When Two Crows asked me if I would like to be a partner on this blog, I was flattered, to say the least. But the challenges of writing a total opposite view of someone you truly admire has been a daunting task for me. Not to mention, I realize that my views as a Christian...a Catholic, differ widely from the views of most of the readers who come to this blog. For that matter, it differs from the views of many I read on the Internet. Let's face it, Catholicism is a very misunderstood religion. Heck, even Catholics, themselves, are often confused by our doctrine.
That said, with all that Two Crows has written on reincarnation, I thought I would put forth the Catholic views on the subject. Nothing I am writing is in anyway a slam what is written by Two Crows, we just happen to have different belief's, that's all. After all, we are writing about all things spiritual, and that is very difficult to wrap our human minds around,isn't it?
The subject of reincarnation is an age old discussion that has dated back as far as the Greeks. 20% of today's world religious population are either Hindu or Buddhist with both religions believing in reincarnation. According to Hinduism’s most sacred scripture, the Bhagavad-gita (5.18), “the humble sages, by virtue of true knowledge, see with equal vision a learned and gentle brahmana, a cow, an elephant, a dog and a dog-eater.” Social ills such as racism, sexism, nationalism, caste-ism, and speciesism arise because souls falsely identify with their temporary bodies. On the spiritual platform, all are equal.
A 1990 Gallup poll found that 25 percent of Catholics in the United States believe in reincarnation. Another recent survey, by the University of London, concluded that 28 percent of the people in France believe in reincarnation, while only 57 percent believe in God.
Belief in reincarnation has been strongly embraced by the New Age movement in the United States. It was Shirley MacLaine, an avid New Age disciple, who said she recalls being taught: "The theory of reincarnation is recorded in the Bible. But the proper interpretations were struck from it during an ecumenical council meeting of the Catholic Church in Constantinople sometime around A.D. 553, called the Council of Nicaea [sic]" (Out on a Limb, 234–35). Where did she get her information? Certainly not from doing any real research into her claim. The fact is that there was no Council of Nicaea in A.D. 553. Further, the two ecumenical councils of Necaea (A.D. 325 and A.D. 787) took place in the city of Nicaea and neither dealt with reincarnation. What did take place in A.D, 553 was the Second Ecumenical Council of Constantinople. Records show that it, too, did not address the subject of reincarnation...none of the early councils did.
The closest the Second Council of Constantinople came to addressing reincarnation was, in one sentence, to condemn Origen, an early Church writer who believed souls exist in heaven before coming to earth to be born. New Agers confuse this belief in the pre-existence of the soul with reincarnation and claim that Origen was a staunch believer in reincarnation. Actually, he was one of the most prolific early writers against reincarnation!
The true origin of where Shirley got her ideas that Origen taught reincarnaiton came from the book, Reincarnation in Christianity, written by Geddes MacGregor. MacGregor speculated that Origen's texts which he claimed were written in support of this belief were somehow suppressed or disappeared. Admitting he had no evidence, MacGregor nonetheless stated, "I am convinced he taught reincarnation in some form". So there ya go! He says these texts once existed, with no evidence to prove this, Shirley reads his book and then writes her own book repeating the same false statement, and Voila! The doctrine of reincarnation is accepted by New Agers!
The fact is, Oregin did not believe in reincarnation, and it is stated in many of his writings. Just to show a few instances:
"If the doctrine [of reincarnation] was widely current, ought not John to have hesitated to pronounce upon it, lest his soul had actually been in Elijah? And here our churchman will appeal to history, and will bid his antagonists [to] ask experts of the secret doctrines of the Hebrews if they do really entertain such a belief. For if it should appear that they do not, then the argument based on that supposition is shown to be quite baseless" (ibid.).
"Someone might say, however, that Herod and some of those of the people held the false dogma of the transmigration of souls into bodies, in consequence of which they thought that the former John had appeared again by a fresh birth, and had come from the dead into life as Jesus. But the time between the birth of John and the birth of Jesus, which was not more than six months, does not permit this false opinion to be considered credible. And perhaps rather some such idea as this was in the mind of Herod, that the powers which worked in John had passed over to Jesus, in consequence of which he was thought by the people to be John the Baptist. And one might use the following line of argument: Just as because the spirit and the power of Elijah, and not because of his soul, it is said about John, ‘This is Elijah who is to come’ [Matt. 11:14] . . . so Herod thought that the powers in John’s case worked in him works of baptism and teaching—for John did not do one miracle [John 10:41]—but in Jesus [they worked] miraculous portents" (Commentary on Matthew 10:20 [A.D. 248]).
