Which of the two concepts is better for keeping society in check? I don’t wish to enter the world of belief systems, I would purely compare the two concepts for the purpose of maintaining a stable societal construct.
WARNING: Oversimplification ahead! For the sake of argument, I’m just going outline both concepts — there is a lot more to both of these.
Both concepts deal with what happens with the soul after death.
Reincarnation makes the claim that the soul is reborn back onto the earth in either human or animal form. Whether someone moves up the ladder (i.e., reborn in human form) or down the ladder (i.e., animal form) depends on their Karma - good Karma human form, bad karma animal form.
For a soul, this can happen depending on believe system, multiple or even infinite number of times. Of course, memories of previous existences aren’t readily available for the reborn.
Resurrection makes the claim that the soul is taken to either heaven or hell, depending on whether someone was “good” or “bad”. Hereby both good and bad are defined by the respective belief system. After the soul is taken up to heaven or down to hell, it remains there for all eternity. Resurrection happens exactly once for each soul, there is no recycling of souls.
Herein lie the differences I would like to discuss:
As is the case with real estate, location for soul judgement is everything. If I’m to be judged in an abstract location, that no one has ever known, my imagine will conjure up the worst inner-personal fears making hell my own personal hell. On the other hand, paradise is my own personal paradise - only I know what makes me really happy. (Digression: how is it possible to create a place that is a paradise for everyone? Or is it a personal heaven for each soul?)
But I could also take the point of view, since both places are abstract, that I say to myself: bugger that, hell won’t be so bad, I’ll do whatever it takes to survive. Now if everyone took this approach, then we would have a form of anarchy as societal construct.
On the other hand, reincarnation prescribes the judgement of the soul occurs right here on the earth. I have a definite association with the location of the judgement of my soul: I’ve lived here my entire life.
So if I take the same approach and say, fine I don’t mind going down the ladder, so I do whatever it takes to survive. That could have the consequence that I come back as an animal to be put through the slaughterhouse. Or lab rat. Or Battery hens.
Having a real connection to the location soul judgement has a very real affect on my value judgement of how bad the afterlife can be?.
If I believed that there is no recycling of my soul, would I think in the long term? Would I be more or less interested in the long term effects of my actions?
In combination of only having one soul and having the soul being transported off away from this place (i.e., heaven or hell), would my actions be optimised for ensuring that my soul goes to heaven or that this place becomes a better place?
From a purely logical perspective, having a multi-use soul reborn onto this earth would seem to be far more motivational for improving this place.
So I would suggest that reincarnation would be a better instrument for maintaining social order and environmental protection. In fact, perhaps it would be a better approach than an panopticon as proposed by Nick Bostrom.
This is of course just a thought experiment, humans are incredible complex and hard to predict. So do take this with a pinch of salt.
But why do I mention all this in the first place? Because the early Christian church actually taught reincarnation. Christianity being one of the major religions that no longer teaches reincarnation.
Wikipedia mentions this and there a few indirect references in the bible:
However reincarnation was removed by Justinian I as part of the 5th ecumenical council, point 1 on this list. Basically this meant the removal of the teachings of Origen whose teachings included reincarnation and an ascetic lifestyle.
According to legend, it was Justinian’s wife Theodora who wanted the removal of reincarnation. She feared because of her many misdeeds and acts of evil, to be punished in an afterlife. So for her it was a simply a matter of making reincarnation an act of heresy and with that, she won’t be reborn. Irony is that she died with only forty-nine.
How could this have had an impact?
Imagine the soldiers going off on their crusades to the Holy Land. Imagine what if they believed that they would be reincarnated. Perhaps they would have not been so violent …
Being forced to take a long term view makes you automatically take different decisions. This can also be observed with parents: they automatically have longer term views because of their children. Even if these are purely financial, parents have alternative view of the future.
Parents see their souls being reincarnated in their children.
Reincarnation, then, isn’t about providing certainty, but a means of developing ethics within conditions of uncertainty. We might think of it as a kind of Pascalian wager. That is, just as the 17th-century philosopher Blaise Pascal wagered that it would be better, after this life has ended, to have believed in God, just in case God is real, the ethics of reincarnation suggests that we’re better off believing in our interconnectedness to any given person or animal or plant – whether we ever meet them or not – just in case we are. The immediate payoff of the wager is this: because I don’t know how I’m connected to the Universe, and the people, plants, animals and bacteria that I share it with, it’s best that I act kindly and calmly toward everything and everyone.
That article also makes an interesting historical point that before the Buddha, the teachings were that only a select few could leave the cycle of reincarnation. Buddha began teaching that anyone can reach nirvana and escape the cycle of reincarnation.
We are children of our past. Our sole aim is make a better future for our future selves, for everyones future self.