Atheists and Agnostics Panel At The Northeast Regional AA Service Assembly

Transcript

00:00 Speaker 1: So, our panel for… Our timer for this panel. Yes, our panel for this timer… Our timer for this panel is Scott, sitting to my left. He will be timing all of the presenters and those at the microphones. Each presenter has 10 minutes. Scott will begin timing after the presenters have introduced themselves. After 9 minutes and 30 seconds, Scott will signal the presenters with a flashing light. There it is. If the presenter is still speaking when their 10 minutes are up, the will hear the sound of a bell. [laughter] That’s better, [laughter] which indicates that they are out of time and must stop speaking immediately. However, if a presenter is presenting in another language and has an interpreter, which we do have the honor of having tonight, this is kind of cool, they will be allowed 14 minutes to present and will receive the flashing light warning at 12 minutes, when 2 minutes are remaining. When the presentations are complete we will have until 4:45 for floor discussion. So, this panel is titled “Is God a requirement for AA membership?” In keeping with the spirit of this panel, our timer Scott will now read a brief excerpt from page 81 in the book, Alcoholics Anonymous… [chuckle]

01:14 Scott: I got it, I got it.

01:15 S1: Comes of age. [chuckle]

01:17 Scott: Hi, my name is Scott and I’m an alcoholic.

01:19 S?: Hi Scott.

01:21 Scott: From area 11, here in Glastonbury, Connecticut. An excerpt from AA Comes of Age: We took AA’s 12 steps over to the largest Buddhist monastery in this province, we showed them to the priest at the head of it. After he had finished looking over the 12 steps, the monk said, “Why, these are fine. Since we as Buddhist don’t understand God just as you do, it might a slightly more acceptable if you inserted the word ‘good’ into your steps, instead of God. Nevertheless, you say in these steps that it is God as you understand Him, that clears up the point for us. Yes, AA’s 12 steps will certainly be accepted by the Buddhist around here.” To some of us, the idea of substituting good for God in the 12 steps may seem like watering down of AA’s message, but here, we must remember that AA’s steps are suggestions only. A belief in them as they stand is not at all a requirement for membership among us. This liberty has made AA available to thousands who never would have tried it at all had we insisted on the 12 steps just as written. But changes in them seldom last, the original version usually wins out. What is proved so true here in America will probably prove true in many a far-off land. Alcoholics may be led to believe in God, but none can be forced. Thank you for allowing me to be of service.

[applause]

02:55 S1: Thank you. Thank you, Scott. So, our first presenter is Irena from Area 49, who will be presenting on, “The God word: Does Great Britain have the answer?” Irena will be presenting in her first language of Russian, so please help me welcome, Irena.

[applause]

03:29 Irena: My name is Irena and I’m an alcoholic.

03:31 Audience: Hi, Irena.

03:32 Irena: I’m also Russian.

[laughter]

03:37 Irena: From New York City.

[laughter]

03:43 Irena: But I came to New York City from a city which is not even on the map in Russia. It’s a privilege to be here. It’s a privilege to asked to speak. I’m honored. This is my first time here at NERAASA.

[applause]

04:07 Irena: How do I look? I gotta…

[laughter]

04:11 Irena: I gotta be presentable for Alcoholics Anonymous. I love the enthusiasm. I’m enthusiastic about my sobriety. I’m enthusiastic about my life. I got sober to have a big life. I always had a big life. With that, I’m going to turn Russian.

[laughter]

04:29 Irena: Because my time is very, very small. I want to say so much.

[foreign language]

04:43 Irena’s Interpreter: It was one of the coldest night in one small Russian town.

[foreign language]

04:55 II: Do you know what happened last night? He froze to death.

05:01 Irena: And mother said, “What do you expect? He’s a drunk. He was asking about you. Well, he was asking for… ” And my grandma said…

[foreign language]

05:22 II: He did not have a cross.

[foreign language]

05:27 II: He was not protected.

[foreign language]

05:33 II: This got to me on a gut level.

[foreign language]

05:38 II: And this is what happens to us.

[foreign language]

05:44 II: We freeze to death, we drown, we die.

[foreign language]

05:52 II: But there is another way, there is an AA path.

[foreign language]

06:06 II: Everybody who suffers from alcoholism belongs in these rooms

[foreign language]

06:19 II: We do not exclude anyone because alcohol does not discriminate against anyone.

[foreign language]

06:31 II: If you have decided to stop drinking this is the only condition.

[foreign language]

06:39 II: AA does not require to believe in God. This is not a religious program.

