Thursday, January 1, 2009

God, Prejudice, and Alcoholics Anonymous

I'm A Success as Atheist in the AA "God Program"

Bill Wilson is responsible for writing the book "Alcoholics Anonymous," referred to as the Big Book. AA is a spiritual program, and a "God program," meaning it depends upon what AA terms a "higher power" to relieve the alcoholic of his/her need to get drunk.

In many places in the Big Book we read specifically that other things than God can be considered a higher power. The use of the AA group itself with people you come to rely on, friends, and other people with whom you can discuss your problems, are often suggested as a higher power. A man can think of his wife and children, and use them as his "higher power" because of the very real possibility that if he goes on another binge, or gets arrested one more time while drunk, he could lose them.

Anytime one of us who is alcoholic goes to a meeting and says anything like, "When I fought with my son over something stupid, I knew I had to get to a meeting"; or "I realized I was letting myself become hungry, angry, lonely, tired--I knew I had to get to a meeting," we are then using the group and our time there, away from the "outside world", as our higher power, to recoup a bit of our spirituality.

But in the end, AA members are expected, not by any membership requirement, but through the incessant urging of Wilson to "accept" that the higher power he expects us to discover is God. (Accepting God is not a requirement because there is only one membership requirement: the desire to stop drinking. But the constant urging to accept God has made many people see AA as a multi-denominational religious cult.)

"We found that as soon as we were able to lay aside prejudice and express even a willingness to believe in a Power greater than ourselves, we commenced to get results, even though it was impossible for any of us to fully define or comprehend that Power, which is God." [emphasis added] The Big Book page 46

Naturalism, to Wilson, was unnatural. Naturalism was prejudicial. "To be doomed to an alcoholic death or to live on a spiritual basis are not always easy alternatives to face." For Wilson, his own prejudice made him believe that "to continue as he is [as an atheist or agnostic] means disaster, especially if he an alcoholic of the hopeless variety. page 44

An alcoholic of the hopeless variety can only be hopeless because he does not accept God; to accept God means he isn't hopeless. "There Is A Solution" touts the previous chapter's title, and that way is through God. "This is the great news this book carries to those who suffer." p 17

The expectancy is that eventually all AA members will have "made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the power of God as we understood him"; and it expected to come sooner than later; turning over one's will is the third of twelve "steps". AA dogma, gathered up from the first few years of attempting to find the steps and the means to make them work, was that you could not get to Step Four without "doing" steps one, two and three first. (Step Two is admitting that only "a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity"; Step One is "admitted we were powerless over alcohol--that our lives had become unmanageable.")

But Bill Wilson was an extremely prejudicial and biased man. Do you notice in that quote from page 46 how he deftly turned "a power greater than ourselves" into God Himself, without even the pretext of qualifying "God" with "as we understood him"?

The phrase "as we understood (or understand) him" is always italicized in the Steps, in an effort to be inclusive of all religions. But Wilson had to be talked into accepting that phrase, and then only grudgingly. Yet whenever he wrote of his own experience and how it ought to be used by others, God stood alone and every member was expected by Wilson to "graduate" from using the group or other people or a hope as his/her higher power, to using God Himself--who in Wilson's mind stood alone without need of "understanding." After all, he wrote, "it was impossible for any of us to fully define or comprehend that Power, which is God." How could He be a God of anyone's understanding when Wilson admits that it was impossible for "any of us" (the original members) to understand Him?

Naturalism, which is necessarily an atheistic doctrine, and agnosticism, were, to Wilson, biases which the new members had to let go of.

"We found that as soon as we were able to lay aside prejudice and express even a willingness to believe in a Power greater than ourselves, we commenced to get results..." [emphasis added] page 46

Page 46 is in the chapter of the Big Book entitled "We Agnostics." Wilson was never an agnostic, and he wrote no chapter for atheists, though he mentions them there. He speaks to the agnostics as though he had once been there himself, putting his brotherly arm around them in words, comforting them in the knowledge that things will be alright if they just let go and let God.

