The Higher Power Doesn’t Work For You?

Readers Question Readers Question: (Name changed for privacy)
Stanton Peele Response by: Dr. Stanton Peele
Posted on June 9th, 2009 - Last updated: November 21st, 2023
This content was written in accordance with our Editorial Guidelines.

Further Reading

What if you think God is a bastard, and the higher power doesn’t work for you?

Mr. Peele:

Thanks a million for your swift reply to my question about medical malpractice and 12-Step programs. It’s a shame that 12-step Shiites can get away with spreading so much misinformation, but I guess malpractice laws can’t cover every possible instance of sleazy professional behavior. So it goes.

Besides my problems with dope and alcohol, I’m also a survivor of teen-age cancer. I lost my wife to breast cancer about 5 years ago, precipitating my return to drinking and eventual involvement with heroin. It’s a long story. Anyway, my experiences in and around cancer wards make it impossible for me to believe in the kind of benevolent God that 12-step programs hinge on. I long ago stopped judging people who have a spiritual life and hoped that they’d extend me the same courtesy, but that hasn’t been my experience in AA or NA.

I used to think that cancer doctors were the most arrogant SOBs on the planet, but now I’ve decided that that distinction rightfully belongs to the 12-Step fanatics. After all, oncologists have something like a 50 percent cure rate, and yet most of them still feel guilty about the 50 percent they’re losing! They’re still devoting their lives and spending millions of dollars looking for more information, constantly making new discoveries and updating their literature every day. And no oncologist ever had the audacity to diagnose me as spiritually deficient.

By contrast, the 12-Step programs have a much lower cure rate (what is it, 15 percent?), yet the proponents are convinced that there is no room for improvement. They haven’t updated their basic text (Big Book) since 1939, because they are certain it came straight from God’s mouth to Bill W’s typewriter. (I wonder how many of them would be happy with a doctor who hadn’t read any medical literature written after 1939.) They make a blanket pronouncement that everyone with a drug or alcohol problem is spiritually defective and self-centered, despite the fact that alcoholics and addicts exhibit a broad range of personality characteristics and religious beliefs.

I guess I should be grateful that I wasn’t sent to a 12-step program to treat my cancer. And oncologists had better be careful because they’re already outperforming God in terms of cure rates. The Big Guy has smitten people for less.



Jim, I feel for your comments. Much of addiction treatment fails to recognize that people have ups and downs in life, including some really big downs. But I would tell you what every vapid minister, priest, and yes, 12-step (a good one) counselor might say — we’ve got to get you out on the other end of this. If you’re alive — and we want and expect this to continue (I need all the supporters I can get), then you have to take a shot at it — you know, dating and all that stuff. It’s a chore, but, looked at in the right way, it’s intriguing.


Stanton Peele

Dr. Stanton Peele, recognized as one of the world's leading addiction experts, developed the Life Process Program after decades of research, writing, and treatment about and for people with addictions. Dr. Peele is the author of 14 books. His work has been published in leading professional journals and popular publications around the globe.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *