Still No Pamphlet for Agnostics in AA

One Way

By Roger C.

After requests that span some forty years, there is still no pamphlet for agnostics and atheists in AA.

Not one. Nothing even close.

The recently published pamphlet, Many Paths to Spirituality, was meant to dodge the issue, rather than deal with it.

All the pamphlet had to say was something like this:

We understand and respect that you don’t believe in God. So if you rely on, for example, “the collective wisdom” of those who came before you and struggled with alcoholism as your understanding of the third step, that is fine. AA is not about conformity. If the Lord’s Prayer at the end of meetings bothers you, then you are welcome to start a new meeting and group, without any prayers at all. Please know that our primary purpose is to support you.

The pamphlet might even have included some stories by atheists and agnostics in long-term recovery in AA.

That should have been easy enough to do.

Unless, of course, you insist that a God – especially a male, anthropomorphic and interventionist God (a Christian God) – is essential to recovery from alcoholism.

Lots of problems

The “Many Paths to Spirituality” pamphlet was initially proposed in 2009.

And the very first thing to note is that while the pamphlet was meant for atheists and agnostics in AA it was decided that our reality within the fellowship should be dealt with under a more general framework. Many in AA, and this includes a large number of Conference delegates, deem “specialty” literature for agnostics and atheists to be “divisive” and “potentially harmful to AA as a whole.”

As a result, the “Many Paths to Spirituality” pamphlet ends up being a weird conglomerate of belief systems that are all, remarkably enough, embraced under the framework of spirituality. What could be more general than that? Agnostics and atheists are prominent in the pamphlet, consistent with its original purpose, but it comes across as though we were casually – callously? – tossed into the mix and that gets, well, downright offensive.

This is especially true since the supposed agnostics and atheists quoted in the pamphlet in no way resemble or sound like real agnostics or atheists.

AA is equally for those with a belief or a lack of belief. And after forty years of requests for such a pamphlet, all of which were ignored or denied, it is hard to imagine today doing anything other than publishing a pamphlet for those with a “lack of belief”.

A quick glance shows that specialty pamphlets have been created for women, natives, gays and lesbians, younger people, older alcoholics and blacks and African Americans.

So why not one for atheists and agnostics?

After all, we may very well be the most poorly treated alcoholics in the rooms of AA.

The reason, of course, turns out to have everything to do with the “God bit” in AA.

In a talk given in Honolulu in the spring of 2011, prior to and in preparation for the upcoming General Service Conference, a delegate for the Pacific Region Alcoholics Anonymous Service Assembly (PRAASA) described several reasons for the opposition – both inside and outside of the Conference – to literature exclusively for agnostics and atheists in AA.

First, “Any literature that attempts to describe current atheists and agnostics as being ‘successfully sober’ in A.A. would be ‘deceptive, misleading, and harmful to real alcoholics attempting to find the power necessary to solve the problem’.”

Of course the “power necessary to solve the problem” is God. Most of us have heard this before. If we are sober in AA without God it’s because, well, we are not real alcoholics.

The delegate then talked about the primary reason for the refusal to consider literature specifically for we agnostics in AA: “Such literature will doom AA to failure because it fundamentally opposes the authentic program of recovery as detailed in the Big Book. Atheism cannot fit within the philosophy of AA.”

We have heard this before too. He could have been quoting from the White Paper, published in 2010 and widely circulated within our fellowship. The author of that Paper writes “Nowhere does our literature suggest that AA or its members could assist newcomers to find a way to get sober without God”.

A lot of people agree with the author of the White Paper. AA is spiritual but not religious? Who are you trying to kid? And clearly, a few of these people over the years have attended and voted at General Service Conferences.

A final reason is offered by the PRAASA delegate – remember, this is in 2011 during the discussion of the “Many Paths to Spirituality” pamphlet which had been proposed in 2009 – for not making this pamphlet solely about AA nonbelievers: “The need for such literature is negated by the fact that atheists and agnostics are sober in the programme and became sober when there was no literature, so there is no need.”

And there you have it. The lack of respect, consideration and support for suffering alcoholics reaches a new low within the fellowship with that sentence.

These three factors then – literature especially for agnostics and atheists being (a) “divisive”, (b) harmful to the authentic AA program, and (c) unnecessary anyway – explain why the pamphlet approved by the 2014 General Service Conference turns out to be only peripherally and oddly about supposed agnostics and atheists in Alcoholics Anonymous.

If the 3,042 words that comprise the “Many Paths to Spirituality” pamphlet are about anything they are about staying the course.

The pamphlet is about a newfound conformity – in which agnostics and atheists are inappropriately included – under the umbrella of, generally, “spirituality”, and of, specifically, a set of beliefs that increasingly finds itself locked in the past, unable, and unwilling to take the few bold but necessary steps forward that would ensure its survival and permit it to remain a viable haven for the suffering alcoholics of the contemporary world.

And let’s be clear: agnostics and atheists are not in the rooms of AA for spirituality, however that might be defined. Our primary goal is sobriety and recovery. A pamphlet titled “Many Paths to Recovery” would have been much more liberating and helpful, not only to we agnostics but no doubt to all alcoholics in the rooms of AA.

Reviews and ratings

One hundred people have taken the time to rate the pamphlet and so far there are 58 comments. (The rating system – having fulfilled its purpose, has now been closed) The ratings stand at 1.7 stars out of 5. To understand what this means, an overall two star rating would have recommended that the pamphlet “be rewritten.” One star means that the readers felt that “Many Paths to Spirituality” is “seriously flawed” and rather hopelessly “shows little or no understanding of agnostics and atheists in AA.”

A number of people wanted to give it a “zero star” or less rating. “Rated at a -1. I am extremely disappointed with this pamphlet”, Robin R. wrote. “One star. Do I really have to give it a whole star? This is nothing but a kinder, gentler ‘Chapter 4’, which… is nothing but an insult to non-believers”, life-j wrote. “Poorly done”, Ric S. comments. “The pamphlet shows zero understanding of the needs of atheists/agnostics coming through the doors of AA. One Star. If there was a zero star rating that would be my choice.” And Daniel C. commented: “This piece of rubbish deserves no stars.”

And others too would have preferred a zero rating.

So “Many Paths to Spirituality” did not win the love of atheists and agnostics in AA, to put it mildly.

There are several reasons for this, and we shall touch upon them only briefly.

First, many felt that there was no real understanding of we agnostics demonstrated in this document. This is odd, to say the least, because at the request of the General Service Office at least 180 stories by atheists and agnostics were submitted to the Literature Committee for consideration in this very pamphlet.

Alfred W., in a comment on the pamphlet, wrote that he submitted his story some three years ago. “It was specifically mentioned for me to write ‘from a non-believer’s perspective’”, he recalls. “I never heard anything back… nor did I read anything in the final draft that mentioned anything I said.”

In fact, no stories appear in the pamphlet and the brief comments from so-called “agnostics and atheists” all sound false and fabricated.

Second, there is so very much about prayer in this pamphlet!

