An Agnostic Takes the 2nd Step
2. Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
The first three words in this step, "Came to believe", imply that we came to a new belief, a belief that we did not have before. To me, they even imply that any and all of the beliefs that I had before could not restore me to sanity. And obviously, they did not.
Another comment that I need to make about the wording of this step, is that I'm not convinced that I ever had any sanity to be restored to. Hours after I was born, Mom held me too close and smothered me while nursing. To say that I had trust issues before my cognitive abilities were fully developed would be a gross understatement.
Regardless of events near the time of my birth, I managed to grow up exhibiting at least the appearance of sanity. And I was indoctrinated into the Baptist church before I had the capacity to understand what that meant. (I'm still not sure what that means.) But I did learn the beliefs of that church. I also learned that many of those beliefs did not make any sense to me.
I think I rejected the specific beliefs of that church without replacing them with any other specific beliefs, but also without rejecting the general concepts behind them. When I got clean and sober in Narcotics Anonymous 36 years ago, I developed some of my own specific beliefs. I came to believe in a personal God; sort of a super imaginary friend, that I could call on for help and guidance when circumstances warranted. I don't think I ever believed in any kind of higher power that could step in and change circumstances in the real world to rescue me from the consequences of my actions. I remember thinking at the time, that my higher power was like a "setup artist". He set up coincidences and situations for me that were favorable to my recovery. And I remember praying, "I think this is what you want me to do, but if it isn't, please put 'roadblocks' in my path to show me that I should be 'going the other way'".
I met my first wife in NA, and in the beginning of our marriage, we went to church regularly. We went to a non-denominational church called, "The Church of Daily Living", and their teachings were closer to spiritualism and the occult, than to mainstream Christianity. Later we became part of a group that followed the teachings of Babaji, a master in India, said to be God in human form, materialized as a young man and not born of a woman.
I took all of these beliefs at face value. I don't know that I fully believed any of it, but I didn't disbelieve any of it either. Later, I began to see more and more of the followers' human weaknesses, and chose to leave the group without any outward enmity.
Next, I developed a closer friendship with one of my former NA sponsors. Earlier in his life he was an ordained Spiritualist minister, but he had become an avowed atheist. He believed that the God spoken of in the bible was actually a race of aliens that had genetically engineered humans to be their slaves. Again, I didn't really believe that, but I didn't disbelieve it either. And for the next several years, until recently, I vacillated between atheism and agnosticism.
Soon after entering the program this time, I started looking for, and seeing, signs that there is definitely a Power greater than myself. Now, I don't claim to know anything about this Power, and I believe that nobody else really knows anything about it either. In fact, I've been known to say that those who know the least about God, appear to talk the most about him. And I sure didn't want to be one of those people.
So in my quest of the second step, I started by revisiting some of the beliefs that I'd held before, mainly to look for guidance. The first thing that I saw was that the more dogma there was, the less it rang true for me. That being said, I must say that I felt a definite pull toward Christianity, probably because it was my first. But I also noticed that there seemed to be more attraction to the music that I grew up with, than with the full set of beliefs.
I think that one of the biggest problems that I have with all forms and denominations of Christianity, is how it seems to have been used more for the purpose of controlling and keeping down, rather than enlightening and lifting up. Furthermore, I do not believe that any part of the bible is the literal "word of God". I do believe that the new testament was written decades after Jesus left the earth, by people that could not possibly have understood what Jesus was trying to teach.
I have also felt an attraction to the older religions of the East: Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism. Although I don't know as much of these as I do about Christianity, most of what I've learned about them rings true. And maybe the biggest problem that I have with them is that it seems to be quite difficult for me to separate the religion from the culture. For instance, is the caste system part of the religion or the culture? And although I'm sure it has its merits, I can't believe there is any place for it in my life.
But the idea that God is everything does have the ring of truth to me. In addition to being part of most of the world's major religions, this idea makes sense to me. If God is infinite, then there is nothing and no one that is not part of God. And regardless of how easy it is to say that, I don't believe that my mind is capable of fully comprehending it.
In my lifetime, physicists have discovered and proven that at a fundamental level, matter as such does not exist. What appears to us as matter is really just energy. And I'm coming to believe that it is this energy, that we are all made of and are all a part of, that is God. And thus, the Power greater than myself that I'm coming to believe in, is much more like electricity, than the spirit of a loving father.
And that is the heart of the problem, as I see it: the human mind cannot comprehend this energy, this Power, that is all that we are and all that everything else is too. And how can we talk, or even think about this thing that we can't comprehend? We can only think or talk about the parts of the whole that we can perceive; and the parts of our perceptions that we do not understand, we can only draw analogies to things that we can understand. So in the end, all thoughts of God are so limited by our human capacity for comprehension, that their communication requires acceptance of the shared analogies.
