Episode 32: Mark C: Recovery, Holy Wars and Doubling Down on Honesty and Tolerance

Last week we published Mark C.’s story in which he described from his own experience, the insidious progression of alcoholism and the challenge he faced as an atheist in AA. Today, we are posting a podcast that goes into more detail with what Mark describes as a “holy war” at his home group, and how he learned to fight it by doubling down on honesty and tolerance.

There’s no need to go into Mark’s story here since we just published it last week, but if  you haven’t read it, you really should check it out: My Story: Progression and Surrender. Instead, I will share my thoughts with you about our conversation, and the overall experience of putting together a podcast.

First, at the risk of appearing to be totally self-absorbed, I would like to share with you that these podcasts have been personally transformative. By nature I’m an introvert and not always comfortable in one-on-one conversation, but these podcasts have changed that to where I am now much more comfortable chatting with people in general.

One thing in particular that I learned from the process of recording podcasts, is that I’m not very good at listening to people. I’m now almost hyper-aware of this liability, and I work very hard at improving my listening skills. After recording a podcast, I may spend anywhere between two to four hours or more with editing, and when I do this, I pay extra careful attention to every aspect of the conversation. Though, I may over analyze my own inadequacies as an interviewer, I also really get to know the person I interviewed. I feel a connection to each and every person with whom I’ve recorded a podcast, and their stories are still with me.

I also learn a lot from the people I interview, and I certainly learned from Mark. I found his description of the first four chapters of the Big Book as an argument from Bill Wilson for belief in a sobriety granting God to be very interesting. It was also fascinating to look at Chapter Four as Bill Wilson taking on the role of Christian apologetic, trying to close his argument for belief in God. Of course he failed, and as Mark pointed out, every argument was built on a logical fallacy.

What really amazes me, is that when I read that chapter as a newcomer, I really tried to keep an open mind that I could have a relationship with God, and even if I no longer believed it, I was still deluding myself and mouthing the words for decades. Wow!

Mark pointed out, that it would be surprising if that didn’t happen, and I know he’s right. Growing up as an army brat and moving from place to place, I learned at an early age how to make myself fit in to whatever place or culture I might find myself. That’s what I did in AA. I adapted the AA way. I don’t regret it, because it got me sober, improved my life and put me on the path to where I am talking to people like Mark, and writing a blog post about it. What an incredible journey! However, there are far too many people out there who walk away from AA, simply because they don’t want to adapt. They don’t want to adopt someone else’s belief system. We need to stop trying to convert people!

I admire Mark for  having the courage of his convictions. Bill Wilson certainly wasn’t planning on a Mark C. when he wrote the Chapter to the Agnostics. Mark came to his position of atheism only after deep and careful thought and study. It was a long, slow process, and once he made up his mind, the Chapter to the Agnostics had to look awfully silly—as it now looks to me.

Mark stays in traditional AA and he doesn’t back down from conflict when it’s necessary, but it’s conflict armed with honesty and tolerance.

This is another really interesting podcast. I found myself listening to it a couple of times because I found Mark’s intelligence so compelling. I think you will like this one too.


You can read the podcast transcript by scrolling through the document in the window below or simply download the pdf file.

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  1. Bob K. February 14, 2017 at 8:10 pm - Reply

    I’m embarrassed to be only now catching up with this fascinating interview. Mark has been a friend from Facebook groups and a solid supporter of my writings here, and on AAAgnostica.org.
    A very bright guy with quite an interesting tale to tell!! Johnny Cash had a song “I’ve been everywhere, Man.” I think Mark may have been with him. 😉

    • Mark C. February 20, 2017 at 4:06 pm Reply

      Thank you Bob.

  2. Eric L December 3, 2016 at 1:05 pm - Reply

    Super interview! I am so glad someone informed me about this website.

    • Mark C. February 20, 2017 at 4:04 pm Reply

      Thank you Eric. Glad you found us! Hope all is well with you and yours. peace

  3. Kit G September 14, 2016 at 11:27 am - Reply

    Great podcast! Eavesdropping on one alcoholic talking with another is the next best thing to being there. I can imagine if someone suffering or questioning themselves were listening in they would be attracted to and identify with your conversation. Speaking for myself, I identified greatly with much of what both of your experiential paths entailed. The Road to Apostasy, not a Bob Hope/Bing Crosby movie, has been long and twisted. I’d like to get a copy of your pamphlet on tolerance, Mark, if still available.

