Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Humanity of Jesus (Part II)

Why Jesus does not have a wife

Continued from previous blog post...

The extraordinary Humanity and Personhood of God, which is different from our ordinary humanity and personhood, does not prevent Him from appearing in an ordinary human form to humans and humanoids on the physical and spiritual planes. But this is just a projection for the sake of communicating with and communing with humans and humanoids. When He does so, it may be in a form that can be touched and felt as any human body. However, he does not, as such, abide in a human body somewhere in His multi-dimensional Creation. That solves the issue of why Jesus does not have a human wife (or any wife) at present. When he lived in the physical plane in first century Israel, He did have an ordinary human body like ours - but he chose not to marry, even though he could have.

Swedenborgian Monasticism
Conjugial love and eternal marriage are essential principles of New Church doctrine. However, it does not mean that everyone should (or can) marry when on earth. Swedenborg did not. When there is a natural disaster, people might focus on dealing with the emergency rather than bother with any other matter. Some folks might see the problems in the world as being enough reason for them to fully focus on creating a shadow of the Kingdom "on earth as it is in heaven". They might not have the time or mental bandwidth for married life. A vow or intention of celibacy might be acceptable on earth even though it is not recommended in Heaven according to the Heavenly Doctrines. Such a vow is aligned with Divine Order as long as it is not a vow of eternal celibacy. In other words, I will not censure a monk or nun who intends to marry in heaven. I define this as Swedenborgian monasticism.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Jesus' Humanity

Let's speculate. Is Jesus married?

Since Jesus is both Divine and Human, is His Humanity different from ours? If not, then He has a human body. Since conjugial love is one of the key features of Heaven, Jesus as Human is married - to a human woman. And this woman is not Divine as Jesus is, she is just human like the rest of us.

I can hear cries of protest that Jesus is married to the church (the New Jerusalem, Revelation 21:2). But that is a metaphor. Do not confuse metaphor with reality. One cannot have conjugial union with an abstraction, just as one can be married to one's work only in metaphor.

Is Jesus married? The Da Vinci Code gets an F- in history and another F- is theological speculation. There is nothing but a few Gnostic gospels (which are not part of the Word) to substantiate Mary Magdalene being Jesus' wife. And the Gnostic gospels are not even good myth ... except for a few modern liberals who think they are some a great spiritual breakthrough.

The only resolution is that the Humanity of Jesus is a completely different genre of humanity, and that Jesus no longer retains a human body (see my next blog post). In this case, the Humanity of Jesus is a synonym for His Personhood. Jehovah is God as ineffable Reality. Jesus is the same God manifest as a Person.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Swedenborg's Vision of the Afterlife and the Eternity of Hell

I use Swedenborgian models of the afterlife because it fills in gaps in the classical Christian perspective. These posit a spiritual realm that is nevertheless wedded to another kind of space-time-matter continuum that is more responsive to our wills than the space-time-matter continuum we are in. Sort of "quasi-ethereal, quasi-physical" or "marriage between heaven and earth".

The only part of the Swedenborgian afterlife vision I vehemently disagree with is the idea that hell is eternal. Since we are made in the image of God, we always have some good in us. We also have what are called "remains" in Swedenborgese. These may be driven into the unconscious when a spirit makes a decision to have a good time in hell, as in a brutal, power-centered video game. But then, I believe, these demons will tire off and the miniscule good in them will germinate and overcome the evil. Yes, there is some good or potential for good even in the worst mass murderer. They might not become celestial angels, but they will renounce radical evil and the lust for power and distortion and perversion.

Another reason why I believe in universal salvation is that I have seen power-hungry, money grubbing, narcissists in my own family totally mellow out in their late 60s and 70s and 80s. Age does that. So why will a narcissist who lives till 90 get a better shot at the afterlife than one who dies in a car crash at 35, when he is at the prime of his evil? Why will a narcissist who dies at the age of 10 be guaranteed heaven, while one who dies at 25 is not? 

The lovely and humorous Book of Jonah answers these questions in an exact manner: God is not bound by his threats in the Bible or in the Swedenborg's writings. God, like the rest of us, has the right to rescind his threats - it is not a breach of promise if we do so. You cannot sue me in court if my breach of promise did not harm you or actually benefitted you - like my solemn vow to lawfully raise your rent and my later decision to relent.