In his excellent review of the pamphlet, Chris G. notes that prayer comes up a total of nine times in the pamphlet. In crescentdave’s comment he expresses his anger towards the editors of the pamphlet who quote a Jewish person as saying:

Today I can even recite the Lord’s Prayer without feeling guilty since it was pointed out to me in “How it Works” that I have to go to any length to get and stay sober.

Crescentdave calls this a terrible example to be sharing in a pamphlet supposedly about “inclusiveness”. And his opinion is shared by many, many other readers.

One Way UpThird, this is truly Chapter Four of the Big Book all over again. A number of people have commented on that. And while the pamphlet refers to “Many Paths” it really says that there is only “One Way”.

And thus the featured image for this article.

Only one example is necessary. In the second last paragraph of the pamphlet, another fake atheist supposedly says: “I have been able to do the Steps just as they are written in the Big Book”.

That’s the whole point of the pamphlet.

There is only One Way.

There are even some who quite reasonably wondered if it was meant for atheists and agnostics in AA. John L., for example, asked “Was this really intended for nonbelievers in AA?”

It treats agnostics and atheists in AA with such disrespect that it can certainly make one wonder.

The answer is yes. Yes, indeed. Its sole purpose was to put an end to some forty years of requests for such a pamphlet for AA nonbelievers. A strategy was finally developed over the last years of this never-ending debate, and morphed into the proposal for a “Many Paths to Spirituality” pamphlet in 2009, which deliberately mutes, blurs, twists and distorts agnostics and atheists in AA through the prism of “spirituality” as it was understood in the 1939 Big Book.

Otherwise it wouldn’t have been approved by the Conference. It is as uncomplicated as that.

In one of his comments, my friend Joe C. says “If I helped promulgate the idea that this was going to be an Atheist/Agnostic pamphlet, I am sorry.” No need for you to apologize, Joe, but this is indeed IT, as far as the General Service Office / Conference are concerned. If you are holding your breath thinking there is another pamphlet for atheists and agnostics somehow in the works, you are going to die of asphyxiation, my friend. Because THIS IS IT. And, yes, it is called “Many Paths to Spirituality”.

But the ploy, as it turned out, didn’t work. And it didn’t work precisely because there are now far too many of us who are committed to AA ultimately reclaiming its roots and becoming a more contemporary place where “nonbelievers – both newcomers and current members – feel more welcome and comfortable in the rooms of AA”.

One decade after another

It was in July, 1976 that Ed S. and Paula C. – two trustees and members of a Literature subcommittee that favoured an AA pamphlet especially for agnostics and atheists in AA – wrote that such a pamphlet “is needed to assure non-believers that they are not merely deviants, but full, participating members in the AA Fellowship without qualification”.

That was almost four decades ago.

Even though many, many efforts have been made over the years, we still don’t have that pamphlet.

It is a shame that all of the General Services Conferences over the past four decades – including the one that produced this parody called “Many Paths to Spirituality” – have failed to directly address the rather obvious concerns and needs of atheists and agnostics in Alcoholics Anonymous.

There is no excuse. Unless someone wants to blame God.

Where is this all leading?

As my friend, Joe C., the author of Beyond Belief, once said: “My bold prediction is that if AA doesn’t accommodate change and diversify, our 100th anniversary will be a fellowship of men and women with the same stature and relevance as the Mennonites; charming, harmless and irrelevant.”

That anniversary is about two and half decades away.

Maybe AA can come up with a pamphlet especially for agnostics and atheists before then.

A major problem in understanding the motivation and behaviour of the General Service Conference (GSC) is that everything that occurs at the Conference is totally confidential. Secret. No observers allowed. In 2011, the GSC rejected a formal request by the Mt. Rainier Group to exclude the mention of atheists and agnostics in all Conference-approved literature, including the “Many Paths to Spirituality” pamphlet. Their argument was that we are not “real alcoholics”. You can read their 57 page presentation here: Minority Opinion Appeal to AA Fellowship. Many of the points in the “Appeal” are shared in the PRAASA delegates talk in Honolulu, Reconsider Spirituality Pamphlet, which largely formed the basis for this article. While the 2011 Conference officially rejected the Mt. Rainier appeal, it is quite clear that the views expressed in that presentation were shared by many Conference delegates and were very much a part of shaping the travesty approved in 2014 known as “Many Paths to Spirituality”.

Here is a direct link to the pamphlet: Many Paths to Spirituality.

You can read a full review here: The Many Paths to Spirituality Pamphlet.

A PDF of the ratings of and comments on the pamphlet (as of August 17, 2014) is available here: Many Paths to Spirituality – Ratings and Comments. Please feel free to share it with GSRs, Area delegates and others in AA.

68 Responses

  1. Russ H says:

    Since we now have 40+ years of steadfast refusal by the GSC to produce the pamphlet that this audience believes is necessary, perhaps we might divert attention away from getting the GSC to do what we want them to do? There is a flavor here of “doing the same thing expecting different results.” We can rail away here on AA Agnostica but, let’s face it, we are preaching to the choir. Isn’t a more fruitful alternative to focus our energy on creating ever more new Agnostic AA meetings? It is our growing presence throughout AA that will ultimately carry our message. If we really are the substantial and significant minority within AA that we believe ourselves to be then let’s make ourselves known – not by angry rants but by being genuinely, personally useful and universally evident within the global fellowship of AA. I am an ardent supporter of WAFT AA but vitriolic and disparaging characteristizations of those who oppose us is a real turn off.

    • Roger says:

      I agree with you Russ that it is more fruitful to focus our energy on creating more new agnostic AA meetings. But first you have to understand and recognize why expecting something different from the General Service Conference may well be futile. And if some are hurt and angry because that is the case, well, perhaps that is only to be expected.

  2. Greg D. says:

    I am an atheist and have been trying to establish an atheist / agnostic group in my area. The local AA Intergroup has listed my meeting in the printed and on-line directories (don’t ask – don’t tell) but I am beginning to wonder if I should withdraw my meeting from the Intergroup listing. Over the past few weeks we have had various vulnerable newly sober people come to our meeting. Most are only a few days or a few weeks sober.

    I am a lifelong atheist / socialist / anarchist / alcoholic, but I wonder if I am doing a dis-service by advertising an AA meeting where the casual attendee may be flustered and blown off-course by the atheist agnostic free thinker issues.

    Should I de-list my meeting from the local Intergroup pamphlet and web site and promote it only via atheist / freethinker web sites? Should I take extra measures to warn newly sober or traditional AA people to stay away from my atheist / agnostic meeting? Or should I just chill out and keep doing the same thing I have been doing?

    • Pat N. says:

      I don’t get it. Why not list an AA meeting through AA lists?

    • JerseyEllen says:

      Greg First, there are a lot of newcomers who don’t believe in God or who are, like me, turned off by the personal God concept perpetuated by lots of people in the rooms of AA. If your meeting is not listed, how are these newcomers–and maybe some “old folks” like me–going to find you? But second, and I think more importantly, I believe the answer to your question really depends on whether your group is welcome to all, regardless of belief, non-belief or a some-where-in-between world view. I will offer myself as an example: I am not sure if I am an atheist. I am exploring how I feel in this regard. I was raised as a Jew and I still find a lot of joy in my Jewish Community. However, I find the Christian flavor of AA meetings to be disturbing; I find the personal god who is looking over my shoulder, guiding my every action (if I would only let him!) to be particularly disturbing. Likewise, all the chatter about the need to pray on my knees and the recitation of the Lord’s, 3rd Step, and 7th Step Prayers makes my blood boil. All of which is to say, I would love to find a meeting in my area that was not quite so–Christian.

