Borrowed interest

whisky1The term “borrowed interest” is something I learned when I was working for an advertising agency. It is a tactic used when there is little to tout about a product or service’s actual distinctive benefits that you are trying to sell. In such a case, an advertiser would hire a famous celebrity to be a spokesman for the product in question.

The hope is that the audience will associate the product’s value with the celebrity’s notoriety and popularity. This is why such a tactic is called “borrowed interest.”

A church can do this as well—by identifying important or famous people among their past and current membership and congregation to impress outsiders (with the hope that they, too, will join).

I once belonged to a small church which spread the idea that one of the co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) was inspired by its unique spiritual doctrines (there is still some debate about the verity of this claim). But there is an irony here.

Anyone familiar with AA knows that it offers a twelve-step program to help those suffering from the addiction of alcohol. What caught my attention is that this small church failed to connect its doctrine of salvation with an important AA principle identified in the twelve-step program. They failed to borrow the secret dynamic behind personal transformation!


AA promotes the practice of personal introspection (personal inventory). This includes the admission by a sufferer that his or her affliction is beyond their own control and help is needed from something greater than themselves. AA calls this admission “hitting bottom.” In terms of personal transformation, one can “hit bottom” from any type of character fault. But you have to allow yourself to see that a particular trait is ruining your life. This sight comes from the heart, which gives the permission, not the eyes or intellect.

But this church, that I once attended, never borrowed this important idea of self-examination and hitting bottom (even though the church contains these same ideas in its Doctrine of Repentance and Regeneration). Rather, it chose to focus directly on the more positive ideals like compassion, empathy and love.

This is a misstep—although it is a popular one.

The point is that compassion for others does not root out one’s own negative compulsions (which we all have in abundance) but can easily be added onto our worldly personality and reputation. In such a case, one can indeed be of service to others but still fail to personally be “made holy.” (AA describes such a person as a functioning alcoholic.)

True salvation requires a purification and cleansing process. (AA grasps this!) This cleansing operation allows the Lord God’s love and wisdom to find the space to flow into and fit into a person’s heart and mind, bringing true order to one’s inner reality. Being kind and opening one’s heart to the neighbor and greater numbers of the “needy” can become spurious if it sidesteps this personal purging process.

Most people just don’t want to hear this kind of negativity about personal flaws and would rather attend a church to be consoled and find hugs and approval from a community of colleagues!

Never have I attended a church where its members openly discussed their personal evils and bad traits (like they do in AA) and the difficulty they find in removing them. Instead, everyone is encouraged to be positive, have hope, know that God loves you—and simply open your heart and reach out to others (as if we finite mortals had the capacity for true love from our own finite niftiness).

Purification and salvation leads to genuine good works and spiritual love, not vice versa. That is why the road to hell can be paved with gold. Yes, heaven consists of those who do “good” for others, but true goodness needs spiritual innocence.

Innocence is gained ONLY from purification.

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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