23 of 29 people found the following review helpful
Only if you enjoy playing CSICOPS and robbers.,
By A Customer
This review is from: Reincarnation: A Critical Examination (Paperback)
Reincarnation is the belief that at some point after death we return to this world as a different person in another body. There are many variations on the theme. Some theories include animal life, even inanimate objects. So, if you are bad this time around, you might come back as a dog, or somebody's coffee pot. (On the other hand, if you are good, the possibilities are endless.) Some, like the philosopher Nietzsche, believed that the same events happen, over and over. In that case, I will have written this review, and you will have read it, countless times already - a wearying prospect at best. For millennia, belief in reincarnation, and its attendant notion of karma - the idea that our actions now will affect our future lives - has been a mainstay of Hindu thought. The idea has attracted many major league figures in western thought as well: Pythagoras, Plato, Swedenborg, Emerson, Goethe and Schopenhauer, to name a few. And it has, of course, received a great deal of attention from occultists, metaphysicians and students of what used to be called parapsychology.
Philosopher Paul Edwards, however, has taken stock of this situation and, out of the kindness of his heart, and what I can only surmise is a selfless devotion to rationality, has decided to disabuse anyone who will listen to him of this dangerous notion. The result is a tedious essay in pedantic nit-picking.
I am not a believer in, nor an apologist for, reincarnation. I am, I imagine, a sympathetic agnostic. When we get down to it, no one really knows what happens after death - no one, that is, who has yet to enjoy the experience. And those who have, ain't talking. So my displeasure in Edwards' grating text is not that of an adherent defending a sacred creed. What bothers me about this annoying book is the smug, complacent know-it-all manner in which he treats his subject. (Its tiresome attempts at what I can only assume is wit are bothersome too.)
The original edition appeared in 1996, and at that time, many of the characters and topics he addresses may have loomed larger in the public consciousness. (His initial knock-out punch was, evidently, not successful, and his publishers apparently feel a second dose is needed.) Kubler-Ross, Raymond Moody, Ian Stevenson and the psychedelic investigator Stanislav Grof come in for especially detailed dissection. It goes without saying that most, if not all, of the 'new age' advocates of reincarnation are out to lunch, and their ideas on the subject sport more holes than a bag of Hoola Hoops.
But the 'new age' has lost some of its blissful appeal by now, and after reading Edwards's 'devastating' critique of its mystic flapdoodle, I found myself cheering for the underdog. What is wrong with this book is that Edwards sets up his targets like clay pigeons and knocks them down, one by one. Or, mixing my metaphors, he gives himself high marks for shooting fish in a barrel. No one, I think, who takes the notion of reincarnation at all seriously believes Shirley MacLaine is a quotable authority on the subject. But by taking her down a peg Edwards, an unflappable devotee of strict scientific rationality, believes he has scored major points. Maybe he uses a flame thrower to rid himself of mosquitoes too.
Another annoying thing is Edwards' frequent remarks about the mental capacity of people who are interested in reincarnation, or other 'occult' ideas. They are, he tells us: "insane" or "semi-insane"; "under-educated"; "credulous"; "semi-literate"; "lunatics"; and, perhaps least offensive, "very average, middle-class Americans". They are also devoted readers of mind-numbing tabloids like the National Enquirer, The Midnight Globe, and the Star - all of which print columns of occult clap-trap that no "critically trained person" - like, we must imagine, himself - would be caught dead absorbing. Yet Edwards makes it clear that he too is among those many "under-educated" Americans who read this drivel, admitting that "for many years I have been an avid reader of assorted tabloids."
Research, of course. But I for one suspect that Edwards has a morbid love-hate relationship with the 'occult', a neurotic attachment to a collection of beliefs he finds infuriatingly and self-evidently absurd. If only we all just listened to the scientists and, we must assume, philosophers like himself. Then muddled questions about life, death and everything else would just evaporate. My own money, however, is on the muddlers. Yet, as I'm a semi-insane, credulous under-educated reader of occult drivel, what do you expect?
If you are interested in an objective, informative and engaging book on reincarnation, this isn't it. But if you think the whole idea is as barking as the dog next door and enjoy playing CSICOPS and robbers, be my guest.