Selection from Theistic Psychology: The Science of Immortality
The three levels of moral intelligence are indicated by the three stages of Divine revelation in Sacred Scripture. This is a principle that I refer to as "biography recapitulates history and evolution" (see Chapter xx). In other words individual mental growth follows the same pattern as the development of human civilizations in the course of history. There are three major evolutionary steps marked by the giving of the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Writings of Swedenborg. These three form an unbroken series of scientific revelations that took thousands of years to deliver from God to the human mind. Each sub-unit of revelation marks the beginning of a new consciousness in humankind, and delivers the scientific information that fundamentally alters human understanding and perception.
The Old Testament level of moral intelligence is the rational idea or perspective that individual human behavior has a universal significance in relation to God. This perspective ties the individual to God. It is the bottom line of spiritual life and growth. This is the idea that what I'm doing with my hands when I touch someone is of relevance to God. Or, the words that I'm saying out loud have a relationship to God. This knowledge makes me responsible to God and validates God's existence to me. Swedenborg points out that most of the Ten Commandments were already incorporated in the legal system of a number of nations prior to the event in on Sinai when God gave them to Moses, as recorded in the Old Testament. The Writings explain that the giving of the Ten Commandments by God Himself on Mount Sinai indicates a new consciousness about those laws, namely, that they are not merely secular laws of the land, but Divine Laws by Commandment. This is a totally new status for the prohibition against murder, theft, deception, or adultery. God is saying to humankind: These are Divine prohibitions and when one individual does these prohibited actions, it will be accounted as a spiritual sin with spiritual consequences in the afterlife.
A new level of rational consciousness about God is introduced by the New Testament revelations. They raise the moral intelligence or consciousness of humankind by distinguishing between external behavior and mental behavior. The Old Testament stage of morality is reflected in our early years of development covering the first decade of life. Children are taught that God exists and that He knows and sees everything we do. God also punishes if we are bad and rewards if we are good. This is the bottom line of moral life and rational intelligence. Without this socialization process, the Writings say, humanity could not survive. It also instills a basic rational framework giving meaning to life and the world, linking the individual to God, the afterlife, and immortality.
But when we enter our second decade of life, become teenagers and adolescents, we begin to examine the rational implications and assumptions of our beliefs about God. Now we can experience a radical shift of focus from external behavior to internal behavior. God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. This means that what I'm thinking and desiring and fantasizing and longing for are not private behaviors just in my mind. They are known to God, and therefore I'm a hypocrite if I behave publicly by obeying the commandments, but privately by disobeying them. A new height of moral reasoning is reached when I become rationally aware that my mental behavior is as crucial to God and to my immortality, as my overt behavior.
Sometimes our reaction to this new realization is to reject God altogether because it's just too inconvenient to have this Super Being breathe down our necks all the time even when we are privately enjoying some fantasy or train of thought. What harm could there be in just thinking of an affair with that married woman, or just enjoying the fantasy that we steal the Crown Jewels or the Picasso worth 45 million dollars. Or what would be so wrong as to despise the street beggar whom we just tipped, or to earn our money illegally as long as we give a lot of it to charity. So we abandon God altogether and lapse into a moral level of zero. Why is that?
The Writings demonstrate that secular moral philosophies that deny God do not establish a permanent moral character in immortality. Atheistic forms of morality remain in the outward portions of our character and do not survive the second death. When people are resuscitated a few hours after the death of the physical body, they begin a new life of immortality within the mental world. There are no external forms of authority and sanctions as in this world. The survival of society and the environment are is no longer governed by the consequences of people's external behaviors in relation to each other and the environment. The old secular morality we had on this earth is of no use in the spiritual world. There is no conservation and sustained development of nature. There are no evolutionary consequences to how society and individuals act toward one another.
And so what is there to keep the individual from acting selfishly? There are no rational reasons to do so in terms of the consequences.
Therefore all secular morality drops away from the surface of one's character, and in its place, a new character emerges, the one that lay beneath the surface all along, but was not dealt with in the individual's life on earth.
But theistic morality enters the inward component of our character so that we can rely on it after the second death. The morality that is based on our relationship to God is permanent and enters our life of immortality.
Hence, instead of giving up God altogether because it is too inconvenient to have Him snooping around in our mind, we can solidify our spiritual growth by adopting the New Testament level of thinking about God and mental behavior. This motivates us to put up effort in our character reformation (see Chapter xx).