Hell is to be take seriously, Hell is real, and Hell lasts as long as we want it to - and that may be eons. But in the end, we are made in the image of God, and the worst of us will return home like the 100th sheep. We can keep our vision of universal salvation as a card up our sleeve and mention it only to those who are making a serious, spiritual effort - and hide it from the worldly, the egotistic, the sadistical, the greedy, the perverted, the immature that need a good threat rather than gentle assurance.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Prenatal Humanity

An Answer to Glenn

Thanks for the thoughtful and  well-written responses to my blog post 'What is a Person?'. 

The New Church clergy view that dead fetuses disappear into nothing is not inconsistent with Swedenborg's writings, as you have so eloquently demonstrated.  Neither is the view that I have expressed inconsistent with Swedenborg's writings.   This is because much interpolation and extrapolation is needed to arrive at either view from Swedenborg's writings. Until I am instructed otherwise by the angels in the afterlife, I prefer the view that my sister's son, who died due to a miscarriage, has not vanished forever.

I must admit that the title of my earlier blog is a bit misleading. Like you,  I did distinguish between  potential persons and actual persons.  I did not try  to prove that a fetus is a person, soul or spirit or that is has a mind, understanding or will.  I hope that you will agree that a fetus is  a  'potential person' or a 'pre-person'.  I appreciate Sue's identifying passages in Swedenborg's writings that mention that a human fetus has 'receptacles' for understanding and will in a way that is different from a cat fetus or a gorilla fetus.  A human fetus is a non-person the same way as a chimpanzee fetus is. At the same time, a human person is a pre-person in a way that a chimpanzee fetus is not.

Back to the ineffable human essence.  I called it ineffable because It is not defined in terms of the faculties of understanding or will because it has none of these prior to birth. It is the nucleus around which these faculties and personhood accrete. Prior to birth, this essence is a plan or blueprint in God's mind.  It is not defined in every detail since God allows freedom of action and the automatic progression of nature to shape destiny. Consider it a broad framework with many possibilities. But God does have a very large, albeit finite, number of such blueprints that have existed in His mind since eternity past. Each of these is a unique potential person.  I call these blueprints, these artifacts of Divine Will,  human essences since we are not self-subsisting  and, before or after acquiring personhood,  our individual cores are simply God's will for us to exist as individuals. We are and we have always been individuals because the eternal Lord wills us into being as individuals. We come individual persons at birth.

Since God does not fail in His creative purposes, the demise of a fetus  does not mean that the distinct, individual essence or  potential person that was mapped into the fetal body simply disappears.  It was real in the manner in which the thoughts of God are real, even though it had no thought of its own. Its reality, its essence,  which is the Lord's broad framework for its being, is not frustrated by a miscarriage or abortion or ectopic pregnancy. It eventually finds expression by being mapped into another conception-event in this vast physical universe of billions of galaxies. Given that God's plans have a definitiveness (in addition to fluidity) of trajectory, it is quite likely that this will be a conception-event on the same planet. Further, statistically, it is not likely that a potential person  will have to endure a large number of failed gestations before it acquires personhood. Note that I am not advocating the theory of reincarnation because nowhere have I said that this essence or potential person  is a soul that gets a new physical body after is loses a physical body. Once it is born and breathes, then the physical body it is encased in will be its last.  Parenthetically, that does not obviate the fact that it will be associated with a spiritual body after death.

You mention: The human internals mentioned in AC 1999 as being in heaven under the Lord's view are the internals developed by way of reception of both love and wisdom from God through the will and understanding. That is, they exist subsequent to a physical birth, rather than pre-exist a birth which has not occurred.

AC 1999 unequivocally states that the internals are at a level higher than the inmost angelic heaven and are visible to the Lord only . Their existence is not contingent upon the birth-event. The internals in AC 1999 are not the same as the remains or remnants which are impressions implanted by God and the angels during infancy and childhood and which are a resource accessible to human beings. The internals are ineffable because we cannot view or access our or others' internals. Rather, these are the mechanism by which human beings receive life from the Lord. I have used the term essences for these internals because it resonates better with those who are not familiar with the technical vocabulary in Swedenborg  (e.g. vastation, correspondence, conjugial, scortatory etc.).

You ask: If a baby that dies within the womb is not gone forever, it must be somewhere. So, where is it?

If you are referring to the fetus' spirit or mind, its does not exist yet. But when we talk of  its spirit, what is the 'IT' whose spirit we are talking of?

The fetus' human essence is where your human essence and my human essence are this very moment. This essence is who we are at the core: beings who are not self-subsisting and who exist by virtue of the Lord's will and life. As such it is the channel through which God's life inflows.

