Tuesday, August 02, 2005

The Evil of Reincarnation

One fairly popular subset of afterlife belief is reincarnation. Reincarnation is the idea that, when a life form dies, its soul or spirit remains intact and goes on to occupy another life form coming into existence. Hinduism is one of the most popular pro-reincarnation belief systems in the world today.

There are many arguments against reincarnation that come to my mind, but the technical, scientific, and logical arguments against reincarnation are virtually identical to the general anti-afterlife arguments I have already made in this blog. Therefore, in this blog entry I will focus on the moral problems of reincarnation.

Let's assume for a moment that reincarnation is real and happens to everyone. How can rewards and punishments for behavior be properly administered? If Hitler came back to this world just after his death in the form of a newborn baby, should that baby be persecuted for his past life crimes against humanity? What about in American prisons, where many criminals are serving multiple life sentences? If a criminal dies while serving the first of three life sentences, should his new reincarnated self also be forced to serve the remaining life sentences?

And what about property rights claims? If a rich man dies, can his reincarnated self lay claim to his previous life's estate and property? If he believed in reincarnation, would he even bother writing a will? Or better yet, would he write his will so that all his property was given directly to the next incarnation of himself? I doubt his next of kin would be very happy with that idea. Conversely, if a man with large financial debt dies, can his creditors attempt to settle his debts through his next incarnation?

In response to the questions I have raised in the last few paragraphs, I can see only two answers (if anyone sees more answers than the two I am about to list, please post them in the comments section; I would hate to present a false dichotomy):

1. Assets, liabilities, and responsibilities should be transferred from one life to the next.
2. Assets, liabilities, and responsibilities should not be transferred from one life to the next.


I believe that both answers expose huge moral issues with the reincarnation concept, enough so to make reincarnation dangerous and downright evil. Let's look at both of these answers individually and the consequences each one brings to morality if reincarnation is real.

1. Assets, liabilities, and responsibilities should be transferred from one life to the next. First of all, how do we determine who is who? If Hitler came back to life in a newborn baby after his death, how do we find this next incarnation of Hitler to transfer these liabilities and responsibilities to? We could use hypnotic techniques (assuming that hypnotic "past-lives" techniques worked), but it would be like looking for a needle in a haystack. With over 6 billion humans (assuming that reincarnated souls stick to the same species they inhabited previously), it would be quite difficult to find the next reincarnation of Hitler. And what if multiple people claim to have been Hitler in past lives? Don't laugh at this, as any decent detective will tell you that innocent people often confess to crimes they couldn't possibly have committed. And even if the real Hitler was found and detained in his next life, he could commit suicide knowing that he will come back to life as another human being and the search would have to start all over again. Any person with large past-life liabilities could use this tactic. It would be a literal spiritual convict chase from body to body!

And what of the rich man? How could he claim his wealth and property in his next life? One thing that is known about people who claim to have past lives, is that their memories of these past lives is difficult to access, and sometimes inaccurate. Could the rich man's next incarnation remember the names of his family members, or maybe the pin number to his bank account, or maybe even his previous life's social security number? Doubtful. It would be quite possible for an expert at identity theft to claim to be the next incarnation of the rich man. The identity theft could research specific details about the rich man's life, and present them as if they were recovered memories from his past life, and fool people into believing that he was someone he wasn't in a past life.

Clearly, the transfer of assets, liabilities, and responsibilities from past lives to new lives would be so difficult as to be impossible. The logistics issues, as well as time and resource limitations, would severely retard the productive work capability of society. It would open up a huge door for fraudulent claims. It would allow people to escape their punishments. The majority of people on Earth do not seem to even have any recollections of any past lives (I sure don't) and would raise ethical concerns about the morality of even attempting to transfer assets and liabilities from past lives onto new "blank slate" lives. Many versions of reincarnation belief include the concept of karma, where consequences for past life actions are automatically or divinely administered. If karma were a part of the reincarnation process, then manually administering the transfer of assets, liabilities, and responsibilities would be redundant, or even a kind of "double jeopardy" in some circumstances.

