BY: W. H. | WEST LEBANON, NEW YORK
AS A RECOVERING member of Alcoholics Anonymous and an agnostic, I would like to present a few thoughts on our Fellowship from an agnostic viewpoint.
One thing that makes my own experience unusual is that I came into the program eighteen years ago professing a conventional belief in God and had no problem accepting the essential part God is believed (by the majority of AAs, past and present) to play in recovery. One of my strongest beliefs is and always has been that a successful, happy recovery is achieved through personal changes brought about by working the Twelve Steps.
After many slips, the last only two years ago, I concluded that one important area I had failed in was an unqualified commitment to honesty. One black memory of my past was a bad conduct military discharge for narcotic use, a source of such shame that I had never told anyone about it except my wife. At my next opportunity as a speaker, I included this episode, and with it went all the guilt I had carried for thirty years.
Coming honestly to terms with my agnosticism was slower and more difficult. The first part was admitting that, even though I considered myself a believer, I had really always lacked the quality of genuine and heartfelt faith. My wife and many people I admire most, both in and out of the Fellowship, have a beautiful faith, which I respect. I harmed myself in fifteen years of hypocrisy in the program, proclaiming a belief I did not really hold. Today, admitting I lack faith does me no harm, because it causes me no needless concern; being different, dissenting from views by a majority of my peers, is not a source of guilt.
The next step was a renewal of my commitment to the Twelve recovery Steps, mainly those Steps that refer directly or obliquely to God. In my first home group, so long ago, I discovered a power greater than myself, that power of love and good helps us recover through sharing, accomplishing together what we could never do alone. I am an agnostic because I cannot honestly say that I have ever experienced or felt anything I am willing to accept as proof of God. I do believe in the human soul, above and apart from our physiology and mortality, even though I cannot prove the soul exists. Some will see a contradiction here, but for me it is just another example of being different, nothing more.
The suffering newcomer to our program is looking for a lifeline, a way out of the hell alcoholism has brought him to. Those who have managed to retain their belief in God suddenly find it all beautifully reaffirmed and can have a relatively rapid transition as recovering members. Others can be turned away by being presented with religious, spiritual, or abstract concepts they are unable to accept or relate to. At their first meeting, newcomers will probably be invited to join in the Serenity Prayer or the Lord’s Prayer and will hear a reading of the Twelve Steps. In “How It Works,” they will hear how we made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him; how, after a searching and fearless moral inventory, we were ready to have God remove all these defects of character and humbly asked him to remove our shortcomings; how we sought to improve our conscious contact with God, praying only for knowledge of his will for us and the power to carry that out. They may also hear the disclaimer that AA is not a religious organization, but might still get the impression we come fairly close.
I ask that we listen for newcomers who cannot understand or accept the spiritual side of our program, that we stick to the meat-and-potatoes approach and just ask them to try ninety meetings in ninety days with an open mind. We may save a life, for that is what staying or leaving means for many, life or death.
We who are different, whether newcomers or old-timers, need to have the benefit of one of our most important slogans, “Live and Let Live.”
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