“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.
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.
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:
- What does Jesus Mean when He Says we Must be Born Again?
- Heaven, Regeneration, and the Meaning of Life on Earth
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:
- Who Are the Angels and How Do They Live?
- Is There Really a Hell? What is it Like?
- Can Gang Members Go to Heaven? (Is Life Fair?)
- If God is Love, Why all the Pain and Suffering?
- What about Spiritualism? Is it a Good Idea to Contact Spirits?
- What Happens To Us When We Die?
- What does Jesus Mean when He Says we Must be Born Again?
- Heaven, Regeneration, and the Meaning of Life on Earth
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.
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.
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.
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.
How would angels and spirits who believed in reincarnation in their life on the physical world still believe in reincarnation after death if they are living in an eternal heaven/hell?
The human mind has an amazing ability to see what it wants to see, and not to see what it doesn’t want to see.
How, for example, can so many people still, in the twenty-first century, believe that the earth is flat, even though we now have thousands of photos of Earth from space showing beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is a sphere, not a flat disk? Thinking people have known for thousands of years that the earth is a sphere. There is so much evidence for a spherical (technically, oblate spheroid) Earth that this is just basic cosmological knowledge today.
Yet Flat Earthers just shrug it all off and continue to believe that the earth is flat. In fact, they spend many hours coming up with completely unscientific “science” to prove that they are right, and the earth is flat. Anyone with even the slightest knowledge of science and cosmology can see that their “science” is ridiculous nonsense. But to them, it looks like incontrovertible truth.
If people here on earth can continue to believe ridiculous things despite massive amounts of evidence to the contrary, then they will continue to believe fallacious and wrong things such as reincarnation even when they are living in the spiritual world. That is, they will if they have so strongly convinced themselves of these wrong ideas that they are completely unwilling to give them up. And there, just like Flat Earthers here on earth, they will get together with other people who believe the same crazy things as they do, and form echo chambers in which they all assure each other that these crazy ideas are the absolute truth.
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.
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.
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
I truly find your posts very enlightening. Thank you for your contributions!
There are several people that I know of from India who have been connected with the spiritual world for most of their lives. Some examples – Swami Lakshmanjoo Maharaj, Ramana Maharishi, Lahiri Mahasaya, Sri Yukteshwar Giri, Paramahamsa Yogananda, etc. These are just some of the people in the last couple of centuries that I follow for my spiritual journey. There are several others since the Vedic period and in the present. They do teach reincarnation. Paramhamsa Yogananda explains in his book “Autobiography of a Yogi” why reincarnation happens and he also gives a very nice perspective on phrases from the Bible. According to him, reincarnation happens because of human desire and the karmic law states all desires must come true. So it is definitely by choice, even if one doesn’t consciously realize that. I also like this particular book because it talks in detail about a lot of the metaphysics that I haven’t found in many scriptures or commentaries.
As for the statement on Bhagavad Gita, there are other Hindu scriptures such as Bhagavata Purana, Vishnu Purana that explicitly say Arjuna and Krishna were humans with different names in a previous lifetime in a previous age – Hindu scriptures talk about Yugas (ages, like Stone Age, Bronze Age, etc.). I think these scriptures along with the Bhagavad Gita led to the current belief system of reincarnation. There is also a common misunderstanding that our karma determines our life. According to scriptures, past karma only determines the situations we will be put into in our present life. How we choose to act in these situations is our free will and that becomes karma for future lives if we do not attain salvation. If reincarnation is indeed true, I would like to think the “eternal hell” described in the Bible is actually repeated life on earth because some people prefer material life over the eternal bliss with God. I do not have a strong belief either way with respect to the concept of reincarnation. At least, not yet 🙂
I completely agree with you that reincarnation is unnecessary if we truly connect with God and attain salvation in one lifetime and I also agree that whether we believe in reincarnation or not is immaterial. The important part is we need to focus on living by God’s words and connecting with God to receive the ever-flowing grace in the present to attain salvation. This is exactly what enlightenment and self-realization is all about too – living fully in the present to receive the grace and enjoying the flow of life with love and compassion for all.
Thanks for stopping by, and for your good thoughts. I’m glad you’re enjoying the articles here!
I am far from an expert on Hinduism and Hindu scriptures. However, I am aware that some of them do say things that confirm the idea of reincarnation for people, and I am aware that many Hindu masters do teach reincarnation.
This, I believe, is for similar reasons that the Bible makes statements that sound like we are going to be physically resurrected at some future Last Judgment, and our afterlife will be on a newly re-formed physical earth. The reason for this is that many people cannot think spiritually; they can think only materially. If such people did not believe that they would eventually live again in their physical body, they would not believe in any afterlife at all. This would result in many of them rejecting God and religion altogether, and just living for the worldly and physical pleasures they can get in this life.
Similarly, I believe that the Hindu scriptures make statements that can be read as meaning literal, physical reincarnation because just like many Westerners, many Easterners are physical-minded, and cannot think spiritually. If they didn’t believe in a literal, physical reincarnation, in which the karma of their actions in this life would follow them, many of them would reject God, spirit, and religion altogether, and would live self-indulgent and thoughtless lives.
Meanwhile just as Western religion (primarily Christianity) has become more and more external over the centuries, I suspect that a similar thing has happened to Eastern religions, one of the oldest of which is Hinduism. I believe that Buddhism arose out of Hinduism to begin the movement away from what had become a choking and stratified belief in the long cycle of reincarnation that supported the oppressive caste system. Buddhism taught that anyone, of any caste, could attain enlightenment in a single lifetime. This leveled the playing field and did away with the religious justification for some people to think they were better than others because of their birth, parentage, and skin color.
People who can think spiritually can read the Hindu scriptures spiritually rather than literally, just as people of a spiritual mindset can read the Bible spiritually rather than literally. They can then understand that the deeper meaning of passages that seem to be talking about physical rebirth is really about spiritual rebirth. People who read the scriptures of their religion spiritually rather than literally can read them as speaking about the spiritual rebirth and spiritual journey that we go through in our current lifetime, and can be inspired by this to walk the spiritual path with greater motivation and meaning.
I am also aware that many spiritual leaders, both Eastern and Western, have lifelong connections with the spiritual world. But that is not the same as being fully conscious in the spiritual world, as Swedenborg was.
Great spiritual leaders often have spiritual and angelic presences with them that inspire them and give them enlightenment about God and spirit. But I’m not aware of any others besides Swedenborg who had all of their senses fully open in the spiritual world as if they had already died and gone to the spiritual world themselves, so that they could walk among angels and spirits, visit them in their homes and communities, and engage in conversation with them just as we do with one another here on earth. Yes, I’m aware that many people have had brief experiences of this type. But not almost continuously for decades.
That is the experience Swedenborg had for the last twenty-seven years of his life. To my knowledge, no one else in history has even claimed to have that kind of experience of the spiritual world for that many years.
Still, as you say, whether or not we believe in reincarnation is not the most important thing. The important thing is living a God-filled life of love, compassion, and service to our fellow human beings.
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/
Thanks. Looks like an interesting discussion going on over there!
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.
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. 😛
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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:
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.
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.
If this is the case, then what will happen to someone in hell who realizes the mistakes they’re making and realizes that good triumphs evil? Will they continue to live eternally in hell or will they get a chance to go to heaven?
People living in hell have already made their choice for evil. They have no desire whatsoever to change. Even if they are allowed to rise up into the light of heaven, where they can clearly see the insanity of their way of life, once they feel the pull of that life and descend back down to hell, they reject and laugh at what they saw from heaven, and go right back to their enjoyment of evil behavior and general mayhem, while excusing and justifying it in their mind.
The unfortunate reality is that they enjoy their evil and destructive ways, and they do not want to change.
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?
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.
What’s the difference between reincarnation and eternal afterlife?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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:
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.
Reincarnation is now a matter of scientific study.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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?
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?
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Thanks for stopping by, and for your thoughts. I’m glad you enjoyed the article!
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.
Spiritual growth never ends and therefore life is eternal.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 😉
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?
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
If so, I’m blissfully ignorant of it! 😉
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!?!?
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.
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!!
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?
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
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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 #2477–2478, 4459:2, 5865, 5858, 5990, 6212:5.
From Heaven and Hell:
From True Christianity:
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.
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:
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.
if then reincarnation does not exist, what does it have to say about known cases of reincarnation
for example, that boy who remembers to have been pilot of the air force in another life, is a very well-known case
Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment.
Did you actually read the article? (I know it’s a long one.) The phenomenon of people “remembering past lives” is covered there. Short version: They are experiencing other people’s memories, not their own. This can easily take place in the atmosphere of the spiritual world. There memories can be shared in such a way that the person that they are shared with experiences them entirely as if it were their own memories of things they themselves had done, when in fact it is another person’s memories of that person’s experiences. When people “experience past lives,” they are experiencing this phenomenon.
In short, “past life regression” or “memories of past lives” are simply the memories of other people that are experienced as if they were one’s own memories.
I read everything! and I agree with you
tell me, the people who leave (our parents for example) stay in touch with us and are taking care of us?
in relation to reincarnation, I heard theories of when we were born with certain scars on the body or with certain physical problems was due to some that happened in a past life, is it true?
Yes, I believe that the people such as our parents who love us, and die before us, are still with us in spirit, helping us. But for the most part, we’re not aware of their presence. And they are not aware of our physical presence in the ordinary way we’re aware of other people here on earth. Rather, they can sense and sometimes even see our thoughts and feelings, and can be present with us in an inward way, giving us aid, comfort, and inspiration from within our spirit.
And no, I don’t believe that scars or marks or physical problems we are born with are due to something that happened in a past life. Jesus addressed this idea directly in this exchange:
His disciples thought this man had been born blind because of his parents’ sin or even his own sin—which would have had to have taken place in a previous life, since he hadn’t even been born yet, and could not yet have sinned in this life. In reply, Jesus said that neither of these things were true. Rather, Jesus said, he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. And then he proceeded to heal the man’s blindness and restore his sight.
how come you are not aware of our physical presence? they do not know that they are dead and alive?
I thought they were always by our side! 24 hours a day, you know? who were always aware of our joys and sorrows, and in moments of sadness they helped and gave signs.
Yes, they are aware of our joys and sorrows. And they do give signs, but mostly by opening our mind to see the signs that are already there all around us.
