Is there Really a Devil? Why??

Here is a Spiritual Conundrum submitted to Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life by a reader named Kayla Lynn:

Dear Lee,

I’ve been having a hard time discerning the rationality of the Devil.

  1. I do not fancy the idea of a fallen angel, particularly since there is no direct story of this rebellious angel found anywhere, to my understanding, in the Bible.
  2. I do not see any need for the Devil in reality (in other words, the big picture), as humans can be quite awful on their own.
  3. However, I think, based on my understanding of human governments, if angels have a leader, then demons must also have a leader. However, that leader could possibly be God in both cases, right?
  4. Furthermore, why, even if God can create such evil (in us or in another being) in the first place, would evil be needed in the world at all? Is it to teach us a lesson or guide us?

These are my doubts at the moment, but I have had personal experiences which tell me otherwise… I could really use some direction on this subject.

Confused and seeking truth,

Thank you,

Kayla Lynn

Thanks for the great conundrum, Kayla Lynn!

I would say that you have already sensed much of the truth about the Devil.

As you say, there is little or nothing in the Bible about the Devil being a fallen angel. That idea comes mostly from books that aren’t in the Bible, and from the myths of various cultures.

In the Bible itself, the word traditionally translated “Lucifer” in Isaiah 14:12 is actually a reference to the King of Babylon. He is compared to the “light-bearer” (Latin: lucifer), or “morning star”—meaning the planet Venus, which appears from earth as the brightest “star” in the morning (or evening) sky. You can read the full prophecy in Isaiah 14:3–23. It predicts the downfall of the evil and oppressive king of Babylon by comparing him to the morning star falling out of heaven. The Biblical prophecy is about the fall of an earthly power, not about some supposed powerful angel who fell away from God and became Satan.

Satan, or the Devil


In the Bible, the idea of the Devil, or Satan, developed only gradually over time. In fact, the word “satan” was originally used for human enemies. Later Satan, or the Devil, became a metaphor for evil and falsity, and a personification of the spiritual forces of evil and falsity that fight against God.

Does this mean that the Devil isn’t real?

No, the Devil is very real.

It’s just that the Devil and Satan are synonyms for the whole complex of human evil and falsity. You see, we humans, and not God, were the ones who originated evil. And human evil and falsity seen as a whole is the Devil and Satan.

Wherever we see evil and falsity in the world around us, and in our own minds and hearts, that is the presence of the Devil and Satan. And anyone who has ever been the victim of human selfishness, greed, and grasping for power knows that evil and falsity are very real, and very destructive.

Let’s take a closer look.

In Part One below, we’ll look at the real, original meanings of the Hebrew and Greek words referring to the Devil, Satan, and demons. This will lead to a different view of the Devil than the one prevailing in traditional Christianity.

In Part Two, we’ll take up the question of why there is a Devil at all.

Part One: The Devil in the Bible

First, it helps to understand the original meanings of the words that are commonly translated as “the Devil,” “Satan,” “demons,” and so on.


The primary meaning of the Hebrew word שָׂטָן (satan) is “an adversary, an opponent.” So in the Old Testament, satan is commonly used to mean “an enemy.” For example, 1 Kings 11:14 says:

Then the Lord raised up an adversary against Solomon, Hadad the Edomite; he was of the royal house in Edom.

The word translated “adversary” in this verse is the Hebrew word satan. It is used the same way for another enemy of Solomon in 1 Kings 11:23-25.

In fact, outside of the book of Job, the Hebrew word satan is most often used to refer to human enemies, though it is also sometimes used of spiritual figures who stand as adversaries. In many of the places where it is traditionally translated “Satan,” it should really be translated as “an enemy” or “an adversary.”

There are no capital letters in the original texts of the Bible. Editors and translators must use their judgment in deciding whether or not words like satan in the original languages are meant to be proper names (“Satan”) or just a description of something or someone (“an adversary, opponent”).

The Greek word σατανᾶς  (satanas), comes from the Hebrew word satan, and has the same meaning: an adversary or enemy. In the New Testamant, Satan is more often used as a personification of evil, traditionally interpreted as a powerful evil angel who opposes God and tempts humans to sin and destruction.

However, even in the New Testament it is sometimes used to refer to human beings. Consider, for example, this passage from Matthew:

From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”

Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” (Matthew 16:21-23 – see also Mark 8:31-33.)

Though the Greek word is usually translated “Satan” in this passage, it should probably be translated as, “you adversary!” In other words, Jesus uses the Greek word satanas to refer to a human being who is, at that time, opposing God’s will and God’s truth.

So even though the Greek word satanas is commonly used in the New Testament to mean Satan, a figure who is the personification of evil, it still also retains its original meaning of an enemy or adversary—specifically, anyone or anything who stands in opposition to God.

If we keep this original meaning of the word satan in mind when we read about “Satan” in the Bible, it gives new meaning to many statements about this evil being, or force, in the Bible.

And it’s clear from the Bible that “Satan” comes from a very human reality. Its original meaning was human enemies and adversaries.

The Devil

Although the word “devil” appears in a few places in traditional translations of the Old Testament such as the King James Version, the Hebrew words so translated are actually words for hairy goats, satyrs, idols, or perhaps demons. The idea of some evil overlord called the Devil doesn’t appear until the New Testament.

In the Greek of the New Testament, there are two primary words commonly translated “devil.”

One of them is διάβολος (diabolos). Most of the time, this word means a ruling evil figure, the Devil, which is also called Satan. This is the figure that Jesus was led into the desert to be tested by:

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” (Matthew 4:1–3; read the full story in Matthew 4:1–11)

However, even this word is sometimes used to speak of individual human beings. For example:

Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? Yet one of you is a devil.” He was speaking of Judas son of Simon Iscariot, for he, though one of the twelve, was going to betray him. (John 6:70–71)

Notice that Jesus didn’t say “one of you has a devil,” but “one of you is a devil.”

So even the Greek word most commonly used to mean “the Devil” can also be applied to an individual human being who is bent on evil.

And the underlying meaning of the Greek word διάβολος is “a false accuser, a slanderer.” So once again, when we read “the Devil” in the New Testament, it refers to a very human reality: those who slander others and make false accusations.


The other Greek word commonly translated “devil” is δαιμόνιον (daimonion). This word is most commonly used to mean an individual demon, or devil, who possesses a person, and causes that person to harm self or others. When the Gospels speak of Jesus casting out devils, this is the Greek word used.

However, the New Testament also refers at times to “the prince of the devils,” or “the ruler of the demons,” who is synonymous with the Devil. For example, after Jesus had healed a mute man who was possessed by a demon, the Pharisees said, “By the ruler of the demons he casts out the demons” (Matthew 9:34).

The ancient Greek word δαιμόνιον originally meant simply a spirit or spiritual messenger, or even a deity (in early polytheistic Greek culture), whether good or evil. But in the New Testament, it is almost always used to mean evil spirits.

So the general picture that emerges is of a host of evil beings, or spirits, ruled over by a figure called Satan, the Devil, or the ruler of the demons. This is the usual picture painted in traditional Christianity.

And yet, the Bible also uses the words for “devil” and “satan” to refer to human beings who are evil and who speak falsehoods and lies.

Swedenborg on the Devil

This use of the original Hebrew and Greek words for Satan and the Devil to also mean not only individual evil spirits, but also human beings who oppose God, speak falsehood, and do evil things suggests that there is more to the Devil and Satan than meets the eye.

And according to Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772), that is precisely the case.

Contrary to all of the Christian teachings of his day—the teachings that still hold sway in most of Christianity—Swedenborg said that there is no such thing as a Devil, or Satan, who had been a powerful angel that fell away from God and became the ruler of hell. After all, that idea of Satan as a fallen angel isn’t in the Bible. It comes from non-Biblical books, and from various traditions that had grown up over the centuries. In fact, most “Christian” beliefs about the Devil and Satan come from various human traditions rather than from the Bible itself.

Swedenborg’s experience in the spiritual world showed him a very different reality—one that is more in line with the Bible’s use of these words to mean both evil spirits and evil human beings.

In fact, Swedenborg said that these are really one and the same thing.

Evil spirits, he said, are all human beings who have lived evil and selfish lives here on earth, and have gone on to live in hell after their death. According to Swedenborg, there is no separately created race of angels, nor are there fallen angels who have become devils instead. All angels and devils were once human beings living in the material world.

Then what about the Devil and Satan?

These, Swedenborg says, are really just personifications of hell.

You know how the United States is sometimes called Uncle Sam? Have you heard of the Russian Bear? Have you seen China depicted as a Panda?

Likewise, in the Bible hell is personified as the figure of the Devil and Satan. And hell is simply the combination of all human evil gathered together in one vast evil region of the spiritual world.

So when the Bible talks about Jesus, or human beings, being tempted by Satan or the Devil, it’s really talking about the evil influence of hell working on us, and trying to drag us down into false beliefs and evil actions.

The figures of evil such as the Devil, Satan, and the ruler of the demons, that appear in the Bible were either individual evil spirits who were once humans, or they were whole communities of hell that banded together to attack Jesus, or to infest human beings.

These collective demons can be seen in the story of the Gerasene demoniac in Mark 5:1–20. In this story, Jesus confronts a demon-possessed man:

When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!” For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!”

Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”

“My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area. (Mark 5:6–10, italics added)

Here the demon possessing the man speaks of himself in the singular, yet names himself “Legion,” with the explanation, “for we are many.”

The angels and the demons that appear in the Bible may be individual angels or evil spirits, or they may be whole communities of angels or evil spirits banded together and acting as one. This, according to Swedenborg, is a very common occurrence in the spiritual world. And it explains many seemingly strange things about the angels and evil spirits who appear throughout the Bible.

Further, according to Swedenborg, while we humans may be attacked by individual evil spirits and by whole crowds of evil spirits, Jesus Christ was attacked by all of hell together, meaning by the combined power of all human and spiritual evil. So when Jesus was tempted by the Devil, he was fighting not just individual evil spirits, nor merely communities of evil spirits, but against all of hell working together as a single vast Devil in a futile attempt to destroy him and derail his work of saving the human race from the power of evil, falsity, and hell.

Part Two: Why is there a Devil at all?

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’d be just as happy without some big ol’ Devil, or hell, or whatever you want to call it, mucking up the universe!

Why is there a Devil at all? Why does God even allow hell to exist? Did God create evil and hell?

These are huge questions, which people have debated for thousands of years. We can’t do them full justice in this short article. But here are some of the basics:

Did God create evil and hell?

Yes, I know. The Bible says:

I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil; I the Lord do all these things. (Isaiah 45:7)

Because of this, many people, Christians and Jews alike, believe that God is the author and creator of both good and evil. And it seems that many people need to believe this in order to think of God as an infinitely powerful God. For those who think of darkness and evil as especially potent realities, if God isn’t behind them, then God must be a weakling. So the Bible lets us think that God brings evil and disaster, as well as good, upon us.

And the common Hebrew word for “evil” that is used in Isaiah 45:7 is also used to mean disaster and misfortune.

But consider the possibility that this verse is speaking from a human perspective.

Consider a hardened thief, who makes a living stealing the belongings of others. If God comes along and not only says “thou shalt not steal,” but enforces that law by means of human governments, what does the thief think about that?

To a thief, God’s law against stealing is a disaster. In a thief’s eyes, that law is evil, not good, because it ruins the thief’s livelihood and takes away the huge pleasure of sneaking into people’s homes and businesses and skulking away with their precious valuables.

So from the perspective of an evil person, God does create evil, because God destroys what an evil person thinks of as good.

But of course, an evil person has everything backwards. An evil person thinks of evil as good, and good as evil.

When it comes to things that are truly evil, it is not God, but we human beings, who create evil.

  • God says, “Thou shalt not kill.” But we kill anyway.
  • God says, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” But we cheat on our spouses anyway.
  • God says, “Thou shalt not steal.” But we steal anyway.
  • God says, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” But we lie about people and destroy their reputations anyway.
  • God says, “Thou shalt not covet.” But we’re always getting jealous of other people, and wishing we had what they have.

We humans are the ones who create evil whenever we choose to go against the love, truth, and goodness that God created us for. And it is we humans, not God, who insist upon having a hell.

For more on this, see my article, Is There Really a Hell? What is it Like?

Why does God allow evil to exist?

Okay, even if God doesn’t actually create evil, why does God allow it to exist? Why doesn’t God just wipe out all evil? Isn’t God omnipotent, all-powerful? Couldn’t God just eliminate all evil with the stroke of a hand?

Yes, God could do that.

But in the process, God would destroy every human being on the face of the earth, not to mention every angel and spirit in the spiritual world.


Because ever since we humans first decided that we enjoy evil as well as good, evil has become a part of us.

And it became a part of us by our own choice.

Taking the second point first, since we have chosen and continue to choose evil, in order for God to destroy all evil, God would have to destroy our freedom of choice. And that would destroy us as human beings.

Without the ability to choose and live evil lives, would we really be human? Or would we merely be puppets in the hands of God, automatically and unquestioningly doing whatever God says?

God does not want puppets. God wants beings who freely choose to live by God’s love and truth. And that means God has to allow us to make the other choice as well. If we do not have the ability to reject God, and everything God stands for, then any choice to love God and live by God’s love and truth would be hollow and meaningless. We would be no different than robots, programmed to do God’s will.

God wants human beings, who freely choose to love God, and to love our fellow human beings.

Now for the first point:

Every time we choose and engage in evil, it becomes an indelible, permanent part of our character. Yes, we can later choose not to do that evil. But its memory and imprint never leaves us.

In fact, often it becomes one of our major motivators to do good. Who hasn’t looked back at something awful or insulting or evil or just plain stupid that they’ve done in the past, and resolved never to do that again?

We humans can learn from our mistakes. And the memory and history of those mistakes is key to keeping us going forward toward the good.

  • We look back at the Nazi holocaust, and resolve to overcome the bigotry, racism, and xenophobia that led to it.
  • We look back at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and commit ourselves to finding peaceful solutions to our conflicts so that no more cities will be obliterated.
  • We look back at a life of addiction and many wasted years of our life, and resolve to keep ourselves clean and sober, and do something good with the rest of our life.
  • We look back at hateful words that we spewed at someone who once was our best friend, and resolve not to speak and act from such blind rage again.

If God were to wipe out all evil with the stroke of a hand, all of those memories would be gone as well. All of the terrible lessons of our history would be erased. All the tough lessons of our lifetimes would vanish. We would never have learned the difficult and painful lessons that made us into the people we are today.

Our very humanity would be gone. We would no longer be the people who made mistakes and learned from them; who did evil and destructive things, and learned the hard way why we never again want to be those sorts of people.

In other words, in the process of wiping out all evil, God would destroy every single one of us.

Patchwork quilt

Patchwork quilt

Through our choices and our actions, we are all patchworks of good and evil, both in our past and in our present. Imagine what would be left if you took a patchwork quilt and ripped out every square that contains any dark colors. If God were to wave a hand and instantly destroy all the evil in our world, we humans would be like the tattered and useless remnant of that once beautiful quilt that was formed of many colors, both bright and dark.

Once we humans created evil, God allowed that evil to exist precisely because without evil, we would never learn to be good.

  • Without experiencing hatred and anger, we would never learn how to truly love.
  • Without learning where lying lands us, we would never understand the value of telling the truth.
  • Without discovering where our own arrogance and stupidity leads us, we would never humbly accept that God knows better than we do what’s best for us.

Our greatest lessons of love, and truth, and compassion, and appreciation for diversity, and the joy of true friendship with others, come from learning the hard way what our life becomes when we live from their opposites: from hatred, lies, oppression, bigotry, jealousy, and striving for dominance over one another.

No, God will not destroy all our evil with a wave of the hand.

But as we experience the pain and destruction brought about by our own selfishness and greed, God will help us to overcome them both in ourselves and in our world.

  • It is through the very battle against evil that we become strong for good.
  • It is in the battle against lies, deception, and slander that we learn the value of honesty, truthfulness, and appreciation for those who are different from ourselves.
  • It is in the battle against hatred that we learn to love.

Although God did not create evil or hell, God stands ready to lift us out of evil and hell whenever we are ready to leave our own stupid and selfish lives behind, and begin living according to the greatest commandments, on which all the Law and the Prophets depend:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind”; and, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)

So why is there a Devil?

There is a devil not because God wanted one, but because we wanted one.

There is a Devil not because God created evil, but because we humans created evil.

The Devil is not some fallen angel who rules over hell. God rules over everything, earth, heaven, and hell alike. There is only one supreme ruler of the universe, and that is God.

Instead, the Devil is all of human evil and falsity seen as a whole. The Devil is the combined force of all evil humans, and all evil spirits, who work against God, and gain their enjoyment from dominating and destroying others rather than loving them and serving them.

The Devil is simply another word for hell. And there is a hell because even though God teaches us and leads us and woos us toward heaven, some of us reject God’s teaching, and God’s leadership, and God’s love, and choose to live from our own selfish and greedy desires instead.

That is why there is a hell. That is why there is a Devil, and Satan.

But God does give us the power to overcome the Devil, Satan, and hell in our own lives, and in the world.

Will we use that power, and banish evil and hell from our world and from our own souls?

That is our choice to make.

This article is a response to a spiritual conundrum submitted by a reader.

For further reading:


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

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Posted in The Afterlife, The Bible Re-Viewed
138 comments on “Is there Really a Devil? Why??
  1. Walt Childs says:

    Excellent and very clear article. It all makes perfect sense and is logical.

  2. Tony says:

    to be fair many people think that having heaven or hell is very black and white so to speak and they don’t really like this idea because your essentially saying you you are going to be in one of them whether you like it or not, this doesn’t sound like we are free at all or if we are free it sounds really twisted.

    PS this comes from a human perspective 😛

    • Lee says:

      Hi Tony,

      Thanks for your comment.

      In response, heaven and hell are just as varied, if not more so, as the various human communities on earth. Heaven and hell are vast places, each with its own vast array of different regions, levels, groupings, and communities.

      Saying people are going to heaven, or to hell, is like saying they are going to Australia. The question is, which part of Australia? It could be in the barren desert or in the big, busy city. Similarly, heaven and hell are just as varied as the various terrains and landscapes of the human mind.

  3. Tony says:

    also saying god allows us to keep evil going sounds like he’s playing with us and yes you have explained why he does this but it doesn’t really make it any better just saying 🙂

  4. bldion says:

    We are in the 21st century, not Medieval times. I would rather listen to Stephen Hawkings and other scientists about what is real out there.

    • Lee says:

      Hi bldion,

      Stephen Hawking and other scientists tell us about what is real in the material universe. This article is about what’s real in the spiritual universe.

      If you think there’s no such thing as a spiritual universe, then obviously everything in this article will read like mere fantasy and illusion. So the question is, do you think there is a spiritual universe distinct from the material one?

  5. David Gray says:

    Hi Lee,

    The New Church concept of Satan is surprising to me. Given Swedenborg’s experience with spirits, I’m surprised that he would interpret references to Satan as a personification of human evil. It would seem natural for him to believe in a very powerful, evil spirit. I agree that there is not much in the Bible about Satan. I believe the passage in Isaiah 14 is typically viewed as having a dual meaning, like many things in the OT — an immediate interpretation and then a reference to Satan. How does Swedenborg interpret Luke 4 where Jesus is tempted in the wilderness? There were no other humans around, so it seems strange to me that Jesus would be tempted in the wilderness by “human falsity and evil.” And Jesus did not have a sinful nature to be tempted by himself. The passage also ends with, “and Satan left him until a more opportune time.” Doesn’t that really imply an actual person?


    • Lee says:

      Hi David,

      Perhaps I didn’t make myself as clear as I should have. Being a personification does not mean that the personification represents an impersonal force. Uncle Sam represents an actual culture and society made up of real, flesh-and-blood human beings. Similarly Satan, though a personification, represents actual, spiritual devils and evil spirits, all of whom were once human beings on this earth. So Jesus was not tempted merely by “human falsity and evil,” but by actual evil spirits all banded together as one to attack him. If ISIS fights against Uncle Sam, ISIS is facing actual U.S. warplanes, and, if they get their self-destructive wish, American “boots on the ground” in the form of physical, human soldiers.

      So Satan represents a real figure. That figure is the amalgamation of all of the evil spirits in hell. And the laws of the spiritual world make it possible for all of those evil spirits to act together as a single figure, and even appear as a single figure—as in the example of the demon who called himself “Legion,” “for we are many.”

      And yes, Isaiah 14 has been given a dual meaning in Christianity. But it is a dual meaning that has very little support in the literal meaning of the Bible—which is what most Christians rely on to derive their doctrine. FWIW, Swedenborg also interprets Isaiah 14 as being about spiritual powers of evil. He simply doesn’t come to the conclusion that it represents some actual, massive, powerful individual devil called Satan. That idea about Isaiah 14 has no particular support in the Bible.

    • Lee says:

      Hi David,

      You say, “Jesus did not have a sinful nature to be tempted by himself.” That is actually quite a slippery concept. Please withhold your judgment for a moment, but the Bible does not actually say that Jesus did not have a sinful nature. Rather, it says, he “in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.” In other words, he did not sin. But that is not the same as not having a sinful nature.

      The Catholic dogma of the Immaculate Conception states that Jesus’ mother Mary was born without original sin. Besides the fact that original sin is a non-Biblical and false doctrine, the Immaculate Conception is also an entirely non-Biblical and false doctrine. It posits that because Mary had no original sin, therefore Jesus had no original sin, either. This is a fallacy piled on top of a fallacy.

      First of all, we are not born sinful, but evil in our tendencies and motives. We become sinful only when we actually sin—meaning actually do things that we know are wrong. But we still have a “sinful nature” in that our nature is to sin.

      In Jesus’ case, at birth he had a dual nature: a finite human one from his human mother Mary, and an infinite and perfect divine one from his Father, God. That dual nature, especially the finite human nature from Mary, is why he could be tempted at all. And though it is not technically a “sinful nature,” it is a nature that includes an evil heredity, and tendencies to sin.

      That faulty human nature from Mary was what made it possible for the Devil to tempt Jesus at all. And yet, unlike us, every time Jesus was tempted, he overcame the temptation, and did not actually sin. Through a lifetime of these victories in temptation, Jesus gradually put off all of the finite and faulty human nature that came from his mother, and replaced with the infinite divine nature that came from his Father, which was the divine soul within him. This is the process of “glorification” mentioned at various times in the Gospels.

      In fact, this was a prime reason that Jesus was born of a human mother at all. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, if it were true, would destroy the very reason that Jesus took on a human nature from a human being: so that he could face all of human evil on its own turf, and overcome it. The “sinful nature,” or evil heredity, from Mary, which was a part of him at birth, was precisely what he needed to do his work on earth.

