Reincarnation and human nature

I find that being a transracial adopted person, with international roots, has not hurt thinking in a ways beyond local norms.  My adoptive parents were Episcopal Christians and I remain an Episcopal Christian (in fact am an Episcopal priest), but they were a little upset that I was reading what I was and asking about things like reincarnation. Christianity has insisted for many centuries that the human being originates in God and comes to birth only once.  Death happens only once.  There are a few passages in the New Testament that suggest that in those ancient times, other thoughts and feelings existed that allowed more complex ways of thinking about identity.  For example, the apostles were free to tell Jesus who some people believed him to be: John the baptist, Jeremiah or some other prophet.

Judaism was in general less concerned with previous lives than one’s coming from God and God’s in-working with the body, like a potter with clay.  Some from that period were concerned with reincarnation, even in the west.  In the east, reincarnation is normal and the basic human problem is seen in terms of birth.  The goal is to escape the wheel of birth.  Leaving aside all considerations of karma that lend credibility to the notion that adoption is a sort of punishment for past sins, does a notion that human beings are eternal and that particular incarnations manifest a continuity (with freedom) across ages and world epochs help or hinder one coming to rest with the facts of losing first parents and landing in strange environments?  In other words, if human nature spans many lifetimes, how one relates to particular historical events and experiences is put in a larger context. The larger context may not make anything magically feel better, but does it offer a wider and helpful line of inquiry towards self-discovery?

17 thoughts on “Reincarnation and human nature

  1. As an initial framing, I want to make clear that contemplating Western varieties of intolerant monotheism (Judaism or Christianity alike) depresses and/or angers me. At a fractiously bare minimum it represents the antithesis of anything that warrants the name religion or spirituality for me, and may be utterly antithetic to anything religious or spiritual in general, particularly due to the ignorance of the notions of monotheism itself and original sin.

    The notion of adoption as a karmic punishment is only half the picture argumentatively. Whatever I might think about adoption as human trafficking, it cannot be that reincarnation as an adoptee can only be a punishment. In any case, “punishment” tends to be an incorrect word where karma is concerned. Karma is simply cause and effect; it has no “moral enforcer” behind it. To screw up in this life and be reincarnated in a “lesser form” (and there are debates about just how far backward you can really go) is not a punishment doled out by some celestial authority, but simply the consequence of one’s actions in life. Similarly, there is no such thing as a karmic reward. If I reincarnate as a snail, then, this represents a backward step toward enlightenment in one sense, but it is also (apparently) the path I need to take, as I (Buddha assures us) will reach enlightenment (liberation from rebirth) eventually as well. So, on this view, even if adoption is a “backward step” it is still a part of the progress toward enlightenment, but there is also no reason to assume that adoption in itself must be a backward step. For one, perhaps we wee heinous murderers previously, and now here we are as adoptees–that would be one argument, if you wanted to resort to that. From an Indian perspective, one can say that birth in the Western world is a step backward or perhaps it is the first staging ground (after animals, for instance) towards future greater enlightenment. Etc.

    Oops … out of time … more later.

  2. So then, to continue:

    I be clear, when I say Judaism and Christianity depress and anger me, this has a specific relationship to being adopted. I was raised by non-pushy Episcopalians, so it’s not that I have some hardcore Baptist oppression going on or Pentecostal craziness. I wasn’t abused by nuns (or priests, for that matter). My father, however, was physically violent (less than many I’m sure, but more than enough for me) and I semi-consciously shifted by hatred of him to “God” the Father, because rebelling against YHVH was safer. It would probably be psychologically (though not factually) accurate to say that Jehovah molested me.

    I say all this as the context for my comments and not to merely offer anecdotes about my life.

    In the face of an intellectually insulting religious tradition, the notion that heaven 9and hell) are necessarily temporary conditions, that suffering is a consequence of karma, that “reality” may be understood in lucid, rational (that is not to say reasonable) terms all made Western “religion” and “spirituality” seem hopelessly provincial, hopelessly narrow-minded, hopelessly badly informed. In a word, hopelessly benighted.

