Secular AA Values

By Steven W.

As the secular AA community begins to coalesce around the conference (International Conference Secular AA) and becomes more organized, our collective values are being formed either tacitly or deliberately. Although we all consider ourselves “secular,” there is a lot of diversity concerning our beliefs and approaches to recovery.

There are individuals within the conference board and out, who draw hard lines in the sand as to what our calling ourselves “Secular AA” means in theory and practice. Decisions are being made today that will permanently effect the philosophical tone and choices of Secular AA moving forward, that have distinct and significant implications.

My goal here is to outline what value system questions are at our doorstep. I simply want to do my part to ensure that our community understands that these decisions are being made a little bit every day. There should be nothing tacit or passive about the community’s participation in this process. Everyone should think about what they want for the future of our community and make sure their voices are heard.

Most of us know what it is like to exist in traditional AA, feeling disconnected or even ostracized because of our beliefs. The conference originally emerged as a vehicle for we agnostics, atheists and freethinkers to come together in our common experience—as those who feel alienated to one extent or another in traditional AA because of our beliefs.

For those who could attend, the conference proved to be a meaningful experience. Attendees communicated about what a powerful experience it was for them to freely express themselves without fear of how others will react to them. They spoke of the inherent sense of belonging they felt in being surrounded by like-minded people in AA. Many people were profoundly moved because this was the first time that they did not feel like second class citizens within AA. The first “We Agnostics, Atheists and Freethinkers” (WAAFT) conference was a great success and the conference board began organizing the second conference almost immediately.

As with any new organization it went through difficult times with changes in leadership, competing visions for the future of the conference, and the resultant political infighting. Through this process, different and competing value systems and factions began to emerge, just as in the beginning of AA itself. The more hardline atheists began to push to change the name from “We Agnostics, Atheists and Freethinkers,” to “Secular AA.” The change in name seemed innocuous enough—I mean who doesn’t consider themselves “secular?” In practice though, the purpose behind this name change was very calculated and had implications that I don’t believe were clear to many at the time.

The philosophical and practical implications of this decision are now beginning to take root in our community. The word “secular” lends itself to be significantly more narrowly defined in practice than “We Agnostics, Atheists and Freethinkers.” The hardliners are pushing a superficial and limited understanding of this word to frame what is and what is not acceptable to believe and speak about in secular AA. Secular defined as “denoting attitudes, activities, or other things that have no religious or spiritual basis.” As such, they believe words like “spirituality,” have no place in secular AA.

If you are one of those people whose definition of spirituality is not at odds with the notion of atheism, you can’t talk about that from any podium if the hardliners have their way. The word “spirituality,” is taboo. One person suggested that only empirically based topics should discussed. (How that would work, I really have no idea.) I wonder if you are a Buddhist, how do you rate in their world view? Are you embraced in kinship or is Buddhism too woo-woo and too close to “religion,” for their liking? Where does this all end? Have we become everything we have been fighting against?

We in Secular AA have been fortunate enough to have the acceptance and support of many prominent theists within AA. One of our biggest advocates has been The Reverend Ward Ewing, who was Chairman Emeritus of AA’s General Service Board. He was invited to the first conference to speak in a keynote role, and these hard liners began to vociferously complain that theists by virtue of their beliefs, should not be given such a platform to speak within Secular AA. They continue to push against allowing theists to speak in any prominent role within Secular AA. (https://atheisticaa.com/determined-atheists/ )

Beyond the obvious, this speaks to the strategic vision of the community moving forward. Do we want to continue to foster the ‘us versus them’ paradigm between ourselves and the larger AA community? Or do we want to actively cultivate relationships with these advocates who can serve as ambassadors and help build bridges of understanding and acceptance throughout AA? Are we about tolerance, inclusiveness, and unity or being separatists? Is the goal to have the biggest tent possible within Secular AA, or rigidly control what is deemed acceptable to think and believe within our community? Will many of us simply have moved from second-class status under the rigid theism often found in traditional AA to second class status under the rigid atheism of Secular AA?

Ironically, the original WAAFT slogan was, “You can find sobriety in AA without having to accept the beliefs of others or deny your own.” I don’t believe it is a coincidence that this slogan was abandoned along with the WAAFT name. WAAFT was about tolerance and acceptance. These hard liners are pushing the message, “We don’t tolerate any of that foolishness around here. We are Atheists, pure and simple. Get with the program or get to the back of the bus and stay quiet.”

