Swedenborg and Life Recap: When Religion Went Wrong 5/16/16

Watch full episode here!

Religion—it’s one of the greatest sources of divide in the world today. With all the wars, abuse of power, and corruption it can breed, many are left to wonder if religion should exist at all. If religion was initially formed to help people come together in community to learn about the spiritual principles that lead to love and common good, then when did it go so wrong? In this episode of Swedenborg and Life, host Curtis Childs and featured guests guide us through Swedenborg’s claim that an answer lies within one of the most famous ancient architectural stories within the Old Testament of the Bible—the building of the Tower of Babel.

You’re Speaking My Language—Working In Unity

So how can a Bible story in the book of Genesis about the building of a tower and the proliferation of languages possibly offer commentary on the heinous acts committed by religious institutions throughout history? Well, Swedenborg asserts that certain parts of the Bible contain hidden meanings that he calls “correspondences.” For instance, where the Bible story says that the whole earth had one language and the same words, Swedenborg explains that “language” corresponds to “doctrine” and that this verse in the book of Genesis actually means that a single broad view of doctrine existed everywhere at one time, as Curtis elaborates here.


What this means is that the most ancient people did have external differences and views on religion, but since there was unity in their hearts and a shared focus on the common good, their external differences didn’t matter. In this animated quote from Secrets of Heaven, Swedenborg describes this as the state we’re all meant to live in.

Specifics [in doctrinal teachings] do not matter as long as they focus on a united goal, which is to love the Lord above all and to love our neighbor as ourselves, since the specific teachings then fit with these general principles. (Secrets of Heaven §1288)

Related Swedenborg and Life Video: “What the Bible Is”

Bricks vs Stones—Unity Gone Bad

 Swedenborg first mentions Babel in Secrets of Heaven §1283 and explains that the story reveals how spiritual intentions deteriorated over time, causing their exterior expressions to become corrupted too.

Literal words in Tower of Babel story in book of Genesis
Swedenborg’s interpretation through symbolic correspondences

Curtis then goes on to explain more of the symbolism Swedenborg describes within the story, particularly within the references to mountains and valleys and bricks and stones.

Curtis uses a stone and a brick as a metaphor to show the difference between true ideas and manufactured ideas, which Swedenborg described in his interpretation of a particular verse in the Tower of Babel story.


At this point, Curtis asks if viewers can see how the Tower of Babel story is describing people turning from doctrine for the common good to doctrine for their own good and goals.

The Darkest Ambition—Root of All Evil

What is the darkest ambition? Curtis describes it as wanting total control over other human beings, and according to Swedenborg that desire is the root of all evil. Curtis says you can see it play out further in the following verses from the book of Genesis in the Tower of Babel story, which describes the spiritual reason the people of this time period were building a tower.

Verse from Genesis 11:4
Swedenborg’s interpretation through symbolic correspondences

Essentially, this story is revealing how people started to use religion as a means to gain power and control over other people, and it’s been well documented throughout history. Dean of the Center for Swedenborgian Studies Dr. James Lawrence joins the conversation to describe the three significant types of religious abuse of power:

  1. State and political abuse of power
  2. Intellectual and cultural abuse in social thought
  3. Pastoral and leadership abuse

To elaborate on these points, Curtis shares a quote from Swedenborg’s Secrets of Heaven §1308 in which he describes more correspondences within the Tower of Babel story. Perhaps you can see how the Tower of Babel might represent the building up of evil and corrupt intentions. In the next section, Curtis discusses the possibility of stopping such a construction.

Related Swedenborg and Life Video: “The Good Thing About Hell”

The Chair Tips—Peak of Judgment

Curtis starts off the section discussing how peaks in evil draw attention and judgment from the Lord, which he says is described in Genesis 11:5.

Literal words in Tower of Babel story in book of Genesis
Swedenborg’s interpretation through symbolic correspondences
Literal words in Tower of Babel story in book of Genesis
Swedenborg’s interpretation through symbolic correspondences

Swedenborg describes the consequences of embracing self-interest and rejecting unity and the common good in more depth in this animated quote from Secrets of Heaven §1316.

