The Inhabited Universe
by Frederick L. Schnarr
(The first in a series of eight parts)
Perhaps no subject has so stirred the imagination of mankind as the consideration of the great boundless universe which stretches out before man in all directions. Looking into the great sky above, he is awed and mystified at so vast a panorama. In thinking of his own insignificant size in comparison to this infinity of space that seems to have no end, he is grasped by something of fear and terror of the great unknown. "What is man, that Thou art mindful of him?" He tries to form in his mind some idea of the significance of millions and billions of space miles separating planets and solar systems, and is so hopelessly staggered that he can form no clear concept. He tries to number the stars, only to find that with each new examination there are untold multitudes that had not been observed before. He studies the mighty forces of energy observable on earth; and if he is awed by these, what can he think of the fantastic forces and energies that operate throughout the universe to hold it together in perfect order? Before these he is utterly stupified. He is a finite man, limited and bounded - a little created form that seems nothing but a mere speck: and what he sees before him, and what he endeavors to encompass in thought and imagination, is the natural image and reflection of the power and infinity of God, the Almighty Creator, Preserver and Ruler of all things.
The Idea of God Determines that of the Universe
What ideas and imaginings affect man when he beholds the created universe depend upon the idea that he has formed about God, His nature, and His purpose in forming creation. The man who makes the forces of nature to be God makes creation, with all its various forms, to be an accident, without intelligence, without purpose. It is a material giant that has no definable beginning and no definable end. Human life is an accident, something that can happen only once in billions of chances; and it must therefore be concluded that it would not be likely that this same accident could occur on other planets, and supposed that the only human life anywhere in the universe is here on this earth.*
An example of how those who have adopted this attitude reason about the existence of anything that is not material is the endeavors they make to explain the appearance of a star at the time the Lord was born. First, they have to acknowledge that something unusual happened in the way of a light in the sky at the time of the Lord's birth, for there is an abundance of testimony to that effect. But since they deny the existence of God, and that Jesus Christ was God, they will not believe that the star was the appearing of an angelic society. Who believes in angels, anyway? Thus they put forth the following possibilities for the appearance of the star.
It might have been a bright meteor. Yet they acknowledge that meteors are too transient to light so long a journey as the travelers are supposed to have taken from Persia and Arabia. 2) It might have been a comet - one appeared in 11 B.C., and another in 4 B.C. These dates, unfortunately, do not fit the chronology of the Lord's life; besides, comets viewed by the naked eye are not seen for more than a few months at the most, and very seldom for that long. 3) An old star might suddenly have burst into exceptional brilliance, or an unusual conjunction of planets, namely, Saturn, Jupiter and Mars, might have temporarily hidden Venus, and when Venus reappeared it seemed to them to be a bright new star.*
To most religious men who view the universe as the creation of God there is something of fear, terror and mystery, curiously woven together with a feeling of awe, reverence and humility, in their approach to and idea of it. There is a multitude of various conceptions from such mixed feelings, ranging from innocent, simple wonderment to a perverted image that contains only reflections of what is monstrous and infernal. This latter is more increasingly the case as the knowledge of the Lord, His qualities, and His purpose in creation is submerged in the falsities of present-day religions and married to the ruling attitudes of science. From this strange marriage there has arisen, indirectly, the fearsome form of science-fiction, almost entirely presenting human life on other planets as distorted, ugly, evil, and in monstrous perversion of the human form. We may laugh at such forms of literature, and think no more of them than as of something amusing or perhaps temporarily thrilling. But whether we regard them in this manner or not, they nevertheless portray attitudes of religious conviction which have a subtle relationship to the attitude and belief concerning the nature and quality of the Lord. Recall the prank played on the American people the night of Hallowe'en, 1938, when Orson Welles presented a radio broadcast of H. G. Wells' War of the Worlds. The broadcast opened with dance music, which was interrupted by a series of news flashes. The first of these reported a gas explosion on Mars; the second, an earthquake tremor in New Jersey; and finally there was a report from Grovers Mills, New Jersey, describing a huge, cylindrical spaceship out of which came monsters armed with death rays. Thousands of people who heard this broadcast, apparently believing it to be true, locked their homes, wept and prayed. Phone lines were tied up from coast to coast, with people in utter panic. The greatest hysteria was in the southern states among the more poorly educated; however, it was by no means limited to the poorly educated. Think of the number of educated people during the last decade who have caught the flying saucer craze, including, we might note with sorrow, some members of the New Church.
