This article is for people who want to know what Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) says on the subject of homosexuality. If you’re not interested in that, you can safely skip it. For the broader picture, and my reasons for writing these two articles about homosexuality from a Christian perspective, please see the companion article, “Homosexuality, the Bible, and Christianity.”
While many Swedenborgian ministers and laypeople accept homosexuality as equal to heterosexuality, a great deal has been written by conservative Swedenborgian ministers arguing that Swedenborg condemns homosexuality as evil and contrary to God’s will. I am not aware of any article currently in print that considers their arguments point by point. This article is intended to fill that gap.
Writing and publishing these articles is not something that I particularly enjoy doing. It’s just something that must be done to help dispel a large weight of faulty thinking and bad scholarship swirling through our society and our world on the subject of homosexuality.
People’s lives—physical, social, and spiritual—are at stake. Although I would prefer to avoid the subject entirely, I cannot in good conscience stand idly by and say nothing.
The Swedenborgian debate on homosexuality
The same debate over homosexuality that rages in the wider world also goes on among readers and followers of Emanuel Swedenborg. As in society generally, conservative Swedenborgians argue that homosexuality is evil and contrary to God’s will, while liberal Swedenborgians argue that homosexual love is every bit as good and God-given as heterosexual love.
The homosexuality debate among Swedenborg readers follows lines similar to the wider Christian debate on the subject, only with various passages from Swedenborg’s theological writings thrown in.
Here is the short version, from my perspective:
After many years of reading and studying every passage in Swedenborg quoted by those who believe that Swedenborg condemns homosexuality, I still do not think Swedenborg says anything clear or distinctive on the subject.
Most of the passages that conservative Swedenborgians interpret as condemning homosexuality are not about homosexuality at all. They are based on the story of Sodom, which, as I pointed out in the article “What is the Sin of Sodom?” is simply not about homosexuality. There are also some general references to the two chapters in the book of Leviticus that contain the Old Testament prohibitions against men having sex with men. Swedenborg does not comment on any of the verses that deal with homosexual sex in the Epistles of the New Testament.
The remaining few passages in Swedenborg’s writings are negative descriptions of homosexual activity that he wrote but never published. These passages are, if anything, milder versions of scathing attacks on homosexual behavior that were common in European literature of the day.
For those not familiar with Swedenborg’s writings, he composed his theological works during a period of almost three decades from about 1744 until his death in 1772. The theological works that he published in his own lifetime fill about 23 volumes in English. He wrote but never published theological works equivalent to another 23 or so volumes in English, all of which were published after his death. This does not count his extensive indexes of the Bible and of his own works, which he used for his own reference as he wrote his books.
My general conclusion about Swedenborg’s writings in relation to homosexuality is similar to my conclusion about the Bible and homosexuality. It can be summed up in this question: If homosexuality is really such a terrible sin as the conservatives claim, why is there so little written about it?
In all of those voluminous writings, Swedenborg says so little about homosexuality that it is necessary to dig hard to find anything at all on the subject. That’s surprising. It’s likely that Swedenborg himself, like most European Christians of his day, took a dim view of homosexuality. He was certainly aware of its existence. Yet in all of his extensive writings, he never wrote a single clear condemnation of homosexuality.
In fact, in Marriage Love, his encyclopedic exposition on marriage, its beauties, and its corruptions, he says nothing at all about homosexuality.
Part 2 of Marriage Love goes into excruciating detail about the various corrupt and adulterous attitudes and practices that destroy marriage. Yet in that whole ten-chapter section of the book, there is not a single word about homosexuality as a form of adultery or as a destroyer of marriage. This should give pause to conservative Swedenborgians who have concluded that homosexuality is “the worst form of adultery” (more on this below).
Swedenborg does, however, offer some very beautiful teachings about the spiritual nature of marriage. And though he thought of marriage as existing only between one man and one woman, his views of marriage do offer some light on homosexual relationships as well. Some of these will be covered in the next article, “Homosexuality, the Bible, and Christianity.”
In this article, we’ll look at some statements in Swedenborg’s writings that are interpreted by conservative Swedenborgians as condemning homosexuality.
Swedenborg’s interpretations of the Bible
About two-thirds of Swedenborg’s theological writings are very detailed spiritual interpretations of the Bible. He published verse-by-verse explanations of the books of Genesis, Exodus, and Revelation. Along the way he interpreted thousands of other passages scattered throughout the Bible.
However, Swedenborg rarely commented on the Acts or the Epistles in the New Testament. He viewed them as important books for the church that do have a certain level of inspiration, but as not having the continuous spiritual meaning that especially makes a book part of the Word of God.
So when it comes to homosexuality, the debate focuses on Swedenborg’s interpretation of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18–19, and a few statements that relate to the laws in the book of Leviticus—which he did not explain in detail.
Here we go!
The sin of Sodom, Swedenborg style
Before reading this section, I recommend that you read the article, “What is the Sin of Sodom?” It’s not absolutely necessary, but you’ll understand the points made here better if you’ve gotten that article under your belt.
Since the story of Sodom and Gomorrah occurs in the book of Genesis, Swedenborg provides a detailed, verse-by-verse interpretation of it. And in that entire microscopic examination and interpretation of the story, he never says a single word that’s clearly about homosexuality—if he says anything about it at all.
If anything, he discredits the idea that the story is about homosexuality, saying instead that it is about spiritual issues and realities. Here is one passage that is commonly interpreted by Swedenborgian conservatives as condemning homosexuality:
People who understand the Word purely from the sense of the letter may think that “Sodom” means a foulness that is contrary to the order of nature; but in the internal sense “Sodom” means evil that springs from self-love. (Arcana Coelestia #2322)
I dealt with Sodom as self-love in the article “What is the Sin of Sodom?” so I won’t go into it in any detail here.
Briefly, what I said there is that the inhabitants of Sodom displayed supreme selfishness, arrogance, and a desire to dominate and humiliate others through their intent to gang rape the two angels who were visiting Lot. This corresponds perfectly with Swedenborg’s concept of a love of dominating others based on (unhealthy) self-love. This, Swedenborg says, is what the story of Sodom is really about.
The irony is that Swedenborg as much as says in the passage quoted above that the story of Sodom isn’t really about any “foulness that is contrary to the order of nature.” And yet, this passage is quoted in arguments for the idea that Swedenborg condemned homosexuality.
“A foulness that is contrary to the order of nature”
Why do many conservative Swedenborgians interpret that passage in this way?
From what I can tell, it really stems from a previously adopted position against homosexuality based on the usual conservative Christian views about it.
But another basis for these arguments is the idea that “a foulness contrary to the order of nature” must refer to homosexuality because it was a common euphemism for homosexuality in 18th century Europe.
Conservative Swedenborgians also say that when Swedenborg referred to “secret evils that are not to be named” in Marriage Love #450, and to “criminal practices that are not to be named” in Marriage Love #459, he must be talking about homosexuality because these, too, were common euphemisms for homosexuality in the 18th century.
Yes they were.
But “a foulness contrary to nature” was also a common euphemism for:
- Animals or humans born with severe physical defects
- Human wickedness and sin generally
And “secret evils that are not to be named” was used to refer to a whole host of things that were considered unsuitable for polite conversation, from masturbation to pedophilia.
Perhaps Swedenborg was referring to homosexuality when he mentioned “a foulness that is contrary to the order of nature” in relation to the story of Sodom. But he could also have been referring to the polygamous and adulterous nature of the gang rape that the inhabitants of Sodom intended to commit against Lot’s visitors. Even rape itself could qualify as “a foulness contrary to the order of nature.”
Singling out homosexuality as the meaning of Swedenborg’s cryptic words here, and using that as a basis for major arguments against homosexuality, is building a large edifice on a very narrow and shaky foundation.
“The worst form of adultery”
Conservative Swedenborgians also commonly refer to homosexuality as “the worst form of adultery” based on another, earlier statement of Swedenborg about Sodom:
Although in the next chapter it seems as if Sodom means the evil that consists in the worst form of adultery, nevertheless nothing else is meant by it in the internal sense than evil that stems from self-love. (Arcana Coelestia #2220)
Homosexuality is the worst form of adultery?
Worse than gang rape?
The idea that homosexuality is “the worst form of adultery,” and that this is what Swedenborg must mean here, is just plain silly.
