No God

By Dan H.

What if there is no God? This question has come back to haunt me periodically throughout my sobriety. What if my sobriety depends on belief in and access to a power greater than myself, and there is no God? Some say I can use a doorknob, or a lamppost, for a God, but I don’t think so. How can I turn my life and will over to a doorknob? How can a lamppost remove the character defects that the book says will lead me back to drinking?

What about using the Group as my higher power? Well, great, except that at one year of sobriety, I found the power of the fellowship alone insufficient; I was depressed and indifferent and mainly wanted to sleep. The Group was great, mostly, as long as I was at a meeting, but it wasn’t very portable, and I needed something to sustain me between meetings.

I was dissatisfied with our book’s chapter on the subject. I felt that We Agnostics was a classic bait-and-switch. “Our own conception…” morphed quickly into GOD, with all the attendant masculine pronouns and biblical implications. And yet I was sold on the idea that, on my own, I was in deep trouble.

Two phrases in the book rang true for me. One was “something at work in a human heart…” This was something I could work with. And then, thank God (ha!), there was the appendix on Spiritual Experience, which mentions “an unsuspected inner resource which they presently identify with their own conception of a Power greater than themselves.”

I have been sober nearly twenty-nine years now, and I still can’t say much about a God “out there,” one that created the universe, involves itself in natural events, or dispenses the occasional convenient parking spot on a lucky day. I have, however, had a deep and effective spiritual experience as a result of AA’s steps bringing me into contact with “an unsuspected inner resource” (which I call God as a matter of convenience). If someone asks, I might just say that there’s something inside of me that’s smarter and kinder than I am and I think I’ll listen to it.

It is easy enough to give alcoholism a personality: it’s cunning, baffling, and powerful; it’s patient, doesn’t discriminate, and it wants to kill me. It’s tied up in a tangle of knots with my selfishness, pride, and fear, which are both cause and effect of my problem. So it seems reasonable to personify the other side, the “place” within from which emanate love, honesty, compassion, sanity, and a willingness to help others. And it seems reasonable to appeal to this place—to state a willingness to live my life under its guidance. I call this appeal prayer.

I like to read “other books,” as mentioned in the eleventh step: on religion, philosophy, and science, on skepticism as well as faith. I haven’t rejoined the debate society; I just enjoy exploring ideas. An old-timer once told me that “religion is a finger pointing at the moon.” What that tells me is that if I spend too much time staring at the finger I will forever miss the moon. I am no longer so interested in labels like “atheism,” “agnosticism,” “deism,” or “theism”; I just can’t afford to revert to “me-ism”—when I’m the center of the universe, it’s a dark and lonely place.

My small god might seem insufficient to some, but it works for me. And, I believe that that same inner resource is a part of each of us: when I’m in a room full of people talking about its effect on their lives, it becomes a presence that we can all sense even as our individual concepts vary.

Occasionally I have the intuitive sense that my unsuspected inner resource is an expression of something much larger, and that perhaps there is a deeper relationship between consciousness and external reality than simply that of observer to observed. I am willing to let my conception evolve.


About the Author, Dan H.

Dan H has been a sober member of AA since 1987. Even in what he now affectionately calls Big Book Boot Camp, he had trouble with the chapter We Agnostics and the bait-and-switch between “your own conception” and “Your Creator,” “God,” and the assorted masculine pronouns. However, AA and the nugget of truth at its core, along with its practical suggestions, have transformed his life from burned-out alcoholic drug dealer (broke, looking at prison time, alone, and clueless as to how to carry on) to productive, cheerfully married, fairly regular guy.

Dan has written two crime novels (published under the name Earl Javorsky—earljavorsky.com); both have addiction/recovery themes. He also writes web content for treatment centers and works as a copy editor and proofreader in Oceanside, California.

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  1. Roshni November 5, 2015 at 3:50 pm - Reply

    Dan, thanks for sharing. I have attended many meetings of A.A., and so far the best definition I have heard of a power greater than myself/god/goddess/divine/higher power (whatever you call it/him/her) – an intangible spirit of truth that dwells in the heart of people.

    I also have found that labels are limiting and take away the freshness of each moment.

  2. life-j November 4, 2015 at 11:26 am - Reply

    One other thing I came to think about, since you brought up the bait and switch concept:

    That is what the AA literature does when it can’t sell the god concept outright: It starts out by selling me on seeking a power “greater” than myself, and yes that can be the group, and then at some point it yanks “greater” and inserts “higher” which is just a little bit nearer my god to thee. Most of all it introduces, imperceptably, the shift from me not being able to do it by myself, and I am way fine with that, it is, after all quite obvious if I’m honest – to a stratified situation. It is no longer a level playing field of one alcoholic helping another, or the group doing it. Now there is a “higher” agent doing it. Just one more of the masterful manipulations of our BB. The false dichotomy being the best.

  3. life-j November 4, 2015 at 10:11 am - Reply

    Dan, thanks.

    Every time I see the “unsuspected inner resource” named as the “power greater than myself” I can’t quite help resort to the physics of volume: How can something which is purported to be greater than me be contained within me?

