During the years that I struggled with my faith, an image got stuck in my head that kept coming back and ruining my stasis. It is this picture:
When I was still only a year old, the monk in the picture, a man named Thich Quang Duc, stepped into a street, doused himself with gasoline, and lit himself on fire.
He was Buddhist.
I had always been taught that other religions were inventions of Satan to deceive people away from the true salvation of Christ. And yet, here was a man who was so passionate about his faith and what he believed, he was willing to die for it. In fact what Duc did caused such a stir that the leader he was protesting, Ngo Dihn Diem, was soon overthrown.
No matter how hard I tried to wrap my mind around it, I could not imagine this man–and an entire nation of people like him–could be merely under some “Satanic Spell.” And if so, how could such a deception lead to such altruistic good works? Wouldn’t a tool of Satan become more filled with hateful and Satan-like emotions? The Bible said you know a tree by it’s fruits. If the fruit of this man’s faith was true altruism … I could not say the tree from which it grew was the work of Satan.
And I wondered what would have happend to me if I had been born in Vietnam. I knew that statistically–no matter how close I felt my link was with Jesus–I would have become a Buddhist like Duc. And if I had been born in Indonesia I would have been a Muslim. If I had been born in India, I would have practiced Hinduism. But no, I was born in the United States, and practiced Christianity instead. And I believed that all the others were wrong, just like Hindus think that we are wrong, and Muslims think that Buddhists are wrong, etc. etc.
How many truth-seekers in the Sudan look at all the world’s religions and decide upon Christianity? How many Americans explore the world and settle upon Islam? I knew that Cat Stevens was the one glaring exception, but that statistically, the chances of an American becoming a Muslim were practically nil.
So truth, it started to seem, was relative. When people reach out for God, they go to the nearest and most convenient and socially-acceptable religion. Their need for help becomes satisfied, and everyone is happy. Their questions are answered, and they will not question the answer.
And so, here I was, a kid in the United States who was an ardent Christian. I defended my faith against the most intellectual attacks I encountered. But when considering this evidence, I was starting to feel like a giant fool.