Thursday, 6 April 2017

Some Objections to Reincarnation

Reincarnation, it hardly needs saying, is not part of orthodox Christian belief but this does not trouble me because I don't see it as conflicting with the essential message of Christ. Many Christians, though, do have objections to it, perfectly valid ones from their point of view, and I will consider some of those here.

1. It does away with the need to acquire salvation in this life now. 

If reincarnation is true do we all get chance after chance until we get it right? Is that reasonable? Doesn't it provide an excuse to sin? Why bother making spiritual efforts if everything will come good in the end anyway? 

My response to this is that perhaps we do get many chances to ‘get it right’. After all, if we are enjoined to forgive those who slight us 70 x 7 times then would we not expect God to extend the same consideration to us when we fail or fall short? It would be strange if he told us to do one thing and did another himself. Having said that, it should be understood that the way we fail or fall short will determine the circumstances of our life next time round. All belief systems which include reincarnation also have reaping what you sow at their heart. So there's no excuse to sin and wrongdoing will always bring about consequences. 

However I would add the important proviso that it is unlikely that the granting of new chances lasts forever. There may come a time when we have used up our opportunities, and if a soul wholly rejects God rather than simply fails to accept him then that rejection could be taken as decisive. So while hell, or a state analogous to it, probably does exist, it is not necessarily permanent except in the case of some who voluntarily choose spiritual extinction rather than God. And even they are given what they want.

Therefore while not discounting the real possibility of damnation for some souls who persistently defy and deny God, it seems improbable that most non-believers are bad enough to go to hell eternally. Think of people you know who don't believe in God, perhaps among them friends and family. Would you give them another chance? Then why not God? He presumably wants to bring as many of his children back to him as possible and would always incline more to mercy than justice, though the demands of justice will still have to be met. 

But there is another point. Reincarnation is not chiefly to do with the process of salvation or damnation but with that of spiritual development. Thus it concerns the theosis side of the equation. So it may be that there are two things going on when we come to this world. One, the requirement to turn away from self and towards God, and two, the learning of lessons that will eventually convert us into saints. After all, most of those who might technically be saved are still a very long way from sainthood and, while not disputing the role of purgatory in the afterlife, it seems clear that experience in the material world is also necessary for the long and slow process of transforming a standard model human being into a saint. Only here are certain temptations, tests and growth scenarios possible. Only here can certain challenges be met, and it is through overcoming these challenges that latent virtues can develop.

2. Christians also object to reincarnation on the grounds that it conflicts with the idea of the resurrection of the body. 

But does it? What exactly is the body anyway? When we reincarnate we clearly do not have the same body we had before but the one we do have is the product of the earlier one. It is refined or degraded to the degree that earlier body was refined or degraded. We carry our past with us in the present and that is true for the body too which may be built on hereditary principles but also has the imprint of the soul within the limits imposed by the restrictions of karma or our destiny for that life. My belief is that eventually the atoms of our physical body will be transmuted into light and that the resurrected and ascended spiritual body is not a flesh and blood thing but a body of light. Again, the reincarnation process gradually burns away the dross in the body that prevents its transmutation, and the body we eventually acquire or build is the product of many lives of purification and refinement.

3. Another objection is that reincarnation implies an unnatural separation between body and soul, making them two wholly different things.

But they clearly are two different things. The human soul can exist without a body, certainly without a physical body though it probably always has a form of some kind. A physical body enables it to experience life in the physical world and, though I do believe it is certainly part of what we are, it is not this body that matters but 'bodyliness'. The body of the elect is not physical though there is probably something in it which corresponds to transmuted matter. Reincarnation certainly implies the pre-existence of the soul before it acquires a body but it not saying that spirit is good and matter bad as some of the Gnostics did. It merely points to the fact that we are primarily spiritual beings.

4. Why can we not remember our previous lives? 

This one is easy to answer but first I would say that if we actually could remember past lives we would hardly be able to learn anything new in this one. Memory is often a burden and prevents us living in the present moment, and that's just the memories of a single life. Imagine if we had a whole series to recollect. But, more to the point, we cannot remember our previous lives because we, as who we are now, do not have any previous lives. This is our first and only life. For it is the soul that comes and goes, not the person we are now. 

To appreciate this requires an understanding of what you might call esoteric anatomy which posits a higher self or soul that exists on its own spiritual plane and sends down a portion of itself to experience life in this world. So the mind, emotional nature and sense of personal identity are as new as the physical body though based on what has gone before. It's a crude analogy but imagine the soul on a higher plane as a sun sending down a shaft of light (its consciousness) through mental, emotional and physical levels, and clothing itself with a 'body' of each one in order to function on that level. These are all new and it is with these that we normally identify and think of as ourselves. The directing soul is, as it were, hidden except in rare moments even though it is the animating principle of the whole thing and, to an extent, defines its quality. I have mentioned before the Masters' words that "the greater part of you remains with us". The being you are in this world is only a part of the totality of what you really are though how much a part depends from individual to individual.

I have looked at a few Christian objections to reincarnation here but it may be that Christianity misunderstands the reasons for our being in this world when it focuses on salvation rather than theosis. For the governing idea behind the theory of reincarnation is that individual units of consciousness, souls, need to experience life in this world over many occasions in order to evolve their consciousness. Newly made by God as sparks from the central fire of his own being, they are intended to grow to godlike status themselves by becoming fully aware of the spiritual reality of their own being as given by God. Reincarnation with its opportunities for experience and expression is the process that brings this about. That's the theory anyway. Whether it applies to everyone in this world or is only one of various methods of spiritual growth is another matter.


Bruce Charlton said...


I appreciate your recent posts on reincarnation - which I regard as a subject that deserves the fullest and most detailed consideration.

Since my theology is from Mormonism, with its special emphasis on both pre- and post-mortal spiritual progression, some of these arguments don't have the same power they would for more 'classical' Christians.

For me, the strongest arguments in favour of a particular person being reincarnated are related to them having accepted a special role as a teacher - and in addition them having experienced more than one era or phase of Mankind's spiritual 'evolution' - for example living as a hunter-gatherer, an Ancient Egyptian, a Medieval, etc - with the very different spiritual worlds such people inhabited.

My own alternative working hypotheses, which fits the Mormon scheme more comfortably, is that in our pre-mortal and pre-incarnate lives we may have had very detailed and specific roles as angels in previous earth eras... for example as guardian angels, or fulfilling some other function involving close involvement with earthly matters.

(For Mormons, angels may be either pre-mortal spirits or post-mortal Men - either pre-resurrection pre-resurrection spirits or perhaps post-resurrection incarnated - but angels are not a separate creation.)

However, I acknowledge that there are, and have been, at least some reincarnated Men; and perhaps some multiply reincarnated.

William Wildblood said...

I think the point you make in your third paragraph is interesting, Bruce, in that it raises the question how long do people spend between lifetimes? And do they come back specifically to experience quite different earth conditions in which different aspects of their being can be developed? Now, of course, for many it would be what you might call the lower intellectual mind. Perhaps for the majority of reincarnates that is the case.

However I am inclining more and more to the idea that there are different scenarios going on in this world which may be why it is such a chaotic place, particularly now when perhaps peoples from many different spiritual backgrounds are present at what may prove to be a very significant time of mass opportunity and testing on a scale not seen before.