The Mystery of Reincarnation

Discussion in 'Reincarnation, Religion and Spirituality' started by RedSunshine, Oct 5, 2020.

  1. RedSunshine

    RedSunshine Senior Member

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    The major Christian denominations reject the concept of reincarnation. Christians believe that when a person dies their soul would sleep in the grave along with their corpse. This soul sleep continues until a time in the future known as the “last day” or also known as the “final judgment.” But there is evidence in the Bible of Jesus himself teaching reincarnation. However, there was a schism about understanding Jesus himself in early Christian history. Was he a man who became God? Was he God born as a man? The struggle was between the Church established by Paul in Rome and the remnants of the Jerusalem Church who fled to Egypt after Rome invaded Israel in 70 AD. The Roman faction rejected pre-existence and reincarnation and believed Jesus was God to become a man. The Jerusalem faction knew Jesus was a man who achieved the human-divine at-one-moment, which is the goal of everyone to escape the reincarnation cycle of birth and death and have eternal life. However, Rome won the political battle and the orthodox definition of resurrection was reduced to an end-of-time “Night of the Living Dead.”

    However, the Christian sects such as the Bogomils and the Cathars, who professed reincarnation and other gnostic beliefs, were referred to as “Manichean,” and are today sometimes described by scholars as “Neo-Manichean.” Recent studies have indicated that some Westerners accept the idea of reincarnation including certain contemporary Christians, modern Neopagans, followers of Spiritism, Theosophists, and students of esoteric philosophies such as Kabbalah. The belief in reincarnation is particularly high in the Baltic countries, with Lithuania having the highest figure for the whole of Europe, 44%. In a survey by the Pew Forum in 2009, 24% of American Christians expressed a belief in reincarnation. Geddes MacGregor, an Episcopalian priest who is Emeritus Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the University of Southern California, Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, a recipient of the California Literature Award (Gold Medal, non-fiction category), and the first holder of the Rufus Jones Chair in Philosophy and Religion at Bryn Mawr, demonstrates in his book Reincarnation in Christianity: A New Vision of the Role of Rebirth in Christian Thought, that Christian doctrine and reincarnation are not mutually exclusive belief systems.
     
  2. SeaAndSky

    SeaAndSky Senior Registered

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    Hi Red,

    Overall a good summary, though not indisputable. I have found, in my own research, that history on this subject is very fuzzy. This is especially true when trying to unravel the first 500 years or so of Christian history. It also doesn't help that the other side generally wrote the histories and/or only preserved what agreed with their approach.

    Nonetheless, I agree with you for the most part. My opening statement was included merely to point out that there are other ways of interpreting the available data (which is often scarce), and the other side has had a couple of thousand years of experience in "spinning" it in their favor. Believe me, they can also raise formidable arguments in support of their position.

    However, my biggest quibble, from a factual standpoint, would be this statement:

    "Christians believe that when a person dies their soul would sleep in the grave along with their corpse. This soul sleep continues until a time in the future known as the “last day” or also known as the “final judgment.”

    Only a small percentage of Christians hold this particular belief. Other than that, this is a pretty good summation. Is there more to come?

    Cordially,
    S&S
     
  3. Tinkerman

    Tinkerman Administrator Staff Member Super Moderator

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    Thank you, RedSunshine, for bringing this topic back up. For me and my study of reincarnation, it is fundamental. Although my religious affiliation springs from Christianity and has evolved into an Omnist perspective (with a heavy Buddhist slant), I find having an open, spiritual, and inquisitive heart key to navigating life. I've not read anything on Neopagans but it sounds interesting. I've always sensed the Druids and ancient paganistic belief systems were "God-oriented," but just had another way of saying it. So much of their teachings were destroyed (or was it?!) by the cruelty and power of organized religions... a prime example were the Cathars, as you mention, and are a topic close to my heart. Thank you again for the subject and I look forward to more information and thoughts from you. ~Tinkerman
     
  4. pondquinion

    pondquinion Active Member

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    Thank you for posting this. Your topic is quite interesting to hear and I'm looking forward to your other discussions!.
     
