My least favorite paragraph in the book "Alcoholics Anonymous," (commonly called AA's Big Book) -- which I'll get to in a minute -- is from Chapter 4, which is entitled "We Agnostics."
But first, some context.
Overall, "We Agnostics" is written to reassure anyone who hopes to apply AA's 12 Steps to their drinking problem (and their other problems) that they need not follow any one particular definition of God when coming to AA -- a person can use whatever feels right to them when considering the Big Questions about a Higher Power.
"Much to our relief, we discovered we did not need to consider another's conception of God." -- Big Book, Chapter 4, pg. 46
"When, therefore, we speak to you of God, we mean your own conception of God." -- Big Book, Chapter 4, pg. 47
To make AA work for you it isn't even necessary to be clear on what your Higher Power actually is.
"We found that as soon as we were able to believe in a Power greater than ourselves, we commenced to get results, even though it was impossible for any of us to fully define or comprehend that Power, which is God." -- Big Book, Chapter 4, pg. 46
Further, "We Agnostics" discusses the different kinds of resistance people may struggle with when it comes to having any kind of faith in any kind of Higher Power. The chapter suggests that perhaps setting aside unreasonable prejudices developed during a difficult childhood or ideas developed during active addiction is a good start to having an open mind about spirituality.
"This applies, too, to other spiritual expressions which you find in this book. Do not let any prejudice you may have against spiritual terms deter you from honestly asking yourself what they mean to you. At the start this was all we needed to commence spiritual growth." -- Big Book, Chapter 4, pg. 47
"We Agnostics" looks at how open minded we are when a scientist makes a statement and calls it fact, even if we can't literally see what the scientist is claiming -- that solid matter is composed of atoms and electrons -- invisible-to-the-naked-eye particles in constant motion is the example used in the chapter -- we all believe it, take it on faith, even though what we experience of the world with our senses directly contradicts what the scientist claims ("Hey, Joe, does that steel girder look like it's moving to you?" "Nope, Charlie, it's just sittin' there." "But it is moving, Joe. It's in constant motion! It is!" "You high again, Charlie? Boss'll be pissed if you're high again."), and few of us have ever peered into an electron microscope and actually seen an electron whirling around an atom to personally verify what the scientist claims is true, yet without argument we accept his statement as fact. But when we sit in AA meetings, and hear people share about their direct experience of somehow making use of spiritual forces to achieve a solution to the problems in their life, we immediately become hostile, shut down or outright dismiss such testimony.
"Besides a seeming inability to accept much on faith, we often found ourselves handicapped by obstinancy, sensitiveness, and unreasoning prejudice. Many of us have been so touchy that even casual reference to spiritual things made us bristle with antagonism." -- BB, Ch. 4, pg. 48
Chapter 4 is a wonderful discussion from many different viewpoints about how one might at least open the door a tiny crack and entertain the idea that maybe -- just maybe -- there's some sort of spiritual law at work in the universe, and that such law is guided by a force of some kind, a Higher Power, that it might be possible to tap into.
As it paints this picture, and discusses how challenging it can be for even a willing person to wrap their head around the idea of God, no matter how inclusive AA is on the matter, "We Agnostics" starts to talk about the mind's need for "logic" as a way to interpret the world.
"Logic is great stuff. We liked it. We still like it. It is not by chance we were given the power to reason, to examine the evidence of our senses, and to draw conclusions." -- BB, Ch. 4, pg. 53
Not to spoil the surprise or anything, but where this is going is the idea that a belief in God is not a wholly illogical thing.
"Hence we are at pains to tell why we think our present faith is reasonable, why we think it more sane and logical to believe than not to believe..." -- BB, Ch. 4, pg. 53
And then we come to it. My least favorite paragraph in the Big Book. (Hated it.) There, on the bottom of pg. 53, the paragraph that at first bored me, then frustrated me, then angered me, and then finally, finally made sense to me:
"Arrived at this point, we were squarely confronted with the question of faith. We couldn't duck the issue. Some of us had already walked far over the Bridge of Reason toward the desired shore of faith. The outlines and the promise of the New Land had brought lustre to tired eyes and fresh courage to flagging spirits. Friendly hands had stretched out in welcome. We were grateful that Reason had brought us so far. But somehow, we couldn't quite step ashore. Perhaps we had been leaning too heavily on Reason that last mile and we did not like to lose our support." -- BB, Ch. 4, pg. 53
Aaarrgh! Bill, ... you're killing me with this stuff.
Usually I find the language of the Big Book, that is, late 1930's American English/Midwest slang, vocabulary, syntax and imagery, either poetic or cute -- even fun, in some places. (From "Bill's Story," Ch. 1: "For three or four months the goose hung high." Come on! Ya gotta love that.) But for me this paragraph on pg. 53 in "We Agnostics" just goes right off the rails.
