SOUL MEETS BODY
"To some, talk about topics such as whether or not life emerged from matter may appear far removed from day-to-day affairs, and thus irrelevant to their own lives. Whether the discussions involve highly reasonable ideas based on solid evidence or vague, unsubstantiated hypotheses rooted in flimsy data and nurtured by scientific prejudice, they seem like subject matter for scholars in ivory towers.
"But because the answers to fundamental questions about the origin of life determine how we view ourselves and our place in the universe, they profoundly affect our sense of identity, our decisions, our feelings, our relationships, our behavior -- in fact, they affect all aspects of our life, including the goals of our whole secular society."
(Origins magazine, Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 1984, p. 30)
The twin doctrines of karma and reincarnation as taught in the the Eastern religions (Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism) provide a valid theistic foundation for animal rights ethics, but are not yet accepted in the secular arena.
Research by credible scientists into mind-body dualism and past-life studies suggest it is a real possibility.
There is more to the human mind than information processing. It is consciousness itself that is the foundation of all experience, but no one can describe it by numerical expression in the same way as chemical reactions, the force of gravity, and other physical phenomena.
Yet just because it cannot be measured by quantitative means in no way denies its existence -- consciousness can clearly be known by experience: cogito ergo sum.
This suggests a serious limitation of the mechanistic approach, namely, that it can only describe behavior connected with consciousness but not consciousness itself.
Let us consider a machine that when exposed to a red light would say, "I see a red light." Such a machine could be built by connecting a photocell with a red filter to an amplifier. When triggered, the amplifier would turn on a tape recorder that plays back the message, "I see a red light."
Although the machine declares that it "sees" a red light, no one in his right mind would conclude that it is actually "seeing" anything.
Similarly, a tape recorder receives sound impulses but does not hear, and an automobile moves but does not itself experience motion.
While machines perform certain activities that could duplicate those of a sentient being, all the actions of the machine are reducible to a mechanistic explanation.
But in the case of a sentient being, endowed with conscious awareness, the physical description is inadequate to describe one's personal experience.
Even Darwin's champion, Thomas Huxley, pointed out the irreducible nature of consciousness.
"I understand the main tenet of materialism to be that there is nothing in the universe but matter and force: and that all the phenomena of nature are explicable by deduction from the properties assignable to these two primitive factors...
"It seems to me pretty plain that there is a third thing in the universe, to wit, consciousness, which... I cannot see to be mater or force, or any conceivable modification of either."
Nobel Laureate physicist Eugene Wigner similarly said:
"There are two kinds of reality or existence: the existence of my consciousness and the reality or existence of everything else. The latter reality is not absolute but only relative."
Wigner observed that external, measurable phenomena are known to him only by virtue of his own consciousness, and thus his consciousness is, if anything, more real than these phenomena.
After extensive research in this area, Alan Gevins of EEG Systems Laboratory in San Francisco concluded individual consciousness might be nonphysical:
"I'm not as firm as some of my colleagues in the belief that the mind can be reduced to a flow of electrons."
Although a percentage of the research on near death experiences (NDEs) is unreliable, other work has been presented by individuals with impeccable credentials.
For example, Dr. Michael Sabom, a cardiologist and professor at Emory University Medical School was openly skeptical of NDEs but changed his mind after investigating them.
Based on his extensive research and his thorough analysis of various alternative explanations, Sabom arrived at the following question:
"Could the mind which splits apart from the physical brain be, in essence, the soul, which continues to exist after final bodily death, according to some religious doctrines? As I see it, this is the ultimate question that has been raised by reports of the NDE."
"As the embodied soul continuously passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. A sober person is not bewildered by such a change."
"That which pervades the entire body you should know to be indestructible. No one is able to destroy that imperishable soul."
"For the soul there is never birth nor death. Nor, having once been, does he ever cease to be.
He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying, and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain."
"As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, the soul similarly accepts new material
bodies, giving up the old and useless ones."
--Bhagavad-gita, chapter two, verses 13, 17, 20, and 22
And of course, Lord Krishna Himself says to His disciple Arjuna, in Bhagavad-gita 3.26:
"One who restrains the senses of action but whose mind dwells on sense objects certainly deludes himself and is called a pretender."
Belief in reincarnation IS compatible with Western spirituality!
There are many passages throughout the Old Testament which speak of death with finality, and make no mention of an afterlife. "Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return," said the Lord to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:17. Humans lost a physical immortality, and there is no mention of existence beyond the body.