How anyone, Swedenborgian, Christian, Jewish, or of any other faith or perspective could read the story of Sodom and conclude that its worst feature was homosexuality is totally beyond me. The horrible violence and adultery involved in the story of Sodom has just as much to do with homosexuality as the horrible violence and adultery in the story of the gang rape of a woman in Judges 19 has to do with heterosexuality.
I should also mention that the Latin words pessimi adulterii in Arcana Coelestia #2220, commonly translated “the worst form of adultery,” or “the worst adultery,” mean something more like “an exceedingly bad form of adultery.” I would nominate gang rape, whether homosexual or heterosexual, as eminently qualified to be “an exceedingly bad form of adultery.” Unlike consensual homosexual sex, gang rape is a horrific act of violence that damages and destroys people physically and emotionally, leaving them scarred for life.
As I mentioned earlier, Swedenborg doesn’t say anything at all about homosexuality in Marriage Love.
But he does talk about rape.
Right after his main chapter on adultery, there is a series of four short chapters on “even more serious” violations of marriage. He says that these obsessions come into play only for people who have engaged in adulterous relationships until they’ve become burned out on ordinary adultery.
One of those chapters is about people who have an obsession with rape—probably equivalent to what we identify today as serial rapists.
Doesn’t an act that Swedenborg plainly and unequivocally describes as more serious than the kinds and levels of adultery he has already covered—an act to which he devotes a special chapter in Marriage Love—have a much better claim to being “an exceedingly bad form of adultery” than one that he never makes any clear statement about anywhere in his writings?
Rape, as an act of sexual assault, domination, and humiliation, is perfectly suited to symbolize the spiritual evil of utterly self-centered love that desires only to dominate and destroy other people. The gang rape involved in the story of Sodom forms a far better basis for the spiritual symbolism of Sodom than the fact that it happened to be homosexual rather than heterosexual gang rape.
This should be enough to establish for any objective reader that when Swedenborg interprets the story of the sin and the destruction of Sodom in Genesis 18–19, it has little or nothing to do with homosexuality—just as when the Bible itself interprets the story of Sodom, it has little or nothing to do with homosexuality. (Once again, see “What is the Sin of Sodom?”)
Swedenborg’s comments on the laws in Leviticus 18–20
A second set of passages in Swedenborg’s Bible commentaries that are pointed to by conservative Swedenborgians to support their belief that homosexuality is evil and adulterous according to Swedenborg are some scattered statements about the sexual liaisons that are forbidden in the lists in Leviticus 18–20, which include the prohibition against men having sex with men. Here are two examples, from a traditional translation of Swedenborg’s works:
The various kinds of adulteries and whoredoms (such as are enumerated in Leviticus 18:6-30), signify the various kinds of adulterations and falsifications of good and truth. (Apocalypse Explained #410:11)
All adulteries (of which many kinds are enumerated in Lev. 18:6-23) correspond to the adulterations of good and truth. (Apocalypse Explained #434:16)
When Swedenborg uses the words “signify” and “correspond,” he is referring to the spiritual meaning and symbolism of the Bible verses.
Swedenborg never specifically explains the prohibitions on men having sex with men in Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13. However, they are covered by blanket statements such as the two above that class them along with the other “adulteries” in those lists in Leviticus, and as symbolizing spiritual adultery and falsification of good and truth.
We won’t get into what that means here. It would take too long to explain, and it’s not necessary for this discussion.
What we do have to understand is that when Swedenborg interprets the spiritual meaning of the Bible:
- Sometimes the meaning is based on broad, universal meanings, such as warmth symbolizing love.
- Other times, the meaning is based on how something functions within that particular society rather than on universal meanings.
In the case of the various sexual liaisons prohibited in Leviticus 18 and 20, Swedenborg refers to them as “adulteries” (in a broad sense of the word) because that is how they were viewed in the culture in which that book of the Bible was written. Since they are presented as forbidden and adulterous in the Bible, their spiritual meaning is also based on that view of them.
While some of the forbidden actions in those chapters are still considered immoral and wrong, others are no longer seen as wrong in today’s culture. For more on this, see the companion article, “Homosexuality, the Bible, and Christianity.”
For more on the principle that the Bible is written using the particular beliefs, customs, and practices of the cultures in which it was composed, see the article, “How God Speaks in the Bible to Us Boneheads.” For now, I’ll give one example mentioned in that article of how something can have a bad meaning because of the culture in which it was written:
In ancient Hebrew society, dragons were considered evil creatures.
But in Chinese society, dragons are seen as powerful symbols of good.
Do Chinese readers of the Bible have to change their view of dragons, and consider them evil creatures because they are used as a symbol of the Devil, Satan, and evil in the Bible?
Of course not.
They just have to realize that the ancient Hebrews thought of dragons as evil, and make the mental adjustment.
In the same way, just because the ancient Hebrews thought of homosexual sex as evil, so that it symbolizes some particular kind of spiritual evil when it occurs in the Bible, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is actually evil and condemned by God.
Swedenborg’s descriptions of homosexual activities
In Swedenborg’s unpublished journals of his spiritual experiences, there are a few descriptions of homosexual activities that Swedenborg clearly does not approve of.
The most extensive of these occurs in his multi-volume journal Spiritual Experiences, #3895–3900. His heading for this journal entry is, “About extremely lewd girls.”
It’s too long to quote here, so I’ll just mention a few of the most salient parts. These “extremely lewd girls” (really young women) say that “they wanted to have nothing to do with men . . . but that they had lived among themselves without men.” In the course of the narration, they look for a place where they can be alone together, finally retreating “to the ends of the universe.” Once they get there, and make sure that there are no men present (apparently they were unaware that they were being watched), they agree that they can begin on their extremely lewd activities. “But,” Swedenborg says, “their obscenities were not shown to me, except a woman dressed like a man, then delighting themselves with abominably lewd practices.” He goes on to say that “once they have become captivated by such an extremely foul enjoyment, they then care nothing for, but rather loathe men, and thus the natural modes of conjunction.” This leads inevitably to the destruction of marriage love, and some of them “become the vilest prostitutes.”
What were these women doing?
The imagination runs wild!
Alas! Swedenborg gives us no clear picture of the nature of their lewdness except that there is some cross-dressing involved, and there are no men present.
Does this passage represent Swedenborg’s spiritual characterization of lesbianism?
Perhaps. As I said earlier, being an 18th century Christian, Swedenborg probably took a dim view of homosexuality, whether gay or lesbian.
However, his heading is not “about lesbians,” but “about extremely lewd girls.” And though Swedenborg readers who believe that homosexuality is evil tend to focus on the woman-on-woman nature of the activities, it would make more sense to focus on the lewd nature of the activities.
For one thing, these activities apparently included a large group of women all being lewd together. And Swedenborg would condemn any sort of group sex, heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual. He is very clear that true marriage love can occur only between two people, not with multiple partners.
The most we can say based on this passage in Swedenborg, then, is that if a whole bunch of lesbians get together for an orgy, that is not a good thing. Then again, if a whole bunch of straight women and men get together for an orgy, that is also not a good thing.
This passage says nothing about committed, faithful, monogamous lesbian or gay relationships. The fact that lesbians can be just as jaded and immoral as straight women and men can be does not mean that all lesbians are jaded and immoral, any more than the fact that some straight women and men are jaded and immoral means that all heterosexuals are jaded and immoral.
There are a few other passages in Swedenborg’s unpublished works that apparently refer to evil and immoral homosexual activity. However, the same principle applies to them as to the above passage about “extremely lewd girls.” Just because there are homosexuals that engage in highly promiscuous and debauched sexual behavior, that doesn’t mean all homosexuality is evil and immoral. After all, there are also heterosexuals who engage in highly promiscuous and debauched sexual behavior—and nobody claims that this means all heterosexual relationships are evil.
Swedenborg’s statement that marriage can exist only between one man and one woman
There is one more type of statement in Swedenborg that must be considered. And though it says nothing directly about homosexuality, it gets to what is perhaps the most fundamental objection to homosexuality among Christians, encapsulated in the fundamentalist slogan, “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.”
Here is Swedenborg’s view of heterosexual love based on God’s creation of man and woman for each other:
The principle of marriage of one husband and one wife is the jewel of human life and a treasure-house of Christian religion. (Marriage Love #457)
The union of souls is impossible except in monogamous marriages, that is, between one man and one woman. (Marriage Love #482)
These are just two of many places where Swedenborg says that true, spiritual, eternal marriage is possible only between one man and one woman.
Does this exclude homosexual marriages, as Christian and Swedenborgian opponents of homosexuality believe?
