Inclusiveness Can be a Matter of Life and Death

I got a reputation as the rebellious atheist type at my AA home group, even though I never spoke against religion or the Judeo-Christian concept of God or identified myself as an atheist, and had, in fact, encouraged Christian sponsees to practice their faith.

Like almost all AA meetings, my home group has members who almost every week will say or strongly imply that working the AA program requires a belief in God and that we AAs believe in one God of our collective understanding. Whenever we had an unfamiliar face in the room, I felt compelled to counter these falsehoods by letting newcomers know that people of many different beliefs stay sober in AA and that I as a non-Christian have enjoyed many benefits from working all parts of the AA program. As people who lack power over our drinking, we need to tap additional power and that power can take many different forms, such as the group, recovery principles, nature, the universe, or any power capable of helping us toward sanity.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that others in the group jumped to false conclusions about me and my beliefs. Some decided I was an atheist rebel against religion and spirituality. Some assumed I was against the steps and reliance on a higher power, despite everything I had said to the contrary. Invariably, AA members heard what I said as a criticism of the Judeo-Christian concept of God rather than a criticism of pushing any particular outside worldview.

When I attended my first AA meeting, I had already believed in powers greater than myself that could guide me to sanity. I had rejected the religion of my youth but later experimented with meditation, Buddhist concepts, and self-empowerment principles that changed my life.  My personality shifted in a radically positive direction and guided me down a path of growth and healing that led to the doors of AA.

I was simultaneously relieved to find so many people on similar paths and worried by the strong Christian overtones. Fortunately, some members made it clear that each of us can use our own personal concepts of a higher power.

I needed help. I desperately needed support in staying off booze. So, I focused on what we had in common and took the suggestion to hear “God” as “G.O.D.,” good orderly direction, and not the male deity of my upbringing. It worked for me. I was fortunate to feel unaffected when some people pushed a religious belief or made misleading claims about the necessity of a belief in God. For many years I was perfectly content in AA and sometimes referred to my higher power concepts as “G.O.D.”

My contentment with AA came to an end when I began sponsoring other people. Because I often spoke about the wide range of possible higher power concepts and the ability to work the AA program as a non-Christian, I attracted certain newcomers torn between wanting help in AA and not wanting to have religious belief pushed on them. At first, I felt total confidence that they could navigate AA as I had, so I explained the use of “good orderly direction” and that the AA program requires no religion. When a sponsee was triggered by the pushing of religious belief in a meeting, I urged him to tolerate the misguided few and reassured him that we can definitely benefit from the AA program as non-Christians. Some members have some off-the-wall or narrow-minded ideas that they’re free to express, I’d say, and we don’t have to be chased off by them. If one meeting is not working well, there are many others to check out.

As my sponsees continued to struggle with this issue, I became more and more aware of the subtle ways that AA members imply that there is only one valid higher power concept, which is God, that other concepts are temporary until God is accepted, that the steps require belief in a male deity who requires obedience to his will, that AA members all share belief in one God, and that people without these beliefs are being stubborn, closed-minded, and contrary.  It was unpleasant to find my experience with AA meetings souring as these misleading and harmful claims became more glaringly obvious. I found them in every meeting. Suddenly I was aware of the same problems in AA literature. I was stunned at how often I heard and read these things and troubled by how many years it had taken me to wake up to it.

I hit a very painful turning point a few years ago. Two of my sponsees had had traumatic childhood experiences connected to particular churches and were painfully triggered by certain religious dogmas. “John,” despite his initial enthusiasm for a sober life, lost all interest in meetings and resigned himself to a life of drunkenness. My friend “Robert,” despite repeated attempts, going to meetings, and some honest step work with myself and another sponsor, relapsed repeatedly and in his final relapse took his own life.

I shared my pain and struggles in my home group a few times. I don’t think my AA friends could or would allow themselves to understand, as understanding would undoubtedly bring the same kind of discontent, pain, and desire for difficult changes that I felt. AA is a lifeline and many members won’t question any part of it out of fear of talking themselves out of it completely and losing their hard-won progress in recovery. For many, the thought of removing references to God in favor of general terminology can inspire fear of retribution from a jealous and vengeful deity. Surely most of them understand that trying to change AA would drive a wedge between them and most devoted AA members. I see these things now in hindsight. At the time I was just frustrated, demoralized, and angry that my friend, a generous, kind, and well-liked man, and one who deserved sobriety with the help of AA as much as anyone, was dead and would never have another shot at a happy sober life.

