Is Alcoholics Anonymous a Religious Group?

There is no skirting around the issue that words like “God” and “Higher Power” are commonplace in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. It’s easy for a newcomer to assume that A.A. is composed of religious men and women, and that a belief in a religious deity is a core component of the program. This, however, is a common myth held by those unfamiliar with the tenets of A.A.
Alcoholics Anonymous stressed the necessity of belief in a power greater than ourselves. Recalling the thousands of men and women who chose to hold beliefs in a higher power, The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, explains that “since they have come to believe in a Power greater than themselves, to take a certain attitude toward that Power, and to do certain simple things, there had been a revolutionary change in their way of living and thinking.” We can see that this spiritual experience is necessary, but does that mean we have to believe in a religious concept of God? The Big Book clearly states: “When, therefore, we speak to you of God, we mean your own conception of God. This applies, too, to other spiritual expressions which you find in this book. In essence, we come to believe in something greater than ourselves that we feel we can consciously contact and rely on. Any sort of religious understanding of God, though helpful to some, is entirely unnecessary as a means of achieving sobriety through the 12-Step program of recovery. For this reason, the Big Book uses many different names for this conception: God, Power, Supreme Being, Creative Intelligence, Spirit of the Universe, and even “Presence of Infinite Power and Love.”
The founders of A.A. recognized the necessity of a spiritual experience as a means of attaining recovery, but realized that any sort of religious connotation could potentially prevent them from reaching men and women with a diverse array of religious or nonreligious beliefs. We instead focus on the development of our own conception of a higher power, allowing it to be entirely personal and individualized to our own set of beliefs. All that is needed to commence spiritual growth through the program of Alcoholics Anonymous is simply the willingness to believe in a power greater than oneself.
There is no need for an atheist or agnostic to feel discouraged by the idea of a higher power. Many men and women have entered into sobriety with strongly anti-religious beliefs and found that there is a distinction between religious and spiritual belief. We are urged to lay aside our prejudices so that we many find even just a small amount of willingness to accept that there is some kind of power greater than ourselves. Religious conceptions of God, or any conception at all, is not necessary to commence a spiritual program of action. In fact, many members of Alcoholics Anonymous refer to their higher power as “a god of my own misunderstanding.” Whether we are religious or opposed to religious belief, we find that there is still a path toward sobriety through 12-Step recovery. As the Big Book explains, “to us, the Realm of the Spirit is broad, roomy, all-inclusive; never exclusive or forbidding to those we earnestly seek.”

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