Finally, I ask how can we run a rigid secular sub-culture within an organization that is theistic on a cellular level? It seems to me these people don’t really feel any significant responsibility to AA. The rhetoric I have experience suggests they have already decided that we cannot function within AA and they are simply using Secular AA as a temporary stepping stone towards the creation of “Secular Not AA,” or whatever they choose to call it. We must ask ourselves if this strategy is ethical and moral? How will it affect our relationship with the rest of AA? What lines should we not cross as long as “AA” follows “Secular” in our community’s name?

I encourage everyone to explore these principles within each group. If you have opinions, contact the conference board and let them know. Write articles. Speak up. Forward this article to anyone you know who participates in a secular AA group for consideration. If you don’t participate in the making of these decisions, they are going to be made for you. I would encourage the hardliners to speak up as well, but they don’t seem to need any encouragement.

History dictates it is those with the more extreme opinions who are motivated to speak up and take effective action; don’t let that happen here.

Finally, I believe it is the conference board’s obligation to make every effort to reach out to every secular AA group and ask them to have a group conscience to explore our collective values. The forming of our group conscience should not be limited to those who can attend the conference. The forming of our group conscience should not be left to the happenstance and politics of the conference board, but truly reflect the values of the entire community. The values Secular AA adopts will be the values we chose, even if we made that choice through our silence.

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  1. mk57 October 31, 2018 at 3:37 pm - Reply

    AA has many built in problems such as  “Your best thinking got you here ” , Constitutionally incapable of being honest with oneself , a thousand forms of fear , a constant negative outlook upon life , shaming , morality , pathologizing too many things , arrogance , narcissism , dogmatic , demeaning . Today in 2018 we have had much progress with addiction research ,trauma treatment, attachment theory , Mindful based relapse prevention . Just read about the Oxford group and Frank Buchman , Reverend Sam Shoemaker who were the Real Co founders of AA , They were Lutheran ,Episcopalian ministers, they had Zero Psychological , mental health qualifications . AA sponsors do not have any Mental health training for the members who are Dual Diagnosis with trauma, depression , anxiety etc. We have Smart Recovery , SOS (Secular organization for Sobriety ) Lifering Secular Recovery , Refuge Recovery (Buddhist) Women For Sobriety , and Psychotherapy to get down to our issues of why and how we Drank and Used . Secular, Atheists , Agnostics , Freethinkers , Humanists are welcome at these Alternative Meetings .

  2. martynieski October 29, 2018 at 3:37 pm - Reply

    Where is this aforementioned meeting in Conn.?   We have two here in northeast Co0nn. but, I don’t see any others on the secular meeting list.  We would be very interested in attending.

    Curious Marty @ 860-974-9892

     

     

     

     

  3. Vic Losick October 28, 2018 at 1:28 pm - Reply

    Vic L.
     
    I believe most of Steven W’s complaints were addressed by my talk in Toronto and reprinted later in AABB:
    https://aabeyondbelief.org/2018/09/23/are-atheist-thumpers-dividing-secular-aa/

    Here are the opening statements:
    Are atheist-thumpers dividing Secular AA? 
    Yes.
     
    Rather, it’s those in Secular AA who smear non-believers as “Atheist-Thumpers” that are doing the partitioning.
    It’s an old, ugly tactic intended to purify the ranks, and force the silence or removal of those with whom they disagree.
    I think we all concur that we choose to attend Secular AA in order to avoid the religiosity of “conventional” or “traditional” AA.
    The dictionary definition of “secular” is non-religious, not anti-religious. However, AAdescribes itself as “not religious, but spiritual.” Yet, religion and spirituality are bothnon-fact-based belief systems.
    What are we to make of these seemingly contradictory claims?
    To many in Secular AA this “religion vs. spirituality” argument is a distinction without a difference.
    When asked for the difference between a religion and a cult Richard Dawkins responded, “About 2,000 years.”
    Just to be clear: I do not wish to argue for or against anyone’s personal beliefs or non-beliefs. In fact, I have no interest in what anyone believes or does not believe. That is why I attend Secular AA.
    Each of us attends AA meetings with our personal beliefs or non-beliefs intact.
    And we are free to express those beliefs or non-beliefs during any “conventional” AA or Secular AA meeting, whether we are leading the meeting or sharing from the floor. 
    The overriding issue here is how Secular AA and ICSAA as organizations define themselves.
    I truly wish someone would argue the substance of these remarks.

