God As We Understood Him
WARNING: The following essay, although sincerely and thoughtfully written, is very offensive to Scientologists, smokers, Christians, spirituality, and especially to Zeus. To history’s other 2,000 + Gods, past and present – I have offended you most of all by ignoring you.
By bob k
Verse 16 Chapter 3 of the Gospel of John is one of the most famous verses in the Christian Bible. It has also been called the “Gospel in a nutshell” because it is considered a summary of the central dogma of traditional Christianity:
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
In Exodus, one of the books in the Old Testament, God lays down a few rules:
You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents…You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” (Exodus 20: 1-7)
The Father, as we are told above in the gospel of John, so loved the world that he gave his Son. And now the Son is the only way back to God:
I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)
Christianity, as do most other religions, puts a priority not just on calling upon God, but on calling upon the RIGHT God. All of the above militates against “Why don’t you choose your own conception of God?” having any effectiveness. In fact, such action is an affront to (the real) God. “You shall have no other gods before me.” Further, should I choose a conception of God that follows a path through, say, Allah, then, according to John 14:6, I will not reach the Father (God).
Let’s be a bit silly, to make an additional point. If someone chose Zeus, or Thor, or the sun as a higher power, and in fact, the Highest Power, and as a result was relieved of ANY desire to drink, and thus recovered from alcoholism through this spiritual awakening, did Zeus (or Thor, or the sun) do it? Certainly, for the “saved,” the grace of Zeus has been irrevocably proven. “There is One who has all power. That One is Zeus. May you find Him now!”
There is a second possible interpretation of the miraculous recovery. The “real” God, and not Zeus, has brought salvation to our dissolute protagonist. Though he had reached out to a false god, the “real” God has intervened and supplied the necessary salvation. Choose your own conception of God, pray for His divine benevolence, and the “real” God very graciously supplies it. Problem solved. Riddle unravelled. Mystery demystified.
EXCEPT that then the biblical quotes above must be taken to be untrue. “The way to the Father” is through ANY higher power you chose. The Lord thy God is not the least bit jealous, nor does He bristle at being called the wrong name. “You shall have no other gods before me. You know, on second thought, forget I said that – have WHATEVER gods you want! What the Hell, that was thousands of years ago. We didn’t even have the Internet then!”
“Although I AM the way, the truth and the life…“ Hey, maybe there are many ways. Go ahead; pick one – Hell, the damned Druids worshipped trees! Should I hold it against them?
Back to Willie Wilson and the miraculous salvation of the disgusting drunks: We have now outlined two solutions to the enigma of the effectiveness of calling upon ANY “God as I understand Him,” clearly conflicting with the religious truths learned in childhood.
POSSIBILITY 1) Calling on Zeus, Vishnu, Shiva, Loki, Odin, Sophia, Triple Goddess, Ein Sof, Pleroma, demiurge, shamanistic creator spirits, new age powers, crystals, nature spirits, aliens, the Force, universal spirit, math, the Great Spaghetti Monster, an elephant-headed Ganesha, or a crabapple tree to achieve divine relief from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body – all these methods work because all of these “conceptions of God” exist. Each of them has the divine power necessary to help those who are beyond human aid.
POSSIBILITY 2) The “real” God steps in to perform the miraculous healings. He is unoffended that the petitioner has called on false gods. The Old Testament is wrong. Additionally, “the way to the Father is through me” must ONLY refer to being with the Father on an eternal basis. In the temporal world it is PROVEN that I can reach the Father in a myriad of ways. Clearly, a great many have “gotten to” the Father for relief of their worldly afflictions, such as getting sober, without accessing the beneficence of JC.
Of course, a third possibility exists, and it is far less problematical than both 1) and 2).
“Selfishness – self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles.” (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 62) What is extremely constructive in overcoming this largest of our problems is the humbling action of seeking God’s help. If there were an ACTUAL intervention by God to provide this aid, then it would be OF EXTREME IMPORTANCE that we reach out to THE RIGHT GOD! And as it turns out: it is NOT.
“It was only a matter of being willing to believe in a Power greater than myself. Nothing more was required of me…” Of course the quotation continues “…to make my beginning.” (Alcoholics Anomymous, p. 12) Within the more homogenous culture of 1930s America, it was hoped this simple opening would bloom into a full-blown Christian faith. Not so today, when fully developed faith might be Hindu, native American, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Scientologist, Extra-terrestrial, Pantheist… and on, and on. Some spew the very atheist-compatible “God is Love” or “God is Good.” Most popular of all of course is Spirituality – touted erroneously in modern AA (by so very many) as vastly different from, and superior to, religion. This modern view, although not in concert with the writers of our book, probably represents the majority position in 2012. Step 11 took most early members to a study of The Book of Revelation. Not so today.
