I was startled to learn that a close friend, also an Atheist, just entered drug rehab. He lives in another state and I only see him occasionally so it was easier for him to hide his addiction from me than from all those with whom lives and works. But I was surprised when he sent me an e-mail telling me he was caught stealing and abusing narcotics for two years. I would have never guessed.
My friend was a successful professional, and is happily married with two young kids. His wife is an evangelical Christian. He has always been very vocal about his Atheism and she married him understanding their differences. They live near the wife’s very supportive Christian family in the heart of the Bible Belt. The wife takes the two kids to church but my buddy does not go and her church is aware that he is an atheist — her pastor has visited my friend and spoken politely to him a few times without obvious intent to convert.
My drug-addict buddy just started the 3-month rehab program — isolated from family and friends. He can only e-mail 20 minutes per day. He wrote me that his program uses a 12-step AA model. Part of the program is that the addict is suppose to acknowledge and depend on a Higher Power.
As readers know, I am a sympathetic Atheist who feels that religion can offer many positive functions. To me, when I hear “Higher Power”, I often generously translate it to mean “Less of SELF” — which, in my Buddhist way, I can support. I also feel my buddy’s anti-social characteristics are counter productive for him.
So, when my friend wrote me from the rehab center and wondered what an atheist like him was to do with this “higher power” issue, I wrote him a reply which I consider consistent with the Buddhist notion of “skillful means“. I essentially suggested he get religion. Below is my letter suggesting one way to do it. I’d love to hear your opinions. BTW, my friend gave his excited permission for me to post his story and this e-mail. Click “more” to read the e-mail (mildly edited):