The Fraud That Is AA Fundamentalism

By bob k

It may be that Alcoholics Anonymous has never been more polarized than it is in the mid-teens of the new millennium. A consolation is that there was another time of great divisiveness.

Good God! There’s A Lot of God!

As the book was being written and discussed in late 1938, there was “strong but warm-hearted arguing, until they reached Chapter Five…where Bill wanted to explain exactly how they (the steps) worked…{He} was in no way prepared for the violent reaction when he read his twelve steps to the group a few nights later…The liberals were appalled and said so.  As a body they seemed suddenly to backtrack and take up a solid position beside the radicals.

“There was far too much God talk in the steps.” (Bill W., Robert Thomsen, p. 253)

The Myth of Unanimity

In the end, an “as we understood Him” was added here and there, an “on our knees” extracted. The general “you should, you must” tone morphed to “we did,” notwithstanding that they hadn’t. The final compromised product, no doubt disappointing to virtually all, is sold as unanimously agreed. “To show other alcoholics precisely how we have recovered is the main purpose of this book.” (BB, p. xiii) Thus the book crows “…that we have discovered a common solution. We have a way out on which we can absolutely agree…” (BB, p. 17)

In order to believe these claims, it is then necessary to take up the rather preposterous position that identical actions were taken by Bob Smith and Jim Burwell. The paths of the enthusiastic returnee to the Congregational Church Christianity, and the irredeemable atheist, were one and the same.

“What would it take to put you into that Brooklyn Bridge TODAY??”

Minister’s son, Fitz Mayo lobbied forcefully for a book laced with Jesus Christ, biblical quotations brightening every page. Hank Parkhurst insisted on stressing the psychology of the process in a text that was godless. Yet, we are to accept that one and all were delighted with the final product.

One hour spent in a committee-room would dispel these fictions.

At the end of every viciously fought political leadership convention, there is a ceremonial final vote. The winner is unanimously endorsed. The group conscience is respected, as they march forward, to battle the common enemy, feigned esprit de corps being better than none at all.

In reality, the compromise was disappointing for most. For those whose relief from a horrendous dissipation came by way of a surrender to Jesus Christ, what the hell is this “as we understood Him,” but wishy-washy nonsense? Thus, the bible-loving folk of Akron continued much as they had been before, detached from the Oxford Group forebears only in name.

At the other extremity, the “non-god” higher power of non-believers must nonetheless be called God, (capital “G”), “as we understood Him,” notwithstanding that one’s understanding be neither of God, nor of Him. Forevermore, we have a book describing “One who has all power,” and advocating a total denigration of human power of any sort.

The heathen minority did the best that they could.

And a peace fell upon the land. Sorta.

“And God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.” (Genesis 1:31)

Such was the “genesis” of the book.

Spiritual (Yum Yum) – Not Religious (Yuck! Boo!)

One frequently hears, and it is certainly one of the earliest assurances to newcomers, that Alcoholics Anonymous is “spiritual, not religious.” Of course, within minutes, someone is very likely to chime in with, “Our book was DIVINELY INSPIRED!!” – written NOT by mere human beings, but by the Creator His own Damn Self.

The claim of every religion EVER!

Should it be true that God, and not Bill Wilson (a mere agent), authored the steps and the rest of it, perhaps we should be nervous. We edited God. That seems like a bad idea. And what about JC? Left out entirely, might he not go all temple crazy on our money-changer asses?

But relax – AA has no requirement to go to church. Phew!! Your Sunday morning golf foursome, or delightful brunch, is undisturbed.

Worship Of The Holy Book

We are now in an era where segments of the sober folk gather rather cultishly around some charismatic, or not so charismatic, leader. Within these groups, great pride is taken in the strictest possible adherence to the book’s “instructions.” Those who are sober without a diligent obedience, in every detail, to the Big Book prescription, are dismissed. They are not “real alcoholics,” mere hard drinkers demonstrating their capacity to quit drinking quite easily through mere human resources. (These are the atheists, agnostics, and various other malingerers)

The “enthusiastic” follow the book to the letter, except of course, for the parts they don’t like. “Suggest” in its various verb, noun, and adjectival forms is particularly upsetting, and triggers ridiculous comments about parachutes, and entirely new, fanciful definitions.

“If you look up ‘suggestion’ in a 1939 dictionary, it means ‘a subtle command.'”

No, actually, it doesn’t.

Yes Dear, I have a few subtle commands about your cooking…..

Page 59 is translated to, “Here are the steps we took, which are  subtly commanded as  program of recovery.” Page 164 converts nicely to “Our book is meant to be subtly commanding only.” SHEESH!! Why “only?” But nice and firm, with no room for mucking about! Plus, pushing people around is SO much fun!

Elsewhere, the writer seems to have anticipated the 21st Century meaning. “There are many helpful books also. Subtle commands about these may be obtained from one’s priest, minister, or rabbi” doesn’t quite cut it. (P. 87)

“We believe, and so subtly commanded a few years ago, that the action of alcohol on these chronic alcoholics is a manifestation of an allergy.” (P. xxviii) It all gets a bit silly, under even a minimum of investigation. Just one more – this is so much fun! “There is every evidence that women regain their health as readily as men if they try our subtle commands.” Do NOT try that one at home, guys!

