Who Believes in Reincarnation 1
Live again and again? Reincarnation and Christian faith
“Who can say what is happening to us, maybe it is true after all that life is a test in which we should prove ourselves. Only those who pass it with 'One' are allowed to go to heaven, for all the dirty rest the hell of rebirth remains: As a tourist on Ibiza, as a traffic policeman, as a clown in a circus show that nobody wants to see ... "
Most people in Germany do not see the belief in rebirth after death as negatively as in the song “Paradies” from “Die Toten Hosen” from 1996. The idea of reincarnation, a new embodiment is mostly seen as a new opportunity: "In the next life I'll do better". What sometimes crosses the lips of one or the other as a joking remark is, according to surveys, a perfectly plausible thought for up to a quarter of the population. It is not limited to the esoteric scene or anthroposophy, but is widespread. The death researcher Kübler-Ross, or more or less celebrities such as Shirley MacLaine and Franz Beckenbauer are cited as witnesses. But also great minds like Goethe and Schopenhauer are often quoted. The discussion about it is old and Wilhelm Busch already joked: "The doctrine of return is dubious. The question arises whether you can still say afterwards: it's me ".
Reincarnation in Asia
The idea of reincarnation has been widespread in the religions of Asia for a little over 2500 years. Central to this is the conviction of the retroactive effect of our actions, the law of karma. According to Hindu ideas, there is an enormous cycle: we can be reborn as gods, heavenly beings, humans or animals, spirits or hellish beings.
For Siddhartha Gautama (5th century BC), called the Buddha, there is only one ceaseless process of dependent arising. Greed, hatred and ignorance keep the chain of reincarnations going. Only the liberation from desire leads to extinction (nirvana), then the chain of reincarnations is ended. In Tibetan Buddhism, the reincarnations of high dignitaries are found in children with the help of certain identifying marks. In this way, lines of reincarnation emerge like that of the Dalai Lama. That has stimulated the imagination again and again and stimulated films like “Little Buddha” by Bertolucci.
While people in Asia ask how they can escape the wheel of rebirth, for people in Western cultures reincarnation after death is linked to the hope of a new chance.
Seven reasons for reincarnation to be successful in the west
Ideas of reincarnation offer a plausible image of the afterlife in the face of the fading of traditional Christian ideas and images of life after death.
What happens after death? Reincarnation in the West combines the strengths of ideas about the hereafter, which can be summarized in four models: (1) Death is the end. (2) Cycle: life and death alternate in the eternal cycle of becoming and passing. (3) Line: After the lifetime, the human being enters another, otherworldly form of existence through death. (4) Life and death are delusions and ultimately one.
Western ideas about reincarnation combine the cyclical and the linear model. An upward spiraling spiral arises from the circle and line, every turn is a life, with every turn it goes further forward.
Notions of reincarnation are based on the model of learning and correspond to the framework narrative of modernity: We should learn and develop, not just for life, but from life course to life course. We already encounter this idea in Lessing's "Education of the Human Race".
In a world of overwhelming diversity, the idea of reincarnation becomes a relief: Live many times - what cannot be achieved in one life will be made up for in the next.
Ideas of reincarnation offer the individual hope for identity beyond death. The fear of the end is put into perspective, I don't get lost, but stay with me, even if in a new shape. This satisfies the narcissistic mind. And the hereafter is reassuringly familiar because this world.
Reincarnation ideas interpret my current life, my peculiarities and my person on the background of previous résumés, which relieves the burden.
“Why does God allow this?” The agonizing theodicy question recedes, because ideas about reincarnation relieve the burden of the incomprehensibility of fate. Because every fate in life is the expression and consequence of previous lives, the karma principle also explains a difficult fate rationally and justly.
Christian faith and reincarnation
The Bible does not contain any references to reincarnation. In the Old Testament death is the point of no return, in the New Testament the expectation of the kingdom of God and the return of Christ dominate. According to the biblical understanding, the resurrection is an expression of divine grace and care; its secret is God's love for his people.
Just as the idea of reincarnation was outside of its view for the Bible, early Christianity also found no interest in it. The claim that reincarnation was condemned at the Council of Constantinople in 553 is a misinterpretation of the early church texts.
The connection of ideas about reincarnation with the Christian faith is opposed to theological reasons:
The rationalizing interpretation of fate interpreted as karmic guilt.
Learning and development as a central interpretation of life allow a performance mentality to come into religion and open up the idea of unlimited self-development.
The Christian faith does not start from an indestructible ego that evolves back to the divine origin, but from a whole person who exists out of the relationship with God.
The concept of karma associated with reincarnation replaces the living God with an impersonal structure of law.
Reincarnation relativizes death as a transition into a next life, the radical limitation and the end of all human possibilities are not taken seriously.
The inclusion of the idea of reincarnation in the Christian faith would have brought about a substantial change, because where reincarnation explains and interprets, the Christian faith relies on trust and relationship.
Dr. Rüdiger Sachau, November 27, 2012
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