Perhaps the tower you’re building isn’t in the interest of the common good. It’s never too late to stop construction, dismantle the pieces, and start building with a new set of goals and priorities through a process of spiritual regeneration.


What Goes Around. . .—The Consequences

What’s the effect of a judgment for those who abused religion to gain power? In the Tower of Babel story, they lost their ability to know and understand truth on a deeper level.

Literal words in Tower of Babel story in book of Genesis
Swedenborg’s interpretation through symbolic correspondences

Why did the people in the story start to clash with each other? Swedenborg describes the consequences of self-worship in these excerpts from Secrets of Heaven §1321 and Secrets of Heaven §1322.

The reason it says “let us go down” and “let us muddle their language” in the plural is that a judgment is being executed and spirits—evil spirits—are the agents. (Secrets of Heaven §1320)

This means God is not the one who created this chaos and fallout from the Tower of Babel. In fact, it was evil influences.

Literal words in Tower of Babel story in book of Genesis
Swedenborg’s interpretation through symbolic correspondences

Swedenborg asserts that any reference to Babel in the Bible corresponds with self-worship, and in the next clip Curtis demonstrates how that interpretation plays out in Genesis 11:9.


Unfortunately, towers of self-worship are still being built today, and you can see it in corrupt religious and government leadership or just in individuals you may know who worship their own self-interests over the common good of humanity. So is there hope for a better future? Will religion ever return to the peaceful, loving source it was meant to be? Curtis explores those questions in the next section.

Related Swedenborg and Life Video: “Why Bad Things Happen”

The Alternative—Freedom


What’s the alternative to the negative aspects of religion? Curtis suggests that freedom is the answer and welcomes Dr. Lawrence back for commentary on how freedom can be used within religion to restore it to its original purpose. He goes on to describe Swedenborg as someone who represented “power for” as opposed to “power over” people when it comes to religion. How can we each ensure that we aren’t helping to build a Tower of Babel or a tower of control? To answer, Curtis shares a mini-montage of thought-provoking how-to and how-not-to videos.

So what is true worship? Swedenborg answers here:

When people today talk about worship of God, they mainly mean worship of the lips in a church and [private prayers] morning and evening. However, it is not these that are the essential components in worship of God, but rather a life of useful activity. Worshiping by living a useful life accords with the arrangement ordained for heaven. Worship of the lips too is worship, but it does no good whatever unless we worship with our lives, because that is heartfelt worship. If worship of the lips is really to be worship, it must grow out of living worship. (Secrets of Heaven §7884)

Questions from Viewers

In the last segment, Curtis answers these questions from our viewers:

  • What does Swedenborg say about the different names that God is called by at different times in the Bible?
  • Due to Christian hypocrisy, there are many in the African-American community who believe that Ancient Egyptian religion is the true religion. How does Egypt figure into the good and bad in religion?
  • So is hell after death constructed with flames of fire?
  • What would be our names in heaven? Would it be the same as here or will it be different?
  • It seems that if the Bible has been written in the language of angels, we might have had a more peaceful earth?
  • Do you think I can still go to heaven even if I used to be a skeptic about it for at least 10 to 12 years?
  • Is the Catholic veneration of statues like Mary against the Ten Commandments?
  • If a person has a problem dealing with depression, will he/she have that same problem in heaven?

Free E-Book Downloads

Secrets of Heaven


Support Swedenborg and Life! Enjoy our programming and want to help us produce more free videos, books, and other faith and spirituality content? Make a donation or become a member of the nonprofit Swedenborg Foundation!

Want to watch more Swedenborg and Life videos? Visit our offTheLeftEye YouTube channel and be sure to subscribe for new uploads!

Read more Swedenborg and Life episode recaps >

  • About Swedenborg and Life


    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 in a lighthearted and interactive live webcast format.
    View the entire Swedenborg and Life Playlist

  • About offTheLeftEye


    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.
    View our offTheLeftEye YouTube channel 

© Copyright 2018 Swedenborg Foundation

powered by Everything theme