Recovery and Religion: Can you have faith without religion?


Ok, this is a contentious subject. I’m addressing it right off the bat.

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There is a religious aspect in almost every 12 step program. ACA has it. ACA asks you to accept god/God as you understand god/God. 

This has been a difficult thing for me to accept, and it’s not something I always understand the WHY behind.

Why do I have to accept god/God in order to achieve emotional sobriety? I honestly still don’t know why, but I can tell you my thoughts on the matter.

I think it has to do with belief in something greater than yourself. The belief that there is something greater out there than you. The way I learned to accept that there’s something greater than me out there was to think of and accept that god/God comes in the form of nature. 

There’s something greater than me in nature that I cannot explain. That would be nature for me.

Another component to belief and faith in something meant learning to understand the concept that life is happening for me, not to me.

I’ve struggled with my faith for a very long time. I went to a Catholic school for 12 years in grade school and high school where I had god/God shoved down my throat daily. When I got to college, a state school (Indiana University, Bloomington) I saw, for the first time, that I could make my own decisions about god/God and what I believed because god/God was no longer thrown down my face every day. Daily religion and theology classes were gone. 

Like many other Catholics who have god/God shoved down their throat from a young age when they aren’t given the option until adulthood to explore what they believe in, they are just told that they must believe in this because the rest of the class does, I moved away from god/God and started to question my faith because I finally had autonomy over what I believed when I was in college. Because of this, I moved away from belief in god/God during college, and I haven’t gone back. All because I was force fed god/God for so long, and I enjoyed having a choice.

Then I land in 12 step in July 2022, and I have a program telling me that I must accept god/God, as I understand god/God in order to complete the 12 steps.

I think this is a failing of 12 step programs and also other recovery programs.

I believe you can have faith and belief without the God/god/religious component.

I think this a major deterrent to people who would otherwise join 12 step programs. It is off-putting.

The recovery center I go to has a faith night. The recovery center’s brand messaging asks you to believe in something, even if you’re an atheist. I attended a faith night at my recovery center. My recovery center doesn’t have a 12 step focus necessarily which I like. It’s like a convalescent space for your soul or spirit or being. However, faith night is a different story. There is a pastor who delivers the message on faith night. I went…once. I haven’t gone back. I dissociated during the “service”. First, they sing the Lord into you with Christian rock. Then the pastor speaks the Lord into you with his message. Their social media messaging claims that you don’t have to be religious to come to faith night. The messaging says: you should be able to look past the god/God component, deepen your thinking if you’re an atheist/agnostic, and look past the bible and god/God for the greater message. 

Why can’t their messaging match the service at the recovery center I attend? 

I believe you can have a life recovery service without having the god/God and religious component attached to the message. The pastor could talk about faith and belief without even mentioning god/God and bible passages. But the pastor doesn’t. 

I miss out on faith night because it reminds me of having god/God and the religious message shoved down my throat as a child and teenager, and I can’t go back.

I’m a flexible person in my thinking and open to trying almost anything once. That’s why I attended faith night. The whole time I was there at the service, I wanted to run out the door and I was angry. I’m flexible enough in my thinking to look past the god/God component when I want to. However, that doesn’t mean I want to be force-fed god/God. The pastor that night in his sermon mentioned the word “filth” as it relates to people in recovery. Sorry, I’m not filth. If I’d wanted to feel bad about myself, then I would’ve gone to see my parents. Or I could’ve just gone to any church.

Just because I can be flexible in my thinking, doesn’t mean I can’t make my own choices. The god/God component wasn’t what I was after. I was willing to try it out, and I found it off-putting. I also think that this is a topic that is contentious for other people. I think if you’re going to put out social media marketing/messaging that says all people of all beliefs are welcome at faith night, then you should stick to that and not shove god/God down people’s throats with a bible sermon and Christian rock.

I’ve mentioned my thoughts to the recovery center I attend, but it’s their biggest draw and many people attend. I am in the minority in my thinking here. I get that. 

I’m torn because part of me would love to attend faith night if god/God wasn’t being shoved down my throat. If faith and belief in something greater than myself, like nature, was part of a general message, I would gladly attend. But it’s so clearly not. I can look past the bible passages, but I don’t want to because I just don’t want to hear it and feel bad about myself, and it’s not what I believe in anymore. 

I have a choice. That choice is to miss faith night because it’s more about religion than it is faith and belief in something greater than myself.