"Religion is for people who fear Hell, Spirituality is for people who have been there"

Bullshit slogan of the day:
Religion is for people who fear Hell, and spirituality is for people who have gone through Hell

This is actually a new one to me. I just heard this from an AA member, so I googled it thinking he may have invented his own cliché. There must be some special place in AA Heaven for a person who invents one of these things. It turns out that this was a preexisting, though rarely used, slogan. I found it used here, which is a good link for anyone looking to see an AAer make a jackass of himself.

I thought that I would take this opportunity to go over some of things one should look for when analyzing an AA slogan. There are three key elements: Context, Degree of Difficulty and Effectiveness. Here is a brief description in what to look for in judging an AA thought stopping slogan:

Pulling a rare gem of a slogan out his ass must have made my AA friend feel good about himself. Much like I feel when I seize the opportunity to interject the word “nonplussed” into a conversation (If you want practice with this word, go to an AA meeting. You will be nonplussed early and often). Context is the key element in reciting any slogan, and it is important to say it where it appears to role off the tongue naturally, as though you thought of the expression yourself.

Degree of Difficulty:
The less often a slogan is needed, the more difficult it is to regurgitate, and the higher it is on the on the AA point scale of difficulty. “It works if you work it” and “it’s spiritual, not religious” are both fine slogans, but they are at the lower end of this scale. These slogans are like a Chinese rice cooker, or Lindsay Lohan’s cocaine straw: they get used every day. These easier slogans tend to react on the edges of the brain, and are used like a temporary, local anaesthetic. Today’s slogan is on the high end of the difficulty scale, and is used on rare occasions. The high end slogans tend to dig deep into the brain; and they do to critical thinking what a core meltdown does to a nuclear power plant.


The effectiveness of a slogan is judged based on the Delayed Auditory Response Time – DART – of the slogan’s recipient. The DART is simply the amount of time it takes to respond to a shocking or inane comment. The more ridiculous the comment, the greater the amount of time it takes to come up with a response, and the greater the chance of cognitive meltdown. A father’s reaction after hearing from his teenage daughter that she is knocked up, or a reporter asking questions of George W Bush, are examples of high DARTs. The higher the AA slogan is on the DART scale, the more effective the slogan. Today’s slogan is great, because it takes a few seconds to realize it makes no fucking sense.

I’m scoring today’s slogan, and my friend’s use of it, a 9 out 10. The timing was good, and the slogan is effective in its inanity. It’s really just a fancier way of saying that AA is not religious, but it takes awhile to come to that realization. I was told that in AA, I’ll always be learning. They were right. Today I learned that there is no upper limit on the scale of AA inanity. Just when I thought that there is not a more ridiculous way to express a ridiculous claim – that AA is spiritual and not religious – a Hemingway of a slogan came along to prove me wrong.

  • mcgowdog

    You want an AA quote? I got one for ya.

    It's got context, degree of difficulty and effectiveness.

    Here, you should like this and google it because it might link right back to me;

    "I'd rather have a bottle in-front of me… than a frontal lobotomy."-McGowdog

    Oh, and how about a haiku?

    Stinkin' Thinkin is stupid website…
    Middle finger up, mind that finger bitches
    Save some drama forya Mommas!

    Wow! How's that?

    • friendthegirl

      That's awesome, McGow! It's not a haiku. It's more beat, I'd say. But beat rocks, so it's all good.

      Here's a haiku for you:

      McGowdog cuts and
      pastes and pastes and pastes and pastes
      Cheetos dust settles

      So, I love that bottle in front of me/frontal lobotomy line. That's pure genius. If I came up with that, I think I would just rest on my laurels and garden for the rest of my life. So you made that up?

  • wdc

    No! He did not make up "the bottle in front of me frontal lobotomy quote".

    It is from a song written by Randy Hanzlick.

  • Yo MA….

    We've never really dialogued directly but seen you around the blogs.

    We appear to be of different viewpoints in some ways.

    On this post, I agree with you.

    I find the statement that some make that "Religions is for…. while Spirituality if for…", is entirely presumptuous and frankly condescending and ignorant.

    Dont know who originally coined it but I do hear it bounced around in AA circles.

    I take exception because it is not for anyone to say why one person believes as they do. Also, people who feel they have experienced "spirituality" do not have an exclusive on journies through hell.

    Like any organization of people, AA has its flaws. I take great exception with those who claim it to be a "perfect program". Its not.

    I don't yet understand why some feel they have to provide an AA explanation for every circumstance in life.

    With that said, I have found AA an effective method for me to get sober. I do not by any means feel that it is therefore the only way. To me, it is "a" way. One that happened to be revolutionary in its formation and era.

    I often feel that those that try to take AA back to what it was and ignore the changes in our world, choose to remain ignorant.

    From what I read, Bill W was an open-minded individual who pioneered AA by trying a lot of new things. And wasnt affraid to fail, which he did many times.