But, preachers gonna preach (about a book that tells us not to preach).

Other cool translations

“We realize we know only a little” = “We know everything.”

“There are…no lectures to be endured.” = “Sit down and shaddup – the lecture starts NOW!!”

“Chip of a book.” = “Entire order of fish and chips of a book.”

“Why don’t you choose your own conception of God?” = “Here, let us help you with that. ‘Our Father Who…'”

“When, therefore, we speak to you of God, we mean your own conception of God.” = “Naw, not really. God is God, right? Creator. One who has all power!! Big “G,” little “o,” little “d.” THAT guy!”

“Either God is everything or else, He is nothing.” = “Entirely your choice. Pick ‘A,’ or pick ‘A.'”

“Spiritual Experience Appendix??” “Nya nya nya nya – not listening. Not in the 164!”

We Even Hate Our Own Stuff

AA’s second main text, the 12 + 12, is vilified. Living Sober is the scourge of Satan. All manner of evil stems from the “watering down” of the original sacred “directions” of the sanctified “First 100.”

The forces of the “recovered” carry a crystal clear message that God is NOT optional.  God, not higher power, is mentioned 182 times, or 247 times, or 324 times in the book, we are told. Not sure, why the cited number  is always different, but never mind – it’s A LOT! (The fundies should have a meeting, and synchronize their watches, or something).

War has been declared against the heathen horde, unscrupulously at work to remove God from the AA program.

The evangelists are very vocal, as evangelists tend to be, and for them AA must be forever frozen in time, at 1939. Amid the fragmented modern AA world of diluted methods and treatment center contamination, they wax nostalgic in a contemplation of “the good old days,” the early 40’s, when the sacred book was followed to the letter by one and all.

But was it so?

The Golden Age Mythology

So many years later, the fundamentalists tell us of the magnificent age of AA, when ONE AND ALL scrupulously followed to the very letter the sanctified script of our God-given text. In little sub-sets of the self-congratulatory, self-esteem skyrockets amidst shared tales of diligent practice of the codified instructions.

There is a missed irony, of course, in the various explications of an “uninterpreted” page-by-page adherence to the directions, each group differing in small ways, one from the other. Perhaps this is an inadvertent tribute to the Christianity from which we are spawned.

“Akron AA” is mythologized, but the Ohio people created a 15 cent pamphlet, at a time when the cherished book was $3.50. A simple inflation calculator tells us that Bill and his anointed crew were ready and willing to save any and all who could pony up (in today’s money) 60 bucks!


Centuries ago, Thomas Aquinas penned this cautionary note – “Beware the man of a single book.” Flying forward some centuries to a world of then unimaginable technology, we can check Yahoo Answers “BEST” for the implications of the phrase:

“A man of one book knows only one way.  He is unwilling to consider alternatives or flexibility, and his stubbornness will become irritating in the short term, and dangerous in the long.”

The mantra of the Big Book thumper is that the writing of the book unified AA, and that a “recipe” was recorded, and followed with exactitude by one and all. What AA history tells us occurred, is something substantially different.

But, perhaps it’s best to not let the facts get in the way of a good story.

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.






Audio Version

The audio version of this story was recorded by Len R. from Jasper, Georgia. Len is intersted in starting a secular AA meeting in his area. If you would like to join him, please send an email to 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email



  1. A Grateful AA Member October 8, 2017 at 9:14 pm - Reply

    I accept the discrepancies.  Doesn’t bother me at all.  Neither does it concern me that atheists sit next to agnostics and are then flanked by muslims, christians, etc. in the meetings I attend.

    I have seen and know personally many of the fundamentalists that you describe.  I’ve been here since the spring of ’87; a babe compared to some but you see a lot in that time if your eyes are open (I, too, came in via the ICYPAA and other YPAAs.)  People will take issue on both sides but there is little difference to us in the middle that are sincere in our desire to cease fighting between the fundamentalists and you, their antagonist.  True, most of these types need to believe so deeply in their conception of what’s saved them (and have you and I do so as well) that they ignore the errors discovered in some of our literature and history in the facts you cite.  How is that any different from your need to set the facts straight and put up a site where the choir is well administered?  It’s a fair question.

    No matter.  I believe the traditions, particularly one and three, supersede those opinions as well as those of the die-hard atheists that would rewrite the big book.  I’m not a Christian or follower of any faith.  I am thus in constant odds with God as I understand him/it..whatever (see!).  However, God is for me, an abstraction; a manner, method, and/or means of ego-deflation… nothing more.  It just so happens that when this end occurs in we alcoholics a common result is experienced among us, regardless of our particular conception of what or how the abstraction has instantiated or manifested itself in our lives.

    Therefore, those that cringe at the prayer to close meetings are really no different to me than the fundamentalists you decry as fraudulent…albeit from a different point of view.  The lone member of this type feels on the outside and is offended whereas you tend to rejoice being there.  The fundamentalist believes he is as justified.  His accuracy in facts is of little consequence at this point.

