I am an atheist.
- We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.
- Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
- Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him
- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
- Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
- Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
- Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
- Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
- Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
- Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
- Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
- 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.
Anyone else hear the theme song from The Odd Couple playing in their head?
While it tickles me that in an effort to make it very clear they weren’t trying to tell anyone how to believe, the people who developed the steps emphasized not once, but twice, a “God as we understood Him” (the myriad of interpretations of which is nothing short of mind-boggling), I don’t actually have a problem with with all the God, Higher Power, prayer business in the program … anymore.
Since my initial introduction to the anonymous program back when I was but a wee pup, I’ve gone through phases where I was convinced that something with so much God in it couldn’t possibly work for a non-believer like me, decided to ignore the parts of the program that refer to God or a Higher Power (effectively turning a 12-step program into a 6-step one) and bitching about the hypocrisy of the third tradition (in addition to the steps the program also has twelve traditions) saying, “The only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking” and the rest of the book (we have a book too, which we call “The Big Book,” but that’s not really the title) essentially saying, “But you won’t stay sober without a Higher Power.”
But then I took a closer look at the first two traditions:
- Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon AA unity.
- For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority – a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.
“Our common welfare”, “AA unity”, “our group purpose”, “our group conscience” … before they ever get to the part where all I have to do to be a member is have a desire to stop drinking, the traditions mention the group, the program, four times. It occurred to me then that perhaps AA and the people in it and what’s been working for them since 1935 might just be a little bit bigger and a little more important than me getting my nuts all in a twist over this whole God thing. And I decided to shut the hell up about it.
Because while I do not believe in God or a Higher Power, I do believe very strongly in the power of the program. So if the group wants to have a loving God as its ultimate authority, what’s it to me? It’s not like they’re calling down the vengeful God from that cold-blooded shit in Pulp Fiction that Samuel L. Jackson says to a motherfucker before he pops a cap in his ass. I am, however, currently committing said prayer to memory so that in the event I mention being an atheist while I’m sharing, prompting some smart-ass yet again to ask me to close the meeting with a prayer of my choice – Our Father and The Serenity Prayer being the perennial favorites – I can throw down with some Ezekiel 25:17 and really fuck with him.
But despite my current acceptance of and comfort with the religious and spiritual aspects of the program, as mentioned above I do occasionally find myself at odds with someone who seems to have a problem with me not having a problem with not believing in God. It’s neither my intent nor my desire to be contradictory, confrontational or controversial so I don’t run around with my atheism flag always flapping in the breeze, but when I do mention it in a meeting more often than not I can count on someone who shares after me to share at me. Usually this takes the form of them going on and on about their relationship with their Higher Power, whom they choose to call God (or sometimes Jesus Christ), and how wonderful it is and how they couldn’t possibly stay sober without it … all the while looking at me with their sad, sincere “I feel sorry for you because you’re going to get drunk and rot in Hell” eyes.
Then there are those whose minds somehow translate the words “I am an atheist” to “Please help me find God” compelling them to corner me after the meeting and encourage me to hang in there because they had trouble believing at first too; or tell me that even if I don’t believe in God, God believes in me. They also look at me with sincerity but rather than sorrow at believing I’m doomed to eternal drunken damnation, in their eyes as I see hope as they take my hand and reassure me, “I’ll pray for you.” Because I am a kind and polite person, I just smile and say, “Thank you.” Because “Whatever floats your boat! But while you’re at it, you might want to put down your Bible for a sec’ and flip open a dictionary ’cause I don’t think you’re really grasping the full meaning of atheist here…” just seems a bit of a harsh thing to say to someone who’s only trying to help.
I recently accepted a friend’s invitation to attend a meeting called Celebrate Recovery, which I knew was held in a local mega-church and thought was attended by people who were just more Jesus-y than those in most meetings. To say I was unprepared for the degree to which these people were Jesus-y would be an understatement of epic proportions. As I posted on my Facebook page once I recovered from the shock, it was something akin to AA meets Saved! meets Up With People. Complete with thumping music, flashing lights, meeting leaders cheerleader-pep-rally running up to the stage with big praise the Lord smiles plastered on their faces, over-the-head-”come on everybody!”-hand-clapping to welcome the terrified newcomers … it was stunningly, overwhelmingly cheesy in its theatricality and as I sat there wide-eyed and slack-jawed just one thought kept running through my mind over and over again: “What the fuck?” “What the fuck?” “What.The.FUCK?”
It was only later that I found out that while based on the 12-step concept, Celebrate Recovery is not actually part of the recognized collection of anonymous programs. It’s a separate entity that accepts only Jesus Christ as a Higher Power, believing that AA’s concept (which, as you’ll recall from earlier in our discussion, is “God as we understood Him”) is too vague and open to interpretation. It was founded in 1991 by Rick Warren, the Pastor at Saddleback Church in Orange County, California. You may have heard of him. He wrote a book called Purpose Driven Life. I do not like Rick Warren. Rick Warren is a hypocrite and a homophobe, which is why I haven’t provided you any links to his church, his book or his recovery program … you’re on your own if you want to go to his websites. I will however provide you with a link to this page which shows the content he had hastily deleted from his church’s website in 2008 when his views were deemed to be a bit too bigoted for the person who was to be Barack Obama’s inaugural pastor.
I felt a little bad telling the friend who’d invited me, and a few others I’d seen at Jesus-palooza, that I wouldn’t be going back again the following week. They had that hopeful look in their eyes, as if my attendance meant I’d seen the light and was taking my first tentative steps along the road to conversion; and I could tell they were disappointed when I said I’d only gone to the
extravaganza meeting because I’d been invited. But seriously, what could they really have expected? I mean, just because you go to a Christmas party when you’re invited doesn’t mean you believe in Santa Claus, right?