      However, by the time of his resurrection, there was nothing left of that evil human heredity from Mary. He was no longer her son, because he had eliminated from his being everything that came from her, and replaced it with the divinity that came from the Father.

      On this point, Catholic dogma, and its echoes in Protestantism, is utterly false, and would destroy the very reason for the Incarnation.

      • Tamalji says:

        Been reading your work every day since Easter, and every day another massive layer of false doctrine peels off.

        It’s amazing how many projected fabrications have covered and warped the actual revealed tradition, and we just take it all blindly for our whole life, even becoming repulsed by Biblical religion over stuff that’s not from the Bible.

        My experience reading your lucid clarifications is like having actual diseases removed and actual locks broken open. Its so revolutionary.

        To say it’s an invaluable service is an understatement but what else can I say? Praise God for the mouthes that declare Truth in this darkened world. May His fullest Grace always sustain His messengers.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Tamalji,

          I am blessed to hear this, and thank you for your kind words also. I’m in the middle of a project right now, but will respond to your prior long comment as soon as I am able.

  6. David Gray says:

    Hi Lee,

    Thanks for the clarification. I can see better now how the “Satan” that tempted Jesus could have been a group of evil spirits acting as if they were a single agent. It just seems obvious to me that it must be an agent in that particular passage.

    I think evangelical theology agrees with most of what you said about sinful nature? When I say sinful nature, I mean “a tendency to sin and do wrong.” I agree that we are not guilty until we actually commit a sin. We reject the concept of inherited guilt (original sin), too, well as far as I know.


    • Lee says:

      Hi David,

      I would be interested to hear what your pastors say about original sin.

      My understanding of Protestant doctrine is that it adopted the Catholic concept of original sin without necessarily using that term. In other words, Protestant doctrine holds that we are born guilty of sin due to the sin of Adam, and that we are therefore from birth subject to eternal death, which is the penalty of sin. The only way for this not to happen is to accept that Jesus died instead of us, thus paying the penalty for our sin.

      It’s not Biblical, but that’s my understanding of Protestant doctrine on the subject.

      If your pastors and your church reject that doctrine, I would be very interested to hear about it.

      • David Gray says:

        Hi Lee,

        That is interesting. From some quick research, it appears that evangelical theology does hold to that view of original sin. I will have to ask my pastor to see what he thinks. I have been following a more progressive evangelical apologist for a while, so I probably adopted my view from him. It makes more sense to me to inherit a sinful nature rather than guilt.

        Maybe I am a Swedenborgian at heart. Now I just have to win that girl back…. 😉


        • Lee says:

          Hi David,

          Haha! Be careful! Women are dangerous! They’ll get you to believe all sorts of crazy things! 😛

          But seriously, you do seem to be halfway between evangelical and Swedenborgian views. Do let me know what your pastor says.

  7. Brian says:

    Great article Lee!

    It’s always been interesting having discussions with other Christians, when they hear that I don’t necessarily believe in Satan or Lucifer as an actual single being. It’s common to hear things like, “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was to make the world think he doesn’t exist,” or “How can there be a God with out a Devil?” A cousin of mine who went to a very fundamentalist Christian academy was absolutely insistent that I believe in “The Devil” for fear of my eternal soul! I always felt that they were giving the idea of “Satan” a little too much power. Like you said, God rules over everything – including hell. Yes, we must be careful as evil is quite real and temps us if we let it. Evil may not have horns and sit on a throne, but if that images helps some people to avoid it then I guess that’s ok.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Brian,

      Thanks. Yes, some people do seem to need to believe in a personal devil to keep themselves on the strait and narrow. But even in Swedenborg’s conception of the Devil, it is a very real being. It’s just that it is a corporate being (in the old, philosophical sense of the word) rather than an individual being.

  8. David Gray says:

    Hey Brian,

    I actually come from an evangelical background but I am in the process of questioning a lot my beliefs. Do you think you would believe that Satan is NOT an actual single being if Swedenborg had not said so? Believe him to be an actual single being seems to be the most natural way to interpret the passages that reference him, especially Luke 4. I would disagree, though, with your fundamentalist friend that such a belief is necessary for your salvation. In our culture it is common to see Satan as the enemy of God, which he is, but in our theology, he is just a really powerful evil spirit who God allows to exist for His purposes.


    • Brian says:

      Hi Dave,

      Those are some good points. I remember being about 4 or 5 years old at recess in day care and another kid might say, “Step on a crack and break the Devil’s back.” So I’d go to the nearest break in the walkway and stomp the concrete. Kinda silly huh? It would be hard to say what I might believe if I hadn’t later been instructed differently. I do remember being a bit relieved upon being taught that there was no singular “Satan.” Honestly, the idea that an opposite of God exists in such a potent capacity is downright terrifying. But maybe that’s ok for some people. I just feel that with a better understanding of what “The Devil” actually is, perhaps comes a better way of how to not fall prey to it. In this day and age, it certainly won’t be a cakewalk whether it’s a solitary antagonist or a collective of evil.

      Now I’m no authority, so I’ll gladly defer to Lee’s knowledge on any of these finer details going forward.

      So, we probably all have a few “devils” over the course of our lives that pull us in the wrong direction if we listen to them. That said, Jesus had a much tougher job while He was here. “The Devil” that temped him was not just one, but ALL of them. All the devils, from all of the hells, from the beginning. Jesus wrestled with this not just in the wilderness, but His entire life! He resisted temptation from all of hell, all the while spreading the Word and won!

      Now certainly God could allow a powerful evil spirit such as “Satan” to exist, for a purpose, but to what end? The story of the possessed man named “Legion” in the New Testament showed that devils could act as one if they wanted. Trying to visualize that story is almost unsettling, along other accounts of demonic possession that were not unheard of at the time. What Jesus did while He was here is actually much more amazing and triumphant than what most Christian faiths broadcast in their interpretations. He saved us by putting hell or “the Devil” back in it’s place so that you and I could actually have free will to choose what to believe, or to be good or selfish, or to have friendly discussions about Biblical interpretation on internet blogs…and that my friend is a wonderful thing!

  9. Kayla Lynn says:

    Thanks Lee!
    I really appreciate this post! I knew many of these truths before reading this, but there were some I hadn’t thought about, such as the idea of “the Devil” being all of evil put together. This was very interesting and came at a great time for me. Thank you so much! God bless!
    (P.S. I thought I lost the link to this blog until this post showed up in my email, and the article you mentioned above in the post is actually the article I first read when I found your blog. =D)

    • Lee says:

      Hi Kayla Lynn,

      You’re welcome! I’m glad you enjoyed the article, and got a few new thoughts from it. And of course, I’m glad you found your way back here. It’s always good to know that an article hit the spot for the one whose question brought it on! 🙂

  10. Cat says:

    Lee, in your article you listed the five evils humans created:
    God says, “Thou shalt not kill.” But we kill anyway.
    God says, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” But we cheat on our spouses anyway.
    God says, “Thou shalt not steal.” But we steal anyway.
    God says, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” But we lie about people and destroy their reputations anyway.
    God says, “Thou shalt not covet.” But we’re always getting jealous of other people, and wishing we had what they have.

    My question is, in the modern Christian world, all of these, except for one, have been made illegal. Why is “committing adultery” generally not made illegal in the Western world?

    I am a woman with two minor children, recently abandoned by a sex-addicted husband whom I’ve been with for 17 years. My ex developed the sex addiction in the last 5 years due primarily to the creation and convenience of the internet. I believe his addiction is fueled by the fact the society shys away on sex related sins both from social and legal perspectives. But the harm and damages this did to myself, and particularly our children, are real and immense. Why is sex sin so tolerated and how do we reconcile this reality with God’s teaching?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Cat,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment and questions. I’m very sorry to hear about your ex-husband and his sex addiction.

      This sort of thing has been going on for a very long time. The Internet has only made it more accessible, which is putting many more men (and some women) to the test. Not knowing your situation or your ex’s history, I can’t comment on why he went the direction he did. But as you say, it causes great damage, especially when a man is married with children.

      To be fair, only a few of the things prohibited in the Ten Commandments are actually illegal in most Western and liberal societies today: killing (under most circumstances), stealing, and lying under certain circumstances. Coveting (desiring what others have) is not illegal, and in most liberal societies there are few laws left enforcing any of the strictures in the first part of the Ten Commandments relating to God, the Sabbath, and so on.

      On the other side of the coin, though there are no actual laws against adultery per se, adultery remains a valid cause for divorce in every society that I’m aware of. And various legal and social sanctions can be brought against those who break their marriage vows by committing adultery.

      As for the larger question of why sexual sin is tolerated, that is a huge question, and not one I can answer in a brief comment such as this. In general, liberal countries are loath to have government police people’s personal and sexual lives, but prefer to leave it up to individuals to make up their own minds about how they will deal with that area of their lives.

      Still, as I said, liberal governments do recognize that if a married person commits adultery, his or her spouse is fully justified in seeking a divorce, and that as part of the divorce seeking child support and alimony as appropriate. There is a general recognition that a man (or woman) cannot just abandon his (or her) responsibilities taken on when marrying someone and when becoming a parent.

      But all of that is likely a small comfort to you in your difficult and painful situation. Regardless of the laws particular countries may or may not have, sexual sin can and does cause great damage and destruction. Our thoughts and prayers are with you as you deal with that damage and destruction in your own life and in the life of your children.

  11. Ike says:

    Hey, what do you suppose is the point of demonic possession and magicians? Magicians clearly do things that are impossible such as: telling someone to pick a random card from their deck and imagine the number, and then that number somehow appears written on a random object. Or making a large bowl of water appear from an empty newspaper. There’s lots of examples. Stuff like that is impossible and many magicians admit to (whether they know it or not) being helped by spirits to do their secret tricks. The thing is, in cases of possession and assistance from “demons” it’s assumed that there is a consequence for them in the afterlife.

    Where does this fit in with Swedenborg logic?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Ike,

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

      To my knowledge, most magicians today specifically deny that their magic tricks are done through any supernatural forces—and those that do claim supernatural power are ostracized by their fellow magicians. “Magic” today is really sleight-of-hand, misdirection, and other purely non-magical tricks being used to fool the eye and mind of the audience. So popular magicians today really have nothing to do with demonic possession and the supernatural.

      About the general issue of contact with spirits from the perspective of Swedenborg’s theology, please see the article, “What about Spiritualism? Is it a Good Idea to Contact Spirits?

  12. Guenter Wagner says:

    Hi Lee,

    You said “But consider the possibility that this verse is speaking from a human perspective.”

    How would anyone come to think that it is not God speaking (Isaiah 45:7)?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Guenter,

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

      Yes, it is God speaking in the Bible. But God is speaking to human beings in the Bible. Therefore, so that human beings can understand what God is saying, God must speak from a human perspective, in words and concepts that human beings use and think in terms of.

      The Bible is not only a divine work. It is a relationship between God and humanity. It therefore has a divine message expressed in human terms. If that were not the case, no human being on earth could possibly understand it:

      For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9)

      That is why God must speak to us from a human perspective in the Bible. Otherwise the Bible could not do its work of leading us to repentance from our sins, trust in God, and living a new life according to God’s commandments.

      • Guenter says:

        Hi, Lee,

        the catch is, I being human, do not believe that God creates evil. On the contrary! Should my neighbour insist that what God says is always true, I am a liar.

  13. Guenter says:

    Hi Lee,
    God speaks from a human perspective so we humans may understand and says:”..I make peace, and create evil”.
    I say, I do not believe you God, because you do not create evil but good. Another human being insists that what God says is always true and accuses me of falsifying the Word of God and calling me a liar.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Guenter,

      Yes, a lot of that sort of conflict about what the Bible means does go on.

      However, when it comes to the basics of what’s needed for salvation, the Bible is very clear. In some of the less critical teachings that are not necessary for salvation, it is more cloaked and subject to interpretation.

      Swedenborg offers the metaphor of the Bible as a clothed person whose face and hands are bare. Everything needed for salvation is plain to see, like the face and hands of the person. Everything else is more or less heavily clothed and requires some amount of interpretation.

      Whether or not God creates evil is not essential to how we can be saved. So that is one of the things that is “clothed” and requires interpretation.

      As long as we see the Bible’s plain teachings about what we need to believe and do in order to be saved, we can disagree and argue about the rest all we want.

  14. Guenter says:

    Hi Lee,
    but it is one of the basics for salvation to know that God is not the creator of evil. How could anyone confess his sins before God, turning away from them and do the work of repentance when it was God who created evil in the first place.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Guenter,

      The ancient Israelites were a fairly simple, largely uneducated people. Atheists delight in calling them “bronze age nomads.” They were driven, not by lofty ideals and a desire to serve and better humanity, but by basic issues of food, shelter, and brute force. So the basic message God had to get through their thick skulls was that he, God, controlled everything, and that they’d better obey him or else. That’s why the Old Testament, especially, talks so much about God’s wrath, and talks about God bringing evil and disaster on the people when they are disobedient. If those people didn’t believe that God had the power to strike them down and destroy them, they would consider him to be a weak God, and would pay no attention to him at all. And that is still true of many people today.

      So even the statements about God’s wrath and God creating evil are in the Bible in order to reach people who respond only to threats and brute force. In other words, even those statements are their to bring people to repentance and salvation.

      But at a deeper level, the reality of God’s nature is quite different. For more on this, please see these articles:

      • Guenter says:

        Hi Li,
        Thanks. You have a point there. However, today’s theologians, escpecially those who favour the concordant version of the Bible, would not accept a deeper understanding of the Scripture. Smart but stubborn people.

  15. fatefulfaith says:

    Hello again, I’m Kay Lynn (the asker). It all seems so surreal now to me.

    It may be hard to believe but this article brought me to the tipping point of my doubt in the Devil as a whole RIGHT before something very interesting happened that led me to believe that it was very real.

    The day I read this, I became certain that there wasn’t any personal enemy against me or other people. And I was happy (for a reason you will soon read) because I could finally forget about him and leave the subject alone. (I understand more of what you say here now than last year, and as I’m reading it again, I’m thinking about all the things I know now. I just got an email today, as people continue to comment on this article, so that’s why I’m here anyhow.)

    However, a week later, I was faced with a challenge to affirm my belief in God and help bring someone back to Him, or deny Him and lose my opportunity. Now, obviously, I didn’t know that denying Him would lead to me not being able to help the guy (how we got on the topic was weird. I hadn’t met him before, when I did I felt like I was supposed to meet him, and then a silly mess up about my favorite band lead to a conversation about God). He told me as we were coming home from a school event that he wasn’t sure if God was real, and instead of admitting that I did believe, I affirmed my doubts and just said “I don’t know either.” It makes me so mad that I was worried he’d tell my parents or something (yes, I was worried about that because my parents didn’t know my beliefs at the time, and I was always afraid of opening up about it). It was the dumbest thought and I knew it, but I gave in to the temptation of avoiding. . .an illogical situation.

    And then he started letting me in on some secrets in his life. Things got dark real fast. I mean, he was opening up about things you DON’T tell people 30 minutes after meeting them. I could suddenly feel the presence of the Devil in his life. I knew it, I really did! It was crazy to think that last week I could no longer believe and now I was experiencing it for myself. I didn’t know what to think about it all, I wasn’t sure to be honest.

    But I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t tell him how I felt, and I couldn’t reconcile him with God. I put myself in a terrible hole.

    However, I hadn’t realized this, and when I got home I prayed about it. I thought about it over and over again. How was I going to help him? How was it gonna happen?

    It took me awhile to realize I’d missed my opportunity.

    Now, a side story:
    I started seeking God when I was around 11 years old. This was a strange time for me, because I come from a non religious family.
    When I was in my tweens/early teens, I gained this fascination with the Devil. I don’t know why, but it was a bad bad bad thing, because I constantly wanted to find proof of his existence (and I became really desperate to find something real in him, when he never had any truth in him in the first place). I basically put God on the back burner, and it’s a haze from there. It got to a point so irrational and uncontrollable that I became disillusioned. I became depressed as I looked upon all the bad and evil in the world, and as my mind betrayed me. I could no longer trust myself because I’d had history with audible hallucinations. I felt hopeless and detached from reality, and I was beginning to decide that I couldn’t live in my mind that tricked me and fooled me. I couldn’t believe in God, spirits, or anything the like because I assumed it was bad for me. But I at one point, seeing how I was going to hurt myself, decided to go to God. There was a reason, but that’s a different story.

    Now, back to last year. I was pacing around my room for hours, though I had school in the morning. I just didn’t want to go all the sudden. I was too entranced in my thoughts to want to do anything. Anxiety and obsessive tendencies came back, and I dreaded it. I slowly stopped thinking about him, but for whatever reason, my drive to do anything had vanished. I don’t know why, but I ended up not going to school for a week. I just didn’t want to. . .at all, yet I had been one of those “I go everyday unless I’m sick” people for as long as I can remember. I lost all drive. I only wanted to live in my head, and I couldn’t figure out why. I thought I’d escaped from this life, from this pattern. It didn’t even effect me in this way when I lived with the OCD like symptoms back in my childhood (I’d had this problem all my life, my fascination with Satan was just the only negative one I’d ever had).

    I had continual attendance problems. I felt like a dead weight. I had to FIGHT myself just to get up and get moving, because the voices in my head just kept telling me to stay. I’d miss one or two days a week after this point. It was so bad, and there was no explanation as to why it was suddenly happening. I don’t know why I let that voice control me to the point where I didn’t want to fight. This had NEVER happened before. My mom would lie for me, because I had missed so many days that I should have been kicked out. I was so ashamed about it all. There was a time where one of my teachers started talking about parents who make excuse notes for kids that aren’t really sick. She was standing right next to me when she said it, and I wanted to run, because every ounce in my body screamed about how guilty I was.

    Then there was one night where I fell to my knees and I gave my entire life to God. I couldn’t make any more decisions. No, I just wanted Him to make them for me. It was a little selfish, and I soon found that things were not going to just get better right away, but at least I’d finally given in to His plans.

    After that, I’d been told that I was either to drop out or go everyday, and I remember hearing voices, loud and clear in my thoughts encouraging me to drop out. I didn’t believe for a second that it was my own thought voice. “This is what you wanted! Now is your chance!” Yet it wasn’t, I just wanted to know what was wrong with me, and this entire time I’d been fighting myself and fighting and fighting and fighting, that when I even thought for a second that was under spiritual attack, it wasn’t possible. No, it’s all me. I can fix my problems. It wasn’t until I told a friend about everything that had happened that I’d considered it and then I gave in to God not long after.

    A few days later, something within me clicked, and I did, finally, for real, understand who I was (a sinner) and what Christ had done. I can remember it as clear as day now.

    It was so clear, and ever since then, I’ve been following God with the deepest passion.

    I’ve learned that it really doesn’t matter whether Satan exists (although I do believe he does) because we’re at fault when we sin and betray God. It always ends up being how you respond to life. I trust the Lord in everything now. He delivered me from my past, from my depression, and from the enemy, and now I devote myself to His cause.

    Thank you for writing this article, Lee. I truly appreciate it, because it is the start of what led to my devotion to God.


    (Sorry for the long comment.)

    • Lee says:

      Hi Kay Lynn,

      Good to hear from you again! Thanks for telling your story over the past year. I’m glad this article had a real impact for you. Keep in mind that we often learn more from our mistakes than from when we do things right. We’re going to make mistakes—and some of them will be real doozies! But if we learn our lessons from them and move forward resolving not to make that mistake again, it’s all good.

      If you haven’t seen it already, you might enjoy this article: Heaven, Regeneration, and the Meaning of Life on Earth.

      Feel free to stop by any time!

  16. Cameron says:

    I’ve heard (as you mentioned) that these spirits from Hell can influence our thoughts. I also heard from offTheLeftEye that angels can do the same. In terms of free will, I understand that most of us have the choice to listen to and act upon these thoughts.

    At the same time, there seems to be a contradiction. I thought humans acted on their own accord on behalf of the Lord (or sometimes Hell). People with mental illness often times cannot push these thoughts away, and need medication to “kill the voices”. Very few people want to have these negative influences, but end up being pushed to act on them in extreme cases, even if they really don’t want to.

    Doesn’t this point to the possible notion that such influences don’t exist? How could someone pushed to the extreme mentioned above truly be acting on their own accord?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Cameron,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. It’s a very good question.

      The basic answer is that as Swedenborg describes it, our spiritual freedom is not a matter of simply wandering free. Rather, it is more like a giant tug of war with influences from heaven on one side and influences of hell on the other side, and we’re standing in the middle. Whichever way we pull, that’s the way the tug-of-war will go, not because we’re stronger than either side, but because God keeps the forces acting on us from heaven and from hell in equal balance so that the direction we pull is what makes the difference.

      This can give us the illusion that spiritually we’re just wandering free in a field full of daisies. But that’s not the reality of the situation. In fact, there are massive forces working on us, and if the Lord weren’t keeping them in very fine balance for us with infinite divine power and wisdom, we would have no freedom at all, and would instantly succumb to whatever force acting on us was stronger.

      We get some sense of these forces acting upon us when we have pitched battles within our own mind about whether to succumb to our addictions and our lower desires or whether to rise above them and do what we know is better for us and for our life and health. And we sense them especially when we’re struggling to keep slogging on toward the good in life instead of just cursing the world and giving in to anger, fear, bitterness, and defeat.

      In mental illness, the veil that usually separates us from the spiritual forces operating on us becomes damaged, and sometimes torn aside almost entirely, so that those forces are working nakedly on our mind. This is the source of the phobias, hallucinations, elation, mania, and abject depression that run through the psyche of people with unchecked mental illness. Psychoactive medications “kill the voices” by damping down the functions of the brain that are leaving the person open to these influences against their conscious will and desire.

      That’s a huge and controversial subject, which I can’t really do justice to here. The important thing to know is that when it comes to our eternal, spiritual life, nothing that is imposed upon us from outside, against our will, counts against us. People who are mentally ill may be stuck in a very dark place at times, and they may say and do some very destructive and evil things. But if they have not freely chosen such a life, but were pushed and even forced into it by inner forces beyond their control, they will not be held spiritually accountable for it. In the afterlife, their mental illness will be taken away. What’s left will be whatever character they built and whatever choices they made when they actually were in a state of freedom.

      I would add to this that except in very severe cases, having a mental illness does not completely erase a person’s freedom and rationality. It just dents and distorts it, and makes things more difficult. Mentally ill people are still people, they still do make choices, and not all of those choices flow from their mental illness. Even whether or not to take medication is a choice. So it’s not right to think that because someone has a mental illness, this means that person has no humanity and no freedom and no rationality at all. We all have our struggles in life. And many people with mental illnesses live good and productive lives even while struggling with those inner demons, with or without the help of medication.

