We Agnostics

But in most fields our generation has witnessed complete liberation of our thinking. Show any longshoreman a Sunday supplement describing a proposal to explore the moon by means of a rocket and he will say “I bet they do it – maybe not so long either.” Is not our age characterized by the ease with which we discard old ideas for new, by the complete readiness with which we throw away the theory or gadget which does not work for something new which does?

We had to ask ourselves why we shouldn’t apply to our human problems this same readiness to change our point of view. We were having trouble with personal relationships, we couldn’t control our emotional natures, we were a prey to misery and depression, we couldn’t make a living, we had a feeling of uselessness, we were full of fear, we were unhappy, we couldn’t seem to be of real help to other people – was not a basic solution of these bedevilments more important than whether we should see newsreels of lunar flight? Of course it was.

When we saw others solve their problems by a simple reliance upon the Spirit of the Universe, we had to stop doubting the power of God. Our ideas did not work. But the God idea did.

The Wright brothers’ almost childish faith that they could build a machine which would fly was the main- spring of their accomplishment. Without that, nothing could have happened. We agnostics and atheists were sticking to the idea that self-sufficiency would solve our problems. When others showed us that”God-sufficiency” worked with them, we began to feel worked with them, we began to feel like those who had insisted the Wrights would never  fly. Logic is great stuff. We liked it. We still like it. It is not by chance we were given the power to reason, to examine the evidence of our senses, and to draw conclusions. That is one of man’s magnificent attributes. We agnostically inclined would not feel satisfied with a proposal which does not lend itself to reasonable approach and interpretation. Hence we are at pains to tell why we think our present faith is reasonable, why we think it more sane and logical to believe than not to believe, why we say our former thinking was soft and mushy when we threw up our hands in doubt and said, “We don’t know.”

When we became alcoholics, crushed by a self-imposed crisis we could not postpone or evade, we had to fearlessly face the proposition that either God is everything or else He is nothing. God either is, or He isn’t. What was our choice to be?

Arrived at this point, we were squarely confronted with the question of faith. We couldn’t duck the issue. Some of us had already walked far over the Bridge of Reason toward the desired shore of faith. The outlines and the promise of the New Land had brought lustre to tired eyes and fresh courage to flagging spirits. Friendly hands had stretched out in welcome. We were grateful that Reason had brought us so far. But somehow, we couldn’t quite step ashore. Perhaps we had been leaning too heavily on Reason that last mile and we did not like to lose our support.
 

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We Agnostics

Here are thousands of men and women, worldly indeed. They flatly declare that since they have come to believe in a Power greater than themselves, to take a certain attitude toward that Power, and to do certain simple things, there has been a revolutionary change in their way of living and thinking. In the face of collapse and despair, in the face of the total failure of their human resources, they found that a new power, peace, happiness, and sense of direction flowed into them. This happened soon after they wholeheartedly met a few simple requirements. Once confused and baffled by the seeming futility of existence, they show the underlying reasons why they were making heavy going of life. Leaving aside the drink question, they tell why living was so unsatisfactory. They show how the change came over them. When many hundreds of people are able to say that the consciousness of the Presence of God is today the most important fact of their lives, they present a powerful reason why one should have faith.

This world of ours has made more material progress in the last century than in all the millenniums which went before. Almost everyone knows the reason. Students of ancient history tell us that the intellect of men in those days was equal to the best of today. Yet in ancient times material progress was painfully slow. The spirit of modern scientific inquiry, research and invention was almost unknown. In the realm of the material, men’s minds were fettered by superstition, tradition, and all sorts of fixed ideas. Some of the contemporaries of Columbus thought a round earth preposterous. Others came near putting Galileo to death for his astronomical heresies.

We asked ourselves this: Are not some of us just as biased and unreasonable about the realm of the spirit as were the ancients about the realm of the material? Even in the present century, American newspapers were afraid to print an account of the Wright brothers’ first successful flight at Kitty Hawk. Had not all efforts at flight failed before? Did not Professor Langley’s flying machine go to the bottom of the Potomac River? Was it not true that the best mathematical minds had proved man could never fly? Had not people said God had reserved this privilege to the birds? Only thirty years later the conquest of the air was almost an old story and airplane travel was in full swing.