Prevailing Attitudes and Some Results
What is notable in all of these things is the constant insistence on presenting any forms of life, other than those of our own planet, as inhuman, weird, grotesque, brutal, animalistic, and, above all, mysterious and eerie. Wherein in these presentations is there any evidence of a God of intelligence and love with any over-all purpose for the peoples He has created? Wherein is there any idea of what is human in the image of God, of what is beautiful and intelligent, with something of dignity and respect? What is evidenced in the attitudes of both current science and religion concerning the nature and purpose of the great universe is abyssmal ignorance of the Lord, His nature and purpose, and a colossal conceit of our own intelligence and importance in creation. Many, believing that we are the only humans in the universe - the top products of a single evolutionary process on this earth - think of us as supreme forms of intelligence, all humans in the past having been lesser forms. Many who grant that there may be other forms of human life elsewhere in the universe nevertheless cannot seem to help placing us at the top of the ladder, if not in scientific achievement and mental prowess, yet still in the more important aspects of life which make us symbols of humanitarian qualities.
Do we wonder why the peoples of other planets hold us in such poor respect? Inevitably when Swedenborg approached the spirits from other planets, both in our solar system and out of it, the spirits, observing that he was from the earth, at first either fled from him, or shied away, endeavoring to avoid him. Such was the reputation of earthmen among them. But more of this later.
The prevailing attitudes of science and religion have so eaten their way into the fabric of our thought that even in the New Church, and sometimes even with those who claim as mature adults to accept the Lord in His second coming, there is somewhat of hesitation about accepting the teachings of Earths in the Universe, and the particular information revealed about the nature and life of the inhabitants of other planets. Why should this be, unless it is inspired by the influences of our day? Certainly, the feeling is not inspired by the Lord, or by the angels! Sometimes when we are in the presence of those not in the church, and who are, perhaps, well educated, we would feel a sense of embarrassment in bringing forth our teachings on this subject; and while this may be from shyness, or from a plain lack of knowledge about the subject, sometimes it may be also because we really have a doubt about these teachings ourselves - a doubt which is strong enough to verge on denial. Recently the information that has been gathered by science about the moon - which information would seem to confirm that there is not, nor could be, any life on the moon - has tended to raise remarks and statements by some New Church men expressing doubt about, and even denial of, the teachings of Earths in the Universe. If the teachings given about the peoples of the moon are erroneous, how about the rest?
The Universe a Reflection of the Divine Human
Now we have noted that there is a very close relationship between man's conception of God as a Divinely-Human God, a Divine Man, and his conception of the nature of the created universe. If we are to understand why it was important for the Lord to reveal to us the nature and life of the inhabitants of other planets, and therefore the use of that knowledge as part of the doctrine of the New Church, we must see the importance of man's being able to regard the universe as a reflected image of the Lord's Divine-Human qualities. The prime purpose of all Divine revelation is to teach man about the nature and quality of the Lord, and the Lord's purpose in forming His creation. This must be first in importance, for on man s conception of the Lord rest the nature and quality of all his thoughts, his conclusions, his affections, his loves, and everything else he considers, whether of natural or spiritual import. This is a profound teaching, and one which our minds do not readily grasp, yet can grasp with study and reflection.
The major reason, then, that the Lord has revealed in His second coming many things concerning the nature of the inhabited universe is to teach man various things about the Lord and His heavenly kingdom which man cannot otherwise know, but which are important to his concept of the Lord and His creation. We are invited in the Writings to partake of this revealed knowledge of the universe by the statement that this knowledge is for those who are desirous of being instructed by the Lord. (AC 9581)
In contrast to the distorted and lifeless picture of the universe which man has conjured up from his own intelligence, the Writings present a picture of the universe as formed and ordered by the Lord with infinite purpose and intelligence: a universe that teems with a multitude of human life, of different dispositions and temperaments; yet all created to become angels of heaven, each, with his human qualities and abilities, to take his special place in the great and beautifully ordered plan of the Lord's kingdom. Each man from each earth is a distinct and different form of human life, with his own Divinely given use to perform in the grand scheme of the Lord's creation. The heavens formed from the men of each earth act together with each other in a constant and eternal interplay of communication which serves to bring untold varieties of ever new delights to everyone in heaven.
We are told that the Lord views the heavens from the entire universe as one Grand Man - one Grand Man of related uses, that is, and not of physical form. The heavens formed from a single earth are likened to the uses that a single organ of the body performs in order to keep the other organs healthy and strong. The uses performed by the men of various earths are therefore likened to different organs or parts of the physical body. Our earth, for example, is said to serve the uses relating to the skin and to the external parts of the Grand Man.
