Emanuel Swedenborg and Life After Death

Emanuel Swedenborg is an 18th century scientist, thinker, and theologian. His name is one that I have heard of, but I have only recently read from his works.

In Our Life After Death: A Firsthand Account from an 18th-Century and Seer, we find Swedenborg’s story and argument about the afterlife. Swedenborg grounds his case in both his own near-death experiences and those of others.

Swedenborg (1688-1772) takes very seriously the dichotomy of the body and the spirit. It is our spiritual element which gives us life, rationality, and reason.

In this book, compiled by the Swedenborg Foundation, Swedenborg gives a detailed account of where our spirit journeys after we die.

Much of his story will sound familiar to Mormons. Swedenborg speaks of a place where spirits all gather after death (our first state) and await assignment to either heaven or hell (our second state). Swedonborg believes that heaven is place where people with continue to grow and progress. Those who die as children will grow to adulthood as spirit-beings and those who die old or sick will again be youthful.

In the afterlife, according to Swedenborg, we will maintain the human form we have now, but without bodies. While Swedenborg took scripture seriously, his argument…and the authority of his argument…is rooted not in a divine call or the visitation of heavenly messengers. Instead, it is rooted in his own experience. He claims to have had glimpses into the afterlife over a period of decades. From these experiences he gained insights into our spiritual being both in the life and the next one.

This following video from the Swedenborg Foundation highlights both Swedenborg’s life and his major works. Our Life After Death is adapted from the major work Heaven and Hell. Take a look:

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To be honest, near-death experiences are not my thing. However, I think that Swedonborg provides a very thoughtful interpretation of the afterlife. In many ways, it is an element of religious thought that is both strange and appealing all at the same time.

The writings of Swedenborg in Our Life after Death (translated by George F. Dole) where refreshing to me in a number of ways. In particular, I appreciated the 18th century writing styling. This is likely because I am a fan of not only the philosophies of Rousseau and Kant, but also their writing styles.

Swedenborg is straight forward and clear about the story and message that he is outlining. I did find myself at times wanting further theological explanation for certain points. However, those arguments appear to have been addressed elsewhere. I am now intrigued to find out more about how he came to some of his points and how he explains them in his other writings.

The philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) appears to have been skeptical of Swedenborg’s mystical claims, while also having respect for Swedonborg’s intellect and writings. I find myself falling along the same lines. However, if you are looking for accounts and arguments about life after death which are free from evangelical apologetics, over the top mystical claims, and sectarian bias, Our Life After Death should be on your reading list.

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About Chris Henrichsen

Chris Henrichsen has moved Approaching Justice off of Patheos. Find his latest posts and the new Approaching Justice. Thanks!

  • Michelle Chapin

    Thanks for your thoughts on this book. Its interesting you Swedenborg’s style of writing appeals to you, I’ve heard many more arguments that it’s a barrier that people put up with to get to the ideas (myself included). I’m glad to know there are those that enjoy it.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/approachingjustice/ Chris Henrichsen

      Thanks for the comment. I am likely just more accustomed to it because of my own focus on modern era moral and political philosophy. 18th and 19th century writing is enjoyable, largely because it is often more readable than the 20th century stuff I spend most of my time with. :)

  • slgdh

    Chris, maybe this would be a different post, but I’m curious why you are skeptical of near death experiences. What I like about them is how disinterested they are. In the ones I read, at least, the people are not looking to get famous or get rich or gain notoriety for having started a religious movement. Nor are they trying to impress others with academic credentials or make a contribution to a field. (I don’t read the published books–just raw first hand accounts.) The people are just saying “Here’s what happened to me.” I see them as kind of involuntary prophets–they’ve caught a glimpse of something big and can’t quite make sense of it. I don’t believe everything in NDEs or Swedenborg, but I see the inconsistencies as a problem of interpretation and perception rather than evidence of hallucination.

    Sheldon

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/approachingjustice/ Chris Henrichsen

      Sheldon,

      Skeptical might not be the best word. It is more that they do not resonate with me. I am open to this experiences being real. It is just not something that excites me one way or another.

      In the case of Swedenborg, he uses these experiences as the basis for his argument. This does not make me reject his claims, but it left me feeling that this specific compilation is likely not aimed at me….something like that.

      I do not think they are hallucinations. To be clear. I very much feel that such experiences are sacred, at least to those that had them. I honor and respect that.

      I hope that responds to all of your points. I miss you guys! Thanks for commenting!

      • slgdh

        Thanks, Chris, that makes sense. Reading some more of Swedenborg has been on my long term to-do list. The video you linked to gives me a good starting place. We miss you as well. Shawn Johansen and I were talking the other day and your name came up. He had good memories of you (that makes you sound dead). Do drop by if you come to town. I think of you whenever I use those fancy pruning shears! I hope Vegas is treating you well.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/approachingjustice/ Chris Henrichsen

          For the most part, I am dead to BYU-I. :) I am sure we will make it up there sometime next summer, if not before. I totally forgot about those pruning shears. Good memories. Las Vegas is great. We will likely never have anything like the friends we had in Rexburg. I miss you and my other friends there very much.


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