Revista Studii Teologice


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„Interpretatio christiana” a unei mari provocări spirituale a lumii de azi: reîncarnarea

“Interpretatio christiana” of one of today’s major spiritual challenges: Reincarnation

Autor(i): Pr. Alexandru-Corneliu ARION

Spiritual stances of Eastern origin are increasingly embraced by various Chris-tian groups of contemporary (self-described as postmodern and post-Christian) socie-ty. Among the insinuations of this spirituality, the most pernicious is the belief in the transmigration of souls or reincarnation, specific to Indian religions and circumscri-bing a pantheism with manifold manifestations. Hence the present study’s focus on the model proposed by Hinduism, whose heterodoxies and engendered sects have started to be accomodated by Christian communities in Europe and other continents. Belief in transmigration is one of the basic tenets of Hinduist Weltanschauung. Even though this is not a specifically Indian doctrine, due to the Hinduist model it holds a central place since many religious beliefs sharing it originate from this ancient Asian religion. The transmigration of the soul postulates the passing of souls into successive bodily forms after death, based on four assumptions: man possesses a soul that can be separated from the body; other beings (animals, plants) also possess such souls; these souls can migrate from one body into another; the number of souls is stable and final, it cannot increase or decrease, with the addition or disappearance of souls. Unlike the belief in a new embodiment after death, posited by some of the ancient philosophies or religions (Egyptian, Greek-Roman, Zoroastrian) or the mystery religi-ons (Orphic, Pitagoreic), the Indian theory of transmigration is distinguished from the other above-mentioned religions by the essentially ethical mechanism governing it. It is the well-known principle of karman, a term designating the deeds themselves (karma) as well as their effects. The exaggerated importance given to offerings in the old sacerdotal writings (Brahmanas), entailed the conviction that any act, simply by engendering a result, was part of an endless series of causes and effects.
Another tenet regarding transmigration (samsara), already present in the ol-dest Upanishads, states that the samsāric cycle is started by desire: «man’s effort will be as great as his desire; his deeds will be as great as his efforts; his rewards will be as great as his deeds». Of course, the first desire is to experience the physical world and thus illusion, and “the rewards” are the outcome lived in a future life, according to karmic retribution. Karma directy connects desire to samsāra, resulting in complete interdependence between past lives, the present life and the future one. By virtue of unfailing karmic retribution, every thought, word or act in this life will be repaid in kind in the future one. Applied within a Christian context, this theory of recurrent lives seems to offer certain advantages, by explaining the urgent (and often aporetic) problems of suffering, “spontaneous memories” or the moral-philosophical one: the law of karma and reincarnation seem to achieve perfect justice in the world. According to the karma, there is no forgiving for past mistakes, but only an increase in one’s karmic debt, with consequeces in the future life. By reincarnation, every soul is justly rewarded or punished, in terms of both quantity and quality, for its his pre-vious lives. From the Christian standpoint, there is a crucial difference between the impersonal principle of karma and the moral assessment of one’s deeds, which will be made at the end of times by our Saviour Jesus Christ. Through grace Christianity has abolished karma, that is submission to the blind laws of universal existence. With regard to the parable of the eleventh-hour laborers, what means necessity to “settle the debt”? The central message of Christianity is precisely Christ’s victory over death and hell. There is even a logical objection against reincarnation: as previous and present personalities are not consistent, one can learn nothing from past existences nor “grow with every thought or action”.
Scripture-based arguments are far from convincing, because there are quite few passages that might validate reincarnation, and even those actually disprove it as they express a reality completely different from transmigration. The texts invoked, according to which Elijah is allegedly John the Baptist (Lk 1, 17) or John is the Elijah who was to come (Mt 11, 14) do not justify the karman theory. Admittedly, St John «shall go before Christ, in the power and spirit of Elijah» (Lk 1, 17), but this is not to say that the prophet Elijah will be his reincarnation, because the Saviour Himself states that Elijah will precede His second coming: « Indeed Elijah will come and resto-re all things» (Mt 17, 11). This is actually a classical example of biblical typology: St John the Baptist is a “type” of