Most people have normally been asked at some point in their life if they believe in God or not.
In AA and in 12 step recovery generally, people are likely to be asked this question more than once, sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly and quite often in fairly intense and overbearing circumstances.
Whilst people in life can often walk away from those who they feel put pressure on them as to what they should or should not believe in, this is much harder in AA.
People come to AA effectively to get sober, whether they realise it or not at the time ! Once in AA, they enter a different world that can seem very intense and quite surreal in many ways.
People are invariably quite vulnerable, and are susceptible to being given lots of advice about all things to do with being and getting sober.
The God Question
AA in many ways reflects normal society, but often in more intense and intrusive ways. One of these is about the overbearing question of what other people do or do not believe in.
The nature of AA, and of the 12 step program itself, is rooted in the world of God and of the spirit, as any cursory look at the literature, or attendance at any AA meeting will quickly verify.
This by its very self often presents real problems for a lot of people, which are often compounded by the attitude of some sober members, who can appear very evangelical about the need to believe in God.
This attitude that some AA members have is often reinforced by their own experience of sobriety, and their own experience of using the 12 step program in their life.
These act as a sort of rationalisation for their actions and behaviours, whatever their motives, in trying to force people to have their sense of what they should or should not believe in.
The sense of trying to convince people about a belief in God is not necessarily about specific belief systems.
It is normally much more about a general sense that they need to have God in their lives, and if they don’t they won’t get or stay sober.
Sobriety and Beyond
There are so many potential dangers around this forcing of belief systems that it is difficult to pick any one in particular out.
Whilst there is obviously an issue about the motives of the people being quite evangelical, the reality is that it can exploit the vulnerability of people who are new.
Someone getting sober is faced with a whole range of issues, both internal and external, that at some point they will begin to own and realise that they need dealing with.
Some of these problems are likely to be fairly major, others less so. However, the pressure that someone getting sober feels is normally fairly intense, whatever the source.
The last thing they need, quite literally, is the pressure of someone in AA else telling them what they should or should not believe in ‘as a matter of saving their life’.
A Life Saver
It is quite common in AA for people to talk in quite melodramatic ways about life and death.
What is often forgotten or not fully realised, is the enormity of someone coming to their first AA meeting, and the potential implications for them if they do not come back.
This is not meant as a do or die fear, simply an acknowledgement that if someone is exposed to AA, they are exposed to a potential way of reconciling and healing their alcoholism.
If that same person feels overly pressured by anyone, about anything, there is a fair chance they will either leave or certainly not return in the near future.
This does potentially deprive them of the opportunity of using the experience of AA as a way of getting and staying sober, and potentially saving their life.
It is worth making the point, over and over again, that AA does not have any belief systems about anything.
Individual members have the freedom to believe anything they want, and unfortunately often cross that line of representing their own belief systems as being those of AA.
AA is a body of experience that is primarily expressed through its literature at a global level. The literature of AA represents its experience from the time it started through to present day.
This is of paramount importance to how AA functions, and people’s freedom to use that experience in any way that they find helpful or not.
This sense of balancing a body of experience, and an individual’s freedom to use that experience in anyway they find helpful is the linchpin of Alcoholics Anonymous, and all 12 step fellowships.
It has what has held AA together for most of its existence, and allowed it to grow on a worldwide scale.
Unfortunately, the reality of many AA meetings do not live up to this ideal.
Many meetings will contain individuals who, for whatever reason, feel the need to try and impress on other people how they should or should not think.
Whilst this often focuses on the God question, it shows up a deeper symbolic problem in AA around the whole issue of boundaries, and of giving people the freedom to be themselves
The freedom to discover for themselves what the world of the spirit really means, or not, to them