In his essay “The Red Angel,” the British writer and literary critic G.K. Chesterton (1874–1936) wrote:
If you keep bogies and goblins away from children they would make them up for themselves. One small child in the dark can invent more hells than Swedenborg.
What is Chesterton talking about? How many hells did Swedenborg say there are?
G.K. Chesterton is here referring to Swedenborg’s common (for him) and somewhat unusual (in general religious writing) expression “the hells.”
In his voluminous theological writings, Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) spoke both of “hell” in the singular and of “the hells” in the plural, depending on the context and the point he was making. In fact, based on context and subject matter, there are three general answers to the question of how many hells Swedenborg said there were:
- One hell
- Three hells
- Too many hells to count
This arrangement draws on the philosophical and esoteric concept of “macrocosm and microcosm,” which is a fairly common theme in Swedenborg’s theological writings.
1. One hell
As in general religious usage, Swedenborg commonly refers to “hell” in the singular. For example, his very first reference to hell in his published theological writings occurs early in his first published theological work:
I have been taught about the different kinds of spirits, the situation of souls after death, hell, (or the regrettable state of the faithless), and heaven (or the blissful state of the faithful). (Secrets of Heaven #5, italics added)
In the opening paragraph of his treatment of hell in his book Heaven and Hell he uses both the singular and the plural in referring to heaven and to hell:
In the earlier discussion of heaven, it was made clear throughout (particularly in #2–6) that the Lord is the God of heaven and that the whole government of the heavens is in the Lord’s hands. Since the relationship of heaven to hell and of hell to heaven is like that of two opposites that act against each other, with the action and reaction yielding the state of equilibrium within which everything exists, in order for absolutely everything to be kept in this balance, it is necessary that the ruler of the one be the ruler of the other as well. That is, unless the same Lord controlled the attacks of the hells and restrained their madness, the balance would be destroyed; and if the balance were destroyed, everything else would go. (Heaven and Hell #536, italics added)
In Swedenborg’s usage “hell” in the singular refers to the entirety of hell, including all of its regions and parts—which are also individually referred to as “hells.”
2. Three hells
In line with Paul’s reference to “the third heaven” in 2 Corinthians 12:2, Swedenborg stated that there are three heavens, forming three levels one above the other, or three rings of a concentric circle:
There are three heavens, very clearly distinguished from each other. There is a central or third heaven, an intermediate or second one, and an outmost or first. These follow in sequence and are interdependent, like the highest part of the human body, the head; the middle, or torso; and the lowest, or feet; or like the highest, middle, and lowest parts of a house. (Heaven and Hell #29)
Similarly, he said that there are also three hells opposite to these three heavens:
Because there are three heavens overall, there are also three hells overall. There is a deepest hell that is opposite to the inmost or third heaven; there is a middle hell that is opposite to the middle or second heaven; and there is a highest hell that is opposite to the outmost or first heaven. (Heaven and Hell #542)
Note that since hell is a distorted and inverted reflection of heaven, the highest, or least malevolent hell is opposite to the lowest, or least exalted heaven; and the lowest, or most malevolent hell is opposite to the highest, or most exalted heaven—similar to a mountain whose upside-down reflection appears in a lake.
3. Too many hells to count
In addition to speaking of all of heaven and all of hell collectively in the singular as “heaven” and “hell,” and in addition to speaking of there being three heavens and three hells overall, Swedenborg also stated that heaven and hell are divided into myriad communities, each of which is referred to as “a heaven” or “a hell” in its own right.
Further, even each individual angel can be referred to as “a heaven,” and by extension, each individual evil spirit in hell as “a hell.”
About heaven being distinguished and divided into communities, Swedenborg wrote:
The Heavens Are Made Up of Countless Communities
The angels of any given heaven are not all together in one place, but are separated into larger and smaller communities depending on differences in the good effects of the love and faith they are engaged in. Angels engaged in similar activities form a single community. There is an infinite variety of good activities in heaven, and each individual angel is, so to speak, his or her own activity. (Heaven and Hell #41)
About each angelic community and each individual angel being a heaven, Swedenborg wrote:
Each Community Is a Heaven in Smaller Form and Each Angel a Heaven in Smallest Form
The reason each community is a heaven in smaller form and each angel a heaven in smallest form is that the activity of love and faith is what makes heaven. This good activity is in every community of heaven and in every angel of a community. It does not matter that this activity is different and distinctive everywhere, it is still the activity of heaven. The only difference is that heaven has one activity here and another there. So whenever anyone is raised into any community of heaven, they say that he or she has arrived in heaven. They say of those who are there that they are in heaven, each in his or her own. All the people who have arrived in the other life realize this; so individuals who are standing outside or below heaven and looking off into the distance where there is a gathering of angels say that heaven is there—and over there as well.
It is rather like the situation of officials and functionaries and servants in a royal palace or court. Even though they live individually in their dwellings or in their rooms, some higher than others, still they are in a single palace or a single court, each one involved in a particular function in the service of the king. We can see from this what is meant by the Lord’s saying that “in my Father’s house there are many dwellings” (John 14:2) and by “the stories of heaven” and the “heavens of heavens” in the prophets. (Heaven and Hell #51)
Later he applies the same principle to hell:
Because hell is differentiated into as many communities as heaven is, there are also as many hells as there are communities of heaven. As each community of heaven is a heaven in smaller form (see #51–58), so each community of hell is a hell in smaller form. (Heaven and Hell #542)
Although I am not aware of any place where Swedenborg stated explicitly that each evil spirit in hell is a hell in smallest form, the inverse parallelism that he established between heaven and hell suggests that the same principle would apply to hell as well.
Based on this, if Swedenborg spoke of each community of hell as “a hell” (in smaller form), and by extension, if even each individual evil spirit in hell could be considered “a hell” (in smallest form), then according to Swedenborg there are too many of these smaller and individual hells to count.
What was Chesterton talking about?
