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Reincarnation/Rebirth

I began thinking about resurrection and reincarnation as I was writing down some other ideas about religion (on which, it seems, I spend an inordinate amount of thought, given that I profess none). You need to understand that these are my thoughts, although not entirely my ideas. They are not a critique of your beliefs, and your mileage will almost certainly vary.


I do not believe in Life After Death in any metaphysical sense. I hold with one of the Buddhist views that our very existence and each of our choices lead to changes in reality — ripples in the pond, if you will — that proceed pretty much eternally. I suppose that, in that sense, there is some survival after death, although certainly not cognitive. Some folks — Siddartha, Jesus, Aristotle, the Arab who invented the zero, Genghis Khan — make big ripples, and their influence is recognized for many generations. The rest of us carry over in other ways: someone taught the person who taught the person who first got Einstein interested in physics, thus unknowingly buying into a veritable tsunami. Ditto Mohammad, and some of the people who wrote about Jesus (those whose writings were not marginalized or eliminated entirely by the church).

Our thoughts may survive, in the form of our own work or that of others, but that is not life after death. We all make ripples — karma — that follow us throughout our lives and carry beyond. In that sense, incontrovertibly, something of us does remain after we have left the building.

The reincarnation/resurrection thing — the idea that we will eventually inhabit a new body or reinhabit an old one — is not so incontrovertible. In fact, though the idea has been bandied about in writing for at least 2,800 years (the Upanishads) and, doubtless, for many more generations orally, we have yet to see any provable instance of it. At all. Ever. Given our primal fear of annihilation, however, it is not surprising that we have developed ideas that seem to support it.

Before you throw a bouquet of Talmudic, Biblical or Quranic verses at me, please recall that I wrote "incontrovertible." If you believe that a deity was reanimated after three days, or that, at the last trump, some carefully chosen people will reconstitute, be reunited with an atman, and thence be transported heavenward — well, that is perfectly fine with me, as long as you do not force your beliefs on others.

All of this is not to say that I am right and you are wrong, but merely to illustrate why I do not buy into the idea. As the good Bishop of Occam said some centuries ago (I paraphrase), the most logical answer should be taken as the right one, unless other information comes to light. Since, to date, all the "proofs" of life after death and reincarnation fail to meet my standards, I do not accept them.

So, to repeat, your mileage may vary. Me — I’ll just keep on trying to make useful and durable ripples. That way, I know something of me will live on — and there is no faith involved, nor any required.

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