    That benightedness can only inform one’s whole existential view of the world, all events, all circumstances, all places and times, both personal and transpersonal, both histroical and transhistorical. Part of the resentment that one could easily sense in what I am writing is how such a benighted view not only made me stupid (in personal, transpersonal, historical, and transhistorical terms), but also (tried to?) “cripple” me by making the starting point of my entrance into life one that was essentially a no-starter from go. I loathe that I have to encounter the word “God” in the sickeningly limited form that I do (in my head); that’s the starting point. It’s the eternal echo that will not stop resonating. I want “God” to be “Brahman”–I want never to think “God” ever again, or to encounter that grotesque, lying misprision of Brahman ever again. And thus here I am, living in a culture, surrounded by people who use the word and make all kinds of excuses for its use–it’s like being lectured by the blind about visual phenomenon. So, of course, reincarnation and karma would shift a view of the world from an otherwise pathetically hobbled 9crippled) view of such matters.

    It is not necessary for reincarnation to be “real” to reap the wider contexts it provides. Instead of (selfishly) worrying about the disposition of my soul (heaven or hell) after death, I recognize that I will (most likely) be coming back into the world, then I may be encouraged to take a longer view of matters than simply whatever is in front of my nose. Even with the notion of liberation (fromt he wheel of rebirth), the conceptual metaphysics of Indian thought provides that Brahman incarnates in the first place for the sake of reachieving enlightenment over and over, because it is bliss to do so. So, even if “I” escape (the scare-quotes are necessary), “I” (as Brahman) will start over again, so even here I can be concerned about the state of the world. To say this does not point to some “perverse” activity on the part of Brahman, who thwarts our best efforts at liberation by reincarnating us all over again, because we already are Brahman, but do not grasp this in our (necessarily) limited and partial understanding. So, in both the short and the long term, the notion of reincarnation provides a basis for engagement in the world (if we choose to emphasize it) that is completely irrational in a Western spiritual sense.

  3. And … back yet again:

    The New Testament debate, salvation by grace or works, tends to resolve (necessarily and, in terms of the terms proposed, correctly I would say) to grace. If I am unworthy, then I can indeed do nothing to deserve salvation, so grace is necessary. Never mind that this leaves open the question of how one can become “open to grace” if no action can be effective; file that under the dubious heading of “mystery”. But of course, salvation by grace then means that “church” is wholly unnecessary. If there is nothing i can do, then church can certainly do nothing for grace either. And this correct and consistent conclusion utterly removes any economic basis for a church. Once I’m saved, I can sit on my hands and nothing more is required of me. I can murder people, and nothing more is required of me. I can molest children, and nothing more is required of me. Nothing, no good deeds, no bad deeds, make any difference. And so the two arguments appear: one, that one will know the state of grace by its fruits and, secondly, while grace is all one needs, one may nevertheless, through works, improve your walk with the Lord while in this life prior to death. The latter is not at all required, but why not? One might as well. The former, of course, is the disingenuous necessity in the face of the notion of salvation by grace. People will say, “I’m saved,” but if they’re still whoring and drinking and carrying on, this makes it hard for the church to exert any influence (and thus to maintain itself economically), and so it becomes necessary to attack the claim 9that people make), “I’m already saved.” I’m compressing the argument for the sake of brevity, but I acknowledge that theologians have tried to wiggle out of this mess in various duplicitous ways.

    Here, the vision is an attempt to justify karmic good deeds in teh face of an assertion of salvation (enlightenment) by grace (what in India would be called bhakti yoga). For Krishna, the preeminent bhakti yogist, there’s no nonsense about good works–being saved by grace (i.e., putting one’s faith perfectly in the Lord), from there joy and good deeds follow (or not) but there’s no moral injunction, even if certain gurus may organize bhakti yoga in such a way that there is (the Krishna Consciousness guru, for instance). In a Christian setting, all of this is possible but is infrequently emphasized, and logically enough since this world ultimately doesn’t matter–only heaven or hell do.

