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In last week’s episode, we discussed intuition and how it relates to what eighteenth-century philosopher and theologian Emanuel Swedenborg had to say about perception. In this episode, hosts Curtis Childs and Jonathan Rose are live to dig in deeper and discuss intellectual debate versus perception.
Jonathan isn’t sure what he thinks, but he can share that Swedenborg understood two kinds of debate. In one case, it’s just two people yelling at each other, but it can also be a group of people thinking and sharing and listening to each other.
Curtis thinks that the intention of something is what makes it matter. So if a discussion includes people who have a common motivation and who genuinely want to understand each other better, it could make a real difference in the world. So how can we make sure we have the right kinds of conversations?
The Role of Rationality
Rationality is important, but it is not as important as people think. It can be misused for all sorts of reasons, but the biggest problem is how distracting it can be. You can build an argument around anything, even the most false things.
There are spirits belonging to the region of the skin (particularly the squamous layer) who want to argue everything. They do not perceive what is good or true, and in fact the more they argue, the less they perceive it. They identify wisdom with sophistry, which they count on to make them seem wise. I told them that the role of angelic wisdom is to perceive whether a thing is good or true without sophistic reasoning, but they cannot grasp the possibility that this kind of perception exists. They are the same people that used the academic and philosophical disciplines during bodily life to cast confusion over truth and goodness and as a result seemed to themselves to be more knowledgeable than others. (They had not started with any valid assumptions taken from the Word.) Consequently, they do not have much common sense. (Secrets of Heaven §1385)
For rationality to work, it needs an anchor to reality. With the right starting assumptions, you can build up your rational skills and apply them to the spiritual things that really matter.
There are those who reason about whether truths are true or not. When one speaks and reasons about a matter on the basis of his own knowledge and on the basis of his own confirmations, the other does likewise; each of the two on the basis of his confirmations believes his own dictum to be true. Thus both stand still, each confirming his own and refuting the other’s, for all falsity can be confirmed so as to appear to be true. As a result they come to a stop and cannot go further. But those who are in possession of truths as are the heavenly angels do not reason about them but see them and so progress from a single truth to a thousand others and see them. (Spiritual Experiences §5848)
So why then do we need rationality? Well, it works as an important connector between us and heaven—once we have the right assumptions, it helps us test new ideas to see if they’re true. For more on how rationality works, check out our episode “Why Are Spiritual Things Hard to Believe?”
These are the people who live in the third heaven, and they are the wisest of all. People get that way in this world by applying whatever divine principles they hear directly to their lives with an aversion to evils as hellish and a total reverence for the Lord. Because they live in innocence, they look to others like little children; and because they never talk about truths of wisdom and there is no trace of self-importance in their conversation, they seem simple. However, when they hear others talking they can sense their whole love from their tone of voice and their whole intellect from what they are saying. (Divine Love and Wisdom §427)
Spiritual World Road Trip
In this account from True Christianity §334, Swedenborg encountered people in the spiritual world who looked human but who had thrown away an essential part of their humanity to do nothing but offer arguments. These spirits specialized in making people feel wise, but in the end it was just spin.
When Swedenborg spoke to one of these spin specialists, he found that the spirit could make anything seem true with the power of reason. Using rational discourse, he managed to prove any “truth” he wanted, no matter how harmful or insane it was.
During this live show, viewers chatted in their questions. Just click a question to see the answer:
- You all said that Swedenborg got in trouble in Europe because of the things he wrote. What was the result of it all?
- Do animals experience God? Do animals sense a presence of God? Do they believe in a God as humans believe in a God? Are we viewed as God by birds and bees? Would we know it if we were?
- How does the spirit of a deceased spouse dwell with the living one? As it’s after the living partner’s death that they go through a test period to see if they match as soulmates, do they already dwell with one partner (or more)?
For our guest interview, Chelsea Odhner speaks more with author Peter Rhodes, who we met last episode. They go in deep on Swedenborg’s understanding of perception and the way our brains work to understand it.
In the end, all life is God, no matter who that life is flowing through. That means we can all achieve angelic perception, and we can all love each other as manifestations of God.
At the beginning, we asked viewers when debate is and isn’t useful. Here are some of the answers.
- Debate is useful when it sticks to the truth.
- I guess it is useful when people aren’t emotionally overcharged or manipulating others.
- It is useful when participants are genuinely seeking information on others’ views.
- Debate is useful when both sides learn something about the opposing point of view.
- It’s not useful when the other side is hell. If the other side wants to hurt people there is no debate, they are wrong.
- When you are knowledgeable about the subject and not based on emotion.
- Debate is useful when it is done with the purpose to reach understanding and the best alternative option to pick.
- Remembering the difference between zeal and anger. Anger is never useful in a debate.
- Debate is useful when minds are open to learning. Debate fails when minds are closed.
- Winning a debate does not make someone right. There is only one truth. If debating is for the pursuit of truth and increasing your aim at the truth then it’s useful.
- Debating is pointless if someone is just looking for justification of their static beliefs.
- I think “Debate” is useful when all sides involved are coming from a place of fairness and maturity in working towards an understanding where all sides effected have a chance of input towards a solution.
- Debate is useful when both parties are open minded and understanding of one another’s point of view.
- Probably a good thing, debating, but it generally hasn’t been positive for me. I like discussions, they are awesome.
- Debate is useful as it gives more parties a chance to speak their mind (democracy).
- I think debate is useful to the audience if they perceived the concepts of the arguments in a positive way.
- I think debate is good politics, religion, what foods to eat, etc., as long as people are open to looking at other ways and then deciding what is best for themselves. I hate when it gets nasty & dogmatic.
- Debate is useful when it is done with humility and having the best interest of the person in mind. It shouldn’t be used to prove I know more or I am better but for the sake of truth and love.
- As used in Buddhist training, debate is a way of sharpening your understanding.
Thanks for joining us—we’ll see you next week!
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About Swedenborg & Life
In a lighthearted and interactive 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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