He writes in the first paragraph that "you may be suffering from an illness which only a spiritual experience can conquer." Many naturalists and others don't believe in the "spirit" because they have always been told it is linked to God, and God is what they are trying to discard by using an epistemology that admits of nothing supernatural. But this is not a problem for all naturalists.

The Deists were theistic naturalists. Thomas Jefferson wrote, "Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear."

In Metaphysical Naturalism (MN) the spirit, the soul, is a naturally occurring non-supernatural physiological phenomenon of the fact of being human. When someone says he could not do something or was compelled to do something because his "conscience was being affected," it is the naturally occurring physiologically emotive phenomenon we perceive as our soul, that he is referring to.

MN understands existence to be natural and only natural, with nothing supernatural existing within existence. And of course, there is no existence outside of existence. Not even a God can be outside existence, though many believe a God could.

God could not--not without causing an irreparable contradiction within human language. If you believe in God and believe, as did America's Deist Founders, that it was God who gave us Reason in order to be able to solve our own problems without His intereference or help, then such a God would not also have allowed us to conceive acceptable contradictions; they break all the rules of the logic of linquistics. Allow one, you must allow them all. Then "nothing" will be "something," "yes" will be "no", and Reason will be worthless. We will return to the growling animalistic expressions of Man before he gained language, because without Reason language has no expression.

Boethius told us to join faith to reason, "insofar as is possible." Thomas Aquinas and others did that, and the juxtaposition led us to the scientific and then to the industrial revolutions. But at the same time, it did not banish faith by elevating Reason, and the Founders were forced to conceive a nation with a Constitution which assumed the separation of church and state. The assumption was common, was therefore not included in the Constitution in those words, and that common assumption allowed the Supreme Court to declare it a de facto part of the Constitution. The Deists would say it was Reason that dictated the Constitution.

Yet, Wilson tells us we must abandon Reason, for the blindness that comes with "accepting a power greater than ourselves" in the realm of the spirit while upholding Reason in the realm of all other things.

"Instead of regarding ourselves as intelligent agents, spearheads of God's ever advancing Creation, we agnostics and atheists [There he goes again!] chose to believe that our human intelligence was the last word... Rather vain of us, wasn't it?" page 49

But Thomas Paine, in "The Age of Reason", wrote: "The most formidable weapon against errors of every kind is Reason. I have never used any other, and I trust I never shall. [ ] I know, by positive conclusion resulting from [my] search, that there is a power superior to all [ ] things, and that power is God."

Paine was one of the most outspoken Deists, even fleeing to France for his life because his devotion to God would not allow him to have faith in anything but a Reasonable God, and no organized religion is Reasonable to a Deist.

"The Christian theory is little else than the idolatry of the ancient Mythologists," wrote Paine, "accommodated to the purposes of power and revenue; and it yet remains to reason and philosophy to abolish the amphibious fraud." [emphasis added]

"If a mere code of morals or a better philosophy of life were sufficient to overcome alcoholism, many of us would have recovered long ago," Wilson wrote. [p. 44/45] Yet, isn't that what blind acceptance of a higher power is--a supposed better "code of morals" or "a better philosophy of life"?

Actually, Wilson must have realized they were not the same, or he would have said so. Instead he said, "We could wish to be moral, we could wish to be philosophically comforted, but the needed power wasn't there.

"Lack of power, that was our dilemma," he wrote, instead.

Their lack of power was from the desire to turn a wish into reality, without the "mere code of morals" or the "better philosophy." Philosophy is nothing without epistemology. Faith in God is the epistemology of disavowing Reason; faith is the only thing that Wilson serves up.
"Besides a seeming inablility to accept much on faith," Wilson wrote, about the problem of human intelligence as the last word, "we often found ourselves handicapped by obstinancy, sensitiveness, and unreasoning prejudice. [ ] This sort of thinking had to be abandoned. [ ! ]

"Some of us had already walked far over the Bridge of Reason toward the desired shore of faith. [ ] We were grateful that Reason had brought us so far. But somehow we couldn't step ashore. Perhaps we had been leaning on Reason that last mile and we did not like to lose our support.[ ]

"Did we not have confidence in our ability to think? What was that but a sort of faith? Yes, we had been faithful, abjectly faithful to the God of Reason. So, in one way or another, we discovered that faith had been involved all the time! [ ! ]

"[A religious doubter] recounts that he fell out of bed to his knees. In a few seconds he was overwhelmed by the conviction of the Presence of God. He had stepped from bridge to shore. [ ]

"His alcoholic problem was taken away."
I sit here and copy and paste and write these things, in order to tell the reader that I had my own spiritual experience, and my "alcoholic problem was taken away."

