Which Worldview Fits the 12 Steps Part 4: Theism

We have researched atheism, agnosticism, and pantheism. None of these views have held up under the scrutiny of the 12 Step Program. Today, let’s consider theism and how the twelve steps fit within this worldview.

Theism is the belief that there is a real, personal God. {The personal connotation differentiates it from Deism, the view that there is an impersonal force known as God. This belief is too akin to Pantheism and agnosticism to justify writing a whole blog on.} This belief brings with it many radically different answers to the questions of origin, meaning, morality, and destiny. We will look at Theism in a very broad sense in this blog and break down it’s subgenres in the writings to come.

On origin, Theists generally believe in a beginning of the universe by a divine Being. There are many differences in the particulars, but Theists also tend to believe that man in a special creation of this God, and made in his likeness.

The meaning of life is another hard to encompass subject for the Theist. Again generally Theists tend to believe that mankind finds meaning in loving and serving God.

On the subject of morality, Theists believe that because the ultimate good exists in God, good and evil are measurable entities. They believe there exists a moral law given by Him on which to base good and evil.

On Destiny, Theists generally believe in a realm outside of time and space where the souls of men will spend eternity. This could be heaven or hell or somewhere in between, depending on which Theistic view you take.

Theism is the only lens through which recovery can be seen by working the 12 Steps. Once again, we will look at these steps split into three groups: Reflection, Action, and Maintenance.

The reflective steps tell us to admit our powerlessness over our addiction. Theism offers us the chance to quit playing God in our own lives. It also affords us the ability to say that our addiction violated a moral law therefore it was evil. Such a simple concept but one easily dismissed by other worldviews. Believing that there is a God out there that is personal enough and has the ability to restore our sanity to us gives the addict a way out. This way out is not offered by other views that tell us what we feel is relative and overcomable.

The action steps gain meaning with a Theistic worldview. First, there exists a God to turn our wills and lives over to. When we do this, God begins to help us find and remove character defects. This God also gives us the desire to right wrongs and make amends to others.

Finally, Theists have the ability to maintain themselves in recovery through daily inventory, prayer, and Meditation. As with others, we will write the 12th step, finally as it was meant to be.


Which Worldview Fits the 12 Steps Part 3: Pantheism

We’ve all met him, that stoner was fancies himself a philosopher. He takes a hit off a joint, stares off into the distance, and says something like: Man, what if everything is God, and God is everything.” He then exhales his smoke and all his buddies reply with “Woah man… Deep.” as the joint makes it’s way around the circle. This view has a name: Pantheism.

From the Greek “παν (Pan)” meaning “all” and “θεος (Theos)” meaning “God”, Pantheism is the belief that all reality is God. But when the aforementioned stoner realizes his need for recovery, can he count on Pantheism to help him reach sobriety? Let’s take a look at Pantheism through the worldview lenses of origin, meaning, morality, and destiny, and see how this worldview looks in action.

When pressed on origin, the pantheist cannot claim a divine Creator. If the universe were akin to God, a creative force would be greater than the God it created, making that creative force God and not the universe. If the universe is divine, this must mean that the universe is eternal and self-existing, despite plentiful scientific evidence discovered in the last century to the contrary. Reincarnation is also part of the package of many forms of Pantheism. We are part of an infinite number of births and rebirths. The problem that arises with this is that there had to be a first birth, or something outside of time and space to begin the beginning, a concept denied by pantheists.

On the subject of meaning, the pantheist touts that being part of God ourselves, we give ourselves meaning. The ultimate meaning of life is often to find our way to the ultimate reality. This is represented by the concepts of Brahman and Nirvana among others. The problem with everything being God is that the concept God loses any true meaning.

This presents problems with morality as well. If we are all God, from the President to the leaf that just fell outside my window (and the window for that matter), then morality has no nail on which to hang it’s hat. Everything is once again subjective to a “God” who constantly contradicts, hurts and even kills itself with other versions of itself. The construct of good and evil is no more objective in this Theology than in atheism or agnosticism.

In reincarnate pantheism, we spend our life paying for our previous life. This is the concept of Karma, we get what we deserve. Once we finish atoning we finally make it to the ultimate reality, and we are enlightened.

To look at the 12 steps through a pantheistic worldview we will break the steps down into three groups: Reflection, Action, and Maintenance.

The Reflection steps speak of admittance of Powerlessness over addiction and coming to believe in a Higher Power. However, the pantheist believes that he is part of this higher power. As part of God, he cannot be powerless over anything as abstract as addiction. If he were, God would not exist in him.

