Where is the Proof of the Afterlife?

For a video reading of this article on YouTube, click here.

In a comment on my recent article, “If God is Love, Why all the Pain and Suffering?” a reader named Mike wrote:

All good and fine but where is the proof there is life after we die? You contend that there is suffering in this material world but our spirit will go on to another world after this one. Where is the proof? Not enough to just believe blindly (like communism or some other ism).

Great question! Let’s talk about it.

First, as you have gathered from my earlier article, I believe that the afterlife is not in this physical world after some future Last Judgment, as some people think. Instead, I believe it is in a spiritual world that is entirely distinct from the physical world.

Obviously, for that to be true there would have to be a spiritual world. So let’s broaden the question:

Where is the proof that the spiritual world exists?

Now, I assume that by “proof” you mean conclusive evidence by which one person could demonstrate to another person that the spiritual world definitely exists. Is that a reasonable assumption?

If so, then the answer is:

There is no proof that the spiritual world exists.

In fact, God has specifically designed the universe and the human mind so that it is impossible for one person to prove to another person that the spiritual world exists. This is to protect the very same freedom that I talked about in the “Pain and Suffering” article.

But here’s the real kicker:

There is also no proof that the material world exists.

Do you have a brain?

No, I’m not insulting you. This is a serious question!

How do you know that you have a brain? Have you actually seen your brain? Have you heard, smelled, tasted, or touched your brain? If not, how do you know it exists?

Most likely, you “know” that you have a brain because you were told so by your parents and teachers, who were told by scientists and doctors who have actually seen people’s brains. You trust that those people know what they’re talking about. Besides, everyone except a few insulting jerks agrees that you have a brain!

In other words, even though you have probably never seen, heard, smelled, tasted, or touched your brain, you believe that you have one because people you trust have told you so, and everyone you know believes that you have a brain.

In other words, most likely all of your proof that you have a brain is that other people have told you so.

Is that really proof? No. It’s a reasonable belief based on what you’ve been taught, and on what you have learned about the human body and how it works.

I also happen to believe that you have a brain. But the fact of the matter is that you could not prove to me that you have a brain.

Does the material world exist?

It’s not just that you wouldn’t want to cut open your head to show me that you do, indeed, have a brain inside your skull.

The problem is much bigger than that.

You see, it’s impossible for you to prove to me that the material world exists in the first place.

I know what you’re thinking: “That’s stupid. Everyone knows that the material world exists!”

Well . . . before Copernicus and Galileo, everyone knew that the sun orbits the earth—and we know how that turned out!

“Everyone knows” is not valid proof. And “That’s stupid” is not a valid argument.

Think about it. The only thing you know for absolutely sure is this:

Your consciousness exists.

Your thoughts and feelings are the only things that you experience directly. This is the famous starting point of the philosophy of René Descartes: Cogito ergo sum,” “I think, therefore I am.”

Everything else besides your own consciousness you experience indirectly—apparently through your physical senses and the nerve pathways from them to your brain. But the only place you actually sense anything is in your conscious awareness.

How do you know for sure that anything else besides your own consciousness exists?

The fact is, you really don’t know for sure. It could be that everything you experience every day, including your own body and brain, is being manufactured by your consciousness so that it seems to you exactly as if you are living and moving in an external, material world full of people, buildings, animals, and trees, when in fact none of those things actually exist out there.

Your conscious awareness may be the only thing that exists!

But what if I think that my consciousness is the only thing that exists? Huh?!?

There is no way you can prove to me that anything else but my own consciousness exists. In the same way, there is no way I can prove to you that anything but your own consciousness exists.

How can I prove to you that I’m not a figment of your imagination? The fact is, I cannot. Even if I punched you to prove that I exist, that could just be your own mind manufacturing both me and the experience of being punched.

The stubborn fact is that you can’t even prove to yourself that anything besides your own thoughts and feelings exists.

There is more proof of spirit than there is of matter

Now, thoughts and feelings are non-material things.

Yes, I know. Most scientists believe that thoughts and feelings are impulses in the brain.

But remember, there is no way to prove that the brain exists. The brain is a physical organ made of physical matter. We have no direct experience of it. Therefore we have no undeniable proof that it exists.

The only thing we know for sure is that our consciousness exists. And our consciousness consists of thoughts and feelings, loves and motives, intelligence and rationality.

These things are all non-material.

Love is not a physical entity. It is something that we experience in our mind. The same is true of everything else that makes up our mind—thoughts, feelings, ideas, emotions, motives. And these thoughts, feelings, ideas, emotions, and motives are not material . . . they are spiritual.

Another way of saying this is that everything we have direct experience of is spiritual in nature.

So the plain fact of the matter is that the only thing we have any solid proof of is that the things that are usually called “spiritual” actually do exist. We have this proof because we experience these things directly for ourselves.

For everything else, including the existence of our physical brain and of the entire material world, we only have secondary evidence.

In other words, there is no conclusive proof that the material world exists. But each of us does have direct experience of the existence of non-material, or spiritual, things.

The existence of the material world is an assumption

Now, just to put your mind and your brain at rest, I do happen to believe that the material world actually exists objectively out there.

However, I recognize that this is an unprovable assumption, which can be treated as an axiom. It is something that we just assume to be true because it seems so obvious. We then use that unprovable assumption or axiom as a foundation for a whole superstructure of other ideas and conclusions.

I also happen to think that the objective reality of the material world is a very useful assumption. If we all agree that the material world exists, and that other people are not just figments of our own imagination, then we can go on about the business of living our lives in human society.

However, we must always remember that the existence of the material world is an assumption. We truly cannot prove to anyone else, or even to ourselves, that it actually exists.

So let’s forget about proof, and talk about evidence. How we can have some reasonable confidence that the spiritual world exists, and that the afterlife is a real possibility?

How do we know things?

There are two basic ways of knowing something:

  1. We can experience it directly for ourselves.
  2. We can have it taught to us by other people.

The second category involves not only verbal teaching and demonstration by parents, teachers, ministers, and so on, but also reading books, watching videos, reading stuff on the Internet, and getting information via all of the other media that we use to communicate information to one another.

When we experience something for ourselves, we can have a great deal of confidence that it is true.

When we are taught something by other people, either directly or indirectly, our confidence in the truth of it depends on how much we trust the people who are providing the information. If a particular piece of information comes from someone with a PhD in the field and a high-powered academic teaching position, we’re likely to trust it a lot. But if it comes from some wild-haired person shouting in the street, we’re likely to file it in our brain under “crazy stuff.”

How can we know that the spiritual world exists?

Similarly, there are two basic ways we could know that the spiritual world exists:

  1. We could experience it for ourselves.
  2. We could be taught about its existence by other people who have experienced it.

Obviously, if we experience the spiritual world for ourselves, we’re likely to have a great deal of confidence that it exists.

This is precisely what has happened for millions of people who have had near-death experiences. (For a book with my own take on near-death experiences, see Death and Rebirth, by Lee Woofenden.)

For readers who have had near-death experiences, my whole argument above about the existence or non-existence of the spiritual world probably seems rather unnecessary, if not just a bit silly. They know that the spiritual world exists because they have experienced it for themselves.

Yes, I know. Many skeptics and materialistic scientists believe that near-death experiences are just hallucinations generated by an oxygen-deprived brain. But those who have had a near-death experience can simply say, “You have not experienced it. I have. I know that it is real.”

So for millions of people alive today, the existence of the spiritual world, and by extension, of an afterlife, is a simple fact because they have been there.

Yes, but how can the rest of us know?

That’s all well and good . . . if you’ve had a near-death experience. But what about the rest of us, who have not experienced the spiritual world for ourselves?

Of course, my view is that we all are experiencing a piece of the spiritual world every day in our own minds and hearts. As I said above, all of our thoughts and feelings, ideas and loves, are spiritual. So in our minds and hearts, we are living in the spiritual world every day.

However, as long as we are still living on this earth, we are not fully conscious in the spiritual world. And if our spiritual senses (the sensory organs of our spiritual body) have not been activated through a near-death experience or some other type of spiritual experience, then we have to fall back on the second way of learning about something: being taught by others.

And in fact, there is no lack of eyewitness testimony to the spiritual world and the afterlife. From ancient texts such as the Bible and the Tibetan Book of the Dead right up through the present wealth of literature on near-death experiences, we have the experience and the testimony of thousands of people, over thousands of years, on the existence and reality of the spiritual world.

Not all of those people agree with one another on exactly what the spiritual world is like. But that’s not surprising. Even scientists studying the material world don’t all agree with one another on the nature of the material world.

What all of those people spread over the thousands of years of human civilization do agree on is that the spiritual world is real.

Evidence for the afterlife

For anyone who wishes to learn about it, there is plenty of good information out there. I’m sure you can find as much as you want with a few Internet searches. But let me recommend a couple of credible sources, one new and one old. Just click on the cover image or title link to go to the book’s page on Amazon.

For those who believe in science and want the testimony of a scientist—a neurosurgeon, no less—you can’t do better than this recently published book:

Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife
By Dr. Eben Alexander

(Yeah, I wouldn’t  have used “proof” in the title!)

And here is the most extensive eyewitness account of the spiritual world ever published:

Heaven and Hell
By Emanuel Swedenborg

Heaven and Hell was originally published in Latin in 1758. I recommend the edition linked above for the most readable and accurate modern translation.

You might also enjoy reading “A Sister’s Eulogy for Steve Jobs.” It lovingly recounts his final days and his last words. For much of his life, Steve Jobs questioned the existence of an afterlife. And yet at his death, to the amazement of those present, he saw something not visible to the rest of the people in the room. His final words were, “OH WOW. OH WOW. OH WOW.”

Of course, if you truly do not want to believe that there is a spiritual world or an afterlife, all the books and accounts in the world won’t convince you. But if you truly do want to believe that there is an afterlife, there is plenty of evidence available.

For a video reading of this article on YouTube, click here.

For further reading:


Lee Woofenden is an ordained minister, writer, editor, translator, and teacher. He enjoys taking spiritual insights from the Bible and the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and putting them into plain English as guides for everyday life.

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79 comments on “Where is the Proof of the Afterlife?
  1. Steven C. Parrish says:

    “Now, I assume that by “proof” you mean conclusive evidence by which one person could demonstrate to another person that the spiritual world definitely exists. Is that a reasonable assumption?”

    No, this is not what I understood what Mike was asking. He was very clear. He was not talking about the spirit realm. However, if that is the way you understand life after death, it is very shortsighted and does not take into account of everything the Bible teaches about the resurrection.

    While I do agree, there are some of mankind taken from the earth to live in the spirit realm, it also speaks of a frat crowd that will be here on earth. Those that are here on earth will be the majority. Living a perfect life on earth forever in harmony with Jehovah God righteous principles and laws is no constellation prize.

    The truth is the majority of mankind present and pass will be given the opportunity to show they want to live in harmony with God’s principles and guidelines on earth. The ones that have been asleep in death will be resurrected to the earth to the same. The ones that survive Armageddon will ave the same.
    But not all will be resurrected. Only those who’s heart condition is conducive with living in harmony with God’s will will be resurrected. This is what the Bible teaches.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Steven,

      Thanks for your comments. I am happy to agree with you that salvation depends on living in harmony with God’s will, not just on believing in a particular “correct” way. That is why I believe that good people of all religions will be saved.

      Just for the record, if you read Mike’s question carefully you will see that he was indeed speaking in terms of our spirit going on to live in another world (meaning a spiritual world) after this one.

      The belief that most good people will be resurrected physically and live eternally in the material world is based on a rather literal interpretation of the Bible put forth by the Jehovah’s Witness organization, and by various others as well. If those beliefs are satisfying to you, and help you to live a life of love to God and love for your neighbor as Jesus commanded, then I have no particular desire to debate you about them.

      I would only point out that in addition to the 144,000 that John saw standing in front of the throne of the Lamb in heaven, he also saw “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language” standing before that throne in heaven (Revelation 7:9). This vast multitude of people had already been resurrected into the spiritual world at the time John wrote the book of Revelation only a few decades after Jesus’ death. Jesus also taught immediate resurrection into the spiritual world when he said to one of the thieves who was crucified with him: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

      About Armageddon and the end of the world, I invite you to read my article, “Is the World Coming to an End? What about the Second Coming?

      Thanks again for your thoughtful comments.

  2. I completely agree with you, Lee, that the human mind is a spiritual entity as opposed to a physical phenomenon. It is clear to me, as you point out, that thoughts and feelings (and even experiences like the color blue) are not physical things that can be pointed to and objectively defined in the manner of material objects. Yes, the spiritual and the physical are two distinct realms that follow completely different rules.

    I really like the way you put this: “We are living in the spiritual world every day.” It is as if we live our lives with one foot in one world and the other foot in another. Everything in our lives has both a spiritual aspect and a physical aspect, whether we are aware of this or not.

    You also make another great point: “….as long as we are still living not the earth, we are not fully conscious in the spiritual world.” There is something about the physical world, and our attachment to it, that greatly limits our spiritual connections and awareness. I wonder if these are purposefully created limitations or if they are part and parcel to attaching our spirit to the physical world as we enter into it.

    I have to respectfully disagree with you on one point, though. I disagree with: “There is no proof that the spiritual world actually exists.” If you accept as proof well designed and competently performed scientific research that has been extensively replicated, we do now have this proof. The tools of science are now so advanced that we can use them to study spiritual questions – questions that were previously out of the reach of science. I am working on a blog article that presents my reasoning in much more detail. It will also be the basis for a chapter in a book that I am writing.

    Your article, Lee, is very well thought out and very helpful to me in my own exploration
    of these topics. I hope that others will find it is as helpful as I do.


    • Lee says:

      Hi Chuck,

      Thanks for your kind thoughts! I look forward to reading your blog article when it comes out.

