Alcoholism Plus Religion Almost Destroyed My Family, by Simone | AA From An Atheist’s Perspective, by Ash J.

Introduction

This week, instead of publishing a single story, we are presenting two brief stories. In the first story, Alcoholism Plus Religion Almost Destroyed My Family, Simone writes about the challenges her family faced when her sister was first getting treatment for alcoholism, and in AA From An Atheist’s Perspective, Ash J. writes about his journey to atheism and how he found a home in Alcoholics Anonymous. 

We hope you enjoy these two short stories, and that you consider sharing your story by writing to editor@aabeyondbelief.org.

Alcoholism Plus Religion Almost Destroyed My Family

By Simone

My story isn’t a unique one. I was just another girl in a religious family in a red corner of a blue state. Some of my first memories were driving to and from church, my father’s AM radio roaring over any attempts at conversation. My brother, sister, and I were all enrolled in the local K-12 Catholic school, and were all active members in the church youth programs. It wasn’t a bad childhood; on the contrary, to anyone who saw our family, my life looked like a regular Norman Rockwell illustration.However, what lay beneath was a family torn apart and plagued by alcoholism, and a church that prevented us from healing and recovering from it.

I think my parents always drank, but I never realized what alcoholism was until I was about nine. I remember my fridge always being full of different bottles and cans that I couldn’t drink. I remember starting to notice my father’s post-church beer turning into an all-day event. I remember bottles of wine slowly disappearing over dinner. It wasn’t until I started spending the night at friends’ houses that I realized it wasn’t normal for parents to slur their words or get into fights on a nightly basis. My parents were never abusive; in fact, they were the most loving, caring individuals I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. Unfortunately, alcohol was starting to pull our family apart, and the support system my parents assumed they could rely on fell apart in front of our very eyes.

My parents caught my sister drinking when she was 13. I was 11 at the time, and even then I could see the mixture of anger, rage, and guilt in the eyes of my parents. The house was surprisingly quiet that night. My brother and I played Super Nintendo in the living room, my sister was confined upstairs, and my parents whispered to each other about what to do while huddled in the dining room. My older brother, who would later triumph in his own battle with alcoholism years later, comforted his clearly uncomfortable little sister, and told me everything was going to be okay. It would be, but we didn’t know just how arduous it would be to get there.

The next morning, my entire family loaded up into our old Ford Bronco, AM radio blasting Rush Limbaugh, and drove to the church to meet with our priest. He was a longtime family friend and, until this day, had always guided our family down a wholesome and religiously rewarding path. We arrived at the church and sat down in the waiting area of our priest’s modest home attached to the Catholic school we all attended.

My brother and I lingered awkwardly outside as my sister, mother, and father talked to the priest behind closed doors. Initially, the only audible sound was the radiator clicking on and off. Out of an almost painful silence, the sound my father’s thunderous voice erupted from behind the closed door, followed by the muted sound of our priest’s modest and pleading tone. My father again cut him off, and before we knew it, my father exploded out of the door and in one motion swept my entire family into the car and drove off in complete silence.

It wasn’t until months later that I actually found out what happened, but before that, things started to change in our house. Once filled with beer, the fridge suddenly felt vacant. There were no more wine bottles scattered across the dinner table. No more awkward yelling matches. My sister was still grounded for what seemed like forever, but in time things went back to normal. Before long, my family stopped going to church, and they found a new school for my siblings and me. When I asked my father why we had to change schools, and if it had anything to do with that day at the priest’s house, I got an answer I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

“He told us your sister was a failure in the eyes of the Lord,” my father said. My parents had tried to explain that, at least in part, my sister’s drinking was their fault, but our priest wouldn’t hear it. Instead, he explained that my sister was out of touch with God, and her drinking was a failure in his eyes. The final straw was our priest handing my father a pamphlet for a Christian drug rehab center. My father understandably lost his cool, screaming that if one drink made his daughter a failure in the eyes of God, then so was he. We never went back.

This wasn’t the last of my family’s battles with alcoholism, but it was certainly the beginning of the end. They tried to keep it from us, but my parents and sister would attend sobriety programs hosted in the community center every week. The wine and beer that filled our fridge slowly started to disappear, and the relationship between my sister and parents flourished.

