The Fad of Reincarnation

Jul 2nd, 2011 | By | Category: Christian Life, Featured Issues

In the United States, there is a growing fascination with the belief in reincarnation.  In fact, adherence to this belief is a part of psychiatric therapy?something called ?hypnotic regression? or ?past-lives therapy.?  One very famous physiatrist, Dr. Paul DeBell, believes that he was a caveman in a past life and that his eternal soul also inhabited the body of a Tibetan monk and a conscientious German who refused to betray his Jewish neighbors in the Holocaust.  Dr. Brian Weiss, another well-known psychiatrist, conducts group hypnotherapy sessions in which he takes people through their past lives?for a fee of $355.  [According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, over 25% of Americans now believe in reincarnation.  (Women are more likely to believe than men; Democrats more than Republicans.)  The growing love affair with the East in American probably began in 1968 when the Beatles took their infamous pilgrimage to India and spent a significant amount of time with a Hindu guru.  Their music and their lifestyles changed as a result?especially that of John Lennon.]  How do such hypnotic sessions (or past-lives therapy) work?  Such a session takes several hours and costs about $100 per hour.  Under hypnosis, the patient follows a guided visualization.  For example, Dr. Weiss encourages his hypnotized patients to imagine walking through one of five doors.  One has on it the year 1850, another 1700, another 1500, and so on.  This entire approach to therapy is controversial and not widely accepted in the psychiatric profession, but it does symbolize the lure of the East.  With the demise of a commitment to biblical Christianity and the growing pluralism of this Postmodern culture, we should not be surprised with this fascination with Eastern mysticism, especially reincarnation.  Two important facts about biblical Christianity are important:  (1) Biblical Christianity clearly articulates a linear view of history, not the cyclical one of the East.  Time has a very specific point of beginning?creation.  God?s program of redemption?the key to history?is clearly linear.  Any study of the Bible necessitates a rejection of the cyclical view of history so central to a belief in the cycles of reincarnation.  (2)  Hebrews 9:27 makes it quite clear that there is no cycle to life, to reincarnation:  ?It is appointed for man to die once, and after that the judgment.?

It is imperative that those committed to genuine biblical Christianity have a biblical perspective on the spiritual world of Eastern thought, especially Hinduism, one of the key sources of a belief in reincarnation.  God?s truth provides answers to Eastern mysticism.  The Christian gospel is clear and straightforward, but it is the convincing and convicting work of the Holy Spirit that brings a person to Christ.  As we share Christ in both word and deed, it is imperative to remember that our prayers and our dependence on the Spirit bear the fruit of the gospel.  Nonetheless, there are critical bridges or contact points of similarity between Christianity and Eastern mysticism that the Spirit can use:

Bridge #1: As with the Christian, the Hindu believes that ultimate reality is spirit.  John 4:24 teaches that ?God is spirit and those that worship Him worship Him in spirit and in truth.?  That there is a spiritual world and that that world is ultimate reality is a powerful commonality between the two faiths.

Bridge #2: Central to Hinduism is the idea of a unity to all things; a unity centered in the belief in Nigurna Brahman.  Given this conviction, the Christian can build the bridge that natural revelation reveals this unity, focused on God Himself (see Psalm 19 and Romans 1:18ff.).  The next critical step is of course to get the Hindu to focus on the special revelation in Jesus Christ.

Bridge #3: Rooted in the Law of Karma, Hinduism also teaches that there is a sense of justice that permeates the universe.  If the Hindu falls short of Karma?s requirements, he is condemned to the endless cycle of reincarnation.  For the Christian, that sense of justice has been met in the finished work of Jesus Christ on Calvary?s cross.

Bridge #4: Seeking to break the cycle of the soul?s transmigration (reincarnation), Hinduism has a passion for freedom.  For Christianity, Jesus provides that longing for freedom.  Faith in Jesus Christ provides the freedom from sin and its bondage (see John 8:32).

Bridge #5: Hinduism teaches and respects the significant cost there is to the religious life.  The typical Hindu honors and defers to the devout, the holy and the ascetic leaders of the Hindu faith, for they are close to breaking the law of karma and the freedom from reincarnation.  Although Christianity rejects the extreme asceticism of Hinduism, it does teach ?death to self,? and other-centered, self-sacrificial love as paramount virtues of the faith.  Hindus can identify with this and witness the liberation from legalism that biblical Christianity brings.

These five bridges are most helpful in sharing Christianity with Hindus and other Eastern mystics, but there are three significant barriers to which Christians must be sensitive.  Only God the Spirit can break down these barriers, but the Christian must be conscious of them and their power.

  1. Most Hindus believe that ultimate truth is a synthesis of many truths.  They separate the Jesus revealed in history from the Christ of the Christian faith.  He is not the only path to truth nor to salvation.  Christians of course reject this syncretism.  Revelation is the only source for truth and Christians cannot surrender this.
  2. Many Hindus believe that all religions lead to the same goals and that none possess full truth.  Often, Hindus contend that Jesus is a way to salvation but will not tolerate that He is the way of salvation.  Here then is perhaps the most formidable barrier between Christianity and Hinduism.  Jesus is exclusive and His path of salvation is exclusive (John 14:6).  This truth cannot be surrendered.
  3. Hindus believe that there is divine revelation in all religions and that none can claim exclusivity.  Therefore, Christianity is not unique.  But, because it is rooted in revelation, Christianity is unique and exclusive.  With love and compassion, this truth must be maintained.  Only God?s Spirit can break down this barrier.  Hinduism resembles a sponge, for its soaks up all teachings, absorbs them and then redefines them according to the syncretistic teachings of Hinduism.  If Christians are to reach Hindus, we must understand this tendency, build the bridges and then allow the Holy Spirit to do His supernatural work.  There is no other way to reach the Hindu for Jesus Christ.

See Lisa Miller in the New York Times (29 August 2010) and James P. Eckman, The Truth About Worldviews, pp. 21-29. PRINT PDF

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