In my initial post (Hello World), I gave a brief synopsis of my spiritual journey up to the time that I renounced Christianity. At that time, I experienced an exhilarating liberty to be able to ‘think outside the box’, and examine ideas I previously considered ‘doctrines of demons’. If I remember correctly, the first ‘New Age’ books I read were written by Ruth Montgomery and gave very interesting accounts of her own investigations into, and experiences with, paranormal and psychic phenomena. I also read books by Shirley Maclaine; ‘near death experience’ books by Dr. Raymond Moody, Betty Eadie, and Dannion Brinkley, and others; ‘mediumistic’ books such as George Anderson’s ‘conversations with the other side’; ‘channeled’ information such as the ‘Seth’ books by Jane Roberts; a lot of books about reincarnation (many giving stories of past life recall); and Theosophical books such as Helene Blavatsky’s two volumes entitled Isis Unveiled. My favorite book from an ‘Eastern Religion’ perspective was Paramahansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi; but I’ve also read several from a Buddhist perspective.
There are certainly variations in perspective among all of these different writers; yet there is also a common thread running throughout. That ‘thread’ is the concept that we are not physical beings who ‘have’ a soul, but spiritual beings/souls who ‘have’ a physical body temporarily. Our ‘life’ as ‘spirit/soul’ did not begin with our conception or birth, and will not end with the death of our physical body.
Much of what I read was personal testimonies of past life memories, ‘near death’ experiences, ‘after death’ experiences, and some ‘pre-birth’ experiences. What a contrast these personal experiences presented to the official dogmas of traditional Christianity, with its heaven/hell dichotomy! Most of the experiences (whether ‘near death’ or ‘after death’) were very positive in nature; but even the most ‘negative’ were nothing like the ‘hell’ theology of Christianity. All ‘judgment’ is self judgment; when Jesus is seen to be present (and a surprising number of non Christians reported meeting Jesus after death), his presence was always loving and patient – never condemning. Counsel may be given as to how to overcome guilt and the actions which produced the feelings of guilt; recommendations are given as to what needs to be ‘studied’ in the ‘between life’ state and what experiences will be needed in the next lifetime in order to grow spiritually; but the ‘judge’ (or ‘judges’) never displays anger and condemnation.
One of Betty Eadie’s books (I believe it is The Ripple Effect: Our Harvest) primarily consists of excerpts from letters other ‘near death experiencers’ have written to her. In one, a Jewish person met Jesus – but instead of being castigated for rejecting Jesus and Christianity during his lifetime, he was welcomed and loved as just another of Jesus’ brothers, with not even a hint that he needed to ‘get saved’ by converting to Christianity when he returned to his body. Another was an atheistic scientist (surely an obvious candidate for ‘hell’) who ‘surprisingly’ found himself very much consciously alive after his ‘death’, and in the presence of Jesus. Once again, there was no condemnation for his ‘atheism’. Instead he saw that his vociferous atheism had been a necessary counterbalance to the opposite extreme of vociferous religious fundamentalism, and he had in fact entered life for that very purpose! Of course when he returned to his body, he was no longer an atheist, but he had found a ‘middle way’ between atheism and fundamentalism.
Obviously, it is this very contrast between these personal experiences and ‘Christian’ dogma that leads Christian fundamentalists to label such things ‘doctrines of demons’ (because it contradicts their pet doctrines, and that can’t be ‘right’, can it?!). But I’ll take personal experience over dogma any day. I maintain that such experiences refute dogma! For a while after my ‘last straw’ experience with Biblical Christianity, I did not say anything to my wife about my ‘apostasy’, but continued to go to church with her. But I was reading those Ruth Montgomery books, and she apparently realized what they are about. Out of concern for my spiritual welfare, she reported what I was reading to one of the ‘elders’ of the church, and he confronted me one Sunday after the meeting. “I understand you’ve been reading some books that you ought not to be reading.” I was belligerent enough to respond by asking who gave him the authority to determine what I should and shouldn’t be reading. He responded by making the observation that those books taught ‘doctrines of demons’. I knew that from his fundamentalist viewpoint that was true, but I nevertheless asked how he knew what the books taught; had he himself read them? Well, of course not, but he had read reviews. Who wrote the reviews? Other fundamentalist Christians, naturally (apparently they had read things they shouldn’t be reading!). Since I had rejected orthodox Christianity, though, I was not much impressed with such antagonistic reviews. And since I have seen for myself that the Bible cannot be trusted as an ‘authority’ (see here and here), it doesn’t bother me a bit when someone tells me “the Bible says …”!