But my spiritual experience was not what faith would have me believe it to be; it is what Reason tells me it was.

The mind is the most powerful force in human life. My experience was one of a comgination of mind and that natural phenomenon, the human soul, because they are irrevocably connected even in death; the soul follows the mind into the grave. If I could bottle my experience and release it in a room with someone who was looking for God, he would claim his experience that came from my bottle was God, and then try to convince me of it.

Humility seems to be the greatest virtue in AA. It is mentioned specifically on nine pages of the Big Book and those mentions carry various descriptions of how it works and why it works and why we need it. There are many more references to humility in the other AA "approved literature," such as the "Twelve Steps and the Twelve Traditions". Honesty is mentioned on twelve pages, but we all know a man cannot be humble if he is not first honest.

Men whose humility does not extend to allowing the possibility that an atheist such as myself can have a spiritual experience and become sober by it, despite "the choicest gift of God to man, the GIFT OF REASON;" wrote Paine, "and having endeavored to force upon himself the belief of a system against which reason revolts, he ungratefully calls it human reason, as if man could give reason to himself."

Bill Wilson believed in the elevation of faith over Reason. Rather vain of him, wasn't it, to despise the "choisest gift of God to man," Yet, with all this strange appearance of humility and this contempt for human reason, he ventures into the boldest presumptions;" wrote Paine, "he prays dictatorially; [ ] he follows the same idea in everything that he prays for; for what is the amount of all his prayers but an attempt to make the Almighty change his mind, and act otherwise than he does? It is as if he were to say: Thou knowest not so well as I."

Wilson's prayers were like that: "Relieve me of the bondage of self," goes his Third Step Prayer, "that I may better do thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power..."

The strictest adherence to Reason is the act of binding one's self to one's self; altruism was conceived as the act of giving one's self completely over to God, without asking for such things as the removal of one's difficulties: one took what God met out. And what kind of humility is it to ask God to remove one's difficulties, then turn and call that "victory over them"?

"It is only by the exercise of reason that man can discover God. Take away that reason, and he would be incapable of understanding anything; and, in this case, it would be just as consistent to read even the book called the Bible to a horse as to a man. How, then, is it that those people pretend to reject reason?" Paine

The rejection of Reason was not all Wilson's. It was, and is, endemic of the kind of organization that AA is. The co-founder of AA, "Dr. Bob," wrote in his own chapter of the Big Book, that atheists, agnostics, and skeptics have a form of "intellectual pride which keeps [them] from accepting what is in this book, [and] I feel sorry for you." [emphasis added]

He also ended his chapter saying, "Your Heavenly Father will never let you down!"

Rather prejudiced of him, wouldn't you say?

Note: I get my 3 year token in January. That spiritual experience that I had in my soul didn't put the fear of God in me; it put in me the fear of being drunk--and of dying that way or of killing someone else. That is a stronger deterrent, apparently, than God who I do not accept as an existant. But I am grateful to have found an AA community in which my outspoken atheism is not rejected. I am fully accepted by my home group and other groups, and I currently hold two "service positions" with my home group.

AA works if you find the higher power of your understanding. Mine,
"the most formidable weapon against errors of every kind," is Reason. I trust I will never use any other weapon, a weapon which leads me to the positive conclusion that it is a power superior to all things available to man including the irrational prejudice of belief in God.

Happy New Year to all my readers, to all sober members of AA, and to all those who have not found the means to conquer their alcoholism. Don't let your prejudices against Alcoholics Anonymous keep you from using it to find serenity in sobriety. Accept the things you cannot change and change the things you can, and may you all have the wisdom, as I am grateful myself to have had, to know the difference between them.

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