Central to a number of religions is the belief that humans are reborn in the flesh — or reincarnated. Reincarnation is taught primarily in the Eastern religions, such as in Hinduism and Buddhism. In Western culture, the growing number of New Age and Neo-Pagan believers embrace the idea of reincarnation. Esoteric types of philosophies, such as Kabbalah, Gnosticism and Esoteric Christianity may also teach reincarnation. Some argue that the concept of reincarnation is alluded to in New Testament, citing when John the Baptist is regarded as a reincarnation of Elijah (Matthew 11:14 and 17:11, Mark 9:11-13).
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CFree.org reports that early references to reincarnation mentioned in the New Testament were removed in the fourth century by Emperor Constantine when the Roman Empire adopted Christianity as their official religion. By the sixth century, the Second Council of Constantinople officially declared reincarnation to be heresy. During these same early Christian times, many Church fathers and even the Gnostics accepted reincarnation, though they were politically forced to keep their beliefs a secret due to fear of persecution. These persecutions continued as late as the twelfth century. PastLives.org asserts that:
The first 300 years after Jesus' death, there were many variations of Christian doctrine as the new religion spread throughout the Roman Empire. A number of factions developed, some believing in reincarnation, some not, and the factions were frequently in conflict. In an attempt to consolidate his crumbling Roman Empire, the Emperor Constantine in 325 A.D. offered his official support to Christians if they would settle their differences and establish a unified set of beliefs. The resulting Council of Nicaea put together the foundation of the Roman Catholic Church and established a new doctrine, from which reincarnation was omitted. Christians were instructed to drop any belief that was not covered in the doctrine. However, the belief in reincarnation did not disappear easily, and in fact persisted for centuries afterwards. It the early 13th century, the Pope launched a crusade against the Cathars, a reincarnationist Christian sect in Italy and Southern France, and wiped them out completely. This, and the ensuing Spanish Inquisition with its fatal intolerance for any deviance from strict church doctrine, was finally effective in forcing Christians to give up their belief in reincarnation — at least publicly!
Children and Reincarnation
Children are thought to remember their past lives more readily than adults. Charles Gibson featured a young boy and his down-to-earth parents on an issue of Primetime, which explored the subject of reincarnation. This story is interesting because the little boy who allegedly remembered his past life had died in World War II and some of his buddies and a sister from that life are still alive.
Western Culture's Belief in Past Lives
A 2005 Harris Poll found that 21% of American adults believe in reincarnation, and 25% are unsure. Although it did not give the citation to the Gallup Poll, an article appearing on Catholic Planet noted that according to the poll, 25% of Catholics in the United States believed in reincarnation. The article, which was apparently intended for a Chinese audience, attempted to tie China's growing suicide rate with a belief in reincarnation and warned Catholics that the church did not believe in reincarnation and that, "As parents and elders, it is our duty to correct any misconception regarding reincarnation."
Past Life Regression and Reincarnation
In this 1983 documentary with Australian hypnotherapist Peter Ramster, four women are regressed to their past lives. They then visit the places they remembered while under hypnosis. The results reported on this documentary are fascinating. Could they be faked? Sure. Nonetheless, it is an interesting documentary. If these experiments were not staged, the stone in part 10 is truly remarkable.