SWEDENBERG:  PSYCHOLOGIST OR PHILOSOPHER?

 

December 12, 1991

 

 

 

 

 

INTRODUCTION

            To begin to answer the question I have postulated in the title of this research project, one must determine what their definitions of a psychologist and a philosopher are. I see a psychologist as a person who studies the workings and functioning of the mind and tries to give explanations of how and why it works the way it does. In fact, I really don’t understand the concept of a spiritual psychologist because to me, this would start to enter into the realm of philosophy. In other words, to me, psychology is a biologically based science that extends toward finding the connection of mind and body. A philosopher on the other hand, tries to explain human nature in a spiritual manner, keeping an emphasis on non-physical realms, much as Swedenborg does. As many philosophies do, the explanations given try to explain how a person should live their lives in accordance to some writing(s) or scripture(s). In this way, the person can live a fulfilling and satisfying life and will be able to enter a state of ‘heaven’. Many religions explain what this state is like, from Buddhism to Christianity, and in general, it is when or how a person can enjoy a state of ultimate happiness. I think Swedenborg tries to do the same thing with his explanations of heaven and the afterlife by telling people that unless a life is devoted to goodness and a love of God and fellow man, heaven is practically unattainable. I strongly believe that no two people have the exact same experiences to define anything in exactly the same way. Therefore, I will try to present my argument on why I think Emanuel Swedenborg should be included in the history of philosophy instead of the history of psychology. As far as I see it, the ideas, experiences, and visions Swedenborg had during the second half of his life, namely the ‘spiritual’ half, lean more toward a philosophical explanation of life, rather than an explanation for human psychology. Because of his emphasis on matters concerning angels, heaven, and God, his work has not been included in psychology, and in accordance as to how psychology is defined today, it will never find its place there. It psychology were to turn its emphasis to the spiritual side of human beings, Swedenborg’s work will then be ‘discovered’. To include Swedenborg’s work with the history of psychology today would mean equating psychology with philosophy; therefore, I will try to explain why philosophy is where Swedenborg’s work should be studied.

 

 

Anderson, Rodger (1982). Swedenborg on the Modus Operandi of Spirit Communication. Parapsychology-Review, Nov Vol. 13, pp 8—15. Call No. BF 1021 P28.

 

            I obtained this reference using the CD-ROM computer system, located in the Hamilton library, using the PsycLIT category. The key term I used was ‘Swedenborg’. Several items appeared for the key term but I chose this reference because it served to support my thesis better than the others did.

            This article described Swedenborg as a communicator with the spiritual world, who cannot be accused of experimenter contamination. It stated that Swedenborg spent more than 25 years in open communication with what he thought were discarnate minds, and he interrogated the spirits at length, often exposing their professed knowledge as ignorance. This article provides the investigator with an almost unique opportunity to view the inner workings of the mediumistic mind through the eyes of a man who gave the same attention and care to his inner experiences as he did to his physical investigations. The article also shared many of Swedenborg’s experiences as read from many of his books, including Arcana.

            I chose this reference because I wished to show that I do believe Swedenborg communicated with the spirits, and that I didn’t want to give the reader the idea that I was in total disagreement with Swedenborg’s work. I believe others besides Swedenborg have, and will be given the opportunity to converse with the spiritual world once the individual has been ‘chosen’. This research project is not a Swedenborg—bashing but rather the argument is about where his work belongs. I respect the experiences and revelations Swedenborg had and I have no reason to believe he was lying in any way. Therefore, although this reference does not support my thesis directly, it does support my personal feelings towards Swedenborg.

 

 

Keller, Helen (1960) My Religion New York: Doubleday and Co Call No. BX8721.K35.

            I obtained this book using the On-Line catalog, located in the Hamilton library. The key term used was ‘Swedenborg’. At this writing, there were 52 references to Swedenborg in the catalog, where I chose a number of them. I came across a fairly large amount of Swedenborg material while searching for this book.

            In this book, Helen Keller, the famous blind—deaf—mute woman, presents her autobiography concerning her belief in Swedenborgianism. She explains how she leads what would seem to be hopeless life to others, in a way that gives her joy and happiness. She read Swedenborg’s material using brail and is a devout follower of his work. On page 139 of her book, she states “Swedenborg’s ‘Divine Providence’ is a powerfully personal testimony to the truth that God created the universe because of the infinite need of His nature to give life and joy.” Also, “...whole of the Divine Providence. . .we must let ourselves be borne along by it. . . if we wish to accomplish our part in His Work of spiritual rehabilitation.”