      For a great movie on this theme, see A Beautiful Mind, which is based on the life of Nobel laureate John Nash. I was going to post the official trailer here, but it doesn’t convey what the movie is actually about. It makes it look like a standard American “hero in love” story, which it is not. Apparently the producers thought that the real, mental illness theme of the film would not bring American audiences flocking with a fistful of dollars. But it is a great movie precisely because it does not follow the standard American action movie template, but instead deals with a very real issue based on the life of a real human being.

      • Cameron says:

        I think you gave good explanations to my questions. I would like to clarify that I understand the majority of people who suffer from mental illness are rational, I was speaking more in regards to cases such as moderate to severe cases of schizophrenia and the like, which you addressed in your answer. I, myself, suffer from anxiety, so I know that those afflicted can still lead normal lives.

        I am curious as to what your personal opinion is regarding the controversial subject of spiritual influence and medication which you described. On a spiritual level, this seems to make sense. Many people report feelings of disconnection and not being fully themselves while taking medication. On the other hand, science tells us that the symptoms they experience are a result of chemical imbalances and improper nerve firings.

        • Kayla Lynn says:

          Hey, Cameron.

          I’m not the main author here, but I have a small testimony to share about this topic. I’ve have symptoms of OCD and depression for years, and one of the things my mom (who does not believe in the Devil or follow any religon) has said for years is that it’s all about perspective and how you respond to your problems. I don’t know if that’s true, but having taken no medication and dealt with suicidal thoughts and actions, I can say it must be true to some extent, and I think that gives the sense that influence has a lot to do with how mental illness affects a person. I do believe in mental illnesses, and I “have chemical imbalances” according to my parents, but I’m not sure where such issues originate from entirely. We know we humans have a bad habits of making bad habits, so I’m sure there’s quite a bit of external reasons involved at times. Though I can’t speak for everyone.

          Hope it was enlightening in some way.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Cameron,

          I’m reviewing an old two-part sermon of mine on mental illness that I may revise and post on the blog. I’ll probably make some significant changes reflecting further contemplation of and experience with these issues since I first wrote and delivered that sermon fifteen years ago.

          For now, a brief answer:

          Pragmatically, many people need to be on medication so that they can function reasonably well in society. However, it does have its downsides, one of which is that it commonly dulls the mind somewhat. This is why John Nash, whose life is portrayed in the movie A Beautiful Mind, ultimately decided to face his mental illness without the use of drugs. His life work depended upon having a sharp mind. He chose to face and battle the inner demons rather than have his mind dulled by the meds.

          However, facing mental illness without drugs is a more difficult and risky path, and it’s not for everyone. Many people think they can handle their mental illness without drugs, and they just stop taking them, often with disastrous consequences. You can’t just stop taking the drugs and expect to get better. You have to be prepared for a hard fight, have a clear strategy, and have a support system in place. Most people who struggle with moderate to severe depression or mental illness simply don’t have the necessary structure, support, and force of will to go off their meds. And it’s better to take the meds and live a reasonably productive life than to go off the meds and go off the rails.

  17. Magnolia says:

    I have witnessed more than once a person becoming obsessed by an evil entity. This person can then do things he would never normally do and would later want to forget about the incident and be ashamed of it. In such a state this person even looks as if he is someone else. On such occasions it seemed reasonable to explain the obsession with an attack from the world of evil spirits, or the devil. I have grown to believe the devil is a very clever person expert at causing pain and literally enjoying hurting others.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Magnolia,

      Something many people don’t grasp is that for those willfully engaged in evil, it is an enjoyable activity. Though hell is presented in the Bible metaphorically as a place of eternal punishment, the actual experience of it on the part of those who go there is of gaining great pleasure through carrying out their evil schemes, and then feeling the inevitable backlash of humiliation and pain wreaked upon them by their fellow evil spirits, which is the “punishment” part of hell.

      Swedenborg’s great insight on hell was that hell is not a place God sends the evil to involuntarily as a punishment for their evil deeds on earth, but rather a place that people who enjoy evil go to voluntarily so that they can engage in their particular forms of twisted pleasure, regardless of the reality that it always carries pain with it as well. For more on this, please see:
      Is There Really a Hell? What is it Like?

  18. Jubunu walter says:

    You tried very well in that explanations, but devil is a real person an angel that turn against God , a rebel read Job 1

    • Lee says:

      Hi Jubunu walter,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. However:

      1. As explained in the above article, the Hebrew word satan simply means “an adversary.” The author of Job was not talking about some supreme Devil, nor was he talking about some fallen angel. The figure named satan in Job isn’t even necessarily an evil being; just a being who advocated putting Job to the test. For example, a prosecuting attorney is a satan or adversary to the defendant. The prosecutor’s job is to accuse the defendant and to establish the defendant’s guilt. That doesn’t mean the prosecutor is an evil person.
      2. The book of Job was never meant to be read as a literal story of actual people and events. It is a literary work dealing with the difficult subject of the existence of evil in the face of God’s goodness. The figures in it are characters in a morality play, not historical figures who lived on earth and in heaven.

      The Bible never says that everything in it must be taken literally. That is a materialistic and physical-minded view of the Bible. The Bible encourages us to pay attention to the spiritual meaning of its words, and not to get caught up in their literal meaning. Jesus said:

      It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. (John 6:63)

      And Paul said:

      Our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3:5–6)

      Unfortunately, present-day Christianity has ignored the teachings of Jesus and Paul. It has focused on the letter that kills instead of on the spirit that gives life.

  19. Mira says:

    i thought that 2 corinthians 3 vs 5-6 meant that Jesus has given us a new covenant with God that was different from the Jewish one. And so the law before killed but the Spirit of God with us now that helps us to live godly gives life.
    i don’t know if you fully understand what im saying, though.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Mira,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. I presume you are responding to my quotation of 2 Corinthians 3:5–6 in my comment just above.

      Yes, as Paul says in these verses, Christianity in its true form is a new covenant with God that is different from the Jewish one. The Jewish covenant was focused almost entirely on people following the literal law of Moses in their outward behavior. It was a primarily external, behavioral covenant. The Christian covenant was set up as a covenant of “faith,” meaning a covenant of internally understanding and believing in the ways of God, so that we will then follow them in our words and actions.

      In both cases, we must follow the laws of God. But for ancient Jews, that meant following a strict code of behavior, whether or not they understood why they should behave in that way. It was enforced by rewards for good behavior and punishments for bad behavior. The most important thing was that people behave in the right way, and engage in the correct rituals of worship. Their inner motives for doing so are not a major part of the Old Testament.

      Christianity in its true form is a very different religion. It is based not on mere outward observance of strict behavioral laws, but rather on an internal acceptance of spiritual truth, which we then live according to in our lives. True Christians do not live out of blind obedience to laws they don’t understand, but out of understanding and acceptance of deeper truths about why and how we are to live a good life. The two best examples are the Great Commandments given by Jesus: to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. When we have “faith,” it means that we see and accept within ourselves that the teachings of the Lord are true, good, and right, and commit ourselves to living according to them.

      Notice that Jesus and Paul did not say that the Law kills, but that the flesh and the letter kill. It is not true that the Law of Moses was impossible to live by (the Bible never says this), nor is it true that it caused people to sin (that is not what Paul meant). Rather, the Law brought about the awareness of sin. When there are no laws, there is no basis on which to consider ourselves sinners. The law makes us aware that many of our desires and actions are wrong.

      Unfortunately, the people of the ancient Jewish covenant ultimately did not obey the Law. It’s not that they couldn’t obey the law. The Bible never says that. God does not give us commandments that are impossible to keep. Rather, it is that the ancient Israelites simply didn’t live according to the Law of Moses. If you read the relevant Bible passages carefully, you will see that they never say that the people of Israel couldn’t live according to the Law, but that they didn’t live according to the Law. There’s a big difference!

      In the end, a literal, outward, behavioral code of conduct turned out not to be enough to guide and inspire people to become good people and live a good life. That is why God came to earth personally as Jesus Christ, and gave us a new covenant, not of the letter (literal obedience to behavioral laws), but of the spirit (inner understanding and acceptance of the truth and ways of God, and a commitment to live according to them).

      Unfortunately, Christianity quickly abandoned the new covenant that Jesus made with us, and reverted back to a ancient Jewish-style religion of obedience to strict behavioral laws and following human religious authorities instead of having a direct relationship with the Lord. On this, please see:

      Christianity is Dead. Long Live Christianity!

      Just to be clear, it’s not that Christians do not have to live according to any laws. In particular, Jesus made it very clear that we must continue to follow the Ten Commandments. Rather, it’s that instead of blindly obeying God’s laws out of fear of punishment and hope of reward, a true Christian will live according to God’s laws out of an inner understanding of and commitment to them. That is the true meaning of “faith” in the Bible.

      • Mira says:

        Wow. Just wow. Thqnl you, that is the best explanation I have ever heard of this verse. I guess this Swedenborg man really was in tune with God. So are you Mr Lee. Keep up the God work and be blessed.

  20. I thought there was only one Devil and multiple demons.
    Why did Satan tempt Jesus? Because he wanted Jesus to sin so that he couldn’t be our sacrifice. He wanted to thwart God’s plan for salvation, so that we couldn’t be saved, so that we would all be in hell. Isn’t that right?
    Satan doesn’t have a pitchfork, tail, or horns. It’s not like in cartoons. He appears as an angel of light.

    • Lee says:

      Hi WorldQuestioner,

      It has traditionally been believed that there is one Devil and multiple demons. But this is based on a low-level and literalistic reading of the Bible, plus a lot of tradition that doesn’t come from the Bible at all.

      Satan tempted Jesus because Satan (meaning hell) hates good, hates God, and wants to destroy them both. And yes, because the evil spirits in hell, who are collectively known as the Devil and Satan, want to drag everyone down to hell where they are. And Jesus was getting in their way.

  21. Ray says:

    So what about the story of Adam and Eve in the bible, and the serpent?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Ray,

      The stories in the first few chapters of Genesis are purely symbolic. There was not a literal serpent, nor were there literal individuals named Adam and Eve. These are all symbolic of events in the early spiritual history of humankind. Here are a couple of articles that delve into the symbolism of Genesis 3:

      Short version:

      The serpent represents our engagement with our physical senses, and in a negative sense, giving more weight to the information and pleasures of our physical senses than to the inner presence of God’s love and wisdom in our heart and mind. That is the “Satan” that led the early humans represented by Adam and Eve astray, and it is the same “Satan” that easily leads us astray today. See also:

      Is there Really a Devil? Why??

  22. Ray says:

    Hi Lee. What is your opinion on Satanism and child sacrifice and how it relates to the fact that there is isn’t one Satan? In ancient times, they are sacrificed their children to Molech? There are a lot of people that believe the democrats obsession with abortion has to do with child sacrifice to Satan or Molech?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Ray,

      In the Bible, Satan is a very different figure from Moloch and the other pagan gods. In the Old Testament, Satan is “the adversary” who is part of God’s court, like a prosecuting attorney whose job is to accuse people of their sins. Even in the New Testament, the Devil and Satan are not identified with the pagan gods. By that time, the firm Jewish position was that there are no other gods besides the Lord, the God of Israel.

      As for child sacrifice, that was forbidden to the ancient Jews, though its concept still survived in the form of a requirement that the firstborn of animals were to be sacrificed to the Lord in place of the firstborn of humans.

      All of this is entirely different from abortion. Child sacrifice was done to please or appease the gods. That is not the case with abortion. The Bible doesn’t say anything about abortion, probably because such a thing would have seemed strange and unthinkable in a day and age when tribal and national survival depended upon bearing as many children as possible, and infant mortality was high.

      I don’t think anyone has an “obsession with abortion.” But especially in Western countries today, where people commonly believe that the wold is overpopulated, and where there is no longer a sense of extended family and community in which child-raising is shared throughout the clan and village, pregnancy is often seen as a burden rather than as a blessing.

      It’s a sad state of affairs, but it is very different from the ancient pagan practice of child sacrifice.

      • Ray says:

        Yeah, but child sacrifice still happened and what about Satanism in the modern day?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ray,

          Yes, child sacrifice happened. But it is not the same thing as abortion. For one thing, it happened after the child was already born. But mainly, it was an offering to one or another god. Abortion is not an offering to a god.

          I’m no expert on satanism in the world today. But from what hits the news, it seems to be mostly an intellectual plaything of people who want to rebel against the Christian-dominated status quo in Western countries.

        • Ray says:

          Okay, but nene would the soul enter the body of a newborn? By your estimate. I know Swedenborg wouldn’t talk about abortion, but as a scientist, who took an interest in religion later in life, does he say anything about when the soul enters the human body?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ray,

          Swedenborg accepted Aristotle’s view of human genesis, which was still current in those pre-Mendel days: that we get our soul from our father and our body from our mother. In some of his last writings before his death, he gives some indication that he was beginning to question this, but this is the theory he goes by throughout his published writings. It doesn’t really work for his views on Jesus’ glorification or for human regeneration, but I think it was too deeply ingrained in his mind as “science” for him to see that.

          Basically, his theory was that the male semen (he did not know the function of sperm, and did not consider them important to the process) contained an offshoot of the father’s soul that traveled from his brain and was clothed in physical materials in the testicles and seminal vesicles, which carried it into the womb. This “seed” (Latin: semen) gave animal life to the egg in the woman’s womb. He saw the unfertilized egg as merely a “body,” having only vegetative life but no soul. This was all before DNA had been discovered.

          The offshoot of the father’s soul proceeded to build a body for itself in the womb, using physical materials supplied by the mother. He was aware, of course, that the resulting human being had characteristics from its mother. But to my knowledge, he didn’t have a clear theory of how this worked. He believed that characteristics from the father were dominant, and would reassert themselves in succeeding generations, if not in the first generation.

          To answer your question based on what Swedenborg himself said, the soul does not enter the body at some point along the way, as in some theories. Rather, it is present from the beginning, building a body for itself according to the spiritual pattern it contains.

          However, based on what we have learned about human reproduction since Swedenborg’s day, it is necessary to heavily modify Swedenborg’s Aristotle-based theory.

          First and foremost, we now know that the mother and father make nearly equal contributions of DNA to the fertilized egg. The only major difference is the father contributing either an X or a Y chromosome, whereas the mother always contributes an X chromosome. (I realize there are some rare variants.) The X or Y chromosome from the father determines sex and sex-linked traits. Other than that, the new set of DNA consists of a combination of the same gene segments from both mother and father, and traits are determined by complex rules of dominant and recessive genes that we still don’t fully understand. (For example, in school my mother was taught that since blue eyes are dominant and brown eyes recessive, if you have two blue-eyed parents, you cannot have brown eyes. The only problem was, her mother and father both had blue eyes, but she had brown eyes. So she knew that wasn’t right! I remember being taught the same thing in school three decades later.)

          Now, if we take Swedenborg’s system of correspondences seriously, then the biological method for generating a new human being must reflect the way it happens spiritually as well. If we consider that our DNA is what determines our characteristics as a person, at least physically, then the only reasonable conclusion is that the new soul also consists of unique offshoots from the souls of both the father and the mother, which combine and together form the blueprint for a new human being.

          This is what I have come to believe. I continue to accept the idea that a soul is present from conception. But I believe that the new soul is derived not only from the father, as in Aristotle’s theory, but from the mother as well, by a method that parallels, and indeed is the spiritual pattern for, the physical process of reproduction.

          If this is so, then we also must recognize that the newly created soul should probably not be called a soul, but a proto-soul, just as a newly fertilized egg is not a human being, but the seed of a human being. Unlike the situation with the sperm or the unfertilized egg, a full blueprint for a new human being is now present. However the human being has not yet been built according to the pattern given in the blueprint. Saying that the fertilized egg is a human being would be like saying that once an architect has created the blueprints for a building, and the building contractor has been hired, there is now a building. No. There is not a building until it is actually built.

          I lean toward the idea that the proto-soul is built into an actual soul in parallel with the fertilized egg being built into an actual human being. And contrary to both the “eternal from conception” and “eternal soul at first breath” theories, I lean toward the idea that the soul becomes “viable,” meaning eternal, at about the same time the fetus becomes viable. Before that, it simply hasn’t developed far enough to constitute an actual human being that can exist independently rather than being absorbed back into the spiritual atmosphere.

          As for whether abortion should be legal or illegal, and if it is legal, at what point in the gestation cycle it should no longer be legal, that is something that society is going to have to decide, and is deciding, according to its own collective methods of making laws. (A process that is not for the squeamish!) Neither you nor I gets to determine what our particular country or state decides and enacts about that. That battle will continue to be fought whether we like it or not. However, I strongly suspect that in the end, after all the fighting is done and society has settled upon a rule that has general assent, the issue of when the fetus becomes viable will be central to that decision.

          As for the spiritual side of things, though I don’t know for sure, my theory is that the soul becomes eternal when it has developed, in parallel with the body, into a soul that is recognizably and survivably human. Based on my somewhat limited knowledge of fetal development, though having a fully functioning heart and brain are essential to this, these two develop relatively early, and it is the development of the lungs that becomes the main limiting factor as to whether a fetus is or is not viable. This dovetails with Swedenborg’s view that the heart and lungs correspond to the will and the understanding, and that both must be present and developed for a being to be a human being.

          So once again, it’s not so simple as to say, “The soul is present from conception, therefore there is a human being at conception.” I have come to believe that the soul, like the body, must develop into a human being.

        • So, the theory of evolution is nothing new to Darwin’s time. The Greeks had a similar idea but couldn’t explain the mechanism for evolution.

        • Lee says:

          Hi WorldQuestioner,

          I don’t doubt it.

        • Ray says:

          Do proto souls just cease to exist? Isn’t unfair that the child doesn’t get a chance at life sometimes cause the mom had sex and then decided having a baby would be too inconvenient? That’s not always the case, but there aren’t only woman who do that, but brag about it like it is an accomplishment.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ray,

          Personally, I don’t like abortion. I hope we get to a point in society where abortion is very rare, not because laws suppress it (which they are not very good at doing), but because there is a societal consensus that this is not something we want to do. However, before that happens, there will have to be an entirely new “sexual revolution” in which sex is seen as spiritual and sacred, not as something you just pop off and do for fun.

          But it can still be fun! The “sex-is-sorta-dirty” “Christians” have made things worse, not better, for society’s progression toward a healthier and more spiritual view of human sexuality. Their hard-line position has actually helped to create a society in which abortion is much more common than it otherwise would be. Lots of teen and young adult sex that results in abortion is a rebellion against the materialistic, physical-minded, and dirty views of human sexuality that have been pounded into their heads by their “Christian” preachers and parents.

          We have a whole lot of learning and growing to do as a society before we arrive at a healthy and spiritual view of sex and relationships. I do believe we are making progress. But we still have a long road ahead of us. Meanwhile, widespread abortions are one of the unfortunate effects of the culture created by the old, corrupt “Christian” church that is now dying.

          But to answer your question, embryos and fetuses being aborted either spontaneously or intentionally early in their process of development, before viability, is “unfair” only if we have preconceived notions of when there is a human being, and refuse to pay attention to the realities of when there is actually a human being.

          To take up the common point that Rami makes in his comment here, is it “unfair” that each time a male ejaculates, there are several hundred million sperm released, almost every single one of which will never get a chance to fertilize an egg, and together with that egg, grow into a human being? Is it “fair” that of the one million or so eggs that are present in a human female at birth, at most about a dozen of them will ever be fertilized and grow into a human being, and these days more likely only one or two, if any?

          Why should the moment of conception be considered the point at which now it’s “unfair” if it doesn’t develop into a full human being? If, as some researchers now believe, more than half the eggs that are fertilized are spontaneously aborted, mostly very early on, and never make it to term, doesn’t this seem like a monumentally “unfair” way for God to arrange things?

          Rather than making arbitrary cut-off points at which, what was formerly “fair” becomes “unfair,” I have come to think that it is best to pay attention to how God has actually arranged things.

          God has arranged things such that there is a certain time period (not a precise point) within the gestation cycle at which a human being becomes viable, and will in most cases develop into a full human being. Before that point, spontaneous abortions result in a stillborn embryo or fetus. After that point, they result in a premature baby that may or may not survive depending upon many factors, one of which is the available medical technology.

          However, short of developing artificial wombs, there is a phase of gestation before which no amount of medical technology can save the fetus. This phase seems to be when the lungs have developed sufficiently to be able to breathe, and sustain life. If the lungs have not developed to that point, the level of medical technology is irrelevant. That fetus is going to be stillborn.

          Is it “fair” that God made it this way? I guess we’ll have to ask God that question.

          The development of a new human being is incredibly complex. It is not something that we can reduce to simple black-and-white statements about “fair” vs. “unfair.” It takes months, and tremendously complex processes, to develop a new human being, just as it took billions of years, and tremendously complex processes, for human life to develop on this planet.

          Swedenborg thought that every planet, and even every moon, must be inhabited by human beings. Scientists now think that although there may very well be planets in other solar systems that are inhabited by complex life forms, this is likely quite rare in the universe. Is it “fair” that from what we now know, the vast majority of planets never develop human civilizations, just as the vast majority of sperm and eggs, and possibly even the majority of fertilized eggs, never develop into a human being?

          God had a very complex task in designing a universe in which such incredibly intricate and complex beings as us could develop and live. I think we need to give God a bit of a break, and not reduce his whole complex issue down to simplistic formulas.

        • Ray says:

          I think the issue I have is I always believed the soul is formed when the egg is fertilized and the baby starts growing so any sperm lost by ejaculation or unable to get fertilized in the female isn’t a baby; it’s just a sperm. You believe developing babies have proto souls? What happens to those? Do they cease to exist or do they go to the spirit world where they can fully develop into pure angelic beings among God’s hierarchy? I think what also bugs me is the casual attitude of abortion that has become prevalent in our society.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ray,

          As I said before, I don’t know for sure, but the view I have come to is that souls that have not yet developed into a viable human soul are not eternal, just as fetuses that have not yet developed to the stage of viability cannot continue to live outside the womb.

          I hasten to add that other Swedenborgians disagree with me. Some believe that there is an eternal soul at conception. Others believe that the soul is not eternal until the infant takes its first breath immediately after birth. Swedenborg himself made no clear statement about when the soul is eternal. Hence the debate on this issue among Swedenborgians.

          What Swedenborg did say is that every human life, and hence every angelic life, must begin on the earth, not in heaven. He also says that will and understanding are the essentials of human life. And he says that the heart corresponds to the will, and the lungs to the understanding. He says that human life on this earth is dependent on the beating of the heart and the breathing of the lungs. When these cease, he says, the soul separates from the body.

