The Bible, Emanuel Swedenborg, and Reincarnation

From Caterpillar to Butterfly (copyrighted image)

From Caterpillar to Butterfly

“Do you believe in reincarnation?”

I’ve been asked this question many times over the years.

Sometimes it’s a litmus test question. The people asking already either believe in reincarnation or they don’t. If my answer agrees with their view, they’ll see me as enlightened. If not, they’ll see me as unenlightened. So it’s always tempting to answer with a light-hearted, paradoxical non-answer of the type a certain uncle of mine loves: “Not this time around!”

But the question keeps coming. People also want to know what the Bible says about reincarnation. And they want to know whether my favorite theologian, Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772), says anything about reincarnation. Some are sincerely looking for understanding on this often confusing subject.

For example, here is part of a comment that a reader named Mark left on the article, “If there’s One God, Why All the Different Religions?

Specifically however, please enlighten those of us who remain confused by reincarnation. As an example, Krishna conciousness teaches an absolutely beautiful and devoted life to God (whom appears in any way he chooses but still only ONE god). The bible seems to teach that we come through this human “life” but once. I understand that this could be once per each human life and I have considered that each human life, even reincarnated, is once. Please provide your take on this. Unless I have misunderstood, according to Krishna teachings, heaven is not the “final” or utmost attainment.

We’ll dig into all of this in a few minutes. But first, for those of you who just want the quick answers so that you can move on:

  • I do not believe in reincarnation (though I do think it points to a deeper truth).
  • The Bible does not support reincarnation (and it never did).
  • Emanuel Swedenborg also does not support reincarnation (but he explains why people think it happens).

There! I’ve said it!

If you still want to learn more, settle in. This is going to take some time. But it will be worth your time if you want a thoughtful, spiritual, non-dogmatic Christian response to the currently popular belief in reincarnation.

There’s more to reincarnation than meets the eye

Before we dig into the specifics, let’s get the general idea in mind.

If understood from a spiritual rather than a materialistic viewpoint, neither the Bible nor the Eastern scriptures teach reincarnation. Instead, they teach spiritual rebirth. And they teach a continual “re-incarnation” of God in an infinite variety of finite (non-God) human beings. Each creation of a new human soul, and the resulting birth of a new human being, is a brand new expression of a unique, never before expressed facet of the infinite reality of God.

In other words, God’s infinite creativity is continually creating brand new expressions in the form of new, eternal human souls that briefly inhabit a material body on earth on their way to an eternal (and very solid and real) life in the spiritual world. Our lifetime here on earth is like our development in the womb before we are born into our true, spiritual and eternal life. Along the way we experience many spiritual rebirths, both during our lifetime here on earth and during our eternal life in the spiritual world.

Reincarnation as popularly believed—souls passing through multiple bodies and lifetimes in the material world—does not actually take place. However, there is a reason under God’s providence that people are allowed to think that it does.

Many people see all the injustice in the world, and they cannot accept that a loving God would allow so much evil and injustice. For people who have difficulty thinking beyond this material world, with its physical and financial rewards and punishments, reincarnation provides a way to think that life is just. And it is better for people to believe in God and spirit, even if their belief is not entirely accurate, than to reject God and spirit altogether because they believe God has created an unjust world.

In other words, a belief in literal, physical reincarnation is an accommodation God makes for people who are focused more on material justice in the physical world than they are on spiritual and eternal justice.

It is similar to some Christian fundamentalists believing that in a future apocalyptic Last Judgment, the world as we know it will be destroyed, God will create a new one, and we will all be reunited with our physical bodies and live in an eternal paradise right here in the physical world.

That’s not going to happen. Those prophecies are about spiritual events. (See “Is the World Coming to an End? What about the Second Coming?”) However, for people who can’t conceive of any solid reality other than material, physical reality, the belief in a literal resurrection of the body allows them to think that there will be a real future life, not just some disembodied, ghostly “spiritual” life.

As a matter of fact, life in the spiritual world is much more solid and real than life here on earth. But that idea is difficult, if not impossible, for many people to grasp.

In the same way, reincarnation does not take place as is popularly believed. But it allows many people who are stuck on physical, material reality to believe that life continues after death, and that there is meaning, purpose, and justice in the way the universe is constructed.

Beyond that, the materialistic idea of physical reincarnation provides an image of a deeper, spiritual truth.

You see, even beliefs and ideas that are fallacious in themselves can serve as stepping stones to a deeper understanding of spiritual reality. When we move beyond the external appearance, we can discover the deeper truth. Eastern scriptures that speak of reincarnation are using material images of life and death to speak about deeper realities of our spiritual rebirth.

That’s also what the Bible means when it speaks about being born again.

Did the Bible ever teach reincarnation?

Let’s dispose of one common rumor right away: the idea that the Bible used to teach reincarnation, but those evil Christian councils changed the text hundreds or thousands of years ago, so that it no longer does.

Hogwash.

There is absolutely no evidence for this.

Now, I have no great love for the so-called Christian councils. Most of them just mucked up Christian doctrine and said nasty things about everyone who disagreed with their particular heresies. But one thing they didn’t do was change the text of the Bible. It wasn’t really possible for them to do that. There were too many manuscripts of the various books of the Bible, going too far back. Any changes they made would have been so obvious that they would have been rejected.

The only thing the councils could do was decide which books would be in the Bible. However, for the books they did include, the text we have is as good as or better than any other text we have from that far back in history. Though a few minor scribal errors made it through, and there were a few sections added to the originals (such as all but the first few words of 1 John 5:7), for the most part we have a fairly reliable text of the entire Bible. And none of the changes that did take place had any effect on what the Bible says about reincarnation.

What does the Bible say about reincarnation?

The word “reincarnation” does not appear in the Bible. However, there are several places in the Bible where the idea of reincarnation comes up.

Let’s be clear about this.

There are many spiritual leaders who claim that the Bible teaches reincarnation. However, the fact that the idea of reincarnation shows up in the Bible does not mean it is true according to the Bible. It only means that in Biblical times there were people who believed in reincarnation. In the few places where it does come up, reincarnation is not affirmed in the Bible. And there are many passages that state clearly that once we die, we go to an eternal afterlife, from which we do not come back.

As we will see, the Bible, especially the Gospels, offers a teaching in place of reincarnation that is much deeper, more spiritual, and in the end, more just and human than reincarnation.

Let’s look at some of the places where the idea of reincarnation is present in the Bible.

Was a man born blind because he sinned in a previous life?

John 9 tells the story of Jesus healing a man born blind, and its aftermath. When Jesus first encountered the man, his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2). Of course, for the man to have sinned resulting in his being born blind, he would have had to sin in a previous life.

However, Jesus rejected both of the possible explanations that his disciples suggested: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him” (John 9:3). That is a fascinating reply, with a lot of meaning, as explored in the rest of the chapter. But for our purposes at the moment, the point is that Jesus rejected the idea that sins in a supposed previous life were the reason for this man’s blindness from birth. And since the doctrine of reincarnation generally holds that sins in past lives are the reason we suffer in our present life, by extension Jesus rejected the whole idea of reincarnation.

Was Jesus a reincarnation of John the Baptist or one of the prophets?

In Matthew 16:13–20, Jesus asked his disciples who people were saying that he is. They responded, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Jesus was not satisfied with this answer. He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Then Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” This answer Jesus heartily approved of. Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.” He goes on to say that he will build his church on the “rock” of this truth (not on Peter himself, as the Catholic Church teaches).

Once again, when his disciples present Jesus with popular speculations that he was a reincarnation of John the Baptist (impossible, since John the Baptist and Jesus lived at the same time) or one of the ancient prophets, Jesus did not accept that idea. Instead, he accepted the idea that he is the Christ (the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word “Messiah,” meaning “the anointed one”), and the Son of God.

Incidentally, the Bible also does not say that Jesus was a reincarnation of King David. Like Elijah as a prophet (see below), in the Hebrew scriptures David became a figure representing greatness as a king. In associating Jesus with David, the Bible does not mean that Jesus was a reincarnation of David. It means that he took over from David in spirit as the greatest King of all time.

Was John the Baptist a reincarnation of the prophet Elijah?

There was also a lot of speculation that John the Baptist was a reincarnation of the ancient prophet Elijah. This came about because of a prophecy in the Old Testament:

Behold, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse. (Malachi 4:5–6)

And in fact, in the Gospels, Jesus does identify John the Baptist as Elijah who was to come (see Matthew 11:13–14, 17:10–13). This has been seized upon by those who believe in reincarnation to say that Jesus did, indeed, teach reincarnation. But this idea cannot withstand scrutiny. Neither the prophecy in Malachi nor Jesus’ words identifying John the Baptist with Elijah were meant to be taken literally.

What does this prophecy mean, then? And how was it fulfilled by John?

Essentially, it means that John was to be a great prophet like Elijah, preparing the way for the coming of the Lord. In the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament), Elijah had come to be a representative figure of prophets, and of prophecy in general. This is why in the Gospel of Luke, an angel of the Lord told John’s father Zechariah that his yet unborn son would go before the Lord “with the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17, emphasis added). John was not to literally be Elijah, but to “wear the mantle of Elijah” (in Biblical terms) as a great and powerful prophet—the last of the Biblical prophets, leading up to Jesus himself.

We can be assured that John was not literally a reincarnation of Elijah by a later incident recorded in the Gospels. After John’s death, at the time of Jesus’ transfiguration, Jesus’ closest disciples, Peter, James, and John, saw Moses and Elijah with Jesus (Matthew 17:1–13; Mark 9:2–13; Luke 9:28–36). Now, if Elijah had been reincarnated as John the Baptist, he would no longer be Elijah, but John. Yet after John’s death, both Elijah and Moses were still living in the spiritual world as themselves. Many centuries after they had lived and breathed on earth, they had not been reincarnated and become someone else.

In short, according to the Bible story, Elijah could not possibly have been reincarnated as John the Baptist. Elijah was still living in the spiritual world, very much himself, after John the Baptist had already lived and died.

For some other Bible stories in which well-known figures are seen or mentioned as alive and themselves (not some other, reincarnated being) in the spiritual world years or even centuries after their deaths, see 1 Samuel 28:3–25; Matthew 22:31–32; Luke 16:19–31.

The Bible denies reincarnation, and affirms an eternal afterlife

The stories about the man born blind, the question of who Jesus was, and John the Baptist fulfilling the prophecy of Elijah’s return are sometimes pointed to by reincarnation supporters to argue that the Bible teaches reincarnation. But in fact they show just the opposite. Wherever the idea of reincarnation is brought up in the Bible, it is either directly denied or the story itself makes that interpretation impossible.

Meanwhile, there are many passages in the Bible stating either directly or through imagery that once we die, we move on to an eternal state from which we do not return. Here are just a few of them:

As the cloud fades and vanishes, so those who go down to Sheol [the grave or the underworld] do not come up; they return no more to their houses, nor do their places know them anymore. (Job 7:9–10)

“But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.” (2 Samuel 12:23)

“And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:46)

And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched. (Mark 9:47–48)

And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment . . . (Hebrews 9:27)

Yes, there are shadows of reincarnation in the Bible. But the whole story of the Bible is based on the idea that we humans have but one life on earth, and we then we move on to our eternal reward or punishment, never to return.

There is another story in the Bible that relates to reincarnation: Jesus’ nighttime conversation with Nicodemus in John 3:1–21. That story offers the key to understanding the real, deeper meaning behind the popular misconception of individual reincarnation. But before we get to it, let’s look at how people came to believe in reincarnation.

What does Emanuel Swedenborg say about reincarnation?

Long before there was widespread knowledge of near-death experiences, and all of the information and experience about the afterlife from them, there was Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772).

As far as I know, no one else in human history has ever even claimed to have the length, depth, and clarity of experience in the spiritual world that Swedenborg did. By his account, for the last twenty-seven years of his life he was able to be fully conscious in the spiritual world while still living in the material world. He didn’t just hear voices like a spirit medium. He lived and moved among angels and spirits as if he were one of them from his mid 50s until the time of his death at age 84.

During those years, he traveled extensively throughout heaven, hell, and the intermediate “world of spirits” (as he called it), fully acclimating himself to the realm that we all pass into after we die. His most popular book, Heaven and Hell offers a verbal map and guided tour of the spiritual world.

While thousands of people have had a brief glimpse of the spiritual world during near-death experiences, and have come back to tell us about it, Swedenborg had several decades to fully experience the other world, and unlock its secrets. From that extensive experience, he made his few brief but illuminating statements about reincarnation.

In most of those statements, he quickly dismisses reincarnation as a mere fantasy. However, in Heaven and Hell #256 he offers more substance about how people came to believe in reincarnation:

No angel or spirit is allowed to talk with one of us from the angel’s or spirit’s own memory, only from that of the individual in question. Angels and spirits actually have memory just as we do. If a spirit were to talk with us from his or her own memory, then it would seem to us entirely as though the thoughts were our own, when they would really belong to the spirit. It is like remembering something that we have never seen or heard. I have been granted knowledge of the truth of this by experience.

This is why some of the ancients were of the opinion that after some thousands of years they would return to their former life and all its deeds, and that they had in fact returned. They gathered this from the fact that sometimes a kind of memory would come up of things that they had never seen or heard. This happened because spirits had flowed from their own memory into the images of these people’s thoughts.

What is Swedenborg saying here?

Short version: when people “experience past lives,” they are indeed experiencing a past life. But it’s not their own. It is the life of someone else who had previously lived and died here on earth, and is now living in the spiritual world.

Spiritual IT

You see, in the spiritual world, what we call “information technology” (IT) is far more advanced than it is here on earth. Here, we require complex electronics to store and transfer data. Large memory banks are required to store databases full of information. Transferring all that information over land lines or via satellite can take a considerable amount of time.

In the spiritual world, information storage is built right into the “operating system.” And transmission, even of massive amounts of data, is almost instantaneous.

For example, even after we die, the memory of every experience we have ever had from pre-birth to death is stored away forever. This is not just a general memory of the high points. It includes every single experience in full detail: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch, together with all of the thoughts, feelings, impressions, desires, and reactions associated with it. The record of our life is so detailed that it is possible for us to re-experience any event or time period in our life so fully that it feels as if we were actually there.

That’s a vast amount of information! Yet it is all stored effortlessly and without error in the spiritual “data banks” of our minds, and in the general “data centers” of the spiritual world.

Not only that, but it is possible for that vast amount of information to be transferred almost instantly from mind to mind. In the spiritual world, it is not only possible for us to re-experience events in our own lives from the records of it in our spiritual memory, but for the angels and spirits around us to share in that experience.

For example, Swedenborg describes how angels are able to draw out of the memories of criminals who have died the exact circumstances of their crimes, and display every single detail of each crime, one after another from beginning to end, until they cannot possibly deny what they have done. See Heaven and Hell #462b (scroll down to 462b).

“Experiencing past lives”

Of course, people in the spiritual world don’t walk around all day dumping the contents of their earthly memories into other people’s minds. Usually, once we move on to heaven (or hell), the memory of our earthly life fades away as we build new and much more vivid memories of our new life in the spiritual world.

However, those memories do still exist. And under the right circumstances, it is a simple matter to transfer the entire memory of one person’s life into another person’s mind.

This is the most basic explanation of what is actually happening when people experience “past life regression,” and “remember past lives.”

We have spirits around us all the time, even while we are still living in the material world. They are so tied in with our thinking and feeling that if we were cut off from the spiritual “atmosphere” created by the spirits who surround us in the spiritual world, we would not be able to think or feel anything at all.

The spirits who are with us normally have access only to our minds and memories, not theirs, while they are with us. This is to prevent them from confusing us by transferring into our minds their own memories or the memories of other spirits that they have access to. Instead, they draw out things from our own thoughts and feelings, resulting in our recollecting things we’ve experienced, coming up with new ideas and theories, and evaluating our ideas and beliefs, our loves and feelings, and the meaning of our lives.

Sometimes, though—especially when it is desired by those on both sides of the sensory “veil” that separates the material and spiritual worlds—memories of a departed spirit’s life are transferred into the minds of people who are still living on earth. This can cause feelings of déjà vu. Or, when a more complete set of memories is transferred, it can cause us to “remember” whole life experiences of someone who lived in the past.

