I think it’s safe to say that the great majority of people love their own babies. Even apparently vicious criminals give evidence of this love for their own offspring. We might easily think of exceptions – e.g., newborns being discarded in a dumpster – but in a sense, the exceptions prove the rule; that action is so shocking and hard to explain.
Domesticated and wild animals care for their young too – at least the females do, with seeming tenderness – even those which kill the young of others of their species. Again, there are exceptions, but those creatures who eat or kill or abandon their own young probably do so to improve the chances for survival of the remaining offspring, or the next generation. For example, the large male felines in Africa’s Serengeti typically do kill some offspring. A strange exception is the cheetah. Male cheetahs hesitate to kill other cheetahs’ offspring, since they could be their own, because female cheetahs are ‘promiscuous’. Perhaps for the sake of genetic diversity, each female can carry, in one gestation period, embryos from multiple males.
Returning to our human species, people may not want to have any children for many reasons. A woman (or man, or couple) may not have the means. Or they fear the responsibility. Or their occupation is not suited for child-rearing. Or they have a genetic disease. But once a child is born, few people would not love it. They may later regret what parenthood turns out to entail, but not while their child is an infant, totally helpless, innocent and dependent. A woman who rejects, or even kills her newborn, in my view, is most likely deranged, by fear of discovery, or being pregnant by force, or by accident, or without knowing it (yes, that’s possible), or from drug-induced violence, etc.
To what degree any killer is responsible for her actions is a question that’s been asked for centuries. Social norms and laws are still changing on this issue in Western society, generally giving more attention to mitigating and aggravating conditions and mind states. Killing one’s own child seems so against nature that our first thought is it must be a result of insanity, but on the other, it’s so wrong that we react by demanding punishment.
It’s common to believe that animals which neglect, or reject, or kill offspring do so under the laws of nature and survival. Humans are not animals though, nor do I believe they are similarly controlled by natural laws; what they do, regardless of the good or evil consequences, is by choice, if often not well thought-out. I’m also convinced that people can consciously and intentionally do evil, and act viciously, which animals cannot. But killing one’s child seems against all nature, whether of man or beast.
Do people love babies because they’re cute or adorable? Pets are cute and adorable too, but few would put them on a par with small children – and some childless people apparently invest their love of babies in their pets. What are the feelings asssociated with those who have both children and pets? Very complex. All these psychological questions have many psychological answers, all of which appeal to alleged ‘laws of nature’. My preference is to understand and talk about the ‘laws of spirit regarding nature’, and how human nature may be altered by spiritual forces.
Do we love our children because they’re ‘ours’? I’m sure there is a lot of that feeling on the part of egoistic parents. If that’s their motive, it’s an indirect form of self-love. But if we are good and responsible parents, we love children because they stir us to feel love; we would still love them, even if they were not our own. There is something about a small child that says ‘Love me’, and we respond.
The youngest grandchild in my family just turned one, while I am approaching eighty. That’s an unusual age difference, and fortunate for me. I’m moved and fascinated by her, as are the dozens of other family and friends who have come into her sphere. I’d say ‘under her spell’ – it’s that strong – but she makes no conscious effort to control or manipulate. She seems totally innocent.
Being an old philosopher – literally – I’m still seeking to understand. (“Once a thinker, always a thinker…”) So what is it, and how is it that she communicates so well, whatever her emotional state, sad or happy?
The first answer, as I said, is that she’s innocent; she can’t do any harm, nor can she think a bad thought. I would say she doesn’t think at all, because thinking – unlike feeling – requires language, in order that it may take shape in our minds. I believe that’s why children don’t remember anything before about age two – i.e. when they can understand language. Test yourself on this theory. What’s your earliest memory?
The second answer, related to the first, is that she’s totally honest. She can’t lie; she doesn’t know how! That’s because she doesn’t know how to express her feelings in words. Instead, she communicates with her gestures, and especially her face and eyes.
Lying is not simply using false words to describe our beliefs or emotions. Using false words could be an error. We all make mistakes in our language, from ignorance or forgetfulness of how to say something correctly. Lying, by contrast, always and only requires that we intend to deceive, and try to use language to hide our true beliefs and feelings. We can even lie with true words – strange as it sounds – e.g. when we want to deceive people about the facts, but our belief about the facts is mistaken.