      However, I am also a firm believer in “the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking.” These words are extremely important to me. One does not even have to have stopped drinking–one just has to have a desire to stop. So, if your meeting is listed, would I be welcome? Yes, some newcomers who firmly believe in a god of some sort might wonder in. Would they be welcome? If the answer is “no” in either case, then the meeting should not be listed. If we would be welcome, then why not list it? A “God” person will probably not stick around at your meeting too long. But that is ok. Even when I was not concerned about the “God issue,” for lack of a better term, I liked some meetings and I didn’t like others. I liked and disliked meetings for a variety of reasons and some of those reasons changed over the years.

      Think of the service you are doing for the still suffering alcoholic who does not believe in God. Or even someone like myself who is probably not an atheist but who is not satisfied with the AA world view. I would be delighted to sit for an hour with alcoholics who have found a solution without turning their will and their lives to “God as we understand him.” I would absolutely cherish the opportunity to meet sober alcoholics who were not, perhaps without even realizing it, promoting a fundamentalist Christian view of the world–and sobriety. I would hope I would be welcome at your meeting. Finally, there are a lot of newcomers who are not sticking around AA because they cannot get passed the personal God business, who can not work the 3rd and 7th steps as written. Wouldn’t it be wonderful for them to know you existed and how to find you?

    • Roger says:

      I’ve seen a lot of newcomers at Beyond Belief, an agnostic meeting, over the last few years. Some have done well, some not so well: like any other AA meeting.

      We don’t go to meetings to talk about God or anti-God, Greg. We go to share the reality of our common affliction, alcoholism. And to talk about what we do to maintain our sobriety, and nurture our recovery.

      One alcoholic talking to another alcoholic, offering support and encouragement in sobriety. If that’s what’s happening, it’s an AA meeting, and probably a damn fine one at that.

  3. John L. says:

    I agree that “Many Paths to Recovery” is a much better title than “Many Paths to Spirituality”, which to my mind is a sneaky way of saying, “Many Paths to Religiosity”.

    It might be helpful to distinguish between Sobriety and Recovery.

    Sobriety is total abstinence from ethyl alcohol. There is one path to Sobriety: Don’t pick up the First Drink!

    Recovery is another matter: healing the body, putting a shattered life back together, developing confidence, and living a good life in sobriety. There are, indeed, many paths to recovery, which can be highly individual. My own paths include such things as diet, exercise, reading, writing, gardening, playing the piano, travel, and socialising.

    • Neal says:

      I know what you mean John and fully agree. It seems people wrongly assign the program a ‘success’ rate when that’s not what its for. I believe tradition 3, apart from its normal application should be step zero and listed before step 1,’get a desire to not drink.’
      In case they didn’t realize, the steps aren’t for getting dry or they’d look like this: 1. stay away from triggers 2. Stay away from beer buddies 3. Pour bottles down sink etc…

  4. Neal says:

    All I know is that I regularly tell people to read chapter 3 twice and skip chapter 4.
    When I crack the Big Book I love going to this quote from Bill. “Judging from what I had seen in Europe and since, the power of God in human affairs was negligible, the Brotherhood of Man a grim jest.”
    Being a former infantry Marine who spent 7 months in Fallujah I can relate to Bills skepticism after whatever stuff he saw in WW1.
    Sometimes I have to give Bill and Bob a break because they aren’t the educated 21st century philosopher I am. They were a stock broker and butt surgeon surrounded by simple minded religious zealots. I tend to appreciate their intended legacy apart from contradictions and mis-truths.
    I’m having a good day when I see the ‘difference’ described in the serenity prayer and stop wishing for foul things to befall the religious. Yeah, “faith” is bogus and deserves challenging everyday but there’s an emotional line crossed at some point where I have to remember it’s beyond my ability to help, out of my pay-grade to worry about. If I persist I’m eventually in in danger of drinking. So I hang up the debate after a few valid points in order to maintain a level head.

  5. Carrie B. says:

    The “Lords Prayer” isn’t even conference approved, therefore it’s not even part of AA at all. It’s not published in any of our literature whatsoever and has no place at group level. It has been my experience that it is not too difficult to get this prayer excluded from groups so long as I stick with THAT route rather than the “I’m offended” route.

    • crescentdave says:

      Just because something isn’t conference approved doesn’t mean it’s disapproved, thus not able to be used in a meeting. I’d also be careful of citing conference approved material as authoritative- here’s a gem for you:

      If you think you are an atheist, an agnostic, a skeptic, or have any other form of intellectual pride which keeps you from accepting what is in this book, I feel sorry for you. If you still think you are strong enough to beat the game alone, that is your affair. But if you really and truly want to quit drinking liquor for good and all, and sincerely feel that you must have some help, we know that we have an answer for you. It never fails if you go about it with one half the zeal you have been in the habit of showing when getting another drink.

      Your Heavenly Father will never let you down!

      From Dr. Bob’s Nightmare, BB, p. 181.

    • Thomas B. says:

      Many of the predominant Christian theists in AA have no problem accepting that there are many “paths to recovery”. They just insist that other paths, especially our non-theistic, rational way is not AA. Rather, they suggest that we form a separate organization for our concerns such as ardent believers in JC as their personal higher power have done in Alcoholics Victorious.

  6. bob_mcc says:

    I have been reading the pamphlet Do You Think You’re Different? And, I would love some feed back as to why this pamphlet falls short of what me want? My answer is that current AA politics on God’s grace as the source of recovery vs secular beliefs, in conjunction with AA’s history, WAFT’s need one sentence approved by AA as a whole where it is stated that “recovery in AA based on reason and skepticism is equal to any other God based recovery!” Pamphlets are marginalized and ignored; both are means of in-group dynamics. For me, it is an equality issue, not an acceptance issue. I want a statement that I can refer to anytime anyone anywhere forces their way on another. I don’t want to change AA or its literature. I just need to know that I am equal and can relay that to another; without any controversy. Finally, please put that in squiggly writing.

    • Roger says:

      Acknowledging that an agnostic in AA is “equal” and that “recovery in AA based on reason and skepticism is equal to any other God based recovery” in “squiggly writing” is the whole point, Bob. Living up to that within the rooms of AA would also be helpful.

    • 9thousandfeet says:

      “recovery in AA based on reason and skepticism is equal to any other God based recovery!”

      Well yeah bob, that would be lovely and if it happened we’d both go out for ice cream to celebrate. I know we would. My treat.

      But I think we both know it ain’t gonna happen, and the reason is simple enough.

      Believers in an interventionist deity don’t believe a statement like that. They are incapable of believing a statement like that.

      Once there is an admission that reason can also accomplish something that an interventionist god can accomplish, even if only theoretically or occasionally, the whole theistic edifice falls apart.