This is not necessarily the past life of the actual spirits who are around us. Once a spirit gets access to another spirit’s memories, those, too, can easily be transferred to the mind of someone still living on earth.

It is quite common for people who believe they’ve experienced past lives to think that in a past life they were someone famous from history. In the spiritual world, famous people are the subject of just as much fascination and investigation as they are here on earth. But in the spiritual world, it is possible to get access to “inside information” from memory records that are not available here on earth. Those memories can then be transferred to someone who is still alive on earth, causing the phenomenon of famous people being more likely to have been “reincarnated” than unknown ones. Wouldn’t you rather have been one of the elite few such as Plato or Hypatia, and not just one of the anonymous masses of slaves, serfs, and poor laborers who toiled away for decades and then died in obscurity? Yet statistically, the chances that you were someone famous in a past life are almost nil.

Such memory transfers are not the only mechanism by which people have experiences that convince them that they’ve been reincarnated from previous lives on earth. But they are the explanation for most of the “experiences of past lives” that believers in reincarnation report.

This doesn’t necessarily mean those experiences are evil or demonic, as claimed by many conservative religious opponents of reincarnation. Everything happens under God’s providence. For some people, the belief that they have been here before, and will be here again, gives great meaning to their lives. And the angels and spirits who are with us lead and inspire us according to our own beliefs, whether or not those beliefs are actually true.

This is all part of God’s protection of our freedom to believe and live as we choose. However, this is also one of the reasons why contact with angels and spirits is not a good source of genuine spiritual truth. (See the article, “What about Spiritualism? Is it a Good Idea to Contact Spirits?”)

What’s wrong with reincarnation?

So why shouldn’t people believe in reincarnation?

Practically speaking, it may not matter all that much whether people do or don’t believe in reincarnation. It either happens or it doesn’t, regardless of what we happen to believe. And as long as we love and serve God by loving and serving our fellow human beings (see Matthew 25:31–46 and Romans 2:5–16), it’s not so critical that we have correct beliefs rather than faulty ones.

The fact is, people can believe all sorts of things, including reincarnation, and still be good and loving people who are heading to heaven, not hell. For example, I have no trouble accepting the description of Krishna consciousness as teaching “an absolutely beautiful and devoted life to God.” God has spoken divine truth to people of all races and cultures. Each one hears it in its own unique way. (See “If there’s One God, Why All the Different Religions?”)

If you, dear reader, still want to believe in reincarnation after reading this, I have no problem with that. I won’t argue with you or try to convince you that you are wrong.

But since I’ve been asked the question so many times, I’ll tell you why for me, reincarnation is not an acceptable belief.

Reincarnation robs us of our humanity

It all has to do with our humanity.

And that has to do with our freedom to choose our own life and our own destiny.

What I personally find so troubling about the systems of belief that include reincarnation is precisely what those who do believe in them find so attractive and comforting.

In every form of reincarnation that I’ve encountered so far, there is no eternal hell.

Sooner or later, every soul ends out either re-merged with the Divine or in a state of blissful nirvana that is the Eastern equivalent of the Western heaven.

What’s so bad about that? Isn’t it good that everyone would end out in the highest attainable state?

In a word: No.

Theoretically, God could have created the universe so that it contained no eternal evil, or even so that it contained no evil at all. But the cost of doing so would have been the absence of any created beings who were truly human. If real, eternal evil did not exist in the universe, there could be no beings in the universe (other than God) capable of real, human relationships of love and mutual understanding with God and with one another.

You see, for love to be real human love, it must be freely chosen. God could have created us pre-programmed to love God and love our fellow human beings. But it would have had exactly as much meaning as programming a computer to print “I love you” on the screen. The computer doesn’t actually love you. It’s just mindlessly displaying what it is programmed to display.

What makes us human is the freedom to choose who and what we will love, and the rationality to think for ourselves and make our own decisions about what to believe. Without these capabilities at the core of our being, we would be no more human than a rock or a tree.

Further, if we are to be truly free, we must be able to choose what we will believe, what we will love, and how we will live permanently, not just temporarily.

That’s the problem with the doctrine of reincarnation. Eventually, no matter what choices we make, we will all end out in the same place: either as part of the Divine or in the blissful state of nirvana. In fact, under the doctrine of reincarnation, we will be forced to undergo endless lifetimes until we make the choices, and reach the enlightenment, that we are supposed to make. Choosing anything other than pure love and enlightenment will only send us back for another lifetime . . . and another . . . and another, until we get it “right.” Only one choice is acceptable: the choice for divinity and enlightenment.

What this really means is that under the doctrine of reincarnation, we are not human at all. We are like rats in a maze, forced to keep running the circles of continual reincarnations until our behavior, our thoughts, and our loves conform to the way the designer of the maze wants us to think, feel, and act. Only then are we released from the wheel of reincarnation.

“Karma” as taught in the doctrine of reincarnation is not only cause and effect—which in itself is a perfectly true and reasonable idea. It is also a deterministic and behavioristic training mechanism that gradually and inexorably forces all souls to make the same “choice” (which is really a non-choice), and end out in the same place.

Eternal heaven + eternal hell = true humanity

People who believe in reincarnation often say that it’s not fair to have just one lifetime to make an eternal choice between good and evil.

However, if we look at it objectively, it really doesn’t matter whether our choice is made in seventy seconds, seventy years, or seventy centuries. There is no ratio between eternity and any finite time period. Once a period of seventy billion years is over, it will still be like nothing compared to eternity. And if every choice we make except the choice to re-merge with the Divine or enter a blissful nirvana is only temporary, then those “choices” are not real, no matter how long they take to make. They are only a temporary illusion.

Only what is eternal is truly real.

This means that for our humanity to be real, we must be able to make choices that last forever.

And for our freedom of choice to be real, we must be free to choose not to do what God designed us to do. So we must be free to choose not to love God and not to love our fellow human beings. We must be free to reject the light of truth that God offers us, and cling to our own particular darkness and falsity.

This is why God allows (not creates) evil and falsity, and allows (not creates) an eternal hell. Without it, none of our choices are real. Without it, we are not humans, but rats in a maze or pre-programmed robots who merely do what we are trained or programmed to do.

The fact that we can choose not to go to heaven, but choose instead to go to hell forever, means that our choices are real, what we choose really matters, and we are truly human. As free and rational human beings, we can choose our own life and determine our own eternal fate.

Hell is a choice

Yes, the existence of an eternal hell is a choice. And it is our choice.

Why would anyone ever choose to live in the eternal punishment and torture of hell?

It helps to understand that although there certainly are painful and devastating punishments in hell, that’s not the primary purpose of hell. In fact, the primary purpose of hell is to provide a place where people who choose hatred over love, greed over generosity, domination over cooperation, and falsity over truth can experience as much of their particular pleasure as possible given the self-limiting and self-punishing character of evil and falsity.

Hell has many other purposes as well, such as protecting angels and good spirits from the destructive influence of evil spirits and providing a balance between good and evil so that people on earth can remain in spiritual freedom. (For more on why there is a hell and what it is really like, see the article, “Is There Really a Hell? What is it Like?”)

In short, the only way we can be truly human is if we have a choice between good and evil . . . and that choice is permanent. Our life on earth is our opportunity to make that choice. God could have made our life last a single day, which is the life span of some insects, or it could have lasted fourteen billion years, which is the estimated age of the universe so far. It really doesn’t matter. Seventy to one hundred years is as good a number as any.

What does matter is that God doesn’t force us to do it God’s way. As human beings, God offers us the choice between good and evil, lets us make that choice for ourselves, and then respects the choice we have made.

A conversation with some inhabitants of hell

Believe it or not, the people who go to hell choose to be there. As terrible and disgusting as their life may seem to us, they wouldn’t have it any other way. Swedenborg was once present for a conversation in the spiritual world in which a spirit newly arrived from earth, together with some angel guides, encountered some evil spirits from hell. Here’s what happened:

The ground suddenly yawned wide at some distance from them. Up through the chasm came three devils, who were visibly lit up by the delight that comes from what they love. The angels who were accompanying the newly arrived spirit perceived that it was not by coincidence that the three devils had come up just then. The angels called out to the devils, “Don’t come any closer, but from where you are, tell us something about what delights you.”

“It is important to know,” they replied, “that all people, whether labeled good or evil, have their own delight. The so-called good people have theirs and the so-called evil people have theirs.”

“What do you take delight in?” the angels asked.

“What is delightful to us,” they replied, “is whoring, taking revenge, cheating, and speaking blasphemy.”

“What are those delights like for you, exactly?” the angels asked.

The devils replied that their delights were sensed by others as resembling the stench of excrement, the reek of dead bodies, and the smell of stagnant urine.

“Are those things actually delightful to you?” the angels asked.

“Very much so,” the devils replied.

“Then you are like the filthy little creatures that live in those substances,” said the angels.

“If we are, we are,” the devils said, “but those things give our noses intense pleasure.”

“Do you have anything further to add?” the angels asked.

“Yes,” they replied. “Everyone is allowed to have her or his delight, even if it is of the ‘most unclean’ kind, as others call it, provided she or he does not attack good spirits and angels; but because our delight makes it absolutely impossible to resist attacking them, we are thrown into workhouses where we suffer many hard things. Being restrained and withdrawn from our delights causes the so-called torment of hell, which is profound inner pain.”

“Why do you attack people who are good?” the angels asked.

“We can’t help it,” the devils said. “A kind of rage comes over us every time we see any angel and sense the Lord’s divine sphere around that angel.”

“Then you are also like animals,” we said.

Soon afterward, when they noticed the newly arrived spirit with the angels, a diabolical rage came over them, which looked like a burning fire of hate. Therefore to prevent their doing any harm, they were thrown back into hell. (True Christianity #570:7)

During this brief time of withdrawal from their usual life in hell, these evil spirits were quite rational. They had a clear understanding of their own life and pleasures. And they assured their listeners that although others may find their pleasures revolting, to them they are intensely pleasurable.

Outside of hell, they could not indulge those pleasures. So although their pleasures are inextricably linked with pain, they choose to be in hell, where at least some of the time they can enjoy the types of pleasures they have chosen, and no one can force them to be someone they do not want to be. In other places, Swedenborg describes evil spirits jeering at those who feel love and kindness for others, and rejecting such feelings as idiotic and unreal.

As inhuman as this may seem, having the choice to live this way is part of what it means to be human. It means having the freedom to choose what sort of person we want to be, even if that involves rejecting the life for which God designed us.

In the doctrine of reincarnation, we are not given that freedom—which means that ultimately, we are not really human.

Why does reincarnation appear in so many ancient writings?

Why, then, do so many scriptures—especially Eastern scriptures—talk about reincarnation?

That’s a very good question, and it deserves an answer.

First, the idea of reincarnation has been ingrained in many cultures for thousands of years. As we’ve already seen, it shows up in the Bible. It also shows up in the writings of the ancient Greek philosopher Plato. And of course, it shows up in many ancient Eastern scriptures. It is present in the ancient writings of many cultures.

However, the purpose of scriptures is not really to set us right intellectually. It is to lead us toward a life of loving God and our fellow human beings (see Matthew 22:34–40). In order to accomplish this, the various scriptures of humankind commonly accept beliefs and practices already ingrained in the cultures in which the scriptures are written, and use them to lead the people of those cultures toward more kind and loving ways of life.

The simplest answer to the question of why reincarnation appears in many ancient writings is that the people of those cultures already believed in reincarnation. Those sacred writings simply used that belief to inculcate in them a life of caring and concern for their fellow human beings.

In the case of reincarnation, the basic message conveyed by the ancient Eastern scriptures is this:

If you engage in evil practices such as lying, stealing, adultery, fraud, and so on, you will be punished for it in a future life. For example, if you are wealthy but corrupt and oppressive in this life, in your next life you will experience the same poverty and oppression that you now inflict on others. On the other hand, if you are poor and lowborn, but you live a kind and virtuous life, in your next life you will be rewarded by being born into a privileged, well-to-do family, and enjoying the finer pleasures of life.

This is just an example of how the already existing belief in reincarnation is used in ancient Eastern scriptures to encourage people to choose love and kindness over greed and selfishness. It doesn’t matter very much whether the belief in reincarnation is true or false. What matters is that the people who believe in it see reincarnation as a reason to live good lives rather than evil ones.

What is the deeper meaning of reincarnation?

But there is a more profound reason reincarnation appears in many of the great scriptures of humankind.

Reincarnation in itself is a rather materialistic and physical-minded belief. Like the doctrine of bodily resurrection held to by many conservative Christians, the doctrine of reincarnation is well-adapted to the minds of people who are focused on material rewards and punishments.

However, it also plants the seeds of a deeper understanding of the meaning of life, death, and rebirth. That’s because if we look deeper, the real meaning of reincarnation is not physical rebirth, but spiritual rebirth. It points to the same spiritual reality that the Christian Gospels express through their teachings about being “born again.”

Let’s go back to the Bible, and read part of Jesus’ nighttime conversation with Nicodemus:

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”

Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born again.”

Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”

Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the spirit.” (John 3:1–8)

Here Jesus makes it clear that the rebirth he is talking about is not re-entering the womb and being born again physically, as in the doctrine of reincarnation. Instead, the rebirth he is talking about is being “born of the spirit.”

In plain words, what Jesus is talking about is becoming new people in our minds and hearts. In 2 Corinthians 5:17, the apostle Paul is referring to the same thing when he speaks of our becoming “new creations” in Christ. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna means the same thing when he tells his student, “Arjuna, both you and I were born many times in the past. You do not remember those births, but I remember them all.”

In each case, the scriptures are not talking about physical rebirth, but spiritual rebirth.

In accordance with Krishna’s words, this takes place many times in the course of our lives. Each time we turn over a new leaf in any of our habitual thoughts, feelings, or actions, we are being born again. We can easily forget about these spiritual rebirths, just as Arjuna did. But if we look back on our lives and reflect on the changes we have been through, we can identify many of the inner rebirths we have experienced from our earliest childhood right up to the present.

For more on this deeper meaning of being born again, see:

This is not to deny that many Eastern scriptures and mystical writings do teach a literal, bodily reincarnation. However, that belief is present in those scriptures because it was already a part of the popularly accepted belief system of the people to whom they were addressed.

Even though physical reincarnation does not actually happen, and is in itself a false belief, under God’s providence it was allowed to appear in various ancient scriptures and philosophies because it points toward the deeper truth of spiritual rebirth.

For those whose minds are focused on physical punishments and rewards, reincarnation provides something to hold onto as a reason to live a good and virtuous life. But for those whose minds are able to move beyond material things to spiritual realities, behind the appearance of bodily reincarnation is the deeper reality of the ongoing cycle of rebirth and renewal of our heart, mind, and life. The longer we continue on this cycle of spiritual rebirths, the higher we go on our journey toward God and heaven.

Rebirth does not stop at death

One of the attractive features of reincarnation is that it provides a way for us to continue growing and developing spiritually even after we die. If we don’t get it right in this life, or we don’t attain the level of personal and spiritual growth we are capable of, we will be given another lifetime in which to continue our spiritual journey.

To many people, this looks like a major advantage over beliefs such as those in Christianity, in which we have only one life on earth, and then we go on to our final home in heaven. If we see heaven as “the final or utmost attainment,” then the afterlife looks static, and even stagnant. Who wants to sit on clouds to eternity, playing harps and praising God all day? We humans want to live and learn and grow and experience new things!

So let me ask you a question: When, after many months in your mother’s womb, you were born into the world, did your physical growth stop there? Certainly you went through many amazing transformations while you were in the womb. But after you were born, you continued right on growing to adulthood. And even once you reached adulthood, you did not stop growing intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. Each new day brings new things to learn, new things to do, new ways to grow. Even here on earth, the day we stop learning and growing is the day we start dying.

Don’t you think this would be even truer when we are “born” from this material world into the spiritual world through the process known as death? Does our intellectual, emotional, and spiritual growth stop just because we have moved from one world to another?

