The “God Word” Delusion: A Response from the London Group

The London Islington Agnostic, Atheist, and Freethinkers Group writes in response to The God Word Delusion,” by John Huey published here on August 2, 2020. 

Dear John,

As the group who initiated the process of securing the first-ever Conference-approved leaflet for agnostics, atheists, and freethinkers, we would like to put your remarks in their historical context.

You are correct that the final printed version was indeed not as radical, articulate, or comprehensive as we had intended, but that was due to the stifling structure of the Fellowship, not to those of us who are seeking to challenge and modernise it. 

After Conference first approved our request that the Literature Committee should produce a leaflet for AAF members and bring it back the following year, we promptly wrote to the Committee to offer our assistance in its preparation, in the naïve expectation that the Committee would want to consult and seek assistance from the group of members for whom the leaflet was designed to benefit.

We were instantly disabused of that idea and informed that only the Literature Committee members worked on drafts and our assistance was not appropriate, necessary, or desired. So, to be crystal clear, we were denied any access to contribute to the content of the leaflet, which was undertaken solely by the Literature Committee members.

Obviously, we registered our protest at this exclusion, and, interestingly, right at the very end of the process, we were told that the Committee had in fact been liaising with an AAF member in London. This was news to us, as that member never informed us of the fact during the process, and, whereas we had taken every step of our mandate through Group Conscience, we can only assume that individual expressed their individual opinions. How much of those opinions were incorporated into the text is unknown to us, but we were left with the clear impression that our structured and planned communications with the Committee were not welcome.

Subsequently, a 1st draft was brought back to the following Conference which we considered to be unfit for the purpose. It was basically a slightly reworded version of Chapter 4 and was not written in the house style of all the other leaflets, for women, LGBT members, young people, etc, as it had no stories to bring life to the content of the leaflet. We, therefore, lobbied the delegates NOT to approve the leaflet because of these deficiencies, and present an improved version the next year.

By the way, we were particularly incensed by the title that was originally chosen, namely “The God Word”, on the grounds that were we to offer it to a newcomer struggling with the issue, or they saw it on the literature table, they would almost certainly be so dismayed they would never pick it up or open the front cover. We offered numerous sensible and clear welcoming alternatives, but these were all rejected, and the compromise title, which was subsequently passed by Conference was to put the word “God” in inverted commas, so the title became “The “God” Word”. We did later hear this was meant to be ironic, which surprisingly is not in the straightforward house style of the other leaflets. We also picked up on the choice of the heavenly sky blue colour but again told that was not our business.

Anyway, at least we had secured a commitment to include stories of AAF members, so for the next few months, we waited expectantly for Intergroups to circulate invitations to members to submit their stories. The invitations did not arrive, so we were obliged to chase the matter up, to be told it was an oversight, so the request eventually came out quite late in the year and left little time for stories to be submitted.

 Nevertheless, lots of stories were duly submitted, including contributions from all of us in the London group who had initiated the process. Here is the one point in which I will agree with one of the central themes of your essay because not a single signed story from our group was accepted for publication, which included numerous contributions from members like yourself John, who are happy to attest that words like God, Higher Power or Spirituality are not in our vocabulary as atheists, but this, of course, has not prevented long term sobriety and service in the Fellowship.

With no disrespect to those members whose stories were published, it is fair to say that they were safer and certainly less radical than some of us would have wished. All perspectives have a place, but the collection has lacked the radical and visionary perspective we would have wished to see included. Having said all that, the leaflet was indeed very well received by the Fellowship and was groundbreaking. As well as being accepted worldwide, it has now been translated into Spanish and French and sold 38,000 copies in the USA in the first 3 months.

We’re sure the main factors were members’ delight that for the first time in our history we had a Conference-approved document giving AA’s imprimatur to AAF members, and that was welcomed worldwide. Secondly, the stories clearly resonated with many members, and we know ourselves that there is a wide spectrum of personal belief amongst members. Yes, it’s true that the most radical views were not represented, but those stories that were printed genuinely represent the views of a great many members who identify as AAF, so it has served a great purpose.

The reason we wanted to present this detailed response was primarily to inform you of the process we had to endure to get anything published over a 3-year struggle, given the ultra-conservative nature of the Fellowship, and the difficulty in achieving any change, however small. We see this as the first stage in a long process of modernisation, and it is naive to suggest you can achieve everything in one leap.

It’s fair to say that we felt the tone of your essay was somewhat over critical – however, perhaps this is understandable since you were unaware of the background and the obstacles we had to overcome to get even an imperfect version of our intended pamphlet approved, which is why we felt it important to put the full story on the record.

Can we not now please exert our energy to improving the overall quality and accessibility of all of AA’s literature to make it more inclusive and welcoming for the greatest number of current and future alcoholics? To this end, our group has had it confirmed that active consideration is being given to producing a 5th Edition of the Big Book in the USA and Canada, including looking at accessibility and relatability, and we have made representations to New York to be included in any consultations or conversations which may take place, as we did with our original leaflet.

That seems to us to be a far more constructive project on which to spend our time –

Come and join us, John.

