Together we can


by Joe C.

Now what? August 13th and 17th AA Agnostica had a heart-felt discussion about the new pamphlet “Many Paths to Spirituality.” Now that we’ve had our say, what to do? For those among us who would like to be the change we want to see in AA, there is a lot that can be done — in our meetings, in the local AA community and by becoming part of the AA service structure that will decide — among other things — our next pamphlet.

“Together we can” isn’t a campaign slogan in AA. Our sobriety is an example of this.

So you demand to talk to the boss! Step right up to the microphone. During the week of discussion here on AA Agnostica, I was at the Eastern Canada AA Regional Forum (August 15 – 17). In the USA and Canada, GSO trustees and staff put these on in 10 regions that get visited every two years (5 regions per year). Both Class A and Class B trustees (non-alcoholic and AA member trustees) were in attendance. Phyllis, our GSO General Manager, who is speaking at out conference in Santa Monica was in Verdun (near Montreal) for the weekend. She says she looks forward to seeing us in November. Staff and Trustees come to these Forums to hear concerns, ideas, complaints and other input from rank and file AA members. A lot of delegates and GSRs go, but it’s available to everyone in AA. It’s free — paid for by our 7th Tradition.

Anyway, I brought up “Many Paths”. It was one of many things I had questions and input about.

In a general sharing session with about 700 in attendance, I told Terry Bedient (Chairman of the General Service Board) and everyone in attendance that it was nice for the atheist/agnostic community to be mentioned in “Many Paths to Spirituality” but that we still feel that the longstanding requests for atheist and agnostics AA stories of alcoholism and recovery — by nonbelievers and for nonbelievers ought to be satisfied.

I said to one and all:

Just as we have young people, visible minorities, the LGBTQ community pamphlets etc., nonbelievers feel that we haven’t been accommodated. I am sure a woman’s pamphlet was controversial in the day; I know the gay and lesbian pamphlet was a trying process. Atheism in AA is neither contagious nor a shortcoming and we see no reason not to have our stories told in our own words. Atheists were quoted in Many Paths yet a quote isn’t an AA story. A story has a beginning, middle and end. That’s what we want to see added to AA literature.

Mr. Bedient referred me up the (inverted triangle) service structure to one of the Class B Trustees on the Literature Conference Committee who said we ought to write to the Literature Committee; they will read our letters and emails. So, I am passing that invitation on; write to AA if you like via the Literature Committee and tell them why AA of the future would be better served with such a pamphlet. If you think your experience strength and hope would help newcomers find sobriety in AA, tell them you’re prepared to share your story.

Or write a letter that will be replied to and be added to AA’s archive for historical purposes.

Attention: Literature Conference Committee
A.A. World Services, Inc.
P.O. Box 459,
Grand Central Station
New York, NY 10163
(212) 870-3400

I hope many of you attend your own Regional Forum. Find the schedule at One of the benefits of engaging with AA as a whole this way is we get to know them, they get to know us, we roll up our sleeves together and discuss a number of issues. I am no one-trick pony; I had questions about AA’s unfunded liabilities during the Treasurer’s report. I had something to say about eBooks, Grapevine and Public Information. There were workshops moderated by delegates, past-delegates and GSO staff where we discussed what “singleness of purpose” means at our groups, “how to keep groups safe” and other relevant topics.

As requested of all of us, every time I came up to the microphone, I stated with “My name’s Joe, I’m an alcoholic and a member of Beyond Belief Agnostics and Freethinkers Group in Toronto Canada.” Not surprisingly, AA members, Trustees and staff all came up to me through the weekend to ask about our group. Many wanted to know how to find out more about agnostic groups.

How else can we have our voice heard? Ed M., Grapevine Director & Ami B., Executive Editor/Publisher said they would like to hear from more agnostic or atheist AA members; they can only choose stories from those submitted. They invite us to get involved with AA’s meeting in print. Write your story for consideration:

AA Grapevine
475 Riverside Drive
New York, NY 10115

Read these first: Guidelines for contributing to the Grapevine and Editorial Calendar.

Then send your story to the Grapevine.

Or read your story aloud (new this January): Grapevine Audio Project.

Grapevine is looking for stories for February 2015, now. Upcoming topics are Sponsorship, Step Two, Letting go of Resentments, Technology and Anonymity. If you think you can give a secular spin on these topics, write away. Every month of Grapevine includes: Newcomers /Old-timers /What’s On Your Mind contributions. The last story of “Many Paths” is the story of an atheist sponsor who enjoys working with other men in recovery. Do you have stories about eye-ball to eye-ball AA that others might find eye-opening? Here’s your chance.

I will never under-estimate the value of forums like AA Agnostica but to some extent, we are talking into an echo chamber. We aren’t even all of the atheist/agnostic community in AA. Let’s share our experience, strength and hope with others outside our circle.

There are a lot of reasons why I am active in service. I might go to more committee meetings and service assemblies than I do AA meetings and conferences. For one thing, people in service are a good influence on me. There are a few empire-building megalomaniacs but most of who I rub shoulders with are empathic members freely giving back what they have received. If you don’t like the God-thing, the Traditions mention God once and the Concepts are 100% secular. I don’t hear any turning it over talk in Public Information, archives, or district meetings. It’s a matter of who is going to do what and we “pray on our feet” so to speak. In our Area members who would close their home-groups with a prayer, close committee meetings with the Responsibility Declaration.

It is fine to be an armchair-quarterback but you can also get in the game; there’s no line up, practices or trials. You want in? You’re in. Blog-posts and chat rooms are like sports or political call-in shows. We share a passion, there are some intelligent criticisms and suggestions. But the problem is that no one is listening. People who call into a political call-in show will not be soon dining with heads of state to go over their plan for Middle East peace. I don’t know that arm-chair major league fans, even the most astute and articulate, were called into the GM’s office at the trade deadline to be asked what moves ought to be made to firm up the roster.

