My Faithlessness: The atheist way through AA
Six of AA's 12 steps explicitly refer to God, a Higher Power, or He.
August 28th, 2011
01:00 AM ET

My Faithlessness: The atheist way through AA

Editor's note: Marya Hornbacher's latest book, "Waiting: A Nonbeliever’s Higher Power," explores what spirituality can mean to the recovering person who does not believe in God.

By Marya Hornbacher, Special to CNN

(CNN) - Kicked back with his boots on the table at the head of the smoke-dense room, the meeting's leader banged his fist and bellowed, “By the grace of this program and the blood of Jesus Christ, I’m sober today!”

I blinked.

This was not an auspicious beginning for the project of getting my vaguely atheistic, very alcoholic self off the sauce.

I wondered if perhaps I’d wandered into the wrong room. I thought maybe I’d wound up in Alcoholics Anonymous for crown-of-thorn Christians, and in the next room might find AA for lapsed Catholics, and downstairs a group for AA Hare Krishnas and one for AA Ukrainian Jews.

But a decade later, I’ve become aware that 12-step programs are home to people from every religion, denomination, sect, cult, political tilt, gender identity, sexual preference, economic strata, racial and ethnic background, believers in gun rights and abortion rights and the right to home schooling, drinkers of coffee and tea, whiskey and mouthwash, people who sleep on their sides or their stomachs or sidewalks.

Anyone who cares to sober up, in other words, can give it a shot the 12-step way.  The official preamble Alcoholics Anonymous states: "The only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking.”

And millions of people want that and find a way to do it in this program. I’m one of them. I was, not to put too fine a point on it, a raging drunk. Now I’m not.

It wasn’t magic; it was brutally hard work to get from point A to B. I do believe I’d be dead without the help of the people and the structure of the steps in AA.

But I don’t believe in God.

And this can be something of a sticking point when you’re sitting in a meeting room, desperate for almost any route out of hell, and someone cites “the blood of Jesus” as the only way to go. Or when you realize that six of AA's 12 steps explicitly refer to God, a Higher Power or He.

But this shouldn't be a dealbreaker. I’m going to make a lot of old-style AA’s cranky with this, but it’s perfectly possible to sober up sans belief in God.

At first that wasn’t clear to me. It’s unclear to most people because AA has a reputation as a cult, a religion unto itself, a bunch of blathering self-helpers, a herd of lemmings or morons, and it isn’t those things, either. It’s a pretty straightforward series of steps, based on spiritual principles, that helps people clean up their lives in a whole lot of ways.

But if you are of an atheistic or strongly agnostic mindset, chances are you’ll walk into a meeting, see the steps hanging on the wall and want to scream, laugh or walk back out.

I tried another tack: I made a valiant attempt to believe. I figured a) these people were funny, kind, and not plastered; b) they believed that some kind of higher power had helped them get sober; c) they knew something I did not.

So I did research. I read every word of AA literature I could find. I read up on the history of half a dozen important religions and a wide variety of frou-frou nonsense. I earnestly discussed my lack of belief with priests, rabbis, fanatics and my father.

People told me their stories — of God, the divine, the power of love, an intelligent creator. Something that made all this. Some origin, some end.

I told them I believed in math. Chaos, I said. Infinity. That sort of thing.

They looked at me in despair.

And not infrequently, they said, “So you think you’re the biggest, most important thing in the universe?”

On the contrary. I think I am among the smallest. Cosmically speaking, I barely exist.

Like anything else, I came into being by the chance, consist mostly of water, am composed of cells that can be reduced and reduced, down to the quarks and leptons and so forth, that make up matter and force. If you broke down all matter, the atom or my body, you’d arrive at the same thing: what scientists call one strange quark, with its half-integer spin.

And I find that not only fascinating but wondrous, awe-inspiring and humbling.

I believe that the most important spiritual principle of AA is humility. The recognition that we are flawed, that we can and must change and that our purpose not only in sobriety but in life is to be of service to others.

I believe that I exist at random, but I do not exist alone; and that as long as my quarks cohere, my entire function on this hurtling planet is to give what I can to the other extant things.

