The threefold nature of God

God is Love

At heart God is love. But love cannot exist in isolation, it yearns for others outside of itself whom it can love and make happy.  This need of God to love those other than himself is expressed many times in the Bible: –

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness”.
[Genesis 1:26  ESV]

Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
[John 13:1 ESV]

God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
[1 John 4:12 ESV]

But whilst love for others may be the motivating power behind the created universe and the human race, it cannot entirely account for it. A God who was love alone might have a heartfelt longing for creation but that longing could never be more than an unfulfilled dream without the means to achieve it.

Alongside his love God also has know-how, a wise knowledge and understanding of how creation might be constructed and work.  Every created form, from our whole solar system to each individual atom in it, speaks of intelligence, knowledge, and design. The psalmist in his observation of creation perceives the voice of wisdom speaking through it: Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge  [Psalm 19:2  ESV]. Like a craftsman who loves to create pleasing forms, God also has knowledge of his materials, skill in using his tools, and wisdom in putting together the finished article. Such wisdom perfectly complements God’s love and neither of them is anything without the other.

Yet even a twofold God, in whom such love and wisdom were combined, would be impotent without a vital third element. In and through his creation, God is active and useful. His constant endeavour is one of service and he is always busy working to care for others and bless them with happiness. This useful endeavour brings to full fruition all that his love desires and his wisdom plans. These three essentials combine together to make the one God. They are the trinity without which God would be nothing more than an empty notion, and the created universe with all its life forms could not exist. Emanuel Swedenborg speaks often of this trinity of essentials in God as, for example, in the following summary:

There are three elements in the Lord which are the Lord, the Divine element of love, the Divine element of wisdom, and the Divine element of useful endeavour.
[Divine Love and Wisdom 296]

When writing of these essentials in the Lord God, Swedenborg occasionally speaks of them being “distinctly one”.  By this he means that whilst each essential – love, wisdom and use – can be known and understood as a distinct thing, each is such an integral part of the others that they only have reality and existence as a unity. In every moment, in God’s work of creation, preservation and salvation of the human race, all three essentials are distinctly one. They can no more have separate existence than could the heat, light and proceeding energy which together constitute our sun; or the vegetable matter, beautiful form and scent which together are a garden flower.

Every time God touches our lives, his love, wisdom, and useful endeavour are each working in perfect balance and harmony.  In these three essentials we have an insight into the Holy Trinity which has been at the heart of God since the very beginning.  The trinity is not three separate gods or even three separate persons, but is rather one God activating all the elements within himself in every work that he undertakes.  It was in recognition of this trinity within one God that the seraphim spoke their words of praise, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory [Isaiah 6:3  ESV]. The threefold repetition of the word, ‘holy’, speaks of the three essentials, but the singular word, ‘Lord’, speaks of one Divine Person in whom those essentials exist.

Emanuel Swedenborg gives us further insight into the necessity for a trinity of essentials in God when he writes, In every Divine work there is a first, a middle, and a last; and the first passes through the middle to the last, and thereby exists and subsists [Doctrine of Sacred Scripture 27].  Love must work through wisdom to accomplish any useful endeavour.  It seems that a trinity of essentials is required if there is to be completeness in any person or thing, as is confirmed by this further passage, By three, in the Word, in the spiritual sense, is meant what is complete and perfect; also the whole together [Doctrine of Sacred Scripture 29]. A God in whom there are three essentials is a complete God both in himself and in everything that he does.

Finally, it is also worth reflecting that, as human beings, we are made in the image and likeness of God (see Genesis 1:26 above). Because we draw our life from God it is hardly surprising that in each of us there is also a trinity of three essentials, for we too are capable of love, wisdom and useful endeavour. Each of these three essentials has to be active in every loving relationship we have with others and in every useful task that we properly discharge. It is only as we receive the fullness of God’s life in its threefold form that we can be complete in all that we strive to be and do.