Truth-seeking is so important today, and depends primarily on motivation, rather than intellectual power. Yet there is little interest in truth, or in the reality it is designed to reveal, and the happiness it aims at. Pascal said it clearly over three centuries ago, in another skeptical era.
“Truth is so obscure in these times, and falsehood so established, that unless we love the truth, we cannot know it.” [Harvard Classics (1909 – 14) Blaise Pascal, “Thoughts” Section XIV, Appendix: Polemical Fragments #864]
To illustrate these points, let me appeal to two of my favorite thinkers – Plato and Swedenborg. Plato holds there is an ultimate reality – he calls it The Good – which is the source of both truth and our knowledge of truth. The Good in itself is “beyond knowledge and truth”, because it is infinite, whereas truth and knowledge are limited and limiting. Language is a mental thing (I would say ‘spiritual’). Words may take the physical form of spoken sounds or written signs, but their meaning is mental. And even in its mental essence, language is often limited, as when it seeks to define (‘put a limit to’) or describe (‘draw a line around’) something that is beyond limits and lines, such as God.
The Good then, as the highest reality, transcends words – and truth – but enables humans to know what is true. It can perhaps be experienced, but only after a lifetime (or many lifetimes) of devoted searching, when our minds are finally elevated into the “unseen world”. In Plato’s Greek, the ‘ideal of the good’ (ἡ τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ ἰδέα) , is not simply “an idea”; it is ultimate reality – being itself.
To help us turn toward reality, Plato uses many metaphors and allegories. For example, he compares the sun of this visible world, which is the source of light and sight, to the sun of the invisible world, which gives truth and knowledge. Just as the sun is the source of light and vision, but cannot be seen directly, so The Good is the source of truth and knowledge, but cannot itself be known directly.
“Then that which provides their truth to the things known, and gives the power of knowing to the knower, you must say is the idea or principle of the good and you must conceive it as being the cause of understanding and truth insofar as known; and thus while knowledge and truth … are both beautiful, it is something different … still more beautiful than these. … [And it is wrong] to think either knowledge or truth to be the good – the eternal nature of the good must be allowed a yet higher value.” [Republic VI, 508e-509a, Rouse transl]
By contrast, all that we think is true, here below, is an illusion, comparable to the shadow play seen by the prisoners of his famous allegory, The Cave.
Clearly, the divine being here – The Good – is God considered from a very elevated spiritual perspective, presented through allegory and analogy. Plato’s method is to use things familiar and appealing to our worldly desires, beliefs and experience, in order to move us to raise our thoughts and seek enlightenment. The whole of The Republic is a masterpiece of motivational writing, allowing the following generations to be inspired without a personal guide. Traditional church groups try to provide this guidance in a community setting, using the scriptural teachings of their particular faith. But they commonly contradict each other, which leads to hatred and conflict – not to enlightenment or truth.
Like Plato, Emanuel Swedenborg thinks there is an analogous relation between everything in the realm of nature, and the spiritual realm from which it stems. And all the names, places and events in biblical scripture, when correctly interpreted, provide spiritual truths. He calls the connection between the natural and spiritual realms “correspondence”. This is from his work, Sacred Scripture (SS):
SS #6 There emanate from the Lord what is heavenly, what is spiritual, and what is earthly, in that order. What emanates from his divine love is called heavenly and is divine goodness. What emanates from his divine wisdom is called spiritual, and is divine truth. What is earthly is a product of the two; it is a combining of them on the outermost level…In [the Word’s] outermost meaning it is earthly, in its inner meaning it is spiritual, and in its inmost meaning it is heavenly; and on every level of meaning it is divine….
SS #7 Then too, we cannot know what the difference between these qualities is unless we know about correspondence, since these three qualities are absolutely distinguishable from each other, like a goal, the means to it, and its result; or like the first, the intermediate, and the last. However, they coalesce by means of their correspondence, since what is earthly corresponds to what is spiritual and also to what is heavenly. Arcana Coelestia 1884, [1885,] , 1 Kings 14:23, [24,] 25, 26;
SS #8. Since the Word is inwardly spiritual and heavenly, it was composed using nothing but correspondences; and when something is written by means of nothing but correspondences, its outermost written sense takes on the kind of style we find in the prophets and in the Gospels, a style that has divine wisdom and everything angelic hidden within it even though it seems to be commonplace.
