Two Perspectives on Swedenborg's Writings:
Secular and ReligiousHome Page of Leon James
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Professor of Psychology
University of Hawaii
Wilson Van Dusen's latest communication in New Church Life left me with a sense of puzzlement, even oddity. My reaction was similar to prior communications by Van Dusen. I wanted very much to understand what I found so incongruent in Dr. Van Dusen's perspective on the New Church, especially since I recommend his books to undergraduate majors who take my History of Psychology course. After some reflection, I came to the conclusion that Swedenborgian concepts are either taken in a secular or a religious vein. I was able to confirm this from an analysis of recent articles and communications in New Church Life and The New Philosophy. I'd like to share this analysis with readers of these two publications. My purpose in this article is to show that there are two perspectives among Swedenborgians, secular and religious. I argue that only the religious view can produce a scientific revolution that would allow science to deal with natural facts that we know from revelation rather than from observation. I believe that it is important to clearly distinguish between secular and religious Swedenborgianism. I will show that those who take the secularized perspective on Swedenborg's theological Writings see an affinity between Swedenborg and other writers and systems of spirituality and psychology such as Gurdjieff, Ericsson, Buddhism, Yoga, etc. However those who have a religious perspective on Swedenborg's Writings see it as the only authority on spiritual ideas or matters.
The Essentials of the Religious Perspective
Swedenborg's own perspective, as described in his Writings, is that he was called upon by the Lord to be the intellectual architect of the Second Advent, which is seen as an intellectual rather than physical event. He explains that his role as revelator required Divine inspiration for every word that he wrote in his theological works. Thus, to some people his Writings are the Latin Word, the third and final installment of the completed threefold Word. In the General Church and the Nova Hierosolyma Church, it is common to refer to the Writings as the Word and as the Lord Himself in His Divine Natural or Human. From this religious perspective there cannot be a meaningful comparison between Swedenborg's Writings and all other books on spirituality. Books on Zen Buddhism, Hinduism, theosophy, esoteric Christianity, psychotherapy, etc. can in no way be compared to the Word since the Word contains infinite things and, according to Swedenborg, there is no ratio between the finite and infinite.
The perspective on Swedenborg expressed by Wilson Van Dusen appears at times secular, not religious. This is because he does not treat the Writings conceptually as the Word. Within such a lesser view, there naturally arise questions of comparison between Swedenborg's Writings or 'system' and other books and schools of thought. One might even find some weakness or shortcoming: "At times I have faulted him [Swedenborg] for not telling us more about how to get there [spiritual enlightenment]" Or one might find Swedenborg as merely "the largest, most comprehensive and clearest spiritual map in existence" (p.114). The "distinctiveness of the New Church" is thus seen as stemming from the fact that it possesses in the Writings "the finest map of the spiritual realm" (p.114). In a previous article, Dr. Van Dusen expresses the view that New Church people are insufficiently aware of and alert to the methodology involving daily spiritual practice. He speculates that this may be because "the Writings themselves barely touch on how to regenerate, how to make it of the life, how to practice" (p.315).
The Issue of Collateral Readings
The secular view on Swedenborg sees his writings as inspired but limited to his experiences of the spiritual world. Hence his writings need to be supplemented by books and ideas written by others unrelated to Swedenborg. This is a lesser view than the religious, which sees the Writings as the Lord Himself in His infinite Word. The religious view does not prohibit collateral readings and even comparisons between the views found in them and those of Swedenborg. But these comparisons are to be distinguished from the comparisons made by the secular view. The intent here is a desire to gain a better understanding of the Writings by examining these other books and concepts, while retaining the view that the Writings are perfect in themselves, and it is our understanding of them that needs to be improved through whatever external rational means are available. In the secular view, the Writings are insufficient in and of themselves and need to be supplemented in order to cover the subject adequately.
