Update: Does ‘The God Word’ Pamphlet Need a Name Change?

All the way back in late October, we posted Does the “God Word” Pamphlet Need a Name Change? ,which addressed our concerns that the recently published pamphlet, “The God Word”, was titled in a way that wouldn’t attract newcomers struggling with the religiosity in AA. The post was accompanied by a survey and we’ve been meaning to write a follow-up post, letting you know what the results of the survey looked like. Though it took us about 6 months, we’ve finally managed to write the follow-up.

The poll received 113 responses, which is many more than we expected! Thank you so much for providing your feedback! The breakdown of the quantifiable-type questions are below.  As you can see the overwhelming number of you disliked the title and would like to see it changed.

  • Do you like the current title? 25% Yes, 75% No
  • Do you think it should be changed? 76% Yes, 24% No
  • It doesn’t really matter. 71% Disagree, 29% Agree
  • Is it worth the trouble of trying to change it? 68% Yes, 32% No

A space was also provided for free-form feedback for you to suggest a better title and any other thoughts you might have on the subject. About half of the responses favored either something like “AA for Atheists, Agnostics, and Freethinkers” or thought the existing subtitle, “Agnostic and Atheist Members in AA”, should be made the main title.  One not-very-opinionated person felt that “This Is Christian Apologism Disguised As a Hip and Cool ‘Atheist’ Pamphlet, Hep Cats, Dig?” would be a more appropriate title.

The free-form text is a bit harder to summarize but there were a couple of themes that came up more than once. Some of you felt it was too early to decide on the best title for the pamphlet, that we should wait to see what the reaction is, and how newcomers respond to it. Another couple of responses felt that the current title might provoke more religiously inclined members to read the pamphlet and gain some exposure to how non-religious members approach their sobriety. We think these are good points to consider, and we’re really grateful for your input.

As we’ve noted, the survey results were overwhelmingly in favor of change, so it might surprise you that we are not planning to ask the 2020 General Service Conference (GSC) to consider a change to the title. There are a couple of reasons for this change of heart. In the year since we started this process, we have been talking about how the GSC often seems to be asked to spend time on small things rather than tackling the issues that are of core importance to AA as a whole (one of you alluded to this in the comments).

Also, while we feel that a change in the title would be a good thing, we are also aware that we can’t say for sure that we are right. Several of you suggested that we run with current title to see how it does before requesting a change, and we were swayed by this argument.

If there are widespread reports that the title is putting off newcomers, a more serious effort to change the title could be launched. We do plan to send GSO the results of this survey and hope that they will take this into account if there is a need to revise the pamphlet in some way.

Thank you again for participating and for your thoughtful responses!

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  1. Karl H. May 7, 2019 at 8:13 am - Reply

    I struggled with the “God” word for quite some time.  When I finally came to a “consensus with myself” as to what worked for me as a ‘higher power,’ I simply started accepting the word “God” as a placeholder for my own concept of my higher power, and I find I have far less trouble fitting in now.

    God is many things to many people, but in the end, “God” is just a sound, a placeholder for ideas, even for people who militantly believe in the classic Judeo-Christian, white-bearded patriarchal God.  I simply accept the reality of what the word “God” actually is, and am much happier for it.  If I were to change the name of the folder, it might be “Having Trouble with the “God” Word?”, or something close to that.

    We’re probably not going to change the hearts and minds of the hardcore AA’ers in the GSC, not as long as their stance is the old “Don’t confuse me with facts, my mind is made up!” attitude.  Reason will never prevail against Faith and established dogma; look at what happened to Galileo.  Best we can do is set a living example; use the Classic AA’s 11th Tradition: “Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion…”  Let them see our numbers steadily growing, while their numbers grow much more slowly, or remain static, or (more likely) begin to drop.  That ought to get their attention if nothing else can.  I ran across a quotation somewhere… I wish I could remember who said it so I can give credit where due.  The gist of it was “The fight for survival either makes things resilient, or it makes them forgotten.”  It seems appropriate here.  If Classic AA fails to adapt, it will eventually become a historical footnote, bypassed, and all but forgotten.

  2. George May 6, 2019 at 6:35 am - Reply

    Recently, I was part of a workshop at a Young People’s Conference. The subject matter was “The God Word” pamphlet and the “One Big Tent” booklet. Our purpose in presenting the workshop was to let nonbelievers know that they are accepted members of A.A. and that they can, get sober and stay sober in A.A. without believing in a god or a higher power. The covers of the pamphlet and the booklet were placed at the entrance of the room in which the workshop was presented. The turnout was small, about a dozen people, but most of those who attended thought the workshop was going to be about God, based on the cover of the pamphlet. This is one instance, on a small scale, but  the title did cause people to believe the workshop was about God. Some people left when they realized what the workshop was about. The discussion actually went well, though the attendees were different than we expected.

    My home group display the pamphlet and the booklet along with other literature for nonbelievers. We also display God focused literature. Attendees are free to decide what may work best for the. When newcomers attend I make sure they get a copy of the pamphlet along with the other pamphlets geared towards newcomers. The group also give newcomers a Living Sober booklet.

