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. HiIAmNewHere Hello

    Most Boston Red Sawx fans I know could use AA right about now.

    September 28, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
  2. HiIAmNewHere Hello

    So long as it's not a cult that burns stuff, sacrifices animals etc., for the greater glory of something nobody can prove exists, I suppose it's relatively harmless. And if it helps a bunch of alcoholics get their sh%t together, all the better.

    September 28, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
  3. Jim

    Excellent article! 30 yrs in the program and I am an atheist. Desperately tried to "get god" by studying lots of religious beliefs, western and estern. Finally arived back at the atheism it took many hard years of liberal arts education to arrive at. I know a number of people in the program with long-term, high quality sobriety who don't belive in god..

    September 28, 2011 at 10:52 am |
    • Cashmire

      Obama !!! Obama !!! Obama !!!! Yesssss !!! God Bless America !!! God Bless our President Mr Obama !!!! Yesssssssssss !!!

      September 28, 2011 at 11:13 am |
    • Joseph

      The vast mayority(if not ALL) of people who end up in AA get their without believing in God. The vast majority of people who stay in AA DON'T complete the 12 steps. The THINK they do but they DON'T. As long as you don't drink TODAY the program has WORKED. Doesn't mean that person who hasn't gotten drunk because of the program knows what the hell their talking about. The "spiritual wakening" mentioned in these steps can take decades for it to occur. (that's if it EVER happens). Then there are the ones who SAY that the believe in God, but they are a bunch of cynics that really don't. The only requierment to be in AA is the desire NOT to drink. For all those atheist that feel relieved that this lady wrote this article remember that she only speeks for herself, not for AA(or whatever group she belongs in) and that she is STILL an alcoholic IN RECOVERY.
      Just sayin'. 😉

      September 28, 2011 at 11:24 am |
    • James S

      It is true you don't have to believe in God to become sober. Neither does it mean you have to believe in God to be successful, happy, or anything else either. No one ever said that is what Christianity is all about. However, I garuantee that every person that has successfully remainded sober has applied biblical principles to their life, whether they realize or not. Coming to terms with your addiction, your flaws, accepting them, replacing them with positive things, etc are all biblical principles. Christianity gives you a purpose. You are not guessing on your arrival or existence. You know that you are the Child of God, Jesus came to the Earth to die for YOU, not just for the person you see with their Sunday suit on, and that above all we should Love God with all our heart and soul, and Love your neighbor as yourself.

      September 28, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
  4. Mike

    If most people that fear AA would just take a moment to read the book they will find that AA is not a cult and that Bill Wilson, one of it's founders, was an Agnostic. I have been clean and sober for over 18 years now and I know it is because of my participation in AA. At no point have I ever prayed to any type of God. My belief in a higher power is based on knowing that I am not the center of the universe. As for spirituality...there is a huge difference between spirituality and religious belief...thing is you have to find out what that is for yourself.

    September 28, 2011 at 9:12 am |
  5. Nate (Seattle, WA)

    Surrounding myself with religious people is actually the thing in life that MOST makes me want to drink to excess.

    Stop hanging around Christians, Jews, and Muslims, and you might find yourself not so soured on the stupidity, gullibility, bigotry, and nonsense of humankind.

    The religious think all atheists are depressed and somber, not being "filled by the holy spirit". Some of us are just depressed by the sight of you religious wingnuts.

    September 28, 2011 at 1:01 am |
  6. Rich

    So why doesn't AA keep statistics? Could it be because it doesn't really work?

    September 27, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
    • Esteban

      AA is based on attraction rather than promotion. Difficult concept for the worldly beliefs.

      September 27, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
  7. scotonfire

    AA worked for me. It was excruciatingly painful to sit at those meetings and listen to all those whiners complain about their lot in life. I never touch the stuff now and I'm quite happy not having to attend those useless meetings with a bunch of losers.