    • Lee says:

      Hi again, Chuck,

      I did not want to make any substantive response to your comment until I could actually read the articles you refer to, which I believe you have now posted on your blog.

      Of course, I agree with you that the spiritual world exists. I even agree with you that there is extensive evidence that it exists.

      Where I would still take some exception is to the idea that we can prove through science that the spiritual world exists. I believe and suspect that scientists who reject the reality of the spiritual world will find ways to reject the conclusion that the experiments you speak of provide conclusive evidence that the spiritual world exists.

      One avenue of such rejection is suggested by the expansion of science from studying the realm of solid, liquid, and gaseous matter that interacts primarily through physical contact to studying the electromagnetic field, which transcends the realm of solid, liquid, and gaseous matter and operates over great distances apparently without a solid, physical medium.

      If such a field exists, and yet is still considered to be a part of the material universe, this provides an avenue of expansion of science to studying and “explaining” such phenomena as remote viewing (discussed on your blog) without accepting the idea that there must be a spiritual reality above and beyond this physical reality. Essentially, such a conclusion would simply require that concepts of the material world be expanded beyond the traditional, mechanical, and largely “solid” view of physical reality. This expansion is already well underway with the study of the electromagnetic field and the theories of quantum physics, string theory, and so on.

      I would simply urge some caution in thinking that we can convince those who don’t want to be convinced that a spiritual world exists. I believe that the ability to deny the existence of the spiritual world is part of the spiritual freedom that God planted very deeply in human beings as a necessary condition of our humanity.

      So while I do believe that science and scientific method can be used to strengthen those who are willing to believe in spiritual reality in those beliefs, I do not believe it can be used to provide conclusive evidence for all, regardless of their inclination or disinclination to accept the reality of the spiritual world.

      • Hello Lee,

        I completely agree with you that you cannot convince anyone of something their mind is closed to. It is futile to even try. With my scientific background, I am pretty aware of the beliefs that most scientists accept. My opinion is that the acceptance of research similar to what I present in my remote viewing chapter is a massive change for most scientists, since they have built their whole lives on a bedrock set of assumptions that are now being brought into question. A few scientists, though, particularly those in the forefront of physics research, have completely come around and accepted that many of the assumptions of the past are completely wrong. To me, it is only a matter of time until this group carries the day. But it may take more of the old guard to die off and more newly trained scientists to approach the new research with more open minds.

        I wish to clarify an important technical point that I think you might be missing. Electromagnetic fields are physical interactions in that they completely follow all the time, distance and causation laws of the material world. These fields can be easily measured by physical devices designed for that purpose. However, nonphysical (you might substitute “spiritual” here) interactions, like those of remote viewing, violate these laws of material interactions. In fact, it is the violation of the physical laws that is the solid proof that the nonphysical effects are real.

        We have always had anecdotal evidence that such nonphysical interactions exist, but they have not been reliably reproducible in the past. It is the advent of more powerful statistical methods that allow us to demonstrate such effects are predictably reproducible and therefore independently open to testing by anyone interested. This has been the major stumbling block in the way of scientific acceptance in the past. I believe this stumbling block is in the early stages of falling away.

        It may take many years before the new data is assimilated into mainstream beliefs. But I would point out that it wasn’t all that long ago that everyone believed the earth was flat. All it took was some new inventions like the telescope to permanently expand our awareness. Now, no one believes in a flat earth.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Chuck,

          Thanks for your further comments.

          Just to clarify, I am not suggesting that electromagnetic field phenomena can account for remote viewing. Rather, I’m suggesting that the expansion of scientists’ conceptions of physical matter from ordinary matter (solid, liquid, gaseous) to include also electromagnetic fields and phenomena suggests a direction by which a scientist could assimilate the idea of remote viewing without positing that a spiritual world exists. Such a scientist would, rather, expand his or her view of physical reality to include further levels and refinements of physical reality to include such phenomena as remote viewing.

          As another step in this direction, gravitational effects as we experience them happen instantaneously or nearly instantaneously over vast distances. This violates the usual physical rules of time and distance, yet it is still seen as a property of physical reality. Why couldn’t the phenomena of remote viewing similarly be attributed to further refinements and levels of physical reality beyond both the electromagnetic and the gravitational–levels that are yet to be discovered? After all, we experienced magnetism and light before we were aware of the magnetic field. Who knows what further discoveries might be made deep in the heart of physical reality?

          Mind you, I’m not saying that I personally believe remote viewing can be accounted for by purely physical phenomena. I tend to agree with you that it happens by spiritual means. I’m simply playing devil’s advocate, and considering how materialistic scientists might come to some accommodation with the statistical analysis of remote viewing without accepting the reality of spirit.

  3. Lee, I think we are in fundamental disagreement on these points. For example, gravitational effects are physically mediated effects. Modern physics holds that the force of gravity is mediated by particles that cannot exceed the speed of light. Thus, gravity’s effects are never instantaneous. Many believe that the effects of gravity radiate out away from physical particles as waves, although these waves have not yet been proven to exist.

    I do not believe there is any way physicists can reconcile the remote viewing data with established physical theories. The violation of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity is quite clear in this situation (as it is with all the anomalies I have been discussing). Scientists have only two choices: deny the data are accurate or accept that a nonphysical influence exists in the physical world that has the ability to produce a clear impact on physical events.

    I place such emphasis on this point since all the rest of the inferences I have been developing in the work I have been doing rest on this pivotal point. The research shows that everything that exists has two completely different means of interaction with everything else. There are the physical, local effects that our physical sciences have thoroughly studied. In addition, there are the radically different nonphysical, non-local effects that do not require time to unfold, do not lose power as they move through space, and connect everything in the physical world at all times. Science is just beginning to come to terms with this second mode of interaction. But come to terms it must, the data are far too powerful and consistent to not be real. And the implications are astounding.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Chuck,

      Among people of good will, fundamental disagreements can be a good thing. They expand the frontiers of human knowledge as various people test their differing and conflicting theories against reality. In the process, we gain much more information and insight on the nature of reality than if everyone were testing the same theories.

      So I am happy to have you pressing forward ideas and theories that I may not agree with.

      To be clear, the disagreement between us is not on the question of whether there are phenomena that take place by non-physical, or spiritual means. It is on the question of whether that can be proven scientifically.

      Without actually reading the remote viewing research and your summation and interpretation of it, I can’t comment very specifically on it. However, in general:

      • I would suggest not underestimating the power of the human mind to come up with alternate explanations for phenomena that some people believe can be explained in only one way.
      • Like the unproven gravitation waves you mention, just as our discoveries are commonly ahead of our theories, so also our theories are commonly ahead of our discoveries. This is what presses science forward: the attempt to come up with theories that can explain what we observe, and then to find–or not find–the physical substances, fields, and processes that those theories predict.
      • Phenomena that were formerly attributed to spiritual and divine influence–such as lightning and lunar eclipses–are now commonly explained by standard science based on physical processes alone.

      Based on these points, traditional scientists who believe that all phenomena can be explained by physical processes alone, if they come to take the remote viewing research seriously, will get busy coming up with alternate theories of physical reality that can account for the results of that research. They will be very confident that such theories can be constructed, tested, and found to explain the data better than theories that appeal to spiritual reality. That has been the trend and the reality of science up to this point.

      You and I simply don’t know what theories present and future scientists will come up with. It was formerly believed that Newtonian physics could explain all physical phenomena. Then we began encountering phenomena on the micro and macro level that could not be explained by Newtonian physics. Hence the birth of whole new theories such as relativity and quantum mechanics–which, as far as I know, are both in common use by physicists, and yet still have unresolved conflicts with one another. These new theories require the existence of whole new layers of physical reality that were entirely absent from the former theories.

      Science has many times dealt with new data that does not fit old theories. If remote viewing research goes mainstream in the scientific community, you can bet your bottom dollar that many theories will be put forward and tested by various scientists. Most of those theories will not appeal to non-physical processes, but will instead propose new physical processes and phenomena.

      At that point, all the conflicting theories will be tested. If you and I are still alive when the results are coming in, we’ll find out what sort of new consensus develops in the scientific community.

      And that will be fascinating indeed!

  4. Hi again, Lee,

    I hope I am not belaboring a point that goes beyond the point of what may interest you, but you seem to want to get to a deeper understanding of our differences. Fundamental disagreements can indeed be a good thing and I find they can take us very useful places when different viewpoints are honored and valued. I suspect you already know that I do not feel I have the last word on any topic and am always open to reconsideration of any of my conclusions and beliefs.

    Let me give you a little more background about this issue of remote viewing. First, remote viewing is only one of many anomalies in various fields of science that I have been exploring. As I have explored these anomalies, the commonalities are truly amazing. One commonality is that, by and large, the work in all these anomalies has been pursued by highly trained scientists with excellent track records and success with traditional science topics before getting involved in studying these anomalies. This is not poor quality science we are discussing.

    Notably, working with the anomalies has forced these scientists to completely change their views of how the world works. I have read a fair number of the essays these scientists have written about their findings and how they have tried to reconcile them with traditional scientific theories and assumptions. What you have said you think might happen when scientists look at this research carefully and objectively is not what actually happens. I think that most scientists, when faced with reports like those involving remote viewing, healing by mental intent, and many other anomalies, still have closed minds about these topics and just assume the work is in error since it conflicts so completely with their training. That is as far as most scientists take it, at this point in time. They do not really look at the details. However, when scientists do take the research seriously, they realize that what is being uncovered is profoundly important. What few if any of these scientists do is to try to explain the findings with physical mechanisms. They know from the design of the experiments that all physical mediators for the results are effectively blocked out. (The researchers exploring the anomalous data know this is the crucial question and they take great pains to be sure that their research protocols are exemplary.)

    This brings me to another critically important point. All the different anomalies in all these different fields, studied by teams independently of each other, have come up with the same kinds of violations of accepted scientific theories. If these results were mere errors or if they were just sloppy science, why would they so consistently provide the same kinds of results? The picture all these anomalies show, when taken as a whole, is incredibly consistent and coherent.

    I know you are not a scientist, and you have said you are not familiar with the research I am describing, nor with the extensive discussions that have already occurred among scientists about these anomalies, but there is much more here than I believe you are aware. And the implications are quite profound. I know it would be a very large undertaking for you, but I think it would very much be worth your time to become more knowledgeable about it. I believe what you would learn in this effort would significantly expand your understanding of some of the topics you already find to be very important.

    If this advice is out of line, please accept my apologies. Even if we cannot find more common ground here, this will not change my appreciation of your insightful writings. Thanks for allowing this dialogue on your site.


    • Lee says:

      Hi Chuck,

      I do think this discussion is about to enter the realm of the repetitive, so I’m not sure how much bang for the buck we’d get by continuing it here. I’ve shared my thoughts and theories on the subject, and so have you–which is a good thing.

      As strong as my tendency is to want to discuss and discuss and discuss until some agreement emerges, I’ve discovered over the course of my life that the ability of talk to bring people together on an issue is often quite limited. More often, people’s views must be worked out through experience. Any eventual agreement (or lack thereof) must unfold over time as experience accumulates. When it comes to scientific subjects, since I am more of a dilettante than an expert, I watch from the sidelines to see what scientific consensus emerges over time among those whose lives are devoted to the study of science.

      What gives me joy about this discussion is knowing that the research into unconventional subjects that you describe is opening the minds of some scientists to higher realms of reality. That is a very good thing.

      For my part, I already accept the existence of higher realms of reality. The research would therefore not have the same effect for me as it does for those who approach it from the direction of materialistic science. I am fascinated by science. I spent many happy hours in my younger years studying physics, astronomy, biology, and other fields of science. However, quite early in life I decided to devote my life to teaching and leading people on spiritual subjects. That is where I have my greatest background and expertise. That is where I can have the greatest impact on people’s lives.

      I have long believed that there is no fundamental conflict between science and religion. This is no doubt due to the influence of Emanuel Swedenborg, who had a brilliant career as a scientist before he entered the realms of spirit. He therefore explored those realms based on a solid foundation in the best science of his day. He said that if he had not spent the first two-thirds of his life engaged in a deep and systematic study of science and philosophy, he would not have been able to understand many of the things that were revealed to him when his spiritual senses were opened. He went on to spend the last third of his life exploring the spiritual world while still living in his physical body.

      If you have not yet delved into Swedenborg’s writings, I think you would find them quite fascinating and enlightening. For those of a scientific and philosophical frame of mind, his book Divine Love and Wisdom would be a great place to start–though it requires a lot of mental concentration and dedication to do it justice. Alternatively, Heaven and Hell provides a much more direct and practical description of the spiritual realms as Swedenborg experienced them, and is a much easier read.

  5. Juan says:

    Hi Lee.
    I agree with you that there is no proof of the existence of an afterlife,
    but evidence of the existence of an afterlife, but I would like to comment on what next.
    First, say that near death experiences are not hallucinations because NDErs assert that these experiences are real is not enough to demostrate that NDEs are not hallucinations, but we have to expose more rigorous arguments like that NDEs are hyper-lucid , which casts doubt on the mind-brain dependence and NDErs who provided veridical information that they could not be acquired by the known senses, inference or luck.
    And finally, NDEs are not the only kind of evidence of the existence of an afterlife, but also there are the deathbed visions, apparitions, mediumship and people who seem to remember previous lives. A close examination of these phenomena leads to chances are that there is a form of afterlife.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Juan,

      Thanks for your thoughts. Yes, there are many different types of evidence for an afterlife. I don’t believe it will ever amount to scientific proof–if such a thing exists. But I do think that collating the many sources of information and evidence into a coherent picture of the spiritual realms is possible. It will require testing various hypotheses as to the nature of spiritual reality against the vast amount of information we now have available, and determining which theory best explains it all.

