Secular Spirituality

Ever since the beginning of AA and Twelve Step groups, there have been those who had difficulty with the personal God type of spirituality. These folks include athiests and agnostics, and even some major religions such as many forms of Buddhism.

The fourth chapter of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous is called We Agnostics, and it is an early attempt to let alcoholics know that you even if you don’t now believe in a Higher Power, you can come to that place through working the Program.

Unfortunately, we think this is one of the least effective chapters of the Big Book. It basically tells the athiest or agnostic not to worry, that many of us were unbelievers at the start. Just come on in, and you may change your mind.

The Spiritual Experience in the Appendix is a little better. But many addicts have found that you can work the Steps without ever gaining a belief in a traditional God.

Body Snatchers

There was a 1955 science fiction novel, Invasion of the Body Snatchers by Jack Finney, a movie by the same title from 1956, remade in 1978, in which invading seed pods from outer space choose a target human, wait until they fall asleep, and then take over their bodies. Some addicts hear others say that they can use the power of the group as a Higher Power for now, and then later they may find a personal God. They may feel this is a threat, staying on their guard because they expect to be evangelized. This can be a barrier to use of spirituality as a tool.


The fact is that many recovering eating and other addicts do just fine without ever joining the “believers”. They often use humanistic qualities such as love, compassion, universal harmony, and other secular spirituality as a Higher Power. We have heard addicts who half-jokingly said they use The Force from Star Wars. A loving, caring community, like that of many Twelve Step groups, seems to be adequate for many.

What seems to be essential is that you be open to considering some kind of guidance that is outside the addictive disease process that is working within you. The Physical, Emotional, and Mental processes all work against your recovery. So an external form of guidance, perhaps from the community of recovering people, a sponsor, or other influence, can be a power greater than that of the disease. You might even be able to get in touch with that “still small voice within,” the part that always told you what you were doing was wrong, that you had to work to ignore.

As the Big Book does say, Honesty, Openmindedness, and Willingness, are HOW you add a Spiritual dimension to your recovery. AA (or any Twelve Step Program) should not be a disguised evangelical program. When you hear the word God, just mentally transpose Higher Power, or even “higher power” or the HOW acronym so it seems like a help rather than a threat.

In this guide, we have used the term Program to describe a completely secular higher power. We explain it in the next module.

There is also a helpful Twelve Step AA group at that is “meant to be a helping hand for the alcoholic who reaches out to Alcoholics Anonymous and finds that she or he is put off by the religious content of many AA meetings.”

Updated 11 Sep 2015

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