After a few years of near perfect sobriety, my sister and parents graduated their respective programs, and never looked back. My parents, now atheists, are proudly sober, along with my sister and brother. My story isn’t unique, though. This happens every day. It’s an anecdote, but my family was almost torn apart by alcoholism, the Church, and the lack of solutions it provided. With secular treatment, my family was able to mend from what would have assuredly torn us apart otherwise.

My family may not be a Norman Rockwell painting but it is beautiful. It was far from easy, but through each other and the secular options my parents pursued, we’re better now than ever.

About the author: Simone

Simone is a writer, photographer, and film lover living in Detroit, MI. She currently blogs about drug and alcohol addiction, and how to move beyond them. You can find her on her days off cooking, playing hockey, or watching Netflix with her cat Luke Skywalker.

Artwork by Kathryn F.

Audio

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


AA from an Atheist’s Perspective

By Ash J.

When entering AA for the first time at a very young age, I had yet to begin contemplating the meaning of existence, much less any particular conceptualization of God. It wasn’t until I entered a Christian college that the challenge began. I’m a skeptic by nature, so I questioned everything. Searching for answers I sought out primary resources, accepting secondary and other resources when necessary. Eventually all my beliefs held about God, and Christianity in general, were turned upside down.

Thus began my existential angst. It became tough for me to make sense of anything, most especially why I exist or whether or not a celestial being reigns over the universe. It was the beginning of a very dark, nihilistic time of my life. Angst eventually led to increased drinking, leading me down many dark roads, of both a philosophical and physical nature. As my drinking became problematic, I found myself in and out of AA rooms. Researching the program as I do most things, the God concept became very hard to swallow. I still experience adversity as well as acceptance from those in the rooms due to my beliefs or lack thereof, and struggle with the God concept.

When attending meetings it’s impossible to avoid the subject of God (the capital “G” gender-specific deity), as God is an intricate part of the twelve steps and twelve traditions. To anyone who thinks it through, it’s obvious that early AA was referring to a particular Deity of a particular religion: Christianity. With the Oxford Group, and before them the Washingtonians influence on AA, this is no surprise. One can also read in the pamphlet, “The Co-Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous,” Dr. Bob’s explanation of how the “Good Book (Bible),” especially the Sermon on the Mount, 1 Corinthians 13, and the Book of James influenced the program. 

Learning these facts and much more as I studied the details of the program, it became tough for me to separate AA from Christianity. Even though AA is not affiliated with any “sect or denomination,” it is clearly influenced by and shares certain tenets of Christianity. The ultimate question for me became: As an atheist (non-believer), how am I to reconcile my attendance at meetings with the theism of AA?

I believe when people hear the term atheist, especially in the Bible Belt, they automatically assume that the person claiming atheism is taking an active step in denying the existence of god. This is far from the truth. Just as there exist numerous schools of thought within theistic circles, there exist many schools of thought within atheist circles.

Atheism, by definition, simply means “without god,” nothing less, nothing more. Similar to theism, there exist dogmatic (strong) atheists, and weak atheists who fall more into the category agnostic-atheist. Strong atheists take a more dogmatic stance, providing proof as to why they believe god doesn’t exist. Agnosticism deals with knowledge alone, not whether one believes or doesn’t believe. There are also agnostic-theists. An agnostic-theist believes in the existence of god, but regards the basis of this proposition as unknown or inherently unknowable.

I consider myself an agnostic-atheist. While I am without a belief in god, I don’t take my lack of belief to the next step by fully denying the existence of god. I believe that if god exists, humans have not cornered the market on what god is, nor is such a god comprehensible. In fact, I see my position as an ultimate act of faith.

My not having a belief in god does not imply the non-existence of a god. It is possible a god (or gods) might exist. Applying human characteristics (anthropomorphization) to what I believe god might be is limited by my finite understanding as a human. It seems very self-righteous to think I can pinpoint the exact characteristics of something beyond nature (supernatural), when all understanding and knowledge I have gained is based in the natural world and from the fact I’m human, and thus limited by this fact. In other words, I have never experienced not being human, and therefore find it impossible to characterize something that is not human or greater than human.

As my journey in AA continued, it was inevitable that I seek other like-minded individuals or groups. It was then that I discovered Agnostic AA groups throughout the country and on Facebook. Though no meetings exist in my area, I reached out by contacting the intergroup office in Texas. To my surprise an individual from the area responded and we have since maintained a relationship. He has played a major role in helping me come to come to certain terms with AA philosophy through the lens of a non-believer.

