Any proposal to modify ANYTHING about Alcoholics Anonymous, even in the slightest of ways, tends to be greeted with chants of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”
Has anyone examined the goods to make a determination about the lack of breakage? No, of course not. “Ain’t broke” is assumed, and falls trippingly from the tongue—a matter of philosophy; not of factuality. In our AA Twilight Zone, all clocks and calendars are frozen at the memorable and memorialized year of 1939, when the last word on recovery became available to any and all Americans with the equivalent of $60 to invest in their own salvation.
(NOTE: Let the record show, Your Honor, that any advocates of change are mere troublemakers wallowing in their own belligerence and denial of the Ultimate Reality. We’ll be wise to keep a close eye on them sumsabitches.)
(Corollary: They’re probably not “real” alcoholics)
There is a fifth dimension, beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call Alcoholics Anonymous.
– Rod Serling
On the subject of interesting years in American history, 1962 was pretty damn fascinating! It took the intervention of the National Guard to get a black student, James Meredith, onto the campus of the University of Mississippi. The Governor of the State was vociferously opposed to this mixing of the races, and had physically blocked the entry. Why would he do that? Because he was convinced that the previous system wasn’t “broke,” and Mississippi didn’t need the Kennedy brothers and the Supreme Court’s efforts to “fix it.”
Fifty years later, all of that seemed quite ridiculous to an America that was in the process of re-electing a black President of the United States. Of course, there are tides in the affairs of men, and “ain’t broke” factions can regroup to fight another day.
The segregated system worked very well for those for whom it worked very well. Many, perhaps most, constituents viewed the events of those September days as breeching the fundamental fabric of “their” America. Damn you JFK, Bobby, et al! Not surprisingly, there was no serious assessment, or search for breakage. The way we like things is the way we like things, and inherently perceived as unbroken. Lovers of the status quo love the status quo. Honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness can easily be shunted to the side, when it is convenient to do so.
Some of us were around in 1962, the very same year that the Professional Golfers’ Association of America dropped its “Caucasians Only” membership policy. At the time of that long overdue change, there were surely cries of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” None would have emanated from a young soldier named Earl Woods, future father of a four-time Masters champion with the nickname of “Tiger.” In 1962, and for some additional years further, America’s “Tigers” were welcomed onto the Augusta National Golf club only as caddies, waiters, or shoe-shiners.
Has North American society changed since 1962, or since 1939? Of course it has!
In 1962, a landmark case, or more accurately, a collection of cases came before the Supreme Court. After extensive consideration and debate, Christian practices like recitations of The Lord’s Prayer in the agendas of our public schools were seen to violate the rights of the non-Christian minority. The “ain’t broke” contingent fired all of their rounds of ammunition, but ultimately lost. That defeat is still seen by millions as a travesty of justice, and the start of a precipitous downward slide for motherhood, apple pie, and all else that is holy.
Given the times, there may have existed, among the “ain’t broke” cadre, deep suspicion that some level of Russkie intervention in bringing about this corruption of American values. Perhaps the Commies were attempting to contaminate our precious bodily fluids! (Alert: esoteric “Fail Safe” reference, Young People)
“We’ve done it this way for hundreds of years, damn it!!!!” Cue the music:
Gimme that old time religion
Gimme that old time religion
Gimme that old time religion
It’s good enough for me.
“Alcoholics Anonymous is spiritual, NOT religious. We’ll now close with The Lord’s Prayer.”
“If confusion drives ’em out, alcohol will drive ’em back in!!”
In the twenty-first century, it would be very rare indeed to find ANY group of people chanting The Lord’s Prayer, UNLESS they had an openly acknowledged Christian affiliation. Occasionally, some group of city councillors might decide to “go rogue” in defiance of regulations imposed upon them by the unenlightened—a little protest against the fixing of what needed no fixing.
Although the Freedom From Religion Foundation might leap into action, the general citizenry is likely to fully endorse the brave actions of the mavericks. Decades after the change, many are bewildered as to WHY the rights of the minority took precedence over the wants of the majority. A very large number of Americans feel that a gross error was made, and a hideous injustice perpetrated—Constitution be damned!!
Among the groups and members of Alcoholics Anonymous, one encounters a prevailing attitude much like what is seen in the paragraph above. In theory, AA is an organization espousing extreme inclusiveness. That’s the theory. In reality, blacks, women, Jews, LGBTQ folks, atheists, agnostics and other non-Christians have had to fight hard to be granted their seats at the recovery banquet.
“We are spiritual, not religious. Please ignore all evidence to the contrary.”
After less than five years, the nascent Alcoholics Anonymous distanced itself from its roots in the evangelical Christian fellowship known as the Oxford Group, but to what degree? Eighty years later, a majority of AA members cling to their Lord’s Prayer in meetings’ formats like pit bulls on a poodle. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
There is no reasonable defense of these rituals, so clearly in contravention of AA’s principles of non-alliance and non-affiliation. Group autonomy is cited, and the ever popular “If you don’t like it, get out,” albeit in terms more subtle.
There are those among our growing secular movement lobbying for changes to the AA literature. That isn’t going to happen. We’ll get a pamphlet here and there, but what chance is there of effecting alterations to the sacred texts by folks who don’t acknowledge the wrongness of letting Christianity’s Number One prayer prevail in a nominally spiritual organization.
All of that ain’t seen as broke, and it ain’t gonna get fixed.
Lordy! Lordy! Lordy!!!
About the Author
Bobby Beach is a longtime sober atheist in AA making his debut at AABeyondBelief. His rabble-rousing contributions to AAAgnostica.org include “The Watering Down of AA,” and more recently “Freaken Big Book Fundamentalists Hate Freaken Everything!!”
Beach is a pseudonym allying Bobby with the great Jesse Beach, and a tiny stab perhaps at the late atheist-hater, Sandy Beach.