Don’t Throw the Baby Out


By Laurie A.

“His religious education and training may be far superior to yours…”
(Working With Others, Big Book, page 93).

That almost certainly applied to me when I was 12 Stepped by two AA members in August 1984; one man was a retired banker and the other an unemployed labourer. I had studied religion for degrees at two universities and was a qualified teacher of religion. I recall receiving a commendation from an examiner for an essay in which I compared and contrasted the apocalyptic millenarianism of the synoptic gospels with the eschatology of the fourth gospel – at the time I was drinking myself to death!

Today, I sponsor a Catholic priest who ended up in a treatment centre before finding AA. He wrote in ‘Share’, the British AA magazine:

The God of church didn’t seem to help. Thousands of times I asked Him to stop my drinking, even on my knees… Eventually, totally defeated, in AA I was told not to pick up the first drink a day at a time and get to meetings…

He had spent six years in a seminary, I, six years at university. Our problem was not lack of religious knowledge.

I was a fervently religious teenager, worshipping at a fundamentalist Pentecostal church. I was “saved” by Jesus and baptised in water by full immersion. I attended “tarrying” meetings where we waited expectantly to be filled with the Holy Spirit. At one gathering, after much prayer and fasting, I experienced the ecstasy of speaking in tongues. Ablaze with zeal, I joined a team of young evangelists who toured the coastal resorts in “brother” Arthur’s ancient van preaching to the seaside crowds and spoiling their Sunday out!

But then I was conscripted to serve in the Royal Air Force and a long way from home and church “backslid”, as evangelicals say. Soon afterwards I discovered another holy spirit – alcohol. The first time I got drunk I felt like a space explorer in my head. In “The Varieties of Religious Experience” William James wrote:

The sway of alcohol over mankind is unquestionably due to its power to stimulate the mystical faculties of human nature, usually crushed to earth by the cold facts and dry criticisms of the sober hour. Sobriety diminishes, discriminates and says no; drunkenness expands, unites and says yes. It is in fact the great exciter of the Yes function in man. It brings the devotee from the chill periphery of things to the radiant core. It makes him for a moment one with truth. To the poor and unlettered it stands in the place of symphony concerts and of literature; and it is part of the deeper mystery and tragedy of life that whiffs and gleams of something we immediately recognise as excellent should be granted to so many of us only in the fleeting phases of what in its totality is so degrading a poison.

Carl Jung

Carl Jung

Carl Jung made a similar connection. He wrote to AA co-founder Bill W.: “You see, alcohol in Latin is ‘spiritus’ and you use the same word for the highest religious experience as well as the most depraving poison. The helpful formula therefore is spiritus contra spiritum.” In the same letter he wrote, “I am strongly convinced that the evil principle prevailing in the world leads the unrecognised spiritual need into perdition, if it is not counteracted either by real religious insight or by the protective wall of human community … an ordinary man … isolated in society, cannot resist the power of evil…” (Emphasis added).

To begin with, alcohol seemed the solution to my existential dilemma. I was unable to relate to others. Drunk, I seemed to connect with the rest of humanity but it was a delusionary cul de sac. I spent 25 years in my alcoholic wilderness, during which I achieved those academic qualifications in religion. But by then I’d become a cynical agnostic. I rejected the primitive infantilism of fundamentalist religion. (As a Pentecostal I had accepted Bishop Ussher’s calculation that God created the world on October 23rd, 4004BC! I also believed that my family, and anyone else who was not “saved”, would perish in the eternal flames of Hell).

At age 45 my life seemed unbearably pointless. I’d tried everything I knew not to be a drunk but couldn’t stop drinking, so I decided to end it all. A determined suicide attempt landed me in hospital where a psychiatrist suggested I contact AA. I was now scared of dying but didn’t know how to live so I called AA and the men who 12 Stepped me invited me to a meeting. My wife, who was with me, thought I would walk out when she heard the Steps and Traditions read, with their references to God.