The Writings tell us that there are many thousands of earths in the universe, and, indeed, many solar systems which are inhabited by human beings.(AC 6695, 6696) Swedenborg, in talking to the spirits of Mercury about this, was told by them that they knew of earths in the universe numbering hundreds of thousands which were populated; and they were surprised that we on earth should have so little judgment as to think that ours was the only inhabited earth. (AC 6927) We would note that one passage in the Spiritual Diary mentions that there are 600,000 inhabited earths in the universe. (AC 3264) This was the number known to the spirits of Mercury. However, other considerations indicate that there are many more inhabited planets than the spirits from Mercury knew about, indeed millions. In another passage, from the Arcana, we read that "where there is an earth, there is man; for man is the end for the sake of which every earth was created; and nothing has been made by the supreme Creator without a purpose. That the end of creation is the human race, that there may be a heaven formed from it, can be seen by everyone who thinks from reason. The angels also say that an earth cannot subsist apart from the human race, because the Divine provides all things on an earth for the sake of man." (AC 9237)
Why There are so Many Inhabited Earths
Why should there be so many inhabited solar systems and planets? Can the Lord manage thousands as well as He can manage one? The Lord's delight is to give His life and love to others, and if He has infinite power and capacity to give these to countless billions of peoples, why should He not do so? Surely a power and intelligence great enough to establish the wide reaches of the physical universe also has the power to rule and govern properly each and every form that He places in the universe? And why limit our thought of that infinite power and intelligence to present creation? How about the formation and government of all the untold multitudes that now exist in heaven and hell from the various earths in the universe for untold years? We cannot begin to grasp in the least degree the capacity and ability of the Lord's infinity when we begin to think of its extensions. We are at a loss, and become utterly frustrated. Nevertheless, we can understand something of the nature and quality of the Lord's infinite powers, and His infinite intelligence, through the forms of truth He has adapted to our comprehension. We can understand enough to acknowledge the reality and the purpose. We do not need to think in terms of space and time to see and acknowledge the nature of use and purpose, or of love and wisdom. And that is why the little, finite mind of man can approach and love the infinite God of heaven and earth.(AC 6697)
We noted previously another reason for there being so many inhabited solar systems and planets, namely, that from the heavens formed out of the different solar systems and planets the Lord is able to perfect the universal heaven, making it possible for an endless variety of different delights to be communicated from one society of heaven to another. We are specifically taught that the Lord could not have formed heaven from the angels of one earth. (See AC 9441) To achieve the Divine end of providing men with eternal states of happiness and delight the Lord had to create many earths, and heavens from them. That there are many inhabited earths, therefore, is an essential part of the Divine plan of creation. (ibid)
Concerning the general relationship of the heavens that are formed from the different earths, we are taught that after death, spirits and angels are separated from each other according to the earths on which they had lived. Indeed we are taught that the heavens and hells from each earth remain in close association with the inhabitants of their own earth. When the Writings say that the angels and spirits of each earth are separated from those of other earths, they mean that these do not have an open and conscious communication with each other. They do not talk together, or even see each other. However, even though they are thus separated, there is a communication of spheres between them which is a means of conveying, unconsciously, innumerable varieties of delight. Only in the highest heaven do the angels from different earths associate; and this is possible because they have learned to love spiritual things to the degree that all natural things are of no importance to them. Matters of race, genius, and other similar things are blanked out of their lives entirely by love to the Lord and the neighbor. (AC 6710, 7078)
We would note yet one other general teaching before we begin, in our next article, the study of the individual earths; and that is that Swedenborg, in talking to, and learning of, the peoples of other planets, never conversed directly with the earthly inhabitants of the planets, but only with the spirits and angels from them. Mostly he conversed with the spirits of each planet - those passing through the three states of the world of spirits who were not yet angels. We have not found the reason for this given anywhere in the Writings, at least directly; but we would suppose that because much of what Swedenborg learned about the other planets related partly to natural knowledge, and because there is some remembrance of this in the states of the world of spirits, most conversations were with such spirits. Obviously he could not speak openly to the earthly inhabitants themselves for the same reason that no spirits are permitted so to speak to us, namely, that it infringes on our spiritual freedom.
Use of the Knowledge Revealed
The knowledge of the inhabited universe which the Lord has revealed to us may do much to develop an understanding of the Lord's power, His infinite nature, His Divine love and wisdom. It may also do much in helping us to humble ourselves; to curb the conceit and self-intelligence that seem to arise, especially from the learning of scientific data, when this is not overruled by the wisdom of spiritual truth. We see the state of our earth in relation to that of other earths, and in so doing we have the means of seeing ourselves in better perspective: not gloriously as the top stratum of human intelligence, but as the lowly foot, which, though needed for the support of the body, tends to run wild in different directions and to kick at the traces of order. We see the great power of evil as it raises its head in many different ways of life and under many different guises.
What is wonderful, however, is to view the starry heaven stretching in every direction, not as a cold, mysterious abyss wherein there is what is eerie, non-intelligent and non-human, but as a natural paradise of God. What is wonderful is to view it as such a paradise wherein are many humans much like us, of many different qualities, each with a different use, but all our spiritual comrades; learning of, and loving, the same one Lord of the universe as we do.