    Anyway…. your header caught my eye as something I agree with so thought I would stop by and add my thoughts.

    See ya on the blogs.


    Chaz (an open-minded AA)

  • y


  • zoezander

    Wow- AA owns your mind.

  • zoezander

    Why are you so angry? Why don't you put your energy into helping people find a better way instead of spinning your advanced vocabulary criticizing a method that has helped thousands of people. Get a life and get over whatever resentment has enprisoned you.

  • Caleb

    The spiritual path is like quantum physics in that only a relatively small percentage of people are capable of understanding it and even fewer actually have a deep understanding of it. Of course, the spiritual path is much different than quantum physics in that most of the people that are clueless about quantum physics realize that they are in no way qualified to talk about the subject, whereas almost everyone somehow has the idea that their perspective on religion and spirituality has some merit.

    The reality is that the number of people in the US that have spiritual understanding worth passing to others is far fewer than the number of pastors in this country. Of the people that do have some spiritual understanding not all that many of them actually are pastors or priests.

    So, even if you are not a pastor that does not mean that you wouldn’t necessarily have the spiritual understanding that would qualify you to comment on that saying. Probably you are just as qualified as the person that you heard it from, that is (statistically speaking) almost certain also not to be qualified to understand the spiritual meaning of that saying.

    The fact that you make no effort to disguise your anger and hate for the AA makes it highly unlikely that you have much if any spiritual understanding. If you don’t understand the difference between religious and spiritual it is unlikely that you have any spiritual understanding. The fact that you are so annoyed at something and have not yet found a good solution to it, may actually indicate that you are one of the few capable of having your eyes opened to some larger solution.

    I don’t know if that saying was written by someone with true spiritual understanding or not, but it is constructed in a way that it does fit with a fairly profound spiritual truth. Perhaps it is just the invention of someone after the fashion of someone that randomly writes a mathematical formula down and amazingly happens to have written a mathematically correct statement.

    No matter where it comes from, the saying is here now and for those with a little spiritual understanding it seems to have a similar meaning as the bible teaching, “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4)

    Most people experience setbacks and frustrations in their lives. Some frequently and some less often. A (very) small number of people look at these frustrations of this material world and realize that the best way to end these frustrations is not with solutions from the same material world that creates them, but to look to a different sort of understanding, spiritual understanding. It is these few that experience the frustrations of the material world in a way that opens their eyes to the spiritual world that are “they that mourn” in Matthew 5:4.

    Religions are often born surrounding a small group that has real spiritual understanding. They teach what they can to those that are interested. Some that have the ability and apply themselves fully, come to a deep spiritual understanding. Many others get much less, mostly just a set of values or a moral code that over time gets encoded in allegory (or myth), associated with various traditions and thus becomes a religion.

    With this background we can now see a good meaning for the saying:

    Religion is for people that fear hell,

    Spirituality is for people that have been there.

    Religion is for those that have interpreted the allegory of the spiritual path in a much more literal way than its true meaning. Probably this misinterpretation is deliberately encouraged in some cases, because it leads to the bible or other sacred texts being much more widely known and thus likely to be found by the minority of people capable of deep spiritual understanding.

    Spirituality on the other hand is the path taken by those that have the ability for a much deeper spiritual understanding. These are those that have found the material world lacking in a profound way to the point that they have pushed themselves to places that the average mind never goes and thus have glimpsed the spiritual path. Perhaps you are one of those people, you may be only months, weeks or even just moments away from seeing a way to go forward that you never before realized existed.

    • polyesta

      This is officially the only intelligent comment on this thread. Congratulations.

  • Mona Lisa

    The fact that you make no effort to disguise your anger and hate for the AA makes it highly unlikely that you have much if any spiritual understanding.

    The fact that you say this suggests that you are an effete, pseudo-intellectual blowhard.

  • tintop


    Thank you for the kind words.  Now, go about your business.

  • Jo D

    I once felt a similar outrage with "AAers' and AA in general. I then realized I was alcoholic. It's easy to be pissy with something you don't understand, and let's face it… may need.

  • Gunthar2000

    No you di'hent!

  • Ben Franklin

    Jo D, I understand bullshit when I see it. Don't need it either. Thank You! Drive Through!

  • polyesta

    Wow, way to masturbate your hatred of AA. Don’t get me wrong, I have little faith in and no need for AA. However, it’s not as if they actually originated this saying.

    As your only arguments against the statement seem to be rooted in criticisms of AA, you’ve proven nothing more than that you’re overly obsessive hatred hinders your own critical thinking. You’re analytic skills are as weak, if not weaker, than those whoparrot the statement as a slogan without considering what it ACTUALLY means.

    I do believe the only intelligent statement here was by Caleb, who I suspect actually has a little firsthand knowledge of how true this actually is.