Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Can Lutherans be Reincarnated?

Okay. I'm not one for living a life of danger. I don't sky dive or bungee jump or race motorcycles. The most dangerous thing I can do is flirt with a little heresy every now and then. So here goes:

Some weeks ago, Carol, a faithful member of my congregation, asked me if I'd be willing to read Dr. Brian L. Weiss' book Many Lives, Many Masters. The book is subtitled, "The True Story of a Prominent Psychiatrist, His Young Patient, and the Past-Life Therapy That Changed Both Their Lives." I told Carol I'd be willing to give it a look, and she graciously dropped off a copy at my office. I actually found it rather enjoyable. Dr. Weiss has a smooth writing style, and the book reads like a novel. It does beg the question, "Can a Christian believe in reincarnation?"

To Dr. Weiss' credit, he makes a very compelling argument for the transmigration of souls. I won't detail his evidence here, but if you click on his name (Brian L. Weiss, MD) you can learn all about him and his books. What I personally found most interesting was his assertion that some of the early Christian fathers seemed to believe in the doctrine of reincarnation. Weiss sites Origen, Clement of Alexandria, and Jerome as proponents of past-life experiences.

By the sixth century, however, reincarnation was pretty much denounced as heresy by the Church. This was chiefly because the notion that we gain wisdom and salvation through the accumulated experiences of past lives seems to undercut the fundamental Christian doctrine of total salvation through the atonement of Christ on the cross. As a Lutheran, however, I can't resist mentioning that the Roman Catholic Church's doctrine of purgatory seems to do precisely the same thing. I guess none of those sixth century churchmen noticed that!

If you're interested in the intersection of Christian doctrine and reincarnation, I suggest you take a look at the Reluctant Messenger website. The author does a very thorough job of detailing the evidence linking Christianity to reincarnation as well as  the Church's objections to this belief.

Now here's what your Old Religious Guy thinks:

I felt a tremendous amount of joy and comfort reading Dr. Weiss' book. Whether reincarnation is true or not, we cannot write or discuss the transmigration of the soul unless we first believe in the concept of the soul. What do I mean when I use the word "soul?" I mean that I believe in a personal consciousness which is informed by our physical selves but not bound by our physical reality. Please note, I do not subscribe to the ancient Manichaean heresy that body and soul are separate and opposite elements. I believe in a divine interconnectedness between our consciousness and our bodies; however, I also believe that consciousness--like all energy forces in the universe--can neither be created nor destroyed. It is eternal, and will survive once our material bodies have changed their form.

Did any of that make sense?

In short, I believe in eternity, or, as we say in our Creed, in "the life everlasting." Dr. Weiss' book highlights the very positive reaction people in this life have once they become aware of their eternal selves. So good job, Doc!

Of course, in reading Many Lives, Many Masters, one may become skeptical about exactly what Dr. Weiss' hypnotized patients were really experiencing when they recounted past-life experiences. Do I think the book presents 100% irrefutable evidence for reincarnation? I'm afraid I can't say yes to this. Perhaps the patients were tapping powerful but previously untapped creative potential within their own brains? Or, perhaps they were connecting to the accumulated wisdom of all souls? Maybe they were demonstrating, as John Steinbeck said, that there is "one big soul that ever'body's part of?"

But who the heck am I to judge?

Maybe in some past life I was a Navajo princess or a Lithuanian pig farmer. Who knows? What I know for certain is that in this life I am a Lutheran pastor. Trinitarian Christianity works for me (and that's a subject for a future post). Right now, I owe it to my soul and to the God of All Souls to be the best Lutheran pastor I can be. I'll just have to put the rest of eternity into God's almighty hands and live in the moment in faith, hope, and love.

Thank you so much for reading! I will be on vacation for the next two weeks and will not be posting. Please amuse yourself with some of the past posts you may have missed. As always, I look forward to your comments. God bless!

3 comments:

  1. Thank you, glad I stumbled on your page. I am listening, interested and eternally seeking. I'll be back too read more of your post. I am in a deep depression since the loss of my Beloved son, Shane. I have moved to Prattville,Alabama and am in deep need of counseling. Oddly have pulled into the Lutheran church parking lot twice...never made it.to the door. Have some long standing issues with churches but not with God. I believe reincarnation is possible but not a big deal in the overall scheme of things. It is refreshing to know there are open minded ministers out there somewhere. God Bless

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    1. Thank you, Sandra. I will keep you in my prayers as you mourn Shane. Glad you made it as far as the parking lot. I'm sure the doors will be open--and someone just like you will be inside.

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  2. Reincarnation is typical topic but everyone interested in and want to know past life. Like me...

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