There is nothing more insufferable than a new convert to—just about anything. When you are a new convert you are convinced that you have found it and anyone who doesn’t see it your way is at best, ignorant—at worst, living a life of futility.

My last conversion occurred fifteen years ago when I became a vegetarian. When I stopped eating meat, I knew that every carnivore had no idea about the consequences of their behavior. Didn’t they know they were ingesting flesh? Didn’t they know that animals like humans, are sentient beings who feel pleasure and pain? How can anybody justify consuming a higher form of life?

Of course there are the benefits not only to human health but the general well-being of the planet and the human race (100 acres of land will produce enough beef to feed twenty people but enough wheat to feed 240 people).

As a new convert to vegetarianism, I was appalled by carnivore consciousness. My original and obnoxious vegetarian zeal diminished long ago. Yet, I remain faithful.

My wife Judy, was a vegetarian for a while. But her vegetable vows eventually vanished and now she sometimes eats meat and vegetables.  We are proof that a mixed marriage can work.

Over the years, I’ve gotten over my dietary fervor.  I don’t have to save the world. I don’t even have to save myself.  I just don’t want to put meat in my body and that’s enough truth for me.

How we see the truth depends on the lens through which look.

The problem is that a new convert to anything, believes the Truth (capital T) can be seen without filters. Nowhere is this more evident than in someone who is a new convert to a particular religious or spiritual tradition.

I once had a conversation with a messianic Jew.  I’ve always thought this term to be an oxymoron.

Messianic Jews argue that Jesus (Yeshua) was/is the Jewish messiah and anyone who thinks otherwise just doesn’t get it. I told my partner in dialogue that he was really not a Jew–that in believing Jesus as the messiah meant he was actually a Christian. He freaked out and immediately launched into a polemic as to why I was wrong and he was right. It was a slippery slope from the mountain of dialogue to the monotony of monologue–a thoroughly unsatisfying conversation.

Sometime later I remembered Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Maslow said that human beings seek safety first, and next, security.

When we are converted to another way of life—especially to another religion—we are seeking, above all else, security.

But you don’t have to be a new convert–it’s not uncommon for devotees of any religious or spiritual tradition to believe that their way is the best way if not the only one true way.

Roman Catholics do it, Protestants do it, Jews and Muslims do it—this hint of a superiority complex exists in all our religious traditions. And it applies no less to many atheists. Who hasn’t believed for a moment that through my lens I can see the true unfiltered light?

Is your religious tradition the one true way?

This question begs a deeper one. What is religion and where does it come from?

I once heard the Benedictine monk, David Steindl Rast sum up the history of the world’s religions in two minutes. He said that most religions can trace their beginning to the mystical experiences of one charismatic person, such as Buddha, Moses, Jesus or Muhammad. In all cases, these inimitable teachers exuded such love and compassion that to be in their presence was to be standing on holy ground.

After their deaths, their followers memorialized them by building sacred shrines. They developed rituals that they followed in the hope that the original experience would be rekindled. They took the teachings and turned them into doctrines and moral codes.

The shrines, rituals, teachings and doctrines have been passed down from generation to generation for hundreds and even thousands of years, and present day followers have to rely on tradition rather than first hand experience.

Religion philosopher Huston Smith agrees that the world’s main religions have an essential commonality. He says that they are like a pair of trousers: One at the top and plural at the bottom.

On the mountaintop of mystical experience, Truth is one. Down in the valley of time and space, each religion develops its own unique teachings, rituals and ways of being in the world. In the valley of everyday life, Truth becomes the trouser legs and appears as truths. Life is plural, full of dichotomies, dualities, and pairs of opposites. In this valley, religion gets institutionalized.

When light is broken apart, or refracted, through a prism or water, white light appears as a rainbow spectrum of color. If we think of Truth as light, each religion could represent a particular hue, but none is the full white Divine light itself. The light available in first-hand mystical experience is simply too grand and luminous to be mediated by one or more religious traditions. All religious perceptions imply, infer and point, but none captures all of the light.

Brother David’s history lesson in religious and spiritual truth is a reminder.

No matter how much light we have received, we can never see the light in its unfiltered glory.

Even when I think I see the light the one thing I’ve learned is–there is always more to be seen.