Psalm 49:12 says man is like the animals that perish. Psalm 103:15 says mans' days are like the grass or a flower of the field. Psalm 115:17 says, "The dead do not praise the Lord, nor any who go down into silence." According to Psalm 143:3, those long dead "dwell in darkness." The Book of Ecclesiastes (3:19-20) says men are like beasts; "as one dieth, so dieth the other," that man "hath no pre-eminence above a beast"; "all go into one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again." Job (6:18) teaches that there is no existence after death; men "go to nothing, and perish," and "he that goeth down to the grave shall come up no more." (7:9)
Reincarnationist thought, nonetheless, has found its way into Judaism. The Pythagoreans, Neoplatonists, Hindus, Buddhists and Jains have all forbidden animal slaughter at various times in human history because of a belief in transmigration of souls and, consequently, the equality of all living beings. The doctrine of reincarnation is taught in the Kabbala, or mystical Judaic tradition, and was used to advocate ethical vegetarianism in Sedeh Hermed -- a huge, talmudic encyclopedia authored by Rabbi Hayyim Hezekiah Medini (1837-1904).
In Wheels of a Soul, Rabbi Phillip S. Berg, a renowned contemporary Kabbalist, explains: "...the concept of reincarnation is by no means exclusive to Judaism. The idea was prevalent among Indians on the American continent; and in the Orient, the teaching of reincarnation is widespread and influential. It is the basis of most of the philosophical systems of India, where hundreds of millions accept the truth of reincarnation the way we accept the truth of gravity--as a great natural and inevitable law that only a fool would question."
According to Rabbi Jacob Shimmel: "We are reborn until we reach perfection in following the Torah...In Hebrew, reincarnation is called gilgul, and there is a whole section of the Kabbala entitled Sefer HaGilgulim. This deals with details in regard to reincarnation.
One remarkable figure from this mystical school of Jewish thought is Rabbi Isaac Luria (1534-72). Born in Jerusalem, he became a brilliant student, noted for his intelligence, logic and reasoning abilities. By the age of 15, Luria had surpassed all the sages in Egypt in his understanding of talmudic law.
With a thirst for higher knowledge, he studied the Zohar and the Kabbala. For seven years, he lived as an ascetic on the banks of the Nile River; fasting often, seeing his wife only on the Sabbath, and merely for brief conversation, if necessary. During this time, he experienced many strange voices and ecstatic visions.
At times, the prophet Elijah appeared to teach him the secrets of the Torah. Luria later went to Safed (in Palestine) and became the spiritual master of the community of mystics there. He taught that the good souls in heaven could be brought down to inhabit human bodies.
Luria saw spirits everywhere. He heard them whispering in the rushing water of rivers, in the movement of trees, in the wind and in the songs of birds. He could see the soul of a man leave the body at the time of death. Intimate conversations were often held with the souls of past figures in the Bible, the talmudic sages and numerous respected rabbis.
Luria's disciples said he could perform exorcisms and miracles and speak the language of animals. They wrote: "Luria could read faces, look into the souls of men, recognize that souls migrated from body to body. He could tell you what commandment a man had fulfilled and what sins he had committed since youth."
Is reincarnationist thought compatible with Christianity? The first books of the Bible speak of man as a physical being, formed from the dust and then infused with a divine "breath of life." New Testament writings, however, describe the individual as a spiritual being, clothed in an earthly body of flesh.
