Welcoming The Atheist Into The 12-Step Room

As Christians in recovery, we understand the importance of the spiritual aspects of the program. We know that without God, there is no way we would be sober and getting our lives back in order. Most of us recognize our Higher Power as the Trinity—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—and our faith forms the very backbone of our recoveries.

Now that we enjoy this relationship with our God, we have to confess that we sometimes find it difficult to deal with the atheist who is entering the 12-step rooms. These newcomers seem resistant to accept the concept of a Higher Power. They believe recovery should not be dependent upon a supreme being (which in their minds does not exist) and they may even criticize those who strive to live a life of faith.

Atheists And Agnostics Present An Opportunity For Our Growth

Welcoming Atheist Into The 12-Step Room - ChristianDrugRehabIt can be hard to know how to help someone who rejects some of the central tenets of the program, namely that we “came to believe a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” As Christians, we may feel judgmental or irritated with people who don’t see the value of our faith or who don’t honor our God. But atheists and agnostics in the rooms are no cause for concern; they present an opportunity for growth—our growth.

Perhaps some of us who are now in recovery were always Christians, professing faith even in the midst of our addictions. But many of us came to faith late, often as a result of hitting bottom. Many of us rejected Christianity—we thought we had a better way and we didn’t want to bow to anything outside of ourselves. Some of us held deep resentments against God, the church and other Christians. Many of us were severely wronged by those who claimed to represent the faith.

But over time, God drew us back to Him. We began to experience forgiveness, grace, sobriety and recovery. Our faith in God and the practice of Christianity started to feel like the most natural thing. We couldn’t imagine our lives any other way.

Coming To Faith Can Be A Process – Even For Believers

We often forget, however, that coming to faith didn’t happen overnight. It was a process. And for some of us, quite a long one. God was patient with us as we rebelled and tried to cling to our old lives. He waited as we sank deeper into addiction. And He was there with open arms when we asked for grace.

This is the attitude we must assume toward newcomers who are atheists. We must be patient as they work through their resentments around God and the church and as they try to adapt to the concept of a Higher Power. Many will start out by claiming the group as their Higher Power since, as the Big Book reminds, it is indeed a power greater than ourselves. Some will eventually come to faith and others will not. We cannot predict what God is doing in each person’s heart.

We Must Remember To Be Patient And Not “Over-evangelize”

We never need to feel threatened by atheists who have little respect for the faith. They may have their reasons and now that they are in recovery, they deserve time and space to heal and sort things out. We must grant them as much room as they need.

Some Christians in recovery will be tempted to evangelize. And although we may have had powerful experiences of recovery as a result of our Christian faith, we need to remember that AA and related 12-step groups are not affiliated with any religious organization. If an atheist were to assume that one had to be a Christian in order to recover, he or she may never enter the rooms. Thus we allow everyone to have his or her own beliefs (or not).

Be Open And Accept Your Atheist Brother Or Sister

This does not mean we cannot share our own experiences—even those that relate directly to faith and recovery. When asked to give the reason behind the hope that we have, there is no need to hide the truth. We simply think it is best, in the 12-step rooms at least, to practice the principle of “attraction rather than promotion.” God is producing good fruit in us as we recover and grow in faith. As we live by faith, others may want to know more, giving us opportunities to share. We let them come to us.

Unlike the rest of society, the 12-step rooms are an environment of openness and acceptance. We need one place where we are free to work out our own beliefs and where we will not be judged or pushed down someone else’s path. As Christians, we put our faith in God, knowing that He is working in the hearts of those in recovery. We can be patient with His timeline. When we know God is in charge, it gives us the freedom to simply love, welcome and accept. We leave the rest to our Higher Power.

Believe In God For Others…