Now I see that what baffled me for so long is that in large measure the metaphor hijacks the point.
We get so vivid with our crossing the river, walking over the bridge, reaching out for the distant shore imagery that (for me, anyway) the conclusion they're reaching for doesn't land.
Here's what this all means to me now, in the context of discussing the desire for a logical explanation of the Universe coupled with the need to develop a working faith:
In learning about life it is the most natural thing in the world to ask "Why?" That's the need for logic, the way we make sense of things. "Why did they repo my car?" "Why did the referee call out of bounds?" "Why did Janie throw up?" "Why is Grampa smiling?"
I learn how to get along in life, how the Universe works, from asking "why" and remembering the "because's."
"Because you didn't make your payments, so they came and took your car." "Because the ball was over the yellow line." "Because Janie ate spoiled egg salad and has food poisoning." "He's not smiling, that's gas. Grampa looks like that because he ate too fast and now he has gas."
So it's perfectly natural that in developing a faith I want to ask, even if I dress it up in other verbiage, "Why" when it comes to God and how the universe works -- it's how the human mind makes sense of things -- and that's my need for logic applied to my quest to develop a spiritual connection of some sort -- hell, of any sort.
Now, pretty much every organized religion will offer you their "because" -- "Why did Janie throw up?" "Because Janie is a dirty sinner, bound for the Lake of Fire, and God is punishing her because she was bad." One of the things religion does is make sense of the Universe in a particular way and then teaches that way to people so they can believe that if they follow The Rules they will protect their loved ones from harm in an often frightening and confusing world, and live with the Big Questions (which almost always boil down to a "Why?") without giving into despair or going nuts. There is safety (or the illusion of safety, anyway) and comfort in a "because," even if it's a harsh one. You learn The Rules, you follow them, you'll be ok. Janie broke The Rules, so God made her sick. (One man's religion is another man's superstition -- yet they both serve to give you a "because." "Why did your Mom break her back?" "Oh, I stepped on a crack. See that break in the sidewalk over there? Tomorrow I'm aiming for my Dad!")
Many of us, on our way down to hitting bottom, reject a punishing God model, and in so doing reject God altogether. But AA has assured me that I can set aside what others say about how the universe/God works and still develop spiritually. But when I do, I not only set aside their rules and ideas, I set aside their explanations -- and I'm left with no "because" -- which is a hard thing if I'm trying to make sense of how to connect with a Higher Power -- even if I don't like the explanation that's offered for something ("Dirty Sinner!") it's easier to have an explanation I don't like than not to have one at all.
Thus I'm left trying to develop a faith I can begin to wrap my head around, trying to understand how God works in the world so that I can hopefully tap into that Higher Power and apply it to my alcoholism, and maybe even my whole life... but I can't, I keep getting stuck because ... because ...
because there's no because. I get stuck not because I'm unwilling to believe so much as I get stuck because I'm trying so hard to understand.
Faith, some belief in some sort of Higher Power, looks good -- the people in meetings sound good ("lustre to tired eyes" and "fresh courage to flagging spirits" and "friendly hands reaching out") -- I want faith -- but ... when I try to wrap my head around any kind of spiritual belief system I keep hitting the logic wall -- I keep hitting the need for a logical explanation -- I keep trying to understand -- I keep hitting the need for an answer to the question, "Why?"
"If there's a God, why were their Nazis?" "Why is their injustice?" "Why do innocent children suffer?" (Though an addict's "why's" are much more personal and usually selfish. "Where's mine? Why aren't things the way I think they should be?")
Why? That's a millennium-long discussion, debated over the Ages by far brighter minds than mine.
But the point made in the paragraph I hate is that on the way to some kind of working belief in a Higher Power, logic -- understanding -- will take you only part of the way ("Why is he so calm when things are so bad?" "Because he's surrendered to God's will." An answer which will evoke a "Huh?" from many, many people) -- but not all the way to a faith you can live by.
So here it is: If you require a "because" for every single "Why?" you can come up with for how the universe works, then you will never "step from the Bridge of Reason to the shore of faith." To have a working faith -- or to at least start to have a working faith, I must accept that I will not have a logical explanation -- I will not have a "because" -- for every question I ask about who/what//how/why a Higher Power works -- even though the asking is a natural part of how the human mind is constructed. To have faith I must live with the unanswered "Why?".
The more readily I let go of my "Why?" the more easily I can embrace faith. This does not mean I abandon the need for all intelligent, logical reasoning, but it does mean I must begin to be comfortable living without a "because" to every single one of my "why?'s"
But sometimes that paragraph still drives me batty.
And there we go. Sorted.