AA is different. Our upside-down triangle isn’t sales talk. At last weekend’s Regional Forum no one asked people who came up to the microphone how long they’d been sober or if they worked the Twelve Steps exactly as written. Every concern, idea, grievance or outpouring of gratitude was equally received. The Chairman of our Board does want to hear from you and me and he welcomes being told frankly what we want from our General Service Board and office.

Also, the more atheists and agnostics that are active in General Service or Intergroup, the less fearful and intolerant others are. I know some of you serve at your group or in General Service, Intergroup or an Alano Club, now. Here’s why this matters: In surveys done in the USA by Pew Research, people who knew atheists had a better opinion of us than people who didn’t know anyone who was atheist. People who knew Muslims were less racist than those who didn’t associate with anyone who was Muslim.

AA (member) trustees are no different than any AA member. They line up pretty quickly on one side or the other of every issue. They don’t all agree. We heard in AA Agnostica August 17th of one trustee that is fearful of atheist AA “agendas.” Well that’s about normal. I guess he doesn’t work side by side with outed atheist members and I would further guess that if he did, he wouldn’t feel we were any threat to AA’s future.

Issues that divide AA members get my blood pumping, too. I don’t drink or do drugs, I watch what I eat these days but I do enjoy a little righteous indignation from time to time. It may be my current favorite sober bender. But when I am done ranting about “How could they; how dare they?” if I want to be the difference I demand in AA, I can do it at my home group. If I am campaigning to make the newcomer feel welcome regardless of her or his beliefs, I can do that where it matters most — by getting to the meeting early and greeting people who arrive. I can do the same at local AA and the hospitals and institutions where AA is invited to meet. Thinking globally but acting locally indulges my need for immediate gratification.

AA isn’t autocratic. We are 2.1 million members dancing to the beat of our own drum. While we share Twelve Traditions, Alcoholics Anonymous is 115,000 autonomous meetings. I get lazy and make gross generalizations about AA while I have only been to 1% of our meetings.

I hope I am not coming across as finger-pointing. I only want to tell you how I deal with my role in our recovery community. The final thing I want to say is something about passion — it’s value and its limits. Robb W., former Area 86 delegate, said at the end of a session he was moderating at the Regional Forum, “You all love AA and want what’s best — even though you disagree. It’s nice to see this kind of passion.”

Is passion a virtue? I think it’s an impulse that ought to be managed carefully. As in romance, passion is accompanied with obsessive thoughts, impulsive actions and being invested — alone, or as a group — to improbable, illogical outcomes. While we don’t want to discourage A.A. members from passion, love is a more mature or more spiritual quality.

To borrow from the Corinthians from the Christian Bible:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

Passion can be arrogant and rude. Passion pushes an agenda and fears the alternative; love is never afraid of convergent ideas or threatened by any course of action.

In Buddhism we find a similar tenet. While love is good, without wisdom one becomes a good-hearted fool. The key to enlightenment in Buddhism is compassion and wisdom. What the Buddhists call enlightenment, in A.A.-speak, we call, “spiritual experience.”

Co-founder Bob S. may have been channeling this timeless wisdom when he very simply broke AA down to a code of love and tolerance. A tolerant AA doesn’t fear opposing worldviews, experimentation, adaptation nor accommodation. Bill W. called this unity. I am not saying other AAs ought to be more loving and tolerant. I am saying I will be. I have passion that must be honored but not impulsively acted on. I can be more loving and mature and resist shaking my fist and saying, “You damn fools, you’re ruining a beautiful thing!” I will try to offer less resistance and be more of a good example. Resistance begets more resistance.

I heard it said that the world is like a mirror, If I wait for the reflection to smile first, I will be waiting a long time. If I smile, the world has no choice but to smile back.

36 Responses

  1. Pat N. says:

    Joe, that is one of the wisest and humblest descriptions of service I’ve ever seen. Thank you so much. My chronic addiction is to “justifiable” anger, and I’m in the midst of composing a letter to a staffer at GSO, taking issue with something. I’m afraid that, like most of my missives, it’s full of self-righteousness and thinly-veiled sarcasm – exactly like my output when I was drinking. You’ve made me think twice, darn it. It felt so warm and squishy, like morning poop, and now I have to rethink it.

    The only addition I would make to your list of Things To Do is to encourage folks to START A MEETING. It’s wonderful that there are 150+ WAFT meetings, but we need hundreds/thousands more. I got to help start two WAFT meetings, 25 years apart. An outgrowth of the first was that someone went out and started three more. Finding a venue, deciding on a format/time/day/name can be tedious, and of course should be done by a small committee. It’s also frustrating to sit there week by week, hoping someone will show up and wondering if it’s a mistake, but sooner or later you will save lives. And it helps keep you sober.

  2. Jaye says:

    Wow, Joe, outstanding piece. You’re so right. This is not a program of belly-aching, it’s a program of action. You’ve outlined so well how anyone and everyone can take some action that will reach the ears of those who can implement changes. Another action is to phone local treatment centres and ask if you can talk to counsellors or residents about agnostic AA meetings or ask to hold a weekly/monthly agnostic meeting on site. All they can do is say no, but the program director I contacted at one centre was ecstatic to have this resource offered.

    As for the Area assembly, the GSR and alternate-GSR (me) of our freethinkers AA group will see you in Kingston at the end of October.

  3. Christopher G says:

    Thanks, Joe. You’ve put the ball in our court. I and a few others have started a new meeting, now two months plus old, and newcomers of both the believing and non-believing variety, as well as some Alanons, addicts, and codependents have and are attending. One visiting member has requested help in starting a meeting in her city. I’m getting calls from nearby wafts wanting to visit our meeting, thanks to the New York directory. I totally agree with you about the grassroots approach and am moved to attend the next district and area meetings with news of our meeting. Thanks again for the reminders and the example.