You ask: If it is not, has not become or has not acquired 'a spirit', how can it be said to be in the spiritual world?

It is not in the spiritual world per se. It is at a plane higher than the inmost angelic heaven. This is the plane where our essences currently are.  This plane is near God but is not God. This is the plane where the essences of beings, good or bad,  in the spiritual world are. Note that I am using the word essence for the internals referred to in AC 1999. There is a plurality of human essences or internals, and these are not God Himself.

You mention in your ipso facto line of reasoning: Since there is no person, soul or spirit, there is nothing to survive the demise of the fetus.

It is true that there is no person, soul or spirit. But there is an essence  that will 'own' (in clumsy phraseology) the soul or spirit. This essence, this internal, is not the self-subsisting atman of the Vedanta. Not is it a pre-existing substance from which God forges a person. It exists in eternity past only as God's intentional blueprint for the future person. It exists post-gestation as God's will that we exist as individual persons. This essence  is the internal in AC 1999 that is above the heavens and near to God. This individual essence is  the reason why, as spiritual beings, we are the progeny of God and He is our Father. Our existence, our coming into being, is a consequence of the Divine Will more than the coming together of  a particular man and  woman at such and such time, and more than the decision of a particular woman to carry us to term.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

What is a Person?

Man's internal is that from which he is man, and by which he is distinguished from brute animals. By means of this internal he lives after death, and to eternity a man, and by means of it he can be uplifted by the Lord among the angels. This internal is the very first form from which a man becomes and is man, and by means of it the Lord is united to man. The very heaven that is nearest the Lord is composed of these human internals; but this is above even the inmost angelic heaven, and therefore these internals belong to the Lord Himself. By this means the whole human race is most present under the Lord's eyes, for there is no distance in heaven, such as appears in the sublunary world, and still less is there any distance above heaven.  These internals of men have no life in themselves, but are forms recipient of the Lord's life.  [AC 1999]

Swedenborg describes the human essence (internal) as known only to God. Even the celestial angels cannot view their own or others' essences.  Some Swedenborgians have used the term  soul  (as distinct from spirit for this essence). However, I will desist from doing so since the words soul, spirit and mind are used interchangeably by Swedenborg, as Glenn as shown in his comments on The Pre-existence of Souls. I will stick to the term essence. This ineffable human essence is what makes an entity a person rather than a whale, elephant , chimpanzee or dolphin, and not the attributes of understanding and will.  These human essences  are ontological constructs whose being is derived from their presence under the Lord's eyes i.e. from the Lord's knowledge of them from the past eternal into the eternal future.

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you. [Jeremiah 1:5]

Now, these essences   do not acquire the faculties of understanding and will until they reach a certain phase in their development.  This acquisition is a gradual process rather than an instantaneous event. Parenthetically, understanding and will are not, in themselves, tantamount to consciousness.  Understanding can be conscious, unconscious or semi-conscious. The same is true of the will. I am not aware of all of my desires all of the time, and I probably have desires that I am not yet aware of.

Even the essences of hellish beings are near the Lord. 

These essences have existed from eternity past as potential persons.  Even before I was conceived, I was a potential person in the Lord's view. My internal  [AC 1999] was not created by my parents' decision to unite at a certain moment in time. The moment of conception was when my essence or my internal was united with a fertilized ovum.  My internal is what makes me a unique, eternal being in the image of God. It does not have life in and of itself, but is the medium through which life flows from the Lord into the rest of my being: my spirit (mind),  my physical body and the future spiritual body (bio-complexity) that I will be associated with.

It is known that there are two faculties of life in man, the will and the understanding... So long as man remains in the womb he does not have these two faculties; as it has been shown above that nothing whatever of will or of understanding belongs to the fetus in its formation. [DW 5]

Divine Wisdom (DW) is a posthumous work that Swedenborg did not  publish himself.  It is thought to be a draft of the  published work Divine Love and Wisdom (DLW), which does not assert that a fetus has no will or understanding.

I think that Swedenborg, in Divine Wisdom (DW), is talking about a specific level of will and understanding that a newborn infant has but which a fetus does not have. This should not be taken to imply that all understanding  and willing is subsequent to the first breath.   One can discern another, albeit less developed, level of understanding within a fetus who sucks his or her thumb, kicks, moves, responds to Mozart. Note the statement above that understanding and will do not, of themselves, imply consciousness.  Full consciousness does not develop until a baby is a few years old.