We Agnostics

Everybody nowadays, believes in scores of assumptions for which there is good evidence, but no perfect visual proof. And does not science demonstrate that visual proof is the weakest proof? It is being constantly revealed, as mankind studies the material world, that outward appearances are not inward reality at all. To illustrate:

The prosaic steel girder is a mass of electrons whirling around each other at incredible speed. These tiny bodies are governed by precise laws, and these laws hold true throughout the material world. Science tells us so. We have no reason to doubt it. When, however, the perfectly logical assumption is suggested that underneath the material world and life as we see it, there is an All Powerful, Guiding, Creative Intelligence, right there our perverse streak comes to the surface and we laboriously set out to convince ourselves it isn’t so. We read wordy books and indulge in windy arguments, thinking we believe this universe needs no God to explain it. Were our contentions true, it would follow that life originated out of nothing, means nothing, and proceeds nowhere.

Instead of regarding ourselves as intelligent agents, spearheads of God’s ever advancing Creation, we agnostics and atheists chose to believe that our human intelligence was the last word, the alpha and the omega, the beginning and end of all. Rather vain of us, wasn’t it?

We, who have traveled this dubious path, beg you to lay aside prejudice, even against organized religion. We have learned that whatever the human frailties of various faiths may be, those faiths have given purpose and direction to millions. People of faith have a logical idea of what life is all about. Actually, we used to have no reasonable conception whatever. We used to amuse ourselves by cynically dissecting spiritual beliefs and practices when we might have observed that many spiritually-minded persons of all races, colors, and creeds were demonstrating a degree of stability, happiness and usefulness which we should have sought ourselves.

Instead, we looked at the human defects of these people, and sometimes used their shortcomings as a basis of wholesale condemnation. We talked of intolerance, while we were intolerant ourselves. We missed the reality and the beauty of the forest because we were diverted by the ugliness of some of its trees. We never gave the spiritual side of life a fair hearing.

In our personal stories you will find a wide variation in the way each teller approaches and conceives of the Power which is greater than himself. Whether we agree with a particular approach or conception seems to make little difference. Experience has taught us that these are matters about which, for our purpose, we need not be worried. They are questions for each individual to settle for himself.

On one proposition, however, these men and women are strikingly agreed. Every one of them has gained access to, and believes in, a Power greater than himself. This Power has in each case accomplished the miraculous, the humanly impossible. As a celebrated American statesman put it, “Let’s look at the record.”

We Agnostics

We needed to ask ourselves but one short question. “Do I now believe, or am I even willing to believe, that there is a Power greater than myself?” As soon as a man can say that he does believe, or is willing to believe, we emphatically assure him that he is on his way. It has been repeatedly proven among us that upon this simple cornerstone a wonderfully effective spiritual structure can be built.

That was great news to us, for we had assumed we could not make use of spiritual principles unless we accepted many things on faith which seemed difficult to believe. When people presented us with spiritual approaches, how frequently did we all say, “I wish I had what that man has. I’m sure it would work if I could only believe as he believes. But I cannot accept as surely true the many articles of faith which are so plain to him.” So it was comforting to learn that we could commence at a simpler level.

Besides a seeming inability to accept much on faith, we often found ourselves handicapped by obstinacy, sensitiveness, and unreasoning prejudice. Many of us have been so touchy that even casual reference to spiritual things made us bristle with antagonism. This sort of thinking had to be abandoned. Though some of us resisted, we found no great difficulty in casting aside such feelings. Faced with alcoholic destruction, we soon became as open minded on spiritual matters as we had tried to be on other questions. In this respect alcohol was a great persuader. It finally beat us into a state of reasonableness. Sometimes this was a tedious process; we hope no one else will be prejudiced for as long as some of us were.

