By Bob K.
Chapter 4 of the Big Book, We Agnostics, is less than satisfying for many non-believers. Six months ago I went undercover so that I might investigate these devious agnostic creatures. It was my hope to discover what it was in Chapter 4 that they found objectionable.
Disregarding a tremendous amount of personal danger, I was able to infiltrate Toronto’s two agnostic AA groups, starting with the second anniversary party of Beyond Belief. They had an interesting speaker from New York City who opened his talk by saying that he believed AA to be a spiritual programme. I was shocked, as I am sure all are, to hear the word “spiritual” at such a meeting. Seemingly, the guile of these strange unbelieving entities was even beyond what I had expected.
I must report that, as a group, they were quite ordinary in appearance, albeit the “nerd quotient” was undeniably above the norm. Anxious to appear to fit in, but with great trepidation, I sampled some foodstuffs from a rather elaborate buffet. The fare of the agnostics was shockingly similar to our own, and they had lots of it. The species dines well.
Early on in the course of my investigations, a third group was formed in Richmond Hill. I investigated this meeting, and also the second downtown meeting, blatantly called We Agnostics. All of these gatherings were shockingly unshocking. Using cunning and subterfuge, I ingratiated myself with the head heathen, and all was going well, until it wasn’t. Anyway, more later about my capture, water-boarding and subsequent indentured servitude.
Interestingly, our Big Book does not define “alcoholism” or “alcoholics,” but rather provides “descriptions.” As in paragraph one of the We Agnostics chapter – “If, when you honestly want to, you find you cannot quit entirely, or if when drinking, you have little control over the amount you take, you are probably alcoholic.” Geez, I remember expecting something a little more harsh in the qualifications – at least some DTs, extreme withdrawal, 60 ouncers, vodka on cornflakes and a minimum of one pink elephant. It occurs to me that “The Days of Wine and Roses” starring Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick was filmed AFTER the writing of the book. Ca explique beaucoup.
I have some observations about agnostics and atheists, gleaned from twenty plus years of seeing these creatures at regular meetings.
1. Among newcomers to AA, there are very few ‘real’ atheists. The vast majority of those proclaiming “When I got to AA I was a total atheist” will later tell of tragic or unfair events which led to their resentments against God. They are much like the angry four year old who screams the ultimate punishment at his mother – “You’re not my mommy any more…” A good many others pursue a life-style of hedonism and self-centeredness, possibly in complete opposition to a religious upbringing, and fear some very dire consequences IF there is a God. They optimistically wish for no God but, beaten down by alcohol, reactivating belief is not terribly difficult. This first group also can come to God via the fourth step of the program.
2. About half to two thirds (by my perception) of those new arrivals to AA who would designate themselves ‘agnostic’ have, like the folks described above, merely dodged the issue. These groups are the people for whom this chapter was written and there were plenty of them at the time Bill wrote the Big Book. Our 12-Step recovery process reduces both fear and resentment, formerly blocking these folks from a relationship with God. Not a giant stretch for those whose roots of disbelief do not run deep.
3. But what about the real agnostic or atheist? Here is the fellow who has been puzzling you, especially in his lack of belief. These folks have given these matters serious consideration and are often more well-versed than most on religious matters.
And indeed, such are the members of the downtown groups – agnostics, Buddhists, humanists, atheists, wanderers and seekers. Many achieved sobriety through regular AA, assisted by the liberality of Bill Wilson, and the concessions granted to the atheists and agnostics of the 1930s. The Spiritual Experience Appendix added in 1941 allows a pursuit of psychic (spiritual!) change, and one’s own “God as we understood Him” (courtesy of the early atheist, Jim B.) has truly provided a “widening of the gateway.”
Sadly, for an unknown quantity of other still suffering alcoholics, the gateway is not wide enough. Freedom to choose one’s own spiritual path, one’s own concept of God, is contradicted for them by AA’s pitbull-like adherence to the King of Christian prayers. Several have without doubt found a workable path to sobriety among the non-believers, and within the non-religious atmosphere of these “unconventional” groups.
Back to my infiltration of the agnostics: all was going well.
I befriended these strange creatures and gained their trust, even writing a few blogs for their heathen website. No one suspected a thing, and then one day someone sneezed. The “God bless you” was out of my mouth before I could pull it back. It hung in the air like a mushroom cloud. The room was deadly silent.
Then of course came the water-boarding. George W. claimed it wasn’t torture. My experience was different. Hour after hour it went on, and the SAME questions over and over and over again: “Is there a God?” “Do you have an immortal soul?” “Do heaven and hell exist?” I would have done anything to make it stop. Not being an agnostic myself, I did NOT know that the answer that these heathens were satisfied with was a simple “Maybe.”
While brainwashed, I was FORCED to write a blog, God as We Understood Him: AA in the 1930s, for the heathen website. May all who believe forgive me and may God have mercy on my soul !!