This year’s Annual Meeting, held on September 21, 2013, consisted of aday of meetings to consider in depth the state of the association, itsmission and accomplishment in relation to it, and to develop plans to meetthe challenges of falling membership and the failure to engage the newgeneration. President Bell drew attention to the fact of the continuingfulfillment of the association’s charter purpose to keep the pre-theologicalworks in print and to promote ideas in them. He also addressed the realityof the failure to attract younger generations as members that we and otherinstitutions now face, and said we must find ways to remedy this.
This essay is a study of the history of 18th century American religionfrom a New Church Perspective. The particular focus is the change in itsdoctrine of salvation (Soteriology) as the century progressed. There havebeen many, many studies of eighteenth century America and also quite afew on colonial American religion. However, I am unaware of any whichtake as its central problem the question of doctrinal change during thisperiod. They have focused instead on the traditional areas of historicalanalysis, i.e., social structure, economic changes, struggles for politicalpower and ideological conflicts. While these are vital areas of concern theyare not my primary interest here. My primary purpose in this essay is tobring to the fore the theological changes occurring in Reformed Protestantismin America in the context of the Last Judgment (1757) and thefounding of the New Church (1770). I believe these changes are essential inunderstanding those times, but also that they are pivotal in explaining thesecular changes simultaneously occurring. There seems to be good reasonto believe that in an intensely religious age, profound changes in theperceived conditions of eternal salvation would have a fundamental impacton human action. They would have a dynamic impact on all areas ofsymbolic life.
Prior to Enlightenment thought, the business end of philosophy hadbeen distinctly separate as a brand of learning from science and religion,but not entirely or actually separate. Since its absorption into what becamescience as a methodological procedure, it lost its connection with religionaltogether, and also lost its distinctive independent character. These remarksmay not appear to be particularly relevant to the subject of influx atfirst glance, yet in fact they are extremely important since it accounts forthe reason why any mention of influx as a spiritual process is generallytreated as an intellectual affront. After all, there is no doubt that psychologicaland philosophical explorations of conceptions of consciousness areundermined by it, which should not surprise us. The scientific program,and the philosophical principles it has commandeered, are driven by thedesire to create a representation of reality that refers to nothing outsideitself (meaning the natural world and hence the universe) as possessed ofany relevant explanatory power.
Volume 4 of Emanuel Swedenborg’s Spiritual Experiences has just beenpublished. After one has read from the pages of this twenty-yearjournal of a respected scientist and statesman in which he recorded hisspiritual experiences of seeing and speaking with those who have passedon to the other world, how could one doubt that there is a life after death?