[foreign language]

06:54 II: Dr. Silkworth described us very accurately, so people would believe in themselves, but most importantly they believe in a power greater than themselves that keeps them from drink.

[foreign language]

07:10 II: A power that separates us from life and death.

[foreign language]

07:22 II: Oh my God, there is a way out. I don’t have to live like this. I don’t have to suffer. There is a way out.

[foreign language]

07:36 II: What is this power? How do I find it? Where do I get it? How do I obtain it? I’ve been looking for it all my life.

[foreign language]

07:46 II: But not in the right places.

[foreign language]

07:53 II: For us, it is a choice between life and death.

[foreign language]

08:01 II: There is no time to discuss about the existence or nonexistence of God when my hair is on fire.

[foreign language]

08:12 II: I have to find this power.

[foreign language]

08:20 II: That I can lean upon at any time, and that the one that will protect me against this drink in front of me.

[foreign language]

08:33 II: I find this power through the program of the 12 steps.

[foreign language]

08:42 II: I find this power. It is truly greater than I am by myself.

[foreign language]

08:53 II: I lived in a country where any type of faith was prohibited, where churches were destroyed.

[foreign language]

09:05 II: Believe in communism. Believe in the party. Place your faith upon us in power.

[foreign language]

09:17 II: They said to us, “We’re powerful. We will be able to handle anything that comes our way.”

[foreign language]

09:29 II: And people became demoralized, dispirited, and having their lost their direction, reached for the bottle.

[foreign language]

09:41 II: It is a terrible, terrible conundrum with absolutely no way out and hopeless state of being.

[foreign language]

09:57 II: But when I found AA, I found an incredible spiritual victory.

[foreign language]

10:10 II: I saw that others followed the example of Bill Wilson, and they got well.

[foreign language]

10:19 II: And that’s all I needed to get well.

[foreign language]

10:28 II: A safe place, a place where I’m not judged, a place where I’m not being put down, and that place is called AA.

[foreign language]

10:41 II: I finally had scales pulled off my eyes and my spiritual desolation became null and void, I became enlightened.

[foreign language]

11:05 II: The discussions about how strong or not strong I am, discussion about spiritual or not spiritual I am, are not needed here.

[foreign language]

11:24 II: Trying to prove myself that I’m strong, and yet falling on my face over and over again.

[foreign language]

11:38 II: When I saw that a power greater than ourselves had been working successfully in the lives of others, I fell to my knees and believed that there is a power greater than myself that can help us from drinking.

[foreign language]

12:01 II: Been left alone with myself to my own devices. I looked deeply inside myself and felt the presence of the spirit.

[foreign language]

12:12 II: He was there.

[foreign language]

12:14 II: Very real.

[foreign language]

12:17 II: The dearest.

[foreign language]

12:22 II: Like an eternal voice telling me.

[foreign language]

12:27 II: Are you sure that I do not exist?

[foreign language]

12:33 II: Maybe you’re just afraid of me.

[foreign language]

12:36 II: What are you, a coward?

[foreign language]

12:42 II: Inspired, I called my sponsor.

[foreign language]

12:49 II: Absolutely beside myself with joy, I explained to my sponsor what came over me.

[foreign language]

13:02 II: He was just smiling and smiling, and saying, “Yep, that’s pretty much the idea.”

[laughter]

[foreign language]

13:16 II: The foundation was laid down. From an unbeliever, I have become a believer.

[foreign language]

13:26 II: I found power greater than myself. I was no longer powerless myself.

[foreign language]

13:38 II: And from here on forward, I can most certainly build on this foundation, and then rest on this foundation successfully.

[foreign language]

13:55 II: I’m grateful to AA that they have placed absolutely no preconditions on me, and they have accepted me with open arms.

[foreign language]

14:07 II: Just like I am, Russian, unbeliever, rebel, etcetera.

[laughter]

[foreign language]

14:20 II: Everything came down to one choice, which path will I follow? The path of believing the high power, or the path of rebellion?

[foreign language]

14:33 II: God is everything, or else he’s nothing.

[foreign language]

14:39 II: Every single one of us comes to this choice.

[foreign language]

14:46 II: And there is no one to blame if that choice is not made correctly.

[foreign language]

14:51 II: Everything is quite simple.

[foreign language]

15:00 II: Makes no difference whether you’re atheist or agnostic, we end up in AA having been tortured by canned alcohol long enough.

[foreign language]

15:14 II: Torn to shreds, afraid, afraid of everything.

[foreign language]

15:23 II: Everything that we need is just a safe place so that we can begin our recovery

[foreign language]

15:31 II: It makes absolutely no difference here inside the rooms of AA who you are and what you believe or do not believe into.

