A Pragmatic Higher Power in AA.


A Revolution in Recovery: The Higher Power Concept

One of the most significant innovations that Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) introduced to the world of recovery was the concept of a “Higher Power.” This elastic term, which could accommodate nearly any belief, even disbelief, has endured for almost a century, setting AA apart.

Historical Examination of Belief

Historically, believers often emphasize differences rather than similarities, leading to disagreements, division, and even hostility. Thus, the focus frequently shifts from what works to who is right. William James, a pioneer in religious studies, offered a pragmatic lens to view belief systems, identifying common threads rather than differences.

Pioneering the Higher Power Concept: William James

James’ work, “The Varieties of Religious Experience,” took a novel approach to comparative religion. Instead of arguing for the empirical correctness of any one religion, James focused on commonalities among believers. He found that a general “uneasiness” about life united them, and this discomfort could only be overcome by connecting with a “higher power.” James’ concept of a Higher Power would later find its place in AA’s foundational literature.

The Oxford Group: Bridging the Gap

Bill Wilson, AA’s founder, was introduced to James’ work through the Oxford Group. Wilson was deeply influenced by James’ text, to the extent that he regarded James as the real founder of AA. The Oxford Group’s belief in a “higher power” clearly transferred to AA, but the explicit religious overtones were toned down for broader appeal.

Today: The Enduring Concept of Higher Power

In the AA program, achieving sobriety necessitates finding a power greater than oneself. However, defining this power as “God” often polarizes people, creating what’s known as “the God Problem.” The solution? Encouraging individuals to embrace their own conception of a higher power. This openness has allowed people of various faiths and non-believers to find solace and sobriety within AA.

A Broad Spectrum of Belief

In today’s diverse society, AA is home to a wide range of beliefs, from traditional religions to atheism and agnosticism. Remarkably, despite their differing convictions, these individuals find common ground in AA and manage to achieve long-term sobriety. This attests to the inclusivity and effectiveness of the Higher Power concept.

A Personal Note on Belief and Sobriety

The Higher Power concept in AA has proven to be a pragmatic approach to overcoming the hurdles of belief in the path to sobriety. If you believe that faith or God is your obstacle to getting sober in AA, think again. The AA Higher Power concept has room for all beliefs. My personal beliefs? Well, that’s none of your business – a stance that has kept many sober for decades!