Perhaps. It really is a difficult question. God certainly does seem to have created man and woman to go together. From that perspective, homosexual relationships don’t seem to fit into the scheme of things.
However, context is important. When Swedenborg insists on marriage between one man and one woman, he is arguing against polygamy, not against homosexuality. For example, in Marriage Love #482 he goes on to say:
The union of souls is impossible except in monogamous marriages, that is, between one man and one woman; it is impossible in polygamous marriages, that is, between one man and several women, because in this case love is divided, and in the other case united.
Marriage Love simply doesn’t deal with homosexuality. It doesn’t mention it, and it doesn’t say whether it is good or bad. The entire book deals with heterosexual relationships. And Swedenborg insists that only monogamous relationships are, or can be, Christian and spiritual.
Whether we also interpret his “one husband with one wife” as excluding homosexuality seems to depend on whether we think of homosexuality as something that is contrary to the will of God or something that is according to the will of God—or at least allowable under God’s providence.
This article covers the major arguments and passages from Swedenborg’s writings that appear in doctrinal papers against homosexuality written by conservative Swedenborgians.
Such arguments, in my view, are based more on an already existing cultural and religious rejection of homosexuality than they are on anything Swedenborg might have said on the subject. What Swedenborg did write about homosexuality is so scant and so ambiguous that no solid argument can be made against homosexuality based on it.
About the most we can say based on Swedenborg’s few and scattered statements is that while Swedenborg himself probably shared in the opposition to homosexuality that was common in his day and culture, it was not an important enough issue in his mind for him to make any clear and unambiguous statements about it.
Swedenborg’s general teachings about marriage, though, do have great relevance to the subject of same-sex marriage. The principles he outlines about heterosexual marriage and its benefits can be applied in the present day to faithful, monogamous same-sex marriages as well.
We’ll take up that subject in the later sections of the companion article, “Homosexuality, the Bible, and Christianity.”
For further reading:
Thank you for writing these, Lee. I’ve wondered about this. The part about the “extremely lewd girls” from the Spiritual Diaries was very interesting!
Here’s what I think right now about the issue (always subject to change!):
It is easy to get worked up over this, primarily because it is so simple. There isn’t anyone who doesn’t have an opinion. In psychological terms, it is a “bike shed.” For a small minority of people (gay people) it means a lot, and is vitally important, but for 90 percent of us it is a “bike shed.”
“Parkinson’s law of triviality” is the source of the “bike shed” term. A “bike shed” is an issue that is easy to understand and have an opinion about, like what color to paint the bike shed. More complex and important issues are harder to think about, so we tend to avoid them and focus all of our light and passion on the “bike sheds.”
From reading your essay, it seems apparent that Swedenborg does not explicitly condemn homosexuality, nor does he see anybody in Hell who is being punished for it. Perhaps it was not considered much of a sin back then?
How does my “self love” influence the way I deal with the world? For ES, “self love” is the bad sin. It is in all of us!
Anyone care to argue that they have their self-love under control?
Probably not because the topic is so immense and complicated and important. We would much rather talk endlessly about “bike sheds” and add our extraneous observations, and put down others so we are not reminded of our own feelings of inadequacy.
Now, the really important thing is how we treat a gay person. With love and respect (as Jesus would) or like our culture tells us? If our culture tells us “homosexuality is wrong” are we strong enough to follow Jesus? Or are we just slaves to whatever culture we are born into? I think we all agree that it is far easier to stand with the crowd and stone the adulteress, rather than to confront the crowd while they hold rocks in their hands…
How do we treat the gay person, without making our “self love” the most important thing?
This is the important question. Not the bike shed of whether such a person is good or bad, or whether we will celebrate their wedding or condemn it.
Thanks for stopping by, and for your good thoughts. I’m glad the article gave you something to think about!
I like the “bike shed” analogy. It reminds me of an astute observation someone once passed on to me: that committees often spend large amounts of time debating small expenditures, whereas large expenditures are often voted very quickly with little debate. I’ve seen this happen over and over.
I completely agree that the important thing is how we treat gays and lesbians. I don’t understand how some Christians can use their religion to justify harsh treatment of gays and lesbians even if they do think homosexuality wrong. It’s not how Jesus treated people, and it’s not the teaching he gave for us to live by. Aren’t we supposed to love our neighbor, and even our enemies?
That’s exactly the story in Parkinson’s book! The committee spent 5 minutes approving an $18 million nuclear reactor (this is the 1950s), and spent one hour arguing about the bike shed. They then turned their attention to what pastries and coffee to serve at the next meeting, and adjourned, 90 minutes later, with no resolution on that vital question!
Haha! I think my interlocutor must have been reading Parkinson!
Homosexuality is self-love taken to the extreme. You love yourself so much that you choose a relationship with someone built exactly like yourself. A mirror image, so to speak. I certainly am not devoid of love of self, but am blessed to find I am led away from self love, as opposed to plunging headlong into it by seeking a physical relationship with ME.
Hi R Miller,
Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment.
This is a common charge against homosexuality, but it holds no water. No two human beings are ever exactly the same. No two men are exactly alike, nor are any two women exactly alike. In homosexual relationships as in heterosexual relationships, it is common for people to seek out someone who is different than themselves in roles and character while sharing the same core values.
If anything, this logic would mean that loving one’s own parents, children, and other family members would be self-love taken to the extreme. After all, we share DNA and many character traits, attitudes, beliefs, and feelings with the people in our own family. Of all people on earth, they are the ones who are built most like ourselves. And yet, love for family members is universally accepted as a good and healthy love.
This logic would also mean that all friendships between men and men and between women and women are selfish and evil. And that is obviously not true.
Homosexual relationships are not about self-love. They are about loving another person and committing one’s life to that person. This is not selfish and evil for homosexuals any more than it is for heterosexuals.
Hi Lee, as always, you are doing wonderful work. Your response to R. Miller caught my attention. R. Miller states that, “Homosexuality is self-love taken to the extreme.” His argument, as I understand it, is that homosexuality is a form of loving that which is similar to ourselves, not what is different.
Your refutation is accurate: we also love our parents, children, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles–blood relatives who are very similar to ourselves, but we do not call that self-love. In fact, as you put it, “Love for family members is universally accepted as a good and healthy love.”
But there is a difference. Although we love family members, we do not marry them; and we don’t have sex with them. If we did, Swedenborg would categorize this as “triple adultery, which is adultery with close blood relatives” (CL 484).
The liberal proposition, “No one can tell you whom to love” is true; but the liberal conclusion does not follow: “Therefore, you have the right to have sex with whomever you love.”
In CL 55, Swedenborg acknowledges that there is a love between a man and a man, a love between a woman and a woman, and a love between a man and a woman. “These loves,” he says, “are completely different from each other.”
That’s the point. Lee, I agree that all people are different, even same sex couples. I also agree that these differences can stretch us into new dimensions of spirituality as we strive to shun the evils of self-love. Indeed, every true relationship demands sacrifice, the overcoming of ego, and the willingness to love others more than ourselves. And, of course, none of this is possible without love to the Lord and a willingness to live according to His commandments.
I acknowledge that all heterosexual relationships are not conjugial, and that homosexual relationships can be deeply loving. However, wouldn’t you agree that even further dimensions are possible in a heterosexual relationship? And wouldn’t you say that it is the exploration and appreciation of these further dimensions that is at the heart of a conjugial relationship between one man and one wife?
This is a tough issue. Thanks for listening . . . and for all your good work!
Thanks for your comments.
The argument is that homosexuality = self-love because it involves loving someone similar to oneself.
But why is this argument applied only to gender and not to anything else?
The list could go on and on.
By this logic, the most unselfish thing to do would be to find someone who is as different as possible from oneself, and marry that person. Whites should marry blacks. Christians should marry Hindus. Fat people should marry skinny people. English speakers should marry Swahili speakers. Republicans should marry Democrats. Tree-huggers should marry clear-cutters.
The more different your partner is from yourself, the more it represents love of the neighbor instead of love of self, right? After all, to marry someone like oneself is self-love taken to the extreme, isn’t it?
The whole line of argumentation is completely illogical and prejudicial.
It is, in fact, the inner similarities that draw true marriage partners together. For most people it is similarity in spirit and values with someone of the opposite sex. For gays and lesbians, it is similarity in spirit and values with someone of the same sex. The similarities don’t make the partners selfish. They make the partners one in spirit.
