Remember the Catholic Priest, Fr. Pete Watters, who was featured in the article about Toronto AA’s removing the agnostic groups from the roster (“Does Religion Belong at AA? Fight over ‘God’ Splits Toronto AA Groups“)? He was quoted in that article:
“People and agencies can help,” Watters says, “but the only one who can restore that person to permanent sobriety is God. But that’s the God of your understanding — that can be anything you want.”
How does a Catholic priest reconcile advising others to believe in whatever conception of God they want? Can God be whatever you want if you’re a Catholic? Do false gods work just as well in AA as Catholic God? According to his faith, isn’t Watters condemning people to both disease and damnation by encouraging them to pick any conception of God they want?
Is Watters really a Catholic?
The Toronto Star recently wrote an article commemorating Watters for his 50 years of sobriety in AA (“Priest Calls on His Own Demons to Help Others with Theirs“), and includes this detail:
And then, at 50, he felt a calling that rekindled youthful dreams of joining the priesthood that booze interrupted.
“So I went to the bishop and I asked him, ‘Are you taking any old men these days?’ The next thing I knew I was in the seminary,” he said.
He was ordained a few years later and even received dispensation from the Vatican to celebrate communion with grape juice, so he doesn’t have to sip sacramental wine, because “it’s pretty good stuff,” he laughed.
It seems that this priest has more faith in the tenets of AA than he does in Catholicism, though which the substance of the wine is transformed into the blood of Christ. Despite all appearances to the contrary, the truth — according to Catholic faith — is that the wine is no longer wine. But it is for this priest. It seems that he has more faith in AA’s disease model than he does in transubstantiation.
What’s his real religion?
Bonus Quote of the Day
An AA member responds to the Watters article:
I am writing to express my deep disappointment that the Star continues to provide a platform for this priest to dishonour the fellowship that helped save his life. AA is called Alcoholics Anonymous for a reason — we have a long tradition of anonymity expected of our members at the level of press, radio and films.
This is not because we are ashamed of being alcoholics. It is to ensure our humility and to enforce the fact that no one person has the right to represent AA to the world at large. Glory and grandiosity are very dangerous for recovering alcoholics, who are egomaniacs at the best of times.
By continuing to publish this priest’s full name and photo while associating him with AA, you are hurting his sobriety. I am very sorry to see a second article of this nature in three months.
Andrea O, Strathroy
This seems to be the topic of the week…
Adapted from a recent online discussion.
I think I have a substance abuse problem, but I don’t want to go to Narcotics Anonymous because I’m an atheist and don’t think I can “let go and let God.” What should I do instead?
— Non-spiritual addict
Go anyway. If the meeting you attend is God-centric, ask about other meetings, or shop (more plentiful) Alcoholics Anonymous meetings for one that’s more your style. The “higher power” isn’t God, necessarily — it can be goodness or reason or whatever you regard as an entity that’s bigger and more enduring than you are.
Think of it this way — when people have big things to wrestle with, often they take comfort in seeing mountains, skylines or beaches. Why? Because monumental things make a person feel small and impermanent. So all you need for the higher-power process is the idea of something that makes you, by comparison, small and impermanent, something that will long outlast your pain. It’s about bringing your problems down to size.
Re: The addict:
Just let go. “Letting God” means accepting that whatever’s going to happen will whether you throw a fit about it or not. I don’t know if I believe in God, but I believe the world revolves on an axis that isn’t me — something I didn’t grasp before recovery. God’s existence or lack thereof has been a minuscule part of my recovery.
Thanks. It’s “letting the chips fall where they may,” if God-free cliches make the concept easier to accept.
Even non-addicts can benefit from reminding themselves that much of their sense of control is an illusion, that choices that are truly, 100 percent ours are quite limited. Liberating, really, if you think about it, and quite useful when deciding where to focus our attention in increasingly cluttered times.
Men and women of all ethnic backgrounds and religious or nonreligious affiliations suffer from debilitating addictions, which have detrimental effects on millions of lives. Addiction recovery treatments shouldn’t discriminate either, but Alcoholics Anonymous does. AA’s Toronto administration recently removed two of its affiliate groups in the area for not holding to its religious standards, which include a belief in God, as stated in the organization’s “Twelve Steps” to recovery.
For AA members, the Twelve Steps dictate a lifestyle code, a strict roadmap away from addiction. If you want to recover from addiction through AA, it’s imperative to treat the program as a “higher power,” says The Fix, a magazine focused on recovery issues. Members are encouraged to recite the Lord’s Prayer during meetings, to follow the steps meticulously and without deviance, and to abstain completely from their abused substance. AA insists that recovery be a lifelong process, maintaining that even an addict who has been clean or sober for ten years should continue to come to meetings.