      This is, unfortunately, a slow and laborious process for humanity to go through. But I do believe that in the coming centuries a general consensus will begin to emerge. In this way it will parallel the development of science.

      From my perspective, the answers are already available. However, we humans seem to need to struggle and search for them ourselves in order to have any sense of confidence and trust in their truth and reliability.

      And so the search goes on . . .

  6. Sean Castleton says:

    I have personally explored the entire gamut of religions, have read many books on the occult, studied astrology indepth, and demonology. I believed that I had a personal relationship with Jesus, ect. I came to the conclusion that nobody knows nothing about where we came from or why we are here. Here’s the bottom line concerning faith; You can believe in something from now until the end of time, but that does not make it true. Believing in something is one thing, but actually knowing something to be true is quite another. Man is desparately seeking to know his/her origin and as a result willing to believe in anything that may explain it. For me, science is the only tangible hope for discovering the truth of our existence. We are but infants in space and time. S.Castleton.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Sean,

      Thanks for your comment. If you find science to be satisfying in answering the big questions of life, I have no particular desire to debate it with you. Science is very good at what it does.

      I hope you understand, though, that science is also founded upon a belief, rather than on demonstrable fact. It is founded on the belief that material reality as we perceive it exists objectively out there more or less as we perceive it to exist. As I pointed out in the above article, that’s a very practical and useful belief. But it is still a belief, not something that can be demonstrated to be true.

      Science as a source of answers to the ultimate questions, along with philosophical materialism generally, is very satisfying to people whose focus is on material reality and on the external, physical world.

      However, for those whose focus shifts toward inner reality and the world of the mind and heart–the world of our human thoughts, feelings, and relationships–science becomes less and less satisfactory as a full explanation of human existence and experience.

      In other words, one’s belief in science or in some spiritual understanding of reality is a result of the general focus of one’s mind–whether on external, material reality or on inner, spiritual reality.

      If at any time the focus of your mind shifts again toward inner, spiritual reality, I invite you to explore the spiritual philosophy of Emanuel Swedenborg. If you come at it with an open and engaged mind, you will find that it goes beyond the gamut of religions that you have previously studied and even temporarily embraced. You might especially enjoy his book Divine Love and Wisdom. It is a highly philosophical treatment of the nature of reality as a multi-leveled system that stretches from God through spiritual reality down to material reality.

      Those who embrace only material reality will generally reject the existence and relevance of spiritual and divine reality.

      However, under Swedenborg’s philosophy, those who embrace spiritual and divine reality can also embrace material reality, including all of the conclusions of science within its own proper field of study, which is the physical universe and material reality.

      There is no conflict between genuine science and genuine spiritual understanding. Both are the study of laws created and established by God as a unified system.

      • Sean Castleton says:

        Hi Lee, I completely understand your proposed argument, but patently disagree with your perception of science. Actually, science is based on theories until proven. If I may reiterate your statement, I think that you more accurately meant that scienctific theories are suppositions? Not to split hairs, but there is a distinction between theory and faith. Perhaps we are talking apples and oranges here… But more to the point; this blog, if I am not mistaken, is addressing proof of the afterlife. For me, the argument is mute, if you are basing your proof of the existence of the biblical God and the afterlife on something that you simply believe in. Because again, there is a distinct difference between believing in something and actually knowing something to be true. (Logic 101) There are a whole slew of religious belief systems that seek to prove the existence of a spiritual realm. And they all have interesting points, and yet, not one of them have truly proven that these realms or gods exist, because they are based on faith. Really, I have a problem with believing in a God who basically says, “Believe in me or die!”. Or a silly God who wants us to play hide and seek with him. Or a God who casts you into a cruel, chaotic world, whether you wanted to be there or not, and says, “sink or swim baby”. It reminds of lyrics in a song by Enigma, “I love you, I kill you”. These ideas are ludicrous and appeal to masochistic, control freaks. Now, I do admit, that where there is design, there has to be a designer. But who or what that designer is, we simply do not know. Was it panspermia? Or perhaps some alien intervention, as proposed by some? Or was it a messianic figure propped up in the attempt up to overthrow a tyrannus government? Or maybe it was that amoeba that crawled up onto a beach and grew a brain…whatever…At the end of the day, If we are being truly honest with ourselves, we would have to admit to the fact that we just don’t know. I believe that red is actually blue. Why? Because I BELIEVE THAT!!! And if you don’t believe that, then apparently you’re just not seeing it. You need an epiphany brother! Or at least some sort of contrived notion.

        Sigh, Sean Castleton.

        • Sean Castleton says:

          Further, I relate philosophy to the story of a man trying to explain to a blind man what an elephant looks like. The blind man can only feel the elephant, it’s trunk, tusks, ect., but unfortunately, as a result, can only perceive the animal by his own idealic perceptions of reality. In other words, the blind man is the philosopher. We can debate and propose philisophical ideas unto the next ice age, but in the end, it’s nothing more than fodder, or at best, food for thought. Pie in the sky dogmatic, idealism. No thanks, I would rather read an Isaac Asimov novel.

        • Lee says:

          Asimov is good.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Sean,

          Thanks for your reply. However, most of what you have said here is irrelevant.

          I’m not talking about the method of science, which I understand moderately well. I’m talking about a basic assumption underlying science, which is that the material world exists objectively out there more or less as we perceive it.

          That is an assumption. It cannot be demonstrated by science or anything else.

          In other words, the entire edifice of science is based on something that its proponents believe to be true, even though it cannot be demonstrated to be true, and on which they base the rest of their thinking.

          In that, the proponents of scientific materialism are in the same boat as the proponents of the existence of God and spirit.

          Except that proponents of the existence of spiritual reality have a valid claim to have direct experience of the reality that they believe exists–namely, their own consciousness–whereas all experience of the subject of science–material reality–is second-hand and mediated.

          However, to end on a note of agreement, I agree with you that each of the ridiculous conceptions of God you mention is . . . ridiculous. And not true.

        • Richard Neer says:

          Hi Lee,

          You stated:

          “In other words, the entire edifice of science is based on something that its proponents believe to be true, even though it cannot be demonstrated to be true, and on which they base the rest of their thinking.”

          Wouldn’t your evaluation of scientific realities, being based upon one’s belief that they are true and therefore exist, present the same foundation that Swedenborg presents? After all, it was only he, himself, who ‘experienced’ the other side and presented his interpretation of it to the world. It would be different if his experience was observed and documented by others, therefore validating his claim, in much the same way we approach and accept things which are science-based. But that was not the case.

          How does anyone know, irrefutably, that which Swedenborg experienced was indeed real, and not simply a figment or manifestation within his own mind? The subconscious is certainly a deep dark sea, full of unexplored and unexplainable dimensions.

          Isn’t using Swedenborg as a strong proponent in your corner to validate (or justify) your position(s) no different than another’s pragmatic approach to believing purely in science and that which can be, or has been, proven?

          PS – I like Asimov too!!

        • Lee says:

          Hi Richard,

          Great questions. Thanks!

          First of all, I make no claim that we can know irrefutably that Swedenborg’s experience was real. For more on my view of Swedenborg’s writings, including a consideration of some of these questions, see this article:

          Do the Teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg take Precedence over the Bible?

          It was written in response to a question about Swedenborg vs. the Bible, and though it is written in a Christian and Biblical context, it also offers some detail on my view of Swedenborg’s writings themselves.

          As I just said in another response to Sean below, we humans can never have absolute certainty about anything. We can only have more and more confidence, or faith, that something is true based on ongoing experience that supports it rather than disproving it.

          When it comes to Swedenborg, there is actually a great deal of evidence outside of his theological writings to support the things he said in them about the afterlife.

          The greatest source of such evidence and confirmation is the phenomenon of near-death experiences. Not just hundreds or thousands, but millions of people have now had brief experiences of the same spiritual level of reality that Swedenborg explored extensively during the last three decades of his life. And though there are, of course, variations in what is reported, the overall picture that emerges from the reports of near-death experiencers strongly confirms what Swedenborg reported over two centuries ago about the spiritual world.

          When near-death experiences first came to light in the 1970s following the publication of Raymond Moody’s book Life After Life, there was huge excitement among Swedenborgians. At last we no longer felt so alone in our beliefs and understanding of the afterlife, and in our reliance on Swedenborg to inform us about it. At last we had a vast flood of experience and evidence outside of Swedenborg’s writings that what he wrote was true and trustworthy.

          In fact, in the book Life after Life, Swedenborg was one of the previous sources that Moody cited to support near-death experiences as more than a modern anomaly, but something rooted in and harmonious with human experience over the centuries and the millennia.

          For me, Swedenborg’s system of three general levels of reality (divine, spiritual, and material), and his detailed description of how they work in relation to one another, does a far more complete and powerful job of explaining all of the phenomena we humans encounter than any other system or theory that I have encountered so far, including scientific materialism.

          However, the only way to know this for yourself would be to delve more deeply into Swedenborg’s writings, and determine for yourself whether his system is more explanatory than competing systems such as scientific materialism.

          If you are interested in doing this, I would recommend starting with Divine Love and Wisdom if you want to approach it from a more philosophical and abstract perspective, or with Heaven and Hell if you want to approach it from a more concrete and experiential perspective.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Richard,

          Incidentally, Swedenborg himself commonly based the validity of what he wrote on three pillars or foundations:

          1. The Bible
          2. Reason
          3. Experience

          He did not ask anyone to believe anything he wrote just because he said so. He appealed to Scripture (which held great weight in those days, and still does for millions of Christians), to rational thought, and to human experience–including but not limited to his own experience in the spiritual world–in establishing the truthfulness and believability of what he wrote.

  7. Sean Castleton says:

    Lee, I believe that conciousness is nothing more than the body electric in relation to the electromagnetic field that surrounds us, creating certain feelings of elation, bliss, ect., of which people want to believe is proof of a spritual state of being or awareness. When a boxer is knocked out and falls unconscious for example, he is no longer conscious of what just happened or the arena crowd noise because the electrical impulses of his brain have been interrupted and temporarily shut off. But if he indeed had a spirit, would he not still be aware of his surroundings even though his brain shut down? Because as I understand it, proponents of the human spirit believe that it is our life force and the very essense of consiousness and point to what they believe is evidence of it with the near death experience, where even though there body has expired, they remain concious of their surroundings. But scientists have proven that brain remains alive for some time after the rest of the body has expired, and theorize that the brain goes into a dream state, thus explaining away this fictional belief in a spiritual consciousness and/or a spiritual realm.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Sean,

      Thank you for starting your first sentence with “I believe.” That is an accurate statement. You believe that consciousness is nothing more than an electromagnetic phenomenon. But you don’t know that.

      About the boxer, and others who lose consciousness, it’s important to understand that from a spiritual perspective, we have two sets of senses: our physical senses and our spiritual senses.

      Under normal circumstances while we are living here on earth, only our physical senses are active and functioning. That’s why when the boxer is knocked out, he loses consciousness, and his conscious experience ceases. His mind is still tethered to his physical senses, which are currently inactive; therefore he has no conscious awareness at all.

      However, under certain circumstances our spiritual senses become active and functioning. This is true of everyone after death. But it can also happen when the physical body is still alive–and especially when it is hanging between life and death. It doesn’t always happen in that circumstance. But it can happen.

      Near-death experiences are the primary (but not the only) answer to your general contention that consciousness requires the physical body, and at least some active physical and electrochemical processes in the body. In near-death experiences, consciousness continues even though the physical senses are inactive. In some cases, consciousness apparently continues even when there is no measurable brain activity.

      We can debate until the cows come home about whether near-death experiences are a spiritual phenomenon or a purely physical phenomenon. I’ve read a lot of accounts of near-death experiences. I’ve also read a lot of attempts by materialistic scientists to explain them as purely physical phenomena.

      I find these explanations to be unconvincing. They do not do anywhere near as good a job of accounting for all of the elements of the phenomenon of near-death experiences as the much simpler and more explanatory idea that these experiences represent an opening of the spiritual senses of the people involved.

      But the overarching point here is that your interpretation is a matter of belief, just as mine is.

      You believe, based on a position of scientific materialism, that when people’s consciousness and awareness of their surroundings continues even when their physical senses are inactive, this is still a function of, and fully explainable by, the electromagnetic activity of the brain and body.

      I believe that it is a function of the person’s spiritual senses being opened so that they can remain conscious and aware of their surroundings even if there is no brain activity at all.

      You and I each have a set of basic beliefs and assumptions that we rest upon in interpreting the realities that we encounter. Those basic beliefs and assumptions themselves are non-demonstrable. Once we settle on them, we can use them to explain the phenomena we encounter. But we cannot demonstrate conclusively to ourselves or to anyone else that those assumptions are actually true. We can only grow more and more confident, based on our ongoing experience, that they are true.

      That’s exactly how faith works. Faith is not believing something because there’s no evidence for it. Faith is believing something because we can see more and more clearly that it’s true.

      Scientific theories are, in fact, a practical example of faith in action. A theory is something we think is probably true based on previous experience combined with the use of reason and logic; but we must build up more and more experience that supports the theory rather than disproving it before we will throw the weight of our assent to it.

      We humans can never have absolute certainty about anything. We can only posit theories, test them against our experience of reality, and either grow in confidence that they are true or find our theories disproved, or at least in need of revision, based on experience and experiments that do not fit within the parameters of our theory, or that flatly contradict it.

      Nothing I have encountered in science so far contradicts my theories, or beliefs, about the nature of reality. However, many things that I have experienced, and that others have related to me either verbally or through the written word, are not explained well by materialistic theories, while they are explained very well by a view of the universe as consisting of three overall levels of reality:

      1. divine (God),
      2. spiritual,
      3. and material.
  8. Sean Castleton says:

    There, is that more relevant sir? :o)

    • Lee says:

      Yes, it is. Thank you! My response is above.