[foreign language]

15:42 II: How do you count and make use of this higher power? That is the only question.

[foreign language]

15:56 II: I have observed an absolutely Earth-shattering event, and something that shook me to move my foundation.

[foreign language]

16:07 II: I knew a man.

[foreign language]

16:15 II: When I was leading an AA group on 79th Street, New York.

[foreign language]

16:23 II: He had a pretty good beginning, but he absolutely did not accept that there was a power greater than himself.

[foreign language]

16:33 II: Every single meeting, he was trying to explain that he did not need a power greater than himself, that he would absolutely recover through self-knowledge and help himself to recover.

[foreign language]

16:47 II: Time has passed. I have ended up Downtown.

[foreign language]

16:54 II: I was asked to come to a hospital at the Upper West Side once.

[foreign language]

17:00 II: I came over and the hospital was empty.

[foreign language]

17:04 II: It was right around Christmastime.

[foreign language]

17:10 II: A man came over and I thought I knew him.

[foreign language]

17:15 II: Looking closer.

[foreign language]

17:18 II: I realized who it was.

[foreign language]

17:21 II: And recoiled in horror.

[foreign language]

17:28 II: He was like a wounded animal.

[foreign language]

17:33 II: Like a psychologically deranged person.

[foreign language]

17:38 II: Barely resembling human form.

[foreign language]

17:42 II: I was shaken to my foundation.

[foreign language]

17:50 II: Smart and talented, he was not able to make the right choice.

17:58 Irena: It all comes down to choice. God is everything or God is nothing. What’s your choice to be? I’m running out of time, so thank you very much for your time.

[applause]

18:22 S1: Wow. You guys got your work cut out for you here, I think. Wow. I wouldn’t want to follow that. [laughter] I didn’t want to cut her off. [laughter] Thank you so much, Irena. Our next presenter is Jean Marie from Area 45 and her topic is, is removing the word God from AA the answer? So please help me welcome Jean Marie.

[applause]

18:53 Jean Marie: Hi everybody. My name is Jean Marie. I’m from Area 45 and I am definitely an alcoholic. So, before I begin, I want to thank the NERAASA Committee and all the volunteers for all their hard work in putting together this terrific weekend. A special thanks to Tyler, who was not only efficient in his job, but very helpful any time I had questions about what I was supposed to be doing. It’s truly an honor and a privilege to present here at NERAASA and also freaking scary. [laughter] But wow, what an interesting and pertinent and fascinating topic in today’s AA world. Fun fact, the word God appears 134 times within the first 164 pages of the big book of Alcoholics Anonymous. There are an additional 147 times that capitalized synonyms for God are used, such as creator, director, create divine intelligence, etcetera. Source for that is bigbookwizardry.wordpress.com. [laughter] And the Urban Dictionary says that there are over 500 definitions of the word God. The most commonly understood and for our purposes, pretty close to, they involve some sort of divine interventionist deity.

20:24 JM: So, is removing the word God from AA the answer? When I’ve relayed this question to fellow AAs over the past couple of weeks, I’ve gotten similar reactions, very similar to kind of how I reacted. It was like, “Huh? Uh, no.” We try to be polite and not judgmental and open-minded in AA, so we don’t want to just blurt out, “Well, that sounds kind of goofy.” So, a lot of puzzled faces along with some very definite no’s. So, what do we do with this question? What does this question really mean? And anyway, how the heck could we possibly remove the word God from our AA program? Well, we’re going to explore this question. For those unaware as I was, it turns out that Alcoholics Anonymous already has a fair amount of AA groups who do not use the word God in their meetings. These are secular, agnostic, atheist, free-thinker groups of Alcoholics Anonymous. They may use language a bit differently than what some of us are used to, but these groups insist they are fully members of AA. Some of the first agnostic AA meetings began in the 1970s and ’80s in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York City.

21:44 JM: According to the AA Agnostica site, there were 87 agnostic meetings across North America around 2011. In 2016, that number was 320 agnostic-type meetings worldwide. We know that atheists and agnostics have found sobriety and been members of Alcoholics Anonymous since the beginning. Let’s hear in Bill’s own words about the writing of the 12 steps, all the arguing that went into it and the important contribution that agnostic and atheist members made to our program. So here we go. Out of it all, there came a 10 strike, out of all the argument, a 10 strike for Alcoholics Anonymous. Our agnostic contingent, speared by Hank P and Jim B, finally convinced us that we must make it easier for people like themselves by using such terms as “A higher power” or “God as we understand him”. Those expressions, as we so well know today, have proved lifesavers for many and alcoholic. They have enabled thousands of us to make a beginning where none of them could have been made had we left the steps just as I originally wrote them. And isn’t that the primary purpose of Alcoholics Anonymous? We solve our problem and help others to recover from alcoholism.