They are no longer living in the physical world, but in the spiritual world—which is the world of the mind. So the things that go on in our mind, such as our joys and sorrows, our thoughts and feelings, our loves, intentions, and desires, are in the light for them. But the things we say and do physically are in the shade for them because they are no longer living in the realm of physical things.
they do not come what we’re talking about, okay. but do they come where we are for examples? If I’m in Brazil, does he know that he’s in Brazil? if I’m on an appraisal test, do they know?
For people living in the spiritual world, it doesn’t matter where you are physically. They are with your mind and spirit, not with your body. So no matter where you are on earth, they can be with you if they care about you and feel a connection to you.
About the test, they are only dimly aware of the test itself, its subject matter, and so on. But they are aware of the feelings you have about the test. For example, if you’re nervous about it, they can sense that, and can help to put you in a more positive frame of mind, which will help you to prepare for it more effectively and do better on it.
what you think about joão batista and elias?
and shanti davi?
Is there something particular about them that you’re interested in?
i read about shanti davi and it seemed to be very true
I will have to look into it before giving any answer.
Are you talking about the Shanti Devi known for remembering a past life? I have no particular reason to doubt that she remembered the things she described about the life of a woman who had died several years earlier than Shanti Devi was born. However, I think what actually happened was that that woman’s memories were transferred to Shanti Devi’s mind so that Shanti Devi remembered them as if they were her own experiences even though they were actually the other woman’s experiences.
Your idolatry of freedom and love of the tortures of those in Hell is appalling. If being human is really as you describe, then i would rather not be human. If being free really implies the ability to seal myself in the lake of fire forever and ever with no possibility of escape, then i sincerely hope that I am not free.
Hi The Iron Knuckle,
Part of the problem is a wrong understanding of hell in traditional Christianity (Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant, and their offshoots) due to a literal interpretation of statements about hell in the Bible that are meant to be read metaphorically. For example, there is no literal fire searing the flesh of evil spirits in hell. Hellfire is not physical fire, but spiritual fire, which, in a negative sense, is the rage and anger of evil spirits against one another. I can assure you that no one is literally roasting in flames in hell, and that to evil spirits in hell, their lives seem quite normal, even if not always comfortable. For more on this, please see:
Is There Really a Hell? What is it Like?
I am sorry about getting the wrong article,
So the question was ,
How come people claim to have past life memories of atlantis?
I know swedenborg said that it was all spirits fault when it comes to past life memories, but that leads to the second question
Can spirits create false memories to trick us for their amusement ?
Yes, it would be a simple thing for spirits to create false memories. Swedenborg describes the equivalent of spiritual “movies” in which angels create very lifelike scenes for instructional purposes. And he describes evil spirits creating fantasy personas and scenes in order to entrap people. The same could be done to create a “past life regression” of a life that never existed, in a place that never existed.
Even if a particular “past life regression” is based on another spirit’s earthly memories using the mechanism Swedenborg describes, as covered in the above article, it would be easy for the spirits infusing those displaced memories to modify them according to the expectations of the person on earth who is “experiencing” them. If someone believes there was a lost world of Atlantis, spirits can mine the person’s thoughts and memory for everything in it about that “lost world,” and create a lifelike version of it for the person to “see” and “experience.”
Remember, the spiritual world is a mindscape. Everything there is created according to the contents of the minds of the people who live there.
If a spirit can imagine a situation or scene, that spirit can also present a lifelike, fully immersive experience of that situation or scene. And deceptive spirits love to create such scenes that will confuse and mislead people on earth who don’t have the knowledge or experience of the spiritual world necessary to understand what’s going on, but will simply accept uncritically as ultimate truth anything those spirits show them.
Even here on earth we are getting more and more skilled at creating movies that “recreate” scenes that never actually happened. Movies an TV series create whole worlds that never existed, and whole cultures of people who never existed.
Spirits, who live in the world of the mind, have far more powerful techniques to create fully realistic, fully immersive experiences of events, scenes, and people that never existed or took place. This ability is used by angels and good spirits to teach and instruct, but by evil spirits to deceive and entrap.
Ah ok, that makes more sense now
So for people like Edgar Cayce, madame Blatavsky and more occult channlers like themselves when they talk of atlantis they are using some real and and fake information.
Real in the sense that Plato created the story of atlantis
But fake in the sense that Spirits / devils took that and created fake memories and such about it ?
It does sound a little dishearting and worrying that spirits / devils could have that power to do that.
As much as Cayce , Blatavsky and many other new age channelers are wrong its a little sad to see how much they believed these that these lies were true
Yes, just as movies and television shows can and do use a mixture of reality, fiction, and fantasy, so “past life experiences” and channeled material are most likely a mixture of reality, fiction, and fantasy. And just as the plot and scenery of movies reflects the mind and imagination of the movie’s creators, so “past life experiences” and channeled material draw on the minds both of the spirits on the other side and of the still-living people who are having the experiences or channeling the material.
All of this is why it’s not a good idea to base our beliefs on information received through spirit contact.
Still, for people of good heart and good intention, the damage done will be minimal. People can believe all sorts of completely wrong and even nutty things, and still be good, thoughtful, kind, and loving people. In the end, it’s what’s in our heart and what we do, not what we believe, that determines our eternal home. Yes, there’s a whole lot of spiritual misinformation out there. But even misinformation can often serve as “truth” for people of good heart, who will interpret it in the best light and find inspiration in it to be kind, loving, honest, and so on. God can turn even falsity into good if the person’s heart is good.
It is only when the person’s heart is evil and selfish that falsity will lead into deeper and deeper darkness and evil. A person whose heart is evil will eagerly glom onto any falsity that supports and justifies his or her selfish and greedy desires. That’s when spirit contact and channeled material becomes really dangerous.
For the rest—the good-hearted people—God is able to minimize the harm of false beliefs because whatever the beliefs may be, these people have the good of their fellow human beings in mind, and will love and serve their neighbor as Jesus commanded, regardless of those false beliefs.
Having said that, of course true beliefs are better! For more on this in the context of true and false Christian-oriented beliefs, please see:
Does Doctrine Matter? Why is it Important to Believe the Right Thing?
Hi lee i find swedenborgs and spiritualists show that the interaction between spirits and humans both children and adults make up much of what people tout as evidence for reincarnation .
Much literature from swedenborg scholars and spiritualists provide large amounts of evidence to show reincarnation is false
One bit if evidence though that confuses me is when birthmarks are found to correspond to the previous person who the child remembers to be , what are your thoughts on this lee ?
I’d have to see the specific cases.
How do we know that the birthmarks actually are the same on two individuals, and not a false memory of the previous person in the mind of the person who had the “psychic regression”? Are there historical records (photographs, paintings, written descriptions) of the birthmark on the previous person independent of the memories of the person who went through “psychic regression”? In most cases of supposed matching birthmarks, I suspect there’s no objective evidence for the claims.
But even if there is objective evidence, who’s to say that trickster spirits didn’t just look for some earlier person who has similar birthmarks, and plant memories of that particular person’s earthly life in the mind of a person who goes through “psychic regression”? Once some idea becomes a “thing” in the minds of people who believe a particular doctrine such as reincarnation, trickster spirits are perfectly happy to “confirm” that idea in people’s minds by various devious means.
Hi Lee in Dr ian Stevensons book about reincarnation he found corresponding Birthmarks / deformities on person A that corresponded to how person B died
Possibly true. But then my second point above may apply. Trickster spirits could have arranged to implant person A with memories from person B in order to set the whole thing up.
Beyond that, if you search hard enough, you’re bound to find at least a few individual instances that seem to confirm a particular theory. But as the saying goes, correlation does not imply causation. It could just be a coincidence.
Or there could be a third factor at work causing the correlation. For example, person A was spiritually attracted to person B because of the connection between person A’s birthmarks and person B’s death, and this led to person B’s memories being infused into person A.
Hi Lee do you thibk that the trickster/confused spirits could produce the deformities themselves via stigmata as many spiritulist explanations for it say the confused spirits are the reason ?
It’s possible. Psychosomatic phenomena are a known reality. Whether spirits could produce physical birthmarks on a developing infant, I don’t know for sure. Another Swedenborgian writer, Ian Thompson, seems to support this idea in his 2012 article “Appearances of Reincarnation.” Where I do agree with him is that if birthmarks can be caused by spirits or spiritual forces, reincarnation is certainly not the only possible explanation.
Isn’t it possible that Swedenborg was just an intelligent person with plenty of time on his hands as he got older, that may have been convinced that he was receiving revelation from God, but mistaken? It may all have been just his thoughts and dreams on religion/ the meaning of life etc.
That is a question you will have to decide for yourself. There will always be alternate explanations for writings and phenomena that, to a receptive person’s mind, suggest or demonstrate the reality of God and spirit. This is to preserve human freedom in spiritual matters.
It is also a product of human freedom in spiritual matters. People who reject the reality of God and spirit will exercise their minds to come up with alternate explanations, and then present them as if they were obvious scientific fact. For example, materialistic scientists and doctors who do not believe that near-death experiences are actual experiences of the spiritual world will explain them away as hallucinations caused by an oxygen-deprived brain, even though that is pure speculation, and they have no way of actually knowing that that’s the case. People who have had both hallucinations and near-death experiences will generally say that the two are very little alike, hallucinations usually being hazy and confused, while near-death experiences feel even more real than ordinary waking consciousness. But that doesn’t stop materialists and skeptics from going to the “hallucinations of an oxygen-deprived brain” explanation over and over. They need a way to explain away the experiential evidence of the reality of the spiritual world provided by near-death experiences, and that is the one most of them have settled upon.
In the case of Swedenborg’s spiritual-world experiences, there have been many alternate explanations given by people who either don’t believe in the spiritual world, or who don’t believe that God and the spiritual world are anything like what Swedenborg describes in his theological writings because they hold to a different (usually traditional Christian) theology.
Of course, Swedenborg was immediately charged with insanity. Stories were circulated of his going mad and doing crazy things. But no one who actually knew him provided any support for these stories. On the contrary, they described him as perfectly sane and lucid, unfailingly polite, and a fine conversationalist to boot.
