and Related Worldview Correlatives
APOLOGETICS INFORMATION MINISTRY
Professor Craig S. Hawkins, President
P.O. Box 10375 Santa Ana, CAÂ Â 92711-0375Â Â www.apologeticsinfo.orgÂ Â
Â See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.- Colossians 2:8 NIV
The belief in reincarnation or transmigration, in one form or another, has been around for quite some time. Due to many factors, at least in the so-called Western world, these views appear to be gaining ground–a wider acceptance. Given the increasing popularity of reincarnation and/or transmigration among Westerners, I believe that there is an acute need for solid critiques of these perspectives. In particular, I think that this is an area where Christian apologists should exercise a concerted effort to accurately understand and then critique these views. Certainly this needs to be done (and has been done) from a biblical/theological perspective.(1) In addition to the biblical/theological critiques of reincarnation and transmigration, I strongly believe that there needs to be solid philosophical (e.g., ethical, metaphysical/ontological) evaluations as well.(2)
Reincarnation: The Answer or Part of the Problem?
There are certain issues that will be addressed in this paper–are of a direct concern to this paper–and others that I will have to forego.
For example, there are various reasons for the popularity of reincarnation (and at that with reincarnation more so than transmigration) in the Western world. However, I do not have the space in this paper to explore in detail these factors. Besides, even if I could give an accurate account for the popularity of reincarnation in the West, this would not necessarily help us to critique it.
Moreover, as it should be inferred from some of my previous comments, this analysis will not include, per se, a biblical/theological critique. There are a number of reasons for this. First, this has already been done by a number of authors (see note 1). Second, while I believe that the Bible is the word of God and that God’s word never fails to accomplish God’s sovereign purposes (see e.g., Isa. 55:11), many do not accept what God has revealed to us and therefore has to say in the Bible. Third, among the multitude of reasons that could further be cited, since people are made in the imago Dei (see e.g., Gen. 9:6; 1 Cor. 11:7; James 3:9) and in light of general revelation (see e.g., Ps. 19:1-4; Rom. 1:19-20), I believe that we can and should also appeal to philosophical principles and critiques that logically and ontologically follow from the nature of God, the God given constitution of humans, and the world that God has created, that are either explicitly or implicitly taught in Scripture–the Bible–and therefore logically and ontologically follow from God and what He has revealed to us in the Bible.
Nor does this analysis pretend to be an exhaustive treatment of the topics under discussion. For example, a multitude of philosophical critiques can and have been given against reincarnation and transmigration then space allows me to present here (see note 2). I will have to greatly limit the scope of concerns covered in this analysis: I will have to content myself with certain ethical (e.g., some of the reincarnation theodicies) and metaphysical/ontological critiques of reincarnation.
This paper will proceed in the following order: (1) I will briefly explain part of the context in which reincarnation or transmigration appeals to people and hence the need for our analysis, (2) present and define some of the key terminology or definitions and concepts relative to reincarnation, for example, briefly comparing and contrasting reincarnation with transmigration, and then (3) expound on three critical concepts that are generally tenets of the teaching of reincarnation. This will be done in order to set the stage for the primary purpose of this paper: (4) to present philosophical critiques, primarily ethical ones and concerns relative to the problem of evil, of both reincarnation and corollary views to it.
Thus, in this paper I want to examine some of the teachings and implications of various types of reincarnationists’ views, and the philosophical implications of the world view context in which these views are found (e.g., polytheism, pantheism, panentheism). Therefore, I will examine what reincarnationists explicitly espouse, as well as what logically and ontologically follows from their views.
Reincarnationists appeal to reincarnation and the law of karma to explain the existence of most if not all of the evil and suffering that occurs in the world. Reincarnation and karma supposedly supply the answers to the difficult dilemmas of the evil and suffering that we see. I believe that this is one of the reasons why reincarnation is so popular, and increasingly so in the West. I will present extensive quotations in this paper to allow reincarnationists to speak for themselves on these concerns.
Reincarnationists believe that reincarnation, in one form or another, helps to answer most if not all of the problem(s) of evil and suffering: “Why is there so much apparent inequality, injustice, evil, and suffering in the world?” “Why do seemingly good, nice, or innocent people suffer, while others seem to be getting away with just about everything?” “Why is it that the worse things in life (e.g., tragic deaths) seem to happen to good people?” Moreover, for some of these people, no matter what they do, it seems that they cannot improve their lot in life, while others who are unethical appear to only prosper. Reincarnation is proposed as the answer, the key to these concerns, particularly the seeming injustices, inequities, and innocent suffering, and allegedly makes everything all-right in the end. But, is this really the case; is it really true? I will argue that reincarnation does not answer these dilemmas, these questions, but ironically actually causes or makes more problems or moral dilemmas. It is rather ironic that reincarnation is touted as the answer to the injustices of life and the problem of evil and suffering, when the view itself creates these very problems in the first place. Reincarnation precipitates far more many problems than it allegedly solves.
