How to answer the critic who claims Jesus was reincarnated.
“I am the reincarnation of Jesus Christ.” This was the claim of one very popular guru in India. This is not a totally unusual claim—others have made it. What do you do with that? To quote my former roommate, Larry Kersten, “What the heck is that?” What does this statement actually mean?
I want you to think about this claim for a few moments. It’s a claim that many have made, many that turn out, remarkably, to be contemporaneous with each other; they all live at the same time, all saying they are the reincarnation of Jesus Christ. That raises other questions like, how could Jesus Christ be simultaneously reincarnated in different persons who are all living at the same time? I don’t think that’s the way reincarnation works, unless that’s a really high level of Nirvana. Maybe you have to be really bad to be reincarnated into a bunch of people because you get all of their suffering all together, but why would somebody make this claim? You would think, especially with a religious leader, that he is laying claim to something about Jesus for himself. In a sense, he is saying, I am Jesus. I am just in a different body. But that’s a different issue.
Let’s just take the claim itself at face value. What then? How would one know this claim was true? Why should we be convinced that this guru was speaking accurately?
How would you test it? I could imagine some ways. I guess we’d start looking for similarities. We wouldn’t look for physical similarities, because obviously the body is different. We’re talking about a different physical body. But something is the same—and here’s the kicker—what is the same, allegedly, in reincarnation?
There could be a couple of ways to understand this. Maybe it’s the soul that’s the same. I believe in the soul and I believe the soul has—well, your soul is what you are. Your soul possesses your body, in one sense. What you genuinely are in your person, your characteristics, are all soulish things—your temperament, your ideas, your beliefs, your emotions—all of these things have physical expression through your brain and central nervous system, but they originate in your soul, such that when your soul goes, you go with it.
If it’s the soul that is being reincarnated, basically you have the same person in a different body. If you were placed in someone else’s body, you would still be you with everything that you know—your language, your knowledge, your temperament, whatever. The only thing that would be different is your body.
But clearly that’s not what people have in mind when they talk about reincarnation. It is not just a transfer of souls because souls have memories and one would remember the experience of a past lifetime. Not only that, you would have the learning, the temperament, the knowledge, the thoughts and all of that other stuff. So this guru guy is not a carpenter, but if the abilities were what was reincarnated, then he would have carpenter skills. If it was the intellectual abilities, I’d imagine that he’d have the knowledge of a Jewish rabbi like Jesus had. But he doesn’t have the knowledge of a Jewish rabbi. He’s teaching Hinduism. So he doesn’t have Jesus’ physical body, and he doesn’t have Jesus’ physical skills, or his soulish faculties transmitted. Not Jesus’ memories, or ideas. Then what is transferred in reincarnation has got to be something minus those things.
So, something gets reincarnated. But it isn’t the soul in all of its flower. It’s something less than that. It doesn’t include physical capabilities, or learning, or knowledge. It doesn’t include memory. It doesn’t include emotions of the past life. When you start stripping that stuff away, it seems like what you end up with kind of a naked, bare human thing. It’s called a bare particular, by the way, in philosophical language. But it’s kind of stripped down to nothing.
Wait a minute. If reincarnation is true, then something gets passed on. Something is reincarnated and it’s not personality. It’s not capacities. It’s some kind of bare essence. What is it? Precisely what is reincarnated? A bare human particular. If it’s just a bare human particular, it’s hard to imagine how a human particular can be reincarnated as a bug. What sense does it make to say that a human being is now a bug? What’s the same between the bug and the human being? Well, it’s nothing to do with humanness because a bug doesn’t have humanness if it’s reincarnated.
So you’ve got to strip off the humanness from this thing that gets transferred. I’m going to tell you what you are left with. You are left with a bare living particular. An irreducible “it.” It has got to be living because you can’t be reincarnated into an ice cube, or a block of wood, or a stone, right? So what is transferred is a bare living particular. This makes the claim of Jesus being reincarnated utterly worthless.
This irreducible “it” has no properties, no personality, no nothing. It’s just a nothing “it” that gets transferred in reincarnation. That’s why, by the way, according to this view of transmigration of the soul, I could be reincarnated as a beast or a bug, because there is nothing left of me except for my bare naked irreducible particularity. What’s a particularity? It’s what left when you take everything else away. But there is still one thing left, and if you took away that one thing left, nothing would be there.
So this guy says, “I am the reincarnation of Jesus Christ.” My question is: In what sense is he the reincarnation of Christ? Well, if you’re the reincarnation of Jesus’ bare particular—His essence stripped of personality, stripped of morality, stripped of memory, stripped of skills, stripped of human essence, stripped of any other distinguishing characteristics—then who the heck cares if you are the reincarnation of Christ? If you have nothing—nothing that is similar to Jesus in a meaningful way—then what’s the point?
Now if you do have something that’s similar to Jesus that is passed on, well, what is it? Tell me. Show it to me. Can you speak Hebrew? Or Aramaic? Do you have His memories. Do you have His skills? No. You don’t have His humanity, do you? No. What have you got? “I’ve got this bare, naked ‘it’ that was passed on.” Why should I be impressed that Jesus’ bare naked “it” that is stripped of everything that makes Him wonderful—why should I be impressed that was passed on to you?
How would you even know that? How would you know that it was Jesus’ “it”? How would you even be able to identify it? There is nothing left that distinguishes Jesus Christ’s bare particular from anyone else’s bare particular. In other words, there is no difference between Jesus Christ’s bare particular being reincarnated in you and Adolph Hitler’s bare particular being reincarnated in you, so who cares? What difference does it make?