  4. JHG says:

    No one can marginalize us unless we allow ourselves to be marginalized. We may be outnumbered, but our message of inclusiveness is far more mainstream AA as defined by the Traditions and slogans (e.g. “live and let live”) than creating additional requirements for being a member in good standing like believing in God or working the steps exactly as written. If we concede the home court advantage to those who would exclude us, it’s not just unfortunate for atheists and agnostics; AA as a whole loses.

  5. Thomas B. says:

    YES, Yes, yes, Joe, and again Y E S !~!~!

    If we want AA to change we have to be the change we want to manifest. After years of being in the closet about my strong agnosticism, which in the last couple of years has evolved into committed atheism, I have recently garnered the courage to speak my truth backed by 42 years in continuous, ever-evolving recovery in AA.

    I have also become active as the GSR of the Beyond Belief group in Portland, Oregon, as well as attending Oregon Area 58 Assemblies. Though at the group level, I have occasionally encountered shunning and judgmental behavior from some especially ardent AA Christian believers, I have experienced nothing but positive support and encouragement from trusted servants at the District and Area levels of service.

    The only way our agnostic/atheistic voices can ever be heard within AA is by us sharing forthrightly but with dignity and respect, love and tolerance for all other AA members, the truth of our continued recoveries in AA without “the God bit.”

  6. John S says:

    Thank you Joe. This was inspiring to read and I will definitely make an effort to participate in the greater A.A. service structure.

    I have only been to one Area Assembly when I served as a GSR many years ago, but I honestly did not understand what was taking place there. Maybe my head is screwed on a little better now.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about service recently. Starting an AA group can be as Bill W put it “an ego feeding” proposition. For me it’s important to remember why I do this, and really it boils down to staying sober and helping others.

    You are providing a great service to our community and I am totally inspired by this.

    Thank you again.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Thank you Joe. I live and attend AA IN Austin. Frankly I am not so sure I want to get involved in the hegemonic Christian dominated AA GSR Service Structure. The inverted triangle as it is referred to is supposed to be a symbol of how they at the top serve us. Sure does not seem that way – at least in the Bible Belt and even in one of the best and most progressive cities for AA. I will continue to attend AA, and I will find my own support and allegiances elsewhere. I am also a Native American and have a PhD level education in Sociology. I say that because I don’t think the minority pamphlets are any better and my education and experience with these sorts of things at a major university in my grad school days re: inclusion in curriculum, lead me to believe it is a waste if time, an uphill battle, and that time would be better spent creating our own solution – which will also be a lot of work, but at least we could define it in our own voices. That is just my opinion for what it is worth. Thank you for your efforts which I will continue to support and contribute to but have NO desire to be involved with GSO or the Service structure for the aformentioned reasons. I have NO desire to be a Code Talker, Farm Worker, or Buffalo Soldier for a group that is blind to my reality – and wants to continue to be because they live in fear of what is different from theirs. To Thyne Own Self Be True.

  8. Ed S. says:

    We need a pamphlet called “Many Paths to Sobriety.” In the meantime we need to promote the book, “Don’t Tell” edited by Roger C.

  9. beoz59 says:

    I am not sure AA can change: it is a religious or spiritual program.

    Co-founder Bob S said he felt sorry for people who did not believe in God. So much for love and tolerance.

    After 23 years in the program I had to leave.

  10. Joe C says:

    Some great idea here, so far. Yes, start a meeting; Awesome idea. Today I was reading the second less famous Jack Alexander Article, A Drunkard’s Best Friend about AA written in 1950, nine years after his first, and infamous, Saturday Night Post article.

    At the time, AA had grown from 2,000 when he first wrote about us, to 90,000. There were a lot of meetings that started with barely a chance to grow into anything and then somehow, at some time, they started getting busy and soon we had another thriving meeting. Starting an agnostic/freethinkers group where none has been before, can seem futile and it might be, but on the other hand, fortune favors those in the game.

    Then, once the meeting is up and running, get involved in service – or not (as was the choice of one of our readers). Another idiosyncrasy of AA is when a group, group rep or member has a complaint, comment, suggestion or feedback for AA-as-a-whole, no one checks the ledger to see what contributions were forwarded from the group’s Seventh Tradition or how many district or area meetings had been attended. It doesn’t matter. There is no obligation to contribute time, talent or money. Our standing is (or ought to) depend only on that singular requirement for membership.

    Anyway, as a follow up, I have sent a (loving – not passionate) letter to the Literature Committee and I will be putting some thought to offering some Grapevine content, too. It looks like others might be doing the same. If you have time to labor(day) through the Jack Alexander article, I have included a hyperlink. I was just reminded that Jack Alexander was a non-alcoholic AA Trustee from 1951 to 1956 and he edited The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, that Bill W wrote.

  11. John M. says:

    Thanks for setting the record straight for me with this blog, Joe — I was pretty sure that I had mistaken you for someone else when I saw you walking across the waters of Lake Ontario last summer. You are not that other fella — a distant cousin, perhaps?

    No, after reading this, I believe you are more of the type of an even earlier fella from the past —King Solomon.

    A wise, timely and important call to action. Thanks so much again Joe. —John

  12. Dan H says:

    The pamphlet is so lame that I think the energy needed to start from scratch to create a new one would be better directed at a different project: an updated, secular version of the book Alcoholics Anonymous, to be proposed not as a change to or replacement for the current book, but as an adjunct to it. The pitch would be twofold (at least):
    1) Imagine AA and the the Big Book 50 years from now – who can deny the book will be a relic? How about in 25 years (when some of our kids or grandkids will need it)? 12 1/2 years? Hopefully, the point will become obvious. It may take 10 years to overcome resistance to the idea, and another 10 to get it written and agreed on. Time to start now!
    2) A lot of people are opting for “non-approved” literature to fulfill a real need – it would be eminently practical to create a conference-approved work that would appeal to those who are otherwise estranged from the current literature, if not from the fellowship itself.
    The text could follow the general outline of the current book and include Bill’s story and passages of the current BB for historical context, but should otherwise include modern observations about addiction and treatment. Perhaps an honest chapter to the agnostic could be written – one in which a real palette of choices is presented.
    I believe this is something AA will have to do. The first time I read the book, it made me think of Elliot Ness and DeSotos with running boards. At least I had a context for the images.

