Reincarnation is the belief that after death a person’s identity or “soul” takes up residence at birth in another human body, an animal, an insect or even a plant, until death of the receptacle once again causes the “soul” to migrate.
Belief in reincarnation has been around for a long time. Ancient Egyptians believed it was possible, at least for a privileged few, to choose what life form they wished to reside in after death. Plato taught the migration of a fixed number of souls. Pythagoras, another Greek philosopher and a mathematician, claimed in past lives he had been a Trojan warrior, a prophet burned to death, a peasant, the wife of a shopkeeper and a Phoenician prostitute.
The concept of reincarnation carries with it the hope for a better life (or lives) in the future. It is an idea that is popular in oriental religion. But it is also believed by many people in the West.
A famous stage personality believed she was Queen Hatshepsut (explaining that since childhood she has felt an “eerie link” with Egypt and made drawings of camels and pyramids when she was three years old). A well-known musician credits his musical talents to a previous life as the composer Stephen Foster. An American actor believes he was an American cowboy in the Old West. An actress thinks she was a Christian who was fed to the lions in ancient Rome. Some of the stories of those who claim to be reincarnated raise questions that cannot be adequately answered by standard explanations. There are the publicized cases such as “Bridey Murphy,” who had never been to Ireland and yet who spoke (with an Irish accent) of a place in Cork called the Meadows, where she had reputedly been born in the 18th century, and lived until her death in 1864. Or Dolores Jay, a Virginia housewife who claimed to have been murdered in Germany 100 years ago, and who, under hypnosis, could speak German, though Dolores Jay had never been exposed to anyone who spoke the language.
Many other accounts have been compiled where previous existences have been “recalled,” usually under hypnosis. For example, one man suffering constant migraine headaches supposedly revealed under hypnosis that as an officer in the Air Force during World War II he had gotten drunk and walked into a whirling airplane propeller that cut off his head. A check of official military records revealed the death in 1942 of just such an officer with exact serial number given under hypnosis.
One of the most prominent persons seriously examining reincarnation is Dr. Ian Stevenson of the University of Virginia School of Medicine. For nearly three decades he has been objectively exploring the subject. He has files jammed with reports on over 2,000 subjects he has investigated. These are individuals who claim to have lived previous lives.
There are many cases where individuals apparently are able to accurately recall details of circumstances and locations where they have never been in their present lives.
Cases indicating reincarnation are set forth in the book Psychic Voyages. “But,” the author says, “there may be other explanations. The first that springs to mind is that they are all due to fraud or some sort of delusion. However, there are too many anecdotes and too many carefully investigated cases on record for this easy solution to be acceptable. The only other explanation that seems at all tenable is that the alleged memories of former lives are acquired through extrasensory perception” (italics added).
So to many people the belief in reincarnation seems to offer solutions to nagging problems or puzzlements. But is there really such a thing as reincarnation? Have you lived before? Will you live again?
The Bible tells us that it is “appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). We are not given 10, 100 or 1,000 opportunities to die and live again. Just one. Souls do not live on and take up residence in another body.
What about the cases where people claim (often under hypnosis) to remember former lives and where details inexplicably match historical records? After fraud, coincidence and honest mistakes are examined, there remain cases that defy normal physical or psychological explanation. This is where extrasensory perception comes into the picture.
“Extrasensory perception” in this context means information that is perceived from sources beyond the physical world. What are those sources, since they’re not “immortal souls”?
Although the Bible shows that human beings are not reincarnated, it also shows that lying spirits or demons have been around since long before humanity. They remember what took place in the past. When a person’s mind becomes receptive to suggestion, such as may occur under hypnosis, it is possible for a spirit to recite historically verifiable information through the human.
So the Bible rejects the concept of reincarnation. Rewards and punishments for the events of this life are given justice not through an endless cycle of new lives, but through a final judgment.