The reader may still ask why he should believe in a Power greater than himself. We think there are good reasons. Let us have a look at some of them.

The practical individual of today is a stickler for facts and results. Nevertheless, the twentieth century readily accepts theories of all kinds, provided they are firmly grounded in fact. We have numerous theories, for example, about electricity. Everybody believes them without a murmur of doubt. Why this ready acceptance? Simply because it is impossible to explain what we see, feel, direct, and use, without a reasonable assumption as a starting point.

We Agnostics

Yes, we of agnostic temperament have had these thoughts and experiences. Let us make haste to reassure you. We found that as soon as we were able to lay aside prejudice and express even a willingness to believe in a Power greater than ourselves, we commenced to get results, even though it was impossible for any of us to fully define or comprehend that Power, which is God.

Much to our relief, we discovered we did not need to consider another’s conception of God. Our own conception, however inadequate, was sufficient to make the approach and to effect a contact with Him. As soon as we admitted the possible existence of a Creative Intelligence, a Spirit of the Universe underlying the totality of things, we began to be possessed of a new sense of power and direction, provided we took other simple steps. We found that God does not make too hard terms with those who seek Him. To us, the Realm of Spirit is broad, roomy, all inclusive; never exclusive or forbidding to those who earnestly seek. It is open, we believe, to all men.

When, therefore, we speak to you of God, we mean your own conception of God. This applies, too, to other spiritual expressions which you find in this book. Do not let any prejudice you may have against spiritual terms deter you from honestly asking yourself what they mean to you. At the start, this was all we needed to commence spiritual growth, to effect our first conscious relation with God as we understood Him. Afterward, we found ourselves accepting many things which then seemed entirely out of reach. That was growth, but if we wished to grow we had to begin somewhere. So we used our own conception, however limited it was.

We Agnostics

Yes, we of agnostic temperament have had these thoughts and experiences. Let us make haste to reassure you. We found that as soon as we were able to lay aside prejudice and express even a willingness to believe in a Power greater than ourselves, we commenced to get results, even though it was impossible for any of us to fully define or comprehend that Power, which is God.

Much to our relief, we discovered we did not need to consider another’s conception of God. Our own conception, however inadequate, was sufficient to make the approach and to effect a contact with Him. As soon as we admitted the possible existence of a Creative Intelligence, a Spirit of the Universe underlying the totality of things, we began to be possessed of a new sense of power and direction, provided we took other simple steps. We found that God does not make too hard terms with those who seek Him. To us, the Realm of Spirit is broad, roomy, all inclusive; never exclusive or forbidding to those who earnestly seek. It is open, we believe, to all men.

When, therefore, we speak to you of God, we mean your own conception of God. This applies, too, to other spiritual expressions which you find in this book. Do not let any prejudice you may have against spiritual terms deter you from honestly asking yourself what they mean to you. At the start, this was all we needed to commence spiritual growth, to effect our first conscious relation with God as we understood Him. Afterward, we found ourselves accepting many things which then seemed entirely out of reach. That was growth, but if we wished to grow we had to begin somewhere. So we used our own conception, however limited it was.

Other A.A Info

From the Los Angeles Times

Joseph Zuska, 93; Navy doctor developed treatment for alcoholism
 

By Jocelyn Y. Stewart
Times Staff Writer

May 24, 2007

Inside a rusted Quonset hut at the Long Beach Naval Station, Dr. Joseph J. Zuska operated a clandestine program, treating sailors for an illness that in the eyes of the Navy did not exist.

It was the mid-1960s, a time when alcoholism and its accompanying behavior were treated as violations of Navy policy, punishable by time in the brig. Yet the atmosphere on base and at sea encouraged heavy drinking. The abiding image of the drunk sailor was a reality for many.

After a conversation with a retired Navy commander who was also a recovering alcoholic, Zuska began treating the illness as a medical problem. His underground program, the first in the history of the armed forces, eventually earned national acclaim, providing a model for other branches of the military and private industry.

Zuska died May 17 at Los Alamitos Medical Center of complications from kidney failure and other illnesses, his son, John Zuska, said. He was 93.

