Monday, September 28, 2020

Anonymous Asks (112)

“What’s the difference between reincarnation and resurrection?”

The concept of reincarnation is a component of many religions, the four largest of which originated in India: Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism and Jainism. Greek philosophers like Plato, Socrates and Pythagoras promoted something similar, as do Spiritists, Theosophists and numerous smaller, tribal societies, as well as some of the more obscure sects of the Abrahamic religions.

Obviously then, not all believers in reincarnation believe precisely the same things. Forgive me if I generalize a bit.

Generalizing a Bit

The word “reincarnation” comes from Latin, meaning literally “entering the flesh again”. “Reincarnation” or “transmigration” refers to the belief that existence is an ongoing, interconnected cycle in which some transcendent aspect of a being — personality, mind or consciousness — continues on after death, reborn into another physical body, which may be human, animal, plant or even a being of some undefined sort in a non-human realm of existence. (Another variant involves living on in spirit form, but not every believer in reincarnation would agree that counts.)

In some of these religions or philosophies, reincarnation is essentially an endless process that has been referred to as a “cycle of aimless drifting, wandering or mundane existence”, while in others, like Spiritism, a final “liberation” of the transcendent portion of the reincarnated being occurs once a certain level of spiritual insight is attained, and the formerly reincarnated being then becomes “unembodied” and “one with the universe”. (It is unclear how exactly this differs from annihilationism.)

Superficial Similarities and Vast Differences

While there may initially appear to be similarities of concept and language between reincarnation and the Christian doctrine of resurrection (the Greeks even used the phrase “born again” to describe reincarnation), these are only superficial.

In both concepts, death is not the end. However, whereas reincarnation posits repeated “entries into flesh again”, resurrection for most people is very much a singular event (Lazarus and others raised from the dead in the biblical accounts would be exceptions that prove the rule). In the case of biblical resurrection, personality, intellect and spirit all return either to their reconstituted physical bodies (as in the case of those temporarily resurrected in the gospels and elsewhere), or else to a new and improved version of themselves referred to in 1 Corinthians as a “spiritual body”, which, unlike the new bodies into which beings are said to be reincarnated, will never see corruption.

If the resurrection of Christ is typical of all permanent resurrections, which seems to be the case, the person resurrected remains somehow identifiable to those who knew him before death, but sufficiently transformed that identification is not instantaneous. In resurrection, previous relationships continue and are even enhanced. By way of contrast, in reincarnation, the transcendent aspect of a dead person or animal finds its way into an entirely new and completely unrecognizable body and life, with no connection to one’s previous relationships or experiences, and no guarantee that memories of previous lives will ever be accessed in subsequent lives.

Aimless Drifting and Hitler as Pope

More importantly, while the concept of reincarnation involves either a “cycle of aimless drifting” or else a journey of self-development, resurrection is intimately related to the knowledge of God in general and Christ in particular (“I am the resurrection and the life”). There is nothing either aimless or self-involved about biblical resurrection. Eternal life is “that they know you”, not that they know themselves. We are resurrected because of a divine relationship, and to enjoy that relationship forever. Any “developing” we do in the meantime is also a product of that relationship. It is not really about us at all.

Depending on the particular religion involved, reincarnation may or may not have a moral component. The online Reincarnation Forum has a fascinating array of answers to the question of whether truly evil people are “allowed” to reincarnate. Most people who tackle the question stop to point out that it’s not really a matter of being “allowed” at all. Reincarnation is considered a “natural process”, and the general belief is that all will be reincarnated, though some will have to go through hundreds or thousands of incarnations to reach liberation. What also becomes apparent is that everything about reincarnation is merely a matter of personal opinion; no particular authorities are cited. (“Hitler may be back as the next pope or something. You just never know.”)

Resurrections of Life and Judgment

By way of contrast, the Bible’s theology of resurrection is quite unambiguous and objective. You do know. The finer details may be matters of theological debate, but the broad strokes are quite clear: there is a “resurrection of life” and a “resurrection of judgment”, the latter culminating in what is called the “second death”. All take part in one or the other.

You may choose to believe in resurrection or not, but the book of Revelation doesn’t leave you wondering about it.

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