But I was beaten and knew I needed help so I listened intently to what would keep me alive; I filtered out anything I didn’t agree with or understand. Bill W. wrote, “Any number of alcoholics are bedevilled by the dire conviction that if they go near AA they will be pressured to conform to some particular brand of faith or theology”. (Grapevine, April, 1961) If that had happened to me where I got sober I would have been smoke and ashes a long time ago. I’m grateful that the AA I joined was not full of proselytising zealots. My first sponsor just encouraged me to find my own way. I was sufficiently willing, honest and open-minded that the dated language and mindset of the Big Book did not deter me, e.g. Dr Bob’s patronising and sanctimonious admonition in his story, “If you think you are an atheist, an agnostic, a skeptic, or have any other form of intellectual pride which keeps you from accepting what is in this book, I feel sorry for you.” Thankfully, the chapter We Agnostics points out, “When we speak to you of God, we mean your own conception of God. This applies, too, to other spiritual expressions which you find in this book. Do not let any prejudice you may have against spiritual terms deter you from honestly asking yourself what they mean to you…”

I’m grateful that Jim Burwell dug his heels in and insisted that allowance must be made in the program for problem drinkers of no faith. (“Nor ought AA membership ever depend upon money or conformity.” Tradition Three, long form).

The AA group I joined met at a Quaker meeting house and I became interested in the similarities between Quakerism in the un-programmed tradition and AA, something which I have written about (see Liberal Quakerism and 12 Step Spirituality). I began attending silent Quaker meetings and eventually applied for membership. I was welcomed and found that my now open-minded, enquiring agnosticism was no barrier. In time I joined the Quaker Universalist Group, which is based on the understanding that spiritual awareness is accessible to everyone, of any religion or none. In turn this led me to the Sea of Faith Network, which explores the implications of understanding religious faith as a human creation and affirms the importance of religious thought, practice and the inspiration of sacred stories in our personal and cultural lives.

Christian AtheistI now belong to the Nontheist Friends Network. One member wrote, “The nontheist sees this life as the only life we will ever experience and is focussed on the living of this life to the full, now, and in accordance with those human principles that make for happiness and dignity for all.” The main Quaker website in Britain, Quakers in Britain, notes, “Some Quakers describe themselves as agnostics or nontheists and describe their experiences in ways that avoid the use of the word God entirely.”

In Christian atheist: Belonging without Believing, the author, Anglican priest Brian Mountford, wrote:

The phrase Christian atheist seemed such a good description of all the people I know who value the cultural heritage of Christianity – its language, art, music, moral compass, sense of transcendence – without actually believing in God … and I use it now as a catch-all for a wide variety of questioning and sceptical, but usually affectionate, takes on Christianity.

The Big Book urges, “Be quick to see where religious people are right” (not where they are wrong)! And William James in The Varieties of Religious Experience wrote

Taking creeds and faith-state together, as forming “religions,” and treating these as purely subjective phenomena, without regard to the question of their “truth,” we are obliged, on account of their extraordinary influence upon action and endurance, to class them amongst the most important biological functions of mankind. Their stimulant and anaesthetic effect is so great that Professor Leuba goes so far as to say that as long as men can use their God, they care very little who he is, or even whether he is at all. “The truth of the matter can be put,” says Leuba, “in this way: God is not known, he is not understood; he is used … sometimes as moral support, sometimes as friend, sometimes as an object of love. If he proves himself useful, the religious consciousness asks for no more than that. Does God really exist? How does he exist? What is he? are so many irrelevant questions. Not God, but life, more life, a larger, richer, more satisfying life, is in the last analysis, the end of religion. The love of life, at any and every level of development, is the religious impulse”.

So, in rejecting bad religion and its unhelpful, sometimes malign, influence on parts of AA, let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water; or, as Al-Anons say, “Take what you like – and leave the rest.”

