I vowed I would write in this blog before the end of New Year's Day, as part of my commitment to expanding my writing beyond the Oprah Discussion Forum. For whatever reason, I find it easier to ask questions, to fully engage people in interactive conversation, and although that can indeed happen with blogs, they tend to be more declarative than interactive.
Even so, perhaps I'm not interacting quite as much as I seem to think on the various forums where I have participated. That's because many questions I have posed go unanswered. Like how is it that so many of us (even me at one time) could even consider the notion of a "God" who would eternally torture people by fire? It is utterly preposterous and devoid of conscience, once you really ponder the implications. Such is the power of the voice of fear. But the voice of Love, combined with the voice of reason, is more powerful still.
Mentioning the voice of reason, I found myself following well-known skeptic Michael Shermer on Twitter in the past couple of weeks. I couldn't resist directing a couple of tweets his way in response to some debate points that went unanswered during a recent CNN debate on the afterlife with Dr. Shermer, Deepak Chopra and others.
Who was it that decided closing your mind completely to the potentials of the true human experience is "reasonable" or "rational"? Who was it that decided that dismissing even exploring the possibility of some form of GUIDED evolution is "reasonable" or "rational"? Who was it that decided that all spiritual experience can be placed in a pre-defined box, labeled with one of the major religions and then dismissed?
Not all spiritual experience fits inside a neatly defined box. Indeed most of it does not. Neither is investigation into spiritual phenomena devoid of science, or of reason. In fact, such investigation outside the box is precisely what science has always been all about.
During the CNN debate, Dr. Shermer asked a question regarding reincarnation that I thought was very inadequately answered. He also made a dismissive comment about a particular famous reincarnation case which was one of those evasive diversions typical of so many skeptics, not actually based on the facts that had just been explained moments earlier. Since I just happen to be becoming unexpectedly engaged in objective, logic-based reincarnation research myself, I think Dr. Shermer deserves a reasonable and rational response.
Dr. Shermer noted that his biggest objection to reincarnation is that the numbers do not add up, given the number of people on the Earth today or the numbers that have existed in the past.
Whether the numbers increase or decrease, the answer to Dr. Shermer's conundrum is really very simple.
More people are living on the Earth right now than at any time in Earth's history. There are also times on the Earth when the population has been reduced. Where could those souls possibly be? On CNN, there was essentially a non-answer from one of the other panelists suggesting they might be reincarnated as cockroaches. Sigh, yet another box, defining reincarnation itself based on age-old assumptions from an ancient religion. We must think outside those boxes too, leaving dogma out of it.
So here are some very REASONABLE and RATIONAL possible answers to the question, answered within the framework of postulating that reincarnation could indeed be true:
1) When the number of incarnations increase on the planet, it is completely possible that they are being created. Do we assume the number of the souls in the Universe is static, or can they increase? Do we assume that a single soul can only have one incarnation ongoing at a given time?
2) Another very reasonable consideration is that souls are incarnating in multiple locations in the Universe, essentially on tour, even in parallel, not just in this little corner of the Universe we call Planet Earth.
Many are quick to scoff at such notions, but let's talk about reason here. As they say in the movie "Contact", if Earth is the only inhabited planet, it would be "an awful waste of space", not to mention as Earth-centric and ignorant as we were in the Middle Ages. Only a reasonable person would conclude that statistical probabilities point to a Universe teeming with life, even if intelligent life exists on a very small percentage of planets. Carl Sagan is a notable atheist/agnostic who certainly entertained this notion.
And if you choose to ponder reincarnation, as was the case during the CNN debate, that makes the numbers game a no-brainer, whether the numbers on Earth increase OR decrease.
3) And there is yet another option. One can reasonably speculate within the framework of reincarnation that there is a place where souls go in between incarnations. How do we know how long they stay there? This could easily explain variations in the number of people incarnated on Earth (or anywhere else) at any one time. Those souls are simply unincarnated at this time. Is that so difficult to understand as a reasonable possibility?
And BTW, there is also reason to believe that each incarnation continues its existence in some state, as what is created does not necessarily need to be destroyed, nor would that impact other incarnations of the same soul. We do NOT need to believe we return to the ocean as little drops, as Deepak Chopra speculated during the debate - any obliteration of a life once lived is essentially akin to the annihilistic version of hell.
Yet another comment of Dr. Shermer's completely ignored the facts of a reincarnation case which had just been clearly explained to him. He made a statement suggesting that the young boy James Leininger, who had memories of being a World War II pilot could have just had an interest in pilots, building model airplanes, etc. The statement clearly implied that the boy was his current age when he came up with all of this, befuddling the actual facts of the case.
What Dr. Shermer failed to address was that the boy came up with many of these facts at a very young age, starting as young as 2 or 3, long before most boys are building model airplanes or studying obscure details of world wars. And how does that explain how the boy knew the name of the ship, a ship so obscure that the father had to research history to find it?
Of course, you could suppose that the parents are not telling the truth (not something I think is the case, but no possibility can be ruled out). That's why reincarnation cases based on hearsay alone are not easily proven to a skeptic.
An even more compelling aspect of this case (and many reincarnation cases) is that James Leininger has an eerie resemblance to James Huston Jr., the fighter pilot in question, not to mention the statistically unlikely "coincidence" of sharing the same first name. That never came up on CNN, but photographic parallels are without a doubt the most compelling, observable evidence of reincarnation, especially when discovered among an entire group of people.
There are other cases where not only does one person look like the person from the past, but a parent looks like a parent of this same individual from the past, friends look like friends from the past, etc. This is when statistical probabilities come into play, as in some cases there are astronomical odds that all of these photographic parallels could occur through mere coincidence, particularly if you have life parallels, names and skills carried forward and/or memories as well in the mix. This happens to be an area I'm studying myself.
One more note about the CNN debate....I was dismayed to see the fear injected by the doctor who mentioned the hell-like experiences people have at death, suggesting that those people go on to change their lives to avoid such a fate. If you study the statistics, such experiences are much, much rarer than positive experiences. And it really is within the realm of possibility that some of what occurs in these scenarios is akin to dreaming, whether a good dream or a nightmare.
Some people have been so indoctrinated with stories of hell all of their lives that their fears at death might be so powerful they could indeed allow their fears to get away with them in that dreamlike near-death state. I don't find such cases to be convincing. When the evidence gets more compelling is if people are able to describe what was happening in the room when they were floating above their body after death. I thought the story of the blind woman describing the room was particularly interesting and would like to study that case more myself.
Apparently Deepak Chopra is going to debate Michael Shermer again. I happened to see Deepak live at the ABC Nightline debate on the existence of Satan. I think Deepak can be quite effective with Dr. Shermer, but only if he doesn't let him get away with assumptions or unfounded observations.
As I venture into the New Year, I sense the time is coming for me to expand my own discussions to include atheists and skeptics. Ex-evangelical Frank Schaeffer in his book "Patience with God" echoes what many of us have been observing for quite some time regarding another form of Fundamentalist zeal taking root in our society, demanding conformity to their unproven assumptions about reality. This has also been a point of discussion among non-atheist, non-agnostic ex-evangelicals in the Oprah forum.
New voices of reason need to be heard above the fray, those who know how to balance spirituality with logic, without resorting to the assumptions and intrusiveness of Fundamentalism, those who have learned what having an open inquiring mind actually involves, those who can even find ways to systematically and thoroughly present objective evidence of life after death.