Monday, November 9, 2009

Christianity and Reincarnation

A friend whose spirituality and religious knowledge I admire wrote me saying that:

"Reincarnation is NOT Christian. Only Christians who don't know or believe the Bible believe in reincarnation. How much clearer is it when it says," Just as man is destined to die ONCE and after that to face judgment. Heb. 9:27.?"

So naturally I thought about this. My friend and I have the advantage that too few Christians have these days in that we don't agree and that's okay because we remain friends. He knows he's right and I maybe. His person and life reflect what most would say is a good Christian and like Billy Graham represents the back bone of Evangelical Christianity.

In contrast, I'm a Christian but few would fault me for being a "very good Christian", not that I don't try. I often find I'm more welcome outside the church than in it but I stay. I'm a member of several clubs whose members contain those who would have more like themselves and less like me in their midst. I'm often amazed at how common I am though when I'm treated so often as unique. And there are even religions who call themselves Christian who would exclude my friend and I but accept only their 144,000 chosen few.

The actual church I belong to now , Christ Church Cathedral calls itself "inclusive". Many Anglicans would call the the very Diocese it belongs to 'apostate'. A major movement within the church has called for a 'back to basics' and 'bible centered' more exclusive reform of the church. This "fundamentalist" movement certainly came at a time when the likes of Martin Luther would be rising up themselves about the watering down of the church if others didn't speak out first.

Still I think I'm a Christian. I have as much right to call myself one as so many who would not welcome me in their midst. Raised Christian, attending church with family, Christian youth leader, YMCA leader, church attending, Bible studying, theology student, follower, teacher, rebel, healer, martyr, Christ conscious, Jesus loving, feeling Born Again, I've paid my dues. I'm a regular Kierkegaard though when it comes to other Christians. I'm Pelagius to Augustine and a big fan of ecumenicalism. I really do believe there's "many mansions". I'm suspicious of any Christian whose 'safe'. I respect my Christian friend because he's never been as 'safe' Christian.

My Catholic friend and I had dinner last week. He told me that a young Christian woman asked him if he being Catholic was a Christian. "Well, all Christians were Catholics the first 1500 years of the church," he replied. "So you believe in God," she said. "I'm glad."

I liked the Shack. I like the last Christian play I saw where there was a whole lot of swearing because I learned from the "Desire of the Everlasting Hills" that Jesus was vulgar and not 'Nice' . I don't like nice safe Christians. Kierkegaard considered them vulgar.

I don't think it's 'cool' for Christians to be fighting "poofs". Jesus didn't even talk about homosexuality. C.S.Lewis was my kind of Christian and he was one of those Christians fighting the Nazis. Jesus mostly challenged the big guys and let the outcasts, like the Jewish tax collectors, and lepers, hang out with him. I think it's appropriate as a Christian to ask "what would Jesus do" when our country is involved in some wars. My Quaker doctor colleague doesn't pay that part of her taxes that would go to war and has spent a life time fighting the Canadian government over what she sees as their unchristian behaviour. Another Christian friend has stirred up the pot questioning the vastly lucrative abortion industry,by questioning anyone comparing terminating human life with the removal of a wart. Last I heard he was making waves against the cost saving plans for expanding euthanasia.

My famous Anglican Christian friend left a senior partnership in Toronto corporate law office for a small town general law office telling me that "I don't think you can be a Christian and work as a corporate lawyer anymore." The woman corporate lawyer I met who was practicing as a solo lawyer told me the same. "I can practice law and be ethical. I won't be rich but I couldn't be ethical and continue to practice in a large corporate law office."

My choirmaster friend asked me once if "Christian psychiatrist" wasn't an oxymoron. If I had not dissented and made a very costly stand for morality and ethical behaviour I would have had to agree with him. The experience certainly left me fondly singing Bruce Coburn's Wondering Where the Lions Are?

My friend believes the Bible. I do too. However I am a historian and have studied extensively the development of the Bible. I know that it was influenced by the State and Emperor Constantine and various other 'conservative' bodies since have made religion what Marx called the "opiate of the masses". Early Christianity, what has been called first century or before the Nicene Creed was anything but conservative. Paul Johnson who wrote the classic History of Christianity said that churches often were more like soccer clubs where you'd gather to get your bats to beat your neighbour Christians into agreement about the finer points of orthodoxy. I love the diversity.

I believe in fact that God knows and is the answer but that our solution is in the discussion and living. I'm reading a Christian book called "Orthodoxy". It's slow going. Not nearly as fast as Thomas a Kempis, "Imitation of Christ" but kind of like Oswald Chambers who I do enjoy. It's appreciating the journey. My friend says I should read the Bible more and after having read it cover to cover a few times I still agree with him.

Now as to reincarnation, this was very much apart of early Christianity. It's a topic of Jewish tradition as Rabbi Astor discusses Naturally he disagrees with Christians which is to be expected for a Jew who is wrong by not being a Christian but otherwise he's very good and does an excellent job of discussing "Resurrection" and "Reincarnation". It's good to remember too that Jesus was a Jew and no doubt was wrong as a Jew and only got it right becoming a Christian after resurrection. I would not want to be faulted for splitting hairs but these things are important considering the eye of the needle. And old men have talked for even longer about women's hymen with as much authority.