          All of this suggests to me that there is not a human being until there is a functioning heart and a functioning set of lungs. And based on my admittedly slight knowledge of embryology and fetal development, though the heart begins beating quite early, the lungs are not developed enough to be able to breathe until considerably later, and this is a key factor in whether or not the fetus is viable.

          This is the basis on which I lean heavily toward the idea that the viability of the soul—i.e., its ability to live eternally—comes at a time parallel to the viability of the fetus—i.e., it’s ability to live outside the womb.

          This earth, says Swedenborg, is like a womb in which we develop, and from which we are born into the spiritual world at the time that is called “death” from a material perspective. Just as a certain amount of development of the fetus in the womb of a woman is necessary for a fetus to become viable and continue on to grow into an adult human being rather than dying if it is expelled from the womb, so I believe that a certain amount of development of the soul is required here in the “womb” of the material world before it can continue on in the spiritual world and become an angel if its development in connection with a physical body ends—i.e. if the developing embryo or fetus dies.

          I could be wrong. Perhaps the soul is eternal from conception. However, Swedenborg makes no mention of pregnant angels. If a fertilized egg were to die within a few days or weeks of conception, before it can live outside the womb, how could it continue its development in the spiritual world without a womb to grow in? And even if it were possible to “transplant” a developing soul and spiritual body into the womb of a female angel, how would there be enough female angels interested in carrying a baby to term if, as some believe, there are tens of millions of spontaneous abortions per year worldwide? Half the women in heaven would have to be constantly pregnant!

          If this were the case, I am sure Swedenborg would have noticed, and would have said something about it. But never once does he mention seeing a pregnant woman in heaven. In fact, he specifically says that women in heaven do not bear children, but rather, “spiritual offspring,” which are new births of goodness and truth. Granted, he says this in the context of angels making love, such that the offspring would develop in the normal fashion in the womb. But I can hardly believe that a massive number of pregnant women in heaven could have escaped Swedenborg’s sharp and observant eye.

          Meanwhile, he devotes many pages to describing how children who die are raised to adulthood in heaven. He doesn’t ignore the subject of children who die, but treats it with great care. It would be amazing if, in all his travels in heaven, and in all his visits to places where infants and children of various ages are raised, he saw pregnant angels and maternity wards in heaven, but never bothered to mention it, either in his published writings or in his personal spiritual diaries.

          If, as this strongly suggests, there are no pregnant angels, how else would non-viable embryos and fetuses that die be brought to term, and birthed, in the spiritual world? I can hardly believe there are some sort of Borg maturation chambers in the spiritual world in which premature embryos and fetuses finish out their development. I think there is something essential to human emotional and spiritual well-being in being carried to birth within the womb of a living, breathing woman, whose heartbeat feeds the body and soul of the child.

          There just doesn’t seem to be a good solution to the many problems that would be raised by the soul being “viable,” or eternal, from the moment of conception. There is not yet a developed human body, let alone a developed human mind. There is no obvious way that embryos and fetuses that are not yet viable would be brought to viability in the spiritual world in a way harmonious with God’s system of human gestation and birth. There is no functioning heart and lungs that correspond to the human will and understanding essential to our being human. I just don’t see how it would work.

          I therefore have come to believe that it is necessary for a fetus to be viable, and able to live outside the womb, for it to continue its life in heaven. Presumably angelic doctors are even more advanced than our doctors here on earth. Presumably they could take preemies even earlier than our best doctors and most advanced hospitals. Any deceased fetus that can possibly be saved will be saved. But even they, I think, would at minimum require functionally developed and working heart and lungs for the premature baby who dies to be able live on as a baby outside the womb in heaven.

          It’s easy to throw out opinions in the abstract, such as, “There is an eternal human soul from conception.” But life does not happen in the abstract, either here or in the spiritual world. It happens in concrete, embodied form. We can’t just brush aside these problems and say, “God will find a way.” God works through specific, embodied means. That’s how God brings us into existence in the first place. And God is not going to wave a magic wand and instantly poof embryos and pre-viable fetuses into more developed human forms that can survive outside the womb.

          Every scrap of evidence we have, both physical and spiritual, tells us that that’s not how God operates. God brings things into being, not instantly, but step-by-step, through a developmental process. Even the very universe we live in was brought about through a cosmically long process that so far has been unfolding for nearly fourteen billion years. Some scientists believe that the reason we haven’t found life on other planets is that it’s taken this long for the universe to produce solar systems and planets capable of hosting complex life. Our planet may just happen to be one of the first planets in the universe to have that capacity.

          God’s processes cannot be short-circuited. They must unfold as God designed them to unfold. Becoming a viable human being requires a certain period of development in the womb of a female human being. That’s how God designed it. So far, there is nothing to suggest that it will ever be different—despite fanciful science fiction tales of humans produced by machines in simulated wombs. I don’t think that will ever happen. Or if it does, I suspect that the humans developed in this way will be lacking something essential to full human emotional and spiritual life. Even today’s scientists who clone various animals must implant the cloned cells in the womb of an adult of that species of animal.

          Once again, I could be wrong. Perhaps in some way that I can’t imagine God has provided a way for souls to be eternal from the moment of conception. Or perhaps the other end of the spectrum is correct, and we don’t have an eternal soul until we take our first breath after birth.

          However, all of our knowledge and understanding about human reproduction and development suggests to me that physical viability is the analog of spiritual viability, and that a certain amount of development of the human form and organs, both physical and spiritual, must take place on this earth for a human being to be eternal, and to continue his or her life in heaven.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ray,

          I should add that years ago I used to believe that there is an eternal soul from conception. But the more I thought about it, the less it seemed to work.

          Also, I don’t know how many people are truly “casual” about abortion. But I do think there is a certain external bravado about it among people who are determined to establish and maintain a legal right to abortion.

          Most people on both sides of the issue, it seems to me, are not willing to think deeply about this subject and make up their mind based on all available scientific evidence and human and social and spiritual factors. Most people seem to want to jump to one or the other conclusion based on the people with whom they associate, and then interpret everything they see according to their already formed opinion, regardless of any countervailing facts or realities.

        • Lee says:

          I should have said: Most people who make lots of noise on this subject, on one side or the other. The bulk of Americans, I think, have a more pragmatic view.

        • Ray says:

          So does that mean the child was not meant to ever have a soul whether it is miscarried or aborted? Abortion has always been an extreme subject for me and I have learned about the way they have to do it which is extreme and brutal to the baby.

          I have to change my whole perspective it seems not just aspects of it.’For years, I held to the traditional view that women who were aborting their babies were committing murder but I also believed in literal interpretations of Revelations and the second coming.

          I believed God wasn’t intervening anymore than he would if someone was murdered for the same reason: Because he was letting the world fall apart in preparation for the Arrival of the Beast and False Prophet, and Second Coming. It’s all linked and I don’t know how to untangle those beliefs from one another.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ray,

          Once again, the process of creating a new human being is very complex, just as human beings themselves are very complex. I wouldn’t say that the child was not meant to ever have a soul. Rather, I would say that this particular embryo or fetus did not make it to the point where it had a viable soul.

          Was a sperm that never fertilized an egg “never meant to fertilize an egg”? Was an egg that was never fertilized and never grew to term “never meant to be fertilized and grow into a baby”? I don’t think that’s the right way to look at it.

          Rather, it seems abundantly clear that God is very extravagant in providing massive numbers of opportunities for new life to begin, of which only a very few are realized. God has provided superabundant seeds of life which, if they all were to develop, would rapidly fill the earth so full that there would not be an inch of space left in which to move. The overwhelming majority of those opportunities for life never develop into actual life. But the superabundance of seeds or opportunities for life guarantees that wherever life is possible, it will happen to the greatest extent possible.

          From this perspective, I believe it is best not to focus on the thousands, millions, billions, and trillions of instances in which the seed did not develop into fully developed life, but rather to focus on those few comparatively rare instances in which it did. Those are the true miracles of life.

          We are never going to save every single fertilized egg, or every embryo, or even every pre-viable fetus from dying before it can develop into a baby that can live outside the womb. That just isn’t realistic. But we can do our best to maintain our physical, emotional, social, and spiritual health so that new human life has the best environment possible in which to reach the point of birth, and then continue on to mature and healthy adulthood.

          When our view of how God has created and arranged things is unrealistic, it is not reasonable to think that God should change how God designed things. Rather, we must adjust our own beliefs, ideas, and attitudes to bring them into harmony with how God has created the universe and us in it. When I was young and even more foolish than I am today, I thought I had all the answers, and that those answers were clear, with stark contrasts of black and white. But I’ve grown up a little since then, and have had to recognize that life just isn’t that simple and stark.

          On abortion and the pre-born in particular, I have spent many years considering and pondering these issues. As a result, my views have become much more nuanced, and rather more humble than they were when I was a teen and a twenty-something. Fundamentalist churches that take extreme positions on issues such as abortion and homosexuality are, in my view, like adolescents who think they know everything, but haven’t had enough time to encounter the realities of life as adults. Sooner or later, it is best to grow out of that simplistic and immature adolescent view of the world, and become more adult and mature in our thinking.

          I would also recommend that you watch the video about abortion by the Rev. Rich Tafel that I posted in a reply to Rami here.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ray,

          My apologies, but I deleted your latest comment. Not your fault, but the link in it led to a page that was so choked with ads I could hardly read it. Surprising, since it’s a major news outlet. I don’t want to send my readers there. Also, I’d rather not get too deep into hashing out political issues here. A certain amount of politics is unavoidable, but even then, I try to keep the articles and discussion here more focused on the people and on the spiritual issues involved than on the politics. I hope you will understand.

        • Rami says:

          Hi Lee,

          As per usual, my response time is noticeably less than stellar, but I hope that won’t prevent you from continuing this discussion a tad bit longer.

          I almost never discuss the religious or spiritual dimensions of abortion when discussing it, as it’s a largely irrelevant consideration to the secular nature in which this conversation generally takes place. However I suppose it’s high time that I eventually took that up, and considering the increasingly strong moves I’ve made in my life toward Swedenborg and his understanding of Christianity, I owe it to myself to explore whether my beliefs are harmonized. So we’ll how this goes.

          I’ve out my purely rational objections toward viability as a kind of measuring stick for unborn personhood earlier, and I feel that this carries over to an analog spiritual objection: viability strikes me as a decidedly a-spiritual concept, one that has no actual correspondence to anything. Viability, as you pointed out earlier, is a moving target, and as I pointed out, it’s a measure of technological sophistication more than anything else. It doesn’t seem to track, then, that viability as commonly understood is built-in design when it’s changed so dramatically over the years. Looking at viability in terms of spirituals correspondence feels to my like positing spiritual correspondences like ‘heavy’ or ‘tall’- they’re relative, mutable measures. That’s not to say that there isn’t a natural, technologically irrelevant point of viability that all unborn children have, but I imagine that would allow abortion up to a point that even most abortion supporters would find absolutely horrifying.

          I feel then that one would make a much more compelling spiritual argument through adopting Swedenborg’s criteria of a developed heart and lungs if they were to make a spiritual case for the moral permissibility of abortion. But, then again, that seems to have a few pitfalls of its own. If a person temporarily lacks a heart during a heart transplant, has their soul temporarily left their body? What about the possibility of an artificial heart, or artificial lungs? Is it necessary to actually possess these organs, or is the function of circulation and respiration what ultimately matters?

          And, again, my principal objection to abortion and the denial of pre-born personhood primarily comes back to the identity-continuum that each of us have. To say that there was a time when I was not a person is to say that I, Rami, lacked a soul and was merely a proto-person. And yet I undeniably existed at a point that many would claim I didn’t exist as a person. Looking at it rationally, I feel as though I have every compelling reason to believe that I was every bit a human being when I was a mere embryo that I am now as a fully grown adult.

          Now, that said, mapping these onto a spiritual globe certainly seems tricky in some key areas that you brought up, namely, the countless miscarriages that occur yearly, and the need to explain what becomes of all these aborted children in the spirit world. Because if we are to accept that people are, in fact, people at conception, then we have to also accept that God has created and ordered the world such that millions of babies die every year through spontaneous abortion. And also, to your point: how exactly do these embryos make their way to their spiritual world, and how are they incubated toward further development?

          Ultimately, when looking at and reconciling rational and spiritual beliefs, I believe rationally alone is a severely limited faculty that only gleams limited knowledge about the material world. It simply cannot account for spiritual matters. At the same time, while I do not believe rationality can *explain* spiritual matters, I don’t believe spirituality and rationality should ever be in *conflict* with each other. As of right now, a spiritual attitude toward abortion as morally permissible conflicts with my rational understanding that it simply is not. In that sense, when this type of conflict tends to emerge, I’m often reminded of what Pope John Paul II once said in regards to the debate between science and religion, which was to the effect of saying that any time our understanding of science clashes with our religious beliefs, it’s our religious beliefs that need to change.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rami,

          All good and interesting thoughts. I won’t try to respond to every point in detail.

          As I’ve said a number of times already, I don’t like abortion. I hope that one day we humans on earth will live in a society in which it is very rare, and is only resorted to under extraordinary circumstances. However, we live in the world that actually exists, not the one we wish existed, and we must wrestle with that reality. In the real world that actually exists, many women are going to get abortions. Our legal system, social framework, and spiritual philosophy must take account of and address that reality, whether we like it or not.

          As a legal matter, the U.S. the Supreme Court Case Planned Parenthood v. Casey resulted in an abandonment of the trimester system adopted in the original Roe v. Wade, and its replacement with a standard based on fetal viability, as detailed in the relevant section of the Planned Parenthood v. Casey article on Wikipedia. Even the original trimester system was meant to take account of fetal viability, which was considered to roughly coincide with the beginning of the third trimester. Since then, the medical community has put fetal viability at approximately 24 weeks instead of the earlier figure of 28 weeks. Third trimester begins at 27 weeks.

          Regardless of the details and complexities, fetal viability certainly is a key factor in abortion law in the United States, and I suspect in many other nations as well. Whatever else one’s opinions might be, it is hard to argue that a viable fetus is not a person. This is reflected in U.S. law, and it seems to reflect the overall views of the majority of the American populace, despite the very loud fringes at the extreme poles of the abortion debate there.

          I suspect that until the halcyon day arrives when abortion is largely and voluntarily a thing of the past, abortion laws in free countries will converge on fetal viability as a key dividing line between when abortion is and is not legally permissible.

          And though fetal viability is not a crystal clear dividing line, essentially it arrives when the lungs have developed sufficiently to function outside the womb. Viability cannot be pushed arbitrarily earlier into the gestation process. There are definite biological and developmental processes involved.

          Carrying this up to the spiritual level, I tend to agree with Swedenborg that having functioning heart and lungs is essential to human life. However, instead of reading this as beginning when both the heart and the lungs are functioning upon first breath after birth, it makes more sense to me to regard this as beginning when both the heart and the lungs are capable of functioning outside the womb.

          Another way of saying this is that I don’t think there’s anything magical about the first breath such that suddenly there is a person. Rather, I see personhood as developmental, and as being present at least when the heart and lungs have developed sufficiently to sustain life independent of the womb.

          If personhood actually begins at at earlier stage, even as far back as conception, I could happily accept that. I would have a very hard time accepting that personhood does not commence until the first breath.

          Here, of course, by “personhood” I mean “having eternal human existence.” This is something we can debate here on earth, but probably cannot know until we enter the spiritual world, where we can investigate it based on actual experience. If it turns out that my maternal grandmother is right, and there is an eternal soul present at conception, nothing would make me happier.

          However, it seems clear to me that God creates things, including human beings, through orderly processes that must go through their steps in their proper order, and unfold over time. A human is a complex being. Even God doesn’t just poof them into existence. There is a definite process involved in making a human being, and that process must unfold in its own orderly way.

          Based on the correspondence of the physical world with the spiritual world, I take this to be a principle that applies not only to the creation and formation of the human body, but also to the creation and formation of the human soul. Human souls also, I have come to believe, don’t just suddenly poof into existence. They require a period of formation and development before they become actual, eternal human souls. This is the basis on which I have come to lean heavily toward the theory that the soul has developed to a point of being eternally “viable” at about the same time the body has reached a point of viability in the womb. This makes correspondential sense to me, since the soul is within the body as its life.

          I may be right about this or I may be wrong. But it is what currently makes the most sense to me based on both science and Swedenborg. What this says about the morality or immorality of abortion is another debate entirely. If I am right, it could be viewed as sadder and more unfortunate to abort a fetus before viability than after, since that would be cutting off a being who could have had eternal life but now never will, whereas after fetal viability there is eternal life even if the baby is aborted or miscarried.

          Regardless, neither you nor I gets to decide how the human community as a whole, or within various nations, will deal with the issue of abortion. We can only come to our own conclusions and add our individual voices to the debate.

        • Ray says:

          Hi Lee. So, as a result of the overturning of Roe v Wade in the states and the reactions to it, I realized that it’s not really the issue of abortion I have, but the fact that is treated by a form of birth control for women who just want to sleep around and not suffer any life changing consequences.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ray,

          Yes, that bothers me too. It’s not as though there isn’t regular birth control available. Female birth control is somewhat expensive, but not beyond the budget of the average middle-class person. And if female birth control is too much to afford, condoms are cheap. Use ’em, or don’t have sex if you don’t want a baby.

      • Aren’t Psalm 139:13-16 verses against abortion? It says things like “knit me together in my mother’s womb” “unformed body.”

        • Lee says:

          Hi WorldQuestioner,

          There is no doubt that the process of gestation in the womb is wonderful and miraculous. Many people do draw conclusions from this that it is wrong to stop such a miracle from unfolding. But the Bible doesn’t actually say that. It’s best to keep it clear in our mind what the Bible itself says and what conclusions we draw from what it says.

        • Ray says:

          Okay but isn’t the baby alive from conception, so isn’t it murder to kill a baby?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ray,

          It’s not quite that simple.

          Just because something has living human DNA, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a human being. When you bleed, all the blood has your unique living human DNA in it, but no one would consider your spilled blood a human being. Ditto if a piece of your flesh were cut off and removed from your body, such as in a surgical operation. When you let your blood die on the ground, or the surgeon allows excised tissue to die in the dish, we do not consider it murder.

          At some point in the future scientists will likely be able to clone human beings, just as they have now cloned other animals. Would that mean that any piece of your body that could potentially be cloned into a new human being should be considered a human being, such that if you caused it to die, or even allowed it to die, it would be murder?

          Early in the life of an embryo there is certainly unique human DNA present, but there is not yet an organism recognizable as a human being. It is very common for spontaneous abortions to happen in these early weeks of pregnancy for various reasons, such as the embryo not properly implanting in the womb or genetic defects in the embryo causing it to die. Often the woman does not even know she was pregnant. She may even miss one or two periods, and she may notice a heavy discharge afterwards, but unless she has a certain amount of physiological knowledge, she still might not realize that she was pregnant. Some researchers believe that over half of the human eggs that are fertilized never make it to term—most of them being lost in the first few weeks, often without the woman realizing she was pregnant.

          Are all those miscarried embryos, many of which are still only undifferentiated clusters of cells, human beings? Should we be doubling the human death rate because of the tens of millions of early spontaneous abortions that happen each year?

          That is not an obvious conclusion. It is very hard to maintain the position that every fertilized egg is a human being from the moment of conception. Human reproduction is a complex process. Is a fertilized egg that has such severely defective DNA that it could never survive really a human being? Many early spontaneous abortions occur precisely because this fertilized egg is not a viable human being.

          On the other hand, once a fetus becomes viable, and could survive outside the womb, there is a clear argument that it is a human being. Fetuses generally become viable at about 24 weeks, which is a little over halfway through a normal pregnancy. Fetuses born that early will need intensive medical intervention to survive. However, at that point in the pregnancy doctors will generally make an effort to save the life of a premature baby. This could be seen as a pragmatic measure of when the medical profession believes that it is dealing with a human being.

          Once a fetus becomes viable, a reasonable argument could be made that the it is now a human being, and that killing it would be murder. This is why there is nothing like universal support for late-term abortions even among people who are generally pro-choice. When there is a recognizable, viable human being in the womb, it is a very different story than when there is a rather simple cluster of cells, or even when there are various proto-organs developed, but the embryo looks as much like a fish as it does like a human being.

          These are very difficult issues. I don’t claim to have all the answers. But I don’t think it serves us well to take hard, polarized positions represented by the “human at conception” crowd on the one hand, and the “human at birth” crowd on the other hand. (Both of which are represented among Swedenborgians, by the way.) I think a “human at viability” position has a much sounder basis. And viability is a moving target. We can now save babies born far more prematurely than we could in the past. But there is still a limit before which even the best doctors and medical technology in the world cannot save the fetus. So once again, I don’t think this is something we should be making hard-and-fast rules about.

        • Rami says:

          Hi Lee,

          I appreciate you identifying viability as a moving target, as that’s something that most pro-choicers seem to either miss or ignore when using it as a dividing line between person and non-person. It’s a regularly argued one, but really, I just don’t find it sound, because as you said, viability is being continuously pushed back as technology progresses, and it seems bizarre to contend that one is a person at 24 weeks gestation today, but would not be a person 30 years ago before our technology could allow for that level of survival.

          Beyond that, technology also varies by region. If a child is viable at 24 weeks in the United States, but not in a developing nation that doesn’t have access to these life support systems, are they a person in one place but not the other? And is their life worthy of protection in one place, but not the other? Ultimately, viability is a measure of the technological sophistication of the life support systems used to sustain the baby- I don’t see that it has any bearing on personhood.

          As far as DNA is concerned, I don’t think any serious pro-lifer would argue that an unborn person is, in fact, a person simply by virtue of possessing human DNA, and for all the reasons you mentioned. It relates to the common pro-choice rebuttal ‘what about all those babies who are aborted every time a man ejaculates?’ Well, no, no one is arguing that human gametes like sperm and egg are themselves persons, as they cannot possibly develop into a new person. Rather, it’s the fusion of the two that lends itself to the creation of new, distinct life.

          Myself, I do believe that unborn humans are, in fact, human persons from conception, and I base this belief on basically the continuum of our identities. I was once a toddler- to say that I was a toddler is to say that I, the person who is now a grown adult, was once a toddler. Likewise, I was once an infant, and a fetus, an embryo, and a newly conceived zygote. All these describe different levels of development in the life of the same person, but it is indeed the same person. Embryo and fetus are just developmental analogs to infant and toddler.