Elijah. He performed the role of Elijah, as it had been prophesized by Malachy (cf. Mal 3, 1) for John had the same spiritual insights as prophet Elijah, but not the same soul. About suffering, the Christian religion has a clear answer, in keeping with the other specific doctrinal tenets: suffering is the effect of sin, of man’s estrangement from God, it is the result of disobedience to supernatu-ral divine law, as well as to the law imprinted by divinity on nature. Regarding those who have not sinned yet (children) and are in pain, the Holy Scripture speaks of the possibility of a hereditary transmission of the effects of sin from parents or even forefathers. In the Christian view, suffering is not seen as misfortune, but it may even be edifying when it is viewed as a cross, in the perspective of resurrection. In other words, suffering is not equated with evil. Unlike Oriental religions, Christianity does not shun suffering (does not propose some therapy to evade it, as do Yoga, Zen etc.), but on the contrary it attempts to sublimate it, to make the most of it by tur-ning it into the “royal path to salvation”. Thus the fundamental difference between Christianity and the Oriental religions lies in their differing views on life and, implici-tly, on suffering: Christianity loves and proclaims life, while Buddhism and related religions disregard it and, each in its own way, seek to abolish it.
The main doctrinal reasons why Christian religion is completely at odds with the theory of karma and reincarnation lies in the Christian dogma of the Lord’s Incarnation, of judgment, and of bodily resurrection. Thus, according to the Bible, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is the only opportunity for man to regain communion with his Creator. This sacrifice is God’s gift to mankind, an undeserved gift, called grace in Christian theology. Without this grace, no man can obtain salvation, based on his own merits or autonomously, as claim the adherents of the above-mentioned theory. Mircea Eliade shows that the liberation brought about by yoga is not a gift or a state of grace, but is always due to the sustained efforts of the yogi. Unlike the Christian doctrine of salvation – as regaining of the original communion between man and God −, the final goal of Hinduist eschatology is liberation, a state that can only be expressed in negative terms, as definitive cessation of the endless cycle of rebirths. Christianity asserts that God assumed a human body (so loathed by Oriental religions) and it was only through this body that He redeemed us from the dominion of sin and death. The tenet that strongest opposes reincarnation is the very foundati-on of Christian doctrine: the resurrection. «And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; you are yet in your sins» (1 Cor 15, 17). Reincarnation presupposes a causal chain of lives dominated by suffering, where man is subject to the terror of karman and the laws of the cosmos. By contrast, Christ’s ressurection offers the possibility of freedom from the fatality of nature that leads to death, and opens a horizon worthy of us and our aspirations. The critical difference between the Christian teachings and reincarnation is that according to the latter, man sheds the body like a worn-out garment, while the soul takes on successive bodies; in the Christian view, however, man has a unique, irrepeatable existence – a truth logically derived from the reality of the resurrection. Christ, the human archetype, resurrected with the same body in which He died.
Christian theology, stressing the uniqueness of human existence, teaches that each soul undergoes a particular judgment immediately after death, and is conse-quently sent to either bliss or torment, and at the end of the world another judgment – the general one – will pas a definitive verdict, on both souls and the resurrected bodies. Of course, the judgment with eternal consequences hides a great mystery. But this mystery is worthy of the realities of man and God. The mystery lies in the fact that man forever stands before God and yet he may never repent, he may rema-in unresponsive to God’s love. It is the mystery of freedom, which can choose its own bondage, and may agree with this bondage, for “even eternal hell asserts man’s value and eternal freedom” (Father D. Stăniloae). By rejecting the notions of karma and reincarnation, Christianity stresses the uniqueness of life in this world, subject to the judgment of God: « And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment» (Heb 9, 27). In conclusion, the historical process has value only if it is singular, if the “wheel of history does not turn.” This uniqueness of historical occur-rences is lent by the very Incarnation and Resurrection of Christ. Christ’s Resurrecti-on is the inaugural and decisive event of the Last Judgment. Thus any theory or philosophy claiming the recurrence of history – such as karman and reincarnation – is invalidated.

Misiune şi pastoraţie
Pagini: 179-209