    September 25, 2011 at 9:37 pm |
  8. Huw

    AA told me that I shouldn't try and stop drinking without clinical supervision and that I would need to go on a drip as there was a danger that my vital organs would cease to function. I was at the end of a 30 yr drunk which at times included drugs.
    I was hallucinating and every waking moment was either planning a drink or drinking. It was no longer enjoyable, but was a requirement of my every waking moment.
    At 10:30am on July 17th 1999 while standing in my kitchen in the knowledge of my hopelessness I was saved, I was converted and have not needed nor wanted a drink since.
    What I have discovered is that my drunkenness was the result of wrath from the Almighty upon me because of my sin. Once my sin was forgiven the wrath in the form of drunkenness was lifted. To the praise of the glory of His grace. amen.

    September 25, 2011 at 11:59 am |
    • hercules hook

      I was hallucinating .... while standing in my kitchen in the knowledge of my hopelessness I was saved, I was converted and have not needed nor wanted a drink since.
      What I have discovered is that my drunkenness was the result of wrath from the Almighty upon me because of my sin. Once my sin was forgiven the wrath in the form of drunkenness was lifted. To the praise of the glory of His grace. amen.

      September 25, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
    • tallulah13

      I think you were actually hearing Billy Mays.

      September 25, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
    • Liz

      just another blogger getting paid to start controversy.

      September 26, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
    • meemee

      I was deaf, but now I can see.

      September 26, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
  9. E.H. Morgan

    Not to many people realize that the membership requirement in AA is a desire to stop "drinking" . For the first few years I thought it was a desire not to get drunk, then I realized I knew how to get drunk, but did not know how to not drink. One of the suggestions these uneducated rednecks made was that I was not capable of drinking, but neither could I handle organized religion or politics, so I have spent the last forty three years enjoying the freedom of sharing how these twelve steps have changed my life from being a loser to an above average human being. Being grateful is a full time job. I did my graduate work at Ruuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu

    September 24, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
  10. Salty Bob

    In the beginning man created the gods
    The truth about organized religion. I hope you glean a small bit of useful information as I have. What games religion is playing in America and the world today? We live in a country where we can choose for ourselves how much or little Religion we want in our lives, but the followers of most religions just don’t understand the word no. Not in my life not in my schools not in my government, NO, is the choice I have made for me and my family, the following reasons are part of the problem as I see it.
    First: religion is in no way real. The word religion or god is nothing more than an expression or product of human fear and weaknesses or imagination. The Bible/Koran, a collection of ancient myths and stories borrowed from many different cultures over thousands of centuries. Followers of Christianity, Islam, and others want to make decisions for us based on their interpretation of myths and stories from ages past that have change from teller to teller until were left with what we see today.
    These groups' are working hard and spending millions trying to influence our politician to pass laws based on their interpretation of these myths. Trying to convert the USA into a religious state. The only way this will end if things continue as they are is one group will out spend another and gain control in instant we could be living in the United Sates of Islam, sounds kinda funny but there are at the moment 2 sects with the money it will take to make the leap and crush the Wall of Separation. The Wall of Separation is supposed to protect us from all religions infringement upon our schools teachings of science to find real truth and knowledge. Not try and recruit our kids with fairytales or with some aged dogma from an era long dead, our children deserve better.
    Second: Organized Religions have overstepped their boundaries on many occasions. It divides us as a people to choose ignorance over logic, to forsake the future for a ruthless past. Religion started with early mans rites and ceremonies to honor nature, it grew into Charlemagne outright murder of the innocent in the name of Christianity, to jets crashing into towers killing thousands in the name of Islam. The time of burning witches, belief in a flat earth, the murdering of doctors, and crimes against women and children or the followers of gods many other immoral and vile acts against humanity as a whole can no longer and should no longer be tolerated, no matter what religious book or god they believe demands it, religious leaders must be held to account for the acts of its followers.
    Third: Coerced observance is the main method these groups use. Worship me or you will be tortured in a pit of fire for all eternity or, murdered outright. Fear mongering, tyranny, Remember the Dark Ages religions rule in that dark, distant past did not serve our ancestors well. Many of these groups place supernatural abilities on some of their members, kinda like the early versions of super heroes, born of a virgin nice trick or walk on water, hmm or cure the blind and sick shamans come to mind, super strength Hercules so many more. Throughout history you will find many who have claimed special abilities or feats. From every religious group again more fairytales entertainment for people who had very little else to do and lots of free time for the mind to wonder. No interpretation no matter how subtle can change the fact that their holy books are nothing more than a collection stories meant to entertain or teach something to the children or control people of that era nothing more.
    Fourth: We put our trust in our elected officials to maintain the wall of separation, to prevent religions ever-reaching grasp from tainting the consideration of new laws! This country was not founded on the rule of anyone's religion, but more the lack of religious influence in the governing of this country. But time and again you hear religious overtones spouting out of our leaders, and wannabe leaders, the wall is crumbling.
    If anyone of good conscience should agree with what I have said band together, so we can bring this country the very world we live on into the 21st century free of these groups and revel in all the promise this century has to offer so our children's children's children can look back in pride and say they did this for us and our posterity. This is after all a very small world and a great leaping point into the vast unknown. I so hope more minds are opened and see beyond the centuries of engrained dogma. I just hope we have not destroyed it all by that time.

