One element common to nearly all religions is their belief that they are the one true faith. Some are magnanimous enough to admit that other religions may contain a few nuggets of wisdom and a few might even allow that other faiths have a "part" of the truth, but it's always with the unspoken understanding that even if such is the case, in the end it is their faith that is the last and best word on the subject. It is simple human nature: one must believe their opinion to be correct and all others less so lest they be forced to change those beliefs. No one, after all, consciously holds to a belief they don't truly believe to be true. To do so would be both foolish and illogical.

As such, when I was young to my faith—and for many years thereafter—I held to the belief that Christianity alone was God's revelation of Himself to mankind. That didn't mean I was necessarily contemptuous of other faiths; I had great respect for Judaism (as do many Christians) because it was the foundation from which Christianity emerged. Islam, however, was less favorably looked upon by most of my compatriots, largely because it seemed so foreign and held Jesus to be "only" a prophet and nothing more (ironically, though orthodox Jews held Jesus in even less esteem, the feelings of distrust were not generally as strong towards them.) Eastern religions were considered even more "out there" and alien, and were by and large lumped together with the astrology, witchcraft, voodoo and tarot cards as far as most Christians were concerned. Ours was a self-contained world of Divinely revealed truth and we considered ourselves "lucky" to be among those fortunate few to have access to the "Word of God." We weren't sure what was going to happen to all those billions of people out there that didn't believe in Jesus as "Lord and Savior" but we trusted that God had such unpleasant details worked out and looked forward to a time when Christ would return to destroy all His "enemies" and set up a idyllic Christianized world.

As my horizons eventually expanded, however, I became less certain of my exalted position. I noted with satisfaction that Christianity was the world's largest faith, with nearly 1.2 billion followers, a fact I initially considered evidence of it's Divine origins. However, it disturbed me that there were almost as many Muslims as Christians and nearly as many Hindus as Muslims. Buddhists, Shintoists and Jews made up another significant segment of the population as well, leaving me to wonder why, if God was omnipotent and omniscient, He seemed unable to save more than about a sixth of the world's population. It wasn't just a question of free will and people's obstinence and sin-nature keeping them from the "one, true faith" that I questioned, but why God would allow all these other faiths to spring up and operate so freely alongside "His" religion. It seemed a simple matter of merely destroying a Mohammed or a Buddha or whomever just as they were beginning to be noticed, thus aborting a competing faith in its infancy. I had seen many examples in the Old Testament where God had destroyed those who opposed Him in an effort to restore the purity of the Hebrew's faith and keep it from being polluted by "foreign" Gods, so why was he loathe to take similar action against those who—whether consciously or unconsciously—were destined to lead millions to a Godless eternity?

I realized later, of course, that God doesn't work that way. Even if He chose to destroy a faith's founder while still in his crib, that would beg the question as to why He doesn't take similar actions against a Hitler or a Stalin or any of a pantheon of greater and lesser despots throughout the course of history. Clearly God was allowing us the free-will to choose between Him and all the other competing faiths, or to choose no religion at all. It was necessary, I was assured, that in order for God's creation to truly love Him it had to have the option of rejecting Him as well, or it wasn't real love. Therefore, God had no choice but to allow these other belief systems to not only exist, but even flourish. It was the price of making free-will beings and, though the sad fact was that only a remnant would turn to Him and so be "saved," it was the only way God's plan could be realized.

While that seemed to answer some questions, however, it still left me with an uneasy feeling. Considering the consequences of "believing wrong" when it came to an issue as vital as salvation, it seemed God could have taken some action to "work behind the scenes" in some way. Perhaps He might build a certain "consistency of thought" into other religions that would make the notion of an atoning savior an element—even if only but a shadow of Christ—within the theologies of other faiths. Certainly it was within God's abilities to "stack the deck" to some degree by making all the world's great faiths recognize certain basic truths of salvation. At least this would be evidence of an external, objective intelligence at work which the world couldn't help but take note of.

Eventually I can to ponder the question of what if one day we acquired the capacity to travel among the stars and came upon a planet with a highly advanced civilization—perhaps not dissimilar to our own—that possessed a remarkable degree of religious unanimity. Suppose this imaginary planet of six billion souls possessed five major religions that made up the belief systems of ninety percent of the populace and, further, after careful study, it was determined that though these religions had some culturally and racially unique characteristics and varying rituals and rites, they all maintained a similar central theme—say, monotheism—and other comparable philosophical, ethical, and moral underpinnings. Further, suppose that anthropologists and sociologists had discovered that these religions had sprung up independently of each other at different times in the planet's history with little or no influence from one another and, finally, that they had demonstrated a notable lack of conflict between the competing religious systems over thousands of years—a remarkable accomplishment in its own right. What we would make of such a scenario, I wonder? Could it all be just one lucky coincidence or might one well be in their right to suspect Divine collusion was afoot? The case for coincidence could be made, I suppose, but it would take considerable work to explain away the remarkable consistency between the five faiths as sheer luck (though I'm certain there are those who would give it a try) and it would always remain, in my opinion, the weaker argument. Instead, wouldn't it argue for an underlying external or absolute truth being in operation here?