            This book directly supports my thesis due to the fact that Helen Keller states many Christian ideals which to me sound like a philosophy more than a realm of psychology. The Christian religion is based on God and his workings, which is what Keller is explaining here--faith. The belief that God created the universe and spiritual rehabilitation tell me she is not speaking of any concept of psychology but a strong belief in Christian idealism.

 

 

Swedenborg, Emanuel; translated by Chadwick, John (1988). True Christian Religion. London: Swedenborg Society. Call No. BX8721.2.T78.

            I obtained this reference using the On-Line catalog located at Hamilton library. The key term used was ‘Swedenborg’. This was one of the 52 selections available in this key term. I selected it because just the name itself told me Swedenborg was talking about a religion, and not psychology.

On page 207, it states, “The reason...no one can see the spiritual sense, except only if it is granted by the Lord, and if he is in possession of Divine truths given by the Lord. For the spiritual sense of the Word is solely concerned with the Lord and His Kingdom.” Also, “. . . the Lord teaches every person by means of the Word, and uses in teaching the knowledge he already has, rather than directly implanting new knowledge.” This page was taken under the section of the book entitled ‘The Sacred Scripture’.

            By looking at what I have quoted, one can see that Swedenborg was talking about a supreme being that governs over all humans and not an aspect of (today’s) psychology. This is in every means a philosophical explanation of spirituality and how God influences people. This book definitely would fall under my definition of religion and not psychology. Using terms such as Lord, His Kingdom, and Divine truth only tell me we are talking about an aspect of the Christian church and not a psychological reference. I don’t see how this book would explain how psychological dysfunctions, such as hyperactivity, can be controlled with the use of drugs. According to this book, it is all spiritual. 

 

 

Beamon, Edmund A. (1971). Swedenborg and the New Age. New York:  AMS Press. Call No. BX8748.B36

            Again, I obtained the information to find this book using the On-Line catalog located at Hamilton library. The key term was ‘Swedenborg’. I thought this book would shed some light as to the philosophy of Swedenborgianism.

            This book included, what seemed to me, explanations of Biblical references and other Christian ideals. On page 93, under the subheading of ‘Man’s relation to the Lord’, it states, “Yes, Swedenborg was led, taught, and governed by the Lord, and by the Lord alone by influx . . . thus by precisely that process by which the Lord leads, teaches, and governs all men and angels, and this means that he was led and taught and governed ‘in freedom according to reason’, and thus as a full and perfect man.” This book tried to show how much there is to learn about a man in his regenerated or angelic state in his relation to the Lord.

            The quotation above shows how the Lord is the omnipotent being who governs all of man—-which is the Christian faith. I saw no reference to psychological terms anywhere in the book but rather an enormous amount of terms such as Lord, heaven, and New Church—— religious terms. It is from books like this that convince me Swedenborg deserves a place in the history of philosophy because of his constant references to the Lord and other religious concerns.

 

 

Menz, Robert L. (1984) The Denial of Death and the Out—of-Body Experience. Journal of Religion and Health. Winter Vol. 23 pp 317—329. Call No. RC 321 J85.

 

            I obtained this reference using the CD-ROM terminal located at Hamilton Library. The category used was PsycLIT, and the key term was ‘afterlife There were many articles concerning the afterlife but I only selected a few.

            This article argued that in studies of out-of-body experiences (OBE’s), more attention is given to finding a spiritual base than a psychological understanding of them. The author considered the psychological forces of denial as a suitable explanation for the OBE’S and suggests that these experiences may be understood as hallucinations caused by traumatic events rather than genuine previews of the afterlife.

            I chose this article because it showed me a possible explanation for experiences in which people claim to be spiritual. I am not saying that I don’t believe Swedenborg had these experiences but that this explanation must also be taken into consideration until it can be proved completely false. I feel that humans do tend to call unexplainable events and experiences as spiritual, or magic, until a suitable explanation can be made for it. Maybe in the future Swedenborg’s experiences and revelations will be explained in different terms other than saying he visited the ‘spiritual world’. How his work will be explained, other than how it is now, may shed light into the workings of the mind.