23:21 JM: The earliest reference that I could find from AA history having anything to do with this, removing the word God from AA, comes from page 81 in Language of the Heart, written in 1957 and out of a conference approved book. Bill is quoting from a letter that had recently been received from a Presbyterian minister in Thailand. Well, since you guys stole my thunder, and already read this at the beginning of the meeting, [laughter] I won’t repeat it. But I will just give the very last paragraph in that.

24:01 JM: In the beginning AA was very concerned that we not be identified with any kind of religious entity. So, before the big book was written and published, it was given to Catholics, all kinds of different religions, to see if there would be any objections. And this is kind of along the same lines. But anyway, Bill continues after that letter where the Buddhists say, “It would be accepted and especially better if the word good was used for God.” Bill says, “To some of us, the idea of substituting God for good, good for God, in the 12 steps seems like a watering down of AAs message, but here we must remember that AA steps are suggestions only, a belief in them as they stand is not a requirement for membership among us.”

24:46 JM: “This liberty has made AA available to thousands who never would have tried at all had we insisted on the 12 steps just as written. But changes in them seldom last, the original version usually wins out. What has proved so true here in America, will probably prove true in many of a far-off land. Alcoholics may be led to believe in God, but none can be forced.” So, there are actually a lot of Alcoholics Anonymous 12-steps for recovery from alcoholism. They can be found online. There’s Buddhist non-theist 12 steps, a free thinkers steps, agnostic AA 12 steps, Atheist 12 steps, etcetera. Some of these 12 steps are actually used by some AA members and groups.

25:41 JM: So, here’s how one group might go ahead and run their meeting. They’d start with the preamble, maybe they’d start with the AA pre-amble first, but then the agnostic pre-amble. This group of AA attempts to maintain a tradition of free expression and conduct a meeting where alcoholics may feel free to express any doubts or disbeliefs they may have, and to share their own personal form of spiritual experience, their search for it, or their rejection of it. We do not endorse or oppose any religion or atheism. Our only wish is to assure suffering alcoholics that they can find sobriety in AA, without having to accept anyone else’s beliefs or, having to deny their own.

26:35 JM: Then they’d go ahead to how it works. This particular group reads pretty traditional how it works. Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not, completely give themselves to this simple program. Usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves. There are such unfortunates. They are not at fault. They seem to have been born that way. They’re naturally incapable of grasping and developing a manner of living which demands rigorous honesty. Their chances are less than average. There are those, too, who suffer from grave emotional and mental disorders, but many of them do recover if they have the capacity to be honest.

27:17 JM: Our stories disclose, in a general way, what we used to be like, what happened, and what we are like now. If you have decided you want what we have and are willing to go to any length to get it, then you are ready to take certain steps. At some of these, we balked. We thought we could find an easier, softer way, but we could not. With all the earnestness at our command, we beg of you to be fearless and thorough from the very start. Some of us have tried to hold on to our old ideas and the result was nil until we let go absolutely. Remember that we deal with alcohol, cunning, baffling, and powerful. Without help it is too much for us. Half measures availed us nothing.

27:57 JM: We stood at the turning point. Here are the steps we took, which are suggested as a program of recovery. One, we admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable. Two, we came to believe and to accept that we needed strengths and resources beyond our awareness, to restore us to sanity. Three, we made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the collective wisdom of those who have searched before us. Four, we made a searching and fearless inventory of ourselves. Five, we admitted to ourselves, without reservation, and to another human being, the exact nature of our wrongs. Six, we were ready to accept help in letting go of all our defects of character. Seven, with humility and openness, we sought to eliminate our shortcomings. Eight, we made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all. Nine, we made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. Ten, we continue to take personal inventory and when were wrong, promptly admitted it. Eleven, we sought through prayer and meditation to improve our spiritual awareness and our understanding of the AA way of life. And twelve, having had changed as the result of these steps we tried to carry this message to alcoholics. Okay, I’m out of time, but I do have to wrap this up just very, very quickly.

[applause]

29:30 JM: I just want to say…

[applause]

29:32 JM: Okay, can I? No, Okay. I’m kicked out. [chuckle] Thank you.

[applause]

29:38 S1: Gosh, I feel awful. Thank you, Jane Marie. Our final presenter is Ernie P from area 44 whose presentation topic is titled, “Are we inclusive or subtlety divisive?” Please help me welcome Ernie.