On the other hand, instead of a planet blessed with peaceful religious diversity, what if we discovered the five great faiths on this world to be at odds with each other; each sporting their own unique perspective on God? And, further, what if the planet's history was a litany of bloody religious wars as a result of these vast differences? One might well come to the conclusion that these religions were merely outward manifestations of various political, cultural or even tribal rivalries; certainly there would be no reason to imagine an external intellect was at work revealing itself to the citizens of the planet.

Yet that is precisely the sort of situation we have on this planet. It is clear to even the most casual observer that there is no consistency of thought in regards to religious beliefs and practices. At least as far as I can tell, religions are a smorgasbord of competing and often contradictory beliefs that don't even share the same goals or priorities. Eastern religions believe you reincarnate towards an eventual state of Nirvana, while Muslims insist that simple obedience to Allah is the key to gaining entry into paradise. Christianity has salvation the free gift of a God man who takes on the mantle of sinful flesh to die for our sins while Judaism has its laws and atoning sacrifices, and finds the idea of a godman who must die to satisfy the righteous requirements of a Holy God anathema. There are some similarities between some of the faiths, usually in very minor ways, but for the most part there doesn't appear to be any similar thread of thought that runs through them all. They seem as dissimilar and discordant as are the various strains of modern political ideology and, in some ways, even less civilized.

That's when it occurred to me that no religion was truly a reflection of objective reality, but all of them were clearly man-made constructs designed to, at best, point us towards the Divine (though more often than not they prove an impediment to finding the Divine rather than realizing it.) Further, it occurred to me that if the other world faiths weren't absolutely correct, then on what basis could I decide Christianity to be the one, true faith?

Christians—and, I imagine apologists from other faiths as well—spend a good deal of time trying to demonstrate why their faith is unique and objectively true. Some point to archeological digs first unearthed as a result of being mentioned in their sacred texts; others point out supposedly fulfilled prophecy or note the "uncanny" historical accuracy of their scriptures, yet in the end all of these supposed "proofs" rest more on faith than fact. Historians and archeology can prove, for example, that there really was a man named Pontius Pilate, but they can't prove a man rose from the dead. Ancient cities mentioned in the Bible can be found and unearthed, but that doesn't demonstrate that Moses parted the Red Sea. Additionally, for every "fact" the Bible unearths it incorporates a myth to counter it. This doesn't make it bad or a lie; it simply makes it human mythology.

Eventually, however, I discovered that there was more to the picture than I had initially seen. In fact, there was a thread of uniformity weaving its way through the various world faiths, but one that can be seen only once one looks closely for it. This "Divine thread" is hidden because it is confined to what most religionists would consign to the "fringe group" elements of the great faiths. It exists among the mystics.

Mysticism is another of those difficult to define words that can mean many things to many people. Generally, however, it is those religious beliefs that exist on a more abstract or esoteric level than is common to the faith in general. Mystics generally perceive the Divine on a purely subjective and intuitive level rather than through ritual and supposedly objective doctrine and ethical standards as is common to the greater faith. They are the "lone rangers" of their faith that seem to transcend their own religion while managing to remain a part of it. It is as if they are both attached to their religious system and yet entirely detached from it; as though they merely are using their religious traditions as a foundation upon which to base their spirituality; a vehicle through which they might be able to experience a deeper sense of the Divine.

There are mystical branches common to nearly every religion, a fact most people are not aware of. For the Jew, they are known as the Kabbalists; for the Muslims, it is the Sufi sect; even Christianity has its own mystical branch known historically as the Gnostics—once nearly extinguished but now making a comeback. Hinduism, Buddhism, Shintoism all have mystical branches that likewise seem to exist both within and apart from their foundation faith. Collectively, though they may come from different traditions and perspectives, they all share a certain sense of the Divine often inaccessible to the average practitioners of their faiths. They each share a sense of Oneness with everything and perceive God as the essence of the universe. They are all spiritual sojourners determined to transcend the merely physical universe and ascend to the spiritual universe from whence they came and to where they will ultimately return. They share a respect for all life and find value and perfection in everything; they are usually tolerant of other paths and different faiths, even while preferring the trappings of their own "host" religion. They are almost always reincarnationists, seeing life as a process of spiritual evolution made possible only through an endless progression of rebirths. And, finally, they all tend to share a belief in the inherent divinity of all men and women and see themselves as simply emanations of the greater consciousness—that which we like to call God—that permeates the universe.

Here, at last, is evidence of the objective intellect I—and I suspect many like me—have been searching for. Men and women of different faiths, cultures, and even races who all have discovered an identical truth. Though told through different voices and dissimilar traditions, they all echo the same Divinity and in so doing serve as a clarion call for the underlying reality of the universe. That is the one true "religion" if, indeed, it can be called that. It is the religion of love which anyone can tap into and call their own if they will only so desire it. It can be yours too if you want it to be. In fact, it is already whether you realize it or not. It is simply for you to open your eyes and see it.