Higher Power

Higher Power

This article is about a spiritual concept, particularly in use in twelve-step programs. For the album by Big Audio Dynamite see Higher Power. For the seaQuest DSV episode, see "Higher Power (seaQuest DSV episode)".

Higher Power is a term coined in the 1930's in Alcoholics Anonymous and used in other twelve-step programs. It is also sometimes referred to as a power greater than ourselves and is frequently abbreviated to HP. As a faith-based program of recovery, members of 12 Step programs are encouraged to identify a power greater than themselves to provide them with spiritual strength sufficient to give them the ability to effect change. That is, the power to live without practicing their addictions. According to some formulations, the addiction itself had previously been a form of 'higher power' for the person seeking recovery and therefore something greater than that was needed in order to break the addiction. Although the term Higher Power appears to have originated in the recovery movement, it has spread into the wider culture so that the term is now in general use. President of the United States George W. Bush's opening remarks at a conference in June, 2008 included the remark: "There has to be a higher power.

Belief in a Higher Power

Sociologist Darren Sherkat researched the belief of Americans in a Higher Power. He based his research on data from 8,000 adults polled by the Chicago-based National Opinion Research Center between 1988 and 2000. Amongst his findings were that 8% stated "I don't believe in a personal god, but I do believe in a higher power of some kind." This is the same figure as found by the 1999 Gallup national poll of Americans. Sherkat also found that 16% of the Jewish people surveyed agreed with the statement about a 'higher power', whilst 13.2% of liberal Protestants and 10.6% of Episcopalians also agreed with it.

Higher Power in Alcoholics Anonymous

Since Bill W. wrote much of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, coining the term 'Higher Power' is generally attributed to him. However, it is unknown where he first encountered the concept of a 'Higher Power'. Although much of the book is based on the philosophies of the Oxford movement, the term appears only once in hundreds of Oxford Movement writings and was unknown in general usuage. Sources that may have contributed to Bill W's adoption of the term include spiritualism, New Thought and the work of William James. William James, who declared in 1902 that "The only cure for dipsomania is religiomania, certainly had an influence on the approach to spirituality of Alcoholics Anonymous since he is mentioned in the 'Spritual Experience' appendix of the 'Big Book', Alcoholics Anonymous.

The terms 'Higher Power' and 'power greater than ourselves' appear in Alcoholics Anonymous, or the "Big Book", the main text used in Alcoholics Anonymous groups, on three occasions:

  • Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  • The alcoholic at certain times has no effective mental defense against the first drink. Except in a few cases, neither he nor any other human being can provide such a defense. His defense must come from a Higher Power.
  • Follow the dictates of a Higher Power and you will presently live in a new and wonderful world, no matter what your present circumstances!

The limited description of a Higher Power in the literature of twelve-step programs has been seen as a method of allowing people from various backgrounds and with various religious attitudes to co-exist and focus on their mutual problems.

The nature of a Higher Power

In current usage a Higher Power can be anything at all that the member believes is adequate. Reported examples include Nature, consciousness, existential freedom, their twelve-step group, God, science, Buddha Nature. It is frequently stipulated that as long as a Higher Power is "greater" than the individual, then the only condition is that it should also be loving and caring..

The American Psychology Association comments "A number of courts have ruled that state-funded programs can't compel participation in Alcoholics Anonymous because of its religious nature." It reports in its Judicial Notebook of July/August 2004 that although former Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating asserted that a Higher Power could be "a dead ancestor, a tall tree or the group itself" courts disagreed with his analysis.

Higher Power and spiritual affiliation

Commentators such as religious psychology researcher Walter Clark have viewed believing in a Higher Power as generally leading agnostics and atheists to a belief in God. However, some Christians have found the language of 12 step programs, particularly the term 'Higher Power', to be too vague and unspecific.This objection to a generalised approach led to Celebrate Recovery being set up to provide a twelve-step group in which Jesus was the only Higher Power. Pagan, Buddhist and Islamic groups have all likewise formulated approaches to addiction based on the 12 Steps but formulated according to their particular spiritual perspectives.

Higher Power in popular culture

The term Higher Power is starting to appear in popular culture. One example is the children's novel The Higher Power of Lucky which received the Newbery Medal in 2007.

See also


Further reading

Alateen Talks back on Higher Power. Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters.

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