By Stephen Muires
from New Church Perspective, Friday, March 4, 2011
Swedenborg wrote about aliens. Why did he do that?
In the Arcana Coelestia it is explained that the revelations about heaven and hell, life after death, the process of regeneration, etc., have been given to lead people into a belief and a true understanding of the Lord's nature and purpose. Among the revelations that the Lord gave through Swedenborg we find the descriptions of Swedenborg's interactions with spirits that once lived on other planets. These accounts turn up in the Spiritual Experiences. They are used later as inter-chapter material in the latter part of Arcana Coelestia. Finally, which for us may emphasize the point that Swedenborg really was serious about these accounts, he published them once more separately in the book Earths in the Universe.
Here is an interesting fact: although Swedenborg uses the term "God Messiah" a number of times in the early Spiritual Experiences, he adopts the term "the Lord" on Jan 26, 1748, and pretty much ceases to use "God Messiah." This follows rapidly on the heels of his experiences with the spirits of Jupiter, who, around Jan 23, 1748, speak much about "the One Only Lord."
Swedenborg came to the realization that the people on other planets knew the Lord too. Even though He, as Jesus Christ, had not been born on their world. This was one of the things that convinced Swedenborg about the truth of the Lord being Jehovah Himself.
Earths in the Universe in a Near Death Experience (NDE)
I want to look at the subject matter of the work Earths in the Universe, in other words, at aliens, from a specific angle. Instead of rehashing Swedenborg's descriptions, I will use a transcription of an interview with Howard Storm1 and create a parallel narrative of his report and Swedenborg's report. Howard Storm experienced an NDE in which he was allowed to ask about life in the universe. He later became a minister as a result of his NDE, though he was not at all interested in religion at the time of the NDE. He is nevertheless describing what he was shown about life in the universe in a frame of reference that is deeply Christian. As far as I can determine he had, and has, to this day no knowledge of Swedenborg.
Are there other worlds with human life?
Earths in the Universe 2 starts with the words, “It is a very well-known fact in the next life…” and continues to say that there exist many inhabited planets in the universe. Swedenborg makes the argument, addressing the reader, that it is only reasonable to think that the universe is full of life, that all planets have been created to support life. This is a rational argument that is not very convincing to a modern reader. But that’s okay, since it is not the burden of proof.
The burden of proof is given in the words, “It is a very well-known fact in the next life…” which makes this a matter of the unique experience granted to Swedenborg. Nor was this experience one of a kooky 18th century madman. It was given to him by the Lord. “By the Lord's Divine mercy I have had my interior faculties… opened, so that I have been enabled to talk with spirits and angels, not only those in the vicinity of our earth, but also with those near other worlds” (Earths in the Universe 1).
Heaven is huge and the Lord is infinite. This is reflected in the size of the physical universe, as well as the diversity of life found there. “The visible universe… with countless stars… is but a means to the creation of worlds, and human beings to live on them, from whom the heavenly kingdom may be formed” (Earths in the Universe 4).
Interview with Howard Storm2
Who is God?
Swedenborg discovered that the spirits of other planets recognized the Lord Jesus Christ as their God, without knowing that name, obviously. But still they recognized the same Lord as Swedenborg knew, as all Christians on earth knew. “The inhabitants of other worlds... acknowledge the Lord as the one and only God” (Arcana Coelestia 6700). They do this without knowing that the Lord was born on one particular planet as a human being in a body. Just like the Divine showed Himself in human form to Abraham, Joshua, Gideon, Daniel, etc., He shows himself on other planets in a form that is recognized as being human by them (Arcana Coelestia 6700).
Interactions of the Lord and aliens
In his conversations with aliens, particularly the spirits from Mars, Swedenborg reports that the Lord is recognized to be the God of both the physical universe and the spiritual realm, and to be the source of all that is good (Arcana Coelestia 7477).
They said further that He has revealed to them how they ought to live and what they ought to believe (Earths in the Universe 65:1).