Nunc Licet It is now permitted

Lastchurch - The Eternal Purpose



A Memorable Relation from
Containing the universal theology of the New Church
foretold by the Lord in Daniel 7:13-14 and Revelation 21:1-2

Emanuel Swedenborg

      One day there appeared to me a magnificent temple, square in form, the roof of which was crown-shaped, arched above and raised round about; its walls were continuous windows of crystal; its door was of a pearly substance. Within, on the south side, towards the west was a pulpit, on the right-hand side of which lay the open Word enveloped in a sphere of light, the splendor of which surrounded and illuminated the whole pulpit. In the center of the temple was a sanctuary, before which there was a veil, at that time raised, and there a golden cherub stood with a sword turning hither and thither in his hand.

      [2] While I looked at these things, the significance of each one of them flowed into my meditation: The temple signified the New Church; the door of pearly substance, entrance into it; the windows of crystal, the truths that enlighten it; the pulpit, the priesthood and preaching; the Word lying open upon the pulpit and illuminating the upper part of it, signified the revelation of the internal sense of the Word, which is spiritual; the sanctuary in the center of the temple signified the conjunction of that church with the angelic heaven; the golden cherub therein, the Word in the sense of the letter; the sword waving in his hand signified that this sense can be turned in any direction, provided it is done in adaptation to some truth; the veil before the cherub being raised, signified that the Word is now laid open.

      [3] Afterward, when I drew nearer, I saw this inscription above the door, Nunc Licet – It is now permitted – which signified that it is now permitted to enter understandingly into the mysteries of faith. From seeing this inscription it came into my thought that it is exceedingly dangerous to enter with the understanding into dogmas of faith that are concocted out of self-intelligence, and therefore out of falsities, and still more so to confirm them from the Word; by this means the understanding is closed above, and gradually below as well, to such a degree that theology is not only despised but also obliterated from the mind, as writing on paper is by worms, or the wool of a garment by moths. Then the understanding abides only in political matters, which have regard to man’s life under the government where he is, and in the civil matters pertaining to his employment, and in the domestic affairs of his own house. And in all these things he constantly kisses nature, and owing to the allurements of her pleasures, loves her as an idolater loves the golden image in his bosom.

      [4] Since then, the dogmas of the present Christian churches have not been formed from the Word, but from self-intelligence, and therefore from falsities, and also have been confirmed by certain passages from the Word; by the Lord’s Divine Providence the Word among the Roman Catholics has been taken from the laity, and among Protestants has been opened, and yet has been closed by their common declaration that the understanding must be held in obedience to their faith.

      [5] But in the New Church the contrary is the case; there it is permitted to enter with the understanding and penetrate into all her secrets, and to confirm them by the Word, because her doctrines are continuous truths laid open by the Lord by means of the Word, and confirmations of these truths by rational means cause the understanding to be opened above more and more, and thus to be raised into the light in which the angels of heaven are. That light in its essence is truth, and in that light acknowledgment of the Lord as the God of heaven and earth shines in its glory. This is what is meant by the inscription Nunc Licet over the door of the temple, and also by the veil of the sanctuary before the cherub being raised. For it is a canon of the New Church, that falsities close the understanding, and that truths open it.

      [6] After this I saw above my head something like an infant, holding in his hand a paper. As he drew near to me, he increased to the stature of a medium-sized man. He was an angel from the third heaven, where all at a distance look like infants. When he came to me, he handed me the paper; but as the writing was in rounded letters, such as they have in that heaven, I returned the paper, and asked him to explain to me the meaning of the words there written, in terms adapted to the ideas of my thought.

      He replied, “This is what is here written: Enter hereafter into the mysteries of the Word, which has been heretofore shut up; for the particular truths therein are so many mirrors of the Lord.”

(True Christian Religion 508)

Mike Cates   PO Box 292984   Lewisville, TX  75029  Article Site Map  Writing Site Map

Why Read Swedenborg? Isn’t the Bible Enough?

Swedenborg Foundation

By Karin Childs

Anyone who reads Swedenborg’s books will soon see that he quotes the Bible extensively. Over and over, he offers new ways to understand Bible text. For someone familiar with the Bible, this might trigger an alarm. Isn’t the Bible text enough? Why would anyone need to read Swedenborg’s explanations of Bible passages?


