The Intent Behind Alcoholics Anonymous' Step 11

How do atheists and agnostics view step 11's religious overtones?

Coffee Cup
A Look at Step 11. © Getty Images

Alcoholics Anonymous' (AA) 12-step program as described in the "The Big Book," AA's guide for people recovering from alcoholism, has many references to God and religious themes, and step 11 is no different. In a nutshell, step 11 says to discover the plan God, as you understand him, has for your life and find the power to carry it out.

AA states it is non-religious but rather spiritual in design, and as its cornerstone, members should find a higher purpose or higher power. God can be described as a religious being, or for atheists and agnostics, it can simply mean the group dynamic experienced as a member at an AA meeting or even another individual.

Review of Step 11

Step 11
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.

Spiritual Rather Than Religious

For many in recovery, whether it is Alcoholics Anonymous or Al-Anon Family Groups, the concept of spirituality can be unfamiliar, lost or rejected. If you seek solace in a bottle or in bars, you may have other problems going such as a broken relationship or crumbling marriage, a criminal history or generally, a life in turmoil. Even for those who have had an upbringing in a church, you may find that your experience was more "religious" and prescriptive rather than spiritual.

For most who are earnest in working the 12 steps, by the time you arrive at step 11 you may discover a measure of spirituality at work in your life. For many AA members, they say they have discovered their higher power and form a better understanding of that power.

Prayer or Meditation for Guidance

The approaches and methods of prayer and meditation suggested in step 11 vary, but the purpose of the step is to connect with that higher power. Some prefer to call the higher power "God," others avoid the G-word altogether. The point is AA members discover through participation in the program that there is a power greater than themselves, and they have seen that power at work.

As members accept the "serenity" principle that "Nothing, absolutely nothing happens in God's world by mistake" there is an acknowledgment of a higher power, and there is a plan for their lives. Through prayer and meditation, members can attempt to raise their consciousness of that power and draw on it to continue their personal journey of recovery.

How Does a Person Who Is Atheist or Agnostic Pray?

As suggested by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, you can pray or meditate by being still, quiet, stopping, reflecting and listening to your thoughts. You can plan your day in an orderly way. Ask yourself, God, or a higher power for the right answers to get you through the day. In moments of confusion or unbalance, stop, ask yourself or the higher power for the right way to proceed. Understand it, visualize it, go on. For many this is self-reflection, for others, this is asking God for guidance. The end result usually turns out the same.

Was this page helpful?