A Spiritual Revolution
In the political world we are seeing the conflicting ideas of “revolution” as opposed to the “establishment.” I’m suggesting a similar battle is being played out between the orthodoxy of religion as opposed to the challenging revolution of spirituality. In my view religion is a prisoner of history, and although it is undoubtedly true that most religions have evolved over a period of time, this religious evolvement is slow and often produces conflicting denominations. Spirituality, on the other hand, seeks to reflect the now; it is a movement that has no problem affirming that we believe a thing until we don’t believe it anymore.
For this article I would like to focus on the concept of God’s grace and how it relates to personal responsibility. We often hear in recovery circles that God is doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves. What exactly does this mean? Is it suggesting that God, at times, breaks into our personal lives and does something, or makes something happen, that does not require our involvement or cooperation? Is it God who gets us sober? Is it God who miraculously brings us into treatment or the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous? Are we suggesting that God’s grace overrides our personal choice and individual responsibility? Some Christians are still, today, receiving the message that they are nothing without God’s grace. Do we really believe this?
The theology of God’s grace has a history that involves the idea that mankind is “fallen,” and that we are inherently sinful creatures wholly incapable of doing anything good without God’s grace. This teaching was in part the result of Augustine of Hippo—also known as Saint Augustine—who famously said, “Give me what you command and command what you will” (2008/398 AD, p. 29).
Many religious people believe this. It is part of their religious tradition. It has also influenced the recovery literature and prayers in Alcoholics Anonymous suggesting that we ask God to make things happen and remove our defects of character.
Think of the Third Step Prayer:
“God, I offer myself to Thee—to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life. May I do Thy will always!” (Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, 2001, p. 63).
Also the Seventh Step Prayer:
“My Creator, I am now willing that you should have all of me, good and bad. I pray that you now remove from me every single defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to you and my fellows. Grant me strength, as I go out from here, to do Your bidding” (Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, 2001, p. 76).
Let me be clear, I do not believe this. I do not believe that God is manipulating our lives, as if we are puppets on a string; making things happen without our involvement and cooperation. Do I believe in God? Yes. Do I believe in God’s grace? Yes. But the real question is where do I believe that God and this grace exists? I believe that God and grace exist within each and every human being; just as I believe that God exists and is perceived within creation.
This not how I was raised. I was raised to believe that God is separate. That I had to go to Him, seek Him, and find Him. I do not believe this anymore. I am more inclined to the affirmation “Wherever I am, God is, and all is well.”
I do not ever want to miss me in the miracle of life. I am not a puppet, but a creative human being.
I have been influenced in this thinking by the writings of a British monk called Pelagius, who was born around 354 AD. In my challenging book, The Happy Heretic, I wrote the following about Pelagius:
He was educated in both Greek and Latin, a monk but not a cleric; he was never an ordained priest. In his early years, he was admired by no less a person than Augustine of Hippo, who called him “a saintly man.” When he moved to Rome, he became concerned about the moral laxity in the city, believing it was partly the result of Augustine’s teachings concerning divine grace. Pelagius was concerned about the emphasis that Augustine placed upon God’s grace-the idea that since the Fall of Adam, every good thought or action was dependent upon God. We could do nothing on our own. There was no teaching that affirmed the need for our response. There was little teaching concerning human responsibility; that we need to be accountable for our behavior. He was particularly disturbed by a famous quotation from Augustine, “Give me what you command and command what you will.”
Pelagius believed that this saying discounted free will, turning man into a mere automaton. He soon became a critic of Augustine, disagreeing with him concerning original sin and the working of God’s grace in perfecting salvation. Pelagius argued that if human beings could discipline themselves in the way exemplified by Jesus, then they could remain perfect. He believed that grace needed to be connected with human choice. Pelagius’s personal discipline made him extremely puritanical, teaching a strict regimen to his disciples in order to ensure moral purity.
Pelagius was politically sensitive to the church of his day, and yet he was gently rebelling, carefully challenging its teachings. He affirmed the divine power that existed within the church, but he also suggested a comprehensive spirituality that was reflected in every human being-even those who were born before the time of Jesus (2012, p. 7–8).
So this is what I believe today. Will I change my mind? Maybe. But this idea of me partnering with God to create a better life and better world makes so much sense to me. I’m not content with moving around in the box, I’m really thinking out of the box. Today I give myself permission to interpret recovery literature and prayers. I’m able to live alongside those who think differently and I’m ever open to a change in my thinking. I’ve embraced the spiritual revolution.
Alcoholics Anonymous World Services. (2001). Alcoholics anonymous (4th ed.). New York, NY: Author.
Booth, L. (2012). The happy heretic: Seven spiritual insights for healing religious codependency. Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc.
Saint Augustine of Hippo. (2008/398 AD). Confessions of Saint Augustine. Minneapolis, MN: Filiquarian Publishing.