Do I Need to Believe in God to Succeed in AA?

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One of the potential barriers for those who attend 12-Step meetings is how spirituality is defined. People might have experienced issues in the past that might make them apprehensive about participating in AA or opening up to the 12-Steps. Others might feel like they aren’t being genuine if they feel like they have to hide the fact that they don’t believe in a higher power, negatively impacting their experience in AA. Is it essential to believe in God or any higher power? And if so, what if you don’t?

The Question of Faith

You aren’t the first person to wonder if 12-Step programs require their attendees to believe in a higher power. In fact, giving up control to a higher power can be one of the biggest sources of apprehension for those considering AA or NA. Many people are either agnostic or atheist, and secular thought is becoming more and more popular. Faith in something supernatural might seem illogical to some.

If not based on logic, others might rebuff faith-based practices altogether. This might be because of a personal opinion on religion, or perhaps because the person has had negative interactions with religious groups in the past. For some, religion can be a source of trauma, especially if they were a victim of spiritual abuse. Whatever the reason, the idea of giving one’s will over to God or a higher power might make someone feel uncomfortable.

Believing in Something Bigger

In 12-Step programs, the goal isn’t to have attendees convert to any religion. The use of “higher power” doesn’t have to be from any specific religion. A higher power can be anything more significant than yourself. Releasing all control to a higher power allows you to admit what you don’t have control over. It allows you to understand that there are forces bigger than you in the universe. It doesn’t necessarily need to be God. Your higher power could be the sun that rises every day and provides us with energy. Your higher power could be the collective force of every person on the planet. It could even be the support group which you are attending.

The entire purpose of relinquishing control to a higher power allows you to honor something greater than yourself. You become humbled by the vastness of everything. You accept that not everything is in your control. You learn that there’s more to the world than yourself. This becomes essential in addiction recovery because it reminds you how much power you don’t have and that it’s okay. We admit we are powerless.

We Agnostics

12-Step organizations are so familiar with the faith question that the Big Book, which works as a manual for 12-step programs, has a chapter dedicated to those who feel hesitant about the role of religion in AA. This chapter is called “We Agnostics.” It acknowledges those who might struggle with faith, don’t know where they stand or don’t have any interest in faith of any kind. In the chapter, the author exclaims the truth that while we may immediately consider the physical and emotional damage wrought by our disease, we must also address the spiritual wounds it causes.

The chapter is worth reading because it reflects on questions of faith and what spirituality’s place is in an agnostic’s life. It allows the reader to reflect on why they might not be open to spiritual connection, whether that be because they feel believing in a higher power is cowardly or just pointless. Or perhaps they might find they are spiritual after all. If you feel at all apprehensive about the 12-Steps because of spirituality, we highly recommend reading this chapter. 

Belief in the Steps

Ultimately, the most important thing to believe in is the power of the 12-steps. You might not have faith in a supernatural higher power, but it’s possible to have faith in practical things. It might be hard at first to have faith in miracles, but faith in facts often comes more naturally. You might not believe in a god, but you can believe in all twelve of the steps. You can see how they have transformed the lives of your peers in recovery. To be successful in a 12-Step program, you don’t need to follow any religion. However, you do need to be honest and have an open mind. If you follow the 12-Step program and do what the literature recommends, then recovery is possible. If you’re willing to work on the Steps, go to meetings, and be of service, then the process will work for you.

Some people even view the 12 Steps themselves as their higher power. They might not feel a spiritual connection to God, but they might feel a spiritual connection to the power of the 12 Steps. This is completely valid because the most important thing isn’t finding relief in a higher power but having something to believe in that can bring light to your life.

Faith can be a difficult thing to think about for some. Many avoid faith and spirituality entirely. There are many valid reasons why a person might feel apprehensive about even thinking about spirituality. But a lack of interest in a higher power like God shouldn’t be a reason to avoid 12-Step programs altogether. There have been plenty of people who have succeeded in 12-Step programs while not believing in God. The most important thing to believe is the 12-steps themselves, trusting that, if we work the steps diligently, recovery is possible. Jaywalker Lodge’s entire philosophy is built on the power of the 12-Steps. We can see the powerful impact these steps have on an individual’s recovery. Even if you aren’t religious, there are still benefits to repairing spirituality. Believing in something greater than yourself, no matter what it is, can have a positive impact on your recovery. For more information about faith in 12-step philosophy, call  (866) 529-9255.

author avatar
Stefan Bate, MA, LAC, CCTP Chief Clinical Officer
Stefan Bate, BA, MA, LAC holds a Master's Degree in Applied Psychology from Regis University and is a Licensed Addiction Counselor in the state of Colorado. Stefan has wide-ranging experience in the field of addiction recovery including: working as a recovery coach, therapist, and program director.

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