Reincarnation, Mormon style

In a PEW survey a few months back, 24% of American adults indicated that they believed in reincarnation (ie, that people will be reborn into this world again and again). Apparently many Christians don’t have a problem overlapping their Christianity with Eastern beliefs. For example, “roughly one-in-ten white evangelicals believes in reincarnation, compared with 24% among mainline Protestants, 25% among both white Catholics and those unaffiliated with any religion, and 29% among black Protestants.”

I have not considered myself among those who seamlessly coordinate reincarnation with Christianity. But the following quotes have given me pause to reconsider:

The character of those who are such sticklers for it [working against law and Christianity] will perish, for they are taking the downward road to destruction. They will be decomposed, both soul and body, and return to their native element. I do not say that they will be annihilated; but they will be disorganized, and will be as though they never had been, while we will live and retain our identity, and contend against those principle[s] which tend to death or dissolution. I am after life; I want to preserve my identity, so that you can see Brigham in the eternal worlds just as you see him now. I want to see that eternal principle of life dwelling within us which will exalt us eternally in the presence of our Father and God. If you wish to retain your present identity in the morn of the resurrection, you must so live that the principle of life will be within you as a well of water springing up unto eternal life.  JD 7:57 ? p.58, Brigham Young, June 27, 1858

President Brigham Young has suggested that the ultimate punishment of the sons of perdition may be that they, having their spiritual bodies disorganized, must start over again—must begin anew the long journey of existence, repeating the steps that they took in the eternities before the Great Council was held. That would be punishment, indeed.  John A. Widstoe, Evidences and Reconciliation, 213

Perhaps a limited reincarnation—according to these statements—is compatible with my LDS beliefs. In fact, while I certainly don’t want to repeat a thousand awkward high school moments or the day I fell rock climbing and shattered my leg, being “dis-organized” and trying the whole thing again sounds better than the hell of outer darkness—not that I’m aiming for either of those options. A God who gives the worst of the worst a “do-over” sounds like just the kind of merciful Father who does all in His power to bring about the salvation of his children.

28 comments for “Reincarnation, Mormon style

  1. A God who gives the worst of the worst a “do-over”

    Your comment on “do-over” gave me a good laugh for today. I like how Elder Widstoe said, “President Brigham Young has suggested”. Suggested is the key. This is very interesting and plausible and shows the love of our Heavenly Father. Good post.

  2. I take hope in D&C 76:43-46 —

    …except those sons of perdition who deny the Son after the Father has revealed him…. And the end thereof, neither the place thereof, nor their torment, no man knows; Neither was it revealed, neither is, neither will be revealed unto man, except to them who are made partakers thereof…

    That leaves some doors open, and even if they’re not very pleasant doors, they could certainly be better than eternal suffering in hell.

  3. Didn’t Bruce R weigh in on this in Mormon Doctrine? My ref books are in storage right now.

  4. Very interseting data, Kylie. It’s hard to talk about the LDS view of reincarnation without a better theory of incarnation, the process by which spirits are fused with bodies. LDS commentators nevertheless state quite confidently that we reject reincarnation. Here’s a link to the Encyclopedia of Mormonism writeup, by Spencer J. Palmer:

    There’s an obvious response to that summary: LDS doctrine affirms spirit possession, a form of incarnation, and evil spirits don’t appear to be limited to one unwelcome visit. A literal reading of the New Testament gets you to the same place: exorcised evil spirits are held to have the power to reincarnate at some later time. So it seems to me that LDS doctrine does affirm reincarnation for at least some spirits.

  5. response to #2 Dane

    I went back and read D&C and I’m always fascinated with the terms everlasting, endless and eternal. Many forget that this is Gods punishment and the only kind that God can administer. Because his name is Eternal, Endless and Everlasting.

    Question to you Dane in conjunction with verse 44 in D&C 76 where it says “reign with the devil and his angels in eternity”. Elder Widstoe said, “having their spiritual bodies disorganized” and would you not need at least a spiritual body to reign? I thought Cain was to be over Satan in outer darkness because he had a body and that all will be resurrected.

  6. Along with the Multiple Mortal Probations goodness, you might like this extended bit on Young’s spirit destructionism. Young was a spirit creationist, so it makes sense that he believed they could be destroyed. Contrast this with Joseph Smith’s ring analogy and the idea that “God never did have the power to create the spirit of man at all.”