Why is it virtually irrelevant which God or Higher Power is selected as the ticket to the needed spiritual rejuvenation? Being “beyond human aid” (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 128), how can it be that ANY higher power has the divine capability to save me? Can I be benefitted by praying to a light bulb?
“The answer, my friends is blowin’ in the wind. The answer is blowin’ in the wind.”
The key to recovery from alcoholism does not come from God – we see above the difficulties in accounting for the viability of “your own conception of God” as a workable solution. The VALUE of prayer, meditation, pleading for help from ANY God (actual existence – not a factor) is in the reduction of self-centeredness and self reliance.
Making the universe God-centered, not Bob-centered brings tremendous benefits. That the God, gods, false gods, or non-gods that I choose are right or wrong, real or unreal, seems not to be an issue. This lobbies for “moral psychology” as the critical factor. There is no intervention by the supernatural. Calling on God, and in doing so reducing one’s self-centeredness, is what aids in producing “the personality change sufficient to bring about recovery from alcoholism (Alcoholics Anonymous, Appendix II).”
A final benefit of this secular view of the process, is that it removes the problem of trying to understand why a loving God brings miraclous salvation to an eleventh-hour repentant drunk while allowing millions of innocent children to die from disease or starvation. The recovered alcoholic then demonstrates his enormous gratitude to the Creator by smoking fifty cigarettes a day and dying of lung cancer.
Glad I was able to clear this up for y’all.
I’ve been sober for 3 years, 4 months and 19 days. When I reached 1 year in AA my sponsor told me I had to believe in god, pray daily AND be scrupulously honest! What a mind f*#*k to be told I would certainly start drinking again if I didn’t accept god as my higher power. Maybe I can worship the Great Spaghetti Monster if the agnostic groups don’t continue to keep me sober.
Astonishing Bob! YOU quoting biblical verse?
Now you’ve opened up the doors for any John, Dick or Harriet to quote Scripture. So here’s my offering.
I’ve often thought that some of the finest words I know come from the Gospel of Matthew where Matthew reports Jesus saying the following:
Then the righteous ones replied: “Lord, when did we ever see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked? When did we ever see you sick or in prison?”
And Jesus responded: “As you do these things for the least of these my brothers and sisters, you do them for me!” (Matthew 25:35-40)
Or shifting from Scripture, how about this?
Once upon a time, there was a great god who decided to walk among the people and demonstrate how each of them should treat one another. He taught them that when anyone was thirsty, they should be given something to drink; when hungry, they must be fed; when naked, clothed; when sick, cared for; and when any of them were in prison, they were to be visited. And then the great god returned from whence he came.
Or, the following is typical of what any a number of secular humanists teach: that common human decency means lending a helping hand to those who are thirsty and hungry, who are without shelter, proper clothing, and friendless, or who find themselves in prison. When a tsunami or hurricane devastates any city around the world, civilized people on this planet rise to the occasion and try, in whatever way they can, to care for those in need. Ethically, anything less reflects badly on our selves and our species.
Now, the secularist may ignore the quotation from Matthew’s Gospel because it comes from a religious text like the Christian Bible. And the Christian might dismiss the teaching of a secular ethics since it lacks the authority and sanction of God or the Church. And the middle story above, after all, is just a fairy tale.
Of course, when I was a practicing drunk, I was pretty much deaf to the words spoken above, no matter what form they took.
I take it that the moral behind Bob’s article is that selfishness and self-centeredness is the root of the alcoholic’s troubles and, therefore, anything that gets the alcoholic out of “self” in the direction of concern for others proves effective for recovery from alcoholism– regardless of the source, and regardless of the words used!
Thanks once again, Bob, for one of your really fine, thoughtful pieces.
Bob, your punishment for this essay will be damnation to the hell of your own choosing. May it include the netherworld’s hottest rock band and all the iced tea you can drink.
Couldn’t agree more with your point, and glad to see you finally have one. The God idea is a path, for some, to a profound reorganization of the mind and its conceptions about self and one’s place in the universe. It’s clear to you and me that this is the real how and why of it when it comes to God’s role in AA’s traditional Program.
You’ve made a solid counter argument here to the often heard claim that recovery involves the aid of an actual Being. God doesn’t have to exist for the Program to work. A conclusion which you ably demonstrate using only the meager mental gifts He gave you.
This idea should be taken even further. Our source of strength and wisdom therefore need not be God at all. Just anything that helps us find our real place in this world–as a part of it and not as its center.
Thanks for your lovely thoughts you lovely man.
By an interesting coincidence, I made a similar point about the possibility of there being many gods in AA in a post I made in the AAAA google group under the topic “Oh my God!”, which is reproduced below. June 9:
Thanks so much Bob. A good laugh is always welcome on a Sunday morning.