The 12 Steps – An Atheists Critique

Cover of "Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story...
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The 12 steps are designed to bring the alcoholic from the slumps of despair by rekindling their faith in themselves through the word of God. Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob – the founders of AA – were Christians through-and-through, believing that by reestablishing their faith in God they could cure their uncontrollable urge to drink. So it is to no surprise that 7 of the 12 steps describe the drinker and their relationship with God throughout the cleansing process.

It must be acknowledged that the Big Book does contain a chapter to the agnostic, which essentially reiterates the same message throughout the rest of the book but designed in a different way. It isn’t an approach to the steps as an agnostic, but describes an appeal to the Christian fundamentals of AA. Again, the authors begin with the idea of God and follow suite, attempting to sway the mind of the undecided.

“Never mind the extremely low success rate, you have God on your side – only if you’re willing to accept his help. Remember though, if you don’t accept his spiritual guidance you may slip back into depression and drink the rest of your life away,” was the impression that I had gotten – even early in the program.

So, below I will describe my progress through the steps and the feelings and emotions I felt along with them. For the reader’s perspective, I feel that I ought to describe my sponsor before I show this information. Every sponsor has a different approach to the steps and perhaps mine may have contributed to my ill-regard of AA, but much of what he had taught me mirrored much of the rest of the active sponsors in my area. Most agreed upon the guidelines, each sponsor had a sponsor, and those sponsors had a sponsor. The reader may get the picture at this point. Nothing changes, everything stays the same.

His name was Chuck. He considered himself a “young Old Guy” – this meaning that he was young in age, but a traditionalist in the sense that he followed the conservative perspective of AA – “The God, Jesus, pull-no-punches, drink-and-get-the-hell-out” initiative. With that being said, the rest will fall into place as I move through these steps.

1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.

2. Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

These three steps are actually taken care of the second you walk through the door and get a sponsor. My sponsor wasn’t the same man who had taken me to my first meeting – something I describe in my coming book, “Improbable: Is There Any Reason To Believe In God?” He was a family friend, and I had actually planned to have him work with me but that plan changed when Chuck approached me – being closer in age appealed to me. This consisted of a private meeting – the family friend being a veteran of the program, he had access to AA rooms outside of the designated meeting hours – where in which he read from the Big Book as he was taught to. These three obviously invoked a conversation on God that I inappropriately dodged at that time. I merely agreed to the terms and conditions, feeling that I needed to stay sober.

4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

By this time, Chuck was my sponsor. What I was instructed to do was compile a list of my wrong-doing – essentially all the immoral things I had done to others while intoxicated. I will admit and I am not proud of this, the list was lengthy. Most of which included arguments, disagreements, and hateful behavior to those who did not deserve it. It wasn’t long ago did I often blame others for my problems. That since has changed immensely. While working this step, my new sponsor and I also discussed God. He asked if I believed. I said, “I don’t know.” He nodded and said, “You should.” Simple and to the point. But I failed to ask the following, “Why?” He then asked me to pray with him. I obliged, though I really saw no sense in doing so.

6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

These were also simple prayers and agreements between I and my sponsor. He asked God to forgive me for what I’ve done. That was it. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t feel any better. By this point I was maybe 3 months sober, still emotionally broken. By that point though, I had enough of my own wits to know there probably wasn’t a God listening – I never disclosed this information with him. But I also began to wonder, “Where these in-fact defects or simply the outcome of alcohol abuse?” I certainly never acted the way I did while drunk when entirely sober. I was a nice, quite, polite person. I knew my moral boundaries and never crossed them even when I was the most upset. Alcohol lowered that inhibition. There was nothing to ask to be removed. I removed them myself the second I stopped drinking.

8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

These steps were important. By this point I was 6 months sober, my sponsor thought it was now time I compiled a list of people I’d caused harm to. This was simple enough. I knew who had left my life due to my actions while I was drunk, and those who had also stuck around. This also forced me to question the very meaning behind forgiveness itself. The intent of these steps is to help the alcoholic let go of their transgressions by receiving forgiveness from those we’ve hurt. But was that necessary? Nothing was going to be different. Either they would forgive me or not, there wasn’t going to be a massive rekindling of friendships. I had moved on, those others had moved on, it would have been a waste of time. Don’t get me wrong, I still today feel sorry of my actions, but I’ve learned to live with them. Needless to say, I obliged my sponsors requests. Some amends went well, others didn’t happen at all. Those who were close accepted – though I knew they had already accepted once I made to decision to change my life. The others may have felt there to be no reason because they were in a different place without the need to hear from me. So be it, and I could understand why. If anything, these steps taught me to treat those around me with even more respect from that period on instead of comforting my ill-feelings of yesterday.

10. Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.

11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

These remaining steps were filler-time for me. Step 11 basically instructs us to ask for forgiveness when needed. Again, asking to be absolved of an imaginary illness. Step 11 pertained to the same notion, instructing us to pray when feeling bad until we felt better, ergo “God must have made me feel better.” I wasn’t buying that gambit. To my amazement, my sponsor really skipped 10 and 11 all together, and one day approached me, saying, “I think you’ve completed every step but the last. Have you felt anything differently?” I said, “Yes, I know what I’ve done wrong and I’m determined to never do it again.” He then said, “You’ve completed the steps.” That was it. There was no spiritual awakening, only existing was a moral epiphany and an agreement with oneself to change. Any one can do that, specifically without a God. It still left me wondering why so many needed God to aid them throughout their sobriety.

He then told me he was proud of me, and that not many complete the steps. Perhaps this was because they relied to heavily on an imaginary friend? Was my success achievable because I acknowledged my isolation to my issue and that I was alone in my sobriety. I knew this was the case for me.

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