According to Swedenborg, it does not. In fact, he describes a heaven in which the angels are continually learning and growing to eternity! For example, in Secrets of Heaven #4803, he writes:

It is worth mentioning something completely unknown in the world: Good spirits and angels are continually changing and developing as human beings. As this happens, they move into more and more central locations in the areas where they live, and they move up to higher and more responsible jobs. You see, heaven is a place of constant purification—and as the saying goes, of “new creation” [see 2 Corinthians 5:17]. Here’s how it is there: No angel can ever achieve absolute perfection—not to all eternity. Only the Lord is perfect, and all perfection is in and from the Lord.

Just because we die and go to heaven, that doesn’t mean we stop learning and growing. In fact, because we are then in a spiritual world, without the physical limitations of the material world, we have far greater opportunities for growth than we do here on earth!

Consider Nicodemus’s question to Jesus: Now that you’ve grown up, would you even want to go back into the womb? As beautiful and comfortable a place as it is, when we are in utero we are confined to a small, dark space—and our possibilities for growth are very limited. There comes a time when we must leave the womb. If we don’t, there will be no more room for growth, and both we and our mother will die.

In the same way, there comes a time when we have done all the growing we can do in the rather dark and restrictive “womb” of the material world. Not only Swedenborg, but practically everyone who has ever had a brief glimpse of the spiritual world through a vision or a near-death experience describes it as incredibly more real and alive than the material world, and as positively vibrating with love, light, and activity. In that greatly enhanced environment, our ability to learn and grow intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually vastly surpasses what is possible for us here.

If that is so, what would be the purpose of coming back to earth?

It would make no more sense than returning to the womb after we have already been born.

There is absolutely no need for us to return to earth once we have completed the initial process of development as human beings that the material world is designed to provide for us. Any return to the material world would not be a step forward in our spiritual evolution, but a huge step backward.

Reincarnation is unnecessary

There is a very good reason that the Bible does not teach reincarnation.

There is a very good reason that Swedenborg, who is the one human being in all of history who has had the most extensive first-hand experience in the spiritual world, says that reincarnation simply doesn’t happen.

Reincarnation is unnecessary.

Believing in reincarnation isn’t the worst thing in the world. Yes, the popular Hindu belief in reincarnation did serve as a justification for the brutal caste system in India for many centuries. But a belief in reincarnation also helps many people to feel that there is ultimate justice in the universe, and that it is worth avoiding evil actions and doing what is good and right in their own lives.

However, a belief in reincarnation becomes unnecessary when we realize that:

  • Heaven and hell are a choice.
  • The ability to make that eternal choice is what makes us human.
  • Whatever choice we make, we can pursue and experience our own pleasures.
  • This is true even if other people think our choice of pleasures is wrong and disgusting.
  • The material world is an environment in which we are prepared for the spiritual world.
  • If we choose heaven, we can continue to learn and grow to eternity.
  • Our ability to learn and grow mentally, emotionally, and spiritually is vastly greater in heaven than it is on earth.

When we realize and understand these things, then we will understand what Nicodemus realized: that once we have grown old, we cannot possibly return into the womb and be born again physically. We have already done that, and we don’t need to do it again. Instead, we are born from the womb of the material world into the wide open vistas of the spiritual world.

There, we will continue to learn and grow and face new challenges every day to eternity. Life will never get old, because we will be continually renewed and reborn in our heart, mind, and life.

For further reading:

About

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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Posted in Spiritual Growth, The Afterlife, The Bible Re-Viewed
74 comments on “The Bible, Emanuel Swedenborg, and Reincarnation
  1. Hi Lee, thanks for your taking on another difficult subject.

    Concerning your remark ‘reincarnation is not necessary’ I have this question: perhaps I do not understand this rightly, but aren’t boddhisattva’s people who have reached a spiritual state transcending normal humanity, such that they stay around (by means of reincarnation) not because this would be necessary, but out of compassion for others, to help them realize their spiritual nature?

    Also I have read that in certain traditional African belief systems reincarnation is not considered a normal route for everyone, but those with great spiritual power only can choose to return after dying, not to lead a better life, but just to be among the living again, and I suppose also to lead them spiritually.

    This is quite another understanding of reincarnation than the one usually thought of (in the West) as a new chance to improve your spiritual chances.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Angela,

      Thanks for your comment. Even an article of this length could not cover every aspect of reincarnation. You are quite right that in the doctrine of reincarnation there are other reasons for returning besides the playing out of karma. The ideal of the bodhisattva does raise bodily reincarnation to a higher level than mere cause-and-effect and behaviorism.

      However, bodily reincarnation is still unnecessary for the concept of the bodhisattva to have meaning.

      As I understand the root meaning of “bodhisattva,” it refers to “an enlightened being.” In Buddhist thought, as compared to classical Hindu thought, it is possible for any human being to achieve enlightenment in one lifetime–the current one–rather than having to go through many future lifetimes. Christianity takes this one step further in saying that for those who seek it, not even past lives are necessary; it is possible to achieve enlightenment, and even become a great world teacher, within a single lifetime. This is how I would interpret all past bodhisattvas, or great world teachers.

      Practically speaking, most people do not aspire to becoming great world teachers. Yet every person has unique worth in the universal body of humanity. If nothing else, for every great teacher there must be many great listeners!

      Essentially, Christianity applies Occam’s Razor to the bodhisattva concept, cutting out all unnecessary elements, such as unremembered past lives, and making it attainable in a single lifetime for those who seek it.

      Of course, none of us is really self-contained within our own lifetime. As the saying goes, “We are standing on the shoulders of giants.” The enlightenment of humankind is cumulative. A person of the present generation can learn and benefit from the progress toward enlightenment of all past spiritual teachers. So even though in my view souls are not reincarnated in new bodies, in a sense, enlightenment and truth are continually “reincarnated” as newly born and spiritually growing human beings are “seeded” with the truth and enlightenment achieved through the spiritual labors of previous generations.

  2. Doug Webber says:

    Hello Lee, great post. Reincarnation is a complicated subject as it touches on several spiritual matters. I have always found a “shared group memory” or the “collective unconscious” as Jung would term it the most plausible. The way I look at it, it is not exactly true, but not exactly false either. Each human personality is connected to the spiritual world, and each person’s psychological makeup is not just genetic but also determined/guided by our connections to the spiritual world. When we learn, the angels/spirits associated with our material mind learn as well. In addition to the shared memory explanation from Swedenborg – I remember reading that as a confirmation of some theories I had from Jung – I found this interesting passage where Swedenborg discusses the Jewish laws of not touching a dead body. The spiritual explanation of it is interesting. Swedenborg says that at times in order to progress, spirits “drop down” back to a natural state to grow out of it. And to “drop down” to a natural state would mean sharing the experience with someone living. By that I mean all of our thoughts have a spiritual origin, it is our choice whether we act on them or not. I discussed this a bit at http://dream-prophecy.blogspot.com/2013/10/christianity-reincarnation-and-emanuel.html

    So what it means, is that yes, there is a cycle that we have to break through and reach a higher level. So those New Age and eastern teachings are not false, they are true – but I would say they are an “appearance” of truth. And yet if we say we only live once and that’s it, thats not the complete truth either, but closer to it. When one recognizes that, it is all still completely compatible with the scientific biological fact that when born, we are all unique living beings. We are here to fill in a unique piece of God’s jigsaw puzzle. Which He never seems to finish.

    I guess not the answer most people want to hear, they will think white or black on this, but we have here an answer that’s a bit of a shade of grey.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Doug,

      Thanks for your comment, and for the link to your article. It does bring out some additional points that I didn’t attempt to cover in this article. This subject could very easily be expanded into an entire book!

      In particular, I didn’t delve much farther into the matter of contact with angels and spirits, partly because I’d already written about it in one of the linked articles, and partly because I do think the memory transference phenomenon is the primary source of people’s belief in reincarnation.

      However, in addition to that, there are the experiences of conversations with spirits in which spirits affirm the reality of reincarnation. Most of the time they’re simply affirming whatever the person already believes. Since they are inhabiting the person’s memory during the encounter, they believe whatever the person believes.

      However, other times the spirits themselves may believe it, perhaps due to the type of experiences you describe in your article. As I point out in the linked article about contacting spirits, a common fallacy is that spirits must know the truth just because they are spirits. Not so, according to Swedenborg. People continue to believe ideas they have adopted and confirmed even after they die, even if those beliefs are false. And just as here, spirits who believed in reincarnation while the were living on earth will take various experiences they have in the spiritual world, such as inhabiting the mind and memory of someone who is still living on earth, and interpret it as supporting reincarnation.

      Now . . . I like to think that I think both in black and white and in gray, not to mention in full color! 🙂

      When it comes to black and white, I do think each of us is completely and eternally unique in having a soul that occupies a unique “point” in spiritual space. No other soul occupies that point. And that point expresses some unique, differentiated aspect of the infinity of God. It can inhabit only one body as its own body. In fact, according to Swedenborg, our soul is the architect of our body, and builds our particular body to fully and uniquely express the soul.

      When it comes to shades of gray and technicolor, each of us also has a sphere of influence that flows out from the “point” that is our soul, and flows into and through others. So in that sense, we do interpenetrate one another, flow into one another, and share the same areas of spiritual space, which can also be thought of as thoughts, feelings, memories, ideas, beliefs, and so on.

      I don’t have a problem thinking of reincarnation as an “appearance of truth” as long as we don’t think that the appearance is an actual reality. In other words, souls simply do not pass from one body to another, taking on new bodies sequentially like a string of pearls. That doesn’t happen. But we are continually reborn spiritually. And our loves, ideas, feelings, beliefs, and so on do form a “string of pearls” that starts with God and flows down through many angels and spirits on their way to flowing into us, where, as you say, we can either accept them and make them a part of ourselves or reject them and exclude them from our identity.

      In terms of “appearances of truth,” reincarnation is like the “appearance” that the sun rises and sets. It just doesn’t. The earth turns. But to us it appears as if it rises and sets. It’s no problem talking that way if we want to, for convenience’s sake. Many people still do think that the earth is the center of the universe, and the sun orbits around it. However, that’s not what’s really happening. And if we persist in that view in the face of contrary evidence, and start trying to come up with a cosmology based on the earth being the center of the universe and the sun revolving around it, we’ll fall into all kinds of fallacies, falsities, and contradictions.

      It is the same if we try to construct a spiritual cosmology based on the idea that bodily reincarnation actually does happen. As I say in the article, this ultimately robs us of our humanity. And that, in turn, does away with the entire reason for the creation of the universe by God. Under the doctrine of reincarnation, there really isn’t any reason for God to create the universe, because the end result is to return right back to the original condition, with no particularly good reason for everything in the middle ever to have happened.

  3. Luciano says:

    I think you have a good point, but im not intellectually satisfied.

    Swedenborg’s description of the devils’ pleasures is just disgusting, I can’t think of any other word. It just doesn’t seem to have any logic, why would they prefer Hell over Heaven? If the answer is: “because they never had the opportunity to experience Heaven”, wouldn’t that be unfair? Many people (even adults) lack the “spiritual enlightment” to make the decision of experiencing the best of life, or going upward to Heaven… If the answer is: “because they twisted nature makes them find Hell more pleasurable over Heaven”… well then there is something wrong with Heaven that brings the possibility of some souls choosing Hell. In any other way that would be just sad, what about psychopaths who can’t feel emotions or love, or serial killers that have been abused in their childhood (the mentally-ill Ed Gein for example)? They just can’t help it. An eternal Hell for those people would just be sad.

    Why reincarnation deprives us from our humanity? God made it that way, or is that your own opinion? Because many people do not see it that way. Why should we assume that past life memories are other souls’ memories and not ours? We have no logical reason for assuming that (Actually -and to be fair- we do not have evidence that past life memories are real)… Why should we think that the evidence of past lives is not veridical (or is twisted) while evidence of Heaven is?

    Something that is clearly an advantage in reincarnation over Christian beliefs, is that we have unlimited time to make the choices that will bring us the greater good, so everyone can achieve it, and no one has to get stuck in Hell, nevermind it is or not a choice to enjoy “the stench of excrement, the reek of dead bodies, and the smell of stagnant urine” (my God…), We can reincarnate and choose to live a better life, without the need of an eternal “consequence” for what we experienced in one lifespan. It all depends on how you look it, and both points of view are valid, but if reincarnation is real, every soul created can reach God, without getting stucked in their self-created Hell, not wanting to be part of God’s Love. They can “try it again” and reach Heaven after all.

    And ultimately: Why is the Bible more reliable than any other source? Is biased to simply assume that the Bible is legitimate, while the Vedas are not… According to who is Jesus a better teacher than Krishna?

    Altough I respect anyone’s beliefs (as I like mine to be respected as well…) this text is full of unjustified assumptions: for example that Swedenborg is “the one human being in all of history who has had the most extensive first-hand experience in the spiritual world”… It just doesn’t work that way… I could say the same of Siddharta Gautama, wich as you may know, supports reincarnation. Anita Moorjani had a very intensive NDE, and she supports reincarnation, she experienced what could be described as cosmic consciousness (wich is the ultimate source of wisdom a person can achieve) and she is convinced reincarnation is real. She felt she was outside time and space, she was what she called “Universal energy”… in other words: God (not the Bible God, but some kind of eternal, infinite and perfect Cosmic Mind that is All That Is). Assuming that something regarding the spiritual world is real just because Swedenborg says so doesn’t convince me (again, to be fair, assuming that reincarnation is real just because Anita says so doesn’t convince me, either). One of my best friends was a diagnosed schizophrenic, and what he had to say about the spiritual world wasn’t very pleasing… (I’m not suggesting that Swedenborg -or Anita Moorjani, for that matter- was schizophrenic, but trying to point out that we should not take anyone’s word as the Ultimate Truth).

    Just one more thing: I don’t have anything against the belief in eternal Heaven or Hell, actually, I find the idea of an eternal resting place of Infinite Love and joyous work, reunited with all my loved ones quite appealing. But I don’t see why that belief is more valid that a belief in reincarnation.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Luciano,

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments and questions.

      If you personally believe in reincarnation, and that belief helps you to feel that the universe is just and life is fair, the last thing I want to do is try to argue you out of it. As I said in the article, I believe that one of the reasons reincarnation is available to us humans as a belief we can hold to if we choose is that it does help many people feel that life is fair, given the great injustices in this world. I can respect that–even if I see the fairness of life and of God operating in a different way. Of course, the views expressed in this article are my own, as informed by the spiritual sources that I trust. You are free to make up your own mind what to believe. That freedom to choose our own beliefs and our own faith is part of the humanity placed in us by God.

      About Swedenborg, I’m simply not aware of anyone else in history, Eastern or Western, who had the length or depth of fully conscious experience in the spiritual world while still living in this world that Swedenborg did. If there is someone else who spent nearly three decades able to be fully conscious in the spiritual world at will (not just hearing voices or sensing spiritual influences), I would certainly like to know about it!

      About fairness, my belief is that nobody goes to hell unless he or she makes a free, informed choice to live an evil and destructive life instead of a good and constructive life. Nobody goes to hell because they weren’t taught properly, or had a mental illness, or were abused as a child, or for any other reason besides a free moral choice for evil over good. For more on this, please see the article:
      Can Gang Members Go to Heaven? (Is Life Fair?)

      The Bible contains the holy scriptures given for people in the Judaeo-Christian perspective. As such, it is the primary text I turn to, since I am a Christian. People of other faiths will naturally turn to their own scriptures rather than the Bible. I do believe there is something special about the Bible that isn’t in most other Scriptures. But that is my view, which people of other faiths are free to disagree with.

      However, I do also believe that when the Eastern scriptures speak of rebirth, they, like the Bible, are actually speaking of spiritual rebirth, not about the literal return of a soul to another body, which is physical rebirth.

      I’m aware that many adherents of Eastern religions interpret those teachings in their scriptures literally rather than spiritually. But if I were to turn to the Eastern scriptures instead of the Bible, I would interpret them spiritually just as I interpret the Bible spiritually. In Christianity, we have fundamentalists who interpret the Bible literally. I disagree with them just as much as I disagree with the literalists and fundamentalists of other religions.

      In short, I believe that even the Eastern scriptures do not teach reincarnation when they are seen from a more spiritually oriented perspective.

