Episode 14: A Freethinker in Alcoholics Anonymous

In this episode John L., the author of A Freethinker in Alcoholics Anonymous joins Kevin P and myself for a conversation about John’s early experiences in A.A., and his thoughts on the fellowship today. John’s sobriety dates back to February of 1968 when he started attending AA meetings at the Perry Street Workshop where he learned to stay sober through the twenty-four hour plan. John’s ideas, thoughts and experiences are valued by agnostics, atheists and freethinkers in AA. He has been a frequent contributor to AA Agnostica and he has provided advice, guidance and assistance to AA Beyond Belief since we started. We are very grateful for his contribution.

I hope you enjoy this conversation. There may be some technical problems to tolerate as there is some echo from my microphone picking up Kevin’s voice, but the content is very interesting and well worth your time.

Thank you John and Kevin for participating and for all your help and support to this site.

About John

John was born and raised in Nebraska.  He attended  Harvard College (AB 1963), majoring in Social Relations (Sociology, Anthropology and Psychology).  In New York City he worked as a market research executive, writing on the side.  He was in the antiwar movement since 1965 and the gay liberation movement since July 1969.  He founded Pagan Press in 1982.  For a decade, beginning in 1985, John was a leading writer for the New York Native, which was then the foremost gay paper.  He has twelve books to his credit.  John dates his alcoholism from his first bender in 1958 to his last drink in 1968.  He considers himself a loyal, but by no means uncritical, member of AA.  John now lives in Dorchester, Massachusetts.

Freethinker-AAJohn’s groundbreaking book, A Freethinker in Alcoholics Anonymous 

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  1. Leo P March 6, 2018 at 1:03 pm - Reply

    Thanks for saying something, Lynn.  I was getting rather edgy when John L. was giving his amateur opinion on anti-depressants.

  2. Lynn October 12, 2016 at 6:38 am - Reply

    Enjoyed much of the interview except where your guest discussed how anti-depressants have not been proven to work and how physicians get information from ‘detail men’? Very bizarre unsubstantiated statements being made by a lay person. Someone new to sobriety who may be suffering from depression may take this guy at his word, and he is not a physician or mental health professional. Just cringeworthy.

    • David B November 15, 2016 at 7:56 pm Reply

      Yeah, that kind of statement is dangerous if not deadly. The literature is clear: AA is not a medical organization; AA has NO opinion on outside issues; AA has ONE primary purpose. In the Family Afterward, there is a specific mention of psychiatry and its benefit as an adjunct to the program. So, if anyone ever says that kind of nonsense, just point them to the literature. I’ve had to correct more than a few “thumpers” who want to violate the traditions (not to mention good sense) by recommending against medications for depression. And all I have to do is open my Big Book!


    • John S October 12, 2016 at 7:25 am Reply

      I agree. I take anti-depressants, and I consider them life-saving. Nobody should think that AA has an opinion on what medication a person should or should not take. If anyone in a meeting tells you to not take a prescribed medication, they are out of line. John L. though a skeptic of these medications would never urge anyone who is taking them to stop taking them.

  3. David B April 10, 2016 at 10:48 am - Reply

    Can you *please* fix the echo issue on the interviewer side? It might be as simple as asking your guest to mute his mic when not speaking. But it’s been an issue on several episodes and is quite distracting. Makes me think I’m having an LSD flashback! LOL!

    Thanks for the great work! I love the podcasts!

  4. Drew P March 27, 2016 at 9:50 pm - Reply

    Didn’t know you started a podcast! I’m excited to listen to all the previous episodes. Hope to see ya soon John.

    • John S April 3, 2016 at 5:30 pm Reply

      Thank you for stopping by Drew. It’s pretty amazing how our group is growing. We had 24 at the Sunday meeting today. For the longest time, it seemed we would never get more than five or so.

  5. Jack Blair March 27, 2016 at 9:34 pm - Reply

    It’s been five years since the disenfranchisement of Torontos’ and Vancouvers’ secular groups.

    Five years of discussion (when it’s allowed!) and being reasonable and trying to find a compromise.

    Five years of continued intransigence of offices that wildly exceeded their supposed authority.

    Five years of continuous religious bigotry.

    Is there a time when reason and dialog are seen to be next to useless in the face of such determined and blind bigotry?

    I speak for myself alone when I say that my patience for playing nice with these people is at an end. The truth is that there is no rational, reasonable discussion that has not been tried and failed. My patience is at an end.

  6. Joe C. (@Rebellion_Dogs) March 27, 2016 at 12:48 pm - Reply

    It seems every week there is great new books about addiction and recovery that don’t reek of dogma but only a few leave a long, lingering impression. For me, John’s is one of these books. It is such a “Truth is a pathless land” book about taking what we like and leaving the rest. I heard recently that the opposite of courage isn’t cowardice–it’s conformity.

  7. Rich March 27, 2016 at 9:52 am - Reply

    Most excellent comment by Thomas B. regarding character defects . Alcoholism , in my honest opinion , does ‘ alter ‘ my thinking and does bring about ‘ character defects ‘. Do we all have shortcomings ?  Of course , we are not perfect . So , yes it may be a good idea to work on those ‘ shortcomings ‘ via using the steps , however to ultimately stay sober / abstain from alcohol , I just don’t drink…..ONE DAY AT A TIME ! It doesn’t get any more simple than that !

  8. Thomas B March 27, 2016 at 9:12 am - Reply

    Wonderful John to hear this podcast with John S. and Kevin P. in which you speak about your experience of True AA versus False AA. Though we have somewhat different views about both Clarence Snyder and Bill Wilson, I heartily agree with your belief that true recovery is based on abstinence in association with other alcoholics in the Fellowship of AA, not the 12-step program of AA and the religiously-oriented AA literature. I also agree with you that the revision of Living Sober introjected more religiosity than the original book published in 1975.

    When I attend AA meetings, whether secular or orthodox based on AA literature and the steps, essentially what helps me is that I experience H O P E — Hearing Other Peoples Experience to stay sober a day at a time. I totally agree with you that my alcoholism causes so-called defects of character instead of character defects being the cause of my alcoholism.

    Thank you John for your book and for your continued reasoned experience, strength and hope. Thanks you Kevin and John for facilitating this fascinating and information podcast.

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