Before I proceed in my philosophical analysis of reincarnation it is necessary to first define some, of the many relevant ones, key terms and corresponding concepts that are germane to our discussion: reincarnation, transmigration, karma, and samsara. Along with the definitions of reincarnation and transmigration, I will briefly compare and contrast them.
The first term/concept that needs to be defined is reincarnation. The term comes from the Latin (incarne: “en-flesh”), in the context of our discussion the literal meaning being “re-embodiment.” It is the belief that people live multiple times; that is, their soul or essential immaterial nature, returns multiple times to live again (i.e., rebirth into another body or alleged body). This is always (as opposed to transmigration) in the form of a human being, with a higher or lower social-economic status, greater or lesser abilities or talents, and/or with greater or lesser spiritual and/or intellectual awareness. Reincarnation is understood to work or function in a number of ways.(3) However, what these views all have in common is the idea of entering another body (or alleged body for some Hindus) for another physical life (or alleged physical life for some Hindus). Thus, if one continues to be reincarnated, it will be as a human. This is determined by the operation of (one’s) karma.
Transmigration, our second term/concept under discussion, is basically the same view as reincarnation, except with the belief that one does not always or necessarily come back as a human, but could return as a different life form, such as a bird, bat, bug, or cow, or in the form of a so-called (for some transmigration) inanimate object, such as part of a piece of chalk, rock, wall, etc. This is determined by the operation of (one’s) karma.
The next term that needs defining is samsara. Samsara is the wheel or cycle of (re)births through which one is successively incarnated in reincarnation and transmigration. Most reincarnationists, except many neopagans, and transmigrationists want to escape or get off the wheel or cycle of reincarnation or transmigration–samsara. Whether or not one continues on the wheel or cycle of rebirths is determined by the operation of (one’s) karma.
Karma is the last term/concept, for our purposes, that needs defining. Karma comes from Sanskrit and means among other things, action, cause, destiny, or fate. It is the universal (spiritual and impersonal) law of cause and effect that governs reincarnation and transmigration. That is, for every action, choice, or event that has moral implications or ramifications, there is or are corresponding consequences–positive or negative karma. It is generally believed to be a universal law from which there is no exception to or escaping from (e.g., forgiveness or mercy from). It is often said that it must be completely balanced or “paid-off” in this life or subsequent ones. One’s karma determines his or her status in possible succeeding reincarnations or transmigrations.
With the above terms sufficiently defined, I am now in a position to proceed to the next three critical concepts that are relevant to our discussion.
Three Critical Concepts
There are three key tenets that are generally found (as corollary views) with the teachings of reincarnation and/or transmigration. Actually, the first concept contains two key elements, but for the purposes of this paper, since they are so closely related, they will be treated as one. I am not saying that all three are always found together, though they often are, but that at least one is (to the best of my knowledge) always found, and that even if only one is found this tends to cause the view in question to commit the naturalistic fallacy (see below). These three key concepts include–in no particular logical or ontological order: (1) the belief that one or their immaterial essence never ultimately dies and will always be reincarnated or transmigrated into one form or another, and that whatever happens to an individual in this life–their form and/or status–is due to the accrual of negative or positive karma, (2) the belief that one chooses (conscious or unconscious, before or during this life) to experience everything–that they do or that happens to them–in this life, and (3) the belief in the necessity to eventually experience everything or every type of experience or event or occurrence for one’s alleged intellectual/spiritual development, progression, or evolution to/towards, among other things, acquiring, developing, or realizing deity–becoming or just realizing that one is allegedly divine.
The Nature of Humanity and Karma
The first idea is that one will never cease to exist–in one form or another–and that one’s karma determines their present (and future) circumstances. Thus, for example, the circumstances of one’s life are a result of one’s accrued negative karmic debt. Closely related to the latter part of this idea is that one’s karmic debt needs to be balanced-out or “paid-off;” thus, one’s life and the circumstances thereof are orchestrated by or are the result of one’s karma and/or need to balance-out any negative karmic debt–with one’s life being the result. Put crassly the reincarnationist or transmigrationist could say “I owe, I owe, It’s off the wheel of reincarnation I go.” Many examples could be cited to illustrate these ideas.
For instance, the Bhagavad-Gita contains a prime example of this teaching. In the Bhagavad-Gita (Sanskrit for “the song of God”), one of the Hindu writings (indeed purported to be the most popular of the Hindu religious literature),(4) there is an alleged dialogue between Arjuna, a warrior who is lamenting having to go into battle and kill many individuals, including some of his kinsmen, and Krishna. We read among other things the following comments and/or counsel from Krishna to Arjuna (I will quote at length so that the correct context of this passage can be seen so that, among other points, I cannot fairly be accused of misquoting or quoting it out of context.):
Your words are wise, Arjuna, but your sorrow is for nothing. The truly wise mourn neither for the living nor the dead.
There was never a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor any of these kings. Nor is there any future in which we shall cease to be.