    • Steve W October 29, 2018 at 3:27 pm Reply

      Vic, it is increasingly frustrating how you and your colleagues keep attempting to flip the script. You are either being profoundly dishonest or you are struggling to understand some basic concepts.

      My position is for a more tolerant, flexible and openminded environment that creates the largest tent possible.  The only restriction being placed on you is an inability to put restrictions on others. 

      You want to narrowly define secular AA  and have your definition become standard across the community rather than letting folks have their own beliefs and opinions. You act as if there is a secular litmus test that one must pass in order to consider themselves part of the community. I say anyone who defines themselves as secular is secular.  Your approach is extremely controlling and the opposite of “live and let live.” Then for whatever reasons you all scream “You are trying to define it for me!” No. I am not. No one is. It is quite the opposite. I don’t think you should be able to define the limits of secularism for anyone else. I am arguing for a culture where you are free to define it your way, as others are free to define it their way. “To each their own.” This creates the biggest tent possible. This is in the best interest of the most number of people. This is in the best interest of our community at large.

      I am suggesting we follow the principles of what Bill W said on AA’s 30th anniversary: ” Therefor, never let us pressure people with our individual or even our collective views. Instead, let us accord to each other, that respect and love which is truly the due of every human being as he tries to make his way towards the light. Let us always try to be inclusive, rather than exclusive.”

      So please, lets be honest about what the essence of your goals and agenda are and not pretend like you are being victimized and controlled. If anyone is trying to control others it is you and your likeminded colleagues.  Let’s at least be honest about our opinions and have the courage of our convictions.

  4. life-j October 28, 2018 at 12:29 pm - Reply

    I’m having a lot of problems with the site today. Here is something I had written after not marginalizing the hardliners which simply disappeared:
    And anyway, I am a sort of hardliner myself, in that I do not like the term “higher power” being used at all, because it easily becomes another way of sneaking a god in the back door, and it is an absolutely unnecessary concept – we’re just here helping each other – all the while I see a lot of value in the concept of spirituality, though I realize it inherently suffers from some of the same pitfalls.

    I agree with Eric and Marty on a “softer” interpretation of ” secular”. To me it means we’re not here any more be separatists, or to “just” make AA a safe place for atheists, agnostics, and ….. did I forget anyone? Now we’re here to work on making AA as a whole more secular, try to find that essence of AA which we who are non-believers know is there and which absolutely does not require a higher power to function, though it also does not make it problematic to have one, so long as that is not touted as the necessary and central ingredient like it is now. Secular AA to me means more inclusiveness, not less. Thus, too, while I sometimes find the hardliner atheists annoying, I think it is really, really important to not marginalize them. We do not need to become yet another intolerant faction of AA. And most of all, begin to focus on all the other issues that plague AA. Jackie’s article today is part of this, and there are many other issues, I will just mention the one I think is the biggest. People in AA who are not Type A personalities, shame based, low self esteem – AA does a horrendous disservice to this very large group. Bill Wilson discovered that an alcoholic will trust another alcoholic before trusting just about anyone else, and he discovered that helping another alcoholic, or trying to is the best thing we can do for our sobriety. This is the essence of AA – the secular essence, which each of us can build a secular, agnostic, atheist, religious, spiritual program on, equally well, each according to his or her inclination. All the rest, including the steps (well, not the traditions) is just the fabrications of an ambitious three years sober bullshit artist, and we need to eventually weed all that out.

  5. Roger October 28, 2018 at 12:24 pm - Reply

    Well, you know, folks. Progress not perfection is certainly part of the growth of our secular movement within AA. I think that is rather well articulated in Chapter 14 of A History of Agnostics in AA.

    Chapter 14: Progress not Perfection

    But of course some, uh, may not agree. Thanks for the article, and the discussion, Steve.

