Welcome to the Reincarnationist Blog’s series of interviews using the infamous Proust Questionnaire. Today’s subject is A.J. Jacobs…
Title of your latest book as of Sept 1, 2007
“The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible.”
Do you believe — even a little bit that reincarnation is possible?
Everything’s possible, except for, say, looking dignified while wearing Crocs. And I find the idea of past lives enticing (and, naturally, an awesome premise for a thriller). But I still think it’s highly unlikely. I read in Bill Bryson’s book A Short History of Everything about how we all contain recycled atoms. Some of our atoms were once in Shakespeare and Napoleon and Paul Lynde. Does that count?
Have you ever read anything books the subject that made an impression on you?
I read the Encyclopedia Britannica, and the section on reincarnation includes this fact: “In primitive religions, belief in multiple souls is common. The soul is frequently viewed as capable of leaving the body through the mouth or nostrils and of being reborn, for example, as a bird, butterfly, or insect.”
I also love the movie Heaven Can Wait. The idea that Warren Beatty’s girlfriend recognizes the gleam in his eye even when Warren takes on another body – that gets me every time.
What is your most marked characteristic that you believe could be a hold over from a past life?
I looked on the Internet to see who died the day I was born. And I got all excited because I saw that Charlie Chaplin died March 20, 1968. Then I noticed it was Charlie Chaplin Jr. The son. He was a minor actor who had a small role in Sex Kittens Go to College. Crushing.
What is your principle defect that you believe might be inherited from a previous incarnation?
My small role in Sex Kittens Go to College.
Which of your favorite heroes do you think you actually could have been and why?
I don’t think I could have been him, but I wish I had the intellectual breadth and depth of Goethe. The man was the ultimate generalist. And I love generalists. He was a critic, journalist, lawyer, painter, theatre manager, statesman, educationalist, alchemist, soldier, astrologer, novelist, songwriter, philosopher, botanist, biologist, color theorist, mine inspector, and issuer of military uniforms.
What three people from history would you like to have over to dinner for a discussion about reincarnation?
Aside from MJ Rose, of course, I’d go with Buddha, the Baal Shem Tov, and Mary Roach, who wrote a wonderful book called Spook about life-after-death matters.
What do you think happens when we die?
I’m agnostic on that. I think there’s a good chance the lights go out and that’s it. It’d be nice if that weren’t true, but I don’t know. For my latest book, I lived for a year according to the Bible, and it taught me to appreciate such things as the feeling of connectedness and the beauty of ritual and the idea of sacredness. But I remained agnostic on some other topics, including eternal life.
When you come back next time, who would you like to be?
I always liked that quote (falsely) attributed to Woody Allen: That he’d like to come back in his next life as Warren Beatty’s fingertips. But I guess nowadays that might not be as exciting, unless you’re really, really into Annette Bening. Maybe Justin Timberlake’s fingertips.
We would love to hear your responses to these questions. Please feel free to copy and paste the Questionnaire with your answers into a Comment for this post.