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The major difference between “old/established” religions and “new” religions lies in the name. However, it is not to be found strictly in the chronological position of the two in the temporal sense, but rather in the stage of development. Thus, when we call Buddhism an “old” religion, although the tradition is indeed millennia old, we are primarily referencing its advanced developmental stage, characterized by organization, hierarchy, rules and codes, as well as wide social acceptance. The above devices generally emerge to fill the vacuum created after the founder’s death, who provided the driving force of the nascent religious movement. All religions begin as new religions. All religions face competition from rival movements. As these religions grow “old” they must either adapt to changing social conditions or face replacement by a “new” religion that better addresses the issues of the day. Adaptability characterizes most successful religions. If “old” religions are adaptable and familiar, “new” religions are full of zeal. “New” religions, by their mere existence, challenge the established authority of “old” religions and implicitly dare the established religions to return to the zeal that existed when they were “new.” Therefore, the key difference is not to be found by linear plotting of religions in chronological order on a timeline, but in understanding the cyclical progression of religious development. The “old” religions are “new” religions that have survived the competition.

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I stumbled across this video interview Kurt Andersen of Studio 360 conducted with Pico Iyer, who is always dubbed a “travel writer.” Now, Mr. Iyer is a highly educated man, and has lived in Japan for 20 years according to the interview, thus imbuing him with a distinct air of authority. All this makes it particularly shocking to hear Mr. Iyer’s musings on discovering Buddhism on the Japanese street, namely–to use his example–in McDonald’s. Now this sounds promising. I will not do it justice, but let the video speak for itself. What is particularly disturbing is that the mouth of a man of Mr. Iyer’s obvious erudition would let slip such platitudinous, pop analysis.

Are we really supposed to believe that a mother teaching her child in a quiet voice to put down a french fry is somehow informed by Buddhism because it stresses social harmony is some way? Needless to say, social harmony is–if any one thing–a rather Confucian concept to begin with, but leaving that aside, this kind of stereotype reinforcement endorsed by a supposed authority is sadly just the kind of nonsense that has dominated most popular discourse about Japan. Bring on the Brooks Brothers samurai…

But I’m ruining it. See it and judge for yourselves.

I have recently read two article pertaining the Christian experience in 16-17 c. Japan. Both are from Nanzan University’s Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, 2007, 34/1. The first is Peter Nosco’s “The Experiences of Christians During the Underground Years and Thereafter” [85–97] and Tomoko Kitagawa’s The Conversion of Hideyoshi’s Daughter Gō” [9–25]. Both of these should be accessible as PDFs in the links provided.

Read the full post for analysis.

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