The action steps begin with relinquishing control to God. But if the addict is in any sense part of God, he would simply be handing the reigns of his life from his left hand to his right. The pantheist must spend his life trying to purge himself of character defects and make amends to others in order to keep good karma. {* Side note- Karma tells us we get what we deserve. Christianity tells us Jesus took what we deserve in order for us to get what He deserves.}

As maintenance goes, the pantheist must spend the rest of his life doing works to live up to his standards in order to reach enlightenment. The prayer and meditation in this worldview consists of talking to yourself and working to find your inner God. As usual, we will rewrite the 12th step to fit the Pantheist worldview.

12. Having had a “spiritual” experience as a result of ourselves, we sought to carry this message to other gods and practice contradiction in all of our affairs.

Which Worldview Fits the 12 Steps Part 2: Agnosticism?

Today we will check out AA’s patron religion, Agnosticism. The program claims this belief because they don’t profess affiliation with any other religious philosophy. But what is agnosticism and how does it fit the 12 Step paradigm?

A true Agnostic is a person who claims neither faith nor disbelief in God. They assert that because God, if there is one is immaterial, He can’t be known or proven. The 12 Step Program’s brand of Agnosticism is better described as Pluralism. They basically say, “we don’t know what God we’re talking about here, you pick.” This makes the assumption not that you can’t know God, but that all gods are equal and ready to help you in recovery.

But I digress, let’s take a look at real Agnosticism through the worldview lenses of origin, meaning, morality, and destiny so we have a base by which to follow the 12 Steps. The Agnostic claims ignorance on all of these subjects.

When it comes to origins, the Agnostic states that one can not know why or how the universe came into being. Outside of the material universe is a mystery, so whether there was anyone there to light the match on the big bang is impossible to know. On the subject of man’s beginning, again any claim of knowledge is merely speculative.

This ignorant view (meant literally) claims that we can’t know if there is meaning in life. We are not made in God’s image, or if we are, we can’t know it; therefore the reason for our existence is hidden from us.

God, if He exists, has not revealed Himself to mankind. Therefore when it comes to objective morality, Agnosticism is akin to Atheism with its feet firmly planted in mid-air. Because no immaterial entity exists, we can not know true right from wrong.

Finally, where do we go when we die? Who knows? No one, according to the Agnostic. Things like our destiny are better left to chance. These are the most important questions one can ask in this life, yet the Agnostic claims utter cluelessness.

So through the light of the 12 Steps, how does AA’s claimed religion hold up? Once again we will break the 12 steps down into 3 groups: Reflection, Action, and Maintenance.

The Reflective steps begin with Admission. But the Agnostic must ask, admission of what? To Who? Powerlessness is an abstract concept and immeasurable, therefore exists only in one’s mind. Your addiction is nothing more than a mind game, based on your feelings and thoughts, which makes them untrustable and completely overcomable within your own self. The steps continue by opening your mind to the idea of a higher power. Agnostics tout that they have an open mind on this issue, but in reality, believing something can’t be known automatically closes one’s mind.

Next come the action steps. These include turning over control, inventory, ridding of character defects, and making amends. Since God if he exists is impersonal, there is no one to relinquish control to. Taking inventory isn’t necessary, because our behavior is subjective and our character defects are not defects, they are simply who we are. As for making amends, it is once again unnecessary because morality doesn’t exist.

Finally we get to maintenance steps. Since there is no need for the Agnostic to maintain any of these things, we find ourselves back at square one. And since God isn’t listening if He’s there, there’s no need to pray or meditate. As we did with Atheism, we will rewrite step 12 for the Agnostic:

12. Not knowing or understanding the experience we have had as a result of these steps, we lack information on what message to carry others and we claim ignorance on what principles are the right ones when it comes to handling our affairs.

Which Worldview Fits the 12 Steps part 1: Atheism?

Let’s discuss the concept of worldview and how it relates to the 12 steps. A person’s worldview can be described by what he or she believes about the 4 big questions of life: Origin; Meaning; Morality; and Destiny. Every religion and philosophical line of thought seeks to answer these questions. In this series we will take one worldview at a time and see if if fits the recovery paradigm. Today we will consider Atheism.

Atheism is the belief that there is no God. While that sounds easy enough, there are many implications that come with it. Let’s look at how Atheism answers the four big questions.

On the question of origin, Naturalistic Atheism tells us that somehow something began from nothing. From this miracle everything burst into existence for no reason, with no cause. From this, with time plus matter plus chance, the first living organism came into being in early Earth’s primordial stew. From this creature came every living creature, including Mankind.