About Conjugial Love (AKA Marriage Love) #55:
A loose and sloppy reading of this story has caused more confusion among Swedenborg readers about gender relationships than just about any other passage I can think of.
Marriage Love #55:6-7 is commonly quoted as “Swedenborg says . . . .”
But it is not Swedenborg speaking.
It is not even angels speaking.
It is a group of spirits speaking. This means it is a group of people who have arrived from earth relatively recently, and have not yet found their place in either heaven or in hell. In Marriage Love #55:6-7 specifically, it is spirits from the south (of the spiritual world) speaking, which means spirits in greater light of understanding. But they are still spirits, not angels, and not Swedenborg, and certainly not the Lord.
So the first sloppiness in reading this passage is to give it authority as if it were the Lord, Swedenborg, or even an angel speaking, when in fact it is a group of spirits speaking.
Since when are spirits infallible? Even angels are not infallible. Sometimes they make statements that we know are not correct. So why is this statement of some spirits in Marriage Love #55:6-7 commonly read as if it were an authoritative statement of ultimate divine truth?
The second sloppiness in reading this passage is that the whole memorable occurrence is specifically not about marriage love. It is about what we would call close friendships between men and women, and by comparison between men and men and between women and women.
It’s easy to get confused about this, because there are statements along the way that relate the love under consideration to marriage love. But a careful reading shows that the subject under discussion is a love between people other than marriage love.
Specifically, it is about “chaste sexual love” (Chadwick translation), which is a love and attraction between men and women who are not married to each other.
Elsewhere Swedenborg clearly distinguishes between sexual love (traditionally and badly translated “love of the sex), which can be felt for many different people of the opposite sex, and marriage love, which is a love for only one person of the opposite sex. And though it is sometimes loosely said that sexual love turns into marriage love, that is not what actually happens. Rather, for truly and spiritually married couples, marriage love replaces sexual love as the primary love, and sexual love retreats to the relatively outward parts of the mind.
This “chaste sexual love” was very confusing to the spirits who heard the angelic singing that set off the whole conversation. That’s why a convocation on the subject was called together. It was presided over by a group of angels, but the main participants were spirits, not angels.
The angels make it clear that the subject is not marriage love when they say in their opening speech in #55:3, in which they recount their investigation of this love, that “it surpasses in sweetness every love, except the love of a married couple whose hearts are one” (italics mine).
The first set of spirits who speak (in #55:4) clearly understand that the subject is not marriage love. They refer to husbands looking at women other than their wives. That can be friendship between a man and a woman, but it cannot be marriage love. The next speakers in line (in #55:5) are also well aware that the subject is not marriage love. All of these are presented as lewd and unenlightened spirits, and their speeches anger the presiding angels.
That’s when we come to the group of spirits from the south, in #55:6-7. These are good and decent spirits, and their speech is much more thoughtful than those of the previous groups of spirits.
They, too, clearly understand that the subject is not marriage love. In #55:7 they speak of a husband who is in a genuine marriage relationship feeling this “chaste sexual love” for a woman who is not his wife. They say that although he is attracted by her beauty, he does not feel a desire for her body, but only a connection of the spirit. And so this “chaste sexual love” “in essence is an inner spiritual friendship” (Chadwick translation).
It is very difficult to convey the nature of this love because, as pointed out in the story itself, most people simply aren’t capable of it, and they therefore deny that any such love exists. But the whole story makes it abundantly clear that the love under consideration is not marriage love, but is a type of inner, spiritual friendship between two people.
To draw conclusions about marriage, and who should be married, based on the discussion in Marriage Love #55 is to make the very mistake that the presiding angels and the group of southern spirits did not make.
Having said all that, I’ve always thought that those southern spirits had a rather superficial view of friendships between two men and friendships between two women.
Can two men really only of “spar with each other with endless arguments, like two athletes boxing”? (Rogers translation).
Can two women really only relate to each other “with endless insistence on their own wishes, like two marionettes battling with their fists”? (Rogers translation).
I think men are capable of much closer friendships with one another than that, and that women also are capable of much closer friendships with one another than that.
Those southern spirits may have been pretty smart, but they had some funny ideas about friendship!
Maybe so. To read Swedenborg’s descriptions of the spiritual union of male and female, it would certainly seem so. I wouldn’t attempt to deny it.
However, the state of marriage in our world is so poor that I doubt most marriages have even reached the point where it would make any difference.
Beyond that, though, what practical good does it do for us to insist that heterosexual couples can have a deeper, more spiritual connection than homosexual couples? Would such an insistence do any good for anyone?
As covered in the companion article, Homosexuality, the Bible, and Christianity, it has become abundantly clear through decades of experience that homosexuality is a deep-seated part of a gay or lesbian person’s character. It is not subject to change through therapy or repentance or positive thinking or Skinnerian conditioning or any of the other methods that have been attempted, and have failed to change homosexuals into heterosexuals.
This means that for better or for worse, if a gay or lesbian person is going to be in a marital relationship that is based on love and attraction, it is going to be with someone of the same sex.
If we then say to them, “But you could have a lot deeper and more spiritual relationship with someone of the opposite sex,” what good does that do? All we’ve done is tell them that their love is second-rate and unworthy. How does that help anyone?
To use a rather silly example, let’s consider two groups of people. One loves Formula 1 racing, and the other loves opera.
The opera lovers probably think that opera is a deep, inspiring, profound experience. And when they look at the racing fans, they may think, “Those poor automobile racing types should really go to the opera instead! Then they’d see what real, sublime joy and pleasure is all about!”
Well, I can tell you what would happen if all the racing fans were suddenly transported to the opera house. Most of them would be bored to tears, and couldn’t wait to get back to the excitement of the race track.
Practically speaking, most people who are into Formula 1 racing just aren’t going to become fans of opera. So no matter how much opera-lovers think everyone should be into opera, what good does it do, practically speaking, to try to force everyone out of the stands at the race track and into the seats in the opera house? It’s just not going to happen.
To me, the spirit of God’s love as presented in Swedenborg’s writings is that God gives us the greatest joy and pleasure we are capable of experiencing given the particular loves we are engaged in.
I don’t think God looks at gays and lesbians and says, “If only they were heterosexual, I could give them so much more and deeper joy!” I think God looks at gays and lesbians with the same love as God looks at straight people, and gives them all joy possible in the relationships that they can engage in–which are same-sex relationships.
That’s why I don’t find the question of whether heterosexual relationships can be deeper and more spiritual than homosexual relationships to be a particularly useful one.
As for whether or not it is true, I will leave that to God, who can see into people’s spirits in a way that you and I cannot.
I enjoy both opera performances and Formula 1 racing (and NASCAR), and have followed all for more than half my life. Not to stir the pot, but does that make me an unique, or just someone confused? Lol !!
I find this topic, and this thread, great reading. Society (particularly American, with the help of the Catholic Diocese) has branded any of those non-conformists expressing their deep inner love for one another of the same sex as practically pagan, in my opinion. And that is just SO wrong.
As you state, who’s to judge whether homosexual love is anything less than heterosexual love, but God? Even if we are, as some believe, just infinite pieces of God, we have no business judging the feelings or beliefs of others. Only those individuals, themselves, are to represent themselves in life, and in the afterlife, if there is indeed one.
Haha! Even as I was writing that I was saying to myself, “You know don’t you, Lee, that someone’s going to come along and say, ‘Hey! I like both Formula 1 racing and opera! What’s wrong with that, huh?!?’” And here you are! 😀
I very much agree with your sentiments. Is religion and spirituality really about judging and denigrating people? I thought it was about loving people.
That’s me – back seat muse, again. Guilty as charged! 🙂
Lee, thanks so much for your very thoughtful response..Your insights, especially about what is most useful, really hit home. It reminds me of how Conjugial Love begins with a chapter about heavenly happiness–not about male/female relationships.
And it defines heavenly happiness as the combination of love and wisdom in useful service.
So useful service must always be our highest standard. As a college teacher, I need to keep in mind how I can serve my students most usefully. Your question, “What good would it do?” will remain with me. Thanks again, for your care and for your thoughtfulness. –Ray
What about the place in “Marriage Love” where Swedenborg says, “The union of a man with a man is the union of an understanding with an understanding, and the union of a woman with a woman is the union of an affection with an affection”? The union of a man with a woman, of course, for Swedenborg, is the union of an understanding with an affection.”
Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment.
