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"Came to believe
that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to
The moment they read Step Two, most A.A. newcomers are confronted
with a dilemma, sometimes a serious one. How often have
we heard them cry out, "Look what you people have done
to us! You have convinced us that we are alcoholics and
that our lives are unmanageable. Having reduced us to a
state of absolute helplessness, you now declare that none
but a Higher Power can remove our obsession. Some of us
won't believe in God, others can't, and still others who
do believe that God exists have no faith whatever He will
perform this miracle. Yes, you've got us over the barrel,
all right--but where do we go from here?"
Let's look first at the
case of the one who says he won't believe--the belligerent
one. He is in a state of mind which can be described only
as savage. His whole philosophy of life, in which he so
gloried, is threatened. It's bad enough, he thinks, to admit
alcohol has him down for keeps. But now, still smarting
from that admission, he is faced with something really impossible.
How he does cherish the thought that man, risen so majestically
from a single cell in the primordial ooze, is the spearhead
of evolution and therefore the only god that his universe
knows! Must he renounce all this to save himself?
At this juncture, his A.A,
sponsor usually laughs. This, the newcomer thinks, is just
about the last straw. This is the beginning of the end.
And so it is: the beginning of the end of his old life,
and the beginning of his emergence into a new one. His sponsor
probably says, "Take it easy. The hoop you have to
jump through is a lot wider than you think. At least I've
found it so. So did a friend of mine who was a one-time
vice-president of the American Atheist Society, but he got
through with room to spare."
"Well," says the
newcomer, "I know you're telling me the truth. It's
no doubt a fact that A.A, is full of people who once believed
as I do. But just how, in these circumstances, does a fellow
`take it easy'? That's what I want to know."
the sponsor, "is a very good question indeed. I think
I can tell you exactly how to relax. You won't have to work
at it very hard, either. Listen, if you will, to these three
statements. First, Alcoholics Anonymous does not demand
that you believe anything. All of its Twelve Steps are but
suggestions. Second, to get sober and to stay sober, you
don't have to swallow all of Step Two right now. Looking
back, I find that I took it piecemeal myself. Third, all
you really need is a truly open mind. Just resign from the
debating society and quit bothering yourself with such deep
questions as whether it was the hen or the egg that came
first. Again I say, all you need is the open mind."
The sponsor continues, "Take, for example, my own case.
I had a scientific schooling. Naturally I respected, venerated,
even worshipped science. As a matter of fact, I still do--all
except the worship part. Time after time, my instructors
held up to me the basic principle of all scientific progress:
search and research, again and again, always with the open
When I first looked at A.A,
my reaction was just like yours. This A.A, business, I thought,
is totally unscientific. This I can't swallow. I simply
won't consider such nonsense.
"Then I woke up. I
had to admit that A.A, showed results, prodigious results.
I saw that my attitude regarding these had been anything
but scientific. It wasn't A.A, that had the closed mind,
it was me. The minute I stopped arguing, I could begin to
see and feel. Right there, Step Two gently and very gradually
began to infiltrate my life. I can't say upon what occasion
or upon what day I came to believe in a Power greater than
myself, but I certainly have that belief now. To acquire
it, I had only to stop fighting and practice the rest of
A.A.'s program as enthusiastically as I could.
"This is only one man's
opinion based on his own experience, of course. I must quickly
assure you that A.A.'s tread innumerable paths in their
quest for faith. If you don't care for the one I've suggested,
you'll be sure to discover one that suits if only you look
and listen. Many a man like you has begun to solve the problem
by the method of substitution. You can, if you wish, make
A.A., itself your `higher power.' Here's a very large group
of people who have solved their alcohol problem. In this
respect they are certainly a power greater than you, who
have not even come close to a solution. Surely you can have
faith in them. Even this minimum of faith will be enough.