After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau's heel; so he was named Jacob.  [Genesis 25:26]

As she was giving birth, one of them put out his hand; so the midwife took a scarlet thread and tied it on his wrist and said, "This one came out first." But when he drew back his hand, his brother came out, and she said, "So this is how you have broken out!" And he was named Perez.  [Genesis 38:28-29]

As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.  [Luke 1:44]

We call fetuses babies in common parlance. We do not ask a pregnant mother, "Show me the sonogram of your fetus." We say, "Show me your baby's sonogram."  In my view, the common sense of common folk is more accurate in this context than the technical language of scientists or the legalese of lawyers.

In the last few paragraphs, I have endeavored to show that the Swedenborgian corpus does not necessarily imply that the fetus does not have any will or understanding (which are not equivalent to consciousness). However, this has been a digression. Whether a fetus has some form of  understanding or will is not crucial to this argument. Let us step into time prior to conception.

Before we were conceived, we were potential persons in the Lord's mind. When we were conceived, we became potential persons less and actual persons more  (achieved a degree of fixedness). When we were born, we became actual persons.

Are all potential persons (human essences or internals per AC 1999] actualized or are some of them lost? Did I prevent a potential person from being actualized by practicing birth control?  Since I had two children when I could have had twenty, were the other eighteen lost into oblivion

So is My word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. [Isaiah 55:11]

The Lord does nothing in vain. If He has created, pre-created, or imagined these human internals [AC 1999], they are not lost. There are plenty of opportunities for human/humanoid conception and birth  in the physical universe where there are billions of galaxies. Swedenborg was before his times in considering the possibility intelligent alien life.

That the angels of heaven are not superior to men, but that they are their equals, and that they are therefore equally the Lord's servants, as men are, is because all the angels have been men, born in the world, and not any of them were created immediately; as may be evident from the things which are written and shown in the work on Heaven and Hell, published at London, 1758. [AR 818]

 Back to the aborted or miscarried fetus.  I believe one of the two possibilities are true:
  1. The aborted or miscarried fetus is raised in heaven as would a baby who dies an hour after birth. Think of the incubator as a metaphor. If our hospitals can have incubators, angels can have better. You can say figuratively that the aborted fetus is born out of its gestation in an 'incubator' in the spiritual world.
  2. The aborted or miscarried fetus is just a potential person that could not get actualized at this opportunity. There will be other genetic/memetic opportunities that match God's unique will for this potential person. This is not the false theory of reincarnation where one person becomes another person. When this potential person is finally born in the world (i.e. physical universe),  he or she is a brand new person since he or she was only a potential person, albeit unique,  prior to birth.
When there is a sufficient profusion of data points, one can draw a definite curve connecting  them. If the data points are fewer than a critical minimum, then one can generate multiple, divergent loci all of which satisfy the data points.  In the absence of a clear statement one way or the other in the Bible or in the Writings, the best hermeneutic will be consistent with canonical revelations of God's love, mercy and power.  If nature (figuratively) or the abortionist do evil towards the fetus, God can frustrate their evil on behalf of the fetus,  just as He turned to nought  the evil designs of Joseph's brothers. He is the protector of the weak and powerless.

Although a baptized Christian and a Swedenborgian, I am not an official member of the New Church.  I love the Church of the New Jerusalem centered in Bryn Athyn.  I agree with everything that the New Church (Bryn Athyn) clergy teach with the exception of the doctrine that a baby that dies within the womb is gone forever. I have attempted in this post to show that  this doctrine does not have a foundation in the canonical writings of Swedenborg and that it contradicts our common sense notions of God's love, power and wisdom. 

Friday, February 25, 2011

Is Ishmael coming home?

Genesis 16:12: [Ishmael] will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone's hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.

As a Christian, I always thought that Muslims were allergic to genuine democracy and that Muslims had a limited spectrum of socio-political options:

(a) The 'Zealot' option consisting of a fundamentalist, totalitarian state with potential links to militant terrorists.
(b) The 'Herodian' option with a corrupt, totalitarian, neo-colonial dictatorship whose sole objective was to enrich its rulers.
(c) Quirky mixtures of the two such as Zealot-turned-Herodian Muammar al-Gaddafi, and Herodians who pretend to be Zealots such as the Saudi and Emirati ruling elites.

The Ummah's digital generation has, however, surprised me by exhibiting a propensity for Jeffersonian democracy, a tendency that, I earnestly hope, is not ephemeral.

