Why do so many different religions exist in the world?

The clearer our picture of how to serve the neighbor, the closer to God we can become.


Is there one “right” religion?


Yes, but it doesn’t exist simply with one group or one church. The right religion is simply this: to love our Creator and all the people He created. Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ (Matthew 22:37-40). In other words the whole point of religion is to learn to love and serve God and the neighbor. At their core, all religions come back to the same thing: love and serve God and the neighbor. That doesn’t mean all religions are equally true or good. Some religions seem to have a clearer understanding of how to love and serve God and the neighbor while some lead away from this principle. The clearer our picture of how to serve the Lord and neighbor are closer to God we can become.


Can people from different religions go to heaven?


Getting to heaven isn’t simply a matter of having the right beliefs, or doing the right rituals, or calling the Divine by a specific name. You can’t get to heaven without doing what God wills. A person who professes belief in Jesus as Lord but breaks His commandments really isn’t a follower of Christ at all. Is a Muslim who refrains from murder and theft because they are sins against God any different from a Christian who refrains from murder and theft because they sins against God? One says “Allah” instead of “Lord,” but aren’t they both following the will of God, the Heavenly Father of all of us? Anyone who refrains from evil because it is against God and does good because it is from God is following the will of God and has the Kingdom of God within him.


Why do many religions exist? Is it on purpose or an accident?


The different religions are based on the different responses people have to God over time. Even in these different responses, certain universal truths are common among them. Truth, by definition, comes from God. Jesus said, “And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd” (John 10:16). New Church theology teaches: “When a religion has been implanted in a nation, the Lord leads that nation according to the precepts and dogmas of its own religion. He has provided that there shall be in every religion precepts like those in the Ten Commandments…. The nation that regards these precepts as Divine and lives according to them from a religious motive is saved” (Divine Providence 254). Mixed in with those true teachings may be many false teachings. The point is that the Lord is present and leads all people through the true teachings of their religions.


Rev. Barry Halterman is the Religion Department Chair at the Academy of the New Church High School in Bryn Athyn, PA (www.ancss.org). He is also Assistant Pastor at New Church LIVE (www.newchurchlive.tv).

Full issue

Internet Sacred Text Archive

Emanuel Swedenborg Swedenborg

Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) was a Swedish philosopher and scientist who, at 56, had a spiritual awakening and wrote numerous books on his theological views and related topics. He advocated a version of Christianity where works count as much as faith, with the trinity existing in Jesus, instead of three separate entities. Swedenborg derived inspiration from dreams and visions, and claimed to be able to visit heaven and hell at will. His works were widely read after his death and highly regarded by poets, writers and mystics such as Blake, Baudelaire, Strindberg, Balzac, Yeats, Jung, and William James.

The following electronic texts have been converted automatically for sacred-texts by a volunteer. Swedenborg’s writings are indexed by paragraph number. Each of the texts have been arbitrarily separated into 50-paragraph files.

Spiritual Diary
by Emanuel Swedenborg, [1747-65] tr. by George Bush, John H. Smithson and James F. Buss [1883-9]

Arcana Coelestia
by Emanuel Swedenborg, [1749-56] tr. by John F. Potts [1905-10]

Apocalypse Explained
by Emanuel Swedenborg, [1757-9] tr. by John Whitehead [1911]

Last Judgment Posthumous
by Emanuel Swedenborg, [1757-9] tr. by John Whitehead [1914]

Last Judgment
by Emanuel Swedenborg, [1758] tr. by John Whitehead [1892]

Last Judgment Continued
by Emanuel Swedenborg, [1758] tr. by John Whitehead [1892]

Heaven and Hell
by Emanuel Swedenborg, [1758] tr. by John C. Ager [1900]

White Horse
by Emanuel Swedenborg, [1758] tr. by John Whitehead [1892]

The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine
by Emanuel Swedenborg, [1758] tr. by John Whitehead [1892]

Earths in the Universe
by Emanuel Swedenborg, [1758] tr. by John Whitehead [1892]