    September 24, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
    • D W

      So very well stated. Thanks for sharing and I agree with you completely! Peace D

      September 25, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
    • Ryan O'Doud

      When you are regenerated by Christ, the dogma and doctrine and philosophy and arguing doesn't matter. You have faith, and that is that.

      i'm sure people can quit drinking who don't believe. Anyone can do anything they want with a strong enough will.

      September 27, 2011 at 2:29 am |
    • EricOnCNN

      Well stated, Salty Bob. Worth a read, for those who skipped it.

      September 27, 2011 at 11:27 pm |
    • stacy

      Bob I'm praying for you. I pray you let go of your anger and find the love of Christ before it's to late.

      September 28, 2011 at 3:12 am |
    • jaydee

      thank you

      September 28, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • Thersa

      Wonderfully said. I wonder where we would have progressed to by now if 1000 years had not been lost to the Dark Ages. And now, when it's critical we make some intelligent decisions for the sake of our planet, here comes religion again, casting its shadow over reason.

      September 28, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
  11. Chris

    Too bad the 12 step program is as effective as trying to stop on your own.

    September 24, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
  12. Carol Ann

    This young lady has faith…she is just not tied to Dogma. Alan Watts said it well, “Belief clings; faith lets go.” AA is about surrender…about willingness…about trusting and responding to the possibility of personal evolution…about forsaking window dressing for reality and being humble and vulnerable enough to admit one’s struggle by letting others help you while you help them…she got the message.

    September 24, 2011 at 6:58 am |
    • narcs'

      unfortunately the writer is in direct violation of the program she so confusingly attributes her sobriety to...the aa traditions and the name say do not out yourself...you put yourself above the program and god when you use your real name at the level of press radio, tv and internet...
      aa/na is a fringe religous cult whose sole purpose is to recruit and convert.

      September 24, 2011 at 9:52 pm |
    • munchma cuchi

      If you check the literature carefully the higher power is of your choosing. I can worship a barca lounger if that's what it takes to get me through the night.

      September 25, 2011 at 2:36 am |
    • meemee

      That's very funny, since Alan Watt's was an alcoholic himself.

      September 26, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
  13. steve

    I very much enjoyed this article, and had a very similar experience as an atheist in AA. I respect others beliefs inside and outside the rooms and I realize that the "way it works" is not really the way it works. For me, my life revolved around my social life and my social life was limited to users and drunks. To break that I attended AA meetings as often as a could, and developed an entire set of associates that were not drinkers or users. I spent a number of years clearing up the wreckage of my life, amending relationships and developing new interests. Now and then I think about a drink, but the risk to my life as I now know it is too great a risk. Where I live now has no AA meetings and the nearest meeting is too far away to get to, I do not speak the local language nor can I read it. So I am on my own. I am still atheist, still sober, and still happy after 22 years. I think the point of your article really is that anyone with a desire can get sober,and doing with help does not mean giving up your core beliefs. Reading the comments from Christians and anti-twelve step types just reaffirms my view that there is no one size that fits all in life. All the best to everyone.