Just as the dweller in this body passes through childhood, youth and old age, so at death he merely passes into another kind of body. The wise are not deceived by that….
That which is non-existent can never come into being, and that which is can never cease to be. Those who have known the inmost Reality know also the nature of is and is not.
That Reality which pervades the universe is indestructible. No one has power to change the Changeless.
Bodies are said to die, but That which possesses the body is eternal. It cannot be limited, or destroyed. Therefore you must fight….(5)
But if you should suppose this Atman [the soul, or according to the Bhagavad-Gita, the "Godhead that is within every being"(6)] to be subject to constant birth and death, even then you ought not to be sorry.
Death is certain for the born. Rebirth is certain for the dead. You should not grieve for what is unavoidable….
Before birth, beings are not manifest to our human senses. In the interim between birth and death, they are manifest. At death they return to the unmanifest again. What is there in all this to grieve over?….
He Who dwells within all living bodies remains for ever indestructible. Therefore, you should never mourn for any one.
…[Y]ou ought not to hesitate; for, to a warrior, there is nothing nobler than a righteous war. Happy are the warriors to whom a battle such as this comes: it opens a door to heaven….
Die, and you win heaven. Conquer, and you enjoy the earth. Stand up now, Son of Kunti, and resolve to fight. Realize that pleasure and pain, gain and loss, victory and defeat, are all one and the same: then go into battle. Do this and you cannot commit any sin.(7)
In other words, once Arjuna understands the supposed nature of reality, including transmigration, then he should realize that he can kill–at least in this case–with impunity. Not only is he not guilty of any “sin,” nor of ultimately killing anyone, but his actions are actually virtuous since he is helping others with their karma. To demonstrate that this is not just my “spin” or trying to give the text the worst possible interpretation, or that I am not taking it out of context or misinterpreting it, note the understanding/interpretations of the previously cited text by the following Hindu/New Age leaders.
Vivekananda states, “The murderer too is God.”(8)
Rajneesh exclaims in expounding on the Bhagavad-Gita (including the section cited above): “Even if you kill someone consciously, while fully conscious it is meditative. That is what Krishna was saying to Arjuna…Kill, murder, fully conscious, knowing fully that no one is murdered and no one is killed….Just become the instrument of Divine hands and know well that no one is killed, no one can be killed.”(9)
Rajneesh also states, that you are ignorant of your alleged deity: “This is the sin–not that you have murdered somebody or stolen; that is nothing. Those are minor sins.”(10)
In his commentary on the Bhagavad-Gita, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of Transcendental Meditation, writes regarding Arjuna, that he should attain “a state of consciousness which will justify any action of his and will allow him even to kill in love in support of the purpose of evolution.”(11)
From a related idea we read in the Kaushitaki Upanishad (3:1,2): “The man who know me as I am loses nothing whatever he does. Even if he kills his mother or father, even if he steals or procures an abortion, whatever evil he does, he does not blanch if he knows me as I am.”(12)
The second part of our first concept can also be easily seen in the writings of reincarnationists. Note the following examples.
John-Roger, the leader of the Movement for Spiritual Inner Awareness (MSIA) and self-appointed and would-be messiah is a contemporary example of this mentality:
Let’s look at the Vietnamese people for the last 3,000 years of their existence. As a collective group, they may have gotten exactly what they created for themselves, and they may have balanced all of their karma. Now, is it bad for them to be karmically free of all that? Is that wrong? Perhaps that particular freedom didn’t come about in a really popular way, in terms of what we all might have wanted it to be, but it came about in a way that was entirely perfect. There was no overkill; there was no underkill. The Americans that went over there and were caught up in it were part of the Vietnamese process thousands of years ago, and even though they were born in America [in] this life, they were pulled back there to complete their karma, also. And those who went through the war unharmed were not part of the process and came home safely. So how can that action be judged as “wrong”?(13)
Likewise Sybil Leek demonstrates the same idea. In her book, Reincarnation: The Second Chance, Leek tells us:
As difficult as it may be to understand tragedy, mental deficiency or imbalance seems all but impossible to comprehend. Why should a person, any person, lose his mind or part or it? Why should any child be born retarded and remain retarded throughout his life? Mental imbalance varies from imbecility to raving lunacy; heredity, environment, events all play their part–but why? The reincarnationist may well theorize as to the karmic significance of insanity, whether it be of the mild or the exaggerated sort.
It is possible that, in a former life, the insane of today occupied positions of authority from which they delighted in dictating to the minds of others. Even if they were not in positions of authority, they may have used a powerful personality in such a manner as to make weaker natures vulnerable to them. Whatever the circumstances, those people who cruelly dominate others bring about a particularly unfortunate type of victim–a person who, literally, cannot call his soul his own.
This is a situation that karma can readily solve. Those who rob others of the right to use their own minds may in time become the mindless ones themselves–to a greater or lesser extent, depending on the nature of their offense. What purpose could educational karma have in robbing a person of his mentality, other than to blast the spirit into a realization of the inquity [sic] of arrogantly dominating the mentality of others [emphasis in original]?(14)
Thus, Leek postulates that the mentally handicapped might well be simply suffering from their own karma.
