This is a version of a paper written (by me) for a degree program in a Theological Seminary not affiliated in any way with the LDS Church. Since it was written for a specific audience it is not exactly what I would have said were I writing it to post here. I planned on rewriting it to post it here but never made it past a couple general revisions. I finally decided to post it as is and if I ever get around to it, may add further posts that expound on the topic pulling more heavily on sources of interest to LDS readers. BTW, if it appears to end abruptly, it is because I deleted the ending to post it here.
Reincarnation and Christianity
Reincarnation from a Christian perspective can be quite interesting. Appealing to traditional Christian sources for a fair and accurate treatment of the subject has proven to be disappointingly inept. Christians fight the doctrine with a vengeance even though their arguments tend to be fairly weak. I find the animosity from Christians towards reincarnation interesting given the lack of references in the bible to it. Most will say reincarnation does not fit in with what the bible teaches, even though they are generally talking about implications they believe the bible makes, not what it actually teaches. Due to this bias, I turned to more mystic Christian sources for information during my study and have recently read a number of books written on the topic. These books generally have well written positions but I have found they tend to leave large portions of the Christian doctrine behind, effectively alienating many of the people they are trying to persuade. This short paper will discuss many of the ideas of reincarnation and how they can fit within Christian thought, more specifically how Mormonism has molded Christianity to where reincarnation actually fits nicely in line with most of its tenets.
It should be noted that in this short paper we will be dealing with reincarnation in its more developed, ethical form, basically, once a human, always a human. We will not be looking at metempsychosis; a more primitive, magical form that envisions movement from a human to a bestial existence. It is assumed that the reader has a basic understanding of Christian doctrines and therefore recognizes the inherent problems in the transmigration of the spirit of a person into some lower life form.
The topic of reincarnation is quite popular and has been for centuries, it therefore has a great many books written on it. The topic of reincarnation with in the Christian framework is not nearly as popular with a comparatively smaller number of books written on it, most of which liberally quote each other and borrow each other’s analogies. They do present some valid points, but many of these points seem to appeal to people who have begun to question their Christian faith but not yet studied the questions to come to their own conclusions. Granted, this questioning and unstudied group is probably a large portion of the total population of Christians, which may be why the books are directed towards that audience. (Some of the questions regarding reincarnation in Christianity cannot be answered in traditional Christianity no matter how much one studies, but are referred to as ‘mysteries’. These same questions may occasionally find answers in some of the more fringe elements of Christianity, i.e. Mormonism). The points made seem to fall into two general categories:
First, many of these books leave some of the most basic tenants of Christianity behind in order to explain how the two fit together (e.g. Jesus being the direct Son of God). These points are not even attempted to be answered but simply rationalized away. This effectively destroys the foundation of the Christian faith; “you can still believe in Christ” they say “but you must change what you believe about him”. Other items, such as the resurrection, appear to be in such conflict that Christians and reincarnationists both agree they cannot be reconciled. Therefore, the reincarnationists find ways to rationalize them out as well, or liberally interpret what is taught in the bible. (Interestingly enough, I see no conflict at all with reincarnation and the resurrection. Another point that is in apparent conflict between these two parties is karma. It is a very important part of reincarnation yet Christians say it denies the divine mission of Jesus, again, an area where I see no conflict between God’s judgment and karma. Both of these topics will be discussed later.)
Second, there are questions that, though pertinent to Orthodox or Protestant Christians, are less pertinent to Mormons. Items such as eternal damnation, the state of the soul between death and judgment, etc. are debated topics among different sects of Christianity, but (in my mind) adequately answered by (original) Mormon doctrine. I have spent thousands of hours researching and studying many of the Christian questions that are supposedly ‘answered’ by these reincarnationists and have mostly satisfied my curiosity about them. I have come to conclusions which, I believe, are more solid than the weaker ideas suggested by the reincarnationists. These specific questions, among others, are what originally solidified my belief in (original) Mormon doctrine over other sects of Christianity or any other religion I studied.
