Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Reincarnation in LDS Doctrine?

In a book group, I am discussing the book "What Dreams May Come" by Richard Matheson. The members of the book group are mainly LDS so there has been a lot of discussion regarding the ending which portrays reincarnation. Pretty much everything up until that point is pretty analogous to LDS doctrine. I figured I was doing due diligence to read about what has been taught regarding reincarnation too. It seems auspicious that I was introduced to the group Mormon Mystics at the same time, as learning about Joseph Smith's investigation into Kabbalah led me to know that he discussed and taught about the idea of reincarnation.

I know that the term wasn't used until after his death so he never said the word "reincarnation" but he did use terminology synonymous to it. My confusion comes from being unclear in LDS terms what he was referring to. The only sources I've found for this discussion are from Sunstone and this presentation entitled "Reincarnation and The Restoration: Does Joseph Smith's Last Teaching Help Explain Pre-Mortality and Eternal Progression?" offers the clearest explanation, yet the concept is still very unclear to me.

It seems there are two proposals for how reincarnation works in LDS theology:

1) Resurrection and eternal progression means that the same spirit inhabits different bodies though the same personality is present and the bodies resemble the physical body from this life. I heard it proposed that as we progress to perfection, we will live on different planets and fulfill different roles in the plan of salvation for others: as a Holy Ghost, as a Savior, as a God the Father, etc.

2) There are some things in life that require a new body (e.g. grievous sin that cannot be repented of in this life or the world to come--murder is an example or through infant mortality, spontaneous abortion where a spirit does not get a "fair chance" to inhabit mortality). When one of these things occur it becomes expedient for a spirit to enter into a new body to either repent and do better with the new life given them or to get the opportunity to live a full life and the complete experience of mortality.

Both of them could be true simultaneously because they are not mutually exclusive of one another.

There also seemed like there was a choice that could be made, that a person could opt to enter into a new body and earth to improve upon their probation which could be considered an addendum to #2 above.

On to the personal reaction to those ideas: I'm open to accepting them as true but like historical reactions to polygamy, I don't like the sound of it. The plan I like the sound of is (without reincarnation): you live, you die, you spend your time in the spirit world learning and working, you live in the Millennium finishing the work on the earth, you are judged according to your work on earth and in the spirit world, you repent in some area of the spirit world if needed and then you enter into your final abode, get your resurrected body and live in the kingdom you have earned, and while you live there, you learn more and progress to become a god of your own world. If I'm sounding whiny, I am because the idea of reincarnation to me sounds like a lot more work and a harder plan to accomplish. I also have a sense of attachment to who I consider my self. I want to be me through out eternity. I also have reservations on how a doctrine of reincarnation affects eternal families. It seems to me that instead of a chain linking generations together, it becomes a web of links; more like chain mail than a cord.

Even as I wrote about the plan of how I want and how have interpreted it in my understanding, I see multiple opportunities for gaining another body and experiencing mortality again. Perhaps the repenting done after the judgment is done in a mortal probation. Or, like what is portrayed in "What Dreams May Come" while waiting in the spirit world, opportunities to learn come from returning to the earth from which you have departed and going into a new body learn more about mortality (this would solve feeling like there are not enough hours in the day to learn everything there is to learn in this life). Or, yet another opportunity, comes after resurrection when you can lay aside your resurrected body and in preparation to becoming God one again inhabit a mortal body to "rise above and descend below all things" as Christ did (D&C 88:6).

A part of my frustration in understanding this concept is not having text resources to work with. I much prefer to read text and be able to stop and ponder and read the idea over and over again to understand it. I feel limited by the audio presentations. I'll be looking for transcripts of the presentations and hope that I can dig deeper into sources and ideas that way.