      Finally, as I explained in the article, I believe that real humanity means that we must have a real choice whether or not to be in a loving relationship with God and with our fellow human beings.

      So here’s a question for you: What if, even given a billion lives and a billion opportunities, a particular soul still chooses evil over good? Will that person’s freely made choice be rejected every single time–even a trillion, trillion, trillion times–until he or she makes the “right” choice?

      I find the idea that sooner or later we must all choose good to be very overbearing and tyrannical, and entirely opposed to the freedom and rationality that make us human. I find it to be cruel and disrespectful to force souls to continue to go through life after life until we make the “right” choice as approved by God.

      A good parent will discipline a child whose behavior is selfish and destructive. But there comes a time when good parents must let go of their children (as they enter adulthood) and let them live their own lives as they choose–even if it is far from the kind of life that the parent wanted them to live.

      To me, one of the most amazing things about God is that even though God loves each one of us fully and infinitely, God also respects us enough not to impose God’s own way on us whether we want it or not. God respects us enough to let us choose what kind of life we want to live, and to allow us to live that way forever if that is what we have chosen.

      Like a good parent, God makes every possible effort to teach, guide, discipline, and cajole us into choosing love, truth, justice, and compassion over selfishness, greed, cruelty, and oppression of others. But if we persistently choose evil over good, God will, in the end, respect that choice, and leave us to the life we have chosen–as dark and disgusting as it looks from God’s infinitely loving and wise perspective.

      This is why I don’t believe in reincarnation, and its idea that all people will eventually become one with God. If we are not ultimately allowed to choose how we will live, but will all eventually end out in the same place no matter what we do, how are we even human?

      And in that case, what more is this world than a sad and pointless exercise in pain and suffering with no reason to exist, because in the end everything will just return to the way it was in the beginning? Why would God put us through all this pain? Why not just stay one with God in the first place? To me, reincarnation would make the entire created universe cruel, pointless, and inhuman.

      Still, I respect those who believe in reincarnation. I have no wish to engage in debate and argument with those who are happy with their beliefs and find them spiritually helpful and fulfilling, even if their beliefs differ greatly from my own. If you find reincarnation to be a sensible and helpful belief for your spiritual life, I wish you well!

      However, your general question seems to be why I do not believe in reincarnation. This is my honest answer.

      • Luciano says:

        Yes, I’m now sattisfied with your answer. I personally don’t see reincarnation in that way (It’s just a matter of perspective, isn’t it?), and I think maybe there is a little of truth in every aspect of human beliefs.

        Differences are what makes us unique, and that is always a good thing, this kind of dialogues are what makes life richer for me! Always respecting the other person 🙂

        Thank you for your answer, and excuse my bad english, as my name may suggest, I’m spanish, not american! haha

  4. perandre says:

    I find Swedenborg’s explanation interesting. I quoted your post on Skeptiko.com; feel free to engage 🙂 http://www.skeptiko-forum.com/threads/swedenborg-explains-past-lives-memories.1004/

  5. Josie Bowman says:

    Hello Lee,

    What an interesting post. There were various things that came to mind as I read it. I’ll try to recapture a few of them.

    It seems ironic to me that some of what you say fits very well with what C.S. Lewis says in “The Great Divorce.” The solidity of the people in heaven and the idea that people in hell can come to heaven, but that most choose to return to hell, for instance. Yet Lewis says in that same book, speaking of those who claim knowledge of what no mortal knows (ironically through George MacDonald who was something of a student of Swedenborg, I think) “l’ll have “no Vale Owens and no Swedenborgs among my children.”

    A question that came to me is why you ( and Swedenborg?) believe that death ends all choices. Here we often change our minds. That is part of our humanity, as I see it.
    We understand things better and come to different realizations quite frequently. And what choice have babies or toddlers who died young made?

    Another question I have is whether God would really keep sin and evil alive forever by keeping evil people who can not be transformed alive forever. Sundar Singh, who also believed he talked with the dead and who was a loving man, believed he talked with Swedenborg who said that in the end all would return to God, if I remember correctly.

    Finally, as far as I can see (certainly in looking at myself) it seems that most people are a mixture of good and evil. One would hope that in the next realm good could be strengthened and evil lessened degree by degree.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Josie,

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments and questions.

      It’s been years since I’ve read any of C.S. Lewis’s books. However, I do remember thinking that there must be some influence of Swedenborg on them, even though Lewis rejected Swedenborg in the quote you mention. Perhaps the George MacDonald connection was the main conduit. It’s not something I’ve looked into.

      Swedenborg’s greatest influence on society was not direct, but indirect through various writers, thinkers, and artists who read Swedenborg and expressed some of the concepts and ideas they found there in their own unique ways, and with their own idiosyncratic spin–influenced as well by many other thinkers and artists. The result is a human society that has been heavily influenced by Swedenborg’s writings even while most people have never heard of Swedenborg. So while it is indeed ironic that Lewis likely drew indirectly on Swedenborg while rejecting the validity of Swedenborg’s spiritual-world experiences, this phenomenon is quite common.

      Today, the joke’s on C.S. Lewis. So many people have now had brief encounters with the spiritual world and come back to tell about it that Swedenborg no longer looks like an oddball. The main difference is that Swedenborg spent nearly three decades fully conscious in the spiritual world at will, whereas most people’s experiences of the spiritual world last only minutes, hours, or days.

      I also suspect that Lewis’s explicit rejection of Swedenborg was meant to protect him from charges of accepting spiritists. Swedenborg was not a spiritist. However, among traditional Christians, anything that involved contacting angels or spirits was considered evil and demonic (even though it happens regularly in the Bible). So despite Swedenborg’s (indirect) influence on Lewis, Lewis had to insist that his literary forays into the spiritual world were fiction, not fact. This protected him from charges of spiritism and heresy.

      Immanuel Kant did a similar thing when he wrote and published a small book called Dreams of a Spirit-Seer, which attacked and ridiculed Swedenborg. As Kant said in the preface to that book, he had to do this lest people think any parts of his philosophy that sound like things that Swedenborg wrote were actually derived from Swedenborg. Yet we know that Kant was fascinated by Swedenborg. It’s actually surprising how honest Kant was about his reasons for writing an attack on Swedenborg. However, his statement to this effect is so brief that it would be easy to miss it, and therefore to misunderstand what his attack piece is really all about.

      People who wanted their writings to be accepted in the religious and scholarly world, and by the general public, had to deny any influence from Swedenborg especially if there was a clear, traceable influence to Swedenborg in their thinking. Basically, it was a CYA response. 😛

    • Lee says:

      Hi Josie,

      I wouldn’t say death ends all choices. Only the basic choice of which direction we want our life to go. And even that, I’ve come to think, is not linear, like releasing an arrow that will go in a straight line once released. Instead, our lifetime here on earth points us in a general direction, establishing what might be called a “cone of probability” within which we can still make choices and veer one way or another on our path, to eternity.

      As a this-world example of how that works, those who choose nursing as a career and go through nurse’s training can become better and better nurses as they pursue their career, and they can move into one or another specialty in nursing, but they will never become doctors. In the same way, our lifetime here on earth establishes what “career” we will have in heaven. But within that career, there are still many choices, and many distinct directions we can go.

      About babies and children who die, please see this article:
      Where are my Children who have Died? Will I Ever See Them Again?
      There is also more discussion of this issue in the comments section after the article. But the short version is that all babies and children who die go to heaven because they have not yet reached an age at which they are fully responsible for themselves and could make their own choice for hell instead of heaven. Heaven is the default option.

      • Richard Neer says:

        Hello Lee,

        I thought I would change gears, come over and stretch my brain here a bit.

        I, too, have an issue with the concept of spiritual direction being limited to the path one chooses during this one human lifetime. I am not standing in the reincarnation corner, yet I see actual validity in its belief in the context that, yes, people can change. If they choose to and are given the opportunity to, regardless of how much time it takes and under what circumstances it may occur, that is. If reincarnation provides the time frame, and therefore the opportunity, one must acknowledge the possibility that a person would change their ways and be destined for a different spiritual direction in the afterlife.

        I see no reason that, if God values and respects our humanity to such an extent that he grants us life eternal upon the path we have chosen, God would not also grant us the opportunity to change our choice during the afterlife just as we can during our mortal existence, rather than lock us into the one he believes we simply want the most. After all, our mortal human life is riddled with fallibility, and one’s choice to be good or evil in his or her human life can change due to a life event, introspection, or spiritual rebirth, can it not? And such an influence would change one’s proclivity to act accordingly.

        Can even God say someone would not change their life’s direction due to some future circumstance, and therefore be onto a different direction in the spiritual afterlife? Isn’t this what spiritual rebirth is all about?

        But what happens when one loses their life prior to such change? What if they never reached a point during their life prior to death whereby they would make a choice which would determine a different spiritual direction and destination, Heaven or Hell?

        Perhaps, during their life, a good person bound for Heaven in the afterlife experienced something so hurtful and chaotic they chose a new path of intentional harm to others and acts of malevolence in vindictive spite. Or, how about a person who has been basically on an evil path in life encounters a situation which makes them reach inside, acknowledge the error of their ways, and they consciously make a decision to correct and better their life?

        If either of these individuals experience death prior to the life-changing point in time, each would be destined to the spiritual destination determined only by their life until the point of death. Would their spiritual direction be so ‘cut in stone’ that they could not achieve the same spiritual rebirth anytime during the afterlife, and therefore choose a different direction? Death occurs at all ages, and life-changing events, or spiritual path changing events, or results from introspection may not present opportunities until much later in one’s life. But, what if one doesn’t live long enough to experience those opportunities?

        For example, is it fair for God to judge a criminal who does not survive a gunshot wound to be evil due to his life’s summation at the point of death and therefore direct him to Hell (because that is what he chooses at that point), versus the criminal who survived the gunshot and, while in prison, chose to take God into his heart and mind and repent for his sins, and therefore be directed onto a path in Heaven?

        What if the criminal who died would have come to the same place spiritually if he had survived the wound and spent his mortal days in prison? Should he not be given the same opportunity to make a choice in the afterlife once he is there and can be exposed to the forces which may help him choose differently?

        It seems that one’s spiritual direction is still linear like a released arrow, and one is never given the opportunity to ever choose their direction again after death.

        Does time spent in the World of Spirits account for these scenarios? I’m not referring to the Stages of Outward Life versus Inward Life whereby one’s true self becomes exposed. I’m referring to points in time during the afterlife whereby one chooses to change their true self, just as they can here on earth.

        Human, physical growth terminates upon death, whereas spiritual growth continues. You’ve stated this many times. Also, that as an angel’s spiritual growth continues, it also makes them more human-like. Well, to be human is to have the right to choose, as you’ve strongly asserted here. So to be human-like, would also infer the desire of, and the right of, choice.

        But, that basic choice, the one choice that ultimately determines our spiritual direction, appears to be only available to us in mortal form, thereby stunting the growth path of our spiritual development.

        That doesn’t seem right.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rich,

          These are all very good questions. When it comes to the situations of particular people, we may not be able to answer them given the limitations of our knowledge. We really can’t know whether a particular criminal would reform if given another decade or two of life on earth. We also can’t know whether the same criminal would use those additional decades to plunge even deeper into a hell-bent life.

          But God can know those things.

          One of my fellow seminarians back in the 1990s believed that God’s omniscience involves being able to trace out all possible scenarios and see what they lead to. In this view, God is like a master chess player who looks at the current arrangement of pieces on the chess board and traces out a number of possible moves, and the sequences and results they would likely lead to, before settling upon a particular move.

          In more general terms, it is a matter of faith in God’s ultimate goodness and love to believe that God will take every possible step to draw each one of us out of hell and into heaven. So if God sees that a particular criminal might have a change of heart and reorient toward heaven given another ten years, God will allow that criminal the ten years to continue living here on earth.

          Our time of death involves a very complex web of events that can be very hard to trace. But God traces all of those events, and guides them intricately toward the best eternal outcomes.

          The other side of the coin is that if God sees that a particular person will only plunge deeper into a hellish life by living here longer, God may allow (not cause) that person to die earlier rather than later to limit the damage and damnation.

          Much of the answer to this particular question, then, boils down to whether we trust that God plays fair with us, and truly takes every possible step to pull us out of hell and move us toward heaven if we have any willingness at all to accept that guidance.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rich,

          About changing our course after death:

          Swedenborg is quite insistent that once we die, our “ruling love,” which is the fundamental motive of our life, and the driving force behind everything we do, cannot change.

          This, he says, is because our life here on earth in our physical body and in the material portions of our mind forms a fixed container for our spirit. Even after we die, he says, we take a “a border” around our spirit “made of the finest substances in nature” (True Christianity #103). This border becomes like a skin defining the boundaries of our life.

          A Biblical metaphor for this is found in the Parable of the Potter and the Clay in Jeremiah 18:1-10. As long as we are living here on earth, the clay is still soft, and can be reshaped. At death, whatever we have shaped up to that point is fired in the kiln, so to speak, and becomes a fixed container that can no longer be changed. Any attempt to change it would instead shatter it and destroy us as a person.

          For many people this seems unfair and arbitrary. Why, as you say, shouldn’t people be able to change their minds after death? What if they might make a different choice?

          Before rejecting Swedenborg’s statements on this (which, of course, you are free to do), consider these two thoughts:

          1. If we are to be truly human, and capable of making an eternal choice about the direction of our life, the particular length of time we take to make that choice doesn’t really matter compared to eternity. If God set it up so that we had ten billion years to make the choice, would it really be any different than if we had 100 years, or even ten seconds, along with a high-speed brain enabling us to weigh our choices and make our decision in that brief time?

          Any amount of time is still a mere blip compared to eternity. So the real question is not how much time we have to make the choice, but whether we humans can, in fact, make an eternal choice about the direction of our life. If the choice is always up for grabs, and never settled, then in effect we have no real freedom of choice. That’s because every choice we make can simply be undone later. Only what is eternal is fully real. Everything else goes out of existence so that it is no longer real.

          2. Freedom of choice is only one kind of human freedom. It is a crucial freedom, but it is also a transitional freedom. It leads to the much more important freedom of being free to love, think, speak, and act in accordance with the choices we have made.

          Let’s expand on the second thought with a practical example:

          Let’s say you decide that astrophysics is your field, and that’s what you want to devote your life to. That would be a freely made choice about the direction of your life.

          Now, although people do sometimes change career midstream, let’s say you remain an astrophysicist for the rest of your life.

          Does this mean that you are no longer human because you’re not engaging in freedom to choose a different field?

          Of course not.

          What it means is that you’ve settled on a course for your life, and you are now in the next phase of freedom, which is the freedom to pursue that career and devote your life to it. Though you will never switch to a different field, you will continually develop in your skills and abilities in your chosen field based on your freedom to act in accordance with your choices.

          Now, let’s say you make that choice in your early twenties. Would it feel like freedom if you spent the remaining decades of your life in a continual state of uncertainty about your choice and your direction in life, and were continually plagued with the idea that perhaps you should have made a different choice–that perhaps it was all a mistake and you should make a different choice?

          No, it would not feel like freedom. It would feel more like a lack of freedom to pursue the course you have chosen with a clear and unobstructed mind and heart.

          Part of the freedom that God grants us is the freedom, once we’ve chosen the basic course of our life, of being content with that choice and single-minded in living it out.

          That’s how it is when we die and move on to the spiritual world.

          It’s not that God won’t allow us to make a different choice. It’s that we have already made our choice, and and we’re now following it out without any second thoughts. It has become our life. We have no desire or intention to change. We are now living single-mindedly and contentedly in the life that we have chosen through our life here on earth.

        • Richard Neer says:

          Hi Lee,

          Thanks for the response.

          I bet there are a lot of Walmart greeters who would challenge your position here, in that their chosen vocation never involved Walmart at any level!

          And, I was one of those who made a career choice in my twenties and know, all too well, the feelings associated with the lack of freedom you mention above. I’ve questioned my decision and career path in life many times over, and yet I am still here in the same vocation arena as I have been for over 25 years. I can’t tell you how often I’ve been plagued with the notion that perhaps I should have made a different choice, or that I still should – perhaps a lawyer or doctor, or even a saxophone player!