  13. Andy R. says:

    I agree with Beoz59 and Anonymous from Austin – it’s clear the bureaucrats at GSO will at best pay lip service to being inclusive and then – after 40 years of foot-dragging – allow a joke of a pamphlet address the spirituality of the pesky all-other element, those not willing to accept Jesus Christ as our personal LORD and SAVIOR.

    The game is fixed – I feel like we’re the Randall P. McMurphys having to deal with GSO’s Nurse Ratched. Their attitude, like hers, is condescending, ingenuous and self-serving to keep the status quo.

    McMurphy: Nurse Ratched, Nurse Ratched! The Chief voted! Now will you please turn on the television set?

    Nurse Ratched: [she opens the glass window] Mr. McMurphy, the meeting was adjourned and the vote was closed.

    McMurphy: But the vote was 10 to 8. The Chief, he’s got his hand up! Look!

    Nurse Ratched: No, Mr. McMurphy. When the meeting was adjourned, the vote was 9 to 9.

    The bad news is we don’t get a pamphlet. Big deal. Outside of this brouhaha, can’t remember the last time I actually read a pamphlet.

    The good news is we can still provide atheist/agnostics meetings and grow them organically using the wonders of the web. If your Intergroup “forgets” to include your WAFT meeting in their directory (as they claimed happened here in Dallas last year) – fine, outsmart them using a little thing called Google.

    Provide a good looking website with proper use of keywords and in a short time, you’re on top of the “Atheist AA” search results. Make it responsive to look sharp on tablets and smartphones and suddenly the AA Intergroup site looks so ’90s! No dollars spent – attraction not promotion – with attraction looking attractive.

    Dallas Fort-Worth

    We Agnostics DFW

    Building this site was a labor of love – for my group and the many freethinkers AA has disenfranchised over the years. But this was also a labor of spite – against the AA Ratched-isms I’ve heard in Bible belt (noose) meetings and constantly coming down from the top, no matter how they sugarcoat it (only with my site – an admittedly angry condemnation of Westboro Baptist Church that I allowed to lapse with old Fred Phelps death – did I feel such adrenaline! Certainly don’t think anger is a bad thing, just need to channel it effectively.)

    To those who want to work within AA if that’s more your style, great – certainly not condemning that and maybe slight – or even major – improvements will come in time.

    In the meantime (and in my 26th year of sobriety, due largely to coming into this program in the more tolerant north), I’ll use whatever guerrilla marketing techniques I know of to carry the message to thinking alcoholics who still suffer. They deserve (at least) the same chance of recovery as do the sacred text thumpers and holy rollers with their implicit one way to sobriety! 🙂

  14. crescentdave says:

    I honestly don’t know how Joe C can reconcile the reality of AA with his rose-colored view of AA’s service structure. “Many Paths to Spirituality” was requested around 39 years ago. It was originally intended to address the agnostic & the atheist, the “unbeliever.” Through a series of rotations, the committee that ended up writing the pamphlet stepped almost completely away from the primary reason for writing it in the first place.

    Joe mentions being able to speak in front of a general sharing session and that he was referred “up the service structure” to a Class B Trustee who said “we ought to write to the literature committee.” Why write them? To let them know what they already know? To let them know that people who are atheists and agnostics don’t appreciate the committee stifling real stories and real examples of agnostics and atheists successfully practicing recovery in A.A.? Does anyone think they are unaware of what they did? Does anyone think they do not know how the pamphlet was edited in such a way as to almost completely ignore the reality of agnostics and atheists in A.A.?

    Please. Let’s stick with facts. Joe writes that Ed M., Grapevine Director and Ami B., Publisher of the Grapevine said they want to hear from more agnostic or atheist members. Was your story published Joe? Maybe. Was mine? No. Over 22 years have any submissions from any of my like-minded friends been published? No. And I get it … somebody will get published. But it won’t be anywhere near the frequency of submissions received, JUST LIKE the literature committee saw fit to disregard over 200 stories submitted for the pamphlet on “Many Paths to Spirituality.”

    Here’s another fact Joe- blog posts are NOT necessarily “like sports or political call-in shows.” Let’s stay real. This site provides a safe space for people to share their experience, strength and hope. Why is this so important? Because AA continues to be UNSAFE for many non-believers. In the pamphlet “Many Paths to Spirituality,” a Jewish person states

    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.

    He has to. Has to say the Lord’s Prayer. And this is from the “Many Paths” pamphlet. Feeling safe yet?

    AA Agnostica is a safe place. It is not a sports talk show. AA Agnostica is a clearinghouse for information related to the subject of recovery, atheism, agnosticism and AA. It is a supportive community which allows people to be who they are and make connections on a fundamental level with others who have a similar orientation. It is a voice for reason, in and of itself, as well as a forum allowing other people to speak without fear of reprisal. You can’t say that about AA in general. Well, you can, but it just wouldn’t be real.

    Joe continues along this vein of sticking with and using the structures which have marginalized, discounted and ultimately failed us. He seems uncomfortable even talking about the idea of having passion for this issue, seeking to make his point by quoting a male from the bible of the Christians. He then asserts: “Passion can be arrogant and rude. Passion pushes an agenda and fears the alternative; love is never afraid of convergent ideas or threatened by any course of action.”

