Thursday, 22 October 2015

Book review: Joe Fisher - The Case for Reincarnation

Joe Fisher’s The Case for Reincarnation. 1998, Sommerville Publishing (Revised in 1997)  This 1984 work is considered something of a modern classic on the question of reincarnation, at least in the field of popular bestsellers. I think the book’s main merit is the very broad survey that it delivers, an impressive array and variety of different sources and topics. The text is concise and entertaining.

In chapter one, he gives a nice overview of belief in reincarnation in the west. In chapter two, he investigates the cases of the claims of past life experiences in children notably through the cases of Dr. Ian Stevenson and Hermendra Banerjee. In chapter 3, he presents arguments from modern science and the traditional cyclical argument. In chapter four, the case of child prodigies, children showing exceptional abilities at a very young age – as well as past life regression therapies via hypnosis are examined.

Chapter five, deals with the Past life therapy. In chapter six, he looks at the more traditional beliefs of various ancient myth of different cultures. In chapter seven, he studies the case of reincarnation in Christianity. In chapter eight, he looks into the question of after-life experience, notably the Bardo planes of the Tibetan book of the dead, near-death experiences and various other theories.

In chapter nine, he explores the possibility of cognizing future lives. In chapter ten, Explores the use of hypnotherapy in exploring past lives and the question of the possibility of reincarnating as animals. In chapter eleven, he explores the problem of suicide and its consequences on reincarnation. In chapter twelve, he examines the role of the planet Pluto in reincarnation and the author provides an astrological predications for the next few decades.

In chapter thirteen, he revisits the question of past life regression techniques. In chapter fourteen, he examines the case of Tibet’s Dalai Lama in terms of past life remembrance case and looks and revisits past life regression therapy. In chapter fifteen, he revisits Dr. Stevenson’s past life memory cases and the question of birth defects or birth marks as tangible evidence of reincarnation and looks again at past life regression therapy.  In chapter sixteen, he broaches the notion of karma and attempts to formulate a conclusion and philosophy based on the evidence of reincarnation presented.

He gives fair credit to the theosophical contributions to the field and at the same time one can notice the wide influence of theosophy on modern spiritual ideas, as many of the concepts covered can be traced to original theosophical writings, although the author does not indicate this. Unfortunately, when expounding on theosophy (p. 142), the account apparently does not rely on original theosophical texts, but rather summaries from other sources. Regrettably, such is the reality of mainstream publishing more often than not - apparent specialist accounts of theosophy give rather garbled second-hand versions of the key concepts. Simply consulting Blavatsky’s Key to Theosophy directly, for example, would solve the problem, yet it’s an unfortunate reality that it is still quite difficult to get accurate accounts of theosophical concepts in mainstream publications.

Looking at Chapter Seven, entitled “The Lost Chord of Christianity”, although he does credit the title to William Q. Judge, he does not seem to be aware that it was in fact Judge who specifically coined the term used as the title of the chapter and that his writings seem to form the basis for most of the ideas covered in the chapter. See, for example, his article  “Reincarnation and Judaism in the Bible”,  among others http://www.theosociety.org/pasadena/path/v08n11p357_reincarnation-in-judaism-and-the-bible.htm  (Theosophist E. D. Walker’s  Reincarnation, 1887, is another early study of the presence of reincarnation in Christianity).

The final chapter attempts to propose an overall philosophical conclusion yet gives perhaps too little space examining the notion of karma, which might have given more depth to the discourse.  (Interestingly, one of the most philosophical citations in the chapter is a very traditional oriental account by Annie Besant). Moreover, the chapters tend to have a rather diffused feel.  For example cases of past-life therapy and the Stevenson cases reappear in various chapters for no obvious reason. Moreover, although the author does aim to build a serious case or Reincarnation, he occasionally tends toward the uncritical, highly optimistic emotionalism of the California new age experimental alternative therapy field - chapters nine and twelve being indicative of this weakness. Since there is such a large amount of citations, more specific referencing would have been appreciated as well. Nonetheless, the book remains a readable, accessible, interesting, well-researched mainstream work on reincarnation.