Dear 100 Hour Board,
Is reincarnation real? The souls is eternal but bodies aren’t so maybe if someone was murdered or died before their time they get another chance. Seen a lot of examples of reincarnation that really make sense to me.
Dear friend and fellow intrigued member,
In deciding how to answer your question, I came to the conclusion that there are two ways you can approach this: The Church doctrine standpoint, and a philosophical standpoint. Personally, I'd say I stick more to the Church doctrine, but like you, some aspects of reincarnation definitely get me thinking. I will present the two cases and then conclude with my opinion.
What philosophy says about reincarnation:
Philosophical understanding of reality, for the most part, is that it can't be understood. That's why philosophers are still pondering the same questions they were thousands of years ago. Basically, mankind's limited perception of the surrounding world and universe is so largely impacted by individual feelings, emotions, experiences, traditions, etc. that each person's understanding of reality is different than the next.
What that means is that if you asked a Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, or Jain, they would say reincarnation is real. Ask an atheist, they'd say of course not. Ask a Christian, they'd say no, but Resurrection is. Ask agnostics, they'd say it could be real. Each statement is true to the person that says it, and that truth is formed by their life experience and personal beliefs.
Just like most other 'religious' type questions, the only answers lie where we can't find them. We don't have scientific ways to determine the reality of reincarnation. Maybe it IS real, and maybe it isn't. Maybe everyone is right. Maybe only Doug Forcett from Calgary is right. I like to think the unattainable ontological truths get explained in the afterlife. (For the sake of a relatively short answer, we won't go into why me saying we'll find out in the afterlife is just as philosophically unsound as saying reincarnation is real... I'm sure you can see the conflict.)
What the Church says about reincarnation:
I found this amazing article by Spencer J. Palmer on lds.org. (Palmer was a comparative religions professor here at BYU.) Basically, he says there are a lot of principles surrounding reincarnation that DO agree with a lot of Church doctrine (living again after death, living before mortality, etc.) However, based on scripture there are some main reasons why we don't believe in it. I'll outline them here, but note they're basically taken straight from the article:
- We believe in only one physical death. See Hebrews 9:27
- When we are resurrected, our spirits will reunite with our bodies. I guess having 2 bodies, especially if they weren't human bodies (as is suggested as possible by many who support reincarnation), would make the Resurrection pretty chaotic. Palmer explains that the scriptures tell us our body and spirit are linked permanently.
- Reincarnation implies that our bodies are of little consequence. For a gospel that teaches that bodies are sacred gifts from God, you can see why there's an issue here.
- We believe mortality is the time to prepare to meet God. The plan of salvation teaches that we've got this one life to learn and improve before our judgment. Reincarnation messes with that plan significantly. It changes our purpose and teaches that you get lots of tries.
- Reincarnation denies the entire purpose of the Atonement. If man and gods can inhabit many forms, this would suggest that Jesus Christ was just one form of a savior, and that does away, again, with the Plan of Salvation and his divine destiny as our only Savior.
Essentially, reincarnation is not supported by the Church because it conflicts with the Plan in Salvation in lots of ways, most significantly by debasing the importance of the Atonement. Read the article if you want more explication, it's really great.
How Guesthouse feels about reincarnation:
I've read a lot of stories about reported reincarnation cases. They're very interesting, and I'm a sucker for tales of the supernatural. It's hard to explain how I feel when I listen/read to those stories, and try to reconcile that with what I believe according to my religion. What it comes down to for me is that I don't think we'll ever have the full truth in either case until we die. God is omnipotent, and I'm sure he's got an explanation for those cases. I don't think He's gonna explain it to me now if I ask because I don't really need that information. So for now, I read them and I say, "Wow, that's really interesting and crazy!" But I don't make a claim about whether I think it's definitely reincarnation or not. Really, the odds of finding out what's really going on in the universe are so remote, I say you just hang the sense of it and keep yourself busy. (Thanks, Douglas Adams.)
The reason I take the Church doctrine side is that I personally don't believe God gives people a second chance if they die in an accident or are murdered or die as babies or whatever. He's got a plan for us. I don't think that means He plans for people to get murdered, but I'm sure when those people who die of unfortunate circumstances make it to the afterlife He's got something set up for them. I just... don't really think it's reincarnation. They didn't die 'prematurely', they just... die when they do, and God loves them and takes care of them all the same.
Anyways, if you wanna talk about this some more feel free to email me at guesthouse(at)theboard.byu.edu.
I just checked with one of my inside sources but they were uncomfortable with me sharing the answer on the internet. Sorry.