    Anything else is … wait for it … is either being rude and arrogant or a “good-hearted fool.” Close quote with co-founder Bob S. breaking “AA down to a code of love and tolerance.” The guy who bitterly fought against women members. The guy who told Clarence S. not to break from the Oxford Group and start an actual AA meeting in Cleveland. The guy who wrote in our book:

    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!

    Love and tolerance, indeed.

    Joe C. states his goal is to “offer less resistance and be more of a good example. Resistance begets more resistance.” I will not offer less resistance. Being a good example requires I practice resistance. We started a Mindfulness Meeting which was met with resistance and we faced down that resistance. And are listed. I share my ESH, which is an act of resistance, simply because I do not echo the majority view. I resist any assertion that a belief in a personal higher power is necessary for someone to achieve and maintain sobriety. I resist any contention that I need a god to forgive my actions or show me what to do. I do not argue with individuals who share their experience, but I do resist those who try to universalize their experience, disallowing all others’. This resistance is fundamental to being true to myself.

    I guess we can all quote folks. Mitchell K. has a great book on Clarence Snyder and the early days of AA in Cleveland, entitled How It Worked. From the book:

    The first A.A. meeting in the world was not uneventful. According to Clarence, the entire group from Akron showed up the next night and tried to “discourage” the Cleveland meeting from happening. Discourage was a very mild term, according to Clarence; and he used it sarcastically. He said: “The whole group descended upon us and tried to break up our meeting. One guy was gonna whip me. I want you to know that this was all done in pure Christian love.. A.A. started in riots. It rose in riots.

    Clarence was often quoted as saying, “If you don’t stand for something, you’re liable to fall for anything.” And on May 11, 1939, Clarence stood his ground, as did the other members of that first A.A. group. Thus A.A., as such, began in Cleveland, Ohio. Today, we stand our ground. We have our own conference. We create our own meetings. Perhaps if our numbers continue to grow, AA will be forced (yes, there’s that word) to acknowledge our reality. I do agree with Joe that we need to continue to become more visible and continue to tell our stories. I do believe the single most effective way of sharing our ESH is to support our safe havens and to continue opening freethinker meetings of all sorts and stripes.

    • Svukic says:

      Sorry Joe, but crescentdave’s reply echoes my thoughts exactly.
      I WILL submit a story to Grapevine – doubt it will get published though. Maybe the Australian version, Reviver?
      All that said, without people like you who are willing to keep chipping away at the roadblocks in the conventional structure from within I doubt we’d get any place at all. Change in this case will not be dramatic flash and thunder, it will be a war of attrition.
      I salute the soldiers who shoulder the thankless burden…like you Joe C.
      Thanks for the article, mate!

    • Roger says:

      Just to toss in my two cents worth: I largely agree with you, Crescentdave. The bottom of the “inverted triangle” – Intergroups, the General Service Conference, for example – have historically been the opposite of helpful towards atheists and agnostics in AA. I am not inclined to pretend that they have won my respect. The way forward for me is to work from the top of the triangle: to create our own non-Conference-approved (uncensored) literature and more and more and more agnostic meetings.

    • Alfred W. says:

      Although I intend to write a bit more in a few hours, I wanted to agree wholeheartedly with crescentdave ; that was very well stated!

  15. Lisa says:

    As an agnostic in AA I feel left out of the mix, my heart aches for acceptance. The free thinkers meeting is too far to travel to. I wish there was a meeting on the phone!

    • Roger says:

      You can give our Chat Room a try, Lisa.

    • Joe C says:

      Also AIR (Atheists in Recovery), Yahoo has aa_freethinkers group, Google groups has a couple of Atheists & Agnostic groups and Facebook has a few great “secret” groups. All provide great community.

      Visit a few, find what feels right.

  16. MarkInTexas says:

    Allow me to be a guy who grabs the pitcher by “both” handles. I realize I run the risk by being misunderstood by either opposite.

    I agree with both Joe C., and crescentdave, equally. With qualifications.

    I’ll start with Joe C.. I think the lessons of the American Civil Rights movement are extremely applicable to we “nonbelievers” in AA today.

    Active resistance by black Americans and their allies to the status quo had an objective. That objective was to be “included.”

    Active “participation” in the “process” was part of that effort. It is only now that atheists and other types of nonbelivers are “coming out,” and beginning to take places at the various tables in society. Without open atheists, and all other types of nonbelivers being active in the Service Structure, the traditional AA’s and the old dominant theistic paradigms will continue to treat we non’s as second class citizens. It is easier to shit on people when you are not looking them face to face, and they can have a say about that business.

    crescentdave outlines historical, and present “facts” on the ground today.

    I’m hopeful that many of us will move forward holding both handles, rather than one or the other. Both-And is the way forward “IF” there is to be positive, rational, gate-widening change in AA and out. Commit to strengthening this venue, and others like it, all the while making the difficult, and disciplined commit to not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    How many of you are sick of living in a self-imposed ghetto? We can talk about things that are decidedly wrong with the status quo all day long in any “echo chamber” we wish to create. But without active, rational engagement with the power structures of the status quo, nothing will change.

    “The Way of the warrior is to master the virtue of his weapons.”

    “The Book of Five Rings”

    Miyamoto Musashi (c.1584–June 13 (Japanese calendar: May 19), 1645)

    • John M. says:

      Philosophically, a both/and approach has always been something I believe captures a truly progressive approach in the face of a much more conventional and reactionary either/or which, to me, is how much of our thinking and behaviour in Western civilization has proceeded.

      With that being said, thank you, MarkinTexas, for bringing a both/and option here.

      An either/or standard of analysis is often so vague and abstract that much of what is actually happening “on the ground” or “in the trenches” is lost in the generalized polarity (or dualism).

      As much as I am sympathetic to cresentdave’s arguments — and I enthusiastically support his call for our continuing proactive activism — I still question “the facts” in many cases that are often supposed to be self-evident. cresentdave also uses the very nebulous “they” in his assessment of current realities in AA.