The New Testament distinguishes between the carnal and the spiritual. “It is the Spirit that giveth the body life,” taught Jesus, “the flesh profit nothing.” (John 6:63)
Paul taught Jesus had both an earthly and a spiritual nature (Romans 1:3), and referred to his own spiritual self. (Romans 1:9)
The spirit is a prisoner to sin and the flesh in a body doomed to death. (Romans 7:18-24) Christians are to behave in a spiritually, rather than in a fleshly way. (Romans 8:4; 13:14; I Peter 2:11)
The desires of the Spirit and those of the flesh are opposed to one another. (Galatians 5:13,16-17)
Christians have “crucified the flesh with its passions and desires;” they “live by the Spirit” and are “directed by the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:19-26)
To be carnally minded is to die. One must transcend one's lower, bodily nature. (Rom. 8:5-14) Saving the spirit of an individual differs from the destruction of the person’s flesh. (I Corinthians 5:5)
God’s kingdom is not carnal, but spiritual:
“...flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, neither does the perishable inherit the imperishable...For this perishable must put on imperishability and this mortal must put on immortality. (I Corinthians 15:50,53)
The body is like a lump of clay. (Romans 9:21; II Corinthians 4:7) The body decays, but the self is renewed in spiritual life. (II Corinthians 4:16-17)
The body is a temporary tent in which the spirit resides; the spirits of the faithful will soon be clothed in everlasting, heavenly bodies. (II Corinthians 5:1-3)
The spirit resides inside a body of flesh. (II Corinthians 10:3) To identify with the body is to be absent from the Lord. (II Corinthians 5:8-10)
Paul wrote of being “caught up as far as the third heaven...whether in the body or out of the body I do not know...” (II Corinthians 12:2-3)
Being with Christ differs from remaining “in the body;” one’s self is separate from the physical body. (Philippians 1:21-24)
Christians are to set their sights on heavenly, not earthly things, and to put to death their earthly nature. (Colossians 3:1-5)
The flesh decays, but the word of God is eternal. (I Peter 2:23-25) To love this world is to alienate oneself from God’s love, because the passions of this world are temporary. (I John 2:15-17) This world belongs to the devil (II Corinthians 4:4); this present world is evil (Galatians 1:4).
God rewards each individual according to his deeds. (Romans 2:6) One reaps what one sows. (II Corinthians 9:6; Galatians 6:7) Some souls remain entangled in decaying flesh, while others turn to the Spirit.
“The one who sows for his own flesh will harvest ruin from his flesh; while the one who sows for the Spirit will harvest eternal life from the Spirit.” (Galatians 6:8)
A kernel of spirit is placed in a body:
“...God gives it a body as He plans, and to each seed its particular body. All flesh is not the same; but one kind is human, another is animal, another is fowl, and another fish.” (I Corinthians 15:38-39)
The New Testament also distinguishes between earthly bodies and heavenly bodies:
“There are heavenly bodies and also earthly bodies; but the radiance of the heavenly is one kind and that of the earthly is another kind.” (I Corinthians 15:40)
Resurrection in the New Testament is not the Old Testament doctrine of the reassembling of dust into living bodies, but rather, the clothing of the spirit with a new body; the placing of a kernel of spirit into a new body, from where its existence continues.
The New Testament emphasizes the distinction between the soul and the body, the clothing of the soul with a new body, and the eternal nature of the soul and its relationship to God versus the temporary nature of the flesh and the material world.
These concepts can all be found in the doctrine of reincarnation.
During the second century, Justin Martyr, in his Dialogue with Trypho, taught that the soul inhabits more than one body in its earthly sojourn.
He even suggested that those who lead carnal lives and thus deprive themselves of the capacity to serve God may be reborn as beasts.
The earliest Christians who taught the pre-existence of the soul came to be known as the "pre-existiani." Clement of Alexandria wrote with interest about what he called metensomatosis.
"...we have existed from the beginning," wrote Clement in his Stromata, "for in the beginning was the Logos...Not for the first time does (the Logos) show pity on us in our wanderings; he pitied us from the beginning."
Origen (185-254), was one of the fathers of the early Christian church, and its most accomplished biblical scholar. His influence upon the early church was second only to that of Augustine.
Origen taught that God creates spirits, and all spirits are created equal. All are endowed with free will. Some fall into sin, becoming demons, or imprisoned in bodies. This process of growth or retardation is continuous.
A human being, at the time of death, may become an angel or a demon. Origen gave a highly allegorical interpretation of Genesis and the Fall from paradise.
Origen held that the various orders of living creatures in the world corresponded to the varying degrees of perfection and imperfection.
All of God's children are created free and equal, but received their present condition "as rewards or punishments for the manner in which they used their free will."
Therefore, "as befits the degree of (the soul's) fall into evil, it is clothed with the body of this or that irrational animal."
Writing in the third century, he explained: "
By some inclination toward evil, certain souls...come into bodies, first of men; then through their association with the irrational passions, after the allotted span of human life, they are changed into beasts, from which they sink to the level of...plants.
"From this condition they rise again through the same stages and are restored to their heavenly place."
(De Principiis, Book III, Chapter 5)
According to Origen, God sent forth Christ to bring about the redemption of all souls; a salvation so universal, even the demons will be saved. "The purified spirit will be brought home; it will no longer rebel; it will acquiesce in its lot."
Origen based his theology upon passages from Scripture. The prophet Elijah lived in the 9th century B.C. Elijah never died, but was lifted up into heaven. (II Kings 2:11) In the closing lines of the Old Testament, Malachi recorded the prophecy: "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord." (Malachi 3:1, 4:5) Elijah would precede the Messiah.
