In this column, I'll talk about some of my deepest beliefs. What do I think are the most important principles that someone
should rule their life by? What are my religious beliefs? My political beliefs?
I might use this column to write about
my beliefs about specific issues, such as:
Reincarnation is the belief that when one dies, one's body decomposes, but one is reborn in another body.
It is the belief that one has lived before and will live again in another body after death. The bodies one passes in and out
of need not be human. One may have been a Doberman in a past life, and one may be a mite or a carrot in a future life. Some
tribes avoid eating certain animals because they believe that the souls of their ancestors dwell in those animals. A man could
even become his own daughter by dying before she is born and then entering her body at birth.
The belief in past lives used to be mainly a belief in Eastern religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism,
but now is a central tenet of such theories as dianetics and channeling. In those ancient Eastern religions, reincarnation was not considered a good thing, but a bad thing. To achieve the state
of ultimate bliss (nirvana) is to escape from the wheel of rebirth. In most, if not all, ancient religions with a belief in
reincarnation, the soul entering a body is seen as a metaphysical demotion, a sullying and impure rite of passage. In New
Age religions, however, being born again seems to be a kind of perverse goal. Prepare yourself in this life for who or what
you want to come back as in the next life. Belief in past lives also opens the door for New Age therapies such as past life regression therapy which seeks the causes of today's problems in the experiences of previous lives.
L. Ron Hubbard, author of Dianetics and the founder of Scientology, introduced his own version of reincarnation into his new religion. According to Hubbard,
past lives need auditing to get at the root of one's "troubles." He also claims that "Dianetics gave impetus to Bridey Murphy" and that some scientologists have been dogs and other animals in previous lives ("A Note on Past Lives" in The Rediscovery
of the Human Soul). According to Hubbard, "It has only been in Scientology that the mechanics of death have been
thoroughly understood." What happens in death is this: the Thetan (spirit) finds itself without a body (which has died) and
then it goes looking for a new body. Thetans "will hang around people. They will see a woman who is pregnant and follow her
down the street." Then, the Thetan will slip into the newborn "usually...two or three minutes after the delivery of a child
from the mother. A Thetan usually picks it up about the time the baby takes its first gasp." How Hubbard knows this is never
J.Z. Knight claims that in 1977 the spirit of a Cro-magnon warrior who once lived in Atlantis took over her body in order to pass on
bits of wisdom he'd picked up over the centuries. Ms. Knight seems to be carrying on the work of Jane Roberts and Robert
Butts, who in 1972 hit the market with Seth Speaks. Knight, Roberts and Butts are all indebted to Edgar Cayce who claimed to be in touch with many of his past lives. One would think that channeling might muck things up a bit. After
all, if various spirits from the past can enter any body at any time without destroying the present person, it is possible
that when one remembers a past life it is actually someone else's life one is remembering.
From a philosophical point of view, reincarnation poses some interesting problems. What is it that is
reincarnated? Presumably, it is the soul that is reincarnated, but what is the soul? A disembodied consciousness?
Reincarnation does seem to offer an explanation for some strange phenomena such as the ability of some
people to regress to a past life under hypnosis. Also, we might explain child prodigies by claiming that unlike most cases of reincarnation where the soul has to
more or less start from scratch, the child prodigy somehow gets a soul with great carryover from a previous life, giving it
a decided advantage over the rest of us. Reincarnation could explain why bad things happen to good people and why good things
happen to bad people: they are being rewarded or punished for actions in past lives (karma). One could explain déjà vu experiences by claiming that they are memories of past lives. Dreams could be interpreted as a kind of soul travel and soul memory. However, past life regression and déjà vu experiences are
best explained as the recalling of events from this life, not some past life. Dreams and child prodigies are best explained
in terms of brain structures and processes. And since bad things also happen to bad people and good things also happen to
good people, one might well suppose that there is no rhyme or reason why anything happens to anybody.
Finally, since there is no way to tell the difference between a baby with a soul which will go to heaven
or hell, and one with a soul which has been around before in other bodies, and one with no soul at all, it follows that the
idea of a soul adds nothing to our concept of a human being. Applying Occam's razor, both the idea of reincarnation and the idea of an immortal soul which will go to heaven or hell are equally unnecessary.