Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Reincarnation American Style

Newsweek ran an article on reincarnation this week that begs comment. The impetus for the piece was the suggestion, denied by the Church of Scientology, that Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes’s daughter Suri was the reincarnation of sci-fi author and Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. Having hooked the reader with the reference to Tom, Katie, and Suri, the article goes on to tell us that 40% of Americans between the age of 25 and 29 believe they will return to earth in a different body after they die.

To explain this finding (though not the odd demographic) the article’s author, Lisa Miller, turns to Stephen Prothero, professor of religion at Boston University, and author of a great book called Religious Literacy. According to Prothero, as life in America gets better the idea of having only one crack at it seems unfair. So we want to come back for more as if life were an all-you-eat buffet.

I understand this theory. Whenever I go to a restaurant with an all-you-eat buffet I tend to go back and back and back for more and more and more. I want to make sure I have tasted everything I want to taste, and gotten my money’s worth.

Taking my metaphor further, we can see why mainstream western religions have to offer a fabulous heaven for the true believer. They are saying, “Look why go back for more of the same old fare, when you can die and pig out at God’s Bar and Grill in Heaven?”

Prothero is quoted as saying, “Americans are becoming more Hindu.” I don’t buy this idea at all. While it is true that Hindus believe in reincarnation, it is also true that pray for the day when they die and don’t come back. The whole idea of reincarnation in Hinduism is to work your way up to a point where you achieve moksha, liberation, from the wheel of birth, death, and rebirth. When a Hindu reincarnates they say, “Damn!” When an American reincarnates they say, “Let’s get busy!”

Reincarnation in America is an extension of the ego’s desire for more: more food, for stuff, more sex, more adventure, more money. We are so selfish that we cannot imagine making room for a new soul to come to the US to taste the goodies we so highly prize and worship: “No way! Let those newbies start out in Calcutta. I worked hard over many lifetimes to get a Platinum American Express card and I’m not going to limit my shopping spree to one lifetime.”

The religion of America is Consumerism. The god we trust is the Almighty Dollar who so loves us Americans that he sent his army of preachers, politicians, and soldiers to secure our place as the glutens of the globe. Of course we want to come back; there just isn’t enough time to get it all in one life. This is so sad.

Personally, I don’t want to come back. I’ve done enough damage as it is, thank you very much. I prefer to become mulch.


vania said...

Ah, I saw that article. Of course scientologists also believe they are descendants of cave men whose bodies were possessed by the spirits of a race of dead aliens. It doesn't even make for very good science fiction - despite John Travolta playing the lead in Battlefield Earth.

I for one do not want to come back here. I have a lot of people I have loved and lost whom I believe await me in the hereafter. it is a reunion I wouldn't want to miss.

I am probably the world's proudest mother, my kids are great. They make the world go around. But I wonder how I would have reacted to my little girl had I thought she was the embodiment of a dead megalomaniac who was a piss poor writer to boot? I can't even imagine.

Peter M. Schogol said...

I think it was William Butler Yeats who wrote about living one's past, present, and future lives concurrently. Not that I believe in any life other than the one I now have, but it's an interesting idea that you can 'live' many timelines within just one existence.