritually yours,

  6. Roger says:

    I seem to be agreeing with both panelists on specific points.

    First of all, hell is eternal. Anyone with a shred of desire to give and receive good will find a place in some part of heaven. However, the theoretical likelihood that, given free will, some people will completely reject good cannot be precluded. Since there can be such people with an eternal choice of evil, their choice constitutes eternal hell. Whether there are actually such people is determined by visiting the spiritual world. One person did and his account tells us that there are indeed such people.

    The whole concept of remains is muddy to me. Orphans in orphanages are properly cuddled and held these days, but this was not always so. Orphans in, for instance, Catholic orphanages prior to the 1950s usually did not receive any physical affection as they might have received from biological parents. So what are the remains for these from which the Lord fashions a new will? Most of these orphans went on to live productive lives, even if they were not as healthy or well-adjusted. The right approach in my view is to not over-generalize. Yes, God fashions a new will from the remains but that is probably not the only modality of His doing so.

    Humans are not self-grounded or self-subsisting. Their existence, their good is grounded in God. Any alienation from this ground constitutes evil. Alienated from this source, the human will is evil. All good comes from God.

    A brand new will is a metaphor for a will that is so different from its original self-centered ground state that it is hardly recognizable. So talking about a will transplant like a heart or liver transplant is a good metaphor. So is the transfiguration of the will from a caterpillar to a butterfly. The two concepts do not conflict because they are metaphors. If there were really two wills, I would at some point in my regeneration feel that there were two people within me. So far, I have not experienced that even in my deepest moral crises.

    I take the Bible and ES very seriously but I am willing to see some statements as metaphors.


  7. thegodguy says:

    Dear Roger,

    We all consist of an external man, internal man and innermost man. Put another way, the human mind is divided into three regions; the natural, the spiritual and the celestial. Each possesses a different love (will) and understanding. This idea of DISCRETE DEGREES is basic Swedenborgian teaching.

    A simple example: Our lowest or corporeal mind likes to eat double cheeseburgers and fries but our higher rational mind knows that a salad would be better and healthier. One will cannot love both corporeal pleasure and rationality because they represent discrete principles operating in discrete realms.

    Correspondences, metaphors, allegories and parables refer to real things. So I do not know what you mean by classifying some statements as “metaphors.”

    The Seven Day creation story in Genesis is a metaphor for the ontologically real and orderly process of spiritual regeneration. It begins with God moving across the face of the waters of the deep void. This biblical verse represents God quickening the “remains” stored in the human unconscious mind.

    If you want to believe that God does things by taking other kinds of steps than go right ahead. It won’t make you any less spiritually sincere in your religious practice.

    Spiritually yours,

  8. thegodguy says:

    Dear Roger (cont’d),

    By the way, do you take Holy Scripture seriously enough to consider it a scientific document? That is one of the important issues my upcoming book “Proving God” addresses in my attempt to unify science and religion!

    By the way, Swedenborg considered correspondences (symbolic language) a real science – in fact, the science of all sciences!

    Spiritually yours,

  9. Sue says:

    I was reading more Swedenborg on the topic of man’s will. I think different people are using different words here to describe the same thing.
    To call it a ‘whole new will’ would only apply to the part of man’s will that is his own. So, both sides are somewhat correct. Man’s own of his will doesnt’ work correctly and needs replacing. But the whole will is bigger than that. The other part of it doesn’t need replacing.

    Anyway, I like hearing the comments of your readers. I think you are blessed with really intelligent commenters.

    Roger, you are convincing me that there is an eternal hell. That was very logical.

    So, GodGuy, your book tells how to incorporate Swedenborg’s symbolic language with science’s symbolic language? Sounds intriguing.

  10. thegodguy says:

    Dear Sue,

    That is the difficult challenge of this blog. Words can mean different things to different people. So when you use words to explain complex issues you are inviting trouble.

    When I use the terms “native will” or the will “one is born with” both are totally corrupt. Even though this native will does not damn us (until we make bad choices) Swedenborg insists that what we call “one’s own” contains no intrinsic goodness.

    With that said, if one’s own will is totally corrupted, how is it that one has a “bigger” will? This bigger or whole (holistic) will does not exist until God helps build it!

    Spiritually yours,

  11. Roger says:

    One more comment: A hell is a hell from the perspective of folks outside that specific hell. From the perspective of folks inside that hell, it is a heaven!

    Hitler, even if he did not repent before or after his suicide, went to heaven (from his perspective)! Now imagine what heaven would be from the perspective of an unrepentant Hitler. That heaven would be a creation of minds like Hitler – a hell from where we are at present.

    Now since there are several hells, I can imagine communities that are less hellish viewing communities that are more hellish as “hells” while perceiving themselves as heaven. Imagine the heaven where some our our Wall Street geniuses would inhabit. These might be hell from our perspective, heaven from their own perspective. Also, Hitler’s heaven would be hell from the perspective of these these Wall Street con artists.


