It’s Easy to Believe Things That Aren’t True


The news this week, as in all weeks, reports on areas of conflict in this country and all over the world. Even though the COVID-19 virus is currently on the run in this area, there are still things to argue about when we talk about it, and this can be troubling to us. Here is a passage that illustrates why things that aren’t true sometimes seem right to us:

“On one occasion I heard spirits talking to one another about the fact that whatever is made a basic assumption, no matter what, can be confirmed in countless ways, and with a person who has confirmed himself in it, it can at length be made to look altogether like the truth even though it is false, and that people can be persuaded more easily of falsity than of truth.” Arcana Coelestia 2477

This is an idea that is repeated many times in the Writings (Divine Providence 318; Conjugial Love 491; Arcana
Coelestia 5008:6, 5032). Arcana Coelestia 2477 illustrates this with an unusual example. Swedenborg had spirits discuss whether or not they ought to be able to have access to their memories from the world, which they are usually mostly unaware of. The passage says:

“To convince them of this it was suggested to them that they should think about and discuss among themselves whether it would be beneficial for spirits to use the exterior memory. (Spirits discuss such matters in far more excellent a fashion than man is capable of believing or indeed apprehending; but each spirit does so according
to his own affection.)”

So they discussed this idea and came up with conclusions -- all based on their assumptions:

“Spirits who were in favor of bodily and worldly things confirmed in many ways that it would be beneficial, for
the following reasons:

1. That they would then have lost nothing but would be just as much men after death as they had been
2. That they would then be able by means of man to return into the world;
3. That the exterior memory contains the joy of life;
4. That intelligence and wisdom reside in no other capability or gift.
5. There were yet other considerations by which they confirmed themselves in the assumption they made,
so that it appeared to them to be true. “Other spirits at that time however thought and spoke
from a contrary assumption.” Not surprisingly, these other spirits were the ones that the angels sided with, even going so far as to say “that if spirits were allowed to use the exterior memory the human race would perish.”

The point of the exercise was to show how different conclusions have their origin in different assumptions. It is a fascinating passage. We often have trouble agreeing with each other even when faced with clear facts -- facts that are easier to discuss and dispute than the assumptions behind them.