In addition to the questions asked, there are the questions which remain unasked, and unanswered in all the treatises that I read on reincarnation and Christianity. These are the questions that are not typical of Christian sects but specific to Mormon doctrine. None of these questions (such as how eternal marriage fits in) are addressed as it appears there are few Mormons deeply interested in reincarnation. This leaves me in an interesting place. Though not willing to say that I have fully accepted reincarnation into my belief set, it is pretty firmly embedded in there and would take some intense pressure to root it out. Having said that, due to these unanswered questions, reincarnation does not yet fit well enough to become an integral and accepted part.
There is an amazing amount of scientifically derived evidence that bumps reincarnation from scientific hypothesis to accepted theory. Any rational person should, if they desire, be able to accept it without embarrassment. There has been years and years of research complied and sometimes even published in scientific journals which has brought reincarnation into a respected (although somewhat muted) field. I believe anyone, religious or not, with an open and/or analytical mind would take pause, when reviewing the evidence. Even if they do not accept it, they could not easily write it off.
My acceptance forces me to fit reincarnation into the theology I have already accepted. This theology is unique in that it has been derived from research into various fields and not solely accepted as taught by anyone else. Though it closely resembles the Mormonism as taught by Joseph Smith, I have yet to find any person who would accept and believe exactly as I do in every way. In my search for information on reincarnation, I have been able to find relatively few essays written on the topic by Mormons, most of which are poorly done, the ones that are well written do not accept it as it is commonly understood. Though it was discussed in limited forms in the early church, it has not surfaced for many years (possibly because Bruce R McConkie declared reincarnation a “ false doctrine, originating with the devil” in his unfortunate work: Mormon Doctrine). In one of the secular books I read, there was reference to a Mormon child having a near-death experience. Her experience was very similar to other NDE’s but couched in Mormon phraseology typical of a child conditioned in the Mormon Sunday Schools, ultimately shedding no light on the Mormon-reincarnation scene.
So now, I am left to fit reincarnation in with what I already believe to be the truth. I have already set myself as somewhat of an outcast by actively accepting and rejecting doctrines as I see fit, regardless of what authority they come from. Accepting reincarnation may set me at odds with the vast majority of the Christian/Mormon world. It appears that those who retain the title Christian while accepting reincarnation generally tend to do so while modifying their interpretation of Christian doctrines to the point where most other Christians would not recognize them as such. I refuse to do this. I have a firm belief in Jesus as the Son of God and Savior of the world. I have a firm belief in the final judgment, resurrection, and other Christian teachings. I have a firm belief in the mission of Joseph Smith of clearing up some of the confusion that came from 1800 years of corrupt men manipulating Christian dogma. Generally speaking, I can fit reincarnation quite nicely in with these ideas and it actually seems to smooth the flow in most cases. There are details yet to be worked out, some of them fairly significant, but there is no point so difficult as to eliminate the possibility of the two merging into an all-encompassing complete whole.
Christianity vs. Mormonism
Points of doctrine that are hard for Christians to swallow but fit in nicely with accepted Mormon doctrine are the preexistence, and eternal progression. Orthodox Christians reject the idea of a preexistence. God creates the soul when the body is created, prior to that it does not exist. Orthodox Christians also believe that once this life is done and judgment dealt, progression is stopped, simply put, you are in heaven or you are in hell and that is the end of the journey. One will not move beyond that point.
Joseph Smith taught something entirely different. He taught that the universe is full of “intelligences”. These intelligences cannot be created or destroyed. Each one of us, at some point in our history was an intelligence. God, having progressed to his state was able to help these intelligences progress by creating spiritual bodies for them. In creating spirit bodies for these intelligences, He was advancing them in their status. Once these intelligences had spirit bodies, He began to teach them and help them continue in their growth and progression. There came a time when these spirits had advanced to the point where they could go no further in spirit form. In order to progress, these spirits needed to take on physical attributes. To accomplish this, the earth was created and man was born. The spirits could now come to earth, take on mortal bodies, live and then die. After death, they return to the spiritual realm to await resurrection. This resurrection reunites the spirit and body in a perfect form never again to be separated. Once this has happened, progression resumes to the eventual godhood of each individual and they repeat the cycle. The course of God is “one eternal round” as oft repeated in Mormon canonical works.
