More human religions believe in reincarnation than do not believe in reincarnation. Beginning with the ancient Pagans who observed Nature for understanding about the nature of life and death, who witnessed the changing of the season. Life began - growing, blooming, coming into a harvest, then dying back into the seeming sleep of winter, to return again with new buds and crops in the Spring. They witness how the death of trees in the forest broke down on the forest floor, creating compost for the acorns and seeds to take root and start the cycle again. They observed how a body buried in the earth would decompose, returning to the matrix of the soil, and bodies burned returned to ashes - ashes to ashes, dust to dust. When the Romans battled the Celts, Julius Caesar remarked in his history, how fearless their warriors fought. The Celts had a firm belief in reincarnation and knew their souls would journey into the Spirit World and be reborn into new bodies based on the grandness of their deeds and their courage in this life. African peoples equally believed in reincarnation, which is why African religions cherish and venerate ancestors. They believed that a rebirth into the same loving family that remembered and properly honored their ancestors was a fitting tribute to their efforts, and the life of those who came before. And of course, in the World Religions of the Eastern World, both Hinduism and Buddhism hold the idea of reincarnation central to their worldview.
The concept of Reincarnation flowered in Hinduism which believes that the soul is pure and only the body is destroyed. Upon death, the soul moves to another body and takes with it the Karma of its last lifetime. Karma means the actions and reactions that the soul has taken cumulatively over many lifetimes. And each new incarnation is dependent on the actions of those which came before.
Buddhism believes each new life is like a candle being lit by the fire of the soul from the last lifetime. It also incorporates the concept of Karma and the seeds of our own personality tendencies which need to be addressed and overcome in each new lifetime in order to one day be liberated from the cycles of death and rebirth into a new state of enlightenment and the attainment of Nirvana. Buddhists believe in not only many lifetimes, but many worlds of afterlife, and the idea that a soul can reincarnate not only into a human body, but even an animal body or into another reality.
It is only in Orthodox Abrahamic religions, where the idea of reincarnation is either denied or condemned, and it is replaced with the belief that God grants us one lifetime alone, to either live righteously or fail miserably and then we are either rewarded with an eternal Heaven, or condemned to a tortuous Hell forever, after being judged with all souls at Judgement Day.
It is even arguable if Judaism believes in an after-life at all, or prefers to focus entirely on the life of the flesh in the here and now. Rabbi Hayyim Angel has also written an essay on "Afterlife in Jewish Thought." Here is an excerpt:
“There is a paucity of explicit references to afterlife—whether a bodily resurrection or a soul world—in Tanakh. The Torah promises this-worldly rewards and punishments for faithfulness or lack thereof to God and the Torah. It does not promise heaven for righteousness, nor does it threaten hell or the absence of heaven for sinfulness. Given the ancient world’s belief in, and even obsession with immortality and afterlife, the Torah’s silence is all the more remarkable.”
Orthodox Christians believe in the one lifetime idea today, but many do not realize that it was only in 325 at the Council of Nicea, when the Roman Catholic Church codified this teaching. Before that, it is controversially believed that Christianity did embrace some ideas of reincarnation. “Nicea nevertheless, marked the beginning of the end of the concepts of preexistence and reincarnation.” (Reluctant Messenger Blog) The Church had a very good reason for wanting to condemn the idea of reincarnation and install the idea of a blessed Heaven for the faithful, devout and obedient Christians, and a terrible Hell for those who refused to accept it’s teaching and authority.
Islam also does not appear to embrace the idea of reincarnation. Muslims believe similarly to Orthodox Christianity, and totally rejects the idea of reincarnation in any form. Islam teaches that there will be a day of judgment when all humans will be divided between the eternal destinations of Paradise and Hell.
As far as atheists, Humanists and other materialists are concerned, they too believe that this life is all we have. After death, our souls die, as our body dies, perhaps they believe only in the body, Consciousness is seen as only the mechanism and result of brain waves and electrical connections that cease to exist once the physical body loses life and death is the final end. How they must grieve the loss of loved ones they believe to die forever in total annihilation!