You will find many members who have crossed the threshold
just this way. All of them will tell you that, once across,
their faith broadened and deepened. Relieved of the alcohol
obsession, their lives unaccountably transformed, they came
to believe in a Higher Power, and most of them began to
talk of God."
Consider next the plight
of those who once had faith, but have lost it. There will
be those who have drifted into indifference, those filled
with self-sufficiency who have cut themselves off, those
who have become prejudiced against religion, and those who
are downright defiant because God has failed to fulfill
their demands. Can A.A, experience tell all these they may
still find a faith that works?
Sometimes A.A, comes harder
to those who have lost or rejected faith than to those who
never had any faith at all, for they think they have tried
faith and found it wanting. They have tried the way of faith
and the way of no faith. Since both ways have proved bitterly
disappointing, they have concluded there is no place whatever
for them to go. The roadblocks of indifference, fancied
self-sufficiency, prejudice, and defiance often prove more
solid and formidable for these people than any erected by
the unconvinced agnostic or even the militant atheist. Religion
says the existence of God can be proved; the agnostic says
it can't be proved; and the atheist claims proof of the
nonexistence of God. Obviously, the dilemma of the wanderer
from faith is that of profound confusion. He thinks himself
lost to the comfort of any conviction at all. He cannot
attain in even a small degree the assurance of the believer,
the agnostic, or the atheist. He is the bewildered one.
Any number of A.A.'s can
say to the drifter, "Yes, we were diverted from our
childhood faith, too. The overconfidence of youth was too
much for us. Of course, we were glad that good home and
religious training had given us certain values. We were
still sure that we ought to be fairly honest, tolerant,
and just, that we ought to be ambitious and hardworking.
We became convinced that such simple rules of fair play
and decency would be enough.
"As material success
founded upon no more than these ordinary attributes began
to come to us, we felt we were winning at the game of life.
This was exhilarating, and it made us happy. Why should
we be bothered with theological abstractions and religious
duties, or with the state of our souls here or hereafter?
The here and now was good enough for us. The will to win
would carry us through. But then alcohol began to have its
way with us. Finally, when all our score cards read `zero,'
and we saw that one more strike would put us out of the
game forever, we had to look for our lost faith. It was
in A.A, that we rediscovered it. And so can you."
Now we come to another kind
of problem: the intellectually self-sufficient man or woman.
To these, many A.A.'s can say, "Yes, we were like you--far
too smart for our own good. We loved to have people call
us precocious. We used our education to blow ourselves up
into prideful balloons, though we were careful to hide this
from others. Secretly, we felt we could float above the
rest of the folks on our brainpower alone. Scientific progress
told us there was nothing man couldn't do. Knowledge was
all-powerful. Intellect could conquer nature. Since we were
brighter than most folks (so we thought), the spoils of
victory would be ours for the thinking. The god of intellect
displaced the God of our fathers. But again John Barleycorn
had other ideas. We who had won so handsomely in a walk
turned into all-time losers. We saw that we had to reconsider
or die. We found many in A.A, who once thought as we did.
They helped us to get down to our right size. By their example
they showed us that humility and intellect could be compatible,
provided we placed humility first. When we began to do that,
we received the gift of faith, a faith which works. This
faith is for you, too."
Another crowd of A.A.'s
says: "We were plumb disgusted with religion and all
its works. The Bible, we said, was full of nonsense; we
could cite it chapter and verse, and we couldn't see the
Beatitudes for the `begats.' In spots its morality was impossibly
good; in others it seemed impossibly bad. But it was the
morality of the religionists themselves that really got
us down. We gloated over the hypocrisy, bigotry, and crushing
self-righteousness that clung to so many `believers' even
in their Sunday best. How we loved to shout the damaging
fact that millions of the `good men of religion' were still
killing one another off in the name of God. This all meant,
of course, that we had substituted negative for positive
thinking. After we came to A.A,, we had to recognize that
this trait had been an ego feeding proposition. In belaboring
the sins of some religious people, we could feel superior
to all of them. Moreover, we could avoid looking at some
of our own shortcomings. Self-righteousness, the very thing
that we had contemptuously condemned in others, was our
own besetting evil. This phony form of respectability was
our undoing, so far as faith was concerned. But finally,
driven to A.A,, we learned better.