    September 24, 2011 at 5:14 am |
  14. Paul

    I'm an addict, alcoholic, chaplain's son and raging atheist. AA and CA saved my life, and spent a decade there but not because of god. It was acceptance, love and friendship that did it. To believe there is an all-intelligent supernatural power that saves those who play by the right rules (sorry, which god wins?) is completely absurd. If you believe in evolution, which is no longer an opinion, then you can't beleive in god. Life and the universe is even more precious to me because this is all there is, and what an awesome ride it is. I can have compassion, love, and peace as part of the human 'condition' and frankly, it has great survival value too (evolution). There is no afterlife at any level, so now's the time to show what you are worth and not defer it to later, better, forever, fantasy or 'faith'. If your not a good person right now, why do you think something else will take the responsibility away from that?

    September 23, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
    • michelle

      So, I'll do more studying, if anyone has any links they could give me it would much appreciated, it is just
      baffling to me to know that man was created around animals in the beginning how ever, was able to pull away from the animals and begin an intelligent form a language, I can sort of see creating things that they needed from need. But somehow I can see them forming their own way of sound but to make an E sound a sound K sound who taught man how to form communication. but to form words from out of nowhere or nothing. (From something more intelligent then themselves) I mean like one may say if a boy or girl was raised around animals (wolves) how when they were found, they did not know how to talk. They talked like their environment or look like their environment; I know man intelligence is phenomenal. However, can we have taught ourselves the great gift of speech from out of nothing? Who did we mimic to know that we could turn a sound into a letter and from letter into words? Ok, say if tomorrow, we took a baby from the hospital, took great care of the baby, but he never heard anything but a dog bark or bird chirp it has been scenically proven that the baby would grow up with communication problems. Someone would have to teach that child speech. The baby would know how to cry yet the baby would need to be taught how to turn his cry into communication. How can we be taught unless we have a teacher.if we were so smart, them we would need schools or teachers

      September 24, 2011 at 1:48 am |
    • munchma cuchi

      around, of, within, above, we are animals my child. we are animals.

      September 25, 2011 at 2:39 am |
    • Ryan O'Doud

      Evolution is an opinion, because science is an opinion. It is an opinion based on observation and experimentation, but it is still an opinion. you don't get to just declare things to be facts. Have faith in whatever you choose and whatever you feel, but let it be known that it is what you believe, it is not "objective fact" and even if it was, that would mean logically that EVERY SINGLE scientific researcher would agree on it. They don't so...yeah. Also, I thought scientists had to be inherently open-minded. If they aren't how do they prevent what they believe now to be the next generations dogma? It's an opinion. NOT a fact.

      September 27, 2011 at 2:34 am |
    • tallulah13

      Don't let overwhelming evidence stand in the way of your opinion, Ryan. You have the right to be as ignorant as you want. Just don't expect others to respect you, listen to you, or refrain from laughing at you.

      September 27, 2011 at 2:39 am |
    • BrewtownPsych

      Evolution is a FACT, in the same sense you think gravity is a FACT. every conceivable test and experiment has confirmed this FACT for 150 years. just exclaiming it opinion or faith doesn't do anything to alter the literally EVEREST MOUNTAIN of evidence that it is a fact, the same as simply stating something like you are a human being walking around with a nose on your face. and for the person who "just can't imagine" developing language from lower primates, can you imagine the use of tools by chimpanzees as compared to their monkey or rodent ancestors? by your logic no life form could ever evolve into a higher life form and we have real life demonstrable evidence that this happens. these arguments are so, so tiresome, it's like people just desire to be ignorant because they don't want to admit that what they've been told all their lives is a sham.

      September 27, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
    • Nate (Seattle, WA)

      Ryan O'Doud,

      You are a pathetic attempt at an intellectual. Your drivel makes the gray matter in my brain want to hang itself by my spinal cord.

      There are facts. Facts are statements that can be shown to be real. Opinions are merely ideas, not necessarily supported by any evidence. Do you understand English? Do you understand the difference between the two sentences I just offered.

      Science does not deal in "facts" and "opinions". In science, ideas are promoted from hypothesis, to theory, to law. Each level represents a higher level of confidence in the correctness of the idea, and comes with increasing levels of proof. Opinions require no proof whatsoever.

