Vic L. and Secular AA

By Vic L.

My name is Vic L. and I am definitely an alcoholic. I first went to AA on February 11, 1979 when I was 35 years old. I do not distinguish between alcohol or any other drugs (i.e. pot, cocaine, opiates) or any other “dry goods.” I speak  only for myself, not for AA, nor for the WAAFT Board of Directors of which I am a  member.

I was pleased and surprised when John S. invited me to write this post and do a podcast to express my thoughts and opinions about secular AA for AA Beyond Belief.

After joining the WAAFT Board of Directors this past January, members of the board were asked to suggest various topics and participants for the panels and workshops for the upcoming convention to be held in Austin this November. I suggested a panel, “Is WAAFT Necessary?” However, I soon realized that there was/is no agreement as to what WAAFT actually is. So I changed the title to “What is WAAFT?”

In order to appreciate how I arrived at my understanding of secular AA please allow me some context. I am a collapsed Catholic having stopped going to mass as soon as I went  away to college. When I reluctantly attended that first AA meeting in 1979, it seemed like the Salvation Army; first you listen to sermons and sing, then you get fed. All I could see was “God” on the window shades. I almost left AA because of that. Expressing my discomfort, I was told not to get hung up on the religious aspects of AA and just let the religiosity “wash over me.”

I was desperate. I did what I was told: I went to 90 meetings in 90 days, I tried “Group of Drunks,” I tried “Good Orderly Direction,” and I even tried “a  doorknob.”

I finally got down on my knees and prayed, I read daily meditations, I got a sponsor, and I did the steps — for at least 15 years.

Even so, my questionable religiosity was taking its toll.  During this time I heard about a “non-religious” AA meeting on Manhattan’s Upper East Side at the Jan Hus church. I surreptitiously went there not knowing what to  expect.

What I witnessed was a meeting where the majority of the sharing was devoted to bashing religion at other AA meetings! I was so disappointed because I just wanted to see what AA without religion would be like. So I bailed and went back to conventional AA — for at least another 10  years.

During that time religiosity in the rooms was noticeably increasing and my personal hypocrisy was really getting to me. Nonetheless, I just sucked it up and kept my mouth shut. But I wasn’t kidding myself. In due course, I ventured out again. This time I found a few secular AA meetings that actually put aside religion (with just a tad of religion bashing). After 25 years in AA, I was finally able to be more “rigorously honest” with myself. I did not have to convince or delude myself with other people’s beliefs in order to stay sober.

However, as crazy as this might seem, because of the utmost value I place on my sobriety, I would do conventional, religious AA all over again, if that were the only way I could get and stay clean and sober. But thanks to secular AA I don’t have  to.

When I learned that the first WAFT convention was to be held in Santa Monica I was thrilled. But not for  long.

I produce documentary films, and before Santa Monica I had recently completed a documentary on church and state issues, “In God We Teach,” (available free online. It’s not “Gone with the Wind” but it’s pretty good. It has Neil deGrasse Tyson, Alan Dershowitz, Stephen Colbert, et al).

As a result of producing that film I assumed that WAFT was like the US government, that is, secular. After all, the first two phrases of the First Amendment in the Constitution  are, “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, nor prohibiting the free exercise thereof….” (N.B. As an indication of the importance that  the Founders gave to of the separation of church & state these two phrases come BEFORE freedom of speech and freedom of the press).

As the second phrase states, even though our constitutional government is secular, we as individual citizens can freely express and practice whatever beliefs (or non-beliefs) we may hold. So I expected that WAFT would be like the US government: a big, secular organization consisting of members who were welcome to state their various (mostly non-religious) personal beliefs. Big  mistake.

My first realization that this was not quite what the WAFT organizers had in mind was their announcement that the Reverend Ward Ewing would be the keynote speaker at the convention in Santa Monica! I was gob-smacked and sent out an email that was very critical of this selection of a man of the cloth (not to be confused with the man himself) to give the central speech at the inaugural convention of secular AA. The response to my email favored keeping the Reverend so I reluctantly dropped my opposition.

