A recent New York Times article on the growing Western belief in reincarnation is causing a bit of a stir.
The author is Lisa Miller (left), the religion editor for Newsweek and author of the book Heaven: Our Enduring Fascination with the Afterlife.
Miller cites several indicators, both statistical and cultural, of a growing interest in reincarnation among Westerners (but primarily Americans):
- According to data released last year by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, a quarter of Americans now believe in reincarnation.
- The actress Julia Roberts recently told Elle magazine that in a recent past life, she was, she believes, a peasant revolutionary.
- Past-life regression is being practised as a treatment by an increasing number of professional psychiatrists. The psychiatrists themselves are finding it much easier to ‘come out’ and talk about this openly.
- At Cannes in May, the highest prize was awarded to a Thai film about reincarnation, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.
The Catholic church appears to be particularly troubled by this trend. A Spanish bishop said recently that the growing number of Catholics adopting the belief in reincarnation (currently 28% of US Catholics) should seek the ‘antidote’ in the Assumption of Mary…
The Pew Forum data, and Miller’s article, have been welcomed by the President of Universal Society of Hinduism, Rajan Zed (described as a Hindu chaplain from Reno, Nevada).
I’m not sure that many Westerners really care what the Baghavad-Gita teaches about reincarnation, however. In contrast to a recent article in Newsweek (We are all Hindus now), the surge in Western interest in reincarnation derives, I believe, from an accumulation of personal experience and anecdotal evidence, and owes little to any particular teaching.
Of course, a growing belief in reincarnation does not mean that reincarnation itself is real. Widespread belief has never proved a thing. The reality or non-reality of reincarnation has nothing to do with how many people believe in it. Though I happen to firmly believe in it myself, and I rejoice at the news that more people are open to it, I don’t think I’ll be saying ‘Told you so’ to my sceptical friends any time soon.