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The Catholic Case against reincarnation

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We hear a lot of reincarnation these days. Basically this is the idea that a limited number of souls were created "sometime" (or always existed) and that these souls travel from body to body. That is, according to this belief, after we die, we will fly around the ether for a while and then find or choose another body to be born in. The expression "well, in my next life, I will Ö" is also very common.

Anecdotal evidence abounds for this belief which probably originated in a combination of manís inborn desire for immortality and a human way of solving the problem of death. Reincarnation is taught by several Eastern religions like Hinduism and Buddhism and very much embraced by American "New Agers" in what some theologians call, the "Post Christian era". Although hard proof of reincarnation has always been lacking, it is true that some of the anecdotal evidence is convincing.

For instance, most of us if we go through certain rituals like concentrating as expounded in some of Jess Sternís or Ruth Mongomeryís books, will begin to experience memories of other places, other times and other people. Or at least what FEELS like memories. Some of the things which come to us are documentable and can not be explained by daydreams, past experience etc.

In the 1950ís, one of the most convincing cases of reincarnation burst upon the scene when a man named Morey Bernstein shocked the reading public with his best seller entitled THE SEARCH FOR BRIDEY MURPHY. Bernstein had hypnotized a housewife in Pueblo, Colorado and this person had come up with the life of a woman who lived in Ireland in the 18th century. Bernstein went to Ireland and researched a lot of what the hypnotized woman had told him Ė facts about an obscure Irish woman and her life which could not be obtained without visiting Ireland and digging in dusty old records. Bernstein was not one of the usual "occult" writers and he had also used himself as a guinea pig to undergo ECT and insulin shock to see if this would produce "past life memories" (it didnít). So when the Colorado housewife spoke with an Irish brogue and claimed a lifetime in 18th century Ireland, it was convincing. This book was for me, one of the strongest pieces of evidence for reincarnation Ė Bernsteinís research appeared to be very complete and scientific. (I assumed that at the age of 12, I could discern which research was solid and which wasnít!)

There have also been stories of 5 year old kids who speak foreign languages which their parents did NOT teach them. When a translator is brought in to listen to the child, usually a girl, she typically describes another individual who died shortly before she was born, living a different life in a different place. According to the stories, the child describes her parents and other life details of her former incarnation. Such a case was fictionalized in the book, AUDREY ROSE (later made into a movie). These facts which the 5 year old had no way of learning from her environment, can usually be documented as true or so the story goes. Stern, Edwards and Montgomery all include at least one such case in their books on reincarnation.

Additionally there is even one rather troubling passage in the Bible where Jesus tells His Disciples that some of them standing there, will see His Second Coming, a passage which appears to have no other rational explanation than that those souls will be reincarnated since the Second Coming or Parousia is thought to be occurring in the distant future.

This to say that to discard reincarnation as simply the inane ramblings of the New Age Movement may be overly simplistic.

When I converted to the Catholic church, because of the overwhelming evidence, and a lot of research on my part, I believed in reincarnation. I did not want to become a Catholic if this belief stood as a stumbling block. I asked the priest with whom we took private instruction and he said "well, the Bible says we live one life but who knows how many earthly lives this "one life" is, in the Eyes of God." A clever answer which did not go against Catholic teaching but DID enable me to join the church I so desired to embrace.

Itís hard to NOT believe in reincarnation and especially when oneís immediate family members believe in it. And so for years, I simply accepted that belief and never really questioned it (are we seeing a problem right here? We should question EVERYTHING!).

Then I had a personal experience which got me to wondering.

My personal experience with reincarnation

I generally accepted that my past life was as a US Navy submarine captain who had been stationed at Pearl Harbor. I saw details in my dreams never before shown ANYWHERE in the media Ö for example, the ocean at Pearl Harbor reddened with blood and strewn with body parts (1400 American soldiers died at Pearl Harbor, newly released government documents tell us and although FDR and cronies could track the Japanese ships coming to attack, they failed to evacuate the Naval base there because they wanted the attack to be a "surprise" to anger the American people so that they would have an excuse to enter the war Ö against Japan AND Germany which was one of Japanís allies. Needless to say, TV accounts of the attack leave out the gross details because some folks might connect the dots and realize that those BODY PARTS floating in the bloody brink were those of the American soldiers killed Ė ref: see Stinnett:DAY OF DECEIT).

In my dreams, I also saw the inside of a submarine accurately. I never doubted that these MUST be past memories as throughout my life I had had such an antipathy toward war that I had never watched any war movies, never read any war books.

