Reflections on Resurrection 4 – Reincarnation

I confess I was quite surprised when a recent Pew study revealed that 22% of American Christians believed in reincarnation. In fact, that’s probably one of the things that has been percolating in the back of mind leading to this present series. I don’t have a negative view of a belief in reincarnation in any of its forms. As I explained in the introductory post of this series, reincarnation was a significant facet in my childhood spiritual formation. And as an adult, before I found myself drawn into Christian faith, it was also a central component of my own belief system. For me, the view of reality (and what it means to be a human being) embedded within the concept reincarnation is better than all competing views with the notable exception of resurrection. If I ever ceased believing in the Christian narrative of resurrection, I have no doubt I would return to some belief system that incorporated reincarnation.

At it’s core, reincarnation presupposes that some essence of who and what you are (let’s call that your soul) existed and lived before your body was conceived and that same essence will endure after the death of your body. In some perspectives, that constant cycle is a central part of the problem and the goal is to bring the cycle to an end, typically through the release of your sense of individual identity and reunification with the greater whole. In other perspectives, the cycle of rebirth is positive and beautiful. However, this view requires some concept of the preexistence and the immortality of the soul. Something that is truly you must have existed before you were born and be independent of your physical body, so it can persist and animate a future body.

While I hold no animus toward the narrative of reincarnation and, indeed, think highly of it, I also recognize that it is utterly incompatible with the Christian narrative of resurrection. Christianity holds that we were created — body and soul — upon our conception. We had no preexistence and thus no former lives. Christianity shows us that we are integrated beings, that we are, in fact, our bodies — even if we also transcend our bodies in some sense. And Christianity proclaims that we will all be resurrected bodily in a manner continuous with the person we now are. Obviously, if we have had many lives and many bodies, such a proclamation is nonsense.

I don’t grasp what the 22% of American Christians who say they believe in reincarnation think Christianity teaches. I don’t see how they could believe in bodily resurrection unless, perhaps, they believe they get to pick which of their many bodies will be resurrected? That particular statistic baffles me. Resurrection and reincarnation just don’t mix.

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2 Comments

  1. Shas
    Posted December 15, 2010 at 12:11 am | Permalink

    I love your blog got directed to here from One Eat Pray and Love review…I am a born Hindu who has accepted Christ and trying to live the Christian way (as you rightly noted the main compnents always have to be sacrfice,love and suffering) as much as I can take it at the moment…Your beautiful and elegant and lucid way of potraying Christianity alongside Hinduism without demonizing Hinduism will help me a lot in my personal life…My parents and grandparents and relatives are Hindus and quite intelligent regarding spirituality..Your blogposts willhelp me in an immense way to have lively conversations with them when I call them Thanks a Lot!!

  2. Posted December 16, 2010 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

    I’m surprised and humbled by the comment here and there by those who found something I wrote helpful in a way I had never envisioned. As I mention in places, I’m something of a mongrel when it comes to my spiritual formation. I guess I don’t demonize Hinduism because, though obviously not born Hindu, it was part of my formation (in some form) growing up and I practiced it (more or less) for a number of years. I did not turn from a more or less Hindu perspective on reality to a Christian one because I found something wrong in Hinduism or had a sense of lack. Rather, I found the narrative and practice (when truly practiced) of love and resurrection in Christianity — and specifically in the person of Jesus of Nazareth — ultimately irresistible. I still do, even though I struggle to find a place within Christianity and practice the faith poorly.

    I have no idea if there is anything I have written or will write that you might find helpful, but I wish you the best. As you’ve noted, demonizing someone’s faith, especially on a personal level, is unlikely to change their perspective and rarely looks much like love. If I have any thoughts, it’s that in any vaguely similar situation I would love my family and follow Christ as best I could. And trust that neither my love nor my devotion and worship are wasted by God.

    Grace and peace.

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