          There have been many dividing lines used over the millenia to distinguish between person and non-person, or at least between when abortion would be permissible and impermissible, with ‘quickening’ maybe being the most ancient. But whether it’s quickening, fetal pain, heartbeat, viability, sentience, etc., they all just fall flat as arbitrary and ultimately meaningless in determining when a one becomes a person, precisely because the idea of becoming a person *during* your life is such an illogical notion. It seems much more reasonable to believe that if you exist, you’re a person, and a person from beginning to end, possessing of the same dignity and deserving of the same protection as anyone else.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rami,

          Thanks for your thoughts. The order of this thread has become a bit tangled. At the same time you were submitting your response, I was typing a response to Ray that addresses some of the issues you raise. You’ll find that response above this one, specifically, here.

        • Rami says:

          Hi Lee,

          In keeping with my earlier remarks, I would be willing to modify my view to instead regard a human person as something that develops over time, rather than something that materializes into existence at conception-fertilization. Indeed, your view does have a coherent internal logic, and is consistent with other understood spiritual realities. However, again, at present, I simply cannot substantiate that spiritual view through material rationality, and material coherence is the other side of the coin to spiritual coherence (which is, essentially, correspondence I suppose).

          Philosopher Stephen Schwarz, in his The Moral Question of Abortion (1990), created an acrostic to summarize the various basis on which we deny unborn personhood: SLED, which stands for size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency. And nearly all defenses of abortion fall into one or more of the above categories, yet all of the above categories have no bearing as to ones status as a person. Being small doesn’t disqualify one from personhood, nor being a less developed human being, or one that’s in the womb, or one who relies on their mother for physical sustenance.

          As far as level of development goes, Schwarz distinguishes between functioning as a person, and being a person. Certainly, people who lack permanently or temporarily certain human functions (like breathing, or consciousness, or circulation) continue to remain people so long as they are alive. If born people remain people despite this absence of function, then why shouldn’t the unborn be considered people for that same reason?

          As far as DNA goes, like I said much earlier, no serious pro-lifer considers a human embryo a human person simply on account of possessing human DNA. But that DNA is fundamentally distinct from the mother, and it’s that DNA that, with the proper nourishment, will allow this being to further develop and grow into a more developed one. A finger or a toe has the DNA of the person who has one, and such are considered parts, not wholes.

          With regards to viability, maybe I’m using the term a bit more loosely than is commonly understood? I understand viability to simply refer to a point in which an unborn person is capable of living independent of his or her mother, and obviously with the use of sophisticated medical instruments. In that sense, I see the ability to transport an embryo into an artificial womb as meeting this criteria, and as such a point of viability for the embryo, as the embryo is living in an artificial environment independent of the mother.

          Finally, on the idea of a person as someone that develops over time, rather than suddenly coming into existence: it’s true, if we look around at material and corresponding spiritual realities, we see that all things are process driven, and processes take time. However, some would maintain that the soul is the animating force of the body, and of the person. A biological organism cannot develop into a human being unless it has the animating presence of a soul, and if that being has the animating presence of a soul, then that being is in fact already a person. In that sense, the house is already complete, fully built at conception. All subsequent developments are merely its furnishings.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rami,

          First, it is necessary to distinguish between considering the origins and phenomena of personhood and the use of such knowledge or theories to support arguments for or against the morality or legality of abortion. To use a parallel example, I believe that scientists were right to delve into the nature of atoms and subatomic particles even though that knowledge was used to create atomic bombs. Human use of knowledge for evil purposes does not vitiate the knowledge itself, which can be used either for good or for evil depending upon the motives and character of the people who make use of it.

          As I have said on many occasions here, I do not like abortion. I have always believed that it is not a good thing, and that in general, it is an evil thing—though in some cases it might be the lesser of the available evils. And I hasten to add that I do not think that every woman or girl who gets an abortion is evil, nor do I believe that every abortion provider is evil.

          In my mind, the morality of abortion is a distinct issue from when personhood begins. If we allow the conclusions drawn by some people (“Abortion should be legal,” “Abortion should be illegal,” etc.) to drive facts, we are bound to get both our facts and our conclusions wrong. First it is necessary to build a foundation of facts—or “truth,” if you will. Then we can derive one or another conclusion based on those facts.

          In plain terms, if it turns out that personhood begins at viability, not at conception, that doesn’t necessarily mean abortion is moral and should be legal. Some people do draw that conclusion. But as I’ve already said, from a spiritual perspective, if personhood begins at viability, then aborting an embryo or fetus before viability could be considered worse that aborting it after viability because it is depriving heaven of a new soul that would otherwise have contributed to and enriched the heavenly community.

          In short, let’s keep the issue of when personhood begins distinct from the issue of the morality of abortion.

          If life is not instantaneous but developmental, as I believe, and as seems obvious from all available scientific and spiritual evidence, then drawing black-and-white lines between personhood and pro- or anti-abortion stances is simplistic and wrong. Are we morally free to kill anything that is not a person, at any time, for any reason? Pro-choice arguments that rely on personhood as the dividing line and the main argument for their position can easily lead to this type of inhumane conclusion.

          I believe that life in any form is a miracle to be respected, and not to be thoughtlessly cut off due to an unwillingness to take responsibility for our own thoughtless actions.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rami,

          You write:

          Finally, on the idea of a person as someone that develops over time, rather than suddenly coming into existence: it’s true, if we look around at material and corresponding spiritual realities, we see that all things are process driven, and processes take time. However, some would maintain that the soul is the animating force of the body, and of the person. A biological organism cannot develop into a human being unless it has the animating presence of a soul, and if that being has the animating presence of a soul, then that being is in fact already a person. In that sense, the house is already complete, fully built at conception. All subsequent developments are merely its furnishings.

          I am one of those who maintains that the soul is the animating force of the body and of the person. But if the body is developed over time, then correspondentially it stands to reason that the soul is also developed over time. All evidence and experience tells us that this is how God works in creating everything God creates.

          Keep in mind that behind the soul is God, who is the animating force behind every living thing, including every living soul. It is not necessary for the soul to be fully developed at conception, because it is not the ultimate animating force of the body. The ultimate animating force of both the soul and the body is God. God is infinitely and fully human, and is the source from which both the soul and the body are human.

          In simple point of fact, the house is not fully built “at conception,” nor is a human being fully built at conception. We’ve looked at fertilized eggs through powerful microscopes. We know that they are not little human beings, as was once believed (the theory of preformationism, again).

          Another way of saying this is that we know that a fertilized egg is not in the human form. The human form requires a brain, nervous system, heart, vascular system, lungs, liver, digestive tract, and so on. A fertilized egg has none of these.

          Spiritually, the human form requires will and understanding, the ability to think rationally, moral freedom, thoughts, emotions, desires, the ability to act, and so on. The soul that is present at conception has none of these.

          Arguing that there is a human being at conception is arguing that even though neither the soul nor the body has any of the characteristics of a human being, it is still a human being. It is like arguing that a blueprint is a house.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rami,

          You write:

          As far as level of development goes, Schwarz distinguishes between functioning as a person, and being a person. Certainly, people who lack permanently or temporarily certain human functions (like breathing, or consciousness, or circulation) continue to remain people so long as they are alive. If born people remain people despite this absence of function, then why shouldn’t the unborn be considered people for that same reason?

          We must distinguish between actual functioning and the capacity to function.

          We must also distinguish between the physical body and the person.

          A person whose body permanently lacks certain human functions, such as consciousness, is still a person because the actual person is the spirit, not the body. All functions of the physical body are temporary. The body eventually dies, at which time all of its functions cease. The spirit, however, does not die. All of its functions can be permanent, because the spirit lives forever after physical death.

          Even in spirit, however, some people incapacitate various functions of the human spirit, such as loving one’s neighbor as oneself. However, they retain the capacity to function as a human being. They therefore continue to live forever as quasi-human beings, even though it is the living death of hell, and they have destroyed their own functioning as human beings.

          And yet, they still can function as human beings. If, under the Lord’s auspices, they are raised up out of hell and visit heaven, they can carry on sensible and rational conversations with the angels there, and can see that compared to the life that the angels live, their own life in hell is miserable and inhuman. They still have the capacity to be genuinely human beings. But they have decided not to be genuinely human beings. They therefore sink back down into their own hell, and those human capacities once again become quiescent.

          The evil spirits in hell do still retain their full range of human capacities, even if they choose not to exercise many of them, and therefore function at a sub-human or distorted human level.

          Similarly, a person who is drowning is not breathing, but still has the capacity to breathe. The person’s lungs are fully functional. If rescued in time, and if the water is expelled from the lungs, the lungs will resume their normal functioning, and the person will continue to live as a person.

          This is very different from the case of an embryo or fetus whose lungs have not developed to the point at which they can function as lungs. Similar to a drowning person, a fetus is immersed in water. But unlike a drowning person, a fetus whose lungs have not developed sufficiently to breathe will, if removed from the womb, suffocate because its lungs do not have the capacity to function as lungs.

          Humans whose human capacities are temporarily non-functional remain humans because they still have the capacity to function as human beings, even if they are not currently functioning as human beings. A being who does not have even the capacity to function as a human being cannot reasonably be considered a human being.

          The potential to function as a human being also does not reach the level of actually being a human being. A pile of lumber has the potential to be a house, but it is not a house. It becomes a house only when it has been formed into a house through the construction process.

          In the very same way, a fertilized egg containing a full complement of human DNA has the potential to develop into a human being through the process of gestation in the womb, but it is not yet a human being.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rami,

          You write:

          As far as DNA goes, like I said much earlier, no serious pro-lifer considers a human embryo a human person simply on account of possessing human DNA. But that DNA is fundamentally distinct from the mother, and it’s that DNA that, with the proper nourishment, will allow this being to further develop and grow into a more developed one. A finger or a toe has the DNA of the person who has one, and such are considered parts, not wholes.

          The fact that the embryo or fetus has DNA that is fundamentally distinct from the mother is the reason that the pro-choice argument that the embryo or fetus is simply a part of the mother’s body, over which she has sovereign control, does not hold water. The embryo or fetus is not a part of the mother’s body, but is a distinct body within the mother’s body.

          However, consider the case of identical twins, each of whom began with an identical set of DNA. Does this mean that they are one person, and not two people? I don’t think so. And what if, in the future, we developed the ability to take some cells from an existing human being and clone them into a new human being? Would that clone simply be a part of the one from which it was taken? I don’t think so.

          In other words, a human being is not defined by having a set of DNA distinct from another human being. In both cases, the human being is defined by having the form and function of a human being, not by having a set of DNA distinctly different from every other human being. (I believe subtle changes do also occur in the DNA itself over time. If so, this only supports the idea that having a particular set of human DNA is not what makes us a human being.)

          The operative words are that the DNA “will allow this being to further develop and grow into a more developed one.” But it would be more accurate to say that a full set of human DNA allows this being to grow and develop into a human being, just as a blueprint allows a pile of building materials to develop into a house.

          A finger or toe is not a human being because it does not have the full form and function of a human being. Similarly, a pre-viable embryo or fetus is not a human being because it does not have the full form and function of a human being. It has the potential to develop the full form and function of a human being. But at present it does not have the capacity to function as a human being, just as a finger or a toe does not have the capacity to function as a human being.

          The difference is that, absent cloning or regeneration technology, a finger or a toe will not develop into a fully functional human being, whereas an embryo or fetus will. That is why we do not have moral compunctions about allowing a severed toe or finger to die, but we do have moral compunctions and debates about allowing or causing an embryo or fetus to die.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rami,

          You write:

          With regards to viability, maybe I’m using the term a bit more loosely than is commonly understood? I understand viability to simply refer to a point in which an unborn person is capable of living independent of his or her mother, and obviously with the use of sophisticated medical instruments. In that sense, I see the ability to transport an embryo into an artificial womb as meeting this criteria, and as such a point of viability for the embryo, as the embryo is living in an artificial environment independent of the mother.

          What if the embryo were transplanted into the womb of another woman, and continued to develop there? Would you then consider it to be viable? How would that be different from transplanting the embryo into an artificial womb?

          “Viable,” as I understand it, means “capable of living outside the womb.” It is the same whether that womb is a natural womb or an artificial womb, and whether it is the original womb or a replacement womb. As long as the embryo or fetus is still in any womb, it is still living in the womb, not outside the womb. It is still either viable or not viable based on whether it can survive outside the womb. Otherwise, the term “viable” has no meaning.

          As an analogy, if an auto manufacturing plant were suddenly taken offline, and the manufacturer took all the cars that were in the process of being manufactured there and moved them to another factory to complete them, those cars would not suddenly become “viable cars.” They would still be incapable of driving on the road. Merely transplanting them from one manufacturing plant to another does not suddenly make them into cars. They are still in the process of being built into cars, regardless of where that process began and where it is completed.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rami,

          These replies cover the main substantive issues I see in your latest. Let me know if I’ve missed something important. Once again, in my mind the issue of when there is a person is distinct from the issue of the morality of abortion, and whether or not it should be legal at various stages of pregnancy and under various circumstances.

      • Rami says:

        Hi Lee,

        Thanks for directing me upwards- I’ll respond in a little while, but in the meantime, can you point me toward any material in which abortion or at least unborn life is discussed through a Swedenborg perspective? Information online seems really scant, and I would like to read about how Swedenborgians who hold to the eternal soul at conception have addressed these issues.

        On the whole, what would you say is the New Church’s basic attitude toward abortion and ensoulment?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rami,

          Information on Swedenborgian perspectives about abortion is scant because, as the Rev. Rich Tafel says toward the beginning of the video below, most ministers do not want to touch this issue with a ten foot pole. It has become highly polarized in the United States. The most likely result of speaking out about it is that a whole group of people will get very angry. Tafel himself is a rare exception. Here is his video sermon on the topic of abortion. It is the only piece I am aware of that offers any sustained discussion of abortion from a Swedenborgian perspective.

          Toward the end of the video, he quotes a standing resolution made by the General Convention, AKA the Swedenborgian Church of North America, in 1969, several years before Roe v. Wade:

          Resolved: That the General Convention support the legalization of abortion in cases where it is responsibly applied for the physical and emotional welfare of those involved. Be it also resolved that such therapeutic abortion shall be considered primarily a matter of concern between the patient, attending physician and personal counselor. (Adopted by General Convention, August 3, 1969)

          This statement remains as a denomination standing resolution to this day. It is published each year in the Convention Journal along with other standing resolutions, and it is posted on the denominational website here. To put this in context, the General Convention is the most politically liberal Swedenborgian denomination in the world. This standing resolution doesn’t necessarily represent what any other Swedenborgian churches may think or teach on the subject of abortion. As far as I know, none of the other Swedenborgian churches have taken any official stance on abortion.

        • Liberalism has risen, Conservatism has stagnated, and centrism has declined, due to polarization. I think conservatives like Parler and Conservapedia are only making polarization worse between democrats and republicans. I am a lean Republican, center-right. We need Republicans to move leftward and democrats to move rightward so polarization can decrease. Conservapedia, InfoGalactic, BitChute, and Parler are not accomplishing that. We need more centrists.

        • Lee says:

          Hi WorldQuestioner,

          Yes, especially in the U.S. the culture has gotten much too polarized, to the point where it’s becoming impossible for Americans to work together to move the country forward. I’m not sure what’s finally going to reverse this trend. But something’s gotta give. The way things are headed right now is not sustainable long-term.

      • Rami says:

        Hi Lee,

        I imagine your once believing as I do, along with having members of your religious community and within your own family who share my beliefs, makes you sympathetic to my view. I was hoping to get a better understanding of how Swedenborgian’s who hold to personhood-at-conception directly or indirectly address some of the resulting difficulties that you laid out earlier, but as you also said, it’s just a wholly unpopular subject to take up.

        As for the video, that was one of the only two resources I found some time ago when attempting to understand Swedenborgian attitudes toward abortion, and while I’m not prepared to call it evasive, I feel his answers are ambiguous enough to not be satisfying either.

        I would actually be willing to modify my pro-life position in order to regard personhood as something develops over time and completes at a certain point. Indeed, as someone who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, it would make my interpersonal life a much easier one if I could then side with the majority of liberally minded people who also use viability as determinant of abortion’s moral permissibility, if not also a determinant of personhood. Trouble is, I, at least have present, have no rational basis on which to do so.

        When a pro-lifer asks me, as I currently ask pro-choicers ‘Why viability? Why 24 weeks? What meaningful moral difference is there between a child at 24 weeks and one at 23? Or 20? or 2?” I would have no reasonable defense of that view to offer in response, aside from a spiritual one (which is ironic, considering that the general stereotype is that pro-lifers only have religious arguments in opposition to abortion, not in defense of it).

        And I certainly wouldn’t regard my position with much esteem should viability be pushed back to, say, 20 weeks five years from now on account of medical/technological breakthroughs. With that in mind, and in regards with your remarks about how viability cannot be pushed back further into the gestation process, it bears thinking about future viability in ways more expansive than we do now. Sure, technology will never advance to the point where we can artificially inflate and deflate the lungs of a child who has yet to develop them, or pump blood with the heart of a child who does not have one, but it’s entirely conceivable that we could create an artificial womb that could sustain an embryo in the same way that a woman does with her own. That we could transplant an embryo from a woman into an incubation chamber that precisely simulates the same conditions and provides the same sustenance as their natural home. These are just some thoughts to keep in mind before we conclude that we’ve hit the bedrock for unborn viability.

        Like I remarked earlier, I don’t need or expect rationality to prove or explain spiritual realities, but I do need material rationality and spiritual truth to be in harmony with each other if I am to accept something as true, and at present I find viability-as-personhood impossible to accept for those reasons.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rami,

          Yes, I have a great deal of sympathy for your view, which was once my own. The first thing I ever submitted to any regular Swedenborgian publication, way back when I was still a teenager, was a piece arguing for the sanctity of unborn life, and against the irresponsibility of having sex without regard for its natural consequences. In my heart, I still feel the same way today.

          However, as time has gone on, I have had the opposite problem to yours: I have been unable to rationally support the belief that there is a human being present from conception. Certainly there is a full set of human DNA present at conception. But there was also a full set of human DNA in every cell of a piece of flesh that I accidentally sliced off my finger while whittling a piece of wood as a thirteen-year-old. No one would consider that flap of skin a human being.

          In other words, being a human being has certain basic requirements. Having a full set of human DNA is one of those requirements, but that in itself is not sufficient to meet all the basic requirements of being a human being, as the existence of human cells detached from a human body demonstrates.

          Swedenborg’s criteria of having a working heart and lungs, as a correspondence to having will and understanding, as a basic requirement of being human is, I think, pertinent, even if by today’s perspective, in which the brain is given much more prominence, it might seem questionable. More generally, I would say that a basic requirement for being a human being is that one have a human form. This is true whether we think of the human form as being a spiritual form or a physical form or both. Being human is not an arbitrary or whimsical thing that we can just assign to whatever we like. There is a specific form that is the human form. Anything that doesn’t have that form is not a human being.

          Further, the human form is not something that appears instantly. It is something that develops over time. We can hardly say that a fertilized egg is in a human form. The ancient theory of preformationism held that we (and other organisms) develop from miniature versions of ourselves, which simply get bigger until we become full-sized adults. We now know that this theory is false. This pulls the rug out from under the idea that once an egg is fertilized, we have a miniature human being. We simply don’t. We have a single cell containing a full set of human DNA. Then we have two cells, then four, then eight, and so on.

          Where exactly we draw the line as to when in the process of gestation there is a human form is indeed somewhat arbitrary. Perhaps developing lungs that are able to function is not the correct dividing line. (The heart, incidentally, is one of the first organs to form in the embryo. It is present and fully functional long, long before the fetus is viable.) However, if having a form that is able to function as a human being is the criteria, then the development of the lungs sufficient to live outside the womb does seem to be a reasonable dividing line.

          Perhaps, as you suggest, at some time in the future we will be able to construct artificial wombs capable of bringing a fetus to term from a time before viability. However, that would not really be pushing back viability. It would simply be transplanting a fetus (or embryo) into a different womb—one that happens not to be inside a human being—until it reaches viability. Viability is being able to survive outside the womb. Such transplanted embryos would still be living and developing in the womb, even if that womb is an artificial one.

          Of course, this raises the question of whether there are artificial wombs in the spiritual world into which the developing spirit of an embryo or fetus miscarried or aborted before viability could be transplanted and brought to viability. Certainly that’s a possibility. But one would think that if such a stupendously wonderful thing were going on in the spiritual world, Swedenborg would have noticed, and said something about it. But just as he never mentions pregnant angels, he never mentions heavenly maturation chambers for pre-viable spirits.

          In short, as much as my heart would like to be able to believe that there is an eternal human soul at conception as I believed decades ago, when I consult my head I just can’t make it work, for these reasons and the ones I covered in the earlier comments in this thread. If it turns out that my head is wrong and my heart is right, nothing would make me happier. But sooner or later, the heart and the head must converge. And on this point, my head just isn’t allowing this question to go my heart’s way.

          What my head says is that it takes time to develop a new human being. That time starts at conception, and apparently takes a minimum of about 24 weeks of gestation in the womb. At that point, we unquestionably have a human being who can live semi-independently outside the womb. (No human being is truly independent.) At that point, my head says there is definitely a human being who has an eternal soul. Before that point, I just can’t see how there is actually a human being.

          As a less fraught analogy, consider the construction of a house.

          When in the process is there actually a house? When the blueprints have been drawn up? When the site has been leveled and the trenches have been dug for the footings of the foundation? When the foundations have been poured? When the floor has been poured? When the main structural beams have been erected? When the trusses for the roof have been added? When the roof and walls have been added? When the plumbing and electrical systems have been added? And so on.

          No one would say that there is a house when there is only a foundation. No one would say there is a house when all the structural beams are in place. The first point at which anyone would consider it a house is when the roof and exterior walls are in place. Even then, until the windows have been installed, it doesn’t quite seem like a real house. But once it has a roof and walls, it has passed a threshold into territory where people might point at it and say, “Look at that house!”

          I have come to think that it is similar in the “building,” or development, of a human being. It’s hard to say exactly when there is an actual human being. But it’s not at conception, and it’s not at birth. Somewhere in between there is a threshold beyond which we can start thinking of it as a human being. Having its organs sufficiently developed that it can survive outside the womb seems as good a threshold as any. And the lungs are apparently the last critical organ to develop sufficiently to function outside the womb.

        • Rami says:

          Hi Lee,

          I also wanted to mention, on a related note, that I truly cannot begin to describe my love of children. There is nothing in this world that brings me more joy than their joy, or more pain than their pain. My heart is either about to erupt in jubilation, or shatter into a million pieces, depending on what’s happening to a child at any given moment.

