One alcoholic judging another


By Roger C.

The way our “worthy” alcoholics have sometimes tried to judge the “less worthy” is, as we look back on it, rather comical. Imagine, if you can, one alcoholic judging another!
Bill W.

Vancouver Intergroup went on a bender of self-righteousness last Tuesday.

There were apparently 80 or 90 people in attendance at the meeting. They were given orange ballots which did not address the question of whether or not to list the two Agnostic groups in question; rather the ballot asked the delegates if Intergroup should “continue to discuss the issue of whether or not to list the Agnostic groups in the meeting directory.” Yes or No.

There was little discussion when the matter came up for a vote. People filled in their ballots.  Four or five different people collected the ballots. Then they left the room. They came back three or four minutes later to announce the results: forty-seven delegates apparently voted No and twelve apparently voted Yes.

A woman, almost in tears, said she could not understand how the the vote ended the way it did in view of tradition three and AA’s commitment to be inclusive rather than exclusive.

But it was over and the issue decided. Members of the banned agnostic groups were never given the opportunity to defend their rights within AA and the matter was closed.

In a comment about the controversy created by Vancouver Intergroup, and referring to the efforts of AA Agnostica and the women and men committed to inclusivity within AA, Ernie Kurtz, the author of Not-God: A History of Alcoholics Anonymous, had this to say:

As happens to just about every historical phenomenon, “A.A.” in places has betrayed and fallen from aspects of its essence, and not only in regard to God and the Steps. This will, necessarily continue: it is a virtual law of history. There is all the more need, then, for the prophetic vision that calls the fellowship back to its own program, to its own true story. For now, the present moment, AA Agnostica is supplying that vision and voice. All who truly love the fellowship and its program can only be grateful to you, for you. The role of the prophet is never smooth nor easy, so many who do believe in God pray that your courage continues. We all need the honesty of your vision.

Last week’s post about Vancouver Intergroup, Is listability the new AA?, was written by Joe C. He is the author of Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life. Joe is also one of the co-founders of the first agnostic group in Canada and it was booted off the official Greater Toronto Area AA meeting list on May 30, 2011.

Joe talks about that experience:

I was crushed by Toronto Intergroup’s decision. I grew up in AA. I have been sober since I was a teenager. I have always been outrageous. I have always pushed the envelope. I have always been tolerated and loved. When I was told that I was no longer welcome here it was an innocence lost that I cannot properly express. It was like having my family tell me to leave and never come back. For weeks, I was flabbergasted.  I was angry and I was hurt and I thought very little of AA culture.

Joe goes on to say that in time he recognized that this aggressive, exclusionary behaviour wasn’t unique to AA but it is an apparently inescapable part of human nature. “We fear that which is merely unfamiliar and we make sacred that which has become routine. Human rights is never an easy journey.”

He quotes the German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer: “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”

Most of us who are a part of the ever-growing agnostic and atheist contingent within the fellowship of AA will most certainly agree with Joe’s conclusion: “Maybe we are at the important second step here. We must be moving towards the third. My heart goes out to you, Vancouver.”

Frankly, as an agnostic and as a member of  an agnostic AA group, Beyond Belief, I feel even more anchored in AA following the Vancouver Intergroup rule-making bender than I did before it.

It certainly brings home for me the meaning and relevance of Tradition Three and the Responsibility Declaration, both of which summarize the very essence of the vision and mission of AA.

And in the spirit of AA, I support Vancouver Intergroup, not in its decision, of course, but in its right to be wrong. “Every group has the right to be wrong,” Bill Wilson wrote. (12 and 12, p. 47)

And the “Greater Vancouver Intergroup Society,” as it calls itself, isn’t the first group to exercise that right within our fellowship. Nor will it be the last. Guaranteed.

71 Responses

  1. Sara says:

    With or without god, 12 Steps doesn’t work. The science of addiction shows how poorly abstinence-only approaches pan out. Harm reduction has long been the key to battling addiction, and is often ignored. Worse, AA/12Step programs can actually cause harm; many people’s alcoholism is a symptom of untreated stress, PTSD, depression, anxiety and other illnesses, which go untreated because people believe alcohol is their problem.

    Regardless, the only treatment that has a higher success rate than doing nothing is cognitive behavioural therapy. It’s counter intuitive, but fellowship and abstinence don’t work and go against all modern research on the psychology of addiction. It’s hard to believe, but addiction support groups actually make you worse off.

    • ernie kurtz says:

      It would be nice to see the evidence — preferably randomized, double-blind, controlled studies– for these claims. Such are, after all, the kind of things usually asked of A.A., which has reasons (anonymity, lack of central control) why it cannot provide them. But the other modalities, . . . ?

    • Bob C says:

      You are inaccurate. Abstinence solutions for addictions are widely respected and reviewed in scientific and academic literature. Also, the 12 step model is a type of cognitve therapy. The acting out of new behaviours is proven to produce new neural pathways, so that models such as twelve steps are actually quite legitimate when being compared, apples to apples.