This, I suspect, is what Chesterton was referring to when he wrote:
If you keep bogies and goblins away from children they would make them up for themselves. One small child in the dark can invent more hells than Swedenborg.
Chesterton was apparently using Swedenborg’s countless hells as a rhetorical device to convey with a touch of wry humor the idea that small children can conjure up in their imaginations more scary monsters than it is possible to count.
(Note: This post is a slightly edited version of an answer I originally wrote and posted on Christianity StackExchange. You can see the original question on StackExchange here, and the StackExchange version of my answer here.)
For further reading:
How many hells are there? As many or as few as you want. The concepts of heaven, hell, God, afterlife, etc., are strictly figments of our imaginations. Swedenborg was, in large part, a product of his times just as we all are. He was certainly a great thinker, theologian, author, and possessed of other fine qualities, including degrees in physics, mechanics and philosophy. On top of that he was a “good ol’ boy” well liked by those who knew him. Wikipedia has a very good summary of the life of Swedenborg.
Like many great thinkers throughout history, Swedenborg was possessed of some quirky ideas. At the age of approximately 56, he began having strange dreams and “visions”. He claimed to have had a dream in which the Lord appeared to him and appointed him to reveal the spiritual meaning of the Bible. One of S-borg’s subsequent works included the claim that the second coming of Christ had begun in 1757 and completed that same year and that he had witnessed it. These ideas were presented in his book “The Heavenly Doctrine”. In “Earths of the Universe” S-borg stated that he had conversed with spirits from Jupiter, Mars, Mercury, Saturn, Venus and the Moon as well as spirits from other planets beyond our solar system. Some of the “conclusions” he reached as a result of having dreams and visions were utterly preposterous. For sake of brevity, I will not list additional outlandish claims he made which can be viewed on Wikipedia.
It could hardly be a coincidence that many church founders and religious leaders claim to have had visions from God which form the basis of their subsequent beliefs on the subject. Joseph Smith, Muhammad, Jim Jones, Swedenborg, Brigham Young, Jesus, various Popes, Native American Medicine Men, Ann Lee and the Shakers, Joanna Southcott, Mary Baker Eddy, Rebecca Jackson a black Shakers, Jemima Wilkinson, John Starkweather, John Alexander Dowie, The 1700s and early 1800s were an era of when visionaries and prophets were popular and attracted large followings.
Like Swedenborg, if a visionary was well educated, intuitive, well spoken, well written, and a “salesperson”, their chances of attracting followers was greatly increased. It also provided as “free pass” to those who were either incapable or unwilling to think on their own. . “Godly Plagiarism” is a beautiful, ripe fruit easily plucked from its tree.
Do not fear drawing your own conclusions but fear those who strive to make them for you.
Thanks for your comment. I appreciate your easy and breezy tone, while not agreeing with your general attitude that anyone who claimed spiritual experiences must have a few screws loose. You, of course, are free to believe that if you wish. But that will only limit your access to knowledge about anything other than the conditions of this physical universe. See: “Where is the Proof of the Afterlife?”
In response to some of your more specific points:
Swedenborg was evidently not a very good “salesperson.” He published most of his works anonymously, and only began putting his name on them rather late in the game, when it became publicly known that he was the author of these works. Even then, he made no particular efforts to gain a following. He mostly confined himself to sending his books to various seminaries and libraries, and making them available for purchase very inexpensively. And though they did create a great stir, they produced very few followers for Swedenborg during his lifetime—and for that matter, not even all that many after he died, compared to the much larger following of some of the other colorful personalities you have listed.
Swedenborg himself insisted that nothing should be believed on mere authority—his own or anyone else’s. Rather, he said, things should be believed only when they are seen and understood for oneself. People who simply believed what others taught them, he said, were possessed of a shallow “historical” faith, not a real faith.
About Swedenborg’s book on life on other planets, see my article, “Aliens vs. Advent: Swedenborg’s 1758 Book on Extraterrestrial Life.” Though Swedenborg was clearly wrong about the other planets in our solar system being inhabited, there is a long history of thinkers who believe that there are other inhabited planets in the universe, and many respected scientists today believe it is only a matter of time before we find them. So although Swedenborg’s specific view that all planets must be inhabited by intelligent life was faulty, the greater principle that there are likely other inhabited worlds in the universe is still a very live possibility in the minds of many thinking people.
And once again, Swedenborg advised against accepting uncritically anything anyone—including himself—says. For more on the nature of Swedenborg’s writings, from my perspective, see: “Do the Teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg take Precedence over the Bible?” As in reading any author, it is best to read Swedenborg’s theological writings with one’s thinking mind engaged, and not just blindly believe everything he wrote.
And about the Last Judgment and the Second Coming, see: “Is the World Coming to an End? What about the Second Coming?”
It’s easy to reject as outlandish ideas that go beyond our current thinking and conceptions of the universe. It’s harder to take them seriously, and to expand our mind to encompass a greater understanding of God, spirit, and the cosmos in which we live. If you prefer to ridicule and make fun of ideas that you do not agree with and apparently do not fully understand, that is your choice. I prefer to take a larger view.
Thank you for the feedback and the discussion. Far too many shy away from these type of exchanges.
Everyone, including Swedenborg, is 100% correct in their own beliefs. I neither agree nor disagree with Borg’s conclusions. Who am I to judge? Nor is it my intention to ridicule anyone for their beliefs. However, I do believe in looking at the big picture that surrounds one’s point of view, especially when it is adopted by others. Based upon my reading of some of your earlier posts, it appears we both agree religion and faith is a collage of ideologies without limits. My scrutiny of other’s ideas and points of view is heightened when attempts are made to objectify and quantify the abstract nature of our existence and life’s purpose whether it be Swedenborg or anyone else.
I encourage everyone to seek spiritual insights, not “answers”, through self-realizations however they may be acquired. Above all, be true to yourself.
I’ve never been one to shy away from a good discussion or debate. Though these days I do my best to engage in them only when I think some good can come of it.
