As I read the Daily Reflection we will be discussing this morning July 4th entitled ‘Natural Faith’ , I realized that for some this reading may feel like a condescending projection about an experience of God that makes certain something that many in AA find otherwise. This article takes extracts from 4 different AA Grapevine articles … this first one, written by Bill W much later in 1961 , that describes his actions and attitudes at the time of the writing of the Big Book as an ‘unconscious arrogance’ and goes on to say:
“In AA’s first years I all but ruined the whole undertaking with this sort of unconscious arrogance. God as I understood Him had to be for everybody. Sometimes my aggression was subtle and sometimes it was crude. But either way it was damaging–perhaps fatally so–to numbers of nonbelievers”
He then describes an example of this damage in very human terms:
Here’s a recent example of the high cost of spiritual pride. A very tough-minded prospect was taken to his first AA meeting. The first speaker majored on his own drinking pattern. The prospect seemed impressed. The next two speakers (or maybe lecturers) each themed their talks on “God as I understand Him.” This could have been good, too, but it certainly wasn’t. The trouble was their attitude, the way they presented their experience. They did ooze arrogance. In fact, the final speaker got far overboard on some of his personal theological convictions. With perfect fidelity, both were repeating my performance of years before. Quite unspoken, yet implicit in everything they said, was the same idea–“Folks, listen to us. We have the only true brand of AA–and you’d better get it!”
The new prospect said he’d had it–and he had. His sponsor protested that this wasn’t real AA. But it was too late; nobody could touch him after that. He also had a first class alibi for yet another bender. When last heard from, an early appointment with the undertaker seemed probable.”
Dan H. wrote an excellent, short article entitled ‘An Unsuspected Inner Resource’ in the February 2016 Grapevine that describes his reaction after many sober years to the chapter ‘We Agnostics’ that is used as the basis for today’s daily reflection. He goes on to describe what has worked for him.
“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 2 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.
This next article entitled “A Question of Faith” from an Anonymous post in the September 1963 Grapevine proposes a way to connect faith and action or perhaps explore the ‘faith without works is dead’ phrase that you may hear in AA rooms. My first sponsor was quick to help me begin to connect the dots between what I was really putting my faith in and my actions. My actions are a powerful way to begin to more deeply understand what I really believe and what I’m truly trusting as the basis for my daily living. I hope you find this short extract from his article useful in driving home the value of what we do (our deeds) in revealing our true faith. It’s also quite prophetic in terms of describing where we find ourselves in 2022.
“Whether or not human judgment and human effort matter to the universe, it seems to me men have a challenge to meet. Basically it is a matter of personal decision and personal integrity, and most of my atheistic AA friends meet it handsomely and quietly.
This does not mean that their faith has no framework or viewpoint beyond man. It may be capsulated as “Deed, not creed.” But “deed” implies an outlook on life; “deed” is part of a larger faith, whether we put that faith into words or not. The larger outlook and faith need not take the form of a dogmatic statement but the “deed” indicates what the individual views as important in his life perspective.
For “deed,” or a life of action, to be part of a spiritual life, there must not only be a dedication to values but a feeling of reverence and the awareness that one’s own life is part of the larger life of the community of mankind and indeed part of a larger life process in the universe.
Although we do not know the ultimate or total truth about reality, although we do not know the beginning of the beginning or the end of the end or the ultimate nature of the cosmos, we realize that we are a part of something much larger than ourselves, possibly having a meaning which is beyond our grasp. It is this larger awareness of man’s relation to nature and life and to the cosmos which gives spiritual, even religious, quality to the “deed” and to our here-and-now, this twenty-four-hour effort of ours, to grow and to serve and to create and to love.
It seems to me that as a spiritual movement AA not only offers a common ground of faith for all men without creed or sectarian division, it inspires and unites us in seeking the truth, in penetrating further into the great mysteries of the universe and of human destiny to which we have not yet found, and may never find, the final answer.
Beyond this, AA can unite us in the positive task of growing ethically, of being more mature morally, of having more insight, more vision, more wisdom of how men might live together in a more ethical world. For far as man has come in moral growth and fine as is the heritage of customs, laws and institutions which we have received from the generations past, human beings, it seems to me, are not yet prepared for the responsibilities of freedom in an age of complex technology and interdependence. We have not yet created the perfect education and laws and institutions which express, give support to and implement our best impulses and our spiritual needs and aspirations.
Our generation may well face one of the most difficult moral crises in history. We must fulfill the democratic promise or fall before the anti-freedom movements which grow out of man’s fears and hates and sadisms. We must fulfill the promise of peace, using the unity and interdependence of the world (about which we in AA learn through trying to act out our First Tradition) to make this planet safe for all men or to be destroyed by bacteriological and atomic weapons.”
And finally, I love this Grapevine article entitled ‘Becoming an atheist; renewed my faith in AA’. It is a beautiful example of how the ‘broad highway’ in AA has room for us all.
I said I believed in God but did not really have a sense of God in my life. Finally, in early 2010, I felt safe enough in my sobriety, and troubled enough by my hypocrisy to begin really questioning whether God exists. With a little study, I soon realized that in fact I was an atheist and no longer believed in a supernatural God. The people in Alcoholics Anonymous were my higher power. I still believe that what goes around comes around but now attribute it to my good and bad actions rather than some kind of cosmic law.
After deciding I was an atheist, I continued to go to meetings. When Step 2 was discussed I talked about becoming an atheist after more than 20 years of sobriety. People always looked away when I said this, and no one ever smiled and nodded as people do when they identify with what you’re saying. This made talking about my atheism at meetings difficult. However, the discomfort was worth it when Alan, a newcomer, approached me after one of these meetings and said he was also an atheist and unsure AA could work for him if he did not believe in God. He was encouraged by my story and I’m happy to say I still see him at meetings and he’s still sober.
After hearing from Alan, I began to wonder if others like him were scared away from AA without giving it a chance, and whether I could do anything to help them. I regularly attend a conference in my area and last March I offered to lead a workshop on being atheist or agnostic in AA. I was hoping five or six people might attend. Instead, more than 20 people came. Virtually all of them said they did not believe in God and had really struggled to find a way to work the Twelve Steps without betraying deeply held convictions.
One of the people at the workshop said there really ought to be a meeting for atheists and agnostics in AA. The conference is in a large metropolitan area, but there are no meetings specifically for atheists, agnostics, and freethinkers. After the workshop, we collected names of people who might be interested in starting a meeting, and in May a group of us started “Sober Atheists and Agnostics”.
The meeting opens with a moment of silence for the still suffering alcoholic and closes with the Responsibility Pledge. In every other way it is a typical closed AA meeting. We read the Preamble, “How it Works” and the Promises exactly as written and the group is registered with AA World Services. The biggest difference between “Sober Atheists and Agnostics” and other AA meetings I have attended is no one looks away or acts uncomfortable if someone says he or she is an atheist or has doubts about God. Admitting to being an atheist or agnostic is just not a big deal.
Helping to start an AA meeting for atheists and agnostics is the best AA experience I have had in years. I feel more connected to AA than I have in a long time and feel I am helping other alcoholics who might otherwise never get sober in AA. I’ve now been sober over 30 years and I am happy and grateful that, instead of getting drunk when I stopped believing in God, it has renewed my faith in AA.”