Do You Need An Agnostic 12 Step Program?

Groups meetings often emphasize “God” or “a Higher Power,” which can discomfort addicts without religious affiliations. But don’t let semantics derail your recovery. Discover how to work an agnostic 12 step program.

We’re not “One nation under God” anymore

One-fifth of Americans identify as atheists, agnostics or simply “spiritual,” according to a 2012 Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. It refers to this group as the “Nones.”

Although evangelical Christian churches continue to see growth worldwide, there remains a slow but steady irreligious trend in the United States. More and more people are pulling away from organized religion, and many have become dispassionate about talk of “God” as seen through the lens of the mainline or evangelical churches in which they were raised.

  • The Nones are comprised primarily of the Millennials at 32%, GenXers at 21% and Baby Boomers at 15%.
  • More than two-thirds of Nones say they believe in some concept of God (68%) with slightly over half (51%) indicating they pray regularly-these individuals accounting for the “spiritual but not religious” contingent.
  • Two-thirds of Nones believe religion is losing its influence in America; half of them (51%) citing excessive focus on rules and dogma, and half (51%) citing inappropriate concern with power and money on the part of churches and congregations.

Don’t let religious talk derail your recovery

Twelve-step programs often form the backbone of recovery. While no statistics track their success (due to the need for anonymity), many individuals rely on these groups to gain and maintain sobriety.

Sharing “experience, strength, and hope” can be a powerful experience for recovering addicts. But often 12 step programs talk about God or a Higher Power, sometimes even closing with The Lord’s Prayer, which may begin with someone saying, “Who keeps us sober?” There is also The Serenity Prayer which invokes the help of “the Lord.” Synonymous with Alcoholics Anonymous, it is still widely invoked by other 12 step groups worldwide.

These can be stumbling blocks for addicts who are non-deist, non-believers or agnostic. One’s beliefs about the very foundation of reality cannot be dismissed or brushed aside. Still, group support is fundamentally important, and the benefits still tend to outweigh the risks.

An agnostic view of the 12 steps

As a non-believer, you’ve already gotten used to thinking differently than the tide of cultural and perhaps familial norms. You will use the tools you have developed for this, but in a more healthful, focused way. The important thing is not to allow your differing worldview to distract from your purpose or to create a divide from you and the 12 step group. Everyone is there for the same reason: to stay accountable; to share experience, strength, and hope; and to fellowship around recovery and sobriety.

The language of the steps

Okay, so this can be problematic. But, don’t get stuck. Sit down and do some rethinking and some rewriting, but stay with the basic intention and the original premise. These are tools that can and will help you, if you allow them to. Below is a revision of the 12 steps written for an agnostic or atheist thinker.

  1. Admitted I needed help to heal my addiction.
  2. Came to believe I could heal.
  3. Made a decision to trust my inner wisdom.
  4. Made a fearless and wholly accountable search of every attitude, emotion, and behavior I created, past and present.
  5. Committed to speak honestly with another about these unhealthy attitudes, emotions, and behaviors.
  6. Was ready to accept help.
  7. Asked for the help I needed.
  8. Made a list of all the people I had harmed through my addiction, and became ready to make amends to them.
  9. Made direct amends to the people I had harmed, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to monitor my thoughts, attitudes, emotions, and behaviors, and found someone to talk to when harmful patterns reemerged.
  11. Sought meditation and calm contemplation to stay connected with my own inner wisdom.
  12. Tried to help others struggling with addiction, and to utilize these principles throughout all areas of my life.

The Nones are indeed a growing group, and they shouldn’t be left out, or ostracized by language that does not conform to their understanding or worldview. Addiction takes too great a toll on individuals and families for exclusive language to keep alienating attendees.

If you’re struggling with the semantics, consider creating your own group (something 12 steps encourage). Nothing is more important than recovery. Find the support you need.

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