I think it is important to gain a clear understanding of the rational incompatibility between secular and religious Swedenborgianism. As a professor of psychology and researcher in human behavior, I am a keen supporter of the general intellectual effort to import Swedenborgian concepts into science and education. I shall discuss some of these attempts which have appeared in New Church Life and The New Philosophy, all of whom have maintained the religious perspective. We are faced here with the same issue Swedenborg himself had to face as a scientist in his so-called pre-theological works. Unlike Descartes, Leibniz, Wolff, Newton, Kant, and later, Einstein and others, all of whom acknowledged God while leaving Him out of their scientific theories, Swedenborg labored to integrate God and Divine Providence into the mechanisms of his scientific proposals. God was not a mere background confession, but appeared officially and explicitly as part of the scientific model, and the central concept at that. In Swedenborg we find the notion that there is no secular spirituality.
If in the future, the science of psychology is going to import Swedenborgian concepts about mental life and the afterlife, will it take the secular or religious perspective on spirituality? According to Swedenborg, psychology and science, must be theistic. Mental development and mental health are inseparable from regeneration, hence from religion. It is the peculiar power of Swedenborg's Writings that religion is described in universal psychobiological, rather than sectarian and denominational terms. In Swedenborg there ought not to be a clash between religion and science, such as we have witnessed recently in the case of Creationism and evolution theory. The attempt to treat the first eleven chapters of Genesis as literal history is responsible for the ideological and bitter opposition. Another clash between literalist Christians and scientists is due to sectarianism whereby God is known only by the members of some denomination, and thus all others are unsaved. In contrast, the religious concepts in Swedenborg recognize and detail God's relationship to every individual, as a racial or psychobiological process, having nothing at all to do with denominations and sects. In history of psychology textbooks, religion and science are generally depicted in historical terms as opposed to one another, but I teach that this opposition stems from cultural and political sectarianism, not religion per se. I expect that future developments in science will show that the religion described and defined in Swedenborg carries no such opposition to science.
My feeling is that science, and psychology in particular, needs the infusion of religious Swedenborgian concepts such as regeneration, revelation, heaven and hell. I frequently challenge my students with this notion: If God, the afterlife, and spiritual temptations are real processes and phenomena, then they are automatically objects of study for scientists inasmuch as scientific theories are always about reality. No aspect of reality is excluded from scientific theory. The objection that you can't study God and the afterlife in a scientific way is not valid. Only a method has been lacking, and in Swedenborg, we find such a method. I will review some recent attempts in history, biology, and psychology which have recently appeared in the pages of New Church Life and The New Philosophy.
Importing Religious Swedenborgian Concepts into Modern Scientific Fields
At the core of these scholarly and scientific methods compatible with Swedenborg is the following principle enunciated by Erland Brock in his article on New Church epistemology: "A statement is true if, and only if, it can be shown to be in harmony with written revelation" which he specifies to be "the threefold Word," that is, the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the theological Writings of Swedenborg. According to this view, "the truth-content ... of any knowledge depends not on the intellectual determination of its "truth" by some logical or empirical means, but on how well it stands the scrutiny of light shed upon it from heaven, that is from the Word..." (p.685). Thus, "any literature of a political, psychological, or sociological nature--unless it is examined from the concepts of truth and good revealed in the Word, its intrinsic value (if indeed it has any) cannot be assessed, and views concerning it can only be classed as opinions" (p.685). Lastly, "human logical analysis and empirical inquiry cannot lead us to truth, and good thereby. The Word alone can do this" (p.686).
The first illustration is the view on history enunciated by David Simons which foresees the development of a "spiritual archaeology" arising from importing revelation into science: "Religion and science together provide the whole truth. Science alone is barren of content and purpose, and religion alone gives only unconfirmed doctrine. But together, the truths of nature and the truths of the Word make possible an enlightenment of the human mind unattainable by any other means." According to Simons, Swedenborg's Writings were provided at this time to save the mind from being completely dominated by science and thus becoming "totally materialistic (p.74)." The principles of correspondences revealed in Swedenborg's Writings were given by the Lord as a scientific tool or method of investigation, a teaching explicitly enunciated in DLW 394 and 413. This is the meaning, according to Simons, of Nunc licet, that "now mankind can enter intellectually [with understanding] into" not only the mysteries of the Word, but into the mysteries of nature as well (TCR 508)" (p.74).
