Being sober without a god


There is a belief that the only means to truly help those faced with an addiction is through the intervention of a deity. An example of this would be Catholic priests such as Fr. Pete Watters (here). He has been sober for 50 years and claims that only through belief in a higher power has it been possible to overcome his addiction and remain sober.

One little flaw … the belief that only a deity can help is not true.

Not too long ago, at a skeptics-in-the-pub session, I recall falling into conversation with a nice clean-cut chap who proceeded to tell me his story. He explained that he had once been a serious pot-head and spent most of his 20’s high on something while bumming about Europe, until one day he woke up on a beach in Spain with no idea where he was and how he got there. He had had enough, so he resolved to clean up his act and soon had his life rolling in a new direction – no God, no conversion, no spiritual insight, just a simple, “I’ve had enough of this crap”. Today he is happily married, has a young kid he dotes on, and is free from his previous addictions.

Why am I babbling on about this? Well basically because of the story that appeared in last Friday’s Toronto Star. Basically what has happened is that two secular Alcoholics Anonymous groups are being expunged from the list of local AA groups. They are no longer listed in the AA website and will also be removed from the printed edition when the next copy comes out.

So what hideous crime have they committed to merit being air-brushed out of existence like this? They have simply removed the word “God” from the steps, which are used as a kind of road map to help drinkers achieve sobriety. Why would they want to do that? – well, as a not so subtle hint, the term “secular” within their group name gives you a clue. Here are some snippets from the article to give you the flavour of what is happening here :

“This is not the first we’ve gone up against bigotry,” says Larry of We Agnostics. “This has been an ongoing struggle in North America.”

One man wept in dismay over the delisting at Beyond Belief’s Thursday night meeting at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education on Bloor Street West. Thirty-two people, mostly men, sat at desks in a classroom.

“I do believe in God,” he said after the meeting. “But you don’t need to believe in God to recover and I don’t think it’s appropriate at AA.”

The meeting opened with a statement that said, in keeping with AA tradition, the group did not endorse or oppose either religious belief or atheism. “Our only wish is to ensure suffering alcoholics that they can find sobriety in AA without having to accept anyone else’s beliefs, or having to deny their own.”

“I’ve tried AA meetings and I couldn’t get past the influence of right-wing Christianity,” said a big, Liam Neeson look-alike.

“Last night I went to a meeting and it was like a sermon again,” he told the group. “I felt I should quit.

“But someone told me, ‘hey, go downtown, there’s an atheist/agnostic meeting.’ So I thought I thought I’d give AA one last chance and I came here.”

There’s a moment’s pause.

“Welcome,” the group said.

You can read the full article here.

So once again the religious have utterly lost the plot. Here are groups that cater for those in desperate need and are suffering, but because they don’t “believe”, the response is to cast them out.

I’m not personally suggesting they should obliterate the word “God” from AA, but rather that they simply accommodate all, both those who believe and those that don’t. No doubt some believers perceive the existence of such groups as an attack upon their beliefs, but its not. Instead it is a more honest focus on those who need help and desire to get there without the “god” filter.

With no hesitation, I bestow this week’s “Clueless Idiots” award upon the folks who feel that preserving the word “God” is more important than actually helping those in desperate need.

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