Reincarnation in Western religions
The Gnostics also believed that the material body was evil, and that they would be better off if they could eventually avoid having their 'good' souls reincarnated in 'evil' bodies.
Similarly, Scientology holds that the people of earth have been brainwashed into believing that they cannot exist without a physical body, and that the resulting fear of death and compulsive need to reincarnate immediately after death are responsible of much of their misery.
Aside from the religions mentioned above, there are other groups who believe in reincarnation as well. In Christianity for instance, the great majority of Christian groups deny reincarnartion. It was not always thus; Origen, an early Christian theologian that lived during the third century, wrote that "The soul has neither beginning nor end… [They] come into this world strengthened by the victories or weakened by the defeats of their previous lives" (De Principiis). This belief was not unique to Origen; many early Christians believed that the soul exists prior to the conception and birth of a person. In AD 553, more than three hundred years after Origen's death, the Emperor Justinian issued an edict against Origen, and convinced the Pope to convene the Second Council of Constantinople (which the Pope then refused to attend). This Council issued "The Anathemas Against Origen" (an "anathema" is an offense worthy of excommunication and damnation). The first sentence reads, "IF anyone asserts the fabulous pre-existence of souls, and shall assert the monstrous restoration which follows from it: let him be anathema."
The Anathemas Against Origen not only suppressed the teachings of Origen within the Church, but also any teaching supportive of Origen's views on the pre-existence of the soul. Anyone espousing such beliefs could be excommunicated from the Church, or worse. The taboo against belief in pre-existence or reincarnation survived the reformation, and to this day few Christian demominations embrace the possibility that a soul might exist through multiple lifetimes. However, some sects, such as the Liberal Catholic Church, include the concept of reincarnation in their doctrine. Some Hasidic Jews also include this doctrine.
Some ancient Greek philosophers believed in reincarnation; see for example Plato's Phaedo and The Republic. Pythagoras was probably the first Greek philosopher to advance the idea.
Many Gnostic groups believed in reincarnation.
Toward the Light is an example of a contemporary work originating in the western world, which very detailed accounts for reincarnation.
Today belief in reincarnation is widespread in New Age and Neopagan circles. It is an important tenet of Theosophy, and central to Spiritism, founded by Allan Kardec.
The Church of Scientology's Sea Org has been known to issue employment contracts with a duration of one billion years and a clause specifically stipulating that the contractual obligations continue after death.
Evidence of reincarnation
Although anecdotal evidence abounds, the scientific evidence for reincarnation is currently fairly weak. The most detailed collections of personal reports in favor of reincarnation have been published by Dr. Ian Stevenson in works such as Reincarnation and Biology: A Contribution to the Etiology of Birthmarks and Birth Defects, which documents thousands of detailed cases where claims of injuries received in past lives sometimes correlate with atyptical physical birthmarks or birth defects. Perhaps the most significant anecdotal evidence in this regard is the phenomenon of young children spontaneously sharing what appear to be memories of past lives, a phenomenon which has been reported even in cultures that do not hold to a belief in reincarnation. Upon investigating these claims, Stevenson and others have identified individuals who had died a few years before the child was born who seem to meet the descriptions the children provided. In the most compelling cases, autopsy photographs reveal that the deceased individuals have fatal injuries that correspond to the unusual marks or birth defects of the child; for example, marks on the chest and back of a child line up precisely with the bullet entry and exit wounds on the body of an individual who has been shot. However, Stevenson cautions that such evidence is suggestive of reincarnation, but that more research must be conducted.
Skeptics such as Paul Edwards have analyzed many of these and other anecdotal accounts, and claim that further research into the individuals involved provides sufficient background to weaken the conclusion that these cases are credible examples of reincarnation.
Critics who claim that reincarnation is impossible often espouse the alternate theory that a large number of mental phenomena such as memory and ability are already accounted for by physiological processes; and may point to moral and practical inconsistencies in the various theories of reincarnation. To the materialistic mind, Occam's Razor would then seem to dictate that the critical view is to be preferred, as it demands no extraordinary new evidence beyond what is already known to science.
A more skeptical view is that without solid evidence showing that reincarnation exists (regardless of the current state of science), the theory of reincarnation cannot be considered to be a valid scientific theory regarding the real world. Some skeptics explain the abundance of claims of evidence for reincarnation to originate from selective thinking and the psychological phenomena of false memories that often result from one's own belief system and basic fears, and thus cannot be accounted as empirical evidence.
In the Christian Bible there some occurrences that could be considered instances of reincarnation.
John 9:2 (NIV) His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"
- Jesus identifies John the Baptist as the returning prophet Elijah in Matthews 11:14.
- When the disciples ask Jesus about a blind man who had sinned:
If a man couldn't be born in sin, then why did the disciples ask Jesus this question?
Even the Pharisees acknowledged that the man was born in sin:
John 9:34 (NIV) To this they replied, "You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!" And they threw him out.
Psalms 51:5 (NIV) Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
- In the Old Testament, David writes:
For a more detailed exegesis see:
In the Nag Hammadi Library and other
Early Christian Writings we find the Gospel of the Nazoreans which is also known as the "Gospel of the Holy Twelve" or "Gospel of the Nazirenes"
Reading in Gospel of the Nazirenes - Chapter 69
1. As Yeshua sat by the west of the temple with his disciples, behold there passed some carrying one that was dead, to burial, and a certain one said to Him, "Master, if a man die, shall he live again?"
2. He answered and said, "I am the resurrection and the life, I am the good, the beautiful, the true; if a man believe in me he shall not die, but live eternally. As in Adam all (1997 = are bound to cycles of rebirth) die, so in the Messiah shall all be made alive. Blessed are the dead who die in me, and are made perfect in my image and likeness, for they rest from their labors and their works do follow them. They have overcome evil, and are made pillars in the temple of my God, and they go out no more, for they rest in the eternal."
3. "For them that persist in evil there is no rest, but they go out and in, and suffer correction for ages, till they are made perfect. But for them that have done good and attained to perfection, there is endless rest and they go into life everlasting. They rest in the eternal."
4. "Over them the repeated death and birth have no power, for them the wheel of the eternal revolves no more, for they have attained to the center, where is eternal rest, and the center of all things is God."
What is interesting about Verse 2 ("pillars in the temple and they go out no more") is that it can also be seen in Revelations!
Revelation 3:12 (NIV)
Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it.
The Book of Enoch discusses Watches reincarnating among men. Even though the New Testament directly quotes the Book of Enoch four times (in Jude vs 6, 14 and 15, and II Peter 2:4 ) it is not in the official cannon.