Ever since the time of Jesus, Christians (not to mention various other groups) have been predicting the end of the world.
The Essenes believed that the Jewish revolt against the Romans in 66–70 AD was the end-time battle. And as this list shows, there have been end-of-the-world predictions in almost every century since then.
In recent centuries, these end-time predictions have been coming thick and fast. And these days, there is always someone shouting that the end of the world is nigh!
It should come as no surprise, then, that the recent surprise election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States has caused conspiracy theorists to suddenly “discover” that over 400 years ago, Nostradamus predicted Trump’s rise to power and the resulting end of the world.
Then again, as Alyssa Wilkinson points out in her article, “It’s the end of the world as we know it, again,” apocalyptic predictions about what will happen if the opposing candidate is elected are nothing new in American politics. The same was said about Barack Obama, Barry Goldwater, and many other presidential candidates. Some of them went on to get elected—and then abysmally failed to bring about the promised apocalypse.
So it’s easy for thinking, rational people to laugh off all the latest prophecies and prognostications made by evangelical Christians that this time the sky really is going to come crashing down!
And yet, the Evangelicals are right. Their world is coming to an end.
The end of the age, not the end of the world
My article, “Is the World Coming to an End? What about the Second Coming?” points out that the book of Revelation, from which many of the end-time predictions come, describes events that John saw in the spiritual world. Fundamentalists and Evangelicals are making a leap of logic when they say that those events are going to take place in the material world. The book of Revelation says no such thing.
In addition to this non-Biblical materialism on the part of fundamentalist and Evangelical preachers, there is another reason it has become ingrained in the minds of so many conservative Christians that the Bible predicts the end of the world. Take a look at these four verses from the Gospel of Matthew, as they appear in the traditional King James Version (KJV) of the Bible (italics are added):
The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. (Matthew 13:39)
So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just. (Matthew 13:49)
And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world? (Matthew 24:3)
Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen. (Matthew 28:20)
See?!? It’s right there in the Bible! The world is going to end!
But let’s look at the same verses in the New Revised Standard Version, which is a revision of the KJV into more contemporary English (italics are added):
And the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. (Matthew 13:39)
So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous. (Matthew 13:49)
When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3)
And teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:20)
You see, the primary meaning of the Greek word αἰών is “an age, a human lifetime.” The KJV uses the term “world” in the sense of “human society in its current form.” This meaning is somewhat archaic these days, but it still survives in expressions such as “withdrawing from the world,” meaning getting away from the world of human society.
Contemporary Bible translations use more contemporary language to express what the original Greek is really talking about: the end of the current age, or era, of human society. This—not the end of the physical earth and sky—is what Jesus is talking about in these verses from the Gospel of Matthew.
Jesus on the end of the age
That’s why in the course of the so-called “little Apocalypse,” in which Jesus talks about the end times, he could say:
Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. (Matthew 24:34, and see also Mark 13:30 and Luke 21:32)
As it turns out, the physical earth and sky did not come to an end before that generation had died off. And ever since, Christians have been trying to explain how Jesus could make a prediction that was so obviously wrong. Over sixty generations later, Christians are still waiting for “all these things to take place.”
But Jesus’ prediction was not wrong. The end of the age did come before that generation had died out.
In fact, the Essenes weren’t so far off in saying that the Jewish revolt of 66–70 AD was the end-time battle. That revolt led to the siege of Jerusalem by the Roman army in 70 AD, during the reign of the Roman emperor Vespasian, led by his future successor Titus. This siege ended in the destruction of most of the city of Jerusalem, including the Jewish Temple. As many as one million Jews died in the revolt, and many others were sold into slavery. After the uprising was crushed and Jerusalem was razed, all of the remaining Jewish leaders and educated elites were exiled from Palestine.
This catastrophic event spelled the end of Judaism as it had been practiced up to that time. Since there was no longer a Temple in which to perform their religious rites and sacrifices, and the remaining Jewish leadership and community was now dispersed throughout the surrounding lands, with no country of its own, Judaism had to reinvent itself. This reinvention sowed the seeds for Rabbinic Judaism, which became the dominant, mainstream form of Judaism as it still exists today.
- This new form of Judaism was no longer a nation over which the Jews had political sovereignty. Instead, it became a religion practiced in communities widely dispersed around the world.
- This new form of Judaism was no longer centered on Temple worship. Instead, it centered on a life lived in observance of the Torah, or Jewish Law, and of the traditions both oral and written that grew up around it.
- This new form of Judaism was not led by anointed priests, but by Rabbis, or “masters,” in the sense of skilled teachers of the Torah. In Rabbinic Judaism, the ancient priesthood drawn from the tribe of Levi and the lineage of Aaron, which had been central to ancient Judaism, has a very limited function.
All of this represents a massive change in Judaism—a change that must have felt cataclysmic to the first century Jews who lived through it.
Even though the Jewish people regained sovereignty over much of Palestine nineteen centuries later, in 1948, they still could not resume their old worship practices even if they wanted to. That’s because the site of the ancient Jewish Temple is now occupied by one of the most sacred structures in Islam: the Dome of the Rock. There will be no return to the sacrificial Temple- and priest-centered religion of ancient Israel any time soon—and probably not ever.
In short, for the people of Jesus’ day and nation, “the end of the world” came in the year 70 AD—within the lifetime of the generation that Jesus said would not pass away “until all these things have taken place.” From that time onward, both Jews and Christians alike were living in a new world. The world that existed before that time is gone forever.
Our very calendar recognizes that there was a decisive change in human history at that time. Christians think of it as “AD,” short for the Latin anno domini, meaning “in the year of the Lord.” More recently, the term CE, short for “Common Era” or “Current Era” has come into use as a more secular and inclusive way to refer to the new era of humanity that started two thousand years ago.
Jesus, who was the master of speaking in parables, spoke metaphorically and symbolically of the monumental social, ecclesiastical, and spiritual changes that were taking place in the world of those times, whose final days would be seen by the generation of people who heard his words from his own mouth.
The former Christian world has now come to an end
In the centuries that followed, the successors to Jesus’ small band of followers built up a new Christian religion that replaced ancient Judaism as the leading spiritual and intellectual force in the world that it spread to, encompassing most of Europe and parts of western Asia and northern Africa.
And yet, as the centuries went by, Christianity increasingly veered away from the teachings of the Gospels, and focused more and more on gaining worldly wealth and power.
Ancient Judaism came to its final days when it completely lost its focus on living by the Law of God, and focused instead on fighting a doomed battle for worldly power and political sovereignty against the overwhelming power of the Roman Empire.
Over the centuries Christianity, too, lost its focus on living by the teachings of Jesus Christ, and instead sought to impose its will and its dogmas on everyone under its control, while building up its own worldly wealth and power.
History teaches us that worldly empires rise, reach their peak, and then inevitably fall and are replaced by others. Once Christianity became a worldly empire, its fate was sealed. It was only a matter of time before it faced its own end times, just as ancient Judaism had before it.
Jesus taught that the most important commandments in the Scriptures are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves (see Matthew 22:34–40; Mark 12:28–34; Luke 10:25–28). Once any religion loses its focus on these two Great Commandments, its time has come to an end.
That is precisely what happened to the Christian church.
And that’s why the Evangelicals are right—though not in the way they think. The Christian world in which the people of Europe and various surrounding areas lived for many centuries has come to an end.
Gone are the days when Christianity ruled the Western world spiritually, intellectually, and politically.
As early as the seventh century, Islam arose and began to wrest from Christianity large swaths of the former Roman Empire in North Africa, the Middle East, and even in southwestern Europe that had previously been mostly under Christian control.
But it was the arrival of the Age of Enlightenment in the seventeenth or eighteenth century that finally broke the power of the Christian church over the minds and bodies of the people of Europe. At that time a new era of reason and science began spreading from Europe to the surrounding areas, and to the New World of North and South America—which was being colonized by various European powers. Governments, universities, and the other institutions of Western society increasingly freed themselves from the yoke of institutional Christianity, and began to chart their own course.
In short, the world of the existing Christian church was coming to an end.
Yes, as explained earlier, Jesus’ words about the end of the age were fulfilled within a generation by the cataclysmic political and social events culminating in the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD. But his words also predict a future time when there would be cataclysmic changes in the Christian world. And like the changes that took place in the ancient Jewish world of Jesus’ day, the changes that Jesus predicted for the future Christian world would be largely social, ecclesiastical, and spiritual, not physical.
The world that Christians lived in for so many centuries as supreme rulers of their own domain no longer exists. The end-time battle to hold onto that world was already fought and lost several centuries ago. It was not a literal battle fought with swords or guns. It was an intellectual, ideological, and spiritual battle. In that battle, the institutions of Christianity were thrown down from their former position of ruling the western world. They were replaced by the victorious institutions of science and reason—and increasingly by a new, more flexible, more humane, and more spiritual form of ethics and morality.
Yes, there are still vestiges of the old world. And no, we have not yet fully achieved justice and peace in our world. But we are well on our way.
