An old friend of mine, a recovering alcoholic, sent me a note after reading one of my recent posts. In it, he describes how Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) views religion, which is worth pondering. We may disagree with some of his views but none of us can dispute the great good that AA’s approach has brought to millions of the ‘least of these’ — men and women trapped in a prison of their own making. God is certainly on the side of AA.
“AA takes an unique approach to what we generically refer to as ‘religion’. A fundamental principle of AA is that we have been unable to stop drinking on our own, no matter to what lengths we go, under our own power, free will and best wishes. It simply won’t work. Organized religions, no matter which ones, were either derived from what was known as Catholicism, such as Protestants of all types, generally known as Christians, as they follow the teachings of Christ. Others, such as Buddhism, Shinto, Muslim and many others take their beginnings from similar precepts, except they feel Christ was but a holy man, a special prophet, and they, too, have their own. The Jewish faith is still waiting for theirs.
“But, collectively, they do not offer what any given human being needs – a personal God that loves us unconditionally, will always forgive us our trespasses as long as we keep trying, is not keeping some sort of tabulation or balance sheet to advise Him on which way to send us when we die. We alcoholics felt we were trying to be good people, but began using the wrong medicine for our ailing minds, and could not stop feeling we had the weight of the earth on us, had to control ourselves and the lives of all we met, and despite our overt feelings to the opposite, we lived a life of self-centered fear.
“Organized religion has become man’s never ending quest to humanize that which cannot be humanized. It gives all a set of rules, often quite different by religion, by which to live. They often use the Bible, Torah, Koran, etc., to express these rules. These books depict the life of Christ, Mohammed, or Old Testament characters, and they all offer wonderful knowledge, but often that knowledge is not applicable today. Moreover, the books are often in conflict. Divinely inspired or not, we have to recall that these books were written at least two thousand years ago, some far older than that, and the writers could only write what the readers at the time could understand and relate to. For example, the concept of time, a day, or other relationships are not only often in conflict between the books, but within any book itself. For example, did God create all He did in 7 days on the Gregorian calendar, the Chinese or Jewish? We have no idea. So we all begin to argue among the religious and throughout time many have used our human influence to desecrate what the Holy writings most likely meant, e.g., the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades, and many others. Who was actually right, on whose side was God?
“AA says that we must have a higher power of some kind, because then we are able to do what we could not, what medicine cannot, what the greatest minds in medicine cannot, and it works. It has worked for me going on 19 years. Without the ability to ‘turn over’ that which I cannot do to a Higher Power, I would not have been able to stop, and death is the ultimate reward, no matter how much I wanted different. The proof is that 19 years, and the many other years of millions who have tried, given themselves over to that Higher Power, and followed the principles. It is noteworthy that AA does not mandate, or even suggest, any details about that Higher Power, or suggest a relationship to organized religion of any kind, simply saying that He exists, and that He is not me. It goes on to say that for as long as I try to run my life (and most often the lives of others), a true belief in a power greater than me is impossible. There is no other alternative. Either God is everything or He is nothing, and that’s it.
“I was recently diagnosed with a 50-50 chance of death from lung cancer. Today, complications from Chemo have required me to attend to my heart, and have a pacemaker installed. I had to have spinal shots to put steroids in my back to be able to walk properly. I am still on disability. But, from day 1 of all of this, I accepted what I had, as not given by God, but given to me by the luck of the draw in an imperfect world. But I accepted it, and maintained my faith in a God that loves me. AA gives me no special prayer for any one thing, although it has some suggestions offered by St. Francis, among others. AA asks me to accept my frailty, and the hand I am dealt. With this acceptance comes ownership – this problem was mine, not the fault of me or anyone else, but it presented an opportunity to look at each day given me as a new opportunity, and I was able to consider the cancer almost as a type of adventure, a learning experience from which, if it were His will, I would come out the other side a better person, closer to that Higher Power than when going in. There is glory in fighting for one’s life, but when you give it all you have, there is futility in trying to call on more, when I am out of strength. However, there is strength in calling on that Higher Power, asking for the strength to do His will, whatever that might be, and hopefully be of help and inspiration to others along the way. AA never suggests I do six Litanies or other formal chants that were in good faith defined by other humans and along the way, included in a doctrine that God had never mandated.
“AA condones no organized religion, nor does it condemn any. It teaches that “Condemnation prior to investigation” will get you nowhere. It does not name or frame your Higher Power – that is up to interpretation of each member, as long as it is not that member himself who becomes his own Higher Power, for anyone who does that has already failed. It teaches to surrender that which is not mine, such as control of the lives of others, to that Higher Power, for He alone has that control. It teaches me that perhaps I have abused, willingly or not, my gift of free will, and asks that I turn my will and my life over to my Higher Power that He may guide my every move.
“Does it always work? It would, if we were perfect, but we are not. We seek only progress and maintenance of a spiritual connection with our God. If we falter or fail, we come to Him for a chance to try again. We would find it hard to forgive ourselves were we not completely sure that God forgives us when we keep trying, and if He can forgive us, who are we to overrule Him? So we keep on trying, keep on praying “only for His will for me and the power to carry that out” as the driving force of each of our days.
“I hope this helps in your writing, Jim. It comes from the heart from a good man that was drowning in self-centeredness and self-condemnation, who found there is One who is greater than I, and who loves me, and will help me every step of every day of my life, if I will but ask.
© 2011, James Harlow Brown. All rights reserved.