This article is an electronic version of an article originally published in Cultic Studies Journal, 1998, Volume 15, Number 1, pages 96-97. Please keep in mind that the pagination of this electronic reprint differs from that of the bound volume. This fact could affect how you enter bibliographic information in papers that you may write.
Book Review - Reincarnation: The Missing Link in Christianity.
Elizabeth Clare Prophet with Erin L. Prophet. Summit University Press, Corwin Springs, MT, 1997, 412 pages.
The subjective tone of this book is set in the foreword, where Erin Prophet states, “For me, reincarnation and Christianity have always gone together.” As Elizabeth Clare Prophet’s eldest daughter, Erin grew up in a “new age” religion lately known as Church Universal and Triumphant (CUT) and founded by her parents. Her mother underscores this subjectivism in the preface: “Reincarnation forms a pivotal part of my belief system because it allows us another chance.” The elder Prophet is alluding to the notion that earthly life is a “school” from which we cannot “ascend” or graduate until we pass all of our tests. If we flunk, we repeat and repeat until we get it right. The thesis or argument in this book is syncretic: it purports to demonstrate that distinctly non-Christian beliefs, such as reincarnation and spiritual evolutionism, have been unfairly deleted by Church leaders, and that the “mystical” and Gnostic traditions of Christianity sustain these beliefs. It is syncretic because Elizabeth Prophet blends a conflicting variety of religious systems in her attempt to “prove” her beliefs.
The cover reveals the authors’ intent. Incorporated in a Taoist yin-yang circle are the Byzantine-style image of Christ healing a blind man and a fragment of a Nag Hammadi Codex. Thus we have Gnosticism, orthodox Christianity, and an Oriental tradition blended together. Prophet’s CUT presents an amalgam of nearly every religion under the sun with its “guru” as an exclusive spokesperson for the heavenly hierarchy of all: Prophet channels “masters” from many religions and mythologies. Near the bottom of the front cover is an endorsement by Brian L. Weiss, author of Many Lives, Many Masters, and a controversial promoter of reincarnation in his psychic therapy practice.
The Prophets rehash old themes familiar to CUT devotees and most New Agers. There are chapters on reincarnation in Judaism, Greek religion, Gnosticism, and Jesus’ trip through India. Although reincarnation beliefs exist in Greek religion, in certain Gnostic sects (but not all), and among some Jewish and Christian mystics, Prophet’s continued, unfortunate suggestion that Jesus traveled through India almost as a yogi betrays how weak in evidence this book is. The only “scientific” research cited is that of Ian Stevenson, whose results have been anything but compelling. Typical of Prophet’s books, especially found in the last chapter in this one, is the recruitment pitch for her religion. She offers a technique that is said to erase all negative karma. The authors suggest the use of CUT “decrees,” or mantras, that should be chanted rapidly, as the viable way to achieve an “ascension” into the spiritual worlds. “If you repeat this [two decrees are offered out of the hundreds used by CUT devotees] and other prayers and decrees mentally and verbally as often as it is comfortable, you will build a momentum that can propel you into a state of divine union” (p. 314).
The book’s last hundred pages contain notes and an impressive bibliography, giving the book a scholarly image. Image may be enough for a New Ager, but scholars of religion will find this book tiresome, especially in its lack of an index and its abuse of legitimate historical research. For example, the authors often treat Gnostics as though they were all of one kind and all believed in reincarnation: for example, “Reincarnation was an important part of Gnostic theology” (p. 143). An eminent scholar on gnosticism, Ioan P. Couliano, states from the very book listed in the Prophets’ bibliography that “some gnostics” believe in the “preexistent” soul, not all. Perhaps the Prophets should have studied Couliano’s research before presenting theirs.
One might ask why Prophet and her daughter needed to write this book. One answer comes through Elizabeth Prophet’s subchapter, “Sandbox Recollections” (pp. 20-23). Like so many immature mystics worldwide, Prophet believes that her profound “mystical” experiences represent a literal reality without a neurological or psychological explanation. She was a child in Red Bank, New Jersey, in her backyard sandbox in her “own little world.” “As though someone had turned the dial on a radio, I was on another frequency-playing in the sand along the Nile River in Egypt.” Her mother later “confirmed” for her that she had a “past life” memory. In 1978 I heard from CUT devotees who were close friends of mine that “Mother” (Elizabeth Prophet) suffered from petit mal seizures, a type of epilepsy. Researcher and long-time CUT critic, Kathy Schmook of Montana, also discovered that those closest to Prophet are aware of her disorder. Anyone familiar with this type of temporal lobe disorder knows how vivid and “spiritual” one’s imagination becomes during the “aura” prior to an epileptic incident, which does not always include a seizure. If the epilepsy connection is true, it goes a long way to explain why it is important for Prophet to construct an alternative reality rather than admit to embarrassing fantasies triggered by a neurological dysfunction.
In my opinion, that is the purpose of this book: to shore up one woman’s prophecies about herself and her devotees. CUT devotees have told me that Prophet “remembers” that she was Queen Nefertiti, Catherine the Great, Catherine of Sienna, St. Martha, Lady Guinevere, and others. She “remembered” that her middle daughter, Moira, was John F. Kennedy, and her daughter-coauthor Erin was none other than the heroic Mahatma Gandhi. Although you will not find this “personal” information in Reincarnation, CUT devotees have been aware of the famous lives of all the Prophet family since the early 1970s from Summit Lighthouse books and group gossip.
Joseph P. Szimhart
Cult Information Specialist
Cultic Studies Journal, Vol. 15, No. 1, 1998