AA Doesn’t Work For Atheists/Agnostics
I recently decided that, after twenty years of heavy, almost daily drinking, and an incident that nearly cost me everything, I needed to quit my unhealthy ways and get sober for the first time in my entire adult life. Though I had quit drinking for brief periods before, never had I approached the subject of quitting for good with any real sense of urgency or resolve; only recently has it become evident that for me, continuing to drink will eventually prove fatal. I had of course heard of Alcoholics Anonymous, and decided to give the program a try. What did I have to lose?
I attended about three meetings with the same group in the beginning, not really understanding much of the colloquialisms bandied about or the inside references, but still desperate enough to stick around until I “got” it. I identify as Atheist, and said as much in one of my first meetings in response to the frequent use of the words “God” and “Higher Power”, but was assured that the “fellowship” was not a religious organization, and that the only requirement for membership was a desire to stop drinking. Then, on the third meeting, the group addressed the Second Step, and I realized just how smugly and condescendingly AA treats the nonbeliever. I was told that Atheists such as myself just Loooooved to shout about all the atrocities committed in the name of God, Because in braying about said atrocities, Atheists such as myself could deflect attention away from our own moral shortcomings. (WTF? Atrocities AREN’T being committed by religious zealots right now, as we speak, all over the planet? Atheists like me just mention them for the pleasure and satisfaction it gives us to point these travesties and injustices and brutalities out?) I was told that Atheists like me are doomed because of our reverence for science above spirituality, and that my own best thinking landed me in the predicament I’m presently in. (Hello? First of all, when I want to avoid influenza or tetanus, I get inoculated accordingly. I don’t pray to God, I don’t contract either. Secondly, I understand that I have NOT been using the “best” of my thinking where it regards my drinking. I came to the group to get some help with that, thanks.) I was told my lack of willingness to give my will and even LIFE over to the control of a Higher Power was insanity defined. Which is pretty funny, when you consider that the same folks who believe that some Jew who got nailed to a 2’x4′ 2000 years ago is actively micromanaging every aspect of their lives are also the ones claiming perfect sanity. Go figure.
I left that particular group, and sat in on about two dozen more meetings over half a dozen different groups. It was all the same message, just coming out of different faces. What finally tore it for me was being told that I didn’t have to believe in a Higher Power right NOW, but that one WOULD come to me eventually, as if that was a foregone conclusion… as if my lack of belief is some cute little rebellious phase I’m going through and not something which I have carefully considered and feel as just as genuinely as the most devout of wide-eyed believers their own theistic convictions.
Particularly galling is the (paraphrased) passage in the Second Step where some jackass smugly states that he knew someone who used to be the vice president of the American Atheist Society, who used to feel the same way I did, who converted!!! Meaning what, exactly? A better and more storied Atheist than me became a believer, so by extension, I should easily be able to do the same? Again, WTF? I suggested to the group that if I were to make a similar statement with the roles reversed; that I used to know a Baptist minister who wisely converted to Satanism or something and now leads a happy, hedonistic, free lifestyle without guilt or shame, that they would be incensed. And they were. And how.
I can understand why the Big Book reads like it does. It’s 74 years old, and like its’ authors, is a product of its’ times. But this is 2009. We know a lot more about the nature of alcoholism and other addictions than we did at the close of the Depression, as medical disorders, not moral failings. Any present-day doctor who treated his or her patients with circa-1930’s technology would be stripped of their license posthaste, and rightfully so. Come to think of it, so would any doctor who advised said patient to “pray to God” for their healing. Or any doctor who took a “one-size-fits-all” approach to medicine, period.
Right now I’m attending virtual meetings online with members of AAAA (Atheists/Agnostics in AA), as no such groups exist in my small, Bible-belt southern city of residence. And the AA model does work beautifully, once all the childish superstitions, the learned helplessness and powerlessness, and the religious bigotry has been sieved out. Contrary to what AA says, non-believers can and do get healthy and whole again without divine intervention: AA in the traditional sense does not offer a wide enough umbrella for all faiths, or lack thereof.