…the fundamental and first message of Alcoholics Anonymous to its members is that they are not infinite, not absolute, not God. Every alcoholic’s problem had first been, according to this insight, claiming God-like powers, especially that of control. But the alcoholic at least, the message insists, is not in control, even of himself; and the first step toward recovery from alcoholism must be the admission and acceptance of this fact that is so blatantly obvious to others but so tenaciously denied by the obsessive-compulsive drinker.
From Jim B. (AA’s first agnostic member. He was responsible for “as we understood him” being inserted into the steps.):
…for the first time I admitted I couldn’t stay sober alone. My closed mind opened a bit. Those folks back in New York, the folks who believed, had stayed sober. And I hadn’t. Since this episode I don’t think I have ever argued with anyone else’s beliefs. Who am I to say?
I finally crawled back to New York and was soon back into the fold. About this time, Bill and Hank were just beginning to write the A.A. Big Book. I do feel sure my experience was not in vain, for “God” was broadened to cover all types and creeds: “God as we understood Him.”
I feel my spiritual growth over these past thirty years has been very gradual and steady. I have no desire to “graduate” from A.A.. I try to keep my memories green by staying active in A.A. – a couple of meetings weekly.
For the new agnostic or atheist just coming in, I will try to give very briefly my milestones in recovery.
The first power I found greater than myself was John Barleycorn.
The A.A. Fellowship became my Higher Power for the first two years.
Gradually, I came to believe that God and Good were synonymous and were found in all of us.
And I found that by meditating and trying to tune in on my better self for guidance and answers, I became more comfortable and steady.
In his introduction, Kurtz discusses the “not-Godness” of 12 step recovery. I doubt that this not-Godness comes any harder to the agnostic or atheist. 12 step members often talk about staying humble. I suppose this could also be framed as maintaining this not-Godness. I also suspect that losing this experience of not-Godness could just as easily happen to the religious believer as to the atheist or agnostic.
Interestingly, as I’ve been thinking about agnosticism and spirituality, the Pope gave an address that framed agnostics as fellow travelers on a search for truth:
In addition to the two phenomena of religion and anti-religion, a further basic orientation is found in the growing world of agnosticism: people to whom the gift of faith has not been given, but who are nevertheless on the lookout for truth, searching for God. Such people do not simply assert: “There is no God”. They suffer from his absence and yet are inwardly making their way towards him, inasmuch as they seek truth and goodness. They are “pilgrims of truth, pilgrims of peace”. They ask questions of both sides. They take away from militant atheists the false certainty by which these claim to know that there is no God and they invite them to leave polemics aside and to become seekers who do not give up hope in the existence of truth and in the possibility and necessity of living by it. But they also challenge the followers of religions not to consider God as their own property, as if he belonged to them, in such a way that they feel vindicated in using force against others. These people are seeking the truth, they are seeking the true God, whose image is frequently concealed in the religions because of the ways in which they are often practised. Their inability to find God is partly the responsibility of believers with a limited or even falsified image of God. So all their struggling and questioning is in part an appeal to believers to purify their faith, so that God, the true God, becomes accessible. Therefore I have consciously invited delegates of this third group to our meeting in Assisi, which does not simply bring together representatives of religious institutions. Rather it is a case of being together on a journey towards truth, a case of taking a decisive stand for human dignity and a case of common engagement for peace against every form of destructive force. Finally I would like to assure you that the Catholic Church will not let up in her fight against violence, in her commitment for peace in the world. We are animated by the common desire to be “pilgrims of truth, pilgrims of peace”.