      Atheists in AA are treated, by theists, with friendly condescension and/or hostility precisely because of that dynamic.

      We can’t both be right, and they know it.

      People used to try convincing me, back when I had a year or two or three of sobriety as an atheist, that one day, eventually, I would “get it”. I would truly “come to believe”.

      Now that the years have flown by and only a relative handful of people in AA have been sober longer than oldish farts like me, they don’t do that any more, but they still don’t respect my position one bit more than they ever did.

      They never will. It’s not personal. They just can’t.

      • Roger says:

        I think we can “both be right”. Many paths to recovery, dontcha know.

        • Tommy H says:

          I think as long as we concern ourselves with being right rather than being sober, we are shooting ourselves in the foot.

          The very most important thing is staying sober, on a different path, but sober nonetheless.

          At XXIII years sober, I can say I did it w/o a supernatural hp.

      • 9thousandfeet says:

        I wish I’d never used the word “right” in my first comment, since it’s served as a distraction.

        Yes, theists and atheists alike can both be “right” in the practical sense that both can recover. We know this because AA is full of the former and both AA and this website is full of the latter.

        But devout theists—whose entire world views depend on the idea that all good things come from a god—are not going to embrace the idea that a god is “unnecessary” for anything.

        In that context, if atheist recovery is actually a real thing, then the idea that god is necessary for real recovery must be “wrong”.

        I’m arguing that we’re lobbying for something that theists cannot provide without undermining the very foundations of what they believe.

        I don’t think that’s going to happen.

        I do think that we can win the struggle over ensuring that Agnostic etc AA groups are listed without discrimination, but AA as a wider entity is not going to do anything that could be construed as “endorsing” the idea that a (deliberately ambiguous) concept of a “higher power” is not a vital necessity for recovery.

        They’re not going to do that because they genuinely don’t believe it’s possible. They think we’re mistaken in our assertions that it is. They are perfectly certain that we are indeed “wrong”.

    • Terry G says:

      I agree this issue can be contested on equality and we are discriminated against, worldwide. AA discriminates in all areas. The big book discriminates against women, black people and people who aren’t Christians.

  7. Pat N. says:

    The only reason to come to AA is to stop drinking.
    The only valid traditions/literature/customs are those that support the individual avoiding the lst drink and learning to live sober. No tradition/literature/custom taught me not to drink. Sober alcoholics did. Their individual religious or nonreligious opinions were irrelevant. Their experience, strength, hope, and love were HIGHLY relevant.

    I think the only useful readings for an AA meeting are the preamble and a secularized version of the Promises, and neither should be compulsory.

    We need to get over the “12-step” fetish. Why not 8, 15, or 100? Just because Bill W. scribbled out 12 doesn’t make them inviolable or useful. How many Christians or Jews can recite any version of the 10 commandments, much less explain them? The Trinity, the 4 Noble Truths of Buddhism, the 100 names of Allah? When will we get over this Stone Age need for magic numbers?

    • daniel says:

      People get sober in many ways. I chose to get sober with people who practiced the 12 steps in their lives, they had what I wanted.
      They practiced daily honesty, open mindedness, wiilingness, love, kindness, being tolerant, the spiritual principles within the steps. I practiced the opposite. When I tried it their way, I became a nicer guy,I became tolerant, peaceful, my relationships improved and most of all I started to have some self respect which was a long way from the self loathing I came in with. That is my experience. Cheers Daniel.

  8. Beth H. says:

    “The need for such literature is negated by the fact that atheists and agnostics are sober in the programme and became sober when there was no literature, so there is no need.”

    Is this not an acknowledgement that people can and do stay sober without a higher power? That time has proven that “How It Works” is not the inerrant truth? Why couldn’t they just put their own admissions in writing?

  9. MarkInTexas says:

    Thank you for yet another solid summation of the ongoing “struggle” for open, and honest recognition of nonbelievers in AA.

    I originally posted the following on a FB secret, closed AA room.

    “Science may not be incompatible with a loosely defined, and fuzzy “spirituality” as in Einstein’s perceived pantheistic monism, however, it is starkly incompatible with theism proper. Therein lies the rub.

    This basic incompatibility goes to the heart of AA’s problems with informed nonbelievers.

    It is the ancient, historical problem of forms of Supernaturalism vs. Naturalism in all its forms.

    The one is a Bronze Age “religious” answer, the other is in line with all lines of modern human empirical investigation and philosophy.

    The one says the Emperor is fully clothed and standing in the middle of the room, the other says, and can demonstrate, the Emperor, if he exists is starkly naked.

    Never the twain shall meet.”

    Thanks again for all you and others are doing! Hats off to all of you!

  10. terry g says:

    So sad struggling here in UK

  11. Glenna R. says:

    Thanks Roger for shedding your light on what is a very dark shadow side of a potentially worthwhile programme. Glenna R

  12. JerseyEllen says:

    Thank you for your excellent article. I agree with most of what you said–but do want to quibble over one point. In your article you reference Chris G. who “expresses his anger towards the editors of the pamphlet who quote one of the supposed atheists [emphaisis mine] as saying:

    Today I can even recite the Lord’s Prayer without feeling guilty since it was pointed out to me in ‘How it Works’ that I have to go to any length to get and stay sober.

    The person who made that statement in the AA pamphlet was not an atheist; she was (and I assume is still) a Jewish woman who, like me, came into the rooms and ran head on into the problem of “how to”and “what to” pray in AA. Jewish people do not pray on their knees. And they do not recite the Lord’s Prayer. To go into the whys and wherefores, especially here where most of the readers are agnostic or atheist, is probably not productive or necessary. I can elaborate on that at some other time.

    But suffice it to say, the woman’s comments were for me the scariest part of this pamphlet. Yes, there were a lot of scary parts, but for me this was the scariest. Maybe because it so clearly illustrated the problem inherent in AA. Judaism is a religion with its own precepts. Whether you agree with them or not is irrelevant to this discussion. The point is–Judaism is what it is. Many of the ideas in AA (take action, do the “right” thing) fit in nicely with Judaism. Praying on ones knees and reciting the Lord’s Prayer are two of the things that do not fit in at all. Likewise, Jews believe that regardless of one’s conception of God or absence thereof, personal responsibility (NOT “turning it over”) is one of the keys to happiness and success in life. In fact if you were born Jewish you can still consider yourself a Jew even if you do not believe in God at all–as long as you live a moral life to the best of your ability.

    To suggest that in order to stay sober one must dismiss or deny one’s religious (or non-religious) beliefs is, as I said above, very scary! The phrase always used is “go to any length.” No one has ever said “stop being Jewish,” or “stop being Muslim” or “Hindu.” But the message is clear. Throw out your religious (and non-religious) precepts if they do not fit in with what we (AA) determine is the one and only road to sobriety.

    I was told many times, if I want to stay sober, I needed to find a personal God (always with the “of my understanding” added at the end.) I needed to turn “my life and my will over to the care of the God of my understanding.” I needed to pray–yes, on my knees. And I needed to learn how to overcome my “arrogance” and recite the Lord’s Prayer. In other words, I needed to stop being Jewish to the extent that my Jewishness interfered with AA.