When the disciples asked Jesus about the prophecy that Elijah must precede the Messiah, Jesus replied, "Elijah will come indeed and will restore all things. But I tell you that Elijah has already come and they did not recognize him, but have done to him as they pleased." The disciples then realized he was talking about John the Baptist. (Matthew 17:9-13)
Jesus even told the multitudes, "It is he (John) of whom it is written, ‘Behold I send My messenger ahead of you, who will prepare the road before you’...If you will accept it, this is Elijah who was to come." (Matthew 11:10,14; Luke 7:27)
Many in Jesus’ day believed him to be the reincarnation of an Old Testament prophet. In Matthew 16:13-14, when Jesus asked his disciples, "Who do men say that I am?" they replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others, Elijah; others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets."
Similarly, in Luke 9:18-19, when Jesus asked, "Who do the crowds say that I am?" his disciples respond, "John the Baptist; but some say Elijah, and others that one of the old prophets has risen again."
Mark 16:14-16 records King Herod saying of Jesus, "John the Baptist is risen from the dead, and therefore these miracles are being done by him." Others said, "He is Elijah," while still others believed, "He is a prophet like one of the prophets of old."
Tertullian, one of the earliest of the Latin Fathers of the Christian Church, vehemently attacked any and all reincarnationist interpretations of Scripture. His attacks indicate the widespread influence of reincarnationist thought upon Christianity at the time.
Tertullian took the position that the above passages do not presuppose reincarnation. Since Elijah was lifted into heaven (II Kings 2:11), he never died. His appearance as John the Baptist was not reincarnation, but a return visit. However the Gospel of Luke (1:5-25,57-80) indicates that Elijah did not return to earth as a mature man, but was miraculously reconceived and reborn as John the Baptist.
Origen remarked that the fact that the Jews specifically asked John the Baptist if he was Elijah (John 1:21) indicated "that they believed in metensomatosis, as a doctrine inherited from their ancestors and therefore in no way in conflict with the secret teachings of their masters."
In the Fourth Gospel, Jesus and his disciples encounter a man who had been blind from his birth. The disciples asked, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents? Why was he born blind?"
Since reincarnation was a widespread belief during the time of Jesus, (as were beliefs in apocalypses, judgement day, heaven, hell and resurrection), one cannot help but wonder if the disciples had reincarnation in mind. For if the man had been born blind, he could not have committed the sin in his present life.
Jesus did not reject the notion of pre-existence as a solution to the problem of evil. He merely replied that this man was afflicted so that "the works of God should be displayed in him," and that it was their duty to practice the works of a merciful God. (John 9:4)
On another occasion, Simon (Peter) said to Jesus, "Look, we have given up everything and have followed you..."
Jesus replied: "I assure you, there is no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mothers or father or children or fields on account of me and the gospel, but will receive a hundred times over now in this age homes and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and fields, along with persecutions; and in the world to come, eternal life." (Matthew 19:27,29; Mark 10:28-31; Luke 18:28-30)
It's hard to imagine these rewards—including hundreds of relatives, parents and children—being fulfilled in one brief lifetime.
"So where to now St. Peter?
"If it's true I'm in your hands?
"I may not be a Christian
"But I've done all one man can
"I understand I'm on the road
|"Where all that was is gone
"So where to now St. Peter?
"Show me which road I'm on
"Which road I'm on..."
--Elton John, "Where to Now, St. Peter?" (1970)
In the 3rd century, Chalcidius taught, "Souls who have failed to unite themselves with God, are compelled by the law of destiny to begin a new kind of life, entirely different from their former, until they repent of their sins."
Arnobius (A.D. 290) said, "We die many times, and often do we rise from the dead." (Adversus Gentes)
St. Gregory of Nyssa (257-332) taught, "It is absolutely necessary that the soul should be healed and purified, and if this does not take place during its life on earth it must be accomplished in future lives." (Great Catechism)
St. Jerome (340-420), wrote in Epistola ad Demetriadem, that "The doctrine of transmigration has been secretly taught from ancient times to small numbers of people, as a traditional truth which was not to be divulged."
In his Confessions, St. Augustine (354-430) prayed, "Say, Lord to me...say, did my infancy succeed another age of mine that died before it? Was it that which I spent within my mother's womb?...and what before that life again, O God my joy, was I anywhere or in any body?"