  5. tanker

    tanker Senior Registered

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    Are Christianity and reincarnation compatible? As a Christian who has lived before I have no choice but to say they are. I've never had a problem with the idea. But, as a philosopher might say, it depends what you mean by 'belief'. Can you say you 'believe' in reincarnation when you already know? So much of our acceptance of it generally seems to demand proof. Christ says 'the kingdom of heaven is within you.' Can't we say the same for reincarnation?
     
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  6. Speedwell

    Speedwell Moderator Staff Member Super Moderator

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    Of course I have no problem with accepting that it works just fine for some people. I suppose it depends on how we are defining Christianity. For me, all the versions which I was taught (I went to a CofE school as well as a secular school with the default Christian background) are incompatible. The realisation that reincarnation is true automatically erased any possibility of Christian belief for me, though I'm comfortable being amongst Christians, no need to debate the point, live and let live.

    My own view on the matter has always been that Jesus was not a Christian, and nor should I be. There may be value in some of the ideas, but not in the formal ideology - for me. No disrespect intended towards anyone else.
     
    Last edited: Oct 8, 2020
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  7. tanker

    tanker Senior Registered

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    Yes Speedwell, it absolutely depends on how we are defining Christianity! There are so many interpretations of that word, and many people call themselves Christians when others say they are not. It's a minefield! I don't feel qualified to comment really, but I still can't see how reincarnation automatically erases any possibility of Christian belief. It certainly doesn't for me.

    I'm very puzzled by your idea that Jesus was not a Christian! Can you explain? And which definition of Christianity are you meaning when you say that? It's obviously a very complex subject, but makes for interesting discussion.
     
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  8. Speedwell

    Speedwell Moderator Staff Member Super Moderator

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    Well, to me it is self-evident, needs no explanation. Though I understand we are looking at things in very different ways, and that is fine by me, I'm not aiming to put my view as better than anyone else's. As I said I was introduced to these things via the C of E - the state religion of England, of which the Queen is the head in both the secular and religious senses. Of course these things are more a formality than an actuality. Prince Charles has styled himself "defender of faiths" (plural) as opposed to the formal title of the queen, which in this context is Defender of the Faith. All of this dates back to Henry VIII's split from the Roman church which was the established church before that.

    I'm not engaging with any of the finer points of my understanding here, it doesn't seem important, I'm not here to persuade anyone of anything. More to the point, I wrestled with these things over many years, it was a stressful time, eventually I found peace and the arguments and details are no longer fresh in my mind. It would not make sense for me to try to retrace my steps through all the stages of something which happened for me thirty or forty years ago.
     
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  9. There and back again

    There and back again Senior Member

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    It is pretty obvious by now for most here that the Church clearly doesn't have all the answers especially now days on such matters but for the die hards my advice is to look at what people believed at the time if all else look into Jewish tradition and sure enough reincarnation is there. As for the church and the Bible one can thank Rome for cutting out a lot as evidenced by the dozens of books that have been rejected as well the changes made to what was accepted into canon. I do feel sorry for those who had to sacrifice so much during those times only for there to be watered down versions of the truth and the lessons they had to pass down otherwise the church of today would have been vastly different. In the end souls always live and move on to new experiences that just one life is never all that one has.
     
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  10. tanker

    tanker Senior Registered

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    There and back again, agreed with the loss of so many other manuscripts being left out. I'm particularly interested in the Gnostic Gospels, which tend to show Christ in a somewhat different light! They certainly appeal to my sense of mystery.
     
  11. RedSunshine

    RedSunshine Senior Member

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    Thank you for reading it also my friend, Hope your study of reincarnation will be successful!

