Let the Wood Burn

Fire Line

by Roger C.

Let the wood burn, ladies and gents. It will all be ashes soon.  Remember we haven’t done anything wrong, which means we don’t have (anything) to fix.

Joe C.

Joe C. celebrated 35 years of continuous sobriety on a Saturday night – December 10, 2011 – at the Beyond Belief meeting in downtown Toronto.

It was a special occasion. About 50 people came from the four corners of the earth – well, Pickering and Richmond Hill – to join in the celebration. Joe was one of the founders of Beyond Belief, the first agnostic group in Canada. Its first meeting was held on September 24, 2009.

Beyond Belief, along with the We Agnostics group, was “de-listed” by the GTA AA Intergroup on May 30th of this year, ostensibly for using a nonbeliever’s interpretation of the 12 Steps of recovery, which were described by Bill W as a suggested program of recovery in the Big Book in 1939.

A motion to put the two Toronto groups back on the official list of AA meetings was presented at the GTA Intergroup meeting at the end of November. There was much talk of “compliance,” of what the two groups would have to do or stop doing in order to conform to the demands of a majority of the groups in the organization.

Representatives were to go back and determine what their groups felt about these agnostics and their wayward steps and ways and whether or not they were fit to be considered bona fide members of the fellowship.

The debate has sometimes been heated, the volume amped up.

This left some members of the agnostic groups a bit anxious and wondering what to do. And this is where Joe came in. “Remember we haven’t done anything wrong, which means we don’t have (anything) to fix,” he said.

It was a startling message, which some ignored. When someone is shouting at them, the first question people often ask is: “What have I done wrong?”

Nothing, says Joe. No rules broken. Nothing to fix.

There are, of course, those in AA who just want agnostics to go away.

It has ever been thus. Jim Burwell, one of the original members of AA, was a “self-proclaimed atheist, completely against all religion.” At one point, his group, which met at Bill W’s home in Brooklyn, held a prayer meeting to decide what to do with him. “The consensus seems to have been that they hoped I would either leave town or get drunk,” Jim reported.

If the agnostic and her group won’t go away, how about if she and it are seen but not heard?

When the two groups were booted off the AA meeting list, a few AA freethinkers – not affiliated with any particular group or organization – started a website called AA Toronto Agnostics. The goal was to fulfill the AA responsibility declaration so that the suffering alcoholic – including the non-religious alcoholic – would be aware of and have the option of attending a freethinker’s meeting.

Recently, the producers of Tapestry, a well-respected CBC radio show about spirituality, decided to do a show on the spirituality of AA. Researchers were quite taken by the agnostic AA website and quickly invited agnostic members to come down to the CBC studio and be interviewed for the program.

Agnostics will be heard but not seen on CBC radio.

And there will no doubt be some in the rooms of AA who will be upset at the thought of agnostics AA members discussing the spirituality of AA and the 12 Step recovery program.

But, if we pay attention to Joe, that too is not a problem.

“I honestly think that moving from being ridiculed to violently opposed is evolutionally positive (if that’s a word),” he wrote, the day before his birthday celebration.

And it is, in a sad but hopeful way, a marker of progress being made by agnostics in AA. Those who want to make the rooms of AA comfortable for all must not flinch, according to Joe, simply because the volume is being amped up and the language now more harsh.

“Remember we haven’t done anything wrong.”

Back at the Beyond Belief meeting, Joe accepted a 35 year medallion. A wonderful accomplishment and an inspiration to others.

At least four people with different amounts of sobriety (Eric with six months, Katherine with nine, Roger with a year and a half and Lucas with nine days) spoke up and said that they owed their ongoing sobriety in no small part to the agnostic meetings of Beyond Belief.

When you think about it, being one of the founding members of an agnostic AA meeting could not have been easy. But Joe stuck with it, through the easy glides and the rough rides.

Let the wood burn, ladies and gents.

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