Swedenborg challenged his own goodness!

I am writing this post in response to some negative reactions by readers who don’t fully appreciate my challenging the notion of “doing good” in the world. I can well understand how most people would find nothing wrong with simple acts of goodness. Everyone can understand such a universal truth and positive rule in life.

So let me explain my concerns about “good deeds.”

It has to do with the unique details within the theological disclosures of Emanuel Swedenborg who went deep into the weeds of his own seemingly exemplary life. Doing good deeds and being useful to society can actually blind us from making deeper self-discoveries.

It is well known among those who study the vast writings of Emanuel Swedenborg that he first studied science and the natural world, then began to look within and study his inner or spiritual reality. As a result he eventually became a theologian and produced a complete systematic approach to religion that brought a new kind of rational accessibility to even the deepest mysteries if faith.

This transition was not just a move from the worldly sciences to spiritual topics. It involved his first looking mercilessly into the qualities of his own heart and mind. I find the period of his transition very enlightening for it illustrates how he personally approached the process of spiritual transformation. (If you read his account of this period you would have serious questions about the effectiveness of attending Sunday worship services for the primal purpose of eternal salvation.)

The first 35 years of Swedenborg’s adult life was filled with noble causes to help his countrymen as well as those of other countries. He created many useful inventions, played a role in Sweden’s government to help install beneficial laws for Swedish citizens, and most of all, worked indefatigably to advance knowledge and science throughout the world by personally publishing his new and unique discoveries on everything from anatomy and neuroscience to cosmology. He was a gifted man of great importance and usefulness to society. And he was a man of God—or so he thought.

During his transitional period, Swedenborg was to discover that in spite of his accomplishments he was no angel and profoundly flawed. As he looked within himself he began to question the quality of his goodness. Thanks to his personal notes, we learn that this was not an easy time in his life. It was a time when God’s moving closer into his life caused unflattering self-discoveries to bubble up through the surface of his corporeal life—deep, dark things which until then were protected from appearing before the eyes of the world through his living of an outwardly moral and noble life.

He records dreams, which mercilessly depicted his inner character flaws and negative leanings. These ignoble inclinations had to be rooted out before he could play an important theological role in the Lord God’s plan to create a new church—the New Jerusalem!

Most shocking to such a praised and distinguished thinker was his self-discovery that when the love of reward, prestige and the promise of honor were subtracted from his various activities and projects, his mind went dull and quickly lost interest. This experience taught him that his ego was intimately attached to—and energizing—all his acts of goodness!

This is a concept that many people miss who strive to do “good” in the world—even from a spiritual principle!

People generally believe that one simply becomes a better person by turning to goodness. However, goodness is not genuine goodness until one has personally “cleaned house.” This is why in his book True Christianity, Swedenborg seems to make an anti-intuitive statement concerning spiritual evolution and rebirth. He claimed that the first important steps in acquiring genuine goodness are: 1) sincere self-examination, 2) recognizing evil traits hiding within, 3) seeing these traits as sin, 4) openly confessing these discoveries honestly before the Lord God, 5) then asking for Divine help in resisting all the dirt that one digs up.

As painful and awful as this process may seem to one’s self-esteem, there is no other way to properly purify the human spirit—in order that goodness can manifest through innocence.

So Swedenborg discovered something truly unique (and more interior) during his efforts to exalt religious doctrine. Individuals who are being prepared by the Lord God for eternal life in heaven experience additional conflicts in which even their acts of goodness go through a process of further purification!

It is pathological to only seek comfort from one’s religion or church. This incomplete approach tends to anesthetize one into a false sense of relief. In truth, the opposite must happen once a person consciously decides to become a genuine participant in the Lord’s eternal plan.

Swedenborg was a much better man than I because he had the courage to face himself in ways that would be too horrifying for me to bear.

Unfortunately, if religious leaders take this “tough love” direction with their followers, most will find that they are creating a ruckus, lose their followers, or quickly get kicked out and onto the street.  As a further depressing result from the fear of losing faithful members (at a time when church membership is shrinking) by abandoning “feel-good” ministries, these same leaders will eventually forget the precise steps that bring about true salvation and neglect to take these steps in their own lives as well.

The result is institutional spiritual “fluff.”