That keeps me sober. Amen.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Marya Hornbacher.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Atheism • Belief

soundoff (3,939 Responses)
  1. Ralph

    I know atheists don't take this kind of evidence into account, however I must say it. I too was very weary of God or anything else existing beyond myself. I thought I was the end-all be-all and that I had life all figured out. Isn't God some sort of fairy tale that losers belive in anyways? Well I decided to research certain things and upon further examination I found more and more credible evidence for God existing, I started to think that maybe, just maybe, God could exist. I decided one day to give it a shot and invite Jesus into my heart, I mean if nothing's there then I won't feel any different anyways and I'll continue on about my day. To my surprise, I felt a strong sense of peace and burden that was lifted off my shoulders. Not a delusional feeling, but something in my heart had completely changed that I couldn't describe.

    People can debate back and forth until the end of time whether God exists, however one cannot deny His existence when they have felt Him touch their hearts. Like I said, atheists probably don't consider this evidence (or empirical evidence atleast), but He commanded my attention and fully made himself known at that very moment.

    I wish that everybody could feel what I have felt, and I'm sure many have, however there are also many who refuse to, no matter what evidence is presented. Although they say they would believe if given credible evidence, the truth is that no amount of evidence will make them believe, for they have already decided not to.

    I wish peace to all and hope that people will do their own research and be honest with yourself. Btw I'm 25, a college graduate, work in a corporate setting (finance), so trying to call me delusional is a cop out.

    August 29, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
    • ron mcloughlin

      I'm for was whatever turns you off liquor. Coming from a family of alcoholics of which I wasn't one, I find any kind of drug addiction
      a horrible obstruction to a "normal" life. Yet it is true that when I was growing up we never thought of alcohol as a drug. It was the Hippies who informed us. That the US government allows one drug to be legal–alcohol and another not–marijuana is one of the reasons not to believe in government even in a supposed democracy like ours.

      August 29, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
    • JT

      Ralph. Love your message. Folks read this and it stings them. It makes them face mortality and it stirs up the hate in thier heart. When God reveals himself, the evidence becomes undeniable. Keep coming back brother. (btw – I'm a public accountant with an MBA. I'm not the smartest man in the room, but I have the capacity to search for truth...and I have found it.)

      August 29, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
    • peanut

      You are the crowning creation of an all powerful God.
      You want to secure for yourself eternal rewards in an afterlife.
      You want to avoid going to an eternal punishment.
      You must save others, even those minding their own business because YOU know whats best.
      You have a direct line of communication to the all powerful deity.
      You are given a sense of peace because you are appeasing the creator of the universe with your choices.
      Since you have a college education, are young and have a corporate finance job you can not be delusional.

      No, you don't sound arrogant or selfish at all!

      August 29, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
    • QS

      "Although they say they would believe if given credible evidence, the truth is that no amount of evidence will make them believe, for they have already decided not to."

      The "evidence" you believe changed you is not evidence at all. Also, I as an Atheist would tend to believe if evidence was in fact provided...but your assertion that this would never happen is moot because the evidence you speak of that would supposedly convince Atheists of the existence of god does not exist except in your own mind.

      August 29, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
    • Ryan

      Ralph- that's great for you. But that is not evidence. That was a choice to believe in something lacking any proof at all. I just don't work that way. I choose rational thought ever hour of every day to make decisions. Why should this one unbelievable thought be something that I stop using my rational thought process and accept an idea as out there as believing my neighbor can shoot boltz of lighting out of his eyes if I play my music to loud. It is EXACTLY the same. Same amount of existance so therfor I chose to use the rational side of my brain to realize what is fiction and what is real. I say this without sounding to mean (and I'm tryping this in a light manner so don't take it this way) but I could accept spider-man into my heart too and believe he is out there with the same amount of evidence that people who follow god do. There is none. Faith you say? Incorrect....that is something you tell yourself (and many do) to use as some sort of evidence. If there is no evidence....there is no reason to believe in such things. Ever. It made sense for humans in the dark age....and believe it or not....it is still used to control large groups of people. We just do it in different ways this day in age so it's not "too much" in your face. (although I'm not stupid and see it in my face daily). So although when we have discussions like this, sometimes it sounds like I may be acting rude.....most are honestly asking for those who talk this way to wake up a little bit and find something that your rational brain can grab onto. Faith is fine to have in a hypethetical world....but the problem is....out current world has a bit too much of it that stems to even more rediculous crazyness that WE ALL have to endure. So it will never have my support.