"As psychiatrists have
often observed, defiance is the outstanding characteristic
of many an alcoholic. So it's not strange that lots of us
have had our day at defying God Himself. Sometimes it's
because God has not delivered us the good things of life
which we specified, as a greedy child makes an impossible
list for Santa Claus. More often, though, we had met up
with some major calamity, and to our way of thinking lost
out because God deserted us. The girl we wanted to marry
had other notions; we prayed God that she'd change her mind,
but she didn't. We prayed for healthy children, and were
presented with sick ones, or none at all. We prayed for
promotions at business, and none came. Loved ones, upon
whom we heartily depended, were taken from us by so-called
acts of God. Then we became drunkards, and asked God to
stop that. But nothing happened. This was the unkindest
cut of all. `Damn this faith business!' we said.
"When we encountered
A.A,, the fallacy of our defiance was revealed. At no time
had we asked what God's will was for us; instead we had
been telling Him what it ought to be. No man, we saw, could
believe in God and defy Him, too. Belief meant reliance,
not; defiance. In A.A, we saw the fruits of this belief:
men and women spared from alcohol's final catastrophe. We
saw them meet and transcend their other pains and trials.
We saw them calmly accept impossible situations, seeking
neither to run nor to recriminate. This was not only faith;
it was faith that worked under all conditions. We soon concluded
that whatever price in humility we must pay, we would pay."
Now let's take the guy full
of faith, but still reeking of alcohol. He believes he is
devout. His religious observance is scrupulous. He's sure
he still believes in God, but suspects that God doesn't
believe in him. He takes pledges and more pledges. Following
each, he not only drinks again, but acts worse than the
last time. Valiantly he tries to fight alcohol, imploring
God's help, but the help doesn't come. What, then, can be
To clergymen, doctors, friends,
and families, the alcoholic who means well and tries hard
is a heartbreaking riddle. To most A.A.'s, he is not. There
are too many of us who have been just like him, and have
found the riddle's answer. This answer has to do with the
quality of faith rather than its quantity. This has been
our blind spot. We supposed we had humility when really
we hadn't. We supposed we had been serious about religious
practices when, upon honest appraisal, we found we had been
only superficial. Or, going to the other extreme, we had
wallowed in emotionalism and had mistaken it for true religious
feeling. In both cases, we had been asking something for
nothing. The fact was we really hadn't cleaned house so
that the grace of God could enter us and expel the obsession.
In no deep or meaningful sense had we ever taken stock of
ourselves, made amends to those we had harmed, or freely
given to any other human being without any demand for reward.
We had not even prayed rightly. We had always said, "Grant
me my wishes" instead of "Thy will be done."
The love of God and man we understood not at all. Therefore
we remained self-deceived, and so incapable of receiving
enough grace to restore us to sanity.
Few indeed are the practicing
alcoholics who have any idea how irrational they are, or
seeing their irrationality, can bear to face it. Some will
be willing to term themselves "problem drinkers,"
but cannot endure the suggestion that they are in fact mentally
ill. They are abetted in this blindness by a world which
does not understand the difference between sane drinking
and alcoholism. "Sanity" is defined as "soundness
of mind." Yet no alcoholic, soberly analyzing his destructive
behavior, whether the destruction fell on the dining-room
furniture or his own moral fiber, can claim "soundness
of mind" for himself.
Therefore, Step Two is the
rallying point for all of us. Whether agnostic, atheist,
or former believer, we can stand together on this Step.
True humility and an open mind can lead us to faith, and
every A.A, meeting is an assurance that God will restore
us to sanity if we rightly relate ourselves to Him.
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