    Some cannot accept the concept of God in the literature or as held by others being anything they oppose or have resented in principle.  They are offended as much by this and in a manner similar to the fundamentalist who sees you as at best misguided.  That’s a shame since the message can apply to more than Dr. Bob’s conception of God, or Bill’s, or Sam Shoemaker’s, or Jim Burwell’s, or Hank Parkhurst’s, or the Sikh that I see in the morning meeting from time to time.

    We don’t need to all just get along or agree on everything. Most of us will find over time though they we do need to cease fighting.  Live and let live comes to mind.  If you can’t do that then start another meeting.  The idea that God need be defended is absurd.  Yours is the intellect;  free will and mind.  Again, what’s the difference?

  2. David S Cornelius NC October 3, 2017 at 11:04 am - Reply

    Bravo Bob K! I last drank   In November 1987. Prior to that I had been court ordered to AA meetings every day for six months, and Three times a week for three years after that. This was after 21 days in jail.


    So from the middle of 86 until 1990 I went to a boatload of meetings. A big boat. 1990 to the present  my attendance has Been sporadic.


    This is due to initial   And continuing dismay  with the religious zealots,  personalities hijacking meetings with their “musts”,  sound byte AA  much like our society has become a slave  to a morsel of information that in no way conveys the whole picture, two  that stand out-willingness, honesty and open minded that has been twisted to HOW-honesty, open minded Ness ,  and willingness and this by dog, or By gosh ( I cannot End it  with an OD, no pun intended )  is how it is done! And the second being ” meeting makers make it”.  My skin crawls rewriting both.

    This morning I was considering going to a meeting at noon. I am of two minds, maybe more, about it. So I entered ” was Bill Wilson a fraud”  into Google on my magic phone. Your writing was at the top of the search. Maybe second or third, maybe first, I don’t recall.

    Regardless you make wonderful points  and something I have been saying for years in meetings, and many times been  publicly chastised for it, is if change is inevitable, then why would AA not evolve.

    • bob k October 3, 2017 at 6:23 pm Reply

      Good to see people still encountering, and appreciating, “The Fraud That Is AA Fundamentalism.” I think it’s a classic, but I may be prejudiced.

      The AA that I encountered in the early 1990s around Toronto, Ontario was more liberal and inclusive than what I find today. The “special people” who know precisely how to recover (and where to place the semi-colons) were quite rare. AA had a wide gateway.

      Of course, there are more conference speakers touring the country spreading their insightful fundamentalism, and t-shirts, to those seeking to be “above the crowd.” Their attempts to deliver perfect AA to the great unwashed masses drives many more away than are helped. Too bad! AA at its best can be terrific.

  3. John the Drunkard August 27, 2017 at 5:14 pm - Reply

    I’ve always been struck by the phrase: ‘here are the steps we took.’ We know internally that The Steps were FIRST composed in the writing of the book. The original version was rejected by the membership and the One True Version composed before the first printing.

    So how did ‘we’ take the steps before they existed? If you read the 1st edition stories, you can see how the actions that later composed the steps were worked out. The Steps are reverse engineered from that first small sample of experience. Did ANY of the first 100 actually do ANYTHING like the elaborate rituals that current AA fundies demand?

  4. John L. October 19, 2016 at 5:54 pm - Reply

    Bob cuts to the quick with his sentence, “The final compromised product, no doubt disappointing to virtually all, is sold as unanimously agreed.”  Exactly.  When Bill W. writes, “Here are the steps we took” (in “How It Works”), it is a damned lie.  Probably none of the early, pre-AA members had taken the Steps by the time the Big Book was written.  (I say “pre-AA” because the first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous was held in May 1939, after the Big Book had been published.)  And yet, most AA members respect the first 164 pages of the BB because they falsely believe they reflect the experience of the early members.

    • Tubby September 13, 2017 at 3:19 pm Reply

      If the first AA meeting was held in May of 1939 I hope it wasn’t on KY. DERBY DAY.    Whale

  5. Bob K. August 24, 2016 at 9:01 am - Reply

    I very much agree, but it’s the fundamentalists who don’t, and they get to point to capital “G” God 400 times in the book, etc. Many of us has substituted for “God,” or taken the word to broader meanings, and to good effect. Websites like this, essays like this, provide a countering description of what is available under the AA umbrella.

  6. Sue August 23, 2016 at 9:41 pm - Reply

    Gratefully, while one day reading through the BB with a sponsee came across in “We Agnostics” – ” Don’t let any prejudice you may have from honestly asking yourself what they mean to you”. That changed the whole book and made it okay with me, I’m Buddhist, don’t believe in God. Always carried that deep prejudice and “bristilled with antagonism” Everytime, “my maker”, “Lord”, “God” or “him” was used in the book. Bill wasn’t an idiot, think he was a lot like me, that one like was made just for me. God is an unfortunate word but for me it means the great dharma, quantum physics or whatever you want to plug in there. This deal is about getting over our damn egos, as long as you’re still tripping on the word God, your ego is still out to kill ya with drugs and alcohol. This disease is deadly, deadly damn serious, don’t sweat the small stuff.

    • Buddha April 8, 2019 at 3:20 pm Reply

      Buddhism is a religion.