      Well…here is the proverbial question: who is THEY?

      I offer a few examples from our Toronto experience.

      The “facts” tell us (by the de-listing of agnostic groups in Toronto) that AA in Toronto (i.e., THEY) is hostile to the agnostics and free thinker groups that exist here and in the greater Toronto area (GTA).

      Well…are THEY in fact hostile and aggressive in their efforts in trying to de-legitimize us?

      I’ll come back to the organization called Toronto Intergroup in a moment but if we look at the District and Area level, the 3 “delisted” groups — Beyond Belief, We Agnostics, and Widening Our Gateway — all participate in and are members in “good standing” at District meetings and at our twice-a year Area Assembly.

      I don’t think we can then in good conscience include District and Area in “THEY.”

      So…it’s Toronto Intergroup then that is the problem: THEY oppose us and THEY reflect the mood of the over 300 AA groups in Toronto and the GTA.

      Let’s get specific. Out of over 300 AA groups in Toronto, there are usually no more that 50 – 70 groups that regularly attend the monthly meetings and more often there are less than 50 in attendance each month.

      On May 31, 2011 — 24 groups voted to de-list Beyond Belief and We Agnostics with 15 groups opposing the motion to de-list and 9 groups abstaining.

      On March 27, 2012 — 59 groups voted NOT to RE-list Beyond Belief and We Agnostics with 19 groups voting for re-listing and 3 abstentions. (The “anti-” Beyond Belief and We Agnostics forces literally “bused in” groups who do not attend Intergroup meetings on a regular basis, if at all, to garner the votes to support a No to re-listing. My wife and I were in the parking lot when the vans and cars arrived and the excited “yes, we are on a mission to save AA in Toronto” folks poured out of their vehicles.)

      Next month on April 24, 2012 — 27 groups voted to de-list Widening Our Gateway with 17 groups opposed and 4 abstentions.

      As one can see, Toronto Intergroup is not a homogenous entity — a THEY. We do a great disservice to the traditional groups that have continually voted in support of Beyond Belief, We Agnostics, and Widening Our Gateway when we speak only of Toronto Intergroup as a THEY who are reactionary, “set-in-their-ways” and hostile to us.

      We betray these traditional but supportive groups whenever we speak of Toronto Intergroup as a THEY.

      Why do I use such a strong word “betray?” Perhaps because I was so moved by a number of the Reps for these traditional groups who were so passionate themselves about doing the right thing and doing the right thing on behalf of their group conscience, and for the good of AA as a whole.

      During the Intergroup debates to re-list Beyond Belief and We Agnostics, one Intergroup Rep from a fairly large traditional group was shamefully mocked and laughed at by a number of Reps in attendance for expressing his passionate arguments supporting the re-listing of the two groups. One other Intergroup Rep was booed and hissed at for merely reminding everyone that there are many agnostic, atheist, and free thinker groups across North American that are members in “good standing” with their own Intergroups.

      Let’s not forget these good folks and their courage for standing up on our behalf, and more importantly, for the good of AA as a whole.

      To the 15 Toronto groups in 2011, the 19 Toronto groups in March 2012, and the 17 Toronto groups in April 2012, let me take this opportunity to acknowledge you and thank you heartily and gratefully for your continuing, and often passionate, support of our agnostic and free thinker groups.

      In Joe C’s almost 40 years of service in AA he has seen the battles — wins and losses from his perspective — and I know that Joe will not give up the “good fight” and, in this, he is one with cresentdave.

      Different ideas about tactics and strategies may be what we will quibble about, or going beyond mere quibbling, get very passionate about!

      One final look at THEY. We often think of THEY as homogeneously hostile to agnostics, atheists, and free thinker. In the months of debate at the monthly Intergroup meetings before my group, Widening Our Gateway, was de-listed and I no longer had a voice on the floor and a vote at the meeting, I observed that THEY are not all hostile to us; THEY are astonishingly apathetic!

      I was more shocked by the sheer apathy of many of my fellow Intergroup Reps than by the hostility generated by a select and highly motivated and vocal bunch of “leaders.”

      THEY (i.e., the apathetic) seemingly did not care about the human and civil rights implications of de-listing groups from AA, and the quicker the agnostics, atheist, and free thinker “issue” could be dispensed with, the quicker they could get out by 9:00 and get home to their lives. (Intergroup monthly meetings often begin and end in the allotted 8:00 – 9:00 format but, of course, with special issues the meeting room is booked for longer to accommodate a longer meeting when needed.)

      Our job then — and perhaps Joe C’s message is especially directed to this type of member (and committee member) — is to get the apathetic on board by, what Joe calls, “offer[ing] less resistance and be more of a good example.”

      As well, by the “force” of our arguments — and here cresentdave’s appeal to “resistance” rings so true — is to convince those who are actively and aggressively hostile to us, or those trusted servants who see us as more of an annoyance than a threat to AA, that we are not a threat; that we have a right to be AA members in good standing; and that we have an approach to recovery that will appeal to the still suffering alcoholic who needs/wants a clearly secular environment in which to get sober and thrive.

      So, this is a long-winded way of saying that MarkinTexas’ call for a both/and approach compels us to get more specific in our analysis and in our behaviour to see how two seemingly opposite positions can co-exit and have equal merit versus simply seeing an either/or and choosing one or the other. To do so leaves any issue unexplored, obtuse and abstract, and polar —Joe C. versus cresentdave; Us against Them (i.e., THEY)

      Yes, MarkinTexas, by all means, grab the pitcher by both handles!

      Thanks so much for your insight. —John

      • Roger says:

        Hi John, with all due respect, I was at some of those Intergroup meetings when the votes were taken. They were mighty nasty. No matter how sweet and mushy you think I ought to be towards THEM, I ain’t ever, ever going back. For me personally – and this is not a formula for everybody and thus I am happy to be part of sharing Joe’s message – I have more rewarding things to do to help others in AA as well as to go forward in my own life. That’s the very simple point made by crescentdave, Andy R. and a few others and I trust you can manage to muster up some respect for US.