Athanasian Creed
by Emanuel Swedenborg, [1759] tr. by Samuel H. Worcester [1885]

De Domino
by Emanuel Swedenborg, [1760] tr. by Samuel H. Worcester [1885]

Prophets and Psalms
by Emanuel Swedenborg, [1761] tr. by J.E. Schreck [1900]

De Verbo
by Emanuel Swedenborg, [1762] tr. by John Whitehead [1914]

Divine Love
by Emanuel Swedenborg, [1762-3] tr. by John Whitehead [1914]

Divine Wisdom
by Emanuel Swedenborg, [1762-3] tr. by John Whitehead [1914]

Divine Love and Wisdom
by Emanuel Swedenborg, [1763] tr. by John C. Ager [1890]

Doctrine of Faith
by Emanuel Swedenborg, [1763] tr. by John F. Potts [1904]

Doctrine of Life
by Emanuel Swedenborg, [1763] tr. by John F. Potts [1904]

Doctrine of Sacred Scriptures
by Emanuel Swedenborg, [1763] tr. by John F. Potts [1904]

Doctrine of the Lord
by Emanuel Swedenborg, [1763] tr. by John F. Potts [1904]

Divine Providence
by Emanuel Swedenborg, [1764] tr. by William Frederic Wunsch [1851]

Apocalypse Revealed
by Emanuel Swedenborg, [1766] tr. by John Whitehead [1912]

by Emanuel Swedenborg, [1766] tr. by John Whitehead [1914]

De Conjugio
by Emanuel Swedenborg, [1766] tr. by John Whitehead [1914]

Conjugial Love
by Emanuel Swedenborg [1768]

God the Savior
by Emanuel Swedenborg, [1768] tr. by John Whitehead [1914]

by Emanuel Swedenborg, [1769] tr. by John Whitehead [1914]

Brief Exposition
by Emanuel Swedenborg, [1769] tr. by John Whitehead [1892]

Interaction of the Soul and Body
by Emanuel Swedenborg, [1769] tr. by John Whitehead [1892]

True Christian Religion
by Emanuel Swedenborg, [1771] tr. by John Whitehead [1906]

by Emanuel Swedenborg, [1771] tr. by John Whitehead [1914]

Invitation to the New Church
by Emanuel Swedenborg, [1771] tr. by John Whitehead [1914]

The Gist of Swedenborg
by Julian K. Smyth and William F. Wunsch [1920]
A little anthology of Swedenborg’s writings


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What did Jesus Accomplish by His Death on the Cross?

Christ’s death was needed for our salvation; but it was not to appease an angry Father.

There are several theories in the Christian world about how Jesus Christ saved us from sin and reconciled us to God. Traditional Christianity teaches that the human race had turned away from God and God was angry and ready to destroy the human race. According to this view, Jesus interceded and offered the sacrifice of Himself, to die, to appease the wrath of the Father. This teaches that we are saved by acknowledging that Jesus, by dying on the cross, took upon Himself all the sins of the human race, and by a confession of belief in His sacrifice all of our sins are washed away and we are saved – made acceptable to God and able to enter into heaven. This is why an emphasis on a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is stressed by traditional Christian theology. It is, in their eyes, the way, and the only way, to heaven.

New Christianity teaches that God saved the human race by coming on earth, but He didn’t come merely to die. He came to restore freedom to human beings so we could again be free to choose. He came so that we would have a clear understanding of who God is, and what He asks of us. Before the Lord came on earth, the influence of hell had risen to such a level that it was essentially choking off the life from God with the human race. It was like a completely cloudy and polluted atmosphere which needed to be purified. The Lord cleared the way by taking on the attacks of the hells with His vulnerable humanity, and by His own inner strength putting them under lock and key so that they didn’t over-extend their influence and cause an imbalance. The final battle was the one on the cross – it was not the only battle. When Jesus proclaimed on the cross, “It is finished,” He was declaring that all the work He came to do against the hells was complete. On Easter morning His body was no longer in the tomb because all that was human was unified with the Divine, and made Divine.