  12. thegodguy says:

    Dear Roger,

    Before Sue replies to your comment I would like to add that while hell is where evil finds its “Ruling Love,” its citizens do experience misery and the backlash of their own hatred. That is why some evil spirits come to the conclusion that there must be some other kind of heaven than the one they have removed themselves from. Such a heaven would allow these spirits to be ministered by angels and having all their wishes and pleasures granted.

    They never succeed at finding such a heaven!

    Swedenborg describes two evil spirits having sexual intercourse in the most violent and hateful way! Not fun!

    Spiritually yours,

  13. Alan Misson says:


    I would like to offer something on the subject of the new will.

    In AC5351 where Swedenborg is discussing the birth of Manasseh and then Ephraim to Joseph as described in Genesis 41, he says:

    Manasseh means a new area of will within the natural …
    Ephraim means a new area of understanding within the natural …

    What intrigues me is that he uses the expression .. a new area

    Now this suggest to me, at least, that the spiritual change represented by the sons Manasseh and Ephraim is not a complete one but only affects an area of the natural will or understanding.

    Can we perhaps infer from this that it is possible to see regeneration and the creation of a new will as a process of re-creation bit by bit, area by area?

    It also seems to me that some support for this comes in AC4379:

    When a person is being born again he passes through phases analogous to those passed through after birth. A previous state is always like the egg in relation to the state that follows it, thus there is a repeated occurrence of conception and birth. This is so not only when he lives in the world, but also when he enters the next life for ever. Even then a person cannot be perfected beyond the point of being at the egg-stage so far as the limitless things to come are concerned.

    So for me at my stage of understanding I see the old will and the new will not as two separate entities but as one that is progrssively transformed bit by bit into another in a manner analagous to the way that cities are often regenerated area by area.

    With best wishes,

    Alan Misson

  14. Sue says:

    Thanks, Roger, that way of looking at it would be much better. If we are in heaven we won’t benefit from others’ pain. So from our point of view they should be ok.

    In the case of a Hitler, it seems that there should be some kind of karma happening. It would be fairer (sorry, GG) if they had to experience the pain they caused. Now, maybe I’m suddenly arguing against my original position. But there should be karma.

    Maybe they would ‘owe’ everyone they hurt. Which would be hellish in the case of Hitler. I guess I think:
    a.)you were right, Roger, about taking Swedenborg’s word for there being people in hell – that makes sense.
    b.) GG is right that evil spirits should experience the misery they caused.
    c.) I am right that while we are (hopefully) in heaven we should be allowed to believe that there is no hell happening. It just can’t be heaven with all that screaming going on – I’ll be sick.

    [And all this is about defining hell as justice and keeping evil away from the good.
    There will be no hell in the sense of suffering children and grieving parents and starvation, etc…]

  15. thegodguy says:

    Dear Allen,

    Thanks for contributing to the discussion!

    In terms of whether the “old will” is gradually transformed into a “new will” or whether the new will is a distinct production, contemplate on the term “birth” rather than the term “new area.” The new area mentioned in AC5351 is the result of the “birth.”

    A mother gradually (9 months) gives birth to her child but she does not become her child. The two are separate entities.

    However, in the case of spiritual rebirth, the Lord transfers our consciousness and sense of selfhood from the former will to the latter. This cannot be adequately addressed without speaking about the arcane topic of the human soul – which I cannot do here.

    Spiritually yours,

  16. thegodguy says:

    Dear Sue,

    Your mind and views are indeed changing. I bet we would have a different discussion on these very same topics a year from now!

    Spiritually yours,

  17. thegodguy says:

    Hey gang!

    I looked over the final version of my new book “Proving God” and approved it. The printer will now deliver the books to a distributor who will then send the books to the appropriate channels!

    Spiritually yours,

  18. Roger says:

    Congratulations – I hope it gets a good reception among Swedenborgians, regardless of their religious affiliation or lack thereof. I rather doubt if the academic world will take notice, but I hope it does.


  19. thegodguy says:

    Dear Roger,

    Thanks. No matter what the outcome I can die happy.

    Swedenborg once said “A person lives in a small sphere who writes only for his own generation.” My book may not be appreciated for another 50 years – even by Swedenborgians!

    Spiritually yours,

  20. Kate says:

    Your book is already appreciated by “swedenborgians”, New Church people…..and many others…..! : )

  21. thegodguy says:

    Dear Kate,

    Thanks for your encouraging words and support!

    Spiritually yours,

  22. jeff says:

    How can one who has not been regenerated, by Christ, debate swedenborgs writings.

    • thegodguy says:

      Dear jeff,

      Anyone can debate Swedenborg’s writings. But only the person who is more further along in the process of spiritual regeneration will offer the most correct answers.

      Spiritually yours,

      • jeff says:

        Are you in a regeneration process that was effected by Christ? Which stage are you in, regeneration of the will, or regeneration of the understanding?

  23. thegodguy says:

    Dear jeff,

    If you had read my books you would not have had to ask these questions. All three books deal with the topic of regeneration – both of the will (heart) and understanding (intellect). My stage of spiritual transformation can be “sensed” from reading these books but all you need to know is that I have become competent at identifying my personal flaws (evils), and, with the Lord’s help I am actively resisting them.

    Spiritually yours,

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