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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Laying Aside Prejudice and Contempt

How often have we heard people in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous disparaging, or even verbally attacking, one or another of the world's great religious faiths? Too often, in my view. Particularly, as we are urged in the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous (at page 87) to "(b)e quick to see where religious people are right."

The A.A. Preamble, which appears in all material approved by the General Service Conference of Alcoholics Anonymous, makes it clear, and rightly so, that "A.A." is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution; does not wish to engage in any controversy; (and) neither endorses nor opposes any causes."

But why if A.A. as a whole does not endorse or oppose any cause, do so many members openly oppose various religious faiths or denominations within the rooms of A.A., particularly, when we are advised time and time again, that there is much of value to be realized from the world's great wisdom traditions? One begins to suspect that attacking the religious faith of others may be a means of justifying their own lack of any kind of faith. (I know this was once true of me.) Thus, in the 'Big Book', we read:
"Instead of regarding ourselves as intelligent agents, spearheads of God's ever advancing Creation, we agnostics and atheists chose to believe that our human intelligence was the last word, the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end of it all. Rather vain of us, wasn't it?"

"We, who have traveled this dubious path, beg you to lay aside prejudices, even against organized religion. We have learned that whatever the human frailties of various faiths may be, those faiths have given purpose and direction to millions. People of faith have a logical idea of what life is about."
[Alcoholics Anonymous, page 49. Emphasis added.]
William James (1842-1910)
After Bill W. had his sudden and profound spiritual awakening, he doubted his sanity. Bill was given some assurance by Dr. Silkworth (he of the "Doctor's Opinion") that he had not gone over the deep end. He was given further assurance of both his sanity and the reality of his spiritual awakening upon reading a copy of the great psychologist, William James' book, The Varieties of Religious Experience. Indeed, The Varieties of Religious Experience this is the only book referenced by name in the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous.

In it, Professor James distinguishes between the steeples and bells, incense and vestments, and doctrines and creeds of what he termed "outer religion" and the personal experiential nature of "inner religion" and the inner religious experience witnessed by so many differently circumstanced people down through the ages. (Another, such book, which outlines the inner religious experiences of saints mystics and ordinary folk from a wider variety of the world's great religious and wisdom traditions is "The Perennial Philosophy," which was written by Aldous Huxley, a non-alcoholic friend of Bill Wilson's.)

Indeed, in the Spiritual Experience appendix to the 'Big Book' the personality changes "sufficient to bring about recovery from alcoholism" are openly referred to as "religious experiences" which are, undoubtedly of the "inner" religious variety described by William James.

And what are the effects of such profound spiritual and religious experiences? Again, in the Spiritual Experience appendix we read:
"With few exceptions our members find that they have tapped an unsuspected inner resource which they presently identify with their own conception of a Power greater than themselves."

"Most of us think this awareness of a Power greater than ourselves is the essence of spiritual experience. Our more religious members call it 'God-Consciousness.'"
Thus, just A.A. as a whole (and each group) does not and should not endorse or oppose any religion or religious denomination, in keeping with our traditions and stated purpose, there is really no need or place for the individual A.A. member (or N.A. member, etc.) to disparage any or all religious sects or denomination. Doing so, displays only a lack of open-mindedness and tolerance, and a lack of awareness of A.A.'s roots and what its purpose is - i.e., to facilitate within each of us a spiritual or (some would quite correctly say) religious awakening which is sufficient for us to recover from our alcoholic addiction, and to thus lead contented and purposeful lives in sobriety.

We find that no one need have difficulty with the spirituality of the program," the Spiritual Experience appendix concludes. "Willingness, honesty and open-mindedness are the essential of recovery. But these are indispensable."

Is criticizing any religion or religious domination open-minded? Or, does it only display the continuing prejudices of the person doing the criticizing? I know that in the past, when I engaged in religion-bashing, it only showed that I was again exhibiting the "contempt prior to investigation" that Herbert Spencer rightly noted is a complete "bar against all information," and one that kept me in "everlasting ignorance" until I was shown a  broader and much more informative attitude by some kind and much wiser old-timers than I was.

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