There are some atheists who would like to see references to God or a higher power dropped from Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) materials. I think it is clearly desirable for people to have recovery resources available to them that don’t mandate adherence to religious doctrines. But that’s not what I want to focus on. Instead, I just want to throw out some questions for consideration.
Suppose you are an alcoholic. You join AA and in reading the literature you are informed that you need to accept and rely on God in order to succeed in your quest for sobriety. What, exactly, is God’s role here? Is God being asked to miraculously remove your desire for alcohol? Is he being asked to restore your free will regarding alcohol? If you never lost it, then what are you doing admitting that you are powerless to resist alcohol?
If you ask God to give you the strength to do x, does that mean you are asking for God to give you less free will to do x? If not, and x is something that would be good to do, then why didn’t God give you the strength to do x to begin with?
The majority of people who enter AA fail to achieve sobriety. In fact, the success rate is only between 5% and 10%. If God is omnipotent, and is the one who ensures success in achieving sobriety, why is the success rate so low? There is something odd about trying to apply the standard free will, here. It doesn’t seem the low success rate can be blamed on the alcoholics for not choosing sobriety of their own free will. After all, the core idea is exactly that they are powerless, and need to turn things over to God. Frequently, alcoholism is referred to as a disease, and one reason for this is to avoid shaming the person and treating their alcoholism as resulting from bad character. Absolving God of responsibility for the low success rate of AA seems to shift the burden right back on the alcoholic. But then why not just blame the person from the start? And if alcoholics already have all the strength they need to stop drinking, then what is the point of asking God for strength? Shouldn’t the first step of AA be “Believe in yourself – that you have the strength you need to stop drinking.” But that would make the whole approach of AA quite different, wouldn’t it?
If an atheist joins AA, perhaps the atheist can say, “I am powerless to accept the existence of God, because the case for his existence is evidentially insufficient. Therefore, if God exists, I humbly ask that he will make me believe in him, so that I will be able to be sincere enough to ask that he help me stop drinking.” (Atheists Anonymous?)