Alcoholics Anonymous is not associated with any religion, but it does promote a spiritual approach to recovery that isn’t for everyone. The idea of having a Higher power in particular and frequent references to God are what lend a spiritual emphasis to the program. This is precisely what makes many atheists uncomfortable when it comes to following a 12 step program.
However, it is possible for an atheist to successfully join AA and enjoy the benefits of the program. Some atheists find their own way of using the concept of a higher power, while others downplay the spiritual aspects in favor of a more practical approach. And then there are some atheists who simply don’t feel comfortable with a 12 step program like AA and seek alternatives that are more suitable.
Dealing with spiritual concepts in AA.
Step 2 is the first of a few hurdles that face many atheists in the program. This step states that a turning themselves over to a higher power will help them beat their addiction. An atheist will certainly be challenged by this step. Some will change their idea of what a higher power is to something that is not spiritual in order to complete step 2.
This will then lead to another challenge, step 3, which states that they must turn their lives over to God. This step states that a person should use their own idea of God is in order to complete the step. An atheist can choose to interpret the idea of God or a higher power as nature, the power of the group, or anything else that they know is bigger or more powerful than themselves.
Other challenges include listening to the stories and experiences of others that are very spiritual in nature. If an atheist chooses to view these spiritual experiences more practically as events that had life altering effects on a person, they can continue to participate in the program. Others can simply choose to ignore all the spiritual references in AA and still benefit from the support of the group and the program.
It’s a good idea to know that there are all kinds of options when it comes to attending meetings. Some meetings will be more religious than others. Many atheists in AA choose to attend meetings that are larger, closer to big cities, or attended by younger members because they place less emphasis on spirituality. It;s important to attend many types of meetings if possible to find the ones that are the right fit.
Controversy and AA.
There has been a lot of controversy surrounding atheists and the court mandates that require them to attend AA meetings. They feel that making attendance at these meetings mandatory is a way of promoting spiritual ideas and infringing on their rights. Others have stated that they believe AA is a cult that pressures its members into accepting certain beliefs. There has also been concern over whether attending AA meetings becomes an addiction in itself that simply replaces a person’s original addiction.
Alternatives to AA.
The important thing to know is that you have a choice, and that if attending AA meetings doesn’t feel right to you, there are other alternatives out there. Rational Recovery and SMART Recovery are both recovery programs with no spiritual or religious aspects. They do differ when it comes to attending meetings, but both are viable choices for someone who is an atheist. There are also many rehabs that provide tools for life recovery, as well as therapy options for those who are struggling with alcoholism or substance abuse.