Out of curiosity, I joined an online chat room whose topic was supposedly "religion" to see how the conversation was going. The chat had nothing to do with religion. I presumed that people of different viewpoints had joined, so I posed the question: would everyone agree that love is what is common to all religions, or that it is highest principle of most religions? The response I got back was merely "no." As to what is common, no answer. The conversation then degraded into whether or not God existed or not. I moved on to the afterlife, and the Near Death Experience, the response was, there is no proof. I said there was plenty of proof, including evidence of conscious thought with no brain activity, as well as clairvoyant abilities soon after death. The response was simplistic: these people did not die. Whatever topic I brought up, the only response was a denial to the negative. So I opened the floor and asked what is your philosophy then? The answer was "My own philosophy." The question was in fact a test to see whether or not these skeptics could actually make any statement that was POSITIVE and not NEGATIVE. They were unable. All they could say was "that is not so" or "that is not true." And that is the case I find with rational skeptics: all they can do is make statements to the negative to bring doubt to any line of query.
This happens to be the line of thought in most discussions concerning philosophy: it typically degrades into rational skepticism, where the debate degrades into whether or not something is true or not, but the typical conclusion is to the negative. In another chat room concerning philosophy, they could not even agree that there was such a thing as intrinsic good or evil. When I asked, why do all societies have laws? Or, why do we have a legal system? Silence. No answer.
Since rational skeptics can provide no answers, I will explain what is probably the underlying philosophy, which is that of modern materialism:
1. The goal in life is to bring maximum pleasure to one's own self or ego.
2. Good is what brings pleasure to the self, evil is what brings pain to the self.
3. Logic and rationality is the ultimate means of knowing truth.
4. Truth can only be confirmed by what we see, or, materialism is the ultimate reality.The problem here is that when one is in the love of self, or in the pride of one's own intelligence, one will tend to confirm that which is in accordance to one's life. It is an internal bias we all have: we justify to ourselves that what we do is right. How do we get out of this cycle? The first step is to admit we may be wrong. When there is no love towards God and others, and when there is no acknowledgement of the one God, or there is no knowledge of higher realms above the material, then one's self becomes one's own god. For in fact, there are only two choices in life: one of love and service towards others, or one that serves the selfish ego. The latter fall into a philosophy of materialism, and the typical goal is to get more for one's self than others, and if one perceives someone else is in a better position, the result is competition and jealousy. Without love and humility, one will tend towards the opposite: jealousy and pride. No matter what your religion or philosophy, these are the only two choices in life.
IS THERE LOGICAL PROOF FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD?
Rational skeptics typically demand a logical proof for God. But there isn't any. Why? The underlying assumption in the search for a proof for God or the afterlife is that rational logic is the ultimate form of truth. It is not: it is a lower form or system of truth. Why so? Because any logical system must first make a set of assumptions which cannot be proven. And those assumptions are not subject to proof: by definition, an assumption must be accepted on faith. There is no logical proof which does not begin with a set of assumptions that cannot be proven, and this is why logic and rational thinking is a lower form of truth. So without guidance or revelation, everyone is free to form their own sets of logical proofs for their own assumptions.