I had called for a business meeting in the format of a group inventory and was searching for quotes from Bill W. that call for inclusiveness, openness, and a willingness to grow, take inventory, and change as a fellowship when I came across AA Agnostica and AA Beyond Belief. What a relief to find so many voices putting into words the things I had struggled with!  I frequented the sites and read everything. At first, as someone who doesn’t identify as an atheist or agnostic, I felt like an outsider to the movement, but I kept returning and enjoying the articles and discussion. I am excited that the movement today is less specifically atheist and more secular and all-inclusive, as I believe that inclusiveness is a principle that we can all get behind rather than something that divides us.

I have been searching for local support in starting an all-inclusive AA meeting that does not place one higher power concept above all others. I want a positive focus on principles rather than any kind of negative stance against current AA shortcomings, but it is not clear how to publicize the meeting and its purpose without giving offense. “All-inclusive” implies a shortcoming with other groups. Probably my area needs a special interest meeting for atheists and agnostics, but personally I am inspired to start an AA meeting that is a welcoming, safe space for atheists, agnostics, Buddhists, and all other non-Christians, as well as those who do have Christian beliefs.

I have considered naming it the “3-6-10 Group” after those three traditions. Tradition Three warns against additional membership requirements, such as a requirement to embrace or tolerate the near-constant promotion of particular religious beliefs. Tradition Six warns against affiliation or endorsement, actual or implied, such as endorsing the Judeo-Christian God as the highest of the higher power concepts. Tradition Ten warns against making statements on controversial outside issues, such as religion and the existence of God.

I do not want to let my past experiences with sponsees and the terrible losses some of them have suffered be all for naught. I can’t change the past and I can’t even much change my AA home group, let alone all of AA, but I can work with others to make a few positive changes. I firmly believe that the principles behind inventory and amends can be applied to our groups and the entire fellowship. How can we better serve the newcomer—that is, all newcomers of all worldviews and backgrounds?


About the Author

Scott J, 45, is long time AA member grateful to be free of obsession and compulsion. He loves writing, working with newcomers, hiking in the mountains, and raising his eight-year-old son. He helped write an inclusive, secular version of the twelve steps for another fellowship and hopes to bring a secular AA meeting to the Bible Belt of the U.S.

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  1. XBarbarian December 18, 2018 at 6:50 am - Reply

    I wanted to point out one observation I’ve made across my 56 years of life, not just the 24 years of recovery:

    I used to assume, the majority of people are “believers”. certainly in Tampa FL, the majority love to rant about their gods. I used to see them, again, as believers

    but my observation is this: none, I mean none, actually believe.

    I do not confuse someone’s ramblings and loud public professions of faith, as faith. it is almost never true. to the contrary, the vast majority do not believe.

    they only want to be included. for them, appearing to believe is what they imagine is believing. their loud public professions are in general, desperate attempts to bolster their lack of faith.

    social conformity. an almost organic level need to be included. if the majority present as believers, no one wants to be outside the peer group, therefore, will do and say anything, to be a part of.

    so my sharing my atheism in mtgs, etc, is about giving others permission, to begin their own journeys, of backing back out of the assumed hivemind of belief.

    <3

    • John M. December 20, 2018 at 8:28 am Reply

      Dear XBarbarian,

      I think you have nailed it and I had an experience a few years ago that reflects your observation.

      About 2 years after Beyond Belief, We Agnostics, and Widening Our Gateway had been delisted by Toronto Intergroup — we were all in “good standing,” however, with our particular Districts in the Southern Ontario-Northern New York State Area — our DCM came up to me after one of our District meetings and said that he had always been mystified by two things about the Toronto delistings.

      First, he said that as a born-again Christian he didn’t understand how we atheists and agnostics could stay sober without God but, the last time he checked, the only requirement for membership in AA was a desire to stop drinking.

      And second, he said that in all his years of attending AA, from his perspective as a Christian, he would estimate that about 70% of those that he had met in the Toronto area were agnostics, so he could not understand why there was so much anger directed towards us.

       
      Some of the reasons you outline in your comment may explain the second mystification he expressed to me.

