Come again? – the fallacy of reincarnation

THE last act of Empedocles, the fifth century Greek philosopher, was pure Monty Python.

Empedocles so desired to be thought of as a god he threw himself into the crater of Mt Etna so he might vanish from the world and thus lead men to believe he had achieved immortality.

The volcano defeated this wish by spitting out one of his sandals.

People do strange things in the quest for immortality

Julia Roberts, who has converted to Hinduism, said she believed that in a past life she was a revolutionary, while pop princess Ke$ha apparently thinks she’s the reincarnation of John F. Kennedy.

Celebrities hardly ever believe they are the reincarnations of common folk.

Saddam Hussein believed he had been an ancient Babylonian king, while US General George Patton thought he was Julius Caesar’s reincarnation.

Stephen Prothero, author and religion professor at Boston University, suggests our ludicrous western fascination with reincarnation is related to our relative prosperity. Modern westerners, in their optimism and material success, see reincarnation as a chance to postpone eternity.

“Reincarnation means never having to say you’re dead,” Prothero wrote.

It sounds like a doctrine of hope, but it’s the philosophy of despair, an impossible concept of trying to achieve perfection by going through life over and over.

If there is reincarnation, man has no compelling need to make peace with God in this life. No compelling reason for anything really.

The sea goddess Calypso in Homer’s Odyssey envies humans because they are mortal and perform courageous acts knowing they could lose their lives. If we could be reincarnated, our choices would not matter much.

Christians, Muslims and Jews will tell you we are on this planet once. There are no perfect reincarnated people and no perfect societies without hunger, greed or envy.

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24 thoughts on “Come again? – the fallacy of reincarnation

    • Bryan, Just a thought that I forgot to mention in my immediate past posting.

      You brought up a point that on first sight appears crucial in the argument against preferring to take on a belief in Reincarnation. The possibility of having a whole series of lifetimes instead of just the proverbial one that we already know, means that one may avoid the one and only opportunity we are allowed for ‘Salvation’.

      But such an urgency of one chance only, by no means guarantees that the seeker will pick the ‘right’ means of salvation or religion. These days, look how one might choose the rapidly growing Islam over Christianity. And in any case, how can one infallibly detect just which branch or branches of Christianity happen to be the one and only path? We can see about us within Christianity, a multitude of varieties of Christian belief and practice, – and all claiming to be right. Loads of ‘Heresies’ have existed in the past, and still do in the present. Are they all equally right?

      Also, this urgency to pick a religious faith during the one lifetime, with the alternative being condemned to Hell, strikes me as being a major weakness within Christianity. Our Islamic brothers and the proponents of all the many variant forms of Christianity (and other religions altogether) are all insisting on the same fact, – that you must choose correctly or ELSE! I cant really say that I respect fear as being the major push that propels us to any particular religion. And heaven knows, the threat of hell being held over the heads of the people just has to be a monumental form of power that the clergy can hold over them in any religion.

      Christians frequently express horror or disapproval at any suggestion of Universalism, – that in the long run, all will be ‘saved’. Well, it may just be that eventually all will be saved; while it is only the select few who find the Christian way off the eternal roundabout of Reincarnation who get saved here and now. The Church Father Origen that I’ve mentioned elsewhere, the one described by St Jerome as the greatest teacher in the Church after the Apostles themselves, was one who promoted Universalism and Reincarnation (and was posthumously condemned by the Church). He like so many early Christians was eventually persecuted and tortured for his faith, and died a Martyr. In your view, was he less of a Christian do you think, than all of those who have held the conventional orthodox teachings and who rejected Reincarnation?

      Cheers, Rian.

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    • Some wise words from CARM Apologetics:

      “What makes you think that reincarnation is true? Believing it to be true doesn’t mean that it is. Yes, I know, believing Christianity is true doesn’t make it true either. But there is a big difference. In Christianity, we have Jesus. Jesus said He was the only Way. “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me,” (John 14:6). Jesus also performed many miracles. He walked on water, healed sicknesses, raised people from the dead, and claimed to be God in flesh. Because of these things, we need to look at Him seriously and consider what He is saying.

      Now, if Joe Schmoe on the street said that he was the only way to God, we’d look at him and say, “Yeah, right.” But, if Joe calmed a storm with a command, raised someone from the dead, walked on water, etc., that would add a lot of credibility to his claim. After all, he is demonstrating extraordinary abilities consistent with his extraordinary claim.