    Judaism, by contrast, tends not to have heaven or hell at all. One’s moral injunction is to lead a moral existence (by “blindly” or at least obediently following YHVH’s Laws). The “reward” for this is that your descendants will flourish and you will be remembered as a moral person. So here, we encounter a distinctly nonhistorical sense of terrestrial deed-doing. “This world” doesn’t matter any more than it does in a Christian setting beyond one’s immediate community of faith, whether understood literally (as the local neighborhood) or in a wider diasporic sense (the Jewish faith community generally). This doesn’t mean one cannot engage the world, of course. Just as Christian can practice (unnecessary) charity in a fallen world, Judaism can take cognizance of social or historical realities, particularly as they impinge upon the faith community itself. but the terms of the religion itself do not demand this, do not even acknowledge this in fact. All that matters is that I am a righteous man in my own lifetime, because I will die (and descend, at best, into Sheol), and if I focused on historical events at all while alive, it was only with respect to their immediate, here and now, impact on “me” (understood as my self in the faith community generally). the whole notion of history, in this context, is locked away in the mystery of YHVH. Most assuredly, there is the conceit of YHVH’s providence (found also in Christianity), but the details of it are inaccessible to mortals; only prophets occasionally get a glimpse of it, but the rest of us are clueless. We can only keep our heads down, obey YHVH’s Laws, and place our faith in that. Thus, I don’t have to concern myself with the implications of committing slow-motion genocide on the people in Damascus country–I just have to obey, today and now, and if I am righteous, my descendants will be a sign of it.

  4. Part of me feels guilty for carrying on like this, but it’s not like this topic lends itself to brief formulations. and I’m aware that what I’ve posted so far is largely a critique of prevailing tendencies, rather than much of an offer arising from what reincarnation (as a concept) could portend.

    It’s important to bear in mind that reincarnation is deemed the problem to be solved in India, rather than the blessed alternative to the West’s one death. In an Indian context, if there is any social activism in this life for the sake of a better world in the future to reincarnate into, nevertheless once reincarnated (even in that better world), reincarnation will still be a problem. The suffering to be adverted will remain fundamental. Hence the emphasis on escape; reincarnation, in this context, is a failed attempt at escape. So whatever good deeds one is enjoined to do in this lifetime are less for the sake of a better future and more so that one never has to experience that better future. This puts us in the same kind of moral territory as Judaism, especially where Indian social mores injunct people (born into various castes) simply to “do your dharma”–i.e., obey the rules of behaviour as laid down for that caste. Even Krishna in the Bhagavad-Gia gives this as his first answer to Arjuna. And it will be teh case that doing one’s dharma does not permit “social activism” though one can remember as well that this is merely Krishna’s first answer–he has more for those who find “do your dharma” insufficient.

    I want to use the above to compare the social consequences of the notion of reincarnation not to Judaism or Christianity but to an areligious view in general–that we’re just human beings rattling around on the planet. In other words, why should atheists or agnostics “adopt” (pun not intended) the notion of reincarnation.

    The above shows that “doing one’s dharma” (as justified by its self-serving increase of likelihood that one will be, if not liberated then, at least reincarnated more favorably) can be a basis for positive social action here and now. Assuredly, in a context of caste, doing one’s dharma cripples the notion of positive social change (i.e., it argues effectively for the maintenance of the status quo); it nevertheless incorporates a view, if not a threat, of the future which Christianity, Judaism, and agnosticism/atheism do not.

    If we live in a merely dog-eat-dog universe, then tomorrow doesn’t matter except in a bunch of abstract arguments (the most pressing being global boiling and peak oil) that either have little personal appeal or are too gigantic to feel engagable. I venture that if people put some thought into these things, the most frequent response would be a sense of doom–like death, there’s nothing to be done about it, so live for today. But one needn’t invoke these horrific facts to stay solidly in the domain of “live for today, for tomorrow never knows”. The dominant economic neoliberalism current previaling, the anti-social behavior of corporations towards people in jobs, the instability of the financial world as a mockery of any attempt to work forward financial security (much less retirement), the impermanence of jobs that mocks any aspiration to having a stable career, the erosion of the job market tht makes a mockery of getting a college degree geared to a particular industry, the widespread undermployment tht makes a mockery of being financially responsible in the first place (i.e., the habit of running up credit card debt–and the entire financial industry that preys upon and benefits from credit-card debt), the increasing centralization and oligarchies of media corporations that makes a mockery of attempting even to be informed about the world so that one can make adjustments in it to obtain a career, financial stability, or a home, the expense of access to health care and changes in the chain of food production that make a mockery of trying to be and eat well, &c–all of this contributes to a perfectly rational decision to take no cognizance of the future beyond the most immediate one. Existentially, postmodernism offers the gesture–whether it is effective or not–of construing even the most heinous absurdity of the present in (personally or socially) fulfilling terms so that, again, one need not consider anything further than the persent–nevermind that despair probably sets in as soon as one tries to get past the neoliberal economic structures that hem us in all around.