      “We Agnostics” is a sham.

  7. Mike S January 8, 2016 at 7:03 pm - Reply

    Intriguing article… How often I have heard alleged “old-timers” telling all sorts of tales concerning forceful, interventionist conversions upon newcomers. Making them pray “on their knees”, etc. Lets not forget the oft-repeated admonition about taking the cotton out of your butt and stuffing it up your nose (or something like that 😉 There have been many ghastly accounts of what AA “was” by people who were never there. They repeat myths and adopt them as actual experience.

    How could I know that? All of these statements were made by persons who have less than my 38 years in the “program”! It is the perpetuation of myth as a reality. My own experience included nothing forceful, insulting, belittling, literal, or manipulative. It was a far more progressive, interpretive, and welcoming institution in 1978 than it is now. The myth about Dr.Bob being a dictatorial fundamentalist bible-thumper is ridiculous.

    In fact, either the Cleveland or Akron group had a short publication by him outling other spiritually based traditions amenable to AA. He even suggested the Buddhist path as a supplement or outright replacement one could use rather than the 12 stepset.

    Somewhere in the -mid1990’s I left AA altogether due to the narrow-minded and militant nature that was evolving (and also to raise a family while attending grad school). Returning a couple years ago due to need of personal supports while my wife of more than three decade and I were battling her cancer, I found AA to be a sort of caricuture of itself.

    Yes, there were a few persons that were supportive in a very human sort of way, yet so many exhorted me to pray to Sky Daddy, and were enraged when I wouldn’t, that I felt somehow that the virtues that make us truly human are largely absent and have both dogmatism and groupthink in their stead.

    Its not the fault of anyone there, but the natural progression of any institution that relies only upon inviolable scripture, fear-mongering, and abhors both resiliency and adaptation. It was my 1978 experience of AA that led me into the Buddha Dharma, which does not rely upon dialogue with a powerful deity that dispenses favour capriciosly. If I were an “alcoholic” today, I would not be able to get sober on what I perceive it now to be, at least in this region (Hudson river valley of NY).

    Although many of my sober years were not spent in those meeting rooms,I carried those principles with me and the character of those I knew with me all these years. Ironically, I am unable to be of assistance to anyone trying to get sober in this imitation-AA. Treated as an oddball, openly challenged in meetings, and finally snarled at by a woman with 22 years in front of them all “getting f—g g-d tired of you people who don’t believe in god!”, I left that as my final experience of AA and will not return. I am certainly grateful for the opportunity I had so many years ago to assist a few dozen human beings to reclaim their lives.

    • John S January 8, 2016 at 7:35 pm Reply

      Thank you Mike for the thoughtful and well-written commentary. I haven’t been around as long as you, though I’m getting there, but I’m a babe in the woods as an atheist in AA. I will never forget the first time that I came out as an atheist in an AA meeting. Foolishly, I chose a meeting outside of my normal environment, but I honestly could not imagine what happened could actually take place at an AA meeting, but it did.

      That was also the first time that I refused to join a group in prayer. I was so pissed off and they seemed so foreign to me, holding hands with them as they prayed was the most distasteful thing I could imagine.

      I’m not sure why I stick with it sometimes. I suppose I believe what I’m telling myself that AA is at a tipping point and I want to help tip it in the right direction. We shall see….

      Thank you again.

  8. John R January 7, 2016 at 6:42 pm - Reply

    The steps are a recipe;  one does not eat a recipe.  ymmv.

  9. Norm W. January 6, 2016 at 4:24 am - Reply

    It seems those most critical of AA haven’t “taken” the 12 steps of recovery, and experienced the fundamental personality change, as a result. My only comment to this is, if you haven’t tried it, don’t knock it. Contempt prior to investigation will keep you in everlasting ignorance.

    • Tony A. September 4, 2018 at 4:01 pm Reply

      Someone used the ‘contempt before investagation’ to explain why someone need to try A.A. I whole heartly disagree. IF I try every thing before I make a choice about it I am lible to try anything, and that is more than foolish. I have learned to be very carefull around the A.A. in what I say. I unlearned this bad behavior after I left the A. type progroms.
      One should investagate all thing but only try the one they can prove are useful. This is not contempt. It is logical thinking to not try everything (A.A. included). One needs proof that something works (and not just your word for it) before trying. A.A. does not have any proof that it works.

      A.A. and all the A. children progroms are all based on the lies that started A.A.
      The big lie is A.A. is spritual not religious then go on to explain how your religion works. Yes you draw in and the abused, lost, desperate and hopeful. They must be desperate to pay 65 dollars for a book and listen to strangers that demaned they follow certain religious guildliness or die. It’s a cult plan and simple. You may like you cult but a cult it is.

      • bob k September 7, 2018 at 8:51 am Reply

        The truth about AA probably lies somewhere between these two comments. It’s as ridiculous to state that AA can only be criticized by those who have taken all twelve steps precisely following the books instructions, as it would be to limit criticism of Scientology to “clears,” those who have taken ever single course leading to that state.

        The essay aspires to be a poke at the rabid fundamentalism of some members, not an attack on AA as a whole. The organization has helped a lot of people to overcome a problem that does not respond well to treatment.