As I said to Ray Silverman in this comment above, Marriage Love #55 is a tricky number–and not a good one on which to base general principles about marriage. Perhaps the spirits (not Swedenborg) who said that are right. But I think they have a superficial view of same-sex friendships.
I do think that the relationship between male and female reflects fundamental realities about God and the universe.
Where does that leave homosexual relationships philosophically and spiritually? I don’t claim to know. But I don’t see any harm in committed, monogamous homosexual relationships. Further, they provide a way for people who are homosexual through no choice of their own to experience the commitment, satisfaction, and spiritual growth of a marital relationship in the only way possible for them. I don’t think that should be denied or denigrated by society or by the church.
I take up some of these issues in the later part of the companion article, which I invite you to read:
Homosexuality, the Bible, and Christianity
If Swedenborg had clearly stated that homosexuality is NOT a sin, what would the consequences have been? I could very well be confused, but I thought there were some near brushes with heresy charges and book banning, which pretty much always ended in there not being anything blatant enough to take action against.
There are so many instances in his writings where Swedenborg mentions that he only discusses that which he has been permitted by God to write about, that I think it’s clear he was always careful about what society was and wasn’t ready for. There may be more to this subject, but it was not the time and place for it. Not because it would have hurt the human race, but because the human race would have hurt Swedenborg, his followers, or his books.
Thanks for these articles.
You’re welcome, Thanks for stopping by, and for your thoughtful comment. I do think that divine providence was involved in the absence of any clear statements about homosexuality in Swedenborg’s writings. Society wasn’t ready to deal with that issue in the 18th century when Swedenborg published his writings. Now society–at least, Western society–is finally ready. And though I still find homosexuality very confusing personally, I do think that Western society is going in the right direction in affirming the right of gay and lesbian couples to have all the recognition and benefits of marriage that have historically been extended to heterosexual couples.
It seems like there are more homosexual people than ever before, even taking into account all those who until recently had to keep their preference a secret. So, that caused a need for a sudden and drastic progression in our society’s way of handling it. But why the increase in number? And what causes homosexuality in the first place?
I feel like some answers have been coming to me since I started reading Swedenborg, even if he never wrote anything about it. What I do recall from my reading, is that “male” and “female,” in a general sense, are symbolic of basic principles in spirituality. But, these seem to correspond more to the traditional ideas of masculinity and femininity, than to the physical differences in our bodies.
In Western culture, there has been has been a shift in how we expect the sexes to behave. Feminine women and masculine men are increasingly frowned upon, while masculine women and feminine men are met with more approval. I believe this is confusing to us on a spiritual level. Maybe bisexuality and homosexuality are how we attempt to adjust and still form relationships with a balance of both forces.
My only idea as to why we are destroying the Male and Female in the name of “equality,” is that maybe we’re just too deep in falsity from our self-love. A woman who nurtures and a man who protects should be seen as good, but we now have twisted it so far as to call them symbols of oppression.
Thanks for your further thoughts.
I’m not aware that the homosexual population has been increasing. Have you read studies that come to that conclusion? It seems to me that it’s been a relatively small segment of the population throughout recorded history. If anything, it was more common during some periods of ancient Greek and Roman society, when homosexual relationships were seen as superior to heterosexual ones.
The actual percentage of gays and lesbians in the population is lower than most people think. Current studies show that it is nothing like the 10%-30% that many people think. Instead, it is probably somewhere between 1.5% and 3.5% of the population. In short, the overwhelming majority of people in the world are still heterosexual.
And about traditional gender roles, though they have certainly softened in recent decades, I don’t think “masculine women and feminine men” are going to take over the world any time soon, even though it’s been predicted at least since the 1920s:
Just compare the number of women’s clothing stores to the number of men’s clothing stores, and the number of men watching sports on the weekend to the number of women watching sports, and I think you can breathe a sigh of relief. 😉
At the same time, I do think that our understanding of gender roles is deepening as we look deeper into the human psyche. I’m not worried that we’re going to lose the masculine and feminine in society. But I do think we’re gaining a better and deeper understanding of what makes men male, and women female. Perhaps some time soon I’ll dig up, re-edit, and post an old sermon of mine titled “A New Model of Manhood.”
(Edit: That sermon is now available in an edited and expanded form here.)
How can you say that Emanuel Swedenborg condoned homosexuality? This makes no sense to me. The book True Married Love is entirely about the relationship between man and woman, husband and wife.
In his writings married love can only occur with the bonding of a man and woman. And married love is the only love that is holy and acceptable to God. Through out his writing he is very clear and persistent so no one who is not trying to pervert or miss read it. True love/married love can only exist between the two sexes.
Men are truth or represent divine truth, woman are love and represent divine good. The reason marriage between them is sacred is because it is the marriage of truth and good and hence true good, or if you prefer true love. How can anything be good if it is not true or good to start with? What is light without warmth but like the light of winter: lifeless. What is heat with no light or as you should know as light represents truth/ wisdom but lost and misguided and ultimately cannot become wise and hence a foolish love that leads to ruin?
Before I get started we should be aware that God does not make mistakes about ones gender. All wisdom is from him and love. Hence all meaning and creation. You should ask yourself what is the meaning of love? Of relationships and finally marriage and derivitive chidren gained from such? Could humanity survive without the pairing of man and woman? Could children be born which are the seed bed of heaven? You know the answer already just by the truth of the situation and that Swedenborg says God is a God of reason and logic. I shall go on though.
In chapter two of love in marriage in paragraph 32 Swedenborg states that a man will always remain a man and a female always a female in soul. They do not change into something else and each has distinct differences. Also though woman was made to be bonded to a male and a female a male.
On paragraph 37 of the same chapter he says that people were created male and female so they could become like one person, or one flesh, and when they do become one, taken together they are a complete person. Without this conjunction they are two, and each is like a divided or half person. Now, because this attraction hides deep within each particle of a male and each particle of a female, and because the ability and drive to join together into one is in each particle, a mutual and reciporcal love for the other sex remains with people after death.
One can easily come to conclusion that if one is true and not living by falsity then he would be operating in the divine model and intent of loving a woman not another male. Because as stated above it is in his very being to do so.
The entire chapter on heavenly marriage in heaven and hell chapter 40 clearly states that marriage is between one man and one woman. The same chapter also states that marriage is the seed bed of humanity and hence angels and is very holy. How can two men create offspring and two woman? They cannot because it is opposed to the creation of life and the source of life is God. In chapter 17 of Love in marriage Swedenborg lays out the love of children being between a husband and wife and how their pairing creates new life.
In chapter 5 paragraph 5 of Love in Marriage Emanuel Swedenborg states that a sphere of marriage of good and truth goes out from the Lord because it is alos a sphere of reproduction-that is making offspring and producing fruit- and this is identical with Divine Providence’s preservation of the universe by one generation producing another. Meaning to be in the Lords’s sphere is to be of good and truth and hence in the ability and desire to create new life which can only be accomplished by a male and female pairing and should be done in marriage.
Later in the same paragragh section (5) he mentions, “The love in marriage also comes from this because, for people and also angels, that sphere pours into the matrix of wisdom. For a person can grow in wisdom to the end of his life in the world and afterwards in heaven forever. And his makeup becomes more perfect in the measure the he grows in wisdom. This makeup recieves, not sexual love, but love for one person of the other sex, with her he can unite clear to the core, where heaven is, with joys- and this union is the union in married love.”
Thanks for stopping by, and for expressing your thoughts here.
However, I have to ask: did you actually read the article before commenting on it?
I ask because the article doesn’t say that Swedenborg condoned homosexuality. In fact, it says the opposite. About two-thirds of the way through the second section I say:
and toward the end of the article I say:
As the article points out, it is precisely because Swedenborg most likely did not condone homosexuality that it is so surprising that he says almost nothing about it in his writings. His entire book about marriage love does not contain a single word about homosexuality, despite the fact that it goes into great detail about the various types and levels of adultery.
I won’t belabor this point because it’s already covered in the article. I would suggest however, before jumping to any conclusions, that you read (or re-read) the article carefully, and also read the two related articles referenced in it:
To your point about marriage being only between one man and one woman, I say toward the end of “Homosexuality, the Bible, and Christianity”:
In fact, that’s precisely why it’s so striking that Swedenborg didn’t say anything at all about homosexuality in Marriage Love, nor did he say anything that clearly and explicitly condemns homosexuality anywhere in his published or unpublished theological writings.