[applause]

30:02 Ernie: Hello, everyone. My name is Ernie and I am an alcoholic.

30:07 S?: Hi Ernie!

30:08 Ernie: My sobriety date is January 6, 2011. I currently serve as DCM of district nine in area 44. I am very honored to stand here before you today for so many reasons. Is God a requirement for AA membership? By its very nature, the question is controversial, but this only makes it that much more important that it be addressed today. A simple Google search of atheists in AA brings up an overwhelming number of results. Sifting through, you may stumble across an article on an atheist agnostic AA group called We Agnostics, located in Toronto, Canada. We Agnostics decided to change the twelve steps. Similar to the way that in a step meeting everyone shares what the steps mean to him or her, the group decided what the steps meant to them collectively. In doing so, they hoped to make the steps more relatable and accessible to those who attended their meetings. Afterward, the Greater Toronto Area Intergroup de-listed the group. Why?

31:13 Ernie: The Intergroup stated that a belief in God is a requirement to be listed. Because of the delisting, a member filed a claim with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario against the Greater Toronto Area Intergroup in AA World Services, claiming this was a human rights violation. AAWS stated that AA is not a religious organization, and eventually the Intergroup reached a mediation to relist the group, agreeing that belief in God is not necessary. Over the years, atheist and agnostic groups have been listed in other parts of Canada and the United States to promote an inclusive approach to AA membership, rather than promote any religious or theistic perspective. But there are still intergroups that refuse to list atheist and agnostic groups.

32:02 Ernie: As stated in the long form of tradition three, our membership ought to include all who suffer from alcoholism, hence we may refuse none who wish to recover, nor are AA membership ever depend upon money or conformity. Any two or three alcoholics gathered together for sobriety may call themselves an AA meeting, provided that as a group they have no other affiliation. Tradition three is reiterated in the book “AA Comes of Age”, further elaborating that means these two or three alcoholics could try for sobriety in any way they like. They could disagree with all or any of AA’s principles and still call themselves an AA group.

32:42 Ernie: Jim Burwell is credited with the adoption of AA’s third tradition. It was primarily Jim along with Hank Parkhurst who convinced Bill to change the 12 steps to be more inclusive to those who did not believe in God. From the very beginning, controversy existed over the idea that God was essential to sobriety. Jim and Hank argued that the alcoholic should be able to take God or leave him alone as he wished. They paved the way for what is happening now. All these years later, was a growing population of agnostics and atheists. Jim also helped start the first AA groups in Philadelphia, Washington and Baltimore. If our past members were so concerned with being inclusive to all suffering alcoholics inside and outside the rooms of AA, shouldn’t we carry that as well?

33:32 Ernie: The facts and arguments I’ve discussed hit close to home for me, for I, too, am an atheist. I have to be honest, it was quite frightening when I came into AA and I saw the steps. All I wanted to do was stop drinking, and yet I kept hearing the word God. Eventually it became easier to feel I was a part of the fellowship, mostly due to the many wonderful people in AA who have accepted me for who I am, and allowed me to follow my own path. I find my higher power within the groups of AA. I could not have made it without my fellow AA members. It is with them that I finally realized I am not unique or alone. I am experiencing a new freedom and happiness, and I need to stay connected to this higher power.

34:22 Ernie: As an atheist, I don’t want to conform you to what I do or do not believe. Conversely, I feel the same should apply to those who do believe in God. I am profoundly grateful that your higher power works in your life. But while I support you and your beliefs, I do not want your higher power in my life. I think most atheists and agnostics feel this way. We want to stay sober just as badly as you. Please do not deprive us of our own path. When we change the steps into something that is relatable to us or make a mental adjustment to some wording in the Big Book or Twelve and Twelve, it does not set us on a rampage to change all the text of AA.

[laughter]

35:02 Ernie: We are simply trying to stay sober in a way that works for us, just as those who believe in God are trying to stay sober in a way that works for them. When I take a sponsee through the steps, I do not change anything, I allow them to read the book as it is and tell me what it means to them. This is the beauty of AA working in both of our lives. It is up to them, if they wish to follow a path of belief or non-belief, it is not up to me. If I try to affect their beliefs, I would deprive them of an opportunity to grow, the same opportunity my sponsor and many others have given me.

35:36 Ernie: I work hard to ensure I am not critical of others and their beliefs. I know that I cannot be offended when people attack my views, if I then retaliate and attack what they believe in, it solves nothing. I find great value in the Big Book, the 12 steps, 12 traditions, 12 concepts and other AA literature. I would probably not be sober today without the readings.