 

 

Kelly, Robert J. (1985). Death Anxiety, Religious Convictions about the Afterlife, and the Psychotherapist. Death Studies. Vol. 9 pp 155—162 Call No. BF 789 D4D395.

 

            This article was found using the CD-RON computer at Hamilton library in the PsycLIT category. The key term used was ‘afterlife’. ‘Afterlife’ was one of the terms Dr. Jakobovits provided for us under the topics of research project headings.

            This article contended that religious beliefs can decrease or increase death anxiety and how the psychotherapist could deal with this relationship as a counseling issue. Examples of religious beliefs from the Judeo-Christian tradition are grouped according to their potential effect on death anxiety levels, Positive beliefs include the belief that death is a vehicle to union with God, that goodness will be rewarded, and that one will be reunited with loved ones in heaven; negative beliefs involve convictions that one has disappointed God, that one will be punished for sins in Hell, and that one’s important business on earth is not completed.

            I chose this article because it outlined some of the Christian beliefs, which Swedenborg obviously uses to explain what he saw in the spiritual world. His explanations and Christianity share many similarities and may even be equivalent to each other. This is why I contend that Swedenborg’s work should be studied in the field of philosophy, and not psychology. The ideas of uniting with God or burning in Hell are not psychological terms but are religious terms used to symbolically describe how a person’s life will be depending on their faith. These beliefs are precisely what Swedenborg includes in his writings.

 

 

Piers, Gerhart (1983). The Three Superegos of the Western World:  Psychoanalytic reflections on Judaism, Catholicism, and Calvinism. Annual of Psychoanalysis. Vol. 11 pp 335—350 Call No. RC 500 A56.

 

            I obtained this article using the CD-ROM computer located at Hamilton library, using the PsycLIT category. The key term used was ‘afterlife’. This article was one of the many I found under this key term.

            This article compared and contrasted the Judaic, Catholic, and Calvinistic superegos. It stated that the Catholic superego demands submission of the ego to a superego symbolized by a personal Godhead. Additional elements of the Catholic world view include reality as God—given, and acceptance of human frailty, and otherworldliness that depreciates secular life, and the concept of an afterlife. It also stated that Catholicism contributed to a broader humanism and constructive collective superego in the west by means of it’s acceptance of frailty concept.

            This article supports my thesis because again, the concept of an afterlife is considered a Catholic concept and is a philosophical belief, not a psychological one. Swedenborg states that he visited the spiritual world and conversed with people who had passed away many years and centuries earlier. This cannot be explained in today’s psychology and therefore, I think Swedenborg’s work should be studied in philosophy. At this time, psychology cannot accept a concept of an afterlife because of its biological or physical basis.

 

 

Aday, Ronald H. (1984-85). Belief in Afterlife and Death Anxiety: Correlates and Comparisons. Omega Journal of Death and Dying. Vol. 15 pp 67—75. Call No. BF 789 D404.

 

            Using the CD—ROM computer located in the Hamilton library, I was able to obtain this article concerning death anxiety. The category of PsycLIT was used with the key term being ‘afterlife’. I thought it would be interesting to see how the belief of an afterlife and death would be correlated.

            This article explained how the Death Anxiety Scale was administered to 181 undergraduates who provided information about their sex, race, educational level, family income, church membership, frequency of church attendance, and intensity of religious belief. The results showed that belief in afterlife was primarily a function of religion and not a correlate of fear of death. Church attendance was significantly related to both death anxiety and belief in afterlife.

            This article showed me that the belief in afterlife is rooted in religion and not in what I would call a ‘science’. Swedenborg makes constant references to the afterlife (especially heaven) describing what it is like there and how to live our lives in order to get there to heaven. This sounds like a philosophy to me! No where in my previous psychological courses nor in any of my psychological textbooks is there ever mention of an afterlife. The afterlife cannot be studied, nor can Swedenborg’s ‘experiments’ be replicated and it is because of this that psychology does not accept Swedenborg as a part of its history.

 

 

Block, Marguerite (1968). The New Church in the New World. NewYork: Octagon Books, Inc. Call No. BX8716.B6.