Are you allergic to theological books?

I recently started reading another book of theology, but I found it utterly unintelligible and gave up after the first couple of chapters. I sometimes wonder whether theology is a matter of us studying God, or of God studying us. If the latter then clearly I stand accused.

I have even thought that maybe theology consists of theologians talking to themselves about each other – but I must try not to be cynical. But they do seem to use specialised language of their own which can barely be understood except by fellow members of the same mysterious and exclusive theologian’s guild – I almost said ‘trade union’.

Having said that, I do sometimes get vague ‘feelings’ of illumination if I plough on long enough regardless – but they seldom last. Much theological utterance, it seems to me, is apparently about what a rotten lot we humans are, which, if true, makes for pretty depressing reading.

Some writers have cleverly sugared the pill by wrapping up their doleful observations in the forms of drama and fiction so that we then seem to be finding fault with others, not necessarily ourselves. (I am thinking of Kafka and Camus for example.) Their protagonists, however, do not often emerge triumphant and joyful – they never entirely escape from their troubles. Works of classic modern fiction tend not to go in for happy endings.

Works of theology, trying to articulate our failings, succeed only in keeping them and our ‘fallen’ nature at arm’s length – maybe that’s why they are so difficult to read – so heavy-going.

Most Bible stories are likewise, I suppose, about the constant friction between good and
evil. I don’t mean they are just moral tales though David may triumph over Goliath – it’s far more interesting than that. If we analyse the characters and update some of the props we may find that we are left with an interesting psychological situation as infinitely subtle as any modern novel. Sometimes the simplicity of the story conceals a remarkable complexity of meaning. For ‘chariots’ and ‘horses’ read tanks and artillery: for ‘slings and arrows’ read missiles: for ‘castle’ read party headquarters: for ‘city wall’ read road-block
or pill-box: and so on.

Psychological states are revealed which are maybe not so very different from those that afflicted the people of long ago. For ‘prison’ read fixation: for ‘armour’ read defence-mechanism: for ‘retreat’ read phobia. Biblical goodies and baddies have much to tell us beyond their doubtful place in ancient history.

But to get back to my allergic reaction when faced with works of theology, maybe my
problem arises because theology is essentially speculative, unlike most fields of study, such as mechanics or astronomy where there is, so to speak, something to get hold of – something more or less tangible.

Theology, it appears is different: theological ideas have to be inferred, they cannot be observed. Now, at last, I think I know what is the matter: God is simply not susceptible to human study, the theologians are all wasting their time! Is God actually unthinkable? I’m not suggesting he doesn’t exist – simply that he cannot be imagined – at least, not with any certainty. But now, of course, I am in danger of falling into a trap of my own making.

Perhaps we cannot escape the possibility that we are just not ‘meantto fret about an
afterlife. Our business is to live the life in which we find ourselves. Despite the fact  that our clergy still go, I think, to ‘theological’ college, they tend for the most part not to engage much in theological discourse. Sermon material, so far as I can tell, is mostly about the life we live here and now. If we get our values right in this life, maybe the life to come can take care of itself. Don’t worry! I am encouraged in this notion when I see that the elderly, generally speaking, do not rush around in a state of sheer panic. Old people’s homes are not plagued with impending gloom or glory. They are apparently waiting rooms where old people patiently await their turn to find out what may be in store.

A dear brother-in-law of mine, when terminally ill and asked how he felt, told me calmly that he was ‘content’. Let us leave it at that.

Copyright 2011 G Roland Smith

Theology – What use is it?

You might look at our troubled world feeling that life is overwhelming at times and wonder what God is doing about it. Where is he when we need him? Does he have a plan for the planet’s environment, for tackling terrorism, for curtailing run away population growth? Alternatively is he not in control? Does he love us or is he angry? Whenever we talk about God, we are actually engaged in theology – ‘theos’ meaning God and ‘logos’ meaning word or reasoning. Therefore theology means the study of concepts of God and of the nature of religious ideas.