I’m not sure what you mean by saying that “everyone . . . is 100% correct in their own beliefs.” Since some beliefs conflict with and flatly contradict others, that seems a stretch. Reality does have definite and specific characteristics, I believe.
I always thought if there was 1 afterlife that’s true, Swedenborg would be the best of them all. But he said some weird stuff about aliens, I read a criticism about him (so Idk if true) that said he saw them in the same clothing that people of his area wore. Why would aliens be dressed like 1800’s Sweden?
Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment and question.
Swedenborg did write about speaking with people from other planets in the spiritual world, including the then-known planets in our solar system. If he did speak with aliens, obviously he was wrong about some of them coming from our solar system, since we now know that none of the other planets in our solar system can support advanced life forms. For more on this, see my article, “Aliens vs. Advent: Swedenborg’s 1758 Book on Extraterrestrial Life.”
As for the clothes they were wearing, I’m not a clothing historian, so I can’t say if his descriptions match clothing styles in 18th century Europe. My impression is that most of them are dressed fairly simply, in what we might call peasant garb. And though popular science fiction generally has aliens wearing mod and outlandish garb, I see no particular reason why people of the simple, non-technological cultures Swedenborg described as inhabiting other planets wouldn’t wear similar types of clothing. Peasant garb is pretty basic and functional. On at least one planet he describes the clothing as something like a wrap around the body, which presumably did not match what people in the 18th century wore, except perhaps in Asia, with which Swedenborg wasn’t particularly familiar. Anyway, there are only so many practical ways to clothe the human body. I don’t see why human-shaped aliens would wear clothing in ways we have never conceived of before. Just a few of my own thoughts on the subject.
About Swedenborg’s writings in general, and how I view them, please see: “Do the Teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg take Precedence over the Bible?” Swedenborg never claimed to be infallible. As with reading any author, it is good to read with our thinking mind engaged, and not just blindly accept everything he says as authoritative and true just because he said it.
Thank you. I find your blog very helpful
You’re welcome. Glad to hear it!
I think Hoyle raises an interesting point. Why was Swedenborg “chosen”?. I assume there were other people who were “chosen” as well, so what makes Swedenborg any different? Has there been anyone that has had similar experiences that Swedenborg had?
I’m not aware of anyone else who has even claimed to be able to be fully conscious in the spiritual world for nearly three decades, as Swedenborg said he was.
As to why Swedenborg was chosen and not someone else, I think it was because he was the right type of person at the right time.
Michael Servetus (c. 1511–1553) might have been a possibility. Like Swedenborg several centuries later, Servetus rejected the Trinity of Persons based on his own extensive study of the Bible in its original languages. His views on the nature of God and on the Incarnation were fairly similar to those of Swedenborg. But Servetus was born too soon in history. The Enlightenment had not yet begun. There was not yet enough religious freedom. Calvin burned him at the stake for heresy (even though Calvin himself, with his doctrine of double predestination, was among the worst heretics in Christian history).
Isaac Newton (1643–1727), whose lifetime overlapped with Swedenborg’s, might have been another possibility. Unbeknownst to most people, just like Swedenborg, in addition to writing books about about science and mathematics, Newton also wrote extensively on religion and the Bible—though as far as I know, he never published any of his religious works. But Newton was not a nice man. In fact, he was downright nasty to his intellectual competitors—especially Leibniz, whom Newton did his best to destroy over a dispute about which of them was the first to develop calculus. See also this comment by a reader on another post, and my reply.
About Swedenborg’s spiritual experiences and his writings in general, please see:
Do the Teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg take Precedence over the Bible?
If we believe every word written and spoken by Swedenborg, does it really make any difference in either the ‘real’ world or his “spiritual” world? Did he meet certain conditions required by God before being so enlightened? Lee’s previous discussions about who and when certain people meet with God seem conditional. Why would our Creator impose such requirements? Thousands of people from around the world over the years have claimed to have met God. Who decides which of those have the best ‘credentials’? Until we know the nuclei of our Creator’s existence/power, there will continue to be a never-ending stream of those who claim to know. Religious books/writing/manuscripts contain core wisdom for the continued existence of mankind on Earth. The shortcoming of these writings is they were created by man. Of course, those who follow these writings will each claim they are the real deal. A thousand Frenchmen can never be wrong, right?
In response to your other comment today, I think that taking the position that we cannot know anything certain about the nature of God and the spirit world is self-limiting.
We have vast amounts of information on these subjects, built up over thousands of years. Yes, we have to sort through sometimes conflicting claims to arrive at the truth. But the same is true in every other area of human thought and endeavor. Science, also, is a process of sorting through conflicting theories and experiences to arrive at the truth. Do we throw up our hands and say, “We just can’t know anything certain about the nature of nature” because not everyone agrees about it?
Now to your points and questions in this comment:
I actually don’t believe every word written and spoken by Swedenborg. Some of the things he said we now know to be mistaken based on advances in science, history, cultural psychology, and so on since his day. It is not good to uncritically accept 100% of what anyone says. To make truth and ideas our own, we must consider them in our own mind, consider conflicting and opposing viewpoints, and sort out what seems best to fit everything we know and have experienced. And it’s best to still keep an open mind in case further experience suggests that we may need to update our understanding of things.
Does it make any difference in what you call the “real world” and what Swedenborg calls the “spiritual world” whether we believe Swedenborg’s teachings? Yes, of course it does. We will make different decisions based on one understanding of reality than we will based on a different understanding of reality. A true and accurate understanding of the universe will tend to support good and constructive actions. A faulty and false understanding of the universe will tend to support evil and destructive actions.
Yes, what’s most important is what’s in our heart. But what we believe in our head does matter. It will either direct us rightly or wrongly on the path of life. See:
Does Doctrine Matter? Why is it Important to Believe the Right Thing?
On your next question, I would say that yes, Swedenborg met certain criteria required by God before God called him, opened his spiritual eyes, and sent him to carry out the task of spiritual revelation that occupied him for the rest of his life.