Laurie celebrated 30 years of continuous sobriety on August 10. He is a retired national newspaper and BBC journalist in the UK. He served on the Great Britain AA literature committee and edited Share, the British fellowship’s national magazine,  and Share and Share Alike, a book celebrating 60 years of AA in Britain in 2007. Laurie’s last post on AA Agnostica dates back to April 27, 2013, and you can read it right here: My Last Binge.

25 Responses

  1. Laurie A says:

    I’m grateful aaagnostica has room for doubting agnostics as well as dogmatic atheists, but agnostics and atheists arguing about God is like two bald men fighting over a comb. In the 12+12 Bill W is impatient at ‘theological abstractions’, about ‘whether God made man or man made God’ (I favor the second proposition). The spiritual life is not a theory – we have to live it; fortunately our primary purpose is to stay sober and, as far as we can, help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety.

  2. Frank M. says:

    Thank you, Laurie. It’s clear you found a solution to your existential crisis in a spiritual community. This, I suppose, is the “baby” referenced in the title metaphor.

    I find metaphors to be amazingly enlightening at times. And I suggest that a more apt one here would be “don’t throw the warmth out with the bathwater.”

    Because there is nothing special, no precious baby, in religion. Not in the sense of some unique kind of healing human warmth. That can be found in many, many places.

    For some of us, long term sobriety appears to be a function of our becoming people who no longer need to drink. Religious practice can indeed change a person in this way, as can any good philosophy of life when put to use daily and with good support. Nothing special there either.

    AA only suggests the religious approach because a) it seems to work for some. And b) AA’s basic theory is that an actual supernatural miracle is required for the “real” alcoholic to recover.

    That last idea is the only aspect of recovery (imagined aspect, I should say) that requires religion. It’s the reason AA clings to religious idea and terminology. And it’s wrong.

    To the extent that we can ever divorce AA from its faith healing roots, we ought to. That bathwater is indeed filthy.

  3. Joe C says:

    Thanks Laurie (and everyone who has commented). For me, an existential journey, or spiritual journey if you prefer, is a two-way street. Maybe the AA pamphlet Many Paths to Spirituality ought to have been a “caution: two way traffic ahead” sign instead of many paths all eventually pointing to the sky. I understand why so many want absolute answers. If the fundamentals are wishy-washy, how do you build on that? In poetry that’s easy but for rational reductionists, everything is a one or a zero. Plenty of people on the two-way search shout, “Your going the wrong way; the truth is this way.”

    My home group, Beyond Belief (and I expect many freethinker AA groups are the same) really is a bi-cultural group. Yes, many members are atheists and happy to have a home where silly notions don’t have to be entertained. Some of us are skeptical and searching. There are AA members at our group that have found, redefined or returned to a faith and owe this current resting place, in part, to being able to freely doubt and question. The only true freedom is a freedom to choose. That includes a freedom to change as well. I don’t know why a path to Yahweh is a spiritual one and a path away from him, her, it, they, is not.

    Sometimes, I get caught up in the politics of belief and when I do, I think I’m missing the point. At least, it’s hard to get drunk on righteous indignation without generalizing about people who are – in truth – all on an individual journey.

    I must say, Laurie, you are on a journey that is strange to me and I am richer for reading about it. I must confess that I sometimes take what I like and ridicule the rest. You are right, it is more mature to simply leave the rest.

  4. crescentdave says:

    I’m with Steve B on this one: there is nothing in the article which highlights specific “religious” qualities that AA would be poorer for not having. This really seems like a love letter to Christian culture … if I might use that term.

    The problem is not the bathwater. It is the superstitious, bigoted baggage that religious culture continues to carry. I am a bisexual – the main of Christianity condemns my acting on this orientation. My sister was denied the right to marry someone because she had gotten a divorce from her ex-husband, who used to abuse her. In this country and certainly in others, reproductive rights are customarily curtailed by monotheist religious influences.

    Do we need religion to be concerned about life and purpose and direction? Do we need religion in order to care for others? In order to want to make the world a better place? Unless we’re lacking these capabilities, I think not.

