Religious or Not?

I have begun a new series of TwelveDrawings titled "ReligiousOrNot". Here's why.

The Twelve Steps were published in the year 1939 in a book titled Alcoholics Anonymous (known commonly as the Big Book). Among its 500-plus pages, the word "God" appears nearly 300 times. I myself would assume that any book containing that many references to God must be a very, very religious book. (A nit-picker might easily argue against my assumption. There are many books which examine that word from a purely historical, academic, or cultural perspective without promoting any religious beliefs. And there are many books which might mention that word in passing while attacking any or all institutions of religion.) Still, I believe that the notion that where there is smoke there is fire. Likewise, where a book has the word "God" mentioned in a positive context on so many of its pages, there is bound to be some sort of religious message being delivered.

Or so I once believed.

Now that I have spent more than a decade reading and using the book Alcoholics Anonymous, I no longer believe the word "religious" applies to it. If you agree with me, there are many of us. If you disagree, there are as many (or more) who feel as you do. You may also fall into the sizable "Frankly I don't care either way" category. That's fine. Reasonable people often disagree.

For those of us interested in the question of "Religious or Not?", how are we to settle our differences? When lawyers disagree on the meaning of an important word, they agree to turn to a volume called called Black's Law Dictionary. I had never heard of it until a friend and law professor mentioned it. The book is so authoritative that even the Justices of America's Supreme Court turn to for an indisputible definition of any legal term. Want to see it? Here is a link

As it happens, the Big Book's author, Bill Wilson, attended law school. He passed all of his courses but his drinking took a turn for the worse and he never practiced law. Bill likely knew of Black's Law Dictionary but he also knew that only a fraction of his intended readers—the lawyers—would know of it. So, if Bill Wilson's readers wanted to look up the meaning of a word like "religion", he knew they would turn to a commonly available dictionary. Since I wanted to interpret words just as Bill's earliest 1939 readers did, I acquired the most authoritative dictionary for American English in his day: a Webster's New International Dictionary Second Edition, published in 1934. (The Third Edition would not be published until the 1960s).

I opened my enormous old Webster's and looked up the word "religion". There I found a definition that is longer than any other I have ever found since that day. It read as follows:

Religion n. - The service and adoration of God or a god as expressed in forms of worship, in obedience to divine commands, esp. as found in accepted sacred writings or as declared by recognized teachers and in the pursuit of a way of life regarded as incumbent on true believers.

Whew! I labored to read and understand it. Some words came quickly while others came slowly. I knew the job of defining religion would be challenging, but this one must have kept Webster's lexicographers, etymologists, and editors working overtime. This definition seemed to ramble endlessly, which thwarted my ambition to create just one illustration for this very important word. I had been prepared for a tough assignment, but not for this!

Intimidated, I backed down from the original concept. I let several months pass while I ruminated. Finally, I reapproached the definition but this time examinging just one word at a time. My previous illustrations had focussed on the words Bill Wilson used in writing the Big Book. However, Bill Wilson had absolutely nothing do do with writing this Webster's definition. Still, the definition seemed relevant because when anyone used the word "religion" in Bill Wilson's day, this was the most widely accepted meaning and therefore its words deserved consideration. I sifted through the long passage and selected what I thought were the 12 most crucial words. I then looked each one up in the 1934 Webster's:

Service n. - the occupation, condition, or status of a servant, now esp. a domestic servant.

Adoration  n. - act of paying honor to a divine being

God (or a god) n. - the Supreme Being (or a being of more than human attributes)

Express v. - to force out by pressure

Worship n. - courtesy or reverence paid to merit or worth

Command n. - act of directing authoritatively

Writings n. - specif., act, art, or product of forming letters and characters on paper, wood, stone, etc. to record the ideas which characters and words express, or to communicate them by words or sounds.

Teacher n. - one who makes to know how

Pursuit v. - to seek

Way n. - direction of motion, progress, facing, pointing, etc.

Incumbent n. - one who is in present possession of a benefice (note: “benefice” is a temporary land holding) or of any office

True adj. - steady in adhering to friends, promises, allegiances, or the like

Maybe you would have chosen one or two different words. But bear in mind that I am an illustrator and I chose words that would benefit from what the ancients called "illumination" (i.e., visual embellishments or decorations which invite the reader to linger or reflect on particularly meaningful words or text.)

Regardless, I had found the basis for a new set of Twelve Drawings. I gave the new set a working title of "ReligionOrNot". I chose that name to reflect a long-running debate about whether people in Recovery are "religious" or not. Even outside of Recovery, I often hear people describe their own beliefs as "spiritual, but not religious". I also chose this name to acknowledge the biggest question of all......."Does it even matter whether we agree that Recovery is religious or not, as long as it works?"

You can ask that question yourself. Or not. If someone asks me today, I confidently answer "doesn't matter". But my trusty Webster's dictionary has shed much new light on my view of Twelve Step recovery. So I am open to being proven totallly wrong. I have begun the new set of drawings and will continue at my usual glacial pace. (I draw in my spare time and spare time is hard to find.) Please check my Twitter profile at @TwelveDrawings if you wish to see new drawings—like "Command"—as they are completed.

As I finish each "Religious or Not?" drawing, I will post it in my Twitter profile which is @twelvedrawings.

Thank you for reading. And please keep coming back to whatever religion, belief, spiritual experience, and/or program of Recovery nourishes your spirit.



TRIVIA: There are five prior sets of series, including Serenity Prayer, Twelve Steps, Twelve Promises, Twelve Metaphors, and Twelve Insanities. All but the last set are already posted on this website as of this writing. The Insanities will be added when I begin a monthly rotation which showcases just three sets of TwelveDrawings at a time.

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