          My point here is that the Walmart greeters perhaps never made a new choice and yet their path is currently one born from some event and the basic necessity to survive. In other words, circumstantial. My situation only feels like lack of freedom to choose, for I have the option to pursue a new career at any time if I choose to. (Succeeding is a whole other issue!)

          I don’t quite buy into your statement “So if God sees that a particular criminal might have a change of heart and reorient toward heaven given another ten years, God will allow that criminal the ten years to continue living here on earth.” People die every day, some very suddenly and from extreme circumstances, whether they be health related or catastrophic events. Surely, all those people have not yet made their “life” choice to determine their spiritual path in the afterlife. Some may have, others, not. Most likely, the greatest percentage were still ‘work in progress’, And some of them may not have reached their choice for decades yet, or maybe next year, next month, or even maybe next week or tomorrow. And yet, their choice is gone. How is that, in any way, fair to assume their path at that moment is, or would be, the correct one?

          I’ve seen people dying from illness embrace God as often as I’ve seen them curse and truly denounce God in defiant bitterness, None of them ever appeared to be living longer just to reach such a decision. And those who experience sudden death at any point during their lives seldom have the fortune of having made a choice that sets their spiritual path on the correct course, yet their freedom of choice is swept away during the event and their die is cast, so to speak.

          Not to mention those who witness such events and whose lives are erratically impacted by them. Those things can change a person from good to bad due to hatred and remorse, or bring them closer to God due to acceptance, love and appreciation. Either way, none of that happens overnight, and yet they may meet their own death prior to such transition. Again, not a particularly fair assessment at the time of death to determine a definitive spiritual direction immediately thereafter to follow.

          There should be no reason why God, who supposedly is the ultimate expression of love, would not provide, out of love, the opportunity for souls to be given any and all chances to experience the joys of both Heaven and Hell, spiritually, so that they may either remain steadfast in their position, or perhaps choose differently. At any time, multiple times. If arguing that whether 10 years or 100 years, or even one million years would, or should, be sufficient time to reach the proper ‘molding’ position during our mortal life, then you are omitting the most crucial aspect: Man is not perfect, and therefore could not counted upon to make the perfect choice.

          Of course, this does bring about the problem of continual flux in never knowing if the right decision has been made or if a different one should be made. And, that every decision can be unmade given time to do so. Certainly a conundrum there, but I would not construe that as having no real freedom to choose, as you have stated. Instead, the aspect of reincarnation actually becomes more substantiated as a method to ultimately attain a position with God in Heaven for those who choose to. For those who choose not to, repeatedly experiencing life here on earth can certainly be construed as Hell.

          It would be more sensible to take a position that, in the afterlife, as it is purported to be so indifferent from our mortal lives, our souls continue to have the ultimate freedom to choose not only among the variants of the spiritual life in which they exist, but also which life they wish to exist in at any given time since time is eternal.

          That would be the ultimate expression of God’s love – to forever provide the freedom of ultimate choice in the realm of spiritual eternity.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rich,

          Thanks for your reply. Of course, you’ll ultimately have to make up your own mind what to believe about the nature of our life here on earth and in the hereafter.

          Just a few more thoughts:

          The example of the astrophysicist was meant to refer to someone who has made a career choice that s/he is satisfied with and enjoys. Some people do make a career choice and never look back, not just for practical, financial, and social reasons but because they love what they do.

          The choice we make here on earth is not an intellectual one such as “do I believe in God or not?” It is a choice made through our life and our actions. The fundamental choice is whether we devote our lives to serving others in some way, or whether we devote it to serving ourselves exclusively, and others only to the extent that we expect benefits for ourselves as a result.

          This choice of the heart and hands tends to underlie other choices we make–such as whether a personal tragedy leaves us bitter and angry or prompts us to grow more compassionate toward others who have also suffered loss and tragedy. Such post-trauma choices and directions don’t happen in a vacuum. They are heavily influenced by the focus of our life up to that point.

          About the circumstances of death, to us it does often seem sudden and without context. But God doesn’t see things that way. God is not surprised or caught flat-footed by anything we humans do or anything that happens to us. God has been preparing and providing for it all along. So the idea is that whenever a person dies, and under whatever circumstances, whether sudden and unexpected or long and slow from our perspective, God has been at work behind the scenes making sure the deceased person had an opportunity to make that life (not merely intellectual) choice before the point of death.

          And if a person truly dies too soon to make that choice, such as in the childhood or teen years before reaching the age of responsibility, or never reaching adult capacity due to mental handicaps or overwhelming environmental forces preventing it, the default option is always heaven. In short, no one goes to hell who hasn’t specifically and freely chosen to do so. And God doesn’t send anyone to hell, nor require anyone to go there. People send themselves to hell, and freely go there if that is where they want to be.

          Short version: Though it may seem unfair to our eyes looking from the outside at particular situations, from a spiritual perspective God provides fairness for everyone, no matter what the circumstances of their death.

          I can’t prove this to you or anyone else. But I believe that a loving and merciful God would not allow things to be any other way.

        • Richard Neer says:

          Events and introspection can certainly change people, Lee. They can change them in their core; not necessarily a change brought on by making an intellectual choice, but a change in how their hearts and minds perceive and react to life and those around them.

          I don’t believe that such change is simply underlined and heavily influenced by the focus of their lives up to that point. Some people transition to ‘find’ God and devote their lives to love who have never chosen a path of love of and devotion to their fellow man before. And just as familiarly, good people who demonstrate love and caring towards others in their pursuit of life enrichment can just as readily turn to a life of crime or ego-maniacal behavior after some traumatic event.

          And these people are adults, not children or teens who have not reached an age of responsibility to properly make such life decisions.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rich,

          Agreed on all counts. People certainly do make life decisions, and change them, in the course of their lives here on earth, and in response to the experiences that come their way. Otherwise what would be the point of our years here?

          The question is, is there ever a time at which we can say that the decision has been made?

          Does God (or the Universe) keep on sending us back until we get it “right” according to God’s idea of what’s right? Or can we make a decision for ourselves, and have it stick?

          You mentioned earlier that we are all imperfect, and make imperfect choices. That is true. But they are still our choices to make.

          The question is not whether we can eventually make a perfect choice. That’s not possible. We’re imperfect beings living in an imperfect society. The question is whether we can make a choice that we consider good enough, and stick with it.

          Also, we are held responsible only for the level of clarity we’re capable of, and for the choices we’re able to make. It’s a sliding scale universe. Each of us finds our place according to the level of choices we are able to make.

          On this, see the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30. What we’re given does make some difference. But what we do with what we’re given, no matter how large or small, makes a much bigger difference.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rich,

          I should add that the way people appear on the outside is not necessarily what they’re actually like on the inside.

          When a traumatic event turns someone from being a good person to being a criminal or egomaniac, there are at least two possible interpretations:

          1. The person actually changed from being a good person to being a bad person in response to that event.

          2. The person was not actually a good person inwardly, even if it appeared so outwardly. The traumatic event merely ripped away the social mask to reveal the true person underneath.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rich,

          Of course, all of this depends on scrapping the old view of hell as a place of flames, pitchforks, and torture where God eternally punishes the wicked for their sins.

          That’s not what hell is like.

          Instead, hell is the type of human community that results when the people in it are all bent on their own wealth, power, and pleasure at the expense of others.

          For those in heaven, hell is not a pretty sight.

          But for those in hell, it is a life that gives them great pleasure. That’s true even if their pleasure is mixed with the inevitable pain that results from violating the laws of life–and also from continually putting themselves in opposition to, and therefore in conflict with, the people around them.

          For more on what hell is really like, see the article:
          Is There Really a Hell? What is it Like?

      • Joe M says:

        Hi Lee ,

        This conundrum of all babies and children being given the default into heaven seems unjust to me. For if a man or woman is to only have one life on earth and if all children get an automatic pass to heaven then it would have been better for everyone to die as a toddler.

        Also we do not choose into which circumstances we are born into however those circumstances have very direct impact on the life we choose to live.

        Also it has been shown that certain parts of the brain are responsible for guikt, remorse, and also for feeling love and happiness. Science has shown us that some people are born with or their brains develop in childhood not to feel these emotions.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Joe,

          Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. It’s a fair point about babies and children getting a “free pass” to heaven, while adults get no such free pass. However, there are reasons, both practical and spiritual, that it’s not as unfair as it may seem.

          Practically speaking, if everyone died in childhood, the human race would quickly cease to exist, both because there would be no adults to care for the babies and children and because few people would even reach childbearing age (which comes before adulthood, in the teenage years).

          Spiritually speaking, here are two key points:

          1. No adult is forced to go to hell instead of heaven. If any do go there, it is due to their own freely made choice. So there is no injustice involved.
          2. Though all children do go to heaven, they do not reach the full spiritual development that’s possible for people who live out a full adult lifespan on earth.

          Clearly, if God is a God of love, then if it were better for us all to die in childhood, and all go to heaven automatically, God would arrange for Creation to work that way.

          But it is through the very process of engaging in the struggle between good and evil, and making a free choice between heaven and hell, that we humans develop to our full human potential. A person who dies in middle age or old age having fought the good fight has developed a depth and strength of character that is not possible for those who die in infancy, childhood, or in their teens, who have not yet had the opportunity to fully develop their character in the rough-and-tumble of human society.

          It is true (according to Swedenborg) that all children who die go to heaven. And the younger they die, the higher heaven they live in. However, though they live to eternity as adult angels, they retain a certain infant- or child-like quality to their character, and they therefore cannot do some of the more demanding and character-driven jobs that angels who have lived out their years on earth and fully developed their character can do. They have a very happy life in heaven, but it is not as full, nuanced, and complex a life as they would have had if they’d lived out their years and chosen good over evil, heaven over hell.

          In short, there is a trade-off for dying in childhood and getting a “free ticket” to heaven. That trade-off is that we will never reach the full human and angelic potential that we could have reached if we had lived a full lifetime on earth.

          Unfortunately, human life is messy. There are many ways in which we fall short of reaching our full potential. The love and justice of God is that no matter how long or short is our life here on earth, God brings about the best possible outcome for each one of us, given the imperfect—and sometimes really awful—circumstances of our lives.

          About people being born into very different circumstances, and the justice of that, here are some articles that might help:

          Here’s the short version: No one goes to hell because of the circumstances of his or her birth, or due to anything beyond his or her control. It is only our freely made choices made within the particular circumstances of our lives that determines whether we will spend eternity in heaven or in hell. And if, for any reason whatsoever, we are incapable of making a free and rational choice between heaven and hell, our default destination is always heaven, not hell.

          In other words, no one goes to hell for reasons beyond his or her control.

          I hope this helps.

    • Lee says:

      Hi again Josie,

      God doesn’t keep sin and evil alive. The people who choose hell do. God does keep them alive. But God still flows into them with love and wisdom–and nothing of evil. They themselves twist the flow of good and truth from God into evil and falsity. God will not snuff them out, nor will God force them to change and become good instead of evil, because that would take away their humanity. But this is already covered in the article above.

      Sundar Singh did like Swedenborg, but he also came from a culture that believes in reincarnation and the ultimate return of all souls to God. Swedenborg actually went in the opposite direction in his writings. Early on in his spiritual writings he made some statements implying that all would eventually find their way to heaven. But later, after he’d spent more time in the spiritual world and had more fully gotten his bearings there, he came out categorically against that view, stating very explicitly that those who choose heaven in this life will remain in heaven forever after they die, and those who choose hell in this life will remain in hell forever after they die. Since Swedenborg spent several decades in the spiritual world while he was still alive, I doubt he would change his views after death (if the implication is that Singh spoke to Swedenborg in the spiritual world).

      Yes, everyone here–and even in the spiritual world–is a mixture of good and evil. No one but God is perfect, or perfectly good. And pure evil is an impossibility. It would annihilate itself.

      Even the worst demons in hell have a good and undefiled innermost level. Swedenborg sometimes calls this innermost level the “soul” when he uses that term in contrast with the “spirit,” which is our spiritual self as a whole. (Other times he uses the word “soul” to mean the same thing as “spirit.”) It is that innermost, undefiled soul in evil spirits into which God flows with the divine love and wisdom that keeps them alive forever. But that innermost level is closed off from the evil spirits’ conscious awareness because they have chosen evil, which looks only outward, and not inward. So other than keeping them alive, it doesn’t have much effect on their daily lives.

      Also, even the best angels still have shadows of self-centeredness, greed, ignorance, and so on. Most of the time they are unaware of it. But occasionally they get a little too full of themselves, thinking they’re good by themselves (not from God), or that they are better than other angels and spirits. When this happens, they temporarily fall out of their place in heaven, and experience times of sadness and depression (mostly fairly mild) until they come to their senses and recognize that by themselves they’re still selfish SOBs, that anything good in them is from God, not from themselves, and that they’re no better than anyone else. Then they resume their joyful life in heaven, serving their fellow angels with love and humility.

      And yes, angels do continually grow more toward love and light. There is no end to their increase in love, wisdom, understanding, and practical effectiveness in expressing these spiritual virtues in their lives.

      Meanwhile, evil spirits are progressively held back from expressing some of their worst evil impulses, so that their evil tends to be moderated over time. But since they still get their pleasure from those desires, they still act on them as much as they can, and still remain in hell.

      I hope this answers your questions reasonably well. It’s a complex, human reality, so even these answers are a simplified version of the great complexities of our afterlife in the spiritual world. Still, the basics are fairly clear.

      And of course, it’s entirely up to you what makes sense to you and what you want to believe.

  6. Tony says:

    Hi lee

    If it’s true what you say and we as ‘angels’ are just going to be continually grow from gods love is there a point to this are we simply going to do this forever because it sounds like we won’t ever get to some destination if there is one. Are we merely suppose to be an expression of god for example and no more?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Tony,

      Great question!

      We do have a destination: our community in heaven. Each of us has a home in heaven, where we will live with the people we love most, and the people who share our values, beliefs, and goals in life. So we’re not just continually traveling and wandering here and there–unless, of course, that’s what we love to do.

      We also have a purpose in life, which in general is to love God and love our fellow human beings. In more concrete terms, our purpose is to serve God by serving other people in whatever ways we are best at. So our eternal life in heaven is an active one in which we have jobs, daily tasks, responsibilities, relationships, and all of the other things that make our life here on earth meaningful and fulfilling.

      Yes, we do continually grow in love and wisdom. And in that sense we’re also continually on a journey. But that journey is more of an inward, spiritual journey. We’re continually learning more about ourselves and the people we see each day. We’re continually getting better at what we do, and even moving into more responsible positions as we’re ready to take them on. It’s not the sort of journey that has a specific destination except in the sense of setting personal goals for ourselves which we then seek to achieve.

      It’s all about building a community of mutual love, understanding, and service. Life is about our relationships with one another and with God.

  7. Anirudh Kumar Satsangi says:

    What’s the difference between reincarnation and eternal afterlife?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Anirudh Kumar Satsangi,

      Thanks for stopping by.

      There are many differences between reincarnation and eternal afterlife. One, of course, is that reincarnation means that we re-enter a new physical body here on earth after we die, whereas in most conceptions of an eternal afterlife we continue living in the spiritual world after we die, and never re-enter the material world.

      But I would say that a much bigger difference is that in Western conceptions of an eternal afterlife, we have one life in which we make our decision what sort of person we want to be, and then we continue to be that kind of person forever after we die, whereas in Eastern conceptions of reincarnation, we have many lifetimes, and ultimately we do not choose our eternal destiny, but only choose how long we will take (how many lifetimes) to get there.

      • Anirudh Kumar Satsangi says:

        Thanks for very nice reply. Enlightened Souls have eternal afterlife. Some times such Souls are sent on Earth to enlighten us. At that time such great Souls assume physical body and this process is known as reincarnation for such Enlightened Souls.

  8. Tony says:

    you said that if people choose hell that means they are there permanently but you also said that it’s possible to get out of hell could you explain this?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Tony,

      Thanks for your question.