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 http://www.staircasepress.com
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8 Responses to Swedenborg challenged his own goodness!

  1. Glenn says:

    o All these places [i.e., Biblical references previously mentioned] show what is meant in the internal sense by ‘that which has been torn’; yet to make this plainer still, take as an example someone who leads a good life, that is, who does good to another because he wishes him well. Suppose that this someone then allows himself to be persuaded by another…that a good life contributes nothing to salvation[.] And suppose he therefore allows himself to be persuaded by the idea that a means of salvation is supplied which is called [—], and accordingly that a person can be saved without leading a good life[.] If such a person who has been leading a good life allows himself to be persuaded by such an idea, and then ceases to care about that life and also shows contempt for it, he is called ‘one who has been torn’. For ‘torn’ is used in reference to good into which falsity is introduced, with the result that good ceases to be living any longer. AC 4171.3

    Swedenborg isn’t (obliquely) speaking out against [—]. Rather, he is (obliquely) speaking out against a proponent of [—] speaking out against ‘doing good’.

    Swedenborg recognizes the value and necessity of [—]. But he also recognizes that the point of [—] is to enable the doing of good. He further recognizes that [—] alone is contra-salvation.

    To use the denouncement of the purpose of practicing [—] as a (partial) means for motivating the practice of [—] is–to be blunt about the subtle reality–insanity. As Swedenborg puts it, the result [is] that [whatever] good [may already exist] ceases to be living any longer.

    With doing good being eschewed, and already existing good being rendered dead, what do you think the end result is likely to be?

    If you care to travel the road to perdition (so to speak), having in mind that some others somehow thereby may be inspired to avoid it, then I would suggest two things: 1) that there exist other less self-destructive ways (or even better self-destructive ways (should subtle self-destruction be your raison d’être)) of exercising your freedom; and, 2) that it is possible to motivate people to practice [—] without engaging in self-destruction while doing so.

  2. thegodguy says:

    Dear Glenn,

    Your latest comment above is an “improved” response. However, a careful reading of my words shows that goodness is not to be resisted or not sought after, but rather, that goodness can be PURIFIED! This is a more unique idea and represents an important difference between Swedenborgian theology and other theologies that promote goodness. Innocence must also be sought for.

    Swedenborgians have been given the knowledge not simply to love the neighbor but to love through greater innocence.

    Heaven is hierarchical. So is love and goodness.

    Spiritually yours,

  3. Glenn says:

    Your improved response serves as example of its point. Yes, goodness can be purified. And there is no reason for it not to be. Especially since opportunities for such purification not infrequently present themselves.

    o The internal man addresses those things in the external man which disagree (as a man is wont to do when he perceives some evil in himself from which he desires to be separated (as is [particularly] the case in temptations and combats)). ES

  4. thegodguy says:

    Dear Glenn,

    The improved response is YOURS (that is why I did not approve one of your comments). But let bygones be bygones.

    I am glad that we are starting to see eye-to-eye on this most important matter. However, when people are performing acts of goodness rarely do they perceive some new (and more subtle) evil. You cannot assume that if people are doing the one (goodness) that they are also doing the other (self-examination). After all, their focus is on being good. It takes special preparation to be vigilant. Without this preparation even Swedenborgians become indignant by my “uncomfortable” suggestions.

    Let me leave you with this quote: “The church has indeed been set up anew with a man when he does what is good from affection; but still it has not been fully set up anew until he has fought against evils and falsities, thus until he has endured temptations; after this he becomes truly a church, and then is introduced to heaven . . . ” ES

    That is why so many “good people” go through a period of real suffering in the spiritual world as they are being prepared for heaven. Should not a true church attempt to address and even emphasize this non-terrestrial suffering for its members before they leave this planet? If this were truly being done my comments and blog posts would draw less fire! It is much less controversial to promote “Love and community” rather than promoting the full process of regeneration – and the pulling of splinters out of one’s butt!

    I have attended Seminary. I know of what I speak!

    Spiritually yours,

  5. Glenn says:

    Believing as you do in the necessity and value of facing one’s faults–and encouraging others to face theirs–surely you’re not committing the heinous goody-two-shoes act of protect me from embarrassment by not approving the comment?

