The Christian Aversion to Reincarnation
Aren’t you supposed to be ‘born again’?
One of the most curious points of opposition I run into during cosmological conversations with Christians is disbelief in reincarnation. It’s an ancient concept, whose precise origins remain somewhat mysterious. Indian philosophy is the most widely known source material, but there’s also evidence that pre-Socratic Greek scholars and Celtic druids held a belief in the soul’s ability to return to this world after death.
Before anyone correctively jumps down my throat, I know there are some sects of Christianity, such as the Rosicrucian's, who do subscribe to the concept of reincarnation, but I am speaking broadly in the terms of what most people envision when they hear “Christian”. To outsiders, denominational distinctions are splitting hairs when the whole head is balding.
Part of what makes it so peculiar for Christians to be skeptical of reincarnation, in my opinion, is Christ’s insistence on the necessity of “being born again", immediately preceding what is arguably the most widely known and recitable bible verse: John 3:16.
“Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, `You must be born again.’” -John 3:6–7
“I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?” -John 3:12
Christians readily accept palatable concepts like purgatory, despite having virtually zero biblical basis, but if you suggest to them that they might not be greeted by St. Peter and welcomed into eternal bliss after a single lifetime of basic decency and loyalty to their specific brand of Jesus™, there’s simply no way that could be. It makes far more sense to me (as much sense as supernatural phenomena can) that in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, one must hone and heal their soul through the cycle of Samsara, lifetime after lifetime, modeling their treatment of others after the Son of God.
“And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves,” -Matthew 21:12
Christ explained in no uncertain terms that He did not appreciate capitalism perverting His Father’s work, yet we have rampant, repulsive megachurches all over the country. There is literally a “church” inside of our local mall. One of the most common oppositions, and rightfully so, to religion as a whole is the exploitative model with which we are all too familiar: “Show your appreciation and love for your Creator by donating heavily to my personal account! Help your pastor drive around in a BMW for the Lord!”
But to suggest that the crucifixion doesn’t function as a sinner’s blank check?
I understand the desire for material comforts, and I don’t condemn it as harshly as I once did, but there needs to be a distinction between doing well for oneself and family, and wealth-hoarding to the detriment of one’s own community and beyond. Churches don’t have to pay taxes because their whole purpose for existing is subsidizing the community, yet more and more priests and pastors are being exposed with $1000 pairs of shoes, driving around in their congregation’s cumulative net worth, and doing next-to-nothing for the downtrodden around them. These are far worse instances of using the Lord’s name in vain than uttering “Oh my God,”.
Beside the rationale that 75 to a generous 100 years is an insufficient amount of time for the average human being to go from tabula rasa to Christ consciousness, there is an overwhelming number of accounts of young children describing deaths which preceded their births, providing sometimes violent details which no child should know.
One example, Ryan Hammons, holds the record for most verified past-life memories. Born in Oklahoma, he began vividly recounting his former life in Hollywood at the age of 4. Once while flipping through a book of old Hollywood with his mother, he pointed to a portrait and told his mother that the man pictured, Marty Martyn, used to be him. He knew the color of the car he used to drive, and that he didn’t allow others to drive it. He recalled living on a street with “rock" in the name in a large house with a pool. He remembered being frequently sunburnt and enjoying going to the beach with girlfriends. His mother eventually began keeping a journal of his reported memories; although 70% of these proved unverifiable, an impressive 24% were correct, while only 6% were wrong. Leslie Kean’s book Surviving Death provides more specific examples, but Ryan’s particular case is not the intended focus here.
Believing in something, as skeptics love to point out, has no influence on its truthfulness. It’s entirely possible that your consciousness is permanently extinguished when your brain activity and heartbeat cease, though as I get older and encounter more “coincidences", it seems increasingly improbable. I’ve witnessed Fate play out in such uncanny and downright unreasonable ways, it is harder for me to believe that life is a series of entirely random chaotic events set in motion by a thoughtless, uncaring explosion than to concede I do not, nor could not, comprehend the true nature of existence. I don’t believe we are biologically equipped to do so.
I can understand why the Heaven/Hell dichotomy is a preferable belief system to believing in perpetual death and rebirth, especially for those with a predisposition for an “us vs. them" tribal mentality. That’s not the source of my confusion. It’s more the willingness to believe in the miraculous: an immaculate conception, a 3-day death and subsequent resurrection, the multiplication of bread loaves and fish, all well and good; but then to draw the line for the miraculous at themselves and their own lives. To fall into this mentality is to hold supernatural beliefs as objects of antiquity, not as real, influential forces. Many Christians treat the stories of Jericho’s walls crumbling and Balaam’s donkey speaking as literalist historical accounts, but treat the providential happenings of their own lives as inconsequential and disregard the potentially supernatural as absurd. As if absurdity isn’t one of the defining characteristics of our reality.
I try not to hold my supernatural beliefs as dogmatically as I once opposed them and keep a healthy agnosticism toward most cosmological arguments. However, I’m pretty thoroughly convinced that I’ve lived at least one past life, and as much as I’d like to be greeted at the Pearly Gates upon my mortal expiration, I think I’m at least as likely to find myself in yet another delivery room. Life is tumultuous, painful, and scary; it isn’t comforting to think that when you’re done, you’ll have to do it all over again. But, to paraphrase Camus, we must imagine Sisyphus as being happy.