    Yes, I realize many of you are reading this and asking “who needs any religion at all” or “I wouldn’t be Jewish any more than I would be Christian or Muslim,” which is fine. I take no issue with that.

    For me, this woman’s comment clearly illustrates how AA operates and the underlying message. AA is for everyone, as long as they are willing to adapt and conform. As long as they are willing to pretend to be something other than what they are.

    Perhaps because I still find a lot of joy in Judaism and consider myself a secular Jew, it was this comment–more than any of the many offensive comments–that clinched it for me. AA is a nascent religion (as others have said) and not one I care to be a part of.

    • Chris G says:

      Roger used the word “anger”; actually it was not anger I felt in writing that bit so much as a real sorrow and molar-grinding frustration. For, like you, I thought that bit was really scary.

      I’m not jewish, so I have no business saying too much about that, but I know enough of the culture that I found it absolutely terrible. If going to “any length” means abnegating your very culture, I’d almost rather be drunk.

    • Viki says:

      You may indeed be one of those for whom AA doesn’t work as a means of recovery. I have many friends who left AA to find a sober path through their temple or church, leaving AA behind. Nothing at all wrong with that! It’s not for everyone. Even our founders acknowledged that.

    • Stephanie says:

      I hear you, JerseyEllen. I’m an atheist who was raised Catholic, but my strongest objection to the pamphlet is its anti-Semitism.

      Speaking to Viki’s timely example of Not Getting It: It’s fine for people to leave AA because they find other approaches to recovery that are more appealing to them. It’s not fine for people to leave AA because they are told that while some groups of people can participate while adhering to their own religious and spiritual practices, members of their group cannot. That’s adverse differential treatment (in this case, between Christians and Jews), and it’s been many years since it was accepted practice in this country.

      AA’s institutional obligation is to be inclusive of those groups. That means it must accept and respect religious and cultural practices of their members. If it wants to be relieved of that obligation then it needs to identify itself as religiously exclusive and conduct itself accordingly. It can’t have it both ways.

  13. Ed S says:

    Maybe in another 40 years we will get the pamphlet we want, “Many Paths to Sobriety.”

  14. Jo says:

    Wow..lots of anger here I can’t afford. Seems to me the pamphlet is a huge step in the right direction. Progress, not perfection.

    • David says:

      And that’s pretty the standard dismissive, judgmental response from most AA’s. Can’t afford anger?!?! Sounds like a whole of denial to me. Anger is a normal human emotion. That “can’t afford anger” is just another AA dogma. Anger is not resentment.

      • Viki says:

        Resentment is anger you hang onto and replay over and over and over without considering your part in it.

      • crescentdave says:

        Whatever else bumper sticker slogans accomplish, they certainly do reduce issues to an almost either/or, black and white world. It’s a world AA fundamentalists feel most comfortable inhabiting.

        Anger is a very human emotion and can be quite energizing. All our our various civil rights movements have been fueled by anger … ultimately channelled in a proactive and constructive fashion. And yes, expressed anger has been part of that positive process. Our society is far better off as a result.

        Here is “my part” in the anger I feel when certain meetings, groups and people seek to deny or marginalize my experience as a non-theist: I am a non-theist who shares his experience, strength and hope. I am a non-theist who is true to himself. That is my part.

        I will not pretend that people’s attempts to dismiss my reality are based in love- they are not. I will not pretend that the myriad ways in which people have actively sought to dismiss my experience are welcome or are constructive- they are not. They are hostile, off-putting and self-righteous. I will not pretend that the various actions my “Christian” group have taken to shut down a specific, non-theist meeting, haven’t been both hurtful and threatening to me. Just because I realize I am “dealing with sick people” doesn’t erase my very human reactions.

        I choose to use my anger to continue to spread the very simple reality that people can get and stay sober without needing to believe in any supernatural being. It’s one of the most essential ways I can “be of service” to the alcoholic who still suffers.

    • life-j says:

      jo, can’t tell where you’re coming from, but can’t understand how this could possibly be a “huge” step in the right direction. Feels more like a slap in the face than anything else. Maybe try explain how this improves anything?

    • Eric T says:

      Agreed, Jo. I’m grateful to have this literature to share where appropriate. I don’t suppose a perfect pamphlet would cure alcoholism, but I do think it’s a great conversation starter with a newcomer.

  15. David says:

    So maybe it’s time to leave AA. It’s no longer the only game in town when it comes to recovery, and the latest scientific research shows it’s not even close to the most effective treatment option. If AA doesn’t want agnostics and atheists and doesn’t want to join the 21st century, leave it and join the folks who do.

  16. Andy R. says:

    maybe it’s time to update Chapter 5 – How it Works (only for Christians)…

    “Often have we claimed a person to have failed who has not thoroughly followed our narrow-minded path.

    Those who we do not believe are recovered are people who cannot or will not completely submit their brains to groupthink, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being dishonest with themselves, especially when discussing a Higher Power.

    There are such fortu­nates. They are at fault; they seem to defy acting “as if.” They are naturally incapable of blindly accepting a celestial God – they demand rigorous honesty. Their chances of being accepted by us are less than average – WAY less!

    There are those, too, who suffer from grave emotional and mental disorders, but usually we can convince them to believe in an Eye in the Sky if they have the capacity to be dishonest (they DO have grave mental disorders, after all…)

    Remember that you deal with religious alcoholics—controlling, hypocritical, shameful! Without help, we are too much for you.

    But there is One that offers hope —that One is Aaagnostica.
    May you not find It now!

    Because you sure as hell won’t find It in any of our pathetic pamphlets!

  17. Andy R. says:

    Reminds me of Stephen Colbert’s line about many paths – though he knowingly was being ironic:

    “And though I am a committed Christian, I believe that everyone has the right to their own religion — be you Hindu, Jewish, or Muslim, I believe there are infinite paths to accepting Jesus Christ as your personal savior.”

  18. Viki says:

    I guess I might be the only dissenter here. Roger, you are mainly preaching to a choir! I guess I think that a separate pamphlet for atheists or agnostics would mean approval of pamphlets like AA for Christians or AA for Mormons, etc. Why have a separate pamphlet for every belief system? Your non-belief in a Higher Power is, after all, a belief system.
    I do sympathize regarding the religious language in our literature. I think that’s the problem. We need to rewrite the Big Book and the 12 and 12 for starters. That would be a gigantic uphill battle but I think it’s where the problem lies and where it should be addressed. There are many of us “believers” (in the existence of a Higher Power) who are tired of the worn out pushing of the Christian concept of Higher Power and the double messages that we find in our literature. I think the “movement” should come from all of us — not just atheists and agnostics.
    I also wonder about the certainty atheists have that there is no Higher Power or spiritual solution. The language you use is something like that used in the dogmatic AA literature, except I think that while there is some ignorance in Bill and Bob’s approach (which they readily acknowledge when they say they know only a little), there is more compassion, less anger and mean spiritedness. In the end, anger and resentment usually fail to bring us to serenity. And they are not at all attractive, at least not to me.

    • John F says:

      Appreciate your post, Viki — and your honesty!

      You state that you wonder about “the certainty atheists have that there is no Higher Power or spiritual solution.”

