If there’s something deep inside that’s smarter and kinder, then why not listen to it?
What if there is no God?
This question has haunted me periodically throughout my sobriety. If my sobriety depends on belief in and access to a power greater than myself, what happens if there is no God?
Some say I can use a doorknob or a lamppost or anything for a God, but I don’t think so. How can I turn my life and will over to a doorknob? How can a lamppost remove the character defects that the Big Book says will lead me back to drinking?
What about using the group as my Higher Power? Well, that’s great, except that when I reached one year of sobriety, I found the power of the Fellowship alone insufficient. I felt depressed and indifferent to life and I mainly wanted to sleep. The group was great, mostly, as long as I was at a meeting, but it wasn’t very portable, and I needed something to sustain me between meetings.
I was dissatisfied with the Big Book chapter on the subject. I felt that “We Agnostics” was a classic bait-and-switch. “Our own conception …” morphed quickly into the traditional view of God, with all the attendant masculine pronouns and biblical implications. And yet I was sold on the idea that, on my own, I was in deep trouble.
Two phrases in the book rang true for me. The first was “something at work in a human heart …” This was something I could work with. And then, thank God (ha!), there was the appendix on “Spiritual Experience,” which mentions “an unsuspected inner resource which they presently identify with their own conception of a power greater than themselves.”
I have been sober nearly 28 years now, and I still can’t say much about a God “out there,” one that created the universe, involves itself in natural events or dispenses the occasional convenient parking spot on a lucky day.
I have, however, had a deep and effective spiritual experience as a result of the AA Steps bringing me into contact with “an unsuspected inner resource” (which I call God as a matter of convenience). If someone asks, I might just say that there’s something inside of me that’s smarter and kinder than I am, and I think I’ll listen to it.
It is easy enough to give alcoholism a personality: it’s cunning, baffling and powerful. It is patient, doesn’t discriminate, and it wants to kill me. It’s tied up in a tangle of knots with my selfishness, pride and fear. So it seems reasonable to personify the other side, the “place” within from which emanates love, honesty, compassion, sanity and a willingness to help others. And it seems reasonable to appeal to this place—to state a willingness to live my life under its guidance. I call this appeal “prayer.”
I like to read “other books,” as mentioned in the Eleventh Step. I read about religion, philosophy, science and skepticism, as well as faith. I haven’t rejoined the debate society. I just enjoy exploring ideas.
An old-timer once told me that “religion is a finger pointing at the moon.” What that tells me is that if I spend too much time staring at the finger I will forever miss the moon. I am no longer so interested in labels like “atheism,” “agnosticism,” “deism” or “theism.” And I can’t afford to revert to “me-ism.” When I’m the center of the universe, it’s a dark and lonely place.
My small God might seem insufficient to some, but it works for me. And I believe that that same inner resource is a part of each of us. When I’m in a room full of people talking about God’s effect on their lives, it becomes a presence that we can all sense even as our individual concepts vary.
Occasionally, I have the intuitive sense that my unsuspected inner resource is an expression of something much larger, and that perhaps there is a deeper relationship between consciousness and external reality than simply that of observer to observed.
The poet William Blake said that “the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.” I’m still looking for that palace.