      August 29, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
    • Ryan

      JT- Trust me when I say this. There is no sting in these words that I have read from the young man above. I look at someone that says this and I just think of how much school they are going through and I realize that MBA or other credentials does not make you a bright person. (I'm not saying you are stupid either...but I am pointing out the fact that education does not always qualify you as a bright person). They are just that....credentials. I believe you have to be born a bit with a strong rational side and that side also needs to be nurtured while growing up. We also call this street smarts (instead of book smarts) from when I'm from. Some have it....and some don't. But most people that don't believe in a diety are never threatened by those that believe...usually we just watch with aww and fascination of how someone can believe such things with no supporting data. And the things they say.......well creep me out at times. It's a lot like watching a car wreck.....you should not watch....but you can't help and watch the explosion of metal and glass take place before your eyes while you cringe! I feel that exact way when I speak to someone who talks about a magical being....I cringe. It really is just that simple for us.

      August 29, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
    • JT

      Wow Ryan. I'm glad I checked back for updates. Watch your generalizations. Surely you don't think that you represent the entire atheist population with YOUR view. I would caution you against relying on your "street smarts" to find truths. Your mind cannot simply create reasoned arguments without some kind of fact from books. The answers aren't somehow implanted in your brain at birth. You have to look for them. I was agnostic. I was persuaded to believe in a higher power through reasoned arguments for the existence of a higher power and through faith. Faith doesn't mean abandoning reason, it means discovering faith. There are reasoned arguments for belief in a higher power, but you might have to read a book to find them, because you might not find them hanging out with a bunch of atheists. Trust me, many people are indeed threatened...unfortunately.

      August 29, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
    • Ryan

      JT- Hard to check for updates on this when there are so many posts.

      Well you lose people when you say "discover faith". That just does not hold water. Just believe.....that's what that means essentially. So you have found evidence or data that others have not I presume to believe in a higher being? Maybe it just comes down to what people feel is evidence. as far as street smarts: what I was stating is that you have the ability to sift through the crap that our society has put in place. And that nurturing part I spoke of.....helps you focus in a bit more. Schooling or credentials does not mean a ton. I too have an MBA but that does not make me a smart person on the topic of religion. I also have a father that was a professor at Cornell for 30 years and we had many dinners with Carl Sagan.....so my nurturing came about with discusions with minds that have changed the world over. I was privelged to be nurtured in those regards.

      August 29, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
  2. GP

    My wife is an alcoholic, and I've gone to quite a few AA meetings with her as support. In one meeting, a non-believer asked if it was required of her to believe in God to complete the program. The unanimous answer was no. The higher power can be anything you want it to be. Whether it be a belief that we randomly exist or if it's in the baby Jesus. Even though I'm not someone struggling with addiction, I find the meetings to be very beneficial, open-minded and honest. I'm glad Ms. Hornbacher was able to experience the honesty and support she needed to get through her hard time. For people struggling with addiction reading these threads, don't let an acknowledgment of a "higher power" be something to prevent you from going. AA doesn't ask anyone to check their brains at the door.

    August 29, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
  3. Understands Anonymity

    Not believing in God doesn't make old timers cranky but so blatantly breaking the AA tradition that clearly states "anonymity at the level of press, radio, and film" does. You don't think you're biggest thing in the universe but you do think you're bigger than the traditions. You should have called your sponsor before slapping your full name on internet article about being in AA.

    August 29, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
    • luvstheblues

      I have been told at many Al-anon meetings that anonymity means we never out another member. However, we can tell the world that we are a member. She did nothing wrong.

      August 29, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
    • Understands Anonymity

      actually she did...AA's Tradition 11 states "Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we
      need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films." The point of which is that the fellowship is greater than any one individual member. It is pure ego on her part to slap her name and picture on this article...if she gets drunk tomorrow she has done far more harm than good to the fellowship as a whole.