      This is the case with Jesus. He made extraordinary claims and performed extraordinary deeds. Therefore, it is logical to conclude that what Jesus said was true — especially since He claimed to be God (John 8:24,58; 10:30-33; 5:18).

      Jesus commissioned the apostles to teach and preach the Christian faith. In Heb. 9:27 it says, “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.” This verse alone shows that reincarnation is not true. Also, reincarnation negates the necessity of the Cross because reincarnation teaches you can have different lives in which to try and “get it right.” Not so in Christianity. According to the Bible, God gives us one chance to escape the clutches of sin and damnation. God has given us the Law which states that we are not to lie, to cheat, or steal. But, we all have. Therefore, we are all under the judgment of God and He will execute His judgment upon sinners on the Day of Judgment. If reincarnation is true, then there is no Day of Judgment, no need of a sacrifice, no need to trust in Christ.

      A person needs Christianity because reincarnation does not remove sin. Also, reincarnation contradicts the Bible which presents Jesus with His miracles, fulfilled prophecies, resurrection, and so much more. Reincarnation denies the Day of Judgment. Also, think about this. Reincarnation works with karma, the idea that your past lives of “goodness” or “badness” affects the quality and position of your next incarnation. The purpose of reincarnation is to help you develop perfect karma by which you might then achieve a union with the divine consciousness after you have learned whatever it is you are supposed to learn. The problem is that each person had a first incarnation. That means that each person then had perfect Karma since he had no previous life and had done nothing wrong. Therefore, if he had perfect Karma and didn’t learn or do what he was supposed to in his first life, then what makes him think that after hundreds of incarnations with accumulated bad karma that he will be able to achieve the perfect state of union with the divine consciousness that reincarnation moves him toward? It doesn’t make any sense.

      But what does make sense is that there is one God who has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ and the only way to have your sins forgiven is to trust in Him and not your own efforts through various lives to try and become perfect. That is why you need Jesus, because reincarnation is not only false, it is empty.

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      • Monica, I appreciate what you say, and believe God speaks to you. I have no right to gainsay anything you’ve said, just because I believe He has a different message for me. No more right than a plumbing apprentice would have to say a medical student was following the wrong directions.

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      • Hi Dreamweaver,

        I am sorry but I do not understand what you are trying to tell me.

        Of course you have the right to disagree with me, especially as you believe that God speaks to you too. Please feel free to do so, and tell me in words I can understand what you feel I am doing wrong. I may not agree with you but I will listen, I promise, because I believe that God speaks to me through whomever He chooses to use to get through to me. And I learn so much here because I want to lean from others.

        Reincarnation feels wrong to me, that’s all. It feels like death in my spirit. I can’t explain how I sense things, but it smells and feels like death, not life as it should if it were true. I am sorry.

        Not so long ago I told someone that he reminded me of Hitler. I felt awful afterwards for saying that so I asked God to please show me why I felt so strongly that it was true, and He revealed to me that the spirit of Hitler was Antichrist. It all made sense to me then and confirmed to me anyway, why I felt what this person said was in the wrong spirit.

        I value you Dreamweaver, as I do Rian, even though we have a different revelation of God. It’s okay.

        Cheers, Mon

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      • Monica, it’s interesting isn’t it how everyone of us as spiritual beings, sense something on a different level about others. Even people who don’t believe in souls, recognise it in their bones.

        I remember many years ago, in a doctor’s office, a man arrived for his appointment. As he was greeting the Doctor, I had this strong urge in me to say, forget about his body, his soul is sick. It’s his soul that needs healing. He needs help.

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      • And Kathleen,

        You could only know something like that (the true condition of that man’s soul) if God had revealed it to you personally—and He did, through the spiritual gifting of ‘Word of Knowledge’. People think that we hear God audibly speak to us. Some do sometimes, but it’s pretty rare, but mostly, we have a strong feeling about things we wouldn’t normally know, and that is God speaking to us too.

        If ever He reveals the secrets of men’s hearts to you again Kathleen, pray for that person if you can, then wait upon God for whatever else He may reveal to you about that situation.

        God bless

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      • I hope I thought to pray for him. I never really thought of praying about what God wanted of me. I worry about looking ‘crazy’ lol I have to have more faith and trust that God would lead me in the right direction with the appropriate action.

