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In Marya Hornbacher’s Waiting: A Nonbeliever’s Higher Power, she shares her road to sobriety through AA as an Atheist. To follow-up Man Quits Booze Without Jesus, this article addresses the challenges and biases spiritual AA members have about Atheists and Agnostics.
CNN reported that when Hornbacher attended her first AA meeting, she saw the chapter’s leader bang his fist [on a table] who bellowed, “By the grace of this program and the blood of Jesus Christ, I’m sober today!
She thought she attended a Christian revivalist AA. Hornbacher wondered: Could there be an AA for lapsed Catholics? Hare Krishnas? Ukrainian Jews. Hindus? Buddhists? Hornbacher wondered if Atheists were welcomed in the organization.
Hornbacher later learned AA and other 12-step programs do not exclude Atheists, but welcome every religion, denomination, sect, cult, political tilt, gender identity, sexual preference, economic strata, racial and ethnic background, believers in gun rights and abortion rights and the right to home schooling, drinkers of coffee and tea, whiskey and mouthwash, people who sleep on their sides or their stomachs or sidewalks.
Many people misunderstand Atheists as those who have no beliefs. Contrary to this perception, Atheists chose to pursue the nature of reality as passionately as any spiritual person. A good number of them explore various sciences, and question reality.
The only requirement for any 12-step program should involve one’s desire to end destructive behavior. Hornbacher initially felt she would have a problem with a “higher power” concept to start her path to sobriety. She is an Atheist and believes people can become sober—or conquer any addiction—without subscribing to faith, religion, or spirituality.
Hornbacher explains many people consider AA cultist, a bunch of blathering self-helpers, a herd of lemmings or morons, and it isn’t those things, either. She discovered It’s a pretty straightforward series of steps, based on spiritual principles, that helps people clean up their lives.
She gives advice to Atheists who feel intimidated about believers who attend AA meetings.
As an Atheistic or strongly agnostic mindset, chances are you’ll walk into a meeting, see the steps hanging on the wall and want to scream, laugh or walk back out. I tried another tack: I made a valiant attempt to believe. I figured (a) these people were funny, kind, and not plastered; (b) they believed that some kind of higher power had helped them get sober; (3) they knew something I did not.
She then researched all AA literature, several major religions, and discussed her Atheism with priests, rabbis, fanatics and her father. People related their stories of God, divinity, love, intelligent design, a creator that had no origin and no end.
When Hornbacher tried to reason with people of faith of her conviction in science, chaos, and infinity, she wrote that they looked at her with despair. They asked, So, you think you’re the biggest, most important thing in the universe?
On the contrary. I think I am among the smallest. Cosmically speaking, I barely exist. Like anything else, I came into being by the chance, consist mostly of water, am composed of cells that can be reduced and reduced, down to the quarks and leptons and so forth, that make up matter and force. If you broke down all matter, the atom or my body, you’d arrive at the same thing: what scientists call one strange quark, with its half-integer spin. And I find that not only fascinating but wondrous, awe-inspiring and humbling.
She came to realize the most important spiritual principle of AA is humility, recognizing our flaws, and knowing we can and must change. She found her own higher power—not only sobriety, but help to others. As do most Atheists, Hornbacher believes her existence is chance, but that she is not alone. Rather, she views herself as a part of humanity. She to function on this hurtling planet is to give what I can to other extant things .
She wryly writes, That keeps me sober. Amen.
Mad Mike’s America thanks CNN and The Toronto News
Why does AA exclude secular chapters comprised of Atheists and Agnostics?