The second illustration is given by Linda Simonetti Odhner who feels "an impulse to reassure people that a New Church point of view can stand a thorough dunking in the waters of science without getting waterlogged." To confirm this, she quotes from Swedenborg: "One is not by any means forbidden to develop the rational by means of factual knowledge, but one is not allowed to use it to harden oneself against the truths of faith which belong to the Word" (AC 2588:9). It is worth mentioning here that the rational that is based on "factual knowledge" is the external rational, while the internal rational is opened solely by means of "truths from the Word." The expression "factual knowledge" normally refers in science to empirical facts obtained through the senses, but I think that truths from the Word are also factual, though based on the internal senses rather than the external. Swedenborg's experiences in the spiritual world are reported as facts, that is, events that occurred to him and which impinged upon his awareness through his spiritual senses. The sub-title of Arcana Coelestia is after all, Together With Wonderful Things Seen in the World of Spirits and in the Heaven of Angels. Spiritual knowledge is factual just as natural knowledge is factual, with the only difference that one is based on the internal senses, the other on the external.
Simonetti takes the position that "science works best as science when we confine it to the limited domain of nature alone" (p.118). Also this: "Man's unique relationship with the Lord, no matter how important, is outside the domain of biology" or, "Surely in the area of science it is legitimate to leave aside the question of final cause and inquire into the instrumental cause of life" (p.119). However, I think that if science in the future is going to become less materialistic, and therefore, more valid and real, it will be necessary to import into science factual knowledge about the spiritual world. In my view, true science is not limited to the domain of nature alone, but includes the domain of the rational and the spiritual (or celestial). As scientists today we must do what Swedenborg has attempted in his pre-theological works, and I believe that, as science changes over time, every generation will have to accomplish this with the new science of their day. Eventually, scientific theories will become increasingly suffused with the spiritual dimension of natural phenomena, incorporating such facts as reawakening after death through the midwifery of angels and spirits, or regeneration through spiritual temptations.
It may be the case that "Swedenborg abandoned his scientific search for the soul," but this occurred prior to, or in connection with, his introduction into the spiritual world. In other words, he exchanged one empirical methodology (natural science) for another empirical methodology (spiritual experiences, observations, and explanations). The situation is different before and after the Second Advent. Now people have been given the means to delve into the mysteries, which means that a new empirical methodology and intellectual theory is available to scientists. The relationship of the Lord to every individual is indeed a biological, or psycho-biological, fact. I predict that this will be recognized in the science that is now evolving in preparation for the promised sane future which was ushered in by the Second Advent. After having engaged in the activities called 'normal science' for more than thirty years, I can benefit from a view from within the halls and byways of empiricism, experimentalism, behaviorism, positivism, and statistical methodology, including the history and philosophy of science. This inside view sees no essential opposition between normal science, as it is practiced by each succeeding generation of scientists, and the reality of creation and regeneration as described in Swedenborg's Writings. To me it makes sense to think that the Second Advent could not occur until science reached the modern stage, that is, the nineteenth century. Modern science is based on the rational idea that reality is discoverable through empirical theorizing. In the community of research scientists, anyone whatsoever can point to a new fact or present a new theory, and everyone else must heed it. Facts and theories are usable by all; they cannot be ignored as long as the facts and theories were produced according to the accepted scientific procedures. This feature of modern science makes it suitable for containing the evolution of history into the new age of the Second Advent. Rather than accept the currently fashionable view that science is for natural things and Swedenborg is for spiritual things, I think it is legitimate to insist that one cannot properly be studied, researched, and understood without the other. Simonetti is of course fully aware that science and the Word are together in this way within the individual, referring to AC 3627, 3628:2, which reveal that every created thing is held together in its form both from within and from without.
