Can You Work a 12 Step Program if God Isn’t Your Higher Power?

You know about 12 step programs. A few meet in the basement of your church or at the community center where you take art classes. Maybe you know someone in a 12 step program or are yourself participating in one. There are groups for all kinds of addictions. You can address your drinking, gambling, clutter, and debt.

But, you may have considered a 12 step program and felt immediately distanced from the support it offered because a higher power is so central to the steps. Can you honestly pursue the 12 steps if you don’t believe in one of the central parts of them?

Yes. Religion figures heavily in the 12 step model, but there are a number of individuals and groups who have tweaked the model to meet the needs of people who don’t look to God as a higher power and may not acknowledge a higher power exists at all.

If you are interested in joining a 12 step group and you would like more information, contact at 800-895-1695 and speak with someone who can connect you to resources.

12 Stepping and Religion

All 12 step models are heavily dependent on a belief in a higher power; usually that belief follows a Christian model. If you are agnostic, atheist, Buddhist, part of a monotheistic spiritual practice or have another barrier that prevents you from fully participating in the acceptance of a singular, Christian higher power, you may not want to join in and that’s a shame because you will miss out on a proven method of treating addiction.

You don’t have to change who you are or what you believe. Honestly. Instead, adjust the program to meet your needs; a lot of people are already doing this. There are secular 12 Step programs devoted to getting God out of AA.

In fact, the founder of AA (Bill W.) wrote in—Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age—“We must remember that AA’s Steps are suggestions only. A belief in them as they stand is not at all a requirement for membership among us. This liberty has made AA available to thousands who never would have tried at all, had we insisted on the Twelve Steps just as written.”

Humanist Twelve Steps

Your Higher Power

There are 12 step programs that have been reconstructed specifically for those who don’t follow God as their higher power.

You probably haven’t heard of BF Skinner; he is an influential psychologist of the 20th century. His focus?  Operant conditioning, or (in plain English) the use of reinforcement to strengthen behavior. He didn’t believe free will; instead, he believed human behavior depended upon the consequences of previous behavior. For example, if the consequences are bad, it is likely that the action will not be repeated. If the consequences are good, it is likely the action will be repeated.

In 1987, The Humanist published Skinner’s Twelve Steps:

  1. We accept the fact that all our efforts to stop drinking have failed.
  2. We believe that we must turn elsewhere for help.
  3. We turn to our fellow men and women, particularly those who have struggled with the same problem.
  4. We have made a list of the situations in which we are most likely to drink.
  5. We ask our friends to help us avoid these situations.
  6. We are ready to accept the help they give us.
  7. We earnestly hope that they will help.
  8. We have made a list of the persons we have harmed and to whom we hope to make amends.
  9. We shall do all we can to make amends, in any way that will not cause further harm.
  10. We will continue to make such lists and revise them as needed.
  11. We appreciate what our friends have done and are doing to help us.
  12. We, in turn, are ready to help others who may come to us in the same way.

You will notice that Skinner’s steps leave out a higher power.

The Medicine Wheel

White Bison—“A sustainable grassroots Wellbriety movement that provides culturally based healing to the next seven generations of Indigenous people”—developed this 12 step model. It is based on the Teachings of the Medicine Wheel, the Cycle of Life and the Four Laws of Change.

In the words of White Bison: “The Medicine Wheel is an ancient method for teaching         important concepts about truth and life. Many Native American communities use a Medicine Wheel, although the colors and the symbols are different depending upon the culture. The purpose is the same in each culture. These teachings, when applied to one’s life, have the power to influence significant change in attitudes, behaviors, values and intent.”

The 12 Steps of White Bison are:

  1. Powerlessness
  2. Belief
  3. Surrender
  4. Moral Inventory
  5. Confession
  6. Willingness
  7. Fellowship
  8. Forgiveness
  9. Amends
  10. Daily Examination
  11. Prayer Meditation
  12. Service

The National Institute on Drug Abuse notes 12 step programs “offer an added layer of community-level social support to help people in recovery with abstinence and other healthy lifestyle goals.” Don’t miss out on this. Contact at 800-895-1695.

Higher Power Trouble

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