    I am glad that we are starting to see eye-to-eye on this most important matter.

    We have never not seen eye-to-eye on the value and necessity of repentance and reformation. That you think we are ‘starting to’ is rather telling.

    You choose to emphasize the pain and suffering involved in R&R, as if its intensity and duration were a measure of ‘progress’. I don’t see it this way. And while it is true that ES says that the lower mind suffers pain when the order of its thinking is inverted, I think he would agree that the installation of order is the main thing. Whatever ‘pain’ and ‘suffering’ may be involved is a by-product.

    One does not get to heaven for having gone through ‘pain’ and ‘suffering’. Whatever ‘pain’ and ‘suffering’ may be experienced along the way is a by-product of the process, not the process itself. The ‘pain’ and ‘suffering’ are incidental. And this is true however overwhelming the ‘pain’ and ‘suffering’ may at times seem to be.

    But however much you may desire it to be, there is no guaranty that it will be overwhelming.

    o As soon as a man on self-examination confesses evils to be sins against God because they are contrary to divine laws and accordingly resolves to desist from them, the Lord opens the spiritual mind, enters the natural by affections of truth and good, enters the reason, and by the reason puts into order what is disordered below in the natural. It is this that strikes the man as a battle, and strikes those who have indulged much in enjoyments of evil as temptation. — ES

    So, it is clear that you seem to have things backwards. The severity of whatever turbulence may be experienced is a function of the extent and degree to which one has previously indulged in enjoyments of evil, rather than an attestation of the ‘progress’ one is making.

    In fact, the severity easily could be due to fighting against in lieu of cooperating with.

    Btw, did you know? Fifty percent (50%) of all seminary graduates graduated in the bottom half of their class. Just sayin’, is all.

  6. thegodguy says:

    Dear Glenn,

    Actually, your understanding of pain and suffering is telling. It is not a derivative or passive experience for those individuals who are seriously involved in regeneration. You do not seem to have experienced the dynamics of “intentional suffering.” Such suffering comes from purposely choosing one principle of life over another. Swedenborg himself uses the less than joyful expression of one “suffering oneself” as an ACTIVE and purposeful principle in spiritual growth. The only guarantee of such a process becoming overwhelming (as you say) is if one makes the conscious decision to explore hidden things about themselves in a more determined and intensive way. (The fact that we are born into evils of every kind is certainly an overwhelming notion when taken seriously.)

    If merely re-ordering one’s natural proclivities and memory-knowledges to heavenly influences was enough than a “new Pharaoh” would not have arisen in Egypt (Exodus) to challenge and attempt to subvert those (the Israelites) who symbolized individuals whose memory-knowledges were properly re-ordered. In other words, once the lower mind is reordered, than a spiritual revolt and backlash from hell is unleashed (not before). Also, the quality of a spiritual victory comes from the severity of the resistance (which alone qualifies the PROCESS!).

    This blog is not for the average church-goer, who you are obviously trying to comfort and defend from going beyond the Status Quo. As far as Seminary priorities are concerned, self-examination plays almost no part in the curriculum – regardless of where the students are in their class standings.

    Time for some BBQ! Have a happy 4th of July!

    Spiritually yours,

  7. Alan Misson says:

    I haven’t necessarily followed the detail of this debate but a key paragraph for me on this subject is from Doctrine of Life 31 –
    It is a truth that no man can do good, which is good, from himself; but to destroy, by applying this truth, all the good of charity that a man does who shuns evils as sins, is gross wickedness; for it is diametrically contrary to the Word, which enjoins man to do good. It is also contrary to the precepts of love to God and love towards the neighbour, on which commandments hang the Law and the Prophets; and it undermines and overturns the whole of religion; for every one knows that religion consists in doing good, and that every one will be judged according to his deeds. Every man by nature is such that he can shun evils, as of himself, from the Lord’s power, if he implores it; and what he does after this, is good from the Lord.

  8. thegodguy says:

    Dear Alan,

    Your paragraph is a valuable one – so are all Glenn’s quotes. However, a person who has experienced real spiritual temptation sees different things in this paragraph from that of a person who prefers to remain sheltered from this uncomfortable process. See my next post – latter in the day!

    Spiritually yours,

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