    Are there qualities within religious groups which are good? Of course there are, but aren’t there laudable qualities in every area of endeavor? They used to say of Mussolini: at least the trains ran on time. Quite an achievement, until a more exhaustive accounting of the costs are added up.

    Perhaps I’ll believe in the “baby,” when it directly begins to clean up its own dirty bathwater.

    • Helen L says:

      The baby in the analogy is not the religious institution. The baby is the kernel of wisdom that religion dirtied with its bigotry. So we throw out the dirty bathwater to find the kernel of wisdom.

      Rejecting religion is an important stage in healing process. I left religion. I never went back into that culture because you’re right they have not changed their bigotry. I changed my bigotry. It is not necessary to return in order to recognize and utilize what jewels of wisdom they also had given us. We just synthesize the good parts and move on. And yes you are right again those good parts can come from nonreligious sources too.

      Humans are cultural. We who were raised in and questioned Christian culture still have a right to our cultural heritage. And we have a right to add and subtract what we need to create a better culture.

      I see the Christian story of redemption as mythology which has been misinterpreted as literal truth. The teachings of the story’s protagonist are still valuable. It is the perennial philosophy of brotherly and sisterly lovingkindness. That’s the baby. Paul of Tarsus began to throw dirt on the baby as did the early Catholic theologians popes and priesthood and the modern Protestant demogogues.

      Wherever the big book teaches the perennial philosophy is where the religious people who wrote the big book were right. They were wrong on other things of course and that’s where we can recognize their cultural mistakes and so we ‘take what we need and leave the rest’.

      • crescentdave says:

        I get your point, but it’s simply not compelling- for me. The “kernel of truth” you allude to cannot simply be separated out … at what point is “collateral damage” too great to justify the original exercise? There is so much about Christian and Islamic culture that is bigoted, shaming and dangerous to persons and organization holding differing points of view.

        I find nothing found solely in religion that justifies the damage it has done and continues to do. I don’t have to go there to talk about meaning, beauty, purpose, love and service. As a result, there is no need to separate out or filter or translate. It’s simpler, cleaner and clearer.

    • JHG says:

      I have had plenty of experience with religion that was oppressive, cruel, infuriating, and downright stupid, but my predominant experience with religious people is that they are doing the best they can. I think the simplest and best explanation for the religious impulse is that we human beings have an irresistible tendency to fill in gaps in our understanding with what makes the most sense at the time. Before modern scientific methods, the earth seemed like a flat and stationary place around which everything revolved. Medical practices were based almost entirely on superstitions which worked sometimes because of the placebo affect. There was no understanding of evolution or quantum physics. And still, modern science has not eliminated the need that many people feel for religion. Most people are ignorant. That is just the way it is. Sometimes that ignorance is dangerous, but most of the time it’s just what’s in the bathwater. Most people in AA need to believe that there is a power greater than themselves that can help them stay sober. Call it the magical thinking of those who are still at a childish stage in their development. Call it a sign of a dependent personality type. Call it a fundamental inability to face truth head on. Whatever it is, I’m not willing to deprive them of what they need to stay sober. I am amazed at the difference that something that comes clothed in those false beliefs can make in lives that had seemed irreparably screwed up before sobriety. If that is what it takes for them, I celebrate their success. That is the baby in the bathwater.

  5. Mike P. says:

    Thank you for your thoughtful and uplifting essay. I, too, have made a “great study” of religion. Having grown up in the home of a Southern Baptist minister, it was important to me to know exactly what Jesus taught as opposed to what had been hybrided onto Christianity by “organized religion”.

    Finally, in my 40’s it occurred to me that the teachings of Christianity regarding relations with others were valid regardless of the existence of a deity. I then read Leslie Weatherhead’s The Christian Agnostic and it made more sense to me than any other commentary or dissertation I had ever heard or read.

    Thanks again for sharing your experiences and thoughts.

