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Evolving Spirituality.

23 September 2015

Having a conversation once early in sobriety with my friend LawnBoy, Infactorium’s resident atheist, I said, “Atheism doesn’t tend to last long in AA.” I meant that because AA has a spiritual component, and references God a lot, that AA tends to be a place where people open to spirituality recover. People often either are already spiritual, or adopt spirituality when they recover from alcoholism in AA. That was what I said when I was six months sober or so. I was fairly wrong.

Now, it’s certainly true that many more people in AA are spiritual, and even religious, than are avowed atheists. But I don’t know that the proportion of atheists in AA is any smaller than the proportion of them in the population in general (and testing such a hypothesis¬†is impossible). But what I have found is that, surprise surprise, the truth is far more complex than it appeared to me at my first glance.

My own spirituality has definitely changed in AA. Whereas once, before I was sober, and hell, before I drank, I was very religious, I no longer am. I still think of myself as vaguely spiritual, but in an entirely nebulous way. I don’t pretend to know what God is, or if that means anything. I am comfortable with the idea that if there’s a God, then it knows me, and that’s good enough. I am hopeful about God. I would love for there to be a God. But I don’t live in my daily life as though there is a deity making careful observation of me.

My sense of spirituality is deeply entwined with my knowledge of systems theory. I studied how complex systems behave academically and professionally, and learned how simple rules result in bafflingly intricate large-scale behavior. Flocks of fish and birds, colonies of insects, brains, cities, societies, ecosystems, and climates. Solar systems and galaxies. All are examples of individuals interacting with one another according to more or less simple rules. Life happens when atomic quanta combine in peculiar ways. Huge structures are built of tiny elements.

Matter and energy and living things all become organized in complex arrangements based on astonishingly rudimentary¬†principles. This is a good enough God for me. Not the so-called “god of the gaps”, where we attribute what we do not yet know to the action of a mysterious intercessor. But the golem in the gears. God, perhaps, did not write the rules. Perhaps what I choose to call God simply is the rules. The map behind the waveform. The tendency of things to interact in unpredictable ways. Whether those things are sleekly elegant particle-waves of light, or ridiculous ape-things.

My God, these days, is a God that might not be there at all. A God that, really, it doesn’t matter whether it is there at all. But one that I can feel connected to. We often say in AA that the only thing you need to know for sure about God is that “you’re not it.” We need something outside. Larger. For most of us, that means some kind of observant deity. But not nearly all of us. And frank atheism flourishes in the rooms of AA. More here in ECC than back in St. Louis.

There’s not much point in praying to the thing I think of as my God-concept. It won’t respond. And that’s fine. Better even. I need reminding that I’m not important enough that the fabric of the universe needs to concern itself with me personally. I am a temporary arrangement of matter and energy. I will soon enough disassociate. While I persist as a system that can think and experience and interact with others of its kind, I’ll try to do what we’ve decided, in our own strange and deeply imperfect way, is good.

And that helps me understand my self. Somehow, the construction of matter and energy that I call myself, reacts in unfortunate ways when combined with ethanol. It’s broken. And it can’t be fixed. But it operates just fine when ethanol is kept from its inner workings. Something in the mysterious rules that govern how I function, there is a strange flaw, when compared to other, similar systems.

But it is only a flaw because I label it as such. Because we’ve decided that people who react the way I react to ethanol are substandard. Really, I’m just obeying a slightly different set of rules. Rules which I can choose to interpret as diminishing me, or strengthening me. Because I have this supposed deficiency, I have different opportunities than others. I have access to a different set of things to learn and explore, that some of you so-called normal people cannot ever experience.

These idiosyncracies have enabled me to feel closer to this minimalist God of mine. To feel like I am a welcome part of the great systems of my life. Here and sober and free and contributing.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 23 September 2015 08:17

    So align with this thinking. I’m probably closer to an atheist since being in AA and searching for the spiritual answer that works for me. Like you say I think my “God” is the rules that mean through some combination of all that gravity, electrostatic doddah, magnetism etc. we end up on a planet just the right distance from a sun of the right shape and size to allow water and oxygen to exist in abundance… and then some way for cells to adapt and change and develop into complex beings that leads to us…
    It is certainly something that is not me and which no matter how I bend my mind or body to can I ever actually affect it in any way – a power greater than myself – that’ll do. I don’t pray in a conventional sense at all as praying to that makes no sense at all – my prayer is a mediation in some way to sort my head out in a manner that is ok for me and I look inward for the spirit that makes me be what I am today as a human being

  2. 25 September 2015 08:15

    People in AA never cease to amaze me. I would have said no atheist could stay sober – up until a few years ago. I just don’t know how people get sober and stay sober. I feel like in my case it has little to do with what I do or believe.

    But then I believe in an all-powerful God, who intervenes in my life on a daily basis. I believe he does the same for everyone.

  3. Syd permalink
    2 October 2015 19:10

    I am with you on this. I believe that my HP is the connection I have to others in this life. Sometimes we come together at just the right time–no coincidence really. And that to me means that there is a sort of energetic connection. I cannot wrap my head around an all knowing God who directs my life. I guess I am too much of a scientist for that.

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