      • Sean Castleton says:

        Lee, while I do appreciate your open-minded stance on the subject. I must confess that I have grown weary of the mind-boggling challenge and all that it presents concerning the proof of an afterlife and/or spiritual realm. It just seems that all of my years of reading and exploration of this subject have been a precious waste of time, of which could have been spent on other more worthwhile pursuits. It is an elusive subject with no real answers, except that of faith, of which I have tried. Simple believing in something is not enough for me personally. I suppose that I have a “Thomas” type of personality, in that I have to actually see it to believe. And it’s not that I am not willing to believe, it’s just that it is not enough.

        Respectfully, Sean.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Sean,

          Fair enough.

          I’ve enjoyed our conversation.

          If your mind turns back toward the pursuit of spiritual understanding, and you want something more satisfying than what you’ve delved into previously in that realm, you know where to find me.

  9. Diane Higgins says:

    Hi! I am very late to this conversation! Sorry about that.

    I will preface by stating I was raised Catholic, but have not practiced in 30 years. I would best be defined as atheist at this time, though not a peaceful one.

    I feel such frustration with this issue! I know I am not alone in that. The idea of an afterlife is a key aspect of most, if not all, religions. My frustrated cry is this,” Why is such a HUGE issue like where one will spend the endlessness of all time- eternity- left to faith?? Think about the question of buying a home… the place you will spend just a few years, relative to the enormity of infinity. Would you buy a home on faith? Most wouldn’t. You would want to know all about it: where it is, what it looks like, etc…. You would especially want to be sure it existed to begin with… that you weren’t buying the proverbial “Brooklyn Bridge”. Now, with the afterlife, a person is investing more than their money…. they are investing their entire lives and how they will live them. Why does it diminish our free will to KNOW and not have to believe?

    If we are to believe in a benevolent God who loves us, if He wants relationship with us, then why is this shrouded in mystery? Why does He invite us to spend forever with Him, but not tell us where? Why is this, and He, (shrouded in mystery)? Who would enter into a relationship with someone (God) without knowing anything definitive about that someone?

    My years of practicing Catholicism tell me there is one answer to these questions: Faith. I wonder if I convey my sense of frustrated bewilderment at that answer? Faith in… ??? Surely God, in His wisdom, knew that the world could and would offer a plethora of faiths, many stipulating different versions of both Himself and the afterlife? Even within one religion, there are different views of God (for ex: some see Him as wrathful, others merciful). And, here’s the kicker, many views claim that theirs is the ONLY right one! So, if you pick a more (for example) liberal view of God to have faith in, and you are wrong, you could face all of FOREVER in fire and brimstone! How can something so hugely important be left to faith without any concrete evidence to guide where that faith is placed?

    For me, this uncertainty results in strong ambivalence about God. If there is a benevolent God, why doesn’t He give us knowledge of such important things? Why did He make humans such rational creatures, yet on the crucial subjects of His identity and the afterlife, withhold definitive and rational answers? Why couldn’t we just be born KNOWING? Or have understanding divinely imparted to us? Knowing a thing does not eliminate free will… it just enables people to make an informed choice.

    Anyway, thank you for this website and these wonderful blog posts. Your writings are patient, lucid, and more appealing to me than most. I hope that what I have written will come across as intended: NOT hostile, but genuinely frustrated by the desire to understand.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Diane,

      There is no “very late” here. The conversation is ongoing! Thanks for stopping by, and for your good and clearly heartfelt questions.

      I won’t pretend that I can answer a lifetime of soul-sifting questions in one comment. But I can offer you a few thoughts, and a fairly simple suggestion, that might help. Clearly, though you currently think of yourself as living on the atheist end of the spectrum, you’re still looking for answers about God. And that means you’re still engaged with God and spirit, even if from a skeptical and doubting state of mind.

      Perhaps the most basic point is that “faith” does not mean believing something because we’re not really sure about it. For a more sound and Bible-based understanding of faith, please see my recent article, “Faith Alone Is Not Faith.” That article is specifically in response to Protestant rather than Catholic views of faith, but the overall point is general enough that it still applies here.

      In addition to what’s said in that article, I would add that “faith” is a willingness to accept sources of information other than material (and today, scientific) ones. And lack of faith means being willing to accept only what comes to us via our physical senses.

      From a spiritual perspective, the reality is that God has given us a huge amount of information about God and spirit. Every culture and region throughout the earth has its own voluminous sacred literature, or else oral traditions, that transmit that culture’s experience and understanding of God and spirit down the generations. The question is not whether God has given us information about God and spirit. It’s whether we are willing to accept that information.

      The freedom of choice that I’m talking about in this article does not imply that there is insufficient information to provide a basis for knowing and understanding God. Rather, it means that we are free either to accept or reject that information. And if we reject it, we will become atheists.

      Getting more specific, in each era and culture, revelation is given sufficient to reach and satisfy the needs of that culture. In Hebrew culture of pre-Christian times, that revelation is embodied in the Hebrew Bible–which Christians call the Old Testament. For ensuing Christian cultures of the West (and the East), the New Testament provided a further and deeper revelation of the nature of God and spirit.

      The problem today is that those sources of revelation are no longer fully sufficient for this rational and scientific age. That’s why, followers of Swedenborg believe, a new revelation was given in the form of Swedenborg’s theological writings, in order to provide further and more explicit information about God, spirit, and the afterlife, as well as a better and more spiritual understanding of the Word of God (the Bible).

      Of course, there are reams and reams–massive volumes–of other testimony and experience about God, spirit, and the afterlife. The problem, in a sense, is not too little information, but too much information, and how to make sense of it all.

      However, being a believer in Swedenborg’s theology, I will plainly and simply recommend–as I’ve been doing for many people lately–that you get the book, and read it. When it comes to knowledge about the afterlife, “the book” is Heaven and Hell, by Emanuel Swedenborg. There you will find an extensive and clear explanation and description of the nature of the afterlife.

      The information is available. The only question is whether we humans are willing to put out the effort to seek out, find, absorb, and accept the validity of that information.

      Of course, I highly encourage you to browse the articles here on Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life and read the ones that address some of your questions and doubts.

      But if, as seems to be the case, you have an active and intelligent mind, and need a rational understanding of God and spirit in order to allow your heart and mind to go in the direction they clearly want to go, you are simply going to have to put in the time and effort to read, comprehend, and systematize in your mind the basic information (or data) required even to think clearly and intelligently on the subject.

      You can’t learn cosmology without spending many hours, and even many years, reading up on and learning the basics of physics, solar and planetary formation, the mechanics of galaxies and galactic clusters, and so on.

      In the very same way, a thinking person of today can’t just expect to automatically understand God and spirit without seeking out and taking the time to learn and absorb the knowledge and structure of God and spirit.

      So the big question now is: How much do you really want to know whether there really is a God, and whether there really is an afterlife, what they are like, and what it means for our life here on earth?

      If you want these things enough to take the next steps, I would suggest and encourage you to follow the link above to my review of Heaven and Hell, and then order or download a copy in whatever format works best for you. If you’re not sure Heaven and Hell is where you want to begin, here’s another place to start that will help to get you oriented: Who was Swedenborg? What Should I Read?

      • Diane says:

        Thank you for such a quick and thoughtful response!

        I have read many of the articles here and found them to be very helpful. Particularly the ones regarding the afterlife, those were the ones I focused on the most. I also intend to read more about Swedenborg. Thus far, I have only read his wikipedia page, so your essay “Who was Swedenborg? What should I read?” is one I am looking forward to getting to.

        I call myself an atheist, but that isn’t quite accurate. I believe God exists. But I don’t know what He is like- which results in alienation–it is difficult to know which version to relate with, pray to? Which version to believe in? Is God the Catholic version that I grew up with? The kinder more loving God you write about? The hate-filled one that Westboro Baptist Church pickets for? Or more of an “oversoul” (Atman) like in some forms of Hinduism? Or more of an “energy” as I envisioned Him when I dabbled in Buddhism? The answer of which version of God to believe in is one that I wish He would just SETTLE, since there is so much at stake. For example: you seem like a good person, but if you aren’t baptized, the God of my parents would still send you to Hell on that basis alone. For that reason, and many others, WHICH God is the real one matters and seems to come down to… (don’t want to say faith, since after reading what you wrote on that, I see it isn’t blind belief) personal conviction?

        This is really more of a strong feeling of frustration than a question, I realize, but I thank you again for this site, your recommendations (which I intend to investigate), and your sympathetic ear.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Diane,

          These are all very good questions. And they’re ones you’ll have to resolve for yourself over time. I do hope that the articles here, and Swedenborg’s teachings in general, will help you to settle on a God of love.

          I realize that there are many conflicting views of God. But I have to believe that God is far greater than our limited human conceptions of God, and rises far above our often limited and bigoted views of life.

          Ultimately, it will be your own choice what to believe about God. I would simply encourage you to look for the best, most loving, most wise, and most compassionate understanding of God, and go with that one. That is what I have done, and continue to do, in my walk with God. In the realm of Christianity, Swedenborg offers an understanding of God as purely loving, wise, compassionate, and powerful for good beyond any other concept of God that I have encountered.

          As you struggle along and seek soul-satisfying answers, please feel free to ask your further questions here. It is my joy to help you and guide you along your spiritual path toward God.

  10. fredsbend says:

    I do not think the eyewitness testimony of near death experiencers is as reliable as you think it is. First, eyewitness testimony is probably the most unreliable means of ascertaining the truth. Second, near death experiences are universal within cultures, but not between them. In other words, people who’ve never heard of Jesus that have near death experiences don’t see Jesus. They see Mohammad, or Kishna, or their grandma, or anybody else. If Jesus were the spiritual reality that we all see when we die, then we should expect near death experiences to reflect that. Instead they reflect already held beliefs and influences.

    • Lee says:

      Hi fredsbend,

      Thanks for your comment.

      When it comes to spiritual reality, personal experience is the only way to gain information. That’s because spiritual reality is not detectable by our physical senses, or by scientific instruments of any kind. It exists outside of the material realm of time and space. So if we’re going to know anything about it at all, that knowledge must come by a means other than the physical senses.

      Fortunately, we also have a full set of spiritual senses attached to our spiritual body (On the existence of the spiritual body, see 1 Corinthians 15:44.) Our spiritual senses are capable of detecting and sensing spiritual reality when they are active rather than quiescent as they usually are when we are still living in the physical body.

      The sacred texts of humanity, including the Bible, originated with people whose spiritual senses were opened at one time or another to see and hear the realities of God and spirit. They then reported and interpreted those spiritual experiences through the medium of the written word.

      Near-death experiencers are modern-day examples of people whose spiritual senses have been briefly opened before their consciousness returned back to the physical body and its senses. Their reports are present-day corroborations of what prophets and seers have been reporting for thousands of years through the sacred texts of humanity.

      As for people from different cultures seeing different things when they have near-death experiences, that is to be expected given the nature of spiritual reality. Spiritual reality is not “objective” in the sense that physical reality is. Here, no matter who looks at the Grand Canyon, it looks like the Grand Canyon.

      That’s not how it works in the spiritual world. There, our surroundings are not objective and independent of the mind of the observer. Rather, our surroundings reflect and express the mind of the observer. Spiritual reality is akin to, and perhaps identical with, what we on earth call psychological reality. It reflects the contents and flow of our mind.

      This means that those whose minds contain beliefs in Jesus will see Jesus, while those whose minds contain beliefs in Muhammad, Krishna, or grandma will see those figures instead. In the spiritual world as we experience it, there is no distinction between the objective and the subjective.

      Mind you, the spiritual world still operates by definite laws, just as the human mind operates by definite laws. But they are different laws than the ones by which the material world operates.

      • fredsbend says:

        Why do you belive that about the spiritual realm? It seems a convenient explanation. Is there biblical support? Did Swedenborg say it?

        And if it is true, how can we make sense of any thing in the spiritual realm if all observations are subjective?

        • Lee says:

          Hi fredsbend,

          Good questions.

          Yes, Swedenborg did say it, and the vast body of people’s descriptions of their near-death experience affirms it. So we have it from a massive amount of recorded human experience that there is a spiritual realm distinct from the physical realm.

          There is also broad support for it in the Bible.

          Now, the Bible is not primarily a theological treatise, nor is it a discursive doctrinal text on the nature of reality. The Bible’s primary purpose and thrust is to bring fallen humans into relationship with God, and thereby into salvation and eternal life. And it does this, not by expounding on theological and cosmological principles that would cause ordinary people’s eyes to glaze over, but by speaking to people in their own human language, where they are in their own very human lives. So we should not expect the Bible to provide us with a Summa Theologica explicating abstruse spiritual subjects.

          What it does, do, though, is to describe many interactions among God, the spiritual realm, and the physical realm. Every angel encounter in the Bible is an experience of the spiritual realm, because angels are spiritual beings, not physical ones.

          Paul was explicit in saying that we have both a physical body and a spiritual body:

          So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. . . . It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. (1 Corinthians 15:42, 44)

          Many stories and events in the Bible also make much more sense if we understand that there is both a physical body and a spiritual body, both a physical realm and a spiritual realm. See, for example, the story in 2 Kings 6:15-17:

          When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?” the servant asked.

          “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”

          And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

          Now, the servant’s physical eyes were already open. He saw the physical enemy army of horses and chariots surrounding the city. And if there had been physical horses and chariots of fire filling the hills all around, he could not have possibly missed them. Besides, it would have started a forest fire! The eyes that the Lord opened were not the servant’s physical eyes, but his spiritual eyes, so that he could see the spiritual army horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. This is the only way the story makes sense.

