Sunday, December 01, 2013
Atheists and Agnostics on the March: The New Puzzle Palace for A.A. Believers
The New Believers' Puzzle Palace That Faces AAs Who Continue Serving, Believe God, and Reject Unbelief. By Dick B., Copyright 2013 Anonymous. All rights reserved
For quite some time, it has been apparent to any observer that a major change has already taken place in the recovery arena. There is no need to identify "the usual suspects." There is, however, some merit in calling to believers' attention the diversities that have been created in the recovery puzzle palace that has achieved prominence today.
Who are the present players? I wouldn't presume to label them, nor to characterizing them as standing for this or that mode of recovery. I would point out that lots seem grounded on the idea that a "new" recovery program is needed. But the nature of the need is obscured by the zeal of the promoters--however passionately they cherish their plans and programs. Many just can't see a place for God!
There has been a flight from A.A. ever since the First Edition of the Big Book was published in 1939.
For a time, it revolved around admiration for Father Ralph Pfau, Father Ed Dowling, Father John C. Ford, Sister Ignatia, and those who wanted to be sure to deal with Protestant Christianity, its Bible, its Lord's Prayer, its "open confessions," its Four Absolutes, and other ideas emanating from A First Century Christian Fellowship founded by Dr. Frank N. D. Buchman and espoused by his chief American lieutenant, Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr. And many of those proponents still have strong views on these matters--views that sometimes are translated into reliance on "Traditions," "Steps," "Conference-approved," and authoritative sounding tools. But A.A. just grew and grew and grew anyway. Some of the growth could be attributed to insurance companies. Some to millionaires who funded large treatment programs. Some to eager former alcoholics who saw their future in becoming alcohol or drug counselors. And some, of course, could be laid at the feet of friendly judges and friendly probation and parole officers who saw A.A. as a barrier against revolving door prisons and prisoners who somehow had a way of repeating their "relapses" no matter where they went or were sent.
Then came the shibboleth that A.A. was not "religious." It was "spiritual." This allowed some advocates and judges to feel comfortable assigning wrongdoers to a spiritual program that was not religious and hence allegedly not violative of the First Amendment. But Supreme Court rulings that made the Bill of Rights in the Federal Constitution applicable to the several states were not gathering real steam until about 1950 and thereafter. When courts began looking at the true nature of A.A. and its Twelve suggested Steps declaring "God could and would if He were sought" were not blind to the religious nature of the program. And the outright sentences of people to A.A. were either ended, circumvented, or cast in new clothing--sometimes using the word "faith."
But that did not stem the A.A. tide because, for a time, treatment programs, counselors, physicians, clergy, and therapists were still dropping their patients off at A.A. meetings with a nod of approbation from their funders and from the insurance companies.
What next? An attempt to make A.A. "inclusive" but not "exclusive" became a popular idea. And it was backed up by some post-1939 A.A. literature. You could believe in the Creator, Buddha, humanism, atheism, agnosticism, or nothing at all. And that march toward nihilism progressed. And finally A.A. literature began declaring plainly that you didn't have to believe in anything at all to belong to A.A. To a degree, this seemed palatable to a few religions. They could tell their parishioners to come to church for "religion," but go to A.A. for "spirituality." And with that, "spirituality," "spiritual but not religious," higher powers," and self-made religion became the new flame that was touted in the name of "unity."
But scientists, researchers, "scholars," academics, writers, and others seemed to have managed to talk successfully about "spirituality," "not-god-ness," nonsense gods, and psychological solutions and persuade many garden variety drunks and addicts to avoid using the early A.A. words like God, Bible, Creator, Maker, Father of Lights, Father, and Heavenly Father and to strip away the Lord's Prayer for closing meetings. Coming from a different perspective, they were joined by a handful of New Thought proponents who much favored abolition of "salvation," and "Jesus Christ" in favor of a personality change sufficient to overcome the "disease" of alcoholism.
The last major march on A.A. was conducted by Celebrate Recovery. Thousands of churches, pastors, and recovery pastors were persuaded to substitute the "Beatitudes" for the Steps, call Jesus their Higher Power, and somehow nod to the Twelve Steps while banning A.A. literature from their meetings. And the many much smaller Christian groups of Alcoholics Victorious, Overcomers, Overcomers Outreach, Inc., Neighborhood Alcoholics for Christ, and Footprints were pretty much left in the dust by Celebrate Recovery even though the other groups spoke favorably of A.A.
We have no dog in the fight when it comes to predicting the outcome of all this for Smart Recovery, Celebrate Recovery, Overcomers Outreach, Inc., the new Agnostica crowd, the new model programs crowd, the many atheist groups that have now sprung up, and some formidable Christian groups like Teen Challenge. A.A. has a slang expression: "If it works, don't fix it." The AAs conclude most meetings with: "Keep coming back. It Works." And the foregoing picture may spell "unity" for A.A. advocates like myself. But it's more likely to spawn a puzzle palace for believers who want to believe, to study, to pray, to rely on their Creator, to serve others, and to learn about the early Akron A.A. Christian Fellowship program. Tolerance and love and the power of God can certainly be a strong pillar for believers who want to believe and serve in A.A. But the more structured, organized, prohibitive, and rigid results all of the foregoing forces produce, the more likely that "science," or "medicine," or "experts," or "treatment," or religious creeds will find a way to survive whether they use A.A. Steps, Big Books, literature, and meeting formats or not. Or whether they simply produce more of the so-called "models" for recovery that have produced little since their popularity has risen and their existence has, to some extent, been codified in law.