It is still very hard for me to comprehend thousands of individuals in AA having their own conceptualization of god. For me such logic leads to two conclusions: 1) We live in a polytheistic world where everyone has their own god, or 2) “God as we understand Him” is a manifestation of our own mind which, coupled with the group, is depended on to stay sober.

Over the years I have seen numerous people give all the glory to god for their sobriety, only to later resume drinking. Some, including my father, succumbed to alcoholism despite their beliefs. Such experiences make it tough for me to see belief in god as requisite to maintaining sobriety. I’ve come to the conclusion that I have to depend on myself along with the help of the group to stay sober.

Unfortunately sharing my struggles with the god concept during meetings caused some to roll their eyes, and others to share legitimately about how they overcame their struggle with belief in god (referring to the “Chapter to the Agnostic”). I’ve also met non-believers, who’ve struggled as I have, who eventually learned how to reconcile their lack of belief with the program. Over time I’ve been exposed to numerous perspectives on how to apply AA to my life as a non-believer.

It wasn’t too long after I began researching the program that I discovered Jim Burwell, otherwise known as Jim B, an atheist pioneer of AA. It is because of Jim that “God as we understand Him” is included in the Twelve Steps, as well as the third tradition. He explained in the May 1968 edition of the Grapevine how he began opposing everything Bill W. and the others preached, especially religion, aka the “God bit.”

It is rumored that the others prayed about what to do with him. Unfortunately, we never hear about Jim anymore. Most people in AA, old-timers included, have no clue who I am talking about when asked. Jim’s story, titled “The Vicious Cycle” in the Big Book, has greatly influenced my journey in AA as an atheist. Thank god for Jim Burwell.

Despite the aforementioned struggles as an atheist in AA, I have come to reconcile my non-belief with the theistic tenets put forth by the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. The Third Tradition, on which I base my entire foundation, clearly states that the only requirement for membership is a desire to stay sober. What I believe or don’t believe is not a prerequisite. In Tradition One (pg. 129 of the 12 & 12), it’s stated that, “No AA can compel another to do anything; nobody can be punished or expelled. Our Twelve Steps to recovery are suggestions; the Twelve Traditions which guarantee AA’s unity contain not a single ‘Don’t.’ They repeatedly say ‘We ought . . .  but never ‘You must!’”

In one of my favorite readings from As Bill Sees It (pg. 50), Bill describes AA as a “benign anarchy.” AA is a bottom-up organization. There are no governors, no one individual to tell you what or how to believe. It is for this very reason I believe AA still exists today. Most important is that AAs recognize each other’s individuality. Despite our differences we are all here for the primary purpose of staying sober. For this I am grateful for Alcoholics Anonymous. 

About the Author, Ash J.

Ash J. currently resides in Elk City, OK. He loves to cycle, attend spin class, and run a lot. When not doing these things or working, he loves to read and contemplate.         

Audio

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

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  1. Dave J June 22, 2017 at 12:11 am - Reply

    Great stories, both, thankyou. Simone, there is an agnostic/athiest meeting called All Are Welcome in Windsor on Saturday nights at seven. We have recently celebrated our first year and if you and any like minded friends would like to attend,  we’re easy to find. We are on the river literally under the Ambassador Bridge in the basement of Assumption church (contradiction?) – It’s Canada, what can I say?  Anyway the old (really old)  church has been kind enough to provide a beautiful space and we’re grateful. Not grateful enough to be re-baptized but grateful none the less. We duked it out bigtime with local AA to be recognized  and we are now listed in the Windsor and Essex county meeting list as an agnostic meeting.  One thing though, if  anyone has a DUI, they do turn people back. Oddly enough, the  U. S. doesn’t. Crossing the border into Michigan with a DUI is no problem. It’s a small meeting  8 to 20 people usually but I don’t think the D knows we’re here yet so please pass on  invitation. I can’t believe Royal Oak doesn’t have an agnostic meeting yet.  Great comments across the board.