Yours, 

London Islington Agnostic Atheist and Freethinkers Group
August 2020

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Dean W
Dean W
1 month ago

Thank you, London, for your very interesting backstory on the pamphlet. Yet this is what I hear in your tone, and in the tone of many in secular aa: “Let’s be grateful for our second-class citizenship in an organization that claims to have no second-class citizens. Let’s chip away at their BS, because we can incrementally change this religious organization’s nature, and eventually they will accept us atheists and agnostics as full-fledged members.” To me, this is unrealistic, probably delusional, and might even be magical thinking – perhaps even as magical as the thinking of the religious zealots who control… Read more »

Joe C
Joe C
1 month ago
Reply to  Dean W

pick one: Life Ring, SOS, SMART, Women for Sobriety, Dharma Recovery. All of these are born of a reaction to AA, members getting sick and tired and doing it their way. Some of them are even splinter groups from the others. I go to some of these meetings. They are nice people.

Dean W
Dean W
1 month ago
Reply to  Joe C

Thanks for the suggestion, Joe. They aren’t the only possibilities, though.

BurntOutOfferings
BurntOutOfferings
1 month ago
Reply to  Joe C

Looking up these mentioned groups, I was really hoping to find something for CODA or ACoA for atheists and like. As I’m recovering from God will smite you dogma in my life, I choose not to go to regular (non religiosity guaranteed BS) meetings, as they are not at all conducive to my recovery. With Covid killing group meetings I was expecting to find online groups easier. Geographic boundaries gone, just time zones to work around. But also, spending hours scouring the nets for a good lead.

John S
Admin
1 month ago
Reply to  Dean W

If you think about AA as your homegroup, you can make it anything you want. This may have changed a bit under COVID, but you can still have secular AA meetings and do whatever you want, read whatever you want, etc. With that sort of freedom, I question the necessity of AA groups banding together to start something new. That being said, I think it’s great if groups and individuals want to start a new recovery movement, it could end up helping a lot of people. I’m not interested in doing that, but if you are, then you should find… Read more »

Dean W
Dean W
1 month ago
Reply to  John S

Nice try, John, but obviously AA is more than my homegroup. Let’s try to stay in the real world, OK? Why don’t you just come right out and say, “Don’t go away mad, just go away?”

John S
Admin
1 month ago
Reply to  Dean W

If that is what I intended to say, I would have said it.

Dean W
Dean W
1 month ago
Reply to  John S

Would you? In the comments on John Huey’s article he also advocated for a separate fellowship. What is your reply to him (and the tone of that reply)? I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I know the difference between hero worship and condescension. If you want to play semantic games, let’s play.

Joe C
Joe C
1 month ago

Hey London, it’s Toronto calling; thanks for your service. You understated the impact of The “God” Word. According to the 2020 70th General Service Conference final report sales were as follows: The “God” Word: Agnostics and Atheists in AA, 93,163 (English sales in USA/Canada) Le Mot “Dieu”—Membres agnostiques et athées chez les AA sold 5,807 La palabra “Dios” — Los miembros de A.A. agnósticos y ateos sold 3,116 More on the 2020 conference and AA year in review on Rebellion Dogs Publishing I remember the talk about mobilizing to have USA/Canada adopt the UK conference approved atheist/agnostic pamphlet. There was… Read more »

John S
Admin
1 month ago
Reply to  Joe C

I think that’s a good idea for a topic at the ICSAA Zoom conference.

John Huey
John Huey
1 month ago
Reply to  John S

We will see about that election Joe.. Not in my lifetime perhaps but total national/international freedom from these people and their retrograde and destructive ideas is attainable. Watch your inbox. My response to the excellent remarks from London is out on Wednesday. BTW, I love Bernie but am voting for that other Joe as a stopgap measure until we can find some real Socialist freedom in the Marco world. I’m tinged with realism politically as well.

Charlie J
Charlie J
1 month ago

Thanks for the explanation and your groups determination, your groups actions most certainly will save lives. I personally have been told that AA is too religious by some non-believing “prospective” members. Some have left and never returned to another meeting and some have died.. Obviously the literature committee and intergroup forgot to read and apply the responsibility statement to themselves. “When ANYONE reaches out for help”… There is no eligibility requirement that states you must be religious or that you must think like all the members of the group. The only requirement is a desire to stop drinking…

Chris Rawlinson
Chris Rawlinson
1 month ago

Thank you very much for this background story. As someone who has just recently come to discover that there is this whole other side to AA, namely agnostics and atheists, I’m happy to finally be able to be true to my own beliefs and not fear I might drink again simply because I cannot, and do not, believe in a theistic entity. I was encouraged by the idea that there was finally a Conference Approved pamphlet ” The “GOD” Word” that spoke to my belief system, but was also somewhat taken aback by it’s somewhat watered down tone. I am… Read more »

Dan L
Dan L
1 month ago

Thanks for your story of bravery and persistence. One of the problems we face in AA is trying to accept with enthusiasm publications put out by the organisation to placate us which are never progressive enough and always seem to leave a “back door” open for escape into conventional AA theism. That this is clearly done to soothe those members who oppose our direction is galling to say the least. There aren’t all that many wishy-washy uncommitted atheists who need to be won over to either world view (but mostly the theist one). In order to have something reflecting our… Read more »