more on step 3: a bit of a theological discussion

this post is in response to scott’s comment on my article on step 3, part of my 12-step discussion.

scott’s last line was, “thoughts”?

oh, scott, i’ll always have thoughts – probably too many of them 🙂

first of all, thanks, scott, for your kind words regarding my attempt to make step three palatable to people who are not religious (or even particularly spiritual).

let me try to reply to some of what you’ve said.

the 12 steps were originally based in christian belief, so i want to speak to the original interpretation of god as it was intended by the founders of aa and your interpretation here.

there is no question that the inspiration for the spiritual foundation of aa is grounded in christian belief. however, throughout the aa literature it says that aa is a spiritual program, not a religious one. christianity is a religion. those interested in learning from aa can, if they so choose, be guided by christian principles but there is absolutely no need to do so.

i have always wondered how people who are not of the abrahamic faiths interpret the 3rd step. as a christian, jew or muslim, i would interpret the third step to encompass the act of a leap of faith. i am placing my fate and my life in the hands of god. this is an act of profound spiritual significance, and aa members who have completed the 3rd step demonstrate incredibly strong faith.

thank you for bringing up the concept of a leap of faith. (i wish i had thought of that in my original post). leaps of faith are important in all spiritual traditions that i know of. going on a vision quest requires a leap of faith; solving a koan requires it; trusting one’s guru does. but so do other things that we normally don’t automatically associate with religion or spirituality: starting a business, getting married, or the rite of passage of many young canadians: going on a long trip to europe.

as someone strongly influenced by buddhism, i would say that just about everything requires a leap of faith, or at least deep trust. i trust that my husband will come home soon; that the sun will rise tomorrow; that you are indeed the friendly person that i am coming to know and not an evil stalker. we’re just not usually aware of this continuously flowing undercurrent of trust and the many leaps of faith that go with it – most people would find that really frightening.

when i read your interpretation of god, i don’t sense the same spiritual strength. this is not a stab at you, because i know that you are a very spiritual person. however, “a power greater than myself” just doesn’t resonate with me the same way that “the unknowable” does.

step 2 reads, “came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could relieve us of our insanity.” i like to take that at face value. that’s all that’s needed. an assumption that something/someone outside of ourselves can help.

what/who is this something/someone? who knows? as you say, he/she/it is unknowable. however, i don’t think that the human mind is able to feel supported, on a day-to-day level, without giving this unknowable he/she/it some shape or name. what i suggest is that for some people, rather than giving this unknowable entity a pre-existing shape or name (“god”, “universe”, “allah”, etc.), it may work better if they give it their own name.

i have been lucky enough to get to know the journey of some people who are or were atheists, or had a very tattered or unworkable concept of god/goodness. to watch them fashion their own image and build a close relationship with it has been fascinating.

i worry that by creating their own god, people will fall short of achieving the same spiritual fulfilment as they would if they were christian, jewish or muslim. how could a single person create and conceive of anything greater than themselves, especially when they are in the despairing depths of alcoholism? won’t any standard of goodness that they create be tainted by their own failing self-esteem or broken self-image?

interesting! my answer to this question is a leap of faith: i trust that the innate goodness is greater than anything else. i trust that the divine spark will always assert itself. i trust that the abrahamic faiths are facets of the immense diamond of goodness, and that there are many more facets to it (one of them, i happen to believe, is atheism).

how could a single person create and conceive of anything greater than themselves? precisely. a single person cannot and will not think of anything. we are all connected. i cannot think any thought without reference to what others have said and done; i cannot do anything without building upon what others have created before me. part of the attraction of 12-step programs is that it makes us supremely aware of that: we cannot live alone.

i am really wondering if it is it even possible to take a humanist interpretation of the 3rd step.

i sure hope so. one of the reasons for that lies, of course, in my own history: i grew up in a culture that is deeply rooted in both humanism and christian – in my case lutheran – tradition, a mixture that is quite wide-spread in central and northern europe. there we have it again: these may be my own thoughts, to a degree, but they build on what others have thought, from dostoevsky to kierkegaard, from leibniz to sartre. these men, too, are part of that mysterious “power greater than myself.”

isabella mori
counselling in vancouver

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