I am not sure how many people in the modern world really believe in reincarnation; because so much reincarnation talk seems to operate at a superficial and 'lifestyle' level... Something to chat-about and speculate-on - or a stick with-which to beat mainstream Christians.
But presumably some people at least have reincarnation as a deeply-motivating kind of belief, that might sustain courage in the face of adversity?
But I must admit that I find it hard to imagine why a Christian who believed in Heaven (at least, who believed in heaven as I understand it to be) could want to be reincarnated after their biological-death, instead of being resurrected.
To my way of thinking, reincarnation is a natural and spontaneous way of thinking in childhood and during human history - and therefore I suppose it to be true: I suppose that Men (or at least some Men) were reincarnated after death, through much of human history. Reincarnation is therefore true, or a real possibility - or, at least, it was.
Although I also note that beyond the mere fact of reincarnation there are many and very different 'schemes' of reincarnation. Perhaps there were different reincarnations in different types of human society? I tend to think this is likely.
But what I do find difficult to understand about reincarnation for a modern Man (although here I will make an attempt to understand it) is why someone who knew of the reality of Heaven and the possibility of his own resurrection - and who also desired resurrection into Heaven...
...Why such a Christian would instead want to defer resurrection, and be reincarnated, and live another life in this world (in which this current life would not be remembered)?
When Heaven is both within one's grasp, and is wanted as an ultimate destination (and a situation in which the real business of living can begin, full-time) - it seems like a strange choice to defer entry.
I know-of, and greatly esteem (overall), several real Christians who also believe-in reincarnation, and apparently want to be reincarnated - who believe in reincarnation as both true and good: examples include Rudolf Steiner, Owen Barfield, and William Arkle - who are among my spiritual mentors.
This is find it hard to understand - because at best it seems like merely delaying - putting-off an achievable perfect outcome available Now - in order to engage in yet-more preparatory stuff.
But at worst it risks that my next incarnation might choose damnation and reject Heaven altogether - which would be the ultimate disaster.
However it may have been in the past; the hope of reincarnation nowadays strikes me as akin to kicking-the-can; as if just wanting to delay and defer the unavoidable and final decision.
And that strikes me as rather uncomfortably close to that delayed repentance, that refusal to repent Now; which is actually just a disguised refusal to repent.
The plea of Augustine of Hippo "Lord, make me chaste - but not yet" has often been misunderstood as a viable life-option for Christians. Of course, it merely means that Augustine was not yet a Christian when he said that (and meant it).
Analogously, when thought-through to its implications; for a modern Christian to desire reincarnation after death seems close to asking God for "Salvation - but not yet!" - which may well be functionally identical with rejecting salvation.
Note: It may be that some Christians regard reincarnation as something that just happens, that God 'does to us' (for our own good) whether we want and choose it, or not. Something that we need in order eventually to be allowed into Heaven and to assume the place God desires for us. If so, then this would surely be a cause for sadness and an attitude of resignation to God's will? Yet, many of those who argue for reincarnation clearly do not see it as a sad thing thus to be compelled to delay our admission to Heaven - on the contrary, they apparently have a positive and enthusiastic interest in the subject. This seems to me to display an implicit positive preference for reincarnation as their personal destination post-mortem - which I what I am criticizing here.
My earliest memory is of a past life. I was 3 years old and I clearly remember a scene from a train station some time in the 19th century. Men wearing suits and caps and women dressed modestly (and properly imo). I get the feeling that I didn't live long after this scene in the train station. Call it an intuition.
Why there was such a long gap of time between that scene in the train station and my birth in 1986 I don't know. I do think that contrary to the idea most people have about reincarnation we spend a good long while in the afterlife between death and a new birth (in most cases). I lean toward the Steinerian understanding of things as far as reincarnation although contrary to Steiner I do believe that if we are judged worthy of it by God the Father we earn an eternal place in the Kingdom of Heaven and are thus exempt from the cycle of birth and death. I also don't believe in any eternal hell though I do believe in temporary hell realms and that we must pay for all evil deeds we have committed on earth. What we have sown we must reap, either on earth or in the afterlife, this life or the next.
@Hayseed - I don't think that God's judgment is the key- but our choice; and heaven entails a capacity (made possible by Jesus Christ) for Men to make an eternal commitment to love.
