One’s religion is an outside issue

Father Pete Watters

By Thomas B.

Like many folks at AA Agnostica and elsewhere, I’m most disappointed by the decision of the General Service Board and Conference to again not publish the proposed pamphlet, “AA — Spiritual, Not Religious.” I was further dismayed to learn from Roger C.’s article The General Service Conference Stumbles that this has happened repeatedly since 1976, when such a pamphlet was first proposed by the Trustee’s Literature Committee.

Having lived in recovery from 1972 through 2001 in or near New York City where AA meetings are much more focused on “higher power” spirituality with less emphasis on the “God” language of the Big Book than perhaps other areas, I was mostly unaware of the conflict between spirituality and religion in the rooms of AA. Once in 1990, while visiting Orlando, I was somewhat taken aback at the end of the meeting, when group members not only said the Lord’s Prayer, but also knelt while saying it.

But I really became aware of biblically-oriented Oxford Group practices when Jill and I attended a meeting in Frederick, Maryland, that I described in First AA Meetings. “We all surrender on our knees in prayer to Jesus Christ,” Jill and I were told at that meeting, before bolting out the door.

Father Watters

Father Pete Watters

And then of course, there was the delisting of two  AA agnostic groups in 2011 by the Greater Toronto Area Intergroup. You can read about that here: Does religion belong at AA? The arrogant picture of Father Pete Watters, despite his 50 years of sobriety in AA, aptly demonstrates to my mind the term “bleeding deacon” as a result of his callous disregard not only of our Third Tradition (“The only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking”), but the Eleventh Tradition (“We need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films”) as well.

However, in 1991 Ernest Kurtz wrote about this spiritual versus religious dynamic. In his seminal academic history of AA, Not-God, he describes what he terms “Akron-style AA,” which is prevalent throughout the south, Texas, Arizona, Southern California and in the Great Lakes region. He describes it as being much more explicitly Christian in its discussion of spirituality, and that this Christian orientation is accompanied by “the feeling that Alcoholics Anonymous has been in decline at least since the death of Bill Wilson and probably since the death of Dr. Bob, and that the main cause is ‘those New Yorkers’.” (p. 302)

Now that I am aware of this “Akron-style of AA” I am becoming increasingly concerned about the regressive trend in AA to revert to adherence to Oxford Group practices that were influential during our founding days. And I’ve developed the strong belief that any member’s religious affiliation is an outside issue.

One’s religious dogma and theology have minimal relevance within the meeting rooms of AA’s spiritual program. From my understanding of the history of AA as the traditions evolved, it’s my firm belief that this is what was intended by both of our co-founders, Dr. Bob Smith and Bill Wilson, along with a good proportion of AA’s membership for most of our 78-year history.

* * *

Though a devout Christian who, along with his wife Anne, was the prime mover of the Akron Oxford-based wing of AA, Dr. Bob came to agree with Bill that the still unnamed fellowship, then the so-called “alcohol squad,” needed to break away from the evangelical Christian Oxford Group. Though most grateful to T. Henry Williams and other Akron Oxford Group members, he volunteered his and Anne’s house for initial meetings of the “alcohol squad,” when in the late fall of 1939 the sober Akron members also decided to split from Oxford Group affiliation, which Bill and the New York “alcohol squad” had done a couple of years previously.

Dr. Bob also fully agreed with Bill’s strong advocacy for our Twelve Traditions. This included, of course, the Third Tradition, which clearly states, “The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking.”  The short form of the Twelve Traditions was formally adopted in Cleveland during the first AA International Convention in June, 1950. Another highlight of this convention was the last public appearance of Dr. Bob, who was deathly ill at the time. Along with defining the essence of the Twelve Steps as being “love and service,” he ended his short talk with this statement:

And one more thing: None of us would be here today if somebody hadn’t taken time to explain things to us, to give us a little pat on the back, to take us to a meeting or two, to do numerous little kind and thoughtful acts on our behalf. So let us never get such a degree of smug complacency that we’re not willing to extend, or attempt to extend, to our less fortunate brothers that help which has been so beneficial to us.

