Agnostics and Atheists and the Twelve Steps
What if you don’t believe in God?
Agnostics, atheists, or anyone who doesn’t agree with a religious-based idea of God can substitute the concept of a Higher Power. Your idea of a Higher Power that you can trust will be uniquely your own. Some people may call their Higher Power God. For others it is the inherent greatness of nature and the universe. Some people put their faith in the collective energy of their Twelve Step group—for them the group is their Higher Power. A belief in God or religion is not necessary. What is necessary is grasping the truth that our own human power (self-will) has proven ineffective against this disease. Step One acknowledges our dire need to tap into a Higher Power to recover.
Agnostics typically believe that we should all think out our own standards of conduct for ourselves. If you are an agnostic in recovery, you can work Step Two by understanding that you need strengths beyond your own awareness and resources to restore you to sanity. You can work Step Three by making a decision to entrust your will and your life to the care of the collective wisdom and resources of those who have searched before you and found recovery.
If you’re like many people in early recovery, you haven’t defined your Higher Power yet. That’s okay; you don’t have to know who or what your Higher Power is right now—you just need to know that you aren’t it.
Why do you need a Higher Power?
The Twelve Steps teach us that the way to lifelong recovery is to give up self-reliance and willpower, instead relying on God or a Higher Power. Step Two, “We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity,” encourages us to find our own idea of God as a Higher Power to guide us. This allows us to remove ourselves from an ego-centered position in the world.
Step Two teaches us that addiction is the by-product of a spiritual problem that requires a spiritual solution. This means you need the help of others; you don’t have all the answers. For a lifetime of recovery, you will need to find a Higher Power, a loving, guiding power you can really trust.
Why do you need to let go of self-will and self-reliance?
Some people say that Twelve Step programs are more difficult for intelligent, inquiring people because these people are used to being completely self-directed, self-actualizing, and self-reliant. But remember, it was our best thinking that got us into our destructive addiction to drugs and/or alcohol. Living in recovery requires us to follow the suggestions of those with recovery experience. The Twelve Steps don’t ask you to quit thinking critically. To the contrary, the Twelve Steps demand rigorous thinking, honest self-knowledge, and a deep commitment to looking beyond our own self-destructive will. The journey of recovery asks our willingness to take responsibility and accept reality. It demands that we avoid reliance on the superficial, magical beliefs (“stinking thinking”) that kept us in our addiction.