          If you keep reading, you will also see that that spiritual army surrounding Elisha did not physically clash with the enemy’s physical army. Rather, in a poetic turn of events drawing on the spiritual blindness of Elisha’s servant, the Lord struck the enemy army with blindness, which led, in the course of the story, to the end of hostilities without a single drop of blood being shed.

          Another example is Jesus’ statement to the thief on the cross:

          Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise. (Luke 23:43)

          Now, if there were no spiritual body or spiritual world distinct from the physical, this would make no sense at all. We know from the Gospel accounts that “today,” after his death, Jesus’ body was lying in the sepulcher. And we can presume that the thief’s dead body, too, was still very much present in the physical world after the soldiers broke his legs to hasten his death. So how could the thief be with Jesus in paradise today, as Jesus said he would be? This is possible only if both the thief and Jesus could meet in a non-physical, meaning a spiritual, realm.

          Further, when questioned about the Resurrection, Jesus said:

          Now about the dead rising—have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the account of the burning bush, how God said to him, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken! (Mark 12:26-27)

          And yet, physically Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were indeed dead. Their burial places are recorded in the Hebrew Bible. Further, there had been no universal physical resurrection in Jesus’ day, nor has there been one since then. So if there is no spiritual realm, where Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob have already risen from death and are living today, then Jesus’ words make no sense.

          Finally (for now), in the book of Revelation, John regularly speaks of being “in the spirit” and “heaven being opened to him.” In fact, everything he narrates in the entire book is described as taking place in another realm—the realm of heaven—not in this physical realm. How could that be, if there is no spiritual world?

          I could provide more and more examples of stories and events in the Bible that simply make no sense if a spiritual realm is denied, but that make perfect sense if we realize and understand that, as Paul said, there is a physical body and there is a spiritual body, and that, of course, for there to be both physical bodies and spiritual bodies, there must also be both a physical realm and a spiritual realm for them to exist in.

          I realize that materialist Christians have come up with fancy explanations as to why none of this means that there is a spiritual realm. But I find their explanations far-fetched at best, and completely nonsensical at worst. These and many other stories in the Bible make much more sense if we simply recognize that there is both a physical world and a spiritual world.

        • Lee says:

          Hi fredsbend,

          What I said is that in the spiritual world there is no distinction between the subjective and the objective. And I meant that to apply to an angel’s or spirit’s own perspective and experience of things. In the spiritual world, our surroundings reflect our inner state, meaning our thoughts and feelings. So what we see around us is a reflection of what’s inside us. In other words, for us our subjective view of things becomes our objective view of things.

          However, even in the spiritual world there is truth and falsity, and there is reality and illusion. Evil spirits in hell live in an illusory world in which they see things that for them are very real, but that for angels and good spirits outside of hell are fantasies and illusions. That’s because evil spirits live in the illusory light of falsity, whereas angels and good spirits live in the genuine light of truth.

          So for outsiders looking in, there is, or at least can be, a distinction between the objective and the subjective. But in our own experience in the spiritual world the subjective becomes the objective.

          To answer your question more directly, we can make genuine sense of things in the spiritual realm only if we are living in the light of truth. And that happens only if we have repented from our sins of selfishness and greed and lived instead out of love and compassion for others, according to the teachings and commandments of God. Only then can we see things spiritually in clear and true light.

          That is the thrust of Jesus’ statements in John 8:31-36:

          To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

          They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”

          Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

          Jesus was not talking about mere intellectual belief in his teaching, but about repenting from sin and living by his teachings. Only those who do this will know the truth, and be set free by it.

  11. dal says:

    There’s a reason the uncertainty principle was founded. There’s a reason it’s called the uncertainty principle.

    Same with falsifiability.

    • Lee says:

      Hi dal,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. What do you see as those reasons?

      • David says:

        Just had to butt in after trying to scan through all these multitude of ” words ” ..
        People wanting relational , scientific proof and evidence of
        God and Heaven no less !! Who do we think we are ?
        If we understood God and His purpose we would be unable to grasp most of his world . I am only a simple person in reality but know when my room filled with floral aromas after my wife’s service , when myselfsnd my friend10 miles away bothsmelt her nail varnish , when 12 red roses were at the end of my oath with no message or address – lots of unexplained things .. God demands faith from you and to live your life a certain way . I don’t want him to be explained , examined and anyalised by science – He can’t be – don’t you see that ?

        • Lee says:

          Hi David,

          Yes, as I said in the article, for those who have experienced it for themselves, all of this argumentation will seem
          rather unnecessary, if not just a bit silly.

          But . . . some people need to have their rational minds satisfied.

          Of course, people who are determined to be skeptical won’t believe no matter how rational the explanation. But for some people, having it explained in a sensible way will help to nudge them over toward being able to believe in their head what their heart whispers to them is true.

  12. Dipak Bhattacharya says:

    I Have great belief in afterlife. I read number of books on the subject. One of them has been referred by you “Proof of Heaven” Hindu religion is based on afterlife too. In a auto writing session in which I participated my father (dead) had talked about how he spends his time in the spiritual world. He was a recognized sportsman I wonder how he still can enjoy sports which was his past time. He said much of his time was spent in prayers etc. Does he still meet his brothers, parents or that relation exists in this world only. Thanks for the article anyway

    • Lee says:

      Hi Dipak,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment.

      My answer to your question is that yes, your father can still enjoy sports in the afterlife. See my article: Is Heaven Physical? Can Angels Play Tennis?

      And yes, I believe that we meet and reunite with family members and friends in the other world after we die. See: What Happens To Us When We Die? For an article I wrote about death and the afterlife after both of my parents had died, please see: When Death is a Celebration.

      I hope these articles are helpful to you in thinking of your father continuing on with his life and doing the things he loved, together with the people he loved, now that he has passed on from this physical world.

  13. Richard Neer says:

    Hello Lee,

    A related question:

    How would a sportsman, assuming we are referring to someone who, perhaps, hunted rather than simply destroyed clay targets, be allowed to continue such activities in the afterlife? Killing animals for thrill or pleasure, or for the simple fact one can pay enough to, is against many people’s moral code in this plane of existence. Even those who hunt legitimately for food are often frowned upon by those who don’t. Though animals are considered lower life forms to us humans, I can’t imagine such killing acts would be permissible, even if, in spiritual reality, animals don’t really exist!

    How does THAT work??

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rich,

      Interesting question!

      Offhand, I can’t think of any actual descriptions of hunting in heaven. However, I have a Swedenborgian minister colleague who is a hunter, and thinks of it as a spiritual activity, invoking, among other things, Native American beliefs and traditions about the sacredness of the hunt and the animal willingly giving its life to sustain the life of others. And you’ve got to admit, the predator/prey relationship certainly is a vital and well nigh universal part of the life cycle of the animal kingdom.

      So although some gentle, vegetarian members of the human race may see hunting as immoral and beastly (Swedenborg himself made similar comments in Arcana Coelestia #1002), others view it as a moral and even spiritual pursuit, and as simply a part of the cycle of nature.

      I might add that for anyone who eats meat, it would be rather hypocritical to condemn hunting as immoral. Where do they think meat comes from? And is hunting wild animals really worse than raising domesticated animals in feed lots, or even in wide pasturelands, when the intent is to kill them for their meat?

      So is there hunting in heaven?

      As much as some people may find hunting loathsome and objectionable, the fact that large swaths of humanity in the present and the past think of it as a perfectly moral and legitimate activity, and even have available good and reasonable arguments for that view based on the cycle of nature all around us, suggests to me that in the areas of heaven where those swaths of humanity ultimately reside, there probably is hunting. After all, as I state in one of my articles, the afterlife is not as different as you think!

      This would not necessarily create any disturbance for those in heaven who find hunting objectionable. Heaven is a big place! It has many different regions and communities. Some of those communities are in direct communication and commerce with one another. Others keep largely to themselves in their own regions of heaven. It seems likely that gentle, vegetarian angels would live in different regions and communities of heaven than our presumed earthier angels who enjoy a good hunt. So the two types of angels would not bother one another, or impinge upon one another’s sensibilities and favorite activities.

      As an example, Swedenborg states that the angels of the highest heavens go naked. Angels from lower heavens generally cannot be with them in their unclothed communities because they find their nakedness to be problematic. And when the angels of those higher heavens have reason to travel to lower heavens where the angels are clothed, they themselves are clothed as well, until they return to their own heavens. In this way, each region and community of heaven has its own atmosphere preserved, without disturbances from other areas of heaven where the angels are very different in character.

      As for animals not really existing in the spiritual world, see these articles—one of which is a response to a question you asked:

  14. Richard Neer says:

    But would hunting just for the sport of it, without the need for consumption, be permitted? It would seem to be more of a ‘hellish’ pleasure and pursuit rather than one enjoyed by those with more noble ‘heavenly’ characteristics. I don’t see how killing, for the sole purpose of killing as a pleasurable pursuit, would be tolerated, or even possible.


    P.S. – So, angels of the highest heavens live in nudist colonies?? That’s a drastic cultural juxtaposition from what exists down here! ;-P

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rich,

      Just try to tell my Swedenborgian minister friend that his hunting is more of a “hellish” pleasure and pursuit. You’ll get an earful!

      Personally, I don’t really like the idea that hunting would be permitted in heaven. But others strongly disagree with me. And my general belief is that there’s room for all types of people in heaven.

      In fact, Swedenborg describes a whole region of people from pre-Christian Asia who are in heaven (they do worship God, unlike people in hell), but whose worship is about as close to idol worship as you can get, and who are polygamous (see Marriage Love #78). They have to be periodically reminded by an angel from the eastern parts of heaven that the sculptures they use in their worship are not to be worshipped, but are merely images representing various virtues and powers of the one God of the universe.

      If people like that can still be in heaven—even if on the outer fringes of it—it’s hard for me to argue convincingly that there aren’t hunters and hunting cultures in heaven.

      What about people who grew up in hunting cultures, and spent their entire lives hunting as part of their way of life? Is God really going to tell them that they can’t hunt anymore in heaven? What about the happy hunting ground of some of the Great Plains tribes? Is God going to turn it into a celestial wildlife refuge ringed with “No Hunting” signs? And what about the billions of people on earth for whom meat is the greatest culinary delight? Is God going to say, “Sorry, you’ve got to eat tofu!”? Would you and the people you know be happy in a vegetarian heaven?

      And about “nudist colonies,” nudists hate that term! “Nudist resort,” please! And they do exist right here on earth, even if most ordinary people are blissfully unaware of them because nudist resorts here on earth also exist in their own separate areas, fenced off from the clothed mainstream.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rich,

      Here, for your reading pleasure, are some of the passages in which Swedenborg speaks of the nakedness of the highest angels, and about the meaning of nakedness in a positive sense:

  15. Richard Neer says:

    Hi Lee,

    Well, I was referring to only the hunting subset which do it for mere fun, not in any way for food, nor do they consider eating what they kill. That’s just pointless killing. Your position and reply seems to be more focused on culture hunting activities throughout the ages and across denominations.

    Though I do admit, I chuckled a bit over your comment that God would tell those whose lifestyle and culture including hunting for food, to now eat tofu! Sort of like, “OK, you’re here now, so away with all those earthly bad habits and unhealthy ways! Oh, and by the way, we only serve green tea here, too!” LOL!!

    OK, nudist “resort”! 🙂 I’m well aware of their existence here – I have a couple of them not more than 10 minutes away!! (I’m not sure they have fences, but they are behind a lot of trees!) And, admittedly, I’ve certainly entertained the thought more than once of visiting ones in foreign tropical destinations, however my self-esteem has typically taken an over-ruling stance on the matter!! ;-p

    My comment was that here on earth such living areas (not necessarily vacation destinations, though many consider them to be hedonistic and bad places too), and those who dwell in them, often carry an unjustified stigma which is typically looked down upon by the common population, culturally, mostly due to people, in general, being wound WAY too tightly in their conservative views of things.

    Hence, I found it odd that the highest angels would be living in such a way that is frowned upon and considered “lower” here on earth.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rich,

      About hunting, my general thought is, “In for a penny, in for a pound.”

      If there’s hunting in some areas of heaven in order to accommodate hunting cultures, where do you draw the line? If it is not evil for those who do it as part of their way of life, why is it evil for those who do it for sport? As far as sport hunters are concerned, it’s no different than other forms of recreation such as football or video games. So whatever my personal opinions might be, I’m not sure I could say with certainty that those who hunt purely for sport would be forbidden from doing so in their areas of heaven.

      And about clothing vs. nakedness, we humans come out of the womb naked, we evolved naked, and we remained naked until relatively recently in our evolution. How could the natural state of human beings be “lower” or “evil”?

      Aside from its utility in enabling us to live in climate zones that we’re clearly not designed for by our evolution, and aside from its social function in expressing our particular character, personality, status, and position in our various social settings, a primary purpose of clothing seems to be to shield our bodies from other people whose minds are impure when it comes to sexuality—which is probably most of us.

      So really, clothing becomes necessary precisely because of human evil—and because we’ve moved to areas of the planet that we really weren’t designed to live in.

      Take away that impurity and evil in our minds, and put us in a warm climate, and why would clothing be necessary?

      Angels of the highest heavens are precisely the ones whose minds have moved beyond lewd and impure sexual thoughts. They are instead focused on a true, deep, and spiritual love for their own marital partner. Though they may appreciate the aesthetic beauty of someone else’s body, they have no sexual interest in anyone besides their own wife or husband. That’s why they can be naked in their communities without shame, embarrassment, or impure thoughts, while lower angels, who had not progressed to that level of love and innocence in their spiritual rebirth process here on earth, cannot.

