Is AA a Religious Thing?

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You may be taken a little aback by all of the mentions of God in the steps. That’s totally normal. Many of us were as well. It is not uncommon to listen to all of the great stories, experience, strength and hope in meetings only to wince a little bit when people start talking about their Higher Powers. Experiences with religion for people who come to AA, and people in general, are vast and varied. Some are great. Some are not always positive. You will see God, Higher Power, and spiritual experience mentioned various times throughout AA literature on the shades containing the steps and traditions. However, AA is a spiritual, not a religious, program. As the preamble states, “we are not allied with any sect, denomination, organization or institution. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking.”

So you might be asking at this point, if it’s not religious, then what’s the whole idea with the Higher Power thing? In periods of active drinking, many of us have experienced a very self-centered and self-obsessed state of mind. Belief in a Higher Power turns the focus away from ourselves and towards something bigger. The great thing about the higher power in AA is that it can be anything you want really. As long as it’s not you! Or drinking. That was definitely a Higher Power for us too. You’ll hear different versions of Higher Powers in the rooms. Some people go with the traditional religion of their youth because that works for them. Another person might say nature, or the ocean, or a distant star. Others might use the AA group as their Higher Power. As it states in the literature, the hoop that you have to jump through is much bigger than you think. The idea of the Higher Power in AA is to give recovering alcoholics something helpful that they can rely on regularly. It is welcoming and inclusive. So give it a try.

Your conception of a Higher Power might also change over time. This is part of the beauty of a spiritual experience. It develops, much like we all do, over time. There are times when you may feel very grounded in your conception of a higher power and other times when you might not feel as though you’re on as solid ground. But keep with it. Many of us have found that after periods of doubt we often return with a deeper sense of connection and faith as long as we stick with it and keep trying.

So remember that AA is not a religious program. If you do encounter a situation where a group has become focused on one type of religion and does not seem like it is adhering to the traditions, then let someone know who has some time. And also consider going to a different group. Remember that people in AA are as varied as those outside AA. And sometimes groups can lose sight of the principles of the program. In these cases it’s best to move on and let someone with more experience know what’s going on.