In fact, we are already living in the third century of this new world. Even secular historians tell us that humanity is living in a new era that started in the 1700s during the Age of Enlightenment.
The Evangelicals’ world is coming to an end
However, traditional Christians have not gotten the message. They do see the vast, rapidly accelerating changes in human society. But they believe that these changes are signs of an end-times cataclysm that is still to come—and soon!
And so their predictions of the imminent end of the world fly thicker and faster.
But the reality is that for Evangelicals, fundamentalists, and many other traditional Christians, the end has already come. Their world is already slipping into the past. They are steadily losing their own fruitless end-times battle to hold onto the last vestiges of that rapidly fading world.
In one country and region after another, conservative Christians are losing the conflict over their hot-button issues of evolution, premarital sex, same-sex marriage, and so on. They are fighting a rearguard battle against the overwhelming tide of humanity that is pressing forward into the future, not looking back toward the past. The intellectual and spiritual freedom of this new era is relentlessly smashing the old literalistic, irrational, and non-Biblical doctrines that have posed as “Christianity” for so many centuries.
The leaders of the conservative wing of Christianity see it happening. They are fighting valiantly against societal and spiritual changes that they do not understand—that make them feel that the world is spinning out of control. They therefore preach to their flocks a fervent hope and expectation of a literal, physical end of the world and a literal, physical return of Christ that will finally “stop the world” and restore it to “how it’s meant to be,” as you can hear wistfully expressed in this 1984 evangelical Christian rock song by Randy Stonehill:
Perhaps this, too, is part of God’s providence. Perhaps the hope and expectation of an imminent end of the world is what the people in those preachers’ flocks need to hear in order to reassure themselves and keep themselves on the strait and narrow path. Perhaps, for those who listen to these literalistic messages about the impending Apocalypse, it gives them the motivation to straighten out and fly right—to stay on course one day at a time. God can use even false beliefs to bring about positive changes in people’s lives.
But the literal Apocalypse and Second Coming that the Evangelicals and fundamentalists preach is never going to happen.
No matter how many times they predict its demise, the earth just keeps on turning. Mainstream society just keeps on ignoring their end-time preaching. The broader culture just keeps on passing them by. It keeps right on pressing into the new world of a revitalized human society based on higher ideals of spirituality and justice in a diverse and fully integrated worldwide community.
Yes, those conservative Christian preachers are right—but not in the way they think.
Their world is coming to an end. In fact, it came to an end several centuries ago. And its remains are being swept away right before their eyes. Just as the first century Jews had to live through the destruction of their centuries-old way of life, Christians today must live through the destruction of their centuries-old way of life.
It is a painful, even cataclysmic experience for those who still cling to the old world and its beliefs and practices.
But God’s plan for humanity keeps moving forward nevertheless—just as it kept moving forward two thousand years ago, shattering the old world that had reached its end, and ushering in a new one.
A new heaven and a new earth
Yes, a new “heaven and earth,” meaning a new spiritual and social era, is rapidly replacing the old “heaven and earth” of traditional Christianity—which had long since abandoned the plain and simple teachings that Jesus Christ gave us in the Gospels and replaced them with complicated and confusing doctrines invented by human councils and theologians. That old “Christianity” brought about its own demise.
But God’s plan for humanity is now moving forward even more rapidly now that the old and corrupt “Christian” world has finally come to its end. In this new and more enlightened era we are finally facing and overcoming many of the old evils of human injustice, corruption, and brutality that have bedeviled us for thousands of years.
It will be a long, drawn-out, and hard-fought battle. There will be many setbacks along the way. But we can already see the shining gates of the new Jerusalem beckoning to us in the distance. And we will not cease our battle against those ancient human evils and injustices until all the nations of the earth are living within those gates.
Yes, these beautiful words in the book of Revelation are now being fulfilled in our world:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”
And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” . . .
And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. (Revelation 21:1–5, 23–25)
For further reading:
I’ve noticed a trend around the world of liberal societies increasingly bringing about a new age of justice, unity and prosperity. Countries in Europe, Australia and New Zealand are increasingly shunning racism, classism, nationalism and sexism. A lot of support for these policies seems to be coming from non-religious folk. You will often find them referred to as Social Justice Warriors. Many SJWs (or liberals) seem to have no christian background but are bringing about positive change in the communities they live in. The only downside of liberalism is equality for groups with unhealthy practices. All though there are lot of bad things happening in the world, humanity seems to be much more safer, healthier, more collaborative and more inclusive than ever before. Does the book of Revelations allude to this positive change in societies that come from non Christian ideologies? Is the anti-christ liberalism?
I think I must explain my above post better. This is what I personally understand of the end times.
The battle between good and evil began before Adam ate the fruit. God was training Adam for the fight against evil by giving him a head start. They spent time together in the garden understanding the nature of evil. But an ill prepared Adam was defeated by the serpent.
Satan’s plan here was to completely corrupt humanity through anger and confusion. They almost won but God delivered Noah and his family supernaturally.
God progressively began giving the law. Satan’s plan was to destroy the Jewish identity. Hence the angry God of the old testament doing his utmost to protect the Jewish identity despite permitting various defeats to other warring kingdoms such as the Romans and Babylonians.
Jesus arrived and Satan tried to kill him from the day he was born (Herod and the babies). He finally got him killed but didn’t expect the Holy Spirit to come down.
Satan’s plan now was to kill off and persecute every man of God. These were desperate times. Jews were butchered. Christians were butchered. But yet they filtered through to other parts of the world with the message of God.
The church and Christianity gained power and became a force in the world. Satan infiltrated the church through people at the top i.e. The pope, arch bishops and christian kings. Hoping to corrupt Christianity from top to bottom. But yet again he lost because the Christians at the bottom especially Protestantism began to spin off and move away from the corrupted vatican order.
A rapid growth of Christianity began throughout the world. Every corner of the globe was getting news of the gospel. Primarily being delivered through Christian principles in western nations. Satan once again began to fight these principles through destruction and collapse of world orders. World wars were fought and colonial powers were brought to their knees. But once again Satan lost as Christianity moved away from the state and into the hands of the common man.
A new era of prosperity has begun. The world has never before been more united and righteous. This is the current age. Satan here now often masquerades as an angel of light. Spreading goodness and love your neighbour without an element of God in it. It is hoped the world will separate goodness from religion and people will see themselves as primary dispensers of righteous. Satan will once again lose as ‘works’ without faith will be exposed as unsatisfactory and barren. (I am not 100% sure how victory will be achieved here as this is a great battle)
This is the last battle. Satan now having tried every weapon in his arsenal will physically reveal himself as God through the anti Christ. The world will finally want to see who God is and Satan will deliver it supernaturally. Christians will be wiped off along with every other religion in the world. There will be a single world order but persecution against the resistance will be rife.
And then the end will come when Jesus comes back.
The church never loses against hell.
Thanks for providing more detail on what you meant. I’ve already responded to your first comment in a couple of comments, which will appear below. Now I’ll offer my responses to your expanded thoughts. Note that although I do think that human spiritual history is divided up into various ages or eras, I would break them up differently than you do. However, I’ll use your schema for the purposes of this response.
I agree that the battle of good and evil began before Adam (and of course, Eve) ate the fruit. It first shows itself in the previous chapter, in Genesis 2:18:
This comes in the course of the second Creation story in Genesis 2. And it is the first time when instead of everything God created being “good” and “very good,” something is said to be “not good.” There is some brief commentary on this in my article, “Man, Woman, and the Two Creation Stories of Genesis,” and in the follow-up article, “Man, Woman, and the Two Creation Stories of Genesis.” At some point I hope to write an article going into more depth on what this “not good” means.
I would also say that “the serpent” by which Adam (and of course Eve) was “defeated” was Adam’s own lower nature. So Adam and Eve were not so much “defeated” as that they made the choice to go with their lower nature, based on what came to them from their senses (the desirable-looking fruit) instead of going with their higher nature, which was God’s presence and commandments working in them. So I wouldn’t say that Adam was “ill-prepared.” Rather, I would say that he made his choice, and it was not the better choice.
First age: Once again, I don’t see “Satan” as a separate being, but rather as a personification of human evil, and in the case of “Satan” proper, human falsity. See: “Is there Really a Devil? Why??” So what “almost won” was human evil and falsity, as portrayed in the biblical picture of the human condition just before the Flood. And of course, I also don’t see Noah and his family as individual human beings, but as personifications of a segment of humanity that existed at that time. Noah and his family represent the good remnant from that ancient, corrupt time. And the Flood represents a paradigm shift that humanity went through at that time. See: “Noah’s Ark: A Sea Change in the Human Mind.”
Second age: As I see it, God’s giving of the Law to the ancient Israelites was largely an accommodation to the reality that humanity had by that time fallen to a very low, materialistic, sense-oriented state. So many of the laws given in the Jewish Torah (the first five books of the Bible) are not pure divine laws, but rather accommodations to the fallen state of humanity. Jesus alluded to this when he said, “It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” (Matthew 19:8). As for the rest, about Satan destroying the Jewish identity, the Bablylonians, Romans, and so on, that would take far too long to get into here.
