True Christianity #79

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79. The fourth memorable occurrence. Once when I was thinking about the creation of the universe, some spirits from the Christian world came up to me. Among philosophers of their day, they had been some of the most famous and were esteemed the wisest of all.

"We noticed that you were thinking about creation," they said. "Tell us what your thinking is about that. "

But I replied, "Tell me first what your thinking is. "

One of them said, "My thinking is that creation comes from nature. Nature created itself. It existed from eternity, since there is no such thing as a vacuum - a vacuum is impossible. What else except nature do we see with our eyes, hear with our ears, smell with our noses, or breathe with our chests? Because nature is outside us it is also inside us. "

[2] When another philosopher heard this he said, "You mention nature and you make it the creator of the universe, but you don't know how nature produced the universe. I'll tell you. It rolled itself into vortices. They collided with each other much the way clouds do, or the way houses do when they collapse in an earthquake. As a result of that collision, denser substances gathered together to form the earth while more fluid substances separated from the denser material and came together to form oceans. Lighter substances separated out from the oceans to become ether and air, and the lightest of these was the sun. Haven't you noticed that when you mix oil, water, and dirt together they spontaneously separate and form layers one above the other?"

[3] On hearing this, another philosopher said, "You made that up! Everyone knows that the real origin of all things was a chaos that filled a quarter of the universe. In the middle of the chaos there was fire; around the fire was ether; around the ether was matter. The chaos developed cracks, and fire erupted through them like Etna and Vesuvius. This resulted in the sun. Then the ether rolled out and poured all around. This resulted in the atmosphere. Finally the remaining matter formed a ball. This resulted in the earth.

"As for the stars, they are just light sources in the expanse of the universe. They arose from the sun and its fire and light. At first, you see, the sun was like an ocean of fire. In order not to set fire to the earth it pulled little shining flames out of itself and allotted them a place in the surrounding space. This completed the universe and produced its firmament. "

[4] Then one person who was there stood up and said, "You are all wrong. You seem wise to yourselves and I seem simple to you, but in my simplicity I have believed and I still believe that God created the universe. Since nature is part of the universe, God then was also the Creator of all nature. If nature had created itself, would it have existed from eternity? What madness!"

As he was speaking, one of the so-called wise philosophers urgently pushed closer and closer to him. The philosopher brought his left ear right up to the speakers mouth; his right ear was stuffed with a piece of cotton. He asked him what he had said, so the speaker repeated it again. Then the philosopher who had hurried forward looked around to see if there was a priest nearby; he noticed one beside the speaker. So the philosopher turned around and said, "I too confess that all nature is from God, but . . . " Then he left; and speaking in a whisper to his friends, he told them, "I said that because there was a priest nearby. You and I know that nature is from nature. That makes nature God, so that is why I said all nature is from God, but . . . "

[5] The priest heard what they whispered and said, "Your wisdom, which is purely philosophical, has led you astray. It has closed the inner realms of your minds so tightly that no light from God or his heaven can flow in and enlighten you. You have extinguished that light. " Then he added, "Hold a debate and figure out among yourselves where your immortal souls come from. Do they come from nature? Were they together in that great chaos?"

So then the philosopher went to his colleagues and asked them to join him in unraveling this knotty question.

They concluded that the human soul is nothing but ether. Thought, they decided, is nothing but a modification in the ether caused by the light of the sun, and the ether is part of nature.

They said, "Everyone knows that we use air to speak. What is thought except speech in a still purer air called the ether? This is how thought and speech become one thing. We see this in human children. First they learn to talk. In the next phase they learn to talk to themselves, which is thinking. What else is thought, then, but a modification of the ether? What else is the sound of speech but a modulation of thought? On the basis of all this we conclude that the soul, where thinking happens, is part of nature. "

[6] Other philosophers among them did not disagree but shed further light on the issue by saying, "Souls came into being when the ether in the great chaos formed a ball. In the highest realm the ether divided into countless individual forms. These forms pour down into people when they begin to think on a level that is purer than air. These forms are then called souls. "

Another philosopher said, "I'll grant you that the individual forms made out of ether in the highest realm were countless. Nevertheless the number of people born since the world was created has exceeded the number of forms. How then could there be enough of these ethereal forms? So I thought to myself that the souls that go out through people's mouths when they die come back to the same people after several thousand years. The people go back, therefore, and live a similar life to the one they had before. As we know, many of the wise believe in reincarnation and things like that. "

Other conjectures besides these were tossed out by the rest, but they were too insane for me to even mention.

[7] A few minutes later the priest came back. The philosopher who had previously said that God created the universe now told the priest what the group had decided about the soul.

In response the priest told them, "What you have said is exactly what you thought in the world. You don't even realize that you're not in that world - you are in another one called the spiritual world! All whose positions in favor of nature have limited them to their bodies and senses are unaware that they are not in the same world where they were born and raised. There they were in a body made of physical matter; here they are in a body made of spiritual substance. People made of spiritual substance see themselves and others around them in exactly the same way that people made of physical matter see themselves and others around them. This is because substance comes before matter.

"Since you think, speak, see, smell, and taste things in much the same way as you did in the physical world, you believe that nature is the same here. Nature in this world, though, is just as different and distant from the nature in that world as spiritual substance is from physical matter or something primary is from something secondary. As the nature in the world where you used to live is comparatively dead, so the positions you have taken in favor of nature have more or less killed you, at least in areas related to God, heaven, and the church, as well as in the realm of your own souls.

"Nevertheless the intellects of all people, the evil as well as the good, can rise all the way to the light where the angels of heaven are. There they can all see that there is a God and a life after death. They can see that our souls are not ethereal; they are not made out of the nature of the physical world; they are spiritual and therefore will live forever. Our intellects are capable of being in that angelic light as long as our physical loves are removed - loves that belong to the physical world and favor it and its nature, and loves that belong to the body and favor it and its sense of self. "

[8] At that point the Lord instantly removed loves like that from the philosophers, and they were allowed to talk with angels. From their conversation in that state they became aware that there is a God and that they were living after death in another world. They blushed with complete embarrassment and cried, "We have been insane! We have been insane!"

This was not, however, their own state, so after a few minutes it became tiresome and unwelcome to them. They turned their backs on the priest, not wanting to hear him talking anymore, and returned to their former loves, which were merely material, worldly, and bodily.

They headed off to the left, wandering from community to community. Eventually they came to a road where they felt a breeze that brought them pleasure in things they loved the most, so they said, Let's take this road.

They took it and went downward. Eventually they came to spirits who felt pleasure in the same kinds of love and worse. Since those philosophers felt pleasure in doing evil things, and had in fact done evil things to many along the way, they were imprisoned and became demons. Then their pleasure turned into torment. Punishments and fear of punishment restrained them and reined them in from the former pleasure that constituted their nature.

They asked people who were in the same prison, "Are we going to live like this forever?"

Some answered, "We've been here for a number of centuries, and we'll be here forever and ever. The nature we developed in the world cannot be changed. Not even punishments can drive this nature out of us - if they do succeed in driving it out, after a little while it comes rushing back in again. "

  
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Thanks to the Swedenborg Foundation for the permission to use this translation.