When the CEO of a company hires someone to head up a certain department of the company, does the CEO have criteria to consult in making that hiring decision among the various applicants? Of course. Generally those criteria are published in the job listing. It would be silly to hire a person to run a machine shop if the bulk of that person’s previous education and experience is in the area of theology, and none of it in shops and machinery. The person’s qualifications would not meet the criteria required for the job.
Similarly, God had certain criteria that were required to do the job God needed done. Swedenborg met those criteria. Swedenborg gave a simplified version of those criteria in True Christianity #779:
At minimum, then, to meet God’s criteria, Swedenborg had to have sufficient learning and intellectual capacity to understand and accept the teachings God wanted to convey to humanity. He also had to have the ability to write and publish them for others to read.
Swedenborg met these criteria in spades. He was one of the most brilliant minds of his age, having studied every area of human knowledge that existed in the Western world of his day. He was also an indefatigable writer and publisher of books on scientific and philosophical subjects. He was a prime candidate for the job God wanted done.
Were there others who could have done the job? Probably. In a previous comment I mentioned Isaac Newton as a possibility. But Swedenborg turned out to be the best candidate, not only due to his intellectual abilities and publishing experience, but because he was of a character that was willing to humble himself before God, and do God’s bidding rather than injecting his own ego into the task, and thus infecting and corrupting the message God wanted delivered.
Perhaps others could have done the task. But when God put out the call, Swedenborg was the one who heard God’s call and said, “Here am I. Send me!” (see Isaiah 6:8).
As far as Swedenborg’s credentials, read any biography of him that you wish—even one of the hostile biographies. All his biographers agree that Swedenborg was a brilliant and highly religious man. Even his traditional Christian enemies grant this. They think he was deceived, but they do not doubt his high intelligence and credentials. No one who knows anything about him could doubt his credentials for the task to which, he said, God sent him.
Beyond that, we must each make up our own mind. But we must make up our mind based on actual knowledge, ideally broad knowledge, not just on hearsay and on general skepticism about whether it is even possible for us to have definite knowledge about God and spirit. If we deny that we can know something, we will do our best to make sure that we do not prove ourselves wrong by coming to know that thing. That’s why I believe your stance that we cannot know is self-limiting.
Yes, there are many different voices and traditions saying many different things about God and the spiritual realms. I am not averse to saying that some of those voices are just plain wrong. But if we look at the best forms of the major religions of humanity, there are certain core truths on which they all agree, even if they express them differently. See:
Is There a Common Theme in All Religions?
To quote from the introduction to that article:
The different religions and belief systems of humanity are simply varied vessels to carry the same core truths to people of different nations and cultures. On this, see also:
If there’s One God, Why All the Different Religions?
Each of those religions is the real deal for its own adherents, because each of those religions is specifically adapted to the culture, character, and background of its adherents.
Of course, religions can and do become corrupt. And when they do, they begin to crumble and fall, and to lose their influence over the minds of the people. This is precisely what is happening in the various branches and sects of traditional Christianity.
Unfortunately, the fall of a corrupt Christianity, whose key doctrines are human-invented, unbiblical, and false, has led many people to general skepticism and atheism. This is an unfortunate side-effect of the human corruption of institutions that were originally meant to serve God and deliver God’s truth to the people.
But the fact that many human religious institutions have become corrupt and false does not invalidate the original seed of truth that they began with in their early days, when they still listened to God and did God’s will.
Once again, you will have to make up your own mind. But if you decide before even considering any of these things that it is not possible for us to know anything definite about God and spirit, then you have tied a blindfold around your own eyes.
Hi lee , im sure youll know but dosent swedenborg mention that when devils / evil spirits hear the name Jesus christ or even of god that they started to scream/were horrifed or terriefied of the notion ?
Yes, Swedenborg says that evil spirits can’t stand to hear the name of God, and are wracked with pain if they are brought into God’s presence. That’s one of the reasons they prefer hell over heaven. They can’t stand the atmosphere of heaven, which is full of the Lord’s presence.
Hi Lee hope you are all well, i am interested in various things which include the paranormal, swedenborg i think should be used by many if not all paranormal investigators as way he describes the effects spirits of both evil and positive nature can have on us and the world describes everything they say even if they dont know how these phonemena are produced.
Many paranormal phenomena like Ufo sightings, abductions, sighting of bigfoot and other monsters as well are ghosts are very holographic in nature and many investigators have said that they belive there is an unknown force creating these ‘holographic images and experiences’.
In the off the left eye video , 5 spiritual experiences swedenborg talks about the 5 ways in which people have spiritual experiences. The description given of a persons spiritual senses and physical senses seemingly as one i belive explains this phonemena in the se sense that evil spirits and good spirits produce these visions and abduction scenarios using information from the persons memory to form the experience. To either produce fear and to trick the person or to provide comfort dependant on the type of spirit.
This as well would be akin to swedenborgs description of hallucinations and paranormal experiences in which the object (ufo, monster, bigfoot etc) look so real you cannot tell that it is an illusion and not physical. And because it is brought about by spiritual senses the phonemena do not obey physical laws and behave in ways that break physics because they are not physical.
abduction scenarios such as alien abductions and in earlier times fairy, demonic and such abductions would then be brought about by the evil/good spirits using the spiritual senses to perform the abduction scenario but as swedenborg perfectly illustrates our spiritual senses are exactly the same as our physical senses which is why people think they are physical because they are able to seem so real yet are nothing but illusions and are not happening in the physical world.
Another interesting part is that there are numerous experiences such as the ones i have mentioned in which people have yelled out the name Jesus Christ and the phonemena disappeared as though they cannot stand the name which is what swedenborg says that evil spirits do as they cannot stand what jesus stands for.
I hope i got that right regarding the spiritual senses bit.
From a swedenborg point of view does that all make sense ?