        The enthusiasm that leads to all the overly simplistic black and white thinking is where the silliness begins. Fundamentalist of various stripes abandon rational thought and open themselves to mockery. They are an easy target.

    • Bob K January 6, 2016 at 10:24 am Reply

      Perhaps the piece doesn’t express my thoughts as clearly as I had hoped. That happens. The big book is the core text of the AA program, and there is little criticism of the book, other than to suggest that the unity of the “First 100” has been a bit oversold. I think that bit of hyperbole is both obvious, and understandable.

      For my own part, I’ve benefited greatly from an admission of powerlessness over alcohol, self-examination, confession, amends, and service. So, Norm, if you are asking if I’ve tried it, yes I have. The essay pokes fun, not at AA, but at those who preach (we’re not supposed to preach, BTW) a word-by-word adherence to the big book, and then ignore, or alter the words and phrases they don’t like, “suggest” being the best, but far from the only, example.

      As far as being critical of Alcoholics Anonymous, get a big book fundamentalist (some, not all) wound up about the conference-approved “12 + 12,” or “Living Sober” and you’ll hear more negativity than comes from my mouth in a normal day. Some of my thumper friends foam at the mouth in their distress over these two volumes.

      You are absolutely correct that it is not a one-man book. There was input from a variety of folks, some alcoholic, and some not. It was that very input which led to a softening of the sales pitch by presenting it all as “suggested,” and “We did” rather than “You must.” Those who play with the meaning of the “suggest” word are more disrespectful our founders’ wishes than I.

      Yes, I mock the irony of their inconsistency.

      Congrats on the 43+ years. I respect that. We should treat our long-time members better than we do.

  10. Norm W. January 6, 2016 at 4:13 am - Reply

    It’s not a one-man book; it took 100 sober alkies to finalize the Big Book contents. The phrase “keep it simple” has become endangered in recent times. “God as we understood him” made room for everyone, believer, or not. AA proposes flexibility, not rigidity. Everyone’s interpretation of the AA literature varies. “If it works, don’t try to fix it.” Why reinvent the wheel? S&C since 5/9/1972.

  11. Joe C. (@Rebellion_Dogs) January 3, 2016 at 6:53 pm - Reply

    What a great start to 2016. Witty as usual, Bob.

    Last December marked the 81st anniversary of the book’s author’s last drink (December 11, 1934. Later this month, it will be 45 years since Bill W died of addiction to tobacco.  There is a lot of mythology and hero-worship in our society. Much of our narrative is based of dodgy memory and some accidental mis-truth’s. Even our anniversary as a fellowship, June 10th, isn’t Bob S’s sober anniversary.  Bob’s last drink, if it was upon his return from them AMA conference in New Jersey, as referred to in his own story and AA Comes of Age would have had to be June 17th – not the 10th. This is not debated among today’s AA historians although no one thought we ought to change our anniversary date just because the symbolic event’s been erroneously pegged at June 10th. Why let facts interfere with ceremony?

    There are plenty of these little fables/mis-quotes/inaccuracies that make up AA mythology. Bob k has been good about bringing many of them to our attention over the years. Fictitious assumptions about a time when everyone (75%) got sober, member’s were in agreement and all the groups got along has become a kind of “well that’s how it actually happened” fiction. It’s not to say that impressive number’s can’t be found of alcoholics of the hopeless variety finding sobriety in AA. But we’ve never been record-keepers to the consternation of may an academic, scientist or journalist.

    Equal to the rapid growth of the freethinker-movement within AA is this b2b (back to basics) view of AA. I’ve actually counted up groups that have “agnostic” in the title vs “Traditional” or “Back to Basics” in the group name. There are hundreds of them, just as there are hundreds of nonbeliever’s groups. It’s not just the old-timers. There are book-thumping young people who revel in each other’s capacity to site chapter and verse and recount a revisionist view of AA history. To some of my generation (yester-year’s young people in AA), this obedient push to conform or be cast out is an insult to the legacy of rebellious youth in AA that dates back to the 1940’s. Suit-up, show up and no swearing is alive and well in today’s fundamentalist youth camps of AA. It’s certainly not the ICYPAA (International Conference of Young People in AA) that reached out to me in the 1970s and said “speak you’re own language and don’t be afraid to find your own way”. Sometimes I’m shocked by the automaton-like cliche of some young-people’s meetings and conferences ; most of the time I let it be and say to myself, “Whatever floats your boat – there’s no such thing as bad sobriety.”

    It makes sense that conservatives raise liberal children who go on to have conservative kids. Like it’s hip to be square today, conformity is the new rebellious when it comes to many youth in AA. Of course, I’m not saying that any generation of AA speaks in one monotone, Borg-like (sorry for the Star Trek Next Generation reference) refrain. I am just making some general observations from my local AA neck-of-the-woods, then and now.

    Bob, I may borrow the “HOMO UNIUS LIBRI” reference. It’s a winner.