Mark Carlson's article on evolution theory and the limbus gives us the third illustration of the incorporation of religious concepts from Swedenborg into modern science. First he cautions that atheistic evolution theory can be a "real danger" to "the simple-minded" because of its "sophisticated arguments against God" (p.259). To assume that a "random process can 'create' life" is "inherently unreasonable and illogical" (p.259). The "neo-Darwinian" views of sociobiologists (he mentions Richard Dawkins) are mere "foolishness," such as the theory that our genes "manipulate us and our world by remote control for the sake of their own survival" (p.260). I may point out here that traditional evolution theory, as developed in the nineteenth century in the works of Darwin, Galton, Spencer, and James, was not atheistic, but took for granted that God was the controlling force at the root of it.
Carlson (p. 261) mentions several concepts from Swedenborg which appear to assume or imply that some sort of animal and plant evolution took place over long time periods, under the proximate hand of the Lord. He suggests that a "deeper understanding of both" science and doctrine is possible by allowing Swedenborgian and Darwinian concepts to reflect upon one another in our mind (p. 272). One example is the doctrine that the Lord controls chance or probability distributions (AC 5508:2). I am aware that the notion of chance variations in genetics is essential to modern biology, as contained in concepts of population theory, genetics, natural selection, survival by adaptation, etc. Carlson refers to the Swedenborgian concept of freedom: the Lord "always works behind an impenetrable veil which maintains human free will" (p.272). In other words, the Lord of Probabilities uses random chance to direct the details of our scientific investigations and theories! As Carlson puts it, "try as we might we will never penetrate the veil and catch the Lord at work through scientific inquiry" (p.272). Divine Providence "nudges the direction of the probabilities in chance mutation" and "He controls which chromosomes are lost as a result of genetic drift" (p. 272).
Scientific Revolutions Change Things
Other contemporary scientists and scholars have recognized that Swedenborgian concepts are admissible into science but are kept out due to un-scientific (or political) prejudice. William Woofenden bemoans the "unfortunate loss to the world of academe" since "the scholarly world, both in the physical sciences and the humanities, has remained largely ignorant of the vast creditable and historically significant corpus produced by Swedenborg." A particularly significant analysis of this issue is presented by Alfred Acton in his discussion of a widely read and discussed book among my generation of scientists, namely Thomas Kuhn's influential book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.17 Many of us still assign this book to our graduate students. Rev. Acton reviews Kuhn's main concept called "paradigm shift," which designates a period of momentous change in an area of science. Most people today are aware that Einstein's theories introduced a paradigm shift in physics from the mechanics of Newton to relativity, and later, to quantum theory." Kuhn's analysis shows that paradigm shifts regularly occur in all fields of science. They occur when numerous facts (called "anomalies") are discovered which existing theories cannot adequately explain. The situation is then politically ripe for a "scientific revolution" which occurs when a brilliant individual suddenly publishes an adequate explanation of all or most of the anomalies. To accomplish this feat, the new hero had to invent an entirely new perspective and methodology which was contrary to the existing one. Power in science lies in those who do the best theorizing, and thus the intellectual revolution creates a shift that defines what is the new politically correct method or school of thought.
My colleagues and I, in the specialty field known as psycholinguistics, experienced such a paradigm shift in the 1960s, when the legendary Noam Chomsky of M.I.T. redefined linguistics as a branch of cognitive science and produced intense shock waves across the social and behavioral sciences. Since I am arguing here that religious Swedenborgian concepts can be imported into science, it may be worthwhile to consider Rev. Acton's answer to the related question of whether the meaning of Divine revelation can undergo paradigm shifts such as those familiar to scientists. He identifies three New Church paradigms, each of which was a reaction to factual 'anomalies' that arose between the march of science and the literal text of the Word. Among these are Swedenborg's assertion that interplanetary space is made of ether, his description of the character of moon inhabitants, his prediction that black fathers always have black children, and his reference to spontaneous generation of life under certain conditions (e.g., insects issuing from filth). Rev. Acton names three reactions to the awareness of these anomalies within the New Church.
