The endless dispute in Alcoholics Anonymous over our use of the word God isn’t a new one, but what we assume in our personal beliefs can contribute to the outside world’s misperception of our Fellowship. Certain lawyers have recently argued in legal cases that AA is a type of religious sect---how can a newcomer see us as anything else?


We start our group meetings and service sessions with the first half of the Serenity Prayer and loosely speak about God when we share in meeting discussions. Closing our AA meetings with the Lord’s Prayer has been in practice since our 1930s beginnings, but none of us has ever felt like we were in a church service…God forbid!


Many of us had drunk away all notions of God before we got here, so much so that a colossal leap of faith turned out to be an order we couldn’t go through with right away. An “order” that a newcomer won’t go through with can make a new prospect look for a quick exit from the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. In recovery, we first looked for a release from our drinking problems but immediately needed relief from all the references to God in our books and public prayers. It’s not the newcomers’ problem; it’s our Fellowship’s responsibility to provide the explanation.


The italics in our Twelve Steps emphasize one of the first and greatest agreements our early AA pioneers found as the best, right answer: God as we understood Him! Do we forget to tell the newcomer it’s a god that each of us can individually understand and grow to trust again? A god that’s good enough for us rather than one whom we’re good enough for? And that it will take time to find that out? Do we forget to explain this most important difference between AA and anyone’s religious Faith?


The one phrase “for those who care to, let’s close (or open) with…” provides enough breathing space for anyone who hasn’t yet developed his or her definition of any god. With the Lord’s Prayer, we modify it too: “daily strength” instead of “daily bread,” dropping all the “Thee’s and Thy’s” for “You and Yours,” and choose almost comical chants and shouts that follow the Prayer’s closing. The modifications are irrelevant to our collected spirit and our intentions are serious. To this ex-drunk, our voices are talking with a power greater than ourselves, and when we finish with our “keep coming back…” it’s a lovingly-made farewell request to each other and a salute between us, until we meet again.


So, for those who care to, remember the need to tell the newcomer that each of us individually comes to our own understanding of something we can call God today. Even without invoking God, Dr. William D. Silkworth’s words to the alcoholic in the sixth Preface to our Big Book remain beautifully written: “and though perhaps he came to scoff, he may remain to pray.”



Anonymous in northern Illinois. © Copyrighted AAWS text used with permission. February 2003

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