  6. Oren says:

    Very interesting article, Laurie, and I appreciate the links. I always enjoy finding new terms and ideas to try out and think about – such as “Christian Atheist”. One of the other ideas that has appealed to me is the idea of a “deeper power”, which I found in an article about women in recovery (I’m not a woman, but something in those two words resonates for me).

    Back in the late 1980’s, when I had been sober for 15 years or so (and had stopped attending my local small town AA meetings because of the increasing religiosity), I also became interested in the Quaker Universalists, and subscribed to their pamphlet-sized journal for a time. I attended a few silent “meetings for worship” with the half-dozen local Quakers, but discovered that their path was not mine. I’m not much for “silence”, and prefer discussion, laughter, and music.

    I occasionally attend an AA meeting, and I’m on the lookout for other agnostics who may be interested in starting a freethinkers’ AA meeting. No takers so far.

    It’s good to know that all of you are out there, and that your experience is so very similar to mine. I very much appreciate this website.

    If I rambled here, and got off-topic, my apologies to all.

  7. Tony M. says:

    Hi Laurie,

    Great reading this plus all the comments it has prompted from others. I know your story already but this has all the bells and whistles which make it, for me, a genuine tale of self-discovery and recovery. We are all many past and present selves and there isn’t always a place for all of these (mental, physical and spiritual) when sharing at meetings. Your journey, like mine, gives life its meaning which probably makes AA a pretty important belief system all on its own. It’s all about the love Laurie and it started to fill the hole in my particular doughnut as soon as I walked into my first AA meeting and has continued to do so for many years since. We both share an abiding love for AA – its simplicity and inclusivity. The message for me is that we are all on a journey and perhaps need to be careful that “non bookism” (if that’s the right phrase) does not become as toxic as “big bookism”. Peace and love. TM

    • Duncan says:

      Hi Tony M, I think you have hit the nail right on the head with your Big Bookism. If AA had started after the Big Book was published then fine,but it did not. Same thing applies with the 12 Steps / Traditions etc etc.

      In fact from what I have read of AA’s history it has been an almost constant change, that is apart from the God bit; that must change too. I disagree with you that AA is simple and inclusive as clearly it is not but it should be. It is a Fellowship of ex-drunks helping one other and of all being equal with each sharing their own experience.

  8. Thomas B. says:

    Indeed, BRAVO, Laurie…

    Thank you for a most perceptive article well documented and tempered by the light of your experience with an evolving spirituality that works for you. I too love the concept of being a “Christian Atheist” — thanks so much for the reference to Brian Mountford’s intriguing book. It’s among the growing stack of my next reads. I imagine it shall deal with similar ground covered in Francis Schaeffer’s most recent book Why I am an Atheist Who Believes in God.

    Of late, when I pray and meditate, I borrow a concept from the British meditation teacher, Peter Russell – I pray to my higher self, the most evolved parts of myself, seeking guidance to perceive whatever situation I am challenged with differently.

    It’s amazing how this AA – Attitude Adjustment – has enhanced my ability to live an expanding life in recovery, where I am, indeed, gifted daily to be “happy, joyous and free” much of the time…

  9. IVAN K says:

    Is religion all bad Sunday Oct. 12?
    My name is Ivan K I am 83 years young and since 2:00 pm Sunday August 30 1953 a day at a time I have been sober 22,323 days. We are all different I had my last drink in 1953, and I did not become a member of AA until the last Wednesday of April 1959. I was a member of the RCAF for 20 years and a cook, and one of my Fellow Cpl. was a member of AA and invited me to an open meeting. I accepted and the rest is history. The question, is all religion bad? The answer is no until they try to shove it down your throat. Step #3 God as we understood him. This is my understanding of God He, or She is energy God is both a positive, and negative power. Everyone of you that are reading my article and have a car the next time you purchase a new Battery for your car purchase one with two positive posts, then try to start you car good luck you need a positive, and a negative charge to start the explosion that will start your car. Billions of years ago there was there was no Universe but a void, and one trillionth of a second there was a large explosion, and the Universe appeared and this explosion came out of the God of my understanding, therefore in my belief God is both a positive, and negative force. Religion is neither bad nor good it is how it is used. Every one of you reading my article have a great sober 24 hr. and if you fail it is all your fault.

