Being raised a Christian I remember the first time I heard about reincarnation; every week the parents sent me and my cousins to the Saturday matinee to watch whatever movie was playing. There weren't a lot of theaters back then and so we saw what was playing. This one Saturday it was about an boy from India who was walking a cow talking about how he thought his uncle was one of the flies on its back. It was the first I ever heard of reincarnation and stuck with me. For several weeks after that I looked at pets and insects differently.
As I grew older, the reincarnation thing -- along with bigotry, hypocrisy, and downright ugliness towards other faiths -- pulled me away from the Christian faith. Based on a book I recently read by a Christian writer, maybe it shouldn't have been. The book is Jesus the Wicked Priest, and in this book Marvin Vinning introduces some interesting facts about reincarnation which I will describe now.
First, Christianity is the only religion that outright denies reincarnation. That's right, the ONLY religion. But it didn't always. The early Christians and the Essenes from whom they sprang taught reincarnation. Of course that work was destroyed with most of the other non-christian writing that were deemed heretical by the church of the day, and if it wasn't for the Gnosis who left us the dead sea scrolls, would we really know this. Before I get into these examples, there is the golden oldie of biblical passages that scream reincarnation, and so I'll jump to it now: Nearly every Jewish family still pays homage to the tradition that the literal, bodily return of Elijah is expected before the Messiah can come. Jesus's disciples knew this too, which is why they asked of him, "Why do the scribes say that Elijah must first come?" Jesus answered that the expected guest had already come in the person of John the Baptist: "For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John: and if yo are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. he who has ears to hear, let him hear." This is the passage I have quoted in the past here on EstoericDaily.com to suggest that even Christians know in there heart-of-hearts, that we've all been here before. Vinning goes further: of all the Christian early fathers, none dealt more rigorously with the complicated question of reincarnation that Origen of Alexandria. Origen held a complex doctine of the preexistence of souls. He said that souls "emanated" or "cooled" into this world by prior workings of their free will. Origen beleived that before the creation of man (and woman, to set the record straight), God was creating worlds for the wayward soul to cycle throught en route to salvation, a process that Origen termed apocostasis. To you and me, reincarnation.
Finally, consider this, the word reincarnation is a term which didn't come into being until those wonderful French intellects gave it to us around the seventeenth century. So there was no word for reincarnation before then, even in the Buddhist text! The Buddhist said "rebirth" but knew it meant what we now consider "reincarnation." Isn't it funny that a big part of the Christian faith is around being born-again?