When I was four years old, I nearly died due to a rare bronchial infection. My sister woke up in the night and alerted my mother to the fact I was breathing laboriously and she was frightened. I remember the night very clearly, and I remember suddenly my senses were heightened. I was aware of seeing things in a new way. The television was off, but I saw people on it, all the light in the room was brightened as I struggled to breathe. I needed to use the bathroom and when I entered, I saw a woman in a dark cloak and a light on her face and she asked me to go with her. I was scared and attempted to scream, but because I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t scream. I remember going to the emergency room, and seeing myself on the gurney, as they operated and performed a tracheostomy on my neck. I remember feeling the sense of rising away from this scene, seeing a long tunnel, feeling the presence of loved ones and the lightness of my being, but then was returned to my body and brought back to life. I was saved due to the surgery but never forgot the feeling of my spirit outside of my body. I was too young to have been influenced by any ideas of soul and the afterlife, and despite the fact a materialist might tell me those were all hallucinations caused by a lack of oxygen to my brain, I know what I experienced first-hand. I realize my experience was very much in line with other NDE experiences reported by thousands of people around the planet regardless of religious background or belief. It gave me the gift of an unshakeable belief in the idea of the soul surviving the death of the physical body.
Today, my main Spiritual Paths are Wicca, Lukumi and Spiritism. In all of these, reincarnation and the concept of an eternal soul which survives the body and is reborn into a new life and/or reality are supported. In Lukumi we believe that through full-initation, the Olorisha aligns oneself with the Orisha meant to help them in their spiritual evolution, and after we achieve our purpose in this lifetime, we are given a new life in a higher reality. Wiccans actively embrace the idea of rebirth. Some believe a good soul will have a divine rest in the “Summerlands” before returning to a rebirth in the world.
To me, a very complete idea of reincarnation is taught in Spiritism. Spiritists believe Jesus was the Master who shows us through his example how to live in a way that supports eternal life of the Spirit. The idea of, “No one comes to the Father, except through me,” does NOT mean only Christians get to Heaven, it means only by living in the selfless and compassionate way that Jesus lived do we have the opportunity for Ascension. It teaches that the goal of life is to evolve as Spirits and to ascend to higher realms. It also teaches that this particular planet is a planet of trials and tribulations meant to help us grow and overcome our Karma and our lower nature but is far from the only planet. The Universe is filled with a multitude of worlds, some even more primitive but others that are higher worlds of regeneration and bliss. The ultimate goal is Oneness with the Divine, similar in respect to the idea of Nirvana shared with the Buddhists. Unlike Buddhism, however, Spiritism teaches that we do not return to lower life forms even if we fail at the life we are currently in, due to selfishness, greed or materialism. Spiritsm believes this is incongruent with a loving God, who gives us endless chances to evolve and to grow. It also teaches that the soul retains our individuality upon death and reunites with loved ones and teachers in the Spirit World between incarnations for our life review, and to help us plan our next incarnation. Spiritists believe when Jesus discusses being “Born Again,” he literally meant reincarnation, and references to the resurrection of beings really were references to reincarnation as well. Spiritism, as form of Spiritualism, relies on the testimony of Spirit manifestation and messages provided to Mediums during misas and sessions as concrete evidence of the existence of souls which have survived their earthly deaths.
So as far as proving the truth about reincarnation versus the idea that we only have one lifetime to get “it right,” I can only point to my own experience and the teachings which most resonate with that. As with the concept of belief in God, spirits, magic or altered states of consciousness, there is no way to prove to someone who already has closed their minds to these ideas of their inherent truths. We equally cannot force another person to believe in something they have no direct experience with. And we already know that fear of an eternal retribution for disbelievers doesn’t work and is a form of Spiritual abuse. One thing I can say for sure is that, believing in the idea of a life after death which is dependent on how I live this lifetime, helps me to be a good person. The idea that my spirit will be rewarded in a higher state due to my efforts at overcoming my own defects is inspirational to me. The idea that there is another reality which is waiting for me when I leave this plane of being is also exciting to me. Finally, I am comforted when I realize that I will be reunited with my loved ones when I die, and that death is but a doorway into this world. Death is a mystery for all of us, and we will all experience it. I believe it is better to live our lives with some idea of an afterlife so that we can be prepared when the time comes.