To my mind, this includes not being at all concerned with whatever religious or non-religious beliefs a newcomer might have. Since the only requirement for membership is the desire to stop drinking, one’s religious beliefs or lack thereof is an outside issue, about which AA and its members have no opinion in accordance with our Tenth Tradition.

Throughout the AA membership it is generally acknowledged that Bill was an eclectic spiritual seeker all of his life. Some more rigidly fundamentalist Christians even accuse him of practicing satanic rituals from which AA is derived. What is not as commonly acknowledged is that Dr. Bob was also an eclectic spiritual seeker, according to the Conference approved biography, Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers. He also studied spiritualism and deeply explored many of the world’s spiritual traditions. On pages 309-310, his son, Smitty, is quoted as saying, “He read about every religion, not only the Christian religion. He could tell you about the Koran, Confucius, even voodooism and many other things.”  Bob and Anne with Bill and Lois participated in séances and consulted the Ouija Board in efforts to communicate with spirits of those departed.

In the spring of 1939, there had been an earlier break of folks away from the Akron Oxford Group. This was the Cleveland contingent of some 13–16 alcoholics under the guidance of Clarence S. Their parish priests forbade the mostly Catholic members from Cleveland to attend the evangelical Protestant meetings at the Oxford Groups in Akron. To top it off Clarence S. is reported on page 162 of Doctor Bob and the Good Oldtimers to have told Dr. Bob that they were using the wrong Bible.

Throughout his life, Clarence S. contended he was the true founder of AA and developed a large contingent of followers throughout the south, especially in North Carolina and Florida, who followed a heavily bible-oriented approach to the 12-steps. Clarence also retained the Four Absolutes, Honesty, Purity, Unselfishness and Love, from the Oxford Group. In addition, he openly disagreed with Bill and Dr. Bob about the need for Traditions, especially anonymity, often using his last name in public forums and with the press.

In his proselytizing Clarence S. obviously disregarded instructions suggested in the Big Book chapter, “Working With Others.” These instruction were agreed to by the first 75-100 alcoholics who got sober in both Akron and New York. Their shared experiences were the basis for the Big Book. On pages 93 and 94, it states:

If the man be atheist or agnostic make it emphatic that he does not have to agree with your conception of God. He can choose any conception he likes, provided it makes sense to him… We represent no particular faith or denomination. We are dealing only with general principles common to most denominations.”

* * *

Bill, as aforementioned, both in practice and belief, was an eclectic spiritual seeker, who explored spiritualism and read extensively about various world wisdom traditions. Anyone visiting the Griffith Library in East Dorset, Vermont, where he grew up in the house of his maternal grandparents across the street from the Wilson House where he was born in a backroom behind the original hotel bar, or Stepping Stones, where he and Lois lived from 1941 until she died in 1988, can marvel at the eclectic range of their reading to include history, psychology, medicine, religion, and spirituality.

Joe C. in his meditation for July 1st from his daily meditation book, Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life, makes mention that when the 2nd edition of the Big Book was published in 1955, Bill “delighted in the fact that in regions of the globe dominated by various faiths (Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism) AA’s doctrine was being adapted to local world views.”

Susan Cheever in her 2004 biography of Bill Wilson discusses on pages 202-203 his decision in the 1940s not to convert to Catholicism after taking instructions from then popular radio host, Monsignor Fulton Sheen. Cheever quotes a portion of a letter from Bill to Akron member Bob E. in which he says, “The thing that still irks me about all organized religion is their claim how confoundedly right they all are.” As the man who was most associated with representing AA, Cheever reports that Bill was concerned that were he to convert to Catholicism it “would profoundly hurt AA.”

Another biographer, Francis Hartigan, who served for many years as Lois’ secretary and confidant, wrote in his biography, Bill W.: A Biography of Alcoholics Anonymous Cofounder Bill Wilson, published in 2001, that Bill and Msgr. Sheen met on Saturday mornings for almost a year in 1947. He also reports that Bill decided not to convert to Catholicism because he didn’t want AA to be associated with any religion.