  2. Gerald June 20, 2017 at 3:34 pm - Reply

    Thank you both, Simone & Ash. For me personally, the common theme in your stories is that I’ve been largely unaware of all the trouble that the religious experience can cause a recovering alcoholic. And I’ve been lucky with my religious experience. For all the ways in life that I was terribly unlucky, there were all these religious bullets whizzing by my head, but other people got hit, not I. And I just didn’t pay much attention to those bullets.

    Simone, both of my parents felt that the Catholic Church impeded their own personal developments. They each wanted me to be free to be myself – a personal loss that each of them would mourn for the rest of their lives, really. It affected them forever. Me, in contrast, my private Catholic grade school years were the best years of my childhood. Furthermore, I would be “raised” in AA some ten years later by real believers and churchgoers (!) And these AA churchgoers did not impose upon my self-actualization.

    Ash, at age ten I realized that God was simply “Santa Claus for grown ups,” my exact words to myself; I’ll always remember that day. I’ve been that softer kind of atheist. Never nihilist, I was however always a very negative person till I allowed AA’s simple religious philosophy to turn me into what I’ve been calling a “positive atheist” instead of a negative one 🙂 What really did escape me, all these years in AA, is that many of my fellow atheists, for one reason or another – you know, and not their faults – are not having the relatively easy experience that I had adapting myself to the God talk in AA’s simple program of action.

    And I just want to add that it was not the God talk in the program or in the fellowship that led me to AA Beyond Belief but instead a search for open-mindedness in the AA fellowship. I appreciate Michael M.’s comments here as a believer. In fact, it just cracks me up that a believer could be motivated to visit this site, if I understand correctly, in a similar search for open-mindedness in the AA fellowship.

    Thanks,

    Gerald
     

  3. Steve b June 18, 2017 at 10:11 pm - Reply

    What’s with this knocking of “militant” or “hard” atheists? All of the proofs of god’s existence fail, so it appears that it is far likelier that there is no God than that there is. For this reason I am an atheist, and not an agnostic. I’m sure that my belief fits the definition of “militant” atheism, but I personally am not a particularly  militant person. In fact I am rather mild mannered. But I feel that my nonbelief is almost undoubtedly correct, and I am not afraid to express this opinion to anyone who cares to listen, including militant Christians, and agnostics who may still have a soft spot in their hearts for superstitious beliefs systems such as Christianity.

    • Ash June 19, 2017 at 7:13 am Reply

      Steve,

      As far as I’m concerned the issue of whether or not god exists is an outside issue. If someone wishes to have the discussion outside of a meeting that is fine. Making philosophical arguments for or against the existence of god during a meeting is irrelevant to the “primary purpose.”

      I would like to have this discussion with you, as I am curious as to what proofs and concepts of god you are referring to when you say all proofs fail?

      Ash

      • steve b June 19, 2017 at 12:02 pm Reply

        Ash,

        There are many good books and articles covering the proofs.  For starters, I recommend Appendix: 36 arguments for the existence of god, which you can easily find online.

        I don’t think god’s existence is an outside issue because so much of AA is about turning to god for help. If someone says at a meeting that she prays to god for sobriety and thanks him for it, isn’t it relevant to note that if there is no god, these are empty gestures?

        • life-j June 20, 2017 at 2:24 am Reply

          Seems to me it would be more fruitful to argue that a god is not inherently needed for recovery, than to argue there is no god. Let the believers go on believing, on their own behalf only, but ask them to leave any notions of collective belief inside AA at the door.

        • Ash June 19, 2017 at 3:57 pm Reply

          Steve,

          One of the beautiful things about AA is that no one individual can compel another to do or believe anything. The same can be said about not believing a certain way.

          It is just as much the right of someone to claim they pray to God to maintain sobriety, as it is a non-believers right to claim they don’t. Who am I to tell them there is no god, especially as I am not so certain myself. The irony is that many people who hate having God shoved down their throat, do the very same thing by shoving disbelief down a believers throat.

          How one chooses to believe or not believe in AA is that individuals right. Meetings are not the place to go back and forth about epistomological, metaphysical, and philosophical matters. Such discussions are for outside of meetings. Meetings are for sharing our experiences with one another and tools we use to maintain our sobriety. If I don’t like something a person says I can ignore it. A person should be called out if they begin telling another what to do or not do. The First Tradition in the 12&12 does justice to the importance of individuality within AA.

