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It seems like it’s so easy to get stuck in vicious disagreements with each other, especially in today’s political climate. But what if we aren’t arguing about the topics we think we’re talking about? What if we’re not as divided as we think?
In this episode, hosts Curtis Childs and Jonathan Rose study how the writings of eighteenth-century philosopher and theologian Emanuel Swedenborg can help us overcome this divisiveness.
- What are we actually fighting?
- What’s the alternative?
- What’s the endgame?
It seems like even the most rational arguments can descend into a fiery argument, but what starts this fire? As Curtis explains, one of the biggest fuels is love of self—our tendency to protect ourselves and the people we consider “ours.” It’s still love of self even when we extend it to our families and people who share our opinions.
The battle between love of God, love of others, and love of self is an old battle. As Jonathan explains, the spiritual dynamics that lead us to become divisive are even documented through symbolism in the book of Genesis. For example, from a Swedenborgian perspective, the story of Adam and Eve is really the story of how people separate their inner spiritual state from their thoughts and actions—how people become separated from God. The story of Cain and Abel is the story of how spiritual beliefs become separated from love—instead of love guiding the way, our ideas or opinions become the most important thing. Or here’s one that many people have experienced in their lives: separating what’s temporary from what’s eternal. People might carry on feuds for decades and then realize, too late, that it was all for nothing.
In short, the human race has been planting the seeds of divisiveness for pretty much its entire history. But there is a way out.
Love of self makes us forget our context—we always want to believe we’re right and support our own position, even if it causes us to contradict ourselves. But the broader context is this: we’re all part of a bigger system. From a spiritual perspective, we’re intended to work together, just like the keys on a piano. For one side to insist that it’s better is self-defeating. So the question to ask ourselves is: Am I looking for the best outcome for everyone? Or am I looking for my best outcome?
Why is divisiveness a spiritual issue? Swedenborg says that this mindset actually comes from hell:
Spirits of a certain kind want to be in control and to be the only ones ruling everyone else. For that purpose they arouse enmity, hatred, and conflict among others. I saw the fighting that results and in amazement asked who they were. I was told that they are the type of spirits who stir up this sort of trouble because they aim to wield supreme and solitary power, in accord with the maxim divide and conquer. (Secrets of Heaven §5718)
The good news is that God’s plan is bigger and a whole lot better.
The grand purpose, or the purpose of all elements of creation, is an eternal union of the Creator with the created universe. (Divine Love and Wisdom §170)
This unity doesn’t mean homogeny—it’s about finding and enabling places where unique intentions align. One important step is to stop demonizing people whose ideas are different from ours. Swedenborg gives the example of disagreements over church doctrine:
A doctrinal view is united when everyone loves each other, or displays charity. Mutual love and charity bring such people together into one despite the variety among them, because it draws unity out of variety. When everyone practices charity, or loves each other, then no matter how many people there are . . . they share a single goal: the common good, the Lord’s kingdom, and the Lord himself. (Secrets of Heaven §1285:3)
For some other tools, Leonard Swidler, founder of The Dialogue Institute, joins to help us see where open dialogue can create the clarity we need. His mantra is: “Nobody knows everything about anything; therefore, dialogue.” We need other people to show us what they see.
But what if we’re already embroiled in a conflict—how can we get out? Dr. Soni Werner talks through some clear steps to handle the difficult conversations we might already be in. The first step is never aim to win—just aim to learn.
The Old Testament story of Hezekiah (2 Kings 16–25) illustrates these principles on a spiritual level. On the surface, this story is about a historical series of battles, but it actually shows the way divine providence works to free us from our own war against our self-love and its destructive drives.
The overall message of these stories is one of hope: even if our internal and external conflicts seem overwhelming, if we continue to recognize and reject the self-love that causes divisions, we can overcome it.
Curtis and the crew finish off the episode by demonstrating how to make some beautiful music.
Related Swedenborg and Life Videos
“Conscience: How to Build Heaven in Your Mind”
“How to Love Your Enemies”
“How to Respect Spiritual Boundaries in Relationships”
“3 Simple Ways to Love Everyone”
“Who Was Swedenborg?”
“Why Do We Fight Each Other?”
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About Swedenborg and Life
In a lighthearted and interactive live webcast format, host Curtis Childs from the Swedenborg Foundation and featured guests explore topics from Swedenborg’s eighteenth-century writings about his spiritual experiences and afterlife explorations and discuss how they relate to modern-day life and death.
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When we wake up in heaven, Swedenborg tells us, angels roll a covering from off of our left eye so that we can see everything in a spiritual light. The offTheLeftEye YouTube channel uses an array of educational and entertaining video formats to look at life and death through an uplifting spiritual lens.
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