I read an interesting piece on the CNN Belief Blog today about Atheism and Alcoholic’s Anonymous written by Marya Hornbacher. She does give the AA program credit for helping her attain sobriety, but she also sites that the way in which religious principles influence the organization:
But if you are of an atheistic or strongly agnostic mindset, chances are you’ll walk into a meeting, see the steps hanging on the wall and want to scream, laugh or walk back out.
The Twelve Steps do place a premium on faith and do view it as a necessity in attaining sobriety. Throughout the steps, the helplessness of man and the need for faith and in turning one’s life and will over to a Higher Power is emphasized.
I may not hold a majority opinion, but as a Christian, I don’t agree with that idea. I think that there are lots of atheists and agnostics who have given up various addictions.
I think if a person comes to faith in the despair of addiction, that this is a wonderful and positive outcome. Philosophically, however, I don’t believe that faith can or should ever be forced on someone. You can’t believe something you disbelieve.
While the pit of despair in which an addiction can place someone may seem like a great venue in which to proselytize faith, I cannot advocate for selling the lie that a person must believe one way or another when they are desperate for a change in their lives.
While Alcoholic’s Anonymous does not say a person must believe in any particular religion, they do teach that one must believe in some form of a Higher Power. I do think that elements of the process do have value, but that this mindset of faith as a necessity in being replete in overcoming an addiction can discourage and scare people – who legitimately need help – away from the program.
I don’t think a person can be forced into believing something they don’t believe. I also think that God is the source of all truth, and that if the steps in these programs do work, they work because that is the way in which God has ordered the universe, however I also believe that if these are self-existent truths, then the principles can also work for people who don’t necessarily have faith.