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      • You can pray in private when you go home Kathleen.

        It can wait, unless of course you are sure God is leading you to go up to a stranger and ask if you can pray with them. Now that takes a lot of courage. I’ve only ever done it once in a crowded cafeteria. She actually said yes, and I did pray for her and it went well, but I’ve never been game to do it again, I was such a nervous wreck!

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      • Monica, I’m not disagreeing with you at all. I believe you have the faith that God requires of you, to learn the lessons He wants you to learn. I believe He wants me to learn others, perhaps simpler ones but certainly of a different kind. I don’t know what they are, but I trust in Him and ‘lean not to my own understanding.’

        I would also say that to beware of leaning to our own understanding, we can verify what He tells us by holding the message in His light, in the company of two or three gathered together in the name of Jesus. It is amazing how this can clarify whether it is truly a divine message, or one coming from our own subconscious.

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      • Good advice Dreamweaver,

        And thanks.

        Yes, we do not have all the answers, not this side of death anyway, and we must especially guard against self-deception, especially when we think we know the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God. Spiritual pride is just plain nasty and it can so easily trip us up. It scares me actually, because I just know that God eventually cuts us down if we do not repent of it.

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    • In the sixth century, the Church was divided over the issue of reincarnation. Western bishops in Rome believed in pre-existence of the soul while Eastern bishops were opposed to it. Emperor Justinian, who controlled the Eastern Church, was against the doctrine of reincarnation. As an example of his interference in Church matters, Justinian excommunicated the Church Father Origen, who openly supported the idea of reincarnation.

      http://www.iisis.net/index.php?page=semkiw-reincarnation-past-lives-christianity

      Who are we to pronounce reincarnation a fact or not? Jesus had opportunities to give such guidance. Did he not think it important?

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      • (Did he not think it important?)
        Perhaps he didn’t want to start the sort of argument that’s on the table now, and had raged about everything ‘he said’ ever since day dot.

        Look at the history:- No matter what he said (allegedly said) there are ALWAYS as many different opinions of what he meant as there are self-interested people.

        Once again:- before ANYone can start making solemn pronouncements about ‘life’ ~ past, present or future ~ they should feel obliged to define WHAT it is they’re going on about.

        Otherwise ANYthing said about it is meaningless, in reality and particularly as a topic of conversation.
        But it’s not an easy one, is it?
        Not even the god of all the universes ~ whatever hat he might be wearing at any given time ~ came up with any such definition.
        Doesn’t that TELL you anything?

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    • In the sixth century, the Church was divided over the issue of reincarnation. Western bishops in Rome believed in pre-existence of the soul while Eastern bishops were opposed to it. Emperor Justinian, who controlled the Eastern Church, was against the doctrine of reincarnation. As an example of his interference in Church matters, Justinian excommunicated the Church Father Origen, who openly supported the idea of reincarnation.

      To further his agenda, Justinian convened the Fifth Ecumenical Council in 553 A.D., with only six bishops of the Western Church in attendance. On the other hand, 159 bishops of the Eastern Church, which Justinian controlled, were present.

      It was at this meeting that pre-existence of the soul was voted out of Church doctrine. Emperor Justinian manipulated Church doctrine by stacking the voting deck in his favor.
      http://www.iisis.net/index.php?page=semkiw-reincarnation-past-lives-christianity

      Who are we to say reincarnation is a fact or not? Jesus gave us no guidance on the matter. Perhaps he thought it was unimportant?

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      • “Who are we to say reincarnation is a fact or not? Jesus gave us no guidance on the matter. Perhaps he thought it was unimportant?”

        I have to disagree with you Dreamweaver,

        The Bible tells us that we die once and then face judgment (Hebrews 9:27). Jesus told the criminal on the cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43), not “You will have another chance to live a life on this earth.” Matthew 25:46 also specifically tells us that believers go on to eternal life while unbelievers go onto eternal punishment. Reincarnation is contradictory to Scripture.

        Got Questions Org states: “The one passage that some point to as evidence for reincarnation is Matthew 17:10-12 which links John the Baptist with Elijah. However, the passage does not say that John the Baptist was Elijah reincarnated but that he would have fulfilled the prophecy of Elijah’s coming if the people had believed his words and thereby believed in Jesus as the Messiah (Matthew 17:12). The people specifically asked John the Baptist if he was Elijah, and he said, “No, I am not” (John 1:21).

