One of the things that appealed to me about the New Age was the idea that all the major world religions teach the same thing, and therefore they are all correct. After all, I’d lived in Japan and knew how sincere, humble and obedient the people here were. Surely no informed Westerner would claim superior knowledge over these people.
There were a few things that were difficult to reconcile, though. One was the East’s belief in reincarnation versus the West’s belief in Heaven and Hell. No matter how you looked at it, those were two different belief systems. New Age authors in the business of comparing the religions would conclude that “Heaven and Hell are a metaphysical impossibility” and “Christianity is mistaken on this one point, but in general the teachings agree.”
Because, you know, when you’re trying to prove that all the world’s religions teach the same thing, it’s okay to just claim that Christianity is wrong. That won’t totally disprove your entire hypothesis.
I would slowly discover this subtle discrimination against Christianity to be a theme. A suspicious theme. It was beginning to look more and more like the de facto battle lines were actually “Christianity against the rest of the world.” Interestingly, that was exactly where Christianity would have drawn them.
What sealed the deal for me, though, was a trip to a certain Buddhist temple. Inside this temple, giant statues of the twelve gods of the Chinese zodiac stood in a ring. When I entered, one of the attendants asked me which year I was born in. I told her, and she led me around the ring to the statue which she told me was ‘the god of people born in the year of the rat.’ Then she stood there expectantly, perhaps waiting to see that I had understood her Japanese by watching whether I would pray to the thing.
I gazed up at the eight-foot, lacquered mahogany statue of a snarling half-man, half-beast. I stared at the long, pointed teeth visible through its open grimace, noted the horns on its head. She wanted me to pray to this thing?
The leader of the New Age cult I was then a member of would say that this, like all gods, was just a face of the one true God. Young Buddhist women who were born in the year of the rat apparently prayed to it without a second thought.
On the other hand, there was something comically mismatched in the idea of addressing this thing as a loving parent. If design is a language, then every word of this thing was screaming that it was a depiction of a demon. The only emotion it inspired in me was revulsion.
The question was, did I really believe that this was a depiction of one facet of God? My beliefs said that I had to. If I didn’t, then I was admitting that the world’s religions weren’t a unity, and the entire foundation of my religion would fall apart. I stared at the statue for a long time, waiting for something to give. It was an intellectual stalemate.
Finally something settled inside of me. I don’t have anything to say to that thing, I thought, and walked away.
When I finally decided to leave the cult, I politely thanked the leader for everything and told her that my journey had led me to the Catholic Church. She responded quite civilly that she thought this might happen, but was surprised that I’d chosen the Catholic Church–she had thought I might go for Japanese Buddhism. I replied politely again, explaining my reasons for choosing Catholicism, to which she responded with some rather desperate reasons as to why I ought to avoid the Church. Now what difference in the world could it have made to her at that point?
None, I suppose, unless she was dedicated to spreading the idea that any religion is okay–except for Christianity.