            I obtained this book using the On-Line catalog located at Hamilton library. Using the Name command, I used ‘Swedenborg’ as the key term. The name of the book caught my eye as something that I could use to support my thesis.

            This book describes some of Swedenborg’s writings concerning what is true Christianity. On page 24-25, in the chapter entitled “The Heavenly Doctrines”, it states, “...the man who worships nature instead of God or more than God, and whose thought therefore is from himself and his selfhood and not from the Lord out of heaven, may easily fall into error respecting the Word..." Another quotation says, “The Word in its bosom is spiritual, because it is descended from Jehovah the Lord, and passed through the angelic heavens..."In the arcana, Swedenborg says, “The inner sense of the Word has been dictated to me out of Heaven.”. This doctrine is therefore the cornerstone of his theology.

            This references supports my thesis because it shows how Swedenborg’s spiritual work is considered a theology, and can be seen from a philosophical standpoint. This book shows that Swedenborgianism is a type of religion, albeit Christianity. Taken from a psychological point of view, this book would not be on many of today’s psychologist’s top ten list. As a matter of fact, most psychologists would claim that the book was nothing but Biblical references.

 

 

Bigelow, John (1979). The Bible that was Lost and is now Found. New York: Swedenborg Press. Call No. BXS711.B5.

            I was able to obtain this reference using the On—Line catalog located in Hamilton Library. I used the Name command, and entered ‘Swedenborg’ as the key phrase. This book is one of the 52 listed on the On-Line catalog.

            In this book, Bigelow explains how his life was turned around after discovering the Swedenborg writings. He says, “I am indebted to Swedenborg for showing me the way out of the polytheistic tangle and making perfectly intelligible to me the great central truth of Christian faith, that there is but on God, in Whom, as Swedenborg describes it, there is a trinity of person, not of persons; that Jesus was Jehovah Himself revealed to us in the measure proportioned to our needs and capacities for receiving Him.” Bigelow also continues on, explaining his interpretation of Swedenborg’s experiences and how his life changed.

            In this quotation, the key phrase to remember is ‘Christian faith’, because it is here that we see Swedenborgianism as a reformed Christian movement. Swedenborg is seen as a prophet and Cod spoke directly to him. Swedenborg saw the spiritual world, and wrote many volumes of is daily experiences with it. Looking at this from a psychological standpoint, this is religion, not a way of trying to determine the cause of schizophrenia. I sure Swedenborgians claim that schizophrenia is caused from the evil spirits influencing the person inflicted with the disease. But where would such a stand be in the eyes of psychology today? Most psychologist would agree that attributing some biological/genetic disorder to spiritual beings is preposterous and ridiculous. I don’t see where Swedenborg could fit in the history of psychology.

 

 

Hayton, Bradley P. (1985). A Psychology of Persons: Toward a Christian Theory of Personality: II. Journal of Psychology and Christianity Fall Vol. 4 pp 35-48. Call No. BF lJ829.

 

            I obtained this reference using the CD-ROM computer located at Hamilton library. Using the PsycLIT category, I entered the key term of ‘monism’ to find articles concerning this issue. I wanted to see if there were any type of articles concerning the monism— dualism issue.

            Hayton argues that theories of personality that are based on naturalism, existentialism, Eastern pantheistic monism, the new consciousness, or a combination of these do not give an adequate basis for personhood. The author examined how Christian propositions about the nature of humanness provide an adequate basis for personhood. Christianity affirms human personhood, shows how it was marred by the Fall and disobedience, and gives a solid hope for fully restoring personhood. Christianity’s belief in personhood relates to all issues of personality. A new paradigm for personality is developed using a Christian theory of the nature of humans to expand the themes of motivation, self—concept, socialization, unconscious, emotions and psychological health.

            I selected this article because I felt that Swedenborg tries to promote all the things listed in the description above of how Christianity can help a person to realize their personhood. Other religions tend to dehumanize people due to their lack of accounting for the good and bad qualities of people. Here, Swedenborg is relating to Christianity-—a religion/philosophy. Here, I must stress that the emphasis for Swedenborg’s writings were not psychologically based but were based on faith in the Lord, and the belief that there is life after natural death. Although some may say that Swedenborg is directly relating to psychology, I don’t think he meant it in quite that way.