        There can be no doubt for the Christian that reincarnation is unbiblical and must be rejected as false.”

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      • Thanks for your comments and transcriptions Mon,

        Yes, for Evangelical and inerrant Bible based Christianity, there is no place at all for a belief in Reincarnation. I have stated that a couple of times in my latest postings. The Bible indicates it clearly, and that is sufficient for the believers. I have been attracted to the concept since about the age of 18.

        I was very interested in the God-given psychic reaction you get at the very idea of the Doctrine. Is it, do you believe, bad/death-smelling for you, uniquely in regard to Reincarnation in particular? Or is it much the same in regard to any teachings you might find in the other religions as well as in their deity definitions? On the surface, I must say that I’ve read about comparable reactions and intuitive recoilings by religious individuals towards all sorts of doctrinal themes and the gods of others.

        I’ve known Catholics who feel what they describe as God giving them horror warnings about Protestants who reject the ‘hyper-dulia’ worship due to Mary. Then, I’ve known Protestants who have had the same inner sickening feeling when they observe Catholics praying to their Saints. While many Jews and Muslims feel a deathly chill over them when they contemplate the Christian teachings about the Holy Trinity, or even when they just hear the terms.

        I am not generally of the ‘psychic’ disposition, but nevertheless, I do go through parallel feelings when I hear about or contemplate the terrible threats and concerns about Heaven and Hell for people after simply one life-time. And that horror is amplified a million fold when I hear about little children who are damaged for life, and terrified to death having been exposed to such teachings by well-meaning folk.

        Back in the late 19th century there was a Catholic Priest named Father Furniss. He published a number of little booklets for children in which the horrors of Hell were spelt out (and illustrated) in the most graphic detail for tiny kids who enjoyed the theatre, or who got a great kick out of nice clothes, or who didnt pray every day, or show obedience to the local Priest etc. Quite frankly I found his writings quite obscene and simply reeking of child abuse. Among the higher echelons of the Catholic Church he was held in the greatest esteem for the way in which they said he was able to communicate with the minds of the little ones.

        Am I significantly damaged by my ease of attitude towards Reincarnation? As I quoted before, I find the doctrine credible fair and attractive. To me it bespeaks a loving deity and a universe that is kind, patient and encouraging.

        As ever, Love,
        Rian.

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      • Hi Rian,

        No, that was the first time I’ve smelt ‘death,’ and it stunned me. I’ve smelt other smells over the years, but never death before. I presume it is the spiritual gift of ‘Discerning of Spirits,’ or it could just be my imagination. What came to me was that Reincarnation is a doctrine of death, meaning that it is false and leads to spiritual death, not life as we may assume. These experiences are very sudden and unexpected. But of course, one should never wholly trust their feelings for to do so is madness, and that’s why I place my trust in the authority of the Bible.

        I agree with you about the priest, that he was a child abuser. I grew up with the hell and damnation mantra as a child, and now it has gone the other way—hell no longer exists. Not to worry, we will all get the chance to find out if it exists or not, won’t we? Death is the great leveller. It’s our lie detector.

        Cheers

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      • Mon, Jesus did deal with reincarnation, saying that this case or that was not one of reincarnation, but nowhere does he say that reincarnation itself is a false belief, although he had these opportunities to address such a belief if it was mistaken.

        John 9:1-41 As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” …

        Matthew 11:14 And if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.

        Matthew 17:12 But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands.”

        These instances don’t prove reincarnation, but if Jesus thought that this whole idea was so wrong, surely he would have condemned it. Or else it was so widespread he put no importance on it. Remembering too that Paul practically reinvented Christianity, introducing a theology different from that of Jesus and the Jewish disciples.

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  1. Regarding Reincarnation, – some very wise words there Bryan. Clearly we need to be reminded that all ideologies and for that matter, all religions and religious doctrines can be distorted and misused or misapplied.

    It is indeed highly amusing when you find people claiming to have been famous or powerful individuals in some ‘past lifetime’. I guess that a seriously ironic factor about their claims would have to be that many of the great and famous persons of the past (they might be bragging about,) were frequently most unpleasant and immoral, and in fact probably the last persons one might want to have ‘been’. But I guess that those folk claiming some such exalted earthly background would not really number many more than the number of folk in our Mental Institutions (and out of same in many cases) who personally claim to be Napoleon or Cleopatra here and now. Anyway, I don’t really feel that Film Stars and other celebrities are people we need to take too much notice of.