          Ash

          • Steve b June 19, 2017 at 5:34 pm Reply

            Just as a believer praises God at a meeting, an atheist may praise nonbelief. If she does, is she shoving her opinion down the believer’s throat, or is she simply expressing herself, much as the believer has expressed herself?

            Also, in my experience, I haven’t come across many atheists who are willing to clearly state their position at meetings. Other than myself, almost no one, and even I don’t do so very often, and almost always in a nonconfrontational manner.

            • Ash June 19, 2017 at 6:38 pm Reply

              I think I may have misunderstood your initial post. I agree with you.

    • life-j June 18, 2017 at 11:15 pm Reply

      I’m the kind of wishy-washy agnostic who calls myself that because that way I don’t have to argue with anyone. If I call myself an atheist then I’m going to be constantly goaded with that whole issue about thinking I can prove the non-existence of gods. I really couldn’t care less about whether I can prove it or not. Though I like you ‘feel like I’m undoubtedly correct’, but I realize, so do all the god people. I will fight for the removal of gods from any part of the program spoken on my behalf, just because it is not necessary to have it in there. And I do, but when it comes to arguing about the existence of gods, I don’t see any point in getting involved in that.

      • Ash June 19, 2017 at 8:11 am Reply

        Life j,

        While not much for changing the steps from their traditional form, I am a proponent of agnostic meetings posting alternative steps that suit the group conscience?

        What is it you mean by “spoken on your behalf”?

        Also, thank you so much for your article in the Grapevine. I really appreciate it.

        Ash

        • life-j June 19, 2017 at 11:01 am Reply

          I mean there is a difference between whether someone in AA talks about “my god” (meaning theirs) or whether our literature says things in the nature of “we have found that a good is needed” – we includes me.

          • Ash June 19, 2017 at 4:30 pm Reply

            Thanks for clarifying.

      • bob k June 19, 2017 at 7:56 am Reply

        ^^^KABOOM!!!!^^^

  4. life-j June 18, 2017 at 4:33 pm - Reply

    Thanks for both of these stories. I’m not good at multitasking, but I’ll try write about both. What really strikes me about the first one is how your parents stood up for you to the point of changing their whole own lives. My parents did not stand up for me. they would – in best AA tradition I would come to find out 25 years later – drill me about what I might have done wrong. I have to admit I’m thankful my dad has died, I have actually been able to establish a reasonably loving relationship with my mom since then, which is nice all the more now when it looks like a very real possibility that I may die before her.

    As for Ash’s discussion of philosophy, I am grateful that I stopped believing in their god at around 8 years of age. I didn’t have to go through all that religious soul searching.

    I will say that one thing I have learned in AA is that it is not necessary for me to ponder life’s big questions. Where did we come from? Doesn’t matter to me, I’m here. How can it be that a bumblebee can fly? Doesn’t matter to me, I observe that it can.  Where was god before he created the universe? An absurd question to me anyway, but if I were a scientist in any of these fields it would be my job to look into this, but I’m not. The only thing that is my job at present is to help get god out of AA. This does not mean that I would want to rob any believers of their faith. It just doesn’t belong in AA any more than in automobile mechanics.

    “Before you adjust your valves, ask for god’s help, because can not fix your car without god’s help.” – well why not have automobile manuals full of  god stuff?  We can be every bit as powerless over our cars as over our recovery.

    On the other hand – in our little freethinkers group here in laytonville we have a devout christian, who just does not think that her recovery should have anything to do with her religion. So she is just as offended by regular AA as I am.

    well, seems like the postings here mostly inspire me to go on a rant of my own, hope that’s ok.

    And like Cato, by the way, I think the higher power concept should be destroyed – in THE program, not in anyone’s personal program, any one individual can do whatever they want, but if it is in our literature, it is spoken on my behalf.

    “But your higher power can be anything you want it to be” “but I don’t have one” “But it can be anything you want it to be” “but I don’t have one” “But it can be anything you want” “Ok, nothing is my higher power, I’ll have my higher power be nothing” “Ok, good boy, now you’re talking, nothing is a great higher power” And so everyone is happy, or are they just plain insane?

    Anyway, thanks, both

     

    • Ash June 19, 2017 at 9:34 am Reply

      Life j,

      What makes AA, AA? At what point does deconstructing the AA program cause AA to no longer be AA, but something different?