  6. life-j October 28, 2018 at 12:17 pm - Reply

    I agree with Eric and Marty on a “softer” interpretation of ” secular”. To me it means we’re not here any more be separatists, or  to “just” make AA a safe place for atheists, agnostics, and ….. did I forget anyone? Now we’re here to work on making AA as a whole more secular, try to find that essence of AA which we who are non-believers know is there and which absolutely does not require a higher power to function, though it also does not make it problematic to have one, so long as that is not touted as the necessary and central ingredient like it is now. Secular AA to me means more inclusiveness, not less. Thus, too, while I sometimes find the hardliner atheists annoying, I think it is really, really important to not marginalize them. We do not need to become yet another intolerant faction of AA. And most of all, begin to focus on all the other issues that plague AA. Jackie’s article today is part of this, and there are many other issues, I will just mention the one I think is the biggest. People in AA who are not Type A personalities, shame based, low self esteem – AA does a horrendous disservice to this very large group. Bill Wilson discovered that an alcoholic will trust another alcoholic before trusting just about anyone else, and he discovered that helping another alcoholic, or trying to is the best thing we can do for our sobriety. This is the essence of AA – the secular essence, which each of us can build a secular, agnostic, atheist, religious, spiritual program on, equally well, each according to his or her inclination. All the rest, including the steps (well, not the traditions) is just the fabrications of an ambitious three years sober bullshit artist, and we need to eventually weed all that out.

  7. marty nieski October 27, 2018 at 2:26 pm - Reply

    Several of us have formed two groups here in north east Connecticut. The larger meeting has some open minded believers who we are glad to have.  They spread the word about the meetings in the general aa population.  It seems they are telling people that we not just be bunch of god bashers.  Sometimes our discussions become involved with our lack of belief but they don’t get involved in the discussion.  Mostly, we all talk about recovery in general terms.  Most of the discussion involves ways we can help new people and a variety of topics that don’t involve prayer, gods or spiritually.  The meeting is attracting a curious mix.  We all get along without the need for opening and closing prayers.  The talk about the steps occasionally gets interesting, but everyone comes back!  I intend to grant tolerance to everyone.  We are all under “one big tent”.

    • Steve W October 28, 2018 at 12:03 pm Reply

      Thanks for the Reply Marty. Good for you.

  8. Eric C. October 27, 2018 at 1:49 pm - Reply

    Thanks for your piece, Steven.

    I was an early proponent of using the term “secular” to describe our little movement within A.A.  I am also a proponent of using the word “spiritual” to describe a power greater than myself that helps me stay sober.  I do not consider this spiritual power to be supernatural; it is entirely human and natural.  Your piece seems to conflate proponents of the word “secular” with the “hard core atheists” who reject use of the term “spiritual.”  This may be because our friends John H.,  John C. and some others have been so vocal about these issue lately.  (I attended our first two conferences but was not able to attend the third.   Had I done so, I would have attempted to balance their views with my own.   I hope to attend the fourth.)

    The definition I use of the word “secular” is, simply, “not religious.”  Part of the reason I was a proponent of using the term secular to describe our movement is because I see our movement as a kind of “change agent” within A.A. that may influence A.A. as a whole, or at least some other groups  within A.A., to be less religious.  Secular A.A. groups can provide a comfortable home for unbelievers and other secular people in A.A., as well as a base for a kind of cadre within A.A. that influences the rest of our fellowship to be less religious through the A.A. service structure.  I am convinced this is necessary for A.A. as a whole to survive and thrive in this century.

    In addition, for what it’s worth, I have always been a proponent of using a lower-case “s” in the word “secular” unless it’s at the beginning of a sentence or used a proper noun such as the International Conference of Secular A.A.  We’re not SAA.  We’re just A.A. that is secular.  We’re A.A.  members who want to feel comfortable in the fellowship and who want A.A. to thrive in a more secular age.

    • Steve W October 29, 2018 at 2:47 pm Reply

      Eric, thank you for your thoughtful reply.  We share similar views and approach to all of this. I’m in New York. Maybe I’ll visit your secular meeting in CT.

      Everyone should be able to believe what they will and not be pressured, censored or condescended to for not adopting a particular take on these issue.

