The rifts within society today stem largely from our inability to recognize the truth and its full meaning. In considering what religion is, perhaps this is the starting point we all need to come back to: Is religion the little ceremonies we perform once a week in our churches, synagogues, or mosques? Is it the prayers we say to our gods, or the belief in these gods? Is it the set of rules we choose to govern our lives by? No.
Religion is an idea! Nothing more, nothing less. It's the idea that there is a higher purpose to life, that there is meaning to life even though we can't always fathom it. The idea that we are all the same, brothers and sisters journeying through life looking for that purpose and meaning, is the one religion.
There is beauty and sadness in looking out into the world and seeing hundreds of versions of religion.. The beauty resides in the fact that they are all the same idea, merely expressed differently — portraits painted by different peoples trying to capture the essence and beauty of life. The sadness is when people look at their own religion and believe that their portrait is more important, more correct, than anyone else's.
Fundamentally, religion is a portrait of the unknowable and therefore beyond our criticism. All we can really do is admire the similarities and try to understand the differences. Religion is the story of life, and while we may prefer one story to another that doesn't make the other invalid, for a story is a story is a story.
(From Sunrise magazine, August/September 2004; copyright © 2004 Theosophical University Press)