There were also those who charged Swedenborg with making it all up in order to make a name for himself. But usually people who engage in that sort of trickery are constantly talking about themselves and their wonderful discoveries to anyone who will listen, in order to puff themselves up. Swedenborg, by contrast, when invited to parties (he was a popular guest) would talk thoughtfully and intelligently about whatever happened to be the topic of conversation, be it current events, politics, science, or philosophy. He avoided talking about himself or his spiritual experiences unless someone asked him a direct question about it. Even then, if it was apparent that the person just wanted to make fun of Swedenborg, he would put them off, sometimes with a pithy retort that shut them right up.
Then there are those who, similar to your question, say that everything Swedenborg experienced was a product of his own mind. Maybe he did have experiences like the ones he describes. But they were mere mental projections rather than actual experiences. Swedenborg took them to be real when they were just tricks of the mind, or more positively, mental journeys that illustrated certain human realities and experiences. There are whole biographies of Swedenborg by people who don’t accept his writings and teachings as genuine that take this view. Some of them even express admiration at the remarkable human insight contained in Swedenborg’s spiritual experiences, while not accepting them as experiences of an actual afterlife. Of all the explanations for Swedenborg’s spiritual experiences offered by those who don’t accept them as actual experiences of a spiritual realm, this is probably the most sophisticated, and the least easily disprovable by reference to Swedenborg’s historically known person and character.
That is why you’ll have to decide for yourself what you will believe.
Swedenborg himself certainly believed, and affirmed in all earnestness both in his writings and verbally near his time of death, that everything he wrote in his theological writings was entirely true, and that people who doubted him would find this out for themselves after they die. Of course, since we on this side have not died yet (at least, most of us haven’t), we don’t have that particular verification of his veracity. Meanwhile, here is one of his published statements along these lines, from his first published theological work:
In other places he says that his writings will shine brightly for those whose minds are open to and eager for spiritual truth, but will seem dull and opaque for those whose minds are focused only on material things.
Taking this as a cue, my suggestion for you is that you read Swedenborg’s writings for yourself. See for yourself whether they make sense to you and provide soul-satisfying answers to your deep spiritual questions. Even more, in your day-to-day life, walk the path of “regeneration,” or spiritual rebirth, that Swedenborg describes and recommends. See if it doesn’t lead you in a better direction, toward becoming a better person, even if the path may go through some dark and rocky places along the way. If it makes you a better, more thoughtful, more compassionate, and more broadminded person here on earth, then you have already reaped its rewards even if it turns out that Swedenborg was totally wrong, and at the time of our death we are just snuffed out like a candle.
But if he is right, then a far greater life awaits us, and everything we have experienced and done here on earth will take on a far greater, and eternal, meaning.
Thanks for the honest answer Lee. I have taught myself to be skeptical because I believe it’s an important characteristic for discerning truth. Usually, I think it’s healthy. I’ve really been searching for evidence of God. I want to do right in the world and make a difference. It’s true, I need to decide which path to take.
If everything in the Bible and what Swedenborg writes is true, then I want to share the gospel the best way that I can. I would want to serve God to the best of my ability every second I’m alive. I’m willing to put in the work to study theology, science, and philosophy. I’ve been doing this outside of my job doing graphic design. I’d like to combine my skill with graphic design to promote my beliefs. I want the world to be a better place and for everyone to love each other. Even without religion, the idea of loving your neighbor has an impact on society for the better. This is why Swedenborg’s writings have resonated so far, despite having heard them from second hand sources such as your website and youtube.
It seems as if there’s nothing more important than discovering our purpose here. It frustrates me that so many people try to ignore this and go on with their life without any direction. I’m starting to understand that I’ll never be 100% mathematically certain about it, though I am leaning towards theism and more specifically Swedenborgian theology.
For the past 2 years, I’ve constantly immersed myself with opposing views from atheists and professional apologists. At first, I only wanted to listen to Christian apologists and ignore the other side. I thought atheists were just evil, selfish, or mislead. But in order to try and evangelize to them, I discovered that I needed to let go of my fear of hearing “the devils side” and research why atheists believe what they do.
So after watching a vast number of theist vs atheist debates I realized that both sides seem to have good intentions. The kalam cosmological argument, moral argument, fine-tuning design argument….all of these pointed to a creator until I listened to the other side. Apologists do seem to assert “God did it” whenever they can’t come up with a better answer for why, instead of saying “I don’t know” like Atheists would. To me, this seems more intellectually honest. Atheism probably would be my position if I hadn’t stumbled upon this website, Lee.
Everything I’ve read on here has been enlightening. To you, even atheists can get to heaven if they believe it’s for the good of others. That was an amazing article! In addition, solipsism was something I’d never heard of. The idea that we can’t prove anything beyond our consciousness made me re-think scientific claims. It really is all about what evidence we are willing to accept. Near death experiences seem to be good evidence. The testimonies I’ve heard appear truthful. Swedenborg seems to be completely sane and aware of how people would view his writings. The idea of a God tormenting people to a literal hell doesn’t make much sense. Everything seems to be adding up for me. I believe Swedenborg’s writings have given me hope and truth. I’m so thankful for finding this site.
Honestly, considering my analytical mind, if I hadn’t grown up with Swedenborg’s teachings or at least found them when I was young, I’d probably be an atheist myself. However, although there have been some challenges along the way, mostly personal life-based ones, nothing that’s come along from the atheist camp has come close to being as satisfying on all levels as what I learned growing up in a Swedenborgian household and church. In fact, reading atheist material has only confirmed me in believing that the old “Christianity” is badly mistaken, and that what I was taught growing up is indeed true Christianity. I should add that my view of Swedenborgian beliefs has considerably broadened and deepened over the years since the time I was young and didn’t have much experience in life.
About your natural skepticism, I agree that it can be a good thing, as long as it stems from a desire to learn what is actually true rather than from a desire to reject anything that can’t be proven through the physical senses. Here is a relevant passage from Swedenborg, in the context of explaining Exodus 7:12, in which the Egyptian magicians match the miracle of Aaron’s rod becoming a snake:
Based on this idea, I would encourage you to test out what you are learning here, and (I hope) by directly reading Swedenborg’s works, against contrasting and opposing viewpoints. Only after we have considered various possibilities and options can we have a really sound and well-founded understanding of and belief in the truth.
Even Swedenborg should be read with an open and analytical mind. Swedenborg was not infallible, contrary to the beliefs of some conservative Swedenborgians. See:
Do the Teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg take Precedence over the Bible?
No matter what the source of a particular idea, we should turn it over in our own mind and come to our own conclusions about its truth or falsity.
Having said that, once we have adopted a broader structure of truth in our mind, it becomes much easier to evaluate many particular ideas as to their truth or falsity without having to go through a complicated process of mental analysis each time. Even if I disagree with Swedenborg on some particular points, the overall structure of truth and reality that he presents provides, for me, a sound framework in which to evaluate various claims and ideas that come my way—including, ironically, from Swedenborg’s writings themselves.
Back to the question of skepticism vs. faith, as I’ve mentioned to you before, one major caveat is that if we are willing to accept only the evidence of the physical senses, then our mind will not be able to accept spiritual truth, but will confine itself to material things. For more on this, see some fascinating statements in Arcana Coelestia #2568 and 2588, on “the affirmative attitude” and “the negative attitude.”
And about some of the most common arguments atheists make against the reality of God and spirit, see my five-part article starting with:
God Is Unconvincing To Smart Folks? – Part 1
Really, I have a lot of sympathy for conscientious atheists. In general, they reject God because the God that has reigned in religious thought for many centuries is indeed irrational, and in many cases horrible; and the doctrines taught as “Christianity” are not only irrational, but unbiblical. I see the modern atheist movement as a tool in the hands of God to smash the false travesty of “Christianity” that has reigned in the Western world for nearly 2,000 years now.
Swedenborg predicted that existing Protestant doctrine would lead to atheism. Now he’s proving to be prophetic on this. If you read anti-God atheist diatribes, they’re all about how horrible is the God of Protestantism (and of Catholicism, and to a lesser extent of other religions). And the fact of the matter is, that God is horrible. If any human king were to kill his own son as a precondition for declaring the rest of his subjects not guilty of their crimes, and not subject to the death penalty, we would consider that king to be an insane madman. Once you peel away the apologetics and state traditional Christian doctrine in plain and blunt language, the God described in Protestantism especially, and to a somewhat lesser extent in Catholicism, is an insane madman. Atheists have recognized this, and want nothing to do with that bloodthirsty God. I don’t blame them. As one of my seminary professors used to say, “I don’t believe in the same God they don’t believe in.”
Though at one time we Swedenborgians thought that our beliefs would “leaven the loaf,” and Christianity would thereby be saved, I am increasingly of the opinion that all of the old institutions of “Christianity” will have to die, and several generations will have to pass, before true Christianity can be established in any major portion of society. The old and utterly corrupt institution that has called itself “Christian” for so long has so poisoned the well of Christianity that it will take a long time, perhaps centuries, for that poison of false and unbiblical doctrine to be flushed out of Western consciousness so that a true and genuinely biblical Christianity can finally be established in the culture. And now that “Christianity” has spread to nearly all corners of the globe, the same process will be necessary worldwide.
About being “100% mathematically certain,” in light of the quotation from Arcana Coelestia #7298 above, I doubt that 100% certainty is a healthy thing. When we’re 100% certain, we’re not open to new possibilities, or even to a broadening of what we do know and understand. Scientific exploration is based precisely on not being certain, but on seeking answers to questions we’re uncertain about. Why shouldn’t spiritual exploration be the same?
Our human minds, together with our experience of life, are limited and partial. An abstract way of saying this is that our human mind is finite. God alone is infinite. This means that our grasp of reality will always be limited and finite, no matter how much we’ve learned and understood. There will always be far more for us to learn, and some of it will contradict what we previously believed to be true. So it is always good to allow some uncertainty in our minds to make room for new discoveries and for correction of our existing ideas and beliefs.
This doesn’t mean we have to go through life being radically uncertain, and never settling upon any truth at all. I believe that there is a reality out there that we can discover, and learn more and more about. We can gain a general idea of how reality works, and fit various aspects of reality into that overall picture. And we can be fairly certain that what we see and believe is correct. It may be that new discoveries don’t exactly make prior beliefs wrong, but rather bring them to a whole new level.
