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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

AA Without God?

We live in a age where people often believe they don't have time to think, then go about not thinking.  There are others still who believe that they think, when in fact they are like everyone else and go about not thinking, but do so with flair.

An example of not thinking can be found in those who try to work the 12 Steps without actually following what the 12 Steps say.  Here's an example-

Now, the problems are many, but let's go to the most obvious: religion and spirituality are different.  What these folks are doing is not about removing 'religion' from AA as they are removing its spirituality.  Spirituality is about union with the Divine, and religion is about how one gets there.

AA and other 12 Step groups are not religious, because they do not proclaim the name of God or provide the cosmological context of man the way religious groups or the Church does.  The fact that these folks, as well-meaning as they are, can't see that means something else is afoot.

What is going on here is something more than 'agnosticism.'  A true agnostic is someone who does not know.  That's the root of the word.  Now, here's the rub: if you don't know whether God exists or not, would you go about changing the whole AA program to exclude Him?

The human survival instinct and common sense dictate that you would probably hold onto something until you could determine whether it is useful or not.  These folks are not really agnostic.  They have a certainty that they do not believe in God.  At least, their actions do.  They are willing to act as if God does not exist.

So, what does a 'humanist' AA group look like?  Well, here's pull-quote from the article-

In its “fellowship of concerned, loving people,” he said, he found a secular version of the “Higher Power” to which A.A. literature refers. Humanist A.A. groups also have drafted their own nontheistic versions of the 12 steps. Instead of needing divine assistance for recovery, for example, one step states that “we needed strengths beyond our awareness and resources to restore us to sanity.”

Hmmmm... I wonder where these come from?  Is this merely some kind of ancient wisdom?

How exactly is this any different from any other type of self-help talk-therapy?  Surely you can get the exact same therapeutic approaches going to a counseling center, complete with support groups and a  step-by-step psychoanalysis, all without having to butcher AA?

OK, perhaps 'butcher' is a strong word.  let's look at what they did with the 12 Steps-

'Agnostic' AA 12 Steps
  1.     We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2.     Came to believe and to accept that we needed strengths beyond our awareness and resources to restore us to sanity.
  3.     Made a decision to entrust our will and our lives to the care of the collective wisdom and resources of those who have searched before us.
  4.     Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5.     Admitted to ourselves without reservation, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6.     Were ready to accept help in letting go of all our defects of character.
  7.     With humility and openness sought to eliminate our shortcomings.
  8.     Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9.     Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10.     Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
  11.     Sought through meditation to improve our spiritual awareness and our understanding of the AA way of life and to discover the power to carry out that way of life.
  12.     Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
From their Step 3, we can see that the cure for the alcoholic's problem lies in 'knowledge' or 'wisdom' passed down from other alcoholics in recovery.  That's no different than going to a counselor or a psychologist and getting 'knowledge' or 'wisdom' at an hourly rate.

In Step 7, we see that that alcoholics must change themselves.  This is a self-will-powered program.  Here's the problem: can a broken will fix itself?  If your will is so distorted that you cannot stop drinking, how then can it turn around and stop by its own determination?

The supposition here is that working the previous steps is enough to change the will to stop craving alcohol.  However, looking at the step as they are laid out here, this falls in the middle of the process.  

How can you seek to eliminate your defects when you have not yet been made entirely aware of them?  Don't forget that the biggest battle an addict faces is not forgiveness, but asking forgiveness.  You want to find out how humble you are, trying saying sorrow for all of what you've done in an honest way.

The reason this step is in its place in Traditional AA is because  God's work is necessary in order for the addict to proceed through the rest of the steps.  The addict needs to change and be changed in order to complete the steps, something he cannot really do on his own before completing the steps.

For the life of me, I can't figure out what kind of spiritual awakening one can have without God as they describe Step 11.  What are you awakening to?  This is where it gets tricky.

You see, once you cut AA's mooring lines to a particular yet anonymous God, then you begin to run into a problem for true atheists versus polytheists or New Age believers.  A true atheist says there is nothing outside the material, so there is no spiritual awakening to be had.  Spirituality to the atheist is just as crazy a proposition coming from Jerry Falwell or Joel Osteen as it is coming from Shirley McClaine or Dionne Warwick.

Of course, the problem with severing the connections to the original is that you would end up with countless sub-groups, which would necessarily become more 'religious' as they sought to describe what exactly they believe.  So, you end up with Shirley McClaine and Christopher Hitchens sitting next to one another in a room saying, "Wow, I'm so glad we have these meetings to ourselves!"  Strange bedfellows if you ask me.

Why would they share a room?  Because they have a common enemy: the Monotheist and his beliefs.  Let's not forget that the AA God is not described as Trinitarian, and so even a Mormon or a Jew or a Muslim could find room in AA.  there's a lot of room in this definition.

The agnostic does not believe, but neither does he not not believe.  He does not know.  He must then choose: try to believe, or get sober on your own.  By creating their own program and cutting off the spiritual source that AA finds in God, the humanists are making a choice to not believe.  It is, in essence, no longer agnosticism and has become something else.

The question then remains: do they get sober?  I don't know.  I do know that it would not have worked for many of us.  And, I have also seen a lot of white-knuckle abstinent drunks in my experience, both in meetings and outside of them.

Only time will tell.

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