This is the second of three sections of an essay by Curtis Childs on the significance of Emanuel Swedenborg's work. Start with Section 1: Why We Are Here. Finally, turn to Section 3: Swedenborg's Influence. - Editor.
Egypt, Assyria and Quantum Mechanics
Perhaps one of Swedenborg’s most striking revisions of Christian thought centers around what is today called the Holy Bible. While Jesus Christ’s use of parables to teach is well documented in the New Testament, Swedenborg lays out, especially in his multi-volume work Secrets of Heaven, an extremely thorough, systematic, and extensive exegesis illustrating the belief that the entire Bible is, in fact, an allegory. Swedenborg’s interpretation relies on “correspondences,” the idea that the places, characters, and even the words appearing in Biblical text simultaneously represent aspects of God, humanity’s relationship to the divine, and a map of each of our personal spiritual journeys. The actual concept, though consistent, is quite complex, as one scholar studying Swedenborg’s Secrets of Heaven noted, “unfortunately, any straightforward definition of correspondence fails to capture the incredible richness of the Swedenborgian concept” (Woofenden 47).
Concerning Isaiah 19, Swedenborg states that “Egypt means scholarly study, Assyria means rationality, and Israel means spirituality” (True Christianity 200). Swedenborg quotes Isaiah as reading “On that day there will be a pathway from Egypt into Assyria so that Assyria can go into Egypt and Egypt into Assyria. The Egyptians will serve with Assyria. On that day Israel will be part of a group of three with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the middle of the land.” He explains that “spiritually these words mean that when the Lord’s coming occurs, scholarly study, rationality, and spirituality are going to become one. Scholarly study will then serve rationality, and both of them will serve spirituality” (200). In his theology, the “Lord’s coming” is not the physical return of Jesus Christ expected by many Christians, but the internal coming of God to the human race, to each of us if we choose to live a life of love and integrity. With Swedenborg’s insight, suddenly a passage about geography and road construction in the ancient Middle East becomes a prophecy about a day when the sciences and rational thought, rather than being at odds with religion, will support and confirm what we believe about God and spiritual reality. But what would that look like?
In his introduction to Swedenborg and the New Paradigm Science by Ursula Groll, David Lorimer writes:
One of the most striking quotations used in the book to illustrate this point indicates that “this all-embracing whole composed of the smallest parts is a coherent single work, that no single point touches and can be excited, without the sensation being transferred to all other parts.” This sentence exactly represents modern quantum non-locality or entanglement…Swedenborg emerges as a holist before the term was coined. (Lorimer viii)
In her book, Groll gives a summary of the current state of scientific theory regarding the nature of the universe, and the striking amount to which it agrees with Swedenborg’s 18th century thought. The mechanistic view of a universe governed by bouncing particles developed in the past few centuries has been overturned by the emergence of quantum theory, and “the new physics of the twentieth century has confirmed Swedenborg’s view that scientific truth has only limited validity” (15). With continuing complications and new sub-atomic elements being discovered the closer the universe is studied, “theoretical physics can no longer adequately explain and describe the nature and composition of matter in customary language” (17). Scientists begin to sound like mystics, and indeed many parallels can now be drawn between their findings and those of ancient Eastern mystics. “Emanuel Swedenborg, who was practicing classical physics during Newton’s lifetime, anticipated this ‘new and ancient’ world picture in prophetic fashion” (17). While classical physics was just beginning during Swedenborg’s lifetime, “he was already formulating the model of an all-embracing unity, whose description is indistinguishable from that of the unorthodox quantum theoreticians who are seeking the reality behind appearances” (17).
A hallmark of Swedenborg’s theological works was the counter-intuitive idea that time and space are illusions, appearances based on the earthly nature of our senses. He reports that in the afterlife, spirits and angels have no concept of time and space, only of states of being. In the spiritual world, thought brings presence—much like the effect cell phones and the Internet have had on communications in our world. No matter how far apart two spirits are located in the next life, a mutual earnest desire to see one another will instantly bring them together. Those who have had near-death experiences report similar travel: “as fast as thought, we traveled from city to city” (Ritchie 68). Likewise, things in the other world are regulated, not by clocks, but by the states of mind of the inhabitants. Swedenborg even says that a path leading someone to a destination will become longer or shorter depending on the person’s eagerness.
In A Brief History of Time, physicist Stephen Hawking explains how modern science has slowly eroded the certainty of the age-old concepts of space and time. Space, and most obviously movement in space, has been shown to be relative to the observer. If one is sitting on the surface of the Earth, they appear to be at rest. But considering the rotation of the Earth, its orbit around the sun, the larger movement of the arms of the Milky Way galaxy, and the fact that the galaxy itself is hurtling through space mean that a parked car is actually moving at incredible speeds. Time has been found to be insubstantial as well, especially surrounding objects approaching the speed of light. Swedenborg’s statement that “angels’ ideas have nothing of time or space within them, but states instead...the reason being that the natural world marks itself off from the spiritual world by the existence of time and space within it” (Secrets of Heaven 7381) echoes Hawking’s that “just as one cannot talk about events in the universe without the notions of space and time, so in general relativity it became meaningless to talk about space and time outside the limits of the universe,” (33) the latter, of course, lacking reference to angelic beings.
Swedenborg had an extensive and highly successful scientific career, in which he “ingeniously anticipated discoveries that were not confirmed until much later in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries” (Groll 3). Even in his own time, he had gained fame throughout Europe for his achievements. Much of his work, including “his researches into brain and nerve function, his atomic theory and nebular theory relating to the evolution and order of the universe, the wave theory of light, the theory of heat as motion, the theory of animal magnetism, and the explanation of electricity as a form of motion in the ether” (Groll 3) have received validation from modern science. However, it may be possible that his greatest vindication by science will someday concern the things he saw of God.
Previous section: Why We Are Here.
Next section: Swedenborg's Influence.
Curtis Childs is a semi-attractive twenty-five year old living in Huntingdon Valley, PA. He recently graduated from Oakland University with a Bachelor's in Communication. He jams all kinds of stuff, including guitar and video games, and can spit rhymes with the best of them (this is not a joke). He is currently employed full-time creating and performing in a program that is designed to connect kids to a friendly God, and encourage them to be pumped about being decent to each other. He one time got an article published in a book by Penguin Classics. So there. He would also like to say that Emanuel Swedenborg is just about as hip as it gets.
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