It's not unusual for a person to believe in reincarnation nowadays. In fact, it's almost become commonplace, especially in the Shirley MacLaine/Oprah Winfrey age in which we live.
What is unusual, however, is for an evangelical, fundamentalist Christian with twenty years of church indoctrination under his belt to not only embrace the concept, but end up writing a book on it. That just doesn't happen—or, at least, it's not supposed to.
So why the change of heart (and spiritual direction)? What caused me to accept an idea that flies in the face of practically everything I believed to be true for almost twenty years? Further, how does one put aside decades worth of dogma and forge a new path of discovery, especially if that path means walking away from a belief structure that has been a major component of one's life?
Believe me, it's not easy, but I really had no choice. You see, I never set out to believe in reincarnation. In fact, I used to argue against it, not from the position of knowledge, but from the more comfortable perspective of presumption. I simply assumed reincarnation, an ancient teaching I neither understood nor appreciated at the time, was not true purely because the church told me it wasn't (sometimes it's much easier to have others do your thinking for you; it saves time and prevents many a sleepless night).
So what made me change direction? Was it some sort of epiphany or the powerful arguments of a New Age guru that did it? Or was it the byproduct of a sudden realization that perhaps my faith didn't have all the answers as I'd supposed? No doubt all those things played a part, but the truth be told, it was really hell that did it for me. That's right, hell.
It was the cherished doctrine of eternal damnation that brought me to the reincarnationist's table. Not that I had concerns for my own semi-repentant soul, mind you; I was a born-again Christian who knew my final estate would be Heaven, so there was very little angst about that. What I couldn't seem to "get" was the idea that God's divine justice demanded that everyone—at least everyone outside my faith—be doomed to hell, mostly for, as far as I could tell, having the misfortune of being born in the wrong place and the wrong time. It was the old, "What about those who have never heard of Jesus?" objection (that has been the bane of Sunday school teachers since the church first put out its shingle) that I had trouble with. I could buy the idea that the stubbornly unrepentant deserved their fiery fate, but the idea never set well with me that billions of people around the world who had never heard of Jesus of Nazareth were likewise doomed. It was as if I instinctively understood that there had to be more to the question than the standard answer of, "We don't know what happens to those people but God loves them too and will deal with them fairly." It simply wasn't enough.
It was the process itself that I had trouble with. It seemed absurdly wasteful and superficial, as though billions of people meant nothing in the greater scheme of things. I couldn’t accept the idea that three out of four souls born on this planet were destined for a godless eternity, or that the vast majority of human beings who have ever lived were now wandering in outer darkness without even the hope of reprieve. There had to be more to it than that. More to the process. More to God.
It was reincarnation that gave me the solution. It was only through seeing our existence on this planet not as a single brief experience, but in the context of a hundred such visits that I was able to understand the Divine. That was what allowed me to see that everything we've done—no matter how selfish or "evil"—are a part of the sometimes painful path towards spiritual maturation, and how it forces us to take responsibility for our own lives and actions and so grow beyond our very human frailties and weaknesses. That is what "saved" me from the God of my youth.
Mystery of Reincarnation is the end result of that realization. It is the culmination of five years of study and thoughtful meditation, put together in an easy-to-read format, that is designed to tackle the most perplexing concepts the theory entails. Far from being just another rehash of case studies or the musings of somebody's spirit guide, it is instead a carefully considered argument for the idea, told from a hopefully objective and balanced perspective, that I believe will be of help to modern audiences who struggle with the question of immortality. It is, in short, the sort of book I might have benefited from had I come across it twenty years ago, which is really the best kind of book to write.
I only wish I had come across the idea earlier; it might have saved God from his bad reputation, and showed me that the face of the Divine is not one of judgment, condemnation, and wrath, but one of eternal patience, endless opportunities and unconditional love. That is the gift reincarnation gives us. It is the gift of God.
J. Allan Danelek is also the author of The Case for Reincarnation.