    I know that’s nitpicky, but t seems like that particular higher power is just one more attempt to fit the shoe, as in Cindarella. I still don’t understand why we would consider the need for a “higher” power. A power “greater” than myself, I can sort of understand that. The group as such an entity can be greater than me without being higher, and anyway I mostly (my reservation mostly being related to the bill of goods they’re trying to sell together with it) buy the idea that I need help from an outside resource given that my inside resources had, temporarily at least, been worn so badly down by alcohol as to become useless.

    I hear a lot of people saying something like that nature is their higher power, or their inner higher self, or whatever, and hey, I think both those two entities and many other similar ones deserve to be handled as sacred in some way, but I think we also need to be clear that god or higher power as referred to in official AA literature is an outside, interventionist deity, some agency which you can pray to, and which, if it so chooses, can find parking spaces for you when you need one the most, and otherwise influence your life in a personal manner.

    Thus I also think that those who claim that nature or their inner higher self is their higher power – in AA context – ought to see that they are mostly saying it in order to appease the fundamentalist factions of AA which demand that you have a higher power. They can say “look, I have one”, and be left alone. But surely you can not pray to, or at least not expect any sort of deliberate, purposeful intervention by nature or by your higher inner self.

    And while your own higher inner self is an entity of a sort that sounds nice, and I can support seeking it, one must admit that it doesn’t quite qualify as “outside help” as demanded by the AA fundies.

    And I support all sorts of reverence for nature. We have too little of it, and that is why as a culture we abuse it in such a rapacious manner, but nature can not take directed action in my life the way a god could and would if he were sought.

    I am not here to take anyone’s god away from them. But I would like to help those who claim all these odd higher power concepts to see that all they are doing is buying into the god-lingo in AA in order to not be harassed by the AA fundies who say, on other people’s behalf, that a higher power is necessary to have.

    I can not speak to whether a higher power, or let me say the concept of one, can be beneficial. To me all it appears to be is some sort of placebo effect, but I will gladly accept anyone’s right to believe whatever they truly want to believe. What I am attacking is only the pressure in AA to find a higher power when one really is not necessary. OK, I concede that one may be necessary in a sort of way, for those who have been brought up inside a religious framework. If one is used to the idea that there is a god who intervenes in one’s life, then it may be emotionally necessary to maintain that outlook. But those who come to AA without ever seriously having entertained such ideas should not be forced to do so by peer pressure.

    • Dan November 6, 2015 at 7:17 pm Reply

      life-j . . .

      I’m not worried about appeasing the fundies; I’m more interested in crafting a concept and a language that can attract a newcomer and serve as a model for him or her to make use of.
      You mention that we “can not pray to, or at least not expect any sort of deliberate, purposeful intervention by nature or by your higher inner self,” and yet I appeal to the aforementioned inner resource and have had spectacular results, emotionally, materially, socially, etc. It’s all a matter of finding a useful metaphor.

      My conscious, waking self that’s thinking and typing right now is just a component of my whole being. To claim sole agency for my sobriety misses the point that something new has been brought to bear on my experience of life. If I call the group a power greater than myself, then I have to ask, “What is it in me that responds to the group?” In spite of my initial cynicism and stubborn insistence that I didn’t need their help. In spite of my jackass lone-wolf posturing. I believe there is a vast internal pool to draw upon. We talk about “lofty aspirations,” “feeling low,” “depths of despair,” “high expectations”: these are the language of our interior geometry, metaphors that indicate a measure along a spectrum of feelings.

      Speaking of spectrums, by the way, there are “fundies” at both ends of the continuum.

      • Christopher G November 8, 2015 at 9:23 pm Reply

        “What is it in me that responds to the group?”

        Very good question indeed!

        “What I am looking for, I am looking with.”

  4. Thomas B November 4, 2015 at 9:15 am - Reply

    Indeed, a wonderfully written and articulated article, Dan — thank you.

    I, too, hope my exploration of numinous reality never ceases, that it continues to evolve as I continue to experience the mysteries of life in secular AA recovery a day at a time.

  5. John S November 4, 2015 at 7:38 am - Reply

    The conversation on this site has really helped me stop to think not only about how I feel about my recovery, but the language I use to communicate my recovery to others. I thought it was interesting that Dan pointed out how we ascribe a personality to alcoholism.

    The language in the Big Book describing a disease as “cunning, baffling, powerful” is an interesting and effective way of communicating to the reader, the nature of this problem. If metaphor is useful in describing the problem, then why not the solution?

  6. Manoel November 4, 2015 at 7:05 am - Reply

    Thanks, Dan, for your sense of humor and clever way of looking into the intricate angled corridors where higher powers seem to find a place (to work, to hide?). I´ve been sober for just about six months now,and wearing pants with somehow deep pockets where I will be able (hopefully) to enclose this Clever Something willing to serve as compass and anchor for myself when needed. For free, of course.

  7. dave b November 4, 2015 at 6:28 am - Reply

    Thanks, Dan, for a great article.  That “inner resource”, straight from the BB, does indeed make a great HP.  When I listen to that, better things happen to me.

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