In the beginning, the definition of higher power sounds liberal. It is liberal enough that those of us wary, but needing help, can manage to fit ourselves into the box if necessary. But to my experience, by the time we get to later steps, I mean NOW, the god problem will reassert itself with full force and may leave some of us in the lurch. The truth, no matter how liberal the mainly Christian 12 steppers want to feel about themselves, is that the 12 steps suggest we are on a journey to better our relationship with god. It is a version of Creator Spirit who loves and will save you.
Steps six and seven have been described as “You show me” and “I’ll stop”, as in God will actively reveal our weaknesses to us, and if we can generate enough humility and right relationship with him, he will intervene and do what we cannot do for ourselves. The give-and-take relationship is presumed. In order to presume such a thing, you have to believe in that Creationist, interventionist god.
If you cannot, you’re left with a very vapid 7th step.
And you’ll recognize that it isn’t going to get much easier, as remaining steps work on making us more spiritual, the relationship more attuned, our conscious contact the binding principle of our lives. A lot of people drop out at this point, relapsing or no. Those who stay (me, so far) may have an ongoing pendulum swing of not really feeling ‘in’, scared to go ‘out’, and feeling tremendous pressure to say and do things we do not believe.
There is a core unbalance and we find ourselves the fulcrum on which the thing will get hammered out. For while the liberality is spoken with the lips, and openmindedness written into the tenets, it remains a truth that agnostics and atheists are much more likely to be flexible and admit they may be wrong (they’re there, aren’t they?) than are the god people. The god people remain convinced of their own hold on truth, and condescendingly assert that you’ll get it in time and Jesus loves you. This is an arrogance, and a character defect, and it’s deeply ingrained in every AA group. If this weren’t true, you could take the god out. No one is going to let you do that. It wouldn’t be AA anymore.
I routinely find myself in god-talk: I am desperate, I am alone, I’d like more than anything to understand and to feel what these other people feel. But sometimes I leave those conversations wishing I could place my hands on their shoulders (as they do, mine) and ask them to seriously consider the idea that they might be wrong. That there may not be a god.
I’ve never done this.
And I haven’t left, yet.
It is possible to drain the god out of the steps and have them be profoundly meaningful. The work of becoming a better self and healing remains. The truth that we are bound by our defects, that committing ourselves to something higher provides a way to pull us back together, and that joy and serenity are possible remain truths, and remain just as intellectually, physically, and emotionally demanding.
Where Christ said “let me carry you”, other paths have said “I can show you the path, but you have to go there alone.” The commitment to let go of our negative qualities, to transformation, the gradual chipping away that finally reveals a purified heart, is still the path.
Step seven, like step three, is an expression or practice of commitment. While the literature suggests that this be accomplished through a short prayer, the truth is the commitment is an ever wider and deeper, and often very very slow, process.
And step seven, like three, is a deep awareness of powerlessness. But it is different, now. It isn’t simply powerlessness over alcohol. It’s powerlessness over the self.
Self-mastery and self-sufficiency folks, responsibility folks, may not be comfortable with that. The point isn’t comfort. The point is that we cannot control who and what we are. Our habitual ways of being, our thoughts and emotional patterns, will continue to resurface. The fact and details of our birth are not ours to determine. And while we are responsible for our actions and choices (indeed, work this deep enough and we become more responsible, more aware, more bound to ethics), we never were and never will be masters of our own destiny.
Truly humbling revelation.
Opening wider our need for responsibility, for presence, and for depth.