    • Marty Nieski October 27, 2018 at 3:17 pm Reply

      I could not have said it better.  I was at Toronto .  I fully intend to be in D.C.  I’ll look for you there

  9. john c October 26, 2018 at 3:19 pm - Reply

    Steven, having attended all 3 secular conferences, I was rather bemused at your critique of “hardcore atheists’” attempt to control the message, or stage a takeover of some kind of secular AA.  It seems to me that it is the agnostic spiritualists you appear to represent that seek control.  In addition, your article contains a number of inaccuracies and downright falsehoods.

    1. About the name.  The name of the Santa Monica convention was WAFTIAAC.  Only one A, for agnostics.  In my talk there, I asked her question, “where’s the other A”?, & proposed the addition of “atheists” to the name of our group at the business meeting.  The name change passed with a large majority, but some of the organizers at the conference were highly irritated.  At the Austin convention, several new names were suggested, voted on & the change to secular AA won, not to suit any particular faction, but  because many people seemed to feel WAAFTIAAC was too long & unwieldy, & secular seemed more inclusive.  Personally, I would  have preferred to stay with WAAFT.  However some, such as the secularr Buddhists felt they were excluded in WAAFT.  No one voted for WAAFTSB, sorry.  The tone of your article seems to suggest you would prefer a name hange SNRAA- spiritual not religious.

    2. There has been a prejudice against what you call “hardcore” atheists by your faction  since Santa Monica.    It seems clear to me that those of your persuasion are appalled that some of us are not at all seeking a so-called spiritual solution.  Sorry for that.  Many of us understand that a main definition of the word spiritual is “ of or pertaining to a religion”.  Have a look at Webster.

    3.  It’s certainly true that as an atheist I did not at all appreciate an Episcopal priest as keynote speaker in Santa Monica,  regardless of the fact that he is a kind and nice person.  Some atheists , including myself, consider theists as detrimental to our movement, just as we may consider religion as detrimental to society as a whole.   Some in our movement that I know  personally have been sexually abused by priests.  Is that a good example? Perhaps not, but  theists, priests, preachers , rabbis, witches & imams are more apropos to traditional AA.  One thing you can count on is that we continue to speak out against them.  Sorry if you don’t like that.

    4.  In my humble opinion, AA is a fellowship of people who try to help one another stay sober.  While traditional AA might be “theistic on a cellular level” and certainly AA derived from Christianity, many of us in Secular AA reject many, if not most of traditional AAs tenets.  We’re free of that bs.  That’s why we’re in secular AA, after all.  There seems to be an attempt in your article to suggest that we’re booted out as heretics.  Only AA doesn’t boot people out, does it?

    I put it to you secular AA is composed of non-conformists.  The article you wrote seemed to me to pander to a kind  of orthodoxy, and a distasteful one.  Sorry, Steven we’re here , we’re queer, we’re atheists, we don’t need a program, or a higher power or alternative steps or prayer or anything  other than one day at a time without a drink or a drug.

    Get used to us, we’re not going away, and above all never forget Tradition 3 and rule number 62.

     

    John C., Paris

     

     

     

     

    • Steven W October 26, 2018 at 5:37 pm Reply

      John C, the common denominator among those critics here is the high emotionality of their response—you included. Not the type of of emotionality that leads to curse words and all caps, but the type that effects basic reading comprehension. It is like when I said the conference has to reach out to the entire community to have a group conscience to define these values, one of the other Johns suggested I was trying to force my individual views onto the community. Clearly emotions are running so high as to interfere with basic cognition. 
      You have misrepresented, conflated and convoluted so much of what I wrote that I would not know where to begin to address your response. Moreover, you have completely ignored the salient points of my position entirely. In fact, I would go so far as to say what you and others wrote, actually validates my position. You and others have done a better job demonstrating my point than I probably could. 
      In a nut shell it seems clear to me you want to replace the rigid dogmatism commonly found in traditional AA, with the rigid dogmatism of hard nosed atheism. It is just the flip side of the same coin. 
      My position amounts to a few basic points which were all but ignored by you and your brethren: 

