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Monday, August 1, 2011

Spiritual Pride and the Quality, Rather than Quantity, of Faith

"Now let's take the guy full of faith, but still reeking of alcohol. He believes he is devout. His spiritual observance is scrupulous. He's sure that he still believes in God, but suspects that God doesn't believe in him. He takes pledges and more pledges. Following each he not only drinks again, but acts worse than the last time. Valiantly he tries to fight alcohol, imploring God's help, but help doesn't come. What, then, can be the matter?"

"To clergymen, doctors, friends, and families, the alcoholic who means well and tries hard is a heartbreaking riddle. To most A.A.'s he is not. There are too many of us who have been just like him, and have found the answer. This answer has to do with the quality of faith rather than its quantity."
[The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, pp. 31-32.]
There are, in fact, many different levels of faith. For simplicity's sake let's look at three different levels or qualities of faith: intellectual faith, emotional faith, and experiential faith. The first, intellectual faith, comes with mere belief. We are raised into a faith and accept it's beliefs as reasonable and perhaps necessary. Or, perhaps, we adopt a faith, unquestioningly and as is. This is a form of blind faith, founded on nothing more than mere intellectual belief and compliance, and it is too easily shaken.

The second, higher level or quality of faith, is that based in the emotions. A devout and deep faith is inspired, and a great emotional impulse is felt as a result. Still, this higher level of faith is also partially blind, albeit blinded by the emotions rather than a merely intellectual belief system.

One can easily have either of these levels of faith and still not have the suffering of alcoholic addiction removed. One can too easily, as noted in The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, be "full of faith but still reeking of alcohol." A.A.'s program of recovery, on the other hand, is intended not to invoke merely intellectual faith, inspiration and/or great emotional devotion. Rather, the Twelve Steps are intended to trigger the third, highest level of faith, a faith based on spiritual experience - a faith that is described as "a new state of consciousness and being."

Consider, if you will, the following passage taken from Appendix II of the 'Big Book' (i.e., the Spiritual Experience appendix):
"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."" (Emphasis added.)
From the above, it should be clear that the curative we seek is not an internal or external belief system, or an elevated emotional state, but rather a broad yet heretofore hidden aspect of our very being, an experience in consciousness that takes us beyond the limited and limiting egoic self to "a new state of consciousness and being" that is co-extensive with God.*

It is far too easy to be fooled by the quantity of our faith rather than its quality, and the danger is that we can too easily be fooled by an egoic sense of spiritual pride, particularly if we come to A.A. (or any of its sister 12 Step organizations) with preformed religious or spiritual beliefs. And just as easily, we can adopt certain religious or spiritual beliefs which are good, in and of themselves, but which fall short of the requisite spiritual experience. The ego is a crafty and challenging foe. Religious prejudice and spiritual pride are often the last, yet highly effective, weapon that the ego wields against us.

Writing about the perils of the spiritual pride which can act as a block to the spiritual aspirant, philosopher Paul Brunton observed that:
"If the ego cannot trap him through his vices it will try to do so through his virtues. When he has made enough progress to warrant it, he will be led cunningly and insensibly into spiritual pride. Too quickly and too mistakenly he will believe himself to be set apart from other men by his attainments. When this belief is strong and sustained, that is, when his malady of conceit calls for a necessary cure, a pit will be dug for him by other men and his own ego will lead him straight into it."
[Psul Brunton, "The Notebooks of Paul Brunton," Vol. I, p. 138.]
All need not be for naught, however. For, as Brunton notes: "Out of the suffering which will follow this downfall, he will have a chance to grow humbler." And, with humility, comes the opportunity for true spiritual experience.

 * * * * * * * * * * * * *
* The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, pages 106-107:
"When a man or woman has a spiritual awakening, the most important meaning of it is that he has now become able to do, feel, and believe that which he could not do before on his unaided strength and resources alone He has been granted a gift which amounts to a new state of consciousness and being."

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