We have covered all three stages of the Alpha Series, beginning with biblical self-awareness before moving on to developing a healthy identity and concluding with relational empowerment. But we would like to make one last note to conclude this series, and it is a note that cannot be ignored. We would like to discuss the issue of faith. We’ve talked about faith a lot this month, being that February is the month associated with both Step Two and the Second Tradition. But it needs to be clarified for those who may not fully understand it or may be confused about how it works.
Faith can be dangerous. It is usually helpful, but it can be done wrong. Some use it to pervert the truth of the message that faith is supposed to deliver—that everything will be okay, if only we can give up our self-will. Instead, some use dangerously skewed perceptions of their Higher Power to justify living by a will that is not only steeped in selfishness, but often directly meant to result in the harm of others. We have to learn to overcome this if we are to lead lives of true spirituality, lives that will lead to recovery from alcoholism and addiction.
Our look at faith will be comprised of three basic parts. The first will examine the difference between spirituality and religion, the second will talk about how spirituality and faith can be misused, and the third will discuss how we may know the difference between toxic and authentic faith. We hope that this will be of help to you as you attempt to maintain your recovery, although those who are still struggling with their addictions should really benefit from receiving the lessons of the Alpha Series in full. If this describes you, please contact us today. Tomorrow just might be too late.
Discerning Spirituality from Religiosity
Religion is essentially a system of rules and customs, a cultural set of regulations based on orthodoxy that is usually imposed on us at birth. We are raised not to question our religion, and indoctrinated to formalize, ritualize, and essentially legalize a very rigid expression of our spirituality. Some find this helpful, but some are indoctrinated by people who misuse their religiosity in dangerous ways. This can result in a lack of faith, which may lead to or exacerbate our addictions.
Where religion does not fail as a basic concept is in its attempt to understand and apply spirituality to our lives, in order to improve our experience as human beings. This spirituality is seen as a fundamental component of our recovery from addiction, as it helps raise us up from the downward spiral that many of us have encountered over time. But spirituality does not have to follow a set of rules and customs. In fact, even the religious may experience it differently from person to person. Spirituality is like a snowflake. Rather, a fingerprint—unique to every individual.
Given the highly personal nature of spirituality, it should come as no surprise that it is primarily experienced from within. No one can tell you how to feel a connection to your Higher Power, although experienced individuals may have some advice that can help guide you if you are feeling lost in this endeavor. Rules and customs may help some individuals, but the nature of spirituality is that it cannot be contained by any one particular protocol. Its roots are in the nature of the person who is seeking spiritual enlightenment, not in the collective experience of an entire culture.
At the core of our faith in a spiritual remedy is the recognition of some sort of spiritual reality, the personal realization of which we should hopefully reach at some point in Step Two. We must then find suitable ways of expressing our reverence for that which we consider to be spiritual. If religion does this for you, that is fine. But spiritual enlightenment does not technically depend on religion. Enlightenment is simply the point at which we allow our realization of a Higher Power to direct our lives through the personal leadership of the spirit. This leads to the success of AA’s Twelve Steps, especially upon the acceptance of Steps Three, Seven, and Eleven. But there can be dangers to some enactments of religious faith, dangers that cannot be ignored.
The Dangerous Misuses of Faith
We see it all the time. In September of 2001, a number of people following a misguided sect of Islamic fundamentalists committed mass murder and destruction because they believed their actions to be extensions of their faith. A number of Christian fundamentalists retaliated by bombing mosques on United States soil, with little regard as to whether or not those who practiced their religion at said mosques were supportive of the actions taken by terrorists. What we saw was people of two different religions using their faith to cause harm.
The unfortunate reality is that few of those involved in any of these actions believed their crimes to be wrong. They knew they were causing harm—that was, after all, the primary goal—yet believed their actions to be justified by a warped religiosity that did not truly fall in line with the teachings of any kind and forgiving perception of God. We see similar actions every day, when members of the LGBT community are beaten in God’s name or when their funerals are protested by churchgoers with nothing better to do than belittle the death of a man or woman who their faith was supposed to have taught them was a brother or sister in the eyes of their Lord.
This may sound heavy-handed, but it’s also common sense. If we are supposed to have faith in the will of a Higher Power, then we cannot commit crimes in that Power’s name. First of all, no omnipotent being would need us to commit such heinous acts. If there is a deity that for some reason wished harm to fall on another person, then that deity is more than capable of delivering them to such harm. But it is not for us to decide. When we take the laws of humanity into our own hands, we have reached a point at which religion has become devoid of spirituality.
Hopefully, those who undertake the lessons of the Alpha Series will learn to practice spirituality—and religion, for those who embrace the Alpha Series solely for its Christian leanings—with a sense of true love for the brotherhood of man. Otherwise, we risk becoming like those described above, people who follow their own sense of righteousness derived from pride and fear rather than true faith and spirituality. Simply remember that true faith requires us to believe in our heart of hearts that everything will work out for the best, without our interference in the workings of fate. The second we lay our fists upon another human being out of our own sick fear, we have proven ourselves to be completely lacking in faith whatsoever.
Knowing Authentic Faith and Toxic Faith
Toxic faith is obviously of the nature described above. It is of the sort that may lead to addiction and spiritual abuse. It may be driven by shame or fear of rejection, and is often imposed by a third party on a person who might be easily influenced (as are, unfortunately, many addicts and alcoholics). In many cases, those who have been led to experience spirituality or religion in a toxic fashion will focus on their own self-effort to meet the religious standards for acceptance and approval from God that they have been taught. Those who may already possess something of a toxic nature will constantly seek power and control in order to manipulate others, as well as circumstances, to maintain the illusion that they have some sort of inherent power over their lives and the lives of those around them.
Authentic faith is nothing like this. It promotes recovery by creating personal hope and loving relationships through relational empowerment, the willingness to make amends, and the ability to let go of resentments and act out of love, even for those who have wronged us. Authentic faith comes from inside of us, much like the definition we gave for spirituality above. We exercise our own freedom of choice not through manipulation and control but through love and forgiveness. Those whose spirituality is authentic will trust in the existence of divine provisions to meet their personal needs for worth, which will help with biblical self-awareness and the search for identity. Above all, those of true faith will continually express their spirit through tolerance, acceptance and compassion.
Note that the difference is that while toxic faith is often derived from external sources, it maintains a focus on harm to others for some perceived betterment of our own circumstances. Authentic faith, on the other hand, is largely focused around doing good in the lives of others. We trust that through our service work, our own lives will be made better. And even if some of our circumstances are not what we want them to be, our ability to reach acceptance without striving for power and control should make it a little easier to sleep at night. We may not always be happy about what we have or don’t have in our lives, but this is true of toxic individuals as well. At the end of the day, the best we can do is to be happy with who we are.
This is what the Alpha Series hopes to bring you through its unique counseling approach. Those who cannot be happy with their own identities will encounter many obstacles to their sobriety, but these obstacles can be overcome through faith and understanding. Our negative thoughts and emotions may resurface from time to time, but each emotional disturbance we overcome will help to solidify our sobriety and remind us that we have a reason to stay sober. More importantly, we have a reason to live. And through sobriety, we may find that we are truly living our lives for the first time. Life is a wonderful gift. Have faith in it, and you will never have to take it for granted again.