Reincarnation, Christianity, and Mystical Judaism
I’ve been having a dialogue with David Knott, a committed Christian, about reincarnation and Christianity for what seems a long time. He seems to believe that whatever the Bible says is true, and that it is clear on this matter, denying reincarnation, whereas I believe that Eastern ideas of reincarnation and karma are closer to the truth. whatever that may be. (I am also writing a series on a New Reformation for Christianity, so I believe that this debate is highly relevant in that context.)
My recent article ‘Origen and Christianity’ has restarted this debate. David has used these two quotes to back up his belief:
- “Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:27, 28)
- “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due to us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad (Corinthians 5:10).
In a recent reply I noted that the Corinthians quote didn’t mention whether judgment occurs after one life or many. David correctly responded that it was nevertheless unlikely that the passage was intended to suggest reincarnation. He now asks me to comment on his understanding that “reincarnation is usually associated with a rejection of the idea of a final judgment by God. This final judgment is very clear right through the New Testament, (and that) God as judge of all the earth is a strong concept in the Old Testament too”.
This is my response:
You’re right. I wasn’t intending to suggest that Corinthians might be implying reincarnation, merely noting that it wasn’t mentioned.
My understanding of the Eastern ideas surrounding reincarnation is that one is ‘saved’ by transforming consciousness to the extent that one achieves Enlightenment — the equivalent of what Jesus calls eternal life — and is therefore ‘saved’ from the need to reincarnate. It is not clear whether any theistic God is involved in that process; it may be achieved perhaps by one’s own efforts/spiritual practice.
The idea of ‘judgment’ does figure in my thinking, however, although it would be somewhat hubristic of me to think that I am worthy of God’s personal attention. I think the Christian version, as you express it, should be understood metaphorically or allegorically, at least not literally. What we have learned from near-death experiences is that at the moment of ‘death’, one’s whole life suddenly flashes before one’s eyes. This may be a prelude to some kind of life-review in the afterlife, which assesses how much progress has been made this time round, how close one is to ‘enlightenment’, and thus what would be the next appropriate incarnation. This would be under the direction of one’s spirit-guide, rather than God or Christ, although they may perhaps be understood symbolically as the ultimate source of this process.
This is what I perceive to be ‘truth’, at least more true than the Bible version, if that is different. That is why I think a new Reformation of Christianity should adopt such ideas.
Interestingly, I’ve had a further response from Joek, who tells me that a belief in reincarnation is expressed in the Jewish mystical text the Zohar. He also referred me to this article, the opening line of which is “Surprise! Reincarnation is an ancient, mainstream belief in Judaism”. Thomas Tallis on Medium — not his real name — has also informed me that reincarnation is a belief of mystical Judaism. I’ve also heard the late Z’ev ben Shimon Halevi say that reincarnation and karma are part of his mystical, Jewish belief-system (Kabbalah). Can the Old Testament, at least as David Knott understands it, really be so out of step with Jewish beliefs?
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