Yes, this all makes sense from a Swedenborgian perspective.
The only thing I would say is that in the spiritual world, “illusion” is a tricky thing. Yes, if one thinks of non-physical things as “illusions,” then these experiences are illusions, because they are non-physical.
However, spiritual reality does not work in the same way as physical reality.
Here in the physical world though it gets wild on the subatomic and quantum level, in our ordinary experience on size scales that we can sense without the aid of scientific instruments, the objects around us have fixity. They don’t just pop into and out of existence. They come into existence by some process, they endure for a longer or shorter time, and then they go out of existence by ordinary physical processes, such as death or erosion.
In the spiritual world, though, many things can and do pop into and out of existence based on the changing thoughts and feelings of the people (angels and spirits) in the vicinity. And they are not just illusions. They actually do exist. They are made out of solid spiritual substance. If it is an animal, you could cut it open and see its internal organs just as you could here on earth. But it lasts only as long as the thoughts and feelings it corresponds to in the people in the area last. When their thoughts and feelings change, it goes out of existence, and something else takes its place that corresponds to the current thoughts and feelings of the people in the area.
This doesn’t mean everything in the spiritual world is always popping into and out of existence in chaotic fashion, and nothing is permanent. Many parts of our character are settled, and change very little over time. Things that correspond to these aspects of our character, such as our home and its yard or garden, are just as stable as homes here on earth, if not more so. That’s because they correspond to settled, ongoing aspects of our character. Other things though, that correspond to fleeting thoughts and feelings, do come into and out of existence as those shorter term thoughts and feelings come and go.
When it comes to sasquatch sightings, UFO sightings, alien abductions, and so on, in the spiritual world, these things are not necessarily “illusions” as we think of them here on earth. No, they don’t exist in the physical world, and they are not made out of physical matter. But if they correspond to thoughts and feelings in the psyche of the people having those experiences, then they actually could come into existence in the spiritual world, and be very real and solid, made of spiritual matter, with internal structure and everything, for the duration of the experience. They would then go out of existence as soon as the experience stops, because the person goes back to a normal earthly waking consciousness, which does not have the ability to create solid things in the spiritual world. Plus, the person will move on to other thoughts and feelings. UFO enthusiasts can’t be imagining and dreaming up UFOs all day long. They have to get up, eat breakfast, and go to work like the rest of us.
In short, these experiences, if they are taking place in the spiritual world and aren’t just pure hallucinations, could involve actual spiritual UFOs, aliens, sasquatches, and so on that come into existence in the spiritual world in response to the experiencer’s thoughts and feelings, fears and desires, and so on, and then go back out of existence when the person returns to ordinary waking reality in this world.
God, heaven, hell, spiritual world, spirtuality, faith, self-awareness, etc. are all abstract ideas. Good ideas but nonetheless abstract. Why do I say this? Because no two people will ever have the same thoughts and ideas about what those terms mean. Beware of those who attempt to pursuade you otherwise with their own interpretations. Our creator blessed everyone with the ability to think independently whether or not we choose to fulfill that gift. Early prehistoric man was blessed with the opportunity to ponder his existence without collateral information. That is as it should be.
Certainly we must each come to our own conclusions about the nature of reality. But . . . there actually is a reality out there, whether or not we understand and interpret it accurately.
Hi Lee thank you for that added information it makes alot of sense and swedenborgs descriptions of the spirit world make sense compared to other accounts where people constantly see different things all the time.
Would you say your description is akin to how off the left eye describe 1 of the five spiritual experiences as they describe the spiritual and physical senses intertwined like an added picture on a roll of film ?
Obviously each film (person) is specific to each person so if one person sees say a ufo with his Spiritual senses someone else next to him will not which has happened to multiple people
If you still have that offTheLeftEye video in your history, would you please post a link to it here? Then I could watch it and give you a better answer.
But yes, when we see things with our spiritual eyes, someone can be standing right next to us and see nothing at all. Most often that is because their spiritual eyes are not open. But it’s also possible that their spiritual eyes are open, and they see something different than we do, because they are not in the same place in the spiritual world as we are. Our location in the spiritual world is independent of our location in the physical world.
Howdy from Texas Lee: You are an intelligent, well-read, humble and somewhat open minded person and I appreciate that. I wasn’t sure what “reality” you were referring to in your comment to my most recent post. I personally do not feel it necessary to have a ‘substantive reality’ when it involves my awareness of my spituality and faith. I just don’t believe that religious “scholars” know any more about these subjects that would have caveman. Our creator gave us the gift of spirtuality and faith. Mankind gave us religion and religious teachings. Of course, these are only my opinions. To each his own.
Thank you for your kind words.
Yes, to each his own. But even in the areas of spirituality and faith, we are not islands unto ourselves. We gain our faith and spirituality within the context of human community, churches, ministers, spiritual teachers, books, movies, videos, and so on. If we think, “I came up with this spiritual awareness all by myself, and took my spiritual path all on my own,” we are not seeing our own spiritual life realistically.
During my time as pastor of a Swedenborgian church, a family that had been regular members of the church in earlier years, but that had drifted away, gradually drifted back to the church. One of the daughters, who was now in her 40s, said to me one day, “You know, I always thought I came up with my spiritual beliefs on my own. But now that I’m back here, I realize that I got them from this church.” She had grown up going to Sunday School in the church.
God doesn’t infuse spirituality and faith into us directly. Rather, we learn about God and spirit, and gain spirituality and faith, from spiritual sources here on earth, meaning mostly through revelation (the Bible, etc.) and the spiritual experiences of others who have passed them on to the community.
As for religious scholars vs. cavemen, the religious scholar is going to know more about religion and faith than the caveman. But a) it could be wrong ideas, and b) the religious scholar may or may not live according to all of that knowledge. A caveman who lives a good and caring life based on a rudimentary idea of God is in better shape spiritually than a religious scholar who can expound upon the finer points of the Athanasian Creed, but is a pompous ass and treats people with contempt.