And this is a key point: the existence of God cannot be proven, God can only reveal Himself. This can be from dreams, visions, prophecies, or what is most common, the written Word. Spiritual truth is a higher set of truth, truth derived from the outer world and the senses is lower. Once a higher spiritual truth is accepted, one can then find innumerable confirmations of the truth from scientific knowledge and rational thought. But without revelation, everyone can arrive at a different conclusion, thus there are multiple religions. Emanuel Swedenborg spoke at length on these matters:
As to the quality of the one God, nations and peoples have differed and still differ, from several causes. The first cause is, that knowledge concerning God, and thence acknowledgment of Him, is not attainable without revelation; and knowledge concerning the Lord and thence acknowledgment, that in Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, is not attainable except from the Word, which is the crown of revelations. For by the revelation which is given man is able to approach God and to receive influx, and so from natural to become spiritual. (True Christian Religion, n. 11)That nothing would be known of the spiritual realm without revelation, is from the fact that whereas animals are born with instincts, man is born into ignorance and must be taught:
Man without a revelation from the Divine cannot know anything about eternal life, nor indeed anything about God, and still less about love to Him and faith in Him. For man is born into mere ignorance, and has afterward all things to learn from what is of the world, and form thereof his understanding. He is also born hereditarily into all evil which is of self-love and the love of the world, the enjoyments therefrom reigning continually and suggesting such things as are diametrically opposed to the Divine. It follows from this that man of himself knows nothing about eternal life; and therefore there must necessarily be a revelation to communicate such knowledge. (Heavenly Arcana, n. 10318)Moreover, when one lapses into self love and materialism, there is a tendency towards denial of spiritual matters despite the revelation:
That the evils of the love of self and of the world induce such ignorance about what belongs to eternal life, is very manifest from those within the church who, though they know from revelation that there is a God, that there is a heaven and a hell, that there is eternal life, and that that life is to be acquired by the good of love and faith, still lapse into denial concerning these things, as well the learned as the unlearned. From this again it is plain what great ignorance would prevail if there should be no revelation. (Heavenly Arcana, n. 10319)The problem arose as knowledge of God was originally directly known through dreams and visions, when this contact became broken, it was necessary to have these revelations written in scripture:
The men of the Most Ancient Church had knowledge of true faith by revelations; for they spoke with the Lord and with angels. Also they were instructed by visions and dreams, of which they had the most delightful and paradisal. They had perception from the Lord continually, of such sort that when they thought from the things that were in the memory they at once perceived whether the thing was true and good; even so that when any thing false was presented they were struck not merely with aversion, but with horror. And such is the state of angels. But afterward in place of the perception of the Most Ancient Church, there followed a knowledge of truth and good from what had been revealed before; and after that, from what was revealed in the Word. (Heavenly Arcana, n. 125)How would Emanuel Swedenborg know this? He experienced it firsthand for many years. See The Confirmed Clairvoyance of Emanuel Swedenborg.
THE AFFIRMATIVE AND NEGATIVE PRINCIPLE
So, if the existence of God is only to be known by revelation, then there are two types of people: those who accept it are in affirmative thought, those who have a tendency to deny it will be in negative thought. Those who accept it in the affirmative, can then confirm it (should they choose to do so) by examining external knowledge from the senses through logic and reason, for Divine truths will be in accordance in reason, down to the smallest of things in creation. Affirmative and negative thought are described by Swedenborg in detail:
...while the doctrine of faith is regarded from rational things, that is, while a man does not believe before he is persuaded from them that it is so, it then not only becomes nought, but whatever is therein is also denied; but when rational things are regarded from the doctrine of faith, that is, when one believes in the Word, and then the same things are confirmed by rational things, the doctrine is then living and whatever is therein is affirmed.Again Swedenborg says more on the affirmative and negative principle way of thinking:
There are two principles, therefore; one which leads to all folly and insanity, and another which leads to all intelligence and wisdom. The former principle is to deny all things, or to say in one's heart that he cannot believe them before he is convinced by things which he can apprehend, or perceive by the senses: this is the principle that leads to all folly and insanity, and it is to be called the negative principle. The other principle is to affirm the things which are of doctrine from the Word, or to think and believe in one's self that they are true because the Lord has said them: this is the principle which leads to all intelligence and wisdom, and is to be called the affirmative principle.
They who think from the negative principle, the more they consult what is rational, of external knowledge, and of philosophy, the more do they cast and precipitate themselves into darkness, till at length they deny all things. The causes are, that no one can apprehend higher things from lower ones, that is, spiritual and celestial things, still less Divine, from lower ones, because they transcend all understanding, and moreover everything is then involved in negatives from the [negative] principle. But, on the contrary, they who think from an affirmative principle can confirm themselves by whatever things of reason, of outward knowledge, indeed of philosophy, they have at command; for all these are confirming things to them, and give them a fuller idea of the matter.