The point in the creation of the earth and physical, mortal bodies given to the spirits was to help them in their progression. Coming to earth, with no memory of their former life, would enable them to grow. They will live a mortal life with all of the joy (and pain) that comes with it, building character and gaining experience. Once this life is complete, the body dies, the spirit returns to the spiritual realm and there is a state of rest to reflect on one’s life – and, for those who never knew about Jesus, it is a time to learn about Him. When the time for this mortal earth has passed, the final judgment and resurrection will occur. It is at this point that the memory is restored and eternities already lived are remembered. The spirit and body are then reunited in a perfect form and ready to continue their eternal progression to, and beyond, godhood. It occurred to me, as I pondered the subject, that it is absurd to think that one short life on earth accomplishes the purpose of the Father in giving His children the necessary experience to move on to grander realms. It makes perfect sense, in my mind that many lives lived in multiple cultures and different time periods would create such a rich library of experience in the soul as to give real meaning to the word progression. Can a person really progress eternally having lived only one life? What of the children who die days after birth? Living multiple lives allows one to garner the experience necessary to move on from this stage in the eternities to the next.
As mentioned earlier, Christians and reincarnationists cannot seem to agree on the resurrection. Christians have what appears to be an attachment complex to the body they currently happen to be in. They say reincarnation nullifies the resurrection, you do not take on multiple bodies, you take on one, and that one body is perfected and immortal in the resurrection. Even though that body is organic and returns to the basic elements of its make up upon death, it is assumed that God will restore the same body in the resurrection. Reincarnationists generally view the body as a prison for the soul. The soul can only truly be free when it is free of the body. We are given a continual stream of new bodies, casting off the old when they wear out and getting new to help us to learn. When we have advanced beyond mortal bodies we do not need one anyway.
Some reincarnationists have even ventured that the early church fathers misunderstood the teachings of the apostles and the bible on what the resurrection actually was…it was not about returning to your same body for eternity, but returning to a new one…being reincarnated. The debate makes no sense to me; I do not understand the bickering. Why are the Christians so attached to their current body? They know it is made up of the base elements of the erath and will decompose back into them at death. Why do they insist God return the body they have now? Why not allow God the latitude to give them any body He wishes in the resurrection? And why do the reincarnationists see the imperfect and corruptible body we have on this earth as the only one available? Is it not reasonable to assume that we, when done with the lessons from this earth and ready to progress, are then given a glorified body, one that will not wear out and die? We are given a perfected body, one that will advance the spirit into a grander realm and to be taken with us as we progress into the eternities? The two ideas merge beautifully together; there is no need to give up one to accept the other.
I also do not see any problem with karma in a world were Christ is willing to pay for our sins. When we come to this earth and live out our life, we can be nice or we can be mean but either way, eventually we will die. Then come back to this earth to live another life reaping the rewards or paying the penalty for our previous life. It is in this cycle that we learn, through multiple lifetimes, there truly are consequences to our every action. We also learn to prioritize; we find that many things we stress about on a day to day basis do not really matter. But, most importantly, we also learn how to love. We learn that the human family is so intertwined and connected that we cannot make a selfish act without hurting everyone equally, including ourselves. We learn that putting others above ourselves is the true way to find happiness. And finally we come to accept love as the ultimate power of the universe, learning that Gods power is derived from his love. What better way for us to internalize what Christ taught than through multiple lives, living out the karma due to us? What better way to gain a greater understanding and come a little closer to fully appreciating the atonement of Christ then standing at the judgment bar of God, with a full recollection of all of our lives, and all of those lessons imprinted on our soul? How much more gratitude will we feel when we learn that Christ has paid for all of those sins? Traditional Christianity, with one life lived and salvation freely given is akin to the spoiled child who is given the most precious gift and takes no thought of its value, as there was no effort given in exchange. No, I do not see a problem with karma in Christianity; indeed, I see it as a brilliant way for God to ingrain in us the importance of the gift he has given us in His Son.