An example in science is Newton’s flat, mechanical view of gravitation and physics vs. Einstein’s “curved,” relativistic view. Newton’s theories weren’t so much wrong as they were limited in their scope. In our ordinary day-to-day life at ordinary human scales, Newton’s theories and formulas work just fine. You need Newton, but you don’t need Einstein, to design a car or house or a factory assembly line. But on a larger, cosmological scale, Newton’s formulas begin to break down. Mercury’s orbit does not do what Newton said it should because it’s so close to the sun that relativistic forces cause its orbit to depart from Newtonian mechanics. And if we tried to send a rocket to the moon using Newton’s formulas rather than Einstein’s, the rocket would miss the moon altogether and fly out into space.
In the same way, as we move to a deeper and broader spiritual understanding, we don’t necessarily have to throw out everything we’ve learned; but we do have to be open to the possibility that our current views are limited in scope, whereas broader views are necessary to see the broader picture that our sight was too limited to see previously.
And then, of course, there are beliefs that are just plain wrong. Such as the idea that God is three Persons, or that we are saved by faith alone. Just as some scientific theories are simply wrong, so some religious beliefs are simply wrong, and must be left behind.
Meanwhile, as long as we have some faith that there is a reality (in this case, a spiritual reality) out there for us to explore, we can and should use the minds God gave us to their fullest potential in seeking out greater knowledge, always with the attitude of seeking out the truth wherever it may lead us.
What Swedenborg adds to this picture that is not present even in our current scientific and philosophical world view is that in the end, it is not our thinking mind, but our beating heart that will lead us toward or away from the truth. The fundamental question of human life and its direction is not whether we discover, believe, and understand the right thing, but whether we have the good of our fellow human beings at heart. When our desire is to live from love, concern, and compassion for others, this will lead our mind to seek out the truth that can guide us into good and constructive ways of serving the people around us, and serving humanity in general.
In Swedenborg’s abstract language, truth loves good, and good loves truth. If our heart is good, we will seek the truth, and desire to be guided by it.
Meanwhile, evil loves falsity, and falsity loves evil. If our desire is only our own benefit, with no care or concern for the wellbeing of others, we will glom onto all sorts of false and even insane ideas and philosophies in order to justify our selfish and evil behavior.
However, much of the world is stuck in an in-between place, in which the heart is good, but the mind is misled. This is a case of what Swedenborg calls “falsity that does not come from evil.” People believe what they’re taught by their churches, and accept it because the minister or priest told them so, but it does no major harm to them spiritually because their heart and their intentions are good. This is why people of all religions, and even atheists who reject God and spirit altogether, can go to heaven. If their intentions are good, and they make a decent effort to actually live from those good intentions, they will find their way to heaven after they die. And after they die, the false ideas they had innocently imbibed from their teachers will melt away as they joyfully receive the truth that accords with the love in their heart. I believe this will happen in the afterlife both for traditional Christians and for good-hearted atheists.
Meanwhile, I, too, am glad that you have found this blog and the other Swedenborg sites on YouTube and such. Though people who innocently believe false doctrines can indeed go to heaven, it is far more powerful and soul-satisfying to have a true understanding of how God and spirit work. See:
Does Doctrine Matter? Why is it Important to Believe the Right Thing?
This has gotten long. Though there’s always more that could be said, I’ll leave it at that for now.
Meanwhile, is any of your graphic design work posted online somewhere that I could take a look at it? Thanks.
Sorry for the delay on getting back to you. I literally just graduated from college earlier this month.
My intentions are good and I strive to be the best person that I can for other people. I think it’s the best way at becoming successful. However, and more importantly, seeing the effect of impacting others in a positive way is incredibly fulfilling. Part of my skepticism stems from the verse from Peter, basically saying to have a reason for the hope that you have in Christianity. Ever since reading that, I wanted to have the best reason to defend my beliefs. Your website has helped tremendously.
As far as graphic design, I have a demo reel that focuses on motion graphics (2d animation and typography) as well as video editing and green screen compositing. But I’m capable of other still graphic design work. Here’s the link: Vimeo.com/leekerekes.
On here, I’ve used Eric as my pen-name. I’m more comfortable on here now, so i’m fine sharing my work with you. I hope it’s at least entertaining.
No problem. Congratulations on graduating college! That’s a great milestone. I hope you’re able to move on to work that you find satisfying. Nice demo reel. Yes, entertaining! 🙂 And I’m glad our website is helping you to “have a reason for your hope.”
I like reading this article. So many people who write about reincarnation as if it is fact. It has never been proven, nobody has seen it happen and anyone who has had contact with their loved ones in the afterlife, has been able to contact them because none of them reincarnated into another life. But yet they still talk about it. It makes no sense why anyone would return to earth after being in paradise with their loved ones? I know I don’t, I want to be with my wife and enjoy heaven, not magically shoot into another life and become someone else. That’s just wrong. Didn’t Jesus talk about our eternal progress and the afterlife in the gospels?
Good point about contacting loved ones in the afterlife. For people who have experienced true love, reincarnation can only be depressing. And I agree about not wanting to return here after experiencing paradise. It would be like returning to the dark confines of the womb after running free in the open air and sunshine.
Offhand, I can’t think of passages in which Jesus speaks of our eternal progress in the afterlife. But he speaks often about our eternal life. He doesn’t say anything about returning to earth in a different body.
Just now seeing this reply lol. Thanks for your response, I saw a video and someone asked, if we reincarnate multiple times, who would we be in heaven? The host or the video said we would be all of them…we could have been a man, woman, gay, etc…we would just be the essence of all of those people. I can’t get my head around it, I have experienced true love like you said and that would be absolutely devastating not to be with my lovely wife when we pass on. I don’t want to be a bunch of people in one soul/spirit. I want to be who I am and my wife to be herself.
Part of being human is having a distinct personality and character, which we build up over time through our experiences and choices. It is not possible to change that into something else in a blink of an eye. It would be like changing a leopard into a chicken, or a cat into a zebra.
Also, especially in the spiritual world, but to a great extent even here on earth, our body is a direct expression of our character and our soul. You can’t take a man’s mind and put it into a woman’s body. A female body cannot express the mind of a man, and vice versa.
I am aware of the occurrence of gender dysphoria. But that is a dysphoria, and not the common state of human beings. In fact, those who experience it have precisely the problem of feeling that their body is a different gender than their mind, making it a wrong and inappropriate expression of their mind.
In other words, you can’t just mash together different genders, sexual orientations, characters, and so on into a single soul, and then mix and match different bodies arbitrarily with that mixed-up soul. That would be a prescription for confusion and schizophrenia, not for spiritual wholeness.
That makes a whole lot more sense than that video 😀
Hi, you already know I oppose reincarnation. But I dont know if you’ve heard of afterlife researcher/author Roberta Grimes. She’s very spiritual and follows the teachings of Jesus but I wanted your opinion on her about something. She seems to talk about reincarnation a lot and it annoys me. She says Thomas Jefferson is her spirit guide and says she’s had 17 past lives, all as a man until now. She says as she gets older she’s starting to take on some of the characteristics of those “past lives” and will probably turn into a man in the spirit world. She claims she went to a medium and the medium told her, Thomas Jefferson (her guide) no longer looks like Thomas Jefferson. He’s now taken on the features of one of his past lives and looks like a man with dark hair dressed as a farmer. She often talks becoming more spiritual now etc so you make sure this is your last lifetime on earth. And that you want to go as high as you can to level 7. I used to listen to her podcast and read her books but she brings up reincarnation too much it just turns me off. Do you think that it’s possible that because she’s so spiritual that spirits have come into her mind and made her believe Thomas Jefferson is her guide and he has known her from previous lives? And there are many people in the spirit world who say no such thing as reincarnation happens and that spirits who still believe in that theory, send it back to earth..sorry for the long post but you are always my go-to for a lot of questions I have.
Good to hear from you again.
The problems with Roberta Grimes’s beliefs, drawing as they do on mediums, spirit contacts, and “spirit guides,” are outlined not only in the above article, but more specifically in this article:
What about Spiritualism? Is it a Good Idea to Contact Spirits?
Short version: There are spirits in the world of spirits that will tell people whatever they want to hear. Some of them actually believe what they’re telling people on earth about reincarnation, past lives, and so on. They are drawn to people who are open to or share their beliefs, and will confirm those beliefs. Others are lying spirits who are intentionally deceiving people in order to gain power over their minds.
Either way, “information” gained from spirits simply isn’t reliable. It’s no more reliable than if someone on earth said it. The idea that if something comes from the spiritual world, it must be true, is simply wrong. In the spiritual world there are just as many misinformed people (because spirits are just people who have died and gone on to the spiritual world) as there are here on earth. It’s the same people that were here on earth, who have all of the conflicting opinions and beliefs that they had here on earth.
In earthly society, people who believe in reincarnation will find other people who believe in reincarnation, get together with them either online or in person, and strengthen each other’s belief. It’s exactly the same in the spiritual world. And it’s exactly the same between people on earth and people in the spiritual world. It doesn’t make reincarnation a reality any more than the fact that there are whole groupings of New Age people here on earth who believe in reincarnation makes reincarnation a reality.
That’s why it’s necessary to subject ideas and information that comes from the spiritual world to the same scrutiny to which we would (or at least should) subject ideas and information that comes from people and sources here on earth.
And as for scrutiny, Roberta Grimes’s belief that Thomas Jefferson is her spirit guide fits the profile of common past life and spirit guide claims: he’s a famous historical figure.
Mathematically speaking, humankind over the ages has consisted overwhelmingly of common people who lived out their lives in obscurity and never made it into the history books. Today, the ratio of common people to famous people is also overwhelmingly large. So the likelihood that a particular individual today would be the reincarnation of some famous person from the past, or have a famous person from the past as her or his spirit guide, is at least hundreds of millions to one.
Yet over and over again, reincarnationists claim that they are the reincarnation of some famous person in the past, or in this case, that their spirit guide is some famous person from the past. Hypatia is apparently an especially popular one.
That small, elite group of famous historical people must be very busy getting reincarnated as all sorts of people, over and over again!
So right off the bat, I’m highly skeptical. I suspect that Thomas Jefferson has no interest whatsoever in being Roberta Grimes’s spirit guide, and just wants to be left alone to live his life in peace.
