Love for ourselves is intending benefit only to ourselves and not to others unless it is in our own interests—having no goodwill toward the church or our country or toward any group of people or any fellow citizen. It is also being good to the church, our country, and other people only for the sake of our own reputation, advancement, or praise, so that unless we see some such reward in the good we may do for them we say at heart, “What’s the use? Why should I? What’s in it for me?” and forget about it. This shows that when we live a life of self-love we are not loving the church, our country, our community, our fellow citizens, or anything worthwhile—only ourselves.
If we give no consideration to our neighbor in what we are thinking and doing and therefore no consideration to the public good, let alone the Lord, then we live a life of self-love; we think only of ourselves and our immediate circle. This means that everything we do is done for the sake of ourselves and our own; if we do anything to benefit the public and our neighbor, it is only for the sake of appearances.
In referring to “ourselves and our immediate circle,” I mean that when we love ourselves we also love those we see as our own, in particular our children and grandchildren, and in general everyone with whom we identify, whom we call “ours.” Loving them is loving ourselves. This is because we see them as virtually part of us and see ourselves in them. Also included in those we call “ours” is everyone who praises, honors, and reveres us.
If we despise our neighbors or regard people as our enemies for merely disagreeing with us or not showing us reverence or respect, our life is a life of self-love. If for similar slights we hate our neighbors and persecute them, then we are even more deeply entrenched in self-love. And if we burn with vengeance against them and crave their destruction, our self-love is stronger still; people with this attitude eventually love being cruel.
We can tell what self-love is like by contrasting it with heavenly love. Heavenly love is loving service for its own sake, loving for their own sakes the good things we do for church, country, community, and fellow citizen. When we love these things for the sake of ourselves instead, we love them only as servants who wait on us. Therefore when we live in self-love we want the church, our country, our community, and our fellow citizens to serve us rather than wanting to serve them. We place ourselves above them, and them beneath us.
Not only that, the more we live a life of heavenly love (which is loving to be useful and do good things and having heartfelt delight when we do them), the more we are led by the Lord, since this is the love in which he is and which comes from him. On the other hand, the more we live a life of self-love, the more we are led by ourselves, and the more we are led by ourselves the more we are led by our own intrinsic characteristics; and those characteristics are nothing but evil. This is in fact the evil that we inherit—loving ourselves more than God, and the world more than heaven.
Further, to the extent that we give self-love free rein (that is, with the removal of the outward restraints exerted by fear of the law and its penalties, and of loss of reputation, respect, wealth, office, and life), this love by its very nature goes so wild that it wants to rule not only over every country on earth but even over heaven and over the Divine itself. It knows no boundary or limit. Even if this desire is not visible in the world, where the reins and restraints just mentioned keep it in check, it nevertheless lies hidden within all who devote their lives to this love. When such people find that the way forward is blocked, they stay there until the way is not blocked. The result of all this is that when their life is one of self-love they have no idea that such an insane, boundless craving lies hidden within them.
Still, no one can help but see this in powerful figures and heads of state who lack these kinds of reins, restraints, and obstacles, who charge off to conquer as many territories and countries as they can and thirst for unlimited power and glory. It is even more obvious in the people who extend their dominion into heaven and claim all of the Lord’s divine power for themselves—and ceaselessly crave for more.
from New Jerusalem, Sections 65-71