  12. Beth H. January 3, 2016 at 5:30 pm - Reply

    Great article.  I guess that I’m fortunate that most of the people in the traditional AA meetings I go to are more tolerant than the fundies.  My hang-up is “The Fraud that is ‘How it Works.'” It’s read at the beginning of just about every meeting in the Phoenix area.  After stressing the importance of rigorous honesty,  it goes on to say that if you don’t abandon yourself to God you are hopeless.  There were people staying sober without a Higher Power when the book was published. Bill talks in “AA Comes of Age” about the Christian, liberal, and agnostic contingents all arguing over the wording of the steps.  The result was dishonest.  It denied our existence.  It would have saved me a lot of heartache if they had actually been honest.  If I’m asked to read How It Works,  I politely decline and say I’d be happy to read something else.

    I really like the description of the BB in the pamphlet “This is A.A. – An Introduction to the A.A. Recovery Program, on page 16 (conference-approved literature).  “Alcoholics Anonymous, A.A.’s book of experience in which early members first recorded their stories and the principles which they believed had helped them to recover.” (emphasis added).  I can live with that.

    • John S January 3, 2016 at 6:56 pm Reply

      It’s interesting that for many years in fact decades, I would hear the reading from “How It Works” and it almost relaxed me. I guess it was the ritual of hearing the same words over and over. Then a funny thing happened and I realized I didn’t believe in God an all of a sudden the damn thing became unbearable.

      At my old home group, which actually has a good sense of humor, when they would get to the part that reads “There is ONE who has all power that One is God May you find him now!”. I would then reply… “or not”. A few people would chuckle and it made me feel a little better.

      That’s interesting about the description of the Big Book in that pamphlet. I like that too because it puts the book into perspective as an historical text, not necessarily what we must believe today.

  13. Ted H January 3, 2016 at 5:21 pm - Reply

    I love alcoholics. Let’s argue over the most successful treatment strategy in recorded history. AA is fundamentally a spiritual program, and has been wildly successful. Can you get sober and not be spiritual, of course you can. But that doesn’t mean you should take spirituality out of AA.

    • Bob K January 3, 2016 at 5:32 pm Reply

      I’m disappointed. There is very little critical of the AA program in the piece. Perhaps a re-reading will clarify that it’s people (fundamentalists) I’m taking a shot at.

  14. boyd p January 3, 2016 at 1:53 pm - Reply

    A gentle revolution has happened in my home group of five years, and that’s how long I’ve been sober.  After six months of business meeting deliberations a decision about how to close our meetings was made, and I missed that particular meeting!  We now have a hand out of a dozen choices, including the LP.  The choice is made by the person reading and sharing from the “Daily Reflections” which starts our meeting.  That person can also close the meeting with content of their own choice.  There is some falling away by committed Christians, despite the gentle process, which was vigorous at times.

    I am reminded that “unity” is our goal, though measuring success in that regard is tricky.  What I know for sure is that when I hit bottom five and a half years ago AA was a phone call away, in a very rural place.  I want that choice to endure, reaching as many as possible. “And for that I am responsible”.

    • John S January 3, 2016 at 7:04 pm Reply

      Boyd, I feel the same way. AA’s infrastructure of service that has been built up over the past 80 years is invaluable and well worth saving. I don’t know anything like it. I’m very optimistic about our fellowship’s future.

  15. John S January 3, 2016 at 1:44 pm - Reply

    I love how Bob used humor mixed with his knowledge of AA history to shed light on the absurdity of the hardcore AA fundamentalist. I suppose this divide has been with us from the beginning, but it feels as though we’ve reached a tipping point and there’s going to be a backlash against this fundamentalism, and maybe it will come in the form of laughter, in realizing just how silly, crazy it is.

    This was my favorite line in Bob’s essay that really got a laugh out of me. That line from the Big Book always bugged me. I got to the point that when I ‘d hear it, I would say to myself, “Well, he’s nothing”.

    “Either God is everything or else, He is nothing.” = “Entirely your choice. Pick ‘A,’ or pick ‘A.’”

    It’s so nice to be able to laugh at this stuff.

    Thank you once again Bob. Amazing work!

    • Bob K. February 1, 2016 at 11:52 am Reply

      One of the great ironies, and I LOVE irony, is that for AA fundamentalists, the book, in spots, isn’t fundamental enough!

  16. Steve K January 3, 2016 at 1:17 pm - Reply

    Spot on and such a well written article Bob.

  17. life-j January 3, 2016 at 12:59 pm - Reply

    Just Y’all remember:

    “God has been good to america, because Americans have honored him” – this from our chief justice, Antonin Scalia, who also says that he does not believe the country’s constitutional traditions enshrine the idea of religious neutrality.

    Scalia was speaking Saturday at Archbishop Rummel high school in Metairie, Louisiana.

    He told the audience at the Catholic school that there is “no place” in the country’s constitutional traditions for the idea that the state must be neutral between religion and its absence.

    He also said there is “nothing wrong” with the idea of presidents and others invoking God in speeches.

    Just mentioning this because I don’t think that there is less religion in our society, only there is more polarization. And while we’re part of that polarization it is easy for us to think that society is getting more secular, when in fact it may be becoming more fundamentalist, not just in aa but in society as a whole. It’s all good if atheism is up from 5 to 15%, but it doesn’t help much if christian fundamentalism is up from 20 to 40%. I’m just pulling the latter number out of my hat, but AA is just a reflection of society at large, it was liberal when society was liberal, now it’s conservative, like society is.