Fast forward to 1972. I was playing the violin in a church show and another person performing was a young man they called "The Polish Elvis", an Elvis Presley impersonator from Poland. I went home that first night of rehearsals and dreamt about this young man. I was told in my dream that his father had been killed on a bridge that *I* had ordered blown up when I was in the Navy (in my past life).

Although all of my past memories had been negative, this one was horribly heavy for me to bear as a pro life person and I was terribly troubled the following day. Worse yet, the dream was so vivid that I was confused about WHOM I was at times. So that night, I decided to ask the Polish Elvis about this. I thought, surely, this was just a nightmare and that his father was probably living and happy and all my concern was for nothing.

I didnít even know him so had to go introduce myself. After a few polite exchanges I asked about his family. He said his mother was here with him but his dad was dead. A cold chill began to form in me as I asked whether his father had died recently. He looked at me rather strangely and said "No, he died in WW II. He was on a bridge that the Americans blew up."

I donít remember how I ended the conversation because I felt faint. Having fleeting memories of a past life was one thing. Having murdered someone in a past life is quite another.

I fretted about it the next day and then, I sat down to think about reincarnation.

I realized I had gotten it down to TWO possibilities:

I was really remembering a past life

a satanic angel was whispering things to me making me THINK I was remembering a past life

Number 1 fitted in with my lifelong beliefs and so I had never considered number 2.

Now that I was troubled to the core, I thought about number 2 for the first time and I did this because I felt that the type of distress I was suffering did NOT come from God. I came up with some interesting conclusions:

My past memories had NEVER been positive, always negative Ė full of death and depression and hopelessness.

In my past life I had rejected a belief in God which is unusual for me because Iíve had a close relationship with God from an early age

And now this Ė feeling guilty and horribly depressed about this young manís fatherís death

Looking at it, I realized that numbers 1, 2, and 3 had the earmarks of Satan Ė depression, hopelessness, ugliness, death, no belief in God and soul crushing guilt.

If I was really this Naval Captain, why wouldnít I remember happy memories as well as depressing sad memories? Would God want me to feel guilty for something which happened in WW II?

Thus, for the first time in my life, I questioned reincarnation.

I found that it had numerous problems, Biblical AND logical AND practical.

The Logical problems with Reincarnation

According to the doctrine, when we sin, we store up "Karma" and then, in the next life, we pay for the Karma we racked up in the last life through suffering and pain. If that was so, it would be an endless circle because we are never sinless and thus as we pay for Karma, we are racking up more. In fact, the Tibetan Buddhists realized this logical dilemma and they solve it by teaching that in order to exit the endless circle of lifetimes on earth, an individual must become a monk and live in a monastery. Presumably the simple life would prevent them from racking up more Karma so at the end of THAT life, they could move on and break the endless cycle.

A nice idea however, for those who of us have LIVED in convents and monasteries, even the most cloistered life does NOT prevent us from sinning since the affinity to sin comes from within. So basically, the monastery idea does not work for ending current Karma.

And since still racking up Karma, we would never exit from an endless circle of lifetimes is not only illogical (the world WILL likely end someday) but also against Catholic teaching which says that we are to live and then die to be resurrected with Jesus.

Another problem with the "Karma" idea is that if we COULD pay for our sins, why would we need a Savior? So in an insidious manner, Karma reduces Jesus to a teacher rather than a Savior and thus questions the Divinity of Christ. But if Christ were NOT divine why then did the life and death of this obscure citizen of the dirt town of Nazareth, change the course of the world so completely that time is measured before and after his birth?

The doctrine of Reincarnation suggests that Jesus was probably a reincarnation. In fact, some religions teach this about Jesus i.e. that Buddha was a reincarnation of Jesus or vice versa. Since Buddha, though a holy man never claimed Divinity, this too would tend to erode the Christian belief that Jesus is the only Son of the one true God.

Finally, the doctrine of Karma suggests that our works are enough to earn us points or merit and there is really no evidence of this at all since our works are often riddled with self aggrandizement, lack of humility and simple imperfection (to put it mildly).

Why Reincarnation is not Practical

To believe in reincarnation, we have to make quite a leap of faith because when we die, there is NO PROOF whatsoever that we are in any type of control. No human would choose the agony of death even with Karma being a factor. And then, to believe that we fly around and search for parents to "come back to earth" is much more difficult to stomach than to believe that God handles all.

