Monday, September 10, 2012

What happened to your blogging? / Swedenborg

What happened to my blogging, people asked me twice last week.  Well, I was working full time for some time and summer is summer, and Facebook and other correspondence can be quite distracting.  Someone also asked what happened to the Catechism Translation Project.  Yes, it would be good to keep going with that.

So what I really want to do is finish reading Martin Brecht's Luther biography and also an Heiko Oberman I started some time ago but found a tough read.  Yes, and finish the translation.  There is also something else I would like to translate.  Last time I was in Germany a biographical story came into my hands, dealing with the hardships endured by a pastor during the third Reich and all the oppressive tactics in place, then, against the church.  The end of the story is quite ironic and I won't talk about it now.  Perhaps, this can get done this winter.

But before that, I want to make notes about something else.  In conversation over some months with a dear illustrious friend (and simultaneously combative enemy), I came into contact with literature and ideas which were foreign to me--and maybe it would be better just to let it all lie, since possibly time has already passed by these issues and the personalities involved.  Of course, what I know about these things is quite limited and getting much deeper into them is not one of my objectives at this point.  However, the matter concerns the relationship between some literary figures, also psychologists and psychiatrists, and  theology.  I don't know where to begin, except to outline two things.

Firstly, there lived a man, Emanuel Swedenborg, of whom I had never heard before, who seems to have been quite brilliant, yet insane.  I will say this right of the bat based on his supposed extensive interactions with spirits and angels from everywhere including the men of the planets Jupiter, Mars and Saturn.  I have read some of his works and "insane" is the word that works for me, here.  I read some of it to my husband last night and he said:  "I have patients like this.  They have a very long list of medications they are on."  (He is speaking about his demented patients he treats as a dentist in a hospital setting.)  Personally, in the same vein, I wonder a lot about syphilis.  I have to read about that, too.  Some of these people did not believe in marital fidelity, and you wonder what sexually transmitted diseases did to their mind. I am not being  frivolous here.  It is not a modern manifestation that men would like to have a different woman when they are finished with the previous, or at the same time.  And sexually transmitted diseases were, of course, more difficult to treat in former times.  Syphilis, in particular comes with wide-ranging manifestations, including mental problems.

--So, Emanuel Swedenborg, in spite of the very weird things he wrote (we will explore this), for reasons difficult to understand at this point, had a very wide impact on famous men, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson (who was an unknown to me until recently, also), Carl Jung (whom I only know from lectures on CBC radio), William Blake and his mythology (we all have to learn some of that in basic English classes), Northrop Fry (via Blake's mythology, at least), James Williams (who was an unknown to me also, but reading only tiny bits of his thoughts on Luther showed me that I don't respect him further than I could throw him.  I consider him incompetent on matters related to theology and probably affected by eugenic thinking.)  You just have to google these people and the entries will tell you that these men were influenced by Swedenborg. Also Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism, shares a lot of ideas with Swedenborg and comes from the millieu where his idea had currrency.  This can be easily seen by comparing their doctrines.  It seems that in Mormonism Swedenborg's ideas live on most fruitfully.  To top it off, I read a story about a German author who was interviewed for his 80th birthday, in the Frankfurter newspaper, and who surprisingly also kept a picture of Swedenborg in his office, as related by the journalist.  ( When questioned about this he says, he can't remember how the picture got there but he's had it for a long time.  ???  These are the people who keep notes on everything in case they want to write a book about it.)

--And-- to really, really top it off, I went to my local Costco store the other day, and lo and behold, there was an author at a book table, selling his books.  I did not stand very far off thinking that this could be a useful conversation and sure enough he flagged me down.  He praised his books in various ways.  Most importantly I would gain very deep spiritual and emotional insights based on these stories that begin with angels meeting in 1956.  (???  Say that again?)  After him saying this sort of thing several times and me asking what he meant by deep "spiritual and emotional insight", I asked him whether he was Swedenborgian. He said, that yes he was.  I just about fell flat on my back to meet a living, breathing and confessing Swedenborgian in Costco, in Canada in 2012, and felt pretty agitated for some time after that.  I explained to him why I would not be purchasing his books but that I would keep the bookmark with all his information.  I won't give him any publicity here, (I have his name, his webadress, and titles of his books.  On his website he bills his books "Christian romance series".) but I will type out the prayer on the backside:  "Guardian Angel Prayer.  Oh Angel of God, my guargian [sic] dear, to whom his love commits me here, ever this day be at my side to light and guard, to rule and guide.  Amen."

Two things stand out to me here.  First of all, we don't pray to angels.  Secondly, how many people in Edmonton would have been able to ferret out a Swedenborgian within a couple of minutes?  I asked my friends in church this, yesterday, and they assured me that most likely No One in Edmonton ( 1 million people), besides me, would have figured this out within a couple of minutes.  This is also a little scary because these books on angels are everywhere.  They are on your neighbor's coffee table. They are not Christian books.

The second matter to look at is this:  the doctrine of justification by faith alone was a big stumbling block for Swedenborg.  This interesting to me on several fronts. One, what was the situation in the church where he lived?  Two, how was Lutheranism and Calvinism involved in a kind of confusion of the issue?  Three, why is justification by faith, and God dying for your sins still the stumbling block for people who consider themselves cultured?  Why does, even now, a sizable portion of the intelligentsia have to make shipwreck on this rock?--???

It comes to me now, and I am not sure I should put this here, that this is what the song of the Lorelei is about:  the mariner looks at the beautiful girl combing her hair, and he crashes on the rock.  Similarly, the love of the world will always interfere with the having a God who dies for you.

Ok, that's enough for today.  I gave two aspects, one the widespread insinuation of Swedenborg's ideas and second the confusion over justification by faith alone.

PS:  I see that the Lorelei song was written by Heinrich Heine in 1823.   We memorized it in school.


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