I trust that the above references adequately demonstrate the first key concept of the supposed nature of humanity and the law of karma and its results.
The second critical concept that I want to survey, which stems from the first, is the view that whatever happens to one in life is simply the result of the individual’s choice (made conscious or unconscious, and made before or during this lifetime). One reason for this is that the reincarnationist might well want to work-off as much negative karma, and as quickly at that, as they possibly can in one lifetime–a veritable crash course of negative karma reduction. There are many instances of this type of thinking in reincarnationist’s literature.
For instance, when Shirley MacLaine’s daughter’s acting teacher was burned beyond recognition in a head-on collision, Shirley MacLaine questioned: “Why did she choose to die that way?”(15)
The neopagan Ceisiwr Serith writes: “There are two theories of how the circumstances of rebirth are determined. One is that the soul itself decides, based on what it feels it most needs to continue its advancement towards godhood.”(16)
In addressing the old assertions that we did not ask to be born or choose our parents, Susan Roberts records in her book, Witches, U.S.A.:
But, you see, you did, according to witchcraft beliefs. And you even chose the circumstances of your birth in order to gain a particular life experience which will speed your progression to an ever-ascending higher plane as one life succeeds another. Therefore, your life is your responsibility alone. If your mother was a fool and your father a brute, that’s their misfortune, not yours.
Nor does it matter how brutal or hopeless such circumstances may seem. If they are physically or emotionally insurmountable, then you are merely discharging a debt which you incurred through misusing some of the assets you enjoyed in a previous life.(17)
As bizarre as some of the previous ideas are in explaining why many people experience difficulties and tragedies, some reincarnationists hold views even more outlandish.
For example, Marion Weinstein takes the idea of choosing the circumstances of one’s life (e.g., tragedies) one step further, that is, to the time and manner of one’s death. Weinstein writes, “Within the karmic frame of reference, there are no accidents or coincidences. Nobody does anything to us unless we let them (or invite them). People do not wander into our lives at random. We draw them to us, invite them into our lives.”(18) She also states, “Some events may appear to be accidents, but on closer investigation we can see that we provided the atmosphere for their occurrence. We either created each event, or drew it to us, or participated in it. Coincidences are never arbitrary happenings.”(19) Thus, are we to infer that no matter what happens to us (e.g., devastating diseases, injuries, rape, torture), it is our karma, or we choose, consciously or unconsciously, to have it happen? Weinstein does not leave us guessing. She asserts:
…many other deaths do not seem to be choices: accidents, illnesses, murder, the deaths of young people. So many deaths seem arbitrary and beyond human control. But in the occult view these deaths were not arbitrary [sic] nor beyond the control of the people involved. The death-choices were subconscious choices, but choices just the same for any of a myriad of reasons.(20)
These are wild claims! But she’s not done yet! Just when one thinks they have heard it all, Weinstein claims:
On the individual level, it may also seem impossible to understand the workings of karma in severe personal tragedy. How does karmic law explain such painful experiences as the loss of a loved one, serious illness, poverty, or any other occurrence which seems to be far from one’s personal choice?
I can only say, although it may sound simplistic in the abstract, that many painful experiences are based on someone else’s personal karmic choice; if such an experience seems painful for you, you may be viewing the other person’s karmic choice with a limiting perception.(21)
Really? So if I cringe at the thought of people being born with birth defects, being badly burned or burned to death, going blind, becoming crippled or deaf, being maimed or otherwise mutilated, dying, and so forth, this is just due to my limited perception?
What It All Means
Synthesizing the teachings of all the previous quotes in this section, we conclude that one is responsible for all circumstances that they find themselves in–including the disastrous ones.(22) All (minimally many) situations one finds themselves in are the result of reincarnation or transmigration and karma (the consequences of previous actions and choices) and/or one’s own conscious or unconscious choices. In the latter case, we allegedly choose each life and everything–all circumstances in that life–including tragedies. Thus, so we are told, we are responsible for our own choices (e.g., being bludgeoned or burned to death, mugged, murdered, suffering crippling injuries from a car wreck, raped, tortured, and so forth.(23)
The Necessity to Experience Everything
The third critical concept that I want to briefly discuss is the idea that it is necessary for the reincarnationist to experience everything. That is, many reincarnationists believe that they need to experience, every (or close to it) type of experience possible. There are many reasons held among reincarnationists for this belief. For example, (1) either one has some negative karma in the concern under question and must pay it off, and/or (2) the individual wants to actualize or realize their alleged divine potential and/or potential deity, and/or (3) the person believes that they are divine, but must or at least it would be good for them, to have as many different types of experiences as possible to learn from and draw upon them so as to grow in their knowledge and maturity and/or as deity. (I can still remember the first time that someone–a fellow undergraduate philosophy major–told me that they believed this and wondered why I didn’t want to have every type of conceivable experience.) For these reasons and others, many reincarnationists want to have as many experiences as possible.
