Spirituality and Religion in Recovery

There is much talk in Alcoholics Anonymous about spirituality and religion, and the mix between the two. There is a fairly simple reason for this.

Many people who look to get sober have had bad if not traumatic experiences with religious organisations, normally as children, but often as adults as well.

This has not only put them off religion but also any concept associated with religion such as spirituality or God.

As such many people baulk at the idea that any of these concepts need to be used as a way of helping them get and stay sober. This has been a problem in AA ever since it started.


AA later realised that it may be helpful to make this important distinction between spirituality and religion, that whilst they can go together they do not necessarily need to – someone’s sense of spirituality is really about their inner world and can be distinct from an external belief system or religious organisation.

It was hoped that this truth would go some way to helping people separate their past experiences of religion, and give them the freedom to explore their own truth around spirituality and the God question.

To an extent this works, but many people are scarred deeply by their past experiences or have deeply held views about religion and spirituality.

It is a test that AA has always faced – how it gives people the freedom to be themselves, whilst at the same time trying not to force them into any particular path of recovery.

The God Question

What has become known as the God Question in AA follows on from the above.

The experience of AA shows people’s ability to get sober and stay sober using the spiritual principles of the 12 step program, however, they choose to use them. This experience is freely available to anyone who chooses to use it, in any way shape or form.

It is also true that this experience gives many people a belief that they have a right to try and force or bully other people into doing the things that they believe will give them the same experience.

Whatever the motives of these people, it is normally a form of bullying, and fundamentally takes away people’s right of freedom to discover for themselves what their sense of God does or does not mean.

Not only is any type of pressure always unacceptable, but in the nature of Alcoholics Anonymous, any type of bullying also runs the risk of depriving people of the opportunity to discover for themselves what the experience of AA means to them, which is about their freedom to get and stay sober.

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