Alcoholics Anonymous has been called "the most significant phenomenon in the history of ideas in the twentieth century." (from the introduction, The Spirituality of Imperfection by Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham)
On a chill, rainy afternoon in November 1934, two men sat catercorner at the kitchen table of a brownstone house in Brooklyn, New York. On the white oil-cloth covered table stood a pitcher of pineapple juice, two glasses, and a bottle of gin recently retrieved from its hiding place in the overhead tank of the toilet in the adjacent bathroom.
The visitor, neatly groomed and bright-eyed, smiled gently as his tall, craggy-faced host reached for the bottle and offered him a drink.
"No, thanks," Ebby said. "I'm not drinking."
"Not drinking! Why not?" Bill was so surprised that he stopped pouring to look with concern at his old friend. "What's the matter?"
"I don't need it anymore," Ebby replied simply. "I've got religion."
Religion? Damn! For a fleeting moment, Bill wondered about his friend's sanity. Ebby, after all, was a drinking buddy from way back. Now, apparently, he had gone off the deep end - his alcoholic insanity had become religious insanity!
Bill gulped a slug of gin. Well, dammit, not him. Religion was for the weak, the old, the hopeless; he'd never "get religion."Spirituality of Imperfection
Ebby Thatcher died thirty years later, destitute, drunk. He remained a periodic alcoholic. Bill Wilson never did "get religion." But he became sober, and, in June of 1935, with Dr. Robert Smith, founded Alcoholics Anonymous. Bill realized that to remain sober, "we must find some spiritual basis for living, else we die." Bill knew at his core that religion with its rules, pronouncements, and commandments would not work for him, nor would it keep him sober. He also knew that without help from a power greater than himself, he would be unable to keep himself sober by his will power alone. And here is the great paradox of AA.
Alcoholics Anonymous works because of a process of identification, through the telling of personal stories and experiences. Although AA insists on the spiritual for recovery, it is not religious. Bill Wilson once said that the problem with organized religions "is their claim how confoundedly right all of them are." And what makes Alcoholics Anonymous the most successful program of recovery for alcoholics is that the spirituality found in AA is more concerned with questions, with imperfection, than with rigid answers. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking.
I've twice participated in The Blogswarm Against Theocracy, because I am appalled at the rigidity of theocracy in any guise. And I've come to a conclusion: militant atheism is as rigid as the religious right. Intolerance is intolerance under any guise.
Alcoholics Anonymous is based on the acceptance of human limitations and powerlessness. It grows out of testing ideas not on the basis of some dogma or "revelation," but against the realities of everyday living. Through shared experiences, through the realities of daily living, a spirituality of the mundane evolved. It works, it really does. And membership in AA includes devoutly religious people, atheists, agnostics - the umbrella is huge. There are no rules. Perhaps it is a case of the inmates running the asylum, but it works.
But here's the deal: our nation has been overrun with hatred that has grown out of fanatical religious belief. We are reviled by people who have fanatical religious belief. And those of us who have a spiritual path are lumped into the pot by atheists who are as fanatical in their hatred as the religious right. When did atheism get all the answers?
Here's what I know. I know that I used to drink when I didn't want to, and now I don't drink even when I DO want to. If I don't drink over the next few days, on Wednesday, July 18th, I will be clean and sober for 19 years. One of my dearest friends died on July 10th with 25 1/2 years of graceful sobriety and faith that God's plan for her was solid. She had the spirituality of imperfection in her soul. We are imperfect beings in an imperfect world, and the best I can do on any given day is to try to be tolerant of your quirks and foibles, because god knows I have plenty myself.
So here's the deal: your belief is yours and I respect you for it. If that belief is that there is no god, that's fine - it's your decision. If you believe that there is a god, that's fine too. It is your decision. Don't tell me how, or what to believe. Don't call me stupid, or an idiot, or a sheeple, for having a belief in god. Hatred does not solve problems, intolerance in any cloth does not solve problems. Name calling does not solve problems. Intolerance is a form of fear, and fear is the fertilizer for ignorance. Let's put an end to fear, intolerance and hatred, and let it begin with me.
(cross posted at The Sirens Chronicles)