“Hi, my name is Vic. I am a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, and today is my 35th anniversary.”
Thirty-five years sober. It’s quite an accomplishment. But Vic’s journey with Alcoholics Anonymous has not been the typical one. No recitation of the Lord’s Prayer to close meetings. No spiritual awakening. Not even an appeal to a “Higher Power” for help to end a gripping addiction. Vic is an atheist.
And he is not alone in a growing population of atheists, agnostics, humanists and free thinkers within Alcoholics Anonymous. In fact, Alcoholics Anonymous is hosting its first-ever nonreligious convention this November in Santa Monica, Calif.
Nonreligious members of Alcoholics Anonymous are questioning the organization’s traditional emphasis on religion, saying it forces a choice between sobriety and hypocrisy.
“A.A. starts at its core with honesty,” said Dorothy, a leader of the We Agnostics and Freethinkers International A.A. Convention, who gives only her first name in true Alcoholics Anonymous fashion. “And how can you be honest in recovery if you’re not honest in your own beliefs? If you don’t believe in the God they’re praying to, that’s not honest practice.”
Seven out of the traditional 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous directly refer in some way to “God,” a “Higher Power” or a “spiritual awakening.” Now, nonreligious A.A. groups have come up with their own 12 steps, eliminating any acknowledgement of a need for divine assistance. Instead of God, they refer to “strengths beyond our awareness and resources.”
But what other strengths are there? Without God, an alcoholic like Vic can achieve sobriety, but without God, that victory is hollow. True victory, true freedom come only through full dependence on God — for born-again Christians and for alcoholics like Vic.
As Christians, we often lapse into the belief that we can achieve a victorious, fulfilled Christian life on our own. So often, we find ourselves against a spiritual wall, trusting in a power within ourselves rather than the Power from above. Our neglected Bibles become dusty. We forget to pray. And although nothing seems terribly wrong, our Christianity seems stagnant and hollow.
In John 15, Jesus warned His disciples of this state of spiritual self-reliance. “Without me ye can do nothing,” He said. He compared fruitful living to a vine and its branches: just as the branches cannot bear fruit without the vine, so a meaningful, powerful and victorious life cannot be achieved without Christ.
On the contrary, Jesus continued, “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.”
Whether it be a life-dominating sin, an unfulfilled desire or a stagnant spiritual life, Jesus is always the answer. To trust in anything else is foolishness. When Christians try to live in their own power, they are doing no better than the alcoholic who trusts in his own power to break his addiction.
It’s not a choice between victory and hypocrisy. It’s not a call to faith in a God you don’t believe in.
It’s a call to be real, to face the fact that you can’t do it on your own. And it’s a call to trust your life completely to our omnipotent God.