      August 30, 2011 at 11:16 pm |
  4. Gabe

    Mayra states: "I believe that I exist at random"... So why is alcoholism wrong. If she is random than isnt everything random? Randomness doesnt produce morals.

    August 29, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
    • Perla

      You don't need religion to get morals. Why don't you people understand that?

      August 29, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
    • Jimmy Cracks Capricorns

      Morals, you mean the kind that allow you to be guilt free when your POTUS invades a country based on lies and murders hundreds of thousands of people so you can feel better about yourself? Morals, you mean, the kind that allow you to live in a country that arrests and incarcerates nearly a million people a year for smoking a weed? Morals, you mean the kind that allow you to profit off the backs of slaves you never so much as see? Morals, you mean the liars you follow in a church? Please, kind sir, define morals because, by the examples I see, I am left wanting and confused.

      Judaism + Christianity + Islam = Axis of Evil Against the Soul of Mankind

      August 29, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
    • JT

      Pearla...he didn't say anything about religion. He said that randomness doesn't create morals. You seem to make a habbit of missing points (yes I tracked you down to say that.) He might be implying that some force greater than us has created inhearent good in us. Any huminists in the house? If so, you aren't as far from god as you may think.

      Jimmy, Stop blaming Christians for the crusades (or any other unjust war in the name of God). The crusades were faught by evil and currupt dictators who wanted to control land, not by God or God loving people. People like to use God for war. No, we are not in Libya for God or for the Libyan people, we are there for Oil.

      August 29, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
    • QS

      Relgion doesn't create morals either.

      "Jimmy, Stop blaming Christians for the crusades (or any other unjust war in the name of God)."

      LMAO!! So we should blame the people who only claimed to be Christian but really weren't?! LOL! You're honestly trying to deflect the blame Christians deserve for that war simply to make your religion seem more benevolent?

      August 29, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
    • JT

      If by "we should blame the people who only claimed to be Christian but really weren't", you mean that we should blame the murder on the human beings that committed it, then yes, of course we should. It makes me LMAO to hear you blame the actions of man on God. Free will means we can do or say what we will. That means I can kill your dog and say that God made me do it. It is up to you to catagorize me as a Christian or as a lunatic dog murderer, because you also have free will. Good luck with yours.

      August 29, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
    • Ryan

      JT- Why do folks act as though religion had nothing to do with the crusades? Sure people used it for power....but that is EXACTLY what the damn thing was design for......POWER. And in effect....the crusades occured, the war in Iraq (Bush quoted god to provoke Americans to jump on board to support his war), environmental uses of land, drilling oil in places where they should not, mass suicides, shootings claming go made them do it. I don't care what the reason is...more HARM THAN GOOD HAS ALWAYS COME FROM RELIGION. You defend it like you think it's the purest thing but it's not and has never been. It was always meant to be used the way it has been used. It's a tool buddy. Designed to do all the things you don't like. So what....people also use it in the confines of their own house....but that is SMALL compared to what it has been used for over thousands of years.

      August 29, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
    • QS

      "That means I can kill your dog and say that God made me do it. It is up to you to catagorize me as a Christian or as a lunatic dog murderer, because you also have free will."

      Wrong again JT – when anybody declares their actions are from their religious beliefs, including murder, the onus is not on others to categorize that person, they've done it for themselves...just like the self-proclaimed Christians did during the crusades.

      I'm just pointing out the fact that the people who carried out the crusades delcared themselves Christians, and now people want to try to deflect that fact and say the only people who carried out the crusades were in fact NOT Christians because no Christian would do something like that.

      It doesn't matter what you consider to be an "actual" Christian, because those people at that time believed themselves to be just that. It's all just another weak attempt to disassociate your religious beliefs with the wrong it's caused in its existence, and rational people aren't buying it.

      August 29, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
    • Ryan

      QS- Exactly right. Well said

      August 29, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
  5. mouse

    May....I've had my phone plugged all along but no "call" from any god yet. I suppose when one says "called" they mean those little voices in their head??? I don't know, I've yet to hear a voice in my head that is not mine!