      • XBarbarian December 20, 2018 at 9:26 am Reply

        Thanks John.

        of course it’s only my observation. and I dont like generalizations much, yet, I tend to overly generalize :p

        even mother Teresa spoke about her own frequent questions and lack of faith.

        real faith is a golden ring, that not many, if any, shall ever successfully grab on this carousel!

        funny story, I made a comment in a closed discussion one time after a particularly egregious evangelical rant how AA is christian, modeled after the bible, blah blah blah

        I said, “um, If I wanted a tent revival, there is one down the street. no thanks. been there, tried that, and it didn’t help. honestly, I dont think Ive ever met a true believer. folks are praying for this, decreeing by blood that, all sorts of attempts to control this gawd. faith is synonymous with trust, I think. I look around, and I dont see much trust.”

        a biker for jebus came to harass me after the meeting. lol, and wanted to physically persuade me.. he has faith!!1! gawd damn it!!1!

        I exited stage right. I try to not be that snarky, it’s not attractive. but once in a while.. Pow, to the moon alice.

  2. Bob K December 17, 2018 at 9:41 am - Reply

    You seem to have a misperception about the secular, agnostic, atheist, freethinker groups that exist now. My experience, and I have experience, is that such groups are VERY inclusive, and not just atheist or agnostic ONLY.

    As Whitby Freethinkers reaches its 5 year anniversary, we have all manner of regulars.

    The secular community is a pretty big tent representing a wide range of views, and we are WAY too small to start splitting into sub-categories. I remember an atheist woman telling me online that she didn’t attend the local agnostic meeting because it wasn’t atheist enough! 👿😈

    Of course, we could each custom tailor a meeting to our EXACT personal specifications, then sit at home having it. Just turn off the TV and have at it.🍿

    I agree that your instinct that “All-inclusive” is a poor name choice. The name is important. “3-6-10” conveys nothing, in and of itself. Too cryptic.

  3. Alex M. December 16, 2018 at 5:43 pm - Reply

    Thanks Scott for your great article. As an atheist alcoholic also living in the Bible Belt and surrounded by the 80% of Americans who firmly believe in God, I’ve found the approach with my peers that you described to be the best solution for my own sanity in the fellowship. Gently reminding newcomers and other members that God is not required for recovery is about all I can do. I usually say something like “although God is not my Higher Power, I’ve found I can use the moral values embedded in our spiritual 12 Step principles to guide and direct my life, and they have removed my obsession to drink and given me a new design for living.” I have no idea if anything I’ve shared over the past decade or so has opened any doors for any members, but I do know two things for certain: I will never change the beliefs of any God-hugging Christians in AA, and if I am perceived as a “resentful, angry atheist” in the rooms, no one will ever listen to me. The carrot always works better than the stick. Where I live we have only one “agnostic-atheist” meeting listed as such (which amazingly was no problem for our Intergroup), and it is a welcome haven for us free-thinkers. Keep doing what you are doing — passing the message of hope and recovery through your own experience.

  4. Vince Hawkins December 16, 2018 at 5:32 pm - Reply

    Well done everyone who is pointing out that AA is for everyone, not just Christians, and it should NOT be a channel for religious conversion. AA and the Oxford Group were ships that followed a similar course for a few short years. Then they went their separate ways, but the influence of the Oxford Group from those days has remained set in stone in the Big Book. From its Christian roots the Oxford Group is now an informal, international network of people of many faiths and backgrounds seeking world peace. Now known as Initiatives of Change, it encourages the involvement of participants in political and social issues. One of the Oxford Group’s core ideas was that change of the world starts with seeking change in oneself. While AA also acknowledges the importance of change, ironically this does not apply to its basic textbook.
           What aspects of the Oxford Group became enshrined in Alcoholics Anonymous? Founded by American Christian missionary Frank Buchanan in 1921, his basic tenet was that at the root of man’s problems were fear and selfishness. The solution was to surrender to God’s plan. However the Oxford Group was not a religion. There was no membership. It was a social gathering seeking to be led by a Christian God, building on the work of Jesus. Participants should share their thoughts and test their intentions against honesty, purity, unselfishness and love. Frank Buchanan was keen on slogans, too, such as ‘come clean’ and ‘world-changing through life-changing’. So the claim of the Oxford Group and AA to be non-religious was duplicitous. Both were pretending not to be religious when, in fact, they were deeply Christian.    
           A word on coincidence in AA’s foundation: not only was there the chance meeting of Bill W and Dr Bob, but also the massive coincidence that each had been influenced by the Oxford Group independently. Bill went to meetings in New York and Dr Bob in Akron. However, when they met, Bill explained two non-Oxford ideas to Bob: that he had kept himselfoff drink by trying to help others, and that he believed alcoholism was a disease instead of a sin. Then Dr Bob stopped drinking, too. 