“Theology is an aspect of thought and conversation for all who live and breathe, who wrestle and fear, who hope and pray” (Kelly M. Kapic)

theologyHowever, many people seem to be fed up with church creeds and theological doctrines telling them what to think and do. They sometimes see such writing as complicated, confusing and thoroughly irrelevant. You may just want the simple words of Jesus or the Buddha; not the head-in-the clouds religious lecturers and writers in theology with their long sentences and fancy terms. You may simply want to experience an inspiring presence deep within your soul rather than hearing about it second hand.

Philosophy and theology have so much to tell us about God, but people today want to experience God. There is a difference between eating dinner and merely reading the menu. (Dada Vaswani – Indian spiritual leader)

Influence of knowledge of theology

Eating the spiritual food is crucial. Nevertheless, selecting a dish from the menu is necessary before receiving the food; otherwise, you may end up with the wrong meal. Likewise I would suggest that the way you think about what goes beyond the material world – what has been called the transcendant realm of divine spirit – will affect what you feel.

How you think about God is bound to affect whether you have confidence and hope in a merciful and wise divine providence or dread of a powerful figure who dishes out harsh judgments. It will shape the personal image of whom you pray to. In addition it will influence your idea of the divine plan for your life.

If you do not listen to theology, that will not mean that you have no ideas about God. It will mean that you have a lot of wrong ones— bad, muddled, out-of-date ideas. – C. S. Lewis

Bad theology

I would say that there is some mistaken theology still very much around.  I realise that bad theology has justified terrible folly and horrible behaviour. How can I for example feel a divine presence that will gives me hope and confidence when I come across those Christians who still write about a punitive ‘Father’: one who required the terrible suffering of his innocent ‘Son’ Christ on the cross. Or for that matter those Islamist extremists who justify the death of masses of people in a so-called ‘holy war’ in the name of Allah.

Usefulness of knowing theology 

I want to say that I have benefited from knowing about what religion has to say. I have learned from inspired sacred writing. Not having lots of information but rather what I have heard and read that has been illuminated deep within my mind. I’m trying to write about a deeper truth that goes beyond the ideas of the world.

Theologians write a lot about ‘salvation’ – some good and some, I believe, mistaken ideas. Nevertheless I’m concerned about theological ideas because I feel I need to be freed from the grip of self-interested thinking and some bad habits which I find difficult to shake off by my own efforts alone. If one questions how a higher power can save one from oneself, one is asking a  theological question.

Talking of sacred writings, I think most readers would agree that there are many parts of the Bible which don’t make immediate sense. Yes, specific verses of the Bible are often obscure and even misleading. For example where a passage speaks of God being inflamed with hot anger and wanting to be destructive.  One theological view is to say that God has a bad as well as a good side. However a more satisfactory interpretation in my view is to do with human projection. This can happen when we turn way from the God’s way and do what is selfish or cruel.  We imagine that God is judgmental and angry with us because we ourselves get angry and judgmental with someone who goes against what we say.  I think a correct theological view of God is one of wise love. Such a God would never feel angry or judgmental.

It is easy to misunderstand any one bit of the Bible when taken literally. For me general theological principles taken from the Bible as a whole illuminates the inner message.

…It may be recognized how many errors those people fall into who think of nothing beyond the literal sense when they read the Word, thus who read it without the aid of teachings drawn from the Word which show them what the real truth is.” (Emanuel Swedenborg – European 18th century theologian)

Enlightenment of knowledge of theology

I would suggest that theological knowledge is no use by itself. I feel that it is the actual application in daily life that brings about benefit as well as further depth of understanding.

There are … many among the inhabitants of hell who have been more expert in matters of doctrine than anybody else. But those who have led charitable lives are all in heaven. (Emanuel Swedenborg)

Using religious knowledge by keeping life as the end in view means for those who know about Swedenborg’s theology :

  • Not just thinking about God as the Lord Jesus Christ – but developing a relationship with him person to person in honest prayer
  • Not just reading about the delightful state of angelic life after death – but trying to live in that unselfish heavenly state whilst alive in the body.
  • Not just inwardly acknowledging what is good and true – but actively seeking God’s help to follow this conscience.

