Reviewed by bob k

The resistance of free-thinking newcomers to the religious language of the literature is one of the principal concerns facing the secularist in AA, in pursuing the goal of helping others. Some authors, notably Gabriel Segal (Twelve Steps To Psychological Good Health)*, and Adam N. (Common Sense Recovery)*, for example, wade through the religious language to explore the philosophical merit and common sense value that lies beneath.

If there is need to alter terms and wordings, alter away. The usefulness is in the principles.

The Universal Edition provides a secularized version of key chapters of AA’s basic text. Presumably, one could hand a free-thinking newcomer this small volume and say, “Here’s what AA has to offer, once the religiosity is stripped away.”  Previously we could counsel folks to “Take what they want, and leave the rest,” but in reading the literature, the unwanted stuff is THERE, and “in your face.” It’s very hard to “not see.”

Mr Voxx has removed the religion and left the psychology. It is not a great stretch to suggest the Universal Edition resembles what might have been, had the Jim B. and Hank P. faction prevailed, at the time the original Big Book was being crafted.

That the author’s intent be clearly understood, the full INTRODUCTION follows.

“The 12-Step program of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is the most successful program in history for addressing addiction. It represents brilliant, groundbreaking work in addiction recovery.

“As a part of the AA process, an individual undergoes a personal transformation. This is referred to as a spiritual awakening in the AA program. This transformation is not a religious conversion, but a change in how you view yourself and your relationships with others.

“To accomplish this change you must turn to a source of principles for conducting your life that are outside of your current thinking. In the AA recovery process these are considered spiritual principles. People who participate in AA draw on a wide variety of sources for these principles including organized religion and non-religious beliefs. Some participants are agnostic or atheist; with solid sources of spiritual guidance that work for them.

“There was pressure from within the team developing the Big Book and 12 Steps in the 1930s to make the source of the spiritual principles neutral.. That is, to not favor any one source. This did not prevail and the Big Book and the related 12 Steps are written, in great part, from the standpoint that the Christian faith and its God are the source of spiritual guidance. This presents a challenge for those individuals who do not embrace this particular perspective.

“This Universal Edition consists of key chapters of Alcoholics Anonymous (“The Big Book”) that have been modified to remove the religious emphasis. All of the content of the Universal Edition is the same as the original Big Book, except for changes considered essential to make it neutral from the standpoint of personal spiritual beliefs. As a result, the Universal Edition is completely compatible with all AA recovery work including meetings, sponsorship, and related activities.”

What follows are translations of THE DOCTOR’S OPINION, and Chapters 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, and 11. TO AGNOSTICS, TO WIVES, THE FAMILY AFTERWARD, and TO EMPLOYERS are relegated to the wastebasket.

“God” exits, replaced by higher power, uncapitalized. Prayer becomes reflection. Step 3 is modified to “the care of external spiritual resources as we understand these.” In 6 & 7, we become ready, and take action to remove our shortcomiings. The new 11 becomes “Sought through reflection and meditation to improve our understanding of our new spiritual principles seeking only knowledge of their meaning and the power to carry these out.

The famous three pertinent ideas are changed to b) That probably no personal effort could have relieved our alcoholism; c) That external spiritual guidance could and would if it were sought.

We may debate the details, of course – there is no pleasing everybody. Nonetheless, this is another asset in the growing body of literature helpful to the secularist choosing to pursue sobriety within the general AA framework.

Alcoholics Anonymous Universal Edition is available at Amazon in paperback and Kindle.

*Review of Common Sense Recovery by Adam N, AA Agnostica, September 21, 2014

*Review of Twelves Steps to Psychological Good Health and Serenity by Gabriel Segal, AA Agnostica, April 23, 2014

Key-Players-Front-Cover1-e1422583040318About the Author, Bob K

Bob K. lives in the Metropolitan Toronto area, and has been a sober member of Alcoholics Anonymous for 24 years, and an out-of-the-closet atheist for that entire time. He has been a regular contributor to the AAAgnostica website for almost 5 years, and in January, 2015, published “Key Players in AA History” In 2013, he cofounded the Whitby Freethinkers meeting.

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Bob K.
Bob K.
5 years ago

Well, there’s no version that would please everyone. Personally, I’m not big on atheists using the term “spirituality,” but those that do tend to be referring to processes such as self-examination, amends, meditation, connection with the human network, etc. No “big Hughie.”

Norm R
Norm R
5 years ago

What Voxx has done is helpful … I admire his initiative and believe that this little book might help those who can’t come to terms with the religiosity of “Alcoholics Anonymous “.  Might I, though, implore him to re-visit his wording of Step 3?  He has kept in place a very-thinly-disguised version of “Big Hughie”, an external agent who is summoned to take over for us.

Dan H, Oceanside
5 years ago

I’m sympathetic to everything in the sample except for this: In 6 & 7, we become ready, and take action to remove our shortcomings. Unfortunately–and this may simply be yet another tortured-language problem–removing my shortcomings implies agency where I may in fact be out of my depth in the same way as I am in regard to alcohol. For example, in light of recent studies employing brain scans we now know that the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain responsible for  regulation of complex cognitive, emotional, and behavioral functioning, critical analysis, etc., and probably the main site of identification as a reasoning individual–the… Read more »

Laurie A
5 years ago

Splendid – if a touch too cerebral for my poor brain! The Big Book tells enquirers in the chapter on Step Eleven, ‘God gave us brains to use.’ Well, I believe evolution gave us brains to use, but conscious intelligent rationality, although vital, is not the whole story – for example, what about dreams? Dan H. you speak my mind when you write of ‘depths outside my awareness’ and ‘internal depths’, what Jungians call the ‘real’ self and the Big Book describes variously as ‘ the great Reality deep down within us’, an ‘unsuspected inner resource’ and ‘our innermost selves’. I don’t ask for my character defects to… Read more »

5 years ago

Bob, thanks for this. I read it a while back, and it is inded a good attempt to take the BB beyond its religious roots. It reads so well, that I barely even noticed that things had been changed, except of course for the How it works section which I know backwards and forwards standing on my head sleeping. Hard not to notice the changes there. Anyway, it is done well, and I like the size too, indeed something manageable to give to newcomers, like living sober. He could probably have done a little better by rooting out the higher… Read more »

5 years ago

This valid point is repeated ad infinitum. Over the last 25 years, I have seen tens, if not hundreds of newcomers, whose first meeting, here in England, unfortunately included sharing by starry-eyed, born-again Christians, who attributed their recovery to a personal divine intervention. Followed by being collared by proselytizing  “Old Timers”, in the break who informed them in no uncertain terms that they needed a sponsor who did it by The Book, and they would die a horrible death if they didn’t submit absolutely. Needless to say, most of them were never seen again. A few who stayed, made an… Read more »

Laurie A
5 years ago
Reply to  Edward

In 31 years’ unbroken sobriety I’ve attended AA meetings on average three or four times a week; occasionally, when ill on holiday etc fewer, but quite often more,  since retirement, often five or six. So I’ve attended thousands of AA meetings here in England and a few in America and Cuba (the ones is New York and Los Angeles I went to were very similar to my home group, not ‘Goddy’ at all.) But like everyone else my experience is limited, anecdotal and only covers a handful of the thousands of meetings held each week in Britain. The website aacultwatch acts… Read more »