For example, the witch Raymond Buckland asserts, “…for its own evolution, it is necessary that the soul experience all things in life. It seems the most sensible, most logical, explanation of much that is found in life…Why should one be born crippled, another fit and strong?…if not because we must all eventually experience all things” (ellipsis in original).(24)
Sybil Leek offers similar reasons for the existence and necessity of evil in the world.(25) For instance, in relating a dialogue regarding reincarnation and the notion that witches long for “numerous experiences,” Leek writes:
…my moderator friend asked me if I felt I had to experience being a murderer. I certainly do not in this life, because I know I have evolved beyond the idea of taking life; the total concept of witchcraft as a nature religion revolves around the aspect of love and the Life Force. How, then, can we want to experience this at this state of our spiritual evolution? Probably in one of my past lives, I too was a murderer; if this is so, then I also accept that in another incarnation I could have been a victim. If we accept logic, we must accept it on all issues.(26)
Leek is saying in the context of the above passage that she did not at this point in her “spiritual evolution” need to experience being a murderer or other “negative experiences.”(27) However, if we follow logic, as Leek recommends we do, if she is to experience all things in her spiritual evolution, at one time she was a murderer. Also, according to her understanding, she already has been murdered in a previous life, or will be in a future life. For Leek this is true for all people.
Quoting from Raymond Buckland again, we see him stating a similar position:
Why should one be born crippled, another fit and strong? … [ellipsis in original] if not because we must all eventually experience all things…In the Witchcraft belief, then, one lifetime’s experiences are not dependent on the previous one’s. For example, if you suffer physical abuse in this life, it does not necessarily mean that you were an abuser in your previous life. It is possible you were, yes. But it is just as possible that you were not but are going to be in the next life. In other words, it is a case of experiencing all things–being both the abuser and the abusee, but one is not necessarily dependent on the other. Several lifetimes could even take place between the one experience and its apparent correlative [emphasis in original].(28)
Notice that one must “eventually experience all things.” While Buckland, unlike Leek and some other reincarnationists, may not hold that everyone must experience everything (although this is debatable), he does hold that if something happens to a person, they already have, or will do the very same thing or at least something negatively comparable to it. Thus, the latter occurrence is appropriate recompense for the individuals action(s).
Reincarnation, Transmigration, Evil, and the Naturalistic Fallacy(29)
At this point we need to reflect on and analyze the above concepts relative to reincarnation and transmigration. We basically been told that whatever happens to one in life is the best or morally correct course of events for them. No matter what happens to one it is just, and best for them because:
1. it stems from the nature of reality and one’s karma from action(s) from a previous life or lives, or the present or a future one(s); and/or
2. it is due to one’s own choice (consciously or unconsciously in this life or before it began); and/or
3. it is necessary (or at least desirable) in order for one to experience everything (including the negative or bad: what we call evil).
Given these views, how can reincarnationists conclude that anything tragic that happens to themselves or others is really evil or unjust? There are numerous examples that convey this mentality of reincarnationists.
For example, in Reincarnation: The Second Chance, Leek states: “Whatever the effects of karma, the reincarnationist knows that it works always for his own good. This may be hard to appreciate when we are suffering or see others suffer, but karma is never likely to crush us.”(30) In another comment Leek says, “An Eastern mystic once told me that whatever happened to him at any given time was the best possible thing that could happen to him, because it was for his ultimate good [emphasis in original]. I was too young at the time to accept this with understanding, but I never forgot it.”(31)
Another clear example of this occurs when, referring to the dark and light aspects of life and the supposed need to balance both in one’s life, Weinstein writes:
We may judge not only ourselves as “bad” (if we perceive error or negative behavior) but also judge Dark or negative aspects anywhere in life, as “bad” (i.e., death is bad, illness is bad, weakness is bad, old age is bad, anger, anxiety, worry, fear, insecurity, mistakes — all these and many other common occurrences may seem “bad”). But this is like saying the moon is bad when it wanes to crescent form, or that the sun is bad on a cloudy day. There is no judgment on the Dark. It exists in potential, in every life form, and without the Dark there could be no Light [emphasis in original].(32)
In light of the quotations cited, here and in previous sections, it appears that no matter what happens to one, it ought to occur.
The Naturalistic Fallacy
The above explanations and views create more problems than they solve! Among these problems is the naturalistic fallacy (discussed below). Let’s examine some of the most problematic ramifications of the preceding views.
First, for example, if a women gets raped (or any other tragedy occurs to someone) in this life, does that means she raped someone in a previous (or will in a future) life, or committed (or will commit) some other equally despicable act to bring about her own rape? Therefore, she is only getting what she has sown (deserves?), thus, reaping her own karma? Hence, why should we feel sorry for her or attempt to intervene? (Furthermore, how can we punish the rapist if he is only fulfilling the law of karma, and actually helping the women?) These are detestable views, which I am not condoning, only extrapolating a point, but ones which nonetheless follow from the aforesaid ideas. Moreover, if these ideas were true, one could rightly ask if anything is unjust, wrong, or evil? But, this flies in the face of our intuition, our innate sense of sympathy, right and wrong, good and evil, and fairness.