    Thanks and well done to members who are dragging AA into the 21st century and working to make it truly non-religious. We may be the only hope for AA’s survival and its potential to help alcoholics globally in the modern day. 

  5. Angela B December 16, 2018 at 4:53 pm - Reply

    Scott J., Thanks so much for sharing your experience. I’m sorry to hear about your friends. My experience is different in that I was outspoken about being Atheist from the get go. I became one of the founders of a meeting called Atheist, Agnostics & All Others. We put Atheist first in the name so no one would confuse us with the Agnostics from the chapter in the book. Almost 11 years later and our name is truly representative of our group with a significant number of, “others”. Best of luck with your 3, 6, 10 Group! I’m sure it’s needed and I hope to be able to check it out some day!

  6. Christine L. December 16, 2018 at 11:31 am - Reply

    Thanks for the essay. 

    I am an outspoken atheist who attends a traditional AA group and always bring out my atheist medallion during the meetings (they have their crucifixes; I have my atheist symbol).  I am fortunate that my home group takes a more liberal view of ‘God of our understanding’ and I refer to the group itself as my hire power.  Having said that, being an atheist in a traditional meeting is never easy no matter how open-minded the group proclaims itself to be.

    I have been proselytized a few times by group members but the vast majority of the group is fully accepting of my (lack of) beliefs.  There are a few others who are also free thinkers but they tend to stay more subdued in stating their positions.

    Whenever someone new comes into the meeting and states their hesitation about beliefs in an entity, I make a point of seeking them out after the meeting to welcome them and let them know that there are ways to work the program in a secular manner.

    Yes, there are some terrible sections of the Big Book which is one reason that I really don’t read it all.  For me, the worst section is the last paragraph in ‘The Doctor’s Nightmare’, Pg 193.  For me, it is not a question of being theistic in nature (which it is), but more because it is anti-intellectual.  Being in recovery does not mean checking your mind in at the door.

    • Gerald December 29, 2018 at 4:02 pm Reply

      🙂 Thanks, me too. And I dislike Bob as a person much more than I dislike Bill, precisely because of his anti-intellectualism rather than his religiosity. For me, it’s the anti-intellectualism in AA that drives me to this site, AA Beyond Belief, rather than the religiosity. Of course, they do go together like peanut butter & jelly for a lot of people 🙂 but what bothers me most is when KISS stands for let’s Keep It Stupid (plus, let’s just stay in denial about all kinds of things that AA doesn’t know about).

      And I’ll add that I’ve found the small, church basement types of meetings that are also Big Book study and 12&12 study type meetings to be the safest places for me, as a non-believer, to be an AA member these past 25 years. And that’s because these kinds of meetings attract traditions-oriented AA members.

      But I have yet to check out AAAA-style meetings. I’m looking forward to it when I get back to the US next year.

  7. life-j December 16, 2018 at 10:53 am - Reply

    Scott,

    Thanks, it can be bewildering how to relate to the religiosity sometimes. It’s starting to look to me like there is nothing to do other than – once we’re feeling strong enough in our recovery – be like jesus crist our lord and savior who died on the cross for our sins and his disciples who got eaten by lions – and just go and be martyrs without sentimental self pity.

    There’s no other way than to go and speak our minds, and accept that it will attract a whole bunch of mindless Christian hatefulness. The good news is it won’t last.

    One problem with it is of course that to be taken seriously it seems we often need to have a decade or more of sobriety, otherwise we will just be belittled and chased off.

    But those of us who have been around for a long time and therefore can do what we otherwise shouldn’t do – go speak with a certain amount of authority – ought to accept it as our job in the fellowship to speak up against the nonsense, and at first be ostracized, but if we keep doing it things will start turning around. It has taken about 5 years here where I live – not the bible belt to be sure, but still, a relatively conservative part of rural Northern California for people to start opening their minds. We need to go to Intergroup and General Service meetings, as representatives for a meeting if we can, and we often can since most people are too lazy to do it, and that, surprisingly is where we will find the most open-minded people, and the most dedicated to service.

