Higher Power for Atheists and Agnostics: 6 Alternatives to God
Newcomers to recovery can often be taken aback by all the talk about a “higher power.” Especially for those who have been turned off to organized religion—perhaps you come from an ultra-conservative household or have trouble believing that a supreme being could allow all the suffering in the world. Perhaps you’re an atheist, and believe in no god; perhaps you’re agnostic and wondering what god really is.
Or maybe you are like I was: not sure what to believe.
In 12-step meetings, the emphasis is on “a god of your understanding”—however, many people feel the hairs on their neck stand up at the word god. I’ve had friends who were almost turned off completely to 12-step programs, because they felt the pressure to understand god; in many cases, their experience of god and religion was strenuous, at best.
For me, the phrase higher power was easier for some people to wrap my mind around. I could then think of my “god” as a force that exerted some kind of influence on my life, and that was also completely out of my control. For example, when I turn on a light switch at my house, whatever powers the electricity is a force outside of my control (outside of flipping the switch), it’s a “power greater than myself.”
So in this vein, I offer some examples of what others have named as their higher power, to give others some inspiration when they are considering their own.
1. Laws of Nature
One summer, I was waiting at an airport with my daughter to board a quick hour-long flight back home. When we arrived at the gate, the flight had been delayed 50 minutes due to a line of storms that were in our flight path. Those minutes were then extended to hours—nine hours, in fact, doled out slowly over the day, in which I not only had to quell my growing anxiety and entertain my six-year-old daughter.
I had plans at home that evening, but those plans went out the window when our flight was finally canceled, and we wait until morning to get home. My plans were supplanted by the weather—a force completely out of my control.
Mother Nature has her way of stomping all over our best-laid plans—outdoor weddings are ruined by rain. That big sports game gets a snow delay. Hurricanes take out people’s homes. Often there’s little we humans can do but take cover.
2. Laws of Science
When scientists discovered the atom, they believed they had found the smallest particle possible. But then they discovered that atoms are made up of even smaller parts. With every question scientists answer, even more arise. The most common one is the question, “Why?”
Why is the gravity on one planet stronger than the other? Why What makes it all work? Why does gravity exist? When you start looking at the underpinnings of the laws of science, they are elusive, incomprehensible by the human mind.
Scientists simply endeavor to solve a mystery—a mystery that gets deeper and deeper the more they investigate.
Love is an infinite resource—and it’s a powerful one. Songs are written about it. Movies illustrate epic love stories, and it’s the topic of many a book, both fiction and nonfiction.
But love as a higher power doesn’t have to be restricted to romantic love. If love is acceptance, then we can look at love from a higher vantage point, as something that can unite and empower us all.
4. The Flow of the Universe
Some say things happen the way they’re supposed to; others say they happen the way they happen. The latter gets at the idea that the universe is moving in some fashion, and there is little we as humans can do about where it’s going.
Yes, this can apply to the moon and the stars and the planets, and how they rotate through their orbits. But also just to the way things happen. Why was I born to the parents I was born to? Why did I go to the party where I met my husband? Why were we given the blessing of a child? Why were we given the blessings of recovery?
No one can answer that, not really. It’s just the flow of the universe.
5. Music and the Arts
Listen to an old favorite song and notice what emotions and memories it can evoke, seemingly out of nowhere. The emotionality of music is a powerful force. Musicians often say that the songs they write don’t come from them, but through them. But you don’t have to create art to feel it’s power.
How often do you find yourself moved by a painting? Has a novel ever brought you to tears? Taken separately, the ink and paper don’t have the power to do that, a guitar is just wood and strings. But with the right alchemy of words and sounds, they can transform people.
Recovery is about community, people often say. This idea is rooted in the commonality of the human experience. We all struggle, and sometimes we lose, sometimes we win, sometimes we come out close to even. The human experience is what connects us and makes us able to empathize with one another.
What’s best, then, for all of humankind can only help us all. The interconnectedness of humans is evident in recovery, especially when I’ve seen someone in recovery guide someone else still struggling to a meeting or treatment. One person’s happiness can affect the happiness of others—by a power greater than themselves. No man is an island, as they say.