I still gasp for air when I think of it. The choice just seemed like a pathetic plea for approval to those outside of secular AA. Why else would a group of (mostly) non-religious members choose a cleric? Would an LGBTQ group invite a politician who voted against gay marriage to be their first keynote speaker? I don’t think so. Would a Spanish-speaking group invite a xenophobe? You get my drift. It is my understanding that the choice of a keynote speaker implies the imprimatur of the group doing the selecting. As a sop, the role of keynote speaker was somewhat watered down by adding two more keynote speakers (one of them another believer, I might add).

As it turned out the (now named) WAAFT convention was a success, and I enjoyed myself very much despite having to suffer through the three keynote speeches. I even moderated the panel ”Is Spirituality Compatible with Agnostic AA” in which I attempted to draw attention to what I consider our most contentious subject. And for the record, the Reverend Ewing and one of the other keynote speakers, Marya Hornbacher participated on my panel.

I am often reminded that we attend secular AA to avoid “the god stuff” (which includes the “supernatural”) while also keeping in mind that anyone can share anything at any meeting. I am of the opinion that whatever one believes is  of concern to that person only, not to WAAFT as a  whole.

Recently I ran into Sharon, an old AA friend on the subway. She asked me where I was going. I said, “To an AA   meeting.” And she asked, “Oh, which one?” And I  sheepishly replied, “An agnostic AA meeting.” To which she nonchalantly said, “Oh, those are the meetings where everyone always talks about  god.”

A few months after the convention in Santa Monica, I wrote  a post for AA Agnostica entitled, “Perils Facing Agnostic AA.”

In it I listed three perils that I thought we members of WAAFT should address:

  1. Purists
  2. The “S” Word
  3. Religion Bashers

It’s probably the “S” word, “spirituality” that I believe is at the bottom of most disagreements within the WAAFT community—and it is potentially explosive. Some members  of WAAFT ask, “Why can’t the convention be more “balanced?” By “balanced”, I take to mean more panels that include some form of  “spirituality.”

OK, then one must ask, “What exactly is “spirituality?” According to Merriam-Webster it is: “the quality or state of being concerned with religion or religious matters.” (Perhaps just as interesting is Merriam-Webster’s definition of secular: “of or relating to the physical world and not the spiritual world”).

Are we calling everything we don’t quite understand “spiritual?” Is it the awe one feels in nature? Is it the love one feels for a child? Is it the strong sensations one feels when listening to music? It’s probably all those examples and many more. In fact, spirituality is many, many things to many, many people. And your spirituality may not be my spirituality. On top of that, most people imbue their spirituality with some form of divine certitude. Even so, spirituality for some unknown reason is claimed to be different from the assertions of major religions. Spirituality is somehow given a secular pass.

And as we know AA has a long history of linking spirituality to “God” or ”Higher Power.” Although spirituality is a not part of the AA triangle (Unity, Service and Recovery), AA literature is littered with references to spirituality, usually as a fig leaf for “a belief in god.”

By definition “spirituality” is not evidence based. Rather, it is reached by more intuitive means. That said, I am very cognizant of the fact that many WAAFT members hold heartfelt personal spiritual beliefs. Those beliefs are certainly welcomed to be shared in any AA meeting, either secular or conventional. My problem is with WAAFT itself, as a secular organization, espousing spiritual beliefs as something other than what they  are.

Don’t we attend secular AA as a refuge from religious proselytizing? If one would like to learn more about say, “Buddhism and AA” or “Universal Unitarianism and AA” one would be well advised to attend a conventional AA meeting, or better yet, go to a Buddhist temple or a Universalist church. The best way for WAAFT to be “balanced” and embrace all beliefs is to ignore all  beliefs.

We will never know the exact number of alcoholics who have shunned or quit AA because of religious dogma. For some it’s a deal breaker. I know. I almost left because of  it. We have an obligation to these newcomers (as well as refugees from conventional AA) to provide an AA that is unfettered with religious doctrine. After all, secular AA is simply non-religious, not anti-religious. It’s just AA sans the “Almighty”. Otherwise might we end up with organization that is “sorta secular AA,” “secular-lite AA” or “secular-ish AA.”

At the risk of pouring even more fuel on the fire I should mention that I am also scheduled to moderate a second panel at the convention in Austin, “The Future of WAAFT.” Among the topics I would like to discuss are a possible new name for WAAFT, as well a possible new  “preamble.”