    • Mark C. September 17, 2016 at 12:01 pm Reply

      Hi Kit, Thank you for the compliments.  I didn’t write a pamphlet, but wrote a letter to my home group titled, “A Letter Concerning Toleration”  (a rip off of John Locke’s seminal essay).  It caused quite a stir, and seemed to bring some things into sharper focus for some. I know it generated a great deal of conversation and discussion, perhaps some self-examination for some.

      Glad you found the podcast fun.  I know I really like listening to John do his magic on these podcasts.  I started out being a little averse to either writing a bit of my story, or doing a phone interview.  Both were a bit out of my comfort zone. Glad I did it. Maybe someone will be aided somehow along their own path. peace

  4. life-j September 7, 2016 at 8:43 pm - Reply

    Mark, thanks, you bring up a lot of important, both painful and empowering stuff here. I have experienced a lot of it myself, and it is so good to see it in print (transcript).

    The big thing about AA is that we don’t have to be alone anymore – except us non-believers, of course, and with pieces such as this we don’t even have to anymore, at least not as bad as it used to be. I also like that you accept, and speak of it, that you’re taking the fight that is unavoidable. I take it too. I wish I could have just focused on my recovery and be one of the one big family, but that’s not quite happening, and it does/will take a fight to get to that, except of course to the extent the fundies go their way, we go ours, and it all gets fractured.

    Hope it doesnt have to come to that


    • Mark C. February 20, 2017 at 4:03 pm Reply

      Hey life-j,

      Thank you. my apologies for the tardy reply. Hope all is well with you and yours.


  5. Thomas Brinson September 7, 2016 at 11:48 am - Reply

    Indeed, Mark and John, a most interesting and delightful conversation, which I thoroughly enjoyed !~!~!

    Like John, Mark, I truly admire your commitment to honestly and tolerance within AA, to work your non-theistic program openly and authentically within the rooms of traditional AA instead of “siloing” yourself within a secular meeting. Thank you, you’ve inspired me to do the same in my new communities in Illinois.

    Let me share with you an experience I had when I attended a traditional meeting in my hometown of Jackson, MS, a couple of weeks ago. They asked me to end the meeting with the prayer of my choice, so I ended it with the Serenity Prayer. However, due to my Celtic heritage, and because I still like to goad ardent Christniks, I loudly stated “Goddesses, grant me . . .” Well, at the end, the large, very articulate black lady Chairperson loudly proclaimed, “All right. Now we’ll say the Serenity Prayer again, the right way . . .”

    Believe me, I am so grateful that I can attend meetings with Afro-Americans in my Mississippi hometown, where my parents and I had crosses burned in our front yard because in the 50s/60s we were actively involved in Voter Registration and ending segregation.

    Interesting, Mark, that you make the point that there is much Stoicism thought in the Big Book. Nell Wing, Bill’s longtime secretary, and the first AA archivist, was a devotee of the Stoics, especially Epictetus, whom you mention. I was most fortunate to know her when I lived in New York. She told me that during the last years of Bill’s life they were collaborating on writing a more secular version of the first 164 pages, de-emphasizing the decidedly Christian, even evangelical bent derived from the Oxford Group. I’ve, so far, been unsuccessful in finding any record of this in either the AA Archives or the Stepping Stone archives. I suspect that any such material has been expunged by Christian revisionists during the last 35 or so years.

    I really look forward to meeting you in Austin Mark. Perhaps we can co-author an article being “honest and tolerant” in traditional AA meetings as a means of secularizing traditional AA, which has become much more Christianized than it was when I was gifted with recovery in the 1970s.  In any event, please consider doing more writing about your experiences.


    • Mark C. September 17, 2016 at 12:54 pm Reply

      Hi Thomas,

      Oops, I forgot to respond to your comments. Then I could not remember where I saw your idea about co-writing something.  Ah well, better late than never.

      “Perhaps we can co-author an article being “honest and tolerant” in traditional AA meetings as a means of secularizing traditional AA.”

      Many secular folks in conventional AA would be happy enough if “AA” were more “secular friendly” rather than one or the other.  A both/and seems to be a pretty much a wider gate….

      I, for one, do not wish to rob my theistic, “believing friends” of what they have found useful for them.

      For me, the twin values, or virtues, of  “Honesty and Tolerance” have high practical value in widening the gates for ‘whoever’ might come through the doors looking for help.  In my view diversity is rather key to the whole enterprise.

      Let’s explore your idea.





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