AA Without the God?
This article written by David Sack, M.D. and published on December 10, 2014 in Psychology Today asks the question, “Is believing in a higher power an essential component of the recovery process”?
Assurances that “A.A. is a spiritual program and not religious” or “you can choose a doorknob for your higher power” undoubtedly helped a lot of people find recovery in Alcoholics Anonymous.
Those are the assurances I received as a newcomer, but every meeting started with a prayer and a reading from “How it Works” with the ominous warning that “there is One who has all power. That One is God. May you find HIM now”! Then of course, we close the meeting with the Lord’s Prayer, and most groups like to join hands in a circle when they pray.
Nobody says that it’s okay to be an atheist and the literature read in meetings describes atheists and agnostics as people who have simply not yet found god. This creates an atmosphere that emboldens the fundamentalist A.A. member to forcefully push their view on others. “Pray about it” they say, “it will help with your resentment toward god”.
This attitude is unnecessary, harmful and not at all compatible with the otherwise open and inclusive nature of the fellowship. Thankfully and inevitably, things are changing and A.A. is evolving with the rest of the world.
As Dr. Sack points out in his article, agnostic A.A. groups have long existed but not in great numbers. This started changing in the past ten to fifteen years and today there are some 195 agnostic A.A. groups world-wide and the number is growing exponentially.
One reason for the growth of these groups is that they work. People are getting and staying sober and as Dr. Sack mentions, “An agnostic AA group can be the best of all worlds for those who want to tap into the fellowship and support that AA has offered for almost 80 years but who aren’t comfortable with the God part”.
I don’t think there is a clear answer to Dr. Sack’s question if belief in a higher power is an essential component of recovery. It depends on the individual, and perhaps no society devotes more attention, care and freedom to the individual than does A.A. In my view, there are many paths to recovery and in A.A. each individual is free to interpret the program as he or she understands it, and that includes an understanding that there is no god or higher power.
Dr. Sack ends the article with a look toward the future and questions whether the two competing forces within A.A. can coexist. His hope is that we in the fellowship “remember the needs of the person in recovery and do everything possible to ensure that the A.A. tradition of welcome continues”.
I’m confident that his hope will be realized. The vast majority of recovering alcoholics who are starting agnostic A.A. groups wish only to open the doors to greater numbers of alcoholics, and to work within A.A. to help build a more inclusive and welcoming fellowship.
There are signs that the believers in A.A. are of the same mindset. At some agnostic A.A. meetings, something like half the membership consists of believers. This is the case at the Happy Heathens group in Colorado Springs where a friend of mine says “religion is an outside issue” at her group.
We are also finding many believers in A.A. who are happy that we are making A.A. more accessible for those who have difficulty with the so called “god part”.
Our experience in Kansas City has been very positive. The central office has been more than helpful with not only listing our group, but also helping to distribute flyers to announce us to other groups. They actually had us in a featured spot on their website for some time with our flyer attached to be downloaded. The district within the A.A. service structure where our group is located welcomed us with open arms, and is more than pleased that a new A.A. meeting has started to help more people find recovery in A.A.
I believe the future is bright for A.A. Our meetings will become commonplace in the not too distant future, and any differences among us will long since be forgotten. Our common bond of suffering from alcoholism and finding recovery in A.A. is much stronger than any difference in how we experience that recovery.