just a point: when I write the term "rebirth" this is to use an opposite to the term "non-rebirth". Because in this notion of a continuity there are many views like the metempsychosis, rebirth, reincarnation, palingenesis and many others that I cannot remember.
So I'm not talking just about the Buddhist rebirth but about the opposite notion to non-rebirth which is that idea that there is not a causality for the arising of the live and death.
My main interest it is in the absurdity of keeping the non-rebirth idea much more than defending rebirth. This is a wrong view. Of course, we can suspend our thoughts in this issue but this is different with keeping the non-rebirth. Because in case of observing non-rebirth, this wrong view can be an obstacle for the contemplation of the world, the arising of beings and the live and death.
Most of those are technically Gnostic-influenced sects, but I grant that the belief was far more widespread than it might seem if we look at Christianity in the past 1500 years. And the influence of Plato and of the so-called Eastern mystery religions was great at the period we're referring to (which is also the era of Neoplatonism).
strictly there were not "gnostics" in those first Christians because this is a label which was created only 300 years ago. Although I suppose you are thinking in some gnosis notion in those groups. I'm not an expert anyway although it's sure those first Christians were a heterogeneous mixture of trends and views. And in further times they were labeled and so on.
It seems early Judaism didn't have a formalized belief in future lives, not to speak of former lives.
I have read that at very early stage those Semites tribes were devoted to the natural things like trees and similar motives. This sound quite well because we know this is the general pattern in the first developments of a transcendent notion. In these devotions for the nature, always there is some rebirth idea by means spirits or a similar notion. In these type of beliefs, the distance between the different worlds become shorter and flexible.It causes a very easy "traffic" of spirits among the humans, animals, plants, etc.. who can enter or arising in the beings
This is also the pattern that we still today we find with shamans and tribal people. From Siberia to the Amazonas, Asia or whatever other place, This was also the common view in those times previous to the big religious times in Europa, Asia and everywhere.
That's one of the reasons why, in the oldest strata of the Old Testament (as in Exodus 20:5), you will find so many "generational" damnations: the punishment which is not carried out in this life will befall future generations, up to the fifth, the seventh... As far as I know, pre-Buddhistic Chinese religion had little to do with rebirth as well. Even in Theravada countries there are hill tribes and other mostly animistic and shamanistic groups where the belief in rebirth is very incidental, if held at all; they usually practice ancestor worship, something that sometimes disagrees with the logic of Theravadan rebirth (beings are reborn instantly according to their deeds) when it's practiced by Buddhified groups. It might have been the custom of pre-Buddhist Thais or Khmers. Also the Ancient Romans and many other societies venerated the spirits of the dead, generation after generation.
I should disagree becuase in all these beliefs there is some rebirth notion by means spirits, souls, etc. who reappear again from the past or in some future, This was also present ion the old civilizated world with Romans, Greeks, Egyptians...Everywhere. Also in the pre-columbine civilization
In the case of Jews, as soon they were able to develop a more sophisticated device with the Kabbalah, also a rebirth notion appeared everywhere. We find it inside the Zohar and many other places.
I don't see the universality of rebirth in some distant past as a proof that Buddhism is right or wrong, and the Buddha often remarked the extraordinariness of his teachings. But anyway, the older you go in history, the less proofs you can find of anything, so you're somewhat entitled to shed your own light on things.
of course, I agree. I don't defend rebirth just because this is Buddhist. This is a shared belief in all the world with the many logical differences.
I believe the important thing is start to realize the non-rebirth it's a social belief like the other one. However, one should know that this is something new in the western world, and it was imposed suddenly and surrounded by political reasons. We cannot ignore this reality to understand this presence in our own mind as something "more comfortable".
Any social dogmatics can work invisible but powerful. Today many people think the non-rebirth sounds more logical, despite they cannot give any argumentation. Just they say: "then, proof me the rebirth is truth". This type of argumentation it is explanatory of what happens. We can keep that bizarre belief about things which arise or perish from a nothingness. Like pure magics. However, we will ask about enough reasons to leave it before start to thinking in another possibility
We should put any belief under investigation for the logics and the rational mind. Specially if we feel that some idea is already present in our mind although it lacks of any logics. In the case of this absurdity of a non-causal issue like the non-rebirth, this belief can be stronger of what we think because this is shared by the majority.
Most of people are keeping this idea from childhood as a part of our educative programming. Including scientist and another supposed "rational" people. It doesn't care. The point is that no additional logics is needed for this majority of people while they ignore that in fact there is none available.
In a very different way, the rebirth is supported by the same mechanics of the reality and the whole universe. We can see in the rebirth the inherent causal logics of nature that also we can see, in example, in the DNA.
I understand the right view according Dhamma is: keeping the rebirth view or in the last case don't keep any thought in the issue. But keeping the non-rebirth view it is a wrong view.
I don't know of any defence of non-rebirth in the texts as a beneficial view. (Well, except nibanna!!)