Here's a big misunderstanding that most religious people make: when they feel good, they attribute those positive feelings to their religiosity -- not realizing that if they didn't have faith in God, Guru, Brahman, Allah, or whatever, they'd feel just about the same.
I say this because I used to be such a person.
For the thirty-five or so years I was an active member of an India-based religious organization I was almost always in a positive frame of mind. I was energetic, confident, productive, and happy.
But this also describes how I was before and after my immersion in the teachings and lifestyle of Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB).
When I was working on a book project that began under the auspices of RSSB, I got into a bit of an argument with one of the senior disciples in the publishing department.
We were emailing back and forth about the introduction to Return to the One that I'd written. The senior RSSB staff member wanted me to say something about how my guru, Charan Singh, had inspired my literary abilities.
I told her that I'd done a lot of writing before I was initiated by Charan Singh. I was a good thinker before I got involved with Radha Soami Satsang Beas. I was able to take complex ideas and communicate them fairly simply before I had anything to do with the RSSB teachings.
So I refused to give credit to somebody who hadn't had any effect on my ability to write a book about a Neoplatonist Greek philosopher, Plotinus. I simply didn't see how my involvement with the guru and the RSSB organization had made me a different person.
Sure, I'd done different things than if I had taken another spiritual route, or forsaken faith altogether. But I felt that my basic nature -- how I generally experience life -- would have been the same no matter what I'd done during the previous decades.
The longer I've been churchless, the more I've become aware how all of the so-called religious "virtues" have exact secular counterparts. This includes faith, and its virtue cousin, acceptance.
For a long time I had faith that my life was being guided in some fashion by a higher power: God, karma, destiny, the guru's will. I wasn't really sure who or what was doing the guiding. I just felt comforted by a feeling that whatever happened in my life, it was meant to be and needed to be accepted.
I suspect that Christians say "thank you, Jesus" a lot.
I know that I used to do the same thing, substituting "guru" for "Jesus." If I easily found a parking space in a busy downtown area my magical thinking would take over and I'd praise my conception of The Lord for obviating the need to drive around the block several times.
But now I'm realizing that whatever made me feel good, thankful, or positive during my religious phase is still operative in a secular guise.
My wife and I are leading our neighborhood's fight against a 43-lot, 217-acre subdivision that threatens to dry up existing wells and threaten surface water rights. The battle has been going on for about five years.
After some setbacks, we got a favorable circuit court ruling on our appeal of a decision to let the subdivison move forward. Yesterday the judge had scheduled a conference call to tell the attorneys on both sides how she was going to handle a motion by the would-be developer to reconsider her decision.
I was sort of nervous.
We and our neighbors had put a lot of money and much effort into stopping the subdivision. I was pretty sure the judge wouldn't change her mind, but there was a possibility she could weaken or even overturn her original ruling.
However, calm acceptance was more in evidence in my psyche than nervousness. During the morning I occupied myself with mowing the lawn, staining a tree house, cleaning the gutters, and other chores.
I thought, Whatever will be, will be. It's not in my hands. However the judge rules, I can deal with it. We'll move forward no matter what.
No longer did I have any notions about the ruling being a life-lesson, God's grace, karma, or whatever. i simply knew that sometime after 1:00 pm I'd learn from our attorneys what the judge said, but until then I'd be in a state of not-knowing.
Which was absolutely fine with me. I'd been able to deal with difficult circumstances before I joined the religious organization. Ditto with during and, now, after my RSSB involvement.
All that varied was that during the different phases of my life I used different words and concepts to explain to myself how I was able to handle a problem with more than a modicum of aplomb.
So don't be afraid of losing any of your good qualities if you forsake religion. They still will be with you, maybe even stronger than before. You just won't feel the need to thank an unseen power for what comes your way.
(I do still say "thank you" to the cosmos now and then, but this is gratitude for being able to experience existence itself -- not any specific experience. That said, I was more than a little happy when I heard that the judge ruled in our favor.)