Who didn’t see this coming? Anthony Weiner has checked himself into treatment for “sexual addiction!”
We all know what will happen next.
After he leaves rehab, Weiner will make the tearful apology to his constituents and wife on television. Whether he then leaves his office or stays, he will have joined the growing number of celebrities, politicians and ordinary Joes who have come to see bad behavior as a “disease.” He will become “powerless.”
Why We Were Chosen Group
Sometime in the 1980s, a meeting chairman in San Francisco gave me a wallet-sized card engraved with a portion of the text from “WHY WE WERE CHOSEN,” an eponymous speech given by Judge John T. on the fourth anniversary of Chicago’s first AA club in 1943. He said that, although GSO Conference had declined to approve the text as AA literature, the San Francisco groups had thought it such an important message that they handed it out to newcomers and visitors.
“WHY WE WERE CHOSEN” talks about drunks as prophets and saints, and places AA as a movement as important as Christianity. It’s both grandiose and inane at the same time and a real Christian might find it offensive, as Dr. Arthur H. Cain did when he called it “idolatry” in his Saturday Evening Post article. You can read both the tract and Cain’s response on Orange’s blog: http://www.orange-papers.org/orange-Why_We_Were_Chosen.html
By the time I first saw the tract, I had already heard all kinds of BS, from an aging hippie explaining that Bill Wilson’s birth was the “dawning of the Age of Aquarius,” to how AA was so “cutting edge that science was trying to catch up with it.” I considered most “Meaning of AA” proclamations as either psychobabble or Godbabble, and I thought it was harmless drivel. But, twenty years later, I got to see harmless drivel in action.
A friend asked me to speak at a “Chicago” Group here in my home state. She explained that Chicago Groups follow the 90 minute format of the groups in that city using a speaker who introduced the topic, and a chairman who “calls up” responses from the group. She didn’t particularly like the group format, because she thought the men used it to exclude women. She had been going simply because her daughter attended, and now she hoped to change the group by bringing in women speakers. She wanted me to be her first speaker, even though she wouldn’t be able to be there that night. I didn’t know what a Chicago Group was, but I liked her and I thought it would be fun. I also wanted to encourage young women.
On the day of the meeting, I got a call from a man who introduced himself as the Powerfully Recovered Alcoholic who would give me the Chicago Group speaking rules. I needed to wear a “modest” dress and make-up, to introduce myself as a “Recovered” Alcoholic, to give both my sobriety date and sponsor’s name, to not use curse words, and to limit quotations either to the first 164 pages of the Big Book or to the “Other” Big Book.
When I got to the clubhouse, a young woman wearing a flowered Sister Wife dress opened the door. She was in the middle of introducing me to the other similarly dressed Sister Wives when I realized she was the daughter of my friend. Her Andrea Yates thousand-mile stare had been so flat that I hadn’t recognized her. She handed me to a faded young man in a baggy suit, unpressed tie and scuffed shoes, and then she faded into the wall.
The young man was the Powerfully Recovered chairperson. He showed me to my seat, and began to read “WHY WE WERE CHOSEN” from the podium. He was near the end of the tract when I noticed that everyone wore oversized clothes.
I picked an innocuous topic and I told the usual jokes, but I just couldn’t connect with anyone. I was the only person wearing the right size and a smile in the room. I realized that looking like a normal person might very well constitute immodesty in this crowd.
After I spoke, the Powerfully Recovered chairperson began choosing men (not women) from the audience to give short responses. The gloomy men spoke about duty and privilege, and the (nearly) cheerful men talked about their new lives. They inserted “Praise God” an average of once every 90 seconds, and thanked their tireless sponsor, who was the Powerfully Recovered chairperson.
I was glad when the meeting was over and, for the first time in AA, I did not stay and talk to the crowd. I never went back.
My friend later told me that she had gotten her daughter into therapy and that the therapy had caused her daughter to leave the group. The daughter had the divorced her husband, mainly because he lost his job because he was missing work to be at the group. He then left the group and moved back to Iowa to live with his parents. Both of them blamed the group for destroying their marriage.
The Powerfully Recovered chairperson admitted that he has twice been hospitalized for depression, and he has left the group, which shrunk from a club house to a weekly meeting.
[UPDATE: The Friendly Atheist blog picked up the story. It’s a good blog for any of you godless creatures].
AnnaZed just found a story about a couple of secular AA groups in Toronto whose meeting schedules were purged from the local AA rosters. The groups, called Beyond Belief and We Agnostics, use an altered version of the 12 Steps, which they edited to remove all reference to God or a Higher Power in order to be more welcoming to non-believers. Toronto AA holds the position that since they changed the language, their meetings no longer qualify as AA and therefore have no place on the AA meeting list. The distilled version of Toronto AA’s explanation is that God is central to recovery. If you take God out, it’s not AA.