      Ash

      • life-j June 19, 2017 at 11:25 am Reply

        Ash, surely a good question, and I would tend to agree with Dan in his answer to you. One could of course take the position of the fundamentalists in AA, that everything in the big book is true & the last word on recovery.

        To which I can’t help but remind that when the big book was published there were, according to a talk by jim burwell, a total of 8 people with more than 6 months sobriety, and of the 20 people in the back, one already relapsed before the book was published, 6 of them committed suicide at some point, and many of those hundred who just had a couple of months sober relapsed.

        So is a program written by a 3 years sober guy based on such poor evidence what should define AA, or should we instead consider that maybe those of us who have been sober 30 years and have the exprience of 2 million to build on should have a say in what constitutes ‘the program’?

        I know it is a sticky point: if you have a 30 years sober agnostic reformer, and a 30 years sober fundamentalist – who do you trust and believe?

        But I would go with the one who says: look this “program” never really worked. Yes, one alcoholic talking with another worked, but then they made a completely fucked up explanation of why that worked, and the explanation – “the program as laid out in the first 164 pages of the book alcoholics anonymous” may very well be getting more in the way of helping alcoholics than the fellowship with a different explanation would.

        Still I am aware that one could argue that all those of us who are trying to reform AA are the ones who are wrong, and the fundamentalists are right, leave the steps and god just like they are.

        It’s just that AA have gotten a near monopoly on recovery, I consider it irresponsible on my part toward the newcomer to, for all practical purposes, leave them with the fundamentalist AA program as their only option. It is not enough to give them the theoretical option to go attend a lifering or SOS meeting 200 miles from where they live when there is fucked up AA right down the street. We need to change AA. people are dying because of the Big Book.

        Yes the big book saves a few people, of course, those with an inclination toward religion, and those with a strong enough mental constitution to put up with the religiosity, and get sober in aa in spite of it, but when you consider that 30 million big books have been sold, and all we have to show for it is 2 million sober folks, it can’t be all that good……..?

        • Ash June 19, 2017 at 4:48 pm Reply

          life,

          Very well stated. I too find it my duty, with the knowledge I have, to be a light of reason when a newcomer is being hounded by a fundamentalist, or simply does not understand the program. I would like to see more open-minded (neutral) readings at the begining of meetings, and find the Lord’s Prayer at the end unnecessary.

          Ash

      • Dan L June 19, 2017 at 10:00 am Reply

        I do not speak for Life-j but for myself.  “AA is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism.”  That is it.  No mention of Steps and the Great Big Huge Giant Book written by god’s philandering utensil Bill W.  The stuff is just window dressing so the busy bodies can tell people they “are doing it wrong”.  Either that or they are mental bookmarks to file sobriety things with.  Apologies Life-j and thank you Ash.  -dan l.

  5. Dan L June 18, 2017 at 12:42 pm - Reply

    Thanks for those two essays.  I also come from an Irish Roman Catholic family of hard drinkers.  The proportion of those who become alcoholic is about the same as any other group of people as is the percentage who seek out recovery.  Unfortunately we are often treated as casualties and most of us at one time or another said, “In this family alcoholism is an occupational hazard.”  I am in recovery now and am available for the next cousin or aunt or uncle who wishes to talk about recovery.  I still go to the parties but leave early instead of shutting them down.

    In Ash’s essay our hero/saint Jim B. is mentioned.  It is my opinion that altering Jim B.’s story by tossing in a hotel gideon bible and fuzzing the ending is one of the most heinous things that Bill W. ever did.  Jim handled it like a gentleman.  Thanks to both of you.

    • Ash June 18, 2017 at 1:11 pm Reply

      Dan,

      You’re welcome!! Thanks for reading it.

      Ash

  6. Kurt W June 18, 2017 at 10:45 am - Reply

    Wow, Ash J, THANK you for delineating strains of atheism and agnosticism I wasn’t aware of and, especially, for describing Jim Burwell.   In my neck of Long Island, there are some mighty stalwart old-timers — in their third to fifith decade of AA membership — who revere Bill & Dr. Bob & Ebby and, like you noted, seem to have left Jim B out the picture.  While they explicitly respect my agnosticism, they ingenuously cling to something Godish as a crucial pillar of AA.  I’ve been relying solely on The Big Book and Fellowship, and timidly had begun to assert that that could suffice, as it has for me.  Your article encourages me to talk a little more confidently and believe I represent not egoistic heresy but diversity.