Perhaps one of the most definitive statements that Bill made about keeping AA spiritual, not religious, is the following quote from a letter to Mary M. in August of 1964 that Ernest Kurtz notes on pages 152-153 of Not God: “Nor have we ever had the slightest success in insisting upon some particular form of salvation. Nevertheless we can bring people within the reach of salvation – that is, of the salvation they choose.”

* * *

The virulent animosity between various sects of religious Christians has existed from early Church history down to the present day. Heretical sects were obliterated. Popes and Anti-Popes allied with various political powers often battled each other. Numerous brutal wars occurred between Catholics and Protestants throughout Europe and Britain.

I was personally aware of and impacted by the animosity of Protestants towards Catholics. I was raised in Mississippi by parents who were from prominent southern Baptist and Presbyterian families. When I was twelve years old my mother and I converted to Catholicism. I joined mother because my best friend at the time was Catholic. I was fascinated with the statues, the pictures of bleeding hearts and the smell of incense. My girlfriend, Judy, was a southern Baptist, with whom I had won a jitterbug contest at Arthur Murray’s Dance Studio. Obviously, she was not a strict Baptist, because she was allowed to dance. However, when she learned I had become a Catholic, she dropped me like a hot potato, because, as she indelicately put it, I was a Satanist, who worshipped an idol of the Virgin Mary.

Brutal conflicts between religions have not been limited only to those between different brands of Christianity. I lived for two years in Sri Lanka, working as an unarmed peacekeeper between the majority Buddhist Sinhalese and the minority Hindu Tamils, two of our species oldest spiritual traditions, the central tenet of each being compassion for all living beings, who have been brutally killing each other since before recorded history. Shiite and Sunni Muslims have been in theological conflict since the battle of Karbala in 680 AD, when the grandson of Mohammad was killed, and this centuries old conflict is today escalating throughout the Middle East.

In her book, The Curse of Cain, Regina Schwartz argues that “all monotheistic religions, including Christianity, are inherently violent because of an exclusivism that inevitably fosters violence against those that are considered outsiders.” (Wikipedia) The missionary zeal and proselytising inevitably and inherently a part of religion – and the animosity towards those who don’t swallow the religious pill – has become an all too common feature of the rooms of AA. It is precisely for this reason that the co-founders of the fellowship tried so forcefully, and yet inadequately, given the predominance of Christianity in the thirties and forties, to keep religion à la Oxford Group and Protestantism out of the AA, and to replace it with “spirituality.”

* * *

“But don’t try to make AA religious. The line between religion and spirituality has to be maintained strongly in this fellowship.”

Right Reverend Ward Ewing, Former Chairperson of the AA General Service Board

To my mind, it is crystal clear, as the Right Reverend Ward Ewing attests to in the above quote, that AA cannot become religious, that one’s religion is an outside issue relative to our AA spirituality. This is why it is so important that next year the General Service Conference and Board approve the pamphlet, “AA – Spiritual, Not Religious,” as has been recommended and in the works since 1976.

To this end, an agnostic Jewish friend and myself wrote strong letters recommending the pamphlet be approved to the incoming Chairperson of the AA General Service Conference, Mr. Terrance M. Bedient. We copied our Area 58 Chairperson, who thanked us, replying he was uninformed about this history. I strongly urge other members of the AA Agnostica community to do the same, so that at least if another decision by the General Service Conference Board is made not to publish such a pamphlet, it is an informed decision to violate our traditions and not one made out of ignorance of our history and traditions.

It may very well turn out that like many spiritual movements, and certainly most religions, AA will devolve into two sects, one Christian-based and religiously biased, and a sect of agnostics, freethinkers and humanists, which focuses on generic spiritual, humanist and democratic values. I hope this doesn’t come to pass, since I strongly agree with Megan D.’s article, An Atheist in AA, that it is not our goal to be “apart from” others, no matter their beliefs. Our goal is to be “a part of” a fellowship that ensures that the hand of AA is there for the alcoholic who reaches out for help, and that means any alcoholic, including the growing number of “nones” (those without religious affiliation).