    And they will come around if we will put our AA life on the line to do it. Granted there are a few god-obsessed people who have taken to resenting me. On the other hand, I have tickled 15% non-believers out of the woodwork, and three quarters of the rest have become openminded. It just takes a willingness to be ostracized for a while. Well it has taken 5 years. Five years ago I was verbally assaulted by little old ladies at the district meeting. This year the district voted to support me with 300$ to go to Toronto. Intergroup, which 5 years ago refused to list the meeting I started has my report from Toronto posted on its website (and lists the meeting).

    Now about the higher power stuff: “Lack of power, that was our dilemma.” – well, why is that our dilemma? Why isn’t it any one of ten other things? Newly sober Bill was just a master manipulator. We don’t need a higher power, we just need help. My doctor, my AAA tow truck operator, my hardware store clerk, my neighbor who helps me move a heavy object, and, of course, my AA fellows, and my group, they’re not my higher powers, they’re just helping me by doing things I need help with.

    As for the universe, the ocean, a rock, a doorknob, a light bulb – while being of various levels of powerfulness – none of them are going to answer prayers and take away my defects of character subsequent to my prayers. It is a good thing for me to cultivate a sense of awe over the ocean and the universe, even electric light or the beauty of an antique doorknob, but my awe doesn’t make them into any sort of higher power, that’s just ‘newly sober Bill Wilson’s manipulative bullshit.

    • Jack B December 16, 2018 at 4:25 pm Reply

      As usual life-j, your comments (and articles) are clear and concise, frank and true. You are always a pleasure to read.

      The first time it was suggested, because of my use of words like bogus and horse-shit in reference to religion that I might be in the wrong meeting, I was at a complete loss for a response. Took me a couple of days but I finally found the right words and courage, hitched up my balls and, nose to nose with the same dangerous fool, said loudly “Bullshit!! This ain’t a church!! This is AA and I’m a recovered alcohol addict, I’m where I need to be!! The result, of course, was like that proverbial fart in that proverbial church. Fundies don’t seem to’ve developed a coping method when somebody hits back. Their loss, my fun.

      Carrying coals to Newcastle is the reason I’ve largely stopped going to AAAA meetings. If a newcomer walks into a AAAA meeting they are safe. AA not so much. I NEVER pass up the opportunity to let the newcomer know that there are many paths to sober sanity; that religious members are comfortable with their beliefs but that agnostic and atheist members are as well, and that a belief in a god is not at all necessary to find and maintain sobriety.

      And yeah I’m on some few extreme fundies shitlists but that’s no loss. I don’t want that kind of goofy thinking around me anyway.

      Scotts essay is almost exactly a printout of my own sober adventures. And it is a great smiling relief to know that somebody else is on such a similar safari.

      Thanks a lot to both of you,

      Jack.

  8. Tomas L December 16, 2018 at 10:06 am - Reply

    Thank you for a great essay!
    As for group names, I really like All-Inclusive. I wouldn’t worry too much about people seeing an accusation of exclusivity in other groups. That would make almost any group name impossible. As a couple of examples from my home town, there are groups called the Serenity Group and One Day At A Time – I’ve never heard anyone being offended by seeing those names as accusations that other groups “fail serenity” or neglect or oppose staying sober ODAAT. Experience shows that some bigots will oppose anything that can be seen as the tiniest implication that Christianity is not the one and only correct faith, but they will surely whine and moan whatever the name of the group is. Not to say that a secular group can’t get into trouble from the God Squad, but I would cross that bridge if and when I come to it.
    One reason I like the name is that I think inclusivity is an often misunderstood and neglected concept. I think how you feel is the most important thing about inclusion. The formal right to have a chair to sit in at a meeting goes a very short way to feeling included. What you write about pushing religious belief and prejudice, contempt and delusions about non-believers is all too common, and it is a clear example of how people can feel excluded although they are formally included.
    Another group name that I like is The Only Requirement. The 3rd Tradition is about as inclusive as you can get, and I think it needs to be defended against additional requirements, implied or sneaked in by exclusive behaviour. For a far fetched pun, the Highlanders could be a group name – There can only be one [requirement]. 😉

    • XBarbarian December 18, 2018 at 6:31 am Reply

      sir, LOVE the Highlanders suggestion! may one day use it!

  9. John M. December 16, 2018 at 8:03 am - Reply

    Dear Scott,

    The death of your friend was such a sad part of your narrative as was also the fact that your other sponsee decided to continue drinking. We know that Bill W. confessed that because of his religious enthusiasm in the beginning, he wondered how many alcoholics he personally drove away and he implies that he may have also indirectly contributed to their deaths.