Think of the process of human learning. As children, we have to start out with concepts in simple ways—simple math, simple words, simple stories, simple science. If it didn’t start out simply, we couldn’t grasp any of it. But with every passing year, our minds grow. We’re ready for more. That “new” information had been there all along. It’s just that we come to a point that we’re ready to take in more of the story, adding a bit more of the already-existing information into the picture. This goes on and on, no matter how old we get. There is always more to learn about everyone and everything.

Consider that this could apply to our understanding of the Bible, too. We can understand it in a simple way when we first read it; but with each passing year of our growth and development, it offers us more and more to understand. And it could have more to offer humanity, too, with each passing year of our collective growth and development. Anyone who believes that the Bible is a holy document from God, as Swedenborg did, can appreciate that such a thing would have great power and depth. Such a document would by its very nature offer ever-increasing meaning to humanity as it grew closer to God.

Over the centuries, there have been many people who have offered new interpretations of the Bible with the goal of helping people to understand or relate to it better. (In fact, you could even argue that that’s what Jesus was doing—giving a new and expanded meaning to the scriptures that he and the people who heard him teach had grown up with.)

One famous example of biblical interpretation is Martin Luther (1483–1546). He was one of the key figures in the Protestant Reformation, a time when religious leaders were questioning the prevailing Catholic doctrine and developing a new vision for what it meant to be Christian. And even though Luther first advanced the idea that we don’t need anything but scripture, he wrote a large body of work explaining what scripture means.

Swedenborg’s books offer information about deeper meanings in the Bible verses. He is not Jesus; but he claims to be guided by him, working as his humble servant. And of course, readers have to feel in their own hearts whether to believe that or not.

In John 16:12, Jesus said: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” And in John 3:12, he said, “If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?” It sure seems that there was a lot more that Jesus wanted to tell people, but he recognized that most people were not yet ready.

Could it be that the time has come? As God did many times before, choosing people to write down the text that became the Holy Bible, could God now be revealing new ways of understanding sacred truth that people couldn’t have imagined two thousand years ago? Are we ready for the next level? What do you think?

For more about Swedenborg’s interpretation of the Bible, see our Inner Meaning of the Bible page; or, for a more in-depth look, you can watch the “What the Bible Is” episode of our weekly webcast Swedenborg and Life.

You can also get a taste of Swedenborg’s interpretation from his multivolume work Secrets of Heaven, or get an overview of how he sees the Word from his short work Sacred Scripture. Both of these titles are available for free download from this site.

Involution, Evolution and Influx (a new doctrinal challenge)

Those who are familiar with scientist/theologian Emanuel Swedenborg’s idea of spiritual causality understand that God’s influx moves as an orderly process from non-physical beginnings to physical results in the spacetime arena. This theistic model of purposeful causal process starting from higher or innermost things to lower or external things is formulated within a triune order as ends, mediate causes and effects.

This top-down order is fine when contemplating God’s order in the process of creation—from spirit to matter. However, when considering the process of evolution and the emergence of bio-complexity there is a change in the order of action and influx—because effects more closely resemble ends or first principles.

For instance, when Swedenborg describes the growth of a human fetus the process is from innermost things to outermost things—then to mediate things! So instead of the top-down order of 1-2-3, we get 1-3-2! This “switcheroo” even happens between the relationships of the three essentials in the Holy Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Scripture first offers us the 1-2-3 order of divine process. God the Father is first. God the Son (Jesus) is second. And the Holy Spirit acts last—that is, the Holy Spirit manifests last. This sequential order is confirmed by the fact that in John 7:39 the “Holy Spirit was not yet, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” But when we consider Swedenborg’s statement that the Holy Spirit is the Divine Proceeding it becomes the mediating force and causal link between Divine Love (innermost essence) and Truth (form finding existence in externals). In other words, when all three elements are in their proper cosmic arrangement (simultaneous order) they manifest a different relationship.

So the order of action, once the Holy Spirit enters the equation, is 1-3-2. This is because although it acts last in time, it has a greater (higher) degree of holiness than the “lower” flesh and blood of Jesus, which consists only of physical matter (externals).