In any event, I shall continue to share my truth at AA meetings and with newcomers as an agnostic seeking spiritual – not religious – progress, ever respectful and supportive of all in the rooms of AA, regardless of belief or lack of belief. That, at least as I understand it, is the mission of Alcoholics Anonymous.

26 Responses

  1. Louis-Paul says:

    I strongly believe that AA should be non religous and should be a spiritual minded organization that respects every members orientation

    • Thomas B. says:

      I totally agree Louis-Paul — thanks.

      Extending our code of “love and tolerance” to folks I judgmentally criticize as Christian bigots is one of my primary means currently of attaining spiritual progress, never perfection.

  2. life-j says:

    Thomas, thanks for this post. I would go so far as to say one’s belief in a higher power or not is an outside issue, but of course there I do collide with AA mainstream thought, being that a higher power IS necessary for successful recovery.

    • Thomas B. says:

      Thanks life-j — one of the many paradoxes of my experience of AA is that in my 41st year of recover, I can be as radically outside the mainstream of AA thought as sometimes passionately I am, while at the same time I am fiercely devoted and grateful to AA for my day-at-a-time continued recovery . . .

  3. Camille says:

    I did write to AA over a month ago about the pamphlet. I was told they did not decide not to publish it but sent it back to the committee for re-writes to be brought back again in 2014. I was told that nothing happens quickly in AA; of which I noted that this pamphlet had been shot down stone the 1970’s. I was encouraged to talk to my delegate and let my concerns be heard. I asked to see a draft of the pamphlet and was told no one can see that but the assigned committee. She made it sounds like the next go around will most likely be approved. I am not holding my breath. AA fundamentalists are scary and dangerous. When questioned they get angry and argumentative. Some I have encountered bordered on violent with their posturing and hateful use of profanity. I call them the AA Taliban. I have 24 years off continuous sobriety however because of the myopic views of many of the members forcefeeding their Christian views of god down others throats, I have cut back on my attendance. I put a post on a local AA Facebook page I belong to asking if anyone is interested in an agnostic meeting and got zero responses.

    • Thomas B. says:

      Thanks, Camille. Yes, fundamentalists of any stripes are scary. I sometimes scare myself with how outrageously enraged and resentful I still at times become towards those I self-righteously judge to be hateful Christian bigots.

      • Mike S. says:

        Thanks Thomas. I so often have to remind myself of this. It’s amazing how my own need to be right and intolerance of others puts a crimp on my serenity.

  4. steve b says:

    So, what else is new? AA has always given lip service to the idea that everyone’s views are welcome, but the core belief of AA is that we should all believe in god. After all, isn’t chapter 4 of the Big Book devoted to the proposition that the atheist is wrong and must be willing to believe in order to recover? AA’s rigid religiosity is what gave rise to alternative recovery groups such as SOS, which to my mind is a much better fit for the nonreligious recovering alcoholic. Unfortunately, SOS hasn’t caught on where I live, so that if I want to attend meetings of a recovery support group, I am limited to going to AA. I have no great love for AA, and I suspect it is unfixable. It’s nice that some of us are willing to work towards liberalizing AA, but I suspect that it’s wasted effort, and that it might be better for AA to “devolve” into 2 separate groups, one religious and other not.

    • Thomas B. says:

      Thanks Steve — that’s my sad prognostication as well, that indeed there well may be “irreconcilable differences” between the “Akron-style AA” as described by Ernest Kurtz in 1991 and us WAFTS. However, I intend to endeavor to the best that I can to work toward sharing the fellowship with the religionists within the framework of the traditions and the service structure of AA as an agnostic, ever seeking progress, not expecting perfection.