Also to embrace this belief, we also have to accept that some human beings are essentially the same with just different coverings. For example, it would be our same soul in each of these lifetimes.

But first of all, in my so called past memories, it was NOT my same soul because the Naval captain despaired of the existence of God, something I have NEVER IN MY LIFE, done, even AS a small child.

And second, we know that nothing IS alike in nature. Every snowflake is different. Godís creation in the world seems to be opposed to the belief in reincarnation that many human beings throughout time have actually been the same person. Why would His Creation of the most complex and wonderful being on earth be less astounding than the creation of a tiny snowflake. It is much more in line with logic to believe that EACH OF US is a totally different and unique creation which has NEVER existed before in any shape, form or manner.

Third, believing that itís the same individual in different coverings over and over through several lifetimes defies our OWN experience in life. Has anyone EVER met one human being, just one, who is identical to another? Even identical twins who are genetically the same, are as different as night and day when you get to know them.

Reincarnation is NOT Biblical

We are told in the Bible that God knew us before He created us, He knew us before we were knit together in the womb. That doesnít sound like we go from life to life. It sounds more like He planned for us from the beginning and we didnít exist UNTIL we were knit together in our motherís womb, soul and body.

Jesus says to the "good thief", "Today you will be with ME in paradise!" He DID NOT say "well, in the next life you will know better" or the like. In fact, if reincarnation was so important and being that it attempts to explain the very nature of our creation, I would think it IS rather important, why did Jesus NOT teach extensively about it? On the contrary, He talked as if when we die we will go on "the path God has prepared for us" and never even mentioned reincarnation but always talked as if we all just live ONE life.

Finally how did the incarnation of Jesus happen? The soul of Jesus came into existence (the Union of God and man in the Hypostatic Union) the moment the Blessed Mother said "YES" to the angelÖ AT CONCEPTION. Since Jesus was "a man like us in all things except sin" it is much more logical to look AT the incarnation of Jesus as how WE happen as well, the soul created at conception. (Those who advocate abortion like to think that the soul of the aborted baby just flies around and finds parents who want him or her and thus, abortion is good all around. But, IF we consider that this soul was a unique and NEW Creation of God at conception and that the abortion denies Godís very Plan for it to live on earth at all, that carries dreadful ramifications which might be very uncomfortable for a "pro choice" individual to think about).

Other Explanations for the Evidence of Reincarnation

I had one more thought process to go through. How would I explain the rather convincing body of evidence concerning reincarnation, things I had experienced in my life and also, had discovered in my research. Could these things and experiences be explained in another way?

I found there WERE other explanations which were just as viable or perhaps MORE viable than Reincarnation.

With reference to my own experiences - Satanic angels are like other angels, very intelligent and they can play games with us. In fact, saints like Francis of Assisi have described this in detail. One of the games satanic angels play is pretending to be someone. One of the friars came to St. Francis one morning and told him that Francis had visited him in the night warning him to leave the monastery and that the church was evil. Francis asked his friar "Do you think *I* would say such a thing? That was satan PRETENDING TO BE ME!"

So we come down to discernment Ė past memories have always been negative for me Ė negativity is of satan and not of God. Bernstein was careful when he regressed the Colorado housewife that she didnít remember it when she "woke up". But later experiments such as those of Jess Stern did not take this step. The person who was regressed began to suffer mental problems because they were very confused and depressed. If past life memories were a thing of God, would they depress and confuse us? That again sounds like satan and not God.

Children speaking other languages and attributing this to past lives Ė this again could be explained by satan because in those individuals who were "possessed" they also sometimes spoke other languages. And that they came up with REAL people could be explained by satanic angels who KNEW about those real people and were impersonating them. These stories could also be explained in the same way we explain other things Ė urban legends. We have all heard about the baby sitter who cooked the baby in the oven (no proof it ever happened) and the organ stealers who steal kidneys and leave you in a bathtub of ice (originated in a movie). Face it, most of the strange stuff we hear IS legend rather than factual!

But additionally, has anyone really investigated these claims of past lives? Investigated them to see IF there are other explanations?

I had read many cases of reincarnation and past life memories but none so convincing as Morey Bernsteinís SEARCH FOR BRIDEY MURPHY so I took to the Internet to see if anyone HAD debunked it.

Bridey Murphy debunked!