Then there’s her belief that she’s been a man in the past, and she’s going to be a man in her next life. What’s with women wanting to be men? Is there something better about being a man, such that it would be a desirable thing for a woman? I have to wonder whether Grimes has a healthy self-respect for herself as a woman. Armchair psychologizing, I know, but it’s another red flag.
I could go on. But the short version is, Grimes’s beliefs have all of the hallmarks of being deceived by mistaken or lying spirits from the world of spirits—which is the intermediate area between heaven and hell where people first go, and live for a longer or shorter time, after they die. Spirits in the world of spirits usually continue to believe what they believed on earth, often for the equivalent of several decades, before moving on to their permanent home in either heaven or hell. If they go to hell, they continue to hold onto their false beliefs, and become the lying spirits that intentionally deceive people. If they go to heaven, they are taught by angels before going to their heavenly home, and are disabused of false beliefs that they had innocently held while on earth.
Meanwhile, please do read, or re-read, the article linked above, which gives a fuller version of why “information” from spirit contacts is not reliable. And if you have further thoughts or questions, please feel free to continue the conversation.
Interesting, thank you. Now she also co-authored a book from an alleged spirit name Mikey who claims he had a lifetime here in the 1600’s and now he’s way note advanced than before.The young man apparently died here @ 20 years old. The mother claims this is all true and she talks to him all the time. What about situations like those or people who say they visit the spirit world, like Swedenborg but say they have come in contact with their father who’s now a young boy on the other side?
People are gonna believe what they’re gonna believe. And that’s true on the other side just as it is here.
About people who have had spiritual experiences, in general these are tailored to the particular person and his or her needs at this particular time in his or her life. Generalizing from such personal experiences to broader beliefs and principles is generally not a good idea.
As for people visiting the spiritual world “like Swedenborg,” I’m not aware of anyone besides Swedenborg who was fully awake and conscious in the spiritual world (not just hearing the voices of spirits) on a nearly daily basis for almost three decades. To my knowledge, no one else has visited the spiritual world “like Swedenborg.” For more on that, please see the section titled, “2. Swedenborg’s experience in the spiritual world was unique in known history” in the article:
Do the Teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg take Precedence over the Bible?
His name is jurgen ziewe. If you get a chance look him up and let me know what you think.
Which one was he?
Just saw this. What do you mean?
I lost track of the conversation, and am wondering why you referred me to Jurgen Ziewe.
Oh! He’s the guy I mentioned who says he does astral travel. We were talking about reincarnation and I mentioned that guy said he saw his dad reincarnated on the other side. I just wanted your opinion on him saying that and his out of body travel if you knew who he was.
Curious if you’ve ever read the Padgett Messages. Padgett claims to have had communications with Swedenborg after Swedenborg’s passing.
Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment and question.
Yes, I have read the Padgett messages about “Swedenborg.” They are clearly from some deceptive spirit posing as Swedenborg. They don’t sound like him at all. And it strains credulity to think that a man (Swedenborg) who spent nearly three decades enjoying open access to the spiritual world, and who solemnly affirmed on his deathbed that everything he had written was true, would suddenly change his mind and deny it all when he went to the spiritual world permanently.
Personally, I’ll trust the man who has been there and traveled there extensively over the man who heard voices from unknown entities and uncritically believed everything they said.
Thanks for your response Lee. I just purchased Heaven and Hell and I am looking forward to reading it. I have not read anything from Swedenborg yet.
I have read the Padgett Messages. Do you believe Padgett is genuine? I haven’t yet concluded on that.
I have also read Roberta Grimes but not sure I believe those books.
I am shocked at the number of people out there who claim to be communicating with the other side. They cant possibly all be genuine, right?
I have a question regarding a comment you made about those who die young. Babies…maybe very young children. I believe you stated something about them getting a free pass to Heaven. How can this be? The rest of us have to go through life (some may have awful lives) and risk going to hell for eternity, but those who die young get a free pass into Heaven? Well if I had been given a choice then I would have signed up for the free pass. I mean, what’s the purpose of a life on Earth if the ultimate outcome could be an eternity in hell?
I think you’ll enjoy Heaven and Hell. The first few chapters are somewhat theoretical, and of course, the book was written in a different era, in a different language, so it can be challenging to read in places. However, it offers the best and most reliable information about the spiritual world available anywhere. To my knowledge, no one else in history even claimed to have had direct, full sensory experience of the spiritual world regularly for a period of almost thirty years. For more on why I think Swedenborg is worth listening to, please see:
Do the Teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg take Precedence over the Bible?
About Padgett, I do not think that spirit mediums are a good source of reliable information about the spiritual world. Since they just hear voices, they have no way of knowing or verifying who they are talking to on the other side. Even Swedenborg at first had a hard time sorting out historically known people from impersonators in the spiritual world. I think that most of the historical personages that spirit mediums think they’re hearing from are actually impersonators using the name of those personages to get people to give weight to and believe in what they’re saying. Once they get the confidence of the medium and the people consulting the medium, they can tell them anything they want, and it will be believed, because it came from the spiritual world. For more on this, please see:
What about Spiritualism? Is it a Good Idea to Contact Spirits?
Your question about children always going to heaven when they die vs. adults risking hell is a good one. Here are three points to consider:
On the first point, the idea put forth in the Bible and other sacred literature that people are forced down to hell when they’ve been bad is necessary for simple-minded people, to get them to pay attention to God and God’s commandments, and live a good life instead of an evil life. But the reality is that people make their own choice about whether to go to heaven or to hell by the kind of choices they make and the kind of life they live. In the afterlife, evil people are not forced into hell, but go there of their own free will because that is where they can indulge, as much as is possible, in their evil desires and behaviors.
On the second point, once again, in the Bible hell is referred to as a place of eternal torment because simple-minded people, and even many well-educated people, must have a fear of the consequences of wrong actions or they will go ahead and do all sorts of evil, immoral, and destructive things. And there is torment in hell. But it is torment that is a direct result of the evil spirits’ ongoing actions (not what they did on earth), and it is inflicted by evil spirits on each other, not by God or the angels, and not by some arch-devil named Satan. In general, people in hell are allowed to live as they please, including engaging in evil behavior, but they are not allowed to harm good spirits and angels, and their evil actions inevitably bring retribution and pain upon them by their fellow evil spirits. Still, they engage in their favorite evil behavior anyway, because that’s what they enjoy.
For some of the most horrendously evil people, the situation in hell is much worse than this. But getting to that level of evil takes serious effort. Most ordinary idiots, jerks, and a$$holes will live a fairly ordinary sordid existence in hell of fighting and attacking each other, robbing each other, and engaging in all sorts of stupid and insane behavior—and will feel the consequences of that stupid and insane behavior just as people who engage in such behavior here on earth do sooner or later. If you “party” hard, you get the hangover in the morning. And if you keep at it year after year, eventually your liver gives out. If you live a highly promiscuous life, sooner or later you’re going to get an STD, or you’re just plain gonna burn yourself out.
For more on these first two points, please see:
Is There Really a Hell? What is it Like?
On the third point, God designed us to live a full lifetime here on earth. Anything less than that is less desirable. Yes, babies, children, and even teenagers before the age of emancipation and self-responsibility will all go to heaven, not hell, after they die. The price of this is that they are not able to go through their full development as a human being here on earth, and they are therefore limited in the tasks they can perform in the spiritual world. It’s a bit like being born prematurely, which causes some organs not to have fully developed, and not to have their full functioning power during the person’s lifetime, so that the person is somewhat limited in the level of exertion they can put out.
Mind you, babies, children, and teens who die before they reach adulthood do have a very good and happy life in heaven. Babies, in particular, reside in the highest heavens, the heavens of love, because they had not yet lost their innocence here on earth. But they are not among the most powerful angels for doing good, because they are more delicate in character than people who went through a full lifetime here on earth, and who journeyed through their lifetime from the innocence of unawareness and ignorance that we have in infancy to the innocence of experience and wisdom that we can attain in old age. That innocence of wisdom is far more powerful than the innocence of infancy. Those who attain it become some of the wisest and most powerful angels in heaven. Other angels look to them for help and guidance. And they, of course, look directly to the Lord.
In short, the situation of minor children who die always going to heaven is God bringing the best outcome out of a less than ideal circumstance. A God of love and mercy would not allow anyone to go to hell who didn’t freely choose it as a self-responsible adult. Still, it would be better for every person to live out a full lifetime here on earth, and to have the opportunity to fully develop as a human being. Our life in heaven is lived on the foundation we built here on earth.
I hope this helps.
Lee, thanks so much for your thorough response. I really appreciate it. I think what you said makes sense. It did, however, bring up another thought in my head. What about those who are born into unfortunate circumstances (maybe abusive parents or extreme poverty)? Or what about those who have a significant event happen that changes their life forever (maybe a severe reaction to a pharmaceutical that results in a permanent disability, or an unfortunate lawsuit that wipes out their life savings, etc.)?
I don’t think it would be unexpected or unreasonable for these people to have a lot of anger, maybe at God, or maybe just become extremely negative, depressed people, all because of some unfortunate event or being born into a crappy situation.
If how we live our life determines where we choose to spend eternity, it hardly seems fair that these people had to go through traumatic events that shaped how they feel about life, God, etc. whereas someone else may have a very easy life where they are good looking, rich, etc.
Our environment helps to shape our thinking. Someone with a rough life is undoubtedly going to feel differently about God, spiritually, etc. and will likely be less desirable to be around than others who have led a fortunate life.
You’re very welcome. Glad to help.
Your question about people in unfortunate circumstances, or who have serious setbacks in life, is also a good one. The general principle is that no one is penalized spiritually, and specifically, no one goes to hell, due to circumstances beyond their control. We are only held responsible for choices we make among the reasonable options available to us in our particular circumstances.
Of course, the circumstances of our birth, and unfortunate events that happen in our lives, do affect our character and personality. As Swedenborg says, every moment of our life has consequences to eternity. How we grew up and the things that happen to us will make us into a different person than we might have been if we had been born in a different time or place, or if different things had happened to us.
However, the primary determinant of our eternal fate is what Swedenborg calls our “ruling love,” which is what we choose to put first in our goals and in our life. And that is something we choose as self-responsible adults. If we choose to put God and/or the good of our fellow human beings first in our priorities, then we have chosen a life of heaven, no matter how humble or difficult our external circumstances may be. If we choose to put material wealth and pleasure, and our own reputation and personal power, first, then we have chosen a life of hell, even if we may be fabulously wealthy and live in a seaside mansion.