Second, for instance, if one must experience all in life, this would include being abused, tortured, and so forth.(33) As ghastly as these thoughts are, this is what follows from the aforementioned concepts and ideas.
Third, in light of Leeks comments that “Whatever the effects of karma, the reincarnationist knows that it works always for his own good,” and her wholesale approval of the Eastern mystic’s remarks that “…whatever happened to him at any given time was the best possible thing that could happen to him, because it was for his ultimate good,” why would or how could one fight against their life circumstances? One should simply resign themselves to their life’s circumstances, no matter how brutal, deplorable or oppressive.
With the factors of the nature of reality, humanity, reincarnation, transmigration, and karma, and consciously or unconsciously choosing all the circumstances of one’s life, and the desire and/or need to experience all, it would appear that one ought to resolve to just accept whatever happens to them in life as the just or right, in fact, the best set of circumstances that could possibly occur to or for them. No matter what transpires–disease, hunger, lose of limbs or life, murder, poverty, rape, slavery, torture, and so forth, just accept it. It’s your life. After all, allegedly, “it’s for your own good,” your spiritual progress.
However, these ideas chaff against our intuition, our innate sense of fairness. Why should we accept these views? For instance, do we really choose our parents and all the circumstances of our lives? For women who are raped, is it their choice or karma, therefore, their responsibility or fault? Do reincarnationists or transmigrationists really believe this, or expect us to? How do they rationalize these views except by saying “whatever is, ought to be”?
It logically and ontologically follows from the previously discussed views that whatever is, ought (morally) to be. This is known in ethics as the naturalistic or is/ought fallacy, as it confuses “the way things are,” with how they morally should or ought to be.(34) In other words, one assumes that whatever is the case (descriptively speaking), morally (prescriptively or proscriptively speaking) ought to be the case or exist. (Instances of this fallacy in reincarnation literature are quite common.(35)) Hence, what about the child born with crippling birth defects who dies an agonizing death within two years? Or what about women who are brutally raped, or people who or tortured or murdered? Should we respond, “Oh well, whatever is, ought to be” and thus just accept it as the way things are and ought to be? (After all it was the person’s karma, or their choice, or it is necessary to experience all things sooner or later.) No, I submit that even reincarnationists and transmigrationists do not, could not live consistently by this philosophy.
For example, imagine that Shirley MacLaine’s house in broken into and that many of her valuable possessions are destroyed or stolen, and she and her household are badly beaten-up and abused. Suppose further that just after her assailants are done and getting ready to leave, Shirley MacLlaine musters what little strength she has and says “Thank you, thank you so much. I really mean it. Oh, and don’t worry about me calling the police and trying to see you punished, you have done me a great favor. Now, actually, I owe you a great favor; you have helped me work-off a great among of negative karma, and of course, after all I did choose to have this happen, and besides, I needed to experience this, sooner or later, so thank you. Have a nice day!” Why not? After all they only helped her work-off negative karma, and she choose to undergo the experience, and needs it for her own spiritual evolution. Thus, the experience is only for her own good! Don’t hold your breath. Intuitively, we know that such a crime (and it is just that–a crime) or occurrence is wrong, and the perpetrators ought to be held responsible for their actions!
Furthermore, people like Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao Se Tung, those who caused/committed the massacres of civilians in the Vietnam war, and others could really be heros.
Whether reincarnationists or transmigrationists like it or not, their worldview(s) logically and ontologically morally justifies any condition or conduct. These views justify any action, any action is right. For example, the torturing, maiming, or whatever, of reincarnationists or transmigrationists is not only okay, but even right, even good: one is just ultimately helping the person. These ideas add new meaning to the saying that “This hurts me more than you!” because whatever happens morally ought to happen; indeed, it is the best for one. By definition, whatever occurs is good.
Loss of Moral Moorings
Given the views of reincarnationists and transmigrationists, how would or could one know–in any objective and non-arbitrary sense whether a decision or what one was doing was right or wrong, good or bad, and hence (or minimally speaking) accruing negative or positive karma by “helping” one’s self or others with theirs? How could one know when they were harming or helping themselves or others? This would be quite arbitrary to say the least.
Additionally, there are other related problems. First, for instance, under these schemes of thinking where does or did the idea of right and wrong come from in the first place? Second, how can or could one distinguish between merely descriptive accounts of an action and proscriptive ones? Would there really be any difference between the two? What real difference or even meaning would or could either of these concepts, such as good or evil, have? Third, even if one could somehow derive such concepts in light of such thinking, again, how could/would one decide consistently and not merely arbitrarily what was good and what was evil or how to or to not accrue so-called negative or positive karma?