2. Assets, liabilities, and responsibilities should not be transferred from one life to the next. At first glance, this answer would be in line with the karma concept. But why would this answer really be justified, because divine administration of karma would take care of it already, or because the next incarnations of every spirit deserved a clean slate? If the next incarnations deserve a clean slate, then karma becomes immoral. Let's imagine for a moment that karma was not in effect (no divine "correction" ever took place for the actions of past lives) because of the idea that new incarnations did deserve clean slates or another chance. Wouldn't it provide for a big escape hatch for criminals? What if Hitler shot himself at the end of WWII, knowing that karma did not happen in between lives, and that he could give himself a quick death with little suffering and avoid his deserved punishment, all to start anew with a clean slate? Where is the morality in that?

Getting back to the concept of divine administration of karma: Let's now assume that karma "fixes" problems created by a person upon his death and rebirth, like a murderous criminal being born as a murder victim or a septic tank repairman in his next life. Not only would this make the transferring of liabilities and responsibilities to the next life pointless, but it would also make the administering of punishments in the current life pointless! Don't believe me? Consider this: Charles Manson is in prison for life for his crimes. He is being punished in this life for his crimes in this life. But when he dies, won't karma still intervene and punish him in his next life as well? Isn't this still an issue of redundancy or even "double jeopardy" as I mentioned a few paragraphs above? Charles Manson would be punished by divine karma in an appropriate manner, regardless of how we punish Manson while he is alive here and now. We could dismiss the idea of punishing anyone for his or her crimes by saying "karma will get that person eventually." Indeed, punishment for crimes committed by humans wouldn't even be the responsibility of other humans; it would be the responsibility of divine karma. The victim would be in the wrong to directly seek justice.

Consider also the criminal who is subjected to this karma. In his next life, the criminal would likely not even remember his past life and the crimes he committed then. All he would be aware of is his victimhood in his new life, such as that of a murder victim or septic tank repairman. Indeed, even victims of crimes in this current life could be dismissed by saying that karma was being administered to them for crimes they committed in past lives. But what is moral about a divine karma system where justice is administered in a different life than the one where the crime was committed? It would tend to frustrate people to see that justice is not served in a way that keeps the crime and the punishments in the same lifespan. Having punishments and rewards administered in a way that overlaps life spans would be an indirect and imprecise method of justice at best, and a justice system that frustrates victims is not justice at all.

Reincarnation renders morality impracticable. With a divine karma reincarnation worldview, victims cannot be identified and criminals cannot have justice administered to them. With a karma-absent reincarnation worldview, criminals can escape justice by hopping from one life to the next, while exemplary humans need to quitclaim on their lives and accomplishments upon death and start all over again. It seems that reincarnation would make death superfluous. Why necessitate birth and death if every soul comes back to life over and over again?

Afterlife beliefs are inherently immoral, and reincarnation, in all its forms, is no exception. As my previous blog entries have shown, the only way any moral system is possible, and the only way justice can be served, is with a single, finite life.

25 comments:

boywonder said...

You forgot about love. People would want their previous spouses and lovers, who would be attached to someone new or just plain older now.
Also, there is one "form" of reincarnation that does not take into account morality or previous experiences. That is limited reincarnation. The physical remains that constituted your self after you die decompose and spread all over the place. The matter that composes your dead body is essentially indestructable. Therefore, your remains become part of the entire ecosystem. We all are, in essence, star dust and matter from previous lifeforms. You are probably made from millions of different animals just by yourself. And don't forget the "You are what you eat" concept of having whatever you consume become part of you and essentially altering your physical makeup. I think cannibals had this idea in mind along with human and animal sacrifice.

Aaron Kinney said...

Very true boywonder.

But this physical reincarnation is not what the spiritual types want. They dont care if the matter that comprises them survive: they want their consciousnesses to survive. That is why they come up with all kinds of stories and concepts to comfort themselves into thinking that their consciousnesses will somehow survive their bodily deaths.

Delta said...

Interesting post aaron. The idea of you getting what you get in this life because of what you did in a former life also requires us all to assume that any victim in this life actually deserves what they get. So don't pity the woman who was raped, she probably murdered someone in her last life. Don't help the sick child, he was a thief in his last life. And so on.

breakerslion said...

delta,

That is the kind of thinking that created the caste system in India. Don't interfere, or the bad karma will rub off on you like some cosmic booger.