    Cordially,
    RedSunshine
     
  12. SeaAndSky

    SeaAndSky Senior Registered

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    Hi Tanker,

    I agree. From my standpoint, Christianity does not bar my belief in reincarnation as, IMO, the only tests for orthodox Christianity agreed to by almost all Christians are Holy Scripture and the Nicene Creed. That pretty well includes the Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Paleo-Protestant denominations. The latter would include the Lutherans, Anglicans and Reformed. The Apostle's Creed is held by the Western Church, but not the Church in the East. However, you can include it if you like as an Anglican, as I also don't believe that it bars reincarnation. There may be some problems with the 39 Articles, but I don't have time to re-read them at the moment. Besides, I'm vaguely remembering those as being something necessary for the clergy to subscribe to, but not the laity. (You can probably answer that question for me). Anyhow, there are all kind of denominational standards, sources of authority, and statements for various denominations, and a pretty broad consensus on many issues, but in terms of a source of authority and a unified statement of what Christianity requires that would be accepted and agreed to by almost all Christians, the Bible and the Nicene Creed are pretty well the only things that qualify.

    What you will notice in terms of the Nicene is that it totally ignores the "Intermediate State" (i.e., the gap between death and the Final Judgment)--the same is true for the Apostle's Creed. The point is that there was never any early consensus reached about souls/spirits in this state during or in the early post-Apostolic era, seemingly because all expected the imminent return of Christ and Final Judgment. Likewise, this was not seen as one of the areas that needed to be settled immediately by the Apostolic Fathers and the other early Church Fathers in comparison to surviving persecution, spreading the Gospel and shepherding the flock. In addition, after the first century or so, there were very heated christological and trinitarian disputes going on. So, there were still a variety of viewpoints on the Intermediate State, and none were initially considered to be completely "out of bounds" by everyone, though the advocates of various views often considered other views to be serious errors. So, there were those accepting the idea of "soul sleep" as well as those supporting ideas of an interlude spent in Hades (which was divided between zones for the righteous in happiness and the unrighteous in punishment as per Luke 16:19-31). Some also seemingly accepted the idea of the immediate ascension of the righteous to Heaven (with some early hints of purgatorial ideas in the mix as well). There were also supporters of reincarnation among the Origenists and elsewhere, though claims that Origen himself supported this idea are subject to dispute.

    I think that all of the foregoing views still have some significant organized denominational followers in the present day, except for reincarnation. There are some small denominations such as Unity and a few others, but reincarnation is definitely a small fragile sprout among much larger trees. This can mostly be blamed on the Emperors that succeeded Constantine. Constantine's adoption of Christianity as the state religion was in some ways both the best and the worst thing that ever happened to Christianity. The persecution was stopped, but the Romans insisted on order in all things, and the Emperors took a heavy hand in suppressing various viewpoints as well as sometimes dictating the outcomes of various church councils in order to suit their own ideas. E.g., apparently 4 out of 5 of the great catechetical schools of the early church were Universalist in outlook. That got stamped out, just as Justinian stamped out the idea of reincarnation as a viable Christian solution and position in regard to the Intermediate State.

    In both cases, the emperors seemingly sought to promote one of the pagan ideas that had always been seen by those in charge as being a good way of discouraging the lower classes from getting too uppity, out of hand and/or rebellious. I.e., consignment to never ending torment after death if they misbehaved. So, Tartarus became Hell, and things could go on in their nice orderly fashion despite the new religion. In addition, the new religion offered something the old religion did not offer: a big fat carrot to encourage good behavior as well as just a stick to discourage bad. Folks that minded their manners had the chance of Heaven, which definitely beat the old Hades paradigm! (A rather bitter summary, but my "take" on the matter).

    Anyhow, here we are. I don't believe that the Bible bars my belief in reincarnation during the intermediate state, which is the most important thing from my standpoint. I also don't see that the only two ancient creeds that are of interest to me bar this belief.

    Cordially,
    S&S

    PS--You really may want to read the book suggested by Red Sunshine above. Geddes MacGregor was a fellow Anglican, so he can speak from that viewpoint. I haven't read the book myself, but it is one that is often recommended.

    PPS--I grew up in the Episcopal (Anglican) Church in the U.S. so we have something in common there.
     