      How far can we move away from AA with this rigid and controlling sense of secularism and still call ourselves AA? Do the more militant atheists even consider themselves part of AA or are they simply using AA’s name and riding it’s coattails to create a new secular program? 
      How does this rigid dogmatism help us strategically and within the greater AA community from a PR perspective? Is our strategy emotionally and socially intelligent?  
      Do we want to create a bigger tent where the most people feel comfortable and welcome, or create an environment that condescends to and looks down on people who do not share the exact same views as you? I would argue you will be alienating a significant percentage of the secular community with this rigid approach. 
      The original WAAFT conference slogan was, ““You can find sobriety in AA without having to accept the beliefs of others or deny your own.” The point of the conference was to give people a place to come together where they did not feel that alienation many of experience in traditional AA. It seems pretty clear to me you want to duplicate the exact dynamic of what many of us were running from in traditional AA, just from the opposite perspective. Pot meet kettle. 

      For me, as it originally was, the conference should create the biggest tent possible within the secular framework and demonstrate the open-mindedness and tolerance it has asked for from those in traditional AA. Secular AA should lead by example and rather than go with the eye for an eye approach. The conference should rally around the original core value of the conference when it said: “You can find sobriety in Secular AA without having to accept the beliefs of others or deny your own.”

      Cheers…

    • John Huey October 26, 2018 at 4:16 pm Reply

      Thanks for your cogent response John. Letting them know that we are not going away is extremely important. They are as free to profess their “spiritual creed” as we are to demur.

      • Steve W October 28, 2018 at 12:16 pm Reply

        John H,

        What is most telling, is this is how you frame the discussion. You experience people saying there is more room for everyone’s individual beliefs, as pushing you out. No one wants you to go away. I am arguing that you stop making things uncomfortable for others to stay around. It seems clear to me that you have an unhealthy need to control the dialog and others, and that is destructive to the community.

        Your ability to accuse others of doing exactly what you are doing is truly impressive in a Trumpian way.

        • martynieski October 28, 2018 at 12:48 pm Reply

          Argue all you want but, leave the politics out of it.

        • John Huey October 28, 2018 at 12:28 pm Reply

          You are in the process of making this personal and I most assuredly will not be entering into a personal dialogue with you. You seem to have an agenda here and I’m not going to further it either directly or inderectly.

          For now, I think it best that we refrain from addressing each other personally in any way.

          Ill be happy not to pursue further direct communication with you and would ask for the same courtesy.

      • bob k October 27, 2018 at 4:03 pm Reply

        At our age, JH, we’ll be going away all too soon!! 😉

        • John Huey October 27, 2018 at 5:21 pm Reply

          Soon enough for sure in the physical realm. We will live on in the realm of the “spirit” Bob. Digital footprints/fingerprints and all!

          😂

  10. Dan L October 25, 2018 at 10:26 pm - Reply

    Thank you Steve W for putting your thoughts on this matter out for us to look at.  I am an atheist after beginning life as a Roman Catholic.  The change occurred very early on in my life to the point that I can say that I never believed in any god.  I hung on to Santa Claus much longer because…greed.  I find the imagined actions of the AA god to be unfathomable and illogical in this matter of brain chemistry and the human emotional reward system.  In our area we have established some successful agnostic groups and many of the attendees are believers.  I feel they have the same right to express themselves as I do.  I can never know what is in another person’s ‘heart’ and when I came in many of these same believers told me I could get sober without assistance of the supernatural.

    I have a feeling that it is churlish at best to try to turn the tables on the believers in spite of the fact that many of them have done real harms.  AA is not designed for the intellectual elite and it shows.  So many people are motivated by good will but they disappear in the vocal minority and their noisy madness.  I think we owe it to ourselves to not become what we are fighting against and we owe it to those who come after.  I think we are about recovery and emotional maturity.  I remember with some irony of the history of the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks in the events before and after the October Revolution in Russia and I know that some others are thinking of that too.  We have our own Bolsheviks and like the ones in czarist Russia in spite of their name they weren’t the majority.  Any movement for change will be afflicted by members with divergent goals.  Stating your opinions and observations is hardly appointing yourself as Commissar of Secular AA.

    Thanks for your thoughts Steve.

    • John Huey October 26, 2018 at 4:28 pm Reply

      Dan… When it comes to “Bolsheviks” and intentions one of my articles from a while back may prove a useful guide to the reality of at least one Atheist position.