Here’s what I hope a new name for WAAFT would be. Or  am I the only person who cringes when mentioning the  name, “WAAFT?” In NYC most of us refer to non-religious  AA as “Agnostic AA”, and I have always been comfortable with that moniker. But it was pointed out to me that “Agnostic AA” is non-inclusive: no mention of atheists, free thinkers, humanists, et al. I have come to agree with that assessment. Sooo, guess what I would suggest? Yes, “Secular AA.” But I’m sure others might disagree, and I am sure there will be much heated discussion if indeed a new name is ever chosen.

In addition, I would like to comment on what has informally been adopted as our “secular  preamble:”

This group of A.A. attempts to maintain a tradition of  free expression, and conduct a meeting where alcoholics may feel free to express any doubts or disbeliefs they may have, and to share their own personal form of spiritual experience, their search for it, or their rejection of it.  We do not endorse or oppose any form of religion or atheism. Our only wish is to assure suffering alcoholics that they  can find sobriety in A.A. without having to accept anyone else’s beliefs or having to deny their  own.

I would suggest that it be dropped. Of course each AA group is autonomous so I am speaking only of WAAFT as an association of groups. We all agree that WAAFT meetings are indeed AA meetings. And the standard AA preamble has been in use at all meetings since it was first  written.

Reading only this traditional preamble removes any needless friction with GSO, as well as removing any needless friction within WAAFT. The “secular preamble” is not inclusive as it mentions only “spirituality,” “religion,”  or “atheism,” and fails to include “humanists,” “free thinkers,” “agnostics,” etc.

Again, I thank John S. and AA Beyond Belief for asking me to offer my opinions, and mere opinions they are. I must also reiterate that I speak only for myself, not for AA, nor as a member of the WAAFT Board of  Directors.

I am very sensitive to the fact that many WAAFT members have strongly held positions which are very different from the ones I have espoused here. I hope that responses would offer  substantive,  alternative rationales.

Those of us who make the extra effort, and spend additional time and money to attend secular AA meetings can get very emotional when these subjects are raised. And these disagreements can easily get out of hand. They can become the “we and they” of tribalism that ironically has been spread by organized religions throughout history. We can avoid any such schism within our ranks by  remaining respectful of each other and, addressing the issues at hand and not the  personalities.

I sincerely hope to hear from readers and listeners before and at the convention about these concerns. The many panels and workshops at the convention in Austin will extensively cover these and other topics. In fact, the convention is actively seeking from WAAFT members more suggestions for additional panel topics and   participants.

I remain convinced that our primary purpose is indeed “to stay sober, and help other suffering alcoholics to achieve sobriety” … regardless of  beliefs.

See you in Austin

© Vic Losick MMXVI All Rights  Reserved


About the Author, Vic L.

Vic L. is a documentary film producer in New York City.  His date of sobriety is February 11, 1979, and he is the founder of two AA groups in New York City. In the 1990’s he founded the “Columbus at 5” Traditional AA Meeting, and on January 17, 2015 he founded the “Without a Prayer” Agnostic AA meeting.

Vic was featured in the New York Times Article, “Alcoholics Anonymous without the Religion” (February 21, 2014) , and he moderated “Is Spirituality Compatible with Agnostic AA” at the Santa Monica Convention in November  2014. Vic authored the “Perils Facing Agnostic AA”, published in AA Agnostica on June 29, 2015. He has been serving on the Board of Directors for the We Agnostics, Atheists and Freethinkers International AA Convention since January 2016.

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  1. Mikey J. July 9, 2016 at 4:15 am - Reply

    Great article and podcast Vic. I typed out a glorious and beautifully written four page essay in response but my iPad seems to need electricity so it shit the bed right before I hit the POST A COMMENT button. Must have been gawd’s will. I’m gonna go grab a doughnut instead.

  2. Toni Songbird June 19, 2016 at 8:22 pm - Reply

    Hi

    My name is Toni and I’m a grateful alcoholic with 43 yrs of sobriety.  I’m agnostic so I stay sober on the AA Principles. I worked the Steps without God.

