As We Understand God

by Rick R.

Individuals choose their own concept

Alcoholics Anonymous came into existence in 1935 at a time when much of our society was centered around churches in the communities where we lived. Much of the South and the Midwest are still like that to this day. As a child in my home town on Sunday morning, I could look out the window and see the majority of my neighbors walking to church. That was the way it was in the early 1940’s.

The book Alcoholics Anonymous was published in 1939, influenced by early members of the program at that time. A.A. could have easily become a religious program, but fortunately the elders realized (from the mistakes of the Oxford Group and the Washingtonians) they had to make it clear a desire to stop drinking was the only requirement for membership. Individual members could choose their own concept of a power greater than themselves, i.e., God as we understand God.

Years of drinking made it hard to get my thinking up to speed

Tradition Two reads, “As He may express Himself in our group conscience” (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p. 132). When the word God is used in the rest of the book, it’s not always followed by the “as we understand him” qualifier, and I believe many members get the idea we are trying to push religion on them. I think that’s understandable. I personally found it easy enough to read the back part of the book and to not let myself become distracted by what I recognized as a cultural norm for the time.

I had no problem setting aside my religious bias and recognizing the parts of the Big Book and the 12 and 12 that clearly state all of the options available for finding “power greater than myself.” I can name several right off the top of my head:
1) Alcohol itself was my higher power for a long time and still would be if I hadn’t gotten into the program.
2) My ego ran my life for quite awhile until I got serious about life issues.
3) The A.A. program itself.

Collective conscience of the world we live in

Spiritually lost when I surrendered and entered the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, when faced with the need to come to terms with a Higher Power, I realized why it took such a long time to settle this subject. Years of drinking made it hard to get my underdeveloped thinking up to speed right away. As I got more familiar with the Big Book and the 12 and 12, I started to uncover all the evidence that debunked the idea that I had to conform to any particular religious doctrine.

In the 12 and 12 I read on page 26, “Alcoholics Anonymous does not demand that you to believe anything.” On belief: “To acquire it, I had only to stop fighting and practice the rest of A.A.’s program as enthusiastically as I could” (p.27). Also on page 26 it states, “Take it easy. The hoop you have to jump through is a lot wider than you think … A one-time vice-president of the American Atheist Society … got through with room to spare.” Then on page 33 of the 12 and 12 it says “Therefore, Step Two is the rallying point for all of us. Whether agnostic, atheist, or former believer, we can stand together on this step.”

Today I am very comfortable with my own concept of a Higher Power. I use the word God only to put a name on a concept that has no physical form. I might say that it expresses itself in the collective conscience of the world we live in. If you read these qualifiers and practice the rest of the principles of the program as enthusiastically as you can, you will come to terms with a personal concept of a higher power as well as any of us.

Photos by Sepp Rutz and Casey Horner

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