Probably every culture in history has theologically distorted what has been claimed to be God’s word. Nevertheless in my opinion higher principles found in religious writing often do show a divine inspiration that transcends mere human prudence.

Copyright 2015 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author Heart, Head & Hands

Posted on30th November 2015CategoriesLatest post, Meaning of life, ReligionTags, , , , ,

Salvation Gobbledygook

The understanding of how people are saved and go to heaven was turned into gobbledygook at the Council of Nicea, where God was first divided into three Persons.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with early Christian history, let give you some of the background that led the Church to make decisions that rendered the process of salvation unintelligible.

A man by the name of Arius was challenging the Church’s claim that Jesus was divine, and insisted that the Lord was inferior to the transcendent Father. To stop this new, heretical movement from growing, a synod of bishops got together in the year 325 in the town of Nicaea to mount a counter attack. These bishops were faced with the complicated task of explaining their affirmation of one God, but consisting of three distinct Persons.

The bishops invented new, high-sounding words (not found in Scripture) to explain their Trinitarian doctrine in a way that would preserve the Lord’s divinity, such as “hypostatic” union, which allowed the Father, Son and Holy Spirit to be distinct, yet be of one personal divine substance.

According to theologian Emanuel Swedenborg, while the bishops endeavored to escape a wolf, they “ran into a Lion.” Now, the dynamics of salvation had to be described by giving each distinct God a special duty. If each divine Personage requires the help of the other in saving humankind, then they cannot – by any stretch of the imagination – represent the fullness and perfection of the Godhead individually. There is also a problem of logically explaining how the Son was begotten from the Father when each existed from eternity (begotten suggests a sequence in time). But don’t worry – we can simply say that such illogicality is a great and beautiful “mystery” of faith. Things do not get any better when the different duties belonging to each particular God are seriously explored.

First, God the Father is pissed-off with humans. So the Father sends the Son (who apparently had nothing of value to do up to this time) to be slaughtered on the cross and take upon himself the sins of the world.  The Lord defeats death and emerges in righteousness. But this victory over sin (through bloodletting) has no direct benefit to us. The Lord’s merit and righteousness is merely transferred to a divine “credit card.” The Father does not impute this merit and righteousness of His Son (the Redeemer?), until those who by grace, obtain faith. Then the Father sends the Holy Spirit to use His divine credit so as to actually implement salvation for those who have the proper faith.

This is redemption. It is given to only the elect.

There are two big problems here. First, God cannot be seen as having Infinite love and mercy for all people – only for a select few. He hates some and accepts others (the Son and Holy Ghost simply follow orders from the Father). Second, we have absolutely no say in the process.

As a result of this spiritual “limbo,” we are put in a schizophrenic state of panic in which we try to acquire the proper FAITH. We rush to church, take part in its rites, listen to sermons, then cross our fingers (because the final outcome is still up to the judgment of the Father).

The strength of one’s faith is in the strength of one’s belief that the Lord is our Savior and Redeemer through His vicarious death on the Cross. We must believe, believe, and believe – until our eyes pop out of our sockets. And, during all this believing, we should overlook our transgressions, since we wouldn’t dare take merit for becoming a better Christian and person.

This dismissal of personal responsibility in matters of salvation is why some church leaders believe that Christians are above the Law (God’s Commandments), since through the crucifixion we now need only approach Christ. Yet even Christ states that we should approach the Father when He taught us the LORD’S PRAYER. The whole thing is a mess!

But change is coming. The New Jerusalem will usher in a more adequate theology for today’s world. In fact, it is yours for the taking.

Posted on September 14, 2008by thegodguy

Posted in god, Life after death, Reality, religion, spirituality, unity | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 35 Comments