In this podcast, Alex M. discusses his new book, Daily Reprieve: AA for Atheists & Agnostics, a secular daily meditations book based on quotes taken from the first 164 pages of the Big Book. Each quote is followed by Alex’s thoughts on the topic and a question for the reader to contemplate. A life-long atheist who found sobriety in AA, Alex values the Big Book as a guide to the suggested 12 Steps and as a historical document describing the experiences of AA’s founders and early members.
The book is great for generating discussion at AA meetings, but it’s also a good way to introduce newcomers to the text from which our Fellowship draws its name. It’s a book that many of us avoid because of its overbearing religiosity, but Alex turns this obstacle into a catalyst for discussion. A good example is the reading for May 7, taken from the chapter entitled “We Agnostics.”
Yes, we of agnostic temperament have had these thoughts and experiences. Let us make hast to reassure you. 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. (We Agnostics, p. 46)
In this paragraph Bill W. makes the point-blank declaration that A.A.’s Higher Power is God. We might, or might not, excuse the author by remembering that the Big Book is a historical document as well as an instruction manual, and that most, but not all, early A.A. members did adopt God as their Higher Power. In a general sense, alcoholics who are comfortable with their religious upbringing rarely have any difficulty returning to their previous Christian faith once sober, and using those beliefs to support their new way of living. For those who don’t believe in God, or are unsure about the existence of any god, they are not precluded from discovering a spiritual Higher Power of their own understanding. Most atheists and agnostics have extremely strong beliefs about the significance of all living things in the universe, and how they relate to the spiritual and material world. We can appreciate that although God is always a Higher Power, a Higher Power is not always God. The experience of A.A. shows that however we define it, what matters is that we create and retain some type of non-material, spiritual power of our own understanding that we can connect with in order to help us stay sober.
Am I willing to do the work to identify, or create my own spiritual power that I can use in recovery?
Though my answer to the question would be “no,” I would add that it’s only a matter of semantics. Other people in AA and my connection with them is what keeps me sober. Some may call that a Higher Power, I just don’t happen to use that terminology.
In Daily Reprieve: AA for Agnostics & Atheists, Alex provokes the reader to think about the ideas in the Big Book. I often found my understanding corresponded exactly with Alex’s, but in other instances, it didn’t. In all cases, however, I found myself pausing to think and to ask myself what these concepts mean to me. That, I believe is a useful exercise.