Third age: Yes, Satan, or the whole complex of human evil and falsity, both in the spiritual world and in the material world, fought against Jesus from the beginning, and throughout Jesus’ entire lifetime on earth. But Jesus, who was God With Us, defeated Satan every time, culminating in his final victory over hell and death at the time of his crucifixion and resurrection.
Fourth age: And yes, Satan, or the whole complex of human evil and falsity, fought tooth and nail against both Judaism and the nascent Christian Church, attempting to destroy every effort of God to bring truth, goodness, and love into this world. This included all of the brutal times and places in our world, where good people are murdered for their very goodness, and whole communities are slaughtered out of human greed and lust for power.
Fifth age: And yes, Satan, or the whole complex of human evil and falsity, did quickly infiltrate the Christian Church. As early as the third century, Christianity was locked in internecine battles in which bishops fought bishops over various dogmas, all of which were heretical and false. This led to the various councils of the fourth and following centuries, which regularly anathematized and damned each other. By this time, the Christian Church was already corrupt because it had already violated and abrogated the two Great Commandments given by Jesus Christ in the Gospels, and replaced his commandments with human-invented dogmas and traditions. In particular, the struggle against the heresies of Arius led to the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, called by the Emperor Constantine to make Christianity into the state church of the Roman Empire. It was at this council that the heresy of the Trinity of Persons was first promulgated by human bishops as the core doctrine of Christianity. And that began the doctrinal destruction of the Christian Church, while its becoming a worldly power began its corruption as an institution. And though Protestantism did begin to break the power of the existing institution of the Christian Church, it also completed the doctrinal destruction of the Christian Church through Luther’s and Calvin’s newly invented, and utterly anti-biblical, doctrines of justification by faith alone, penal substitution, and predestination. There are numerous articles on this site about these events and doctrines, many of which are linked from this post: “Christian Beliefs” that the Bible Doesn’t Teach
Sixth Age: The Protestant Reformation was largely a European phenomenon. However, in that same era Europe began to colonize the New World, spreading its version of Christianity with it. And yet, what drove that colonization was not so much a desire to spread Christianity as a desire to gain wealth and riches based on the fabled treasure troves of gold believed to exist in the New World. The colonization of Africa came much later, in the late 1800s and early 1900s. And it, too, was driven not by any desire to spread Christianity, but by a desire for wealth and power. Nevertheless, I do believe that God used these human evils to prepare for the new era of Christianity that would replace the old Christianity that had so brutally dominated, ransacked, and practically destroyed most of the cultures in the Americas, Africa, and other parts of the world. The era of European colonization is, in my mind, a testament to the utter corruption of the traditional Christian Church, which allowed these atrocities to happen, and even supported them. The World Wars and other wars and conflict are a testament to the same corruption. The so-called “Christian” nations had long since ceased to follow the Prince of Peace, and instead followed the false gods of wealth, power, war, and conquest.
Seventh age: The new era of wealth and prosperity began, not after the Protestant Reformation, but after the Age of Enlightenment (and from a Swedenborgian perspective, the End of the Age and the Second Coming) dethroned the old, corrupt “Christian” church, both Catholic and Protestant, from its position of power and dominance in the Western world. I’ve already responded in this comment below to the idea that the goodness and justice spreading in our world is a result of Satan’s activity. The whole idea is preposterous. Satan does evil, not good, and promotes falsity, not truth. God is the one who brings good, truth, justice, and mutual love into our world. This whole line of thinking is based on the false notion, invented by the early Protestant theologians, that we are saved based merely on what we believe (faith alone), and not based on how we live. I have also covered this false doctrine in numerous articles on this website, including: “Faith Alone Does Not Save . . . No Matter How Many Times Protestants Say It Does.” Nowhere in the Bible does it say we are saved by faith alone. Everywhere it says that those who do good will achieve eternal life, while those who do evil will receive eternal death. For more on this, see “Christian Beliefs that the Bible Does Teach,” particularly the sections in it titled, “We must not do evil and destructive things” and “We must do things that are good and right.”
Eighth age: Satan may pose as God, but it will be for the purpose of building up worldly wealth and power, not to bring about justice and peace. There will be no individual figure of Satan appearing and posing as an angel of light. Satan, which is the complex of human evil and falsity, already has posed as God, in the form of “Christian” nations believing that it is good and right for them to militarily attack, defeat, and rule over other nations in the name of Christ—but really for the purpose of building up their own wealth and power. The real battle against Satan in our society is the battle against war itself, when wars are fought—as they almost always are—over wealth and power, while covering themselves with a veneer of “justice” and “humanitarianism.” Christians won’t be wiped out in this battle, but the old, false Christianity will. In addition to the above article, see:
And Jesus will not come back physically. He already did that. And he has no need to re-do what he already did. Jesus already is coming back, in spirit and in truth. And the movement around the world against injustice, racism, sexism, and so on, and toward justice, acceptance, and celebration of human diversity is the result of Jesus finally returning to our earth in spirit and in truth. See: “Is the World Coming to an End? What about the Second Coming?”
The Lord’s church never loses against hell. Unfortunately, the current “Christian” church has long since abandoned the teachings of Jesus Christ for human-invented dogmas. Some parts of it are indeed reforming themselves and becoming more like the church that Jesus started. And that is heartening. But as covered in the above article, and in the various articles in this comment, much of today’s “Christian” church still clings to the old, false, and corrupt doctrines with which human beings over the centuries replaced the teachings of Jesus Christ. And these same “Christian” churches are still fighting against much of the progress against injustice and toward justice in our world. All of the “Christian” churches that continue to do this will, if they, too, do not repent and reform themselves, and accept the true Christianity that Christ taught, be decimated and destroyed in the coming centuries.
Though some of my words above may seem strong and harsh, I do not apologize for calling out the falsity and corruption in Christianity as it has existed at least since 325 AD. Conservative Protestants, in particular, are dead wrong in their beliefs because they have replaced the teachings of the Bible with the teachings of Luther, Calvin, and Melanchthon. And though the Evangelicals have recently experienced a resurgence in various parts of the world, it will be fleeting. They, too, will go down in defeat and death if they don’t repent and accept the Gospel of Jesus Christ . . . and live by it.
No, liberalism is not the Antichrist. Especially not when it is bringing about justice, unity, and prosperity and fighting against racism, classism, nationalism, and sexism.
I realize many conservative Christians think along those lines. But Jesus addressed that sort of thinking:
Satan and the Antichrist do not to good things, but evil things. Bringing about all that good in society, and banishing all those old evils, would be a case of a kingdom or house divided against itself. Even when Satan poses as an angel of light, it is to gain glory and power for himself. But nobody is giving glory to Satan because injustice is being overcome and society is becoming more just.
It is not the Antichrist, but the power of the Holy Spirit that is bringing about all these changes in society. God’s power is not limited to our human church institutions. It works all over the earth to achieve God’s goals. It is mere hubris on the part of Christians to think that only what they do is God’s power working in the world. Once again, Jesus addressed this kind of thinking:
Granted, this was a case of someone not part of their group casting out demons in Jesus’ name. But I believe Jesus was also establishing a general principle: Whoever is not against us is for us.
Although many of these SJWs may not be Christians, or even of a Christian background, many of them do come from a Christian background, but have abandoned Christianity because they cannot accept the corrupt, irrational, and ineffective institution that much of Christianity has become. The “Christianity” they have rejected is not the Christianity that Jesus taught. And even though they may not be fighting for justice in the name of Christ and Christianity, they are actually doing what Christ taught us to do. And that is far more important than shouting, “I’m a Christian,” but ignoring and not living by what Christ taught. Once again, Jesus spoke about this sort of thing:
For more on this whole issue, please see: “Is Jesus Christ the Only Way to Heaven?”
On your question, “Does the book of Revelations allude to this positive change in societies that come from non Christian ideologies?” of course, the book of Revelation is written in symbolic and metaphorical language, so it’s a matter of interpretation to decide whether it speaks of such things in our contemporary world. When the book of Revelation was written, what we call “Christianity” didn’t even exist yet, so “non-Christian ideologies” had no particular meaning.
Having said that, one passage in the book of Revelation immediately comes to mind:
Swedenborg interprets this as the traditional Christian (especially Protestant) church spewing out a flood of false doctrines to try to overwhelm the teachings of the coming New Jerusalem Church; but people still within the old Christian church who don’t take those false teachings (such as salvation by faith alone) to heart, but actually live by Jesus’ teachings of love and kindness to the neighbor, will give sanctuary and support to the coming New Jerusalem Church and its teachings.
If we broaden Swedenborg’s meaning a bit, I can see “the earth” that helped the woman as meaning people who live in the Christian world, and came from a Christian background, but no longer accept what traditional Christianity teaches.
The countries you mention (Europe, Australia, and New Zealand) were historically Christian nations. Even though today they have become predominantly secular, they still come from a Christian background. They have left behind much of the old and false Christian dogma that humans invented over the years and called “Christianity.” But they still live by what Jesus actually taught, particularly the second Great Commandment: that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves.