    • John S June 19, 2016 at 8:42 pm Reply

      Hi Toni and welcome. Where are you from?

  3. Njon Weinroth June 10, 2016 at 9:16 pm - Reply

    I left WAAFT about 6 years ago for LifeRing. I had a really bad experience with traditional AA as an adolescent and left that when I realized the spiritual experience was simply not going to happen for me. Decades later, upon my return to recovery, I thought it would be a great idea to attend meetings that were more aligned with my newly-discovered atheism. What I found if WAAFT however, was an anarchist/atheist group of members with a propensity to discuss not discussing god, and contentious issues with AA administration, more than recovery. The group retains all of the outdated jargon and traditions, I believe, in an effort to appease the GSO et al. There remains friction with the secular recovery.

    The group retains all of the outdated jargon and traditions, I believe, in an effort to appease the GSO et al. There remains friction with the secular recovery orgs because WAAFT tends to confuse “secular” (conducting meetings free of discussion of religion, apart from individuals’ anecdotal, personal experience) and “secularist” (an organized separation of state and religion, often dovetailing with agnosticism and atheism). This fringe subset has always been perceived as a problem to traditional AA who has to maintain the appearance of somewhat accepting WAAFT in order to save face and to try to support the myth that they are a “spiritual” and not a “religious” program. Folks forget that AA meets all of the requirements to be defined as a religion and they follow the same fear-based retention and recruiting practices as many other religious groups.

    I remain baffled by WAAFT members insistence on trying to change the organization from within. It seems a fool’s errand in many ways to me.

    The steps and traditions are outdated and archaic

    These are treated as general clinical protocol and practice despite their being repeatedly proven to have little-to-no clinical value or relevancy
    They encourage groupthink and groupspeak (effective for some)

    The disease model contradicts most current scientific research

    The literature perpetuates psychological theories from the early part of the last century which we all know are not true yet we repeat them ad nauseam

    There are many other programs that are proven to be viable and effective

    LifeRing Secular Recovery, Women for Sobriety, SMART Recovery

    AA does not want you

    The literature mentioning “agnostics” is beyond condescending
    Recent (more accurately, ongoing) animosity from AA traditionalists has garnered international attention

    I’m not sure WAAFT knows what it wants to be, other than NOT traditional AA

    Ask 10 member what the organization is and you’ll get 10 distinctly different answers

    I do not think that traditional AA is necessarily evil in nature. The widespread notion that is is the best or the only path is what is potentially deadly. I also think it disheartening that so little of the energy within WAAAFT is focused on actual recovery from substance addiction. It seems overly concentrated on politics (rebellion), protocol (language nuance) and administration (compliance). I think that this is a substantial and inherent disservice to newcomers seeking recovery in a secular setting.

    I sincerely encourage any WAAFT members who share these sentiments or that see others (especially those new to recovery) struggling with them, to seriously consider referrals to support from secular organizations, free of this controversy. I mean you no disrespect and don’t wish to discourage you from whatever path you have chosen for your support. I only hope to let folks know that they are not limited to any one path and  that we are no longer stuck without choices in recovery.

    • John S June 11, 2016 at 9:41 am Reply

      Njon, my experience at secular AA meetings is much different than is your’s and therefore my perspective is very different. First of all, we are members of Alcoholics Anonymous and we go to AA meetings. Our meetings are special purpose meetings that differ from other meetings in that we don’t open and close the meeting with a prayer, and most of us who attend these meetings don’t believe that a supernatural deity that has anything to do with our recovery.

      In all other respects, we are like any other AA group. Some of us work the steps, some of us done’t. Some of us have sponsors and sponsor others, and some of us don’t. There is a great diversity of experience in AA.

      There is nothing in AA that prevents individual members from participating in other recovery groups like Life Ring or SMART. We as individuals can do whatever we want. However, our groups do not affiliate with other organizations.

      Working within AA for change is what every AA member in General Service does. What AA is and will become depends on individual AA members becoming involved in General Service. We can make AA whatever we want it to be, because we are AA.

      Though, I can no longer relate to the Big Book and Twelve by Twelve, those books aren’t necessary for me to practice the AA program. AA to me is the people, not the books. It’s the people and their experiences.