  16. Richard Neer says:

    And, I do find the thought of a celestial wildlife refuge, where hunting is not allowed, quite pleasing, actually! ;-p

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rich,

      I’m sure there are plenty of those as well. As I said, heaven is a big place! Personally, I don’t want to be shot at while hiking a nature trail and enjoying the flora and fauna. 😉

  17. SM says:

    I’m sorry but I can prove to you that I have a brain, I can take a picture of it using x-rays, cat scans, rmn and so on. So it is not the same. But can you prove to me that there is a spirit world at least as much as I can prove to you that I have a brain ? No, you can’t, but instead you try to dodge the need to offer prove by convincing people not to ask questions. There is no spirit world, it is all just a delusion !

    • Lee says:

      Hi SM,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment.

      However, I have to ask: did you actually read the article?

      Sure, you can show me X-rays, cat scans, and so on. But those still depend on believing that what we see outside of ourselves actually exists objectively out there, and isn’t simply a product of our consciousness.

      Saying “Of course they’re really out there” is simply an assertion. You can’t prove it. All I have to do is say, “No, it’s just a product of your consciousness creating images of something that appears to be out there, but is actually just a figment of your imagination.” And there’s really no way you can prove otherwise. You can only make a counter-assertion.

      I would encourage you to think more deeply about your own assumptions about the nature reality.

      And please do read the whole article! 😛

  18. Dib says:

    I was gonna put this is spiritual conundrum, but here is good.

    I can’t deny the afterlife, but I miss when I didn’t believe there was an afterlife. I miss when I didn’t know life was all about love, I enjoyed being in despair and sorrow, it felt good. Now that I know this stuff I cannot feel as bad as I used to, I have much less thoughts of suicide (which was actually comforting for me before), sad music no longer feels good because It’s like my depression went away… My whole world view changed, my personality improved and I took all the bible verses to heart. The problem is it’s boring. Before I accepted there was life after death I had more fun thinking about these things, now it’s like the answers are here and what’s most amazing is I once tried to kill myself and leave everyone who needs me behind, but now my personality will not allow me to kill myself and I just want to help others more. I never had a goal in life and now my “goal” is to leave the mire of sin that I have been in and grow in love.

    However this is conflicting, because I actually enjoyed being depressed and experiencing wonder, asking “what” and “why” questions. Now that I feel I have a good grasp of things I long for when I didn’t.

    If there are people in the afterlife who died atheist, and aren’t aware that they are dead, it would be nice to forget all I know and just be like them. I kind of wish I never learned about the afterlife stuff, the mysteries are gone. It all started from a google search that went something like “What happens to us when we die?” and from there I ended up in swedenborgs camp.

  19. Dib says:

    I wish I could combine my comments, it’s very important to note that my change wasn’t black and white, bad to good, selfish to selfless. Like I felt a lot more sorry for people who go through tortures when I didn’t know there was an afterlife, now my view of suffering and torture is too optimistic, like Mother Teresa I think that accepting your suffering is “beautiful” because after all, “this world is small” it lasts for 70 years and then begins eternity. I’m aware of these drastic changes and I don’t really like them.

    The main difference is that now I generally have a “warm” view of life but before it was “damp” and “cold”.

    I was happier when I was unhappy.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Dib,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comments.

      Perhaps you can gain some happiness from the fact that now that you’re happier you’re unhappy about it? 😛

      But seriously, our life here is a work in progress.

      The reality is that many people in black and negative places actually get a perverse sort of pleasure out of being unhappy. There are hypochondriacs who spend much of their time talking about all of their aches and pains, as if it were a badge of honor. But more than that, why would anyone do evil things if there weren’t pleasure in it? Evil has its own pleasure, and those who enjoy it find it exciting, while they find being good tedious.

      I’m not saying you’re evil. I’m saying your feelings are natural, having left behind a darker life that you clung to. Some people find their new religious and spiritual life dry and uninspiring compared to their old life. That’s what Jesus was talking about when he said:

      “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting place, but it finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ When it comes, it finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings along seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there; and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So will it be also with this evil generation.” (Matthew 12:43–45, italics added)

      The “waterless regions” are a reflection of the feelings of the person who has left behind the old faithless and evil ways. It’s easy to look back with longing at our old life. The Israelites had similar feelings when God rescued them from their slavery in Egypt. Whereas their life had been very harsh, filled with hard labor and brutality at the hands of their masters, after they were freed, when they were wandering in the desert, they remembered it quite differently:

      The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt. In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” (Exodus 16:1–3)

      And once again later on:

      The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” (Numbers 11:4–6)

      In short, your feelings of longing for the bad old days when you were miserable but it was exciting are par for the course at this point on your spiritual journey. (How’s that for mixing metaphors!) And it may last for a while.

      However, if you keep at it, I predict that these feelings will gradually pass as you find new goals in life and new reasons to live. The Israelites found it when they finally reached the borders of the Promised Land, and began conquering and settling in their new home. And that’s what you’ll need to do spiritually within yourself in order to build a new life that will in time become much more exciting and fun than the one you left behind. Not that life is all about fun and excitement. But when you gain a clear sense of what you’re here on earth to accomplish, that will become a challenge that you can throw yourself into and gain great satisfaction from it.

      Okay, that’s enough for now. I hope this is helpful. If you want to pursue it further, feel free to add further comments. Meanwhile, hang in there. It may feel like you’re wandering through the desert now, but it will get better.

  20. Adam says:

    Fantastic article. And great comments folks. I appreciate you all. Nice how conversations migrate and ideas pop up.

    So I know it wasn’t the point of the article but I want to comment on “hunting in Heaven” and why I think it’s possible.

    At first I thought – silly humans, there is hunting in Heaven but it’s “nerf” hunting. There can’t be true violence. Maybe the deer gets hit with that nerf dart, wiggles its nose as if to to smile and project “good shot! Got me again! Ready? Count to 10, I’ll go hide! Yaaaayyy! I’m useful!” This comes from my surely natural love of hoping to fly an X-wing in Heaven and the associated activities. A two seater X-wing of course (you know, for my conjugial partner). Snicker if you will, but know that someday we’ll buzz you 🙂

    Back to business. Stay on target. This next part will be hard to put into words so I hope I don’t loose myself along the way lol… So I remembered that the spiritual world is intertwined with the natural world on earth. And it occurred to me that if a hunter here on earth, hunting with the proper intention and with whatever degree of goodness in his heart (just NOT for the pleasure of killing)… perhaps when this human hunter draws his bow, so do multitudes of hunter Angels draw their bows… thereby nothing is harmed in Heaven and the hunter Angels, for a lack of a better word, become satisfied or even delighted to contribute to the hunt. And the human on earth eats, or maybe the food chain benefits, point is good things come from this type of hunt because the activity had a good use. And of course hunting is a somewhat solitary activity, so these Angels, because of the way Heaven works and communities can be cloaked, aren’t standing shoulder to shoulder… spiritually decimating a deer in a hail of weapons fire.

    Now to go to the other extreme, someone who is just doing it because they love to kill and snuff out life… I don’t think there would be any Angels at all drawing their bows along with them, but rather attracting evil spirits that nurture this love of killing, that whisper and stir feelings of power, etc. In this extreme case I can envision the evil spirits lining up together in a firing squad.

    So those are my thoughts on the spiritual side of this matter. I wonder what your hunter minister friend would think. Not to be confused with “minister hunter,” for which I’m sure they sell a lot of those licenses in hell, poor… Calvin…

    Almost done. I like responsible hunters and would never try to tell someone not to hunt. But I have a possible alternative for those that may worry they are feeling a joy in killing and want to neuter that love before it rules them… consider photography. It requires great skill that approaches a hunters skill of calculating distance, wind, and temperature. Not quite the same thing, but achieving perfect focus and finding the right settings for that moment takes much practice. There are nuances with the settings that parallel the skills required of a hunter. Who knows, they may find a favorite animal to check on every season? Or they discover the joy of having in their “sights” animals you aren’t allowed to kill, such as a beautiful owl 🙂 And again, this suggestion is for those who have begun to love to kill for the sake of killing, and who know it, and want to stop it.

    Thank you Lee and Annette for this site and the opportunity to share thoughts.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Adam,

      Thanks for your kind words, for your thoughts, and for your humor! There is much to think about here. The bottom line, I believe, is what’s in the hunter’s heart. That’s what determines everything, isn’t it?

  21. Gary P says:

    Thank you Thank you so much for your site and articles. You made me feel like I have been sitting in a room with you dicussing my most inter thoughts.Bless you; keep up the great work and again my heartfelt thanks

    • Lee says:

      Hi Gary,

      Thanks for your comments and your kind words. I’m so glad this website and my thoughts expressed here are helpful to you on your spiritual journey.

  22. Eric Rosenfeld says:

    Shouldn’t we be basing our beliefs on things that are testable if that’s what all of our scientific evidence points to? I understand that there’s no way to prove anything beyond our consciousness with absolute certainty. That doesn’t mean we can’t try to make the best of it and observe how materials react around us.

    To me, that’s the basis of sound epistemology. I could say that I have faith that white people are better than black people, and I would be terribly wrong. There’s no evidence to support that claim. Same thing with the spiritual world. I could say that I have faith in the spiritual world but that again, could be wrong. We shouldn’t believe these things without testing them and trying to confirm them in some way. There doesn’t appear to be enough evidence on NDEs to support the claims they make. From what we can observe, the evidence does point to a lack of oxygen in the brain when it comes to NDEs. So shouldn’t we be diligent, do research, and base our beliefs on the scientific consensus? That seems to be the most reasonable thing to do.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Eric,

      Well, that’s what the above article is all about.

      The problem with using science to investigate spiritual phenomena is that science is not the proper tool for that. Science deals in physical and material things that exist within the realm of space and time. Though scientific method can be extended somewhat into psychological areas, its usefulness there is rather limited. That’s because science requires things to be measurable and quantifiable in order to study them. Psychological phenomena can be reduced to statistics to some extent, but it’s just that: a reduction. Psychological experience itself is not measurable or quantifiable as, for example, fluid dynamics and nuclear physics are measurable and quantifiable.

      According to those who go there, our material-world phenomena of time and space, which are fundamental to the physical universe, do not exist in the spiritual world. Yes, there are analogs of time and space there. But in the spiritual world, you can’t take out a ruler and measure something, nor can you time something with a watch. It just doesn’t work that way there. This makes scientific investigation of the spiritual world impossible. Science depends upon repeatable measurement and experimentation.

      As with using statistics to study psychological phenomena, science can be extended into some spiritual-related phenomena to a certain extent. But doing so will always involve reducing spiritual phenomena to a “flat” and generalized view, and will yield little useful information about the spiritual realm.

      As stated in the above article, the basic issue is people’s assumptions about the nature of reality. The fact is, we can’t even prove that the material world exists as a material world. To this day, there are people (philosophical idealists) who do not believe in the existence of an objectively real material world, but believe instead that what we perceive as the physical universe is a projection of consciousness. Meanwhile, there are people who do not believe in the reality of the spiritual world, but who believe that it is simply a function of brain chemistry, which they believe is the source of consciousness. Neither position is provable. Both are simply assumptions, or axioms, about the nature of reality. People who accept one or another such axiom about the nature of reality will then base everything they believe on that fundamental assumption.

      Materialists believe that their conclusions about reality are “solid” and “provable,” because they have whole phalanxes of scientists studying nature and drawing conclusions about it. But all of that goes out the window if the “nature” that they are studying doesn’t really exist, because it is all a projection of the human mind.

      As I say in the article, personally, I happen to think that the material universe does exist objectively out there, and not merely as a projection of the human mind. But there is no way I could prove that to someone who disagrees with me.

      It all boils down to our basic assumptions about the nature of reality, and to what sort of evidence we are willing to accept. If we are willing to accept only the evidence of our physical senses, and of material science, then of course we will conclude that the spiritual world does not exist, and that reported experiences of it, such as NDEs, are just a function of brains struggling with low oxygen levels, or other chemically induced alterations of normal brain chemistry. But drawing such conclusions is merely the product of the assumption that the spiritual world is not real.

      People who have experienced the spiritual world, and people who don’t reject the possibility of its existence, are willing to accept evidence that does not come from the physical senses and scientific experimentation. This doesn’t make their conclusions or understanding of reality “unscientific” in the sense of being contrary to science, but rather in the sense of extending into areas that science is not equipped to investigate.

  23. Chad says:

    Hi Lee, I was curious: some people who have been clinically dead (not brain dead, but no pulse for several minutes), say they’ve glimpsed the afterlife, and that’s awesome! Some people say that they experience, quite literally, nothing at all, complete and total unawareness, and that’s kind of unnerving, if not existentially dreadful. I really want to believe in an afterlife (especially the marvelous one Swedenborg was given knowledge of!), but I don’t know what to make of those “other” experiences (really, lack of experiences), even if not having an NDE is the exception rather than the rule (and it seems to be).

    How do we reconcile Swedenborg’s experiences of the spiritual world, and the literally countless NDEs reported by people around the world, with those who have experienced “the void” or “nothingness”, pure unawareness, while they were dead?


    • Lee says:

      Hi Chad,

      The human mind/spirit is a complex thing. Different people have different experiences in life. I can’t say why one person has an NDE when he or she comes close to death, while another person doesn’t. However, presumably God, and probably the angels as well, know who is going to die permanently and who is going to go back. And if a person is going to go back to his or her physical body, the purpose of the death experience will be different than that of actual death for people who are moving on. And so a person will be given an experience of the spiritual world, or not, according to their particular state of mind and spirit, not to mention according to the particular physical circumstances involved.

      In terms of physical circumstances, the human body, like the human mind, is a complex thing. There is still much that we don’t understand about the processes of life and of death. Perhaps in some cases of a person nearly dying that look similar to other cases, the physiology isn’t actually the same, and the person doesn’t come close enough to death to experience a separation of the spirit from the body.