So they, I believe, are also meant by “the earth” that helped the woman by swallowing up the false and fruitless efforts of traditional Christianity to turn back the clock of history based on their false doctrines. Instead, these nominal non-Christians who live in historically Christian cultures press forward, doing what Jesus taught us to do by working to banish hatred and oppression and to bring love and justice to our world.
These, to me, are the true Christians in today’s world, while much of the so-called “Christian” church—especially its conservative wing—continues to spew out bigotry and hatred against people who are not part of their acceptable in-group—just as the Scribes and Pharisees did in Jesus’ day.
Thanks a lot for your comments Lee. I understand your point about the Nordic countries and Australia/NZ being countries with a Christian past.
But my concern is a bit different. I migrated to Australia about a decade ago and I was shocked to see how progressive the Australians are (at least the inner city Australians). There seems to be a high regard for righteousness drilled into every one of them. Every second person you meet has a strong opinion on taking a stand against racism, sexism and all kinds of injustice. It seems to have been indoctrinated into their minds as young kids (call it brainwashing if you must). But drop your wallet on the street and 9.9 times out of 10 it will be handed back to you. People often do not lock their cars or house doors. Many volunteer for social work especially for refugees and homelessness. If your car breaks down on the side of the road, again 9 times out 10 somebody stops and lends a hand.
But what shocks me is that most is that the youth and middle aged have no christian background. A very very basic reference to Jesus (they know Jesus more as a figure of history rather than his life). Zero knowledge of Moses. Zero knowledge of genesis. Little knowledge of any religion. But yet there is a deep goodness in them. Where does this hunger for righteousness come from?
And in my opinion it is much easier preaching the good news to the wicked than to good people (the holy spirit convicts all nevertheless).
Faith has become something they have learned to disregard. Because equality (between men and women, between races, between sexual preferences, between age groups) is so important to them, they have learned to become indifferent to anything that has historically brought about divisions (as you said earlier about how people have lost faith in the church)
It is so bad now that bringing up religion is highly look down upon. If ever, religion seems to be deemed a very private matter to a person that is not to be discussed. I have often witnessed men of religion preaching about works without faith. The feel good stuff.
I don’t doubt the power of the gospel but this is a new form of blindness that is fast being adopted everywhere.
I mean these nations are prosperous. Have low levels of crime and mortality. Are ranked in top 10 of countries to live in.
When the world looks at the countries, they see the power of atheism at work. In fact I wouldn’t even call it atheism because there is no discussion of faith at all whether good or bad.
My question is yes the bible delivers greatly on righteousness. But there seems to be very little material on righteous societies without faith.
I do know that all men sin but where does this deep hunger for righteousness come from if not from God?
These are all great observations and questions. I don’t claim to know exactly what God is doing in these countries, and what exact course their future social, moral, and spiritual life will take. However, I do have some thoughts that may throw some light on the subject, starting with this one:
1. Today’s movement toward atheism is largely the result of the corruption, falsification, and destruction of the former Christian Church.
You say about the people of Australia that they have come to disregard and look down upon faith and religion because they are indifferent to anything that has historically brought about divisions. And in fact, the corrupted former Christian church did bring about division, hostility, racism, sexism, and many other injustices. This is a matter of history. But the deeper reality is that this happened because the so-called “Christian” church quickly receded from and rejected the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels, and substituted human-made doctrines that were invented in order to increase the wealth and power of the church and its leadership.
I won’t go back through that history again in this comment. I’ve outlined some of it above, and in the various linked articles. The short version is that as Swedenborg said, by his time there was nothing left of genuine truth in the Christian Church. All of it had been falsified and destroyed. Even things that were in themselves true, such as Jesus being the Son of God, were falsified by his being made one of three “Persons” of God—which is the same thing as saying that he was one of three gods. And Protestantism added justification by faith alone, penal substitution, and predestination—all of them horribly false teachings that fly in the face of everything taught in the Bible.
Unfortunately, all of those teachings became so solidly identified with “Christianity” that when people think of Christianity, those things are what they think of. And they think of the aforementioned history of racism, sexism, division, conflict, and war that characterized the corrupted Christian church for many centuries. I personally have been told many times that I am going to hell because I do not believe supposedly “Christian” doctrines that are taught nowhere in the Bible, and that are terrible perversions of what the Bible actually does teach.
Now multiply that by hundreds of millions of people who hear this horrible, irrational, and unjust stuff preached, and see the horrible history of oppression and destruction that was the hallmark of Christianity for so many centuries, and what do you expect?
In several places in his writings, Swedenborg says that atheism was already taking over the inner minds of many leaders in the church, and that if these terribly false teachings that became associated with Christianity were not banished, atheism would spread to the wider culture.
This, unfortunately, is exactly what has happened. Thinking, rational, caring, and loving people who want to see love, justice, acceptance and celebration of diversity, and so on triumph in our world are rejecting Christianity, the church, and religion in general because they rightly perceive that Christianity as it has existed for many centuries has been and in many cases continues to be an enemy of all of the ideals and values that they hold dear.
Here where I live in the United States, the conservative wing of Christianity is the primary force fighting against the broad movement toward freedom, justice, acceptance, and so on. This is reported in the media every day. And this is what “Christianity” means in the minds of those who are fighting for justice, equality, and so on.
Unfortunately, as long as the main institutions of Christianity continue to cling to their old falsehoods, the thinking, rational, caring, justice-minded people of the world will continue to reject Christianity. And even more unfortunately, they will continue to throw out the baby with the bathwater by rejecting God, spirit, and faith altogether, because God, spirit, and faith have been indelibly associated in their minds with that horribly corrupt Christian institution that seeks to turn back and undo everything they are trying to accomplish.
My conclusion from all of this is that:
2. The atheism of the educated world will not recede until the former, corrupt Christian church has been completely destroyed and discredited, and recognized as not Christian at all.
Today, “Christianity” is still associated with the major branches of the traditional Christian Church: Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, and Eastern Orthodoxy. All of these churches are founded upon false doctrine, and all of them have blood on their hands. None of them has rejected the fundamental falsities upon which they were founded, and none of them is likely to do so. They cling to those old, false doctrines as to their own identity.
And yet, they still represent “Christianity” in the minds of the vast bulk of the world’s population.
As long as this is the case, thinking, caring, justice-minded people will continue to reject Christianity and fight hard for secularism and even atheism as the only way to bring about love, peace, and justice in our world.
Only when those traditional “Christian” organizations have been completely destroyed and marginalized, and have lost their position of representing “Christianity,” will people begin to be able to see what true Christianity is. This means that those institutions and their teachings must be decisively rejected by society. And society must come to recognize that those institutions are a travesty and a corruption of what Jesus actually taught in the Bible. In short, society must recognize that the traditional Christian church is, in Swedenborg’s words, “Christian in name only, but not in reality and essence” (True Christianity #668).
Now, I would love it if there were currently institutions strong enough to spread true Christianity to the world so that everyone would hear and know about it. That is what my modest little ministry, including this website, aims to do. But realistically, all of the Swedenborgian organizations in the world put together are hardly even a flea compared to the vast size of traditional institutional Christianity. And quite frankly, even what does exist of Swedenborgianism is weak and scattered, and has little focus on the real work of spreading the good news of true Christianity to the world. (I will say, though, that the Swedenborg Foundation is finally beginning to do some effective outreach, via the Internet.)
So the reality of the situation is that these major “Christian” organizations need to continue their decline, fall, and destruction before any true Christianity can arise, because as it is now they so “fill the airwaves” with their old and corrupt “Christian” fallacies and falsities that they still continue to represent “Christianity” in the minds of the masses.
It would be nice if they would convert, reject their old false dogmas, and accept the true teachings of the Bible and Christianity. But I just don’t see that happening. Most institutions will die before undergoing any radical change in their settled character and identity. History teaches that rather than the current institutions reforming when they have run their course, they must die and be replaced by new institutions, just as each generation of human beings must die off and be replaced by the next generation.
So I have come to believe that:
3. A period of popular atheism is a necessary step in the transition from the old Christian church, which has come to its end, to the new Christianity, which is barely in its infancy.
As I said just above, the old Christian church must be completely rejected before anything new can take its place. And for people in today’s mass culture, most of whom, as you say, have no knowledge of Jesus and the Bible and what they really say, the alternative to the old corrupt religious order is to reject Christianity altogether.
Another way of saying this is that before true ideas can be accepted, false ideas must be rejected. People whose minds are still ingrained with false ideas cannot accept true ones, because their existing falsities prevent it.
I believe that most of today’s popular atheism is not really a rejection of God. Rather, it is a rejection of what has been taught about God by the existing traditional religions—especially Christianity. Atheist literature is full of rejection and ridicule of biblical literalism. And from there it rejects and ridicules the whole complex of teachings about God and spirit that flow from that biblical literalism.
Little or no atheist literature mounts a cogent attack against God as God really exists. Atheists are profoundly ignorant of the real nature of God because the Church has never taught that, and very few people know about it. When I read atheist literature, it does not perturb me at all, because it does not say anything about what I believe, let alone attack it.