      The Atheist in AA

    • Steven W October 26, 2018 at 9:20 am Reply

      Thanks for your thoughtful reply. There is indeed a point to where an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.

  11. John M. October 25, 2018 at 12:26 pm - Reply

    Perhaps we could get Ritha F. to write a piece called —“How to Talk to An Atheist or Agnostics If You Are An Atheist or Agnostic”

  12. Steve W October 24, 2018 at 10:58 pm - Reply

    John, one more thing. As I said, I have faith in people’s ability to read, understand and discern. As such, I want to juxtapose what I said, and how you responded, which I think speaks volumes.

    Me: “Finally, I believe it is the conference board’s obligation to make every effort to reach out to every secular AA group and ask them to have a group conscience to explore our collective values. The forming of our group conscience should not be limited to those who can attend the conference. The forming of our group conscience should not be left to the happenstance and politics of the conference board, but truly reflect the values of the entire community. ”

    Your Response: “I was also wondering who appointed you as an arbiter of “Secular AA Values””

    Cheers…

  13. Steve W October 24, 2018 at 10:48 pm - Reply

    Dear John,

    I have listened, read, watched, and heard over the years and believe my comprehension is pretty darn good. So we can disagree about what was said, lobbied for, and why certain decisions have been made. From your individual perspective, I say if it doesn’t apply let it fly. If it is not a problem, then it is not a problem. If it is, then folks will know it when they hear it and see it…as I have. I do know I have spoken to a fair amount of people who believe as I do.

    This is not about you, although I believe your article speaks well for itself. It is the communication in person, in groups, at meetings, on the conference board, at the convention, etc. People’s opinions are known, and there are clearly different value systems at work. Everyone will read, listen and decide for themselves. As you stand behind what you wrote, I stand behind what I wrote.  At the very least, I hope the community uses this as an opportunity to think about what our collective and individual values are, and what that means for us now and moving forward. That can’t be a bad thing.

    Cheers…

  14. John S October 24, 2018 at 8:59 pm - Reply

    I think that people make too much about the International Conference of Secular AA. It’s not a decision making body, and there is nothing that takes place there that has any impact at all on how my group conducts is business or runs it’s meetings. It’s really in my opinion a big party. It is interesting to meet people who attend secular AA meetings in other parts of the world and to learn how they do things at their groups. There is a lot of diversity among people who attend AA meetings with a secular format and that diversity is on display at the International Conference of Secular AA.

    We do offer an opportunity for people to post opinions here now. It used to be something that we would shy away from because we didn’t want to have a lot of arguing and negativity nor did we want readers to think that those of us who work here endorse every opinion. The opinions expressed in an article found in the opinion section represents only the view of the author.

    • Steve W October 25, 2018 at 6:57 pm Reply

      “I think that people make too much about the International Conference of Secular AA. It’s not a decision making body, and there is nothing that takes place there that has any impact at all on how my group conducts is business or runs it’s meetings.”

      John S, I believe you are mistaken here. As someone who has done community building for for over 25 years, I will say that the tone and choices of the conference will definitely shape the direction of the community.  The conference is the only centralizing and community building entity we have. Whether it intends to or not it has taken a leadership role. The choices that body takes will have a direct bearing on how the community will evolve from this point forward as a cohesive unit. For example, choices the conference make now COULD determine if in 10 years we have 50 secular meetings or 100. It can effect things like if AA as a whole feels threatened and offended by Secular AA or more likely to embrace it like it does with LGBT, Latino, and other groups.  How do you think the larger community will view secular AA when they hear the Reverend Ewing was invited to speak, or told that theists were forbidden to speak? If we care about our PR as a community at all, this is a critical decision to be made. That decision has implications for the whole community.

      Nothing is devastating and the groups will individually function as you stated. However, our ability to grow the community into a healthy and vibrant one is tied to the tone and decisions of the conference whether they accept that responsibility or not.

