You can’t solve a problem if you don’t first admit that it exists.
That’s just about the first thing we learn in recovery.
Almost forty years ago, in July 1976, a report was presented to an AA trustees’ committee suggesting that agnostics and atheists in the fellowship were often made to feel like “deviants” rather than “full, participating members in the AA Fellowship without qualification.”
That’s the problem.
Agnostics and atheists often don’t feel comfortable or even welcome in the rooms of AA.
It’s a problem that has been around for a long time.
And nothing – repeat, nothing – has been done about it.
Well, nothing positive anyway.
There are Intergroups across North America that actually bar agnostic groups and won’t include them on the regional meeting lists. As for example in Lafayette and Laytonville, California, Des Moines, Iowa and Portland, Oregon.
And in Canada, groups have been booted out of Intergroups and off of meeting lists in both Vancouver and Toronto.
The first agnostic AA groups ever in Canada – Beyond Belief and We Agnostics – were also the first agnostic groups ever to be booted out of an AA Intergroup, and that was in Toronto on May 30, 2011.
Two weeks later, a website appeared on the Internet, AA Toronto Agnostics.
At first it was meant only to provide the locations, dates and times of the two agnostic meetings. It quickly became much more than that and a year later morphed into AA Agnostica, “a space for agnostics, atheists and freethinkers worldwide.”
And that’s where this book comes from.
It contains a total of 64 stories and essays mostly by agnostics and atheists in AA originally posted on AA Agnostica, most often on Sunday mornings, over the last almost three years. These were written by over thirty men and women from almost as many cities, states, provinces and counties within three countries, the United States, Canada and Great Britain.
It is a diverse and eclectic sampling of writings by women and men for whom sobriety within the fellowship of AA had nothing at all to with an interventionist God.
Nothing at all.
The stories are broken down rather naturally into ten categories. The first, “In the rooms,” deals with what it feels like to be a non-believer at church basement AA meetings. Another category consists of reviews of books that have been found to be helpful for We Agnostics and FreeThinkers (sometimes referred to as “WAFTs”) in AA. There are several articles under the heading of the 12 Steps. And, not to list all the categories, there is a special one for the two founders of the very first AA meeting to be called We Agnostics – Megan D. and Charlie P. – because we are so thankful for their historic efforts to accommodate non-believers in the fellowship: efforts that would no doubt have been deeply appreciated by the co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Just a very few of the writers – in the “Many Paths” section of the book – do not identify as members of Alcoholics Anonymous. It is important to share, however, that as AA members we respect and celebrate all of the paths to recovery. Thus this important section of the book.
Alright, back to the beginning.
We started by suggesting that you can’t solve a problem until you acknowledge its existence.
The discomfort that nonbelievers experience in the rooms of AA was first officially raised as a problem in the mid-seventies, some forty years ago.
It was at that time that efforts began to get the General Service Conference to approve a pamphlet specifically welcoming, and respectful of, agnostics and atheists in AA. The stories of those efforts are told in a section of this book. All of these efforts were ignored or rejected, year after year, decade after decade, by the de facto “group conscience” of AA.
There is an unofficial but coercive “Don’t Tell” policy in the rooms of AA. If you are an atheist, agnostic, humanist or secularist you had best keep your lack of belief in a deity to yourself.
In this sense, AA is a bit like a cat trying to catch its own tail. You can’t solve a problem if talking about it isn’t even allowed. If you insist on pretending it doesn’t exist.
Thus the AA Agnostica website. Thus this book.
It is no longer possible to pretend the problem doesn’t exist. The question now is simply whether or not the fellowship of AA wants a solution.