Personal Essay: Spirituality (and Why I'm Terrified of Reincarnation)

One of my biggest fears is reincarnation. Having to do life all over again? And then again? Oh, and not to mention the fact that this go around may not be my first? Is that why I’m so tired? Is that why we’re all so tired? Unless someone can guarantee me I’m coming back as the incredibly spoiled golden retriever of a wealthy family I’m out. And I get that this is part of some religions, but I simply terrified of 80 or 90 or 100 years not being the actual end of my existence. Call me a quitter, I guess. 

Logically, the side of me who believes in science above all else knows this really isn’t a rational fear, nor is reincarnation something my beliefs (whatever those are) align with. But the illogical side of me thinks all sorts of crazy things, so why not this too?

If we dig a little deeper, this fear has deeper tentacles, surpassing this concept and headed into the “I’m thirty-five and still don’t know what I believe” territory. I grew up in a fairly religious family; both of my parents were raised Catholic, but had migrated to The Church of the Brethren, which we attended to various degrees throughout my childhood. I think on a lot of levels our participation was more social and for community involvement, as we didn’t talk about God or pray much at home (although my dad, who was far more conservative than my mom, did go through a stint where he was in pretty deep into the ministry arm of things). We were never told what we had to believe or forced to kneel before our beds at night. Eventually, definitely before my dad died when I was fourteen, we became a Christmas and Easter attendance kind of family.

I then didn’t really think about religion for maybe a decade or more, claiming to believe in God, praying when things were tough and still going for Christmas Eve service with my family (because #tradition). But as I started working with elementary kids they started asking me more and more what my religion was, and I needed some sort of answer. Sure, I could go with the “I don’t talk about religion at school” response, but I really try to be honest as much as I can with my students. They’re always so much more willing to work for me when they see me as an actual person; I ask them to do a lot for me, so I feel obligated to give them some tidbits in return. For awhile I told the kids I was Christian, but eventually I really started questioning that internally. Eventually I landed on agnostic, which seemed like a great compromise. No structure, but I could still acknowledge a higher power. Easy.

But... science. And babies getting murdered, people dying of starvation, child molesters, horrible diseases... all the worst things in the world. How does science explain Heaven, Hell, souls, and the Holy Trinity? We never accept things as factual unless there’s solid proof. Where the peer-reviewed articles on turning water into wine? (Joking, joking). And speaking of three guys in charge, why do they let all those horrible things happen to good people?

I know what a lot of believers would be saying: she has no faith.

But I do. I have faith water boils when heated because of how the molecules interact. I have faith in the people I love. I have faith in the importance of my profession. I don't consider myself to be a jaded, hardened cynic who is closed off, but skeptical to no end. And that's why I am where I am. 

I also know how to play devil's advocate- how could there be millions of believers if this concept of God and religion was false? There has to be some reason why they have so much faith and are so dedicated to their cause. People devote so much time, energy, money, and resolve to their chosen path, it has to be on the basis of something, right? There are people much more intelligent than I who claim allegiance to Catholicism, Judaism, Hinduism, and all the other -isms out there. 

So what am I supposed to tell my son? I refused to tell him that our dogs went to Heaven when they died, since that isn't something I'm confident in the existence of. When he gets older, or when it comes up, we'll explain that some people go to church and that there are different religions, but I'm not going to fake anything for his benefit, either way.

Above all else, despite my confusion, reluctance, and hesitation, I don't have a problem with the fact that people believe, as long as their religion isn't being used as a vehicle to hurt others. I know that it provides a lot of comfort and guidance to people when they need it most, and I am happy that they're able to find that solace. I also know that religion provides people with a place to belong, a sense of peace with what might await them in the afterlife, and something to turn to when struggling. I think that's great. 

I just don't know if it's for me. 


  1. I don't comment much but I really enjoyed this. And agree with pretty much all of it... what IS it that people get out of this that I just DON'T? It's kind of endlessly fascinating.

    Looking forward to future essays!

    1. Thank you! I really hesitated to go there (as in religion), but it's such an important part of everyone's life, whether they're devout or atheist or somewhere in between.