There is a parable in one of my most favorite books, that has had great influence over my conception of this Power. This parable is in the first chapter of "Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah" by Richard Bach, and is as follows:
9. And he said unto them, "Within each of us lies the power of our consent to health and to sickness, to riches and to poverty, to freedom and to slavery. It is we who control these and not another."
10. A mill-man spoke and said, "Easy words for you, Master, for you are guided as we are not, and need not toil as we toil. A man has to work for his living in this world."
11. The Master answered and said, "Once there lived a village of creatures along the bottom of a great crystal river.
12. "The current of the river swept silently over them all, young and old, rich and poor, good and evil, the current going its own way, knowing only its own crystal self.
13. "Each creature in its own manner clung tightly to twigs and rocks of the river bottom, for clinging was their way of life, and resisting the current what each had learned from birth.
14. "But one creature said at last, 'I am tired of clinging. Though I cannot see it with my eyes, I trust that the current knows where it is going. I shall let go, and let it take me where it will. Clinging, I shall die of boredom.'
15. "The other creatures laughed and said, 'Fool! Let go, and that current you worship will throw you tumbled and smashed by the current across the rocks, and you will die quicker than boredom!'
16. "But the one heeded them not, and taking a breath did let go, and at once was tumbled and smashed by the current across the rocks.
17. "Yet in time, as the creature refused to cling again, the current lifted him free from the bottom, and he was bruised and hurt no more.
18. "And the creatures downstream, to whom he was a stranger, cried, "See a miracle! A creature like ourselves, yet he flies! See the Messiah, come to save us all!'
19. "And the one carried in the current said, 'I am no more Messiah than you. The river delights to lift us free, if only we dare let go. Our true work is this voyage, this adventure.'
20. "But they cried the more, 'Saviour!' all the while clinging to the rocks, and when they looked again he was gone, and they were left alone making legends of a saviour."
In this parable, the Power is described as a river that "delights to lift us free, if only we dare let go." And the parable enables me to communicate much about this Power that I'm coming to believe in, regardless of the fact that I don't understand it.
So now that I've qualified myself as a true agnostic, how can I complete the second half of the second step? How can I believe that this Power, that I compare to electricity; how can this Power restore me to sanity? For that, I'll return to the world's major religions, virtually all of which advocate some form of prayer or meditation in order to communicate or commune with God.
Since my conception of this Power is more like electricity, I think that my communion with this Power should be analogous to tuning a radio to the right frequency. It's important for me to make the distinction that my Higher Power doesn't "need" for me to voice any request, or even put thoughts into words. Prayer and meditation, or putting my thoughts into words, is for my benefit, not "His"; just as calling this Power "Him" or "God" is for my benefit.
Although I do not believe that "God made man in his own image", I do think it's natural for humans to relate to God as if he were some sort of super-human, just as we tend to personify many of our tools and devices. And so I will quite often refer to God as "our loving, heavenly Father", just as Jesus did, especially when communicating with someone who prefers those terms. But I try not to carry the analogy too far within my own mind, because I believe that it is terribly limiting.
So how do I "tune" my mind to "His will", such that He can restore me to sanity? Well, similar to the river in the parable, I believe that this Power is the "life-force" that animates all living things, and that, subject to the cycles of nature, causes and supplies the "life-force" energy for all livings things to live and grow. So it is not unreasonable to think that I can learn a lot about his will for me by studying how wild animals live and grow within the cycles of nature. But of course, that's not near enough because of the significant differences between humans and wild animals. For my uniquely human problems and issues, I believe that I can learn a lot by studying and communicating with those people that I perceive as living and growing with love and reasonable balance of all aspects physical, emotional, and spiritual, within the cycles of nature. In other words, those working the program to the best of their ability one day at a time, that have and demonstrate qualities of sobriety and spiritual connection.
Because of the alcoholics and addicts that I've known personally, those for whom the 12 step program has given a full and beautiful life of sobriety and spirituality, I believe that the 12 step program was inspired by God at least as much as the Bible. And I believe that I can use those same alcoholics and addicts as models for my own sobriety and spirituality. And I believe that if I work this program to the best of my ability, and regardless of my lack of understanding, if I open my mind and try, through prayer and meditation, to "tune" my mind to "His will", I can make my own spiritual connection and have my own spiritual awakening promised by the 12th step.
Thus, I have come to believe that a Power greater than myself can restore me to sanity, and I am now ready to move on to the 3rd step.