My friend has always known I believe in reincarnation. During the years of our friendship, we've mentioned it in passing but I don't recall ever having an in-depth discussion about religion. She is a traditional Christian in the automatic way that so many are....because it was instilled in childhood as if there were no other possibilities.
In the last decade and a half, my friend has suffered multiple tragedies that have left her looking for something more, a yearning to understand the why of it. What is our purpose as humans and why does a supposedly loving God let these terrible things befall us?
She's certainly not the first person to pose those questions and I'm not the first person to try to answer based on my own beliefs.
"I believe in reincarnation," I told her, "because it is the only philosophy that makes sense of it all to me."
(Incidentally, Christianity and reincarnation are not in conflict. You can believe in both at the same time. There are even Bible verses which point toward reincarnation such as Matthew 17:12-13 which seems to indicate that John the Baptist was the reincarnation of Elias).
If you believe that we are given one life to get it right and that God's judgment is then based on how we perform during an existence as brief in the scheme of the cosmos as the twinkling of an eye, then you believe in a creator who rules by means of a spiritual roulette wheel.
Spin! Red 22! You will be born the child of, oh, let's say, Bill and Hillary Clinton. Your parents will be devoted to you. You will be exceedingly bright and attractive. You will be given every material advantage it is possible to have. Your choices in life will be many; your potential unlimited.
Spin! Black 19. You will be born in a ghetto. Your mother will be addicted to crack; your father will be in prison. Your school is falling down. Gangs rule your neighborhood. As a child, you are hungry, frightened, abused, molested.
Spin! You are developmentally disabled or crippled by disease.
Spin! You are in the Olympics, superior in your athletic ability.
Spin! You are sold into child prostitution in Singapore.
Spin! You graduate at the top of your class at Harvard.
Based on the final tally of these vastly different life experiences and opportunities, are we to believe that a loving God casts us into heaven or hell for all eternity?
I just can't buy it. There has to be more to it than that. There has to be a fairer system.
For me, that fairer system is reincarnation. The belief that we live many lives and that each of them is another opportunity to evolve until we reach spiritual perfection.
I believe that our journey through our incarnations is one of spiritual education. Karma is not punishment but a kind of curriculum, one we choose ourselves, to emphasize lessons that need to be learned. If we are given great riches in one life and abuse them by being greedy and selfish and patronizing to those who have little, then in a future incarnation, we will suffer from privation so that we learn empathy for those we scorned.
If we are bigots, we will return as a despised minority so that our bigotry is turned back on us. If we are arrogant about our talents, we may have them in another life but we will search fruitlessly for success so that they benefit us not. Abuse your health by way of gluttony or addiction in one incarnation and live with the consequences in the next.
I believe that God is not cruel by design. He is cruel in a way that a teacher is cruel, insisting that every student passes the required tests before moving to a higher level. You set your own pace and will be given as many opportunities as you need to progress. Some of us are more resistant and willful than others about learning our lessons, just as we are in this world.
Reincarnation answers every question for me. It levels the playing field so that everyone of us has the same opportunities. In time, we will all be rich and poor, strong and weak, black and white, male and female. How we treat our fellow travelers is how we will be treated in our turn.
Reincarnation is not the same as fate. It is not pre-determination. At any time, we may exercise our will and improve our progress. We may be harsh or intolerant or self-righteously superior (a quality which many Christians possess) but we don't have to stay that way.
We do not consciously remember our past lives, at least, most of us don't, but on a subconscious level, we retain the knowledge we learned in other incarnations. This explains why we are born with a seemingly natural ability - for music or art or medicine. It explains why we are drawn to certain occupations. It explains why we feel at home in places where we have never been and why we meet some people as old friends although we've never met them before. (Entities tend to reincarnate together so that families and friends seek each other out life after life).
Sometimes we choose an incarnation, not for our own sake, but for the sake of others in the ultimate act of love. A developmentally disabled child may have dedicated that life to help another learn a necessary life lesson and when that lesson is learned, it is free to move on to continue to seek its own spiritual destiny.
We typically believe that learning to help others is a worthy endeavor but we must also remember that the converse, learning to accept help through our own weakness, may be equally as valuable.
I bought my friend some books about reincarnation. She can choose to read them or not. She can choose to believe or not. I'm not a proselytizer. I don't try to convince anyone to my point of view. I believe that you can be any religion....or none. It doesn't matter because karma will affect you just the same.