    August 29, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
    • Perla

      Shhhh, keep it down, she's schizophrenic!

      August 29, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
    • Jimmy Cracks Capricorns

      Talking fore bushes, miracle healer who was a cop-out, just when mankind needs him most he bailed right the F out...never to be seen again. Or maybe, he was never seen to begin with.

      Jesus is the Sun, Mary the Moon, and the 12 decipels are the 12 constellations in the sky. Is a myth, nothing more.

      August 29, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
    • Joe

      Everyone knows there is a God of course. Some just like to pretend they don;t believe just to annoy those who take their faith very seriuosly.

      August 29, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
    • QS

      "Everyone knows there is a God of course."

      Exactly the childish type of self-righteousness we Atheists have come to expect from believers who insist that since we claim not to know something, they claim to know it for us.

      August 29, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
  6. John Do

    Why do people spend time trying to prove or disprove something when in the end only their own opinion counts? It's a pointless waste of time.

    August 29, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
    • yup

      Whether you all realize it or not, you are really just arguing over whether alcoholism is a disease or a lack of will power.

      August 29, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
  7. JT

    Another bunch of militant atheists. Don't you realize that you are no better than a radical Christian when you spread hate and criticism against those who believe in God? All it reveals is that you are not quite at peace with your decision to Believe in the non-existence of a higher power. It also reveals that you are dumber than the "dumb" believers you criticize. Go enjoy your godless existence without doing the same thing you are so critical of... spreading your message.

    August 29, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
    • Perla

      You really need to work on your reading comprehension. No one is "spreading a message" dummy.

      August 29, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
    • Dan

      The harm brought about by militant atheists imposing their beliefs on others will never even remotely approach that brought by militant Christians and Muslims imposing their beliefs and punishments on others. Therefore, I'll take a militant atheist over a militant believer any day of the week.

      August 29, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
    • atheist

      Your bible is evil. Why choose to believe in such hate? I look down on people like you, always will.

      August 29, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
    • OldYgg

      Uhhmmm, what? I would like you to point out a single militant or hateful statement in this article. It would have been very easy for the writer to point out that this blatantly Christian oriented organization is often the recommendation of courts for drunk drivers to attend (and by recommend, I mean you will do it or go to prison).

      The writer didn't do this. Instead, the writer indicated that the steps are valid, however, that they don't need to be directed at god, or your god or any god.

      August 29, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
    • JT

      Pearla – Perhaps you didn't read any of the other comments?
      Dan – I agree. but militants aren't Christians. Even evil will cloak itself in good to fool you. Keep your eyes open.
      atheist – of course you do. sounds like you have a great view from up there.
      OldYGG – I thought the article was great, I'm addressing the hateful comments from militant atheists.

      Funny how mad the truth makes folks.

      August 29, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
    • Ryan


      Atheists can't even hold a candle to how hateful religious folks have been. I commend those that don't believe in a god and the fact they they are speaking up. At least data can be produced to support their hate. What do the religious have?

      August 29, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
    • Perla

      The woman that wrote this article is not spreading any sort of message, what don't you get? And no, I refuse to read 5000+ comments (or whatever the number may be), it's unreasonable. Spreading hate, is that what you think Atheism is? You need to do a bit more research than spouting such ridiculous comments. Go pray to your sky daddy, enjoy that.

      August 29, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
    • Ryan

      I guess how I feel as it's insulting in this day and age to believe in such magic and force (yes it is still forced) down all of our throats on a daily basis to believe in a higher power. So although it appers your statement is innocent by essentially saying "mind your business and stop worrying about what religious people do".....it's time people actually do worry about what religious folks do and push. Politics, abortion rights, marrage issues are all effected by these groups of religious bandits. It's been "pushed" forever on folks. Nothing wrong with speaking up in the least.

      August 29, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
    • JT

      Ryan, I can dig that. I too believe in acceptance and love for those who are different than I am (and listen, I'm pretty different, probably like most people). But you and I are trying to cure the same injustices. All throughout history, folks have persecuted in the name of God. God was not behind them. He word doesn't condone hate and persecution, it condones justice, mercy and grace. Let's not stop with tolerance for people's choice on what gender they marry or whether they abort the baby growing in thier belly, let's fight for love and tollerance accross all topics. But this starts with personal responsibility, not voting democrat. Good luck Ryan, I hope we both get what we want...love for all and the truth.