Glorification is the evolutionary process by which Jesus perfected and unified His human nature and human form with His Divine Nature. Through humiliation and acts of service the Holy Spirit transformed Jesus’ physical body into a perfect conductor of heavenly order and Love—until all its operations were purely holy. This is why Jesus ascended into heaven with His body because it became the Holy Spirit in the fullness of time!

We see this change of order in the operation between the human soul, the human body, and the resulting action, which proceeds from the conjunction and mediation of the two. Here, the spirit (and its aim) first flows into the body through mediate causes and structures (1-2-3) but when the body produces a useful action (corresponding to the wishes of the spirit) the proceeding or mediate cause which harmonizes the two takes the third or outward position (1-3-2) because usefulness comes forth from the body’s actions and therefore becomes the new external or outermost effect.

The direction of God’s influx is not simply from heaven into physical forms but into forms of dynamic uses. It is usefulness that first mediates between inner and outer realities (1-2-3) and later manifests (1-3-2) in the outer.

It is through the order 1-3-2 that utility and usefulness ascends back to heaven and evolves. But I will stop here for now.

Posted in god, love, metaphysics, Reality, religion, science, spirituality, unity | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Creativity in spirituality

by Rev. David Lindrooth

Right in the very beginning of the Bible we have a statement about creativity and why it’s so important and relevant in our lives. In Genesis, it says, “God created humanity in his own image.” (Genesis 1:27) That means every person was created in his image. If we are in his image, and God created us, isn’t part of his image being creative? It makes a lot of sense. We believe in a human God. To be human means to be in God’s image because God is the quintessential human. Part of being human is learning to be creative. It’s our permission to be creative. When I think about this, I get goosebumps.

How does God’s model of creativity work in our lives?

“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:38)

It’s as simple as just making an effort.

We were talking about this in a sermon writing team, and someone said, “The way I conceptualize it is that you just make space for God to come into your life and watch what happens.” I was amazed to hear that.

A while back I started experimenting with my preaching style. I realized that if I was intentionally praying for God to crack open that spiritual door so that light could shine into my preaching, amazing things would happen. Just open the door and incredible things start to happen. Oddly enough, it feels like it isn’t me. It’s like this painting experience where I’m working on a picture and all of a sudden there’s a person staring at me and I’m thinking, “Who is this person?” It’s a wonderful feeling. The same thing can happen with preaching, with engineering, with planning a date. It can happen on a hospital visit or in a conversation with a friend. It can happen when you’re unloading the dishwasher. Believe it or not, creativity can happen whenever we ask for it, and start making space for the Lord to be present.

I want to reference Steve Jobs. He’s not renowned for his theology, and he is somewhat of a problematic character in some respects, but he did give us the iPhone and he worked with some very creative people. Steve Jobs had remarked at one point that he noticed when working with creative people that those people didn’t feel like they could take credit for anything they came up with. They almost felt embarrassed or a sense of discomfort if someone praised them for coming up with a magnificent invention. Steve reflected on this and realized that the creative process isn’t the human being creating something out of nothing. This is reflected in New Church theology – the idea that nothing can come from nothing.

Creativity really is somebody observing, thinking, and being able to make connections between different concepts, different objects, and different ideas. Then, that new grouping of what’s already out there becomes the creative moment. It can become a new product or a new painting or something nobody has ever seen before. That to me is an accurate reflection of New Church theology about creativity, and it’s worth thinking about.

The way I see it working spiritually is that God puts affections in our hearts. That is a gift exclusively from God. These affections are so deep and so spiritual they can’t possibly be called our own even though they feel like our own. Angels have them in heaven, we have them here on earth, and it’s a wonderful, wonderful gift that God gives us: the ability to feel things. It’s actually those affections, the more they’re connected with God, that are making the connections between different ideas and different thoughts and allowing the connections to come up so that we see them in a different way. And behold, there is a new creation. We are not creating it ourselves. It is a work of God that is coming through us. And yes! We are suddenly acting and operating in the image and likeness of God. So it’s a “give and it will be given to you” kind of experience.