Probably there is no equivalent commitment to Hell, or rejection of Heaven - yet it does seem that in practice a degree of corruption is possible by which ideas of Good and evil have become inverted - and once this stage has been reached salvation will not be desired but will be loathed.
So, in practice, Hell may be irreversible because Heaven is not wanted. I seem to see this way of thinking all around me today - but while in mortal life repentance is a possibility.
However, repentance may be much less likely or possible after death without resurrection, when the ghost-like demented spirit that (apparently) survives death of the body has been maimed by this loss.
Perhaps some people reincarnate if they’re murdered or killed before their proper time. I can’t imagine wanting to come back to this hell-world. I personally would rather leave for better pastures as soon as possible.
I hate this world so much the only thing keeping me from hanging myself is the fear that the punishment for suicide is to be punted back.
"God so loved the world...". Yeah, look who and what He allows to run it and gleefully hurt it. But I'm not supposed to get angry or despair, or else that too is a sin. Feels like a sick game sometimes.
When you frame it as you have here, the question seems equivalent to, "Why would a Christian want to go on living, rather than dying right away and going to Heaven?" If there are legitimate reasons a Christian might want -- or God might want a Christian -- to go on living a mortal life even when Heaven is within reach, it seems to me that those some reasons would be just as applicable to multiple incarnations as to a single prolonged incarnation. If there is a risk that I might choose damnation in my next incarnation, so is there a risk that I might yet choose damnation in this one.
@Epi - I'm quite happy to wait until my time comes! But I hope I will be ready and willing to die then.
@DJ - Being overwhelmed by negativity is understandable in some situations (I used to be a psychiatrist in a hospital with severe depressives, and saw some of these) - but is nonetheless a temptation that should be recognized as sinful even when it cannot be overcome by personal effort.
I personally find it helpful to realize that my specific life is being influenced by God in such a way that I will be kept alive for exactly as long as there is *potential* value in it for me - and I mean *eternal* (not evanescent) value; which I will not necessarily obtain until I am living eternally.
As long as I am alive, there is some-thing that it would be greatly to my everlasting benefit for me to learn from my actual life. If the life lessons are harsh this is *perhaps* (everyone is an individual case) because I have repeatedly failed to learn it from comfortable lessons.
@Wm - Well, no - continuing to live this mortal life is not really a close analogy to rejecting Heaven at the end of it, when God has (presumably) decided that we have 'had enough'/ learned what we need or can.
To choose reincarnation during this mortal life seems more like giving up on this life, assuming that we cannot and will not learn what we were supposed to learn - but still not wanting to make a final decision for or against Heaven.
I should make clear (as I say in the linked posts) that I do believe there are some circumstances when individuals do reincarnate for reasons that presumably are acceptable both to the individual and to God.
I am here talking of belief in reincarnation as normal for 'all' Men.
And also pointing out how much is being given-up for a Christian by deciding (here and now) that one wants to have-another-go at a life; before this life is over, and when that future life is at present unknown in its nature.
The circumstances in which a faithful Christian would actively want reincarnation seem likely to be unusual.
But maybe some people have guidance from the Holy Ghost to the effect that they have already 'blown-it' in this life, it is too late to remedy; and their best chance is to try again. It seems possible.
At the end of the day I return to the Fourth Gospel which seems quite clear (and convincing) that Jesus was teaching there here was a new dispensation in which the end of this mortal life would be following by resurrection to Heaven for those who followed Him. That seems like it was meant to be the first choice for most people.
Largely for lack of an answer to the question in your title I reject belief in reincarnation. That children and ancient societies believed in it does not convince me, for the obvious reason. I know you assume that they are expressing some truth, and I can accept that, but I do not see why the way they express the truth should be correct and why it could not be that they grasp at the truth but do not understand it and require development to understand truly.
If we do exist pre mortally, and know God then we may also know other souls who are post-mortal. Also, the existence of races, peoples and families may reflect some spiritual state or similarity of our pre mortal lives. Holding those assumptions, it may be that the memories of reincarnation are memories shared with us by post mortal souls similar to us who wish to aid our mortal life, or it may be that they are memories given to us to help us achieve some thing for the good of that group.