    The rest of your story is more gladdening and you sound so inspired to further AA in your area by servicing ALL those who have a desire to stop drinking by forming a new secular group. In 2011, a few of us north of Toronto started the 3rd secular group in the area (and, yes, we were the 3rd group to get delisted around the time that the groups Beyond Belief and We Agnostics were “famously” delisted by Toronto Intergroup). The name of our group was “Widening Our Gateway” which, of course, comes from Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age: “Every voice was playing its appointed part. Our atheists and agnostics widened our gateway so that all who suffer might pass through, regardless of their belief or lack of belief.” This is also quoted in A Newsletter For Professionals Winter, 2009 — We Tread Innumerable Paths: Spirituality in A.A. 

    The name “3-6-10 Group” certainly captures the traditions that you want emphasized for inclusivity in a group, but I throw the name “Widening Our Gateway” out to you for another possible group name. (By the way, we had to suspend our group’s operation for various reasons about 1 1/2 years ago and are no longer listed as an AA group.)

    Thank you for this essay and best wishes for your group when you get it started.

     

     

     

  10. XBarbarian December 16, 2018 at 7:51 am - Reply

    thanks Scott. Some worthy questions asked and considered.

    In the last 2 years, I switched to NA, partly in the hopes of avoiding the especially egregious religious old farts in the Tampa FL aa system of meetings. that cohort, seems often, to be the most violently opposed to inventory, reflection, and challenge at their subtle and not so subtle religious rhetoric. even asking at the monthly meeting, maybe we shouldn’t be saying the “lord’s prayer” at every meeting, as it plainly implied affiliation, is met with anger, even rage, and accusations of evil! LOL unfortunately, the NA system, although a younger population overall, is no different. thx jebus.

    one observation: people seem to tend to resist questioning about most stuff, but especially religions relevance today. add to that, that the world is increasingly deepening in threat, danger, misery politically, economically, etc… and at a time that more and more are publically challenging the old religious narratives… church attendance is declining, significantly… many are aggressively DOUBLING DOWN on their vehement evangelism. we see that in politics.. here in FL, fundies are taking over! new governor elect is staffing the education commission with ANTI SCIENCE, ANTI INTELLECTUALISM, PRO CREATION BS. it’s rather frightening for me.

    they are doubling down.

    I dont know what the solution is. in fact, Im increasingly clear, there is no solution. this iteration of civilisation seems to be accelerating on the downhill side of the bell curve. maybe that is simply the predictable, natural expression of the endless cycles of the universe.

    I resolve to the old saying, think globally, act locally. as in very locally. my life and happiness. I minimize my attendance to a tolerable level but sustain my recovery. I work very hard at detachment, emotionally. and I desperately seek to have compassion for the weak minded and needy.

    and let the whirling dervishes whirl.

    • Jack B. December 16, 2018 at 9:10 pm Reply

      Hello X,

      With  great regret, I am compelled by evidence obvious to all to agree with you that there is likely no answer to blind religious fervor pretending to be fact. Most particularly within the oh so subjective realms of addiction and recovery. It has always and certainly will continue always to appall me when I hear and/or see religious belief spewing nonsense at a lecturn. What, I wonder, is a scared and desperately lonely newcomer thinking and feeling when she/he hears such bullshit? Do they feel betrayed, I wonder, when they’re told that a belief in god is required to obtain and maintain sobriety? What they need most of all is a calm and truthful helping hand. Not an enthusiastic bullshit salesman.

      When a circle forms at the end of a meeting, keep your head up, eyes peeled and step inside the circle. From time to time you too may lock eyes for a moment with somebody else who is not regurgitating dogmatic religious hooey. If it becomes your turn to speak at a meeting be fearless and say that Secular meetings not only exist but are also flourishing if not in your area then easily on line.

      Put the newcomers above all else! Please please remember that alcohol addiction can, does, and will kill. Lives are at stake. To a newcomer who doesn’t and never has had any kind of belief in any kind of god, you, as an experienced and secular recovered addict, may be the person he’s looking for.

      To me the responsibility declaration and gentle words are what rules the moment. Not bronze-age mythologies.

      Again many thanks to both Scott and X.

      Jack.

      • XBarbarian December 18, 2018 at 6:28 am Reply

        Hey Jack

        thanks for the response. sage wisdom, my friend. it’s the newcomer that motivates me, for sure, but in the end, aren’t we all newcomers.