      I’m all for people taking advantage of whatever resources they find helpful to become free from drug and alcohol addiction, and there is nothing about AA that would prevent any individual member from doing that.

      When you say that “AA does not want us”, that assumes that we are somehow outside of AA. We are not. I think in fact that us secularist may even be the majority population in AA, but we just haven’t all come together yet.

       

  4. Willow June 8, 2016 at 6:27 pm - Reply

    Just listened to the podcast but haven’t had time to read the whole post. Thank you, Vic and John, for this  conversation! Great stuff that we need to keep talking through to find our individual paths, and the path for AA and this movement.

  5. life-j June 7, 2016 at 4:05 pm - Reply

    I didn’t read all the responses, but I am a bit concerned that this could be like the typical infighting of political parties on the left, they all say they want the same, yet the Trotskyists are fighting the Stalinists, who are fighting the socialists, and they’re all fighting the social democrats, and all including the social democrats are fighting the anarchists.

    It must be possible to just kick back and not worry too much about small differences. Seems that our primary meeting place is that we as a general principle do not promote or encourage promotion of belief in an interventionist deity, and in meetings that we hold, we even discourage it a bit more actively. But there’s nothing wrong with an open mind. If we open it to people that hold beliefs it only means we open it to those people, not necessarily to all or any parts of what they believe.

  6. Joe C. (@Rebellion_Dogs) June 7, 2016 at 9:56 am - Reply

    I really enjoyed this discussion. These are all points of view that we need not shy away from.

    Just to speak to AA and literature, I can tell you from my limited experience as a writer for the last 25 years or so (and this is something I’ve heard Amy B from Grapevine say), an editor can only choose what to print from the articles/proposals submitted.

    Yes, there is an editorial slant to Grapevine or any magazine. I’ve had more rejections that thumbs up from magazine pitches I’ve crafted through the years and as a writer, I have to understand both the magazine and their readers before I can offer a submission that helps the editor do their job well. There are limits to what Grapevine will write (see submission guidelines) and a rejection letter – what writers affectionately call PFOs (please F*** off) – does not mean that the editors role is to sensor contributors or control the message, per se. It’s a balancing act. Most AAs believe in an intervening deity. Many articles include something about the member’s relationship with their higher power. But, if none of the submissions are written by atheists, or members who view AA recovery as a secular journey, then none of that month’s articles are going to speak to the agnostic/atheist member. They can’t print what they don’t have.

    October’s Grapevine will feature stories by atheists/agnostics. Submissions are now closed for these stories but I hope that they have a wealth of choices. If good stores get rejected, I hope that means great stories will be printed. Certainly, they will look for variety.

    Living Sober is AA’s most secular publication. It was written by Barry Leach a staff-writer for AA in the 1970s. The pamphlet “Do You Think You’re Different?” was one of his contributions, too. Not everyone likes Living Sober. Some find it still too “preachy” in an advice-giving way but I found it to be the most useful AA book when I was new. It’s very practical – one day at a time, what about medication, avoiding getting lonely, angry, hungry, tired, the problem with resentments and rumination, etc. Our group, like other freethinker groups, sometimes reads from Living Sober to stimulate discussion. As was mentioned on the podcast, we are slow as a fellowship to bring anything radically new to market and some of the 1970s language (of Living Sober) about hobbies and eating sweets sounds old-fashioned.

    Of course, as we all know, GSO isn’t the gate-keeper to recovery literature that it once was. AAs are writing memoirs, how-to books, Step-guides and other musings about AA life. Today, more and more of these are secular. There are, of course, blogs, websites,social media and podcasts, too.

    This site, this forum, Facebook, local and international conferences, these are examples of AA’s upside-down triangle democracy. No one controls our content. There is nothing separate and apart from AA about this site, our meetings or conference. “Conference-approved” doesn’t have the message-censorship meaning that some of us read into it. It’s a most-misunderstood and innocuous term.

    Again, great podcast and article and a very interesting conversation that’s following.