"Now the Canaanite woman, having come, worshipped Jesus as God, saying, ‘Lord, help me,’ but he answered and said, ‘It is not possible to take the children’s bread and cast it to the little dogs.’ . . . [O]thers, then, who are strangers to the doctrine of the Church, assume that souls pass from the bodies of men into the bodies of dogs, according to their varying degree of wickedness; but we . . . do not find this at all in the divine Scripture" (ibid., 11:17).
"In this place [when Jesus said Elijah was come and referred to John the Baptist] it does not appear to me that by Elijah the soul is spoken of, lest I fall into the doctrine of transmigration, which is foreign to the Church of God, and not handed down by the apostles, nor anywhere set forth in the scriptures" (ibid., 13:1).
What Oregin did believe was that the soul existed before birth and the Church believed that the soul didn't exist until conception of birth. The discussion of when a fetus has a soul is still in dispute among many, even within the Catholic Church, but the doctrine still holds, life-including soul-begins at conception.
This isn't to say that the Catholic Church has ignored the discussion of reincarnation. Pope John Paul II had called scholars from around the world to have a conference, "Reincarnation and the Christian Message." At this conference, church leaders emphasized that reincarnation is incompatible with Christian doctrine.
Pope John Paul II acknowledged in his 1994 apostolic letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente ("As the Third Millennium Draws Near") that the belief in reincarnation expresses the human "inexpressible longing to live forever."
"How are we to imagine a life beyond death?" the Pope wrote. "Some have considered various forms of reincarnation: depending on one's previous life, one would receive a new life in either a higher or lower form, until full purification is attained. This belief, deeply rooted in some Eastern religions, itself indicates that man rebels against the finality of death. He is convinced that his nature is essentially spiritual and immortal." The Pope stated definitively in his letter: "Christian revelation excludes reincarnation, and speaks of a fulfillment which man is called to achieve in the course of a single earthly existence."
The stresses of life, the longing for immortality and existential angst tempted even some of the earliest Christians to consider reincarnation. It was in the first generation of the Church that the author of the Letter to the Hebrews thought it necessary to say, "Human beings die once, and after this [comes] the judgment" (9:27).
The author of the book, Reincarnation: The Missing Link in Christianity, begs to differ with the Church. It basically repeats the thoughts of early Gnostic's. In the foreword of the book, written by Elizabeth Clare Prophet, her daughter Erin wrote: "I find Christianity's take on life incredibly bleak. If we really have only one shot at eternity in either heaven or hell, what happens to those of us whose lives are cut short by war or cancer? And if Jesus can simply wipe away all of our past mistakes, is there a point to our actions on earth?"
This sentiment by many Gnostic's is their claim that God's justice shows no mercy, whereas reincarnation enables us to work out our problems, through endless lifetimes, on our own steam. Elizabeth Prophet observes that "seemingly decent people commit murders.... Although murder is a serious crime, do those who commit it really deserve eternal punishment?" Instead of looking at the complete doctrine of the Catholic Church...or any Christian church for that matter, she doesn't mention the possibility of repentance or forgiveness. Believers in reincarnation are left with one tomorrow after the next until they "complete their life plans".
Christian views that reincarnation is incompatible with what Jesus taught about death and the afterlife. Luke 16:19-31 records Jesus' story of the rich man and Lazarus. In this parable, both the rich man and Lazarus die, but neither is reincarnated. Instead, both go on to their eternal reward: the rich man to torment, Lazarus to paradise (Luke 16:23).
The parable of the rich man and Lazarus makes it clear that Jesus didn't believe in reincarnation after death, but in judgment. This is also the teaching of the New Testament writers and was summed up by the author of Hebrews when he wrote, "It is appointed that human beings die once, and after this the judgment" (Heb. 9:27).
Elizabeth Prophet asks the question, "Could you be a Christian and still believe in reincarnation?" The Catholic Church would answer in the negative, you can only affirm reincarnation if you deny Incarnation, and only if you deny the Man, Jesus, who said, "Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have." (Luke 24:39)