Overview of Documentary


Project Description   •   Background   •   Broadcast Version and Tool for Recovery




Project Description

The purpose of this project is to address religious and spiritual issues faced by persons in recovery. Many who enter the rooms of recovery have no faith in God, others are cynical about religion, and still others believe that A.A. and other 12 Step groups are, themselves, religious cults. God as we understand Him reveals how recovering alcoholics work the Twelve Steps, regardless of their particular faith or creed.


Alcoholics with a wide variety of belief systems have the chance to discuss their experiences with A.A. Represented faiths include Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism, Religious Science, Unitarian Universalism, Setianism, Atheism, and various forms of Agnosticism. Others reject organized religion but consider themselves spiritual in some sense, whether Pagan-Druid, Native American, or followers of various other spiritual teachings. What role do their personal understandings of God play in their recovery? How has the Twelve Step process transformed their lives and belief systems? What about A.A. members who are Agnostic or Atheist? Have they come to believe that God exists? Have they been able to work the Twelve Steps without any concept of God? If so, what concepts do they use to replace the "God" concept?


Note: To keep their anonymity, A.A. members are filmed from the neck down.


In addition to the anonymous interviews, the documentary includes interviews with prestigious historians & scholars, psychiatrists, counselors & clergy:


  • Ernest Kurtz, Ph.D – author of Not-God: A History of Alcoholics Anonymous, arguably the most authoritative A.A. history book to date
  • Elizabeth Robinson, Ph.D – University of Michigan Addiction Research Center, currently conducting a study on spiritual change and sustained recovery
  • Mel B. – A.A. member since April 15, 1950, historian, co-author of Pass It On: Bill Wilson and the A.A. Message and other books and articles
  • Monsignor Ron Beshara – vice president of mission and spiritual care at the Hanley Center, author of Treasuring The Treasure: Exploring Spirituality
  • Victoria Sanelli, MD – (then) Medical Director of Ignatia Hall (the first hospital ward to recognize alcoholism as a disease), former Catholic nun
  • Colleen Ryszka, Director of Chemical Dependency Services at Edwin Shaw Rehab, worked as counselor in NY and CA, where laws on A.A. referral differ
  • Eric Chinchon – NY coordinator for S.O.S. (Save Our Selves, a.k.a. Secular Organizations for Sobriety)
  • Father Sam Ciccolini – Founder and Director of IBH Rehabilitation Center, Roman Catholic Priest
  • George Murphy, Lutheran pastor at historic St. Paul’s Episcopal Church of Akron
  • Mohamed Ismail, Executive Director, Islamic Society of Akron & Kent
  • Rabbi Susan B. Stone, Temple Beth Shalom, Hudson, Ohio
  • Rev. Pat Barrett, founder of the Addiction Recovery in Christ (ARC) group, a Christian offshoot of theTwelve Step model
  • Rev. Nancy O. Arnold, Unitarian Universalist Church of Akron
  • Surinder Bhardwaj, Ph.D, Hindu priest
  • Jerry Bak, chemical dependency counselor
  • Fred Blevins, professional clinical counselor


The documentary goes back and forth between two central issues:


  • Is A.A. religious or cult-like?
  • How can ‘God’ be understood from different faith perspectives?


back to top





A recent study by the University of Michigan’s Addiction Research Center only reinforces what A.A. has known for over 70 years: spiritual growth and an enhanced sense of purpose in life increase a person’s chances of success at long term recovery from addiction (Elizabeth Robinson, Ph.D, 2007). The Twelve Steps provide an ethical code and a way of life for around two million active Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) members in about 130 countries around the world, in addition to millions of other members of Twelve Step programs based on the same philosophy. A.A. was founded in 1935, as an outgrowth of a first century Christian spiritual movement, known then as the Oxford Group and later as Moral Rearmament. A.A.’s split from this group is reflected in their Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, which were crafted to include people of all different faiths, albeit an underlying emphasis on faith in some form of Higher Power remains a fundamental component of the Twelve Step movement.


The highest courts in New York, California, & other states, have ruled that compulsory attendance at A.A. meetings is a violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, due to A.A.’s “religiousness.” However, there are important distinctions between "religious" and "spiritual" that the Constitution does not recognize. Are alternative "secular" programs necessary, or is A.A. flexible enough for even the most rational of humanists? In a society shared by people of different faiths and people who claim no faith at all, this documentary offers answers to the myriad doubts and concerns that block so many souls from a path to recovery.



  1. In keeping with A.A.'s 11th Tradition, interviews with members of A.A. and other Twelve Step programs are kept anonymous (no faces or names).
  2. The objective is to present a fair and balanced account of the spiritual components of Alcoholics Anonymous. As such, every attempt is being made to present the full spectrum of viewpoints. As with any discussion involving faith and religion, this topic must be handled with sensitivity and respect for all viewpoints.
  3. In the director's personal opinion, A.A. and other Twelve Step programs should be applauded for their invaluable contributions to society in the field of addiction recovery. Critical perspectives should be considered constructive. It is the director's hope that this documentary will be an important contribution to the body of knowledge that aids in overcoming addictive behaviors.

back to top




Broadcast Version and Tool for Recovery


This project consists of 3 components: 1) a 56-minute documentary earmarked for broadcast on PBS; 2) a DVD to be used as a tool for recovery by 12-Steppers and counselors alike; 3) a website where these and many other resources can be accessed worldwide.


1. Broadcast Version (56 minutes)

The broadcast version will be geared toward a broad audience of persons, ages 13-65+. The documentary will be of special interest to persons who have either worked a 12-Step program themselves, or to those who have close friends and family in a 12-Step program (estimated at tens of millions in the U.S. alone). The documentary will be an important educational tool for students, and educators in the field of substance abuse treatment, rehabilitation, and recovery, and more broadly in the fields of psychology and pastoral clinical studies. Finally, the documentary will appeal to a broader audience of people interested in issues of faith & spirituality.


2. DVD tool for recovery

The DVD will contain the 56-minute documentary, divided into several brief chapters. This gives viewers the flexibility to stop and discuss specific issues. This DVD will be an important tool for counselors to show their clients, whom they refer to A.A. or other 12-Step programs. By revealing the nature of A.A.’s spiritual underpinnings, showing the film is an excellent way of fulfilling the requirement of 'informed consent.' This DVD could also be used by 12-Step sponsors, to show to sponsees who have trouble with the spiritual underpinnings of the program.


3. Website - GodasweunderstandHim.org

GodasweunderstandHim.org will contain everything on the DVD and much more. It will be accessible by anyone with internet access, anywhere in the world, making this recovery tool free to the public! The website will be organized similarly to the DVDs, with different pages devoted to different topics. Each page would contain a brief video segment, questions and topics for discussion, articles that expand on the topics discussed, links to other pertinent websites, and a blog spot for people to hold a lively, therapeutic online discussion. Of course, we cannot give the movie away for free until we’ve reached our fundraising goal.


back to top