Coronavirus can result in covid-19 disease. Let us consider disease origins. Do individual differences and industrialisation play a role? And is disease indirectly anything to do with the ethical quality of humanity as a whole?
Medical explanation of disease origins
Coronavirus is highly contagious. But whether you get it depends partly on the level of exposure. Also, resistance varies in line with our immunity, age, and general medical condition. All play a role in determining whether a person becomes sick.
The point is, we cannot fully understand disease just by a study of the biological processes. We also need to understand how to improve our resilience. And also, to understand the origin of the dangerous microbes and other toxic agents. Whilst medicine can often explain the process of development of illness, it doesn’t understand these other factors too well. Is it possible to prevent harmful microbes existing in the first place?
Individual differences in disease origins
In 1999 Glen Hoddle England football manager had to resign. He had said that people born with a disability was a result of sins committed by them in a former life. Critics pointed out that he was being unbelievably insensitive and hurtful. The idea of sin sounds judgmental and it seemed he was blaming victims of disease for their suffering. His belief didn’t appear so very different from the traditional view of hell. This has been seen as condemnation of those judged to have led wicked lives.
Likewise, some have thought that disease is God punishing sinners. These old notions firmly suggest a punitive concept of judgmental deity. An idea that is completely out of keeping with the more progressive idea of God as a wise source of loving compassion.
It’s true we can be blamed for making ourselves more at risk of disease. We can fail to wash properly and live in unsanitary conditions. Or we can have an entirely sedentary lifestyle, smoke, drink immoderate amounts of alcohol or eat food to excess. But this doesn’t mean all illness is our own individual fault.
Industry and disease origins
Industrial activity can cause harm by electrification, radiation, exposure to extreme temperature or chemical poisoning. Laboratories find odourless and tasteless compounds of arsenic in some plant sprays, paints, rat poisons and several household preparations. In addition, all prescribed drugs have potentially harmful side-effects.
On the other hand, industrial activity doesn’t cause the many harmful viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites. Viruses may survive for some time in the soil, in water, or in milk. They cannot multiply unless they invade living cells. There they may cause infection but not disease. However, when they do cause disease, they can for example result in smallpox, flu, measles, mumps, encephalitis, warts, or the common cold.
We may wonder why damaging microbes exist in nature in the first place?
Some say the current pandemic is a curse on us all. Could there be a grain of truth in this? Could there actually be a connection between the general moral state of humanity and the existence of a toxic microbe in the environment like the coronavirus? Could a selfish streak in human nature result in negative natural consequences? I know of one spiritual theory that suggest some answers.
Swedenborg conceptual framework
Emanuel Swedenborg was an 18th century scientist, mystic and a spiritual philosopher. He wrote about three concepts that I think are relevant. Taken together I think these ideas help formulate a spiritual theory of disease.
The three concepts are correspondence, the spiritual world, and influx.
Swedenborg gives numerous examples of how nature mirrors spirit. He suggests for example that gentle animals reflect the spirit of human kindness. The opposite spirit of mind – that is to say the spirit of unkindness – corresponds to fierce animals.
There can be some horrible feelings around. Spite, malice, envy, greed, etc. These he saw represented snakes, scorpions, lizards, crocodiles as well as toxic and dangerous things of all kinds and poisons in both plants and soils.
There is one particular example of correspondence between the common spirit of humanity and nature that is relevant. This concerns the inner tension between various conscious motives we experience. The conflict between beneficial and harmful desires; between what is constructive and destructive. We can envisage how nature mirrors this clash of feelings. This is the biological battle between potentially dangerous toxins, fungi, viruses, etc and our body’s protective immune system including its antibodies which fight with viruses. The battle in the body pictures the battle in the mind. This is but one example of the way the world of spirit and the world of nature correspond together.
I think the phrase ‘the world of spirit’ voices Swedenborg’s idea of ‘the spiritual world’ more clearly. We speak of a spirit of sportsmanship, a spirit of comradeship, a spirit of generosity, a spirit of envy and so on. For him the world of spirit is the source of such states.
He says we all will eventually become directly conscious of this normally hidden realm. This will happen, if not before our bodily death, then afterwards. This usually veiled dimension of existence comprises the spirit of those people alive in the world today. It also consists of the spirit of all those humans long dead.
This world of spirit he says consists of two separate general spheres. Firstly, a heavenly realm which consists of the consciousness of countless people he calls ‘angelic spirits’. They have a spirit of generosity, kindness, and many other human virtues. Secondly, he describes a hellish sphere, made up of millions of individuals who have a spirit of meanness, unkindness, and many other human vices.
Perhaps this hellish spirit should not surprise us. We see, in the media, news of warfare, genocide, crime, social injustice, drug abuse, political corruption, and other examples of social evil present within human society.
What he saw in his altered state of consciousness was a vividly real to him as seeing physical things in ordinary life. He claims that everything he saw in the world of spirit was a representation of people’s inner state according to the correspondence between spirit and nature.
Influx means there is a flow of creative life into the natural world from the world of spirit. The churches teach that the divine spirit of God created the universe. In addition Swedenborg says that this creative life is channelled via the spirit of goodness in the world of spirit. It then feeds into the beauty, growth and healing found on our planet.
But we need to notice two sides to the coin of influx. There is also distortion, corruption and inversion of divine life. And this results in a harmful and destructive desires in the world of spirit. I have tried to show how this is represented for example in fierce animals and poisonous plants in the world of spirit according to correspondence. But in addition – and now we are getting to the crux of the matter of disease – Swedenborg offers us the idea that the spirit of harm flows into the world of nature and causes effects here. If true, I take this to mean that destructive desires present in the hidden realm of consciousness cause harmful microbes and cell mutations in the physical world.
Disease origins and the world of spirit
Swedenborg points out that influences from this sphere do not necessarily harm us although this desire is their origin. Coronavirus isn’t the same as covid-19. Viruses don’t make us ill and form disease in the body unless there already is some natural condition which is conducive to them. Disorderly state of the body conducive to disease include an unclean open wound, or an injury to a limb or internal organ, or a weakened immune system. That’s why people with medical complications are more vulnerable.
All this doesn’t mean illness is due to any unworthiness in the person. We are all exposed to nature. The plague rains down on the good and bad alike. The presence of the pandemic is the outcome of the general state of humanity. The underlying cause of disease is instead a sphere of immorality in human beings as a whole.