Because we came from nothing, life is ultimately meaningless. There is no rhyme or reason for why we are here, we are simply the sum of our DNAs computation. Our mind’s are merely figments of the imaginations they create.

Because our minds are relative, and because we are nothing more than a blob of cells, objective morality has no bearing on the Atheist. This is not to say that Atheists aren’t good people, on the contrary, many are. This only means that has nothing to base morality on, therefore it is akin only to the feelings of the individual person.

Because there is no God to hold the Atheist back, there is no God to hold them at all. Upon death we simply cease to exist. There is no ultimate destiny.

For the sake of time, let’s split the steps into 3 groups before seeing how this worldview holds up when looked at through the lens of the 12 Step Program. The first two steps will be known as the reflective steps. Steps three through nine will be called action steps. Steps ten through twelve, the maintenance steps.

First the reflective steps. These steps are about admission of powerlessness and being open to the idea of a higher power. Admitting Powerlessness is a hard thing to do. Good thing it’s pointless if you’re an atheist. “power” as it is intended in this case is an abstract, metaphysical feeling, therefore it is nothing more than an illusion. Addiction is another one of these relative terms. To many, addiction is an evil thing. To the atheist however, It is meaningless without a moral law on which to differentiate good and evil. Who cares that you are using? You’re just doing what your DNA was programmed to do. Killing yourself slowly? Killing another man? Robbing people to get money for drugs? Beating your children when you get too drunk? It’s okay. Objective Morality is non-existent, it’s just relative to whatever your mind tells you is right and wrong. Since Atheism’s entire philosophy is based on God’s inexistence, the prospect of coming to belief in a Power greater than themselves is bleak.

Next let’s look at the action steps. These include turning over control, doing inventory, removing shortcomings, and making amends. The Atheist lacks anything to turn control over to, and has no control to turn over because they are, once again, merely doing what they are programmed to do. They have no way of removing character defects on their own, and no one to do this for them. They are stuck the way they are because they have way to change their ways. As for making amends, why would you do that? You haven’t done anything wrong, because there is no such thing as the concept of right and wrong.
Last let’s look at the maintenance steps. These consist of continuance of inventory and admission (both of which have already been debunked), prayer and meditation, and helping others because of a spiritual experience. It’s safe to say that we can rule out prayer and meditation. As for the twelfth and final step, perhaps it should be rewritten for the Atheist to read:

12. Having had no experience as a result of these steps, we had no reason to carry this meaningless message to anybody, or to practice these “principles” in any of our affairs.

Can those who have never suffered from addiction help those in Recovery?

We hear it all the time:

“They have never been where I’ve been.”

“They don’t know what it’s like.”

“How can anyone help if they don’t understand what I’m going through?”

“They’ve never touched a drug in their life, what advice can they offer me?”

As a subculture, those of us in recovery have perpetuated this myth for far too long. This rumor may have began as a defensive cover to shade us from the prejudices of the “normal people” out there. It may be that we have taken the quote recited at our hometown NA meetings a step too far: “The therapeutic value of one addict helping another is without parallel.”

In recovery, we share a special bond that knits us together. We’ve all been there. Each one of us could spout hours of what we lovingly refer to as “war stories” about how bad we had it in our addiction. While it’s always good to know that someone with a much bigger monkey on their back than you made it out of their “good ol days” alive, we must realize that it may also be good to hear from those who have never chased a high, to see how they made it through life without drugs.

Those non-junkies have something we don’t. Something we need… Coping skills. Did someone make it through a nasty break-up without using? How? Do they set down after a hard day with an ice cold sweet tea instead of a beer? How? Coping skills are essential to our recovery. Good advice is good advice, regardless of where it comes from.

However many of us pass up this advice when it flows from the mouth of a non-user. It seems to be a sort of reverse prejudice that keeps us where we are used to being… separated from society. One of the main goals of recovery is to integrate back into society.

Some of the best advice we’ve received for recovery has come from those without an addiction problem. As Much as we separate ourselves, non-users aren’t without fault for separating us from them. Fear of not knowing what to say or how to help has led many to decline lending a helping hand. Many times all we need is someone to listen, someone to care.

Finally, let’s consider for a moment just who saved us from ourselves while we were dead in our sins. Was it another addict? Someone who did all bad things we had? No. It was a man who had never had an addiction problem. A man who had never once even done the wrong thing. A perfect man. Jesus was the ultimate goodie-twoshoes. He was tempted at all points like we were, yet without sin. He lived and sacrificed 33 years of sinless life so that we could be saved and set free from our addictions.

Next time someone who hasn’t been where you have tries being there for you, let them. You never know how much a kind word or a loving correction may bless you, even if they don’t know what it’s like.