But we encounter much resistance. In the New Testament stage of our morality we can have an intention to reject our evil enjoyments and yet fail to do so over and over again. Clearly our desire to leave the bad behind is not deep enough so that other, more powerful desires, lead the way back to our evils and we seem never to be free of them. One reaction to this moral difficulty has been to develop legalistic justifications for the retention of evil enjoyments in our life. For instance, we might reassure ourselves that we are "saved" for heavenly life as long as our faith in God is pure and sincere. We tell ourselves that surely God will not throw us into hell just because we were human and weak and full of sin, as long as we show repentance after sinning, and as long as we keep love For God and neighbor in our hearts.
But Swedenborg saw the consequences of such a justificatory faith. It doesn't sink deep enough into our character to survive the second death (see Chapter xx). The Writings reveal a new scientific morality that makes this understandable and takes us into the third and ultimate stage of development where we can see rationally why justificatory faith is powerless to defeat the deep corruption of our character with which we are born by inheritance. In the Writings God has now revealed to humankind that moral reformation of the inherited character is only possible through a process of regeneration through temptations (see Chapter xx).
What enters the state of heaven or hell at our second death? It must be a pure character either way. No mixed character can survive either in heaven or in hell. Upon the first death, we awaken in the world of spirits where we undergo a series of significant experiences arranged for us by the Divine Psychologist (see Chapter xx). The purpose of the experiences is to have us discover who we really are on the inside and what our inmost loves are. These are the determining conditions for our life in immortality. Can we abandon every single evil enjoyment or hellish trait we still have after the first death? That's the question of importance.
Some people can live by abandoning every heavenly trait. What's left is the unrelenting pursuit of their infernal loves, which are called cupidities and lusts. In these they now have their full life to eternity. Other people can live by abandoning every hellish trait. What's left is the unrelenting pursuit of heavenly loves, which are called rational loves because they are the result of a marriage in our mind between our rational thinking and altruistic motives. This way of thinking about our future in terms of what ruling loves we possess is now a new stage of moral thinking and reasoning.
The morality at the level of the Writings (level 3) is a scientific understanding of how the mind works and what is its relation to heaven and hell. In this state of thinking and feeling we have come a long way from the two prior stages of morality. We are concerned about our overt behavior (as in level 1) as well as our mental behavior of intentions and enjoyments (level 2), but in addition, we can see that this is not a matter of our sin and its forgiveness by God through our faith and good intentions. We can see that God automatically forgives everything to everyone. Rather, it has to do with how willing we are to let God regenerate and reform our thoughts and feelings by giving us temptations (see Chapter xx). These refer to experiences God puts us through on a daily basis in which we are faced with a rational choice as to whether we are giving in to our evil enjoyment and motive, or whether we reject it because it is contrary to God and contrary to our future.
When we enter this new stage of rational thinking we feel greatly empowered to resist our evil enjoyments. We realize that we have zero power to resist them from ourselves. We give this power to God and ask for it so that our effort to resist the temptation may be successful. Gradually, victory by victory, our character is basically changing. The old motives are blocked and rejected; the new motives are enhanced, implanted, and nourished by means of rational thinking and heavenly mental states God gives us as a foretaste of the real thing.
The Writings tell us that salvation, or empowerment for heavenly life, consists of two steps to be made in this order: (1) shunning evils as sins against God, and (2) doing good instead. This allows the process of regeneration to go on so that our character is rebuilt and will be ready for its second death. One cannot do good (step 2) without first shunning evils (step 1). People may think that the good they do can outweigh the bad they also do. But this way of thinking is a level 2 morality based on justification by faith by a Divine King who is pacified and forgives us. But this is not what sin is. God always already wants to forgive anyone anything. Why not? God is pure love and mercy and has no ill will or ill feelings towards His creation. He cannot be angered for He is perfect. He cannot forgive or not forgive, for He already has forgiven. The only reason God is not taking some people to heaven is because they refuse to go there. Heaven is in our mind where we can live in heavenly loves from God. It is open and free for anyone who wants to abide there. The great human tragedy is that there are so many of us who refuse, no matter what, to abandon their hellish loves and thoughts. Hence God is powerless to change their will without destroying them. Therefore God provides for their type of life in hell to eternity.