Is there too much God involved in 12-step programs?

Light from above

Is there too much God involved in 12-step programs? In the steps themselves, God is mentioned four times by name – for an atheist or agnostic, that’s four times too many. Even a single mention of any Supreme Being is enough to make an addict of the atheist variety cringe. Then again, there are addicts who consider themselves quite religious. For them, there’s always room for more God.

So, the question isn’t really “Is there too much God involved in 12-step programs”; people come in with different conceptions of God, and seldom do they agree on how much is “too much.” It’s like asking how many calories you need on a daily basis. People come in different shapes and sizes. They vary by age, weight, height, sex, and infinite different dietary needs. So, there’s no one-size-fits-all.

Let’s start with something that’s common nowadays: the skeptic who hates the idea of God or wants nothing to do with it. Maybe he spent the better part of his childhood getting lectured by priests at private school. Or, maybe he’s been dragged to Church every Sunday and feels “maxed out” on God. Whatever his history, he knows one thing for sure: he’s done with God.

Although they probably don’t realize it, addicts are some of the most religious people on the planet. Think of a typical day in the life of your average junkie. They get up and immediately kneel before the needle. They pray to the straw and worship the crack pipe. Multiple times a day, they place faith in the next high or drunk. Oftentimes they make leaps of faith, hoping that they’ve picked up a bag of some good stuff instead of baby powder.

An addict might think that this comparison is ridiculous. However, if they are truly honest with themselves, they will have admitted one thing: that their lives have been spent in service of something else. They’ve abandoned friends, loved ones, jobs and much else all for the sake of one more score. They’ve sacrificed as much as the priest who leaves everything to join the monastery. If they can see this, then it will suffice.

Any addict who’s tried to get sober on his or her own terms will tell you that sobriety is boring. And why wouldn’t it be? Drugs and alcohol made life worth living. People and places were fun and exciting; now, in sobriety, they are dull and dreary. Life has gone from beautiful, vibrant color to black and white. If he has any chance at staying clean, it’s obvious that something needs to give life its color again.

For obvious reasons, getting high or drunk isn’t an option. Yet, white knuckling their way through depression and boredom isn’t an option either. So, there has to be a third option. This is where “God” comes into 12-step programs. In this sense, “God” is simply something that makes life worth living. It doesn’t have to be a bearded man in the clouds. It doesn’t have to be a deity or a life force or a conception that conforms to some other creed or doctrine.

“God” doesn’t even have to be God if you don’t want it to. It’s merely a word that stands for something unique to every person. 12-step programs make no stipulations on what word you use because the word isn’t important. What’s important is the power behind the word. As long as you are connected to something that will keep you sober, no one will argue with you.

So, is there too much God involved in 12-step programs? Ask a drunk if there’s too much booze in a bar. Ask a dope fiend if there are too many pills in his bottle. That should answer the question for you.

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