Tradition of the Month: God is an outside issue

10. Overeaters Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the OA name ought never be drawn into public controversy.


Believe it or not, OA does not have an opinion on the nature of God, even though we practice a program of spiritual recovery. To be effective, OA can’t have a stance on God, and Tradition 10 assures that we won’t, as a fellowship, tread that dangerous path.

To be accurate, OA does take certain positions on God. They are very few, very specific, and address as little as possible the question of the nature or identity of God:

A) Each member needs a conception of an HP to recover
B) To be effective, a Higher Power must be more powerful than the member him- or herself
C) Each member can have their own conception, and no one can tell them what the specific conception must be
D) The conception must be one whose will they are willing to surrender to then to trust and rely on for daily living.

OA only talks about God in relation to recovery. It only takes positions on what it knows: How a Higher Power enables us to get better. That’s because God is an outside issue.

How can God be an outside issue in a spiritual program? Here the previous traditions guide us:

Tradition 1 tells us that “personal recovery depends upon OA Unity.” Imagine trying to achieve OA unity on the question of what God is or isn’t. Millions, probably billions, of people worldwide have been killed across history over the question Which is the one true God? How could we each recover if we busy fighting amongst ourselves about the nature of our Higher Powers?

Tradition 2 tells us that God is the source of our group conscience. How many My God can beat up your god arguments would arise if OA took even a simple and vague position on God?

Tradition 3 denies us the right to exclude anyone who wants to stop eating compulsively. Religious and spiritual tests are, therefore, disallowed. We’re having a hard enough time with our own food trials to be putting anyone else’s beliefs on trial.

Tradition 4 reminds us that groups are all autonomous except in matters affecting the entire fellowship. If OA took a position on God, every meeting would have to accept that stance.

Tradition 5 clearly states that OA’s primary purpose is carrying the message of recovery. We are not evangelists, but if OA took a position on the nature of God we would be. That would ultimately prove exclusionary, which would severely limit our ability to carry the message to all sufferers from this killing disease.

We could go on, but we needn’t. By taking a position on the nature of God, which is, perhaps, the most controversial question ever asked, OA would sabotage itself completely. There are programs sponsored by churches that attempt to use the 12 Steps in a specific religious setting, and those programs are not affiliated in any way with OA or any other 12 Step group. They can’t be if OA is to survive and thrive.

So when our members remind themselves and other members to trust and rely on God, we must always remember that while they may experience a Higher Power in a certain way, we each interpret that suggestion through the lens of our own concept of an HP. And even though the Big Book has a chapter devoted to the question of whether there is reason to believe in God, we are free to disagree with it always remembering the words we find in the famous promises: “This book is meant to be suggestive only.” No one can tell us that our HP must be a supernatural being. No one can tell us that our HP must have a personality of any sort. Or have a name. Only that we’d better something more powerful than we are that works for us. Because in the end, even God is an outside issue.

Step of the Month: Step 3

3. Made a decision to turn our will and lives over to the care of God as we understood him.

For those of us with religious education that included phrases such as “sinners in the hands of an angry god” or “fear is the heart of love,” we may not be thrilled by the prospect of Step 3. However, if we’ve done Step 2 well, the third Step will feel like precisely the next right thing to do.

In Step 2, we chose to define God in a way that is helpful to our recovery. This is the Higher Power that we want in our lives. This is the Higher Power we’re excited about. So it’s sensible to tell the God of our understanding that we’re all-in, that we want to do whatever God wants us to do. If we aren’t willing to do this, then we need to look again at our concept of a Higher Power. Does our concept actually work for us? Is it a concept that we’re willing to work with? Are we hanging on to old ideas about a Higher Power that keep us from recovering?

It may be that we are diffident about giving our selves away. We fear that this surrendering to God will result in the neutering of our personalities. We imagine ourselves turning into spiritual robots, smiling automatons spewing programspeak and ignoring what’s really going on outside our limited point of view.

Don’t worry, that’s just the usual…our disease trying to kill us.

All we need do is look around at those who have experienced recovery. Does Mrs. so-and-so on Wednesday night act like a Stepford Wife? Is that fellow on Sunday morning devoid of personality? Do we know anyone who has completed the 12 Steps who hasn’t faced hardship since then? Of course not. What we might see are people with more perspective on their problems. They don’t need to drunkalog about their issues because the Steps help them feel, heal, and deal appropriately. They don’t have to talk about what hard going life is because they have a solution. They express gratitude not because it’s expected but because they aren’t dead nor are they physically or emotionally incapacitated by food addiction. They are like the cancer survivor who is thankful for every healthy day.

Beside which, do we really want to keep on being the miserable person we are? The one we really don’t like that much? We may be all we’ve got, but in that case we are as impoverished as a starving third-world refugee. But our disease is once again pulling its usual levers: fear, pride, and control. These forces are quite strong. One OA member recollects that while taking Step 3 they felt a physical sensation as if someone inside them had grabbed their ribs and was yanking down to prevent the reciting of the Third Step Prayer.

In the Big Book’s chapter titled “More About Alcoholism,” Fred says that after taking Step 3, “I had the curious feeling that my alcoholic condition was relieved, as in fact it proved to be.” Of course, he did the other nine Steps as well, but this points out that Step 3 is a turning point where some members receive a jolt of God-presence. Others find themselves being decisive where in other aspects of their life the were frustratingly irresolute. The reality is that in Step 3, we are making an agreement with God that goes like this: We’ll do the rest of the Steps and agree to help others do them, too, in exchange for our Higher Powers removing our compulsion for food and helping us turn our lives around. The experience of those who live in recovery today confirms that our HPs keep their word.