“He’s well-loved by thousands of alcoholics across the country whose lives he actually saved, including mine,” said Charley B. who served in the Air Force and was treated by Zuska beginning in 1969.

He asked that his full name not be used, following a tradition that honors the anonymity of Alcoholics Anonymous members.

In the years after Zuska retired in 1970, the rehabilitation program placed many notables on the path to sobriety, including former First Lady Betty Ford; Billy Carter, brother of former President Carter; and Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin.

The program, which operated out of the Long Beach Naval Hospital on Terminal Island, included inpatient medical care, daily group therapy, psychological counseling, Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, lectures and movies on alcoholism.

The highly effective treatment allowed patients to “return to work and saved the Navy money by salvaging people,” said Dr. Ted Williams, director of addiction treatment services at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, who headed the Navy program in the 1980s.

Before the birth of the program, the prevailing belief was that nothing could be done for alcoholics. When doctors made the diagnosis, a sailor could be demoted or booted out of the Navy.

The turnabout for Zuska began with a question. One day in 1965, retired Navy Cmdr. Dick Jewell walked into his office and asked: What are you doing about alcoholism in the Navy?

“I had no answers,” Zuska said in a 1997 Times article. “The Navy, including myself, had no real understanding of the disease process of alcoholism.”

But Jewell, new to the world of sobriety, was full of enthusiasm and the belief that alcoholism could be treated. Zuska, who was the senior medical officer at the Long Beach Naval Station and a captain, had the power, if not the authorization, to put that belief into practice.

“That day they created what became the No. 1 system for treating alcoholics,” said Dr. Joseph A. Pursch, who ran the program after Zuska retired.

Though the program had not been approved by Navy officials, Zuska began holding weekly meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous in a conference room at the naval station, then moved to the Quonset hut when the number of participants grew.

The doctor found an 80-bed barracks and turned it into an inpatient recovery facility. Word soon spread that lives were being changed, and higher-ups in the Navy found out.

“The brass was alarmed for two reasons: According to policy there were no alcoholics in the Navy at that time, hence there was no need for a treatment policy; and there were quite a few alcoholic admirals and generals on active duty in the Pentagon,” Pursch wrote in a 1987 column for The Times.

A commission was sent to investigate what was called an illegal activity, but it acknowledged that the Navy had alcoholics and that the treatment program Zuska had created was effective.

In 1967 the Pentagon gave Zuska approval for the first official Alcohol Rehabilitation Center, and by 1971, 70% of 900 patient admissions showed “demonstrated improvement.”

In the 1980s the Navy’s surgeon general sent doctors to Long Beach to learn from the program. The Navy eventually opened 33 rehabilitation centers around the world.

By the early 1990s the Navy had shut down the hospital and later scaled back the program in favor of outpatient treatment.

An increase in awareness about alcoholism and effective treatments in the military is attributed to Zuska.

Zuska was born in Chicago on June 9, 1913, and earned his medical degree from the University of Illinois. He married Martha Josephine Parham in 1939, and the couple had two children. In addition to his son, of Oakland, Zuska is survived by daughter Sky St. Cloud of Culver City and granddaughter Sarah Zuska of Berkeley.

During World War II, Zuska provided medical care to Marines during the Battle of Tarawa and at Saipan. In the Korean War, he was chief of surgery on a hospital ship attending to those wounded during the Inchon invasion.

Decades of experience in the military informed his view of the causes of alcoholism. What he saw led him to reject the view widely held in the 1960s that alcoholism was rooted in moral weakness or caused by an emotional problem.

Zuska recalled an officers club where he had to pay for coffee but wine was free. There were bar games such as the “pressure cooker,” in which drinks were 10 cents each until someone left; then they were full price.

People don’t fall off the wagon, Zuska said in a 1976 Times article.

“They’re pushed off by society’s insistence that they have a drink,” he said. “Modern society doesn’t relish the idea that some people can’t drink safely.”
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jocelyn.stewart@latimes.com