  7. Jerry F June 6, 2016 at 11:57 am - Reply

    Wow, Vic. You managed to cover the religiosity of AA, speakers at a WAAFT convention, spirituality, WAAFT name change, and more. I do not agree entirely with any of your opinions but we are close on many of them. Let me just take spirituality and quote myself in an article.
    But you say you are ‘spiritual.’ What a loaded word. Here              are ‘spiritual’ and ‘spirituality.’
    Webster’s  SPIRITUAL
    ·         of or relating to a person’s spirit
    ·         of or relating to religion or religious beliefs
    ·         having similar values and ideas: related or joined in spirit
    The Free Dictionary SPIRITUAL
    ·         Of, relating to, consisting of, or having the nature of spirit; not material; supernatural
    ·         Of, concerned with, or affecting the soul
    ·         Not concerned with worldly things
    ·         Of or belonging to a religion; sacred
    Oxford English Dictionary SPIRITUALITY
    ·         of, relating to, or affecting the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things
    ·         (of a person) not concerned with material values or pursuits
    ·         of or relating to religion or religious beliefs
    Wikipedia SPIRITUALITY
    ·         may refer to almost any kind of meaningful activity, personal growth, or blissful experience
    ·         Traditionally spirituality refers to a process of re-formation of the personality but there is no agreed-upon definition of spirituality.”
    This is followed by a very long article in Wikipedia. And then …
    ·         “In modern times the emphasis is on subjective experience. It still denotes a process of transformation but in a context separate from organized religious institutions.”
    Interesting that three of the four dictionaries define spirituality as pertaining to religion. If we   stopped there, we could say that spirituality is just religion by another name. Only Wikipedia perceived the separation of spirituality from religion.  Is this, then, a trend?

    Of course, all words must be defined contextually and so “spirituality” means, as Humpty Dumpty said, whatever I mean it to mean when I use it.

    Lot’s of good stuff here, Vic. Maybe you could expand in a later article.

    • John S June 6, 2016 at 12:38 pm Reply

      This is a topic we will never tire from and probably never resolve. I decided that for myself that I speak in specific terms of the actions that I take with regard to my recovery and I describe the outcome of those actions in terms that are easily understood.

      Practices that some may think of as spiritual, for example meditation, are in fact practical actions that produce real results. I sit silently for twenty minutes and train my mind to let go of thoughts. This helps me during the day to not hang on to negative thoughts. It teaches me that the thoughts come and go, but it’s up to me what I do with them.

      The habit of meditation for me is part of Step 11, but I can describe that step in terms that are totally secular. There is nothing supernatural about it. However, the part of the step that wants me to improve my conscious contact with God as I understand him is not practical and as an atheist, I reject that portion of the step. I am very sure there is no God.

      Now, here’s the tricky part…. there are atheists who will practice mediation but then describe the experience as connecting with a source of peace the do not understand and that does not originate from within them, and they therefore consider meditation to be a spiritual practice.

      We both do the same thing, we meditate, but we explain and describe the experience differently.  I think it’s important to respect how people relate their experience whether they are relating their experience from their seat at an AA meeting or from the speakers podium at an AA convention.

      An atheist is simply a person who has no belief in a deity. That does’t mean they may not believe in other things that may be other worldly. I think most of us atheists are more grounded in science, but not all of us.

      It’s all language as far as I am concerned. What bothers me is if someone insists that I or someone else must conform to their views. That we all must have the same experience and define and explain it the same.

      I like that we can discuss these ideas. I value that because I consider all ideas that I hold subject to change if I find a good reason to change those ideas.

  8. John L. June 5, 2016 at 7:23 pm - Reply

    Thanks, Vic, for a fine article, and thanks, John and Vic, for a fine podcast.  I agree with you on the selection of Ward Ewing as keynote speaker, but I did admire his technique as a speaker.  He’s a real pro.

    For me the official (or quasi-official or crypto-official) religiosity of AA is wrong and has always been wrong.  The true AA or real AA is the AA that works: the AA of the 24-Hour Plan and the Fellowship.  A day at a time we stay away from the First Drink, and as a fellowship we help each other get sober, stay sober, regain our health, and rebuild our lives.  To my knowledge, Bill W., the author of much of the False AA, never endorsed the 24-Hour Plan or came right out and said: Don’t drink.