     

    • Ash June 18, 2017 at 11:40 am Reply

      Kurt,

      You are so very welcome. I am grateful to have encouraged you, as none of us should have to sit in silent fear in the rooms of AA. Bill would not have had it that way. It is my belief that many dogmatize AA, which Bill warned may happen with both the literature and AA in general. Thanks for your warm comments.

      Ash

  7. Michael M. June 18, 2017 at 10:26 am - Reply

    Both great stories! Thanks for taking the time to share them!

  8. Pat N. June 18, 2017 at 9:48 am - Reply

    Two members of my first home group, nearly 40 years ago, were Father Pat  and Sister Ann. He was a parish priest, and she was a nun,  the diocesan director of education.  They happened to be cousins  as well, and both had well-established sobriety. They were both warm, wise, good examples of AA sobriety, and I don’t recall either of them talking about relieion. They may or may not have discussed the role of their religious beliefs in their sobriety, but they didn’t tell others what to believe, or judge anyone on religious bases.

    I’m sorry Simone’s family ran into a jerk who thought he had all the answers, and mistook that for any kind of truth. Pat and Ann would have taken him on.

    • Michael M June 18, 2017 at 12:29 pm Reply

      Those are the ones that truly try to help people regardless of what they believe. This can be done whether you are an atheist, agnostic or a believer. It takes putting your ego aside which is a challange for many. We need more people like this in the rooms. Could you imagine what AA would be like if the rooms were filled with these types of people?

       

      Mike

  9. Diana R June 18, 2017 at 9:27 am - Reply

    Two, very well written and impactful stories on a Sunday morning.  Thank-you for bringing this clarity and wisdom to my Sunday morning.

    • Ash June 18, 2017 at 11:48 am Reply

      Diana,

      Thanks for your complimemts. Glad my words are impactful. It is great to be able to contribute to a wonderful community.

      Ash

  10. Lance B. June 18, 2017 at 9:27 am - Reply

    Thank you Simone and Ash.  Both articles describe much of what I experienced.  And so I am enjoying my memories of how alcohol and skepticism in my youth influenced the person I am today.  That is the essence of fine story telling I suppose–it lets the listener/reader get insights into his own similar experiences in a non threatening or non-judgmental way.

    In Simone’s story of the priest who made a mistake, wasn’t that the thing which saved her family?  He judged and dogmatically told them what his God thought.  The unfairness angered Simone’s Father and led to changes outside of the church’s teaching.  The significance of this is deeply personal and I won’t try to bring these stories as topics to this morning’s meeting.  My understanding takes a step forward however.

    Good morning to you also, Joe.  And to all the rest of you.

    And happy anniversary to http://www.aaagnostica.org which changed my life–thank you Roger.  Love the observation by Life J. that it took a relative newcomer to AA to accomplish what Roger has done because so many of us longer term members have been compromised by doctrines like ” ceasing to fight anything and   anyone”.

  11. Thomas B. June 18, 2017 at 8:24 am - Reply

    Indeed, two excellent stories, which describe from different perspectives the breadth and depth of our secular AA community, which emphasizes that in accordance with AA’s Third Tradition that “The only requirement for A.A. membership is the desire to stop drinking.”

    In my own personal story I am from a southern Baptist and Presbyterian background who converted to Catholicism as an adolescent. Two Jesuit mentors while attending Xavier University in Cincinnati were influential to me becoming an agnostic — they taught me to skeptically question everything.

    Early on in AA recovery, I translated the god-word into Group of Drunk/Druggies. Of late, I have described myself as an agnostic atheist: I can’t prove there is a god, but on the other hand I can’t prove there is not. I am immensely pleased that the recent post-survey from our Austin Conference indicates that the majority of us involved in Secular AA are of the soft atheist variety. To my mind and experience, hard, militant atheists are just as out of touch with the essence of AA’s history, traditions and concepts of service as are the most ardent Bible and Big Book thumping believers.

