Friday, 14 August 2015

Should AA use The Lord's Prayer?

Periodically, like summer flu, someone brings up the fact that The Lord's Prayer is a Christian prayer and so should not be used in AA, and a lot of other people become infected by it. The most terrible argument ensues, and nothing is resolved.

The complainants are maybe right to cite the Preamble (lack of alliance with any sect or denomination), and perhaps, by extension, Tradition Six.

Even here, however, the argument starts to fall down. Firstly, The Lord's Prayer is not particular to any sect or denomination. It is not Methodist or Presbyterian. It is Christian. The use is not about allying; it is about borrowing. A cursory glance at AA's history reveals all sorts of borrowing, from medicine, psychiatry, religion, and common sense. To suggest that the use of external material represents alliance with the source of that material is quite obviously nonsense. The reprinting of the Doctor's Opinion is not an alliance with the American Medical Association. The quotation of Dr Carl Jung is not an endorsement of psychiatry. And the use of The Lord's Prayer does not force religion down anyone's gullet.

To force religion down someone's throat is to expose him at length or depth to religion and to insist that it be taken up. It is hard to assert that the saying of a prayer lasting a few seconds amounts to this. The prayer is not long. There is no exegesis. No one insists you say it or believe the doctrines it suggests. It is no more forcing religion down anyone's throat than displaying broccoli in a supermarket you patronise forces greens down your throat.

In AA, one is presented constantly with ideas or practices one does not much care for. I personally do not care for the chanting of 'keep coming back; it works if you work it!' after the closing prayer; for extensive accounts of drinking without any ostensible point; for self-pity; for complaining; for digression; for the insistence on reading 'How It Works' in every meeting (which will make no sense to newcomers). In fact, there are many things I do not care for. If others do, however, and see worth in them, that must be respected. The simple fact I do not care for something is not in itself reason for its eschewal.

Worse: the sentiment behind the desire to eliminate The Lord's Prayer is not simple disinterest but open hostility. People are 'offended', they say. Unfortunately, this is what betrays the real reason for the objection: the prayer is associated in people's minds, it seems, with manifold past or present wrongs by this religion or that religion, this monk or that priest, this Sunday School, or that sect, and, like a child who was once bitten by a particular dog, all dogs are now perceived as inherently dangerous.

Although offence can reflect a general sense of morality of propriety (so the causing of actual harm or engagement in sexual activity would be deemed inappropriate in AA on the basis of these two criteria), in most cases its thesis is this: 'This makes me feel bad: stop it.' General principles (e.g. those enshrined in Tradition Six) are harnessed but are not the origin of the injunction: it reflects, rather, the egoic desire to bully or manipulate others to change their behaviour so one does not have to grow past one's past resentments and hurts, stuck like prehistoric insects in amber.

The other Traditions also come into play:

(1) Tradition Two suggests that God speaks through the group conscience. If a majority of members of the group do not care for The Lord's Prayer, they're quite entitled to replace it with The Serenity Prayer, a moment of silence, or the recital of some other text. There is no place for lone crusaders or crusading gangs to overturn this. If the group likes it, it likes it.

(2) Tradition Four suggests each group is autonomous. If it would like to say a Christian prayer, it may, provided the group conscience is in favour.

(3) Similarly, groups are at liberty to teach and practise Buddhist techniques. Some do this by suggesting particular forms of meditation. It's fascinating that the anti-Lord's Prayer crowd do not turn their attention even-handedly to all manifestations of religion.

(4) Tradition One suggests unity, and, whilst the underlying issue is perhaps a valid one, the disunity within a group the argument can generate typically does more genuine harm than the original crime.

(5) It is hard to argue effectively against the use of The Lord's Prayer (which is pretty innocuous, frankly; it's not exactly the Creed, is it?) without bringing in outside issues (the role of religion in society, religion throughout the ages) and thus without breaching Tradition Ten. It is not the substance of the prayer that people object to (i.e. one rarely hears genuine theological arguments about it); it is the association with facets of religion in a wider sense that causes the problem.

One last point: were it not already in use, The Lord's Prayer would not be introduced now, I suspect, for the reason that it is indeed religious. It is used widely, however, as an artefact of AA's origins. Similarly, alcohol itself would likely not be licensed as an intoxicant were it to be discovered only now; its use is an artefact of history, not a product of sense.

In brief, whilst my home group does not use this prayer, my message to groups whose group conscience is that it be used: good luck to you!

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