 

 

Swedenborg--the Man Who Had to Know. Swedenborg Foundation, Inc. Call No. VIDEOTAPE 121 BETA.

            I obtained the information leading to this video tape by entering the On—Line catalog, and using the Name command, entered ‘Swedenborg’ as the key term. It then displayed an impressive list of material regarding Swedenborg, with this video tape as one of the many references.

            In the video, the second half of Emanuel Swedenborg’s life is documented, focusing on the revelations he had with the spiritual world. It is set in the 18th century and many of Swedenborg’s life accomplishments are spoken about. The video talks about his life before the revelations when he focused on the physical sciences of mathematics, mechanics, mining, chemistry, anatomy, and geology. It was after his revelations that he became totally enthralled with the ‘spiritual sciences’. He dedicated the rest of his life documenting what he saw in the spiritual world and despite the many efforts of people who thought he was insane, he continued writing what he saw. He felt he was a ‘Servant of the Lord Jesus Christ’.

            I decided to view the video to see what the video was about. Again, even in the video, I see that Swedenborg should be in philosophy and not in psychology. His writings after his revelations are dealing with things such as God, heaven, spirits, and an afterlife. None of these terms exist in today’s psychology, and I don’t think they really belong there either. To say that it does, implies equating psychology with Christianity, which I don’t think most psychologists would approve of.

 

 

CONCLUSION

            In conclusion, I would like to say that Emanuel Swedenborg most certainly deserves a place in the history of philosophy due to his revelations of God, heaven, and the spiritual world. I’m sure his experiences and writings would be welcomed into philosophy, if they have not already. To say that he deserves a place in psychology would mean that psychology accepts such realms as the spiritual world, God, and the existence of an afterlife, which today, it does not. Perhaps someday, with further technological advances, someone will discover the spiritual world, or some other type of non-physical matter. Until the day that concrete, empirical evidence arises from Swedenborg’s work, psychology as well as many individuals will look at his work as that of a philosopher and maybe even a messiah. If Swedenborg is in the spiritual world right now, he must be getting a kick out of watching the evil spirits influence what I am typing on this computer. Although I do not consider myself an overly religious person, I do think that we should all live a fulfilling, rich, and enjoyable life simply because we do not really know what lies beyond our deaths. If a spiritual world does exist, and what we do in the world depends on where we go after we die, I think we would all like to be in the world of heaven and not in the world of hell. Finally, I would like to say, “Thank God, this paper is over.”

 

 

 

REFERENCES

Aday, Ronald H. (1984-85). Belief in Afterlife and Death Anxiety:  Correlates and comparisons. Omega Journal of Death and Dying.Vol.15 pp67—75.

Anderson, Rodger (1982) Swedenborg on the Modus Operandi of Spirit Communication. Parapsychology Review. Nov-Dec Vol. 13 pp 8-15.

Beamon, Edmund A. (1971). Swedenborg and the New Age. New York:  AMS Press.

Bigelow, John (1979). The Bible That was Lost and is Found. New York: Swedenborg Press.

Block, Marguerite (1968). The New church in the New World. New York: Octagon Books, Inc.

Hayton, Bradley p. (1985). A Psychology of Persons: Toward a Christian Theory of Personality: II.  Journal of Psychology and Christianity. Spring Vol. 4 pp 24-34.

Keller, Helen (1960). My Religion. New York: Doubleday and Co.

Kelly, Robert J. (1985). Death Anxiety, Religious Convictions About the Afterlife and the Psychotherapist. Death Studies. Vol. 9 pp 155—162.

Menz, Robert L. (1984). The Denial of Death and the Out-of-Body Experience. Journal of Religion and Health. Vol. 23 pp 317—329.

Piers, Gerhart (1983). The Three Superegos of the Western World: Psychoanalytic Reflections on Judaism, Catholicism, and Calvinism. Annual of Psychoanalysis. Vol. 11 pp 335—350

 

Swedenborg, Emanuel; translated by Chadwick, John (1988). The True Christian Religion. London: Swedenborg Society.

Swedenborg--The Man Who Had to Know.  Swedenborg Foundation, Inc. Videotape.

 

 

 

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