    • Beth October 25, 2018 at 8:30 am Reply

      This is a topic I’ve been following very closely.  Although few people at the conference attended the business meeting, and those who attended the conference were a very small, neither randomly selected nor elected segment of the secular AA population, that is in fact where the definition of Secular AA is taking place.  A mission statement, a vision statement, and by-laws were adopted.  Lower case secular AA, which is grassroots people starting meetings, is becoming Secular AA, an official organization.  According to the by-laws it functions as an AA Intergroup; however its members are individuals, not groups, and the voting members are those who can afford to attend the conference and represent no one but themselves.   It is still in its infancy, and many people worked very hard to get it to this point.  The conference and the meeting list website have been merged into one organization, Secular AA.  The people who were elected at previous conferences to put on future conferences did this.  They communicated with others including determined atheists during this process, and I believe did their best to create an organization that will reach out to alcoholics put off by the God of AA, both inside and outside of AA, to let them know sobriety is possible regardless, and to help us connect with each other.  I appreciate them stepping in and filling a void where there was obviously a lack of organization and coordination.  Like other AA service bodies, the board’s purpose is to carry out the wishes of the people it serves.  I hope that in the future it will morph into a more representative body, perhaps by groups sending delegates to the conference (although many of us are isolated and online only).  Or there is online voting – a more plausible alternative.  We won’t know what “Secular AA” is, from a bottom up instead of top down perspective, until grassroots members are represented and/or voting.  It’s not very democratic right now but someone needed to get the ball rolling and thank you to those who did.  

      • Steve W October 25, 2018 at 6:37 pm Reply

        Beth, Agreed. It must come from the bottom up. Currently, these decision are at least partly coming from the top down.  I believe the switch from the “WAAFT” name to the “Secular AA,” name is a perfect example. “We Agnostics, Atheists, and Freethinkers,” is inherently inclusive. The switch to “Secular AA,” I believe the name was changed at least partially to make the conference and secular AA as a whole, less inclusive; if not deliberate, the end result is the same. 

        Having discussed related topics in secular groups online, the more hard lined atheists point to the definition of secular, and say since it means “denoting attitudes, activities, or other things that have no religious or spiritual basis,” that all such “nonsense” such as spirituality should be dispensed with and only purely secular concepts should be officially entertained and sanctioned. That no non-secular person should be able to speak from the podium, etc. Some of these types of separatist concepts came from people who sit on the conference board; they will continue to push this less inclusive and more separatist approach to secular AA.  This not only has implications for those of us in the Secular AA community, but significantly impacts Secular AA’s relationship and image within AA as a whole. 

        I believe the motto should still be: “You can find sobriety in AA without having to accept the beliefs of others or deny your own.” It seems at this rate we will have to clarify that this statements includes Secular AA as well. 

  15. John Huey October 24, 2018 at 8:11 pm - Reply

    Dear Steven W.,

    Thanks for including the link to my article in AtheisticAA of September 17, 2018. I stand by every word and it speaks for itself. My Toronto talk also goes into some detail about my stated opinions and beliefs and I stand by all of that as well,   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CvZnSfb3wzs&list=PLKicBXUL2vZhM32rY2AxpldfCKFBQcCso&index=22&t=0s  Normally, given the position you take, that would be more than enough from me.

    However, you made some statements in your “opinion” piece that were so egregiously incorrect that I had to take issue with them immediately.

    First, you say, in regards to the word secular that,  “The hardliners are pushing a superficial and limited understanding of this word to frame what is and what is not acceptable to believe and speak about in secular AA”, and then, “If you are one of those people whose definition of spirituality is not at odds with the notion of atheism, you can’t talk about that from any podium if the hardliners have their way. The word “spirituality,” is taboo.”

    Those statements are absolutely and categorically untrue. Personally, I have not ever stated that any SecularAA member is not perfectly free to say what she or he wants or needs to say. Never! I also can’t recall any other so-called “hardliner” saying such a thing. Further, there have been topics related to “spirituality” of the non-believing variety (oxymoronic to me but attractive to others for some reason) on every conference program to date and I do not recall any attempt at suppression of such views (or any other variants thereof) from the “determined” atheist camp. Your leap from peoples opinions to suppressive actions that did not and would never occur is quite breathtaking and will not go unchallenged if you persist in repeating them.

    I was also wondering who appointed you as an arbiter of “Secular AA Values” but perhaps that had better be saved for another place and time.

    Discussion is good and total uniformity of thought and opinion is never desirable in any organization. What isn’t acceptable is saying things that are untrue of their face in term’s of stating what others intentions might be without any facts to support them.

     

     

     

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