The fact that Swedenborg did refer to homosexual sex in a few places in his unpublished writings shows that he was aware of the existence of homosexuality. So why didn’t he include a condemnation of it in Marriage Love? And why didn’t he write any clear condemnation of it anywhere in his theological writings?
I find that to be truly striking.
To your point about marriage existing only between one man and one woman, Swedenborg certainly does say this many times in his writings.
And yet, as pointed out in the article, whenever he expands on this point he puts marriage between one man and one woman in contrast to polygamous relationships, not in contrast to homosexual ones. So his main point seems to be that true marriage love must be monogamous, not polygamous. He never specifically comments on what we today would call same-sex marriage, either to condone it or to condemn it.
Once again, I find this to be quite striking.
And to your point about children being possible only from heterosexual unions, that is also true. Even though we have now figured out how to fertilize a woman without her having sex with a man—which quite a few women these days, both straight and lesbian, take advantage of—it still requires live sperm that came from a real live human male.
And yet, Swedenborg himself states that marriage in heaven produces no children, but rather produces spiritual offspring, meaning new births of love and wisdom (see Marriage Love #51–52). So it seems clear enough that producing physical offspring (new human beings), while it certainly is a very important part of the reason God made us male and female, and able to reproduce, is not essential to marriage, since marriages in heaven produce no physical offspring. And it would be cruel to say that heterosexual couples on earth who are unable to have children cannot therefore experience the joys and the spiritual union of marriage.
Similarly, just because homosexual unions do not produce physical children, that does not mean that they are worthless, nor does it mean that they cannot produce spiritual offspring of love and wisdom. In the real world, gay and lesbian couples do grow in love and wisdom through their relationships with one another, no matter how distasteful some heterosexuals may find homosexuality to be.
As I said in “Homosexuality, the Bible, and Christianity,” I find homosexuality to be confusing; it doesn’t make sense to me. However, as I also said in that article, decades of fruitless attempts by various Christian and secular groups to change homosexuals into heterosexuals has by now demonstrated about as conclusively as it can be demonstrated that the same-sex attraction of a gay or lesbian person simply is not subject to change. It’s not something they can choose not to have, nor is it something they can “repent” from.
I myself have had a gay man who had experienced much hatred and discrimination against him due to his sexual orientation nearly weep as he said to me, “Do you think I would choose this? Don’t you think I would be straight if I could? Why would I want this?”
The stubborn fact is that for the 1.5% to 3.5% of the population that is homosexual, their sexual orientation is not subject to change. For better or for worse, they are attracted to people of the same sex, not to people of the opposite sex. So the idea that a gay man should have the “intent of loving a woman not another male” (as you say in your comment) may be well and good, but it is simply not possible for him to do so. And broad experience has shown that homosexuals who attempt to be heterosexual only cause in themselves depression and even suicidal urges in their attempts to block and thwart their deep-seated same-sex attraction.
That is why I believe it is a matter of mercy and basic human respect to accept that gays and lesbians simply are attracted to people of the same sex, and that this is not going to change. And as I say in the later sections of “Homosexuality, the Bible, and Christianity,” for people whose only possible attraction is to someone of the same sex, I believe it is better for them to experience marriage love in the only way that they are able to experience it—in faithful, monogamous, same-sex marriages—than to altogether block them from experiencing marriage and its spiritual and emotional benefits.
So while I certainly agree with you that Swedenborg’s entire book on marriage is all about marriage between one man and one woman, that is simply not possible for gays and lesbians. And long experience shows that forcing them into heterosexual marriages through social pressure only causes emotional and spiritual havoc and heartbreak.
Once again, it is striking to me that although Swedenborg most likely did not condone homosexuality, he never made any clear statement condemning it, and did not mention it at all in his extensive book about marriage.
This, to me, suggests that we should be tolerant, and better yet, accepting of those who, through no choice of their own, find themselves unalterably attracted to people of the same sex rather than to people of the opposite sex.
And it suggests to me that we should not deny them the joys of marriage in the only way they are able to experience it: through socially and legally accepted monogamous same-sex marriages.
Thank you for your response but I must reply. You do not have to hate homosexuality to think it is wrong. One can point out ones errors with love and truth. I find it cruel to tell someone who does not wish to be homosexual that they must accept it and can never be heterosexual, which destroys their belief in regeneration.
As well there is no logic to support homosexuality as a natural occuring inclination. No animal is a life long homosexual, they may preform homosexual acts but the same animal will do so with a member of the opposite gender as well. There is no homosexual genes that have been found, nor does the brain argument often used hold up. As it was preformed on individuals who had died from aids which destroys that part of the brain. The man who ran the experiment himself said it did not prove it.
I do not think homosexuality is a choice but a compulsion caused by abuse as a child or hatred of one parent or both. Also a taking on of identity to people who’re female centered instead of God centered. As with any addiction people cannot stop themselves, because they have a compulsion. It does not mean they should embrace it though. One must put love God first above all things.
As for the topic of depression, Emanuel Swedenborg says there are spirits that cause depression and depression its self is a spiritual disorder. Whether you wish to believe so or not is up to you as is your views on homosexuality.
I personally believe in free will and believe people have the right to live their life how they wish even if it is contrary to my own as long as it does not harm others. No one has the right to deny someone their freedom but by the same token I do not have to blind my rationality by accepting something that is not equal to another as equal just to make people feel good about themselves.
The whole book Divine Love in marriage is is written for man and woman because it is the only way a heavenly marriage can exist and that is why he only address it in detial. However he does address homosexuality in the book and I knew I read it before but could not find it last night and did today so my apologies.
I’ll leave you with this from Love in Marriage chapter 3 page 65 and continuing on page 66, the first story of two. The topic was about the love towards others as to sexual and marital love. They said, “There is love between men, love between women, and live between men and women. These three kinds of love are quiet different from each other. Love between men is like love between understanding and understanding, for a man is created, and therefore born, to become understanding. Love between women is like an affection for men’s understanding, for a woman is created, and is like an affection for man’s understanding. These loves- of men for other men and women for other women- do not penetrate deep into their hearts, but stand outside and only touch each other, so they do not join the two together inwardly.
“This is also why two men argue on and on, ‘sparing’ with each other like two atheletes. And two women sometimes do this to one another, matching desire with desire like two pantomimists in a fist fight.
“But love between men and women is the love of understanding and an attraction to understanding, and this does go deep and join them together.”
To take your last point first, you’re talking about Marriage Love #55.
Unfortunately, that story has been badly misunderstood and misapplied by many Swedenborgians. It is not about marriage at all. It’s about friendships between men and men, women and women, and women and men. And the statements in the story are made, not by the Lord, nor by angels, nor by Swedenborg, but by a group of spirits who are not yet in heaven. For a fuller analysis of the story and what it is and isn’t about please see this comment of mine above.
In short, that story is not about homosexuality and heterosexuality, but about friendships between people of the same sex and friendships between people of opposite sexes.
As for the rest of your points, it sounds like you’re getting your ideas and information primarily from books and articles. And while these can be good, they are no substitute for spending time with gays and lesbians themselves, getting to know them, their thoughts and feelings, their ideas and values, and yes, their loves and their relationships.
I would encourage you to put down the books and articles for a while, and seek out and get to know some real live gay and lesbian people in your community. Don’t go into it with all sorts of preconceived notions about what they must be like, and what their “disorder” must be. Just get to know them.
It will take time. Perhaps years. But doctrine and theory are nothing if they are not grounded in reality and experience.
Swedenborg himself relied heavily on a lifetime full of experience in science, culture, politics, and so on. In fact, he said that all of his previous studies and life experience were part of the Lord’s preparation for his revelatory period, and that without that experience in the material world related to its workings, he never would have been able to understand what the Lord wanted to reveal to and through him.
And in his revelatory period, he relied on his experience of the spiritual world to give him the foundation he needed to understand both the spiritual meaning of the Bible and the doctrines that would be for the New Jerusalem. In his Bible commentaries, he’ll often say a variation of: “The reason this verse has this meaning is that this is how the angels in heaven understand it.” And he increasingly over time illustrates his doctrinal and exegetical works with stories from the spiritual world, which often give a livelier and more approachable understanding of the subject than the doctrinal sections of those books.
I do not believe that Swedenborg wanted us to simply accept on his authority the things he teaches in his writings. I believe he wanted us to live our lives, gain knowledge not just from books, but from engaging in the world, its business affairs, and its people. That is how Swedenborg himself operated. And the book Marriage Love is perhaps the most experience-based of all of his books. He himself even said that it was not a doctrinal work, but a work of “morals,” which could also be translated as “customs.”