    The notion of reincarnation offers an alternative to the current social trap (in the US and places like it). Reincarnation, even applied in the most selfish way, cannot erase the long-term past or long-term future 9understood as something further temporally afield than “yesterday” or “tomorrow”). whether reincarnation can effectively offer a change is not the point; the current areligious (neoliberal postmodern) view is a permanent trap. It (areligious postmodernism) is the Christian state of grace all over again. If one could simply get high, in this moment now, and then continue that state of intoxication indefinitely, there is life as we currently know it in its barest form. It may be that that intoxication comes through the emotional rush of extreme sports, through connoisseurship of various commodities, masturbation or sex of a physical or intellectual sort, and so forth. This is the opposite of Buddhism’s nonattachment; it is, rather, absolute attachment to the here and now of experience, driven to fetishize euphoria (or depression, or anger, or whatever immediate affect one makes a mountain of).

    Of course, most of us are not in a position–or are simply too self-reflective–to be able to pull this fast one on ourselves for too long. We may say “lvie for today, because tomorrow never comes,” but nevertheless tomorrow comes in the form of the next today. Of course, the matter is not this simplified. People do feel the dread and press of tomorrow–they know they may become sick, become unemployed, become homeless, etc.,, tomorrow, no matter how hard they try today to avoid that. People make plans, sometimes they work out, sometimes they don’t. I would say this covertly “acknowledges reincarnation” while living an areligious postmodernism that wants to pretend reincarnation “doesn’t exist”.

    At root, reincarnation is the acknowledgment that tomorrow will come (as opposed to areligious postmodernism, which pretends otherwise). in this sense, reincarnation is “right,” such that embracing it as a concept (not necessarily as a metaphysical literal) not only puts us individually in a better position to get a grasp of life as we are living it generally but also on the broader social plane (of living together with other human beings generally). Reincarnation, as a concept, offers a critique of the dominant areligious postmodern hyperindividualism that has been steadily eroding the quality of life indirectly (for people in the “First-World”) and directly (for people in the non First World, through the form of predatory globalization, colonization, wars, externalized costs, labor exploitation, resource despoliation, &c). Conceptually, it’s not an end-all be-all, but it’s a necessary starting point.

    • Snow Leopard writes, “Conceptually, it’s [reincarnation] not an end-all be-all, but it’s a necessary starting point.”


      Very interesting how you bring in postmodernism and neoliberalism and move beyond the religious frame towards a larger realism. Let me see if I understand, reincarnation is a necessary concept for engagement with the world as persons with ability to take responsibility for our actions.

      • Hi Mark:

        In replying here, I’m partly addressing something Daniel said as well.

        When I said that reincarnation is a necessary starting point, I meant “necessary” in the sense of “necessary, if not yet sufficient.” And the necessity I was pointing to was in generating an alternative to the current undesirable social order that “governs” (constrains) the lives of those steeped in postmodern neoliberalism (and those, around the world, who it egregiously affects).

        As a question of competing world-views encoded in how I am describing on the one hand reincarnation (one in which, fundamentally, humans encounter one another not as blank slates that might be used as resources and a world where tomorrow exists and acts as a governor on my/our utilization of the world’s resources not only for the immediate/short-term gratification) compared to how on the other hand I am describing postmodern neoliberalism (where, under the banner of freedom, I’m licensed to use humans and the world however I name them), then I assert that the former is not only morally preferable but also pragmatically more tenable.

        So, I’m proposing neither that we must accept the metaphysics of reincarnation nor even its theological hook (this is my sidelong reply to Daniel). The term “reincarnation,” arising as it does out of the transcendental human experience of sensed continuity in the world, does not have to be described in religious or theological or spiritual terms. By “transcendental human experience of sensed continuity,” I mean that humankind generally has acknowledged that life continues. Trees die (in winter) and come back to life; the woolly caterpillar in the Arctic literally freezes to death for fourteen winters before finally undergoing a transformation into a moth. I need to repeat that–it literally freezes to death. One can say that it “ice hibernates,” but only because it would seem somehow incorrect to say it “dies” and “resurrects” in Spring. The human belief in a soul that persists after death is, at its root, not a wish-fulfilmment (as it tends to seem these days in Judeochristian etc settings). The persistence of the human soul is, in its oldest senses, as empirical of a concept as one could find, and that’s why reincarnation is a problem, rather than good news, in India. Overwhelmingly, the most dominant spiritual idea one finds in virtually every culture is reincarnation–and, as you noted, even protochristianity reflected this, and the notions of heaven and hell are themselves weak varieties of the idea.