@Luke - I tend to assume that (in broad terms, although not in every detail) most people (more or less) get what they want - i.e. *experience* what they want; and that religions broadly 'deliver' on their promises - many of which are not, after all, very appealing!
e.g. Mainstream secular modern leftism offers total annihilation of the conscious self at death - i.e. one version of Hell - and I expect it delivers this experience for its believers who really want that, which seem to be many.
Christianity (in some of its forms) offers a far happier and more fulfilling afterlife than any other religion - and it is striking no religions seems to have tried to beat Christianity by offering more; at least not for 1800 years until the Mormon understanding of Heaven, which for me is the most appealing by far (and which I believe is broadly true).
e.g. Christianity's most formidable rival offers a Paradise of enjoyment, rather than a Heaven of participation with divine creation - and I expect that this Paradise is indeed experientially delivered to the faithful.
Well, death means God thinks we have had enough only if we assume that reincarnation is not the norm. If it is the norm, then death only means we’ve had enough of this particular incarnation but may have more to learn in another, quite different one — or perhaps just that we’ve painted ourselves into a corner and need to start over from scratch. As always, assumptions are primary.
Note: I have no particular opinion about reincarnation myself and don’t personally find it a pressing question.
@Wm - I don't find reincarnation pressing exactly, although my thoughts do recur to it from time to time. But it is clearly a vital matter - because if it really is normal and usual, then it has enormous implications. Therefore, Not to regard reincarnation as pressing is implicitly to disbelieve it - at least for oneself (much as to be an agnostic is implicitly to be an atheist). I therefore return to the subject when I encounter something significant in my reading (in this instance, something written by Dion Fortune) to rexamine it - to 'make sure' I am not missing something that would be important, if it really was going to happen to me.
You’ve written before that any attempt to understand the purpose of mortal life must begin with the recognition that most people throughout history have died in infancy and that living for many decades is very much the exception to the rule. Reincarnation would reframe all that.
Given free will, I think it must be true that some people (victims of murder or abortion, for example) die “before their time” — meaning that they would have benefited from a longer mortality had it not been cut short contrary to God’s will. Do they go on to the afterlife without the benefit of that mortal experience, or do they reincarnate? I guess the answer to that depends on how important prolonged mortal experience is considered to be.
Loretta Lynn, on one of her recent albums, does a fantastic version of her song "Everybody wants to go to Heaven". The refrain is: "everybody wants to go to Heaven but nobody wants to die...". A beautiful song and very funny and of course there is Loretta's voice.
What you discuss is an alien mindset to me, but I am reminded of Guenon. He would probably say that these people are kshatriya spirits and bent on *horizontal* expansion of the self. Those interested in Heaven would be brahmin spirits bent on *vertical* expansion.
It seems unsurprising that many of these people interested in reincarnation are also interested in psychic phenomenon. Which are per Guenon purely *horizontal* (and to him utterly uninteresting) phenomena.
Perhaps the most charitable understanding is that despite it all, these people have simply not had their fill of Life?
Another excellent post Dr Charlton. Thanks
A great topic to write about Bruce.
But we can make a strong case for the defence.
Without reincarnation, humanity would have stalled in its evolution long ages ago. Without a means to "bank" the progress made in each life - we would start with a blank slate each generation, wholly dependent on cultural and historical memory. The virtues gained, the spiritual seeds sown in each life would be utterly lost to posterity.
Regarding our journey to Heaven, it seems that we expand after death through the inner planets where we are successively purged. At length, we reach the Sun existence - the Heaven World. But what is left of us after all that purification? The worst of us will reach Heaven - but will arrive in a spiritual coma. The best of us will be diminished to a significant degree. Can that be described as an ideal situation?
Christ's sacrifice removes our sins from the celestial realms. But our Earthly debt remains as our responsibility. As we traverse the higher realms, that debt will weigh heavier upon us - eventually forming a gravitation pull back to Earth where destiny will guide us towards persons and situations where we have the opportunity to make good our deficits towards them.
Especially as we get older, the prospect of reincarnation can be rather a gloomy one. But a time will come when we are confronted with our true legacy and our desire for a chance of reparation and self-improvement will be overwhelming.
As a final point - just as our incarnations had a starting point (after the Fall) - so too will they come to an end. Only then can there be a "Last Judgement".