The liberal paradigm settles down to admitting mistakes or outdated facts in Swedenborg. "The Writings are inspired but so are other works. ... Shakespeare, Swedenborg, and the Bible are not discretely different. ... Life on the moon is impossible, so the Writings are wrong in this respect." The fundamentalist paradigm affirms the infallibility of the Writings as the Word and denies that "Divine science" can factually be in error. Thus, ether does constitute the fabric of space; insects or microbes can spontaneously germinate in appropriate biological spheres; the moon is indeed inhabited; (and perhaps I may add on my own: white infants of racially mixed parents are in some sense still black, though in what sense, is still to be discovered). The internal sense paradigm sees anomalies in the Latin Word as similar to those found in the Hebrew and Greek Word. In other words, the literal is not considered when reading the Word, but instead, the internal sense which alone contains the infallible series of spiritual truths. Rev. Acton then presents a fourth paradigm, the one he favors. Though it is not named by its author, we may call it the fallacies paradigm.
According to Acton, each of the three revelations elevates things "to its own level of fallacies" (p.501). These are necessary for the sake of acceptance of a belief system which must be worded in meanings and images proper to the age at the time the revelation is given. Subsequent generations must disentangle whatever fallacies they note in the literal of the Word from the invariant spiritual truths also contained therein. Fallacies that are not conjoined with evil motives do no harm. However, when fallacies in the Word are used to justify selfish and personal goals, they become falsities. The Word thus contains fallacies, but never any falsities. Concepts in Swedenborg that I find similar to Acton's definition include appearances of truth, mediate truths, natural vs. heavenly light, and accommodations. One problem that I think needs to be addressed in this paradigm is the difficulty in identifying fallacies in Swedenborg. I have noted in many years of teaching that a characteristic of modern science, which is particularly difficult to my statistics students, is the impossibility of proving that something does not exist somewhere. For instance, science cannot prove that there are no inhabitants on the moon, or that there is no spontaneous generation of insects. It can only present evidence which makes it unlikely that something is present somewhere.
This scientific reality is at the heart of the difficulty in identifying fallacies in Swedenborg. I would further point out that no factual or natural fallacies have ever been proven or even identified in the Old or New Testaments, with the exception of the first eleven chapters of Genesis. This latter issue is dealt with by Swedenborg, who shows that they are not meant to be historical as the other parts of the Testaments are. Certainly one cannot point to miracles as natural fallacies, since that would be begging the issue. Defining a historical event as a miracle does not prove it didn't happen. I am unaware of a single natural fact in the threefold Word which has been proven to be a fallacy. An example of the appearances of truth that Swedenborg discusses in relation to the Old Testament, is the oft repeated description of God as angry or repentant, when God is never angry and never sorry for what He does. This however is not a fallacy of natural fact, as required in the fallacies paradigm. As Swedenborg explains, when we are in a state of evil and falsity, the Lord appears as angry and frightening and rejecting. This is a spiritual fact. God does indeed phenomenally appear that way even though He is neither angry nor rejecting. I conclude that the existence of natural fallacies in Swedenborg is a hypothesis that has never been proven. Rev. Acton relates the paradigms to specific New Church denominations. However, I believe that a paradigm is a type of thinking rather than a church membership, and even though there might be a correlation between them, this may change over time and membership. Thinking in terms of paradigms is certainly useful to keep track of the various states we may go through on our journey of regeneration. Each new paradigm uncovers different relationships that we have with the Word, thus, the Lord.
