By Pastor Michael Frisbee
The latest Pew Forum survey of religious beliefs puts the overall percentage of Americans who believe in reincarnation at 24% (men 21%, women 28%). Strangely enough, Blacks (34%) are almost twice as likely to believe in reincarnation as Whites (21%), with Hispanics in the middle (29%).
Oddly enough, a full 11% of self-identified Evangelical Christians believe in reincarnation, although only 5% of those who attend church weekly. Black Christians (29%) believe in reincarnation only slightly more than White Catholics (25%). Even among weekly attendees, 21% of White Catholics believe in reincarnation.
Such high percentages stand as a testimony to the poor job of religious education being performed in the churches today. The spread of these beliefs is one of the most under-reported and unnoticed religious phenomenon of the last 100 years, representing a sea change of religious worldviews.
The word "reincarnation" literally means to "come again in the flesh." The process of reincarnation - continual rebirths in human bodies - allegedly continues until the soul has reached a state of perfection and merges back with its source. One's lot in life, according to those who believe in reincarnation, is based on the law of karma. This law says that if bad things happen in one's life, this is an outworking of bad karma. If good things happen in one's life, this is an outworking of good karma.
"Karma" refers to the "debt" a soul accumulates because of good or bad actions committed during one's life (or past lives). If one accumulates good karma by performing good actions, he or she will be reincarnated in a desirable state. If one accumulates bad karma, he or she will be reincarnated in a less desirable state.
Some people twist the Scriptures and say that Jesus Himself taught reincarnation or "cyclical rebirth." In Matthew 11:14, for example, Jesus said, "And if you are willing to accept it, [John the Baptist] is the Elijah who was to come." Likewise, in John 3:3 Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again."
But these passages, rightly interpreted, do not support reincarnation. Matthew 11:14 does not really teach that John the Baptist was a reincarnation of Elijah. Luke 1:17, an important cross reference, tells us that the ministry of John the Baptist was carried out "in the spirit and power of Elijah." Moreover, reincarnationists conveniently forget that John the Baptist, when asked if he was Elijah, flatly answered, "No!" (John 1:21).
Regarding Jesus' words about being "born again" in John 3:3, the context clearly shows that Jesus was referring to a spiritual rebirth or regeneration. In fact, the phrase born again carries the idea of "born from above," and can even be translated that way. Jesus clarified His meaning by affirming that "flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit" (v. 6).
There are other Scriptures that clearly debunk the notion of reincarnation. Hebrews 9:27 tells us that "man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment...." Each human being lives once as a mortal on earth, dies once, and then faces judgment. He does not have a second chance by reincarnating into another body. Second Corinthians 5:8 indicates that at death the Christian immediately goes into the presence of the Lord, not into another body. Luke 16:19-31 indicates that unbelievers at death go to a place of suffering, not into another body.
We must also remember that Jesus taught that people decide their eternal destiny in a single lifetime (Matthew 25:46). This is precisely why the apostle Paul emphasized that "now is the day of salvation" (2 Corinthians 6:2).
Further, Jesus taught the concept of resurrection, not reincarnation. In fact, He predicted His own resurrection early in His public ministry (John 2:19). And after Jesus resurrected from the dead, He appeared to some disciples and said, "Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have" (Luke 24:39). Jesus resurrected in the same body that went into the tomb. His body even retained the scars and wounds in His hands, feet, and side from the crucifixion (John 20:28).
In addition to biblically refuting reincarnation, we must also point to some of the practical problems involved in the theory of reincarnation. For example, we must ask, Why does one get punished for something he or she cannot remember having done in a previous life? Moreover, if the purpose of karma is to rid humanity of its selfish desires, then why has there not been a noticeable improvement in human nature after all the millennia of reincarnations on earth?
What about those who ‘remember’ their past lives so vividly? I cannot speak against their experiences. All I can tell you is either they’re being deceived by a demon or is deceiving the gullible public. Even if they indeed remember their past lives, why can’t they have an empirical evidence to prove that they indeed lived a previous lives. Why can’t they tell us and, describe for us how it is to live as an insect or animal. Or why not bring something from the so-called, past life, let say, a necklace, clothes, perhaps a birth certificate that will proved and convince the skeptics?
India, the cradle of reincarnation, still one of the world’s woeful nations. According to a friend of mine (who loves to travel to India) who has been to India several times, told me that countless of city streets are awash with filth. Starving beggars were everywhere. Miseries abound to those who don’t have a meal in their stomach. The only fortunate were the rats, and cows who in turn ate their fill. The question that comes to my mind is, after thousands of years of reincarnation, isn’t it only fair to say that India would be the exception and a shining example of human progress and spiritual transformation?
Isn’t the theory of Karmic transmigration a cop-out from human responsibility? For instance, I always help beggars. Sometimes I offer them a meal if I get the chance. But, helping a beggar in India is futile since he is working off his Bad Karma!
Did you know that before Christian missionaries arrived in India there were no charitable institutions and hospitals? Institutions for helping the needy is considered a stumbling block for the Karmic Transmigration. The reincarnation edifice offers no hope, nor does it have any relevance in answering suffering and human depravity. In fact devotees are enslaved into believing life-death-life that doesn’t make any sense at all.
Finally, if reincarnation and the law of karma are so beneficial on a practical level, then how do they explain the immense and ever-worsening social and economic problems - including widespread poverty, starvation, disease, and horrible suffering in India, where reincarnation has been systematically taught throughout its history?