      Those who are living in hell permanently can sometimes temporarily leave hell if they have a good reason and God allows it. While they are out of hell, God puts them in a different state of mind so that they can handle the atmosphere of heaven or the world of spirits, and it will not painful to them as it ordinarily would be.

      However, they can remain in that state of mind only for a brief time, since it is foreign to them. As soon as they start reverting back to their own state of mind, they go back to their own homes and communities in hell because that is the only place where they are comfortable and able to breathe freely.

      While we are still living on earth we can, of course, be drawn out of hellish states by being reformed and reborn through our choice and our acceptance of God’s renovating presence in our lives.

      And after we die, if we have a good heart but have fallen into bad habits or among bad companions, we may at first spend some time near or in hell, dragged down there by our bad friends and associates. There we will suffer hard and painful things until we are ready to give up our bad habits and bad companions. We then rise out of the hell–or out of the “lower earth” just above hell–to which we had been dragged down, and find our place in heaven.

      However, this happens only for people who actually do have good and thoughtful hearts underneath their hard and misguided exterior. Those who have self-centered, greedy, and power-hungry hearts will find their place in hell, where they will stay forever.

  9. Pamela says:

    I shared this idea with my husband and I said “Isn’t this fascinating?” he said “No, it’s ordinary” I said “What?” … after discussing it further with him he meant that to him it is so obvious that it’s “ordinary.” I suspect my question below has been answered in one of the comments here (but I haven’t read them all), so forgive me for asking again if that’s the case. Your argument agaisnt reincarnation makes a lot of sense, and you might have just changed th mind of a person (me) who has believed in it all her life. But, what about a child that dies at childbirth? before they have had a chance to “choose” to be good or bad? What happens to that soul if it doesn’t have a chance to come back to try again?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Pamela,

      Thanks for your comment and question.

      I take it as a compliment that your husband thinks of the points in the article as ordinary. I also think of them as just ordinary common sense. I do understand, though, that many people see it differently.

      To answer your question, a child who dies in childbirth will be raised by angels in one of the highest heavens, and will grow up in heaven to become an angel him- or herself. No one goes to hell unless he or she chooses as an adult to become a hellish person. Since children have not yet had the opportunity to do that, God’s love and mercy ensures that all children who die go to heaven and become angels.

      For more on this, see the article:
      Where are my Children who have Died? Will I Ever See Them Again?

      I hope this helps.

  10. Clive Wynn says:

    The idea of eternal hell is unacceptable and no compassionate person has to explain why. That hell may appear eternal is another thing. Swedenborg’s accounts are still subjective, even though he may have explored heaven and hell for twenty-seven years, or however long it is claimed. It is possible that he has changed his mind and that those who relish the idea of condemning fellow humans to eternal hell (to prove their own eligibility for heaven) are the really hellishly minded. How could one sit complacently in heaven harping God’s glories knowing that innumerable souls are suffering in hell beneath one’s feet, so to speak? It would be like a rich man enjoying a feast indulgently while the starving looked on. I know all the arguments supposedly justifying eternal hell, because those confined there like it, supposedly, but it is nonetheless unacceptable. It cannot be so. My heart refuses to accept the idea, even if I might be intellectually convinced. The whole concept is totally repugnant.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Clive,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your thoughts.

      I understand that the idea of an eternal hell is repugnant to compassionate people. And I have no particular interest in debating it with you. It either does or doesn’t exist, regardless of our particular beliefs about it. And no one’s going to hell because they don’t believe in an eternal hell.

      I would simply say that before even having a reasonable conversation on the subject, it’s necessary to jettison a lot of old and faulty ideas of hell, among which are:

      • That God sends people to hell. (God doesn’t.)
      • That one human can condemn another human being to hell. (They can’t.)
      • That people in heaven glory in comparison to those in hell. (They don’t.)
      • That people in hell are eternally punished for their sins on earth. (They aren’t.)
      • That people in hell are kept there against their will. (They could leave any time they wanted to. They just don’t want to. And if they do, they go rushing back to hell of their own accord.)

      For more on this view of hell, see the article:
      Is There Really a Hell? What is it Like?

      If believing in an eternal hell doesn’t work for you, I’m not going to waste your time or mine trying to convince you otherwise. It’s an understandable view. The idea of an eternal hell is horrible for those who have love and compassion for their fellow human beings. Historically, a certain number of Swedenborgians have been unable to accept this teaching.

      If there is an eternal hell, it’s not because God or the angels want it to exist, but because the people who live there insist upon it.

  11. Anirudh Kumar Satsangi says:

    Reincarnation is now a matter of scientific study.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Anirudh Kumar Satsangi,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment.

      Yes, some people are attempting to study reincarnation, the afterlife, and other spiritual subjects through science. However, as powerful as science is in studying the phenomena of the physical universe, science simply isn’t a very good tool for studying non-material realities.

      • Anirudh Kumar Satsangi says:

        Thanks Lee for your very nice views. I also agree that scientific verification and validation is not essential for studying non-material realities. But we should try to develop consensus over it.

        • Doug Webber says:

          Since we are discussing non-material realities, such studies (e.g., by Ian Stevenson) will always be declared “anecdotal” thus completely disregarded. However there are certain facts that cannot be denied: people have remembered factual information of previous lives, and in some cases have had complete recall or have been able to speak in a foreign language. Speaking in foreign tongues is recorded in the New Testament as well.

          Emanuel Swedenborg, as far as I know, was given a very comprehensive explanation of this in his waking visions of the spiritual world. Simply put, in the spiritual world, spirits can share memory with one another, and spirits can also immerse themselves in the memory of a living person where they think they are that person. These are the lower order spirits, who are most often encountered in channeling and thus will vehemently support reincarnation, as they did with Swedenborg. However, it is nothing but shared memory. Swedenborg stated that communication was more open in ancient times, and thus “deja vu” experiences were much more common. Shared memory will always be with spirits who have a similar personality.

          In the spiritual world, each person in the afterlife will belong to a particular society of spirits or angels, and thus will share their lifetime experiences with one another. If we consider such a society as a “group soul”, then yes, they will have the experience of multiple life times. But on an individual soul level, we all live just once.

          So reincarnation, per se, is not exactly “false,” it is what I call an “appearance of truth.” It does provide strong evidence for an afterlife.

  12. sparky480 says:

    I have mixed feelings about reincarnation. My biggest issue is the fact we are to a great extent products of our environment. People who grow up in loving families or circumstances have an extremely unfair advantage over those who never had that. Yes, we have free will, but I’d bet my life if there was an inversion of circumstances, heaven and hell would probably be switching people. People like Charles Manson never really had a chance.

    However, I’m not entirely sure reincarnation is fair either, or even a morally-sound doctrine. One example is many reincarnationists, relying on supposed advanced spiritual teachings, actually believe people, with the help of their guides, choose to incarnate as evil people committing despicable acts against others in order to learn ‘lessons’. Not only does this sound frightening to me, but also unfair to the perpetrator considering they’ll have to pay for the consequences of their actions. Don’t even get me started with children born with horrible conditions. Is this system any fairer?

    The concept of Karmic Law also appears suspicious, considering new lives will always generate new karma to resolve. I’m also convinced unconditional love (Padgette called this Divine love) can’t be attained in attained in human form. The fact that even the most loving people are forced to reincarnate seems to support my notion here.

    Furthermore, there appears to be no stability with spiritual teachings having reincarnation as their central doctrine. There are drastic differences concerning the average amount of time spirits spend in the afterlife between earthly incarnations. Newton claims it’s only seven years! Other teachings say centuries. Still others claim reincarnation occurs, but is unnecessary and rare (Imperator Band).

    Other sources (Newton again) claims there’s no hell at all, all is light, and all are met with love in heaven regardless of what they did. Other teachings, as with Seth and Silver Birch, claim reincarnation as it’s known, does not occur. Instead they proclaim the real ‘us’ is our higher selves, and that we’re just expressions of it. Newton uses the higher self concept to claim we can reincarnate, but yet still be in the afterlife. I can list many more inconsistencies, but I don’t want write too much more on an already long post.

    I want to add one more thing concerning science. I think it’s important to prove survival as a scientific fact, since in my opinion this would have drastic implications on the way humans live and treat others, and maybe even save our planet. If something exists, then it can’t be outside of science. I really do believe the scientific method can achieve this, and when you think about it it’s probably our only hope to change the current physicalist paradigm. The fact that mediumship and other psi can be hindered by natural phenomena on earth demonstrates to me what’s termed as spiritual phenomena is not transcendental, but simply difficult to research due to our present lack of knowledge and ability to investigate them.

    Best wishes,
    Jamie

  13. sparky480 says:

    I wanted to add a few things here others have not mentioned (hopefully I’m not typing the same message twice). Oblivion might be a better option, at least to me when I consider the following. It’s very obvious that to a great extent we’re products of our environments. Those who’d grown up in loving households and overall better circumstances have an unfair advantage over those who’d grown up in negativity.

    Look at Charles Manson for example, he was beaten and raped by his prostitute mother’s boyfriends. He was beaten and raped by both inmates and staff while institionalized as a juvenile, and so on. Obviously such a person is not going to trust and love others. It’s kind of like beating a puppy from birth. Yes, if we have free will there can always be exceptions, but this still does not negate the fact some have to work much harder than others to achieve the same goal. The only thing I can hope is that mitigating circumstances are considered. According to the Padgette and Borgia material, help is available and people are helped out of hell.

    However, I don’t see how reincarnation is any fairer, well at least depending on which doctrine you believe. Take one example here: some reincarnation teachings claim spirits at times, with help from their guides, actually choose to incarnate as evil people that’ll commit atrocious acts against others. There appears to be a dilema here considering such a spirit would have to pay the consequences of their actions. I believe it was the Michael teachings that claim we all must experience life as a man, woman, mother, father, poor, wealthy, victim, perpetrator, etc. the Seth messages appear similar. Sounds sick if you ask me, but many people believe this, and many spirits supposedly teach this ‘truth’. I think I’d rather oblivion if this is the case.

    Let’s use some critical thinking here concerning whether reincarnation is a fact. Ian Stevenson is considered to be the pillar of reincarnation research, but there are holes in his best cases. The physical evidence appears to be shaky, so now we’re left to rely on anecdotal testimonies and spirit communication to steer us.

    These are shaky too, for there’s too many inconsistencies here as well. Examples would be time between incarnations, reasons for reincarnating, higher selves, group souls and even the denial of hell. Near-death experiences are not reliable in my opinion either, and all one has to do is look at the contrast between Howard Storm’s NDE vs many others to catch my drift here. This is one thing I can say, there appears to be much more consistencies with non reincarnation teachings vs those teaching reincarnation. I’m still up in the air, but at this point I’d have to justify my scepticism of reincarnation until given a very good reason to do otherwise.

    I wanted to touch on one more thing again using some logic here. This concerns science and spiritual matters. Anything that exists is a part of science, originally known as natural philosophy before the modern era and its scientific method. I believe the scientific method can at least prove the existence of the afterlife and other psi. In fact it’s our only hope of changing the current physicalist paradigm in science.

    Proving the existence of the afterlife would have drastic implications regarding how people would live, treat others and the planet we live on. I think it’s a mistake to place spiritual matters in the category of transcendentalism. It’s also very obvious the latter can’t be true considering how natural phenomena on earth can drastically affect the quality of mediumship and other psi.

    Either way, I personally am not scared of oblivion, nor do I feel it’s a bad option. It sure beats eternal hell and numerous incarnations of hellish lives. Reincarnation also appears to render the afterlife almost meaningless, being nothing more than a vacation rather than a place to continue life on a higher level with advancements. I thought I’d give people here something to think about.

    Best wishes,
    Jamie

    • Lee says:

      Hi Jamie,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your thoughtful comments and (implied) questions. Since you are speaking on similar subjects in both comments, I’ll answer them both together—though probably in more than one comment.

      The issue of spiritual fairness considering the radically different circumstances into which different people are born is a tough one. How can we say that someone born into poverty and abuse has the same shot at heaven and eternal happiness as someone who is born to loving parents and material sufficiency?

      The basic answer, though, is that spiritually, we are “graded on a curve.” To be more clear and explicit: We are held responsible only for the decisions we ourselves make freely within the circumstances into which we were born. For some people who had a really horrific upbringing, that may be a very narrow area of freedom. But to state it from another angle, anything of our character that is due to our birth and circumstances, and not to our own decisions, is canceled out when it comes time for our spiritual judgment, and our sorting out into either heaven or hell.

      For more on this, please see these two articles:

      And you may also be interested in this article: If God is Love, Why all the Pain and Suffering?

      The basic message is that we’re not held responsible spiritually for anything we’re not actually responsible for ourselves. If we are pressed to evil actions by overwhelmingly horrible circumstances that are beyond our control, we will not be held responsible for that. Spiritually, we are responsible only for the choices between good and evil that we are able to make within the circumstances into which we were born.

      So although there really is no basic fairness to human life materially, there is spiritual fairness when it comes to what part of the spiritual world we will inhabit eternally.

      Oh, and related to that, you might also find this article helpful: It’s not fair that God made some people incredibly beautiful, and others just average!

    • Lee says:

      Following up on my previous reply:

      As terribly unfair as at may seem to some people, we actually can’t tell from the outside whether horribly violent and malevolent people such as Alolph Hitler, Charles Manson, and Jeffrey Dahmer ended out in heaven and hell.

      Yes, many people want them to roast in hell. And it does seem fairly likely that that’s where they are. However, the most we can really say is this: if they actually are inwardly what they appeared to be outwardly, then they are in hell.

      But the fact is that we can’t actually tell from the outside whether they really are such horrible people spiritually as they appeared to be based on their words and actions. We can’t know for sure whether some external circumstances, such as those you describe in Manson’s upbringing, unhinged their minds and overwhelmed them, so that they were pushed over the edge into sociopathic insanity without having actually desired or chosen it for themselves. For more on this, see especially the Lee Boyd Malvo article linked in my previous comment.

      After death, when we enter the spiritual world, we go through a process in which the outer layers of our personality is gradually stripped away, leaving only the true core of our heart and mind. Anything that we said or did purely due to harsh or overwhelming circumstances, and not really through our own freely made choices, will be stripped away as part of this process. What’s left will be that part of ourselves that we were able to choose freely within the circumstances into which we were born.

      For more on this process, see: What Happens To Us When We Die?

      For some people who were born into especially horrible circumstances, there might be a lot of stripping away to do, and that process may be long and painful, perhaps taking as long as what we would experience here on earth as twenty, thirty, or more years. And once it is finished, there may be a fairly undeveloped soul underneath. And yet, if that soul is, at its core, innocent, and did not actually do those horrible things through freely made moral choices, then that soul will eventually find his or her place in heaven, not in hell.

      For more on what hell is like and how we get there, see: Is There Really a Hell? What is it Like?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Jamie,

      About scientifically proving the afterlife, I don’t really agree with you there.

      First, the proper field of study of science is material reality. God and spirit, from my perspective anyway, are non-material realities. This means that science simply isn’t the proper tool to study them.

      Beyond that, if there were overwhelming scientific evidence for the reality of God and spirit, it would tend to violate the spiritual freedom of scientifically oriented secular materialists. I don’t believe that God will force anyone to believe in God and spirit. Rather, I believe that God leaves us free to decide for ourselves whether we wish to believe in God and spirit. So I believe that it’s necessary for secular people to be able to accept scientific method and scientific conclusions without feeling that this requires them to believe in God.

      In short, I think scientific “proof” of God and the afterlife would actually be counterproductive for many people.

      Further, in science there really is no such thing as “proof.” Only more and more convincing evidence. However, history, and even the Bible itself, shows that those who do not want to believe in God will find ways to reject the existence of God no matter how miraculous or incontrovertible the “proof” seems to be. For example, within forty days of the ancient Israelites hearing God’s voice booming the Ten Commandments from Mt. Sinai, they had rejected God and the Ten Commandments, and had made a golden calf to worship instead.

      Having said all that, you might be interested in my article: Where is the Proof of the Afterlife?

      • sparky480 says:

        Hello Lee. It wasn’t my intention to make two long posts. I wrote the latter post because I had thought my former post didn’t register since I didn’t realize I had to be logged in with a gravitar account.