A reaction to Alfred Acton's proposal of a fallacies paradigm in New Church thinking, is worth considering. Lawson Smith praises the paradigm theory as "sparkling with potential insights into theology as a human science," yet sees no difference between the liberal paradigm and the fallacies paradigm. He himself favors the fundamentalist paradigm, especially since "some things that now present difficulties [in the Writings] will become clearer [in the future]" (p.639). In other words, as science progresses, the things from Swedenborg that now appear anomalous, may no longer appear so in the future. According to Lawson, "one should set aside an anomaly but not reject it outright as a fallacy" for the sake of the integrity of revelation and the future of a science that is bound to become less one-sided and materialistic, more authentic, less insane. I would agree with this position. A final point made by Lawson presents an inescapable logic: "Finally, I have to ask Rev. Acton what alternative he has for the virgin birth. Maybe his point is just that we need not reject the whole doctrine of the glorification simply because we have no way of reconciling doctrinal statements with current genetic science. In that I could agree with him whole-heartedly" (p.641). In other words, biology and genetics will have to find explanations for the virgin birth, and this requirement will guide science into the Swedenborgian direction.
I may add to this challenge the resurrection of the Lord's physical body and its being transformed into a non-material body, as can be seen from this passage: "As the Lord's Human was glorified, that is, made Divine, He rose again after death on the third day with His whole body, which does not take place with any man; for a man rises again solely as to the spirit, and not as to the body.... As his body was no longer material, but Divine substantial, He came in to His disciples when the doors were shut (Jn. 20:19, 26)" (D. Lord, 35:9 and 10). Future theorists in biology will find here a lot to explain and account for. Note that, at this day in biology and psychology, the virgin birth and the physical resurrection are declared impossible events. From the perspective of Swedenborgian concepts, these two events are natural facts which were given in revelation in the Word. A virgin birth and a physical resurrection are facts about natural reality involving history, biology, genetics, and psychology. From this perspective, the inability of contemporary biology to deal with these natural facts of religion and history, constitutes overt evidence that biologists and psychologists today are hanging on to a weak scientific paradigm, one that is unable to deal with important facts about human life and development. As these facts are brought forward more and more, a scientific revolution with a new paradigm is predictable for the near future.
Let us remember that modern science as it is known today is still in its diapers in comparison to what science will be like in its maturity, say one million years from now. Take for instance the entire scientific establishment I belong to, namely behavioral and cognitive science, including medicine and biology. It is incapable of adequately explaining and controlling the most ordinary and ubiquitous human and social problems--personality development, functional illiteracy, criminality, buying preferences, racism, marital disruption, child abuse, nightmares, ineffectiveness, etc., etc. I predict that as science is more and more influenced by religious Swedenborgian concepts, it will mature and become more effective in dealing with the social environment.
What About Gurdjieff and Spiritual Growth Groups?
I recently had the opportunity to listen to a taped lecture by Peter Rhodes given almost twenty years ago to a Bryn Athyn audience. As a New Church psychotherapist, Mr. Rhodes recommends exercises taken from Gurdjieff's system of so-called "esoteric Christianity." One example is the activity of "sensing" which consists of sitting quietly and listening to the surrounds. The purpose of this exercise is to increase awareness of one's sensory environment as a means of focusing on the present and flushing out the myriad of thoughts and impressions that lurk in the mind's background all day long. It purportedly helps us to break away from our ceaseless interior dialog which our conscious mind carries on endlessly. Another exercise is to try to disengage from one's continuous stream of negative emotions (anger, dissatisfaction, jealousy, conflict, anxiety, etc.). This distancing activity appears to break their hold over us, freeing us to focus and recognize good emotions. These in turn occasion wiser and more creative or original modes of thinking.