I have come to believe that without rich life experience, it is not possible to gain a truly solid, well-grounded, and reliable understanding of the doctrines and spiritual meanings that Swedenborg published in his theological writings.
So please don’t limit yourself to books, articles, logic, and theories in your approach to understanding homosexuality. Learn from experience in the real world. That means getting to know gays and lesbians in the real world, as human beings. Only then will you be able to even approach a full understanding of homosexuality.
And if you still haven’t read all three related articles here, please do so. Even when it comes to “book-learning,” you at least need to read both (or all) sides of an issue. In writing these articles, I read every Swedenborgian article about homosexuality I could get my hands on, from heavily conservative to highly liberal, on the subject of homosexuality. And I sought out analyses of the Bible from both pro-gay and anti-gay Christian and Jewish scholars and writers. So at minimum, if you want to gain any real perspective on the subject, it behooves you to read broadly, including articles and books by people who disagree with your current views as well as those who agree with you.
And once again, there is no substitute for real life experience. Get to know some of the gays and lesbians in your community. That will do more to bring reality into your thinking on the subject than anything else possibly can.
I am specifically interested in knowing if and what was written on what made him so sure that the mist and the snakes and the man in the tavern he seen was not deceiving him, i don’t believe so but not sure. His writing i can not find much autobiographical about that particular event also i am interested in what he was told about how to heal one wounded by traumatic experiences of sin against them.
Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment and question.
About the incident in the inn, or tavern, our only account of it comes not from Swedenborg’s own pen, but from the pen of Carl Robsahm, who was a close friend of Swedenborg. We have no particular reason to doubt it, but it should be kept in mind that it is a second-hand account. It can be found in most major biographies of Swedenborg. The standard biography is The Swedenborg Epic, by Cyriel Odhner Sigstedt. The chapter in which the story is reproduced is online here.
As for what made him so sure that he was not being deceived, that came from his spiritual senses being opened and from the Lord’s own presence with him as he traveled around in the spiritual world. Of course, since none of us was there, we can’t really vouch for the veracity of his experience. That sense of surety comes from reading his works and recognizing the truth in them. Not all people will recognize the truth in them. But for those who do, there is no real doubt that his experiences of the spiritual world and of the Lord’s presence with him were genuine.
Your other question, about healing from traumatic experiences, is a big one—and not one that can be properly answered in a comment. Healing from traumatic experiences can take many years, much counseling, and much hard work. And an integral part of that work is being able to forgive those who inflicted the trauma, while still recognizing that what they did was evil and destructive—and that we may have to end our relationship with them and cut off all communication with them.
One post here that may help somewhat is: “Repentance: The Unpopular Partner of Forgiveness.”
I’m afraid there isn’t yet any article here that more directly addresses your question of healing from traumatic experiences. But here are some articles about the pain and struggle of life that might be helpful:
Beyond that, I would recommend going to a counselor or trusted pastor who can help in the healing process. It is very hard to heal if we try to go it alone.
Howard Storm has a testimony on Swedenborg you tube channel interview with Curtis and he talked with Jesus and later wrote a book on it —my desent into death—but anyway on that interview he said God is not interested in what you do with your sexual apparatus—it is how much you love people —he talked about homosexuality only a few times but talked about lying hundreds of times—the whole thing on the other side per all NDES is Love is number one concern, 2.) forgiveness and how quick we forgive 3.) Intent means everything . God is Love —when people learn that and stop trying to create rules to follow they will be closer to God. Wish I could find a Swedenborg Church but all of them I looked up are in rich areas I cannot afford to live—so sad.
so tragically sad infinitely proportional to his writings
Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. Do you happen to have a link for that YouTube interview? I’d be very interested to watch it.
What area of the country, or the world, do you live in?
Yes I can place it here and I am in Arlington Tx –where r u and do you have a church so to speak or is this kind of your church? https://youtu.be/aT0n16l89sg
Thanks. I’ll give it a watch soon. I’ve been interested to know if there is any reporting from NDEers about homosexuality in the spiritual world.
And yes, Texas, and the south generally, is pretty sparse for Swedenborgian churches. There was a conservative Swedenborgian congregation in Austin for a while, but I don’t think it’s there anymore.
Annette and I now live in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Though I was pastor of a church for about a decade from 1996 to 2007, I no longer serve as a pastor, and don’t have any plans to do so again in the future. So yes, Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life is currently my “church.” Before long, though, I do hope to resume public speaking and post videos on YouTube, which will provide a more “live” presentation for those who enjoy it.
I would love that —Jonathan Rose who is a guest regularly on Off the Left Eye on Swedenborg channel on You tube is who I learn alot off right now and the main channel of course but I would love any additional support too, sounds awesome, can’t wait but in meantime I will read all your stuff here.
This is 2022 but yes ndes that were gay on earth are still gay on other side. You are still who you were on earth. The other side is less about religion and mostly about love and forgiveness. A Good book to read is The World Unseen by Anthony Borgia. There is also a you tube reading of the book by a woman.
Good to hear from you again. Yes, years have passed since we last talked here. Annette and I have now been living in Soweto, South Africa for almost three years. Our life is very different from what it was during our four and a half years of living in Cheyenne. And unfortunately, it may still be some years before I can return to active blogging, and also start up the long-awaited YouTube channel. However, I haven’t given up on that hope.
Meanwhile, I have come to the same conclusion: that gays will still be gay on the other side because it is an integral, unchangeable part of their character—as the evidence overwhelmingly affirms. I will take a look at the Borgia book, even though I am skeptical of channeled material. The YouTube video is over eight hours long, so I may just read it on Kindle instead. Thanks for the recommendation.
What a rich conversation, Mr. Lee!
At first I was a bit concerned with what I would find and read here- your website was the first source after a research about Swedenborgs view on the suject (Lucky me!), but your knowledge, kindness and extreme patience got my attention all the way and made me deeply happy to know that this kind of openness exist. Thank you for being a commited and generous person. Keep up the amazing work!
Thanks for stopping by, and for your kind words, which I very much appreciate. Quite honestly, I’m glad you found this article before finding some of the less tolerant ones, written by more conservative Swedenborgians, on the subject. Some of them are pretty bad. I’m glad this article and discussion was helpful to you.
Meanwhile, Godspeed on your spiritual journey!
I don’t understand why people treat homosexuals differently from any other “sinner.” Are we better than God that we don’t forgive sin?
Hi J. Sage,
Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. Of course, not everyone agrees that homosexuality is a sin. But even so, it does seem to be a much bigger deal in the minds of conservative Christians than is warranted given how seldom it is mentioned in the Bible. The heavy emphasis on the “evils” of homosexuality says more about the people who hold such views, and their inability to think in any balanced way about human sexuality, than it does about the question of homosexuality itself.
Not all evils are sins. A disease is an evil, and not all diseases are curable while one is still in the physical body (and not its post-mortem spiritual analogue). So we treat such diseases (and those afflicted) with compassion and not pretend that we can cure them (unless we really can), and offer the hope of a healed eternity. There is no rational sense or meaning in “exonerating” or “celebrating” a disease such as Tourette’s syndrome, just as there is no rationality in condemning it.
Could we not take the old DSM-II view of homosexuality as a disease?
Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment and question.
Yes, we could take that approach. However, we would then have to show that homosexuality (and not just social prejudices and religious strictures against it) causes some physical, mental, or social harm. Otherwise it cannot be rightly classified as evil, or as a disease.
This is covered in the companion article, “Homosexuality, the Bible, and Christianity,” under the heading, “Is homosexuality evil?” which I invite you to read for my response to your question.
Thank you Lee. I really enjoyed the conversations on this article and applaud your firm patient methodology. Organizing and studying doctrine is not one of my strengths – but when I read your rationale, it sits nicely in my mind as logical, kind, and compassionate which I respect. Thank you so much for your time, because it is needed. If I ask myself, what would God want for these beautiful committed relationships, he would want logic, kindness, compassion and love – so thank you for letting God shine through you.
Thanks for stopping by, and for your kind words, which I appreciate very much. I’m glad these articles are helpful to you in sorting these things out in your own mind. I learned a lot myself in researching and writing them.
Is polygamy a sin if the people involved are in a committed and loving relationship?