36:00 Ernie: I also need to stay open to the fact that my own personal beliefs grow and change in sobriety. The truth is I do not know what I may or may not believe in 10 years, and the only thing that allows for my continued personal growth is an openness to knowing that there may well be changes in me. But what about now? If only I had extra tools designed to guide the atheist or agnostic. Tools like the pamphlet “The God Word” could’ve really assisted me when I questioned whether this program could work for me. Tools of which some newcomers may be in dying need of. More and more young people who do not believe in God are coming into our fellowship. The fastest growing religious group in America is made up of people with no religion at all. It is up to us to make sure the door is open for all. AA membership has plateaued for the last several years. Unfortunately, the number of those suffering from alcoholism has not.

37:01 Ernie: If we hope to expand our membership base and serve all suffering alcoholics who need us, we must remember that we cannot be that biased person who pushes members back out the door. If we tell newcomers they need not believe in God, that they can simply believe in the fellowship, then we must ensure we’re not holding back mentally or emotionally. We can’t imply in subtle ways that eventually they will need to believe in God to succeed. When my daughter enters this world in March or April of this year, it is imperative that she has a seat in the fellowship of AA should she ever need it, regardless of her beliefs. This is about the future of AA and the seats not yet filled. So, how can we reach out to those who oppose our beliefs? Is it even possible? When is it time to walk away from some people? When does religion, or a lack thereof, go from discussion to defensiveness? How do we stay united? Therein lies the wisdom to know the difference, I suppose. In closing, let me share four irrefutable facts.

38:13 Ernie: One, people with God have stayed sober. Two, atheists and agnostics have stayed sober.

[laughter]

38:20 Ernie: Three, people with God have relapsed. Four, atheists and agnostics have relapsed.

[laughter]

38:28 Ernie: Hence, I ask each and every one of us, is God a requirement for AA membership? And do you consider yourself to be inclusive or are you subtlety divisive? My sources are Craig W., Area 11, Panel 65, past delegate, 2018 chair of NERAASA; Paul W., Area 44, past DCM, district 28; phone interview with Larry K. Of We Agnostics in Toronto, Canada; phone interview with Greg T., general manager of the General Service office; JE, Area 44, Panel 65, past delegate; Keith B., Area 44, Panel 49, past delegate, and my service sponsor; the AA service manual, tradition 3, AA Comes of Age, pages 81 and 105; The 12 and 12, pages 143-145; the Merriam-Webster dictionary…

[laughter]

39:27 Ernie: Aatorontoagnostics.com; religions.blogs.cnn.com; aabeyondbelief.org; newswire.ca; aaagnostica.org; and aa.org. Thank you.

[applause]

39:49 S1: Thank you. Thank you, Ernie and thanks to all of our presenters. And I’m going to keep this moving right along, because we don’t have a lot of time and I see everybody lining up to the mic already. So, we’re now ready to hear from the floor. Each person who wishes to share at the microphone will be allowed two minutes. Scott will start the timing after each person has identified themselves. Please keep your introduction brief and be mindful to not repeat what has already been said. The goal is to hear as many different viewpoints as possible. Scott will signal the timer, when there are 30 seconds remaining, with the flashing light. At two minutes, the bell will ring. Please stop speaking immediately and leave the microphone at the bell.

40:29 S1: The only exception to the two-minute guideline is when a speaker comes to the microphone with an interpreter. Yes. He or she will have four minutes and will receive the warning flashing light at three minutes thirty seconds. At four minutes, the bell will ring. Scott will notify me when there are 8-10 minutes left, so we have an idea how many are left at the microphone will be able to get a chance to share. It’s important for us to stick to our schedule in order to achieve our full agenda for the weekend. Please note this panel is shorter than all the other panels. Please come to the microphone. I don’t even have to say that. You’re already lined up, [laughter] and not everybody’s going to get to share. So, with that, I’m going to go from my left to right over here.

41:17 Scott: Hi. I’m Scott. I’m an alcoholic.

41:18 Audience: Hi Scott.

41:19 Scott: I’ve had a question since almost the beginning of this panel, after the first panelist, because there was no discussion on the pamphlet, “The God Word” in the talk by the first panelists and I want to know why there was no discussion on that pamphlet when that was the name in the program of what the talk was supposed to be about. And I want to thank the third panelist for actually mentioning it. And, if anybody’s interested in reading that pamphlet, a PDF of it is available for free to download off the internet. I have it on my phone right now and I’ve been reading it. It’s interesting and I think worth discussing.

41:57 S1: Thank you.