Synesius, Bishop of Ptolemais (370-430), wrote in his Treatise On Dreams:
"Philosophy speaks of souls being prepared by a course of transmigrations... When first it comes down to earth, it (the soul) embarks on this animal spirit as on a boat, and through it is brought into contact with matter...
"The soul which did not quickly return to the heavenly region from which it was sent down to earth had to go through many lives of 'wandering.'"
Although belief in reincarnation was widespread in early Christianity, orthodoxy prevailed. The doctrine of reincarnation never really caught on, in part, because of the apocalyptic mood of the early church. The Second Coming of Christ and the resurrection of the dead were thought to be imminent.
During the fourth century, Origen became an easy target for ecclesiastical authorities seeking victory in power struggles with other theological factions within the Christian church.
Under circumstances that to this day remain shrouded in mystery, the Byzantine emperor Justinian in AD 553 banned the teachings of pre-existence from what had by then become the Roman Catholic Church. During that era, numerous Church writings were destroyed.
The doctrine of reincarnation was forced underground, but persistently appeared in sects such as the Cathari, the Paulicians, and the Bogomils.
The Cathari (who were also vegetarian) taught that the reason we are on earth in the first place is we are fallen souls forced to be repeatedly incarcerated in bodies, and must seek salvation from transmigrating from one body to another. The Cathari saw Christ as the means of divine redemption from the wheel of death and rebirth.
Dr. Geddes MacGregor, Professor of Philosophy and Religion, and author of over twenty books, believes reincarnation is compatible with the Christian faith.
According to Dr. MacGregor: "Reincarnation is, of course, a kind of resurrection. Great importance was attached by Christian theologians, however, to the notion of the resurrection of the 'same body' that we now have, though in a glorified form.
"The so-called Athanasian Creed affirms that all men shall rise again with their bodies...and a council held at the Lateran... asserted that all shall rise again with their own bodies...
"...such very Latin teaching about a carnis resurrectio does not seem to fit Paul's teaching in the New Testament, which is that the body is to be of a new order... not otherwise recognizable as the same body as the one on earth.
"The curious notion of the revivification of the material particles of the body does not arise in St. Paul."
Dr. MacGregor explains that conflicting theological and scriptural accounts of the afterlife have caused many, including regular churchgoers, not to concern themselves with such affairs.
Many Christian theologians have discouraged "idle speculation" on the afterlife. Luther recognized the theological difficulties, while Calvin, in a commentary on I Corinthians 13:12, questioned his own doctrine of the eternality of the soul.
According to Calvin, Paul intentionally gave no details on the subject, since details "could not help our piety."
Dr. MacGregor suggests, however, that just as we have ceased to take literally Archbishop Ussher's biblical concept of a 6,000 year old universe, so also might reincarnation be consistent with a more enlightened world view.
During the Renaissance, a new flowering of public interest in reincarnation emerged. One of the prominent figures in this revival was Italy's leading philosopher and poet Giordano Bruno.
Bruno had entered the Dominican Order at the age of fifteen. As a scholar, Bruno upheld the Copernican world view, that the Sun -- and not the earth -- is the center of our cosmos, teaching that there are an infinity of worlds and that many are inhabited.
Galileo had announced other worlds and Giordano Bruno spoke of other life forms. Bruno believed there are no privileged reference frames for viewing the universe; the universe looks essentially the same from wherever one happens to view it. Bruno taught that at death the soul passes out of one body and enters into another.
Because of his teachings, Bruno was ultimately brought before the Inquisition. In his profession of faith before the Inquisition, Bruno acknowledged that, speaking as a Catholic, he must say that the soul at death goes directly to heaven, hell or purgatory.
However, Bruno insisted that as a philosopher who had given much thought to the question, he found it reasonable that since the soul is different from the body, yet is never found apart from the body, it passes from one body to another, as Pythagoras had taught 2,000 years before.
In his final answers to the charges brought against him, Bruno defiantly responded that the soul "is not the body" and that "it may be in one body or in another, and pass from body to body."
Giordano Bruno was eventually burned at the stake in Rome on February 17, 1600. His teachings influenced 17th century philosophers such as Leibniz and Spinoza.
"Has it occurred to you that transmigration is at once an explanation and a justification of the evil of the world?" wrote W. Somerset Maugham in The Razor's Edge.
"If the evils we suffer are the result of sins committed in our past lives, we can bear them with resignation and hope that if in this one we strive toward virtue our future lives will be less afflicted."