        I’ve met many 20 year folk, on the same edge as the 1 day person. the theist parrots, are cop outs, their desperate need to impress us with their clearly lacking faith, in hopes they might even convince themselves, lol, bases their recovery on shallow, empty jargon, as opposed to the product of work. funny how the most religious members, seemingly bleat the most about the work as well, yet, that subset in my experience, has done the least work. (inventory, amends, service)

        so I continue to speak of my agnosticism from the podium, from the circle, remind folks that I can slide into madness just as easily at 25 years, as I could at day 1, if I drop my guard, become confident, and lose compassion. sometimes, I wander into disruption, but disruption of old ideas is healthy, I think

        some of us tried to hold onto our old ideas, but the result was nil, until we let go absolutely.

        of course absolutely is unattainable, but for a moment here and there, but that is the permanent goal: letting go (detachment)

        in fact, my tiny practice of meditation is me, during the morning coffee and cigarette, simply saying, desire and ignorance. that triggers the reminder, that solution is detach and compassion. the practice of detachment and compassion are the core of my recovery today. all the rest are peripheral to those ends. inventory and amends are derived from those pursuits.

        so some of the stuff I work to detach from is the idea I have to make things happen. a blind slogan of “the newcomer!!” can easily become a dangerous zealousness, too. I am responsible for the the hand to be there, but not the outcome, not what anyone else’s hand looks like. only my own. so I do my best to model the man I seek to become by my practice. the right newcomers are attracted, many are not. so be it.

        thanks Jack and Scott

  11. Reid B. December 16, 2018 at 7:24 am - Reply

    Scott J., Nicely done.

    I go to meetings where wonderful, stubborn people identify as atheists and are not routinely shut down. The collection of atheists are all over the map. One of them will even hold hands and say the Lord’s Prayer, others, like I do, will leave the room just before the closing prayer regardless of which prayer is coming.

    Here’s my take. The god (or God) of my understanding is — subtly speaking — the god (or God) of my construction.

    The 12th Step says that we practice these *principles* in all areas of our lives. I see multiple principles in every step. I interpret like mad. And rather than get bogged down in the words, I try to stay focused on the message. To that end, I highly recommend Kevin Griffen’s book, One Breath at a Time, Buddhism and the 12 Steps. Buddhism is a humanistic belief system and Mr. Griffen gave me the impetus and the perspective to start my journey on interpreting all 12 of the steps in a way that makes sense to me. (Also, there’s a website called the Secular Buddhist <https://secularbuddhism.org&gt; which is a place where people discuss their agnosticism around re-birth/reincarnation and karma as a moral law in the universe. I highly recommend the podcasts there which are interviews and round-table discussions with a humanist, non-theist approach.)

    One of my atheist friends in AA — and I agree with him — says that he doesn’t much care for the [Big] Book but likes the movie (as he gestures around the room of assembled sober drunks). I don’t much care for the books, either. Chapter 4 in the Big Book and Chapter 2 in the 12 and 12 are insultingly naive, full of black and white, either/or thinking and totally misrepresent the position of atheists and agnostics. These chapters both insinuate, and not exactly subtly, either, that if you just “fake it til you make it” you’ll eventually come around to our way of looking at God (with a capital G, at that). Rubbish.

  12. Andrea H December 16, 2018 at 6:10 am - Reply

    During my early days in AA (1980s) getting sober in D.C.,  I often heard the expression “Higher Power, who I choose to call God.” I haven’t heard that phrase in years and I do miss it, particularly now that I live in rural America. What it implied for me was tolerance in general as well as respect for those of us who do not choose to call our higher power God.  I hope that AA General Services will open up this discussion some time in the near future. Until then and likely thereafter I am encouraged by the many divergent sober voices I hear on this site. So glad I found you.

    • Tomas L December 16, 2018 at 9:16 am Reply

      I have a very different view on that “Higher Power, who I choose to call God.” I often find a prescriptive and self-aggrandizing streak in it, implying that “what I choose is the correct choice”. It’s in the tone and context rather than overtly expressed. I’m not saying you are wrong in finding it inclusive, just that my experience is different. I have noticed that the word “spiritual” is also seen very differently among secular folks. I have a rather wide and loose definition of it and don’t mind it, but many others see it as exclusive and something they would rather delete from the vocabulary. I think the differing views are mostly caused by the individual experience of how the words are used rather than the words as such.

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