We live in a world that is inexorably gravitating towards an advanced planetary civilization, a near-Utopia (not Utopia, which is not possible in the dappled, physical realm). In this post-apocalyptic Zeitgeist, events such as the end of apartheid, the collapse of the Soviet empire, the democratization of the Muslim world or of China are not unthinkable possibilities. Neither is the possibility of cheap clean energy, clean air and clean water, an Edenic resurgence of flora and fauna or a voluntary leveling off of the world's population.

On this optimistic, Swedenborgian note, let me fervently pray that Muslims (and Christians and everyone else, for that matter) go the way of Dr, Mehmet Oz.  We know that they will, sooner than later. I only hope that they do so soon.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

March to Freedom, the Journey out of Egypt

We have greater freedom in the spiritual world than in the physical world. We are not constrained by space, time, gravity, entropy. Parenthetically,  there is an organization of experience via what one might consider successors to time, space, gravity, change and the like. Think of time' (time-prime), space' (space-prime) and so on.

Some things that are internal in the physical realm become external in the spiritual realm. In the spiritual realm, we are able to move mountains and still winds with our thought. Only the Lord can do this in the physical realm.

Physical law, which operates as a forcing function independent of our minds in the physical realm, becomes moored to our some aspects of our individual and communal psyches in the spiritual realm. Reality becomes more software than hardware (more "virtual" and more plastic), even though sensory experience is heightened rather than blunted or erased. We are less constrained by a rigid universe, even though we are constrained by our choices and out loves. Since our natural and human surroundings match our deepest wishes, we do not feel imprisoned any longer. As in a virtual reality game, we can be what we want to be, do what we want to do, generate surroundings according to our desires and live in total harmony and freedom.

The question then is: How will we use this freedom, this deep harmony with our environment? If we choose to abuse it, we are in hell.

We will be sorted according to our choices into heaven and hell, and into different kinship communities ('interest groups') in heaven  and hell. Per Swedenborg's writings, this sorting out is a process that can take as much as 20-30 years after a person's death. This sorting is meant to preserve and enhance our freedom of being and action so that we are not hampered by cumbersome physical constraints or the presence of others whose interests, choices and values are different. We can bracket our incompatible attributes and visit with folks from other kinship groups in a 'neutral area', but our habitation and belonging are with our kinship group. That is where our harmony with our surroundings and our freedom are the greatest.

P.S.  I have used inputs from Candace Frazee, an expert on Swedenborg,  to correct my original post. I do not claim to represent her views, however.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Pre-existence of Souls

While I do not believe in reincarnation, I do believe in the pre-existence of souls. Our ontological pre-existence does not imply conscious pre-existence. It is radically different from the pre-natal existence of Jesus as God and as the Word of God. Even though we have did not become fully conscious until a few years after birth, we have always existed in the mind of God. We were not created by the will of a man and a woman.

Conception is the moment in time when an individual, pre-existent, pre-conscious soul is joined to a body.  The association of a soul with a moment of conception and, consequently, with a physical body and a DNA heritage is accidental. God has the broad outlines of a destiny and a role in His kingdom planned for each one of us. God will find an suitable moment of conception to match this plan for us with the memetic (cultural) and genetic (DNA)  attributes of a human couple. The relation between a couple's decision to have sex and the infusion of the fertilized egg with an immortal soul is, therefore, synchronistic rather than causal.

A related belief of mine is that the souls of aborted and miscarried fetuses do not simply disappear. These develop in the spirit world into full human beings, as do the souls of children who die. I have gotten into argument with some fellow-Swedenborgians (see comments on this blog post) on this issue. These folks (not Edward Sylvia, the author of TheGodGuy Blog)  think that, although fetuses have souls, they do not develop into human beings in the spirit world if aborted or miscarried. There is nothing in Swedenborg's writings which warrants such a conclusion. On the contrary, this is contrary to divine love and justice. Of course, the consciousness (or pre-consciousness) of a newborn is not the same as that of a two-month old, or of a first-trimester fetus.

Recent Book Discoveries that have given me Immense Happiness

Having used the King James all my life, I recently "discovered" the NIV. It has made reading the Bible and listening to it a sheer joy. (Out of habit, I still say the Our Father in King James English with the art and the  Thy.)

I've recently purchased a book that has helped clarify my perspective.  It is Window to Eternity by Bruce Henderson, ISBN 0-87785-132-8, published by the Swedenborg Foundation. Swedenborg's writings (scroll down on this page)  are long and sometimes difficult to read.  This book summarizes the visionary seer's insights into the afterlife in a very crisp, concise and readable manner.