Sir William Jones, a Christian missionary who helped introduce East Indian philosophy to Europe in the 18th century, wrote:
"I am no Hindu, but I hold the doctrine of the Hindus concerning a future state (reincarnation) to be incomparably more rational, more pious, and more likely to deter men from vice than the horrid opinions inculcated by Christians on punishment without end."
In his monumental book, The Story of Christian Origins, secular historian Dr. Martin A. Larson notes that according to Hindu, Buddhist, and Pythagorean doctrine, "hell itself was actually a kind of purgatory, since it was a place in which perhaps a majority of all people underwent repeated refinement and punishment," before being reborn as a plant, animal, or human being.
Examining the concept of eternal damnation, Dr. Geddes MacGregor concludes:
"It is no wonder that purgatory seemed by comparison, despite its anguish, a demonstration of God's mercy. Purgatory is indeed a far more intelligible concept, in the light of what the Bible says about the nature of God. Even the crassest forms of purgatory suggest moral and spiritual evolution.
"Surely, too, even countless rebirths as a beggar lying in misery and filth on the streets of Calcutta would be infinitely more reconcilable to the Christian concept of God than is the traditional doctrine of everlasting torture in hell.
"The appeal of reincarnationism to anyone nurtured on hell-fire sermons and tracts is by no means difficult to understand."
Archbishop Passavalli (1820-1897), a learned Roman Catholic archbishop accepted the teaching of reincarnation from two disciples of the Polish seer Towianski.
Archbishop Passavalli admitted that reincarnation is not condemned by the Church, and that it is not in conflict with any Catholic dogma.
Another Catholic priest who came to believe in reincarnation was Edward Dunski, whose Letters were published in 1915.
Many other priests in Poland and Italy have believed in reincarnation, influenced by the great mystic Andrzej Towianski (1799-1878).
In her autobiography, A Servant of the Queen, Maude Gonne wrote that when a priest asked her why she was not a Catholic, and she replied, "Because I believe in reincarnation," she was told:
"The soul comes from God and returns to God when purified, when all things will become clear; and who can tell the stages of its purification? It may be possible that some souls work out their purification on this earth."
The Reverend Alvin Hart, an Episcopal priest in New York, says, "In the Second Letter of Peter, the word exitus ('exit' or 'a way out') is used for 'dying.' The expression implies that something does exist which at death goes away, or 'exits' the body.
"Reincarnation would explain a great many things--such as just where the soul goes after death. After all, it is unlikely that a merciful God would send a sinner to 'hell' after just one birth into this...world...It takes time...
"Reincarnation was also accepted by many philosophers in the early church. To my way of thinking it is a logical explanation of what happens at the time of death. Reincarnation is an acceptable answer."
The doctrine of reincarnation first fell into disfavor in the early church beginning with Augustine, who wrote: "Let these Platonists stop threatening us with reincarnation as punishment for our souls. Reincarnation is ridiculous. There is no such thing as a return to this life for the punishment of souls..."
As a result of this thinking, Western theology has been unable to resolve the 'problem of evil.' Why does a merciful and omnipotent God allow suffering and injustice? Why, for example, are some people born handicapped, or into poverty, while others are born into wealth and privilege?
The reincarnationist explanation is karma: we reap what we sow. We are suffering and enjoying according to the deeds we committed in innumerable previous lifetimes, and our deeds in this present lifetime dictate our future -- in 8,400,000 different species of life.
Rabbi Harold S. Kushner caused a theological controversy back in the early 1980s, with his book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People. Kushner's solution to the 'problem of evil' is that God is not omnipotent! There are limits to His power. God is just as outraged as we are at the injustices in the world, but there's nothing He can do to stop them.
Asking millions of synagogue-and-church-and-mosque going Americans to take up an Eastern religion, worship a long-haired, flute-playing, blue God, and believe in karma and reincarnation may sound crazy and radical, but we now find mainstream Americans doing something even more radical: they are becoming worshipers of God-the-not-Almighty.
Brother Ron Pickarski, a vegan chef and Franciscan monk, said in an interview in historian Rynn Berry's 1998 book, Food for the Gods: Vegetarianism & the World's Religions, he believes Christianity will one day embrace reincarnation and vegetarianism.
As for scientific proof of reincarnation: research by credible scientists into mind-body dualism suggests it is a real possibility. These include the research on near-death experiences by Dr. Michael Sabom, a cardiologist and professor at Emory University, and the past life memory research of Dr. Ian Stevenson, Carlson professor of psychiatry at the University of Virginia.