    When you hear about such claims or such empty boasts, one is tempted to inquire ‘But where are all the great multitudes and indeed majority who ‘were’ the peasants and the petty criminals in those olden days?” Then too, I’ve heard some such folk drily answered with the comment – ‘Well, Just look at how far you’ve come down in the world since then!’

    The claim you quote there however, that in the West, Reincarnation is something of a philosophy of Despair, doesn’t really ring true. Sure in the eyes of traditional Christians, the denial of, or diversion from the Church doctrines of Salvation and fitness for ‘Heaven’, would seem to be obnoxious and sadly misguided. But let’s understand something clearly here, that in the East, where the ‘doctrine’ is most commonly held, the wheel of rebirth is not in the least inspiring or encouraging. The great desire born of despair, is for release from that eternal cycle which merely brings the familiar pain and poverty.

    Whereas for believers living in the affluent West, it is by contrast seen as very much a message of hope, justice and logic. Over the years in my times with modern Gnostics of various persuasions in our Western civilization, I cant recall anyone who found that their belief in Reincarnation meant anything but encouragement and fairness. Also, the effect has been to imbue them with a powerful urge for goodness and indeed a resultant humility in the majority of cases.

    Let’s understand that any and every type of religious or spiritual theory or path has its inherent weaknesses and potential drawbacks. In the Christian circles of our culture, surely we can all bring to mind individuals who claim to be saved or born again who make all sorts of glorified claims about their holiness, – or their inherent right to laud it over others with their gift of prophecy, – or their God-given power to pronounce judgements on others who don’t agree with them. (or for that matter to condemn ‘fellow’ Christians who vary from them on certain points).

    Look at the powerful Dominionists in USA who believe that America should become a totally Bible centred society, wherein ALL of the Old Testament rules should be followed with the right to stone disobedient offspring, along with Adulterers, breakers of the Sabbath, Blasphemers and etc. Then there are those Millenianists (and not just a few of them) in USA, who maintain that we are absolutely under no obligation and have no conceiveable requirement or duty to look after the ecology or whatever, of our planet Earth, since the ‘Second Coming’ is happening any moment now. And then God will bring about a total destruction and remaking of our planet without our aid.

    In the twelve months that I have been reading and contributing to this blog I have observed a few occasions when good, powerful and devoted Christians have displayed unfortunate partisan viewpoints that have duly called down the ‘wrath’ of other contributors, and not to mention in some cases interventions from your own good self.
    I would certainly go so far as to say that in each of the instances I have observed, the person involved has been quite logical and has spoken/written in accord with the ways the persons have read and understood Biblical or traditional teachings.

    I guess I would conclude by saying Bryan, that Christians can afford to condemn utterly the doctrine of Reincarnation, only when they are all united, bearing near identical beliefs, practices and virtues. As long as the various denominations and ‘schismatic’ branches of the Faith cling desperately to their variations, apparently unable to come to agreement between themselves, the non-Christian onlooker must of necessity shake his head in sadness or bewilderment, and like everyone else, ultimately come to his own conclusions, as he seeks for the path to The God in the best way he can. There are actually lots of teachings and traditions within Christianity that can be criticized. It is because of that, that innumerable books and articles and sermons of Apologetics have been written, to try and correct the multitude of problems and misconceptions that are held by the great unwashed.

    For the reasonably balanced person, there is no inherent harm in a belief in Reincarnation.

    Cheers, Rian.

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  2. Do tell –> “People do strange things in the quest for immortality”

    They even invent gods of all kinds, and reinvent them as requirements change. (Due to politics, physics or whatever.)
    ……all the while overlooking the obvious:- What exists has always existed and will always exist. (See:- Isaac Newton, et al.)

    Only functions and manifestations change: just because your own wouldn’t recognise you in other manifestations than the one you now inhabit is irrelevant.
    Jesus had the same experience.

    ……and, given infinity (aka ‘eternity’) god himself is wrong when he claims the title of Be-All-And-End-All of ‘creation’ ( ‘alpha and omega’).

    Infinity doesn’t stop and start.

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  3. Yeah! —> “Saddam Hussein believed he had been an ancient Babylonian king, while US General George Patton thought he was Julius Caesar’s reincarnation.”

    …….and how about that jewish kid who claimed to be god in a previous life!!

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