        I don’t believe we have souls that persist, but in the social domain it is not a question of metaphysical truth. People do all kinds of things under the false belief that the biblical deity exists; that doesn’t stop them in the least. So it’s not apposite at all whether reincarnation is “real” or not; all kinds of people do things under the false belief that it is real, and that doesn’t stop them one bit. Rather, I am saying that between the premises and consequences of belief (in the false belief) of reincarnation versus the premises and consequences of belief (in the false belief) of postmodern neoliberalism, that we’ll get to a more desirable social structure, have a better quality of human interaction (and hence a more satisfying time lived on this earth), and a more tenable and sustainable attitude toward our world and our neighbors (human and otherwise) that live in it.

        When I hear the distinction some people offer these days that, “I’m spiritual, not religious,” I now reject that, for bunches of reasons. (My rejection is because I hear this claim in the United States; elsewhere in the world, it might have nothing like the “ring” it does around here.) I prefer to say I am interested in “the sacred” (particularly in Eliade’s sense). The sacred is eminently immanent–the transcendental in me can encounter the transcendental in you, but that occurs in an immanent, face-to-face moment. The sacred represents the trace of an experience rather than the profession of a truth; it is a record of an encounter with the numinous, not an article of faith about the reality of the divine. I mean reincarnation in this sense, as pointing toward the sacred–as pointing to the experience of my encounter with your numinous otherliness, not a claim about your spiritual actuality; as expressing the inexpressible momentousness of the world as I encounter it, not my claim of rectitude and justification for using it.

      • “By “transcendental human experience of sensed continuity,” I mean that humankind generally has acknowledged that life continues. Trees die (in winter) and come back to life; the woolly caterpillar in the Arctic literally freezes to death for fourteen winters before finally undergoing a transformation into a moth.”

        Yes, when I think of reincarnation I think of a tree passing through the season. It is part of nature and so is the human being. I don’t thing there needs to be a “hook” to the notion at all.

        “I am saying that between the premises and consequences of belief (in the false belief) of reincarnation versus the premises and consequences of belief (in the false belief) of postmodern neoliberalism, that we’ll get to a more desirable social structure, have a better quality of human interaction (and hence a more satisfying time lived on this earth), and a more tenable and sustainable attitude toward our world and our neighbors (human and otherwise) that live in it.”

        Maybe the problem is belief. What if humanity can know itself without recourse to theologies or traditions? This seems implied by an “experience of my encounter with your numinous otherliness.” This experience is not through a tradition or doctrine but in fact.

        Adoption creates a population who may be disposed to views out of sync with the placed-society so that the placed-society can come under fresh scrutiny: the society’s beliefs seen through. At the same time, the views felt or intuited are not perfectly clear to the adoptee. Something new is called for, a way to understand words and ideas that are not indigenous to one’s social information.

      • Mark: I’m focusing here on one point to disagree but generally generally agree with the rest of what you’ve written.

        i have a very difficult time getting rid of the word “belief”. I agree we might be able to find a way to forego belief via theologies and traditions in the (rather vague) sense that we are referring to it. Basically, I suspect that “belief” is a “human experience” (not a religious or even scientifically empirical experience). This is the sense in which I’m not sure we an do without it or would want to. The problem is scientific or religious belief–the problem is the adjective (scientific or religious), which then trumps the noun, belief, and turns it into the thing that we’re identifying as a problem.

        My basic guess is that the problem with such (scientific or religious) belief is that both insist that they are true, where “true” means “having a correspondence to reality in some sense”. It may be also that such belief is on the basis of another’s authority, but there are a lot of people in the world who cause mayhem when they start believing their own authority only. So I’m more tenuous about this part.

        If there’s a problem with (scientific and religious) belief, it definitely involves the conceit of acting as if statements about one’s experience of reality correspond in some unitary way to reality that precludes other descriptions.

