In these blog posts, I occasionally intimate that traditional religions go too far with their complicated dogmas and are too confident or too certain in their proclamations. And their use of religious language is too rigid, too rote and often stale or uninspiring. Too many literally interpret the Bible without understanding the many problems with ancient languages & linguistics and the difficulty in understanding the ancient cultures and their history. Finally, we must recognize the use of myths throughout the Bible yet still appreciate and understand their important meanings and symbolism. Biblical literalism or fundamentalism is a dangerous Biblio-idolatry. All of our scriptures come from very ancient times after all, so none of this should be a surprise. Scholars can and do spend their entire lifetimes studying the Bible and the cultures of that time.
Some people might read the posts in this series and accuse me of being "Chrisitan-lite" or that I am a Christian apologetic. I'm OK with that. Everyone is entitled to their opinions. But there's something to be said about not going too far and keeping it simple. Even simple theological principles can do wonders.
Take Alcoholics Anonymous for example. They lay out a simple 12 step plan that includes the most minimal theology imaginable, a good bit of wisdom and a simple emphasis on community. These 12 steps and the resulting small communities of self-professed "sinners" have changed millions of lives and saved millions from the ruin of alcohol or drug addiction worldwide. Here's the 12 steps:
- We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
- Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
- Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
- Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
- Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
- Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
- Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
- Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
- Continued to take a personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
- Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
- Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
Here's the biggest thing: it is that like-minded people, who have admitted their sins, get together as a community where they must be honest with themselves, God and other members, share the common theology outlined above and work toward physical and spiritual health. As a community they are committed to helping each other. Most people in AA have a sponsor who is available at anytime to help someone else if they are in trouble, at risk of relapse or in crisis.
Remember, community is really the same as church. AA is a type of Church then.
The magic is a) accepting a higher power in our lives, that we are powerless or even insane without this understanding (beware Atheists) b) that there is wisdom, helping and healing to be derived from prayer, c) having a realistic and truthful understanding of our faults and sins, c) sharing and helping others brings healing and growth. In fact, you could say that when two or more people who gather in His name, He is there. Helping and healing should be understood as miraculous and has a cosmic dimension.
The AA program is working around the world even in Buddhist countries who don't technically have a theology.
The other thing that supports AA's success is that many of their members come to AA at their "wits end"or at "rock bottom"where nothing else has worked, so they are powerfully motivated for change. They are ready to receive these messages. We live in time where many people are in a existential or spiritual crisis but don't have a substance abuse problem could still benefit from such a program. Anyone could.
Alcoholics Anonymous shows how a simple a theology guiding a faith community can impact millions and millions of troubled lives all over the world. It's simple and powerful.