    • dan L. January 3, 2016 at 1:16 pm Reply

      I am with you life-j.  Beside the fact that Scalia is symptomatic of what is wrong with your country I always remember that the good old Roman Empire went right down the drain after they stopped using christians as lion feed.  Things were fine, barring the odd crisis, before that.

  18. Jack January 3, 2016 at 12:11 pm - Reply

    Time for AA to go through some growing pains!  Perhaps the day will come when the program has no other goal but sobriety!    It is time to update the “BIG BOOK”!

  19. life-j January 3, 2016 at 11:26 am - Reply

    Bob, thanks,

    I do agree with you, this expresses my own sentiment very well. But my concern is that we have some unresolved conflicts which keep sloshing around among us. Not conflicts among us, meaning us agnostics etc internally, but in relation to AA. Frankly, the only thing AA has going for it is that it is the only game in town. And it is protecting that status well. Which is also why the message must not be diluted. The primary purpose of AA is no longer to help the alcoholic who still suffers, but to perpetuate itself in its original, supposedly, form, hiding behind tradition 1.

    With john Lennon I’ll say at this point I don’t believe in the steps, I don’t believe in the big book, I don’t believe in Wilson, I don’t believe in practically anything about AA, I don’t even believe in the fellowship anymore, though that is about the only thing I had left to believe in.

    At this point we agnostics etc are the only truth seekers in AA and there is nothing which really ought to keep us from cutting the rest of AA loose other than a vain hope to influence it and save it from itself, and a sentimentality.

    But I guess we’ll put that off for a bit.

  20. Chris G January 3, 2016 at 11:18 am - Reply

    This post is a tonic for me, after a “regular” meeting the other night; thank you Bob.

    I got curious about the number of “God” references in the BB as noted above, so I opened an electronic copy and counted: The word “God”, capitalized and stand-alone actually appears 331 times in this copy. Now that is just idle curiosity and I wouldn’t mention it, except that scanning through the occurrences of “God” I found something I’d never noticed before.

    On page 29, at the end of Chapter 2, Bill is describing the rest of the book for new readers. Here is what he says about the second section, the personal stories:

    “…These are followed by forty-two personal experiences. Each individual, in the personal stories, describes in his own language and from his own point of view the way he established his relationship with God. These give a fair cross section of our membership and a clear-cut idea of what has actually happened in their lives.”

    NOT how each person got sober — ONLY how he “established his relationship with God”. Not a word about sobriety. Interesting, no?

  21. dan L. January 3, 2016 at 11:11 am - Reply

    Great article Bob.  Thanks, I loved it.  Now get back to work and write very many more.

  22. Tommy H January 3, 2016 at 11:07 am - Reply

    A really good article, Bob, and apt comments, Jon.

    I think we are preaching to the choir here, though.

  23. Ed O'Connell January 3, 2016 at 10:34 am - Reply

    Been sober 38 years.  Over that period of time I’ve come to shy away from AA meetings because of the god-stuff, which is repugnant to me.  I Recently moved to a bible-thumpin’ area in the mountains of California, and, while I love the recreation and natural resources of my new home, I’m totally out of synch with any AA folks around.

    Any suggestions on how to attend some meetings and not mentally puke at what goes on around me would be much appreciated.  In a nutshell, I hate the god-stuff but miss the community, and my *personality* is not such that I can easily — if at all — keep my opinions to me-self <grin>!

    • martynieski June 25, 2018 at 7:59 am Reply

      Benn fighting this for many years.. Finally, we started two atheists and agnostics meeting here in NE CT.  See us on the secular aa meeting list.  The first meeting we started didn’t pretend to be an atheists meeting we just put into our policy and procedures that there would be no opening or closing prayers.  We also put in that it would take a 75% majority to change anything in the format.  After we started the second meeting we also listed the first.  Some people come to the meeting and don’t even notice the absence of the religion.  We love it.  GOYA

  24. Mark C. "Mark In Texas" January 3, 2016 at 10:23 am - Reply

    Bob K., another one hit out of the park! Thank you for providing an excellent treatment of this aspect of “AA” history. It is always a pleasure to read the fruits of your studies.

    Hats off to you, mon amie, for the growing and powerful body of your work.

    From the West Texas Bible Belt… the land of Super AA Fundamentalists, and other assorted types of AA Taliban, and where investigations, and writings such yours are so encouraging.

  25. Laurie A January 3, 2016 at 10:16 am - Reply

    ‘God (evolution) gave us brains to use…’  (Into Action, Big Book). Fundamentalists dare not use them. ‘Fundamentalisms of all kinds – political, psychological, theological – offer the sweet promise of certainty, of resolution of ambiguity, and of strict instructions on how to live one’s life… The secret fuel of fundamentalisms of any kind is fear – fear of others; fear of challenging, dialectical values; fear of change.  When they prevail they lead to intolerance and even violence …’ (What Matters Most, James Hollis). Jung welcomed ‘the precious gift of doubt’. A fundamentalist believer fears being converted to atheism; a fundamentalist atheist fears finding God. ‘All you need is an open mind…’ (Step Two, 12+12).