I believe that the aforementioned views result in an inability to morally distinguish between good and evil, right and wrong. With such a naturalistic approach one can only describe the way things are (e.g., the drink is hot or cold). One cannot make a moral evaluation. In other words, one can make merely descriptive evaluations, describe the way things are, but not prescriptive or proscriptive ones. How can one call any action morally wrong, including harming reincarnations or transmigrationists? It cannot be done, that is, at least not consistently with the above views. (No one can live consistently with this philosophy.) But reincarnations and transmigrationists often do say some actions are wrong! Or are they simply saying that they do not prefer certain actions? Hardly! Intuitively, they/we know certain things are wrong, such as abusing children, stealing from people, torturing reincarnationists and transmigrationists, and so forth. Reincarnationists do not say these things are merely not preferred, unpleasant, or inconvenient; they often insist that they are wrong! If they are consistent, they cannot call anything evil in the sense that it is wrong or is a “moral” judgment; it is merely descriptive, not proscriptive. Thus, reincarnationists must find a basis consistent with their views for making ethical evaluations.
Reincarnationists cannot, or at least certainly do not, live consistently with their avowed views. They must find some other basis for making ethical evaluations, or simply say “I do not like or prefer this or feel that it is right (such as, depriving reincarnationists of their rights), but not that it is morally wrong. It is just a case of feelings or taste–”some like this, some don’t.” It is mere preference. These statements are based upon feelings, personal preference or opinion, such as “I like corn but not spinach.” Thus, reincarnationists have no bedrock basis for saying that any act is morally evil.
We still have every reason to ask how reincarnationists answer the above dilemmas and the problem of the existence of evil. These are perplexing problems for reincarnationists and transmigrationists given their views. Merely dismissing them will not solve it, nor make it magically disappear.
Further Philosophical Difficulties
Furthermore, there are other significant philosophical (e.g., metaphysical/ontological) critiques that need to be considered relative to reincarnation and transmigration (e.g., relative to the worldviews in which these views generally occur, i.e., polytheism, pantheism, and panentheism). For instance, the worldviews in which most reincarnationists’ and transmigrationist’s views are found do not allow for an ethically justifiable or adequate answer to the problems posed in this paper. That is, the views of reincarnationists and of transmigrationists are not consistent with, nor do they logically or ontologically follow from the worldviews most commonly held by reincarnationists: polytheism, pantheism and panentheism.(36)
For example, in a pantheistic or panentheistic universe, reincarnationists (all of us for that matter) must realize that, ontologically, evil emanates or flows naturally and necessarily from the very nature of the deity or the One.(37) Creation flows from the will or very nature of the deity. Creation and the existence of evil are synonymous and simultaneous.(38) This entails that death, destruction, evil, suffering, and so forth are part of the divinity’s or ultimate Beings very essence or nature. Good and evil are both aspects or facets of the One. All is contained in, arises out of, or is a manifestation of the absolute universal Reality or divinity or principle–the One. Evil is ultimately and necessarily part of the One which is all. Therefore, in one sense or another, the divinity (or whatever term is used) is responsible for all the pain, suffering, and evil that has, does, or ever will exist.
In a pantheistic or panentheistic world good and evil are so to speak just different sides of the same coin. Moreover, since the divinity manifests itself in polarities or dualities, such as light-dark, positive-negative, or good-evil, evil is a necessary part of the universe. Thus, who or what brought evil into existence? Evil must ultimately derive from the divinity that many reincarnationists and transmigrationists say they worship.(39)
Whether in a polytheistic, pantheistic, or panentheistic universe, we can have no assurance that the deity(ies) or divinity can or wants to defeat evil. Nor can we be sure that this is even an appropriate question, since in the latter two worlds evil is always part of the deity’s or One’s very nature. Likewise, many if not all reincarnationists who are simple polytheist (i.e., not pantheist or panentheist as well) also view the gods and goddesses as possessing evil in their nature. Therefore, evil will no more cease to exist than these entities or the deity itself. In other words, evil is eternal. It will always be with us–always exist!(40) Evil is eternal because (1) it is either an aspect of the very nature of the divinity which creates and composes all (pantheism, panentheism), or (2) these deities also contain evil in their nature, and/or (3) are too limited or inept to permanently accomplish the task (polytheism). Only an infinite (e.g., omniscient, omnipotent) and benevolent personal God could and will banish evil from the universe.(41)
Given the nature of reality in a pantheistic or panentheistic universe, theoretically speaking, even if evil were to be eradicated or silenced for a period of time, it would only inevitability return again with a shrill scream.
In summation, there are only so many options regarding the future of evil given the reincarnationists’ worldviews: 1) The gods and goddesses cannot and/or will not bring an end to evil (polytheism). 2) The gods and goddesses or divinity cannot and will not stop evil because evil is part of their or its very nature, therefore, also the part of the very fabric from which the universe it cut (pantheism, panentheism). Hence, since evil is part of the very nature of the deity it is also inherent to creation. Therefore, evil is eternal.