It seemed to me that Peter Rhodes repeatedly reinterpreted or translated Gurdjieff's principles into Swedenborgian concepts. For instance, Gurdjieff's "negative emotions" became "evil spirits" entering our thoughts through the will of "our natural man." Gurdjieff's analogy of the mind as a house with a basement and upper floor was related to Swedenborg's correspondences of a house with three stories, each representing the natural, the rational, and the celestial in our mind. A comparison was also made between Swedenborg and Gurdjieff's attitude towards the Lord, namely Gurdjieff's admonition that his system of mental development would not work at all if the practitioners are motivated by self-aggrandizement or belief in one's own powers. Only one motivation would avail and bring success: to do it for the sake of our love for the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ.
After some reflection on Peter Rhodes' lecture, and in conjunction with my own limited knowledge of Gurdjieff from my teaching a course on Theories of Personality that is popular among undergraduates, it is my contention that despite these apparent similarities and compatibility's between Gurdjieff and Swedenborg, there is no real affinity between them. This is because they are essentially and fundamentally different. Gurdjieff's work, despite its label as "esoteric Christianity" is by itself secular, while Swedenborg's Writings are thoroughly religious. The Christianity in Gurdjieff is not a "true Christian religion" that conforms to the principles outlined in Swedenborg's last published theological work (1771). Despite its designation, it is neither esoteric nor truly Christian; it is entirely external and only symbolically Christian. In fact, the textbook descriptions of Gurdjieff fail to mention the Christian context, and many practitioners are unaware that Christianity has anything to do with it. At any rate, it is clear from Peter Rhodes' reinterpretation and translation of Gurdjieff, that the exercises and explanations do not require a religious consciousness and motivation, only a psychological one at the purely natural or materialistic level.
Gurdjieff's approach, when taken by itself for what it is, is nothing but secular psychotherapy. On the other hand, spiritual psychotherapy in Swedenborg is always religious, through and through. Every mental step, from emotional slavery to regenerated freedom, is taken by the individual with the Lord's hand and face clearly in view. In Swedenborgian therapy it is not sufficient to have a cloak of allegiance by confessing the Christian faith. Every daily round exercise must be suffused with the Lord's presence and leading in one's thoughts, perceptions, and inclinations. I don't think it is the case that the New Church needs to borrow from other systems of mental development because Swedenborg was unable to specify life exercises in sufficient detail, or had a lack of time in his busy publications schedule, as implied by Wilson Van Dusen. Perhaps such borrowing may seem helpful to some, at some point in their development, and I would not like to suggest that such borrowing should not be done. But in relation to doctrinal analysis, my conclusion is that the Writings are more than amply sufficient, in and of themselves, to provide the necessary guidance and practical techniques needed for mental and spiritual development and health (regeneration).
Still, I feel that we ought not to belittle the experiences of those individuals who claim some benefits from practicing the types of exercises advocated by Gurdjieff through Peter Rhodes and some New Church spiritual growth groups, as may be gleaned from several Letters to the Editor in New Church Life.28 One person responds in great detail to an article by Rev. Fox in which he expresses opposition to Gurdjieff, the man, hence the system: "I find it difficult to understand what there is to be afraid of from collateral reading and experience. ... I feel I have a new understanding of what the Writings mean when I read them." Another was strengthened in her spiritual life: "I benefit from participating in a spiritual growth class," and another person defends Peter Rhodes' book Aim: "Aim does not proselytize Gurdjieffian thinking; it gives credit to Gurdjieff for an effective approach to self-examination. ... Aim gives help by mapping the strategies of the hells. ... Aim has nothing to do with following Gurdjieff. It has everything to do with a sincere effort to follow the Lord through His Word." On the same page, a letter poses the opposite view: "it is difficult to understand why New Church people should be attracted to Gurdjieff" and several others voice strong opposition, for example: "His aims seem 100% personal and material ... [it is] blasphemy--the mixing of good and evil. Those who give any credence to his guidance are in grave risk of blasphemy too;" "How can we reconcile the clear, translucent and inspired works of Swedenborg with teachings such as: "Everything in the Universe is material"; "It is not God that is omnipotent but the Universal Will. ... I am thankful to Mr. Fox that he exposed Gurdjieff's disorderly conceptions that are absolutely contrary to what we are taught in the Writings." It is clear from the reply by Rev. Fox that his opposition is to Gurdjieff, not to collateral readings in general, and indeed he presents a list of books that he considers worthwhile "for those in the New Church who feel the need to look outside the Writings for means of enriching their spiritual lives." Yet another contributor cites 25 passages in Swedenborg which have one clear message, namely that "the Word is the only doctrine which teaches how man must live in the world in order to be happy to eternity" (AC 8939:3e). Mr. Odhner warns against the dangers of "following the various theories of finite minds" and urges that "the Divine authority of the Writings" is an affirmation that "we must renew each generation" inasmuch as "our constitution is the Writings" (p.181).