In short, what atheism is rejecting is the old religious falsities that have posed as “Christianity” for many centuries.
So to continue on from my previous point:
4. Popular atheism is a tool in the hands of God to bring about the end of the former corrupted Christian Church.
Once again, it would be lovely if there were enough dedicated Swedenborgians to get out there into the world and loudly smash the old false dogmas of traditional Christianity.
Alas! We are few and far between, and most of us have not learned how to speak our truth to the wider world effectively and powerfully. I have a serious bone to pick with the existing Swedenborgian church institutions, which I believe have abysmally failed to do their job in the world, and which are therefore slowly dying a much-deserved death.
Enter the atheists. They have a strong platform, and they are not afraid to speak out in strong terms against the age-old falsities that have come to embody religion in the minds of the masses. They are smashing one old religious dogma after another. And I have come to believe that in doing so, they are a tool in the hands of God to bring that old corrupted institution of Christianity to its final end.
Science and reason in general, too, are tools in the hands of God to destroy the old falsities.
But even more than that:
5. Love and justice are the primary forces destroying the old, corrupted Christian Church.
You speak of the people of Australia having a high regard for righteousness drilled into them, such that they are strong to combat racism, sexism, and all kinds of injustice. I would not call this “brainwashing.” I would call it the power of the Holy Spirit working in that culture. This, I believe, is the primary force that will finally destroy the old false Christianity.
That old, false Christianity is highly unjust, racist, sexist, and all of the other evils that the people of Australia want to end. And it is the Australians’ love for their fellow human beings, which Jesus called “loving our neighbor as ourselves,” and their intense desire for justice, that is driving them forward, and simultaneously causing them to reject everything that stands in the way of their loves, their goals, and their ideals. And the old religious order is chief in their minds among things that must be rejected as opposing everything they want for their society and for the world.
I believe it is precisely God’s spirit of love and justice working in the minds and hearts of Australians, and of good people everywhere around the world, that is bringing about the destruction of the old corrupt era of humanity, which was spearheaded by the Christian Church, and carrying us into the new era of humanity that is now beginning. This new era is symbolized in the book of Revelation by the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God (Revelation 21-22).
It appears, though, that we have still not completed the battles against the various dragons, beasts, and harlots that come before those final two chapters of the Book of Revelation. The old Christian Church, and the old religious paradigm, have not yet been fully defeated and “thrown into the lake of fire.” Until that happens, popular atheism will continue to gain strength—until it has completed the task that God has set for it.
Finally, my belief is:
6. Once the old “Christianity” has been fully discredited and banished, God, spirit, and faith will return, and will reign in the world.
I believe that the current popular secularism and atheism in the Western world is not a permanent development, but rather a phase in God’s overall plan. It has its job to do. And that job is not yet complete.
However, once those old, corrupt “Christian” institutions that are so riddled with falsity have been finally discredited and banished, I believe that the inner human yearning for God and spirit will again come to the fore, and that people will return to God, spirit, and faith. It will likely not happen among the current secularists and atheists, but among their children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren. (I don’t know what the time frame will be. Only God knows that.)
It will not be like the old faith, though. It will not be arbitrary, irrational, unjust, and fallacious. It will be a rational, just, and spiritual faith, and it will be characterized by a broad understanding and integration of God and spirit with all of the ideals of justice and fairness that have come to the fore in our modern world and with everything we have learned from science and reason about the nature of this material universe that we live in, and about our own nature as human beings.
What I do not know is whether there will be any sort of religious institutions as there were in the former Christian era that is now coming to its end. I do not know if people will go to church and attend worship services led by clergy.
I am quite certain, however, that the concept of “priesthood” will be banished from religious institutions, if priesthood is understood to mean human beings who are ordained to stand between the people and God. I believe that all people will have a direct relationship with God, and more specifically, with the Divine Humanity of Jesus Christ. It will be a relationship that does not require any human intermediaries, as it did in earlier religious eras of humanity. I speak of this in my article, “Christianity is Dead. Long Live Christianity!”
Beyond that, I’m still contemplating what this new spiritual era will look like, and what sort of institutional basis, if any, it will have. My inclination is to believe that the primary institutions will be mostly about teaching and disseminating information and understanding rather than about ritual. Jesus Christ himself never instituted a priesthood. Instead, he gathered disciples (meaning “learners”) around him, and prepared them to be apostles (meaning “sent out”) to preach the good news to others, and to teach them everything he had taught and commanded them.
I do believe that baptism and the Holy Supper will form some part of the new Christianity. But I don’t think they will continue in the highly ritualized form they have taken. Rather, I expect that they both will return to something more like what they originally were: community celebrations of newcomers to the faith through full immersion baptism, and of the spiritual fellowship of the community through sharing sacred meals with one another.
However, for the most part we’re not there yet. We still have to vanquish the old, corrupt Christianity before the new one can really take hold. And that process is what we are living through right now.
Wow! I had not thought about that perspective before. Deep within me I did not want a return of the former church in these atheist societies. I did not want to see their ignorant and Pharisee-like behaviour ever being the primary representative of the true church of God to the gentiles. Thank you for that perspective.
I must add that though these people are prosperous, there is still an inherent hunger for spirirual food. Many have been affected by sin that has not been condemned by their societies. Many so called progressive policies have led to the breakdown of traditional family life with traditional parents. Many walk around wounded by fathers, mothers, husbands, brothers, girlfriends, etc. And it is here I believe the church of tomorrow will draw people in.
You are most welcome. I’m glad to have stirred some new—or perhaps just deeply buried—thoughts in you.
And I do agree with you that people still need God and spirit, and will still be open to them, because people are still broken and hurting in many ways. On that subject, you may be interested in my article, “If Non-Christians can Go to Heaven, Why should Christians Evangelize?”
Lee I just had a read about your post on do non-Christians need to be evangelised and I need to ask one more question.
As I alluded before about the morally righteous nature of some atheist societies, don’t you think that People who grow up in these societies have an unfair advantage of a better upbringing.
B) righteousness apart from faith is deficient in many ways
Before I make my point, there are just a few examples from the bible:
1) In Genesis, Able found more favour with with God because he brought the best of his fruits to sacrifice. Cain only brought what was required but not beyond.
2) the rich young man in Matthew 19:16 was a man of righteousness but once again he did not pledge to go beyond the minimum required by giving up his wealth.
3) Mark 12:41, Jesus said that the old woman found more favour for her meagre contribution over that of others. Only because it was more than the minimum required relatively.
4) Matthew 8:5, Jesus was amazed at the Roman Centurion humbling himself from his great position. He humbled himself in front of others and that once again was more than the minimum.
In all these examples it looks like passive righteousness may not be enough. One would need to make conscious and active strides towards a higher level of righteousness.
To the ones born in good societies and the ones who know the truth, much more will be expected of them.
The one who is born in a destitute society, less will be expected of him quantitatively but the same will be expected of him qualitatively.
Secondly the bible does not allude much to righteous people without faith. The writings of Paul seem to be directed at the faith based conversion of the Jews and the Gentiles.
So therefore where faith comes in from a biblical point of view is that it triggers the humbling of a man. But Paul does not go around promoting humility but rather his message is more about promoting faith which in turn brings in humility and the other fruits.
So coming back to these atheist societies, is the non-faith based fruit they produce acceptable to God. Is it more than the minimum?
“One more question”? Looks like a whole raft of questions to me! 😛
But they’re all good ones.
First, God does not judge us by some absolute standard, but based on what we do given our circumstances and abilities. Jesus stated this explicitly when he said:
And Paul speaks of people’s conscience, as well as their knowledge or lack of knowledge of the law, being critical to their salvation or damnation on the day of judgment:
So the important thing is whether people do the right thing as they understand it, or neglect to do the right thing and actually do the wrong thing. If they have a meager understanding of ethics and morality due to their particular upbringing, they will be judged based on whether they lived rightly according to that meager understanding. If they have a well-developed understanding of ethics and morality, they will be judged on whether they lived according to that well-developed understanding.
This is discussed further in the article, “Can Gang Members Go to Heaven? (Is Life Fair?)”
To use human terminology, God’s judgment is on a “sliding scale” based on what could be reasonably expected from a person given his or her upbringing, environment, and natural character. This means that when it comes to getting into the doors of heaven, no one has an advantage over anyone else. It’s all based on what you do with what you have. Jesus’ “Parable of the Talents” (Matthew 25:14–30) is another illustration of the same principle.
What is affected is where in heaven (or in hell) a particular person will end out. Heaven and hell are big places. There is a wide variety there, and people’s circumstances and natural character will have a major effect on exactly where in heaven (or hell) they end out when their life here on earth is over. In the Luke version of the same parable (Luke 19:11–27), the man who was given ten minas and used them well was given charge over ten cities, and the man who was given five minas was given charge over five cities.
In other words, though people who have less to work with morally and spiritually have no advantage or disadvantage over those who have more to work with when it comes to going to heaven rather than to hell, those who have more to work with, if they use it well, will likely end out in higher or more central positions in heaven than those who have less to work with. Mind you, that’s not a hard and fast rule. Someone who was given little and does great things with it will move higher than someone who was given much and does only average things with it.
