Can an Addict recover without god in the 12 steps?

AA Big Book
Image via Wikipedia

I wrote a couple of years ago about my initial impressions of AA/NA through my experience with ‘Jim’. There has been quite a lot of debate, and even splintering of groups,  about the need to have god be part of recovery. Little did I know that there have been functioning atheist AA groups that have been successfully been helping alcoholics deal with their addictions.

My opinions have changed since originally writing my AA cult article, due to extended family that were integral in my area’s local AA community. My step-father Malcolm was an extremely supportive, generous, and understanding man that mentored hundreds of recovering addicts. I saw the other side of AA. The part that is distinctly human. Being there for someone. Showing empathy. Walking a mile in another man’s shoes. Fellowship.

I believe that this is the key part of any success people have through the program. But, honestly, I’ve never battled drugs or alcohol, and don’t know the true struggles most of these people are trying to overcome. I can say no to a drink. I can stop drinking. I don’t go til I blackout. I don’t use hard drugs. But for those that have, that are clean, and have been through the wringer, they are the best to understand what a fellow addict may be struggling with.

AA seems to be going through some growing pains in accepting atheist groups into the club. One group in Toronto has been de-listed from AA. Here is a snippet of the issue.

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.”

In fairness to AA, it was founded on religious principles. Most people believe it to be a religious organization. Is it their responsibility to amend their 12 steps to a more modern non-religious program? Or, should there be more public resources towards adding groups that fit different beliefs? Can a non-religious group demonstrate success that betters that of their religious groups?

Here is what Catholic priest Rev. Pete Watters had to say about interpreting god in the 12 steps.

In January, Rev. Pete Watters, 82, and a Catholic priest, celebrated 50 years of sobriety with AA. Several thousand came to an Oakville union hall to celebrate his anniversary…

…In AA God can be interpreted as an acronym for “good, orderly, direction,” or as something that can be found in nature, a set of ethical principles, or even in the courage of fellow AA members.

But it’s essential to turn yourself over to something or someone other, says Watters. “If you don’t believe in any power greater than yourself, you are on your own.”

Here are the amended steps for the Toronto chapter Beyond Belief  for their atheist AA members…

Different steps

Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous that cite God:

2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, prayer only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

-Beyond Belief’s adapted Twelve Steps:

2. Came to accept and to understand that we needed strengths beyond our awareness and resources to restore us to sanity.

3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of the AA program.

5. Admitted to ourselves without reservation, and to another human being, the exact nature of our wrongs.6. Were ready to accept help in letting go of all our defects of character.

7. Humbly sought to have our shortcomings removed.

11. Sought through mindful inquiry and meditation to improve our spiritual awareness, seeking only for knowledge of our rightful path in life and the power to carry that out.

via Does religion belong at AA? Fight over ‘God’ splits Toronto AA groups –

What are your thoughts on successful recovery? Is it the people that volunteer their time and energy that make the difference? Or is it the belief in a higher power?

Leave a comment…


7 Replies to “Can an Addict recover without god in the 12 steps?”

  1. why would step 11 say “improve our spiritual awareness” when they don’t believe in a god. To me its the same thing.

    1. Good point. I think that group helps atheists and agnostics. It suppose it could mean to be more attuned to your surroundings, and other emotional and mental aspects of our selves.

  2. I think it has something to do with community and belonging. There was this documentary, I think it was called “Happy” that talked about this in regards to 12 step programs. That’s why you need to “keep coming back” in order for it to “work”.

    1. I believe community is key too. I like that there are groups out there trying to come up with solutions to addiction for people of all different beliefs…

  3. I’m a Buddhist participating in a 12-step program, and have to agree the God language is a bit off-putting for many, including myself. I’d like to see the program neuter God completely out of the texts in name, but not in spirit. The programs are spiritual in nature, and for good reason; one thing addicts have in common is a spiritual vacancy that was falsely sated by addiction. Building up the spiritual life of an addict gives one the center needed to weather to storms of life without that object of addiction.

    I’ve heard many people come with reservations about the God stuff in the texts, and some leave because others have gotten too preachy with their religion. The texts dance around this religious heritage by adding “of your understanding” but why push that button at all? Leave it out. Those who believe will insert it for themselves anyway, and those that don’t won’t be put off by it.

  4. I have heard others say it is off putting as well to have the terminology of “God” in those steps …I think it is more a terminology of “a god”. In my life I have incorporated many understanding’s of “God” I am as likely to see aspects of God in a bear, wolf, another person, the Dalai Lama or in a monk as I am in a Cross or religious icon…I am myself Christian and was raised that way but spirituality is a far cry from any formed religion it is our day to day living. Religious doctrine is not God. God just is…the more I work through the steps and the more spiritual in nature I become the less doctrine becomes important. It also seems to me that religious doctrine would work in opposition to the 12 steps as they were written. There was a group that worked on similar principals I believe prior to Bill W. called the Oxford Group. Everything undergoes changes and 12 step programs do the same. Growing pains are never pleasant but they are necessary… The results of working a 12 step program work for more than just addiction… ;D

Comments are closed.