    I like the word “secular”, having been for many years close to England’s National Secular Society (NSS) and written articles for the NSS-associated monthly, The Freethinker.  However, most people don’t understand what “secular” means.  Although the core meaning of “secular” is “worldly rather than spiritual”, the main political meaning of “secularism” is “the view that religious considerations should be excluded from civil affairs or public education.”  (American Heritage Dictionary)  Secularism in this sense means freedom from religion — a position of neutrality, neither for nor against religion.  In this sense our own nonbeliever AA groups should be secular, and ideally so should all AA groups.

    To me the standard AA Preamble expresses, concisely and eloquently, exactly what the true AA is and is not.  It should be read at every AA meeting, slowly and with conviction.  I agree with you that the WAAFT/agnostic/nonbeliever preamble is not satisfactory: it’s verbose and oblique.  At the November conference we can discuss whether we need our own preamble, and if so, what it should say.

  9. John S June 5, 2016 at 3:10 pm - Reply

    I enjoy the conversation about spirituality and its place in secular AA. I’ve been all over the map on this issue. My basic underlying philosophy is that there is a scientific explanation for everything, which I suppose makes me a naturalist.

    When it comes to spirituality, I have a place for it in the written word. I think it’s an effective way of communicating human emotion. I can read books written in spiritual language and make a connection with the author. However if a person is speaking to me in that language, they lose me.

    Like Vic, I respect everyone’s right to say whatever they want to say in an AA meeting, secular or otherwise. However, I would extend that to beyond AA meetings, and also include speakers at our conventions. All we are talking about here are words used to describe an experience.

    Thank you Vic for taking the time writing this and also for the engaging conversation. It’s good to talk about these ideas and to think about them. There is something that we all have in common or at least most of us. If any alcoholic reaches out for help, we will be there. Regardless of their belief or lack of belief.

  10. steve b June 5, 2016 at 12:19 pm - Reply

    I use the word “spirituality” as little as possible because of its association with otherworldliness and generic religious impulses. So-called “spiritual” activities can be better described as being caring or helpful. When I hear, as I do so often, that AA is spiritual, and not religious, I take this to mean that AA is more concerned with belief in god than in following the rules of any particular religious denomination. For me spirituality has no place in my program of recovery, and I think it’s inappropriate to use the word to describe a nonreligious approach to AA.

  11. Rob McC June 5, 2016 at 11:18 am - Reply

    The fly in the ointment is relying on a traditional dictionary to define what we mean by the term “spirituality” or “spiritual”. Languages evolve over time, and words take on different meanings and implications, so homing in on an acceptable common understanding is important to this discussion.

    I experienced a brief “out of body” sensation connected to a very joyful part of my own healing process, and as an areligious, perhaps irreligious, individual, I assume that this was a highly desirable, and for me, persistent alteration of my neural processes that has served me extremely well in sobriety. And unlike “religious” experiences taken on faith alone, my “spiritual” experience is amenable to study.

    What William James termed “religious experiences” would be better defined today as “spiritual” because our common usage of the words have evolved and continue to evolve.  There is a biology to what we call “spiritual” and how our biology leads us to “religion”.  For a highly researched discussion of this phenomenon, I suggest reading The Illusion of God’s Presence:  The Biological Origins of Spiritual Longing by John C. Wathey.

  12. Darrell B June 5, 2016 at 10:15 am - Reply

    Exquisitely salient post. Regarding your ‘three perils’: The ‘S’ word is the more difficult issue to address. You ask: “Are we calling everything we don’t quite understand “spiritual?” Yes indeed! (incorrectly). The term “spirituality” strictly refers to, and represents the “distal non-natural causation of proximal events”-Jesse Bering. (His definition of non-natural agency- to which one could add non-natural processes/forces).

    Spirituality appears problematic, but only from an epistemically conflicted viewpoint. From a more parsimonious perspective, there is a clear demarcation between the natural and non-natural watersheds, as ontological domains, and no need for conflating the two.

    However, as a term, Naturality lacks the intuitive semantic appeal that Spirituality obtains, so perhaps we need an infectious word for all the natural things (events/processes/forces) we can’t explain. While I have no quarrel with people using the term, as they understand it, I abandon the word as I explore my environment, and work on my Agnostically Sincere Sensibility (ASS), replete with its inexplicable unknowns, and decidedly nameless.