Aaron,

The whole baggage of morality and "deserve" and karma need not be attached to reincarnation. Suppose for a moment that it just happens. It takes place regardless of who you are and what you have done, with no more constraint than ice melting at 0.01 degrees Celcius. Your consciousness just finds another "host" infant body when you die. There is not one single memory in the new brain; nothing to connect you with your past incarnation. It would be as though you just start over, with a different life. No roadmap. OK, IF that were the case, and IF that postulate cannot be substantiated by any physical evidence, HOW is it one bit relevant to one's present lifetime? Even if you live your life with the expectation of continuing on, it is not like a do-over, any more than chaper 2 of a book is a license to re-write chapter 1. If, because of a belief in reincarnation, you believe that what you do in this life doesn't matter, that is just another framework upon which to hang irrational, delusional, and self-destructive decisions.

Any way I look at it, if what happens after we die is debatable, it is unknowable. If it is unknowable, it is irrelevant to this lifetime and no expectation should be formed or acted upon.

Aaron Kinney said...

Beakerslion,

Interesting point. But if what you say is true, then I would say that you defined reincarnation out of existence.

If nothing from the past life comes to the new one, and all aspects of who you were in the past life are gone, then what the heck is reincarnation anyway? How can you even say that the same spirit continues to the next life if that spirit is basically wiped out into a 100% clean slate? What would be the point of recycling spirits?

And how would it differentiate between having brand new spirits instead of recycled ones if what you say were true?

Anonymous said...

Whoever wrote the original piece... You have it all wrong! You do not reincarnate as yourself but as a completely different person... only the spirit moves to a new body. And keeping the debts or riches - material possessions - is such a ridiculous idea. You have obviously not studied the truew believers of reincarnation: the Buddhists. Reincarnation has been twisted so that it is no longer properly associated with the way it was first understood. You have demonstrated the modern, Westernised view of reincarnation, not the true meaning.

Anonymous said...

I dont like the idea of reincarnation which is why I choose not to believe it. If it is true then anything we do in this life is ultimately pointless. I also prefer to believe in an afterlife where I retain all the knowledge of my mortal form(and futher it). Also I feel it would be better that spouses believe their late husband/wife is in an afterlife where they will be reunited rather than be reborn where the chances of them meeting again is infinitely small.

sneepeach said...

whoever wrote the last msg (anon) I feel such a sense of relief to know that someone else feels the same as me. It seems like belief in reincarnation is a bullshit new trend and it happes to make me feel HORRIBLE and insignificant because I happen to rather like my life and my self and i dont want to be anyone else you know? i actually dont feel comfortable with any thought of 'after life'. reuniting with someone 'after' is good but also, an afterlife with lasts for eternity is also frightening to me. as is Space, anything that goes on with no end, I don't know.. is it natural? Gosh, i'd rather focus on watching seinfeld or something?

zeerome said...

Reincarnation is LIFE. Whe we are in peace with ourselves & GOD then there will be no reicarnation. We reincarnate when there is an UNFINISHED business ie learning about love,hatred,fear,relationships.It takes a lifetime JUST to learn one moral thing "Forgiveness" for example.If watching Seinfield is more important than becoming a better person,then unfortunately it will take you much longer time to reach GOD & enlightment. The easy way out does not exist,u just have to take the course over & over until u move to Basic "202" from Basics "101".That is why we Mortals reincarnate.

Aaron Kinney said...

Mortals do not reincarnate.

zeerome said...

Oh Aaron Kinney, GROW UP.

Aaron Kinney said...

I win :)

UrbanIX said...

I just stumbled across your blog and I just want to say that there is an afterlife and the evidence for it is great. I do not believe in reincarnation but I do believe in the immortality of the soul. It is philosophically proven true. Look at your intellect, your ability to reason. This is a power of your soul unique to humans. This power is not in animals. It is a power which does not come from any natural agent. Your soul like the animal soul, is the act of your body. It is what makes it move, live etc.. but when the animal dies its soul goes out of existence because thats all it was, simply the lifeforce of the animal's body. However, your soul along with being the lifeforce of your body has a feature (intellect) which is more than just a lifeforce and thus remains after death. I urge you to reconsider life after death because it is only understanding the afterlife that allows this life to make sense.