          I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that the answers to the mysteries of all creation are found within children, and that everything that exists in the cosmos and on the spiritual plane ultimately come down to the creation and nurturing of children. Because that’s what we are to God, no matter how old we get- we’re all in the perpetual fetal position, all helpless, all stumbling about, all immeasurably valuable and loved by our Creator as His forever children.

      • Rami says:

        Hi Lee,

        I’ve been meaning to come back to this, and I hope you don’t mind me doing that so long after the fact.

        I don’t have a whole lot to say about most of what you’re written, which makes me as though I’m not giving the time and effort you put into writing it its due reverence. But I didn’t want clearly articulate my sticking points with denying pre-born personhood and consequently that abortion is murder inn the most basic moral sense, as I don’t think your summary of my view quite gets there.

        Basically, and as I said earlier, I believe that every spiritual truth must have some material analog; that is, the material world should work in a way that’s consistent with spiritual realities. I don’t believe material truths should or even can explain spiritual truths, but they certainly cannot be in conflict with one another, and material personhood (if that even makes sense, and I’m not sure it does) and ensoulment-as-process just don’t add up for me.

        I’m sure even the most committed pro-choicers would concede that a baby who is on the verge of birth is every bit a person as the rest of us. I’m equally sure that they would be inclined to view a child a month from birth as identically a person. So true for two months before birth. Going back earlier into gestation, we find more marked functional differences between a born and pre-born baby, namely in the presence of certain organs and their ability to live independent of their mother. This is certainly true for a child who was just conceived.

        But while these differences are both dramatic and undeniable, I have yet to hear a convincing argument as to why these differences have any bearing as to their moral stratus as persons. That there was a point in my life and your life where neither me or you actually existed in the sense that we do now. If it is true that there is a point in gestation where the soul of the unborn has not yet fully developed, and as such they are not people, there should be some material argument that convincingly demonstrates this. That the lack of a beating heart, a cerebral cortex, sentience, or whatever dividing line pro-choicers will often cite as the difference between person and non person (and as such, permissible and impermissible abortion) explains what we ought to not regard this being as a person with both the same intrinsic human rights and dignity as the rest of us. But from what I’ve read and heard, none of them do.

        Now, granted, what I’m asking for is something of a taller order, as personhood is not a scientific concept, and my idea of ‘material personhood’ may be contradictory misnomer, as it’s possible that personhood is ultimately only spiritual, and we just assign material labels to it in order to secularize the concept. As such, there is going to be no ‘material’ way to demonstrate that, say, non-sentience means a non-person. There are only going to be arguments that connect with an inner, spiritual idea of what makes us ‘us,’ and that the unborn, up until a certain point simply do not have this, and as such are not one of ‘us.’

        All that said, like I mentioned, I am absolutely open to modifying my view of abortion to something that more or less resembles your own, and to that point, it really does seem like your view of abortion is along the lines of ‘personally opposed, but not my right to tell others what to do with their bodies.’ And while most people who hold that position hold the former part because they believe that the unborn are people (though they also believe that it’s subjective belief that cannot be imposed and that non-personhood is a reasonable default position to legislate), you believe it because it contradicts with the act and purpose of creation. In that sense, it does seem like your view has at least something in common with the ‘future like ours’ argument, if only in name at least, because the idea of precluding for a newly created being a possible future in heaven seems to be the basis by which you feel abortion is objectionable. That is our possible future, one that we have been fortunate enough to make possible, and denying that possibility to the unborn is why abortion is wrong. Please forgive me if I’ve misrepresented your view.

        At the very least, and this is something that tends to escape pro-choicers in particular, the unborn are living beings. Ironically, I imagine that many pro-choicers would have more moral difficulty if a woman would somehow feel the need to kill a dog as both in accordance with her bodily autonomy and preservation of her future, even though an unborn human with a proto-soul would sit somewhere between animals and people. Pro-choicers have just labored to hard to de-personalize the unborn that their value has diminished to the status of a parasite among the most ardent members. But abortion is always the killing of another, living being, one who’s moral status will always supersede even the most advanced animals, and it will always be an abhorrent tragedy in my eyes.

        Anyway, I do admit that my firm pro-life view was formed at a time when mostly firmly formed views are suspect- when I was 15 years old. I was otherwise pro-choice in some passive, non-committal sense, because the idea of denying abortion seemed like an obvious act of legislating morality over people’s bodily autonomy. Several years later, in Catholic school, in my religion class, we were began discussing abortion and my view would radically change. So as I’ve dramatically grown and developed since my teenage years, it may be necessary that this view that I’ve held since those years may also need to grow and develop.

        Your view of the material and spirit world both operating and unfolding according to processes makes tremendous sense to me- I just don’t, at present, see it corresponding to ensoulment when I don’t see good reasons to believe that less developed humans are in fact not persons (and personhood and ensoulment are ultimately, inexorably linked for me).

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rami,

          I’m not sure I have a lot new to say in response to all of this that I haven’t already said. So I’ll just take up one point for now, which admittedly is also a repeat of what I’ve already said.

          You say:

          If it is true that there is a point in gestation where the soul of the unborn has not yet fully developed, and as such they are not people, there should be some material argument that convincingly demonstrates this.

          I’m not sure what a “material argument” is. But practically speaking, a human embryo cannot yet function as a person, even materially. It does not have the full set of organs, especially including the lungs, that enable it to do so. Perhaps that is a “material argument.”

          Pro-choicers would say, quite simply, of the embryo (if that’s the correct word so early on) just after conception, “It’s just a cluster of cells.” It doesn’t yet have any of the organs that make a human being a human being physically. How, then, can it be considered a “person,” even materially?

          It would be like saying that a germinating acorn is an oak tree. No. A tree has specific parts and characteristics, minimally including a trunk, branches, and leaves, none of which a germinating acorn has. No one, upon seeing a tentative sprout pushing out of an acorn, would say, “That’s a tree.” They might say that it will grow into a tree, but they would not call it a tree.

          A “person” is not just some arbitrary entity to which we assign the title “person.” A person has definite characteristics, the lack of which make it not a person. Materially, a human being has heart, lungs, liver, spleen, arms, legs, eyes, ears, and so on, all in a particular configuration such that we recognize it as a human being rather than, say, a donkey or a deer. A newly fertilized egg, and its immediate next stages in the process of cell division, have none of these characteristics by which we recognize it as human. It has only human DNA, which will cause it, in the course of development, to become a human being.

          If this is true materially, then by the principle of correspondence it must be true spiritually as well.

          As I’ve said before, none of this means, in my mind, that it’s A-OK to have an early-term abortion because it’s not murder. That’s a whole different issue. But I’ve already covered that in previous comments, and won’t repeat it here.

        • Rami says:

          Hi Lee,

          Your response summarizes quite well the development based objections to unborn personhood, but I still have not seen reason to believe why these aspects of functioning *as* a person are in any way essential to *being* a person. And that, in the end, continues to be my sticking point.

          No, an embryo does not possesses any of the things that are linked with the way a person functions, but why should that necessarily matter? If a person lacks either temporarily or permanently some of the functioning parts or functional capacity that other people have, are they temporarily or permanently not people? And if not, why should that temporary absence among the unborn disqualify them from personhood?

          The acorn and the tree analogy is one I’ve heard before, along with the dough and the bread analogy. When dough is in a mixing bowl, is it bread? But while it is correct to sat that a tree is not an acorn, they are both the same thing: oak. They share the same essential nature. It’s like saying an adult is not a baby, therefore a baby is not human. They’re different words that describe different states of what is, essentially, the same thing.

          As Stephen Schwarz points out in his book I mentioned earlier, ‘human’ is not merely a biological category- rather, it is the mode of being a person. Human and person are essentially interchangeable, and the only condition necessary to be a person is to be human. Interestingly enough, and as a side note, while he cites being human as sufficient for personhood, he also deems it unnecessary, as there may be aliens from other worlds who would qualify as persons without being human (though spiritually speaking, they- we- would all be essentially ‘human’).

          When I say ‘material argument,’ I basically mean a secular one, a rational reason to believe something, and at present, this spiritual attitude toward ensoulment and this rational attitude toward personhood (if personhood can even be thought of materially) just don’t line up. When a pro-lifer asks me to defend my view that unborn humans are not person, I need to offer them with something other than a spiritual argument about the soul as something that develops over time. I instead need to demonstrate how, say, a lack of functionality provides sound, rational reason to disqualify them from the family of people. This is ironic, because it’s ordinarily pro-lifers who are accused of offering little more than religious reasons for their opposition to abortion, but here I would be a hypothetical pro-choicer who seems unable to do the same. I just don’t see those reasons.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rami,

          I’m not sure I can say much more that would be convincing to you.

          But I would suggest that you think about whether there is anything else that develops over time in this material universe that we would call by its developed name when it is still in the process of development.

          Do we call a cloud of dust and gas a “star” before it actually collapses down and becomes one?

          Do we call a ring of dust, gas, and colliding particles around a proto-star “planets” when they have not yet formed into planets?

          Do we call a pile of lumber a “house” before it’s actually built into one?

          De we call a bowl of dough a “loaf of bread” before it actually becomes a loaf of bread?

          Do we call an assortment of parts in the warehouse a “car” before they’re actually assembled into a car?

          Do we call an egg a “chicken” when it is still an egg?

          Thousands more examples could be given.

          Why, then, would we uniquely call something a “person” when it is still developing into a person? This makes no sense at all. The only reason we would do so is for doctrinal or dogmatic reasons, which commonly ignore all reality that doesn’t accord with the accepted dogma.

          Aside from the dogmatic and doctrinal reasons to call an early cluster of cells after fertilization, or even a later developing embryo, a “person,” there is no rational, logical, or “material” reason to call it a “person.” Doing so flies in the face of our practice when it comes to everything else except a person.

          This makes no sense at all.

    • Rami says:

      Hi Lee,

      I appreciate you addressing each of my points in individual points, and I hope you won’t mind if I succinctly address your replies here, as I don’t think we have all that much more ground left to cover.

      In general, I’m not especially qualified to address the spiritual arguments for personhood, particularly from a Swedenborg perspective, so I don’t have a great deal to say about them. At the same time, your response to whether preborn persons possess a soul brings to mind a similar conceptual difficulty you had with the idea that they do, namely, what becomes of all those spontaneously aborted embryos in the spirit world? In this case, if the soul is not responsible for animating all physical activity in the body- including its earliest development- then is God responsible for directly animating that activity up until the development of a heart, in which case the soul then takes over (although still ultimately animated by God)?

      I have no final thoughts on this, but it’s worth considering that, again, a soul must be present within the body for the body to function in any possible way. It wouldn’t follow, then, that the soul develops over time in the same way and alongside the physical body, because the body is incapable of developing without one. If the soul is present, then so is the person, making the embryo every bit as complete and sufficient a person as a toddler.

      As far as the human form goes, I understand the great significance this has in Swedenborg’s theology, but wouldn’t basing personhood on a completely developed human form- heart, lungs, and other major organs- allow for abortion up until monstrously late levels, or at least deny personhood to a degree that even many pro-choicers might find unreasonable? You remarked earlier that personhood and the moral permissibility of abortion are in fact separate issues, and I don’t quite understand this reasoning. If we have compelling reason to believe that unborn persons are, in fact, complete persons at conception, then we ought to regard killing them as we do with born persons, both socially and spiritually. You remarked that extinguishing the potential for a soul to develop could be a worse crime unto itself, but again I don’t quite understand this, so maybe you might be able to explain in a bit more detail so that I might.

      And, again, citing a complete (or sufficiently complete) human form raises some of the concerns I touched on earlier, such as whether a person is still a person if they temporarily lack those organs and/or those functions for whatever reason.

      I see most of what you say regarding level of development as primarily spiritually-centric, and like I said, I’m not going to say whether that’s right or wrong because it’s just not my wheelhouse. But that said, while you rightly distinguish between the functioning and the capacity to function, my argument centers on functioning vs. being, and I see no compelling reason both in your reply and in general that functioning has any bearing on being. I just don’t see why functioning *as* a person- in both actuality or capacity- is in any way essential to *being* a person. And indeed, a child at the embryonic stage of development is certainly functioning, and functioning at the precise level and way that is appropriate for one of such early existence.

      With respect to viability, just to be clear, when I say ‘survive outside the womb,’ I mean specifically their natural environment, that of their mother- whether it is there actual mother or their surrogate. Because even premature children at 24 weeks need enormously sophisticated medical equipment to survive, so I don’t see what difference it makes if this child is hypothetically an embryo who requires exponentially more sophisticated equipment to survive: the same idea applies, this is a human being who is capable of surviving independent of another person, and in my mind that makes them equally ‘viable.’ I don’t see the analogy to an auto manufacturing plant as directly related, because the question here is not whether this being is a person (ie: completed car), but rather if they’re viable, and it’s theoretically possible to maintain viability while denying personhood.

      • Lee says:

        Hi Rami,

        About souls, human souls are not the only kind of souls. According to Swedenborg, animals and plants also have souls. However, since those souls lack the higher spiritual and heavenly levels that human souls have, and also lack the ability to have a conscious relationship with God, animal and plant souls are not eternal. They dissipate at the time of the death of the plant or animal.

        In other words, having a soul is not a sufficient condition for eternal life. The soul must have developed, at least in capacity, the spiritual and heavenly levels, and it must have the capacity to have a conscious relationship with God. Only human souls can do this. But it’s not a foregone conclusion that these capacities exist at the time of conception. In fact, it seems to me highly unlikely that they do.

        You say:

        In this case, if the soul is not responsible for animating all physical activity in the body- including its earliest development- then is God responsible for directly animating that activity up until the development of a heart, in which case the soul then takes over (although still ultimately animated by God)?

        God animates the body through the soul. This is true starting at conception, throughout a person’s entire lifetime, and even in the spiritual world. God is the only one who has life. Nothing else is alive from itself. All life comes from God. It flows into our inmost soul, through our spirit, and into our body.

        Once we reach the point at which we can make moral and spiritual choices, we can begin to either accept or reject the life from God that flows into us. However, we cannot entirely reject it, or we would fall down dead. We have no control or even awareness of the life from God that flows into our inmost soul. Only at the lower levels of our spirit can we begin to reject the love and wisdom, or good and truth, that flows in from God. If we were to do this completely, we would still have animal or vegetative life, but we would have no human life.

        But we can’t actually reject it completely. Rather, what we do is block off as much of it as we can, and what trickles through we distort into evil and falsity. However, it is still the life from God that animates us, even when we make our bed in hell, and twist everything that comes from God into its opposite. That twisting is our own fault and doing. But the life itself still comes from God.

        I should mention that there is also a general animating and sustaining influence from God that flows into us via indirect and external routes. Physical analogs (correspondences) of that indirect inflow include the air we breathe, the food we eat, the things we see, hear, smell, taste, and touch, and so on. Without these things we either cannot live at all, or we are limited to living a very constrained life.

        You say:

        As far as the human form goes, I understand the great significance this has in Swedenborg’s theology, . . . .

        Yes. Without a human form, there is no human being. Form is not an adventitious, optional thing. It is an essential part of any thing, from cars to humans. If a car is not in an automotive form (wheels, chassis, drive train, controls, etc.), then it is not a car. It may be something else, but it is not a car. If a human is not in a human form, it is not a human.

        This is true of spiritual things just as much as it is true of physical thing. Traditional Christians commonly think of the soul as some sort of wispy cloud that inhabits the body. Nothing could be further from the truth. The soul has a far more complex, detailed, and specific form than the body. Physical things are relatively crude compared to the spiritual things they correspond to. A soul, also, must be in the human form or it is not a human soul.

        What drove me to the conclusion that souls do not start out in the human form at the time of conception is the fact that neither is the fertilized egg in the human form at the time of conception. The most we can say is that it has a full set of human DNA. But that DNA is merely the blueprint for a human form. None of the parts and organs of the human body have developed yet. This takes a certain number of weeks in the womb. As I’ve said before, the lungs are one of the last of the critical organs to develop. This is not surprising, since the embryo and fetus do not need lungs; all of their oxygenation and cleansing from carbon dioxide is taken care of in the placenta.

        Back to the point, we now know that the fertilized egg is not a miniature human being. And if the body and soul correspond to one another, according to Swedenborg’s universal principle of correspondences, then neither is the soul a miniature human being, complete with all its parts and organs, just . . . tiny. That’s not how it works. Correspondentially, it stands to reason that at the time of conception, the newly formed “soul,” like the newly formed “body,” is not an actual human being in human form. Rather, it is a blueprint for a human being and its human form. It stands to reason that the soul, like the body, develops into a human form according to that initial blueprint.

        As mentioned above, all of this happens through the animating inflow of life from God flowing into the soul, and from there into the body. It is not necessary for the soul or the body to independently build themselves. God is like a divine mother who carries the soul in the womb spiritually, and supplies it with everything it needs to grow into a human soul.

        I just don’t see how this conclusion can be avoided without rejecting Swedenborg’s teachings about the intimate, detailed correspondence of physical things with spiritual things.

        Does this mean it’s A-OK to abort a fetus before it reaches viability? Not in my view. Regardless of whether there is an actual human being, killing living things is . . . bad. Killing a developing human being within the womb is, in my view, a rather barbaric thing to do. That is especially so when we have developed safe and effective birth control. Perhaps no method is 100% effective. But the number of abortions that are being performed is far beyond the failure rate of the most commonly available forms of birth control.

        Does this mean that girls and women who get abortions are evil baby-killers? No. Most of them don’t think of it as a baby at that point. But I believe that the number of abortions being performed, most of which are not being performed due to serious medical complications, reflects a generally casual and irresponsible attitude toward sex in present-day society. We should not be getting so many girls and women pregnant when they’re not prepared to raise the child that is growing in their womb.

        Despite my support for freedom among human beings, including in their sexual life, I continue to hold to the “old-fashioned” idea that it is best to wait until marriage to have sex. I’m well aware that many, many people will not do this in today’s society. But their unwillingness to do this is the cause for many, if not most abortions performed in the world today. And if they are mature enough to be married, and don’t want children but fail to consistently use birth control to prevent pregnancy, then once again, I believe they are acting irresponsibly.

        Obviously, I don’t run the world. It’s not my job to tell people how they must live their lives, sexually or otherwise. But choices and actions have consequences. And the current rate of abortions, in my view, is a result of a superficial view of sex and a general irresponsibility about it. In both humans and animals, the biological purpose of sex is reproduction. If we’re unwilling to take that seriously, then we will reap what we sow.

        Having said all that, if a girl or woman has had an abortion, I’m not going to condemn her. People must live according to their own choices and their own consciences. My only hope is that over time, as we grow up as a society, we will take sex more seriously, and abortions for reasons other than serious medical complications will become largely a thing of the past. Needless to say, I hope that rape also becomes largely a thing of the past, so that the issue of abortion in the case of rape is a very rare occurrence.

        • Do pathogens such as bacteria and Plasmodia have souls? I’m pretty sure viruses don’t have souls, including COVID-19. Viruses don’t have DNA, only RNA.

        • Lee says:

          Hi WorldQuestioner,

          Nothing can be alive without having a soul. Life is an attribute of spirit. Physical things can be alive only if they have a living spirit within them. The souls of bacteria and viruses would be quite rudimentary, just as those organisms are quite rudimentary compared to reptiles or amphibians or mammals. But without any soul at all, they could not be alive.

        • I also forgot, only organic life has souls, not machines. That means even artificially intelligent learning robots don’t have souls.

        • Rami says:

          Hi Lee,

          I would need to hear from Swedenborgians who hold to differing views about the soul before deciding if yours is the correct one. The simple fact is I’m not quite sold on the the idea of a proto-soul. I can accept the existence of animal souls, but in general, my understanding of the soul has always been something that is fully complete and self-sufficient from the moment it exists, rather than something that develops over time. In that sense, I don’t necessarily see this idea of the soul as conflicting with the development of the human body with respect to correspondence, just so long as one maintains that there can be no bodily activity without the existence of a fully actualized soul.

          Again, I’m open to the idea of being wrong about this, and to accepting your view along with the implications it has for the moral question of abortion. But also, again, I feel like the spiritual argument for non-personhood is stronger than the material one, as a material argument will have to essentially conclude that I was not a person at some point during my life- and that both doesn’t track or sit right with me.

          But even if I were to concede that pre-viable personhood isn’t real in a spiritual sense, it wouldn’t necessarily mean it wasn’t real in some other materially relevant sense. It may just be that a fully developed soul is necessary for spiritual personhood, it may not be necessary for social personhood. For instance, one of the central philosophical discussions of Star Trek is whether Data is a person, and more grandly, whether he has a soul (in either a spiritual or secular sense). I’m not of the belief that Data has a soul, and is therefore not a person in a spiritual sense; but there might be reason to believe he ought to be regarded as a person in some other socially important sense. Should we regard the unborn the same way?

          Also important to the idea of a proto-soul is the implications this has for creation. If a soul is something that develops along with the body, is it possible that we can essentially create new souls should we have the technology to artificially create humans? That we might one day become advanced enough that we can essentially create embryos and program them to develop, without sperm or egg- would a soul then develop along with it?

          And who says we necessarily even need to let someone like that develop? Frankenstein’s monster was merely fashioned out spare body parts and suddenly animated into existence. If his monster possessed a soul- and there is certainly an argument that he did- it wasn’t one that developed over any period of time. Likewise, we may one day have the technology to fashion a fully developed person by printing human body parts down to the cellular level. Would the animated person possess a soul and therefore be a person in the sense that we’re talking about?

          Interesting questions, and a bit more than mere food for thought, as this has direct bearing on the questions we’re trying to deal with here.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rami,

          I certainly wouldn’t recommend jumping to any conclusions based on my word and reasoning alone. It has taken me decades to arrive where I currently am in my thinking on when personhood begins, and I still consider it to be a theory rather than a fact. Swedenborg himself says that it’s not good to arrive at quick conclusions, but rather that it is better to think an issue out based on various arguments for different positions, and make up one’s mind over time based on thinking it all out in this way.

          This is precisely the problem I have with the Swedenborgian statements I’ve read about when the soul is eternal—which is essentially the same as when personhood begins. The argument generally goes along the lines of, “Swedenborg said X, therefore the soul is eternal from conception / from the first breath.” Such arguments are based on what Swedenborg would call “historical faith,” meaning faith (or beliefs) derived on the authority of others rather than based on drawing one’s own conclusions based on his three pillars of the Word, reason, and experience.

          I also have serious problems with arguments that say, “If we decide that personhood begins at X time, that would mean we could kill babies at any time / never abort an embryo from the moment of conception, therefore I cannot believe personhood begins at X time.” Facts are one thing. Our moral and ethical decisions based upon the facts are another. In sussing out when I believe personhood begins, I’ve done my best to look at it, not based on politics or particular ethical positions relative to abortion, but based on the scientific, philosophical, and spiritual realities of existence to the extent that I can learn and understand them.