  10. Helen L. says:


    Take what you need and leave the rest. Be quick to see where religious people are right. Choose you own conception of God.
    My higher power morphed over 30 years from a male Christian God of my family’s Catholicism to a gender empowering Goddess to a nongendered force of goodness to the universe to nonhierarchic community and principles. I stayed sober and grew through the steps the whole time. It does not matter what you use it’s how you use it.
    I still speak Christian to my Christian sponsees, I speak agnostic to my agnostic sponsees, I speak nontheism to my most openminded sponsees. It’s all good.

  11. life-j says:

    Thanks for this. Even though I was about to get a bit impatient a couple of times where the god stuff got a bit too specific. After years in AA it is funny how we non-believers get impatient after having been in the closet for so long.
    I kind of see it as what we’re doing here at AA Agnostica for the most part – trying to not throw out the baby with the bath water. While here of course we need to be very welcoming to the complete non-believer, no let me re-phrase that, because I am one, be welcoming to those that have had it up to “here” with spiritual talk, I think spiritual work is important, we just need to get all the religion out of it, at least all the simplistic, fundamentalist, judgmental monotheistic religion, while allowing ourselves to accept any worthwhile cultural and moral compasses that can be found in it. Some days it doesn’t seem like much, on other days I do think of myself as a ‘christian atheist’.
    It was a fad 30 years ago to look to eastern religions for answers to what our own couldn’t. And having passed that fad, it sometimes seems hard to turn that way again, but I have done that – no not to religion, honestly I don’t like their religions either, though I have none of the bad emotional connotations with them that I have with my “own”. I don’t like any ready made theistic belief systems, I don’t even like making my own. But I came across a good little book called “365 TAO” by Deng Ming Dao. He’s even an American Chinese, which is good, because while he writes real spiritually, it does not have that totally foreign “feel” to it that it might have had if a “real” Chinese would have written it. It is a daily reader, and Tao is “the way”, nothing more than the way, the way to live, the path we travel, trying to be as aware as possible, reflect on ourselves and the world, improve ourselves where we can for the benefit both of ourselves and mankind, and simple things such as that. The possible use of gods for these purposes is mentioned a couple of times throughout the book, but this is even less religion and dogmatic than Buddhism is. Well, “the Tao that can be named is not the eternal Tao”, etc. The moment we start to define it, it will start to elude us. The moment we start to codify it, it will fossilize into religion, and indeed there is Taoism, which is sort of a religion based on the Tao, of which he does speak as respectfully as you speak of Christianity, but he also does not subscribe to it at all, just to “the way”, and each day has an inspirational chat about different aspects of the way.

  12. Hilary J. says:

    Very good article. Belief itself serves a vital psychological function. It does not depend on the object of the belief, nor the fact of its existence or non-existence.

    In my view it’s about empowerment. We addicts feel powerless to change, so we need to believe in an external force that has the power we ourselves lack. That is why the steps are about a “higher power of your understanding”, not Jesus or Jehovah.

  13. Andy Mc says:

    Hi Laurie,

    Thank you so much for sharing your insight, wisdom and intellect with us. You have helped me put a little bit more of my rebellious anti god sentiment to rest.

    I was brought up a casual Anglican in the UK, my father used to love to drag me on hikes at an early age to discover little old village churches. I hated spending Sunday afternoons scouring the British countryside(Rutland/Lincolnshire) in search of ancient “temples”, swore I’d never do such a thing.

    Now 50yrs later (32yrs sober) I find myself in Canada doing exactly the same sort of thing… as an atheist. I love the buildings, art/artifacts,the antiquity, smells and the sense of mortality.

    I think that I can live with the label christian atheist.

    Thank you again for your contribution.