That said, there was a lot of doubt after Jesus died because frankly most of his disciples expected him to lead them immediately. The Second Coming was supposed to have come. The first Christian diversity was when the Jews disagreed with the followers of Q, who were thought to be just a sect of Essenes who got it wrong. Enter little Paul the greatest Jewish salesman of all time. Talk about merchandising. And that's when things like foreskins important to Peter became maybe 'too orthodox'.

Jesus was supposed to have whacked the Romans. This is what those who knew him believed. Yet when the Romans persisted John's gospel was just a little softer on them than originally Mark had been. Maybe Pilate wasn't such a bad guy after all. He did crucify hundreds of others in addition to Jesus but whacking Jews didn't just become popular with the Nazis. Stalin preferred killing Poles and Ukranians and Hitler got into that too and maybe he would have gone easier on the Jews if he'd had some of the First Nations to whack. Whacking First Nations has always been more popular than killing Jews in the Americas.

The bad jew business came back big time in John though. Jesus's disciples weren't nearly as learned as our know it all pulpit ministers today. Yet they'd been chosen by the Lord, walked with the Lord, healed the sick and performed miracles themselves. Not bad for a group of guys who couldn't get it right when it came down to 'religion' and "theology" so they needed Paul to tell them how it really was. He wrote and the 'oral' tradition of the "illiterate' apostles somehow got lost though it may be that it's found in the controversy of the 'gnostic gospels' and texts like "Thomas" and other resources that show that the early Christians were often as disputatious as present day Christians.

The Christian community has at least as many sects as the Catholics. I was amazed to learn of an Roman Marion Catholic sect that allowed priests to marry. Then there are the Roman Catholics and Orthodox Catholics as different as say the Baptists and the Pentecostals. There's as many Jewish sects too with the three broad main groups, reformed, orthodox and conservative only getting together to fend off Jew whackers who won't acknowledge the differences within the group. Even the Pharisees are diverse. The Moslems have a whole bunch of division too though some would think they're all jihadists. That's an image that certainly doesn't fit those I know who look like most other Canadians, want peace, better government or less taxes and a snowbird vacation just like the rest of us.

The first Christians were confused and anxious. Peter went from swinging swords to running scared. And they called that one, the "Rock". I think it pays to be a little uncertain as a Christian alone. Jesus said "where two or more are gathered, there too am I". A Christian friend whose wife suicided said there were ,"two things you couldn't do alone, marriage and Christianity". I wondered about his wife.

At the same time there have been all these people over the years who have just known. Saints have often just seemed to 'know'. I really liked St. Theresa of Avilla and St. John of the Cross. But then I liked St. Francis too.

Just scanning the internet on "Christianity and Reincarnation" I came up with a lot of controversy.

The evangelical one which certainly supports my friend I believe though I didn't read it all because it was very wordy but positively erudite was

"Today’s religious syncretism not only accepts reincarnation as one of its basic doctrines but also tries to prove that it can be found in the Bible and that it was accepted by the early Church. We will therefore analyze the basic texts in the Bible which are claimed to imply belief in reincarnation, examine the position of some important Church fathers who are said to have accepted it, and emphasize the basic antagonism of this doctrine with Christian teaching."

This is a superb intellectual resource which really goes into depth in discussing the whole subject and making the strongest points for rejecting 'reincarnation' and indeed arguing that Christianity can't exist in combination with reincarnation.

A different consideration in favour of reincarnation is found in

Maybe one is called "evangelical christianity", another is called "new age christianity" and worse than both are those Christians called "catholic christianity" or my own "anglican christianity".

Dr. Moody, a psychiatrist, examined those who had near death experiences and found that 'reincarnation' was apparent for some not all.

I don't want to come back as a toad.

Indeed my own idea of heaven is rather like Mark Twain's. He describes it so well in Captain Stormfields Visit to Heaven. If all goes well I may get to be a pig farmer too.

The movie "What Dreams May Come" certainly portrayed a kind of Heaven that appealed to me. I think the "visions" and "poetry" of some of the Bible is open to interpretation, especially Revellation. I really wondered about people being "literal" with the Bible given the number of meanings of the words, the translations, and that the words in the time the Bible was written, especially the allegories, and metaphors had a wholly different meaning to us today. Jesus then was called a Shepherd and today might be called a Computer programmer.

My own understanding of Reincarnation is directly tied in with my understanding of Time and String Theory coupled with the idea of Dimensional existence and a very multifacetted God who comes as the "God of Unknowing". Hence I believe in stellate reincarnation rather than linear reincarnation .

God to me is Love and it has been said that if Love could be measured would it still be God and would we want it? Would it still be Love?

Jesus said, "Love God and Love your neighbour as yourself."

The Beatles then were right when they sang "all we need is love". C.S. Lewis might say that theologically this would mean 'agape love' rather than 'eros love'. Yet the Song of Songs is both carnal and transcendent. Love is.


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