First off, I wanted to thank you so much for the thoughtful and measured reaction to my review of The God Word pamphlet that originally appeared on the Atheist Recovery page back on June 6, 2018 and was recently reprinted in AA Beyond Belief.
Early in my AA “career”, back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, I found myself in London with some regularity on business and I recall the noon meeting at Hind Street with great fondness. I have been to your country many times since my first trip in 1972 and have a good grasp of the culture and general environment there. One thing for sure is that, despite our common language and close association, the United Kingdom is a foreign country vastly different from the United States.
My personal reactions to any organization such as Conventional AA, closely affiliated, by word or deed, with organized religion or unorganized “spiritual” concepts, are framed by my own experience as a lifelong (since age 12) highly committed and motivated Atheist living in an extremely religious country very unlike the UK. The negative societal and political results of such beliefs in the United States (obvious on their face these days) need not be described here. My reaction to The God Word should be viewed from overseas in that light.
Around three years ago I decided that I personally would no longer have anything to do with Conventional AA and ceased being a member of that fellowship or attend Conventional AA meetings. I do, however, consider myself a very committed member of the group currently referred to as “SecularAA” since our first convention in Santa Monica in 2014 and as a long-term member of our Washington, DC secular meeting known as “We Agnostics” since its founding in 1988. There is a tape of me speaking (as a questioner from the floor) at the first recognized AA International Convention Workshop for Atheists and Agnostics in Seattle, WA in 1990 and I have, obviously, been around and engaged with these topics for some time.
The struggles you had on the pamphlet with your own AA Headquarters in the UK , as you described it, were, to my eye, epic, and it really is an interesting addition to the annals of Atheist/Agnostic members dealings with the Conventional AA program. As I implied, I was fascinated by your “process” there but not at all surprised by the result. Organized AA is an essentially religious program inspired by the Oxford Group and remains so no matter where it plants itself. The way they behaved over there is perfectly consistent with that despite a desire to be “liberal” with us.
Given the above, my “qualifications” in speaking about AA itself are somewhat conflicted as a former long-term member who no longer is involved but I still feel that a general observation might be in order.
I have had some time to review my initial reaction to The God Word and I stand by those reactions to the pamphlet as it was presented in the US and adopted here. I do, however, have a few more thoughts on the matter.
You mention “members delight that for the first time in our history we had a Conference-approved document giving AA’s imprimatur to AAF members”.
After nearly 34 years exposure to AA and its “works” as a determined atheist, the very last thing I would personally look for is “AA’s imprimatur” and would find any such implied approbation as false and misleading in the extreme. At the very best the “mainstream” in AA barely tolerates us and would be far more comfortable not having to deal with us at all. There are, of course, always going to be a number of exceptions on the individual level, and there are many wonderful people in Conventional AA, but, as an organization, we make them extremely uncomfortable.
Instead of dealing with the outmoded, retrograde, inherently condescending concepts and ideology that dominate the vast majority of AA members and meetings would it not make more sense to align our thinking and focus our energy on a purely Secular group that could evolve from what is now SecularAA? Could some of you in the UK get behind something like that?
For me it all boiled down to making a decision about my drinking, finding and attending meetings I could tolerate and thrive in, learning about how the concept of sharing could begin to enhance my understanding of my own and others situations as related to recovery from alcoholism, forging a real understanding of what abstinence means and how life is immeasurably enhanced by it and, at the last, doing my best to help someone else given my own abilities and limitations. For this atheist all the other trappings of AA are meaningless.
Once again, I really appreciated the response to the review and, despite the unlikely event of an agreement on all of the details that I spell out in terms of resolution here, I was gratified to see that a group of committed atheists over there attempted to secure a place for representative stories in the publication as it evolved. The fact that this was not possible is what really told the tale.
I would be pleased to communicate with any of you in the future. I will look forward to that.
About the Author
John Huey’s student work of the ’60s-’70s was influenced by teachers in Vermont such as John Irving at Windham College and William Meredith at Bread Loaf. After many years he returned to writing poetry in 2011. He has been widely anthologized and published since then. His first full-length book, ‘The Moscow Poetry File’, was published by Finishing Line Press in November 2017.
Full information on his creative work, as well as his many Secular Recovery talks and writings, can be found at john-huey.com.