  14. John Paul C. says:

    Thank you for sharing a wonderful treatise. I am grateful that AA offers me the choice to develop my own concept of my Higher Power. I am equally grateful for the opportunity to change that concept as I change. The greatest gift for me is that AA requires me, on pain of alcoholic death, to share my gift with others.

  15. steve b says:

    To the typical religious believer the question of whether god exists is of the utmost importance, and only a tiny number of people join relatively benign nontheist religious groups such as Laurie describes in his article. And, I didn’t notice anywhere in the article any presentation of evidence that anything of value (the baby) is left after discarding the worthless bath-water part of religion. I read here of warm fuzzies that Laurie gets from seeking a satisfying life in his religion, but nothing showing what is good about religion and why it should be a part of AA. If Laurie means that friendship and fellowship are the good part of religion which is found in AA, I say that friendship and fellowship are independent of religion, and that they are available outside of any religion, and no religious terms such as god or spirituality are needed to enjoy their benefits.

  16. Wally K. says:

    I am an avid fan of the spiritual journeys of other AAs. So many of us seem to take the easier softer way of just conforming to the local fad of going back to an old god, inventing a new god, or adopting the god of everyone else. But more and more as we non-believers desert our closets of non-theist anonymity, I see brave people sharing their Eleventh Step experiences.
    Like many newly sober alcoholics, I overdid some of my steps. For #11, I intellectually and emotionally wiped clean my slate of beliefs – a hodgepodge of Southern Baptist fundamentalism besmudged with the skepticism of my technical education. After a mere thirty years or so, I had plowed my way through a lot of aged and decaying spiritual flotsam/jetsam and found my self to be an agnostic (or even an atheist in the definition of some).
    I do not regret my long Eleventh Step journey, nor all of the hard work and blind alleys that I encountered. And today, I continue that effort after 42+ years of continuous, contented sobriety.
    I encourage everyone to begin and continue the Eleventh Step without the restrains of stopwatch or calendar, and ignoring those who impede this wonderful life-enriching quest.

  17. JHG says:

    One of the things I’m grateful to AA for is setting me free from religion. I ended up in AA after a seven and a half year stretch of trying to get sober in church, which involved even going to seminary and becoming ordained.

    Two insights which I gleaned early on in AA would loosen religion’s grip on me. First, the relative theological freedom in AA assured me that sobriety was not based on correct beliefs, and second, I realized that skepticism and doubt not only did not jeopardize my sobriety, but to the extent that I was being honest, they enhanced it. Whenever I would give up on God, as I frequently did, AA and what I learned from AA were still there for me.

    I continued working as an ordained minister for some years after getting sober, and I continued going to church after I left the ministry, mostly because of the sense of belonging I felt there. But eventually, my experience in AA helped me see that religion was like an addiction for me. I kept doing it not because of any real benefit I gained from it, but because it was a habit and because I was chasing a mirage.

    But one day, probably on a Monday after another unsatisfying worship experience on the previous day, I realized that it was never going to be different. Getting involved in churches had never turned out like I imagined it would, and surely never would. So ever since then, whenever I get the urge to check out some church, I tell myself that I can say no, just like I say no to the first drink.

    • Pat N. says:

      Somehow you reminded me of “When God Becomes a Drug”, by Leo Booth, then an Anglican priest and now, I believe, a Unity minister. I haven’t read it in 30 years, but it did a great job of comparing addictions to religion and to drugs. Also showed that a religious home can be an abusive home, just as alcoholic homes can. It helped me with some of my leftover Catholic hangups.

  18. Pat N. says:

    Hi, Laurie,

    Great article – I know I’ll be rereading and sharing it. Among my “character defects” are irritability and impatience, so I’m a pretty stern judge of the Bible thumpers in AA. This will help me remember that we’re each doing the best we can.

    My first home group included a nun and an R.C. priest, and I don’t remember either talking much about “God”. But they both showed me the respect, empathy, and love that I believe are the core of the fellowship, and that gave me hope for peace, now fulfilled (most of the time).

    My best to Jenny.

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