      For me, an uncrossable line in the sand may be if the General Service Board again delays publication of the pamphlet “AA — Spiritual Not Religious” that has been in the works since 1976, but let me not project too negatively . . . 😉 I am most grateful that we of like WAFT-mind are planning the first International Convention of WAFTS in Santa Monica during November of 2014.

      One thing that struck me seeing the two pictures of Father Watters that Roger inserted is that he may be in the lineage of Clarence S., who disregarded the need for the traditions.

  5. Weed says:

    Fundamentalists are scary because they’re dangerous which is why I love the above reference to the Taliban. My discomfort is that I can often find flavors of fundamentalism in both camps. Perhaps the greatest enlightment is truly not knowing. It’s a relief! I just don’t know! Wouldn’t be cool if everybody jumped on that band wagon so that we could share our experiences rather than our theories?

    • Thomas B. says:

      Yes, Weed, that’s why I’m so enthused with the planning that is taking place for us to gather in Santa Monica in November of next year.

  6. Pam L says:

    29 years of sobriety and the last year spent in Agnostic meetings. I never knew they existed until this past year. I enjoy them SO much more and I see people really open up and share things that I NEVER heard in meetings all those years. It made me realize how much the meetings I was attending were hurting people. It actually makes me feel sick inside that I spouted such crazy bumper sticker talk for so many years. I had no idea I had a choice and now I know I do. YEAH! I have no need for religion or a HP. A group of drunks works fine for me (and some personal responsibility.)The cult mentality I see now that I have stepped back is disconcerting… I really feel like I left Scientology or something now… I hope AA decides to let us MERGE with them so we can do some good for the alcoholic that still suffers.

    • Thomas B. says:

      I agree, Pam, but I found this last year in the most fundamentally Christianized area of AA, I’ve ever had to regularly attend for any period of time that even with the scowls, the looks, the derision, the non-practice of “love and tolerance” that I can continue to spiritually evolve by choosing not to change what I say, but how I say it, speaking my truth with a minimum of rancor and resentment — heavy lifting of spiritual progress indeed!

  7. Laurie A says:

    The schism between conservatives and liberals in AA has existed from the beginning but thanks to the Fellowship’s cellular structure it doesn’t matter. No group can control another so if you don’t like to say the Lord’s prayer on your knees at a meeting start one where you don’t have to. The long form of Tradition Three makes clear, “Our membership ought to include all who suffer from alcoholism. Hence we may refuse none who wish to recover. Nor ought AA membership ever depend upon money OR CONFORMITY (emphasis added). Any two or three alcoholics gathered together for sobriety may call themselves an AA group, provided that, as a group, they have no other affiliation.” Ernie Kurtz opined (in Not God), “AA shall survive so long as its message remains that of the not-God-ness of the wholeness of accepted limitation; and this itself shall endure so long as AA’s spiritualisers and its liberals its “right” and its “left” – maintain in mutual respect the creative tension that arises from their willingness to participate even with others of so different assumptions in the shared honesty of mutual vulnerability openly acknowledged.” Sadly the ‘creative tension’ all too often smothers the ‘mutual respect’. BTW one small caveat, there are no instructions in the first 164 pages of the Big Book, only suggestions, guidance, advice, and in one instance, direction – but a signpost only gives directions, not instructions.

    • Thomas B. says:

      So true, Laurie — in my 41st year of recovery by “the Grace of AA” as an atheist/buddhist friend of mine, Jack B., describes it, I become more aware of how vital the Traditions are to AA’s continued evolution. We shall either continue to thrive because of them or die on our uprooted vine by ignoring them.

  8. Lon Mc. says:

    I acquired my alcoholism in a real world existence which is governed by demonstrably valid laws of nature. Over a period of three decades I found progressive joyful sober living in a real world which is still governed by demonstrably valid laws of nature. In the USA our government functions best when it confines itself to the secular real world business of the nation, without the constraints of unsupported religious convictions which are sometimes harmful, especially in recent years. Why would AA not function better if we dealt with our real world, assisted by a basic Golden Rule secular morality, and separated from confounding fundamentalist religious convictions, who some seem to freely exercise in our meeting rooms?