  7. Brigham Young also speculated that spirits of babies who are still born would be born again in a different body, if I remember correctly. (Justin, where is that quote?) If we assume, for the sake of argument, that the spirit enters the body at conception, then I would be fine with a doctrine of reincarnation for aborted babies. I know this is a tender topic for those who have lost babies, though. I don’t begrudge those who hold the opposing view.

  8. I think what BY seems to advocate in the quote you share is not any form of reincarnation but in fact the opposite, absolute death. Reincarnation seems to get traction in belief systems because it provides hope of another chance and of immortality, even if in an altered state. BY’s thoughts suggest death of the most irreversible type. To argue that is similar to reincarnation is similar to arguing that we are reincarnated because worms will eat our decomposing bodies.

  9. So wait, we could conceivably be giving the worst of the worst a second chance through this life, in which they could conceivably pay for their sins and enter into the Celestial Kingdom? Should not everyone who cannot enter the Celestial Kingdom get this miracle chance that seems to be only reserved for the worst of the worst?

  10. I don’t think Brigham Young’s position can fairly be characterized as reincarnation-ist at all, for the reason that personal identity is lost during the process. Quasi-annihilationist is more like it.

    Each of us probably carries one or more of the atoms that were part of every living person who lived more than a couple thousand years ago, and I don’t think we should normally be considered the reincarnation of those individuals.

  11. I recently studied this a bit and here is the summary of what I learned (from my blog):

    The two presentations I linked to are audio files which is not as conducive to researching as text. Recently, on the group Mormon Mystics (linked to on my post as well), some text citations were given.

    Of course, after reading this post, I’ll have to amend my post to include three proposals for how reincarnation could work in LDS doctrine.

  12. Yep I agree with Mark D. and Marko. The BY quote in the post does not support the idea of a “second chance” for our spirits. Rather it supports the idea of merciful and final destruction of wayward spirits. Sure the deconstructed spirit atoms in his theory might be used as raw materials and incorporated in different spirits later, but those quotes assume the original spirit is destroyed forever.

    For something closer to reincarnation see Orson Pratt’s (and others) multiple mortal probations theory. In that model spirits persist through the eternities but they inhabit many mortal bodies — presumably on many inhabited planets — in their eternal progression/retrogression journey.

  13. Response to #10 J. Stapley

    J. I just got through reading The King Follett Discourse and thought that very same thing. This is a good point. Question, do we treat The King Follett Discourse as an elaboration on true doctrine or just some thoughts.

  14. bryanp, I wish there were a simple test to answer your question. I treat it, for the most part, as doctrine because it makes sense to me. But that’s really just another way of saying, “I like it, so it must be true.”

  15. This is a topic that I’ve thought about for some time. It always seems that doctrines of other religions have some sort of ties to doctrines of the church, whether extremely warped or otherwise. I was wondering where Hindus got the idea of reincarnation. Honestly, I admit I have no idea what the connection is, and what the exact doctrine is, but those are some excellent ideas to consider about over the next few months and years.

  16. Bryanp, I generally read the King Follett Sermon and the subsequent “Sermon in the Grove” to be (among a number of other things) public commentary on the Temple liturgy. You may like this treatment of the text itself.

  17. Thanks everyone for the discussion. My day ran away, and I’m just getting back to this. I’m interested in your comments and now have lots of reading to do.

  18. Reincarnation is easy to disprove. A common theme of people who believe in reincarnation is that they believe they were King Henry the 8th or Queen Elizabeth in another life. Funny how no one wants to be a peasant. At that great and last day we will all be standing there at the judgement bar. Queen Elizabeth and King Henry the 8th will be there. How can you be them in a previous life if you are all standing there together? You are you for all eternity and ain’t nothin gonna change that.

  19. Paul, in the bible says this:

    Heb. 9: 27:

    “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.”

  20. Response to J. Stapley #21

    Thanks for the heads up on the Sermon in the Grove. I will definitely look into that.

  21. I think Perdition’s graveyard is a black hole where matter is “deconstructed” into it’s native elements, which are available to be re-used to organize a new (non-reincarnated) spirit identity.

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