Why Would God Allow The Evil Of Addiction?

Why would God allow the evil of addiction?
The question of evil has haunted the hearts and minds of men for centuries. As recovering addicts, we can attest to the fact that addiction is a powerful form of evil that has caused many good men to stumble. It has caused heartache to loved ones who have to watch as the person the knew slowly slips away into oblivion. Real physical and emotional pain stems from the addiction to the partaker, and no matter how genuinely he wants to quit, the substance keeps such a tight grip on him that he can’t walk away.
It has been said that virtue in distress and vice in triumph makes atheists of mankind. So how can a good God allow such travesty as addiction to inflict mankind? The argument goes something like this: If God is all good and all knowing, evil should not exist. Because if he were all good, he wouldn’t have created evil, and if He were all knowing, he would have known evil would happen and would have stopped it. This argument however, makes some big assumptions that can not be overlooked when considering it’s truth.
The first assumption is that of a moral law. Philosophers and Sociologists have spent entire careers trying to disprove this empirically verifiable fact. In this world, we see everything in the light of good and evil. Though we try to chalk this up to societal thought based on our feelings, we see that certain things shine through as evil no matter where you go. The idea of erasing true objective morality based on the subjectivity of human thought is detestable. Even if it were society that decided that murder was wrong, then we must ask the question: why have they decided that murder is wrong? If we decide the rules ourselves, why do we constantly find ourselves breaking them?
If the world we lived in were truly amoral, as naturalistic atheism suggests, we would have no need for recovery. If addiction wasn’t considered among things classified as evil, there would exist no need to stop using. Stealing from Grandma, lying to friends, parents leaving children, all to keep a needle in your arm or a drink in your hand would be reasonable. We know this is not the case. People’s lives are ripped apart by addiction every day and we know without a doubt that that is a bad thing.
Evil exists. If you don’t believe that, ask an addict. Let us consider for a moment darkness. Darkness is not an entity in it’s own right, but is the absence of light. So too is evil the absence of good. When we assume there is evil, it is because we assume there is good. If we make both of these assumptions, we must come to realize that there is indeed a moral law on which to differentiate good from evil. When we assume there is an objective moral law, we must then assume there is an objective moral law giver.
This moral law giver must be the ultimate good. This is because the goodness or rightness of something must relate to His goodness or rightness. Evil by contrast, must be what the Law Giver stands against.
Just because there is a moral law, does that mean we have to jump to a law giver? We can make this jump because the moral law is metaphysical and therefore must come from a logos, a a personal mind. Good and evil are measured by people, to people. It is measured this way because we place value on the life of ourselves and others. Whatever created good and evil has given us this sense of intrinsic worth. Worth not given to us from society, or by any self made means, but given to us based on the love of a Creator. Being made in his likeness, we are the product not of a deistic world where the moral law just exists the same way numbers exists. We are personal beings because we were created by a personal being, and we bear his image. This means what’s good to us is good based on his personality and what is evil is evil based on what is not in his personality.
Evil exists as a byproduct of goodness. There are 4 possible ways the creation of the universe could have gone. He could have created nothing at all. He could have created where there was no such thing as good and evil. He could have created a world where there was only good. Finally, He could have created a world like this one, good must coexist with evil. This coexistence is a consequence of a free will choice He has given us. The ability to choose we have produces the only possible world in which true love is possible The goodness of the capacity for love far exceeds the pain caused by evils such as addiction. Especially when added to the fact that God has created path of escape from the pain and suffering of addiction. He has done this by enduring pain and suffering on our behalf on the cross. Through faith in His sacrifice, we can achieve true recovery from drugs and alcohol. Contrary to what what we may have believed, the reality of the pain and suffering of addiction does not disprove God, but instead it makes a strong case for turning to Him to free us from our chains.

The God of your understanding?

