Coming to the end of something is a natural process. I am coming to the end of 17 years as the chaplain at Bethesda Hospital and Bethesda Place. As I do I am doing things for the last time – this is one of those things – my last Easter article.
Easter is under assault. No not the secular holiday, candy sales are good, decorations, great, but belief in the actual meaning for the holiday is losing ground. Why would I say this? “According to data released by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life (2009 survey), not only do a quarter of Americans believe in reincarnation, but 24 percent of American Christians expressed a belief in reincarnation“.
I’m not quite sure how that can be. A belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the resurrection of all people and the belief in reincarnation are not compatible beliefs. Yet 24% of American Christian (and I fear it is the same or worse in Canada) believe in reincarnation. This is alarming as the belief in the resurrection, according to the Scriptures is an essential belief of the Christian faith.
The most through Christian Scripture addressing the resurrection makes this assertion “But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Cor. 15:12-19 NIV)
Belief in reincarnation is essentially a belief that there is no resurrection from the dead for the Christian. Belief in the resurrection has no concept of repeated lives in this world. In fact in a later passage the Bible states emphatically, “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the Judgment (Hebrews 9:27). One life, one death, one judgement, one decision about eternal destiny: this is an integral progression in the Christian Faith.
I fear that the reason such a significant number of people identifying themselves as Christian’s state that they believe in reincarnation is that many who call themselves Christians have little understanding of what it means to be Christian. Spiritual pluralism is on the rise in Canada and with this rise there is a rise in spiritual syncretism. Spiritual syncretism is the belief that it is possible to design one’s own spirituality, picking and choosing elements from other spiritualties and creating one that uniquely fits one’s own beliefs.
Such an approach to one’s belief is wholly supported by Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms but lacks intellectual integrity. It fails to see the relevance of congruence in one’s faith. I have the right and freedom to belief anything I say I believe, but for my beliefs to be taken seriously, there must be congruence, my beliefs cannot be contradictory. This is what we are seeing when 24% of American Christians state that they believe in reincarnation.
Historic Christianity has uniquely stood apart from other world religions in its belief in the resurrection. We are free to believe as we see fit, but we are not free to call something Christian that isn’t Christian and a belief in reincarnation is not a Christian belief.
Chaplain's Corner was written by Bethesda Place now retired chaplain Larry Hirst. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely that of the writer and do not represent the views or opinions of people, institutions or organizations that the writer may have been associated with professionally.