  2. Alyssa S. says:

    Roger C. I’m lovin the little book. Coming up with my own 12 step interpretations is truly empowering. This Toronto (GTA) agnostic way of life is keeping me sober now. My heart is here in the present. We will get to the 3rd phase of change. Your newcomer friend of 2 years:)

  3. Kevin B says:

    I am now convinced that my recovery must be based in a spiritual program. I remain a convinced and, I hope, thoughtful atheist. With less than three months sobriety I was going crazy trying to find a meaningful approach to this higher power problem. While most people in my meetings were very accepting and tolerant, I did meet a few who said I did not belong. The first time that happened I almost went out and got drunk. I had walked about three blocks when I suddenly got angry. I said “How dare that #€%*** tell me I can’t get sober. At someone’s suggestion I looked in our directory for an agnostic meeting. I hadn’t even known they existed. By the time they finished reading Apendix 2 of the Big Book I felt I may have just found the beginning of a path to spirituality. No more need to listen to suggestion about door knobs or toilet seats or whatever. It has been over six years, but without that listing I probably would not have made six months. I would suggest that Vancouver take a long look at Rule 62.

    • Roger says:

      Rule 62, “Don’t take yourself too damn seriously,” is found on Page 149 of the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.

  4. Kat M. says:

    Sorry Michael, I was not addressing you at all and not sure what you posted… but glad you brought this point up because … well, I totally agree with you. 🙂

    BTW I’m not from Vancouver, but something similar happened in my area, and after some power struggles that lasted awhile, we realized that it’s important to always maintain a presence at Intergroup. So, we show up.

    This is just one episode, but it doesn’t have to be permanent.

    Hmm… from the Vancouver AA website, it seems that there is another chance in August to potentially turn the vote around…

  5. Kat M. says:

    Oh my. What a renegade Intergroup!

    Intergroup is *not* a governing body, they are merely a liason between groups. The Vancouver Intergroup has silenced fellow AA members and entire groups, overstepping their bounds as trusted servants.

    But there’s already a set route to restore our voice. One way is for the (dozens?) of agnostic/freethinking members to immediately step up for service as Intergroup Representatives in Vancouver. Many secular AA’s probably attend regular meetings as well, and it wouldn’t be so hard to get these positions, I’ll wager.

    Secure as many positions as possible, especially those of Operating Committee (rotating posts, and regularly coming vacant) and make sure that meetings are ringing with motions to bring this matter up for discussion. Insist upon it.

    Discuss and debate rigorously! Speak loudly if need be. Study the traditions and the rules of order. Follow protocol but do not cave in to the bullies.

    An informed group conscience is characterized by lots of discussion from all sides. Obviously, an informed group conscience did not take place this week in Vancouver. It’s a shame, but how many secularists were voting?

    Take the initiative on your own. Lost this one this time around, but it’s not too late.

    So, if you are local and want to get involved, volunteer for group rep at your local AA group, or just show up at Intergroup, and make your voice heard.

    The next Intergroup meeting should be on Tuesday evening 18 February 2014

    “It is suggested that the Intergroup Representative attend the monthly meeting on the third Tuesday of the month (7:30 pm) at 3022 E. 49th . Prior to each monthly Intergroup Meeting is an Orientation for new Intergroup Reps (7 pm) or any AA member wishing to know more about Intergroup.”

    See you there!

    • Michael W says:

      Kat you misinterpret my post. I am in no way saying that Intergroup is a governing body. The Vancouver intergroup is answerable to those they serve. It is obvious that the Vancouver intergroup does not choose to serve the Agonostic/Athiest people in AA. However as you so rightly observed all it takes is for the AA family to stand up and change how things are done. All I was saying is that we often times need to be ready to serve even when we are not asked. AAs primary purpose always holds true. Sometimes we forget who it is that wags the tail.

  6. Sue C. says:

    If you don’t like the program of Alcoholics Anonymous as it is outlined in the Book, then go start your own program and stop trying to change it.

    • Roger says:

      We’re not trying to change AA, Sue. We are trying to bring it back to its roots. The “Book” is not a Bible, but rather a journal of some guys back in the 1930s who discovered that the essence of recovery was helping – not attacking – each other: one alcoholic talking to another alcoholic, as the author put it so eloquently.

    • larry k says:

      Take a deep breath. Now, please read AA’s first pamphlet titled Mr X and Alcoholics Anonymous which was based on Rev. Lufton’s sermon by the same title.

      From the beginning AA was a lay lead fellowship without a creedal requirement. Jews and catholics and all others were welcome.

      There is only one constant in the universe and that is change. You are here today because you changed. I see nothing wrong with helping all others who care to to change their lives. Anyone anywhere…for that I am responsible.

    • Don S. says:

      Try this, Sue:

      “If you don’t like America, then go start your own country and stop trying to change it.”

      Do you see the problem? No one gets to define AA. AA is a fellowship, so it includes any drunk who wants to get sober, in any way at all.

      If we turn immigrants away, we deprive America of needed diversity and vitality. Likewise, if AA turns away any alcoholic, we are losing good members who might help someone.

    • denisk says:

      AA is not a “program.” It is a “fellowship” of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope. We share in many ways being respectful of one another’s differences whether they are cultural, religious, social, sexual orientation, or color. We share our experience, not impose our opinions on those who differ from us.
      Yes there is a program that everyone practices a little differently and we share that experience too with others in a respectful manner. We don’t kick people out because they offer a different approach to the program, everyone is different and deserve support and respect.
      I love AA and have enjoyed the benefits of sobriety for almost four decades, all of it without god but with the understanding, tolerance and love of open-minded fellowship members.