Moreover, some are in doubt before they deny, and some are in doubt before they affirm. Those who are in doubt before they deny, are they who incline to a life of evil; and when this life carries them away, then so far as they think of those things, they deny them. But those who are in doubt before they affirm, are they who incline to a life of good; and when they suffer themselves to be bended to this by the Lord, then so far as they think of those things at the time, so far they affirm. (Heavenly Arcana, n. 2568)
...there are two principles from which they think, a negative and an affirmative; and that those think from the negative principle, who believe nothing unless they are convinced by what is of reason and outward knowledge, and indeed of sense; but those from the affirmative, who believe that things are true because the Lord has said them in the Word, and thus who have faith in the Lord. Those who are in the negative in regard to a thing being true because it is in the Word, say in heart that they will believe when they are persuaded by reason and outward knowledge. But the fact is that they never believe; and indeed they would not believe if they were to be convinced by their bodily senses, by sight, hearing, and touch; for they would always be forming new reasonings against the things, and thus end by altogether extinguishing all faith, and at the same time turning the light of the rational into darkness, because into falsities. But those who are in the affirmative, that is, who believe that things are true because the Lord has said so, are continually being confirmed, and their ideas enlightened and strengthened, by what is of reason and outward knowledge and even by what is of sense; for man has light from no other source than through reason and knowledge, and such is the way with every one. (Heavenly Arcana, n. 2588)Do those who react in the affirmative deny all rational thought? Persuasive religions, where the teachings are in obvious disagreement with fact or reason, will try to avoid questioning or rational thought. But higher Divine truths will always be in agreement with rational thought:
...Hence it is clear of how great concern it is, that truths should be known, and be believed; for man is enlightened by truths, but is made blind by falsities. By truths there is opened to the rational an immense and almost unbounded field; but by falsities almost none in comparison, though the appearance be otherwise. Hence the angels have so great wisdom, because they are in truths; for truth is the very light of heaven.How rational thought is subservient to higher spiritual thought, or things of faith, is told in symbolic form in scripture:
They who made themselves blind by not being willing to believe anything which they did not apprehend by the senses, until at length they believed nothing, were in old times called serpents of the tree of knowledge; for they reasoned much from sensual things and their fallacies, which easily fall into man's apprehension and belief, and seduced many (see n. 195, 196). In the other life they are readily distinguished from other spirits, by this, that in regard to all things of faith they reason whether it be so; and if it is shown to them a thousand and a thousand times that it is so, they still propose negative doubts against every confirming thing, and this they would do if it were for ever. They are therefore made blind to so great a degree that they have not common sense, that is, cannot comprehend what is good and true; and yet every one of them thinks himself wise above all in the universe; placing wisdom in being able to make void what is Divine, and deduce it from what is natural. Many who were esteemed as wise in the world are of this nature more than others; for the more one is endowed with talent and knowledge and is in the negative, the more insane he is, beyond others; but the more he is endowed with talent and knowledge and is in the affirmative, the wiser he can be. It is by no means denied man to cultivate the rational faculty by knowledge; but to make one's self obdurate against the truths of faith which are from the Word, is forbidden. (Heavenly Arcana, n. 2588)
That reasonings and knowledges do service to those who are in the affirmative, as means of being wise, was represented and signified by its being commanded the sons of Israel to borrow from the Egyptians vessels of gold, and vessels of silver, and garments (Exod. iii. 22; xi. 2; xii. 35, 36). The like is meant by its being said in many passages in the Word, that they should possess the goods, houses, vineyards, and oliveyards, and other things, of the nations; as also that the very gold and silver taken from the nations should become holy (Heavenly Arcana, n. 2588)Whether one reacts to the affirmative or negative to a higher revelation has little to do with objectivity: it has more to do whether one is leading a good life or a bad life. For people will tend to accept ideas in accordance with their life. For the good, there is a separation between good and evil, for the evil, there is a tendency to deny that there is a difference between good and evil. Children tend to be in affirmative thought more so than adults, as they have not reached the age of reason:
That it may also be known who they are who can be kept by the Lord in affection for good and truth, and thus be reformed and become spiritual, and who they are who cannot, this is also to be told in few words. In childhood, when one is first imbued with goods and truths, he is kept by the Lord in the affirmative, that what he is told and taught by his parents and masters is true. With those who can become spiritual men, this affirmative is confirmed by means of outward and inward knowledges; for whatever they afterward learn which has an affinity with it, insinuates itself into this affirmative, and corroborates it; and this more and more, even to affection. These are they who become spiritual men, according to the essence of the truth in which they have faith, and who conquer in temptations. But it is otherwise with those who cannot become spiritual men. Although these are in the affirmative in childhood, still in the age that follows they admit doubts, and so they trench upon the affirmative of good and truth; and when they come to adult age, they admit negatives, even to an affection for falsity. If these should be brought into temptations, they would wholly yield; and on this account they are also exempted from them. But the very cause of their admitting doubts, and afterward negatives, derives all its origin from the life of evil. (Heavenly Arcana, n. 2689)The importance of knowing the difference between affirmative and negative thought, is that an affirmative way of thinking towards a revelation is the first step to becoming more spiritual:
When this affirmative comes, man is then in the beginning of regeneration — good operates from the internal and causes affirmation. This good cannot flow into what is negative, nor even into what is doubtful, before this becomes affirmative. But afterward it manifests itself by affection, that is, by man's being affected by truth, or beginning to be delighted by it — first in knowing it, and then in acting according to it. Take for example the truth that the Lord is salvation to the human race. Unless this becomes affirmative on the part of man, all the things he has learned from the Word or in the church concerning the Lord, and stored among knowledges in the memory of his natural man, cannot be conjoined with his internal man, that is, with what may be there of faith. Thus neither can affection flow in, not even into the generals of that truth, which are conducive to man's salvation. But when it becomes affirmative, innumerable things are added, and filled with the good which flows in; for good continually flows in from the Lord, but where there is no affirmative, it is not received. An affirmative is therefore the first medium, and as it were the first abode of the good that flows in from the Lord. It is similar with all other truths that are called truths of faith. (Heavenly Arcana, n. 3913)Knowledge and acceptance of spiritual truth is the first step. One can then begin to see one's own evil or false way of thinking. What happens next? A period of temptation. In temptation, one lingers between affirmative and negative thought, or between good and evil spirits:
Temptations carry with them, as was said, a doubting in regard to the Lord's presence and mercy, and also in regard to salvation. The evil spirits who are then with the man and induce the temptation, strongly inspire the negative; but the good spirits and angels from the Lord dispel this doubtfulness in every way, and hold him in continual hope, and at length confirm the affirmative. Hence the man who is in temptation hangs between the negative and the affirmative. He who succumbs remains in doubtfulness and falls into the negative; but he who overcomes is indeed in doubtfulness; but still, if he suffers himself to be raised up by hope, stands fast in the affirmative. (Heavenly Arcana, n. 2338)
FURTHER INVESTIGATION FROM THE AFFIRMATIVE PRINCIPLE
Once an initial revelation is received as true, it is up to each person to further develop their spiritual thought and live by it. One is initially exposed to general doctrines from their religion, but it is up to each person to investigate them from scripture:
There are two ways of procuring the truths which are of faith — by doctrinals, and by the Word. When man procures them only by doctrinals, he then has faith in those who have drawn them from the Word, and he confirms them in himself to be true because others have said so; thus he does not believe them from his own faith, but from that of others. But when he procures them for himself from the Word, and thereby confirms them in himself to be true, he then believes them because they are from the Divine, and so believes them from faith given from the Divine. Every one who is within the church first procures the truths which are of faith from doctrinals, and also must so procure them, because he has not yet sufficient strength of judgment to enable him to see them himself from the Word; but then those truths to him are nothing but acquired knowledge. When however he is able to view them from his own judgment, if he then does not consult the Word in order to see from it whether they are true, they remain in him as mere knowledges; while if he does consult the Word from an affection and end of knowing truths, he then, when he has found them, procures for himself the things of faith from the genuine fountain, and they are appropriated to him from the Divine. (Heavenly Arcana, n. 5402)Unfortunately, much of the foundational thinking of modern churches is false (there is no trinity of persons, nor vicarious atonement, nor is one saved by belief only, nor are sins forgiven unless one desists from them and changes one life, etc, etc) So, don't take anyone's word for it, take time to investigate. Any religion or philosophy must be practical in one's life. For in most religions, there is a measure of truth mixed in with falsity. It is hard to question the religion one grew up in, likewise, it takes practice to go against the capitalistic materialism where people needlessly strive for status. Once the truth is known, then one is more able to fight against what is false, for such is the power of truth in the thought, for it leads to affection for the truth, followed by a life according to one's affection.