      I'm sorry you have a 1-bit brain (I'll explain that to you, since you're obviously an unscientific idiot .. in computer science, a bit is a binary digit that may have one of two values .. like 0 and 1). But, not everything must be separated into only two extremes, as you're trying to do with "facts" and "opinions". There are shades of gray between pure opinion (let's call that white), and certain fact (let's call that black).

      Religion finds itself on the spectrum all the way toward the white end of the spectrum. Scientific findings, while ranging in certainty, find themselves at the dark gray end of the spectrum.

      So, sorry, but your cop-out is garbage. Science is not just another opinion, you mindless religious tool.

      September 28, 2011 at 1:14 am |
    • Brian

      Nate, your misunderstanding of science and evolution is simply staggering. I have a degree in Chemistry. I understand science. Science simply doesn't have all the answers, and the answers we do have are constantly changing. Take the atom for example. 200 years agp we thought it was a hard sphere (look up John Dalton) and then the electron was discovered and we thought it looked like plum pudding (look up JJ Thompson). I won't give you a science lesson, but the development of our understanding has come a long way in 200 years. Surprisingly we find that things get more complex the more we look at them. To think science is definitive, unchanging and all knowing is a crazy as what you'd call us "Christians".

      Just for fun, lets think of some questions science can't answer:

      How does a quantum leap work? Specifically, given quantum mechanics and definitive energy levels, how does an electron travel between those, existing in areas with non-quantum energy amounts?
      How do electrons travel between the two lobes of a p subshell (or d, or f)
      What came before the big bang?
      Why didn't the universe collapse in on itself after the big bang (as nearly every mathematical and newtonian rule would suggest)
      How does gravity work?
      What is in milk (yup, we still don't really know this one yet)
      How would the idea of one change at a time cover whole systems that must have evolved as a group?

      I can go on and on, but I will not stoop to your level by insulting your intelligence and saying I want to kill myself in response to a post on the internet. So I'll leave it at that. If you can answer one of my questions above with empirical data, then I'll take it all back. It's amazing how irrational and hateful these posts can be.

      Oh, and macro-evolution has never been truly observed by the way. Adaptations, such as beaks of finches and use of tools and such have been recorded sure, nobody would argue that. But to believe that a creature such as a human being (which we still don't understand) came from an amoeba takes as much faith one of those right wing conservatives.

      September 28, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
    • Brian

      Sorry, that response was more for Brewtown Psych than Nate. Nate, for the most part, I agree with your post.

      September 28, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
  15. g.c.kells

    I attended a few AA meetings when I decided to quit drinking, and as an atheist found it incompatible with my belief system. A self respecting atheist can't surrender their will to a higher power without admitting that the core of their ideology is wrong. I simply couldn't reconcile that, and was unwilling to make cheap rationalizations to accept their dogma . As I looked into it more I realized I didn't need to. AA is not the only path to sobriety, in fact it's not even the most effective path. According to their own reports, 90% of the people who come to AA don't remain in the program for a year. Of the 10% that stay only 50% remain sober. The rate of success (sobriety for one year) without AA or any other program is 5%, the exact same as it is with the program. In scientific studies, those results would be considered negligible. AA refuses to acknowledge their lack of success, and goes to great lengths to protect their status as the leading resource for sobriety. They go so far as to denounce any long term sobriety that doesn't come from them with dogmatic "dry drunk" rhetoric. I've been sober for 2 years now (after 20 years of heavy drinking). I don't struggle with a desire to drink, I'm not taking it "one day at a time". I'm not recovering. I just don't drink anymore. AA members will be quick to discredit that with their standard program lines, but it doesn't matter. I am responsible for my own sobriety, not god and not some silly little club. Real sobriety comes from one simple thing, NOT DRINKING. You don't need god, or AA to make you quit, you just need to REALLY want to quit and have the discipline to follow through on your desire.. There is absolutely not one shred of scientific evidence to support any claim that AA makes. And I literally mean ANY claim. They have everything from the higher power to the disease concept dead wrong, it's an insult to reason and logic.

