by: James Di Fiore
Fact: In the last 15 years, the percentage of people who claim to be Atheists has grown from 8% to 16%, making them the fastest growing minority in North America. Let’s just hope most of them don’t drink heavily.
Recently, after coming to grips with my own possible alcohol problem, I decided to attend a few AA meetings to feel out if I was an addict or just a person who drank a bit too much. Truthfully, I still do not know the answer – but one aspect of attending these meetings stayed with me more than the horrible black coffee served free of charge. The entire AA mantra is built around God.
Now, I was raised Roman Catholic from a scholastic standpoint, but at an early age I dismissed the idea of god as just another fairy tale. It just appeared to be so implausible that i couldn’t bring myself to believe. I suppose you could say that i am a rationalist, but I am more of a left brained thinker and spend little time looking at science and mathematics. Perhaps a good way to describe my religious beliefs is through a term coined by Christopher Hitchens, one of the foremost intellectuals on the subject of religious history and secular rights on the planet. He describes himself as an Anti-theist – a term describing not just a disbelief in a supernatural dictatorship, but a complete contempt for the idea as a whole. If there is a god, Hitchens says, it would be the most disappointing realization I could ever fathom.
So imagine my disappointment when I arrived at my first AA meeting and listened to every last one of the members cite God as their main source of well being. The history of AA reveals that while the founders were staunch Christian fundamentalists, the definition of ‘higher power’ often referenced is apparently flexible enough to be at the discretion of the alcoholic. That sounds great, but when the entire room rises to recite the Lord’s Prayer at the end of each meeting, just before they break out the collection plates a la Sunday Mass, all bets are off.
It left me scrambling for a position regarding both my problem with alcohol and my wonderment as to whether or not an Atheist is able to seek help from AA without actually believing in a higher power. As it currently stands, AA is not a secular organization. It is an organization that, while helpful to many people, leaves Atheists out in the dark, challenging their belief systems in a way that holds their alcoholism hostage until they can readily admit that a God is what they need to get sober. I found the experience to be less helpful and more cult-ish, to be blunt.
In any event, I will continue to explore my own drinking habits and eventually come to a place where i am either completely sober or in control of my drinking. But I will be the first to say that while AA has helped millions of people, they seem to be leaving the fastest growing demographic on the continent high and dry.
Stay tuned on a future post where I explore the political consequences of Atheism.