Now let’s take the guy full of faith, but still reeking of alcohol. He believes he is devout. His religious observance is scrupulous. He’s sure he still believes in God, but suspects that God doesn’t believe in him. He takes pledges and more pledges. Following each, he not only drinks again, but acts worse than the last time. Valiantly he tries to fight alcohol, imploring God’s help, but the help doesn’t come. What, then, can be the matter?
To clergymen, doctors, friends, and families, the alcoholic who means well and tries hard is a heartbreaking riddle. To most A.A.’s, he is not. There are too many of us who have been just like him, and have found the riddle’s answer. This answer has to do with the quality of faith rather than its quantity. This has been our blind spot. We supposed we had humility when really we hadn’t. We supposed we had been serious about religious practices when, upon honest appraisal, we found we had been only superficial. Or, going to the other extreme, we had wallowed in emotionalism and had mistaken it for true religious feeling. In both cases, we had been asking something for nothing. The fact was we really hadn’t cleaned house so that the grace of God could enter us and expel the obsession. In no deep or meaningful sense had we ever taken stock of ourselves, made amends to those we had harmed, or freely given to any other human being without any demand for reward. We had not even prayed rightly. We had always said, “Grant me my wishes” instead of “Thy will be done.” The love of God and man we understood not at all. Therefore we remained self-deceived, and so incapable of receiving enough grace to restore us to sanity.
This is a really good description of how a “religious” person can fail to get sober through religion, but may be successful through AA. This was not my experience, but I can understand how it works. We have to look past the old-fashioned language of “pledges” though it should be easy to see how these may now be promises, or at least statement of intent to not drink at all or to not drink so much, promises that alcoholics can’t keep without doing something else, something more. Lots of people come to AA through church, and lots of people come to church through AA. They are all fortunate.