Probably the main doctrine I accept that I am having trouble fitting in with reincarnation is that of eternal families. I believe that families do not separate at death, but continue on. I believe the marriage relationship is a vehicle in the eternal progression towards godhood. Certainly, one cannot be exalted alone. It takes a man and a woman to become a whole. This is in stark contrast to the reincarnationists, who insist that the soul is sexless. Gender is given here on earth to gain experience and souls pass through bodies of both genders while gaining their experience. Once progressed beyond this mortal existence, gender becomes a thing of the past, no longer needed.
Prior to the solidifying of dogma by the early Christian fathers, the Holy Spirit was traditionally considered to be female. The references in the original languages of the Old and New Testaments (as well as other sacred writings) always take the feminine form. My personal belief is that the Godhead consists of three distinct and separate individuals, working together as one. The Father, the Mother (or Holy Spirit) and the Son.
Man and woman have the opportunity to be together for eternity. This begins on this earth and extends through the eternities as they grow and progress together. Eventually, they get to the point where they are capable of helping others, who are not as far along as them, progress. Just as their God was able to do for them, creating spirit bodies for their intelligences, and then physical bodies for their spirit bodies. Yet, if we live multiple lives and are married multiple times, how does this work? Which of our many spouses do we eternalize our relationship with? I do not know. This is the main question standing as a road block, preventing reincarnation from permanently entering into my belief set. I cannot reconcile the two, yet, I cannot discard either one.
The day I married my wife I had a vision I believe came from God. In this vision, I learned how naïve it was for me to assume I understood love. I married my wife because I thought that I had a deep and abiding love for her. In the vision, I was standing on a cliff overlooking an ocean, with an acute feeling of the overwhelming size, majesty, and power of the ocean. There were no words spoken but it was immediately given to me to understand the meaning: Though I thought I loved my wife with all I could possibly give her, I discovered my love was only in its infancy. The ocean was incomprehensible in its vastness and immensity, something I would never be able to comprehend while on this earth. The amount of love available to her and I was beyond even the magnificence of the ocean, it was infinite. I came to the clear realization that marriage was not the end of a lifelong search but the beginning of an eternal journey, one where the longer we were together, the more we would learn about how to love each other and the deeper our love would become. I thought at that time that I loved my wife more than anything else in my existence, but I learned the love I felt was only the size of a very small drop in that great ocean.
It makes more sense to me now, working reincarnation into my views, the possibility of feeling so deeply for someone. She and I have known each other before, possibly many times. Our relationship is not beginning here in this life, but continuing through it. With reincarnation, the vision comes into context a little more; the importance of strengthening our relationship takes on even more precedence. With my current beliefs, the experiences I have had in this life, and the feelings that are continually emerging, I do not wish to lose the marital relationship with my wife. In my limited view, I could not imagine any future relationship, outside of the marital relationship, that would allow us to continue our progression. It seems, if we were to come back, living different lives, having a different relationship, or no relationship at all, that could only be digression, which is contrary to the overall plan regardless of if you are a Christian or a reincarnationist. My views may be naïve in the grander scheme of things, and I am willing to accept that, but I expect the relationship I am currently in to grow and continue on through the eternities.
 See Reincarnation in Christianity by Geddes MacGregor, page 21
 I feel as Geddes MacGregor describes Origen stating on pg 50 of his book Reincarnation in Christianity “As a Christian thinker he is inevitably a lonely figure, too speculative for simple hearts, too biblical for philosophers.”
 See: Reincarnation is Now a Scientifically Acceptable Phenomenon by Dr. Dharmawardena of the University of Columbo; also Research in Reincarnation and Editorial Responsibility by Dr. Eugene Brody editor of Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease and; Essays on some Controversial Subjects by Thomas Huxley pages 27, 171, and 178
 See Reincarnation; A New Horizon in Science, Religion and Society, pages 137-138
 See Doctrine and Covenants 35:1, 3:2 and 1 Nephi 10:19 for example
 Professor John McTaggert, a philosopher from Cambridge talked of love as being the method of finding the “supreme value of life, but also the supreme reality of life, and, indeed, of the universe” – as quoted in Reincarnation; A New Horizon in Science, Religion, and Society, page 9.