With all of my rantings and ravings about different aspects of religion, I haven’t really delved into the idea of reincarnation yet. By reincarnation I’m referring to the idea that our “souls” or “life forces” or whatever term you want to use leaves our bodies when we die and moves onto to other ones. I know this is the popularly accepted definition of the term and for most people I wouldn’t have to explain it, but technically speaking the idea of the soul travelling to Heaven, Hell, or whatever after death also falls under the category of reincarnation. I felt it necessary to get make the distinction before I go any further. I’m also not going to refer to any specific religion or spiritual philosophy as I know I’ll make mistakes. I’m getting very lazy about reading the religious texts that I wanted to this year. I’m still in the Book of Genesis and I’m bored to tears. (I think I may have also made the mistake of getting the wrong version of the book, but that’s a topic for much later.)
Obviously my first statement about reincarnation is that there is no soul therefore we can throw the whole idea out the window. Certainly any concept of reincarnation based on a religious belief is nonsensical; as I have stated before if it turns out that there is a god certainly all of the world’s religions are wrong. But there are still people that despite not subscribing to any particular religion still believe in the idea of a soul, allowing for the possibility of reincarnation. This is something I used to wrestle with myself. Even when I wrote that report for a science class in high school on immortality I brought up the idea, allowing for a “scientific” concept of the soul being the same thing as a spirit described in religion. This is rather weak–the concept of a soul is a concept of a soul, no matter what you want to call it. I have become convinced that the “soul” is nothing more than a part of the physical body, and when one dies the other dies in the process. We still don’t know scientifically what consciousness is, but I doubt when we find out we’ll be able to detect ghosts inside us.
Using the idea of having a soul thereby opening up the concept of the soul continuing when the body does not is a way of comforting one’s self when facing mortality. We don’t want to die, so if there’s a possibility that we carry on people will latch onto it. The logic is faulty and a sign of a weak mind. Besides, to be honest I find no comfort in the idea at all. Let’s say that it’s true, and that I’m at the moment in just one of my many reincarnations extending back to who knows when, and then I will continue to reincarnate for who knows how many more times. The question is, why don’t I remember my past lives? Why do I feel particularly self-aware now? If the cycle continues just as before, why won’t I remember this life in the next one? Before anybody sends me an answer to this, particularly based on what some religion says, I’m going to say that I don’t care about the why. My point is that if consciousness is dependant on the interaction between the soul and the body it connects to, then does it really matter if we reincarnate or not? If the idea is that my life carries on, but not being able to be aware of it then my life really doesn’t carry on. It’s like an organ donation. If I die in a car crash and donate one of my organs my consciousness does not go on with that organ to the next person. In essence that organ becomes part of that other person. While I might feel like this is a good deed, it doesn’t make me any more comfortable of dying in the car crash.
So, taking no comfort in reincarnation I have no need to believe in it. While the idea of a soul is technically separate from reincarnation, without the reincarnation one does not need to believe in the soul. If having the idea of a soul is really only a comfort because the soul can go on afterward, and we discredit the idea of it doing so, then there’s no need to have the idea. If there’s no need for the soul, there’s no need for religious belief. And of course, the argument continues that without religion there’s no reincarnation, and the argument can also go in the opposite direction. Such is the circle of life.