At least forty-nine people were killed in shootings at two separate mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. In what was unquestionably a hate crime, the man who claimed credit for the killings was a self-identified racist who appeared to be targeting immigrants to the country.
In looking for understanding among Emanuel Swedenborg’s writings on violence, a passage on bloodshed and hatred stands out. In the second volume of Secrets of Heaven, he comments on Genesis 9:6: “Those shedding the blood of a person in a person will have their own blood shed, because [blood] has made humankind into God’s image.” As with most biblical verses, he says, this one has a dual meaning: it can refer literally to doing violence against another person, but it can also refer to doing violence to the love that lives within that person (which he calls charity [Latin charitas], or love of one’s neighbor). He cites this verse from Matthew:
You have heard that among the people of old it was said, “You shall not kill;whoever kills will be subject to judgment.” I say to you, though, that any who are angry at their brother or sister without cause will be subject to judgment. (Matthew 5:21, 22)
And Swedenborg goes on to say:
Anyone who feels hatred not only lacks charity but also inflicts violence on it, or in other words, sheds blood. Hatred carries murder itself within it, as is clear from this, that those who hate another cherish no greater wish than to kill that person and if external restraints did not interfere would commit the murder. So the murder of a fellow human and the shedding of that person’s blood is hatred; and since this is what hatred is, it lurks in every thought we nurture against that person. (Secrets of Heaven §1010:2)
We often speak casually of anger or hatred, but here Swedenborg, taking his cue from the Bible itself, recognizes the inner damage that we do to ourselves by harboring or justifying those feelings. And we see all too often what happens when extremists decide to ignore “external restraints.”
Swedenborg makes it clear that this type of hatred and violence not only incurs legal penalties in this world, but true death in the next world, too: love is the life of the Lord, and by removing love from ourselves, we condemn ourselves to hell, an existence without true life.
In a literal sense, those who shed the blood of a person in a person will have their own blood shed is about shedding another person’s blood. In an inner sense, however, it is not about anything belonging to others but about the charity in oneself. That is why the text goes on to speak of “the blood of a person in a person.” When the literal sense mentions two things, sometimes the inner sense means just one. The inner self is the “person in a person,” so all those who extinguish charity (which belongs to the inner self, or rather is the inner self) will have their own blood shed. That is, they will condemn themselves. (Secrets of Heaven §1012)
In other words, Swedenborg tells us that love is the opposite of hate in the same way that life is the opposite of death. If we offer love to others, and allow it to bloom within ourselves, it spreads true life as well.
For more thoughts from the offTheLeftEye team on this tragedy, see All Religions Exist in Heaven – A Response to the Recent Tragedy in New Zealand. You can also learn more about a Swedenborgian approach to tragedy in the book Why Does God Let It Happen?, which is available as a free download from our bookstore.