      On the mental/spiritual level, it is just as complex. Some people may be so philosophically opposed and inimical to the idea of a spiritual realm that having an NDE would be shattering for them, and not in a good way. Some people may not need an NDE because they already have a good spiritual life. Some people may not be able to bear having closely held beliefs challenged and broken in the way an NDE tends to do. And I’m sure there are many other possible factors involved in one person having an NDE while another person doesn’t. From our outside human perspective, we may never know for sure why this one does, and that one doesn’t have an NDE. But God knows all, and gives or withholds experiences from us according to our spiritual state, and especially according to whether it will be best for our eternal spiritual state.

      This, I believe, is also why NDEs don’t necessarily go according to the description Swedenborg gives of the death experience. An NDE is a learning experience more than a death experience. Think, in a contrary sense, of some programs in which teens who have started in on a life of crime are placed in a prison overnight to get them to think about where their life is leading them. They’re not actual prisoners, and they don’t necessarily go through all of the intake procedures that the regular prisoners and lifers do. But they have what is intended to be a learning experience that may cause them to rethink their choices and direction in life. Similarly, NDEs are not necessarily the experience of death that those who will be continuing on have, but are more in the nature of learning experiences for people who will be returning to their life in the physical body, giving them a different perspective on what their life here on earth is all about. Certainly there are similarities to actual, final death experiences. But there are also differences.

  24. rex415 says:

    I’ve researched NDE’s for years and find them amazing. My mother had one and has confirmed with me many of the things we often hear about from all of the other reports. The fact that so many people return from these experiences changed for the better is very telling.

    As for some having them and some not, I tend to agree with Lee’s comments above. Here’s an article that addresses the specific question: https://angelicview.wordpress.com/2014/08/23/why-do-some-people-have-ndes-and-others-dont/

    • Chad says:

      Thank you, Lee, for your informative and enlightening insights on the issue, and to you, rex415, for the great article! I myself have a bit of experience related to the spiritual world, primarily through dreams, but for so many people to have these experiences is, from my perspective, overwhelming and corroborating evidence that something incredible (or horrible for truly evil people, let’s not mince words) awaits us in the hereafter.

      Also, Lee, while we’re related to the subject, do you think dreams are related to the spiritual world? I know Swedenborg discusses the spiritual significance of dreams sometimes in his writings, but what exactly are their nature? Are they experiences of the spiritual world itself (either heaven or hell), messages from the angels around us, or maybe a little of both?

      God bless,


      • Lee says:

        Hi Chad,

        You are most welcome.

        About dreams, I think of them, not as experiences of the spiritual world, but as “spiritual movies,” so to speak. Yes, dreams are related to the spiritual world because the spiritual world is the world of the human mind, and everything that goes on in the human mind is related to the spiritual world.

        Whether we are aware of it or not (and usually we’re not), there are angels and spirits around us all the time, connected with our thoughts and feelings. If we didn’t have this spiritual community around us we would not be able to have any thoughts or feelings at all. We humans are community beings, both in our material-world life and in our inner spiritual life. However, most of the time neither we nor the angels and spirits around us are aware of the other. The angels and spirits are just going about their daily business, thinking their thoughts, having their feelings, doing their jobs, and we here on earth are doing the same. Unbeknownst to those on both sides, our thoughts and feelings are constantly connected across that spiritual world / natural world dividing line, so that the spiritual and material worlds are actually a seamless whole especially through the human mind.

        Dreams, too, are connected to the angels and spirits around us, whether or not we or they are aware of it. Dreams are portraying spiritual realities related to our own thoughts, feelings, and experiences in such a way that if we pay attention to them, we can gain valuable insights about our own inner processes and our spiritual and emotional life.

        However, not all dreams are the same. Some dreams are rather silly and trivial, whereas others have deep significance. Some dreams are personal only to us, whereas others have a broader message—such as, in the Bible, Pharaoh’s dream as interpreted by Joseph, and Nebuchadnezzar’s dream as interpreted by Daniel.

        Not every dream has world-changing importance. But if we pay attention to our dreams, we can learn some things about ourselves, our relationships, and our life that our conscious daytime mind would not necessarily pick up on its own. Swedenborg himself kept a dream journal for two key years during his transition from being a scientist and philosopher to being a spiritual seer. It contains much fascinating material in which Swedenborg’s dreams and his struggles with his inner processes give us much insight about what was happening in his mind and heart during that crucial time of paradigm shift in his life. Later, in his theological writings, he spoke about the significance of dreams in his interpretations of parts of the Bible where dreams occur. And of course, his entire system of correspondences between spiritual and material things is a great aid to dream interpretation.

  25. Magnum says:

    I don’t understand any of this?

    I can prove I have a brain because there have been a million autopsies done over the last few years alone… I have seen a skull cut open, I have held a brain in my hands, I have felt it, I have smelled it, etc. I know the brain exists in most humans.

    I have also had CAT Scans, Xrays, MRI’s, etc. that are clear evidence I have a brain in my own skull.

    So yes, this is 100% proof my brain exists.

    But how does any of this prove there is an afterlife?

    I’m completely missing the logic in this discussion?

    A dream is a dream… some people have crazy dreams from various medication, other people have bad dreams from movies, others from stress, etc. How are we jumping from dreams to the afterlife or spiritual world?

    Angels and spirts around us all the time? There is no proof of this… as badly as people want it to be true, there is absolutely no proof of this.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Magnum,

      As I said in the article, you can’t prove you have a brain because you can’t know for sure that it isn’t a projection of your mind–along with everything else in what we experience as the physical world.

  26. Eric Rosenfeld says:

    Hello Lee,

    First off, this is one of my favorite articles that you’ve written. But please correct me if I’m wrong, because I believe to have found an issue with one of the arguments here.

    You seem to assert that thoughts and feelings are indeed spiritual (meaning non-material). The fact is, we simply don’t know if it’s either spiritual or physical. There isn’t any proof that thoughts and feelings are spiritual, just as there’s no proof that they are material. We know that our own consciousness exists, but we aren’t certain how or by what process it exists.

    I happen to believe Swedenborg and many others who claim the spiritual world is real. In addition, from what I’ve read so far from the writings of the Bible and Swedenborg, they express wonderful values and principles with very descriptive details. They appear trustworthy. Their ideas provide hope, comfort, and spread the message of love and unity. I think if we lived according to what they teach, it would ultimately make this world better, so I support that.

    I guess the point I’m getting at is related to having sound epistemology. Just because we can’t prove the material world exist, why would that automatically make thoughts and feelings spiritual by default? We can’t really prove that either.

    Come to think of it, if something is spiritual or non material, what does it consist of and how did you come to that conclusion?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Eric,

      Glad you enjoyed the article so much.

      Of course, materialists of all stripes will dispute much of what is in it. And they will probably focus just where you raise a question: on the assertion that thoughts and feelings are non-material, or spiritual.

      In response, in line with the general course of the argument, I would ask: How do we experience thoughts and feelings? Do we experience them as material things? Do we experience them as perceptible to our senses? Do we experience them as extended in space? Indeed, do we experience them as extended in time in the usual sense of time?

      Physical things are all perceptible with our physical senses, albeit sometimes only by our physical senses as enhanced by various instruments. They are all measurable in units of space and time, though some of the more exotic forms of matter border on being non-measurable. Thoughts and feelings, meanwhile, we cannot perceive with our senses, nor can we measure them, even with the most sensitive instruments. Yes, we can detect and measure brain waves with our scientific instruments. But we do not experience thoughts and feelings as brain waves. We experience them as . . . thoughts and feelings. We do not experience them as physical, material things.

      Though our measurable brain waves do seem to correlate in a general way with our thoughts and feelings, it is mere assumption to assert that our brain waves are our thoughts, or even that they cause our thoughts. Correlation does not equal causation. It is just as likely that our thoughts cause our brain waves as the reverse—if, indeed, there is any causal connection at all. Materialists like to believe that our brain activity is the ground of our thinking, or is our thinking. But all they can show is correlation. And saying that our brain activity is our thoughts and feelings is like saying that the rustling leaves of a tree are the wind.

      In short, we cannot demonstrate that our thoughts and feelings are physical in any sense. Only that they correlate with some physiological phenomena. Meanwhile, we experience them as something entirely distinct from our experience of physical phenomena, including the electrochemical processes of the brain.

      This is significant to the argument because it is all about what we experience directly in our mind vs. what we experience indirectly, through the physical senses, scientific instruments, and so on. The point is that everything we directly experience, as we experience it, is non-material in nature. And in historical human thought, the usual word for non-material things is spiritual things.

      But even those who reject the reality of spirit have to admit that we do not experience thoughts and feelings as material, touchable, measurable things. That is the basis of the argument.

      As for the nature of spiritual reality, that is a huge topic. If you really want to dig into it, get a copy of Swedenborg’s book Divine Love and Wisdom.

      In general, though, the realm of spirit is the realm of thoughts and feelings, of love and understanding, and of relationships with other people on the level of the mind and heart. It consists of an entirely distinct order of substance—spiritual substance—which, while it is not living in itself (only divine substance is living in itself), is highly responsive to life, and therefore feels to us as if it is living, in contrast to physical matter, which by itself, and in its default state, is dead. (Scientists still have no real understanding of how dead matter becomes living organisms.)

      As suggested in the above article and in this comment, we experience spiritual reality here on earth in the form of our thoughts and feelings, and in the form of relationships of mind and heart with other people. In the spiritual world, thoughts, feelings, and relationships become our primary realities, to the extent that everything we perceive with our spiritual senses (which are analogous to our physical senses) is an expression of our thoughts and feelings, and of the thoughts and feelings of the spirits and angels around us—who, Swedenborg says, were all also once human beings living in the physical universe.

      As a result of this distinct difference between physical matter and spiritual substance, in the spiritual world, when our thoughts and feelings change, our surroundings immediately change to reflect them. If we are having bright and sunny thoughts, the sky is clear and the sun is shining down on us. But the moment our thoughts are clouded with doubt, and our feelings with hesitancy or negativity, dark clouds roll in and obscure the sun, and a sudden darkness and chill fills the air. That’s because spiritual substance does not have an objective existence as we think of physical matter having. Rather, it directly reflects the thoughts and feelings, or the spirit, of the people in the vicinity.

      Mind you, spiritual things are real. If you cut open a spiritual animal, it would have all the parts and organs of a physical animal, and they function in the spiritual realm in a way exactly corresponding to how they function in the physical realm. Spiritual things are solid, and they are highly structured. But they are just as permanent, or just as evanescent, as our thoughts and feelings. Basic, stable parts of our psyche are reflected in stable surroundings, such as our house and our neighbors’ houses in the spiritual world. But changeable parts of our psyche are reflected in changing surroundings, such as animals that appear or disappear along with our changing feelings, and ongoing changes to the decor or even the layout of our house reflecting ongoing variations in the expression and development of our character.

      I hope this gives you some sense of what spiritual reality is compared to physical reality. Meanwhile, if you haven’t already read Divine Love and Wisdom, I highly recommend it. It is Swedenborg’s great work of divine, spiritual, and natural cosmology.

  27. Eric Rosenfeld says:

    Divine Love and Wisdom is definitely something I plan to read in the near future. The way you describe the spiritual world is somewhat reminiscent of the film: What Dreams May Come. This movie’s imagery and structure of the spiritual world, I vaguely remembering hearing, was influenced by Swedenborg’s writings. Although, I’m sure there are some major differences. The visual effects and art direction of it still impress me today.

    It makes me wonder, what would you say to many of those that depict heaven as the type of paradise where everyone is always in a state of eternal bliss? With no suffering, sadness, pain, etc? One reason I could conceive that this isn’t the case, is because that type of world would give us no reason to develop our character any further. I understand this is a different, and rather large topic in relation to this article, so a brief answer would be completely fine.

    With the initial questions I had regarding the process of the mind, I want thank you for bringing clarity to your stance on that. I now understand that thoughts and feelings seem non-physical when we experience them… although it does feel like I have a brain that processes information constantly. My head physically begins to feel fatigue whenever I try to articulate what consciousness really is! Like you said, this could be correlation and not causation. I don’t mean to sound as if the materialistic view is more probable because I’m still trying to figure it out. However, it does help to hear materialists’ side of things and weigh-in what they say about it.

    Perhaps I’m back-pedaling here, but is it possible that consciousness, thoughts, and feelings are illusions? I became self aware at an early age once my language skills progressed. Sounds that I would hear my parents or others around me create would eventually become words that had meaning. Then, I could piece together a sense of self by forming sentences that convey such a thing. This all could just be a reaction in the brain based on a reward system to keep me alive. And why is it that people with severe brain damage lose their sense of self? We also don’t have any evidence of something without a brain being conscious. Could all of this count as evidence towards causation of consciousness from the brain? Or….no because we can’t prove the brain exists?

    Finally, we may not be able to measure thoughts and feelings now, but in the future we could have a better understanding and measure it then. Or would all of that evidence go out the window because even though we are faced with this reality, we can’t absolutely prove the material world?

    Apologies for all of the questions. I want to have sound beliefs and reasons for doing the things we do. I really value your insight and I’m fully aware that this is one of the most difficult subjects among philosophers around the world.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Eric,

      First, about the movie What Dreams May Come, yes, it was influenced by Swedenborg (the book has a quote from Swedenborg). But as you say, it also diverges from Swedenborg, especially in its acceptance of reincarnation, and in its idea that suicide causes a person to go to hell—which comes largely from Catholic theology. You may be interested in this discussion of the movie from a Swedenborgian perspective:

      What Dreams May Come: A Comparison of the Motion Picture and Swedenborg’s Concepts

      This review and comparison is a little soft on reincarnation (it doesn’t happen) and on hell (it is indeed eternal for those who choose it), but is quite thoughtful, and well worth a read.