        Certainly, we adoptees encounter this in spades when we are told that our description of our experience (of reality) is everything but valid. The person labelled mentally ill, the child labelled bad, the woman labelled hysterical, the student labelled learning disabled, the person labelled criminal, the countries labelled enemies, the peoples labelled terrorists, the continents labelled barbarous, all can speak to the fundamental experience and problem of someone believing that a description of reality (as a label) has some kind of correspondence with reality (as a truth).

      • I don’t want to get rid of the word “belief” either! I was thinking that focusing on abstract beliefs, i.e., postulates, about reality will get us off-track. I see that one must believe some things…usually because we trust someone or other to be telling us something trustworthy, even if we don’t know it directly true. Adoptees get that…”your mother was Japanese.” Well, it turned out to be true because when I met my mother she was indeed Japanese. But there was a time when I wasn’t totally sure that anyone actually knew. For my entire childhood, I believed what my adoptive parents told me (and they were in time proven correct.)

        When someone asks whether I believe in reincarnation I always say, “no.” But I may add, “I wonder about it.” “I’m looking to find out if it is true.” One needn’t be dogmatic, nor credulous; but on the other hand, one shouldn’t be in-credulous. I hold these ideas lightly, but search them out.

        I’m just trying to understand what this “hook” is…I thought I understood but am not sure. I am thinking the “hook” is the use of notions such as “destiny” to mollify or cajole assent and cooperation in a world-view which is not well-defined.

        Thank you for your discussion. I hope you don’t think I am looking for agreement. I’m looking to know what others think.

  5. Great question and replies. I wanted to just touch on something that SL said, concerning the selfishness inherent in notions of heaven and hell, because this is what has always weighed heavy for me, in terms of who my adoptive father referred to as the “Holy Rollers” in the front pews of our church, whose money seemingly bought their salvation, and moreso today, as salvationist sentiment within the adoption industry manages to conflate a selfish act with personal salvation, leaving behind the by-contrast “unsaved” (I call this “Noah’s Ark Syndrome”).

    It is reflected in evangelical circles as well as Salafi/Wahhabi Islamic circles which are literally hellbent on what one needs to do to save oneself; I find this to be so inherently untenable a mindset of anyone of faith that I plan on writing on how political/economic worldviews (that of globalizing capitalism) have had a deleterious backwards effect on religion, reducing them to literal self-indulgent idiocies, with the liberation theologies of Christianity and Islam attacked now as enemies of this greater System.

    With this as a preface, I think it would be interesting to examine the non-literal metaphors proposed within Christianity or Islam (as belief systems that see a world-beyond) which to me stress a return to the “greater realm”. Even within secular thought, it becomes clear that we are “of the stars” elementally speaking, and we return to that organically speaking, and so we can avoid the nihilism of the existentialists in this regard.

    I guess I’m trying to say that it worries me slightly to think that we need to hang beneficence onto a theological “hook”; or that I need to seek out some cosmic reason for my adoption. This is too much in line with the ahistorical and acontextual myths of “red threads”, etc. Also, this to me buys into the notion of human nature being inherently selfish, as proposed by certain cultures and the self-centered economic and political systems they then create. It should be just as easy to turn this around, and have as a starting point the inherent communal nature of humankind, with selfishness being the aberration that need be dismissed.

    I can explain my “being” by pointing to hugely selfish economic and political systems, and deciding that in doing away with such systems, that this will go far to prevent others from walking in my footsteps. My faith only reinforces this idea, without bending over backwards too much. Do I need it to do more than that?

    • Thank you both for your extremely interesting replies. They both take time to digest.

      Daniel, what are the “ahistorical and acontextual myths of ‘red threads?”

      • The Red Thread: An Adoption Fairy Tale is a book by Grace Lin which paints adoptive parents as foreign royalty who need to find the child pulling at the red string attached to their hearts. There is a really bad pun here, in how we’ve gone from “The Red Threat” to “The Red Thread”, which is a subversion of the former via adoption, as well as the obnoxious use of the targeted culture’s own culture against it.