Also like Plato, Swedenborg employs metaphors to raise our thinking towards God, but he emphasizes the need for inspiration from the divine, that flows into our minds, and reorients our thoughts and feelings away from the deceptive fantasies of natural inclinations, to the degree that we will permit. Swedenborg also calls the heavenly sun The Good, but for him, ultimate goodness entails both divine love and wisdom. For this reason, he adds the warmth and fire of the spiritual sun to Plato’s symbols of its enlightening and truth-giving aspects.
For human minds, divine love connects to our will and its desires, while divine wisdom connects to our intellect and its beliefs. His depth analysis of Genesis and Exodus reveals principles that apply to the whole of the Jewish and Christian scripture, which has an inner or spiritual meaning not evident on the surface. For example, all the biblical texts that speak of various female-male relations have to do with human will and intellect, which is the essential character of every person. For example, talking about the genealogy of Noah, Swedenborg says:
Indeed no truth can ever be brought forth unless some good or delight exists for it to spring from. Within good and delight there is life, but not within truth apart from … good and delight. It is from these that truth is given form and develops, even as faith, which is connected with truth, is given form by and develops out of love, which is connected with good. Truth is like light; there is no light apart from that which flows from the sun or flame. It is from these that light is given form. Truth is merely the form which good takes, and faith merely the form which love takes. The form that truth takes depends therefore on the character of its good, as does that of faith on that of its love or charity. This is the reason why ‘wife’ and ‘wives’ who mean goods that have been joined to truths are meant at this point. This also is why in the next verse reference is made to pairs of all, male and female, entering the ark, for without goods joined to truths regeneration does not take place. References: Genesis 5:4, 6:18) [Arcana Coelestia 668, Elliott translation]
Plato shows, by the style and development of his writing, and by specific claims made in his dialogues, that the primary role of reasoning is to discover (or uncover) falsity, more than to find truth. We can’t reason our way to truth. Reasoning can eliminate beliefs that are false and point the way to reality. If we are lucky enough to discover reality – i.e. have our inner sight opened – it will prove itself to us, by its self-evidence in experience.
Plato speaks movingly in his Symposium of the ways that love can elevate our minds to a higher, more real plane. Socrates talks about Eros – desire – whose true nature he learned from a prophetess, the “wise Diotima”. Her first point is that Eros is neither god nor mortal, but a “great spirit”, who, like all spirits, communicates between heaven and earth and helps bring them together. If we listen well, we can learn commitment rather than promiscuity, giving as well as taking, and objectivity instead of subjectivity. From that perspective, we can think of the real meaning of generation or giving birth, and try to produce offspring that don’t pass away, such as beautiful thoughts and actions, and the love of truth.
Selfishness is turned inward. It wants to possess everything. It pulls in and suffocates whatever is loved. Love of others is turned outward. It gives freely. It seeks to generate eternal, spiritual offspring, and beautiful creations which are forever. Such are the eternal, spiritual possibilities of love. [Plato Symposium 199b – 212a]
Swedenborg has thoughts about the vital power of real love similar to those discussed by Socrates and Diotima above. One major difference is that Diotima advocated “Platonic” love, with the goal of rising above sexuality. Swedenborg by contrast, states that people do indeed have sexual relations in the afterlife, that provide great delight, to the degree that they express a couple’s unselfish love for each other, received from the divine. The scriptural claim that people “neither marry nor are given in marriage” [Matt 22:30] is another correspondential interpretation. It means that the process of joining love to wisdom, or goodness to truth does not occur after death. Those spiritual conjunctions have to be made on earth, while a person still has choice. The same applies to evil people. Their hellish ‘marriages’ of hatred and insanity, or evil and falsity are made on earth, where they choose what they care about most. People after death can still make choices, but not to change their basic character, once that is formed.
Swedenborg has a whole book [Conjugial Love, 1758] on true marriage love, and its inseparability from the desire to have and raise children. The innocence and peace we feel around children is the influence of angelic beings who surround little babies. All the examples of the love of and care for offspring in humans and in animals come from heaven (ultimately from the Lord). It joins the love of children and having children to the love of a faithful, religion-based marriage, to accomplish the ultimate purpose of creation. That purpose, the goal and meaning of the universe, is also the design and outcome of divine love and wisdom – namely, to produce souls who are capable of, and oriented to, receiving the Lord’s blessings in heaven.