    September 22, 2011 at 7:05 pm |
    • michelle

      I am puzzled, if God doesn't exit then how did man learn to talk , clearly science has proven that animals was here first, so as far as we know their are no talking animals that could teach us abc sounds. or even that we were intelligent to talk . everything has to has a teach and come from something , this i don't understand . Where did speech come from, words 1,000,000,000 years ago i have been researching the topic and so far no answer

      September 23, 2011 at 9:18 am |
    • sg

      @Michelle – Communication has evolved over thousands of years. Humans didn't one day just start speaking in a perfectly uniform language. God didn't magically bestow upon them the gift of gab. It is a learned ability.

      September 23, 2011 at 11:47 am |
    • af090391

      I was not aware animals didn't communicate through the use of sound. I suppose dogs barking and whining is really a mystery. Unless your asking how language developed, and think that English has been around since the beginning. If so, I think your beyond help.

      September 23, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
    • Scientifically-proven knowledge

      @Michelle – Look up Cuneiform, but do yourself a favor and use something other than wikipedia... unless of course, you enjoy reading from non-credible sources 🙂

      September 23, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
    • ScrewU

      Good post, and I concur. I'm not a recovered or recovering addict but I have more than one loved one who has had to get off one substance or another and one of them put their atheist feelings about AA into words quite well when he asked, "Why would I trade one crutch for another?' He did as you did, left the meetings after the 'court ordered' requirement was fulfilled and simply... quit using.

      September 23, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
    • Cindy

      OMG, I so agree with you. I am not an atheist, but you wouldn't believe the years I struggled with this. Before going to rehab (and drinking for 20 plus years) I went to so many AA meetings. I tried meetings in all different towns. But I don't know, I just couldn't connect. I tried but I just could never form any friendships or acquaintences there. It ALWAYS seemed like it was their way or the highway. As if you could not possibly stay sober without their help. The more I went to these meetings, the more I wanted/craved to drink. And so finally, I did go to rehab. I really learned more there than any of the hundreds of 12 step meetings. And I just realized that this worked for me. That AA doesn't work for everyone, and thats when the struggle was over. I have now been sober for 5 years and Im glad I did what was right for me, not what the consensus says.

      September 23, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
    • meemee

      Michelle, with the obvious level of education you're dealing with, it's no wonder you cannot understand how humans evolved speech. You're going to have to embrace a number of scientific disciplines and understand scientific methodology (critical thought). And animals DO talk. They talk to each other all the time. That is what birds are doing when they "sing," dogs, when they bark, etc. All animals have language, nothing as complex or rigorous as the human brain allows, but they talk. Our pets and domestic animals understand limited vocabulary, and remember, some birds DO talk and recent experiments show that they know what they're saying.

      September 26, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
    • buz

      I liked your post, g.c. I think you probably have it correct. At any rate your analysis clicks with me. For me it has always been the will power thing. I know, I know, I am weak. Speaking of weak, I have been sober for a few weeks now and don't crave a drink most days. Any tips for bolstering the old will power so that I persevere? I really don't like being a drunk

      September 28, 2011 at 7:59 am |
  16. Bret Walker

    I first started going to AA in 1993 as an atheist. The second step alone was almost enough to make me flee in fear. "We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity." I thought, you're not fooling me, you're talking about God! Well I came to believe in the fellowship of AA as my higher power. It was explained to me this way: A guy at a meeting asked six of us to help him move a table. It was big and oak and weighed a ton. We moved it from one side of the room to the other, and then he said "Now that's a power greater than myself. Together we did what I could not do alone." And the light bulb went on. Do you need to believe in God to get sober in AA? No. However, did I come to know God as a result of the program? Absolutely. My hat's off to Ms. Hornbacher to staying sober for 10 years. An alcoholic staying sober for even one day is a miracle.

    September 22, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
  17. George Timson

    Here's what an atheist (like me) realizes: We're all we've got. That's our value system. Our 'meaning' is not how devotedly we serve Mister Invisible, up in the sky. As Marya says, our meaning, our value, is in how we live our lives here on earth (Oh beautiful Earth!) and how we serve others.

    September 22, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
  18. truth

    what's the point in even sobering up if you are an atheist? if life came from nothing and is totally random-then where does the value come from? if life has no value, then why try and live like it does?

