Religion

12 Step Programs and religion

12 Step Programs & Religion

The less religious someone is, the more they notice how prevalent the focus on God and religious symbolism is in AA. The word God appears 315 times in the Big Book of AA.

What makes the 12-step conception of religion unique is that every addict can use their spiritual conception. Since there is no specific dogma that guides belief, there is an infinite variety within the membership of the groups.

The Christian Background of AA

The first 12-step program was Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), and it is very much a product of its time and place. Founded in a time when the United States was a very Christian and Protestant nation.

The two founders of the organization, Bill W. and Dr. Bob, were firm believers in Christianity and many of their ideas had blossomed out of religious-oriented seminars they had participated in. Not surprisingly, the basic AA literature is strongly influenced by these beliefs. When they refer to a Higher Power, they explicitly refer to God.

Another religious element in 12-step meetings is the “serenity prayer”:

“God grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can, and
Wisdom to know the difference.”

Although it does not contain material that is strictly Christian, it was written by an important theologian of that faith. However, the wisdom behind Dr. Rheinhold Niebuhr’s prayer transcends religion and belies a deeper universal truth.

However, the founders of AA were well aware that not all of the members of the fellowship are Christian and they wanted the program to work for everyone. Therefore, the original literature does not refer specifically to Christian doctrine, even if it does use that language extensively for cultural reasons.

Nature as a Higher Power

The 12 Step Program “Higher Power”: What is it and how do you choose one?

The concept of having a Higher Power to guide us is an integral part of the 12-step vision of recovery. Indeed, six of the steps deal directly with the relationship between members and God. This concept serves a crucial purpose in the process. Recovery involves a realization that our own best judgment has derailed our lives and led us to an unmanageable state. To pursue a better path in the future, we humbly put our life path in the hands of greater power. This process is at the core of the first two-steps.

The program encourages not only belief in a Higher Power, but rather forming a spiritual relationship with that entity which is an integral part of our lives. Many of us fall into addiction and relapse because we feel powerless and lose our self-esteem. The cultivation of a daily relationship with our Higher Power can restore meaning to our lives. We do this through daily meditation and prayer. Prayer helps us talk to our Higher Power, while meditation helps us listen. This is the essence of step 11.

A deep spiritual connection with a Higher Power also helps alleviate some of the core causes of addiction: loneliness and isolation. The importance of this aspect of recovery cannot be stressed enough. Once the steps are completed, we know our place in the world and that our Higher Power cares for us. For many of us, knowing we are being watched over makes us feel part of something important. Knowing that we have a place in this world and that we aren’t alone can motivate us to quit drinking or using it. This can be a key part of recovery.

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