Part of the message is making space for God, being willing to make that space. But when he comes do you have the courage to do something? Do you have the willingness to bring it out? To allow it to change the world? Because God is constantly there, and he is constantly filling us with his life and creativity. It’s something that is always there. All we have to do is open up to it. As for me, I don’t actually care if I’m well regarded as a painter. My hope is to be comfortable just allowing that creative process to happen in my life. How can this creative process be brought into your life?

This passage reminds us who God is and what he’s constantly doing:

“Since divinity is inexhaustible splendor, would it simply keep it all to itself? Could it keep it to itself? Love wants to share what it has with others, to give to others what it can.” (Emanuel Swedenborg, DP 324)

That really is the creative process at work in a person’s life, that we open ourselves up to that love. We experience it in some concrete way through making connections with ideas and thoughts, and formulating a new awareness that never existed before. And then we have the courage to share.

Steve Jobs is credited with saying, “The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.” Are you crazy enough to think you can change the world? Creativity is to be willing to change and have the courage to change because God is giving you something different to communicate. And it could be as simple as standing in a room, and hearing a message where God is saying, “Walk across the room and introduce yourself to that person over there.” That is an act of creativity.

When we’re willing to listen to those messages and act differently because there is this gift within, the world begins to change. Imagine if you wipe that all away, and everyone is a conformist and nobody wants to step out of line, nobody wants to say anything different or do anything that would draw attention to themselves or anything like that. Then you have a flatline culture. Nothing different. Yet change in our world is so desperately needed.

Maybe it starts with a painting. Maybe it starts with writing a letter. Maybe it starts with doodling. Maybe it starts with redecorating your home or just choosing a pair of pants, or whatever. Those are small things, but it starts with learning to listen to that challenging voice from God that helps us build a better world. And God calls us to be in his image and his likeness so that each of us can act individually to help bring his life into this world in a new way. And through that individualistic action over and over and over again, God brings ability, perfection, joy and a sense of peace that no one can experience on their own. It’s a sense of communal articulation of God himself. And that is deeply joyful. So start with the small things. Start today. Start tomorrow. Just create that space to listen. What is that voice from God in your mind? What do you hear and how can you act on that in a way that creates beauty in this world?

The above was extracted from a sermon delivered by David Lindrooth at NewChurchLIVE. To watch the full sermon, click on the video in the sidebar.

David Lindrooth is the director of General Church Outreach, supporting the international growth of the New Church. He also enjoys painting water colors and playing guitar.


“The Lord from eternity who is Jehovah came into the world to subjugate the hells and to glorify His Human; and without this, no mortal could have been saved, and those are saved who believe in Him.”

True Christian Religion 2

God is Infinite Eternal Uncreated

God is Love

God is Infinite, Eternal and Uncreated
– so writes Emanuel Swedenborg in several places in his theological books. But what are we to make of such a statement and what can we understand by the terms infinite, eternal and uncreated?

For the mathematician infinite can be defined as existing beyond or being greater than any arbitrarily large value but in normal speech we might use infinite to describe something that is immeasurably great or large or boundless. If we turn to the Bible seeking the word infinite in relation to the nature of God we are likely to be disappointed. The King James Version uses infinite only once in relation to God:

Great is our Lord, and of great power: his understanding is infinite.
[Psalm 147:5 KJV]

But open many modern translations of the Bible and infinite has been replaced by beyond measure or no limit or beyond comprehension. However, as soon as you start to look for descriptions of God with words which convey the idea of infinite without actually using the word other verses come into view. For example:

But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built!
[1 Kings 8:27 ESV]

Can you find out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limit of the Almighty?
[Job 11:7 ESV]

For you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God.
[Psalm 86:10 ESV]

When we think of God as infinite we tend to imagine that he fills the universe from end to end and that there is nowhere where God is not present. But are we right to think of God in such spatial terms? Surely God is outside of space?

What then of the idea of God as eternal? One thing we can immediately say is that whereas we can think of the infinite nature of God in relation to space, the eternal nature of God is definitely related in someway to time.

Eternal can be defined as: being without beginning or end; existing outside of time. Unlike the word infinite, eternal occurs many times in all translations of the Bible both directly in relation to God and in relation to the life that comes from God.