      Pearla, stop making me laugh. Again, I loved the article, i'm addressing the intollerant atheist commenters.

      August 29, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
    • Ryan

      JT- Well voting to the Right for me would be condoning more influence of religion in my life and in my childrens lives so I won't be doing that. (if we are looking at that on a pure religious level). But good luck with everything

      August 29, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
    • QS

      "But this starts with personal responsibility, not voting democrat."

      Oh...wow! A more irony-laced comment I have yet to see today!

      Really? You're actually trying to say that you would support marriage equality for gay people...but to do so you would vote republican? More proof that religion truly warps peoples' minds into believing things that are not true.

      August 29, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
    • JT

      Yeah, I probably should have said "not voting either democrat or republican". But of course you would find irony in that because you can't understand that democrats don't own the franchise on love for others. The point is that we mostly want the same things, but we find argument in the details, and you have proven that once again.

      August 29, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
    • QS

      "The point is that we mostly want the same things, but we find argument in the details"

      When you suggest republicans would do anything positive for gay people, you bet I'll argue that detail because it's false.

      While both parties may be influenced by religion, one party moreso than another relies more heavily on that; because of that reliance that party essentially CAN'T do anything positive for gay people because it would go against their religious beliefs.

      I'll give you credit for one thing JT, you are a master at convincing yourself that you're right all the time.

      August 29, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
  8. yup

    I'm curious why this loser "Sue" just agrees with other people's post and has virtually no opinion of her own...posts like "Good one" and "Great post"....wow, thought provoking Sue. Your posts have only made the rest of us more dumb and we recovering alcoholics cannot afford to lose more brain cells. You and Conky should go start your own chat, although it would be rather boring since Conky is an idiot and you can barely form a sentence or relevant response.

    August 29, 2011 at 1:11 pm |
    • atheist

      Good response, nice.

      August 29, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
    • BillyGiggles

      Great post! yup. yup.

      August 29, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
    • Atheist

      Nice sentences!

      August 29, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
  9. U.S.Army-OverLord

    I"m sure the world is big enough for believers and non believers. I serve God (my God is Chirst by the way) because he showed himself to me and promised me a place in heaven along with my family members. I'm no preacher and have no plans to be, however I do read the bible and try to live by it as best I can. With that said you should be free to serve (or not serve) whatever you choose to as long as you are not harming anyone else. 🙂

    August 29, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
    • Minnie

      That's refreshing to hear from a Christian. 🙂

      August 29, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
    • SurelyUjest

      Revelations 14: right? Are you sure you and your family are one of the 144000 that are going to get in?

      August 29, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
    • Jimmy Cracks Capricorns

      Flying sky daddy, a genie on a carpet, talking fire bush 4000 years old, never to be =seen again. Whatever, people need a crutch because they can't find the value in simply being born and being alive. No no no, it's soooooo much more complicated, that God of mine.

      August 29, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
    • Book of Life

      I must quote my favorite bible passage for everyone so that they may see the folly of their unbelieving ways, repent and return to the bosom of the Lord.

      2 Kings 2:23-24 NKJV

      Then he went up from there to Bethel; and as he was going up the road, some youths came from the city and mocked him, and said to him, “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!” So he turned around and looked at them, and pronounced a curse on them in the name of the LORD. And two female bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths.

      August 29, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
    • U.S.Army-OverLord

      Now for you non believers who have decide to take a shot at me, let me make this plain for you. The bilble is a guide a starting point, at some time you can talk to God directly. It happened to me and to others. Unfortunately for you it does require some faith. Please go back and do some in depth study of bible. There will be far more than 144,000 in heaven.

      August 29, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
    • QS

      "The bilble is a guide a starting point, at some time you can talk to God directly. It happened to me and to others. Unfortunately for you it does require some faith."

      "They're coming to take me away, ha-haaa!
      They're coming to take me away, ho-ho, hee-hee, ha-haaa!
      To the funny farm. Where life is beautiful all the time and I'll be
      happy to see those nice young men in their clean white coats and they're
      coming to take me away, ha-haaa!"