There even is a story of some spirits from our planet right out questioning the validity of the identity of the Lord as worshiped by aliens. But to this the spirits from another planet, Jupiter in this case, responded by saying that they had seen the Lord Jesus Christ in the sun of the spiritual world and that He was the same one as appeared on their own planet ( Arcana Coelestia 8543).
Are aliens better than us?
The quality of our lives and beliefs determines where we fit in the grand scheme of heaven. On planet earth we are very bodily minded. This creates a constant conflict between our natural self and our spiritual self, a conflict that generally is called temptation (Arcana Coelestia 4272).
"Since the spirits of our world answer in the Grand Man [i.e. the grand scheme of heaven] to natural and bodily sense, I have been allowed to learn by plain experience how the spiritual and the natural man fight and quarrel, if the natural man is not in a state of faith and charity" (Earths in the Universe 102).
Aliens are generally described as occupying other, more inward positions in the Grand Man. Martian spirits for example “correlate with something that occupies a more inward position in a person” (Arcana Coelestia 7480). They are said to live in a greater integrity of affections and thoughts, being almost incapable of deceit (Arcana Coelestia 7360, 7361).
What do aliens look like?
Despite the fact that Swedenborg often saw aliens in shapes that basically reminded him of our own human form, there are numerous hints of differences too. Mercurians look pretty much like us, just smaller (Earths in the Universe 44). The inhabitants of Jupiter have very large faces and they “move with the help of their hands, almost like swimmers” (Earths in the Universe 52). Others are described with protruding faces and lips, and faces that are “flexible” (Arcana Coelestia 4799).
A very interesting description is found in this passage:
With our modern exposure to science fiction movies we have little difficulty in imagining what that might look like.
If they look different are they still human?
The answer to that question is a resounding Yes. We are human beings because of our spirits, not our bodies. Our humanity comes from the inside, from our understanding and our will, our wisdom and our love. “The human being is not a human being by virtue of the shape of face and body but by virtue of an understanding that sees what is true and a will that intends what is good” (Arcana Coelestia 9407, emphasis mine).
"The material form [i.e. the body] which is added and superimposed in the world is not the human form per se, but is its product, being added and superimposed to enable the person to perform useful services in the natural world" (Divine Love and Wisdom 388, emphasis mine).
The reason we have two arms and two legs, etc., is that this shape allows us to function in the natural world. But having two arms and legs is itself not a feature of being human.
So why does this matter?
Just like Swedenborg was helped in his understanding the true nature of the Lord through his experiences with aliens, so we can come to a true understanding of what it means to be human. In our human life we are meant to regenerate and be born of the spirit. This would be an easy task if our awareness of ourselves as spirits wasn’t so obscure (Arcana Coelestia 24:2). What we take with us into eternal life is not our earthly body, but our spirit. It is this that needs to be reborn.
"The end in view of regeneration is that a person may be made new as regards his internal man, and so as regards the soul or spirit" (Arcana Coelestia 3539).
When we interact with other people on our planet, how and where they live and think and feel, we are encouraged to look deeper, away from externals, to reach for the charity and respect that is due to them as spiritual beings. When we imagine what aliens are like, how and where they live and think and feel, this spiritual dimension becomes so much easier to see, because we’re forced to ignore externals.
In essence each person, alien or otherwise, is a spirit.
"Each of us is inwardly a spirit. Anyone who thinks things through carefully can see that it is not the body that thinks…. Rather, it is the soul, because the soul is spiritual. The human soul… is our spirit; it is in fact immortal in all respects" (Heaven and Hell 432).
So by looking at aliens we see immortal spirits. If we do that successfully, seeing ourselves as immortal spirits is a natural consequence.
Stephen is forty-seven years old and currently studying in Bryn Athyn, PA, well on his way to becoming a New Church minister. He discovered the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg when he was forty and had previously no contact or experience with organized religion. Coming to the States has meant a change of career, of community, and of life purpose, all for the better.