Returning to our infant who affects us so much. It isn’t really that she personally is the source, but rather the channel of our good feelings. In fact, all of us, from birth, are so infused by hereditary tendencies to selfishness and evil, that without help from above, we wouldn’t have a chance to survive. But that help is always provided. So our baby receives an inflow of innocence and peace, from the angelic spirits who love her, and this affects us.
CL #395. (8) An atmosphere of innocence flows into little children, and through them into the parents so as to affect them. People know that little children are embodiments of innocence, but they do not know that their innocence flows in from the Lord. It flows in from the Lord because He is the essence of innocence, as said just above, and nothing can flow in – because it cannot exist – except from its first origin, which is the very essence of it.
However, we will say briefly what the nature of the innocence of early childhood is which affects parents. It radiates from the little children’s faces, from some of the movements they make, and from their first speech, and so affects them.
Little children have this innocence, because they do not think from anything interior; for they do not yet know what is good and evil, and true and false, so as to think in accordance with them. Therefore they do not have any prudence of their own, nor any design from a deliberate motive, thus are without any purpose for evil. They do not have a character acquired from love of self and the world. They do not credit anything to themselves. All that they receive they attribute to their parents. They are content with the little things they are given as gifts. They do not worry about their food and clothing, and are not anxious about the future. They do not pay regard to the world and covet many things on account of it. They love their parents, their nursemaids, and their little companions, and play with them in a state of innocence. They allow themselves to be guided; they listen and obey.
Both Plato and Swedenborg know that divinity is beyond language, so that the only way to find that reality is to learn to love it. One way to learn that love is the influence that babies have on us, which remains with us, and acts as a receiver in later hard times, to stir us towards spiritual growth, or ‘regeneration’. We need a foundation on which to base our spiritual rebirth, which always entails a fight against selfish tendencies. This foundation is what Swedenborg calls “remnants”, which are also mentioned frequently in biblical texts. Remnants are all the expressions of love, kindness, innocence and peace we have experienced, regardless of where they came from.
AC #561. But what are remnants? Not only the goods and truths which one has learned from the Word of the Lord from early childhood onwards and so had imprinted in his memory, but also all resulting states, such as states of innocence from early childhood; states of love towards parents, brothers and sisters, teachers, and friends; states of charity towards the neighbour, and also of compassion on the poor and needy; in short, all states involving good and truth. These states, together with the goods and truths that have been imprinted in the memory, are called remnants, which the Lord preserves with a person and stores away in his internal man, though the person himself is not at all directly conscious of this.
Finally, I offer for your consideration a fascinating claim that Swedenborg makes about the innocence and honesty of very early humans, long before The Fall. Being fully human, they knew God, so they constituted what he calls a ‘church’ – the “Most Ancient Church”. He says that they were so completely oriented to the divine from birth that they perceived the presence of God, and knew what is good and true, without having to read it (being pre-literate) or be told about reality, because they had no verbal language! They were like ‘our’ babies. They communicated non-verbally. In Arcana Coelestia he says:
AC #607 The Most Ancient Church had a perception of good and truth; … the Ancient Church [that followed] had not perception, but in its place another kind of dictate, which may be called conscience.
 But what is as yet unknown in the world, and is perhaps difficult to believe, is that the men of the Most Ancient Church had internal respiration, and only tacit external respiration. Thus they spoke not so much by words, … but by ideas, as angels do; and these they could express by innumerable changes of the looks and face, especially of the lips. In the lips there are countless series of muscular fibers which at this day are not set free, but being free with the men of that time, they could so present, signify, and represent ideas by them as to express in a minute’s time what at this day it would require an hour to say by articulate sounds and words, and they could do this more fully and clearly to the apprehension and understanding of those present than is possible by words, or series of words in combination. This may perhaps seem incredible, but yet it is true.
My love and gratitude go out to ‘our’ little non-verbal communicators who have so much to say to benefit us. Thank you for showing us there is a better place for our minds to dwell, and helping us understand how to get there.