42:00 Tony: Hey guys, I’m Tony. I’m an alcoholic. I’m from area 50 in Buffalo, New York. I want to thank all three panelists. I don’t disagree with anything you guys said at all. But I’m not confused that this isn’t a question of membership anymore, we’re heading out of there. Sentiment and stories of my personal recovery aren’t going to sway where this is heading. We have two agenda items, to adopt a pamphlet from another general service office and to create one of pure atheism. The spirituality of many paths wasn’t sufficient enough, so we’re asked again, a spiritual movement, to print atheist literature. And that took me on a journey to the conference charter, article 12 warranty 6, to see what and if AA says something about itself.

42:47 Tony: And it says this, “Freedom under God to grow in his likeness and image will ever be the quest of Alcoholics Anonymous. May our general service conference be always seen as the chief symbol of this cherished principal.” So, where membership’s concerned, I agree on all of this stuff. We have a great freedom to draw on whatever power, or not draw on a power, or be whatever you’d like to be. Tradition three and step two has all of that freedom. But AA does believe itself to be something. And it seems it’s believed that it’s a God-initiated and God-authoritated spiritual movement. And printing literature that’s truly atheist would be not in congruence with what it says about itself and what our conference charter has to say. And warranty five, if you’d like to investigate that, says that the movement keeps growing if there’s truly a faction unhappy with AA, we invite them to secede from us and take all we have to know and become their own thing and we wish them well if they decide to do so. Thanks, guys.

43:46 S1: Thank you.

[applause]

43:46 S1: So, we had a question from the first gentleman at the mic as to the content of the first speaker, and I’m not sure that there really is an answer to that. I believe when I was a presenter a few years ago, I turned in my presentation ahead of time. And if that’s still the same protocol, I’m sure that the presentation was already approved before she got up here. Is that correct? Yes. Let’s move on to the next.

44:23 Derrick: Hi, my name’s Derrick. I’m an alcoholic.

44:24 Audience: Hi Derrick.

44:25 Derrick: Southeast New York, Long Beach New York. Thanks to the presenters and the committee. I was curious on the heading on the format that talks about membership and belief in God. And since you’re quoting pages in books, I’m going to quote a page in a book, page 28 in the Big Book. The following chapter there appears an explanation of alcoholism as we understand it. Then a chapter addressed to the agnostic, many who once were in this class are now among our members. See here’s our founder speaking, I think it’s the first historical record I’ve found about membership and belief, that they once were not believers, they were atheists and agnostics, and are now believers and are now members. I have a background from about seven or eight conferences going back to the ’70s on this item. Three of the conference literature committees just didn’t even think it necessary to send it to the conference, and then twice more it was shot down.

45:26 Derrick: But here we are, again visiting this topic. And I was thinking, it doesn’t matter if we do publish this piece, it’s already made it to the United States. And the atheists and agnostic members, love them all, are handing this out already in addition to two books. I find that these teachings and these ideas and these experiences are a diametrical opposition to what I’ve been pitching for 30 years. We have one with all power. That one is God; may you find him…

45:56 Audience: Now.

45:57 Derrick: Not yesterday, not the day before, not tomorrow. We can’t comprehend or define that power which is____ right?

[laughter]

46:06 Derrick: How many people restored themselves to sanity? How many hands are going to go up? None. How many people came here with power to stop? How many hands are going to go up? None. So, to me, this is a testament to the power of God in those who have made a decision to turn… I made a decision to turn my will and my life over to the care of God…

46:26 S1: Thank you. Thank you.

46:27 Derrick: Is my time up?

46:27 S1: Yes, your time is up. We have about seven minutes left…

46:32 Derrick: Thank you.

46:32 S1: So, I’m guessing maybe about three or four left at the mic is all we’re going to have time for. Over here to my left.

46:38 Clive: Okay. My name’s Clive. I’m an alcoholic. I’m from district 8 in area 11. And when I first saw these topics, I said, “I am not going to miss this particular discussion because it makes me very angry, because it sounds very divisive.”

[laughter]

46:57 Clive: It sounds as though we people who believe in God are going to be forced out of AA. And then up stood Irena. Thank you so much for your message. You made it very real for me. I needed a higher power and for years I didn’t know that. I was very dissatisfied with my life and I drank to get away from it. But I thought alcohol was a management tool. It wasn’t a problem, it was a solution. And then one day when I didn’t want to stop… When I wanted to stop drinking and I couldn’t, along around the third drink, a little quiet voice said to me, “You’re an alcoholic.” And I instantly believed it. That didn’t come out of my brain, it came out of my heart. And that’s where my higher power speaks to me. And I said, “But I don’t know what to do.”