In the afterlife, our life will not be determined by our material circumstances here on earth, but by what’s in our heart, according to the choices we have made within our particular circumstances. Even people living in a poverty-stricken slum can choose to do what they can to bring some cheer to their neighborhood, and to ease the burden of the people around them in whatever small ways they can. In the afterlife, such people will find themselves living in comfortable or even splendid circumstances. All of their needs will be met. There will be no more hunger or crime to deal with. In their joy at living in the light and warmth of heaven, they will forget all about their struggles on earth. Meanwhile, born-wealthy people who lived in seaside mansions, but did not care about or take care of their fellow human beings, will find themselves living in a hovel amid squalor and hunger. (But rich people who use their wealth to help their fellow human beings out of genuine concern for them will make their final home in heaven, not in hell.)
Here are a couple of articles that touch on some of these subjects further:
Here is one more article that you might find helpful on your question:
Will Sick or Disabled People Return to Good Health in the Spiritual World?
Thanks Lee! Again a very nice thorough response…much appreciated!
I may reach out again when I get deep into Swedenborg’s book. I’m sure I’ll learn a lot and I’m looking forward to it. Thanks again for your guidance.
Why is there so much more proof of reincarnation then an eternal afterlife? (Or at least more info that supports reincarnation then an eternal afterlife.)
And if it exists, what is heaven really like?
I wouldn’t say there is more proof of reincarnation than of an eternal afterlife. Rather, there are many people who have had experiences that they interpret to support reincarnation. But as the above article suggests, there is a much better explanation for all of that “evidence of reincarnation”: “past life regression” is really having the memories of some other person infused into one’s mind, and then incorrectly assuming it to be one’s own past life.
About what heaven is really like, please see:
Who Are the Angels and How Do They Live?
Even better, get yourself a copy of Swedenborg’s book Heaven and Hell:
Heaven and Hell, by Emanuel Swedenborg
You place a lot of trust and belief on Heaven and Hell by Emanuel Swedenborg, but how can we know what he wrote is what he actually experienced? How can we know he didn’t just make it up?
And also, on the topic of reincarnation, if the Eastern religions were talking about spiritual rebirth, then why do both Hindus believe that our karma in this life, sets our life course in the next one? And why do Buddhists believe that all levels of heaven and hell are only temporary and once you run out of good/bad karma, you return to Earth?
I don’t mean in anyway to try and challenge your views, but right now I feels as if I am caught in between all this afterlife business and I guess, I am trying to find a way I can truly believe in the beautiful afterlife you have described.
Yes, I understand. These are heart-pressing issues, and you don’t want to be deceived. In the end, you’ll have to make up your own mind, based on what your head and your heart tell you is the truth.
Of course, many people have accused Swedenborg of making it all up, or of being deceived about the true nature of his spiritual experiences. I am reading a biography of Swedenborg right now written by a non-Swedenborgian who thinks that his spiritual experiences were all just creations of his subconscious mind, and that he never actually went to the spiritual world.
Why do I believe Swedenborg rather than that skeptical and rather materialistic biographer? For two basic reasons:
On the first point, given the nature of his spiritual writings, and his claims to have visited the spiritual world regularly for a period of almost thirty years, it is natural that many people would think he was insane. There were even rumors circulated not long after his death that he had episodes of insanity in which he did crazy things. But those rumors were thoroughly investigated and found to have been complete fabrications made up by his theological enemies.
Meanwhile, he continued to take his seat in the Swedish House of Nobles whenever he was in Sweden, and continued to submit memoranda on various the social and political issues of the day. He had a special interest in economic issues and in maintaining a sound currency for the health of the Swedish economy. Everyone who knew him testified that he was of sound mind and unfailingly polite and gracious in company.
When he was on his deathbed, when the Rev. Arvid Ferelius, the Swedish Lutheran pastor in London, where Swedenborg was staying at the time, came to give him final communion, this exchange took place between them:
On the second point, all of this would mean nothing if the things he wrote were irrational and senseless. And in some cases he does say things that I don’t agree with. But in the main, his writings and his teaching are highly sensible, and they so beautifully and powerfully explain so many things that are otherwise dark and obscure that I have come to give them a great deal of credibility. Still, I withhold judgment on any particular parts that do not make complete sense to me when I read them. We must keep our thinking mind active and engaged when reading and evaluating anything, no matter who wrote it. Swedenborg himself spoke strongly against blind faith, and advised not believing anything unless we see and understand that it is true.
For that, you will have to read his writings yourself. And since many of your questions are about the afterlife, Heaven and Hell is the book for you. It is far and away his most popular book. In fact, it is one of the most popular books about the afterlife of all time. It has had a major influence on how people think about angels and the afterlife, even though most people have never heard of Swedenborg. See, for example, “What is the Source of the Belief that the Deceased become Angels?” Heaven and Hell has been translated into dozens of languages, and gone through hundreds of editions. Please do get yourself a copy. As you read it, consider in your mind whether these things make sense to your thinking mind, and satisfy your heart at the same time. Then you will have your answer.
Meanwhile, please also read this article, if you haven’t already:
Do the Teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg take Precedence over the Bible?
About reincarnation in Hindu and Buddhist thought, in addition to what I said before about “reincarnation” in Eastern spiritual writings really being about spiritual rebirth, not about being physically born again in a new body, I also think that the popular idea of individuals reincarnating is a corruption, or a physical-minded interpretation, of the original idea of God continually incarnating in new souls of new human beings. The late Wilson Van Dusen, a Swedenborgian and a clinical psychologist, spoke about this in an article titled “Reincarnation: The Universal Return,” which was published in 1992 in the small book The Country of Spirit: Selected Writings. (The link is to its page on Amazon. But it’s out of print, so it may not always be available there.)
As is common in Van Dusen’s writing, the article is a brain-bender. But basically, he says that in Eastern religion there is a “greater doctrine” and a “lesser doctrine” of reincarnation. The lesser doctrine is the common, popular idea that individuals are reincarnated in new bodies. The greater doctrine is the idea that God is continually “re-incarnated” in new human beings. Van Dusen states that the “lesser doctrine” is not really true, and that this is known by some Buddhist and Hindu masters with which he has been in communication.
Parts of that chapter are quoted in an article called “Is There Reincarnation?” at the now inactive website egogahan.com.
It is similar to the situation in Christianity, in which there is a popular, but largely false “Christianity” that people flock to in droves; but there is also a deeper, more spiritual version of Christianity that most people know little or nothing about because it’s not what is preached from the pulpits of the megachurches, or even from the pulpits of the rural country churches.
If Emanuel Swedenborg was such an intelligent man, wouldn’t it make it easier to make up such things? He would just need a foolproof plan.
Also, is there any other evidence of the afterlife besides NDEs (which some scientists believes is just a loss of a chemical in a person’s brain when they are dying) and books (which could be made up)?
Sorry if I sound rude. However, as you stated yourself, I do not want to be deceived, especially with such pressing matters.
To be honest with you, the only reason why I got into this afterlife business in the first place is because I am worried that once my parents pass, I’ll never see them alive again. I think the idea of an afterlife is giving me hope that maybe one day, I may be able to see them again, and be able to see them for the rest of eternity.
Well . . . Swedenborg would have had to be a first-class liar to have made it all up, write over thirty volumes of it, and then solemnly affirm on his deathbed that it was all true. And given the spiritual quality of his writings, I just don’t find that it believable that the whole thing was one big lie. Once again, I recommend that you get a copy of Heaven and Hell and read it for yourself. Then you can make up your own mind.
About your parents passing, even though it hasn’t happened yet, this article might be helpful to you:
What Does it Mean When My Parents Die? Will I See Them Again?
However, what if god isn’t just? What if we really aren’t as human as we thought? Is possible that god is unjust? I mean personally I believe it’s cruel to rip friends and families apart life after life, stick them back together with some swapped roles or separate them forever, etc, but is it possible god is unjust and doesn’t really give us real freedom, or is there just too much evidence going against that ideology?
Well . . . if God is unjust and cruel, then we’re pretty much screwed, aren’t we? We’re ants under the boot of God.
But I don’t believe God is like that. A cruel and unjust God would not, and could not, create such a stupendously amazing and beautiful universe. Nor would a cruel and unjust God give us so many spiritual writings and revelations in which we can seek and find deep and satisfying answers to the toughest questions of life.
You, of course, will have to make up your own mind what you believe about this.
Is there any proof in ancient writings besides the Bible that proves God is just?
The Bible is the best ancient source. But yes, there are others, such as the sacred writings of Hinduism. And once again, “proof” is a slippery concept. It all depends upon what evidence you are willing to accept.
Why do you believe the Bible is the best ancient source? Does it take precedence over any other ancient writings?
And how can we be sure that we just need to have good hearts and that we can be forgiven for anything we do as long as we truly realize we have wronged? For example, the Ancient Egyptians believed that you had to have an almost perfect heart because if it was heavier than one feather of the god/goddess of justice, then your soul would be eaten. How do we know that there is an eternal afterlife as long as you are good and not that you will get your soul eaten if you aren’t almost perfect?
Also, why do some Christians day that although believers of other religions don’t go to hell, God will make their souls disappear as a last act of mercy? Is this true?
To answer your last question first, no soul that God makes ever ceases to exist, including the souls of people who choose evil over good. The Bible says that they will go to eternal fire (Matthew 25:41), and that “the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire that burns them will not be quenched” (Isaiah 66:24; Mark 9:47–48). The worms and fire are figurative, not literal. But the clear message is that this is an eternal state for those who choose evil and hell over good and heaven.
The Bible is the best ancient source because, objectively, it moves from polytheism to monotheism, whereas just about every other ancient spiritual writing that still exists remains polytheistic throughout. Polytheism represents a lower, earthly spiritual state, whereas monotheism carries us to a higher, spiritually oriented spiritual state.
Further based on Christian belief, the Bible is the Word of God, whereas other ancient spiritual writings may reveal something of God and spirit, but they are not the Word of God in the same sense that the Bible is. For more on what makes the Word of God be the Word of God, please see:
Why Isn’t Paul in Swedenborg’s Canon?
