Friday, 13 November 2015

Christian explanations should be 'saving the appearances' - the case of reincarnation, mainstream Christianity and Mormonism

The idea of saving the appearances, or saving the phenomena, is that deep explanations should explain superficial explanations. For instance, scientific models of the movements of planets should be able to model and predict the movements of the real planets. 

The same idea ought to apply to religious 'models' includings all the various explanations in scripture, doctrine, and formal theology - yet it is surprising how often they don't.

Consider reincarnation. Reincarnation - of widely varying detailed explanations - seems to be a spontaneous, natural and universal human belief except where is is contradicted by culture - in other words, all tribal religions (animistic, totemistic), plus many Eastern religions in the spectrum of Hinduism and Buddhism include reincarnation.

I infer that reincarnation (in its various guises) is an attempt to save these appearances - to explain, model, systematize some basic human experience or intuition. In some way people experience and feel something (this is 'the appearance') that leads them to create various models of reincarnation that 'save' (explain) these experiences and feelings.

It is interesting that mainstream Christianity did not, and did not attempt to, save the appearances when it came to reincarnation - it simply stated that reincarnation was not true, did not happen - and implied that any of the feelings or experiences that led to so many millions of people positing reincarnation as an explanation for them, were merely some kind of delusion.

What were these 'appearnaces'? I think the basic one is the feeling that 'my life did not begin at my birth (or ceonception)'.

Most people do not have any specific (certainly not any detailed) memories of a previous life or lives; but many people do have a sense that their 'current' mortal life was not the beginning of life for them - there was 'something' of themselves, some kind of essence (spirit, soul or incarnate body or whatever) existing before their conception or birth. Some already existing entity which took-on a body and became an incarnate mortal.

In sum, I think this feeling of some past existence is the basis of theories of reincarnation. 

I suspect that this rather vague, but pretty solid, feeling is the basis of the theoretical elaborations of reincarnation.

However, I do not think there is any similar intuition about future reincarnations and their nature and purpose - and indeed these explanations are widely variable between religions; nor do I believe that the sense of having been specifically 'incarnated' i.e. having had a different body - is a part of spontaneous experience.

One strength of Mormonism is that it does explain the most basic intuitions, feelings, experiences concerning a previous life - although the link between the intuitions of Mankind and the doctrinces of Mormonism is seldom made. But Mormonism can say - yes, your feelings are valid; and we can explain them; but not by reincarnation, instead by pre-mortal spirit existence.

This is saving the appearances.


Bruce B. said...

I have zero intuition that I existed before about 3 years old. My wife says she has very vivid dreams that she was a couple of different people from the past.

I wonder if it is a personality type thing. In Myers-Briggs measurements I am off-the-scale sensing and not at all intuitive.

Bruce Charlton said...

@BB - The reference to intuition concerns young children before Western culture has had a chance to socialize them into nihilism etc. I think it would be found that it is normal for naïve young children to have some kind of implicit assumption that they were incarnated (in the sense of 'put into' bodies) rather than created. That, and the pattern of beliefs across history and the world (plus the facility with which people can be converted to a belief in reincarnation etc), suggests that this is the default assumption - even if many Western people have it suppressed, or simply forget it.