47:58 Clive: Then the little voice said, “Ask for help.” Well, I didn’t go out on the front porch and try to change my whole character. I didn’t talk to my boss at the office or my friends at the supermarket. I went to AA with the help of a counselor, okay? And what I found gradually was a connection with God, whom I don’t understand, but who loves me very much. And I need a religious program as well as a spiritual program. I’m sometimes uneasy with the people who make fun, in AA rooms, of religious people, okay?

48:41 S1: Thank you, into the center.

[applause]

48:47 S1: No, we’re going to do the center in the end and we’re going to wrap it up, so the rest of you, I’m sorry, but maybe you can catch somebody’s ear out in the hall.

48:55 Naita: Hi, my name is Naita, I’m an alcoholic from Area 30, Eastern Massachusetts.

[background conversation]

49:01 Naita: I’m a young person active in the AA. I’m a believer, was not always a believer, I waffle back and forth, and it says in the Big Book, “We cannot transmit something that we do not have.” And the bottom line is, A, it does not have the corner market on alcoholism, we’re very clear on that, and members of Alcoholics Anonymous do not have the corner in God.

49:28 S1: That is right.

49:28 Naita: And what God is for one person, which is for me, I’m a Christian, for somebody else, they might be a Buddhist. And God centered, for me, means “group of drunks,” plain and simple.

[applause]

49:43 Naita: And the bottom line is, for young people, there are a bunch of young people in this room who do not believe in God, and the hostility in this room towards us who don’t believe in God will chase us out. And you need us, us who are under 45, to stay here. because if you chase us out, there will not be a program. Thank you.

50:06 S1: Thank you.

[applause]

50:09 S1: And all the way over here to the right.

50:13 Peter: My name is Peter and I am an alcoholic.

50:15 Audience: Hi, Peter.

50:16 Peter: I am also a Catholic but that has absolutely nothing to do here. I have religious beliefs that have absolutely nothing to do with my membership in AA. Likewise, I’m sure there are many people… I know men in my home group who are atheist. That is besides the point. To the third speaker who asked… Who finished his speech with a question asking if we are inclusive or subtlety divisive, I found your speech to be subtlety divisive, actually blatantly so. The fact that you would… The irony, I’m sorry, I can’t get past the irony that all these people who are trying to change the steps are here, sober today, because they worked a program of spiritual recovery. But let’s go ahead and change that. Yeah, I’m sorry, I just don’t understand where this is going. If you don’t like the God word, you don’t need to change the way everyone approaches this topic, the steps. My apologies if you find that offensive, but this program saved my life, and I’m not willing to allow anything to change for that.

[applause]

51:35 S1: Thank you. And unfortunately, we are out of time. [chuckle] I’ve been instructed, but we’re not ready to clear the room yet, because I still have more reading to do, so… [chuckle] Okay, so, this discussion needs to conclude. Now, we will close the panel which will be followed by an extended fellowship break. After we close this panel, it is extremely important that everyone clear out of this ballroom immediately, so the hotel staff can begin setting up for the banquet. Please note that eating a banquet meal requires prepaying. If you did not order a meal for the Saturday evening banquet, please see your registration packet for information regarding other dinner options. Please note that the hotel restaurant is extremely limited on seating but there are a number of other local options. The flag ceremony will be here in the grand ballroom at 8:30, followed by the Saturday night AA speaker meeting. Please join me in closing with the declaration of unity located on the back of your program.

[background conversation]

52:50 S1: This we owe. Yes. [laughter] This we owe, this future, to keep common welfare first, to keep our fellowship united, for an AA unity and our lives and the lives of those to come. Thank you.

53:14 Scott: If anybody wants to get the recordings from this weekend, we ask that you place your order now and then pre-ordered sets will be ready five minutes after the last talk tomorrow. Thank you.

[background conversation]

53:26 S?: Wow, talk about putting me in a spot [laughter] Sweating bullets, cutting everybody off.

[background conversation]

53:46 S?: Yeah, that’s not a bad idea, yeah. No, I don’t either. Yeah. Can we make an announcement…?

54:00 S?: The people can get out.

54:01 S?: Yeah. Can we please clear the grand ballroom as soon as possible so that the hotel staff can flip the rooms? There is lots of other places to congregate, but it can’t be in here right now. So, let’s all please clear the rooms. Clear out of the grand ballroom, please. Thank you.

[background conversation]

 

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Sally Sanders
Sally Sanders

Secular aa was a stepping stone to get out of the ridiculous culture of aa.  It’s much easier (and healthier) to just leave aa.  Most people deal with their addiction with or without a particular program, then move on with their life.  I’m so glad to have gotten out.