Growing up, I came to believe in reincarnation. I would die, but my soul would go up to heaven and talk to God or one of his assistants to see how I did as Dan Rattiner. Had I been honest and ethical? Had I helped those in need? Had I used the talents that God had imbued into the person I’d been? Had I been a positive force on the earth?
After this evaluation, I would be given a number, like the kind you get at a deli to wait your turn, go sit on a bench with others to wait for my number to be called, and then, when it was called, reappear and be given a new assignment. I would return to Earth, either as another person or another kind of creature, and I’d get to go at it again.
This was my idea of eternal life. I could do this again and again for eternity. I still believe all this, at least sometimes I do. It’s not been a bad thing to believe in.
Until recently. Given global warming and all the catastrophic storms it has begun to cause all over the world—and it’s only destined to get worse—it’s begun to affect my thinking about reincarnation.
It’s no good to say—as one of my friends did the other day after observing the wreckage caused by the typhoon in the Philippines—“Well, at least we won’t be here when it gets really, really bad. We’ll be gone by then. It will be our children’s problem.”
Well, from my perspective, it IS my problem. How the heck am I supposed to be a positive force on the earth if in the future I get my new assignment, come down to earth and find that all hell has broken loose? Or, looked at another way, I hope there’s a long wait on the bench, so that when I come back, all this will have been resolved and things will be back to normal again, whatever normal is, and so I can do my thing.
I’d like to come back as a grasshopper, I told my friend. A good grasshopper. And then after that, a horse.
I first began to get glum about this years ago, when in the 1970s scientists first presented the data that predicted the coming global warming and the catastrophes that it would bring.
At that time, all we knew about was life on earth. There was no life anywhere else. The universe was cold and dead. It was just this one planet where God had created all creatures great and small that I could come back to.
But then about 1990, scientists began to consider that they might be able to confirm there’s life on other planets in other solar systems. Telescopes were not yet powerful enough to make a definite judgment about this, but we were making better and better ones. We’d soon get a clearer picture. Finally, with the Kepler spacecraft circling the earth for our best view, we identified one other planet far away that might have life on it. But it was only a “might.” We couldn’t tell for sure.
Now there’s been a report from a reputable scientist at the University of California at Berkeley studying the data from Kepler that says of the 200 billion stars in the galaxy we’ve documented, as many as one in five could have a planet the size of earth orbiting it that could support life as we know it. That’s 40 billion planets like earth.
I’m hoping for one like Pandora in the movie Avatar, with all those eight-foot-tall blue people swinging from vine to vine amidst the most beautiful foliage that God ever created on this good green, uh, Pandora.
Maybe God will consider special requests.