Thursday, January 12, 2006


I remember having... not an argument, exactly, but certainly a spirited discussion with one of my cousins when the Barenaked Ladies song "It's All Been Done" came out. I insisted it was about reincarnation and souls encountering each other through successive lives, even though done comically. She said there was no way; it was just silliness.

I actually believe in reincarnation. I know that's not a common Christian belief (in fact it's considered thoroughly heretical by some), but it seems too right an idea for me to let go of.

The early church did teach a doctrine of reincarnation. Witness the words of Bishop Gregory of Nyssa, "'It is absolutely necessary that the soul shall be healed and purified, and if it doesn't take place in one life on earth, it must be accomplished in future earthly lives." Even St. Augustine in his Confessions mused on the possibilities of multiple lives. "Did my infancy succeed another age of mine that dies before it? Was it that which I spent within my mother's womb? . . . And what before that life again, O God of my joy, was I anywhere or in any body?" Certain sects of Christians, especially Gnostics, Manicheans, and Cathars, taught that reincarnation was fact, but the idea was declared heretical by the mainstream church at the Council of Constantinople in the year 533.

The main Christian objection to reincarnation is that it seems to indicate that Christ's gift of salvation and grace is not enough, if multiple lives are required to attain perfection. However, within the Gospels, Jesus himself refers to John the Baptist as the reincarnation of Elijah. "For all the prophets and the law have prophesied until John. And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who was to come." (Matthew 11:13-14.) See also Matthew 17:10-13 and Mark 9:9-13.

The Apostle Paul, before his conversion on the road to Damascus, was a Pharisee. The Pharisaic sect of Judaism taught a form of reincarnation, that the souls of the wicked were punished after death, but the souls of the righteous were "removed into other bodies" and had the power to revive and live again. Paul gives us a tantalizing hint at the possibility of reincarnation in his first letter to the Corinthians. "Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed." (1 Cor. 15:51.)

I believe in reincarnation because I believe that one of the responses a soul makes upon receiving the gift of grace is the desire to know God. With very few and rare exceptions, though, this can not be done directly while we are embodied. So we learn about God by learning about the world and people around us. We come to understand God and God's love, in our limited way, by understanding and loving others.

It would be a rare soul that could reach even a partial understanding of life and its mysteries in one lifetime. So I believe that reincarnation is itself a gift of grace. It does not detract from salvation, but is a part of it. It is the gift of a loving Creator that our souls are given as many opportunities as we need to learn what we need to know to become part of that love and rejoin with God in the Source of All.


At 1/12/2006 10:43 AM, Blogger Tirithien said...

I personally believe in reincarnation, as well. As I see it, those who serve can learn more about the Divine, yet they also need more than one life to do it!

I think I may spin this off on mine, if you don't mind. ;-)

At 1/12/2006 10:50 AM, Blogger Bainwen Gilrana said...

Feel free, my dear. These ideas are open-source, as the programmers say. :-)

At 1/13/2006 3:21 PM, Blogger clew said...

I do not disbelieve in reincarnation either. It's an interesting and viable possibility. Glad to hear you are hip to that groove as well. Why am I not surprised?

At 1/13/2006 3:24 PM, Blogger clew said...

(I entertain the thought from the angle that Hell may not be a physical place but simply a separation from God. To live life over again may fit that bill. Sort of the same family of thought you have here ...?)

At 1/14/2006 11:18 AM, Blogger Bainwen Gilrana said...

Hmmm. I think it could go along those lines, only it would really be more of a purgatory than a hell at that point-- you get to keep working and trying to purify your soul (or rather, trying to surrender to the grace that will purify it). The idea of hell being separation from God is one that I share, but I don't think it's ever truly permanent. I think it lasts only as long as the soul causes it to last.

At 1/14/2006 9:53 PM, Anonymous chillas said...

I would simply like to point out that as far as The Barenaked Ladies go, some of their silliest songs are actually some of their most serious. Aside from "It's All Been Done Before" (I think you're on to something as far as its meaning goes), I'd submit that "If I Had $1,000,000" is actually one of their saddest songs.

Not really helpful, was that? :)

At 1/16/2006 12:29 PM, Blogger clew said...

Ah yes ... way too deep a topic to cover in simple comment quips. But we're on the same page. I was just throwing out a (very rudimentary) possible angle.... I've been exhausted lately.

At 1/19/2006 2:44 AM, Anonymous Admiraldinty said...

Forget the problem of the problem of the efficacy of Christ's saving work (although that's certainly valid.) There are two main (and intimately related) problems with reincarnation. The first is the Christian belief in hylomorphism, the soul is the formal cause of the body, i.e. a specific soul belongs to a specific body, and in a sense they are inseparable. Even a seperated soul (when a person dies) still has an intimate connection with the body they were once joined to directly.

Even if you don't accept hylomorphism, there is still an unescapable related issue: incarnation would create a serious problem for the Christian belief in a bodily resurrection. If we accept reincarnation, then it must be asked which body the soul is to return to "on the Last Day?"

At 1/19/2006 9:01 AM, Blogger Bainwen Gilrana said...

Hi, AdmiralDinty, and welcome! :-)

Hylomorphism is not a term I'd heard before, but I do see how it would be a concern for reconciling Christian belief and reincarnation belief. Likewise for the belief in bodily resurrection.

The thing is, though, I don't take bodily resurrection exactly as a literal idea. When I die, my body will break down. My organs will go to others who can use them, what's left will be cremated. All that will be left of my body is ashes and water. In order for this to become a body again, the Law of Entropy would have to be inverted-- not that God can't do this, but violation of Natural Law on large scales does not seem to be God's way, historically. I always took this to mean that we would be given spiritual bodies of a type that would reflect the purity of our souls once all the corruption has been burned away. I take that as an extrapolation from the way that we will have a new Heaven and a new Earth, for the old ones will have passed away. So because the new body would be based upon the soul, and the matter which made up the old body (or bodies) would no longer exist in usable form, the old bodies would not matter except for what the soul learned while it was in that body.

At 2/23/2006 3:12 PM, Blogger JayneSays said...

Hello, I also believe in reincarnation (and read a fascinating book about Jesus' reincarnation teachings - Jesus Lived in India) I had seen your other blog before, didn't realize you had this one, too. I like the idea of separating out spiritual matters in a way; I have squished this topic into my personal blog. Anyway, I enjoy your writing, tone and ideas. See you around!


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