    I was thrilled when the pamphlet and One Big Tent were published. I do everything I can to let nonbelievers know they are accepted and are full members of A.A. if they say they are. Maybe the title will change at some point. Until then I will do my part to make sure the doors of A.A. are open to all who want to achieve sobriety.

  3. Jack Blair May 5, 2019 at 4:22 pm - Reply

    Nothing that I’ve read here, including the article, says it better than “look for better battles”.

    The most common head slapper in AA is that so very many good people with honorable intentions can get so insanely trapped in pissing contests about what are, at best, picayune and ridiculously complex  ego battles. That whole modus has got to go, or we will (to some degree we still are) losing credibility and members.

    Science and medicine are making some breathtaking advances in the whole field of addiction. Personally I am an alcohol addict: in nearly identical fashion as meth, coke, junk, crack, fentanyl and several more addictive chemicals. We are all addicts.

    And yet I know some people in AA who will not ever allow other addictions into the discussion. That is dangerous.

    And very stupid.

     

     

  4. MarySusan May 5, 2019 at 1:42 pm - Reply

    Progress not perfection. Newcomers will never see the pamphlet if the groups do not embrace displaying it.  They will for the most part boycott this unless they themselves get friendly with it.  The fear that their AA indoctrination might be shaken is intensified by their concepts of a lifetime. The majority of the members where I live are god based with or without religion. They promote god incessantly.  Social sanctioning and ostracizing for not conforming is painful.  I kept still for years personally.   I say leave the pamphlet be for now and use your energy to get it seen.

  5. Marty N. May 5, 2019 at 12:35 pm - Reply

    How about the first line in the text?  “AA is not a religious program”! You gotta be kidding me!

  6. Thomas C. May 5, 2019 at 11:13 am - Reply

    I believe that we are forgetting that we share this program with religious people as well.  If this is where they personally can find the power to help them maintain sobriety I fully support them.  As an Athiest I have no problem with someone using the word God.  I would really be behind the inclusiveness of all beliefs in AA.  In teaching others and sharing how I maintain sobriety in a non religious way has attracted people to me who say thank you for being so open in our discussion groups about being athiest.  They seemed concerned that they may rock the boat in the group but feel so much better when someone else may share their same doubts. When giving a talk, shine the light on what an agnostic and athiest can do to complete  the steps and recover from a seemingly hopeless disease and support those that have a variety of beliefs.  Patience, Tolerance and Kindness.  Learning about the later has made me a better Athiest and I have had some older religious members ask me to speak to a newcomer who was a non believer.  They realized that helping another alcoholic was more important than converting them to their church.  At my meeting we have a pamphlet called A Path to Spirituality which is extremely beneficial to any newcomer.  Great discussion but this is not something we should spend our time on.

    Thank you

    Tom C

    Ajax Freethinkers Group

  7. Joe C May 5, 2019 at 10:44 am - Reply

    I don’t have a dog in the race – as long as we have a pamphlet for atheists and agnostics – I don’t care what it’s called. If someone can’t understand it, that’s an issue but our survey is emotional reaction-not rational, not scientific. Mostly people who want change participate in surveys, that’s one thing. No one goes downtown to protest to keep the status quo.

    Secondly, how do we know the title confused people? A concern is just that, and a far cry from a scientific fact. Like hearing a noise when your out in the woods late at night – that’s cause for concern, not a reason to outlaw camping.

    Is there a way to test this theory? Unprompted responses from Alcoholics new to AA who don’t have the baggage I have and maybe you do too, would be a better sample.

    In my own group A) pamphlets aren’t flying off the shelf in a feeding frenzy. There isn’t high turnover and B) most people who leave with a pamphlet or two are given them, casually along with a conversation about addiction and AA. How pamphlets are presented are, I suspect, as influential as the title.

    Who’s heard an AA talk that includes, “I was desperate and then I found a pamphlet in an AA meeting that no one noticed me looking at. I left the meeting and the pamphlet changed my life”? I’m not saying it can’t happen; I have never heard of it.

    I would get behind any attempt to make The ‘God’ Word: Agnostics and Atheists in AA better for newcomers based on facts but I don’t know if petitions to GSO based on our opinions is our best use of effort to help the still-suffering alcoholic.

  8. life-j May 5, 2019 at 10:30 am - Reply

    It’s kind of like how it takes 4 years to change one word on page 113 of the Big Book. Is it worth the trouble? I’d rather see us focus our energy on figuring out what our next “real” step might be. Changing the phrase Conference Approved, putting a moratorium on GSO lawsuits

    http://aamo.info/dl/Spirit-vs-Legal.pdf

    For that matter getting bold, and ask AA to make some real change. Embrace the concept of publishing more literature, approved or not. No real reason why AA couldn’t publish material which has not been mulled over by the GSC. Or work on getting new literature to treatment centers so they don’t just give people a big book.

    I do think the original cover is better than the GSO cover, which is muted, almost so it can be hidden better. But let’s just tally up the little victories and look for better battles.

  9. Liz L May 5, 2019 at 8:40 am - Reply

    How will you know if the title puts off newcomers?

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