Thus, reincarnationists and transmigrationists have no justified hope or expectation that evil in its multitude of manifestations will ever be banished. They have no grounds to believe that the divinity can or ever will put an end to the misery and suffering that pervasively invades our world, nor that they could ever ultimately escaped from samsara.
Evil: No Exit
The problem of evil is an acute dilemma, indeed, an Achilles’ heel for reincarnationists and transmigrationists given their worldviews. There is no way for them to get around it.
Nor will it do for them to say that the divine is “beyond good and evil,” or neither “good nor evil.” Nonsense. These types of statements have no ultimate meaning or significance. More deplorable yet, this statement can result in diabolical consequences. For instance, imagine burning a reincarnationist’s house to the ground. If they said that what was done was wrong (evil even?), one could reply that like the deity these concepts did not apply to them because they were beyond right or wrong, good or evil. Rightly, we do not believe the that the reincarnationist would accept their reply. But, once again the glaring inconsistency between avowed view and practice. The only thing that is beyond anything here is that it is beyond my understanding how reincarnationists can actually make these nonsensical statements. The deity is not beyond evil, it is evil!
Ironically, in light of the claims of reincarnationists and transmigrationists, neither reincarnation nor transmigration are ethically viable answers to the problems of inequality, injustice, suffering and evil. Indeed, I believe that it has been sufficiently shown in this paper, as brief as it is relative to the breadth of the topic, that both of these views not only do not adequately answer the concerns addressed in this paper, but that both are the source of much inequality, injustice, suffering and evil themselves.
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19. Ibid., 99.
20. Ibid., 103.
21. Ibid., 110.
22. This paragraph was adapted from a draft copy of a paragraph that appears on page 171 of my book, Witchcraft.
23. See, e.g., Raymond Buckland, Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft (St. Paul: Llewellyn Publications, 1988), 17-18; Leek, Complete, 146-147; Leek, Reincarnation, 45-50; Roberts, Witches, 147-149; Marion Weinstein, Positive Magic: Occult Self-Help (Custer, Wash.: Phoenix Publishing, 1981), 98-114.
24. Buckland, Complete Book of Witchcraft, 17.
25. See, e.g., Leek, Complete, 146-147; Leek, Reincarnation, 46-50.
26. Complete, 147.
27. This paragraph is adapted from page 169 of my book Witchcraft.
28. Buckland, Complete Book of Witchcraft, 17, 18.
29. The following two sections are adapted from my book Witchcraft, 171-74.
30. Leek, Reincarnation, 45.
31. Ibid., 50.
32. Weinstein, Positive Magic, 250.
33. See e.g., Buckland, Complete Book of Witchcraft, 17-18; Laurie Cabot and Tom Cowan, Power of the Witch (New York: Dell, 1989), 202, 221, 280-82; Leek, Complete, 32, 47, 146-47; Leek, Reincarnation, 41, 45-50; Roberts, Witches, 147-50; Starhawk (Miriam Simos), Dreaming the Dark: Magic, Sex and Politics, new ed. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1988), 27-30, 99; and Weinstein, Positive Magic, 98-114 and 249-250, for the horrific results of this type of belief. For further critiques of reincarnation, consult Albrecht, Reincarnation, 51-111, 127-130; Geisler and Amano, The Reincarnation Sensation, 57-86, 99-102, 107-109, 112.
34. See, e.g., Peter A. Angeles, Dictionary of Philosophy (New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1981), s.v., “naturalistic fallacy (ethics)”; Alex C. Michalos, Improving Your Reasoning (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1970), s.v., “Is-ought.”
35. See, e.g., note 31.
36. Space does not permit a thorough discussion of these points. However, they are discussed at length by Geisler and Watkins in Worlds Apart, 75-146, 239-53, 250-52, 255-69; and Geisler, Christian Apologetics, 173-213.
37. For sound and more through critiques of pantheism see Beckwith and Parrish, See the Gods Fall, 208-16; Geisler, Christian Apologetics, 185-192; Norman Geisler and David K. Clark, Apologetics in the New Age: A Christian Critique of Pantheism (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), 155-158, 159-202, 203-221; Worlds Apart, 101-105. For solid and lengthier critiques of panentheism see Geisler, Christian Apologetics, 208-213; Worlds Apart, 140-145.
38. Albrecht, 106-109.
39. See Jeffrey B. Russell, A History of Witchcraft: Sorcerers, Heretics and Pagans (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1982), 33, 160.
40. See Albrecht 106-109.
41. For a full discussion of this issue, see Norman Geisler, The Roots of Evil (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979); Norman L. Geisler and Winfried Corduan, Philosophy of Religion (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1988), Part Four (“God and Evil”), 293-385. The reader can also consult these works for handling the problem of evil in the context of an orthodox Christian perspective. We would argue that only the personal infinite triune God who has revealed Himself in the Bible wants to, can, and will banish evil from the universe!