Aaron Kinney said...

So where was your soul before your parents conceived your physical body, Urban IX?

Clyde said...

Aaron, I agree with just about everything you've said about reincarnation. I'm curious: What are your thoughts on resurrection?

monitoloco said...

With respect and friendliness I think a lot of your concerns are based on misunderstandings.

The question as to property passing on shouldnt even arise. How is ones next birth determined?

As to it being an injust system, it is a perfect moral system. As every immoral act creates an equal effect. On the contrary human punishment in a single life is imperfect because the punishment rarely fits the crime and often criminals go unpunished. Not so with rebirth!

It does not follow that we should treat people without compassion because their present state is the result of previous bad karma.

Aaron Kinney said...

Re: monitoloco,

The question as to property passing on shouldnt even arise. How is ones next birth determined?

If the question of property shouldnt even arise in reincarnation, then why should the question of karma arise?

As to it being an injust system, it is a perfect moral system.

Thats a bold statement /pulp fiction

As every immoral act creates an equal effect.

Yea, but in which life?

On the contrary human punishment in a single life is imperfect because the punishment rarely fits the crime and often criminals go unpunished.

Not necessarily true. While it is possible for people to escape punishment for immoral acts, it isnt the norm, and it isnt inherent either.

Not so with rebirth!

On what basis do you assume that rebirth guarantees moral balance? How can we know, or even test, whether or not reincarnation guarantees moral balance?

And if balance is achieved by passing your soul's sins from one life to the next, then that means that every person alive is suffering for something they did in a past life, of which they have no memory, and no way to connect cause and effect or otherwise understand why they are being punished now. Reincarnation makes it a real pain in the ass to learn from one's mistakes.

Reincarnation totally fails the morality test, sorry buddy.

Anonymous said...

The whole point of reincarnation is to teach us moral lessons. These lessons are not enforced by people; they are enforced by God/Goddess/Alternate Being/Whatever else you can think of. Therefore, the things that belonged to a person in a previous life are irrelevant. They are not the same person anymore. They have no need, and most likely no desire, for such things. Besides, you wouldnt be able to prove whose stuff is whose. Reincarnation is a personal thing, not something used to gain materially.

Anonymous said...

Apparently you missed the part where Aaron said that reincarnation fails te morality test. Regardless, it's unproven juju bullshit just like karma.

Anonymous said...

Simple, It is not up to us to punish or reward anyone? Who are we to pass judgement upon others? It is up to the higher power to handle it. The world is in the mess it is today because of that frame of thinking.

If you want to live a wonderful life the next go around, clear your spirit with tools that you can use to get rid of aberration.

Anonymous said...

This is just silly.

Anonymous said...

Man, I TOALLY agree with Aron....

Every reincarnationist is missing the point ARON made...

He's got a great point, which is HARD to answer by reincanationists.


THANKS ARON...

k c said...

I am the reincarnation of Hitler so it is true like it or not.

Anonymous said...

juju bullshit ton the millions power and then some

Dave Fordham said...

Reincarnation has problems from all angles. It suffers logically, morally and ethically. It is an unfair punishment if anything. The question remains. Why are we cast here if the continuation of the soul is to have any credibility at all? There is no answer. Nobody can give you an answer that does not defy logic or common sense. We are not here to learn or to expand. We are not here to fulfil any kind of a mission. We are not here because of karma - the only way that could work is if you knew what you did wrong otherwise it becomes just a load of nonsense.

We just don't know so we assume the default position and proclaim there is no afterlife, there is no soul, and there is no continuation. But this also has problems. Hardened non-believers will tell you that you cannot possibly survive death. When you die, it is complete and total oblivion. And yet if you ask them if that was the case before you were born, without even thinking they say yes. If that is true, one has to entertain the possibility that from nothing something actually came into existence. If it did it once, why can it not do it again? Why is there anything at all?

We are simply lost and will never know while we live here. We hope that if it does continue we get a choice of refusing to come back. If not, you have to entertain the possibility that we will be tortured for all eternity - a horrible thought.