As for God requiring us to be perfect, and our heart to be perfect, that would be unreasonable and unjust. Only God is capable of being perfect. We humans can be good, but we can’t be perfect. A just God would not require us to be something that we are incapable of being.
This points out one reason the Bible is a better source than other ancient writings. Other ancient writings present gods who are fickle, changeable, vain, capricious . . . in other words, who are basically super-powerful super-humans who have all of the failings of ordinary mortals. Those gods hold the fate of human beings in their hand. Humans are merely fodder for their divine whims. Fortune and fate were believed to control human affairs. Humans themselves had little or no control over their own destiny.
The Bible does indeed have some of these themes. But if we take the Bible as a whole, and consider the picture of God that it paints, it is an entirely different picture than that of other ancient and polytheistic writings. The God of the Bible puts our fate in our own hands, and gives the choice and control of our own life over to us. Yes, we are affected by the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” (Shakespeare). But ultimately, our destiny is what we make it. See, for example, Ezekiel 18, and my article about it here.
This is a generalization, of course. Some other ancient writings are quite good. But in general, the Bible stands head and shoulders above the others in its presentation of the nature of God and of our spiritual life.
Once again, you will have to make up your own mind about these things. But I believe that the God of the Bible is a far greater, more loving, and more just God than the gods of most other ancient writings and philosophies.
Also, if reincarnation is real, why do some people have the following experiences:
– Birth Marks from deceased family members (In parts of Asia there is a ceremony of marking a deceased person with soot and some babies are born with that exact same mark in the exact same spot.)
– Some Babies have the exact same handwriting as a deceased family member.
– Born knowing a language a deceased family member could speak but the child could not have possibly learned it where he lived/his environment.
-Being born with a mark shaped like a wound in the exact same place as a family member had had a scar, whether it’d be from a bullet, surgery, etc.
-While going through a past-life regression, the person speaks a lot about the doctor’s personal life (who is still alive).
Is there evidence that these experiences could have happened while still supporting the idea of an eternal heaven and hell? If so, what is that evidence?
The birthmark thing never made sense to me as evidence of reincarnation. It is just as likely to have had physical and genetic causes as spiritual causes. It is an example of people seeing what they want to see, and interpreting things according to their own pre-existing views.
Most of these cases, however, are probably just coincidences. But because they are unusual, people pay a lot of attention to them, and they get a lot of “press,” so to speak. People talk about the one baby born with a birthmark that matches the birthmark of some other family member, but they don’t talk about the thousands of babies born without such birthmarks.
All of the other “evidences” of reincarnation are easily explained by the sharing of memories in the spiritual world, and between spirits and people on earth.
In short, there really is no sound evidence for reincarnation that isn’t equally consistent with current science and with Swedenborg’s description of how the spiritual world, and its communication with people in the material world, works.
However, the birthmark couldn’t really have been genetic because the family member was marked with soot, so how could the baby have gotten that same marking in the same place but instead as a birthmark?
I don’t know. But it makes no sense to me that it would be because of reincarnation. It’s probably more a legend than a real occurrence anyway.
People say it represents reincarnation because they believe the deceased person reincarnated into the baby. It isn’t a legend because there are actual photos. How could this be possible while still supporting the idea of an eternal heaven and hell?
Once again, I suspect that the “actual photos” are of the one baby in ten thousand that had these “signs.” I.e., that it is a coincidence. And people pay attention to strange coincidences, not to ordinary everyday things. People give great weight to the rare exceptions while not paying attention to the vast bulk of occurrences (in this case, babies without strange birthmarks) that don’t support their theories.
But even if there is spiritual influence in the birthmarks, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it was caused by reincarnation.
In the usual theory of reincarnation, a soul departs from one physical body and later enters another physical body. This means that if birthmarks were caused by reincarnating souls, it must mean that the souls are influencing the physical structure and appearance of the bodies they enter. I have no particular problem with that, except that we know there is already a mechanism for traits to be passed down from parents to their offspring. It’s called heredity. And if there is physical heredity, then it would make sense that there is spiritual heredity as well. In other words, if the birthmarks are believed to be inherited from parents and grandparents, then there is an ordinary mechanism that doesn’t require reincarnation to pass on those birthmarks: heredity.
Further, reincarnation theory doesn’t generally specify that souls will pass on to the progeny of those they inhabit—i.e., the souls of grandparents passing into their grandchildren. So reincarnation theory doesn’t provide a good explanation of why such birthmarks would be passed down the generations in the same family. Heredity provides a much better explanation.
What about the supposed occurrence of marks placed on an ancestor being passed on to their descendants? Reincarnation theory doesn’t provide a particularly good explanation for this, either. Why would a mark on a body be passed on by a soul? Once again, it is only the souls that pass from one body to the next. The body itself is left behind.
However, if there is some sort of spiritual influence that causes a mark placed on one body being passed down as a birthmark, this, also, does not require reincarnation, nor is reincarnation a particularly good explanation of it.
Spiritual forces are commonly transmitted via the “aura” around people’s spirits, and the influence of that aura in the spiritual atmosphere. Spiritual auras surround individual human spirits, but are even stronger when there is a whole group of spirits creating a similar aura, or “spiritual force field.”
Even if we did accept that these occurrences of sooty marks manifesting birthmarks are real examples of spiritual forces acting, and not just the one coincidence in 10,000 births, the influence would likely flow from the spiritual atmosphere of the family and friends who believe that placing a mark on one person will cause it to manifest in another person. To put it plainly, if the soul of the baby caused there to be a birthmark on its body, it is most likely that it is caused by the the influence on the baby’s soul of the mind and spirit of all the people surrounding the birth who believe that a birthmark will manifest in the baby.
Once again, I doubt this is what happens. I think it is most likely coincidence and folklore. But if something is happening beyond ordinary genetic passage of traits, it is more likely caused by this sort of group spiritual influence than by the soul of a grandfather or grandmother being reincarnated into the body of a grandson or granddaughter.
I don’t think it was a coincidence because this was seen on 43 babies. What about the work of Ian Stevenson, who devoted his whole life to proving reincarnation exists? (You can search him up if you’d like.)
Also, if it were true that past life experiences were other people’s experience, why do these spirits target children?
Lastly, the wounds that appeared as a birthmark on the children were the exact same wounds that the person the children remembers as his past life had. Why does this happen if reincarnation doesn’t exist?
Considering that about 360,000 babies are born every day, and 140,000,000 per year, 43 babies is statistically insignificant, and would count as a coincidence.
Children in general are more open to spiritual influences and experiences than adults. It’s not that spirits target them, but that they are more likely to be aware of the presence of the spirits that surround all of us all the time in the spiritual world.
And spirits are quite capable of connecting a living person with the memories of a dead person who had some similar characteristics mentally or physically. They’re still the memories of another person who is no longer living in the physical world, not the memories of the same person in a past life.
And yes, some people devote their lives to proving that reincarnation is real. Some people also devote their lives to proving that the earth is flat.
Why do some people have NDEs where they have life reviews but also see everything their soul did in past lives, and how there is a recurring theme in all their lifetimes that leads to how they are always given the choose I get to choose good over evil? Is this proof of reincarnation?
Probably because God and the angels use people’s existing beliefs to lead them toward living a good life. If a person believes in reincarnation, that may mean using that belief in an NDE to get them to keep working on their spiritual life and development. Later on, after they die, if their belief in reincarnation had prompted them to become a good and loving person, the angels can correct that wrong belief of theirs, but they still keep their good heart, and that carries them to heaven.
However, in the example I’m talking about, this person was not religious at all and never believed in the afterlife, so why would God give her an NDE to make her believe in past lives and stuff like that?
Even people who aren’t religious hear things and pick up ideas. I can’t say why it went toward reincarnation in this particular case. Perhaps she had a bad taste in her mouth about Christianity (so many “Christian” beliefs these days are anything but Christian!), so her mind went to Eastern beliefs instead.
But why would God want to deceive her like that if reincarnation doesn’t exist?
God and the angels have to talk to us based on ideas that are already in our minds. They don’t pour brand new ideas into us. And what’s in our mind doesn’t necessarily come from God and the angels. They aren’t lying to us, they’re just talking to us based on what we already think, and what we already think about. And they use those thoughts in our mind to lead us to live a good life of love and service to other people.
In the afterlife, we are not judged by our beliefs, but by what kind of life we lived, and what kind of person we became, based on our beliefs. Believing something that’s not true, such as reincarnation, won’t cause us to go to hell. Only living a bad life from a bad heart will.
In the afterlife, angels will teach us what is really true, and what’s not. But if we have a bad heart, and live a selfish and greedy life from that bad heart, we won’t listen to them, and will keep believing falsehoods because we love the falsehoods that justify and excuse our wrong behavior. But people who live a good life from a good heart will easily give up their wrong ideas when they hear the truth, and see it in the clear light of heaven.
This is why God and the angels don’t try to correct all of our wrong beliefs while we are living here on earth. Instead, they focus on guiding us to live a good life based on whatever beliefs we do have, whether they are right or wrong.
However the woman I am talking about never had any pre existing ideas. She stated this herself in an interview about her NDE. She never thought about reincarnation and past lives until she got this life review of everything her soul experiences including experiences in her “past lives”.
You mean her mind was completely blank? She had never ever heard of reincarnation? She didn’t even know that such an idea existed?
I believe so.
Since her Mind was blank, why did God plant the idea of reincarnation in her head?
I don’t believe that her mind was blank. That was a rhetorical question. No one’s mind is blank. Whatever was in her mind, it was drawn out, and it was susceptible to a belief in reincarnation.
Could you review these two articles about reincarnation and give your opinion? I am terrified of reincarnation and I guess I’m just looking for some solid evidence that it doesn’t exist.
Also, you stated that reincarnation would not exist because it’s unnecessary, but how can we be sure that just because it’s unnecessary means it doesn’t exist? I mean there are a bunch of unnecessary things on Earth but they still exist.
The Ian Stevenson article seems to focus mostly on birthmarks as evidence of reincarnation. I’ve already explained why I don’t find that sort of “evidence” convincing.
The “11 signs your soul has reincarnated many times” in the lonerwolf article can all be explained just as easily, if not more easily, by the belief that there are angels and spirits around us all the time, all of whom were once themselves human beins on this earth.