Hi Lee. I have often wondered what happens to people who are selfish, but don’t actively seek to hurt others, or have personal power or pleasure over others. Mainly, they just like to keep themselves and do their own thing.
What you are describing sounds more like introverted people than selfish people.
Being introverted is not at all the same thing as being selfish. Introverted people commonly enjoy doing solitary work that is of benefit to other people and to the wider world. They often have the ability to focus on technical and tedious tasks in a way that extroverted people cannot. They are contributing to the well-being of other people and of society as a whole. They’re just doing it in an atmosphere of peace, quiet, and lack of human distraction that they find energizing and enjoyable.
Such people will find their home in heaven after they die. They will likely continue to live and work by themselves, perhaps only accompanied by their husband or wife, or perhaps in connection with a slightly larger group of sympatico people. These people who live off by themselves in heaven, Swedenborg says, are among the best of the angels.
You misunderstand. They don’t enjoy helping people. They go to work to make money to live, and then go home and do what they want whether that is watch tv, or play video games. If someone asks them for help, they either don’t do it or begrudgingly do it.
The primary way most people contribute to society is through their job. Everything else is optional, at the person’s own will and choice. Assuming they go to work and do a decent job for their employer and their customers, then they are still doing good work.
Of course, if they do it grudgingly, complaining all the time, and wishing they didn’t have to do it, then that is not good. If this isn’t just a front, and they actually do hate doing anything for anyone else, then yes, they would be candidates for hell—albeit one of the milder hells.
However, if they’re not such self-centered SOBs, they do their job reasonably well, and then go home and spend the rest of their time enjoying themselves, that in itself is not bad. After all, they’re still spending the bulk of their waking hours doing something that benefits other people. What they do in their free time is their own business. Some people need that time to themselves to recuperate from taxing jobs and a taxing environment at work.
Even if they are addicted to gaming and tv. I know of people who lied and called in sick for work so they could play a new game. Do you have an article on addiction and how it can determine one’s spiritual home?
I wonder if there are hells where people go and their “punishment” for lack of a better word is self isolation because otherwise they’ll get caught up in all of the craziness and violence.
I wonder if some people fear actually being in hell, but they don’t want to leave because they feel they would have more freedom there than in Heaven.
I also know that sometimes people can feel overwhelmed and that can cause them to complain about their work or even chores to keep their house nic.e.
Of course, addictions in general are not good. They are usually symptoms of a deeper emptiness or malaise in a person’s life. If people don’t face and overcome their addictions, and ideally deal with the deeper issues in their lives at the same time, those addictions will at length destroy them.
However, just to keep things in perspective, the primary practical commandments are not to kill, commit adultery, steal, and bear false witness–which is a little more than simple lying. People do stupid things. But are they doing really damaging and prohibited things? It’s easy to make lots of rules, and condemn people for breaking them. But there’s a reason there are ten commandments, and not one hundred or one thousand commandments. This is meant to keep us focused on not doing the really significant and destructive bad things. Other vices are less destructive, and therefore less damning.
Also, we have a lifetime to get our head on straight, and our heart in the right place. Young people are commonly wrapped up in themselves one way or another, and commonly say and do stupid and thoughtless things as a result. The question is whether they grow up as they grow older.
Yeah but sometimes they don’t get a chance to grow older and die in their 20s. It seems as long as they have a genuine heart, they’ll be able to overcome their hellish desires if not here, then in the spirit world correct?
Sorry i meant genuinely good heart
I think that these days, not many people in their twenties—especially in their early twenties—have really grown up and started to become adults. Most of them are still pretty confused and aimless in life. I don’t think that will be held against them. To go to hell, you have to actively choose to be selfish and greedy when you had the opportunity to choose something else. I’d say most twenty-somethings are still getting around to making that choice.
Having said that, it certainly is possible for a twenty-something to go to hell. But I don’t think it’s very common. However, that’s just my own opinion. In general, once people become self-responsible adults, they are responsible for their choices and actions, and those choices and actions will follow them to the other world if they die young.
I was going to respond as it concerns our last communications but inadvertently deleted those emails. . Would you be able to re-email? Thanks.
If you signed up to receive email notifications of comments here, that is handled automatically by the system. I don’t have manual access to re-send emails generated by the system. However, here is a link to the beginning of our most recent discussion thread.
God, in whatever form/format/concept one chooses to embrace, is who and what we need that to be at any given moment in our lives. The concept of God is abstract. The concept is unique to every individual and that is as it should be. How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? How many levels of heaven and hell are there? As many as a person wants in furtherance of their ethereal beliefs. I haven’t read much of Swedenborg but am somewhat puzzled about those who write voluminously about God. Are they attempting to convince themselves or others about what they write? Why does a preacher preach?
Some people’s concept of God may be abstract, but God is not abstract.
Yes, God can take whatever form in our mind that we need God to be at any given time. That doesn’t mean God is changeable. Rather, it means that we receive God in different ways based on our current spiritual and psychological state. God stays the same. We receive God in the particular way we need to receive God.
As an analogy, consider the sun’s relationship to people and things on the surface of the earth. When thick clouds roll in and “the sun stops shining,” the sun is still shining away. It’s just that from our position and perspective there are clouds blocking the sun’s rays. Ditto when the earth turns away from the sun, and it becomes night. The change is not in the sun. The sun is still shining. It’s just that we’re currently turned away from the sun.
Even when the sun is shining, different things receive its rays differently. Plants absorb some parts of the spectrum and turn them into plant material, while reflecting other parts of the spectrum that aren’t so useful to them. A live snake will warm itself in the sun, making it more lively, whereas a dead snake will decompose faster when it is lying in the sun.
It’s the same sun the whole time. But it is received differently by various recipients according to their own nature and state. This is precisely how our relationship with God works—and our varied concepts of God as well. The differences are in us, not in God.
If God is real, and not just an abstraction, then it should be possible for people to experience God. And indeed, many people do report experiencing God.
