from The Worldview Literacy Book   copyright 2009            back to worldview theme(s) #14


#14A: Imagine yourself as someone comfortable with a "Moralistic God."  You believe that 1) Reality is ultimately composed of two substances, spirit and matter (dualism of substance), and 2) when people die, their spiritual essence, their soul, is judged by God.  You believe God gifted humans with free will and holds them morally responsible for their behavior (see Discussion, worldview theme #11B).  You thus try to live your life free of sin—that is you seek to avoid offending God, breaking His laws, and becoming alienated from Him.  You recognize that even if the free will you seem to possess is just an illusion and there really is such a thing as predestination, it would make absolutely no difference in your behavior.  You reason that you should behave as if you have free will and are in control—and if you aren’t, because you lack free will, then there’s nothing you can do about it anyway!         

     You believe living as God wants you to live in today's world guarantees you'll be spared eternal torment in the hereafter.  You don't want your soul to spend an eternity burning in Hell—so your "fire insurance" is purchased by your good behavior!  You've been impressed by the book of Revelation (see Figure #14a).  When God opens the book of life at the Last Judgment, you're planning on His finding your name written in it—and avoiding being "cast into a lake of fire."  Basically, you view Hell ( see Figure #14b) as where God, with His perfect sense of justice, sends the souls of those people who cause pain and suffering.  It's reserved for those who do evil things.  It's really quite simple: if evil is left unchecked and unpunished, not countered with strong action, then more evil will result.  The existence of the fires of Hell is a deterrent: people's knowledge that, if their behavior is evil, they'll suffer through eternity there, deters lots of crime and bad behavior. (See Figure #42c.)

     You recognize three complications to this simple picture:  

1) Christians can repent of their sins, and escape punishment after receiving the ultimate forgiveness: the redeeming of their soul in the form of salvation.  2) Hell may not be a physically real place: perhaps it is psychological state of external suffering.  Your conscience has inflicted enough guilt on you for what may or may not have been very minor transgressions: imagine what it would do it you really did something bad!        3) Original sin may need to be distinguished from other sin.

     Despite the feelings, just shared, which connect to negatives and avoiding punishment, you recognize there are related positive reinforcements that also shape your behavior.  Most importantly these include 1) the peace of mind that your good behavior provides, and 2) the promise of immortality your soul spending eternity in Heaven.  As for Heaven (Paradise, or whatever one calls it), you haven't decided whether it's a real place or a psychological state—but lean toward the former!


#14B: While many in the West have embraced reincarnation—ranging from Socrates, Plato, to New Age enthusiasts and Scientologists (Figure #14c)—we consider this belief from an Eastern perspective.  Buddhists imagine reincarnation occurs as one rides a Wheel of Life, symbolizing change and rebirth.  After death, consciousness is reborn and emerges in a new form.  The particular form taken depends on past life circumstances and karmic forces—which Hindus also believe in. 

     As their Bhagavad Gita puts it, "Karma is the force of creation, where from all things have their life."  A "Law of Karma" cast as "Whatever you give to the world you receive back from the world" inserts cosmic justice into reincarnation.  Hindus believe the soul (atman) is immortal and unchanging, and in reincarnation passes into another body at death (transmigration).  As the Bhagavad Gita summarizes it, "Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be.  As the embodied soul continuously passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death."

     Whereas Hindus conceive of reincarnation as involving one's soul, Buddhists describe something similar in terms of rebirth of consciousness.  Since its founding in the sixth century BCE, Buddhism sought to distinguish itself from the older, surrounding Hindu tradition.  The Buddha denied that humans even have spiritual substance or souls.  His teaching of the concept of transmigration—better termed rebirth in Buddhism—used the analogy of a flame being passed from candle to candle, and stressed the role of karma.  Huston Smith, in his classic The World's Religions, summarized it as follows. "1) There is a chain of causation threading each life to those that have led up to it, and to those that will follow.  Each life is in its present condition because of the way the lives that led up to it were lived.  2) Throughout this causal sequence the will remains free ...People remain at liberty to shape their own destinies.  3) The two preceding points affirm the causal connectedness of life, but they do not entail that a substance of some sort be transmitted.  Ideas, impressions, feelings, streams of consciousness, present moments—these are all we find, no spiritual substrate."

     For both Buddhists and Hindus, the very lengthy rebirth and transmigration cycle ends when the person has lost all desire (which Buddhists connect with suffering) and is ready to spend eternity in a state of oneness with the Reality known as Nirvana  (Moksha).  Note, Nirvana is not God in a personal sense—but some make that connection in a mystical sense.  There are other Eastern conceptions of reincarnation, including an ancient one built on fatalism in which karma plays no role.  Modern scientific investigations into claims (some involving hypnosis) of those who remember past lives have been inconclusive.


Figure #14a

The Last Judgment

from the Bible's Book of Revelation

Figure #14b

A Vision of Hell--painting  by Gustave Doré, 

based on   Dante's Divine Comedy

Figure #14c

Scientology and Reincarnation

Among key beliefs of Scientologists are 1) "That which is true for you is what you have observed to be true;" and 2) "That man is a spiritual being whose existence spans more than one life and who is endowed with abilities well beyond those which he normally considers he possesses."

 Church of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard believed he had found evidence for his past lives. He felt that "The common definition of reincarnation  has been altered from its original meaning.  The word has come to mean 'to be born again in different life forms' whereas its actual definition is 'to be born again into the flesh of another body.'"

back to worldview theme(s) #14