      • John M. says:

        Dear Roger,

        MarkinTexas prefaced his piece by saying that by taking the pitcher by both handles, he would risk being misunderstood by both sides. It appears that this might end up being my fate instead.

        I want to say right from the start that I most emphatically endorse, support, and think it absolutely necessary that a “proactive activism” advocated by you, crescentdave, Andy and others is required for any progress in AA to be made.

        I was quite shocked, shaken, and saddened that my comments came across as a criticism of you folks. My intention was to use MarkinTexas’ idea that Joe C. and crescentdave could both be right, and to highlight the efforts of some of our dear folks in other groups in Toronto and the efforts they have made on our behalf.

        In my mind, there was never a question of a lack of respect for you, crescentdave, and others as I was writing my comments. I sincerely apologize if it came across that way. I thought my earliest comment about crescentdave’s response to Joe’s blog, “I enthusiastically support his call for our continuing proactive activism,” and my later observation, “As well, by the “force” of our arguments — and here cresentdave’s appeal to “resistance” rings so true,” were indications by me that I am in full agreement.

        By your comment to me, Roger, my comments obviously did not read like I was being very respectful to crescentdave and others. My wise wife, Jaye, tells me that my constant capitalization of THEY looks as if I am angrily putting others down. I usually don’t capitalize at all, but for the longest time the AA Agnostica site wouldn’t allow me to use italics or underlining which I normally use. Yet duh! Jaye just pointed out to me where the function is on the site.

        My continued use of THEY was merely to emphasize the proverbial nature of the question: who is They?

        Again, my sincere apologies to anyone I offended —it was not my intention. —John

        • Roger says:

          It’s all a very interesting and healthy debate, John. I admit I did feel as if I were being faulted for not showing appropriate deference to traditional AA. Reading Neal’s most intriguing latest comment, though, it makes me wonder: to what end would we do the kinds of things suggested by Joe? Does it not oddly enough support the status quo? Is it possible the better approach is to continue our “proactive activism” until the traditionalists have no choice but to play ball in our ball park? Just a thought.

      • bob_mcc says:

        Love what you had to say John.

        Personally I believe a study in passive resistance is necessary. “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” was said by Gandhi? More like “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.”

        We can not morally interrupt regular meetings, business meetings, district meetings, or etcetera; the pressure of a human rights law suite seems very plausible. And it brings in a power greater than ourselves that for once may turn out to be on our side. But, as in Gandhiji’s concept the action and responsibility in changing the “powers to be”, must come from many. Personal change is not enough! Persistence and assertive call for change on the problem is required. First we need to address the real issue! In the articles over the past few weeks we are calling a duck vegetable soup. This denial will get us nowhere. The issue as why this website exists, delisting’s happen, or “booting the bastards out” is tolerated (or accepted) is simple prejudice.

        We need a thorough and complete understanding of it’s mechanisms: attitudes, stereotypes, prejudice, discrimination, reality tunnels, social construction of reality, straw man arguments, denial of WAFT’s contribution in AA. These are but a few. We must turn the Light of observation and understanding inside the sacred halls of AA. “Us and them” is about in and out groups – my side bias/confirmation bias that is in all humans beings. Then we need to call a duck a duck in meetings; group, business, district area, and so on.

        I disagree with Joe that we need to get active in service because representatives are trusted to carry all information back and forth between the groups conscience and the committees. Editing and/or manipulating information is a big part of the problem; another manifestation of self rooted in fear. If you are in service and an opportunity to express yourself comes by don’t hold back, but we can’t seek these positions to express our opinions, calling them beliefs or faiths does not justify them; does not matter if they are based on skepticism or the “Father of Light who presides over us all.”

        “We would like to believe people are rational. We would like to believe that if they have formed a false belief based on inaccurate information and poor reasoning, they will change that belief when they are provided with accurate information and better reasoning. We are frequently disappointed.” The Unpersuadables; Harriet Hall

        “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

        Those words are hard to live by.

      • Christopher G says:

        And thank you for yours, John. Most excellent observations.

  17. daniel says:

    Joe, thanks for a terrific report. I am an alcoholic and when I came to AA I wanted the conditions to change. I was shocked when you told me I had to change to meet the conditions.
    All AA promises us is sobriety and asks us to pass on to others how we got and stay sober.That single purpose is why AA has been around for 79 years and if we continue to pass it on we will be here for another 79.
    No pamphlet, belief, non belief, intellect got me sober, taking the action to practice the spiritual principals in my daily affairs, having a home group, sponsor, having a voice to help form my group`s conscience, being in service outside the group got and keeps me sober.