          Only when we have our facts straight can we have a sound foundation for making moral and ethical decisions. Otherwise it’s like deciding someone is guilty or innocent without bothering to investigate the case and determine what the evidence says about the person’s innocence or guilt.

          This is why, in this conversation, I have resisted drawing lines straight from the question of when personhood begins to one or another stance on the morality and legality of abortion.

          People who want abortion legal will most likely continue to hold that position regardless of when they think personhood begins. People who want abortion illegal would continue to hold that position even if it could be definitively proven to them that personhood begins at first breath. Certainly the question of when personhood begins—and from a spiritual perspective, when there is an eternal soul—is an important one when it comes to legal doctrine and whether and when we afford a developing human being the rights of a person. But the bulk of people think emotionally, not rationally, and will continue to hold their current position regardless of scientific fact, legal doctrine, spiritual reality, or anything else. There are other motives behind one belief or the other. Those motives, and not scientific or spiritual fact, are what must be addressed when dealing with the issue of abortion.

          In sum, I think it is a mistake to let the abortion debate color our thinking about the issue of when personhood begins, and when there is an eternal soul. We can debate what personhood is for the purposes of passing and interpreting laws. But we don’t get to decide when the soul is eternal. The earliest there could be an eternal soul is at conception. The latest is at first breath. Or it could be somewhere in between, most likely at the point of viability. We can debate which it is, but there is an actual fact that we don’t get to decide. And we probably won’t know for sure until we arrive in the spiritual world and can investigate the question directly there.

          Another way of saying this is that God designed the universe, and human life in it, in a definite way. We can argue and debate about when the soul is eternal. But just as in science, there is a correct answer that is not subject to our investigations and debates. It is something we must learn, not something we must decide. My effort is to discover what that answer is as best I can, based not only on revelation, but also on science (experience) and reason.

          Finally, since I believe in a God of love, I do not believe that God would create the universe, or set a point for the soul to be eternal, in a dark and evil way, nor in an uncaring way. God loves everything and everyone in the universe. Despite the appearance of chaos and evil in the universe, everything in the universe is designed with our ultimate, eternal happiness in mind. I therefore do not believe that we will discover, for example, that the soul becomes eternal at viability, and that this will give us license to be inhuman and cruel. If anything, it would give us all the more motivation to guard the sacredness of growing life so that God’s purpose of a heaven from the human race can be fulfilled more and more.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rami,

          Oh, about Data and Frankenstein’s monster: These are fictional characters. Interesting for stimulating thought, but not evidential.

          In reality “Data” is a human actor named Brent Spiner. Frankenstein’s monster is also played by humans in Frankenstein movies. This can—and is supposed to—give us the illusion that these characters are quite human in their thinking and emotions. But that’s all theoretical, because in fact, it is a human being, having human emotions, playing a character that does not exist in reality. The same goes for written novel versions. It is a human mind (the author) investing characters with human emotions and other characteristics.

          I do not believe that machines will ever become sentient. That is covered in this post:

          Are We Headed for an AI Apocalypse?

          Might it happen some time in the future? Perhaps. I doubt it. But it hasn’t happened yet. And until it does, it’s all just a hypothetical situation. I’m from Missouri: “Show me.” Ditto for Frankenstein’s monster. As of now, we have not taken parts from various dead bodies, sewn them together, and brought them to life. Until we do, it’s purely hypothetical.

          It’s best, I think, to draw conclusions based on the real, not on the hypothetical.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rami,

          I should have added that I do not believe we will ever be able to “3D print” human beings. The complexity does not stop at the cellular level. It goes all the way down to the subatomic level. It’s the same reason I don’t think Star Trek style transporters will ever become a reality. The amount of information required to reconstitute a human being down to the quantum level would be so astronomical as to be about as close to impossible as anything could be.

        • Rami says:

          Hi Lee,

          I wanted to make a separate post in order to talk about how your view meshes with the current discourse surrounding abortion rights. What immediately stands out is just how radically different it is from popular justifications of abortion. While you would be at a baseline level of agreement that a pre-viable baby is not, in fact, a baby, so much of the popular conversation just tries to outright demonize pregnancy (or at least an unwanted one): that the embryo/fetus is an invasive, parasitic organism that has wormed its way into the mother’s body, exploiting her bodily resources, and the mother, in keeping with her absolute right to bodily autonomy, is justified in doing whatever is necessary in order to expel the parasite.

          Oftentimes, abortion supporters will even concede personhood, but determine it to be irrelevant, as no one has the right to use ones body against their will, and like any other intruder who has entered a home without the owners consent, the owner may expel the intruder, violently if necessary. Now, there’s a bunch of intellectual problems with these arguments, but some of them are truly quite monstrous.

          That said, I don’t think abortion supporters who concede personhood truly believe in that concession, for if they did, then abortion should be morally permissible way past viability in their eyes, because the same criteria that in their minds justifies a 14 week abortion is still present at 27 weeks: an unwanted, parasitic intruder. And yet, they, like most people, admit there is a time when we simply must deny the request for abortion, because they obviously believe that we’re dealing with two people in such a situation. So ultimately, despite their purported acknowledging of personhood, it always comes down to a distinction between persons and non-persons.

          In any case, what does your view ultimately mean for the moral permissibility of abortion, and for the creation of policy? Your view is certainly compatible with the refrain of ‘my body, my choice,’ for if this is truly not a baby, then ones right to autonomy and self-determination would indeed justify an abortion in at least most cases. Would abortion then be tantamount to the regrettable extermination of any other complex, non-human life? Like killing an animal that poses a danger to a community?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rami,

          What’s missing from the “parasite” argument is how the “parasite” got there in the first place.

          Aside from very complicated and expensive in-vitro fertilization procedures, in which there is clearly a dogged determination to bear a child, every single fertilized egg in the history of the world got that way through sexual intercourse, or something mighty close to it. Somehow that sperm got to that egg. It didn’t just magically jump there while the girl/woman was innocently going about her day.

          What’s missing in that argument, in other words, is personal responsibility.

          Except in the case of rape and incest (which is usually statutory rape), no girl or woman gets pregnant without having sex with a boy or a man. And no girl or woman is so stupid as not to realize that pregnancy results from sexual intercourse.

          If I invite a stranger into my house, and that stranger decides to stay in my house even when I no longer want him or her there (many state laws do, in fact, codify such a situation under the rubric of rental and housing laws), does that give me the right to kill the “intruder”? Even in states that allow the use of lethal force against intruders, this applies only when it is truly an intruder—i.e., someone who entered our house without our consent and against our will.

          The only case in which such an argument could possibly apply is the aforementioned case of rape, including the statutory rape that is usually what is meant by “incest” in the context of the abortion debate. In these cases, the egg was fertilized without the woman’s consent, or at a time when the girl was below the age of consent. These cases are indeed very difficult ones, as even many pro-lifers concede.

          But the bulk of abortions today are not in cases of rape or incest. They are in cases in which there was consensual sex. Under those circumstances, the idea that the fertilized egg, the embryo, and the fetus is an “intruder” or a “parasite” is . . . ridiculous. The embryo or fetus is there as a direct result of voluntary actions on the part of a post-pubertal female and male—actions whose common consequences are universally known.

          Just because some girls/women are unwilling to take responsibility for the consequences of their own actions, that doesn’t mean they are justified in disposing of the natural results on the basis of specious comparisons to “intruders” and “parasites.” Especially not when birth control is widely available.

          Except in the case of rape and incest, the fertilized egg, and its further development, was invited into the womb in the act of having unprotected sex. My belief is that we should take responsibility for the results of our voluntary actions. And I do not view having an abortion as “taking responsibility.” The time to take responsibility is before having sex.

        • Rami says:

          Hi Lee,

          Is that to say you don’t necessarily have any concrete views on the moral question(s) of abortion? Do you have a view that is somewhere between the poles of ‘my body my choice,’ and ‘she’s a child, not a choice’? My view is, as stated before, the latter, but I am open to modifying that view if given reason to do so, and near as I can see, the only reason I would ever have to do so revolves around personhood, because I simply do not see how we can uncouple that issue from the morality of abortion.

          If we have compelling reason to believe that the unborn are in every basic sense people like us, then we ought to regard their killing the way we would a born child. Appeals to autonomy and self-determination would therefore fall flat, as we certainly wouldn’t permit women to murder their born children under such a rationalization, and so too would the murdering of their unborn ones be equally horrific. I understand that you feel these are ultimately separate issues, but I can’t at present see that.

          That said, there have been multiple serious attempts to bypass that question on both sides of the debate. Feminist philosopher Mary Ann Warren in her famous ‘violinist argument’ did essentially just that in arguing that a person is not morally obligated to sustain someone else’s life against their will. On the other side, American philosopher Don Marquis did the same thing in his ‘Future Like Ours’ argument, which argues that abortion is immoral because it deprives an unborn being of a possible future that we would want and can envision for ourselves. I believe this argument is somewhat in-step with your own view?

          Both those arguments sidestep the question of personhood, and in the context of our conversation- or any spiritual conversation, really- it seems that are understanding of personhood rests with the existence of a soul. Secularists define personhood and even the idea of a soul in material ways, but the best of those definitions just describe a spiritual reality through material terms. To be a person is to have a soul, as it’s the soul that ultimately makes us human people. I’m not inclined to believe, as per my earlier comments, that there is truly any material or social sense of personhood that is worth honoring, at least to the extent that the spiritual definition (whether one accepts the term spiritual or not) is worth honoring. Commander Data may be worth considering a person in some social sense, but that, like he, is a mere construct, such that the destruction of this ‘person,’ while unfortunate, ultimately isn’t the tragedy that the destruction of a person in the spiritual sense.

          In any case, if I were to accept the unborn prior to viability are not people because they temporarily lack a fully developed soul, then I do not see how I could in good reason deny a woman’s request for an abortion. It would be unfortunate, perhaps even tragic, in the same sense that killing any other complex living organism would be, but it would not be murder, because this is not the killing of a person. I could frown upon it, I could discourage it, but I could not conclude this to be an act of murder (and to be clear, condemning the act is not the same as condemning the person, as that’s something I simply do not do in this discussion).

          So if I were to accept your view of personhood (which I understand has developed over a very long period of time), what are the implications that has for abortion? If you believe, like the above mentioned philosophers believe, that personhood is irrelevant, what other criteria are we to use in dealing with the question of abortion?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rami,

          According to Swedenborg, God’s purpose in creating the universe is to provide for a heaven from the human race. If Swedenborg is correct—and I believe he is—then the universe exists to produce people who can become angels who will inhabit and constitute heaven. This means that nothing is more important than conceiving and raising new people, and leading them toward heaven. In short, human parents have the most important job in the universe.

          Just to be clear, that job is not merely to have lots of children. Just as importantly, it is to teach and lead and guide them toward living a good and loving life, in accordance with spiritual truth, and thereby set them on a path toward heaven. As adults they may not choose to walk that path. But that is beyond what parents are responsible for.

          With that as background, I’ll answer your question more directly. In my view, when two people, one male, one female, have sex by mutual consent, and this results in a new life beginning, by that act they both become responsible to care for and raise that new life through gestation, birth, and then up to adulthood. Once their child reaches adulthood, their responsibility ceases. However, most will want to maintain a relationship with their children, and continue to help and guide them as needed and as appropriate. And of course, most love their children, their grandchildren, and so on.

          Given my views both on the purpose of creation and on people taking responsibility for their own choices and actions, I believe that intentionally killing what results from voluntarily engaging in sex is an evil, and does damage to God’s purposes and God’s will. This means that from my perspective, abortion is an immoral action.

          That is from my perspective.

          If I were emperor of the world, would I impose this legally and socially on everyone in my vast realm?

          Not if I had any sense.

          First, I don’t assume that it’s my job to decide what is moral and right for everyone else. People will make their own decisions about that regardless of what I say. If they happen to disagree with me, they may just not say it to my face. Freedom is a core element of our humanity.

          Second, and more pragmatically, laws work only when the bulk of the people agree with them, or at least accept them as necessary.

          Any law that is considered wrong and unjust by a majority, or even a large minority, of any state or country will become unenforceable. Either people will ignore the law outright, or the prohibited actions will go underground. This will plunge them into the realm of violence, fraud, and so on. Even if we were to pass laws that define abortion as the murder of a human being, if a large percentage of the population doesn’t accept that definition, and the idea of human life behind it, those laws will be about as successful as laws against the recreational use of alcohol and drugs.

          There is a myth that laws work. That if you pass a law, it will cause people to act according to that law. But people break the law all the time, in ways small and large. And if many or most people don’t think it’s a good law, they’ll break it as a matter of course. Laws also have unintended consequences that are hard to predict when passing them.

          All of this is to say that even though I personally believe that abortion is immoral and wrong in nearly all cases in which a pregnancy is the result of sexual intercourse by mutually consenting adults, and even by mutually consenting minors, that doesn’t necessarily mean I support laws against abortion. There is a wide consensus among people in every country on the face of the earth that such things as theft and murder are wrong. There is no such consensus when it comes to abortion. Until there is, using the law to try to prevent abortion is likely to be a blunt and ineffective instrument.

          As difficult and drawn-out as it will be, I believe that education and persuasion are the best instruments to use against the rampant sexual irresponsibility and resulting rampant abortions around the world today. Even if pro-lifers manage to get abortion laws passed in various states, those laws will either be flouted or, if pro-choicers gain the majority, repealed in due course. Only when the bulk of the population has a different attitude about sex, marriage, and children will we be able to put abortion behind us as a society.

          This, once again, is why I long ago chose to work in spiritual fields rather than in the fields of politics or physical health. The required attitude about sex, marriage, and children is a spiritual attitude. From a purely materialistic perspective, there are not any really good arguments against people deciding to terminate pregnancies, or even against people deciding to terminate the life of anyone who happens to get in their way. Atheists think they can derive morality from nature, but they are standing on the shoulders of thousands of years of religion under which our morality was developed. Animals in nature are amoral. If humans are merely animals, there is no compelling reason we should be moral creatures. We can collectively chose to be moral, but we can just as easily collectively choose to be immoral or amoral.

          In short, I believe that only when the bulk of the population gains spiritual life will we be able to end the practice of abortion in our society.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rami,

          To address a few more of the issues and questions you brought up:

          Perhaps from my previous response you will understand why I don’t think the fundamental issue in the abortion debate is when exactly there is a person, or a human being. Even if there is no eternal soul before viability, and therefore there is not a person, it still does damage to God’s purpose in creation to intentionally cut off a life that is developing into a human being. That is one less human being to populate heaven.

          I have no problem with people not having children if they don’t want to. People who don’t want children probably shouldn’t raise children, because they’ll generally do a bad job of it. But if they don’t want children, they should take the steps necessary to not conceive children. Either don’t have sex or use effective birth control.

          About the two arguments you mention, they make my point that people who are pro-choice or pro-life wouldn’t necessarily change their views even if the personhood issue were resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.

          I’ve already opposed Warren’s argument in another form. If two people have sex, they are responsible for the results. “Will” isn’t just momentary choice. Our will is expressed in what we do. If we have sex, that is based on our will. What results from our having sex is therefore also based on our will. That’s why it is wrong, in my view, to say that conceiving a child and bearing it is “against the will” of the child’s biological parents. If they truly do not want to have a child, there are multiple ways to express that will before having sex.

          Maquis’s argument, in my view, is not a particularly strong one either. Based on that argument, we could also argue that people not having sex and bearing children is depriving those potential children of the future we would want for ourselves. Bearing children is not the only purpose of sex. Sex also expresses the love two people have for one another. That is valid in itself, whether or not the sex results in pregnancy and childbirth. Once again, if people don’t want children, I don’t have a problem with that. But they should make that decision before having sex, and take the necessary steps to ensure that they don’t conceive.

          Once conception occurs, there is a full set of unique human DNA. Whether or not it is then a person, that full set of DNA within a single cell will in the normal course of events develop into a person, unless there are physical or genetic problems that prevent it. Humans are precious beings. If some are lost due to factors beyond our control, that is unfortunate. But if we purposely cause some of them to be lost, that, in my view, is a spiritually destructive act.

          The counter-argument is that tens of millions of spontaneous abortions occur every year, so it’s hard to see intentional abortions as a heinous evil. If God and nature allow so many full sets of DNA to fall away, how is it so wrong for us to do so?

          My answer is, once again, that human life is precious. I believe we should nurture as much of it as we can. Spontaneous abortions are not under our control, beyond maintaining healthy lifestyles that are most likely to provide the best environment in utero for gestation to occur. Abortion, by contrast, is under our control. Why add to the loss that occurs naturally?

          Back to a subject I have spoken about in earlier comments on this thread, God regularly uses processes, not instant snaps of the finger, to bring things about.

          Consider how a planet forms out of the ring of dust and gas that surrounds a newly forming star. When does it become a planet? There is a time when it is clearly not a planet, and a much later time when it clearly is a planet. In between, there may be millions of years of it gradually forming into a planet. This seems to be how God operates. Creating a new human being instantaneously goes against the grain of everything we know about how God operates both in the world of nature and in the world of spirit. (In the realm of spirit, for example, people don’t regenerate all at once. It is a process that happens over a lifetime.)

          If you or I were running the universe, but without God’s infinite wisdom and foresight, would it make sense to intentionally snuff out this or that planet when it is in the process of formation, before it could fully coalesce as a planet? Probably not. What if that planet would have become one of the rare ones that would be able to support advanced life? Now by our actions we’ve made the universe a poorer place, even if we had some other reason for stopping the formation of that particular planet.

          Another way of saying all this is that I view the genesis of human life as a process, not as an instantaneous event. Once that process has started, I believe we should let it unfold to its completion. Some new starts will not be viable, and will spontaneously abort. That’s in the hands of God and nature. Our role is to give it the best chance we can to survive and thrive, first physically, then spiritually.

        • Rami says:

          Hi Lee,

          I appreciate you addressing this issue and answering my questions about your views head-on, because as you said, this is something that no Swedenborg minister wants to take up, and I imagine even less so in such explicit terms.

          Regarding that view, it seems yours is essentially akin to the pro-lifer who ‘does not personally believe in abortion, but it is a personal choice, and I will not impose that view on anyone else.’ Because I gather that if you felt abortion was the murder of another human being, and that we had reason to determine it as such, it would be downright absurd to regulate such a decision to a mere personal ‘choice,’ and your view that you would not wish to ‘impose’ on others.

          But since you do not, your view seems like one that concerns personal morality concerning an issue that does not gravely harm anyone else, perhaps akin to taking a stance on the morality of something something like sex or alcohol- you may have your own views on it, but since those acts don’t inherently pose a mortal threat to anyone else, people are free to do as they please.

          Let me know if I have that right.

          That said, crystallizing your view into an act of public policy, in my mind, would only be an act of imposition in a secular, a-spiritual society, as its members would not necessarily see or accept the truths that underly why, according to your view, abortion would be immoral. But if we were a collectively spiritually mature people and society, then it wouldn’t be an imposition inasmuch as it would be an act of education to people who are receptive to it, but simply do not know any better in their present time. I think that’s worth pointing out when we talk about imposed morality, which permeates the abortion debate, and if that is indeed part of why you don’t believe your view necessarily ought to be law (among other reasons you mentioned).

          Like I said, I’m receptive the possibility of viewing abortion in a similar way. I already agree with you concerning the spiritual affront abortion presents to the act of reproduction, but if I were to abandon my believe in unborn personhood (up to a point), that would be the only objection I had left to abortion. But like I said, I would need to hear, from a Swedenborgian perspective, reasons to believe that a fully completed soul does exist at conception, and is immediately infused into the newly created person, rather than something that develops over time.

          Additionally, and I keep coming back to this, the chief difficulty I would have in accepting that view is that I still can identify no material analog to the spiritual arguments you are presenting, and again, I’m of the belief that there must be a material/rational level to all spiritual truths. They cannot serve to explain or prove spiritual truths, but they must exist as that lowest level of spiritual emanation. In this case, I don’t see that analog when contemplating the idea that I wasn’t a person at some point during my existence.

          Additionally, it doesn’t necessarily follow that because a body develops over time, so too must the soul, as the idea of a completed soul at conception is in my mind compatible with the fact that the physical body develops over time. I understand that you believe this flies in the face of the process-oriented nature of the natural world, but it’s possible to hold the above mentioned view of an instantly completed soul and an accept that both material and spiritual realities as unfolding through processes and over time.

          You once remarked to me that we must be careful when inferring correspondences from the natural world, as we can fall into the trap of reading things in that aren’t there. Likewise, as convincing as it may seem to infer that the soul develops because the body does, it may be best to begin our questions about the soul *with* the soul, and then correspond it with the natural world only once we have reached appropriate conclusions about how the soul comes into being.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rami,

          On your first few paragraphs, it is true that my leaning toward believing that there is not an eternal human soul until some time around physical viability causes me not to think of abortions performed before viability as the murder of a human being.

          Another point about murder is that unlike manslaughter and negligent homicide, part of the definition of murder is the intent to kill a human being. Someone who performs or gets an abortion, and does not believe that the aborted embryo or fetus is a human being, does not have intent to kill a human being because they don’t regard it as a human being. It is therefore not really accurate to describe their actions as “murder.” And spiritually speaking, they have not broken the commandment against killing.

          My stance on the wrongness of early-term abortions has more to do with the preciousness and value of human life, including developing human life, than it does with the debate about murder and when personhood begins. Framing it in terms of when there is a person who has rights, and when in the development of a human being it is murder to kill that being, is, in my view, bound to generate more heat than light. These arguments are being made over and over again in public and legal forums, and they are not changing the minds of people on either side of the abortion issue.

          Another way of stating my stance is that whether or not aborting a pre-viable fetus is the murder of a person, and does damage to that person, such abortions do damage God’s purpose and plan for creation. The life of a potential angel has been cut off before attaining an eternal soul that would make angelhood possible. As a result, God’s community of heaven is poorer than it otherwise would have been.

          Ironically, I would have less trouble with early-term abortions if I believed the soul were eternal from conception. Then I would at least believe that the soul of the aborted one would go on to live eternally in heaven, enriching the human community there. Contrary to the conventional debate, it is precisely because I don’t think it is murder that I believe early-term abortion is especially unfortunate.