      I’m an agnostic and neither believe nor disbelieve in a supreme being. I’m also agnostic about whether there is life on other planets. I just don’t know about either and don’t have to know about either. A higher power in AA does not have to be a mystical supreme being, in my opinion. A spiritual awakening (spiritual solution) can be “personality change sufficient to bring about recovery from alcoholism,” according to Appendix II of the BB.

      Einstein called the belief in a “personal god” as being something “childish.” Whether there is a supreme being (god), the idea that a supreme being devotes energy to keeping someone sober is, in my view, childish and the epitome of self-centeredness. That supreme being was completely comatose during the active addiction of every addict whom I have ever met without exception. I don’t, however, want my view to be institutionalized by AA. This program should be exclusively about sobriety, not whether someone is required to believe in a supreme being or a personal god (god of her/his understanding). That’s an adult decision for adults to make on their own without approval or disapproval by AA and the literature it “approves.”

      AA’s Orwellian doublespeak needs to be replaced by honest, open, compassionate acceptance of all belief systems, including atheists, agnostics, humanists, and free thinkers (not to mention Hindus, Buddhists, Pagans, Christians, Muslims, Zoroastrians, Jews, etc.). Way too often, this program is god-based religiosity masquerading as “spirituality.” That institutional dishonesty — and the debate that it evokes — is what undermines serenity for recovering persons of every philosophical or religious stripe.

      Thanks, Viki, for your thoughtful (and brave) post!

      • Viki says:

        Thank you for considering my point of view, John. I think we should be considering a new version, updated version of the Big Book, kind of like there is a King James version, a New International version, a New English version of the Bible. A group would pick the version of the book that it wants to use. People could select meetings based on the version of the Big Book the group used. Some people would not care one way or the other what version is used, but some, like those on this website, would have the opportunity to go to a meeting based on the secular version. I think it’s a much better solution that a “pamphlet” for one particular belief system or even an array of belief systems (as in AA for the Buddhist, AA for the Hindu, etc.).
        Again, thanks for expressing your point of view so that I can understand even more.

    • bob_mcc says:

      Viki thanks for your comments. You are not the only dissenter here, although I dissent for different reasons. The choir comment is true as it is counterproductive to rally resentment just to prove a point. Atheism/agnosticism is a small part of the AA body that is growing each year; in and outside of the fellowship. It is true that AA literature needs to come from the body of AA. I feel the disconnect is that each group is establishing its own philosophy thru their votes. Where is the time taken to meditate on issues to understand others positions–this is lost in current AA politics, on all sides of the issue. Is the “carry this message” only for those who believe as we do? Or is it to widen the doors for all to recover?

      So you are not alone on these points.

      However, I would like to point to several comments of yours and ask you to meditate on them to see if you can understand how they are prejudiced and very insensitive. “Non-belief in a Higher Power” is not a belief system. Reason and scepticism are belief systems. You are defining us by your yard stick , only your yard stick and asking that we be open minded. You mention double standards and point to the writings of Bill and Bob. Saying that “there is more compassion, less anger and mean spiritedness” in their writings than our chat room. If we judged what Bill and Bob had to say to the other 60 or so of the “first 100” then I think your impressions would change. Look at what Clarence S had to say about his first time being sponsored by Dr Bob.

      One of the aspects of prejudice is that the abusers blame the victim. Is this what you do with your last comment? Are you inferring that we WAFTs are unattractive to you because we are resentful and angry at AA’s constant treatment of each of us as a secondary citizen. Maybe 3/5 of a citizen?

      Wafts are not going to quit on AA. And as such, you and your belief system are part of that – an equal part. So I leave you with the meditation as a request and I challenge you to find one place in AA literature that it is clearly stated that “AA works without a belief in a higher power just as equally as with a Higher Power”.

      There are lots of examples around of happy joyous and free AA members that work the steps with no belief, faith, or hope of a Higher Power or higher power. Yet your comments can draw the attention of resentful ones and you may use that to prove your point that we are resentful and angry leaving it to the assumption of our “lack of belief.”

      • Viki says:

        Thank you for asking me to go deeper with my own thoughts, Bob. I will think about what you had to say.

        I enjoy coming out here to see the beginnings of a new movement in AA. I know it’s not the beginning — I know the We Agnostics movement goes back some 40 years or so . . .but it seems to me that maybe the time is ripe for change more than in the past, or that there is growing support for renewing the outdated religious slant on the Steps. The 100th monkey theory?
        Thanks again.

      • Christopher G says:

        Bob, thanks for your comment to my reply on the previous blog. As per your request here is that post:
        For starters I’d give the title, Many Paths to Spirituality, 5 stars. It certainly fit perfectly being directed at the many paths and not agnosticism/atheism only. But as a pamphlet directed to atheists, agnostics, or other free-thinkers, it would get 0 stars from me. I am currently collecting writings from “conference approved literature” to make our own group’s pamphlet on the matter. It shall include the following, which we already use in our We Don’t Know group’s meeting format:

        Alcoholics Anonymous does not demand that you believe anything. All of its twelve steps are but suggestions. The ONLY requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. Our membership ought to include ALL who suffer from alcoholism. Nor ought AA membership ever depend on money or Conformity. We are not allied with ANY particular faith, sect or denomination, nor do we oppose anyone. We simply wish to be helpful to those who are afflicted. We have no desire to convince anyone that there is only one way by which faith can be acquired. Surprisingly enough, we find such convictions (agnostic/atheist) no great obstacle to a spiritual experience.”
        Alcoholics Anonymous, pg. 26, pp. 3.
        Tradition 3 short form
        From Tradition 3 long form
        Big Book, Forward to First Edition, xiv.
        There Is A Solution, pp. 28, 29.

        This is just the beginning. I intend to glean the truth from the chaff in AA literature to have available for the still suffering alcoholic, drinking or not, believing or not.

        That being said, I abstain from the rating. We certainly don’t need GSO’s approval and I don’t feel they need my rating. I do feel the grassroots movement is the key, the home group, the one on one, to change. We have reified literature because we have reified service structure. We may remain a minority, but so be it, if necessary.

      • Christopher G says:

        Also, this just in from the Grapevine’s Quote of the Day site:

        With each passing year we increasingly realize the immense importance of adequately presenting the program to every new prospect who is in the least inclined to listen. Many of us feel this to be our greatest obligation to him and our failure to do so our greatest dereliction. The difference between a good approach and a bad one can mean life or death to those who seek our help.
        AA Co-Founder, Bill W., May 1947
        “Adequate Hospitalization: One Great Need”
        The Language of the Heart

  19. CrescentDave says:

    Thanks for the background information, Roger. History provides the necessary context with which to judge events like this pamphlet’s journey from intention to execution. It can clearly be seen that that the initial impetus for this was subverted in a very conscious and premeditated fashion. Truly, it was no accident or lack of skill that the pamphlet ended up this way. Sadly, I agree with your assessment-this is IT- in terms of writings relating even peripherally to agnostics/atheists.

