Saturday, December 21, 2013

Reincarnation: Letter to a Co-worker

* I wrote the following to a co-worker years ago.  I post it here for some of its reasoning and questions regarding the issue of reincarnation.  My co-worker never responded to my letter.

                                                                        October 31, 2000


I’ve been thinking of our conversation a few days ago concerning politics, religion, Buddhism, reincarnation, absolute truth, etc.  I was particularly struck by your comments how many people do not want to think about their beliefs because they may find them to be incorrect and thus forced to deal with doubt.  I couldn’t help but think about your belief in reincarnation and karma.  Have you ever thought you might be incorrect about these ideas?  How do you know these are correct notions?  I thought I might try to stimulate your thinking by stating some problems I see in reincarnation.  I will be brief (my goal is no more than one page!) so perhaps we can pick up the discussion over a beer sometime when we have more time than we do at work.

1.     I see no reason to consider reincarnation to be true.  What reasons or types of evidence convince you that such a belief is true and rational?

2.     The whole notion of reincarnation seems inconsistent because there does not seem to be sufficient continuity between the lives of the incarnations.  Mark Albrecht in his book Reincarnation states the problem this way: "The individual personality never reincarnates; only his or her karma survives death and comes to rest on a totally different personality who is alleged to have similar characteristics but has no memory that he or she ‘was’ another person."  

3.     The idea of karma seems to be an incoherent bundle of inconsistency.

a.     Karma doe not effectively deal with moral evil.  It seems, instead, to perpetuate evil.  If a person does evil then in his or her next incarnation an appropriate amount of evil must come back upon that person.  But then that evil that was done to the first person must be punished and so there is never an end to the evil.  There is no way to break the cycle.

b.     How does one discover the moral requirements of karma?  Are these requirements absolute?  Do these moral requirements hold in all lifetimes or just in a few?  If the karmic law is evolving then how is one to keep up with the current system of morality that karmic law is following?

c.      Karma leads to fatalism and a lack of compassion for others.  If I see a person suffering it is reasonable to assume that they must be working off karmic debt.  If I intervene and help such a person I am not allowing them to work off their karmic debt.  Therefore the best thing to do is to leave them alone and not help them.  Norman Geisler and J. Yutaka Amano in their book The Reincarnation Sensation state the objection this way:

"Fatalism, lack of concern for the suffering of others, and general inaction are often traced to the two doctrines of reincarnation and karma.  If one attempts to alleviate the burden of the sufferer, then the sufferer must endure greater hardship in the next life because she did not ‘pay off’ her prescribed karmic debt."

The way the caste system in India has functioned is ample proof of the bad effects that this doctrine has had in that country.

d.     Karmic law is impersonal.  But the notion of law is meaningless with a personal lawgiver behind the law.  Where does karmic law come from?  Upon what is this law founded?

4.     Toward what is reincarnation moving?  What is the goal?  When all the karmic debt is paid off (if such a thing can happen at all!) then what?  Most Eastern religions see the end as some sort of dissolving of the individual personality into the basic Oneness of reality.  Thus the goal is the obliteration of human personality.

Well, I am almost out of space so I had best be stopping.  I mean no offense by the above.  I am seeking some rational understanding.  I’m also seeking some good conversation—here’s hoping you do too!