    • Thomas B. says:

      Excellent question, Lon. One thing my wife Jill and I learned this past year in Coos Bay is that even in the most dire of fundamentalist areas, we can live our program of “daily reprieve” by speaking our truth and following the dictum on our recovery anniversary coins, “To Thine Own Self Be true.”

      We are most fortunate that we have the resources to pick ourselves up and move to the more inclusive and tolerant area of Seaside, Oregon near Portland.

  9. bob k says:

    The June, 2011 Saturday Toronto Star (Canada’s largest newspaper) piece with Father Peter’s picture on page one, remains the worst anonymity breach that I have EVER seen, or heard of. In theory, this type of self-absorption is supposed to endanger the sobriety of the blowhard himself.

    In this case however, a Catholic priest pictured in full clerical regalia, (and fully identified) was answering the question of the press as the de facto spokesperson of AA. His very well attended and recent 50 year celebration grew in the story from 700 attendees (I was there) to thousands. Possibly a recurrence of the “loaves and fishes” thing.

    I couldn’t help but to wonder, with some dread, if some poor alcoholic who had been molested in childhood by one of Father Peter’s esteemed colleagues, might be permanently deterred from seeking our assistance. Whatever were the offences of the heathen AA groups, this was far, far worse. It was a sad day for Alcoholics Anonymous.

  10. Daniel G says:


    First and foremost, please understand that I don’t mean to be disrespectful of other people’s beliefs. I speak for my own (and other atheists) beliefs. I have seen how positive religion can be in people’s lives, but please accept that it’s not for everyone.

    Atheists don’t believe in God. We don’t believe in *any* higher power. We believe in physics, in evolution, in the the Big Bang, in the idea that when you die you compost. We believe that the meaning of life is something a person needs to consciously construct for themselves. Believe me when I say that I have morals, that I am a good person, a hard worker, a caring parent and I am an atheist. Ironically, I have been called, “A Good Christian” by others!

    Atheism isn’t anything like agnosticism. There’s a *huge* difference.

    I am dismayed when I try to find a treatment program that is entirely non-spiritual and fail. It seems like an atheist has to become agnostic to receive treatment.

    What’s up with that??????

    I don’t need the support of a higher power to recognise that alcoholism is destructive. I don’t need a higher power to help me learn strategies to quit drinking. Frankly, having the “support” of something I don’t believe in is counter productive: It’s a formula for failure.

    I think AA needs to be a LOT more radical in their changes if they want to remain relevant. Certainly today, it’s useless for a real Atheist.

  11. Daisy says:

    Excellent piece. My sister got sober only because she lived in LA and was steered to a non-religious group from the get-go. When she moved to the South, she stopped going to AA because the groups there were flat-out “religious.”

    Fortunately she’s sober anyway.

    Athiests and agnostics do not deserve the condemnation that may be heaped on them by strictly religious group members. Counterproductive to say the least.

  12. Mark C says:

    While one’s religion is said to be an outside issue, in reality it is anything but for a great many, possibly the majority AA groups. It is claimed AA is “spiritual not religious.” That claim is decidedly false when one reads the literature “as written.”

    If one needs proof of this assertion, let me suggest an easy experiment. Simply go pick an AA meeting at random, go to it, then openly admit you are an atheist, then record the reaction.

    The common “idea” that AA is “spiritual, not religious” is also decidedly false according to several levels of court decision which all concluded AA is a “religious program,” and to compel people to attend is a violation of their constitutional rights, specifically, that whatever government agency mandates such attendance they are in violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment. [Editor’s note: You can read about some of these court decisions here: The Courts, AA and Religion.] Let’s get real world here, rather than flit around in another imagined universe.