      – Dr. Demento

      August 29, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
  10. fisk

    I'm an athiest and I went to one Al-anon meeting a few years ago. I thought i'd walked into a tent revival. The lady in charge of the meeting went on and on about god for 30 minutes or more. She hardly even mentioned alcohol, just talked about her relationship with god. That was my last meeting.

    August 29, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
    • Minnie

      I don't blame you! I wouldn't have gone back either!

      August 29, 2011 at 1:11 pm |
    • John Do

      Why didn't you ask her why she diverted the subject?

      August 29, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
    • SurelyUjest

      I would have asked equal time to talk about my Pagan beliefs or I would have left as well.

      August 29, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
    • Atheist

      Careful not to generalize, fisk! I know many separate AA groups now, none like what you describe. At least you weren't asked to leave-unlike a black family that once came to my middle-class Presbyterian church near Detroit. The minister gave a convincing escort to the exit. I shouldn't generalize either. I was also a member of a Presbyterian church in exclusive Grosse Pointe, Michigan, where no black family would dream of entering. So I have only the single datapoint.

      August 29, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
  11. Namgorf

    Keep Coming Back! The most important words that took me a while to understand in AA. Your perspective on the program is very valid and though provoking. Individuals can let their beliefs get in the way of others' right to recovery. I am often rubbed the wrong way when some members hijack a meeting and stray into proselytizing instead of sharing their experience, strength and hope. I am a Taoist and believe in a Higher Power but respect other people's right to their own beliefs. I have to remember then that whenever I am disturbed that there is something in myself that I need to look at. I do question whether you have adhered to the 11th Tradition in your post and book. I guess I need to look at myself now 🙂

    August 29, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
  12. PaulMcCaffrey1978

    "Sue" is a good example of the arrogant-atheist personality type. Bias? Ideology? Looks like atheists have their fanatics, too.

    August 29, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
    • Dan

      Of course atheists have fanatics, just like any other belief. The real question is – what type of harm do the atheist fanatics impose on those who don't agree with them, and how does this compare to other beliefs? Compared to Christianity and Islam, the harm is negligible.

      August 29, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
    • SurelyUjest

      I know! All those high minded, elitist, Atheists with their facts and data trying to undermine all the money sucking, psycho babbling congregations by forcing their singular, un-financed, un-socially accepted, barely advertised, right to not believe in the latest fashionable set of Gods or God or books thare are being passed around these last 2 millennium. Shame on those oppressive Atheists with all their crazy ideas that we should just take responsibility for our actions without needing a diety to force us to act right. (if you havn't gotten the sarcasm by now you never will)

      August 29, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
    • Atheist

      In answer to your questions: Yeah, biased towards an ideology based on rationality and empirical evidence.

      August 29, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
  13. Alex

    Either a shameless recruitment tool or a tacit admission that most alcoholics are also Christian.

    August 29, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
    • SurelyUjest

      Actually I find AA to be a huge recruiter for the Christian religion not the other way around. Like many organization originally set up to help needy ppl. Various Christian denominations have stepped in and surplanted a good idea with a "churchy" or "Jesus" message by making huge donations. Once again money talks and lets face it Christianity, Juddahism and Islam have tons of cash for the burning.

      August 29, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
  14. JAB

    Positive Atheism is the way...It ony has one step, stopping the lies.

    August 29, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
    • John Do

      If stopping the lies is the only way to go, then Atheists should start with themselves.

      August 29, 2011 at 1:10 pm |
  15. ME

    WELL SAID MS. HORNBACHER!!!! I've been to a few NA & AA meetings with a girlfriend of mine & wondered...if I needed help quitting alcohol or anything else, could I sit there & listen to all the "higher power" garbage? My answer...NO! Kudos to you Mayra for doing it on your own & not having to feel like you had to conform to the beliefs of those christians just to improve your life. You are a strong person & that's really admirable!!!!