          For the same reasons about the purpose of Creation and our planet, I am also very much opposed to various theories and schemes to limit population growth. After years of this sort of thing in the continents of Europe, Asia, and North America, those continents are now on the verge of a crisis in which there are too many elderly people, and too few younger and middle-aged people to support them and drive the economy. China, after decades of its one-child policy, is now desperately trying, and failing, to induce its young adults to have more children. Only Africa is projected to continue growing in population through at least 2050. Annette and I would have to be blind not to notice that there are huge numbers of children, teens, and young adults everywhere here. It is one of the delightful aspects of living in Africa.

          Back to abortion, as in many other areas, my views don’t fit comfortably into any of the usual stances and positions on this issue. Yes, I do believe in personal freedom of choice. No, I don’t think the killing of pre-viable fetuses is murder. Yes, I do believe abortion is wrong. No, I don’t believe people who perform or get abortions are evil and are going to hell. Yes, I think sexuality is a good and God-given thing. No, I don’t think we should just jump into bed with each other without taking responsibility for the natural and God-created results of that momentary pleasure. Yes, I believe it is best to wait for marriage before having sex. No, I don’t think people who have healthy and responsible sexual relationships with one another outside of marriage are “fornicating” in the biblical sense, and are on the slippery slope to hell.

          On and on. I just can’t entirely agree with any of the usual stances on abortion that I hear flying around in the news and the culture in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. This is why, at some point, I’ll likely distill all of this conversation, and other thoughts on abortion and related issues, into a post or series of posts. From my point of view, none of the arguments on either side of the debate are sufficient or satisfying. And I don’t think they’re satisfying for the majority of people who are not in either the extreme left pro-choice or the extreme right pro-life camp on the issue of abortion.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rami,

          I don’t have anything new to say about the legal debate regarding abortion beyond what I’ve already said. I’ll therefore move on to your later paragraphs, about the nature and formation of the soul in relation to personhood.

          But first, about your desire for other Swedenborgian views to compare and contrast with mine:

          To be fair, for some years now I have been a bit out of touch with the Swedenborgian debate on various issues. I am no longer working within my own denomination of origin, the Swedenborgian Church of North America, and I follow the General Church’s doings only loosely and fitfully. Here in South Africa, my main engagement with the New Church of Southern Africa is to teach in its seminary, Mooki Memorial College. I don’t get involved in the meetings or politics of the church.

          Having said that, I don’t think you’re going to find, in traditional Swedenborgian cirles, a lot of the kind of incisive, detailed debate and discussion on such issues that you’re craving. The conservative wing of Swedenborgianism is likely just to take a hard-line stance based on how they uncritically read some statement in Swedenborg. No room for consideration and debate. The liberal wing of Swedenborgianism is likely to take a “supportive” stance of “persons” and their freedom of choice, in line with the left generally, without delving deeply into the practical and spiritual issues relating to these “freedoms.” Part of the reason I stopped following the Swedenborgian periodical literature is that I didn’t find most of it very interesting or thought-provoking. I could read the title of the article, and already know pretty much what it’s going to say—and none of it is new. This is true both of the conservative and the liberal publications.

          Perhaps something interesting has been said, or is being said, and I missed it. Aside from various newsletters put out by various Swedenborgian churches and organizations, which are mostly newsy and inspirational in character, there are only two regular, solid Swedenborgian publications left in the world that I’m aware of: The Messenger published by the Swedenborgian Church of North America, and New Church Life published by the General Church of the New Jerusalem in Bryn Athyn. If you read these two, you pretty much have what the current leading bodies of the New Church in the world are saying on various subjects. But I now read them only fitfully.

          As for me, though my overall view of Swedenborg and his writings is still closest to that of the church in which I grew up, and in which I still hold my ordination, I have gone largely independent in my views and in what I write on various subjects. I don’t think all that much about what this or that New Church body would think of it, nor are most of my readers card-carrying Swedenborgians. I no longer believe those bodies will survive long-term.

          I have come to believe that the new church that Swedenborg speaks of will arise separately from the existing organized New Church. I think of myself as helping to lay the doctrinal and conceptual foundations of that new church, whatever it is. Swedenborg’s teachings must be adapted to the culture as it unfolds around us. Though the Swedenborgian Church of North America is making some efforts at this, I don’t think any of the existing Swedenborgian organizations are taking it seriously enough. They are all too concerned with their own survival and well-being and internal politics to put serious thought into how our specific teachings will interface with the current and future human societies as we finish out the third century since the Second Coming.

          Well . . . that got a little longer than I intended. I guess I’ll start a new comment to get to the actual substance of the origin and development of the soul.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rami,

          Traditional Swedenborgian thought about the origin of the soul has been hamstrung, I believe, by Swedenborg’s adoption of the then still widely accepted Aristotelian idea of the origin of the soul: that it is an offshoot of the father’s soul, which is then clothed with a body in the womb of the mother.

          This idea was accepted uncritically by most Swedenborgians for a couple centuries. To my knowledge, it began to cause cognitive dissonance among some Swedenborgians only in the mid to late 20th century with the advent of the drive toward gender equality. Among conservative Swedenborgians it is still accepted as gospel. But such Swedenborgians are mostly just talking to each other to bolster their archaic and cloistered doctrinal views, so it doesn’t really matter what they think. Liberal Swedenborgians tend to simply lay aside Swedenborg’s Aristotelian view of the origin of the soul, and not think about it because it doesn’t fit with their views on the desirability of gender equality. Whether they have any clear idea of the origin of the soul to put in its place, I do not know.

          My view is that Aristotle wasn’t totally wrong, but he was also only half right. Based on how a human being is generated physically, and considering that this should correspond to how a human being is generated spiritually, I have come to believe that each new human soul is a combination of unique offshoots of the souls of both the father and the mother. This has all sorts of doctrinal and human ramifications that would take too long to get into here. But it seems to me the only reasonable position to take in light of our current knowledge of biology and reproduction.

          About my some-time remark about not inferring spiritual things on the basis of correspondences, that mostly has to do with deciding what our attitudes and actions should be based on physical examples in nature. Drawing moral conclusions based on scientific fact or theory is, in my view, a categorical mistake that is bound to lead us into error. For example, if we study the behavior of chimpanzees, and start drawing conclusions about how we humans should act based on chimpanzee behavior, that would be a categorical error. Chimps are animals. Humans are both animals and spiritual beings. There’s a big difference.

          Swedenborg himself mostly applied this principle to reading the Bible and drawing beliefs from it. His main point was that we should base our “doctrine,” or belief and teaching, on statements made in the literal sense of the Bible, not on correspondences. That’s because by misusing correspondences we can twist the Bible to mean whatever we want it to mean if we aren’t actually looking to see what the Lord is telling us in the Bible, but are simply trying to buttress and support our already existing doctrines and beliefs. This makes it possible for us ignore what the Bible tells us plainly about salvation and the life that leads to heaven, and claim that “the Bible says” whatever we want it to say. Even though traditional “Christians” don’t have the concept of correspondences, this is precisely what they do in putting forward their various unbiblical doctrines. They make the Bible say things it simply doesn’t say in order to make it conform to their human-originated doctrines and traditions.

          Meanwhile, the origin and nature of the soul is not really a moral issue. It is “mechanical” in a spiritual sense. Somehow the soul gets generated. Exactly how it gets generated will not have an earth-shaking affect on how we live our lives morally and spiritually. That’s the very reason that neither the Bible nor Swedenborg makes any definitive statement on the formation of the soul and when it becomes eternal.

          On the issue of abortion, most people on both the left and the right would consider this whole debate we’re having to be theoretical and useless, and would continue to hold whatever position they currently hold regardless. They believe they already have the truth. They are not interested in delving into these issues too deeply.

          In short, I don’t think the objections to drawing spiritual conclusions based on physical realities is particularly strong in the case of attempting to determine the nature of the origin and development of the soul. In this case, it seems to me that there will be a clear correspondence between how things happen physically and how they happen spiritually. If Swedenborg’s teachings about correspondences have any systematic application at all, as he says they do, I don’t see how we can avoid that conclusion.

          The problem would come in drawing such conclusions as, “Because the soul develops over time rather than coming into being fully formed, therefore early-term abortion is A-OK and should be both legally and morally acceptable.” That’s the sort of jump that I don’t think is warranted. It would be a misuse of correspondences in drawing “doctrine”—though in this case from spiritual to physical rather than the reverse. It would be a case of already existing positions bending doctrine to support it, rather than doctrine informing us on what positions to take and how to live.

          The reason such a conclusion would be unwarranted, in my view, is that there are other, more applicable teachings that Swedenborg does state explicitly, including the aforementioned teaching that the purpose of creation is a heaven from the human race. That teaching has more bearing on the abortion issue, I believe, than the question of precisely how the soul originates and is formed, and when it becomes eternal.

          Now back to the main point. Your big sticking points on accepting that the soul develops over time rather than becoming instantly a human being, or person, at the time of conception seem to be:

          1. Accepting that the soul develops into a human being over time conflicts in your mind with your abhorrence of abortion, and seems to you to give support to those who support abortion.
          2. You don’t have any sense that spiritual things develop as natural things do, and the analogy or correspondence of the development natural things is not convincing to you.

          I’ve dealt with the first point fairly extensively in this discussion. Contrary to your current view, from my perspective, although accepting that spiritual viability comes at about the time of physical viability means that early-term abortions are not murder, it makes such abortions even worse from a spiritual perspective because it cuts off potential eternal human lives before they have the chance to become eternal, thereby denying heaven many new citizens. (But at the same time it makes such abortions less culpable from a material-world and legal standpoint.)

          On the second point, two lines of thinking come to mind. One is the example of the Creation story in Genesis 1. The other is the process of regeneration.

          In contrast to the Creation story in Genesis 2:4–25, the story of the seven days of Creation in Genesis 1:1–2:3 does not begin with the creation of a human being. In fact, everything else besides the human being is created first. Humans are the last thing created on the last (sixth) day of actual creation before God rests.

          And yet, the whole story is about the spiritual formation of a human being. As Swedenborg explains the meaning of the events of each successive day the first chapter of Secrets of Heaven, it’s all about how a human being is regenerated from being a “formless and void,” or spiritually dead, person to being a spiritually living person created in the image and likeness of God.

          Consider, then, that in the literal story, humans do not arrive on the scene until the sixth day. This, it seems to me, corresponds to when we actually become human. And Swedenborg does at least imply this in his exegesis of those verses. It’s not an airtight case. But the story strongly suggests that it takes time for us to develop into a human being—that we start out not being human, and become human at some point along the way, after a period of time spent in development.

          The second is the process of regeneration. Once again, we start out dead, and only gradually develop into a living, regenerate being. The assumption is that the moment we are converted and begin the process, we are now headed to eternal heaven rather than eternal hell. And that is true, because we start the process of regeneration in adulthood, when we are already developed as human beings, and already have an eternal soul. The main point is that regeneration is a process, not something that happens instantaneously. We do not instantly become angels of heaven. It takes a lifetime of regeneration to accomplish that.

          These are two lines of thinking that suggest that like material things, spiritual things develop over time rather than springing instantly into existence as full-blown creations.

          I would suggest that this is true of all spiritual things, including the human soul. God simply doesn’t do things instantly. We never see any examples of this anywhere around us, inwardly or outwardly. Why should the creation of the soul be the one exception? It doesn’t make sense to me that God would create the human soul in a manner completely different from the manner in which God creates everything else.

          And once again, it just doesn’t correspond to how God has arranged to create new human beings physically. God has instituted a process in which two cells, which are not human beings, meet and form one cell, which is also clearly, visually, not a human being. The only characteristic of a human being it has is a full set of human DNA. It has none of the other defining characteristics of a human being, either in its physical form (no heart, lungs, limbs, and so on) or in its spiritual form (no ability to will, think, have emotions, make choices, and so on).

          A fertilized ovum could be a human being only in some theoretical sense that we can think of in our mind. In actual point of physical fact, it is clearly not a human being, nor does it become anything resembling a human being until it has undergone an extensive amount of cell division, differentiation of cells and organs, and development of those differentiated cells and organs over time. Only then would some objective person see it and say, “That looks like a person.” At the time of conception, it looks nothing like a person.

          I don’t think we can just ignore these obvious facts, and impose theoretical theories of humanity on something that is nothing like a human being in form or function. Pro-lifers very much want there to be a human being at conception, because that supports their stance that abortion is murder. But the physical evidence simply doesn’t support this “doctrinal” conclusion that they draw on the basis of already existing beliefs.

          As I’ve said before, I believe it is best to get the facts first, and then base our beliefs on those facts. Doing it the other way around has the same problem as drawing doctrine based on correspondences. We will simply make what we see fit in with our pre-existing beliefs regardless of whether what we see actually does fit in with our pre-existing beliefs.

          Flat-earthers continue to swear that the earth is flat despite the fact that there is no physical evidence whatsoever for such an idea, and overwhelming evidence against it. But they continue to write whole books about how what we see actually supports their belief that the earth is flat. And the origin of that belief is in a materialistic and literal reading of the Bible, and fundamentalist Christian doctrine based on that materialistic reading of the Bible.

          Once the facts are thrown out the window, and even the Bible is read only to support already existing beliefs, such beliefs have become entirely unhinged from reality. They just float up in the air somewhere without any foundation at all.

          That is how I have come to view the idea that there is a fully formed soul, and an actual human person, from the moment of conception. There is no evidence whatsoever to support such an idea. All of the physical evidence is entirely contrary to it, as covered above. The Bible never says any such thing. Otherwise the fundamentalists would point to the passage, and it would be an open-and-shut case for most Christians. Swedenborg never says any such thing. Otherwise Swedenborgians would point to that passage, and there would be no conception vs. first breath debate among Swedenborgians.

          What basis is there anywhere for the idea that there is a fully formed human soul, and therefore a person, at conception? I see none at all. It flies in the face of everything we know and have learned about nature and spirit.

  23. Ray says:

    He Lee. I have a lot of thoughts that may not be pertinent to what you want to discuss, so I was wondering if there are any forums to discuss Swedenborg’s teachings and how they relate to current events?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Ray,

      Unfortunately, there are not many active Swedenborgian discussion sites, and the ones that do exist tend to be fairly circumscribed in what can be discussed there. They are run by specific Swedenborgians who have specific perspectives, and who tend to suppress other perspectives.

      Also, hosting a discussion site is a lot of work. It requires at least one person who has a thorough knowledge of Swedenborg’s teachings to be present and active and in a moderating role to avoid having the discussion go completely off the rails. Most Swedenborgian discussion sites tend to go dead after a while.

      You are free to discuss current events here, but from a personal and spiritual perspective rather than from a political perspective.

      Politics, especially in the U.S., has become so polarized that it is nearly impossible to have a reasonable conversation about it. The moment anyone expresses a view that doesn’t accord with the views on that subject by one or the other of the poles, he or she will be attacked and demonized, and if possible, run out of his or her job.

      During Obama’s presidency, people on the right were not allowed to agree with a word he said, or they would be attacked and demonized by the right. During Trump’s presidency, people on the left were not allowed to agree with a single word he said, or they would be attacked and demonized by the left. Even if Obama or Trump said something that previously everyone had agreed about, whatever he said would instantly become “left-wing” or “right-wing,” and opposition to or acceptance of it would be enforced based merely on whether one identified as being on the left or the right.

      During Trump’s presidency especially, I finally stopped watching and reading the political news altogether, because before I even read the article, I knew what it would say based on whether it was a news site controlled by Democrats or a news site controlled by Republicans. On the former, Trump could do no right, and on the latter Trump could do no wrong. There was a lot of heat, but no light. After a while it got so predictable and boring that it wasn’t even worth following the news on either side.

      If it were possible to have a rational discussion of politics, I would allow it here. But the moment any post or comment here touches on issues that are considered political, the attacks start flying, and reasonableness and thoughtfulness goes right out the window. Take a look at the discussion on our “Black Lives Matter” post, and you will see what I am talking about. I lost at least one reader, and probably many more, because Black Lives Matter had become a political football, such that no rational discussion about the actual issues relating to Black lives is possible without it becoming a mud-slinging contest.

      That is why I don’t allow political discussions here on Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life. And it’s why most religious websites that aren’t run by right-wing or left-wing religious nuts don’t allow political discussion either. And on those left-wing and right-wing religious sites that do allow it, it’s not really a discussion, because ideological conformity is required or you will be thrown off the site.

      It’s too bad, because politics and religion certainly do relate to one another. I have many thoughts about politics and religion. But until people calm down and stop hating on anyone who doesn’t agree with their particular political position, it’s simply not possible to have a rational public discussion on anything related to politics.

      Unfortunately, politicians feed on, and feed, that polarization because that’s what gets them elected. Therefore I don’t expect the irrational and hostile pattern of extreme polarization to end any time soon.

      Until it does, conversations focused on politics will not be allowed here because they detract from the purpose of this website, which is to bring spiritual understanding to people of all types, regardless of their political beliefs.

      • I have been seeking a news discussion site, for discussing news articles from various sites such as The Guardian, CBC, and Daily Mail.
        I have also been seeking a Christian Q&A site for asking Christian questions and getting both subjective and objective answers.
        Why isn’t there a site called That domain name is for sale. Should I be the first one to take it? I don’t want to run the site alone. I want to be part of a team. It should be like, but be a standalone site for finding websites rather than subreddits.

        • Lee says:

          Hi WorldQuestioner,

          Most Christian websites are sponsored by people who have specific religious views. They will give you subjective answers, not objective ones, because they are run by people who hold specific doctrines that they will support and uphold in all their articles and, if they have them, in their discussion areas, regardless of whether there is any objective support for those views.

          One non-denominational website that attempts to be a forum for objective answers to questions about Christianity is Christianity StackExchange. I was fairly active there a few years ago, but have mostly dropped away now. The site is not entirely successful in the objectivity department, but it’s about as good as it gets on the web. At least it’s trying.

          As for your website idea, not only would it be a massive amount of work, but I doubt it could compete with already existing Internet search engines.

          Back in the mid to late 1990s when the Internet was still fairly new, I set up a section of my denomination’s website whose purpose was to link to all significant Swedenborgian material on the Web in an organized, hierarchical, and searchable index. It’s safe to say that I spent hundreds of hours sleuthing out every website, online book, discussion site, denominational site, and so on that had anything to do with Swedenborg.

          For a while there, it was probably fairly complete. But as the Internet mushroomed, it became clear that there was no way I was going to keep up with the flood of new Swedenborgian material appearing on the web, much of it not even posted by Swedenborgians. I quietly dropped the project, and it disappeared in the next major update of the denominational website. These days, it’s generally best just to use the existing search engines, which have thrown everything they’ve got at making it possible for people to find anything they want to find on the Web.

          Curated websites that link to specific materials are still useful. It’s easy for the best materials and websites on specific subjects to get flooded out by the vast torrent of mediocre and downright bad websites out there. However, the Internet is a huge, rapidly changing and evolving space. Any such curated website must be constantly checked for broken links and updated with new links. This can easily become a full-time job in itself. Few such curated websites manage to keep up. Most of them go dormant and freeze at some point, resulting in more and more of the links becoming broken links, and the existing links not reflecting any of the best new sites.

          In short, unless you are prepared to make it your entire career for the rest of your life, I wouldn’t recommend going forward with your findasite idea.

        • What about That’s for sale. Ideally it would answer questions asking why God does certain things. Include both objective answers and speculations.

        • Lee says:

          Hi WorldQuestioner,

          Are you planning to run such a website yourself?

        • Not necessarily, at least not on my own.

      • Ray says:

        My main point was to respond to you saying something has got to give. I even tried to respond as neutral as possible, bur fair enough. How does one discuss the spiritual in terms of current events without it getting too political.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ray,

          I do understand.

          On your question, first, anything that’s purely political, such as elections or particular government officials or particular legislation on hot-button issues is bound to create more heat than light in these polarized times. It’s best not to go there on a spiritual blog such as this one.

          Second, it’s not necessary to politicize every social issue or current event. Politics has hijacked many issues that are primarily social and spiritual issues.

          Racism, for example, is not primarily a political issue. It’s an issue of human relations. We can talk about how people of different races do or don’t get along with one another, and the spiritual, psychological, and social issues involved, without talking about what Democrats or Republicans or right-wingers or left-wingers say or do about it, and without talking about what laws should or shouldn’t be in place and what the police should do about it.

          That is what I did in the Black Lives Matter post. The article necessarily had to talk about the current situation that caused all the uproar in the first place. But from there, it goes into the social and spiritual issues, not the political issues.

          Many years ago, when I was in my twenties, I was facing a decision about what direction I would go in life, and where to put my efforts. At that time I was very politically active. I considered going in that direction. But a saying of Jesus kept running through my head: “Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees” (Matthew 3:10, Luke 3:9). And it became clear to me that the root of the trees is not political, but spiritual. That is why I ceased being politically active, and took a path toward laboring in the spiritual vineyard instead.

          To this day, I have strong political views. But I don’t think that is where I can make the most difference in helping to move the world in a better direction. Everything we humans do on this earth reflects our spiritual outlook or lack thereof. Our beliefs and attitudes about the nature of life and reality, and especially about God and spiritual life, direct and determine our heart, our mind, and our hands. That is why I chose to sideline my politics and focus on helping and guiding people in their spiritual lives instead. If we as individuals and as a society do not arrive at a good and healthy spiritual life, none of the rest will come together in a good and positive way either. As Jesus said:

          But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:33)

  24. Ray says:

    Hi Lee. I am curious what it means when people say they sold their soul to the devil? A lot of celebrities have claimed they sold their soul to the devil for fame and fortune. So, if there is no devil, then who do they sell their soul too?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Ray,

      When people say they’ve sold their soul to the Devil, they’re usually speaking metaphorically, not literally. They mean that they “sold out” in order to get rich and famous. In other words, they violated their own morals and values, and did whatever it took to get in the public eye and make money.

  25. Ray says:

    Hi Lee. Something i recently learned was that Washington DC and Ottawa have a statue or statues of Baphomet. CERN has a statue of a A demon looking god named Shiva. Why do all these places have demon like statues? How, am I supposed to believe there is no devil when a lot of powerful people and organizations seem to worship a devil like figure? What are they worshipping? Just evil in general?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Ray,

      I would have to see the article to comment on it. I suspect it is clickbait put out by people who have a political axe to grind. If it’s about the Satanists, that bunch strikes me as a group of privileged folks who want to look cool by “embracing the dark side.” I doubt Satan would be pleased with them. For that, they’d have to go around murdering, raping, stealing, and so on, which is not what they do.

      Shiva is one of the three main Hindu gods, known as “The Destroyer.” As such, Shiva has become an archetype for anything that destroys things and tears them down. This is not necessarily bad if the things being destroyed are evil or just outdated, and need to go. Fundamentalist Christians who think of Shiva as a demon or the devil have missed the point.

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