      When the movie first came out, we took a group of teens at a Swedenborgian youth retreat to see it, and it sparked a lot of discussion. Though it does diverge from Swedenborg in some respects, it is probably the most vivid portrayal of something like Swedenborg’s afterlife in any popular movie. It’s too bad it ended in reincarnation, but I enjoyed the movie anyway. About reincarnation, please see:

      The Bible, Emanuel Swedenborg, and Reincarnation

    • Lee says:

      Hi Eric,

      About heaven as a state of eternal bliss, that is the overall picture. However, zooming in on the day-to-day lives of angels, though joy is their primary state, and suffering, sadness, and pain are largely things of the past, angels do go through their ups and downs, just as we do here on earth. And in their down states, they can experience sadness and depression, though probably not as bad as many people on earth experience. This happens when they lose their focus on God and the neighbor, and begin focusing on themselves with a sense of pride in their own goodness. They then temporarily fall out of their place in heaven until they come to their senses, and recognize that they are nothing without God, and that everything good and true in them is God’s, not their own. Then they are raised back up to the joy of heaven.

      And yes, this is part of angels’ ongoing spiritual growth. No created human being is perfect; not even the angels. Only God is perfect. Angels are always growing toward the perfection that is God, but they never reach perfection to eternity. They are still tinged with some of their old evil of selfishness and worldliness, and when that asserts itself, they must face and overcome it just as we do here on earth. The main difference is that the outcome is not in doubt: angels have already chosen heaven; there is no chance that they could become evil and descend into hell permanently.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Eric,

      On to the main subject: Yes, these are very complex and difficult questions, which have exercised the minds of the greatest philosophers and theologians from time immemorial. I do think, though, that Swedenborg threw a brilliant new light on these big questions, and that in this light, real and satisfying answers are possible.

      Several points to get at the issues you raise:

      First, it’s important to understand that the conclusions we ultimately reach do not depend upon pure reason, as many skeptics and atheists (and some theologians also) think.

      We humans are not dispassionate thinking machines. Rather, our loves, desires, and choices ultimately carry our thinking mind along with them. People who want to believe that only material things are real will ultimately convince themselves that this is true. People who want to believe that God and spirit are real will ultimately convince themselves that this is true. Both can be quite rational in their thinking. But it is ultimately the heart, not the brain, that determines what we will think. (I’m using “heart” and “brain” metaphorically here, of course.)

      It is indeed good to consider things from all angles, including angles that we ultimately reject. Listening only to one side of a question, and shutting out input from all other sides, causes us to have a rigid and brittle view of reality that is easily fractured when we encounter something that our limited views can’t deal with. When we consider things from all angles before coming to any definite conclusions, we build a broad and flexible view that can handle challenges and struggles in a way that narrow, blindered views of life simply can’t.

      About the impossibility of achieving a spiritual view of things based on pure rational thought, see Arcana Coelestia #2568.

      About the necessity of considering other, and opposite, possibilities before coming to any conclusions, see Arcana Coelestia #7298.

      Second, as long as we are living in the material world, our physical body is necessary for us to learn, grow, and develop our character.

      During our life on earth, our physical body is an integral part of us. Our soul is closely and intricately linked with it, and functions through it. If our physical body is damaged, this affects the ability of our soul to express itself, and to grow and develop.

      Although we leave our physical body behind when we move on to our permanent home in the spiritual world, this does not mean that our physical body is unimportant. We begin our life here in the material world for a reason. The material world is where we form the structure of the character that we will carry with us into the spiritual world. And in a brain-bending passage (True Christianity #103), Swedenborg even says that when we go to the spiritual world, we carry with us kind of “border” that is “made of the finest substances in nature.” In other words, our physical body, and our time here on earth, is essential to our development as a person.

      Whatever character we develop here on earth, during our time in our physical body, that is the character we will carry with us into eternity. If, due to physical impairments such as brain damage, we are unable to develop a fully adult character, then in the spiritual world we will start out as children at whatever level of mental growth we had achieved here on earth, and grow up from there.

      As an analogy, think of an aspiring carpenter who is deprived of a carpenter’s tools. Such a person cannot develop the skills of a carpenter, not because there is a lack of aptitude or ability, but because the physical necessities of doing the job—a hammer, a saw, a drill, and so on—are lacking. Though we may be tempted to think that physical, external things are merely adventitious, this example shows that they are essential to the development of our character and skill, in this case, as a carpenter.

      However, it would be a major mistake to think that the hammer, saw, and drill are the skills of a carpenter. No. They are simply the tools necessary in order for the person to become, and practice the skills of, a carpenter.

      Similarly, the physical body, including the brain, are not the actual person, nor the actual mind. But they are necessary for the spirit to become the actual person, who is a spiritual being.

      Third, it is necessary to understand that things in the spiritual world are every bit as structured and complex as things in the physical world.

      There is a popular notion that our spirit is a pure wisp of ether, with no structure or form, and that it acquires structure and form only by inhabiting the body. But this is a fallacy. In fact, our body would have no structure and form at all if it did not reflect, or correspond to, similar spiritual structures.

      In the spiritual world, we have a body that has all the parts and organs that our physical body has, including the brain. These parts and organs have all of the detailed structure and function that their physical counterparts have, right down to the cellular level. There is no such thing, even in the spiritual world, as disembodied thought. Even in the spiritual world, complex thoughts and feelings require complex structures to support them. If our spiritual bodies did not have all of the parts, and all of the detailed physiological functioning, that our physical body has, we would be no more human than we would be human here on earth if we consisted of a blob of unorganized jelly.

      Fourth, it is necessary to understand that our soul, like our body, does not start out fully formed (contrary to the dreams of the reincarnationists), but rather develops from a state of largely unformed potential into a fully formed soul, or spirit.

      Physically, we humans do not start as a “homunculus,” or mini-human, that then just gets bigger as we grow. Rather, we start out as little more than a genetic blueprint. From that blueprint, the body is formed, starting with a single cell (the fertilized ovum), which then divides into multiple cells that become differentiated and form the various structures of the body. Until those structures are sufficiently developed to exist as an actual, quasi-independent human organism, there isn’t yet a human being.

      Similarly, by Swedenborg’s principle of correspondence, our soul starts out as little more than a blueprint, and develops into a fully formed human being along with the body in the womb, and then throughout our earthly lifetime. Only after it has developed its own structures sufficiently to have its own quasi-independent existence is there an actual human being. And as stated above, this must take place in connection with a physical body, here in the material universe.

      All of this is to say that our physical brain isn’t just some unnecessary add-on to our thinking processes and our development as human beings. When the physical brain is not functioning properly, we cannot fully develop as a human being. When specific structures of the brain are lacking or dysfunctional, it affects our ability to think and to develop our cognitive abilities.

      Materialists can point to these facts and argue that our brain is the structure that thinks, and that there is no need for any spirit to make us fully human. And for those who want to be materialists, this can be very convincing.

      However, this is just as fallacious as saying that since a carpenter can’t be a carpenter without a hammer, saw, drill, and so on, therefore the tools are the carpenter, and there is no need for anything beyond the tools of the trade. In fact, the soul “wields” the body, including the brain, like a physical tool to accomplish its purposes as long as it is living in the physical realm. Granted, the body and brain are incredibly intricate and complex tools. But they are still mere tools, not the person itself.

      This, of course, is stated from a perspective that accepts the reality of the spiritual world and the human spirit. Materialists will reject all of this, and insist that the body and its physiological processes are the person, and that when the physical body ceases to function, the person ceases to exist.

      You, of course, will have to make up your own mind about all of this. The above article presents the case for accepting the reality of God and spirit. What you ultimately decide about all this is entirely up to you.

      • Eric Rosenfeld says:

        Hey, thanks Lee. Sincerely appreciate all of those responses.

        I was (Is a spoiler alert even necessary? Where’s the rulebook on that?) mostly disappointed with the ending of What Dreams May Come as well! Even if reincarnation was true and we were actually given the chance to choose it or not, there’s no way in hell (pun intended) Chris and Annie would want to hit the reset button after all of that! But otherwise it was a very thought provoking, imaginative movie. I’ll check out your article about it.

        After contemplating much of what you’ve written on this site, I am impressed. Honestly, I haven’t come close to hearing any other explanations for a spiritual world than what’s been proposed here. No other theist, from what I’ve encountered, has defended their faith so well. That is something many religious people, from all walks of life, seem to have a problem with. Further, while materialists’ views can help with many things such as innovating technology and enhancing critical thinking skills, it isn’t possible to test the spiritual world through measurable criteria, like you said. You’re right, the scientific method isn’t equipped to study it, but that doesn’t mean spirit-believing people have to contradict or go against science.

        As I’ve mentioned, I agree with much of what the Bible and Swedenborg teach. I get joy from helping others and being around other selfless people. That’s a compelling, foundational principle that I hear from Swedenborg quite often. I’m also very open-minded. I genuinely want to believe that there is something more than this physical world. That’s a very comforting thought. However, from time to time, I question whether or not the Bible, Swedenborg’s works, and spirituality are really true. And I don’t just want to believe something without having sufficient reasons that I could provide for myself and to other people. Isn’t one of our main purposes here to evangelize, or at least be able to defend what we believe? I think sometimes it’s more than just wanting to believe something. Anyhow, this site does seem to help me.

        Though I’ve read/heard many other things about Swedenborg, just from reading the excerpts from Arcana Coelestia that you listed, he gives the impression of being very intelligent and authentic. He’s right about being open to learning and furthering our knowledge in order to grow our faith and understanding. In your opinion, what would you say are the main reasons that you trust Swedenborg with such strong conviction? There’s no debating that he has given us an abundant amount of literature to ponder over. He obviously cared enough to write many things about the spiritual world.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Eric,

          I’m glad our site is so helpful to you in supporting your wish for a deeper, more spiritual view of life, while not ignoring your rational mind.

          That is precisely where Swedenborg excels. Though brought up in a very religious household, he jumped into science and reason with both feet right from his youth. Only later did he begin seeking spirit within nature—particularly within the human body. And only when the Lord opened his spiritual eyes did he find any really satisfying answers. Before that, he was mostly feeling around in the dark.

          Full disclosure: I was brought up in a strongly Swedenborgian family. There are Swedenborgians, and a number of Swedenborgian ministers as well, going back five or six generations in the patrilineal line of both my parents. I almost literally drank it in with my mother’s milk. So it is very easy for me to accept Swedenborg’s teachings.

          Having said that, I did go through a period in my late teens when I recognized that I could either accept or not accept God, spirit, the Bible, and Swedenborg, and that either way I went, my rational mind would likely convince me that I had made the correct choice. Though it won’t satisfy the rationalists out there, what ultimately swung me in the direction of accepting what I had been taught from childhood was a recognition that the world would be a much better place if people accepted these teachings. Or in more abstract terms, the true Christian religion that Swedenborg taught represented a far greater good than any other philosophy I was aware of, materialist or spiritual.

          Since then, I have compared Swedenborg’s system to many other systems, both religious and philosophical. And though I am certainly not an expert on any of them, I simply haven’t found anything else that even comes close to the depth and power of Swedenborg’s teachings. Yes, there are some very beautiful beliefs out there. But to my mind, none is as beautiful as what Swedenborg taught.

          It has also become increasingly clear to me over the years, especially in the context of many doctrinal and biblical debates with traditional Christians, primarily Protestants but also some Catholics, that on the basics, Swedenborg’s Christian doctrine is simply what the Bible itself teaches, whereas other “Christian” beliefs draw primarily on the formulations of various councils, creeds, and theologians—which depart greatly from the plain teachings of the Bible. See:

          1. “Christian Beliefs” that the Bible Doesn’t Teach
          2. Christian Beliefs that the Bible Does Teach

          Of course, skeptics and atheists will reject the Bible also as any kind of authority. However, in the Christian world, the Bible is the primary authority—or at least, it’s supposed to be. And the fact that Swedenborg’s basic teachings about God and salvation are stated quite plainly in the Bible’s own words, whereas those of the traditional Christian churches are not—and many of them are even contradicted in the plain words of the Bible—gives me additional confidence that Swedenborg was on the right track.

          If the Bible really is the Word of God as Christians believe, then it makes sense to me that God is perfectly capable of teaching the essentials of Christian faith and salvation in plain words in God’s own book. And it seems to me that if we wish to call ourselves Christians, we should actually listen to what the Bible says, rather than following human-originated doctrines that are stated nowhere in the Bible.

          When it comes to Swedenborg’s spiritual-world experience, I am not aware of anyone else in history who even claimed to have been fully conscious in the spiritual world at will for a period of nearly three decades. Of course, those who reject the reality of God and spirit will consider it all to be a hallucination or a fabrication. But once we accept that the spiritual world is indeed real, or at least are open to that possibility, it seems to me that the person to listen to most about the spiritual world is the one who has spent the most time there. Swedenborg is that person. For more on this, and other points about Swedenborg and his theological writings, please see:

          Do the Teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg take Precedence over the Bible?

          In short, Swedenborg’s teachings are entirely satisfying both to my thinking mind and to my heart.

          And yes, Swedenborg is almost universally recognized as one of the most brilliant people ever to have lived. He regularly appears near the top of lists of people with the highest IQs in history.

          That in itself doesn’t necessarily mean he is right. But that together with his evident sanity and sensibility right to the end of his life (charges that he had gone insane were thoroughly debunked soon after they were originally made, and shown to be fabrications of his theological enemies), and the coherence and power of his system, give me great confidence that he spoke the truth—even if he did get a few things wrong here and there. He was, after all, a human being, not a god. And he himself said (not in these exact words) that it’s best to keep our thinking mind engaged, and accept something as true only if it makes sense to us.

        • Lee says:

          P.S. I should mention that the article I linked comparing the movie What Dreams May Come to Swedenborg’s teachings was written by another Swedenborgian minister, not by me.

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Lee & Annette Woofenden

Lee & Annette Woofenden

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