I have a friend whom I have always considered to be one of the strongest individuals I know. She went through a bout with breast cancer about ten years ago and after months of chemo and drugs finally beat it back and recovered. At the time she was devoutly religious and talked openly of the role her faith played in consoling her and helping to strengthen her resolve and improve her spirits.
Now she is facing a relapse of her earlier dilemma, after having come to her own realizations regarding the futility of religion and the impotence of faith. Her initial concern was that without the faith she had earlier relied on the task would prove much more difficult, perhaps even insurmountable, this time around.
My reaction was immediate and to me quite obvious. The comfort she received from her faith was still there, I told her, right where it had always been. But the comfort had never come from faith, but from her own indomitable will, her strength of character, her individual fortitude.
She remained skeptical, so as proof I offered her this premise: During your first illness you were certain that some other power was providing you with some degree of additional energy to meet the challenges your condition imposed on you. Now you know that there was never any higher power, only old superstitions and folk tales. Yet that comfort you felt was real to you. That energy clearly came from somewhere. But what must have been its true source?
Bahai speak of 'the Christ inside', usually in reference to acting in a Christ-like manner when dealing with others and with life. I prefer to interpret the phrase more literally, and it is my hope that in the future more people will do so as well. When discussing the history of religion, it is impossible to deny the real and positive effect it has had on millions of lives. The true revelation here is that the same change, the same comfort, the same assurance wrongly credited to religion for millenia is of course just as possible without religion. Only the source of religions power is a myth, NOT the power itself.
My sincerest wish for the future of our species is that we realize at last this most important truth: Religion is an empathic process, and as such is an important part of our communal human nature. The concept of religion has forever been hijacked and manipulated by powerful forces using the process for there own ends, disguising there actions by hoisting the entire process underneath the care of a mythical higher being who conveniently is not required to explain anything or accept blame for anything no matter how convoluted or obscene the process becomes. Despite all of this, the process itself is wondrous, representing in the most tangible terms the best and brightest moments of our history. Hold onto the process, use it as you always have to strengthen and comfort yourselves, but reject the manipulators who would use it to impose their own restrictions and limits upon you.
Keep the positive aspects of religion, for they belong to all humans, not just the faithful. Reject the negatives, because there should no longer be any place in this new religion for guilt and remorse. And most importantly realize that the process of religion can still provide you with the same comfort it always has. And it will come from the same place it always has - from within you yourself.
There is a song of faith called blessed assurance. I say forget about blessed assurance, wouldn't you rather have ABSOLUTE assurance instead? You have beaten this cancer before, and now you know the strength that helped you to do so came from within you all the time. You have the same spirit, the same resolve, the same strength, and even the same FAITH you had then, except that now you know faith comes from within you and not at the behest of some mythical conductor. The likely result? A stronger, more resilient spirit based on truth rather than myths.