Below is a response by FTG to a question posed by Pretzl, one of our readers. It is a fairly common question, and I thought the answer was particularly good. Others have suggested we highlight the answer, so I thought that I would post it here.
“I am curious… there seems to be a lot of “happy” people in AA.. not allof course but there are those who the program seems to be working for. Is it the G-d thing that bothers so many on this forum?
I’m asking because of the blanket statements made on here.. AA is bad..period. There has to be some happy folks doing it or how could it have lasted so long and the peple I see in there seem to be happy. Everyone on here acts like its all phony–can that be so?
Now if someone says, “I don’t like it because G-d is espoused then I can understand. But how about those who bel;ieve in a G-d–maybe it’ll work for them…seems as though it does.
I don’t know.. seems kinda strange that theres so much anger toward AA when all I hear are people who are living a much better life….”
It’s not that people believe in God. We have no opinion about what people believe. The problem is this:
Of course, AA will insist that you need not believe in God. They say that you only have to believe that you are not the most powerful thing in the universe. There must be something out there in the universe that makes you feel humble. Now, that makes sense for a minute, until you delve into it a little. You might not be stronger, say, than a tank, or even just some guy with bigger muscles than you. And you might not be able to produce as much energy as the sun. You can’t generate a tidal wave by the sheer force of your will. So, if you don’t believe in God, you can at least believe that there are things out there that are more powerful than you. Right?
That is, if, by power, they mean sheer enormity, or the ability to kill you or to generate gravity, then the notion that you’re not the most powerful thing in the universe makes sense. It makes sense only until you get to the part where you must turn your will over to this power greater than yourself. Then you have to ask, “Is there any power greater than myself to make changes in my life?” A lightening bolt can split a tree in half, but it really has only that one schtick. Lightening can’t change your heart or mind or behavior in any meaningful way. You’re the one who does that. There’s nothing more powerful than you are to make decisions for yourself and take action in your life. Except God, if you believe in God.
So, let’s be real. They don’t mean Higher Power ™. They mean God. Nothing but God has more power than you do to direct your life. If a person in AA does not believe in God, they are led to God in deceptive increments.
And once you come to believe that a power greater than yourself can restore you to sanity, even if you can’t bring yourself to call this power “God,” the fact is that whatever you call it (doorknob, G(roup) O(f) D(runks), the tree in your yard, Buddha, your child, plate tectonics) — hear me, now — whatever you call it, it will have to behave the same as every other AA member’s Higher Power ™.
It will have to be able to restore you to sanity and replace your will with its own. Many people’s religious beliefs cannot abide this turning over of will. Even Christianity cannot reconcile this: God gave Christians free will so that they could choose to live in accordance with God’s will. Salvation depends upon self will. The God that Christians believe in does not expend his energy finding convenient parking spaces for them or sprinkling their oatmeal with cinnamon. And imagine going to church and being told that you can believe in your pastor or the congregation until you can believe in God. It’s straight up blasphemy.
I’m just using Christianity as an example, because many of us are familiar with it, but this is not the only spiritual tradition that is utterly incompatible with the idea that a person should reject the divine gift of self-will. So, the premise behind the imperative to believe in a power greater than yourself, whatever you want to call it, is disingenuous, at best, and intentionally deceptive at its core. In order to work the 12 Steps, your Higher Power has to do exactly what every other AA member’s Higher Power ™ does: it has to accept backsies on your free will and replace it with its own, upon request; it has to acknowledge AA’s conception of “character defects,” and have the inclination to consider removing them. You can call it what you want to – call it the Great Spirit, or call it nature, or Yahweh – it doesn’t matter. The choice of superficial characteristics is a distraction from the fact that it better do what it’s supposed to.
So, just to be clear: Yes, the “god thing” is a problem because there is a very specific AA god, and it is revealed dishonestly. If you want proof of this fact, read the chapter on Agnostics in the Big Book. It is a piece of unabashed bait-n-switch salesmanship.
And here’s another problem with the “God thing.”
AA has promoted itself – by deliberately violating their own Traditions – to the point where it has become just another sentencing option in the courts. In order to make AA work for you, you have to undergo a religious conversion. You have to have a spiritual awakening. The courts have no right to sentence people to that. In fact it’s a violation of the First Amendment, and it has been ruled thus by the 9th Circuit. AA has been deemed, by the courts, to be a religions organization, and it has no business in at all in public policy.
Regarding your question about the happy people in AA:
I’m not ever going to argue that there aren’t happy people in AA, or that there are people who genuinely believe that AA has saved their lives, and are personally fulfilled by giving back to the program. They’ve found something that gives their life meaning, and that makes people happy.
Then again, AA member’s happiness is not much of a standard for judging AA’s effectiveness. I mean, Jehovah’s Witnesses are all pretty blissed out when they knock on your door, too.