    • Daniel:

      Where you write: “I find this to be so inherently untenable a mindset of anyone of faith that I plan on writing on how political/economic worldviews (that of globalizing capitalism) have had a deleterious backwards effect on religion, reducing them to literal self-indulgent idiocies, with the liberation theologies of Christianity and Islam attacked now as enemies of this greater System.”

      First, you do a fine job of conveying your disgust in the first sentence above; I can really feel it. Well done.

      Second (somewhat sideways perhaps at first), my observation is that the storied “battle” between science and religion regarding creationism and evolution are actually minor points of disagreement (between science and religion), who otherwise get along famously and mutually support one another tremendously. As a really gross example, mitochondrial DNA testing allows the hypothesis currently that EVERYONE ON EARTH (except people in Africa or directly descended from them) are all related to a single group that migrated out of Africa, across the Red Sea, some merely 12,000 years ago or so. (The common ancestor of this group is called mitochondrial Eve.) The spot where the transit across the Red Sea was supposed to have occurred is some 30 kilometers across, and is something like 310 meters deep on the African side, and yet, the theory runs that a crossing occurred here (rather than a migration up and around from East Africa (present-day Djibouti) to present-day Yemen. There’s no archaeological evidence of boats, of course, and probably not any heaps of bones on both sides of the Red Sea (there are some shells, indicating human beachcombing) to justify this notion, which sounds like one would only come up with it if one already had the idea of a Red Sea crossing. Worse, the theory argues that 12,000 years ago (or whatever the exact number is), glaciation would have resulted in lowered waters where the crossing may have occurred–lowered by 70 meters, so that the water is only some 240 meters deep. Easily wadable! My point: glaciers makes it no more likely that the crossing could have occurred than not, and yet the theory persists in its assertion. The very fact that this theory allows all all implicitly to be the human family, except the people of Africa, is the most grotesque part of this theory, which is, I should stress, the prevailing one.

      Most assuredly, science and religion may once have been at loggerheads, but that’s long past now that the middle class (on the back of technocratism) has risen to power. and it may be that politics (as technocratic optimism per se) has finally usurped the validity of science so that politics has indeed degraded the liberatory aspect of Christianity or Islam (so that salvation, in a Christian sense at least, is the freedom to be rich and to own an iPhone, etc). Capitalism itself is rooted in the (hopeful, utopian) fantasy of escaping the human condition. This is why the $ is the Almighty, how money took on the role of a deity. whatever was liberatory in Christianity previously, the question is, “which liberation?” and “liberation how?” One answer, currently, is through money, sot hat the political economy may be a degradation of one kind of liberation (one that is pro-social, pro-community) and another that is destructively selfish.

      That might be exactly the point you were getting at 🙂

      • Just to be a bit anal about this (from Wikipedia), but also ultimately to get this back to adoption:

        The strait where the supposed Red Sea crossing occurred is the Bab-el Mandeb, which Wikipedia has the following about:

        The distance across is about 20 miles (30 km) from Ras Menheli in Yemen to Ras Siyyan in Djibouti. The island of Perim divides the strait into two channels, of which the eastern, known as the Bab Iskender (Alexander’s Strait), is 2 miles (3 km) wide and 16 fathoms (30 m) deep, while the western, or Dact-el-Mayun, has a width of about 16 miles (25 km) and a depth of 170 fathoms (310 m).

        According to the recent single origin hypothesis, the straits of Bab-el-Mandeb were probably witness to the earliest migrations of modern humans out of Africa, which occurred roughly 60,000 years ago. At this time, the oceans were much lower and the straits were much shallower or dry, allowing a series of emigrations along the southern coast of Asia.

        On the “recent out of Africa origins” theory Wikipedia page, however, is:

        Today at the Bab-el-Mandeb straits the Red Sea is about 12 miles (20 kilometres) wide, but 50,000 years ago sea levels were 70 meters lower (owing to glaciation) and the water was much narrower. Though the straits were never completely closed, there may have been islands in between which could be reached using simple rafts. Shell middens 125,000 years old have been found in Eritrea, indicating the diet of early humans included seafood obtained by beachcombing.