Once again, you’ll have to make up your own mind whether or not to believe in reincarnation. In my view, it is a materialistic and literalistic belief, and not at all spiritual. In the ancient scriptures rebirth, or being born again, is talking about spiritual rebirth, not physical rebirth. Believing it’s about physical rebirth is a physical-minded belief.
You say that past live memories are just of spirits inhabiting a persons mind, but why do some people have the past life memories of someone for decades?
Here are three examples:
I really hope this is false and hope you can refute these cases of “reincarnation”
It’s not spirits inhabiting a person’s mind. It’s memories of a spirit being infused into a person’s mind. That can happen over any length of time. And the memories stay in the person’s mind just as if they had experienced it themselves, even though they are actually someone else’s memories.
What about the idea that reincarnation is a choice, and you can choose to reincarnate?
Also, could you respond to this post on Quora about reincarnation?
(Read the Jeff Corken response)
I am so terrified of reincarnation that it gives me anxiety attacks and it makes me cry on end for multiple hours.
If reincarnation terrifies people, that should be enough to show that it is incompatible with a loving God. The god of reincarnation is a disengaged, uncaring god.
As for Jeff Corken’s answer, he quickly lost me with all of his rabbit holes, so I’ll just focus on his two initial statements. The second one first:
Reincarnation will not soon be proven in the laboratory. Laboratories, and science in general, are for studying physical phenomena. The soul is not a physical entity. Therefore it is outside the purview of science. In plain language, science can study the human body, but it cannot study the human soul. Corken clearly does not understand the nature of the soul, nor does he understand the nature of science, or he could not make such an unscientific and ill-informed statement.
And his first statement:
For the universe to be stable, it is not necessary for all sentients to be eternal beings. It is only necessary for one sentient to be an eternal being. That sentient being is God. If God were unstable, and not eternal, then the universe would be unstable. But because God is stable, the universe is a also stable. That’s because the universe is continually held in existence by God’s continual presence and inflow into it. On this, too, Corken simply doesn’t understand the nature of reality.
Perhaps it would be better for you to focus more on the next answer, the one by Geoff Cutler, and get his book. I haven’t read it, and I don’t know how good it is. But it’s got to be better than Corken’s rather odd, disjointed, and ill-founded assertions.
As for reincarnation fitting in with the cycles of nature, and so on, it really doesn’t.
Nature is renewed, not by continually recycling and recreating the same animals over and over again, but by continually creating new animals. These new animals are not simply repeats of previous animals. Rather, in the case of mammals, including the human mammal, each one is built around DNA that is a unique combination of unique offshoots from both the male and the female parent. In other words, each animal is a new and unique being that has never existed before.
Reincarnation, however, states that every human (and animal) soul is simply the recycling of an old one. That goes against the way nature works, which is to continually create new individuals, not just to recycle old ones over and over again. This is how the process of evolution is able to move forward. If it were just a process of continually recycling old individuals, there would be no progress, because nothing would ever change.
This physical reality of the continual creation of new individuals, which we can indeed see and study through science, suggests that the generation of new human beings spiritually follows a similar pattern.
A new human being actually is a new human being who has a unique core character that has never existed before. That core character is generated from a unique combination of unique spiritual offshoots (“spiritual DNA”) from the person’s mother and father. This not only violates the reincarnationist idea that there are no new souls, and thus no new individuals. It also derives our soul from two previous souls, not just one, as in reincarnation.
In harmony with this pattern, both physically and spiritually we humans are built around a new combination of unique offshoots from our mother and father. We are not mere re-embodiments of previously existing souls.
This view of how human souls are created accords with and corresponds to how God has created the biology and ecosystem of the earth. Reincarnation flies in the face of everything we know from science about how life and reproduction works as created by God.
In short, science and the laboratory do not support reincarnation, and they never will. Rather, they support the view that each new human being is a brand new, unique soul that has never existed before.
But what if God really is unloving?
And also what do you believe about the doctrine of how reincarnation is just and an eternal heaven and hell is not because through reincarnation, you can advance spiritually much faster on Earth, but in an eternal heaven and hell, if you screw up then you land yourself in eternal hell?
If God really is unloving, then as they say, “Life sucks and then you die.” But looking out at this amazing earth and universe that God has created, I do not believe that God is unloving. Also, if God is unloving, then where does the love in our hearts come from?
And about hell, it’s not a matter of screwing up. No one goes to hell by mistake. People go to hell only if they choose evil over good over and over again, when they were given plenty of chances to choose good instead of evil, and were perfectly capable of doing so. Also, nobody goes to hell because they had bad parents or bad social influences. People go to hell only if, within the circumstances in which they live, they regularly and persistently choose to do what they know is wrong instead of doing what they know is right, because they enjoy doing what is wrong, and the want to do what is wrong. For a related article, please see:
Can Gang Members Go to Heaven? (Is Life Fair?)
Also, if we choose heaven, we don’t stop learning and growing. In fact, we can learn much faster in heaven than we can here on earth. And we do keep growing as a person forever. There is no need to go back to earth and start over in another body in order to continue learning and growing spiritually. Doing so would be like going back into the darkness of our mother’s womb after having lived in the light of the outside world. The light in heaven is so much brighter, and the knowledge, understanding, and wisdom there is so much greater, that going back to earth would massively slow down our spiritual development.
I don’t believe reincarnation happens, so I don’t believe we can choose to reincarnate.
But the human family tree is not ideal.
The genetic distribution is not ideal.
Many genes that existed before the flood are extinct and don’t carry forward to the current human population.
People don’t make the ideal choices of who to marry.
Why doesn’t God rearrange the human family tree? Kind of like https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-balancing_binary_search_tree except God wouldn’t make the human tree balanced like that and the human family tree certainly wouldn’t be binary. There would be more than two children in each family. And not all families would have the same number of children.
Why doesn’t God rearrange the human family tree like that? There’s no overhead of course, because God is all powerful.
I’m not sure what you’re responding to here. Why would God want to rearrange the human family tree? What problem would that solve?
Out of curious, I typed it in the spirit world on duckduckgo, and found out that belief is more common than I thought. Most religions that believe in the spirit world seem to believe in reincarnation. There are some interesting claims such as children claiming they chose their parents, or recalling a different life and allegedly knowing facts about family members (the implication that sometimes family members reincarnate within in the same family, or knowing a different language. What’s your take on all that?
The basics on this are covered in these three sections of the above article:
Short version: When people “remember past lives,” what is actually happening is that the memory of some person who had previously lived on this earth is transferred into the memory of someone else who is still living on this earth, causing people to “remember” something that they themselves never actually experienced. These are someone else’s memories and experiences.
Since family members commonly remain associated with one another for a while even after some of them have died, it would not be surprising if for some people these “memories of past lives” were from deceased relatives. Ditto for knowing facts about family members, whether dead or alive. Individual and family memories remain available in the afterlife. They can be called to mind there just as they can here. This means that they would be available to infuse into the mind of someone who is still living on earth, so that she or he will “remember” being someone else in the family, or know family secrets that would not normally be accessible to them.
Also, young children commonly have easier access to the spiritual world in their minds because they have not yet become focused exclusively on this world, as usually happens when we become older children, teenagers, and adults. From a secular perspective, young children have a “vivid imagination.” But what’s really happening is that they have a closer connection to influences from the spiritual world.
At the same time, young children do not have any well-developed intellectual framework for their thinking. If life experience from a deceased family member were to flow into their mind, they would naturally assume it was their own experience and memory, even more so than adults who at least have the idea of “deja vu” to draw on.
Once again, it is not surprising that a few young children would speak in a way that would seem to support reincarnation. People who believe in reincarnation will file these occurrences away as proof of reincarnation. But really, it is evidence that children have a closer connection with the spiritual world than adults do.
About most religions believing in reincarnation, that is true of Eastern religions, but not so much of Christianity and Western religions in general. And as covered in the above article, even in Hinduism and Buddhism, the original and genuine meaning of “reincarnation” in their scriptures is spiritual rebirth, not souls taking on a new physical body. People who read those scriptures literally get mistaken ideas just as Christians who read the Bible literally get mistaken ideas.
I guess stuff that Ian Stevenson (and possibly others) reported, like “spontaneous memory recall” and other “signs of reincarnation” like “announcement dreams” to pregnant women or birthmarks – could be spiritual phenomenon related to spirits already passed on?
(assuming such things are reported without fraud)
Also, and this may sound crazy, but where did the idea floating around that evil entities make this world a soul trap come from? Or that the cube or Saturn represent or are related to imprisonment? Where did such ideas come from? Gnosticism?
PS: There’s a claim that 3 people independently confirmed this odd idea that the tunnel in NDEs is a “soul trap” to reincarnation via “remote viewing”.
Yes, these phenomena are mostly artifacts of contact with spirits of deceased people, as explained in the above article.
And . . . where do any crazy ideas come from? Usually there’s some germ of truth underneath it all, which then gets twisted and distorted and conflated into all sorts of crazy, misshapen ideas that the human mind invents. Mostly, these crazy ideas come from evil, or at least confused, spirits whose minds are flitting about in various directions that are anything but in the direction of the actual truth, which is God.
If a medium calls the spirit of someone’s dead grandpa, and the spirit of their “dead grandpa” comes, that spirit that returns is probably not really their dead grandpa. It’s probably a demon masquerading as such. That’s why I put “dead grandpa” in quotes.
It may or may not be the person’s deceased relative on the other side. This is more complicated than just saying, “It’s all demons,” as the fundamentalist Christians do. Not that I recommend using the services of spirit mediums. See:
What about Spiritualism? Is it a Good Idea to Contact Spirits?
I should add that the reason fundamentalist Christians believe spirit contact is contact with demons is that they believe that the Resurrection hasn’t happened yet, and that all the people who have died are “sleeping,” and thus cannot be contacted. This despite the fact that Jesus told the thief on the cross that he would be in Paradise that very day.
He didn’t say that the thief on the cross would be in Paradise (parádeisos) for eternity.
That’s a separate issue. The point here is that he said that the thief would be in paradise with him that day. This would not be possible if everyone has to wait for a future resurrection before entering the afterlife.
You’ve read Deuteronomy 18:9-13, haven’t you?
When a medium contacts the dead, the spirits we talk to aren’t what we think we are talking to.
That’s what this article is all about:
What about Spiritualism? Is it a Good Idea to Contact Spirits?