  13. Thomas Brinson June 5, 2016 at 9:38 am - Reply

    Hello, Vic. This is indeed an excellently reasoned and expressed article. Thank you for explicating your ideas, most of which I agree and respect, though certainly as you are aware I see WAAFT AA somewhat differently.

    We both were most fortunate to get sober in traditional AA meetings in New York City where the religiosity of AA at it’s founding core in the Oxford Group was minimal in many meetings such as Perry Street workshop, the Midnight meetings, and meetings on the Upper West Side where I got sober — at least that was my experience. I was mostly oblivious to the blatant religiosity within the program and could “live and let live” with those who were ardent believers.

    I do disagree with the “pure” secularism for WAAFT, or whatever the secular AA Fellowship, chooses to rename ourselves, that you espouse. Being secular in AA does not mean that we need to dismiss  totally all spirituality in the myriad forms of individual expression that it may manifest,  as you suggest. It can be like much else within the AA program — paradoxical. I suggest that WAAFT and its members can simultaneously be secular and spiritual along the wide-ranging continuum from no spirituality at all (militant atheism?) to the most woo-woo, hippy-eat of practices from our New Agey generation that evolved during the 70s and 80s when we were both gifted with recovery in New York City.

    Regarding the separation of Church and State in the US, this was certainly the intent of our founding fathers. However, in practice there is probably not a government on the planet more imbued within the grips of outward religiosity, the Christian brand, than the US. I refer you to a recent book, One Nation Under God by Kevin Kruse which describes how beginning in the 1930s when AA was founded the US government has increasingly introjected more and more religiosity into the American political scene, especially during the 1950s during the Eisenhower administration as our society grappled with the propagandized menace of the “godless Communist threat.” Another book which discusses this militant propagandizing at length is James Carrol’s  House of War: The Pentagon and the Disastrous Rise of American Power. Our current experience of the Republican presidential campaign certainly demonstrates how  every politicians, most hypocritically I suspect, have to convince the electorate how about how devoted they are to Christianity, the more evangelical the better.

    I too welcome participating with you and others  at our upcoming convention in Austin. Ultimately, the members of secular AA shall through the group conscience process of it’s deliberations and business meetings determine where and how we evolve as a Fellowship. I suggest that it shall continue to be a mix of both secularism and spirituality integrated together, according to the individual preferences of our members.

  14. Rich June 5, 2016 at 9:11 am - Reply

    Thanks Vic for pointing out the definitions of ” Spirituality “. Words & language is what we use to convey & articulate our concepts . Words are subject to interpretation. My conception of a particular idea or concept is my understanding of what it ( the concept ) means. General interpretations ( dictionary ) of  words simply give the general conceptual meaning of a particular word.

    My interpretation may be at odds with that which a dictionary or another’s meaning of a word conveys. Basically we all have just ” opinions ” on what this or that word implies. Before any discussion or argument on any given topic , we must first define our terms . Otherwise this may lead to confusion and frustration of what is being meant when we , for instance , talk of spirituality or higher power concepts.

  15. Mark C. June 5, 2016 at 8:45 am - Reply

    Thank you Vic. Good discussion, gentlemen. Escaping the religious/spiritual “language game,” and putting our stories into starkly secular forms is quite a challenge.

    Philosophical precision goes a long way in clearing the utterly confused  “spiritual noise” off the table.  One of the few slogans I appreciate in “AA” is “Think, Think, Think.”  A “return to sanity” is a return to Reason.  Thinking through the various “definitions” of terms is perhaps the very beginning of this kind of self-examination.

    As an ex-Christian, metaphysical naturalist, I appreciate the attempt to grapple with some of these issues here.

    Hats off for you fellas, from the eastern edge of the West Texas Bible Belt. 🙂

  16. Andy Mc June 5, 2016 at 6:21 am - Reply

    Thx Vic, for taking your time to both write this article and be involved with WAAFT!

    I consider myself very fortunate and its an honour that someone as articulate, observant and free thinking as yourself advocates for that which I also believe to be true and have been affected by.

    I share with you many similarities in regards to time sober and AA experiences over that period.

    Regards,

    Andy Mc

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