        Not that facts will always be straight at Wikipedia, and acknowledging that the disparity between 50,000 years ago and 60,000 years for the migration is more or less within the general window for the migration overall (i.e., some 55 to 90 thousand years ago), it’s quite another thing to narrow the channel from 20 to 12 miles. One can see, from the first entry, that if there were going to be any “dried up” part of the strait, it would be on the Yemeni side (the eastern side of the Perim Island), not the African side, where the humans were originating. Moreover, while the difference between 50,000 or 60,000 might make no difference in terms of the timing of the migration overall, the glaciation 60,000 years ago needs to be in play in the first place for the premise of the hypothesis even to be considered tenable. At this point,t he difference between 50,000 or 60,000 becomes crucial, if 60,000 years ago is even accurate as far as the glaciation.

        You will note that in my previous post I said this occurred 12,000 years ago. It appears that the exceptionally and stupidly recent number I chanced across before has been corrected, replaced, or I’m reading a different page, because I’m far less inclined to gawk in disbelief if someone tries to claim every human ancestor alive originates from some group that left African 12,000 years ago. There are still reasons to find this all problematic, but at least the timeline isn’t of nearly biblical (Young Earth) proportions.

        In terms of adoption and a “cosmic necessity,” in the above and stuff like it, we have an assertion of a human relatedness. Jung says that the collective unconscious is the repository of all human cognition so far, that being shaped by (though not wholly dependent upon) our genetic inheritance, which means that we (not “you and me” but “we”) have in a kind of literal sense shared previous lives.

        My understanding of it taking a village is that one’s parents are not those who procreated you exactly but all of the adults one lives with, even if one or two of those have some primary duties in that context. In such cultures, adoption cannot occur because the line we draw starkly between parent and non-parent does not exist. Adoption would have to involve a child from some other tribe coming into this one, and I don’t know how that works or what happens. but if I stick to an “intratribal” sense of humanity as a whole (in the sense that we are all already in the same tribe), then adoption becomes inconceivable in the same way because no child would ever be thought of as not already our child.

        This obviously has a somewhat fanciful or unconvincing quality to it, but part of this discussion is the value of reincarnation toward fostering a sense of human unity (or other concepts taht do as well, like karma). And if we forego a theological hook, is there a “scientific” hook instead? Quite obviously,t eh sticking point is exactly what happens to the “child adopted by a different tribe.” This presupposes a distinction between tribes that my intratribal example doesn’t yet account for. So long as intertribal orphans are not given, cannot attain, acknowledgment as “our child” (like all of the other intratribal children), then the problem of adoption exists–or, at least, the grounds for someone economically exploiting that situation arises.

        Tolstoi observed that “love of humanity” is to large and too abstract–it’s easy to do, as long as one isn’t face-to-face with the “humanity” in question. It seems as if people are able to have affective loyalty for “land” by which is meant neighborhood or community; the idea can extend to “country” in the abstract by assuming that all of the “land” in a “country” is essentially the same kind of neighborhood as one’s own. The people there are recognizable (so long as one deliberately overlooks the people there who are not recognizable), etc. My point: I’m not sure that an appeal to a loyalty of species, in the view of species as science shows us, would be a ground for human sociability. It’s good for abstractions but not actualities I suspect.

  6. Daniel writes, “I guess I’m trying to say that it worries me slightly to think that we need to hang beneficence onto a theological “hook”; or that I need to seek out some cosmic reason for my adoption.”

    Am not sure what this means.

  7. Sorry. I’m trying to say basically that I am very wary of anything that smacks of “destiny” or “lot in life” or “caste”. This immediately removes will and agency to change things, and forces an acceptance of the status quo.

    • I think “destiny” and so forth get used by society to bend people to fit a certain mold…create docility (loss of agency and acceptance of the status quo): thus the Red Threads are used as a propaganda to tie the hearts of an adoptee with adopter. This is probably not done maliciously. But these destiny notions can be confusing for the child in fact.

      The present social situation lends itself to fantasies about destiny because of the chaos surrounding such words. There is little reality around the words; consequently, any content fits. Imaginative content is free to fill-in: a Red Thread is as good as any other imagination because the words have no inherent content. Destiny has become a meaningless word and thus fit for replacement meanings.

      This is why I want to think through notions such as reincarnation and karma. Anglo-American society uses these words willy-nilly without serious content. Even jokes have weight and thoughts arise because of them. Adoptees and donor conceived people, I contend, have special needs with respect to notions of destiny and karma that western society ignores in order to preserve its own status quo.

Adoptees, what do you think? We welcome your replies!

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