SPIRITUALITY PART I
AA is has always been defined as a spiritual program, but
unfortunately the term “spirituality” is often confused
with religion. I see this in reading criticisms of the
program by those who don’t understand AA, often
calling it a religion or cult. Various District Court
decisions have indeed ruled that mandatory attendance
at AA meetings for DUI offenders is a violation of t
he constitution, which prohibits the endorsement of any
religion. This in essence reflects an “official” view
that AA is a religion. But mandatory attendance at
meetings is a whole other issue that I won’t go into here.
I think the view of AA as a religious organization is
probably drawn from our constant reference to God.
We use the word God throughout the Big Book and
particularly in 12 Steps, the Traditions, and the
Promises. There are 3rd, 7th, and 11th step prayers
as well as the Serenity Prayer used to open most
meetings and the Lord’s Prayer to close them. But only
in the steps do we see the caveat “as we understand him”.
If one takes the time to read the Big Book carefully,
and becomes familiar with the history of AA, they’ll
see that AA very carefully steers away from any
connotation of being a religious organization.
Religion is thought to be too inclusive, too restrictive.
Indeed the very thought of religion strikes fear in
the hearts of many alcoholics. We thus emphasize
the concept of a “power greater than ourselves” to
carefully avoid any connotation of religion. But this
recognition of a higher power nonetheless plays an
essential role in the AA program.
But why do we say “God” all the time? It’s
probably because we’re a Judeo-Christian
culture and the term is familiar to all of use.
It’s also a lot easier to say “God” than “God
as I understand Him”, or “a power greater
than myself” in any discussion. And indeed,
many of us believe in God as our higher power,
so that’s just what we say.
This idea of needing a higher power is initially
seen in the first 3 steps. I’m powerless. I no
longer think I can do this alone, only something
more powerful than I can do it. And this
power will help me if I ask. The key to the whole
program is that I can’t do it alone. It’s the first
acknowledgement of the powerlessness of self.
My first glimpse of humility. I, as an individual,
am not all powerful, not God. That, for me at least,
was one hell of a big step (or fall). My ego began
to deflate. I, who had never asked for help in
my life, recognized my utter helplessness in dealing
with my alcoholism. As with most of us, it was in
a pit of utter despair that I finally came to terms
with this higher power thing.
And I think there’s a certain paradox here in that
I was raised a Catholic and had 12 years of
Catholic education. I learned about religion,
theology, dogma. Prayer was always said in
the approved, rote format recited at the appropriate
times during the appropriate ceremonies. I read
Aquinas and Augustine. I knew all about God. He
was all knowing, all-powerful, eternal. These
things I knew. But this knowledge lead to
self-righteousness, the self-righteousness to
self-centeredness, and an eventual focus in life
solely on self. God, indeed the whole concept of
higher power, began to fade to the distant past.
I fell away from the Church, from God. I caught
a spiritual disease, a “soul sickness” as Fr. Martin
liked to call it. Self and ego took over my life.
“I” and “me” were the operative terms of my existence.
(Stay tuned to Part II of the continuing saga. In the next
segment I’ll begin to deal with the concept of spirituality.)