I mean I get it if the people are unfaithful and uncommitted to each other and from what I read in the Bible, the person/people involved are like that and, at least in the case of Lamech, the multiple wives thing was more of a status symbol and something to brag about. You know, treating wives more like property than human beings. But I think that there are many polygamous relationships that are just as committed and faithful and loving as a monogamous relationship (or at least an ideal one). Or at least that’s an ideal one.
The problem with polygamous relationships is not so much that they are sinful (though they are for Christians) as that they are unspiritual, physical-minded, and superficial compared to monogamous marriages. It is not possible to have the kind of inner closeness and oneness with multiple people that is possible in a monogamous relationship.
Polygamy was allowed in Old Testament times, and in Old Testament style religions such as Islam, because the people and the religion are mostly outward and behavioral, and not really spiritual. It died out in Christianity because Christianity is more inward and spiritually focused. When the people are focused on outward behavior and on material things, spiritual marriage is not possible. But when people are focused on the inward spiritual things of love and faith, spiritual marriage is possible—but only in a monogamous relationship. That’s why polygamy is not allowed for Christians.
The “one man and one woman” is *the way* of heaven point is often used to make the case against gay marriage. Then often follows what you call the problem of polygamy. Yet per TCR (I think 832 but I’m a little dyslexic) speaks of polygamous heavens. OK they are “lower” per the number but they count as heaven.
I mean I’ll be happy with lower. Still seem like a win to me. But I digress.
So if God is happy enough to allow an exception to the one man one woman rule in some heavens, doesn’t seem like a long stretch for committed gay marriage to be included in God’s infinite love too.
So in the love the neighbor as they self school, probably a solid idea to be happy for committed gay marriages and treat them as you would your own.
Thanks for the thoughtful blog post and having it kick around so I can ponder it years after your wrote it.
Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment.
Excellent point! God’s infinite love includes all people who include God in their heart—and even people who don’t.
And yes, True Christianity #832. However, being polygamous in that lower heaven applies only if you’re Muslim, or of some other religion that allows polygamy. Christian men are not allowed to have more than one wife in heaven.
A friend pointed me to this page. Thanks! I referenced it in a short essay I wrote responding to an article by Bishop Peter Buss. https://www.truncatedthoughts.com/2022/02/lgbtqia-and-swedenborg-it-doesnt-have.html
Thanks for your comment, the link to your article, and the link back to this one in it. Apparently the above article is now making the rounds in some segments of the General Church.
I did go and read the original article by Peter Buss that you are responding to. His arguments are the same ones dealt with in the above article and its companion pieces, written seven or more years ago. No need for me to go back over that ground.
Just one point for now:
Without coming right out and saying it, Mr. Buss seems to be suggesting that LGBTQIA+ people should be taking the path of repentance from their sin. Or in plain terms, that they should aim to stop being whatever their gender identity or sexual orientation may be, and become straight people instead. For example, he says on page 23, in the same segment that you quote in your article, that the (General) Church “should be a place where people can hear directly from the Word about the Lord’s vision of marriage and receive encouragement to reach for their experience of it.” And he ends his article with a little sermonette on calling sinners to repentance.
But the reality, borne out by decades of failed attempts to “convert” gay people into straight people, is that it is not possible for gays and lesbians to “repent” from being homosexual. There is no possibility that they can “reach for their experience” of happy heterosexual marriage. Many have tried, and just as many have failed. All of this is true even though there has been tremendous motivation both for churches and for many non-straight people to try to “convert” others or themselves from gay to straight. The simple fact of the matter is that it does not work. All evidence points to sexual orientation being a fundamental, unchangeable part of a person’s character.
Realizing this was the final step on my path toward taking the position that I have in these articles on the issue of homosexuality. If it is not possible to repent from something, then it cannot be a sin. We can repent from doing any of the things forbidden in the Ten Commandments, and stop doing them. Gays and lesbians cannot repent from being homosexual. If they are to “reach for their experience” of marriage at all, it will either be in a same-sex marriage or it will be in a sham marriage that has no spark of marital love and attraction within it.
Though your article starts with a good preamble on how arguments are made, I would suggest that a greater issue is how we arrive at the truth. Induction and deduction are useful tools, but that is not how we arrive at the truth. And as you say, apologia is a matter of supporting an idea or argument that one already takes to be the truth.
But how do we arrive at the truth in the first place?
Swedenborg’s three “pillars of faith” (not his term) are the Word, reason, and experience. Setting aside the General Church’s fallacious identification of Swedenborg’s writings as the Word, my biggest problem with their arguments is that they rely only on what they define as the Word, and set aside reason and experience.
If these guys had any real experience with gays and lesbians in the real world, they could not say such ridiculous things as they do about “calling sinners to repentance” in connection with LGBTQIA+ issues. They have read the Word, but they have not consulted reason and experience. As a result, their reading of the Word is also faulty and fallacious, as pointed out in the above article and its companion pieces. In their thinking about homosexuality, they have made all the mistakes I deal with in these articles, some of which you have also pointed out in yours. (Except that I would be very careful about using sickness as an example parallel to being non-straight.)
No matter how many pious words these church leaders may mouth about welcoming people, treating people charitably, etc., etc., their stance on marriage is indeed hurtful and destructive to non-straight people. It is hurtful and destructive because it is objectively wrong, and it calls on people to do things that are not possible for them to do, while calling them “sinners” if they do not do these impossible things.
Many have tried to follow their bad advice. Too many have committed suicide as a result. This is not “charity,” it is not “the truth of the Word,” and it is not the New Church.
Lee, thanks for that extensive reply. I’m remembering a comedian I heard (on a Sirius comedy channel, so I don’t know his name) pointing out that he grew up gay in Alabama. He noted that the fact that he wanted to be gay in Alabama proved it wasn’t a choice.
You are correct to note “I would be very careful about using sickness as an example parallel to being non-straight” because that is easily misunderstood.
You’re welcome. On a less comedic note, I vividly recall a gay man who was trying to break into my rather conservative congregation years ago crying on my shoulder (literally crying, but not literally on my shoulder), “Why would I choose this?” Fortunately, others are having a better life experience in some parts of the world. Unfortunately, still others continue to experience rejection and demonization in many parts of the world. It is a bitter pill to swallow that some of those parts of the world continue to label themselves “New Church.”
My brother is transexual, how do you think his appearance will be after the second stage of the world of spirits? The stage that truly reveals who we are.
Another question, while there is the transexuality factor at his side, he is still straight and monogamous, so, can he experience Conjugial Love like other people?
Thank you and Blessings!
I presume that all the gender dysphoria and other gender confusion and struggles that people face here on earth will be resolved before long in the afterlife.
The tendency among traditionalists is to think that our physical, biological gender is our real gender, and that anything that departs from that is “wrong.” I don’t necessarily buy that. We know that our physical body doesn’t always perfectly reflect our soul. For example, people who born with a genetic defect that prevents them from ever walking can still be walking and running in their mind and imagination. Why would the physical, rather than the spiritual, be the “real” person? Is a quadriplegic “really” quadriplegic in spirit?
I don’t pretend to have all the answers on homosexuality, transexuality, and so on. But in the end, I believe it will be the spirit and its nature, not the body and its nature, that determines who we will be in the afterlife. If someone born in a female body persistently, year after year and decade after decade, feels male in his mind, why would the female physical body prevail in the afterlife—where, after all, we will have left our physical body behind?
Yes, I do think that the even the physical body tends to reflect the spirit. After all, it is the spirit, not the body, that is alive, and that gives life to the body. But once again, the correspondence is not perfect as long as we’re living in our physical body.
In the spiritual world, meanwhile, before long our spiritual body perfectly reflects and corresponds to the character of our mind and heart. So long story short, I believe that a person who has a settled masculine character in his mind will have a male body in the afterlife, and a person who has a settled feminine character in her mind will have a female body in the afterlife, even if that doesn’t match the gender of the physical body he or she had in the world.
And yes, I believe that people of different genders, orientations, and so on can experience marriage love. I also believe that the same rules apply to same-sex relationships as to heterosexual relationships, and to whatever other kinds of relationships people have come up with these days. Monogamy, faithfulness, and so on apply to anyone who wants to have a real, spiritual marriage relationship. Yes, the nature of a same-sex relationship differs from the nature of a heterosexual relationship. But it’s still a love, commitment, and oneness of one person with one other person. And that is the most fundamental nature of marriage.
Once again, I’m no expert on these subjects. These are just my considered thoughts based on what I do know. Only God knows for sure who each one of us will be, and what our relationships will be, in the afterlife.