It is almost as old as AA itself: “AA is spiriual, not religious”. Some AA meetings don’t make that distinction clearly. These meetings look for all the world to be religious.
How can something like AA be “spiritual” but not religious?
The casual oberver who sees or attends AA meetings is likely to see religious elements. During meeting shares you may hear references to “my Higher Power”, even adding “whom I choose to call God”. Frequent mentions of a “miracle” are common (eg. “don’t leave before the miracle”). These references in meetings — even ending some meetings with the Lord’s Prayer — would seem to be religious. How is this “not religious” then?
A number of AA members claim no religious faith. Others may have a religious faith but it doesn’t include a Judeo-Christian concept of god. How do these members deal with the “God stuff” as it’s frequently termed in AA? Well, they don’t deal with it well. Some just do a mental “translation” into a non-religious concept. Others allow it to build up into a resentment that festers if they continue in many AA meetings. Others may leave AA.
For many of these members (and they are members if they say they are), simply not saying “God” before the serenity prayer when others intone it is not acceptable. Telling meeting attendants that closing a meeting with the Lord’s Prayer “for those who want to join us” is not acceptable. Telling them to find a meeting that better suits them is not acceptable.
So, can we be “spiritual” in AA without the religious trappings? So-called secular spirituality is a definite consideration.
Secular spirituality suggests this: “Secular spirituality refers to the adherence to a spiritual ideology without the advocation of a religious framework. Secular spirituality emphasizes the inner peace of an individual, rather than a relationship with the divine. Secular spirituality is made up of the search for meaning outside of a religious institution; it considers one’s relationship with the self, others, nature, and whatever else one considers to be the ultimate. Often, the goal of secular spirituality is living happily and/or helping others.” (Wikipedia, as of 3/30/2016)
We’ll explore this secular implication as it applies to AA in a subsequent post.