    • Mitchell K. says:

      Sue –

      Please read AA’s Third Tradition Long Form where it says AA membership should never be contingent upon neither money nor conformity.

      How about where it says in the Big Book – “Our book is meant to be suggestive only. We realize we know only a little. God will constantly disclose more to you and to us.”

      Do you think misinformation shouldn’t be changed? Things presented as facts which aren’t facts? Shouldn’t they be changed? How about when we were wrong, promptly admitted it?

      Do you actually totally believe that AA’s founding date and the date of Dr. Bob’s last drink is June 10, 1935? That’s what it says in the book.

      Do you actually totally believe that Herbert Spencer authored the quote about contempt prior to investigation?

      Do you actually totally believe the story about what happened in the lobby of the Mayflower Hotel?

      Do you actually totally believe there were 100 men and women who had recovered from alcoholism in 1939 when the book was published?

      Somewhere in that same book it talks about the capacity to be honest and recovery. REAL honesty means questioning and changing when flaws are found. After all, AA talks about inventories and making changes. Yet, many AA members get all upset after a fearless and honest inventory is taken and change is called for.

      Oh, by the way – if it wasn’t for the Atheists and Agnostics in early AA, there would be no inclusion and AA would be a footnote in history books. Opening the doors to everyone and not just Christians came about because of Agnostic and Atheist members. If they didn’t fight for and demand change, where would AA be today?

    • Michael C. says:

      Sue: Read the Big Book, all of it, not just “your own” bits. I wish you well. Michael.

  7. Lech L. says:

    As much as I dislike what has happened in Vancouver and other places, I would have done things differently.

    Given how contentious an issue this was, I would have not insisted that the group be listed as an agnostic one.

    There are other ways to accomplish the same goal – e.g. call the group the ‘Doubting Tommies’. The word would soon get out.

    I love a good fight on principle as much as anyone, but sometimes it’s better to take the easier, softer way.

    • Roger says:

      I hear you, Lech. But kowtowing doesn’t create change, and change in the current version of AA is needed. I say let’s get back to the real thing, one alcoholic helping another. Otherwise we are trashing the very core of our fellowship.

    • Stephanie says:

      Nobody knew how contentious this was going to be, and certainly nobody knew that office staff and Intergroup officers and members would act deceitfully and in bad faith.

      That said, I completely see your point. I noticed a new meeting recently and the format said “readings from Living Sober” — and I think that’s a signal. I’d like to start a meeting called “Rampant Individuals” and for the meeting format set “no prayer; readings from Living Sober.” Two birds with one stone: could be a great meeting, and the big-britches contingent of our “trusted servants” would be over a barrel.

  8. Mitchell K. says:

    I just LOVE it! A space on the web for Agnostics, Atheists and others where people are quoting Jesus and the Christian Bible is verification of their statements. This is LOVE, TOLERANCE and Beauty in action and practice.


  9. Ed says:

    By excluding agnostic meetings under whatever pretense, these inter-group organizations have themselves violated the 12 Traditions of AA, esp. #3. I hope the General Service Office in New York recognizes this and intervenes in some way, rather than continue on with their “Live & Let Live” approach to inter-group autonomy…

    If I may subvert a verse from the Other Big Book: “If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” — 1 John 1:6 (NKJV)… Who’s really walking in darkness here?

    • John M. says:

      Yes, Ed, and add to that 1 John 4:12, “No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.” This verse, of course, inspired Victor Hugo to write in Les Miserables and the thespians in the musical to sing – “To love another person is to see the face of God.”

      All this sounds pretty much like “love and service” which is so central to AA but apparently lost on some of the folks in Vancouver.

  10. Roxane says:

    Each group is autonomous. Enough said. General Service does not discriminate and neither should any other part of AA. Geez, Canada. I thought you were more tolerant than the US.

  11. Deva R says:

    I’m an atheist AA with 32 years of sobriety. I spent my first 10 years in Vancouver and found it a very tolerant, no Lord’s Prayer AA scene. The best, most informed AA scene I’ve been in. I’ve been to Whitehorse, Calgary, Toronto, London England and London, Ontario. Probably the objection is to changing the steps. How would AA work if every meeting had its own version of the Steps? There is a process to change the steps; it requires a vote by every group and I think it needs about 70% to pass. I wouldn’t waste my time crusading in order to bring about this vote. My time is better spent focusing on ‘staying sober and carrying the message.’ I don’t believe AA is religious, but spiritual involving changing ‘ideas, attitudes, and emotions’. I don’t confuse ideas held by members in the fellowship for ideas supported by the Group Conscience of our Fellowship speaking through the General Service Conference. Bill W. made it very clear in ‘The Dilemna of No Faith’ that the phrases ‘Power Greater than Ourselves’ and ‘Higher Power’ could be interpreted in such a manner as to let atheists and agnostics in. I need to be tolerant of believers.

    • Roger says:

      You talk about a process to change the Steps requiring a 70% vote to pass. Nobody is trying to change the Steps as they appear in the Big Book. God forbid. As it says in The Little Book, Steps without God or an HP “are not meant to replace the 12 Steps originally published in the ‘Big Book’ but are solely for the use of individuals and groups who may find them helpful.”
      The author of the Steps agreed that they could be altered in such a manner:

      We must remember that AA’s Steps are suggestions only. A belief in them as they stand is not at all a requirement for membership among us. This liberty has made AA available to thousands who never would have tried at all, had we insisted on the Twelve Steps just as written.

      So there is no need for a “crusade” for a vote, Deva. You talk about being “tolerant of believers.” I agree. But that hardly seems the point, here. It wasn’t believers that were tossed out of Vancouver and Toronto AA. So perhaps there is room for a crusade, a crusade that reminds our religious friends that they need to be “tolerant of non-believers,” at least if they wish to respect the primary purpose of the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous.

    • Stephanie says:

      Vancouver AA has changed since you were in it, Deva. Primary Purpose, Big Book Step Study, Hyannis Method, Muckers, and other Big Book fundamentalists have shown up and dug in. Every person who reads the Steps in a way that doesn’t allow for a sin-removing, prayer-answering deity is re-writing the damn things. These power-trippers just don’t like it when someone writes that work down — because that means their program isn’t perfect, and they can’t deal with that.

      • Mitchell K. says:

        Stephanie wrote – “because that means their program isn’t perfect, and they can’t deal with that.”

        Maybe these people think THEIR program isn’t perfect. However, the design for living, the “12 Step Program” of Alcoholics Anonymous as outlined in its basic text admits that it isn’t perfect and that more will be revealed.

        I have no problems with AA Primary Purpose or many other Big Book folks. I’ve also seen other so-called BB Fundys who think they are following the book to the letter of the law but forget it isn’t law or rules or set in stone.

        Of course, it takes a majority of the entire Fellowship to change the book but many forget that it is meant to be suggestive only.

        I’ve been to groups here in NY where in order to join that group one has to “go through the steps” with one of their sponsors first. I explained that I had already taken the steps with a sponsor and didn’t feel the need to do so in order to join a group. They told me I couldn’t join their group. I reminded them that their rules were in direct violation of AA Traditions and they told me I wasn’t even welcome at their meetings anymore.

        Just to be transparent, I am a Big Book fundamentalist, a Big Book Thumper and I believe in God as I understand God.

        There are many things in AA’s basic text which have been proven to be disinformation. Yet, AA World Services, despite the step which asks AA members to promptly admit wrong and make amends, refuse to correct the information which has been proven incorrect.

        Someone else wrote about special interest meetings segregating people. I personally think that closed meetings that segregate family members and tell spouses and partners they are not allowed to attend segregate just as much. Of course the argument is that there is Al-Anon and other groups for families. Many of AA’s founding members brought their spouses to meetings with them. They got well together.

        AA has become a closed society, making up so-called rules due to no understanding of historical context. Tom wrote that “AA says you can have the meeting you just can’t list it and that keeps us all within the tradition” as if the AA Traditions were rules rather than suggestions. Words like “CAN’T” do not belong in Alcoholics Anonymous. Even the only requirement for membership states that the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. It does not say you CAN’T drink or HAVE TO stop drinking. Only a desire to stop.

        I also didn’t notice Tom or anyone else question why Vancouver BC leaves in other so-called special interest groups in their directory and singles out Agnostic groups for exclusion?

        I ask “What do you Not understand about” suggestions and that AA has no rules or ALL or nothing mentality restrictions? What do people Not understand that so-called “Conference approved” literature does not mean that the conference or AA as a whole does not allow other literature not published by AA World Services, Inc. (A Business) to be read or referenced. AA supposedly neither endorses nor opposes. However, it does, in reality, oppose and endorse and tell people what they can and cannot do. That IS NOT Alcoholics Anonymous as defined in its own basic text and its own history.

        If it weren’t for the diversity of its members during AA’s founding days, there would be no AA today. AA would be just another historical footnote in books like the Oxford Group and the Washingtonians and the Sons of Temperance.

        God bless Jimmy B. and Hank P. and all the other Agnostics and Atheists who helped AA become a means of recovery. Even Bill w. often stated he was more of an Agnostic than not.

        Intolerance and exclusion and conformity have no place in Alcoholics Anonymous. It says that too in the Big Book. Why do these people choose to ignore that?

      • realneal says:

        Thanks for your comments Mitchell K. I am a non-believer and as you said, There would be no AA if it weren’t for the early non-believers. I always end my shares with god bless Jim B 🙂 I only know of one person who “gets it.”

  12. Tom says:

    What do you Not understand about special interest groups NOT being listed. Men’s meetings, women’s, cop meetings, celeb meetings; all the same as agnostic meetings: they segregate people. AA says you can have the meeting you just can’t list it and that keeps us all within the tradition.

    • Roger says:

      And I think there should be special meetings for people called “Tom.”

    • Don S. says:

      There is an ‘agnostic/inclusive’ meeting here in Des Moines, but it’s an open AA meeting. Agnostic meetings are simply regular AA meetings with an emphasis on inclusiveness. They don’t require atheism, or say believers are unwelcome. They welcome drunks, without regard to their belief.

      Remember, every believer is also an atheist in all the other religions. The Big Book’s suggestion to choose your own conception of God is radical. It means that, for the purpose of staying sober, it doesn’t matter what you believe. That’s heretical in Christian churches, but ho-hum in AA.

      Now, there are special interest groups, such as women’s groups. Those groups have made a decision that keeping male drunks out is more important than helping them. That’s fine. But they can’t claim to follow the Preamble at the same time. And agnostic groups are not of this type. They don’t exclude or favor anyone.

      We have to accept every drunk and treat them equally, or we’re not following the Preamble.

    • Denis K says:

      If you review most meeting directories you will see meetings listed as Men’s Closed, Women’s Closed, Gay and even Agnostic groups.
      What’s your point, chum?

  13. Denis K says:

    I have enjoyed everyones comments thus far; here’s mine.
    After this past week’s vote was taken I suggested to a host of people who attended the intergroup meeting the following suggestion via the below email. I felt that a lot of people had based their vote on emotion and hearsay rather than on mindfulness and calm reflection. Message:

    It is apparent the people voting have not had the opportunity to hear the Agnostic Groups side of the story in order to make a thoughtful decision.
    May I suggest that all copied review “Is listability the new AA?” to gain a more informed perspective. This can be reviewed at AA Agnostica.

    Allow me a little background story for those of you reading this post. Last fall when an elected GSR from the Sober Agnostics group attempted to speak at a Vancouver Intergroup meeting she was told she couldn’t speak because her group wasn’t listed; the intergroup chairman verbally bullied this young woman and shouted her down. This is the same chairman who unilaterally delisted both groups without as much as a phone call to the two individuals who listed the groups in the first place. He then carried out a gumshoe/covert operation to visit Sober Agnostics where the group members had to out the guy to admit who he was and what the true nature of his visit was. I am certain others who were there that night could elaborate.

    After this, the same man, our trusted servant, read the above E-mail and sent me this email message:

    I can assure you that the Agnostic stance has been given or made available to all those involved in the vote. The fact that so many were in attendance and voted the Group Conscience of their home groups gives credence to this statement. I repeat, yet again, that your groups have the ability to apply to GSO New York, outlining your changes to the AA copy write protected literature and become a sister fellowship. I foresee no challenges to do this as GSO has never refused such an application.
    As you are undoubtedly aware, there are many different methods put forward that state theirs is the way for people to get and remain sober, your method may work as well as another.

    Here is what Joe C. so eloquently commented after reading the chairman’s email to me.

    “Why don’t you start your own fellowship” is the politest form of bigotry, but it shows how out of step they are with the tenets of our own fellowship. Tolerance isn’t about supporting the people we agree with; it’s bigger than that. Some would call it a “spiritual” principle.
    “Here’s your hat – what’s your hurry” is something other than a “spiritual” principle. What a condescending attitude.

    My sentiments exactly!

    • Michael W says:

      I agree with almost everything I have read today as it concerns the Agnostic/Atheist right to be part of AA. Let me say that God kept me coming in and out of AA for 12 years. When I finally hit my bottom nearly 24 years ago I decided that no matter what I would not let discussions about God keep me from sobriety. I am neither Atheist nor Agnostic. I am also not Christian, Jewish, Muslem or any other religious affiliation. I believe in a power greater than me that I am part of. That is the simple explanation. So there are two points I would like to make. First God is not a requirement for membership in AA. So for those of you that feel that AA literature places rules on inclusion, that one simple statement that the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking, says it all. End of discussion. Keep it simple people. My second point lies within the traditions. AA, as such, ought never be organized; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve. The Vancouver Intergroup is one of those service boards and by its vote it is directly responsible to those it serves. Now I have to say that I disagree with their decision but it is part of the structure of AA service. Recently my home group voted on whether or not to allow non alcoholics to share in our meetings. The proposed format change was defeated, thankfully, but the fact that the vote was allowed is deeply rooted in the service structure and the traditions of AA. AA is not immune from the same fears that affect non AAs. As a matter of fact sometimes we can be more fearful. As a member of AA I must be tolerant of those fears and always ready to be of service when asked and sometimes when I am not asked.

      • Christopher G says:

        Well put. I find myself in the same category. Thanks for verbalizing something very close to my innermost self.

  14. Pat N. says:

    Vancouver Intergroup makes me sick. Moreover, it seems they’re OK with letting SOME alcoholics stay sick and die of their disorder.
    Intergroups are not part of the AA service structure, which from top to bottom=group, district, area, GSO. In some districts, SEPARATE entities called intergroups are set up to handle 12th step activities, and usually exist with the district’s acceptance/cooperation.
    B.C./Yukon’s Area 79 includes district 19 in the Vancouver area, WHICH REFERS INQUIRERS TO INTERGROUP FOR MEETING INFO, ETC. In other words, district 19 is endorsing, I presume by neglect, this sectarian power play by intergroup.
    It seems to me that District 19 has the obligation to deal with this. If friendly discussions can’t clear it up, or if the district
    actually supports Intergroup’s nonTraditional behavior, then Area 79 should deal with it.
    Intergroup started this legalistic bullcrap, by declaring its “right” to approve groups. Let’s used a legalistic approach to deal with it.
    Now, how does a Yank join a Vancouver group to get elected GSR and get the ball rolling?
    (Hi, Michael!)

  15. Thomas B. says:

    Saddened, but not surprised . . .

    This only motivates me to accept deeper my powerlessness to change ardent believers. However, it also deepens my resolve to speak the truth of my agnostic, non-believing recovery with dignity and respect for all others at meetings and to practice more diligently principles over personalities, ever seeking progress, not perfection, to live up to the Responsibility Declaration of AA.

    I shall continue to be inspired by the positive example of Jim Burwell, the first non-believing agnostic in AA, who continued until he died to speak the truth of his continuous recovery from alcoholism due to the sharing of his experience, strength and hope within the fellowship with other alcoholics, as well as all here on this website and others devoted to non-believing recovery . . .

  16. Jim H. says:

    Ignorance is bliss.

  17. John L. says:

    For me the main principle involved here is not just alcoholics judging each other — Jesus: “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” and so on. — but rather the principles of Free Speech and democratic decision-making. What kind of Group Conscience muzzles a minority before they have even had a chance to speak?

    The time has come to be more assertive. Groups of agnostics should visit all future meetings of Vancouver Intergroup, and insist on the right to speak. Groups of agnostics (better not just one) should speak out at regular AA meetings. The experience of being silenced and ostracised is one that should be shared. I expect many AA members would sympathise.

    • Don S. says:

      Agreed. Many majorities won’t listen to minorities unless they have to. Concept Five urges consideration for minorities (after all, any one of us could be in the minority at some point). But the Concepts aren’t binding, so Vancouver can do whatever they want.

      They just can’t claim to be trying to help every drunk at the same time. They’ve become a special purpose Intergroup.

  18. Steve S. says:

    I’m not surprised at the outcome but I was impressed at the way it was done. Vancouver, BC made its decision. End of discussion. The issue would not die so we hold a vote. Officially end discussion of the matter. The groups are put off the bus, end of story. As to the right of the intergroup to do so, they do have the right to be wrong. They also have the right to be exclusionary and deny their services to any alcoholic group they wish. By taking this course they have inserted themselves into an area they don’t belong in. Are they now the entity that decides what AA is or isn’t? Are they now the protectors of the AA message? Bill W. was correct about the power trip that can show up in our fellowship.
    Joe C. was correct in that evolution is a slow process and we (atheists and agnostics) have to patient with the process. That does mean we all must still keep bringing matters like this up for discussion and notice to anyone who has a hand in AA. Keep going to meetings, participate in the service structure and keep up with websites like this to stay informed about these issues. We may always be a minority within AA but we also have earned our seats in it!
    Toronto and Vancouver Intergroups are both trying to define what a “legitimate” AA group can or cannot be. That is none of their concern.
    Steve S.

  19. Bob C says:

    This also reminds me of how the use of Roberts Rules of Order are not a perfect method to deliver our Service Meetings as Roberts Rules, as applied in this case in Vancouver, do not account for the radical freedom espoused in our basic principles.

  20. John k. says:

    Vancouver of all places. Vancouver is in my opinion the most forward thinking and revolutionary centre’s in all North America.The leader in addiction treatment with the first safe injection site program to stop the spread of hepatitis c and HIV, but AA with its Oxford group mentality will never, at least until the old guard are in Heaven/hell with Mr. Deity. Imagine any other alcohol treatment program utilizing magic Powers to relieve one of the desire to abuse alcohol? I would be very Happy if we, as Atheist, agnostics and Free thinkers left this model T usless method of treatment and developed a program of recovery that is helpful to anyone who has a desire to stop and or modify their habit of destructive drinking, and not to paint every member as being ego maniacs with inferiority complexes. Bill Wilson should speak in I statements, as I statements are conducive to open communication and can’t be argued with, as it’s the persons own experience. We are in my opinion as different as our fingerprints, our retinas and our DNA. Anyway we will still meet and carry the message of recovery and, moreover HOPE: Hope is the spiritual essence of Life.

  21. Lon Mc. says:

    The ideologies of some our leaders in AA frequently prevail, devoid of any honest effort to reach a genuine group conscience as conceived by our fellowship’s founders.

    1) Ideologies as conceived by individuals in AA should never be installed as the governing rules for our fellowship.

    2) “Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.” It should be clear to all in AA that we should try to select those who wish to serve the fellowship’s interests, and not those who wish the fellowship to serve their own interests. Service is key.

    3) The group conscience is not simply a numbers game where majority vote rules. In Vancouver’s situation it is evident that the “bleeding deacons” leaders manipulated a vote that not only limited any informed discussion about the serious issue at hand, it closed any discussion of it altogether. Even then, 20% of the voters did not want to close the discussion. At the very least, the issue should remain open.

    • Lon Mc. says:

      From “The AA Group … Where It All Begins” (p. 34-35):

      The group conscience is the collective conscience of the group membership and thus represents substantial unanimity on an issue before definitive action is taken. This is achieved by the group members through the sharing of full information, individual points of view, and the practice of AA principles. To be fully informed requires a willingness to listen to minority opinions with an open mind.

      On sensitive issues, the group works slowly — discouraging formal motions until a clear sense of its collective view emerges. Placing principles before personalities, the membership is wary of dominant opinions. Its voice is heard when a well-informed group arrives at a decision. The result rests on more than a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ count — precisely because it is the spiritual expression of the group conscience. The term ‘informed group conscience’ implies that pertinent information has been studied and all views have been heard before the group votes.

      • John L. says:

        Yes, this is the heart of it. According to the pamphlet, “The AA Group”, AA members should bend over backwards to make sure that minority voices can be heard. Instead, if I read Roger’s article right, the minority voices were not even present. Instead of “working slowly”, Vancouver Intergroup rushed through a vote to muzzle voices of the agnostics groups before they even had a chance to speak. This is not democratic decision-making.

  22. larry k says:

    Sadly it appears that once one finds god… one finds the ability to hate more.

    • Mark C. says:

      Unfortunately, this is often a fact. It seems to be a prominent fact if the particular religious ideology one is drawn to is more or less “fundamentalist” in orientation.

      This result will be followed by others like it. Those who take a fundamentalist, literalist posture toward the Big Book will seek to dominate AA with their fundamentalist, totalitarian, religious ideology.

      The Ghettoization of we heathen within AA has begun in earnest.

  23. Chris G. says:

    Mail I sent to the Vancouver Intergroup:

    Re: your decision not to even go on considering the listing of agnostic groups: shame on you. Tradition Three. Bill Wilson’s writings on inclusivity. Do you live under a bridge?

  24. Laurie A says:

    Re Schopenhauer: “First there was the fire, then the words about the fire, then the arguments about the words about the fire.” (Richard Rohr)

  25. Mitchell K. says:

    All I can say is that problems of money, property, power and prestige has diverted AA from its primary purpose. This comes from AA World Services all the way up and down, from top to bottom.

    AA’s Third Tradition, long form states:

    Our membership ought to include all who suffer from alcoholism. Hence we may refuse none who wish to recover. Nor ought A.A. membership ever depend upon money or conformity. Any two or three alcoholics gathered together for sobriety may call themselves an A.A. group, provided that, as a group, they have no other affiliation.

    Looks like the removal of Agnostic groups or any other groups as long as these groups have no other affiliation totally violates AA Tradition.

    The Vancouver BC GVIS meeting directory states:

    Groups listed here are registered at their own request. A listing does not constitute or imply approval or endorsement of any group’s approach to, or practice of, the traditional A.A. Program.

    On a quick read of the first few pages of that meeting directory I found the following type of groups listed: Gay, young people, men’s, women’s, farsi speaking, english/spanish and more.

    There was even a Big Book meeting at the Princeton Grill where there is a $7.99 lunch minimum.

    I am calling for the removal of Vancouver BC’s Intergroup from ALL AA World Services listings for being in gross and egregious violations of AA Tradition.

    They demand conformity, illegally discriminate against people who are agnostic and list a meeting which affiliates Alcoholics Anonymous with a restaurant by requiring a $7.99 lunch minimum.

    Vancouver BC Intergroup’s refusal to allow for groups of members of Alcoholics Anonymous who are agnostic or who think they may be agnostic to be listed so that they may carry the message of recovery to the still sick and suffering Agnostic alcoholic affects other groups and AA as a whole.

    I call upon Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc, the General Service Board and all of Alcoholics Anonymous to take a stand against these violations of AA’s Traditions and DO SOMETHING other than putting their collective heads in the sand and making believe or ignoring this.

    It is time for AA once again to actually stand for something other than selling books. AA does have a pledge of responsibility and denying meetings for Agnostics IS denying the hand of AA being there and therefore, denies AA’s responsibility to the sick and suffering alcoholic.

  26. Charlie M. says:

    I’m surprised at the backwardness of Vancouver, B.C. AA considering it’s liberal political history. Here in San Francisco and Oakland there is not a problem, that I know of, to list agnostic meetings in the directory. Obviously the thrust of AA is that one must find a power outside themselves, preferably a god of some sort, or they will not get and remain sober. Because of this bedrock of theocracy those who put forward a non-believing ideology get short-shift.
    When I chair a meeting I try to make clear that I am not a believer in a supreme being or god but that I do have a higher power and that power is time which alters and changes all things. Here in SF I’ve never been “upbraided” or “chastised” because of this position. The fact that I have multi-decades of sobriety and service in AA may have something to do with this.
    We atheists and agnostics need to take a positive outlook and try and be the best AAer you can be. Maybe, at the upcoming convention in Santa Monica, putting our thinking heads together we can come up with a program to garner more compassion from our fellow recovering ex-drunks.
    For Real Sobriety
    Charlie M.

    • life-j says:

      I sobered up in oakland in 88, and in most places there was reasonable tolerance, though the fight against the LP was an uphill one in many places. We finally did abolish it in the Berkeley Fellowship.
      And here 3 hours north of you where I am now we have just started a freethinker’s meeting a few months ago, and Intergroup is treating us the same way as in Vancouver.
      Only other effect I have seen is that there is now an attempt to bring the LP back in our local regular fellowship.
      Which brings me to the issue of “higher power”.
      To each their own, of course, but for the unbelievers I try to discourage the idea of a higher power altogether, because i think that just muddles the issue of how this program works.
      One obvious thing is that it will give a tendency to sneak the real god in the back door, since the door is already cracked. The other is that I think it is important to focus more on this being one alcoholic helping another, so when two people stick their heads together for mutual help, does that now become a higher power to the two individual heads, or is it still just a level playing field of one alcoholic helping another?
      The main thing is – we can’t do it alone – well, maybe some can, but I can’t.

  27. John M. says:

    Ah yes, crucified once again! But as we are left hanging betwixt and between recognition as members in good standing by our Districts and non-status at our Intergroups, let’s continue to sing along with Brian (and Joe C.) “Always look on the bright side of life….”

    Perhaps our song will be a testament to recovery.

    • Eric T says:

      Best Monty Python reference ever! Thanks for the perspective John, I needed that. Good to be sober – and merrily whistling – today!

  28. Christopher G says:

    Thanks for the update Roger and all who posted. I have been waiting impatiently this past week checking our common websites for news about “the decision”. Frankly, I’m not surprised, but it’s still a victory however I look at it. The essence of AA cannot be destroyed, only amplified in the hearts and minds of others. I have to laugh at the tradition that AA has no opinion on outside issues but boy do we have ’em on the inside!!

  29. ernie kurtz says:

    Roger (and Joe) –

    Couldn’t help but notice the location of one of the Vancouver meetings — “St. Monica’s Church.” Monica was the mother of Saint Augustine, and the usual story is that her tears brought about the conversion of her son.

    May the sorrows suffered by AAAgnostica bring about the conversion of some in A.A. to the realities of their fellowship and program.

    ernie kurtz

    • Don S. says:

      Beautiful, Ernie. Thanks for lending your shoulder to our cause. I am so grateful for your work, particularly your ‘Multiple Pathways’ piece with White.

  30. Lola says:

    This is disheartening indeed. I live in northern Michigan and I, too, see evidence of bias and a “clique”-ish mentality whenever someone dares admit to being agnostic. It’s sad really, but not exactly surprising. Tolerance? Acceptance? What’s that? I feel sorry for those who suffer from such closed-mindedness. The agnostics I know are much more welcoming than many of the bible thumpers in AA.

  31. Joe S. says:

    So familiar to our experience here in Indianapolis. Relationships were forever changed in those months. It was a disgusting episode here, and in many ways I’m still detoxing from the effects. It’s shameful.

  32. Eugene B. says:

    We are members of AA because we say we are. Some say we’re not. They’re mistaken. But when we agnostic groups next list our meetings times and places, I think we should be inclusive by listing other so called AA meetings and places as well, just in case an agnostic wants to help carry the message to less enlightened members. Heck, we could also list local houses of religious worship lest those misguided religious souls forever lose sight of the larger world.

  33. Michael C. says:

    I am horrified by the action of Vancouver Intergroup. I attended two of the Tuesday Agnostic evening meetings during my recent stay in Vancouver and was so happy to be there. One evening a newcomer was there and spoke of her willingness to attend agnostic meeting of AA but not any others. The vast majority of people investigate online before coming in and many recoil from the words they see regarding The Twelve Steps and The Serenity Prayer. All Intergroups should be aware of this especially The Vancouver one.

    Shame on your Vancouver Intergroup! Have you a conscience? Do any of you truly understand the meaning of a spiritual existence?

    I look forward to my next visit to Vancouver in April and to attending the meeting on 12th street.

    • denisk says:

      if you have time on your next trip to Vancouver drop by the We Agnostics Mens Meeting on Monday night in Horseshoe Bay, we would love to meet you. I am certain you would enjoy the group and bring something constructive to the conversation.

      • Michael C. says:

        Thank you Denisk. Monday 5th May would be the only possibility and I have made a note in my book.

  34. Andy Mc says:

    Hope that the denunciation of the Vancouver groups allows for a challenge under the Office of BC Civil Liberties, sure a young law student would love the challenge!
    Not something that a newly sober member would want to tackle, but I’m sure there’s a “crusty” retired old timer out there somewhere that doesn’t mind “rustling a few feathers” and making the call to UBC.
    Seems like the only way to get heard is to take a page from other minority groups and scream discrimination! Bring AA into the 21 century!
    We take our rightful place in society, and help those in need…..and as we know those in need are not always christian, white, males!

  35. Joe C says:

    I admit that I am disappointed with the outcome in Vancouver. Here’s another way to look at all this. Look at how much our fellowship is changing. We are the Fellowship – it isn’t an address in Manhattan, a General Service Conference in April or any one (or collection of) Intergroup. It is the vibrancy of every group with life pumping into it by every members words and deeds.

    William James said, “The community stagnates without the impulse of the individual. The impulse dies away without the sympathy of the community.” The sympathy of the community is the people who support the agnostic groups. What did I hear? That 2/3 of the agnostic AA groups on the world-directory in NYC didn’t exist before the year 2000? We, as Gandhi put it, are becoming “the change we want to see in the world.”

    Evolution is hard to see. It seems to happen slowly. While there is nothing wrong with asking how we could be doing better and standing up for those scapegoated, there is much to celebrate. The change we want is happening, slowly but surely.

    • Don S. says:

      Great James quote, Joe. Hadn’t seen it before. Captures the pinch AA is in right now. The Purists love AA, but don’t realize they are starving it of the vitality that comes from diversity.

Translate »