What are we to think of Reincarnation?
"It is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment" - Heb 9: 27
By Raymond Taouk
The integrity of the human person, body and soul, in this life and in the next has been and continues to be one of the more difficult aspects to understand. What is important to understand however is that reincarnation undermines the human personality of the soul for a number of reasons.
While its true to say that unaided human reason frequently grasps the immortality of the soul, yet it often fails to grasp totally the essential unity of the human person which is created in the "image of God." (Gen 1). On this same note we see that reincarnation begins with a false presumption, namely that a human soul which is rational by its very nature, is no different from say the soul (or principle of life) of any animal or plant. This can not be since the human soul is rational by its very nature and so even if it did transmigrate into another body after death (which is not the case as I shall point out) it would still have to be rational. In other words if it did transmigrate say into the body of a dog, the dog would have to be rational, which would mean that it would be able to speak and reason just like a human being. For that is precisely what defines man, namely that he is a rational animal. In fact if the soul did not have its union to a particular individual body and could migrate from one body to another, its very union would not be natural as being part of a composite. In this case the union that it would have with the body would seem only be mere a merely accidental, as though the soul were merely trapped in the body and not truly substantially united to it, producing one being but rather a mere union of two beings accidentally united, which is absurd. In this sense reincarnation destroys the notion that man is simply one by giving him more than one nature.
Further from the very beginning (of creation) until the present day, its undeniably true to say that there are more creatures on the earth and if that be the case from where did the souls which now inhabit earth come from if all souls are immortal (without distinction of nature) and merely transmigrate from one thing into another.
The misconstrued notion of metempsychosis (Plato and Pythagoras) or
reincarnation (Hinduism and Buddhism) asserts a natural transmigration
of human souls from body to body. This leads to Pantheism, since it simply
makes existence an end in itself, denying the existence of a Personal God
who is independent from all creation. We read in the book of Genesis that
"In the beginning God created heaven and earth" and that "God
divided the light from the darkness" etc. So that not only the creation
of things but also their distinction is seen to be from God. It could
be asked to those who hold this erroneous view why do so few if any, remember
their former lives if it is suppose to be the same soul which transmigrates
from one body to another. What happens to the memory of that the individual?
If there is no memory in what way is it the same person who transmigrates
from one form to another?
What is more, how can the good actions or bad actions be the determining principle for what form that a souls will take in its next life on earth (as is erroneously claimed by those who hold to reincarnation) if in the beginning (when all things were first created), no being could claim to have merited more than another being and yet they all existed in a determined state. And so by this we are given to understand that corporeal and visible creatures were made because it is good for them to be, and that this is in keeping with God's goodness, and not because of any merits or sins of rational creatures.
What is more if one holds to reincarnation, it would be absurd to speak of sin or even worry about doing wrong since the only consequence is to come back as a lesser being and even then there is no certainty of that! In fact if reincarnation were true, it would even be absurd to speak of one being or creature being lesser than another since in each (according to those who hold to the erroneous teaching of reincarnation) creature there is a soul which is identical with the soul of other creatures and so the idea that you return as a lesser being for doing evil would only be absurd if all things are suppose to be equal, in that the souls are the same but only differing in corporeal appearance !
Reincarnation undermines the notion of respect for the deceased, since if they will get a new life here on earth what is the purpose of showing respect for deceased persons?
We might add that erroneous notion of reincarnation is contradicted by common experience and common sense in that people have no remembrance of such past lives, which should be the case if they are the same person or soul transmigrating. It is also contradicted by common sense in that it is not the soul which brings forth a new corporeal body, but the corporeal body is brought forth by the generation of live from a pre-existing thing, while reincarnation would seem to suggest that its the soul which brings forth the corporeal thing in which it transmigrates.
Prior to the last
day, the individual soul, at its particular judgment, enters immediately
into eternal bliss in heaven (or a purgative period necessary to the delight
of heaven) or into eternal torment in hell (Benedict XII, Benedictus Deus).
In this sense reincarnation perverts men from preparing for their judgment
by deceiving them with the idea that at death they will simply be reincarnated,
when in reality they will have to face up to their maker and give account
for their lives.
Reincarnation leaves us encircled in an eternity of bodily homelessness, with the assurance of nothing more than a renovation of the soul. In fact reincarnation in this sense fails to answer both what was the cause of creation and what is the purpose of life. While Christian revelation reasonably gives us the answer to these question and prepares us for the consequences of that reality. Heaven and Hell are a reality and so the real question is were are you going to spend you eternity?