Atheism and AA


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Dayton, Ohio
Alcoholics Anonymous is all about the 12-step program.

One of the fundamental principles of the 12 steps is that the recovering alcoholic must acknowledge a Higher Power.

Does this mean that an atheist cannot be helped by a 12-step program?

I'm curious to see how you respond.


For some folks, the "higher power" can simply be the group itself - the group conscience as it were. That seems to work about as well as using a personal deity for the program, from what I've seen. Some of the * Anonymous groups use the Lord's Prayer in their meetings, others avoid it as some folks aren't comfortable linking "higher power" to a specific religious background.

If you look at the steps, none of them require an active higher power - even turning one's will over to a higher power doesn't need to have an active power - it can also be used by just letting things happen.

I've known people of many faiths and no faith that have used the Steps successfully - the focus is on changing yourself and how you operate, which seems to make a big difference.
Perhaps the "higher power" is the ideal you set for yourself, the achievement of conquering whatever vice is holding you from being the person you want to be. It is the motivation to step beyond paradigm you have set yourself in. Of course, this is hard if not possible to do without help, or without accountability.
What is essential is giving up "self-will". Exactly how that is conceptualized is not important. "The only thing you need to believe about God is: you ain't God!" (old AA cliche')
bob x said:
What is essential is giving up "self-will". Exactly how that is conceptualized is not important. "The only thing you need to believe about God is: you ain't God!" (old AA cliche')

I hadn't heard that one before. I have known of people that have had a hard time working the AA program because they refused to believe in any type of higher power. That cliche may be of use to them. One of my favourites is 'where there's a will, there's a way' and I believe that if a person really wants to work the AA program they will find a way of looking at it that they can accept/understand. I have seen impressive results in people close to me that diligently work the AA program in their lives. Of course seeing such positive changes in people's behaviour and attitudes is something of a spiritual experience in and of itself which is very inspiring. :)
In response to the higher power bit. Yes, it is highly encouraged that one would look to something else for help. This is due in part to the fact that alchoholics are so self cenetered. There is an on going battle with one's pride, will and ego that they may in fact win over alcohol on their will power alone. For the real alcoholic this is a doomsday scenario. It will never work. Not everyone who drinks heavily is an alcoholic. For those that are there is no other refuge but to reach out and accept help from somewhere. For some it starts as the group and expands the longer they stay sober. Almost 100% of the time their concept of aHigher Power leads to a belief in God. You see, the alcoholics ego must be subdued because part of the malady exists in the mind. The other part is the physical manifestation the illness takes. When one reaches this point they are drinking to survive. I have been a member of AA for 15 years and have seen countless lives saved as a result of this program. It is truly the work of God when seen first hand. Too many people would leave if they were forced to believe in a specific God or religion. This openess allows a comfortable atmoshere for one to soul search and get better.