    • Michael M. June 18, 2017 at 10:03 am Reply

      There are many of us, like myself, who want to continue on with sobriety and who do believe in God but want nothing to do with the program. If the third tradition was truly followed I would attend. I do miss the fellowship. But to be surrounded by people that have a ‘my way or the highway attitude’ just isn’t for me. At one time in my life I would speak openly at meetings and criticize this approach. But there came a time when I was tired of fighting. I just wanted to go peacefully on my way. That was over 11 years ago. I’ve remained sober.

      I didn’t know about this push in AA to be more accepting to Atheists and Agnostics until reading this blog  I truly didn’t know it existed. Again, I’m not an Atheist or Agnostic but I find this refreshing to know. AA does need a good dose of humility, or should I say, some of their members do.

      I do agree that a militant approach is not the answer. It doesn’t matter what side you are on. I know what has worked for me but it is totally different than what has worked for others. To criticize someone for taking a different approach to the same goal is absurd.

       

      Mike

       

      • Ash June 18, 2017 at 12:16 pm Reply

        Mike,

        I agree, a militant approach is most definitely not the answer. A militant atheist attempting to completely remove God from the program, is just as bad as the AA hardliner who won’t allow room for disbelief, or opposes agnostic meetings being placed on the regional schedule.

        Unfortunately, I have cussed many people and walked out of numerous meetings where someone attempted to tell me I was wrong, and self-righteously force their own perspective on me. I look forward to the day those types don’t enrage me. I shouldn’t allow them to compromise my peace of mind. I struggle greatly in the rooms.

        Ash

        • boyd p. June 19, 2017 at 8:24 am Reply

          My response to dogma, where ever it comes from, is to insist on equal time.  Otherwise the conversation will be short.  My response will often recount what the other has said to their satisfaction, then moving to my world view, if they appear receptive.

        • Michael M June 18, 2017 at 12:24 pm Reply

          Hi Ash. Thanks for your response.

          So it sounds like you still go to AA? Do you openly and honestly share your beliefs? What makes you still attend if it disrupts your peace of mind?

          Hope you don’t mind the questions. I am just curious.

           

          Mike

  12. boyd p. June 18, 2017 at 7:40 am - Reply

      Benign anarchy and a higher power are kernels of direction for me within AA.  In my home group yesterday I was asked to read the promises (page 83).  There is just one God mention in them.  I substituted “a higher power”.  One senior AA member questioned my arrogance at the end of the meeting by silently lifting the page off the table and reviewing it. Several years ago in a small meeting I was reading another introductory bit of wisdom from the big book, substituting she for he. He firmly stopped me in my tracks saying, “Is that what’s written?”   I think there may be some progress in his journey,  in that this time he registered his comment on my rewrite humbly.

     We are all beholding to Jimmy B. for the higher power concept.  I bring up his contribution often.  Language is crucial but not all encompassing. Shares in meetings need not be divisive simply because the language offends.  Who knows what the person intends by what they say.    I am curious to find out.  That’s fellowship.

     

     

       

  13. Joe C. June 18, 2017 at 6:28 am - Reply

    Wow; two stories in one blog. It’s like being able to order pancakes and eggs; it just seems so opulent.

    First of all, these two stories really touched me. I hope I don’t have to assure the authors that this is great story telling and story telling is at the heart of AA-ish mutual-aid.

    Today’s reading sent me off on a thought side-trip about Jim B’s story. His tile is “A Vicious Cycle.” It’s not about worldview or his contribution to AA culture. The title is about what binds all alcoholics – common suffering. A vicious cycle does describe the suffering of addiction so eloquently. So did these two stories.

    AA-agnostica celebrated six years, recently. That’s a year since the boldly declared, “Last Post” which was intended to sound the twilight of one gathering place and the launch of this new Sunday-brunch gathering. Of course, the new management here have done some imaginative and impactful things with AA-Beyond Belief but AA-agnostica did not really stop breathing community onto the secular AA scatter-graph of members and groups around the world. Like AA, a new group is formed which serves a purpose but it doesn’t spell an end of the group from which the new group was spawned. And there are other great recovery communities online and it seems like we’re making more of a habit of organizing face-to-face gatherings for those of us who are fortunate enough to attend.

    I’m just saying it’s great to be part of the community and it’s heart-warming to see our community flourish. Today’s contributions (in art and prose, print and audio) reinforces the certainty that we are abundant in talent and that the future looks bright.  Good morning, one and all.

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