Why are 12-Step Fellowships so God Centric?
By Dave W
Sobering up in Toronto in 2018 gave me the luxury of sidestepping the grief a lot of addicted drinkers face when desperately reaching out to AA for the first time. I finally summoned up the courage to walk into a meeting and admit I was an alcoholic in May of 2018. This was something I was loath to do initially, having to admit I had become what I most detested in my father.
I’m so grateful that I didn’t have to add to that emotional burden by pretending to believe in a male humanoid interventionist god who loves me and only wants me to give myself over to him and allow him to lighten my path to sobriety and bliss. I rapidly bonded with people in the Beyond Belief group as well as two other local secular meetings, stumbling, slipping, relapsing for about six and a half months before finally putting alcohol down for good (hopefully) in December of 2018.
The clarity of sobriety made me realize, David, you have other obsessive/addictive issues. Father was an alcoholic? Try Adult Children of Alcoholics. Trauma based sexual dysfunction? Perhaps Sex Addicts Anonymous would help. Coffee addiction? Check out Caffeine Addicts Anonymous. Even though narcotics are not a personal issue for me, detox and an in-patient facility exposed me to Narcotic’s and Cocaine Anonymous meetings and literature.
I don’t pretend to have made an exhaustive study of all 12 step fellowships but the one thing that is clear to me is that many if not most have used the traditional AA god based program laid down in the Big Book in creating their own programs. The same blocks and impediments non-believer alcoholics face are encountered in these other programs.
Apparently in order to be free of sexual obsessions in Sex Addicts Anonymous, you require “a loving higher power” (yes that is in their Big Book equivalent, The Green Book). Their ultimate authority in tradition two is a “loving god” babysitting the group conscience. The steps and traditions are almost verbatim to what is in the Big Book. The first edition of the Green Book was published in 2005. Their tradition eleven requires them to maintain personal anonymity only at the level of press, radio, TV, and films. Interesting how no one with a sex addiction had heard of the internet back in 2005.
As in AA, higher power and god are interchangeable entities in SAA literature. It talks of surrendering control on one’s life to same. Identical “I’m powerless and I need to call on a mystical being to fix me” that you find in AA.
Another generic requirement is sponsorship and a requirement to work your way through the steps in the beginning. I am not dismissing the benefit of sponsorship and step work, but it is presented as a requirement rather than an option to be commenced as soon as possible. I don’t know if I would have hung around AA in the early days if I was bullied into finding a sponsor and doing the steps in the beginning. In attending the few traditional, sponsor based meetings that I did early on I had a sense that the message was if you do not commit to getting a sponsor and work on the steps you best find the door. Some meetings have a way of running people off without actually asking anyone to leave. Do it our way or get out is the unspoken message. As a personal note, I am over twenty-two months sober with never having had a sponsor and not formally doing the step work. What I am most grateful in the beginning was being able to take my time to get my bearings without anyone pushing me in a direction I was not ready to go in. Addicts frequently have trust issues due to past trauma and it is so easy to scare off or piss off a new person by making demands that they follow a rigid path.
Caffeine Addicts Anonymous on their website currently offers up three on-line reading/discussion meetings. Remarkably in one they actually do read from a book on caffeine addiction. The other two meetings however are readings from the Big Book and the Twelve and Twelve. Drinking too much coffee? Read from an eighty-year-old book on alcoholism, pray to god and you will be free.
Marijuana Anonymous’s service manual has a How It Works section presenting the traditional version of the steps along with a statement that probably no human power can relieve their addiction, but their higher power can and will if sought.
Both Narcotics and Cocaine Anonymous preach from the same traditional 12 step hymn book with instruction to give yourself over to god for guidance ad-nauseum. The overriding message is you better get god, or you are operating in a vacuum with nothing else to guide you.
I am aware of several alternative non-god centric twelve step renditions and books devoted to overcoming addiction. In its Monday step meeting, Beyond Belief is currently using Jeffrey Munn’s wonderfully helpful book Staying Sober Without God, The Practical 12 Steps to Long-Term Recovery from Alcoholism and Addictions. The book offers a program of personal empowerment rather than abdicating responsibility for your life to a mystical force.
In visiting the various websites of the 12-step organizations mentioned, I see no effort being made to make people aware of alternative versions of the steps. In 2020 the internet is often going to be the first point of contact for a person with an addiction seeking help. In visiting websites, one would rapidly conclude that a belief in god is a prerequisite for joining 12-step groups. Makes me wonder how many people have been turned off without even physically ever walking into a meeting.
David is a sixty two year-old agnostic alcoholic whose drinking career began late in life after growing up with an alcoholic father. After twelve years of daily drinking, he came to believe that a substance greater than himself trapped him in the same addictive cycle that had trapped various members of his family on both sides. Desperate for outside help, he found secular AA on-line in 2018 and was able to avoid the conflict with religion and a mandatory belief in god that traditional AA insists on imposing on members. His home group is Beyond Belief Toronto and he will be two years sober in December 2020.