However, it should also be noted that everyone in heaven has exactly as much joy, happiness, and satisfaction as he or she wants and can handle. Some people are perfectly happy with a clean house, a simple and honest job, and a good meal on the table with their wife or husband. Others are happy when they can provide leadership to a whole community or nation that moves that community or nation toward greater goodness and justice. If you were to force them to reverse roles, they would each be profoundly unhappy and uncomfortable living out of their element, and would long to return to their own particular form of happiness, regardless of its high or low status in society.
In other words, no one in heaven is jealous of anyone else or wishes they were in some other situation. They are all in exactly the situation they love most and are most comfortable in, and that gives them the most happiness. So the people living in heaven don’t care whether they have been “given much” or “given little.” They are completely happy and fully satisfied with what they have.
Second, the general definition of “faith” in Protestantism, especially, is woefully lacking. There it is generally defined as a particular belief in Jesus Christ as saving them by paying the penalty for their sins and crediting his merit to them.
But that is not faith. That is mere intellectual assent to a particular (false, as it turns out) dogma. And such “faith” has no power to save anyone, as I pointed out in my article, “Faith Alone Does Not Save . . . No Matter How Many Times Protestants Say It Does.” The follow-up article, “Faith Alone Is Not Faith,” goes into more depth on what faith actually is. Here are the two main bullet points:
Now, some people’s faith is deeper and richer than others. Obviously I would prefer that everyone have a deep and abiding conscious faith in the Lord God Jesus Christ. But that simply isn’t the only real and viable form of faith.
The people you speak of do have faith. It may not be an explicit faith in God, or in Jesus Christ, but it is still faith. They believe in certain principles of right and wrong, not because it gives them some social or financial advantage, but because they believe in the intrinsic goodness of a code of ethics and morality, and in the intrinsic wrongness of violating that code. Further, for them that code of ethics and morality isn’t just something to wear on their sleeve and show off in public. They actually live by it both in public and in private. Not perfectly, of course, no one is perfect. But they take their faith in that code of ethics and morality as a guide for their goals in life and for their everyday living.
Even if it does not include an explicit belief in God, that is a form of faith. And as a form of faith, it provides the gate through which, if they follow it, they can find salvation–which really means becoming a good, loving, kind, and thoughtful person.
In the afterlife, such people will come to realize that all of the good and true qualities and beliefs they stood for and lived by are, in fact, expressions of the nature of God. And because they have, in fact, lived according to the qualities that God is and represents in our world, they will come to believe in God even if they didn’t in this life. There is more about this in the article, “Do Atheists Go to Heaven?”
In short, atheists, agnostics, and other non-Christians are not living a “works alone” life. They are doing good works as guided by their faith in goodness, love, ethics, morality, justice, celebration of diversity, and so on. And those things are God’s presence within them. They are saved based on the same principles that everyone is saved based on: whether they live a good life according to their faith.
Third, about humility:
Paul was not a particularly humble man, as his writings show. However, he actually did preach humility in a roundabout way, as seen in this highly misunderstood (by Protestants) passage from Ephesians:
Protestant commentators regularly gloss over the key phrase, “so that no one may boast.” But Paul was speaking of a real phenomenon in Jewish life: Pharisees and other religious leaders believing they were especially righteous because they scrupulously obeyed the ritual and ceremonial Law of Moses. Jesus clearly illustrated this phenomenon:
Paul was not saying that we are saved by faith alone, without the need to do good works. Rather, he was saying that scrupulously keeping the Law of Moses, and being prideful in doing so, will not gain us salvation. What gains us salvation is not our own efforts, but God’s love (“grace”) flowing into us and saving us. Clearly Paul did not mean that works have nothing to do with salvation, because in the very next sentence he says:
I am aware that Protestants say that good works are the fruits of faith. But so far I have not been able to find any passage in the Bible that actually says that. As usual, Protestants have drawn their doctrine, not from the Bible itself, but from their own human theologians, who invented the key doctrines of Protestantism out of their own heads.
Back to the point, Paul states in Ephesians 2:8–9 and elsewhere that if we think we can buy our way into heaven by being super good, we are sadly mistaken. People who think this way are commonly very prideful and believe they themselves are good, whereas Jesus plainly told us, “No one is good but God alone” (Mark 10:18). If we believe we are good on our own, by our own efforts, then our “goodness” is not good, because it is full of pride. But if we recognize that everything good we have is not our own, but comes from God, then the good we do truly is good, because it comes, not from our self, but from God’s love, or “grace,” working in and through us.
Even people who don’t believe in God can “qualify” if they believe that the good things they have and are aren’t so much a product of their own efforts and their own genius, but are the things they have been taught by others, and inspired to do by leaders whom they look up to. Or they may believe that these are the principles that embody truly human life and culture, so that they are believing in and following something greater than themselves.
Humility, then, is an essential part of our salvation, because it causes us to look to someone or something greater than ourselves. Whatever that may be for us in this life, if we live by these higher principles because we believe they are greater than ourselves and our own comfort, pleasure, wealth, power, and so on, in the afterlife we will “transfer” (to use a psychological term) our belief in that greater thing over to God, because in the afterlife we will recognize that God is all those greater things that we believed in, and that they all come from God.
So atheists who believe in truth, justice, fairness, concern for their fellow human beings, and so on are not really atheists. They do believe in God because they believe in the qualities that God is. They are simply blocked from believing this explicitly here on earth because what they have been taught about God is so horribly false and wrong. In the afterlife, they are taught who and what God really is. And then they will have no problem believing in God because God embodies all the good and true things they have taken as guides for their life here on earth.
There are still more issues in your comment that I’d love to comment on, but that’s is enough for now. I would only add that in the Bible passages you mention, the issue is not so much doing the minimum or more than the minimum as it is the heart and attitude from which the actions are done.
Thank you for the detailed explanations Lee. I had to ask more questions because your perspective was deeply thought provoking. It is going to take some time for this to settle in as I had been on a different path all along.
I must admit I sought to profit from the exclusiveness of being a Christian. I felt a great privilege in being brought to the truth but your teaching has made me realise that there are more people who implicitly do the will of God that I could think of. The most painful thought as a Christian is the loneliness of your neighbours not knowing God.
P.S. Many months ago I had a deep argument with you defending Protestantism on your blog but over time I have come to understand your perspective in a better light through a lot more reading. God bless.
Thank you for your honest and gracious words, and for sticking with it here. I do recall our earlier sharp debates over Protestant doctrine. At one point I thought you would have had your fill and would go away, as most people do who come here to “correct” my beliefs. Since you stuck with it, and came back again and again, I figured you must be gaining something from these discussions. 🙂
I’ve been following your blog for a time now, have been listening to sermons and lectures on Swedenborg’s Doctrine and so far have been impressed – up to now. Are your views on liberalism consistent with the Churches belief or just your own?
I ask this because I’ve yet to hear anybody from any Christian church think that abortion is permissible unless the life of the mother is in jeopardy, while the liberal “doctrine” is abortion is viable up to the third trimester. Thou shalt not kill had no meaning in Swedenborg’s doctrine? Even thou you didn’t come out and say it directly – if you believe in the liberal ” agenda” then you own their policies; do you and your church own this view?
Maybe you know someone who is a “social justice warrior” whom went to a Christian school, but I venture to say that they would be an exception and not the rule. I do believe that one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit is self control. I try not to watch too much television but what I see going on through out the cities right now is not “self control” over whom was elected. Why didn’t the same thing happen when Barack Obama was elected, when Christians knew their religious freedoms would be violated, ( and they where in various cases ) ?
I’m trying to understand how someone that call themselves a Christian could follow an ideology that has members that do such things as “Spirit Cooking”. I don’t remember any conservative groups actively trying to take prayer out of school or take the name of God off of our currency or out of the Pledge of Allegiance. Do you or the New Church feel the nationalism is wrong? Is God a nationalist for loving Israel? I’m really interested in your views so I know which course I chose to take going forward. Much of Swedenborg’s Doctrine I find appealing and correct, I don’t think he would agree with the liberal ideology, not at all.
I wrote to you earlier with the questions about hypnosis and NLP, which you did answer.
One of the reasons for these questions was due to techniques used by both sides of the political parties to persuade people to vote for them. I truly believe that the violence and demonstrations that are going on right now are due to these techniques. Notice the liberal “representatives” are not trying to quench the destructive demonstrations, why do you think that is Lee?
Thanks for your comment and questions, which are good ones.
In response, you may not be surprised to hear that there is the same political and social spectrum from liberal to conservative among Swedenborgians as there is among the rest of society. So you will have to make up your own mind.
I happen to have grown up in, and to be ordained in, one of the most liberal of the Swedenborgian denominations. However, I chart my own course, and at this point I’m mostly inactive in the denomination. I am doing my spiritual work largely independently of the church. I agree with some of the popular liberal causes, and disagree with others. I agree with my own denomination on some issues, and disagree with it on others. I don’t particularly consider myself to be a “social justice warrior.” In my earlier comments on that subject, I was responding to Rohan’s statements and questions about SJWs. I do, however, appreciate and respect anyone who cares enough about justice to get out there and do something about it, even if I don’t always agree with everything they believe and do.