Maybe the people who tend to really believe in and want reincarnation merely do so because they in particular are intended to reincarnate. They are naturally inclined to reincarnation. It might be the role of teachers like Steiner to return again and again to teach.
"e.g. Christianity's most formidable rival offers a Paradise of enjoyment, rather than a Heaven of participation with divine creation - and I expect that this Paradise is indeed experientially delivered to the faithful."
Surely paradise is a demonic lie. Putting on the ring and not becoming Gollum? The offer of paradise seems like a trick into hell; the pursuit of paradise in this world has surely made it more hellish. The promises of the paradise you referenced seem ridiculous, almost goofy. Obvious manipulation.
This understanding wouldn't rule out certain other religious claims being true though; a return to spirithood or some kind of oneness (self-annihilation). Although now that I think about it maybe that's just another trick.
@ben - See today's post...
@Wm "Do they go on to the afterlife without the benefit of that mortal experience, or do they reincarnate? I guess the answer to that depends on how important prolonged mortal experience is considered to be."
I suppose the answer would be individually-tailored. And it would depend on what that person needed; and I think that it would also depend on the actual possibilities of hum society (including particular points of history).
I think we must assume that since God is the creator and loves us, the earth is set up to do its job well. There may be specific instances, specific lives, when this does not happen because of free will - but I think we can also assume that these situations will be uncommon - and that special arrangements can be made to cover them, of which reincarnation may be one.
@Moons - I have noticed that Steiner, like Barfield, does not talk much about the destination of Man - about Heaven.
But when he does it seems that he regards Men as being immaterial spirits - he describes a descent into matter and a return to pure spirit - but carrying what has been learned.
To me this seems utterly to neglect the single main fact of Christianity - resurrection - that Christ was incarnate, the body died, and then he resurrected: with a body. Therefore (it seems to me) the immortal resurrection body is - apparently - the highest state of being, and higher than pure spirit. And therefore that Man's ultimate aim is to be immortally embodied - not a pure spirit.
I regard this as a 'simple fact' of Christianity - but seemingly Steiner does not. So I regard this as a fundamental error in Steiner's thinking, which for me invalidates a great deal of what he said about what happens to the spirit after death.
Certainly I agree with you here Bruce.
The main achievement of Christ was His rescue (for mankind) of the "Resurrection Body" on Easter Saturday, that had been lost during the Fall.
Steiner's vision of the Heaven worlds was a place where we co-create with higher beings. But what are we creating? The blueprint for our next physical body. A task far beyond our individual capabilities. So we are assisted and the wisdom of the cosmos is woven into the fabric, taking account all that we have become on our human journey. This is where the statement - Man is the microcosm of the macrocosm - starts to make sense.
So it seems that, yes - the physical body (in its resurrected state) is of the highest importance.
But for a human being to attain to the promise of the immortal resurrection body will take many lives on Earth.
@Moons "Steiner's vision of the Heaven worlds was a place where we co-create with higher beings. "
This is somewhat off topic, but I find it strange that Steiner devotes so much attention to detailed descriptions of 'higher beings' (using medieval concepts of angelic hierarchies, for instance - which I would have regarded as obsolete 'intellectual soul' consciousness) - but never mentions God in most of his major works.
Barfield has a similar tendency, not so extreme.
A problem of Steiner (and Barfield) is that what they are saying is too complex and abstract to be comprehensible without considerable and sustained effort - yet I think both could have explained things much more concisely and simply if only they had framed their explanations with an account of God and what God is aiming at in creation.
I got this idea of God's nature and motivations from a combination of Mormon theology and William Arkle (i.e. God the creator as Parent) - and having done so I regard it as the Master Key - the single most valuable principle for guidance and understanding, a great and valuable simplifier.
The other master key (also neglected by Steiner and Barfield) is that the ideal earthly Family (which almost anyone can imagine) is the best picture of the basic arrangement of Heaven.
I am never happy about theology until it can be explained in terms of such natural, spontaneously known, and simple phenomena; otherwise (with use of abstractions and complexity) we can never be confident that we really understand. We need to grasp understanding whole, or else it is not real understanding.
"...or a stick with-which to beat mainstream Christians."
That metaphor pops into my head so often when I read or hear of stances people take, and figures in the topic sentence of numerous comments to this blog I never actually write. My compliments on the variety of your rhetoric in not having used it until now.
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