Swedenborg was one of them. His transition from being a scientist and philosopher to being a theologian and seer was prompted, he said, by a direct encounter with Jesus Christ. He describes it in one of his dream diaries. After that experience, by Swedenborg’s account, Jesus (whom he commonly calls simply “the Lord”) became a constant companion in Swedenborg’s life, teaching him and guiding him.
If you asked Swedenborg why he wrote voluminously about God, he would say that he did so because God had called and commissioned him to do so. And though the length and depth of Swedenborg’s experience in the spiritual world is unique in human history, his experience of encountering God and of being called by God to engage in a spiritually-driven mission is certainly not unique.
Swedenborg needed no convincing, nor was he concerned about the skepticism of other people who did not have his experience of God and spirit. He wrote:
Meanwhile, preachers have varying motives for preaching. Some do it to get a following or to become rich. But sincere pastors preach because they want to share God’s love and wisdom with the people, and lead the people toward God, heaven, and eternal life.
abstract. adjective (ˈæbstrækt) having no reference to material objects or specific examples; not concrete. not applied or practical; theoretical. hard to understand; recondite; abstruse.
If you have information that God is not abstract, please share. Your statement, “Some people’s concept of God may be abstract, but God is not abstract”, seem contradictory. I’m not trying to be argumentative but merely trying to understand your position that God, as Lee knows him/her, has some type of substance, molecular or otherwise. Thank you for the discussion.
I feel fairly certain that Swedenborg was 100% sincere in his beliefs. “Let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late”. B.Dylan. Sooo, much of what Swedenborg experienced and wrote about originated exclusively within his mind. It seems as though he was attempting to understand and put into words an abstract, God. Again, I do not want to be argumentative but am quite skeptical that he was one of few chosen to decipher “. . . deeply hidden secrets . . ” contained in the Bible. I believe that he believed he was a chosen one. But enough of that. I believe in a ‘life creator’ to justify my own existence. Beyond that, I really don’t know details nor do I consider further knowledge important to my own spirituality. Personally, I do relate to much in the Bible as it concerns the love of family and of fellow man. Curiously, I do not feel that Jesus ‘preached’ his messages. When we preach about God and religion, we risk becoming our own enemy.
It sounds like your view of life is more along the lines of “love of the neighbor” than “love of the Lord,” to use Swedenborg’s terms. There are many good people who do not have an active relationship with God. In Swedenborg’s system these people, too, have a place in heaven once they move on from this life. See:
Do Atheists Go to Heaven?
Not that I’m saying you’re an atheist. But being an atheist is the extreme position intellectually opposite to full belief in God’s presence and activity among humans.
You are not alone in thinking that although Swedenborg was quite sincere in describing his spiritual experiences, these were not based on actual experience in the spiritual world, but came from within his own mind.
In her 1949 biography Emanuel Swedenborg: Scientist and Mystic, Signe Toksvig puts forward just this hypothesis. In its day it became one of the most popular biographies of Swedenborg. Since the author was not a Swedenborgian, people outside the Swedenborgian movement thought of it as more objective than the majority of biographies, most of which were written by Swedenborgians. (Dozens of biographies of Swedenborg have been published over the years.)
Seventy years later, Toksvig’s theories about Swedenborg’s experience being the result of “psychons” and “projections” seem a bit dated. The biography itself has faded into the background. That’s really too bad. Though I don’t agree with her views on the nature of Swedenborg’s spiritual experiences, her coverage of Swedenborg’s earlier scientific period is spectacular. Most biographies by Swedenborgians rush through that period of his life in order to get to his theological period.
As he stated in the piece I quoted for you from Arcana Coelestia, Swedenborg was well aware that some people would think that he had made up what he had written, or that he was hallucinating. Nevertheless, he insisted many times that his experiences were quite real, and not mere figments of the imagination.
When Swedenborg was on his deathbed, the Rev. Arvid Ferelius, a Swedish pastor in London, asked Swedenborg if, now that he was about to die and could no longer benefit from anything he had written, he wanted to recant anything he had said. Swedenborg replied:
Now that many thousands of people have had brief experiences of the spiritual world through near-death experiences, and what they report matches quite closely what Swedenborg describes, there is much less reason to doubt that he was telling the truth, and that his experiences of the spiritual world were indeed real.
You, of course, will have to make up your own mind.
It is common for people, both religious and not, to think of God and spirit as wispy, abstract, and insubstantial in comparison with physical matter, which people commonly think of as solid, concrete, and substantial.
But in fact, it is the other way around. God is the most solid and substantial entity of all, spirit is more substantial than matter, and matter is the least substantial level of reality.
We happen to be living in the material world. Our material senses are open and active. Everything we see, hear, feel, touch, and taste is very real to us. Meanwhile, as long as we are living in the material world, our spiritual senses are closed most or all of the time. Many people go through their entire lives never having any kind of spiritual experience at all.
But those who do have spiritual experiences—most often when they come close to dying, but then revive and continue their life in their physical body—commonly report that the realm they experienced is far more vivid, substantial, and real than this material world, which seems pale and dim by comparison.
And people who have a direct encounter with God commonly report that God is so real, powerful, and all-encompassing that everything else is the palest of shadows by comparison. They come back transformed by the experience. This is what happened to Swedenborg. But I’ll save that for my reply to your next comment.
Looking at this from a more material perspective, consider the change in our view of physical matter.
The word “atom” comes from a Greek word that means “uncut.” The idea among the ancient Greek philosophers was that there are tiny particles that are solid and indivisible, and everything is built out of various combinations of these indivisible particles all stacked together.
Fast-forward a few thousand years to the early 1800s, and the original atomic theory begins to break down. Ever since then, we’ve been discovering that there are subatomic particles, and these particles are made of even smaller particles, some of which seem to have little or no mass, but are mostly motion.
