The question of reincarnation comes up often. Reincarnation is the notion that the soul or spirit, after biological death, begins a new life in a new body. Though the belief is a central tenet of the Indian religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism, traditional Christian theology does not make room for the concept of reincarnation.
Some of the early church fathers held a belief in reincarnation such as Origen, but ecclesiastical powers outlawed the belief and persecuted those who held it. The idea was a threat to the power of the religious hierarchy – if we have unlimited opportunities to evolve spiritually, the church authorities could not threaten people with hellfire if they did not fulfill their demands in this single life.
As a result, most Christians believe that we are created at conception and when we die we become eternal. However, eternity cannot be eternal on one end and finite on the other. If something has a beginning, it must have an end. If we believe that we will live forever, it must follow that we have always existed, as Origen taught.
From a purely intuitive point of view, if many of our greatest life lessons are learned later in life, what sense does it make to learn them and acquire great wisdom, and then have very little or no life left to live and apply it? I think there’s a way that doesn’t really make a lot of sense if you think about it.
In my view, our original Self is one with God. Always has been, always is, and always will be. That Self assumed a human body, mind and personhood for the purpose of discovering and giving expression to its divine Self in the human dimension and reality. It’s quite a trick to get all that sorted out – being fully divine and fully human. This is one reason why Jesus is significant to us. He said, “I am the truth.” In other words, Jesus was saying, “Here’s the truth. The options are not divine OR human. What I am and what you are is divine AND human.”
I don’t see how the idea that one would assume more than one human life to evolve into the fullest expression of this truth is particularly a problem. It seems a bit unrealistic to think that a person could complete their full spiritual evolution in a single lifetime?
However, whatever one believes about reincarnation, it seems that we can only live one lifetime at a time. And so it might not be worth getting too obsessed with the notion of reincarnation if it distracts you from being mindful and fully engaged in the life you are living now. Having said that, I should mention that there are some who believe that it can be useful to know something of their past lives. “Past life regression therapy” is a technique that uses hypnosis to recover what practitioners believe are memories of past lives or incarnations for the purpose of exploring the experiences that may have formed the roots of their current fears or phobias.
An Atheist may have a belief in reincarnation from a bit of a different perspective. From a scientific point of view, in terms of the Conservation of Energy and the First Law of Thermodynamics, energy cannot be created or destroyed, but rather transformed. In other words, energy can be stored, energy can move, energy can be transformed from one type of energy to another type of energy… but during all this moving and transforming the total amount of energy never changes. Energy changes form and moves from place to place but the total amount doesn’t change. So once the human body ceases to function and deteriorates, the energy field that held it all together transforms itself into a different form of energy.
Libraries could be filled with books about the subject of reincarnation. There’s only so much I can do in a few paragraphs in a blog post. Hopefully I touched on a few aspects of it in order to generate some worthwhile discussion about it. What do you think about reincarnation? What are your thoughts and experiences that relate to it? What have you found in your exploration of reincarnation? What questions and thoughts do you have?
My intent with this post is not to invite a debate about reincarnation with people fighting about their views. The point is to open up some honest, respectful, and worthwhile dialogue about a subject that many people are interested in exploring.