Despite differences expressed in the heat of zeal for good and truth, I note a general agreement in this polemic, on two issues which are central to my paradigm argument in this article. One is that Swedenborg's Writings are the Word, hence the ultimate authority on the ways and means of regeneration. The second is that spiritual growth groups and daily round exercises can be viewed as secular collateral studies and styles, which are doctrinally permissible according to the Writings. In other words, religious Swedenborgianism. allows the study of other books and practices as long as these are seen as secular, and therefore have no authority whatsoever on spiritual truths and goods. The title "spiritual growth groups" and the method of "esoteric Christianity" are neither spiritual nor esoteric (that is, belonging to the internal man). Perhaps if they had been called "psychological growth groups," there may have been more general tolerance or acceptance of them. "Psychological" differs from "spiritual" in exactly the same way that secular differs from religious. In Swedenborgian terms, the natural level of the mind is, in and of itself, purely material, non-spiritual, secular. On the other hand, the rational level of the mind pertains to both the natural (or, external downward-facing Ishmael), as well as the spiritual/celestial (or, internal upward-facing Isaac). Thus, the natural mind is secular while the rational mind can be either secular or spiritual. The course of regeneration as described in the Writings consists in opening the internal rational and to allow it to receive spiritual ideas and affections from the Word alone. By this method, the spiritual mind influxes the natural mind with the right motives and thoughts, hence, acts. Prior to this opening, the motives and thoughts in the natural mind are not really good or really true. After the process of regeneration has begun, a renewal occurs and life is gradually and noticeably transformed, day by day. New motives, new thoughts, and new acts now translate into renewed life, psychological growth, mental health, personal strength, individual ability and happiness.
The Affirmative Principle in Science
I have argued that the current paradigm in biology and psychology are incapable of explaining natural facts that we know from revelation, rather than physical observation. I believe that time is ripe for a scientific revolution that will create a new paradigm which contains a method and theory capable of dealing with such facts. In the Writings of Swedenborg, scientists will find a wealth of revealed facts about biology, psychology, history, astronomy, political science, anthropology, and others. The mining of this scientific source requires a shift away from the current negative bias towards revealed facts. This bias against revealed facts, according to Swedenborg, leads to "all folly and insanity," and consists in saying "in the heart that we cannot believe them until we are convinced by what we can apprehend, or perceive by the senses" (AC 2568:4). In contrast, the positive principle is to "affirm the things which are of doctrine from the Word, or to think and believe within ourselves that they are true because the Lord has said them: this is the principle that leads to all intelligence and wisdom and is to be called the affirmative principle" (AC 2568:4).
The new paradigm in biology will thus say, Assuming that the virgin birth has occurred, what theories do we need to build to be able to account for it? Or, in psychology, the new paradigm will say, Assuming that our thoughts and feelings are shared with spirits, how can we encourage healthy spiritual company? And further, Since the affective (will) and the cognitive (understanding) functionally interact in exactly the same way as the circulatory system interacts with the respiratory, what models of mind can we build based on this homologous correspondence? I invite all readers of Swedenborg to participate in this exciting paradigm switch in science and society.
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