    The concept that AA is “spiritual” rather than religious, is a liberalizing of the text of the Big Book itself, and that fact should always be kept in mind. I completely agree with the Big Book Thumpers, and the AA Taliban on this score. I do not “liberalize” the basic text, or better put, source of authority, and as an atheist I completely reject the ardent, implicit, and explicit Christian supernaturalism in that text. Period.

    The long, historical, and bloody history of the conflict between supernaturalism and naturalism is the root of the problem for AA as it confronts an ever-growing, every expanding, secular population that categorically rejects the descriptions of “reality” put forth by any form of supernaturalism, and live life upon the basis of reason and evidence.

    Will those two antithetical philosophical ever agree? No. Why? It is a logical impossibility. The two will never meet because they operate from opposite and contradictory presuppositions.

    Ideally, I’d love to see a fellowship where what one believes or disbelieves does not matter, and could exist for the good of all, especially for those who still suffer, I have no good reason to think that will happen. It hasn’t yet, but it might, and is something worth working towards. It is the religious folks in AA who will not tolerate the nonbeliever, the nontheist, and especially the out-of-the-closet atheist, not the other way around.

    This explains the “ghettoization of nonbelievers” in practice by having to make their own groups to find encouragement for sobriety without the folly, discrimination, religious bigotry, and even violence found in so many of the rooms.

    Of course, I speak from my perspective of three years, seven months sober as an open and honest atheist in the West Texas Bible Belt. During that time, I’ve experienced three physical assaults, one very violent assault, a verbal death threat (in the room), and another verbal threat to physical violence (in the room before witnesses).

    I could care less what people believe as long as it is helping them to stay sober. I’m not one to go after anyone for believing what I do not. I live by “Live and Let Live.” I simply share how this atheist is benefited by the good stuff of the fellowship.

  13. Dan L. says:

    I really enjoyed the article and the views put forward. One of the things that helped me get sober for the first time in my life was the understanding that AA is for everyone who wants to quit drinking.
    If it was only for theists I would die drunk soon.
    Of course there is the contingent who remind me that that is inevitable because I won’t believe. Who wants to worship a deity who says he’s your dad and insists you kneel to him or he won’t let you sober up?
    Thanks so much.

  14. AA Athiest says:

    To my mind, spirituality is not even needed for sobriety. The 12 step “secret recipe” is nothing much more than an arbitrary set of rituals containing some good moral and psychological advise – problem is the advice DOES NOT fit everyone in my experience (which is six years sober without spirituality or religion).

    The big problem with spirituality is many don’t really know what the word “spiritual” means. Let’s start with the dictionary, which is the right place to start; if we don’t agree on what words mean, our conversations lose meaning (sometimes all meaning). I have chosen Google’s definition because it is concise and true to the core meaning of the word:

    adjective: spiritual

of, relating to, or affecting the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things.

of or relating to religion or religious belief.

    What the above leaves out is that spirituality, in essence, is religion, without the stipulations of rules and/or ritual.

    The crucial part is that spirituality is not built from the material world, but from things made of other stuff. By definition, that stuff is magic or the supernatural, and requires faith. Spirituality does not specifically mean emotion, or good will, or profound feelings about the world, or love of fellow human beings, or interconnectedness. It can encompass these things, but it requires that they be built from magic, essentially.

    So what works?

    Don’t drink.
    Get honest.
    Get connected.
    Stay connected.

    Do whatever steps work for you, and above all, do not let anyone else force you into a belief system that you find offensive, unbelievable or otherwise wrong.

    Just my sober 2 cents.

  15. judi b. says:

    I’m grateful to find this website!

  16. Rich H says:

    SEMINAL Thomas! One thing I’ve loved about AA is that (where I live) people of all religious beliefs or none at all get along just fine in one quest to help each other stay sober. There are bigots who try to tell us all what we should believe but for the most part, we don’t delve deeply into the details of our beliefs when we share. Your article clearly shows the different factions in AA and I believe that the way to deal with those factions is to keep religion out of it. AA needs to be secular like our school system. It should be a place where we go to learn how to live sober. Then, if one wants to, he or she can go to church or home to pray.

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