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2020
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  13. tanker

    tanker Senior Registered

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    Agreed, S&S, I also don't believe that the Bible bars a belief in reincarnation, nor the two ancient creeds you talk about. So much is open to interpretation. But then, I've also never been a particularly conventional Catholic! "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio ..."
     
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  14. SeaAndSky

    SeaAndSky Senior Registered

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    Hi Tanker,

    Sorry! For some reason I thought you had said you were CofE. However, I don't think it makes too much difference except that the number of binding creeds, councils, Papal edicts, etc. may mean that you have more documents to cope with--if you're inclined to bother with that. I just finished looking over the latest Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church in the U.S. (which I have not attended in about 40 years) and actually found that it might be pretty easy to fit in there as a reincarnationist (since I can easily fit my beliefs into the rather loose boundaries provided). Things are a lot looser there than they were when I was growing up. BTW--I just checked the Encyclopedia Britannica to make sure I was correct on the Nicene being the only truly ecumenical creed, and got confirmation on that: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Nicene-Creed

    Cordially,
    S&S
     
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  15. tanker

    tanker Senior Registered

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    Thanks S&S, I'm probably not too concerned about all those things, as whatever they say it can't really change my view of reincarnation, or even my view of Christianity. As I said, I'm not exactly conventional and have always looked at the non-canonical texts with fascination. Anyway, I'm happy with the combination of reincarnation and Christianity as I've lived with that all my life. I don't think I've ever discussed it with other Christians till now though, as I like a peaceful life! Maybe it's the elephant in the room? It would be extremely interesting to know how many committed Christians actually remember a past life. We might have a surprise ...
     
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  16. SeaAndSky

    SeaAndSky Senior Registered

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    Hi Tanker,

    Your last post brings up an issue that has been on my mind for some time: I think there is a real need for a separate board dedicated to Christian Reincarnation. A place where some of the questions you pose could be answered. This may seem exclusionary, but I don't really think of it that way, especially as I see no reason why users would be restricted to Christians. It is not a question of who is allowed to post, but of the need to specifically address and focus on issues relevant to the intersection of reincarnation and Christianity in a way that cannot be accomplished on a more general reincarnation board. Indeed, under current board rules here, I think some of the things that I have in mind and some of the discussions that might occur would not be allowed.

    Considering that approx 25% of Christians across all denominational boundaries believe in reincarnation, I think there is a definite and unserved need for a locale that would provide a place to focus and develop approaches and doctrine related to the subject as well as to provide a clearing house, place for sharing, and a general source of reincarnation information to Christians. This could be of great assistance to those personally coping with PL memories in their own lives or the lives of loved ones, or are just interested in or believers in reincarnation.

    If I ever get to retire, this may be something that I put a good deal of attention into.

    Cordially,
    S&S
     
  17. tanker

    tanker Senior Registered

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    Go for it, S&S! I think that's a good idea. It would keep things like this neatly in one place.
     
  18. SeaAndSky

    SeaAndSky Senior Registered

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    Hi Tanker,

    I have some good news for you and other interested parties on the board. The Internet Archive (archive.org) has a copy of the book mentioned above available for reading online. First step is to sign on and become a member, which is free and easy. Search for the author "Geddes MacGregor" and you'll find this book plus others plus some nice audio lectures by Dr. MacGregor that can be listened to as well. After signing up, the book can be "checked out" for a two week period for a read through online. I assume it can be checked out again if needed.

    Anyhow, I am already half-way through, and finding it very interesting so far, though that interest may only be felt by those seeking to reconcile Christianity and reincarnation. (Even then, it is a fairly scholarly work, so "excitement" is pretty well limited to the realm of ideas rather than action/romance ;)). Anyhow, just wanted to let you know. I believe there may be a good many interesting books on this topic and others available, but I'm sticking with one at a time for the moment.

    Cordially,
    S&S

    PS--The Internet Archive is also where one finds the "Wayback Machine" for people who are familiar with that particular resource.
     
  19. tanker

    tanker Senior Registered

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    Thanks for that, S&S!
     

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