The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms.
[Deuteronomy 33:27 ESV]

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
[Isaiah 9:6 ESV]

And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.
[1 John 5:20 ESV]

How do we imagine God as eternal or everlasting or forever and ever? In the Book of Revelation we can find these words:

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.
[Revelation 1:8  ESV]

We can simply interpret these words as saying that God has been God from the very beginning of time and will be God to the very end of time. So, in a similar way to thinking of God as present in all space we can also think of God as present in all time. But should we place a limit on God in time or does God exist outside of time?

The Bible begins with the majestic words:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
[Genesis 1:1 ESV]

In a very real sense the whole of the Bible flows from these few words because they establish the fundamental truth that there is God and there is also what God creates. So we can say that everything made by God is created but God is uncreated. God is infinite, eternal and uncreated whereas everything made by God is finite, transient and created. This seems to suggest a marked separation between what is uncreated and what is created, what is eternal and what is transient, what is infinite and what is finite. This certainly appears to be true and yet the whole of creation only lives from the life of God within it.

God is Infinite, Eternal and Uncreated.
Our problem in trying to understand these words and gain a better understanding of the nature of God is that our thoughts tend to be locked into ideas of space and time. We think of what is infinite as filling the greatest space we can imagine and eternal as being the longest time we can conceive. And yet there is no space and time in God even though created space and time come from him. We find it so hard to escape these natural limitations and yet if only we could rise above them we could begin to see a greater vision of the wonder of God.

An extract from Divine Love and Wisdom paragraph 318 by Emanuel Swedenborg

In all such forms [of created life] there is some image of what is infinite and eternal. We can see an image of the infinite in these forms from the tendency and potentiality of filling the space of the whole world and even of many worlds, without end. A single seed brings forth a tree, shrub, or plant that takes up its own space. From each tree, shrub, or plant, there come seeds, in some cases thousands of them. Assuming these to be planted and to have sprouted, they take up their spaces; and if from each of their seeds new generations arise again and again, after a few years the whole world is full. If the propagation continues, any number of worlds is filled, and so on to infinity. Figure on a thousand seeds coming from one, and then multiply a thousand by a thousand ten or twenty or a hundred times, and you will see. There is a similar image of eternity in these processes. Seeds reproduce year after year, and the reproductions never cease. They have not paused from the creation of the world to the present, and they will not stop forever. These two facts are obvious indications and eloquent signs that everything in the universe was created by an infinite and eternal God.

Some other quotations:

God is that infinite All of which man knows himself to be a finite part.
Leo Tolstoy

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
William Blake

The Supreme God is a Being eternal, infinite, absolutely perfect;
Isaac Newton


New Christian Bible StudyNew Christian Bible Study

← Previous   Next →

The Lord can see how the mind of a person is tending, towards evil or towards good. When the tendency is toward evil the Lord will provide circumstances which allow the person to recognize this and to bend away from that course on his or her own, leaving the person in freedom because he or she is unaware of any actions except his or her own.

In this way a person may turn toward a lesser evil, or even towards good, or – still in freedom – may continue deeper into the evil if that is the strong desire. The Lord’s foresight is in no way a predestination.

Hypocrite – Does it matter if I am one?

hypocritePeople are quick to notice when there is any inconsistency between what we say and what we do. For example if you are nice to someone but nasty about them when they are not there. The danger then is of people seeing you as two-faced. I’m sure there is more risk of being thought of as a hypocrite if we have strong principles. We are less likely to be able to live up to what we like to talk about.

I may be strong on green issues. Decrying the increasing amount of vehicles on the roads that emit carbon into the atmosphere. Yet, I fly abroad on holiday. This may remind you of the left-wing politicians who, championing equal opportunities, nevertheless, send their children to the best schools. Would it be unfair to tell us, “You don’t practice what you preach”?

I don’t want those I know to perceive me as a hypocrite. I have written a lot about interpersonal matters, like tolerance, patience, kindness and so on. So, I feel self-conscious about how I behave in my personal life.

Parents don’t often realise that ‘Do as I say (and not as I do)’ looks phoney.