        I had brought up the scientific method because I’m involved with a website known as spiritoday, and through there I get to have regular email exchanges with many scientists and other people working in nonscientific academical fields. These are people directly involved with the scientific research of psi, intelligent design and the afterlife.

        However, even amongst them, there are vivid disagreements concerning intelligent design, paradigms in physics and of course reincarnation. Reincarnation by far appears to be the trigger issue more than anything else, and I’ve witnessed extremely hostile exchanges between otherwise intelligent and well-mannered people. I’m going to leave reincarnation out of this particular post in order to touch on the afterlife and its relation to science.

        I’m not entirely sure it’s correct to assume there’s a ‘material’ and ‘transcendental’ aspect to existence. Where most of us are in agreement with is there are different frequencies to life, which include the ‘physical’ and various afterlife realms.

        According to some physicists in my group familiar with quantum theory, the different frequencies of existence can be attributed to quantum theory. In my opinion however, I think Dr. Ron Pearson has by far the best and most detailed hypothesis regarding how physics, the origins of the universe and all ‘paranormal’ phenomena are intertwined. Dr. Neppe has his own hypothesis regarding the above, but his idea centers around both General Relativity and quantum theory. Pearson’s idea on the other hand rejects General Relativity, and replaces the latter with his own brand of classical physics known as ‘exact classical mechanics.

        I don’t want to get too technical here, but I wanted you to know where I’m coming from regarding why I believe it’s a mistake to reject science being involved with afterlife research.

        What currently makes psi and survival difficult to research is the butterfly effect and our current level of advancement. Furthermore, if Pearson is correct, different matter systems (probably better known to you as spiritual realms) are made up of finer atoms than our own, and interpenetrate each other without mutual interference. According to him, this is why different matter systems feel solid and real to their inhabitents. He also thinks certain aspects of quantum theory, such as Planck’s Constant, have different values in each matter system.

        Obviously different matter systems would make researching them extremely difficult with our more course instruments. These matter systems would behave like they’re transcendental, but they’re actually not.

        It’s difficult to explain my stance and the reasons for it since I base my opinions of off dozens of technical books I’ve read. However, I do agree with something you’d touched on, that at least for the time being, actual experiences will be the only thing to change the mind of sceptics rather than anything derived from the scientific method. Experimental controls will always be a source of conflict between sceptics and their opponents. I personally believe there will be a paradigm shift in science to support psi and an afterlife, but it’ll be a gradual one.

        Best wishes,
        Jamie

        • Lee says:

          Hi Jamie,

          It probably wouldn’t be very fruitful for us to debate our particular views of the nature of reality. However, I am happy to present Swedenborg’s views of the nature of reality for your amusement and edification if you’re interested.

          In particular, I present the three general levels of reality in Swedenborg’s system in this article: Is Heaven Physical? Can Angels Play Tennis?

          I don’t think science or reason will ever bring a person to a belief in God and spirit. But once a person comes to a belief in God and spirit, science and reason can provide much support to that faith.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Jamie,

      To respond to a few remaining thoughts in your comments:

      Some Christians do believe in oblivion, or “annihilationism,” as it is known more technically. Some think this is what the Bible means by eternal death. Others, somewhat more mercifully, think, as you are suggesting, that the idea of an eternal hell is intolerable, and that it would be better for evil people simply to cease to exist.

      Swedenborg, however, departs from the mainstream of Christianity by rejecting the idea of hell as eternal torment with flames and pitchforks. Rather, he sees “hellfire” as the continual rage and anger of people in hell against one another, and especially against God. And yet, according to Swedenborg, the evil spirits in hell do have some pleasures in their life, even if those pleasures are mixed with pain. Their lives in hell, he says, are not one endless experience of agony and torture, but rather lives of engaging in their sick pleasures, followed by the inevitable punishment and pain that accompanies them—punishment and pain inflicted, not by God, but by their fellow evil spirits in hell.

      For more on this, see the article on hell linked in one of my previous responses.

      Karma, as I understand it, is based on the simple reality of cause and effect. If we do good things, it will bring about good consequences, while if we do evil things, it will bring about evil consequences. That much is just common sense, and reflects the reality of the human situation.

      Where I depart from it is on the idea that there is no way out of that cycle except by bearing the punishment for our evil deeds in a future life. From a Christian perspective, we can repent from our sins, and though there may still be some repercussions, spiritually speaking we will no longer have to bear the penalty, or punishment, for them. This is stated especially clearly in Ezekiel 18:21-23:

      But if the wicked turn away from all their sins that they have committed and keep all my statutes and do what is lawful and right, they shall surely live; they shall not die. None of the transgressions that they have committed shall be remembered against them; for the righteousness that they have done they shall live. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord God, and not rather that they should turn from their ways and live?

      In Christianity as I understand it, there is no need to feel the evil effects of every wrong we have done because we are given the opportunity to repent from them and begin a new life right here in this lifetime.

      And in general, as explained in the above article, I simply don’t see the need for reincarnation. I also don’t see the point of a reincarnationist universe. If we all end out re-merged with God in the end anyway, what is the point of this whole cycle of karma, with all of its pleasure and pain? What have we, or what has the universe, gained from the cycle if the end is the same as the beginning? It sounds to me as if God is just bored, and needs entertainment. But that’s not a good reason to create a universe that contains so much pain.

      I hope I have responded to most of your thoughts in these comments. If there is anything I missed that you especially wanted a response to, please do let me know.

      Thanks again for your thought-provoking comments! I hope my responses, and the articles linked, will help move you forward in your thinking on these subjects.

      • sparky480 says:

        Hello Lee. I just wanted to add one more thing here. I’m getting ready to read some of your articles to understand Swedenborg better, because I’m simply not familiar with him. I’ll also need to admit that I have something of a confirmation bias to look at anything not teaching reincarnation. I justify my bias because I’ve already read many books claiming reincarnation is a ‘scientifically-proven fact’. The justification for this comes from both recalling another person’s life and birthmarks/scars matching wounds of the deceased.

        I still don’t believe reincarnation has been proven, and there appears to be a major bias within most psi circles to support reincarnation.

        My motivations led me to the James Padgette teachings, which is what I follow at the moment. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with his work, but if you are I was wondering what you think of his teachings. I suppose I’ll inevitably find out the more I read articles on your site. I’m motivated to get Swedenborg’s Heaven and Hell as well.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Jamie,

          About reincarnation, I would humbly suggest that the above article is probably as clear an explanation of Swedenborg’s general angle on reincarnation as you’re going to get. I don’t know how carefully you have read the article, but I would recommend a careful, thoughtful reading of it if you want the full picture on reincarnation from a Swedenborgian perspective. And of course, if you have any particular questions, I’d be happy to answer them to the best of my ability.

          I have heard of James Padgett, but have not (as far as I recall) read any of his writings. Although I do think it is very possible for spirits to communicate with humans on earth, I don’t view such communications as a reliable source of information about the spiritual world, for reasons explained in this article: What about Spiritualism? Is it a Good Idea to Contact Spirits?

          I see spirit communication more as a source of comfort, encouragement, and support than as a means of gaining knowledge about God and spirit. In other words, I see it as addressed more to the human heart than to the human mind. I am suspicious of spirit communications that purport to present a specific theology or spiritual cosmology.

          Although Swedenborg spent nearly the last three decades of his life able to be fully conscious in the spiritual world, and associate with angels and spirits in their own homes and communities, he stated that he did not derive any of his theology or his Bible interpretations from spirits, but only from God.

          In fact, I see it as a common error among followers of Swedenborg to take his stories of conversations with angels and spirits as constituting divine truth as if it were spoken by God. Angels may be far wiser than we are, but they are still limited and fallible in their understanding of things.

          I would certainly encourage you to get a copy of Heaven and Hell and read it for yourself. It is, after all, the granddaddy of ’em all when it comes to detailed descriptions of the spiritual world. I’m not aware of anyone else who has even claimed to have the level, depth, and length (in years) of direct experience of the spiritual world that Swedenborg did.

          You can find my book notice about Heaven and Hell here. If you’re on a limited budget, or simply prefer electronic books, you can download the full, annotated Heaven and Hell free in epub format, or the “portable” edition (which doesn’t have the scholarly introductions and notes) free in PDF or epub format, by clicking on the last link on my book notice linked just above.

  14. Geno says:

    Lee, I love your writing on reincarnation, its conciseness is very refreshing and like the leafs that are born again each spring to the tree, we to go through many manifestations during our lives. The fact that Jesus of Nazareth called himself the son of man and that he says that man is a beast is important and I believe can help with this wonderful teaching you have shared. I believe that Jesus of Nazareth did not become the son of God until he destroyed duality and attained unconditional love and that the resurrection is the choice to live a spiritual life. It then must be true that in heaven, we that have become one with Christ here on earth (no matter what religion we use) or in limbo (the realm or transition between earth and spirit world), we continue our growth towards unconditional love realizing that heaven is in us. I believe that our memories and our dreams are a blessing from our mother father God and if used with sincerity reforms man from a beast into a child of the eternal and infinite God of all creation. Blessings, Geno

    P.S. I soon will be going to heaven while still here on earth, and I will be helping tech other how to do the same for 1000 years.

  15. Geno says:

    You are welcome my brother, I love you.

    I want to blow your mind?

    I misspelled two WORDS in my post, therefore they became symbols. (TO and TECH) Latin symbols with Algebraic equivalent expressions.

    TO

    Spiritual growth never ends and therefore life is eternal.

    TECH

    How to walk between the 3rd and 4th dimensions.

    Therefore, the errors in my post created symbols that are the Algebraic proofs of the literal concepts in the sentences where the errors occurred. If you study these symbols and algebraic expressions, I have no doubt you can walk like Swedenborg did. I will be part of the first resurrection and we have 1000 years to walk between the 3rd and 4th dimensions, come along friend!

    Blessings Geno

  16. Cristian says:

    Lee, are you afraid of being reincarnated into a much more brutal existence if indeed it is true? Swedenborg has a very standard Christian view, others who’ve seen the other world say much crazier things that also can’t be made up. There are are accounts that can’t be easily explained by Swedenborg’s brief explanation, like spirits lining up to return to this world and children who claim God forced them to be the child of a new family. Reincarnation is probably unimaginably complicated if it is real. My source is Raymond Moody, without his research into NDE’s I would’ve never taken Swedenborg seriously. Moody believes reincarnation is real but he is also a Christian and now apparently a Swedenborg follower. It seems many people are becoming Swedenborg followers because of NDE’s.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Cristian,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment and question.

      I’m not afraid of being reincarnated at all. As I said in the article, I don’t believe that reincarnation, as popularly believed, actually happens.

      It is true that Swedenborg’s comment on reincarnation in Heaven and Hell #256 doesn’t deal with all aspects of reincarnation and why people believe it. But the other phenomena you mention are also explainable within Swedenborg’s general description of the spiritual world and the way the human mind works.

      Raymond Moody is certainly aware of Swedenborg. He included a number of quotes from Swedenborg about the afterlife in his first book, Life After Life. I also attended a standing-room-only talk he gave at the former Swedenborgian Church in Boston not long after Life After Life was published. When he wrote and published Life After Life, he was not aware that Swedenborg’s writings were still in print, and that there were people who followed Swedenborg’s teachings to this day. But he said that by the time he gave that talk, he had received six or seven copies of Heaven and Hell, and didn’t need another one, thank you! 😉 But although he knows of Swedenborg, I would not say that he is himself a Swedenborg follower. He has come to his own particular beliefs based on his various researches into NDEs and other spiritual phenomena.

      Still, it’s quite true that Moody’s books, and NDEs in general, have opened many people up to Swedenborg’s teachings about the afterlife, Christianity, and spiritual reality in general. And of course, Swedenborgians were quite excited to have others confirming what Swedenborg had written two centuries ago, and Swedenborgians had believed all along.

      For the reasons detailed in the article, most Swedenborg followers continue to believe that reincarnation as popularly believed does not actually happen. However, if you do believe in reincarnation, I have no particular desire to debate it with you. As is also stated in the article, even if (as I believe) reincarnation doesn’t actually happen, there’s a reason so many people believe in it, having to do with their need to feel that there is some ultimate justice beyond the appearances of this unjust world.

      • Cristian says:

        Well would you mind giving your opinion on why Raymond Moody’s “most amazing NDE” Eben Alexander, is now saying that he himself believes in reincarnation and “everyone must return”. If you skip to 49:45, he says it and even says that Jesus taught reincarnation. I’ve heard that before but I’m shocked to hear it from Eben. Thanks.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Cristian,

          Unfortunately, the brief experiences in the spiritual world that NDEers have is not enough for them to gain a full understanding of the spiritual world. NDEers often come back with mistaken ideas about the afterlife, influenced by their previously held beliefs, or by ideas that were in their heads at the time of, or even after, their NDE happened. So although NDEs are a good source of confirmation of the reality of the spiritual world, they are not necessarily a good source of information about the nature of the spiritual world.

          Specifically on the issue of reincarnation, that is a very popular belief among many “spiritual but not religious” people today. And as explained in my article, What about Spiritualism? Is it a Good Idea to Contact Spirits? the spirits we encounter in the spiritual world will tend to confirm beliefs we already hold or already lean toward, whether or not they are actually true.

          Swedenborg, by contrast, spent many years (almost three decades) exploring the spiritual world and building a more comprehensive picture of what it is like. For more on that, see: Do the Teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg take Precedence over the Bible? starting with the section titled, “2. Swedenborg’s experience in the spiritual world was unique in known history.”

          You might also be interested in the series of videos reviewed in this article: A Short(ish) Video Course on Near-Death Experiences.

  17. Frankly Frank says:

    Hi All,

    On the subject of reincarnation FWIW I would just like to say I don’t and can’t buy it purely on simple reasoning alone!

    If you don’t have a CONSCIOUS recollection of a previous life or lifes then what would be
    the point of being reincarnated numerous times? Reincarnationists apparently think that what one did in a prior life somehow effectively translates from the subconscious into consciousness so that then we will “learn” from a past life experience in our now present life and make corrections, improve ourselves, apply ourselves differently, think differently, become a better person, treat people differently, etc.

    But to learn something, really learn anything, you have to consciously be aware of what you’re trying to learn!

    Applying simple common sense level logic then again how could you CONSTRUCTIVELY learn from something that you did in the past without being absolutely aware of EXACTLY WHAT it is you did in a now conscious state? The answer is you can’t!

    To me the whole reincarnation thing flies into that one big fat facet of logic alone and goes splat!

    Reincarnation: DOA for this guy! I hope we all consciously learned something today. 😉

    FranklyFrank

    • Lee says:

      Hi Frankly Frank,

      Thanks for your comment.

      That never made any sense to me either. It always struck me as unfair and not particularly useful that I would be either enjoying this life or suffering in this life with no recollection of why I was in this situation, or what I had done to put me in it. Part of life is learning from our mistakes. But if we don’t even know what mistakes we made (in a past life), how can we learn from them?

  18. Richard Neer says:

    Hi Lee,

    So, how do know, for sure, that is not EXACTLY what is happening to you right now?

    You just might be on your third, fifth or ninth time around! ;-p

  19. Richard Neer says:

    What’s your take on all the research and reports of certain young children supposedly being vessels for previous souls? The most overwhelming evidence seems to be related to some children possessing and exhibiting knowledge/behavior from a past life. This aspect does fade as the child ages and becomes their own person, though it is strongly prevalent early on in some.

    Why would it not be conceivable, or possible, God’s ‘spark’ of life, our soul, may not always be a completely new occurrence? Perhaps there are situations whereby existing heavenly souls are given opportunities to try again, even if through the process, there is no permanent knowledge or experience retained?

    Re-purpose it and reuse it! Maybe God is a conservationist and has a ‘going green’ philosophy!?!?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rich,

      Good question.

      Children—especially young children—are often more sensitive and open to spiritual influences and presences than adults are because children have not yet been fully thrown into the material-world responsibilities and focus that consume most adults’ working lives. Therefore it is quite common for children to have spiritual experiences, and to become aware of the angels and spirits that surround us all. (For more on this, see: What about Spiritualism? Is it a Good Idea to Contact Spirits?)

      Adults tend to chalk up childrens’ spiritual experiences to “an active imagination.” But what if the children really are experiencing things, and people, from the spiritual world?

      My take on that research, then, is the same as my take on other “evidence” of past lives. It’s quite possible that the children that are the subject of this research do exhibit knowledge and behavior from “a past life.” The fallacy is in jumping to the conclusion it’s their own past life rather than the past life of some angel or spirit with whom the child is in communication.

      Also, according to Swedenborg, the human proto-soul builds the human body to its own specifications, so that a person’s body corresponds fully to his or her soul. For a soul to be “repurposed” to go with a different body would involve that soul losing its distinctive identity, and becoming something and someone else. Why would God go to the trouble of creating, forming, and developing a new soul, only to mash it up, lose all that distinctive development, and make it into something else?

      Yes, that does commonly happen to us during our lifetime here on earth. But by the time our life here on earth is over, the human clay that has been formed and re-formed has been “fired” into a particular form, and is no longer subject to such re-shaping and re-forming.

  20. Richard Neer says:

    Maybe God simply does or allows some things simply because even omnipotence can becoming boring! ;-p Besides, I would think nothing is of any ‘trouble’, effort or consequence to one who is infinite in every sense, no?

    Or, maybe God has a sense of humor and does some things for pure amusement? How else would you explain a platypus? LOL!!

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rich,

      I’m reluctant to respond seriously to your bit of fun here. Are you invoking the platypus god? 😛

      Oh, and I didn’t mean “trouble” literally, but rather if God accomplishes something, why would God then undo it? Is God self-annihilating?

  21. Richard Neer says:

    No, not self-annihilating, nor implying fallibility either. But, perhaps opting for a tiny rub of the celestial eraser simply due to change of mind or heart, perhaps if just for fun? Even the grandest of architects make changes along the way!

    And, seriously, how can one not consider God having a sense of humor when looking at a platypus and contemplating its existence? ;-p

  22. laurisolups says:

    “In the doctrine of reincarnation, we are not given that freedom—which means that ultimately, we are not really human.”

    Isn’t the freedom to change their minds robbed from people who enter an irreversible hell? It seems absurd to me that any human would willingly, knowing the full repercussions of their choice, choose suffering over bliss.

    • Lee says:

      Hi laurisolups,

      First, it’s necessary to understand that the descriptions of hell in the Bible and in other sacred literature are not literal, but figurative. Evil spirits in hell are not actually eternally roasted on spits over fires stoked by devils with pitchforks. They live what to them is a fairly ordinary life of fighting, stealing, swearing, sleeping with prostitutes, and so on. The “hellfire” mentioned in the Bible is a metaphor for the burning hatred and anger for each other that characterizes hell. For more on this, and on hell in general, please see: Is There Really a Hell? What is it Like?

      The evil spirits in hell could leave if they wanted to. But they don’t want to because living anywhere else is torture for them. Occasionally they are allowed to go up to heaven. But if they don’t have protection from the Lord, they feel the warmth of mutual love in heaven as agonizing, torturous, frying heat, and they can’t even breathe there, so they fling themselves back into their own hell where they are comfortable. Even if they do have protection from the Lord, it soon wears off, because their own evil nature reasserts itself and rejects God’s protection.

      So it’s not really “choosing suffering over bliss.” It’s choosing getting pleasure from evil rather than getting pleasure from good.

      Unfortunately, when we choose to get our pleasure from evil, the evil we do carries consequences, and in effect punishes itself. So in getting our pleasure out of theft, murder, rape, and so on, in the spiritual world if not in the material world we bring the resulting pain and punishment upon ourselves. So whereas heaven is a continual cycle of more or less joy as we continue our spiritual growth process to eternity, hell is a continual cycle of pleasure alternating with pain. But the evil spirits love their particular sick pleasure so much that they put up with the pain just so that they can have their moments of pleasure.

      My general point in the above article, though, is that if there were not some point at which our choice becomes final, it would not be a choice at all. There must come a time when we can say, “I’ve made my choice,” and go on to live the life we have chosen. Otherwise it would not only be the evil spirits in hell, but also the angels in heaven who could never just relax and live their lives. There would always be the lurking possibility that they would lose what they have. And that, I believe, would be far more cruel than having a deadline (death) by which time we must make our choice one way or another.

      As the saying goes, a deadline has a marvelous ability to focus the mind. And, I would add, focus the heart as well.

  23. Samuel says:

    Questions and comments from someone who supports the concept of reincarnation:

    If God gave us free-will, shouldn’t we be free to reincarnate into new physical bodies as many times as we want for the purpose of learning and growing? Why should we be limited to just living out a single life in this physical earthly existence only to just die and spend the rest of “eternity” in those higher realms of existence? That doesn’t sound like we have free-will to me.

    And regrading Swedenborg. He was raised in the Christian faith. So maybe what he learned and experienced during his many “spiritual journeys” were filtered and colored by his Christian faith. I heard what people experience in those higher realms depend greatly on their belief systems. For example, a Christian and a Muslim would have completely different experiences if going out-of-body. Maybe that’s why Swedenborg never talked about reincarnation even after his spiritual journeys because as a Christian, the concept would be almost foreign to him.

    Also, just because Swedenborg’s spiritual experiences are well-documented doesn’t mean he has the final say on whether or not reincarnation exists! Plenty of people who’ve astral projected and had other spiritual experiences are convinced that reincarnation is a real phenomenon that should be taken seriously.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Samuel,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment.

      Of course, as I said in the article, you and anyone else who wants to believe in reincarnation is perfectly free to do so. This article represents not only Swedenborg’s views, but my own views on why I do not believe in reincarnation. And the ultimate denial of human free will is precisely why I simply cannot accept reincarnation, as I explained in the article.

      It’s a fair point that Swedenborg came from a Christian background and would therefore be predisposed against reincarnation. And that probably did color what he saw in the spiritual world. However, it’s not true that he never talked about reincarnation. He did talk about it quite specifically, as covered in the article, and specifically rejected it.

      And it’s not as though he didn’t reject many of the beliefs he was brought up with in traditional Christianity. In fact, he rejected most of the major doctrines of the Protestant (Lutheran) Christianity in which he was raised: the Trinity, original sin, justification by faith alone, penal substitution, and so on. So the idea that he rejected reincarnation just because that’s what he was taught to do as a born and bred Christian is not a very strong argument. Swedenborg was not at all shy about rejecting traditional Christian dogmas when he believed they were mistaken and wrong. But his stance against reincarnation is solid and unequivocal.

      About Swedenborg’s experiences in the spiritual world and their reliability, see this article: “Do the Teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg take Precedence over the Bible?” Short version: Swedenborg had far more direct, fully present, fully conscious experience in the spiritual world than anyone else in history ever even claimed to have had, as far as I am aware. In his nearly three decades of regular full consciousness in the spiritual world, traveling there and talking to its inhabitants, both Christian and non-Christian, he had plenty of time to get the lay of the land and see how things work there. And he reported that reincarnation as popularly believed in various cultures does not happen.

      But once again, you are free to believe as you wish. Thanks again for stopping by, and for your thoughts.

  24. Richard Peters says:

    Hello Lee. Thanks for expressing your view so clearly. I seem to find various pointers toward reincarnation in Swedenborg’s writings. Here’s one from Heaven and Hell: “Because we have corrupted ourselves by living contrary to the design that reason itself has recommended to us, we cannot escape being born into total ignorance, so that we can be led from there, by divine means, back into the pattern of heaven” (from the end of Section 108 in the Portable New Century Edition.) I’m transcribing from an audiobook, so I may not have gotten it down with the proper punctuation.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Richard,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment.

      In my experience, people who believe in or lean toward reincarnation tend to see pointers toward it everywhere. In my view that’s because (as expressed in the above article) reincarnation, though it doesn’t actually happen as commonly believed, does reflect the reality of spiritual rebirth. That’s what Swedenborg is talking about in your quotation from Heaven and Hell #108. He saw that “leading back into the pattern of heaven” as something that happens primarily during our single lifetime on earth, and then, for those who have chosen here to move toward God and spirit, continues to eternity building on the foundation laid during our earthly lifetime.

      • Richard Peters says:

        Hello again, Lee. Thank you for your reply!

        I find that people with a firm belief in anything–e.g., in reincarnation, in non-reincarnation–tend to see confirmations of it everywhere, so I need to draw my own conclusions. Thank you for helping me do that.

        You say in your article that Swedenborg overtly dismisses reincarnation numerous times in his writings, but you quote just one passage from him on the topic. You surely know Swedenborg much better than I do, as I have read only several of his books so far, but I am not yet convinced that Swedenborg opposed reincarnation and even find numerous reasons to think that it is compatible with his teachings–perhaps even entailed by them–whether or not he himself overtly affirmed it. Could you please direct me to some of Swedenborg’s overt rejections of reincarnation so I can examine the passages in context for myself?

        Thank you very much for your help!

        • Lee says:

          Hi Richard,

          Here they are. I’ll provide links only for the more elliptical references that have some relevance to reincarnation, and quote, with links, the more direct statements. That way you can read them all for yourself. I should add, though, that there are some things in these passages that may be unclear without a background in Swedenborg’s theology and his teachings about the afterlife and about the relationship between the spiritual and physical worlds and the people in them. If there’s anything in particular that you need explained further, please don’t hesitate to ask.

          First from Swedenborg’s published works:

          Arcana Coelestia #24772478, 4459:2, 5865, 5858, 5990, 6212:5.

          From Heaven and Hell:

          Much the same happens in regard to faith in our life after death. People who talk about it without thinking at the same time from scholarly concepts of the soul or the doctrine of reunion with our physical bodies believe that after death we will live as people-among angels if we have lived well-and that then we will see magnificent sights and experience raptures. But the moment they focus on the doctrine of reunion with our bodies or some hypothesis about “the soul,” and therefore begin to wonder whether the soul is really like this, whether it is all true, their former notion vanishes. (Heaven and Hell #183:3)

          No angel or spirit is allowed to talk with one of us from the angel’s or spirit’s own memory, only from that of the individual in question. Angels and spirits actually have memory just as we do. If a spirit were to talk with us from his or her own memory, then it would seem to us entirely as though the thoughts were our own, when they would really belong to the spirit. It is like remembering something that we have never seen or heard. I have been granted knowledge of the truth of this by experience.

          This is why some of the ancients were of the opinion that after some thousands of years they would return to their former life and all its deeds, and that they had in fact returned. They gathered this from the fact that sometimes a kind of memory would come up of things that they had never seen or heard. This happened because spirits had flowed from their own memory into the images of these people’s thoughts. (Heaven and Hell #256

          From True Christianity:

          Other philosophers among them did not disagree but shed further light on the issue by saying, “Souls came into being when the ether in the great chaos formed a ball. In the highest realm the ether divided into countless individual forms. These forms pour down into people when they begin to think on a level that is purer than air. These forms are then called souls. ”

          Another philosopher said, “I’ll grant you that the individual forms made out of ether in the highest realm were countless. Nevertheless the number of people born since the world was created has exceeded the number of forms. How then could there be enough of these ethereal forms? So I thought to myself that the souls that go out through people’s mouths when they die come back to the same people after several thousand years. The people go back, therefore, and live a similar life to the one they had before. As we know, many of the wise believe in reincarnation and things like that. ”

          Other conjectures besides these were tossed out by the rest, but they were too insane for me to even mention.
          (True Christianity #79:6)

          The concept of an eternally begotten Son of God who later comes down and takes on a human manifestation is like the ancient nonsense about human souls created at the beginning of the world that enter bodies and become people. It is also like the absurd notion that someone’s soul can cross over into someone else. Many in the Jewish church used to believe this. They thought that the soul of Elijah was in the body of John the Baptist and that David was going to return in his own body or someone else’s to reign over Israel and Judah, because it says in Ezekiel, “I will raise up one shepherd over them, who will feed them—my servant David. He will be their shepherd. And I, Jehovah, will be their God and David will be a prince in their midst” (Ezekiel 34:23-25; there are other such references as well). They did not realize that “David” there means the Lord. (True Christianity #171)

          As for the state of human souls after death, there are some universally held opinions and some more narrowly held opinions today. They are as follows.

          People think that human souls after death are breaths; they like to think of these breaths as puffs of wind. These puffs of wind that are awaiting the day of the Last Judgment are kept either in the middle of the earth, where their somewhere-or-other is, or in the limbo mentioned by the church fathers; but there is a difference of opinion on this point. Some think that breaths are forms made of ether or air, and are therefore like ghosts or phantoms; some of them live in the air, some in the woods, some in lakes and streams. Other people think that the souls of the dead are transferred to other planets or stars, and are given places to live there. Some think that souls return to their bodies after a thousand years. Most people think that souls are kept in some kind of storage until the time when the entire firmament and the whole planet are going to be destroyed by fire – either by fire erupting from the center of the earth or by fire in the form of an all-encompassing thunderbolt cast down from the sky. Then the graves will be opened, and the stored souls will be put back into their bodies and taken to the holy city Jerusalem. On another planet, then, they will live together in enlightened bodies. Some there will live lower down, some higher up, since the city is going to be twelve thousand stadia high – as high as it is wide and long (Revelation 21:16). (True Christianity #769)

          And finally from Swedenborg’s unpublished works:

          Spiritual Experiences #2021, 2247, 3019, 3285, 3917, 3963, 4198, 4207, 4225.

          Spiritual Experiences is a personal journal Swedenborg kept of his experiences in the spiritual world, which he never published but often drew on when composing his published works.

          Most of the passages I have not quoted are either about what happens when spirits flow into the minds of people on earth from the spirits’ own memories, causing confusion, feelings of deja vu, and a belief on the part of the person on earth that he or she has lived a previous life on earth; or they are about evil and physical-minded spirits who desire to return to earth, and therefore desire to possess people on earth; or they are about spirits who were able to experience the physical world through Swedenborg’s eyes, and how novel this experience was for them.

          The general picture that arises is that Swedenborg saw reincarnation as a fallacy and a fantasy that is caused by spirits flowing into the minds of people on earth with the spirits’ memories of their own past lives on earth, causing the people on earth to think that they themselves had lived such previous lives, and had therefore been reincarnated. And also that he saw a desire on the part of spirits in the spiritual world to return to earth as a physical-minded and materialistic desire present only in evil spirits who preferred their life in the physical world to the life they now have in the spiritual world.

          By contrast, good spirits and angels have no desire whatsoever to return to the physical world. For them, life in the spiritual world is so vastly better than life on earth that it would feel like returning to a dark dungeon compared to the beauty, light, learning, and love that they experience in the spiritual world—which they see as their true and eternal home.

          Further, they are able to progress spiritually so much faster in the spiritual world than they did in the material world that returning to earth would be like putting the brakes on their spiritual growth and slowing it to a crawl compared to the much more rapid pace of spiritual growth that is possible in the spiritual world. So the idea that we must return to earth to continue our spiritual growth and our spiritual journey is, from Swedenborg’s perspective, a major fallacy.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Richard,

          I should add that besides the passages quoted and linked above in which Swedenborg specifically mentions reincarnation (and rejects it as a fallacy and a fantasy), and speaks of related matters, there is the vast weight of his teaching about our life on earth being a preparation for eternal life in heaven, and that whatever our life has been like on earth, that sets the course on which we will remain to all eternity in the spiritual world. For example:

          A person’s life cannot be changed after death; it then remains the same as what it had been before. Nor can the life of hell be transformed into the life of heaven, because they are opposites. From this it is evident that those who enter hell remain there forever, and those who enter heaven remain there forever. (Arcana Coelestia
          #10749

          Swedenborg is so consistent on this pattern of one life on earth followed by eternal life in either heaven or hell that no one with a reasonable knowledge of his teachings could come to any other conclusion than that he completely rejected reincarnation, and that it is entirely incompatible with his theology.

          Of course, people can still believe in reincarnation if they want to. But the idea that there is any support for it in Swedenborg’s writings, either explicitly or implicitly, is completely unfounded. Everything in his writings supports the opposite conclusion: that we have a single lifetime on earth followed by an eternity in either heaven or hell.

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