25 percent of US Christians believe in reincarnation. 33 percent of American adults believe in reincarnation.
Earlier this year, NBC's Evening News featured a story about a Midwestern boy who claims to be the reincarnation of a man who died more than 50 years ago. The presentation included an interview with Dr. Jim Tucker, an associate professor of psychiatry and neurobehaviobehaviod at the University of Virginia, who studied cases of children, usually between the ages of 2 and 6, who say they remember past lives. .
Two days later, I participated in an afternoon dialogue organized by a group in Fairfax County, Virginia, called Interfaith Communities for Dialogue. The theme of the meeting is "What Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs believe." It included speeches by speakers of all three religions, followed by separate panels, which also included Jews, Christians and Muslims. In my particular group, I couldn't help but note how the topic of reincarnation dominated the conversation, serving as a microcosm of the larger picture in modern America.
Not only a quarter of Americans believe in reincarnation, but 24 percent of American Christians expressed faith in reincarnation, according to data released by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life (a 2009 survey). This represents a significant departure from the traditional Judeo-Christian narrative in which most Americans grew up in the baby boomer generation. You were born. You're a sting. You're dead. And after the trial, you went to heaven or hell forever.
The word "reincarnation" comes from Latin and literally means "to enter the flesh again." The belief is that the indestructible beginning (soul) exists in each person and returns to this earth after death in a new form. The fate of each person in this life and in future lives is determined by the consequences of good or bad actions in the past or present (karma).
Of course, we are not dealing with nonsense here. About a billion Hindus have held a cyclical view of life for millennia. You were born. You live. You're going to die. And since no one is perfect, your soul is born again and will continue to be born again until the negative karmic imprints of bad thoughts, words or actions in your soul are erased. Behind the doctrine of reincarnation is the search for meaningful morality, a just world order.
Since Buddhism does not postulate the insular soul, it does not support reincarnation per se, but rather the transfer of karmic energy from one form to another at death. Although the understanding of Christianity differs greatly from that of Hinduism and Buddhism, it is common to all three of them to recognize that liberation (salvation) precedes some kind of purification. Christians in the Catholic tradition call it purgatory.
Bible and reincarnation
The Bible does not mention reincarnation, but there are several biblical passages that tell us how the necessary purification is done and whether we are given more than one life. The Colossians' Message refers to the Christian understanding: "When you were dead for your crimes . . . God revived you with him (Christ) when He forgave us all our crimes, erased a record that opposed us with his legitimate demands. He put it off by nailing the cross"( 2:13, 14). And "The Message to the Jews" answers the question "more than one life?" in that it is said that "mortals should die one day, and then judgment" (9: 27).
If the record of all our crimes has been erased, there is no need to come back again and again, trying to erase through our own desire the negative imprints on this record. The central message of the gospel is that our fulfillment is not our actions or the result of our own efforts, but rather the gift of God's grace. So, neither one nor several lives can be sufficient to achieve perfection. At the heart of the Christian faith is the Savior. "This word is true and worthy of full acceptance," wrote the Apostle Paul, "that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" (1 Timothy 1: 15).