By the time another century had gone by, quantum mechanics had come onto the scene, questioning the whole idea that reality is particulate. Now, on the smallest scale, wave functions take the fore. Matter itself seems to wave into and out of existence in a very complex dance whose precise nature is still hotly debated among scientists.
How real, solid, and substantial is the physical world, then? We experience it as solid, concrete, and real. But the more we learn about it, the less solid and the more “wispy” it seems. We seem to be living in a very complex interaction of wave forms, in which matter and energy are interchangeable, and it’s hard to discern whether there is really anything solid there.
In short, the common idea that matter is concrete and solid, while God and spirit are abstract and insubstantial, has less and less support even from a scientific point of view.
To cut to the chase, according to Swedenborg there are three levels of reality, each less solid and substantial than the one above it:
Each of these levels of reality, according to Swedenborg, has both substance and form. Spiritual substance and form are derived from divine substance and form, and reflect it. Material substance and form are also derived from divine substance and form, and reflect it, but this happens through spiritual substance and form.
Divine substance is God’s love. Divine form is God’s wisdom.
Love may not seem substantial. But even for us humans, love is the most substantial and powerful force in our lives. Without it, we cannot lift a finger. Babies who experience no love and human contact waste away and die. Adults who have no love and human contact in their lives commonly also waste away and die, if they don’t commit suicide first.
There is nothing more substantial than love. All other forms and levels of reality are wispy and insubstantial by comparison. This is what Swedenborg tells us about reality. And our everyday human experience confirms it.
I could go on, but instead I’ll refer you to a couple of articles that go into some of these things in more detail:
Now about God specifically:
People, both religious and not, commonly think of the being of God as wispy and insubstantial. But that is not how the Bible presents God. In the Bible, God is very much a human being, albeit human in a way that goes beyond our rather limited humanity.
In the very first chapter of the Bible, in Genesis 1:26–27 humans are presented as created in God’s image:
And throughout the Bible, God is presented as a human being. In the New Testament, God explicitly becomes human in the person of Jesus Christ. But even in the Old Testament, God is presented as having all of the parts and emotions of a human being. On the bodily parts side of this, please see:
Was Adam Anatomically in God’s Image?
In short, in the Bible God is presented as a very concrete, non-abstract, human being. Christians who continue to think of God as some sort of wispy insubstantial being are not paying attention to what their own Bible tells them. Meanwhile, philosophers commonly reduce God to some abstract force, or to the essence of nature, which is tantamount to not believing that there is a God at all.
Swedenborg, who had studied all of the human science and philosophy available to the Western world up to his day, begged to differ. Following in the footsteps of the Bible, he said that God is a human being, and in fact, is the only truly and fully human being, of whom we created humans are rather limited and pale imitations.
Although I have not had the spiritual experiences that Swedenborg did, all of this squares with my understanding and experience of the universe, and of human beings and human society within it. To me, the things of this earth, while they are necessary during our physical lifetime, seem relatively unimportant compared to the eternal things of God and spirit. Echoing Jesus’ words in Matthew 16:26, I ask, “What good is it for us if we gain the whole world, but lose our own soul?”
Oh, and about God being a substance, see this answer of mine to a question on Christianity StackExchange.
Hi Hoyle. After reading your comments, I am genuinely curious what you believe. You speak of God as an abstract concept. Do you believe he exists? Do you believe that once we die, we die.
In answer to your inquiry about my beliefs. As I mentioned in a previous comment, I believe in a “Creating Life Force” (CLF), to justify my own existence. I do not claim to know any of the characteristics CLF may have. I am a simple, spiritual person and find internal peace by simply being. I can imagine there must be a core/nuclei of some sort within CLF. Until the essence of that foundational power is understood, attempts to understand it is mere speculation. Nevertheless, there have always been and there always will be those who claim to know. Around and around they go formulating ideas and supposition relying upon the human brain that is incapable of really knowing. The futility of man’s quest in this regard is evident when we consider the thousands of different explanations, hundreds of different religions and an endless train of those who claim to have met and/or spoken with and to God each one with a slightly different twist. Until we know the core substance of the CLF, we are merely dancing in the wind. And why should it matter? It only seems to be important to those who embellish their Godly knowledge by also claiming they know what lies in the afterlife. Apparently one concept feeds off of the other but neither can be substantiated. If we lack the ability to verify in the present, in the flesh so to speak, anything goes. Lastly, I do not believe it important that we know the answers to the power source of the CLF. The die has been cast.
In response to your comments to Ray dated February 16, 2022. At what point does a person’s conduct rise to the level of “selfish” and “greedy” necessary to be banished to hell? Who decides? Should we then be afraid of how God might judge us? “God is a comedian playing to an audience that is too afraid to laugh”. Voltaire.
Our conduct flows from our motives. It is our motives that decide whether our conduct is good or evil spiritually.
Despite the outward appearance as reflected in the Bible, God does not throw anyone into hell. Rather, people throw themselves into hell if they love themselves and their own wealth, power, and pleasure more than they love other people and God. Swedenborg describes evil people in the afterlife eagerly following a pathway to their own particular hell because the things they love and delight in are evil, and their specific hell breathes out those loves and delights, drawing them toward it like a moth to a flame.
It is necessary for simple-minded people to believe that God will throw them into hell if they break God’s commandments. Otherwise they would rush headlong into all sorts of evil behavior, and would not do the work of restraining and reforming themselves. But the reality is that people who choose to live evil and selfish lives are themselves choosing hell, and they will continue to choose hell after they die.
Fear of God is a useful fiction. But it is still a fiction. In God there is nothing but love for saint and sinner alike:
However, God will not force sinners to go to heaven, where they would be tortured by the atmosphere of love and goodness that reigns there. If we insist upon going to hell instead of to heaven, God will not stop us from making that choice. God will give us every opportunity to make a different choice during our lifetime on earth. But if we persistently choose evil over good, God will not violate our freedom and force us to go to heaven when what we really want is to go to hell. Please also see:
Is There Really a Hell? What is it Like?