“Kids have what I call a built-in hypocrisy antenna that comes up and blocks out what you’re saying when you’re being a hypocrite.” (Ben Carson, American politician)

But is this fair? No one is perfect. We’re all a work in progress.

Social etiquette

It has been said that a lot of politeness in ordinary affairs is insincere – more a conformity to social etiquette than genuine concern for someone. Kate Fox has researched the way English people communicate with each other. In her book Watching the English she finds that the never-ending use of the word ‘please’ camouflages instructions as requests. She also maintains that the constant employment of ‘thank-you’ maintains an illusion of friendly equality.

“On average, at least every other ‘please’, ‘thank you’, ‘sorry’, ‘nice’, ‘lovely’, (plus smiles, nods, etc) is hypocritical.” (Kate Fox, social anthropologist)

Such words are said to function to conceal real opinions and feelings in order to avoid causing offence or embarrassment or rocking the boat. According to this view, pretence is the English default position to help with the challenge of social interaction. It is said that this mild form of hypocrisy is mainly a matter of:

“unconscious, collective self-deception – collusion in an unspoken agreement to delude ourselves – rather than a deliberate, cynical, calculated attempt to deceive others.”   (Kate Fox, social anthropologist)

So perhaps you shouldn’t be criticised as a hypocrite just because you are not fully up front with any hidden negative feelings in the way you politely interact with others.

Pretence in relationships

Hypocrisy is the discrepancy between what we inwardly feel and what we outwardly do or say. However, I would like to suggest that, in an intimate relationship, not all inconsistency between inner and outer is bad.

For example someone suggested that it might not be prudent to give full vent in your display of inner affection towards your lover. Why ever not? One suggested answer is to prevent your partner complacently taking you for granted.

Another example concerns the marital row. Why not swallow one’s pride and pour oil on troubled waters rather than express all one’s anger. Some degree of this sort of pretence might actually lead to later enjoyment of each other’s company or even bring about a difficult to find reconciliation.

Dare I put forward the notion that the exaggeration of tolerance and respect – for example as when seeming to excuse faults – may keep two quarrelling partners together. Not all marriages are made in heaven with deep feelings of mutual love. Such pretending might be good for the relationship and the needs of the family as a whole.

Emanuel Swedenborg the 18th century spiritual philosopher, distinguished between what he called praiseworthy pretences and hypocritical pretences. He said the former are for the sake of what is good. They are intended to ensure concord in child rearing, promote peace in the home, as well as protect reputations outside the home.

Harm done by the hypocrite

I have defended superficial politeness in social situations and being economical with the truth in marriage. However, I do not deny the harm hypocrisy can do. The self-righteous hypocrite undermines any good principles e.g. regarding marital fidelity, payment of tax, or sober driving, that they happen to proclaim to the rooftops. This is done by the opposite things he or she does behind the scenes. Any worthy political or social criticism they make is not heard. Instead of reflecting on the relevance of the points, don’t we tend to focus on the messenger rather than the message? “Well you do it too” or “Who are you to criticise us?” It is as if we are saying ‘Two wrongs make a right’ and so we can stop listening.

In the Christian Bible, Jesus criticises the scribes and Pharisees as hypocrites in the passage known as the Woes of the Pharisees.

Also in the Buddhist text Dhammapada, Gautama Buddha censures a man who takes the appearance of an ascetic but is full of passions within.

At the same time, in Islam, hypocrisy is a serious sickness. The Qur’an rails against those who claim to be believers and peacemakers, but act in a different way, thinking they are fooling Allah and others, but only fooling themselves.

Self-deception of the hypocrite

One might think that the person, who acts like a hypocrite, knows full well they are trying to deceive others. But I’m not so sure. I suspect many of us just don’t get the discrepancy that others can see. I mean any inconsistency between our inner attitudes and the outward expression of our views. Aren’t we all capable of hypocrisy?

According to Carl Jung there is a shadowy side to our character about which we should not deceive ourselves. A little less hypocrisy and a little more self-knowledge can lead to personal change for the good. Unless we root out what is undesirable within us we cannot hope to become better people.

Copyright 2016 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems