Sources that may have contributed to the adoption of the term in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), the first twelve-step group, include spirituality, New Thought and the work of William James. James, who wrote "The only cure for dipsomania is religiomania" in The Varieties of Religious Experience, is cited in the 'Spiritual Experience' appendix of Alcoholics Anonymous (also known as the "Big Book").
Correlates of belief
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. Among 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', while 13.2% of liberal Protestants and 10.6% of Episcopalians also agreed with it.
Definition and usage
In current twelve-step program usage, a higher power can be anything at all that the member believes is adequate. Reported examples include their twelve-step group, nature, consciousness, existential freedom, God, science, and Buddha. 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 terms 'higher power' and 'power greater than ourselves' appear in the "Big Book", 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!"
In popular culture
- The children's novel The Higher Power of Lucky, which received the Newbery Medal in 2007, is a story of a child who follows the direction of her higher power, a concept she learned from a twelve-step group.
- Rock group Boston recorded a song called "Higher Power" about drug addiction that was included on their Greatest Hits album.
- 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."
- In a WWE storyline, The Undertaker claimed to follow a "higher power" which was ultimately revealed to be Vince McMahon.
M. E. O'Hare-Lavin argues that the concept of a higher power represents a masculine perception of spiritual recovery, such as the hero's journeys of Moses, Gautama Buddha, Jesus, Odysseus, Icarus and Percival, and that the archetypal feminine heroic journey is a chthonic underworld journey, lower and deeper; like those of Persephone, Psyche, Eurydice and Inanna. Her opinion is that the higher power spirituality may not necessarily be relevant to women in recovery.
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- *O'Hare-Lavin, M. E. (2000). "Finding a "Lower, Deeper Power" for Women in Recovery". Counseling and Values. 44 (3): 198–212.