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.