I was shocked and surprised at what I found. The Colorado housewife whom Bernstein named Ruth Simmons was really named Virginia Tighe. When researchers tried to back up Morey Bernsteinís claims of a woman named Bridey Murphy in Ireland in the 18th century, they came up with no evidence one way or the other. However, they did find a woman named Bridey Murphy who lived in the 20th century in Wisconsin, right across the street from where Virginia Tighe had lived as a girl.  Bridey, it turned out, told Virginia stories of Ireland where Bridey had been raised.  What Virginia was remembering WAS a past life Ė HER OWN CHILDHOOD! The "Chicago American" which made this discovery called the case, "evidence of a vivid imagination, a confused memory, fraud, or a combination of the three."  Virginia Tighe often stated she never believed she was Bridey Murphy but left it as a possibility.  She died in the late 1990's.

Additionally I found this, filling in more of the details (and death nells of the truth of Bernsteinís claims):

>>>A Life magazine investigation found that few of the checkable details in Mrs. Tighe's story could be verified. Worse, a fellow named Wally White, who said he was a childhood friend of Mrs. Tighe's, said that when she was very young she was in the habit of speaking in an Irish brogue. He also said she was known to have scratched the paint off her bed on one occasion. Next it was learned that metal beds hadn't been introduced into Ireland until the mid-nineteenth century, when Bridey would have been middle-aged. The final blow was the discovery that one of Mrs. Tighe's neighbors in her childhood days was named Bridey Murphy Corkell.<<<<

(REF: The Straight Dope: Is it possible to recall past lives through hypnosis? See online sources in references)

Although Bernstein intimated he was a therapist in the book (and in a way he was - he apparently did hypnotism as a hobby and avocation after becoming intrigued with it at a party in the 1940's), he was actually a rather successful businessman and probably lacked expertise in the field of psychology.

That left one proof and it was perhaps the most troubling Ė Jesusí one statement in the Bible which seems to suggest reincarnation "Some of those standing here today will see Me when I come again".

The Bible and the Second Coming

That there WILL be a parousia or second coming has been disputed for centuries. It is mentioned in the Bible but Jesus was very evasive about it. So we have post trib rapture fans and pre trib (as in tribulation Ė the hard times proceeding the Second Coming) rapture fans.

Lately I have made the acquaintance of a deacon who feels that the prevalent ideas about the Second Coming are incorrect. He takes some of the strongest proofs of the Second Coming in Revelations and shows that it, at least, could mean other things. I personally have wondered whether the Second Coming is when Jesus comes to GET EACH OF US. That explanation would actually fit in better with other things Jesus taught and said. IT would also explain my troublesome passage in the Bible "some of those standing here will see Me when I return" as Jesus could have been talking about THEIR OWN deaths and NOT the parousia (Second Coming).

So there you have it. Reincarnation is unproven and unsupported by anything except a bunch of believers and anecdotal stories and vague memories which could be explained other ways.

In doing some research on the Internet, I find that theologians have written many more issues and logical problems with reincarnation as have the church fathers as early as the second century after Christ! (see Catholic Answers article below)

The Church teaches that each of us is a unique individual, created in totality at our conception and when we die, we will stand before Jesus (or perhaps He will come and get us) and then, God will prepare us to enter an eternity of happiness where there IS NO PAIN, or tears or suffering. Not only is this a more consoling thought than an endless stream of earthly lifetimes but it turns out to be a far more LOGICAL and PRACTICAL idea with a lot of Biblical evidence.

Sue Widemark Ė share this and give me a link: 


Bernstein, Morey: THE SEARCH FOR BRIDEY MURPHY, NY, 1956

Edwards, Frank: STRANGE PEOPLE, NY, 60ís

Holzer, Hans: BORN AGAIN, NY, 1970

Montgomery, Ruth: HERE AND HEREAFTER, NY, 1960


Michaels, Deacon Lawrence R.: Revelation in Its Original Meaning, CA, 2000

Stinett, Robert: DAY OF DECEIT, NY, 2001

Losang, Rato K.;My Life and Lives : The Story of a Tibetan Incarnation, NY, 1977

Francis of Assisi et al: LITTLE FLOWERS OF ST FRANCIS, various publishers (this is a classic work written in the time of St Francis)

Harden, John SJ: Catholic Catechism, NY, 1980

Online sources:

Skeptics Dictionary: Bridey Murphy reality

Reincarnation Reexamined; Investigative Files (Skeptical Briefs March 1998) Cockrell: 

Reincarnation from Catholic answers Ė what the early church fathers taught etc: