Sunday, May 6, 2012

More Notes on Rebirth

In pondering the notion of reincarnation, certain questions arise. The evidence available (and it is strong) suggests that people are born again; but the number of such cases is relatively small. If it were universal, we’d have much larger numbers who remember, not just a few. Therefore it may well be that some people are reborn after death, but not all. The generalization from a small sampling to all of humanity is not based on evidence but on philosophical projections trying to explain the few cases that seemingly always arise—and not just in regions where reincarnation is generally accepted.

In the West the general belief is that souls are created by God at or around a baby’s conception. In Catholicism reincarnation was anathamized by the Second Council of Constantinople (533), which declared both that the “fabulous pre-existence of souls” as well as “the monstrous restoration which follows from it” were wrong. In the East (Hinduism, Buddhism) the pre-existence is assumed—and souls are assumed to be, as it were, sparks of the Ultimate itself, entangled in the material realm by their own illusions and held here until, overcoming them, they rejoin the Ultimate.

The belief held in the East, however, was also articulated by Origen (185-254), an early theologian of the Church in his book, Peri Archon (I’m cribbing from the Catholic Encyclopedia here). He also held that souls pre-exist their incarnation, having been created outside of time; their presence in time, thus in bodies, is the consequence of their own willful behavior. To quote the Encyclopedia: “Origen’s theory excludes both eternal punishment and eternal bliss; for the soul which has been restored at last to union with God will again infallibly decline from its high state through satiety of the good, and be again relegated to material existence; and so on through endless cycles of apostasy, banishment, and return.”  If Origen used those words literally, he was surely mistaken about satiety, but never mind…

In any case, fascinating. Origen ultimately derives this cycling from the operations of free will—which is at least a coherent sort of doctrine. It assumes that each of us, individually, caused our own fall rather than, as it were, getting our original sin by mere genetic inheritance. The alternative, that of being created in a fallen state, at birth, is, for me, incoherent. In the latter instance all we must try to explain is why we don’t remember the initial act that sent us to a realm where, every morning, we have to put on socks.

Just a handful of those who remember having lived one life before also remember the intermediate state between lives in another and always rather magical realm. And some very few among them also recall having been urged by one or several angels to come back to earth again. Why? Because, evidently, they needed to do so to develop further. Those are interesting cases. In most others, it just happens.

So what does all this suggest? Is the model developmental? If so, the engineering of such intricate machines as bodies would not have been done by the fallen creatures themselves but would be part of the divine plan (which, of course, is the orthodox teaching, but I find it hard to believe); this is a big subject; I will have to enlarge on it later. Something more complex is going on here. I suspect, however, that I’ll have to wait until my own border crossing before the structure that brings us here and receives us back over there—and what’s really behind it—becomes clearer. I’ll put this in that notebook I’ll take with me when I die.

1 comment:

  1. Swedenborg mentions the phenomenon of remembering past lives, and offers a very good explanation for it - I wrote an article on it called "The Origin of the Soul, Reincarnation, and the Collective Unconscience" (at The answer is, no, there is no reincarnation, these memories come from souls who have a similar personality to you.