  26. John L. January 3, 2016 at 9:27 am - Reply

    Love this article!  It’s clear, logical, factual, and has just enough well justified anger.  Most AA members believe that the Big Book describes “what worked” for the early members.  Far from it, as Bob K. demonstrates.  I think the biggest BB lie is the claim, “Here are the steps we took….” — written by the manipulative scoundrel who made a fortune from sales of the BB and other “conference-approved” literature.

  27. Roger C. January 3, 2016 at 9:13 am - Reply

    An excellent article as per usual, Mister Bob. It has more of your personal writing style than most of your other articles and is thus even more enjoyable. I think it is important to question the (absurd) notion that there was a wondrous sense of unanimity and agreement with the Big Book and in early AA. Plenty of evidence to the contrary, including my own article, AA started in riots. Once again, Bravo Bob.

  28. Thomas Brinson January 3, 2016 at 7:31 am - Reply

    Bravo, Bob !~!~!

    During the past year, I’ve come to the conclusion that AA was actually more open-minded and inclusive during its formative years than it has devolved to become during the last 35-40 years. I ascribe this largely to the overarching influence of co-founder Bill Wilson, who through his vast correspondence and writings in the Grapevine, was able to prevent AA from reverting to the myths promulgated by the current evangelists of the “Back to Basics” crowd of Big Book as well as Biblical thumpers. The illustration above tells it all!

    In 1975, an AA trustee first suggested that there be conference-approved AA literature to ensure that we agnostics, atheists and freethinkers are full-fledged and sanctioned members of AA. Not to be — the orthodox fundamentalists have successfully thwarted every every to do so up until the pitiful 2014 pamphlet, “Many Paths to Spirituality,” aka “Chapter Four-lite!” The bottom line of our declining membership since 1993 that Joe C. articulates demonstrates how irrelevant AA is becoming to more and more of today’s population, especially the 20/30-somethings.

    I’m hopeful that our evolving and expanding secular AA movement can somewhat retard the steep slope of AA’s declining membership and right the ship of AA into more open and inclusive waters. Thanks exceedingly for all of your efforts to do so . . .

  29. Wes Layne January 3, 2016 at 7:29 am - Reply

    The most enjoyable of all the posts I have read here. I assume that the author is the same Bob that authored “Key Players in AA History”. That was a wonderful read as well. Well done

    • Bob K January 3, 2016 at 5:26 pm Reply

      Wes Layne, you are truly a man of wisdom, and discriminating taste.

  30. Manoel H January 3, 2016 at 7:14 am - Reply

    Just before our meeting started somewhere last week I was talking to this old-timer about my views on Freud and Lacan. I´ve been sober and part of a traditional group for six months now, and also been a psychoanalysis reader for some time. When I told him I had finally gathered enough vitality to undertake ( thanks in a great portion to NA, I made sure to add to him) a legitimate psy-course he congratulated me, only to say Freud and Lacan were OK, but nothing compared with what the Twelve Steps had for me. Obviously for him the Twelve Steps dwelled some place over the rainbow, pure and bright and above any kind of criticism.

    A bit of irony seemed perfect at the time and I answered that I couldn´t agree more: there´s no comparison between the ides of Freud or Lacan and the Steps. Somehow he didn´t figure I was being ironic. Instead he said he was glad I was (slowly) coming to see the light, that it was only a matter of keeping coming back before I threw stuff like The Interpretation of Dreams and the likes in the trash can of useless literature…( well, he didn´t EXACTLY say the part about the trash can, I´m only putting it in the text for color…)

    What I want to point out here is this rigid way of looking around what´s going on that many of the old guys in the Room have. Sometimes it really makes me almost stand up and slam the door on their iron noses for good. But I always do come back, because it is working for me. I´ll keep coming back, at least until I feel I´m with the tools and strength to open an agnostic group.

    “No comparison”, for our good old friend, meant it was a sacrilege to dare to compare what the impecable steps reserve for the addict with the ideas of some forgotten atheist from Vienna

    from the early years of the XX Century.

    This is just an example of the kind of things I have to deal with. Being in the group for only a short time, I don´t dig deep in these areas where my disagreement is sharper. But sometimes their shallow ways really get into my nerves ( and the guy I´m talking about, by the way, is a young fellow that could be my son – maybe my grandson! – with a Law degree, and so theoretically at least a learned citizen.)

    Anyway, it is great to have you guys around to talk to.

    Abraços do Manoel

  31. Jon Stewart January 3, 2016 at 6:06 am - Reply

    A wonderful article. Thanks Bob. Very powerful stuff. Many new people struggling with “the God bit” in AA will be helped by that. How do we practice an honest programme, when in all honesty it seems that “spiritual” and “religious” ideas are no longer relevant to an accurate world view?  It’s a question that won’t go away.  It will only get more relevant.  Show the 12 Steps of AA to anyone outside the fellowship and they’ll be aghast at the language.  AA fundamentalists seem to forget that newcomers, when they arrive, are people who share that same perspective.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.