Is spiritual transformation selfish?

Handsome narcissistic young man looking in a mirrorSome see the process of spiritual transformation as the epitome of self-centeredness. After all, one is trying to get God’s attention and protect one’s eternal behind.

So rather than getting caught up in mere “navel-gazing,” people are choosing to be more compassionate and sympathetic to the needs of others in order to enact real change in the world.

Emanuel Swedenborg would suggest that such a strategy represents an incorrect approach to angelic love, charity and usefulness to society. Why? Swedenborg would say that taking such a course of action overlooks the reality of our true situation—that hell has access into much of our inner world and has to be jettisoned.

Spiritual regeneration is not selfish because it is an ego-deflating process. Swedenborg makes it clear that we are to search out our flaws of character and personal evils (Apocalypse Explained n 100) in order to affect genuine spiritual growth. This takes an act of permission from the heart—not the intellect.

In fact, so far as we are able to successfully search out our false ideas and evils—and reject them (repentance)—our compassion and sympathy for others becomes spiritually genuine and less worldly.

But, instead of going through such a personally uncomfortable and unflattering process, many people favor focusing immediately on good deeds. This is stealing from the Lord God because goodness comes from God alone. The Lord God directs spiritual love into an individual to the extent that he or she is purifying their heart and mind of evil influences.

This brings innocence to our good deeds, in which gain, status and reputation no longer become motivating factors. (Angels are not just good—their goodness springs from innocence!)

Attaining affirmation from others is why many people go to church. While personally comforting, affirmation can hinder the process of true introspection, spiritual cleansing, personal vigilance and humility because it gives us a false sense of security, importance and belonging—which can be self-centered.

Be vigilant of your heart and thoughts!

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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6 Responses to Is spiritual transformation selfish?

  1. George Gantz says:

    Hi Ed – I have recently run across the phrase “spiritual materialism” to describe the tendency for people to “consume” spiritual techniques and traditions – all the while seeking a true transformation in their lives yet never recognizing their own role in preventing it. The references were in The Seeker’s Guide by Elizabeth Lesser from 1999, and in a very recent new British initiative called
    Beyond Belief: Taking Spirituality Seriously, offered by the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) and sponsored by the Templeton Foundation. Both thoughtful contributions but I don’t think they are all that helpful. The great difficulty, as you point out, is that as long as we fail to give up the self we can never accept God’s transcendence as the only path to our own. Cheers!

    • thegodguy says:

      Dear George,

      Most people think that spiritual growth deals with “an enhancement of a positive state.” However, for someone to be “reborn” something must also die (the old self). We tend to overlook the real challenges of spiritual change, and worse, few people can teach the correct path. (Even Swedenborgians are removing themselves from any discomfort caused by self-examination and repentance.)

      Spiritually yours,

      • George Gantz says:

        … and when we get stuck in self-examination, self-criticism, or self-improvement (these can be quite comfortable as they require no change), then the change of repentance (turning) is blocked.

  2. thegodguy says:

    Dear George,

    You are describing a condition that even most Swedenborgians get stuck in by merely attending church services and not looking deeper at their feelings, thoughts and actions. Change is tough because it means that we must go up against ourselves (which is never comfortable). Bravo!

    Spiritually yours,

  3. Cathy Fraser says:

    I have often wondered about this, and you explained it so perfectly.

    • thegodguy says:

      Dear Cathy,

      I offer greater insights into this important topic in my award-winning book “Proving God” and in a smaller work entitled “Swedenborg & Gurdjieff.”

      Spiritually yours,

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