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Monday, February 1, 1999 Published at 15:38 GMT

Reincarnation: A new lease of life?

Were you a king in a previous life? Or perhaps an insect.

If he had his time over again, Glenn Hoddle may well think he would do things differently. But how many of us get a second chance?

However, if Hoddle's beliefs are true, then we all could be getting a second, third, or fourth chance - or perhaps even more than that.

[ image:  ]
But in this life, here and now, Hoddle faces losing not only the description of England football coach that he could find no longer applied to him. He could also find the epithet "born again Christian" is a thing of the past.

Reincarnation and karma are elements of Hinduism, Sikhism and of course Buddhism - the Dalai Lama is probably the world's most famous reincarnated person. For followers of those religions, the concepts help explain the problem of suffering. They are about cause and effect - your actions in the current life being stored and having a consequence spiritually in the next.

[ image: The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso]
The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso
But they are nothing to do with conventional Christianity.

In John's Gospel, (ch 9 v3), Jesus's disciples ask him why a man has been born blind. According to the New English Bible, the disciples asked:

"'Rabbi, who sinned? This man or his parents? Why was he born blind?'

"'It's not that this man or his parents sinned,' Jesus answered. 'He was born blind so that God's power might be displayed in curing him.'"

Jesus then gave the man his sight, having made his point that the man's disability was unrelated to sin.

In any case, central to Christianity is the concept of forgiveness of sins - leaving little scope for a "balance brought forward" from one life to another.

Adopting concepts from other religions, a feature of so-called "New Age Christianity", is part of what theologians call a growing trend in "supermarket spirituality".

The Reverend Doctor Peter Graves, of the Methodist Central Hall, Westminster, said reincarnation had no place in Christianity.

"There's no reference to it in the Bible," he said. "It's a very earth-centred concept of eternal life which is not biblical - the Bible's approach is very much that life is a preparation for a richer and fuller life beyond the grave."

You are feeling sleepy

But perhaps the most interesting re-birth in the concept of reincarnation at least in the Western world, has been in psychotherapy. In particular the branch of it focussing on rebirthing and, usually with the help of hypnosis, tracing reasons for current problems to events in previous lives.

There is a lighter side to the debate, though, and that has been the scope for jokes. Education Secretary David Blunkett, who is of course blind, said if Hoddle was right in a previous life he must have been a dreadful football coach.

And Sports Minister Tony Banks said Glenn Hoddle may have the misfortune to come back in the next life - as Glenn Hoddle.

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