    August 29, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
  16. Secular Options Exist

    For those who are interested:
    -http://lifering.org/ – Lifering Secular Recovery – 12-step-ish
    -http://www.smartrecovery.org/ – SMART Recovery – actually based in evidence
    -http://www.moderation.org/ – Moderation Management – actually evidence-based practice

    As the AA saying goes: Take what you need, and leave the rest. Recover well!

    August 29, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
    • Justin

      Thank you for these resources. Far too often, professionals and laymen a like have been deluded into thinking there is one and only one way to get and stay clean/sober - "find God". That is incompatible with the belief systems of a vast swath of our population, leaving them with little other options. Even "higher power of your choosing" is a facade for what is essentially a Christian program. Myself and many many others have been turned off by the religiosity and turned away, only to find there are no other reasonable options. How many people have died because they were disgusted by by the religiosity of AA and were unable to get other forms of help?
      BTW the long term abstinence rate for AA is 10%. If any other medical treatment had a rate that low it would have long since been abandoned for something more effective. If AA works for you, then "God" bless you. You are a miracle. For the rest of the world, keep trying, never give up. "Natural recovery" or just quitting on your own is about a 10% success rate as well. Some find intense therapy perhaps in the form of CBT or possibly DBT does the trick; maybe another 10% at best. Don't believe the line that there is ONE AND ONLY WAY to get clean. There ARE options, the 12-steps is just an easy pat answer for medical professionals to give people who need help, one which absolves them of any responsibility (your addiction is a character defect) or role in the recovery (of an addiction often created by the same medical professional quite often!)

      Yes I know this article is about alcohol not "drugs". Sorry, they are one and the same. Alcohol is just yet another drug, there's nothing special about it other than its legality. Well, one more special thing about it is how destructive it is biophysically.

      August 29, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
  17. Nonimus

    Anyone ever have any experience with SOS http://www.sossobriety.org
    "Secular Organizations for Sobriety (Save Our Selves)"?

    August 29, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
  18. Erluti

    "I believe that I exist at random, but I do not exist alone;"

    That is such a loaded line. To me it brings up the question of Personhood? What is it to be alone? If you exist at random, is there anything meaningful about personhood that has implications about being alone? If one is simply a hairy biped and not a person, then alone or not alone and raging drunk or sober are all merely questions of preference.

    August 29, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
  19. May

    All people,no matter how hard they protest, are called by God, some will believe, unforunately, others will turn their backs, just as some children turn their backs on their parents. That does not mean the parents don't wish they would acknowledge them. Usually happens after some great terrifying event.

    August 29, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
    • Dan

      "Usually after some great terrifying event" – that is some nice anecdotal evidence of religion as a neurological disorder if I've ever seen any.

      August 29, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
    • Perla

      You REALLY don't know that "all are called by god", your christian belief does not make it fact. The fact that trauma is usually the reason why people start "believing" in something is very telling...not all mentally "there".

      August 29, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
    • Mohammed

      Precisely. Allahu Akbar!

      August 29, 2011 at 1:10 pm |
    • Ryan

      I have had the most terrifying events happen these past few years and loss of loved ones. I still would NEVEr believe is this crazt talk about a magical being. That is absolutly INSANE to me. I would suggest....if you really do believe in some flying magical spagetti monster....to start to really hunker down and read. Understand the data and works of minds around the world on the topic. enroll in some higher education. do whatever it is that you need to do to help give you the IQ to place rational thought on your tooth fairy. As an adult....you should not believe is such crazy talk. Padded rooms are places for folks that believe in whiches....why should you NOT be in a padded room? What makes your belief any more SANE? Nothing at all. I don't even talk to religious people anymore....they tend to have lost all grip on reality and I SURLY would never let them babysit my children!

      August 29, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
    • WeakAside

      and what about the parents that turn their backs on on children? if there was a god, this wouldnt happen. unfortunately it happens about every 30 seconds.

      August 29, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
    • Atheist

      May be. Religion as a PTSD symptom! This is actually not so far-fetched. It's very common for people with severe mental disorders to become hyper with religion as coping mechanism.

      August 29, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
  20. mrPhillipKarnes

    You sound like a bit of a Buddhist to me. But that's okay because one of the really cool things about Buddhism is you can be a Buddhist and an atheist.

    August 29, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.