As for the current protests, people in this country have a first amendment right to peaceful protest. And most of the protests are peaceful. But when some of the protesters start smashing windows and destroying property, that’s where they step over the line. And that’s when the police rightly start arresting them. Unfortunately, any violence that occurs in the protests is a magnet for the media, so it gets heavily covered. This often gives a false picture of the overall events taking place. It also creates a feedback loop in which protesters perpetrate violence in order to get the attention of the media.
I would only add that as Jesus said, “Those who use the sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52). Unfortunately, our society, including our government, has engaged in a great deal of violence, and that violence tends to fall disproportionately on the poor, minorities, and the people of third world countries. Right or wrong, if we engage in violence against people, they are going to fight back with violence. As Jesus pointed out, that’s just how human society works. So although I do not condone violent protests, I do understand that many of the people engaging in such violence have had violence committed against themselves, their loved ones, and their communities, and they have not always gotten the justice they should have gotten. So they are justifiably angry and frustrated, whatever you or I may think about the particular ways they express their anger and frustration.
About abortion, once again there is the same spectrum of opinion among Swedenborgians as there is in the wider society. Swedenborg said nothing about abortion as we know it today. In those days of lower population, lower prosperity, and higher infant mortality rate, the idea that someone would not want a child was almost unheard of, so abortion as we know it today really wasn’t much of an issue. Personally, I don’t like abortion, but I’m not convinced that passing laws against it is an effective way to deal with the issue. I don’t claim to have all the answers on abortion. I’m still thinking about it. There’s good reason that it is such a highly conflicted issue in our society. It pits human life against human freedom. That’s a tough one. And I tend to think that it will have to work itself out over time through systemic changes in the culture, rather than through legal strictures. The battle is a real one, and I don’t see any “solution” other than for society to engage in that battle and eventually come to some conclusion as a society.
The whole “spirit cooking” thing seems to be largely a creation of alt-right conspiracy theorists. Snopes.com has an article about it here. While I personally am not crazy about some of the weirder forms of contemporary performance art, the idea that “spirit cooking” is some sort of satanic ritual in which some of our political leaders have gotten caught up is utterly ridiculous.
About nationalism, if that means setting up our own country as the greatest country and people on earth, and viewing every other country and its people as inferior and secondary, then I am completely opposed to it. But if it means loving our country and wanting it to be a good, just, moral, and prosperous country not only for its own people, but in relation to the other countries and peoples of the world, then it is a good thing. Unfortunately, “nationalism” has mostly taken on the former meaning and connotation. So as it is currently most commonly used, I would have to say that I am opposed to “nationalism.”
I believe that God is the Creator and God of all the peoples of the world, and that no one nation, race, or culture is culturally, morally, or spiritually superior to any other nation, race, or culture. God created all of them because all of them are necessary for the full functioning of the Kingdom of God.
It’s like the human body: there is no part of it that is useless or unnecessary. Every part adds to the whole. If you take away any part of it, the whole suffers. I believe that’s how we should view the various nations, races, cultures, and peoples of the world. While it’s fine and good to be proud of our own people and culture, that should never mean denigrating or abusing other peoples and cultures. We are all in this together. We should all appreciate and value the contributions that everyone else makes to humanity. If we don’t, we are working against God’s Love and Providence, which is equally over all of the people of the earth.
It is true that some nations behave badly. In fact, pretty much all nations behave badly at least some of the time, and some have behaved worse than others at various times in their history. So I also believe that when nations and peoples behave badly, their bad behavior must be opposed and resisted by justice-minded people. However, that should never mean demonizing the people of those nations and cultures. Rather, the attack and resistance should be against the injustice itself, and against particular people only as much as is necessary in order to stop and overcome the injustice.
These are huge subjects. I can’t do them justice in this small a space. But I hope these responses answer your questions in at least some measure. Feel free to follow up with any further thoughts or questions you may have.
Wow, mind-blown! Have never thought about it that way. Thanks for this article! 🙂
You’re welcome! Any day I can blow someone’s mind is a good day! 😉
Thanks for the quick answer to my questions, I appreciate it. In your response to Rohans questions I sensed hostility towards evangelical conservative christians that seems unfounded. Believe me, I am not evangelical, if I was this discussion would not be taking place.
On the spirit cooking issue: it came out in a wikileaks document about the spirit cooking, correct? If wikileaks were false, why did so many people lose their jobs over them ? You may want to check Snopes on whether wikileaks documents were falsified, if thats your source. Persuasion 101 – frame it as conspiracy theory and people will leave it alone, whether its true or not. You might want to read Dr. Robert Cialdini’s books on influence, persuasion and marketing. Especially if you want to understand how the media works and why, what I believe, is the reason for these demonstrations around the county are happening. You can see these young adults have been brainwashed, if you want to understand how and why, read Cialdinis books. By the way, he did work on presidential campaigns in the past with other cognative and social scientists.
It seems to me that Christianity is under attack, and sometimes the enemy of my enemy is my friend. In my 50 plus years on this planet I can’t recall liberals fighting for my religious freedom, or I should say “Christian” religious freedom. Although the evangelicals are wrong doctrinally, I sincerely believe that, they are fighting for religious freedom, which I can stand behind.
On the issue of nationalism, your assertion that there are different types of nationalism is correct. I don’t believe love of country is anything to be ashamed of, being a veteran. This Hitler type nationalism meme that is being pushed today is wrong. It is just another persuasion ploy, along with people being labled racist , xenophobic, sexist and a list of other things. Someone with the right “skills” could lable you all of those things, they don’t have to be true, but if the endgame is to persude someone that they are, it can be done. As far as what happens when you give up on nationalism, look at the E.U. and try understood why Britian left ( and more countries are considering leaving )and it would become clear. I agree that we shouldn’t be consumed by nationalism or treat others poorly because we think our country is better than anyone elses.
You’re welcome. I hope you found my responses useful.
In general, I avoid talking about politics here because that’s not what this blog is about, and I don’t want its purpose to get side-tracked.
However, Swedenborg does say that loving one’s country is a good thing because it is loving something greater than oneself, which encompasses many people. He also says that loving one’s country is a good thing because in the spiritual world, those who love their country will love God’s kingdom, since in the spiritual world, God’s kingdom is our country. Swedenborg himself was very devoted to his native country of Sweden, while also spending large segments of his life in the wider world of Europe.
About the church being under attack, it is necessary to distinguish between “the church” as God’s kingdom on earth and “the church” as the ecclesiastical institutions that human beings have set up.
Unfortunately, evangelical and conservative Christians have built up a church based on many false, non-biblical and anti-biblical dogmas invented by human beings, as covered in the article, “Christian Beliefs” that the Bible Doesn’t Teach, and the articles linked from it. When the secular world attacks those dogmas, and the intolerant behavior of conservative Christians who follow them, I don’t see this as an attack on the church of Jesus Christ, but rather as an attack on the false dogmas and wrong behavior with which human theologians and ecclesiastics, and their followers, have replaced the teachings and example of Jesus Christ.
For the most part, I don’t think Evangelicals are bad people. But their minds are held in the sway of bad doctrine, and that sometimes leads to bad behavior, even by many Evangelicals who are good and sincere people. And unfortunately, some of them, including some of their vocal leaders, are mere hypocrites who build up wealth and power for themselves by being demagogues. I have no respect for such “Christian leaders” at all. But for the rank and file of sincere Evangelicals who believe what their preachers tell them, and act on it in sincerity from a good heart, I do have respect, even if I believe they are being mislead by their leaders, and therefore sometimes do things that are contrary to the teachings and the spirit of Jesus Christ.
What do you think Jesus was talking about when mentioned the being a new heavens and a new earth. Did Swedenborg wright anything about that?
Yes, Swedenborg wrote extensively about the new heaven and the new earth. He said that the book of Revelation is not about physical events, but about spiritual events. So the earth is not literally going to be destroyed and re-created. Here is a typical statement from Swedenborg’s writings about the new heaven and the new earth:
By “new church” here he doesn’t mean a new church institution, but rather a new spiritual era, paradigm, and community. You can read the whole commentary by clicking on the link. Use the “Next” button to continue reading on to the next few sections, where he explains it in more detail. For my own modern English translation of the same commentary, click here.
For a more general view of the end-time prophecies in the Gospels ad the book of Revelation, please see my article, “Is the World Coming to an End? What about the Second Coming?”
One book in particular — “From Daniel To Doomsday” by John Hagee — seems to make a strong case for the imminent and literal End Times, citing the accelerating “birth pangs” in current events — and the restoration of Israel.