    I continue to believe it is important to understand that AA is a religious organization, no matter what its established structures claim. Perhaps there are ways of widening the doors, as Bill once put it, but it will be us doing the widening. Religious groups already have “the truth,” they don’t need amendments or extensions or “remodeling.”

    I did want to provide a little more context for why I held the aforementioned quote on the Lord’s Prayer in such contempt. The person supposedly sharing does not describe himself as an atheist, but as a Jew.

    It took me a long time to separate Judaism from alcoholism, to accept that spirituality did not affect or change my religious beliefs, but enhanced them, that my Higher Power was not the same as yours, that praying and the posture I use to pray does not alter my Jewishness but is necessary for my recovery. Today I can even recite the Lord’s Prayer without feeling guilty since it was pointed out to me in ‘How it Works’ that I have to go to any length to get and stay sober.

    The Christian arrogance of pointing out to this conflicted Jew that he needed “to any length to get and stay sober,” even reciting the Lord’s Prayer, is inexcusable. But it’s exactly what a religious program would do.

  20. steve b says:

    Why don’t we write our own pamphlet? We can make it available at this website, use it at our agnostic meetings, and try to make it available at traditional meetings.

    • life-j says:

      they will disappear from regular meetings, guaranteed. Even flyers for our freethinkers meeting (necessitated by the fact that intergroup refuses to list it) disappeared with such regularity that there was no point in even putting them out anymore. might as well have taken them to those meetings and put them straight in the waste basket myself.
      But now, it would be good if we had something that was easy to carry, and give to people

      • Chris G says:

        The Toronto groups have a very nice little business card. It has a welcome on the front, with the local websites, and lists the 5 meetings on the back. Just right for handing to people who seem interested.

  21. Ian says:

    I find it hard to accept this kind of agnostophobia in AA. Surely if AA is about anything it is freedom of choice. For the “Christian” Godsquad to try to inflict their own belief in this way is unspeakable. I have loved the agnostic meetings I have attended in Austin Texas and come away from them greatly comforted spiritually. We are all allowed or own Higher Power.

  22. John F says:

    Pardon my rant, but here goes. I recently sat with two guys that had a combined 56 years of sobriety and more aggregate years than that in AA. I asked this question to each: how many agnostics/atheists have you known in AA? Both men answered that they could count them on one hand.

    This is AA — an entirely god-based recovery program. We can quibble over words like “religious” versus “spiritual,” but regardless, AA is god-based. There is considerable dishonesty (now institutionalized in AA) that hides this ball with the justification that “the miracle will happen” — that is to say, god will be found, but in the meantime let’s tell the newcomer than sunsets and door knobs can suffice as a “higher power.”

    Somewhat pathetically, I believe, we as agnostics, atheists, humanists, and free thinkers dance to that tune in so many ways, unable to liberate ourselves and behave authentically. So, we pray — literally pray to AA’s god, not ours — at the 99.99 percent of AA meetings that begin and end with prayer. We practice “alternative” versions of the 12 steps because if Bill Wilson thought there should be 12 steps because there were 12 disciples — practicing some version of the 12 steps must be critically important. We feel ballsy enough to change a few words here and there in the steps, but … by god … we must practice them because this is AA. In sum, we try way TOO hard to fit in.

    We need to prioritize people (the collective wisdom of the Fellowship) and be willing to ditch the literature than belittles our intelligence. We don’t need to reconcile or make nice. The only requirement for membership is a desire to quit drinking. The End.

  23. Jim H says:

    God is optional in AA. The inclusion of we agnostics allows AA to bat a thousand

  24. mark l says:

    It should be obvious at this point that, although AA embraces and disseminates many sound and useful principles regarding achieving and maintaining sobriety, it is, at it’s root, a nascent religion. It’s difficult to avoid this conclusion after interacting with AAs for over a decade.

    I have never gotten involved in leadership and know little about it but your description of a 40 year odyssey involving members’ attempts to have this seemingly simple request met clearly points to the fact that you are dealing with a religious bureaucracy which will not have its dogma challenged.

    For my own part, I consider it light entertainment to speak my mind in ‘god meetings’ and, since I’ve never heard of anyone getting kicked out of AA, I do so with no fear of reprisal. Those AAs who I have genuine connections with who believe in god are largely indifferent to my atheism. Those who have a problem with it are, I’m certain, no more annoyed with me than I am with them. On the very few occasions when it has been suggested that I ‘get with the program’ regarding god – I have simply responded with a short burst of profanity and usually been left alone subsequent.

    I believe that you’re not going to change this – and I believe you, and in fact the vast majority of us unbelievers, have actually found a way to stay sober utilizing AA despite its status as a budding religion. However, I agree fully with the view that AA will sink into irrelevance (as religion in general is doing on a worldwide basis – although not necessarily in the US – yet) and I would look to those of you who seek to provide leadership in these areas to have instituted a meaningful alternative to AA prior to that moment. In fact, you may want to get busy on that pretty soon. Because you’re unlikely to realize your goal of change from within.

    Good luck. AA works for us – for now. Someday it will, in fact, be on par with the Mennonites – if not the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Please make certain you have an alternative at the ready…


    mark l

    • MarkInTexas says:

      mark l, thank you for your perspectives, and willingness to be an open nonbeliever in AA. May a differ with you a little?

      My differences come from wider, historical perspectives.

      Changes in social-religious-scientific-philosophical-cultural (what have you) attitudes, seems to me, generally happen incrementally, rather than take the form of overnight, wholesale change. There are some, but few exceptions to those natural evolutions.

      What your view appears to leave out are the changes in the “demographics of belief” that are only now beginning to be seen in the wider culture. Out of the closet “nonbelief” is still in its infancy in many ways, and those of us who are involved in living honestly in this way often take the brunt of hostile, religious reaction. AA Agnostica is one example of nonbelievers standing up for a place at the table within AA.

      Change occurs; things evolve naturally. It is remarkable the kind of changes in prevailing, dominant attitudes, and practice, that “do” occur when one honest nonbeliever bows out of the theistic prayers in a “traditional” AA group.

      Here’s what happened in my home group, a traditional AA meeting that has a majority of Christian, theistic believers. When I first came in, I would stand in the circle and hold hands with my fellow alkies, but didn’t pray. At about the 3 month point I decided that to do so was an act of intellectual dishonesty, and that I would have to bow out and take what came. Nobody bowed out of the LP when I first came in.

      At this 4 year, 8 month, 10 day point (whose counting? hahah) approximately 1/3 of our members also bow out of these prayers. No floor fight. No motions passed at business meetings. No opportunity for the ideologically religious to rant and rave about how evil it is, or conform-for-the-sake-of-acceptance style of nonbeliever to “voice” their opinions about such things.

      Many of those who chair now say things like, “If you care to participate, you may join us in the Lord’s Prayer.” A slow, predictable “evolution” of practice is taking place, naturally, within the group.

      It can happen.