Whether you’ve been in recovery for years or you just received your 24 hour chip, the notion of giving your life over to the God of your understanding is no doubt a familiar mantra to anyone looking for sobriety. Since it’s conception in the Alcoholics Anonymous Program in the 1930’s, this idea has become a staple in nearly every recovery program claiming agnosticism as its official religion.
On the outside the claim seems simple enough: if you are looking for recovery from drugs, alcohol, or the like, take whatever religion you hold to and use it to achieve the freedom you desire. You’re a Muslim? Great! Follow Allah to recovery. You’re a Hindu? Awesome. I hear Krishna is good at cleaning people up these days. Don’t know what you believe? That’s okay. Make something up and follow that. Whatever you believe, so long as you REALLY believe it, can help you on your path to a new life. Recovery is soon reduced to something with all the tenacity of faith of wishing upon a star.
This is where the problem begins. As addicts we had a good knack for taking the truth and twisting it to meet our means. We used this ability to get what we wanted and manipulate those we loved. When we finally came to ourselves out of whatever binge we had managed to muster up and had that moment of clarity, we found that that bending truth to suit our means was no longer a healthy way to live. Recovery is not just being sober; It’s searching for the truth and allowing the truth to bend us to suit itself.
Living our lives subjectively was the problem, therefore it cannot be the solution. Opening ourselves to the reality of objective truth is what the first three steps are all about. Admission of powerlessness in step one is accepting that our condition is a real, objective problem. One that we no longer have power over. This problem is impartial to how we feel and it exists no matter what we do to contain it.
Step two tells us to open ourselves to the idea that though we have NO power over our addiction, there is a power greater than ourselves out there, and that it is personal enough to want to help us recover. This step has been notoriously hard for us to take. If we have however, come to the conclusion that we are powerless, we have to come to realize that if there is no higher power, then there is no recovery. By our own admission, recovery through our own means was impossible. If you negate the second step, you have also invalidated the first. If therefore step one isn’t true, then congratulations, you are not one of us.
It must be true that a higher power exists if we wish to break this cycle of addiction. If this is the case, then step three naturally follows. We need to turn our lives and wills over to the care of God. There is however, a logical fallacy at work in the four words that follow… “as we understood Him.” We came to recovery seeking answers because our understanding of God was so distorted. God was the last thing on our minds in the midst of our addiction. We used God (if we even believed in such a Being) as a last ditch effort to get what we wanted. We cried out to Him to save us and then cursed His name for even bringing us into being. We decided with every drink or drug we put into our body that WE were the gods of our own life. What we needed wasn’t something we were capable of understanding. We came seeking the truth to save us from our own understanding.
The concept of the God of our understanding has led many to relapse. This is because despite what we were told, faith does not equal truth. Many have cried out to a god that simply didn’t exist and therefore could not help them. If we pray to a non-existent being, are we not speaking into the air? If you create a version of God in your own mind to give your life to, are you not re-gifting your life to yourself? We must remember not to give our lives and wills over to the same person who ruined them in the first place.
To find recovery, we have to find the truth about God. Truth is, by its very nature, exclusive. This means that a quarter can’t be both heads up and tails up simultaneously. Christianity, Judaism, Islam, even Hinduism, and Buddhism all claim exclusivity. Each claims that they guard the only road that leads to truth. This means that these faiths can not exist together. They contradict each other. Each has radically different teachings on the Nature and Person of God; on life’s meaning; on the origin of man; on the afterlife; and on the moral law that governs our hearts and minds.
The faith claimed by the Alcoholics Anonymous Program is Agnosticism. Agnosticism is the belief that something is out there, but we can’t know exactly what it is. This clashes with the idea that a personal, knowable God is out there and wants to help you in your recovery. Perhaps a better description of the religious beliefs of AA is Pluralism. This is a belief popular in America right now. It tells us that all that we have to do is be sincere in our faith, whether it’s in Jesus or the flying spaghetti monster, and we will make it to heaven. As stated above, this concept is shunned by literally every major religion on Earth. Remember the truth we’re seeking after for recovery is objective, meaning it isn’t swayed by our feelings or thoughts toward it. Objective truth just is.
Coming to the conclusion that Christianity is that objective truth requires only trying to fill in the blanks of the 12 steps and seeing which worldview fits best. Step one describes us as powerless, unable to save ourselves from the sin that holds us captive. Cue Jesus. Christianity tells describes us as sinners in need of a savior, unable to break ourselves from bondage. No other worldview describes us in this way. Steps two and three describe perfectly the Christian concept of salvation. After realizing our need for a savior, we give our lives and our wills over to Him to change us. The rest of the steps lead to a life full of freedom in Christ from drugs and alcohol.
With all of this said, is it possible to achieve sobriety without God? Of course there are devout men of all faiths, even atheists who have have managed to stop using by taking various views of “God” and suiting Him to meet their needs. We have found however that those who do not accept the true Higher Power have simply found a way to quit using their own self-will disguised as God. They have a form of recovery, but not the same recovery we have experienced. Our recovery is not only one from drugs and alcohol, but from ourselves, from the evil in the world that surrounded us so deeply it ran through our own veins. Through faith that Christ defeated the grave, He has given us the ability to overcome the graves we had dug for ourselves. We are no longer even a shred of the person we were; we are made new. We know the Truth, and the Truth has set us free.

We Came To Believe

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