  18. Neal says:

    Thanks Joe, Anonymous and CrescentDave. It’s great to have such wisdom on our side. I certainly relate to Joe’s attitude about being the change we declare inside AA, setting the example and allowing ourselves to be counted off as a prevalent minority.
    But, there is a division in our atheist ranks; some just want official inclusion in AA literature/meetings and the others challenge the validity of working the program with a higher power. We are literally, by stance, challenging the credibility of faith based healing. Dave said it in his post and I back his tone, “I resist any assertion that a belief in a personal higher power is necessary for someone to achieve and maintain sobriety.” And Anonymous – “I have NO desire to be a Code Talker, Farm Worker, or Buffalo Soldier for a group that is blind to my reality.”
    The reality here is synonymous with Science and Religion being incompatible; oil and water. Efforts towards a pamphlet are a pipe dream and any service work that isn’t for a WAFT meeting is service for furthering anthropomorphic delusion itself. I’m sorry but it doesn’t matter if you pipe up about tolerance at every meeting, step 2 is clearly written on the wall for the newcomer drink at. Forming our own meetings, like we did here in Dallas is the best 12th step work we can do.
    I’m just 28 with a year sober, but I have fresh memory of where untreated alcoholism leads the atheist who feels alienated out of the rooms of AA. It leads to prison, psyche wards, gurneys and if you’re lucky a successful suicide attempt.
    I realize this site isn’t my baby, but I ask Roger, the AA Agnostica chief editor, what our primary purpose is here. It’s an honest question and I’m cool with any answer. Is this an echo chamber for grievances towards AA and a well furnished lobby for the witty exchange of intellectual prowess or is this the last google search on a dead man’s phone who couldn’t find a solution?
    Waging reform on AA is parallel with trying to get the government to tax churches. Until popular opinion shifts against unreasonable faith, we won’t see change. We need to be present on a community level; available for the non-believer whose ready to drink himself to death tonight.
    A secular and scientifically accurate translation of the steps is necessary along with like-minded fellowship. I’m tired of affectionately disagreeing with traditional AAers, afraid to offend their adoration of playing make believe higher power time. We may not be a big percentage but people ARE dying. It was almost me last August.

    • Roger says:

      Primary purpose of AA Agnostica: “This website is meant to be a helping hand for the alcoholic who reaches out to Alcoholics Anonymous and finds that she or he is put off by the religious content of many AA meetings.” That’s in the About Us page. It’s about support, Neal: “I am not alone” for those who don’t believe God plays any part in their recovery in AA. Doesn’t mean that there won’t be the occasional congenially conducted discussion though.

    • anonymous says:

      Let me be clear, since I was quoted by Neal, about where I stand personally because just like someone who is mixed race and ethnicity – which I am, and hence my race references and illusion to Ellison’s Invisible Man – I do not desire to find myself as a man in recovery without a country because I am not an atheist but not a believer in the God of religion either. I am for tolerance and inclusion. I have not found that forthcoming in what is not supposed to be a power structure in the inverted triangle structure of service particularly as evidenced by the long history of lip service predating my first membership in AA 20 years ago and eloquently addresses by other posts. I am a relatively intelligent person but no Stephen Hawking by any measure. However, I am not inclined either, with my limited knowledge to think that there might be a force out there responsible for our creation, giving order to chaos, maybe responsible for synchronicity in the universe. So I don’t know. My point being, as others have expressed, probably best in mho that we proceed on all fronts. That said, I am not personally at this point (selfishly but necessarily for my sobriety) willing to beat my head against the walk working within the AA structure though I support the efforts of others to do so, and will attend AA as I have many friends there and even though some are threatened or convinced I will, like my mother used to say, “get it and that I am on the right path.” Whatever. I am all for being proven wrong. but the truth as I know it points to a different reality, a truly open minded one. (As a former PhD student in sociology AAs quote of Herbert Spencer is always tempered by “Rule 62” for me given that the “contempt prior to investigation” quote is uttered by a know eugenicist.) My sole exposure to you guys – and maybe that’s bc I live in Austin, is here on AA Agnostica. Anyway I hope to find a group here and be embraced or at least supported in my self-admittedly limited understanding of the universe and everything and nothing – atheists and agnostics alike. I am at peace with the the Christians et al, I take what I need and leave the rest and respect their beliefs. I hope one day, pray also no as affirming, that one day they might see a larger more inclusive truth – but like them, I am not relying (on humans/religion) for my recovery – though it would be nice to be affirmed. The Dali Lama said we can live without religion but not without human touch. We all want to belong. An to that end, and as I said given my experience, I plan to focus my energy on a space that affirms my full identity. And that place seems to be AA Agnostica and Free Thinkers. I hope I am right. And I hope that in some small way – and in gratitude for what AA has given me, my life really, that some other individual struggling to get sober or stay in recovery but not finding a safe place in AA can find hope in my share and take some solace in it. Best, Mitch

    • Neal says:

      I came off as a bit unforgiving of the traditional AA approach. I actually love the article and am more in favor of Joe’s approach if I can stomach it. I attend regular AA and for the most part am respected and included. I also serve the group by being an available sponsor, the coffee chair and chairing meetings so it’s hypocritical for me so say service is condoning of faith when I do it everyday. I may hate myself for it someday. I see most people tend to believe in God and there are very few atheists. I went to a step 2 meeting yesterday and didn’t even mention it amazingly.
      I also love this site tremendously and shouldn’t discount that it has multiple functions, thanks Roger.
      All I know is I want a united atheist, AA minority (or agnostic depending on where you are on the fence). To me, if any God works in AA then no God works just as well or better. We just have to wave our flag enough to be seen so those who desperately need it can find our meetings.
      Its surprising to me that WAFT meetings are even tolerated by AA. In my opinion, these meetings are the best we can do and all we’ll get away with. We know what Chapter to the Agnostics expects us to do and it’s pretty clear we have no intention of doing that. AA will never endorse or give voice to a minority who undermines its higher power concept. Like I said before, by stance, we are challenging the claim of faith based healing unless some agnostics are now arguing that belief keeps them sober. I didn’t come here because I was upset about the lords prayer, I came here because the steps are loaded.
      This is where the disconnect is for me. I’ll do loads of service work and like it, and love the people and the meetings but who am I fooling? Some of you have done it for years and I get that we should police our resentments and promote love and tolerance. But eventually, I’m still serving an organization that promotes the one thing I despise most. Can I really respect myself at the end of all that? I don’t know, that’s why I openly profess it (if it’s appropriate) and hit non-believer meetings.
      I for one, am the type who not only wants inclusion and recognition of atheist recovery but I will not comply with towing the higher power line if asked. It’s really obvious that we aren’t being heard and if I were them I’d feed you junk pamphlets and ignore you because you threaten the whole foundation. LGBT’s, African and Native American’s and Women don’t threaten AA the way we do. Thanks for reading. have a great sober day.

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