In the book, Hagee argues that the Rapture of the Church is nigh, and uses old Jewish wedding customs to support it. Then he says the “Gog Magog” war — which he interprets as an attempted invasion of Israel by a Russian and Muslim coalition — is also nigh. Hagee also speculates this war could result in destruction among those “who live safely on the coasts” — America. Then the Rapture and what could be WW3 are followed by the rise of the Antichrist and the commencement of the 7 year Tribulation, in which God judges the sinful and unbelieving world. The Tribulation culminates in the Battle of Armageddon, in which Christ returns as “the lion of the tribe of Judah.” After that is the Millennium, 1000 years of peace and prosperity, followed by a final failed attempt by Satan to overthrow God. Then this universe ends, followed by the new heaven and earth in which the saved live in a physical New Jerusalem.
Of particular interest in the book are claims that the Jewish people are already preparing to make the 3rd temple, and supposedly several rabbis simultaneously dreamed the “Gog Magog” war against Israel would happen soon.
Mr. Hagee is in very good company. There have been many, many predictions that the end times are about to happen all through the centuries, ever since the New Testament itself—in which it is clear that Jesus’ followers expected him to return within their lifetimes, or at least within the lifetime of people who were then alive.
For a list of quite a few of these predictions, see:
Wikipedia -> List of dates predicted for apocalyptic events
It seems that in just about every century since Jesus made his prophecy of the end times, people have seen “the signs” of it in their own era, and have believed that it was about to happen. Some of them have presented elaborate arguments. Sometimes people have gone up mountains on the day it was supposed to happen . . . only to come back down again the next day, thoroughly confused and disappointed. Because it has so regularly failed to happen when predicted, today religious leaders are usually not willing to state a specific day or year anymore. But whenever they do, they always turn out to be wrong.
It hasn’t happened literally yet, nor will it ever happen literally and physically, because those prophecies are about spiritual events, not physical events. See:
Is the World Coming to an End? What about the Second Coming?
How much did Swedenborg predict about the future of the physical world? I believe you mentioned somewhere he predicted Europe would go secular, but Africa would get more spiritual or something like that.
Also you mention that the world is becoming a “fully integrated worldwide community,” but some believe that a corrupt and power hungry elite will use that to establish a “technocracy” where human freedom and diversity is eliminated — which can be seen in current trends of politics and tech, such as censorship by big tech companies of views that challenge official narrative. And there’s the “transhumanist” agenda of integrating biology with technology some see in trends as well, such as “brain-computer interfaces.”
There’s also the fact that some people take notions of social justice too far, creating a bleak, divisive, and prejudiced worldview where certain people are automatically deemed “marginalized” or “oppressors” just because of who they are, seeing perceived problems everywhere where there are none, as well as deeming healthy and natural behaviors as various forms of discrimination.* It’s like Christianity being taken to extreme views by people like Puritans.
I suppose that in the New Church worldview, such madness may be permitted to happen to a certain extent, but God will always work to preserve human freedom, and that one day the world will “mellow out” and have a healthy view?
*(like opposing _any_ distinction of sex despite clear biological differences)
Here is Swedenborg’s prediction about the future of the physical world:
He goes on to say that although in the church, also, things will be outwardly the same, inwardly people will have more freedom of thought about matters of faith. You can read his entire statement in The Last Judgment #73–74.
Basically, Swedenborg said that outwardly nothing at all would change in the wake of the Last Judgment that, he said, took place in the spiritual world in the year 1757. However, we are now seeing the effects of the new freedom of thought in the form of millions of people thinking for themselves, leaving existing church denominations, and charting their own course. I also believe that the massive explosion of science and technology that has taken place since the 18th century is a result of that new freedom of thought. The Church can no longer suppress new ways of thinking. This has lead to a great renaissance in human society.
Swedenborg did predict a rise of atheism due to the currently accepted falsified doctrines of the Christian churches. This would presumably affect mostly the Christian countries, which in his day were primarily in Europe.
He also predicted that Africans would be more receptive to the doctrines of the New Church than existing Christians would be. This has turned out to be generally true. When there was an active program of supporting New Church movements and missions in Africa, they flourished numerically far beyond any of the churches in Europe or North America. More recently, the African churches have experienced hard times due to various political events and obstacles, and have declined considerably. However, new efforts to revive them are just now beginning. We’ll see over time what the results of those efforts will be.
As for the current political and social situation, there have always been corrupt elites vying for power and money. Today is no exception. The main difference is that the advance of technology has put far more power into the hands of the elites. However, it has also put far more power into the hands of ordinary people, which tends to balance out the power of the elites. Overall, I believe that technology will benefit the cause of human freedom more than it will benefit the power of the elites. But that battle is still playing itself out.
Meanwhile, the various social movements that tend to go too far are, I believe, a result of the vast inner changes resulting from the Last Judgment, which are now finally starting to make major waves in the social climate. Yes, in some cases the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction from the old standard forms of oppression. The push for reform has created new types and classes of social oppression. But these things, I believe, will work themselves out over time.
We humans seem to learn only by trying things out to see if they work. And if we have strong ideas of how things should work, we have an amazing capacity for ignoring how they actually do work. We try the same things over and over and over again politically and socially, despite their repeated failure to bring about the desired results. Hence much of the craziness in our world today.
But this is a spiritual blog, not a political blog, so I won’t get into the specifics here. Suffice it to say that change is messy—and we are in a period of major change. I believe the change will ultimately be for the better. It’s just going to take us some time, and a lot of trial and error, to get there.
Thanks again for the reply. The “everything will stay the same” prediction is kind of disappointing, considering how much power hell has in the world.
Also do you think God could allow a catastrophe like a technological collapse if it meant preserving human freedom from out of control future technology?
A collapse is predicted: http://dieoff.com/page125.htm (the Olduvai theory).
Yes, some worldly drama and excitement would make the whole thing much more interesting to the average person. Death, destruction, and corruption are news. Gradual improvement in people’s living conditions are not. People drink in the disasters, and fear collapse around every corner, while not noticing that despite all the catastrophes that get reported without fail in the news, the lives of average people around the world are getting steadily better.
For example, despite the ballooning world population, the number of people in extreme poverty declined from 1.75 billion in 1990 to 702 million in 2015 (see Wikipedia -> Poverty -> Global Prevalence). But that massive decline in poverty gets little press. It doesn’t sell papers, generate clicks, and sell ads. The media plays to people’s fears, regardless of the reality that human life on this earth is getting better, not worse.
The “Olduvai Theory,” in my opinion, is just another one of the doomsday scenarios that have been popular for centuries. Very few of them actually happen. But that doesn’t stop the flood of popular post-apocalyptic dystopian movies and novels.
From my reading and skimming of the article you linked, it appears that the Olduvai Theory is based on a deceptively simple premise: that our level of civilization tracks with energy usage per person. And based on that, since energy usage per person is declining, and available energy seems limited and bound to decline, humanity will rapidly return to a new stone age.
But raw energy usage per person is not a valid metric. It doesn’t take into account the efficiency of our energy usage. For example, toilets used to consume eight or ten gallons of water per flush. Now they commonly consume only one or two gallons. The efficiency of the toilets has increased dramatically, making existing resources go much farther while providing the same level of service. Similarly, old refrigerators were energy hogs, whereas new refrigerators are much more efficient in their energy usage. The overall trend is to provide the same or better level of service using a much smaller amount of energy and resources.
The theory also doesn’t seem to take into account the rise of renewable sources of energy. It talks about all the classic forms of mostly fossil-fuel-based energy generation, but doesn’t say anything about solar and wind, which are rapidly increasing their share of total energy generation, and which, unlike fossil fuels, do not depend upon a limited and exhaustible fuel source.
In short, I find the Olduvai Theory entirely unconvincing. It is based on old, faulty thinking that we’re already moving beyond.
Further, as we move out into space, the limitations of earth’s resources will be lifted, allowing for further exponential expansion of energy and resource usage, if that is what we need to move forward technologically. A single large metallic asteroid would provide more precious and industrial metals than everything we’ve pulled out of the earth’s crust so far. And though we’re nowhere near exhausting the earth’s potential for renewable energy, once we move out to space, the supply of solar energy is limited only by the structures we can build to harness it. We are also finding that the Moon and Mars have stores of water and other essential materials that would make it possible for human settlements there to become fully self-sustaining.
Yes, it’s possible that we could destroy ourselves through technology. And I don’t believe God would stop us from doing so if that is what we choose to do. But I don’t see that happening. We are well aware of the dangers, and we are moving toward solutions. Yes, we may see some serious repercussions of our inefficient industrialization process so far. But I do not believe those repercussions will be fatal. We are learning from our mistakes, and moving forward.
I see humanity moving on an upward track, not on the path toward destruction predicted by so many doomsday scenarios, whether religious or secular.
I hope I didn’t convey that I was disappointed that the world would stay the same because I wanted a doomsday scenario. Personally I hope the world becomes a heavenly place, but TBH the current outlook of humanity seems rather gloomy.
Based on what gets reported in the news, yes, the current outlook for humanity seems rather gloomy. But the news doesn’t present the whole picture. Sensational stories of corruption, disaster, and death sell. Stories about how most people are living much better than people ever did in the past don’t sell. So we get a skewed picture of reality.