The wonderful thing about the teaching of pre-existence and reincarnation is that it shows that we are engaged in a journey and exploration of life. We are investigating and experiencing all of the potential inherent in God, and in our nature as the ‘offspring of God’; and as this potential is limitless, we cannot expect to exhaust it in one physical lifetime! Life is a process of growth and development; but even if we fail to make any progress in any particular lifetime, God is not going to ‘throw us in the trash heap’; we just get to ‘repeat the grade’ in this school of life. When we have successfully completed the material in one ‘grade level’, we’ll progress to the next level. Eventually we will probably exhaust all that ‘earth life’ can teach us, and ‘graduate from high school’ so to speak – we’ll progress to ‘university’ in other ‘dimensions’ perhaps. But we’ll keep coming back to the earth ‘school’ until our education here is complete.
The aim of this education is to ‘know’ God, and ourselves as ‘offspring of’ or ‘emanations from’ God, with all of the infinite potential that carries with it. We have no need of any mediators to stand between God and ourselves, because there is no possibility of actual separation between us. When threatened with ‘eternal damnation’, we can laugh at the threats, as we will know that God can no more ‘damn’ us than ‘He’ can ‘damn’ ‘Himself’. We know that this lifetime is just one step in an ‘eternal’ journey, and nothing men do to us can hinder or stop the journey. We will learn to treat everyone else with respect and love, because each person is a child of God and ‘bears His image’. What we do to others, we are doing to God and in reality to ourselves; because while we are all individuals, we are nevertheless all One (as paradoxical as that sounds). When we fail to act toward others in the appropriate way, Life has a way of giving us experiences to correct our ‘waywardness’. We call this ‘reaping what you sow’, or ‘karma’; but it is not ‘punishment’ in the sense of ‘God’s gonna gitcha’. It is opportunity for correction, improvement, growth, and development.
But doesn’t the fact that we don’t remember our ‘past lives’ prove that reincarnation is not real? Not at all. For one thing, many people do remember past lifetimes (some spontaneously, some through hypnotism); while some of these are not verifiable, others have been verified after careful investigation (as books by Dr. Ian Stevenson show).
But even from the perspective of our present lifetimes, how many people can remember their early childhood? Perhaps a few can remember a few outstanding events from their first few years, but most of us probably can’t remember anything before age 3 or 4. That doesn’t mean that we just suddenly sprang into being at the time of our earliest memory, does it? If I was viciously attacked by a dog when I was 6 years old, and have repressed the memory, does that mean that the dog attack never occurred? Certainly not. In fact I may have what appears to me, and others who don’t know of that childhood trauma, an ‘irrational’ fear of dogs. The dog attack still affects me, even though I don’t remember it.
A person who has developed ‘total amnesia’ of his previous life will probably still know how to speak his native language, even though he doesn’t remember ever learning it or ever before speaking it. He/she may know how to drive a car, even without any memory of learning to drive or of ever before driving.
That is how it is with reincarnation; we bring tendencies, likes and dislikes, with us from previous lifetimes. They may seem to be unexplainable; they’re just ‘natural’ to us. Perhaps someone has an ‘irrational’ fear of water from earliest childhood, and there is no apparent way to account for it. Then he has a ‘past life recollection’ of drowning in a previous lifetime, and the fear of water is explained (and probably disappears). This is the most likely explanation of ‘child prodigies’ and ‘idiot savants’, also. Wolfgang Mozart just ‘naturally’ takes to the piano as if he was born knowing how to play it; and Jascha Heifitz the same with the violin. Perhaps it is because they were in fact ‘born with the knowledge’, brought over from previous lifetimes of development.
If you’re interested in reading some of those accounts of past life recollections and near death experiences, books can be easily located in bookstores and libraries. You can also find them online by doing a simple search for ‘reincarnation’ or ‘near death experiences’. One very good site I located a couple of days ago when I did such a search is Beyond Religion. If you check it out, you’ll probably be intrigued! When you read people’s personal accounts of actual out-of-body and past life experiences, the soul/spirit becomes much more real to you; it’s no longer just something that will take care of itself when we die. And how much more real will it be if you yourself have such an ‘encounter with your Self! I haven’t yet (and I rather envy those who have), but I’m still hoping and seeking for it.
I think I’ll aim to make my next article about reincarnation in the Bible and early Christianity (which is quite a different thing from Christianity as we know it today, particularly fundamentalist Christianity).