Criticism of Religion

State is not the only thing that needs to be separated from church

I talk a certain amount about church/state separation and the need for it. But as my title suggests, there’s more than just government that needs to be separated from religion.

Which brings me to Overeaters Anonymous (I’m starting there because it’s the group I have actual experience with. If I were attending a meeting today, however, it would have to have something to do with alcohol).

In the year 1985, I graduated from high school, moved with my parents to Florida, and went to college in Ohio. And I discovered that I could no longer run from the fact that I had a problem with food.

I’d been overeating emotionally since sometime in high school, but my year at Oberlin College was the year I faced it and decided to get help. I found a chapter of OA that met locally and started attending meetings.

For my winter term at Oberlin, I chose Christian Spirituality as my project. Winter Term was essentially the month of January, so I spent January delving into my religion, and I started to question it. Before I was done, not only was I no longer a Catholic, but I had lost my abstinence as well. I hit 182 pounds that year, the heaviest I’ve ever been (although weight is not always an indicator of compulsive eating, it was in my case). I did regain my abstinence over time, in no small measure due to the man who would become my husband, and the rock-solid support I got from him. My faith came and went over the next year or two, until I eventually, without realizing it, had become an atheist.

I CANNOT have my faith and my abstinence linked. I can’t risk losing them both together ever again. Unfortunately, the secular alternative, the local SOS group, has collapsed, so I’m getting by while reading my brand-new Kindle copy of How to Stay Sober: Recovery without Religion. The collapsed SOS group said they’d heard good things about an AA Agnostics group, but I’m reluctant to trust any group with the name “AA” on it, given my history.

And then, sometimes religion IS the problem. It’s possible to rely on religion too much – what I, in this blog, have called “religionitis”. I’ve done that too. Maybe that’s why I’m keeping my current faith at arm’s length, why someone I know had to die to get me to do rite every day (sorry, Adsiltia). There’s a way to do it right, I’m hoping. I think it’s all about balance. Religion is one aspect of my life, no more, no less – just as it is one aspect of society, no more, no less.

The ancient Egyptians probably had trouble with balance too. They didn’t even have a word for “religion” – it was so well integrated into their lives that they couldn’t conceive it as something separate. But even that culture had its atheists. Just look at the Harpers’ Songs.

My point is that the world is, and always has been, full of a variety of people with different opinions on religion. When one is creating a support group for addicts, maybe that should be borne in mind.

Any comments? Please leave them below.

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5 thoughts on “State is not the only thing that needs to be separated from church

  1. Like you, I’m personally uncomfortable with the emphasis on a higher power in 12-step programs. I tried OA, but I live in a very Christian area and for that and other reasons didn’t last long in OA. But I would not complain that 12-step programs need to change. They have done far too much good for far too many people, and I’ve seen the effect NA has had on my younger son, who is 21 and in his third sober year. I run a Tuesday night meditation group with recovery as a theme. I think it’s up to us to create alternatives, but I would not mess with such a successful phenomenon.

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      1. Hi, Louise. The Atlantic article seems to look at 12-step programs as in opposition to other forms of therapy, and I don’t see them that way. Also, I know of many instances when AA and NA were effective, done along with other forms of therapy. I also had one very close and dear relative who was devoted to OA. I’m not so sure in general about offshoots like OA and GA, and the article’s author seems to indicate a lot more. But hard-core addictions like those to alcohol and drugs kill people and are almost impossible to overcome with other forms of therapy. The author doesn’t tell us what does work, because there is nothing else with even a consistent 5% success rate. If 5% of the people who have shown up once for an AA meeting are getting cured, that’s hugely successful. I have close relationships with a few people who owe their lives to AA or NA. I also have one son who got his life together thanks to an Outward Bound recovery program, followed by NA, and another son who wouldn’t go to AA and is now dead. If you think the article didn’t pull any punches, neither do I. I understand all the objections to conventional 12-step programs, but they do save lives.

        (I can be pretty blunt. In the funeral home where my son Thomas’s body was cremated, my other son Carl held a vial of his ashes as he talked with the funeral director. Something came up about Carl’s being in recovery. I pointed to Carl and said: “He’s in recovery.” I pointed to the ashes and said: “He’s not.” There’s too much at stake to pull punches.)

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      2. Hi, Mel. I think that therapy has been shown to be more effective than support groups, but I don’t have those numbers in front of me, and it’s not that important. I think what we’re seeing here is our difference in perspective. You’ve seen 12-step programs help family members and are thus inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt, and I totally get that. Meanwhile, my trying a 12-step program was a disaster, so I am not so inclined. I am also not inclined to call 5% hugely successful, especially considering that AA is claiming a success rate of 75 percent. That’s not a small difference. Are they so disconnected from reality? And if they are, do you really want them telling you how to quit drugs or alcohol? And if they’re not disconnected from reality, then they’re flat-out lying to boost their image, which is wrong. Either way, I will be putting my abstinence/sobriety in different hands. I think we must agree to disagree on this.

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      3. I’m not sure that we disagree. I’m aware that 12-step programs hae their problems for many people. But I thin k the author of the article was the one out of touch with reality. If 5% of the people who show up once for a meeting learn to handle their addictions, that’s a phenominally good rate. Many people show up for an AA meeting once and don’t continue, and I’d suggest that if AA is using a 75% number, that’s people who stick with the program. Many alcoholics enter therapy and don’t continue. My wife is a psychiatrust who encourages her alcoholic patients to go to AA. It’s nt one or the other. It’s OK for you and me not to like 12-strep programs for ourselves without having to make them villains. They do a lot of good.

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