  25. life-j says:

    Thanks, Roger
    Speaking to AA’s 100th year relevance, or rather it’s initial relevance:
    I think AA needs to be seen in its historical context. When Bill Wilson went to that Rockefeller dinner,I think those good old boys took a critical look at Bill’s program, and said: “This is harmless, this we can support”. And so it was allowed to live, and flourish in its own way, with all its inconsistencies, false dichotomies, and its god. Such is good for the reasonable orderliness of the current world.
    If on the other hand Bill had presented a program that had had any radical potential, anything that challenged the alcohol syndicate, or the wealth of those good old boys, Rockefeller would have squashed the program like a bug.
    It is not a matter of luck or inherent usuful qualities which program lives or dies. It’s a matter of whether it poses challenges to the current order of things. Therefore the good old boys will also keep a critical eye on us. Luckily for us we don’t challenge the political and economical structure of society at all, we agree with mainstream AA that that lies outside of our field of activity, and thus, we will be saved, even though the fact that we do not support the opium-for-the-masses program will be sufficient to raise a few eyebrows. We wouldn’t have been nearly as dear to old Rockefeller as Bill Wilson’s religious crew was.

  26. Chris G says:

    I’ve just finished a book by Joel Bakan called The Corporation, also watched 2 of the 3 parts of the TV documentary. It’s from an 11 year old documentary movie that I somehow completely missed. Anyway, it’s main point, which I never knew, is that public corporations act they way they do because they have no choice. The very laws that create them insist that their ONLY proper objective is increasing value for the shareholders, NOT any other stakeholders. The reason I mention this is that I see a parallel in the Christian faith and their reaction to us atheists in AA. Once having bought into faith in The One True God, and signed up for the surrounding rules about no Other Gods, no Graven Images, and so on, I think they have NO CHOICE but to act as they do. They can pretend to be open to atheists, just as corporations can pretend to have social consciences — as long as it is in the interest of their primary purpose. The religious primary purpose eventually suborns the alcoholics anonymous primary purpose. Hence there is only One Way.

  27. Andy L. says:

    I don’t think I’d call the pamphlet a “parody”, as parodies are generally intended to be amusing rather than insulting. “Calumny”, perhaps, or “travesty” would be closer to the mark.

  28. Tommy H says:

    Where do we go from here?

    We are dealing with a large, fat bureaucracy that is insensitive to an element of those they serve.

  29. Thomas B. says:

    Excellent Roger . . .

    Both the graphic of the “Many Paths to Spirituality” cover and the graphic of this most perceptive and cogent analysis are significantly subliminal “tells” as to the intention of this woeful 39 year effort by GSO:

    1) All of the arrows pointed heavenwards demonstrate where only spirituality is to be found. Not one arrow points downward, where many of us seek to find the True Self within through meditation, peeling away the onion-skin layers of illusion, including those of our at times abusive religious upbringing.

    2) The one-way arrow pointing to the right shows the only way GSO considers all AA-ers are to go –>, to the right, even if it’s off a cliff, either as an individual or AA as a whole.

    I firmly believe/intuit/learn from this 39-year sordid history that the majority of Christian AA members shall continue to shun we agnostics, atheists and free thinkers. To them, we are “the other,” alien heathens whom their god commands be either converted or eliminated. The remarks of the Pacific Regional delegate amply demonstrate this. I am powerless over what the majority of AA members do.

    I am not powerless over how I choose to respond to their shunning behavior. With dignity and respect for self as well as for them, I can demonstrate the all-inclusive truth of AA that the only requirement for membership in AA is a desire to stop drinking. I can be an example for other AA members, especially newcomers, that a person can achieve longterm recovery without belief in any god, following a way of life filled with the ethical and humanitarian values, which are inherent in the generic principles of 12-step recovery, despite the prevalence godly language found in AA “conference-approved” literature and practice.

    I can celebrate the gift of recovery I experience a day at a time due to the “grace” of the Fellowship of AA.

    • Viki says:

      Thomas, do you have any idea how narrow-minded your post sounds?

      Note that I am one of those AAs who has the spiritual path you have such a negative and narrow view of, and I don’t shun atheists or agnostics. I sponsor an agnostic and am, along with many AAs in my area, open to the beliefs of all. I am not the only alcoholic on a spiritual path who recommends that we rewrite prayers that don’t reflect our beliefs (as Bill suggests when it comes to the third step prayer)or to write a poem, a statement of belief, or anything else that might signify, formally, a release of old ideas and methods of recovery that haven’t worked. Many alcoholics in my circle of friends are concerned at the mixed messages contained in the Big Book and other literature, and we would not be adverse to changes in language.
      But I am reluctant to suggest that those of us who are open to both the spiritual and the non-spiritual paths come to agnostica and read the generalities and stereotyping of us that you are practicing.
      Is it possible for you to open your mind to the idea that those of us on a spiritual path are not bigoted or dismissive? Is it possible that you are attracting people into your life (AAs who may be dismissive or bigoted) who are just like you?
      To you, Thomas, WE are “the other.”

      • life-j says:

        yes, there is a lot of other-ness going on, we all become other to each other, when the program is built around judgment of some, eventually the judged judge the judgers.
        There are a lot of people who come to AA and leave because they can not stomach the religion, and then there are those of us who have stayed for many years, because we could stomach it, but surely felt judged, sometimes shunned.
        I started a freethinkers meeting, and fought with intergroup for over a year to get the meeting listed on the schedule – it would probably have happened if it werent because the god people fought it tooth and nail and rallied their forces to keep us off the schedule. this a schedule which states that meetings are listed at their own request, and listing does not imply endorsement, etc…
        The problem is not that there is religiosity in AA, but that the god people, well, maybe not you, personally, you sound openminded, but AA does seem to cater to a fundamentalist spirit. And those fundamentalists fight us to keep us down and out wherever they can.
        This is supposed to be a fellowship where we do everything in love, where we focus on helping the still suffering alcoholic,but we are being fought. This program is instead coming to be about preserving the word of Bill, and living by it to the letter. And we should not get upset by that?

      • Thomas B. says:

        Thank you, Vikki, for your comment.

        I deeply appreciate your willingness to respectfully engage with us here on AA Agnostica with what I discern from a cursory review of your comments is a genuine desire to work with us to keep our agnostic, atheist and free thinking way of working the AA program an integral part of AA, as historically it has always been throughout our 79 year history.

        Many theists that I have encountered unfortunately just wish we would go away and form a separate organization such as Alcoholics Victorious has done.

        In the more than four decades that I have been gifted with recovery, I discern that the dissension between believers and non-believers has considerably sharpened. Both sides have a tendency to devolve into an us vs. them dynamic. This is not helpful for anyone, manifesting increased resentment, which mitigates against practicing our code of love and tolerance of others. Hopefully together we can positively influence this negative dynamic to change to more productive ways of communicating and dealing with each other.

        Thank you, Vikki, deeply for pointing out how I did this in my comment early this morning, thus helping me to adjust my attitude today . . .

  30. Pauline says:

    Looks like AA is only one way…..their way! Instead of trying to be AA looks like we need our own…AAAA or Ax4!

  31. Terry O says:

    Thank you for speaking on my behalf, and the many, who do not worship the loving male sky god.

  1. August 18, 2014

    […] in A.A.. Roger C., did a marvelous job analyzing the pamphlet that is worthwhile reading (Still No Pamphlet for Agnostics in A.A.) I would highly recommend visiting for more in depth analysis than is possible […]

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