Friday, 9 March 2012

An atheist at Alcoholics Anonymous - can the godless still be saved?

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Illustration by Martin Rowson
In our current issue, we have a fascinating piece by Frank, a recovered alcoholic who found his second chance through Alcoholics Anonymous. As is widely-known, the AA approach to recovery has a significant spiritual dimension. Step three of AA's 12 Step Program of Recovery involves alcoholics acknowledging that they have "Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him."

The italics in that last sentence are key. The God into whose hands the alcoholic places his or herself need not be a literal, monotheistic God in the Judeo-Christian sense. There is scope for the God to be metaphorical. But as Frank explains in his piece, this is generally not the case. The God of AA members is:
"...often an old-school God with a capital G who protects, guides and takes the time to schedule the events in your life. Divine intervention and acts of providence are commonplace interpretations of life-altering experiences shared throughout the 77-year history of AA. A benevolent God steps in when all else has failed. This is an approach to sobriety that essentially means from here on in letting God run the show and you getting out of the way through prayer, faith and appropriate loving actions."
Clearly, for an atheist seeking help through AA, this can pose a problem. But, Frank argues, it is a problem that can be surmounted:
"If you are an atheist in AA and AA is your last-chance saloon, then you have to develop an authentic and powerful workaround to make sobriety breathe for you. Pioneering atheist and agnostic AA members fought long and hard to make it explicit that belief is not a prerequisite of staying sober. And I champion their bold lead. I do not participate in any of the prayers. I ignore any raised eyebrows. God is not looking after me and the Cosmos does not care if I relapse on cheap vodka or not. Outing myself as an atheist in AA proved to be an incredibly liberating act. It pared away any delusions or expectations of life. It gave me a way forward of simplicity and responsibility."
It would be very interesting to hear your views on this, particularly if you have had a similar experience. Is it possible for an atheist to reconcile AA's spiritual dimension with their own scepticism or even distaste for that approach? If not, what are the alternatives? Please do share your thoughts in the comments.
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