    September 22, 2011 at 12:03 am |
    • Observer

      Simple-minded people may not be able to find exciting things in life and give up if a reward is not promised at the end, but most people are bright enough to find things in life to enjoy. It's sad if your whole life revolves on bribes (heaven) and threats (hell).

      September 22, 2011 at 2:01 am |
    • tallulah13

      What makes you think life has no value? The value of life is that this is the only one you get and you had better make the most of it. There is nothing sadder than a fool who wastes his life following made up rules to get to a made up afterlife.

      September 22, 2011 at 2:09 am |
    • Whynot

      how was it that you came to the conclusion that she is saying that life has not value. I get that your life has meaning because of whatever you believe, but remember, there more than one meaningful believe around you.

      September 22, 2011 at 9:44 am |
    • Bret Walker

      @observer: as a Christian my life does not revolve around bribes and threats. It revolves around love. My love for God and His love for me. My love for everyone I know and everyone I don't. And anyone who tells you otherwise is not a Christian, or they totally missed Christ's message. "What is the greatest commandment? Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your strength. And love your neighbor as yourself. On these hinge all the law and the prophets." In short, the entire bible can be boiled down to two commandments: Love God, love others. That's all there is to it.

      September 22, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
    • g.c.kells

      Value comes from humanity, not god. Morality also is a human construct, not a religious ideal. I decided to quit drinking because I wanted to create a better environment for my son, and to contribute something tangible and positive to the world while I'm here. You don't have to believe in god to believe in morality and decency. You also don't have to attend AA to be sober, in fact the statistics are pretty clear on the subject.

      September 22, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
    • ScrewU

      Wow, really? The lives of people who don't share your faith are 'meaningless'? This ridiculous logic right here is the second biggest reason I have very little to do with the 'faithful'.

      September 23, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
  19. Timmy Anderson

    Marnya, I will pray for you. I am happy you are now sober. The fact is .... it can get even better through Christ's Saving Grace. As Raphie said in : Christmas Story. I double dawg dare ya!!!" .... to open and read either "Clean A Recovery Companion" or "The Serenity Bible". God has a plan for you Timmy A

    September 21, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
    • Jinx

      Timmy, I find your response to be rather presumptuous and rude. Not once in the article did the author say that she felt sorry for the religious folks out there because they were so blinded by fantasy that they needed a supernatural creature to save them (or something along those lines). But here you go, trying to "save" her. She clearly is not an ignorant person and her life does have some meaning, don't shove your god down her throat because you need to feel better about yourself. It bothers me, as a true agnostic, when others try to make my mind up for me. Don't keep the prejudice cycle going, just keep your prayers to yourself. If you want to pray for some one (which is your business), fine, but don't tell them about it, especially if they are not a Christian. We hate that... and it just adds more bricks and mortar to the wall between us. I wish you all the best in your life, but how would you feel if I said, "Blessed be, the Goddess is watching over you." ? You'd hate it and call me a heathen... Think about your actions before acting... And please don't take this as a personal attack, I am addressing this to everyone out there who prays for others who don't want it and certainly don't want to hear about it...

      September 22, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
  20. Harry P.

    Im an atheist and i started attending AA meetings 4 years ago. I read Ms Hornbacher article because i was interested in another atheist point of view, but i really couldnt identify myself with her experience.
    In my home group people rarely speak about Jesus, in fact most of people keep to themselves the kind of higher power they believe in. This situation made easier my understanding of the program. I know that some of the literature deals with the 'God', 'He', 'Father' kind of higher power but i simply translate these words into 'nature', 'universe', 'life' or anything that make sense in my natural conception of the world.
    When some concept of AA sounds too 'religious' to me, i tell myself that this movement was founded in a christian society so its influence cannot be ignored, but the message core is spiritual, not religious.

    Im an atheist but i think AA has changed my mindset from a pessimistic view of life to a holistic conception where the universe can be beautiful and horrible at the same time, after all we are not the center of it.


    September 21, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
    • g.c.kells

      spiritual IS religious as soon as you apply tenets or rituals. AA does both. It is a religion.

      September 22, 2011 at 7:11 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.