Common Sense Recovery: An Atheist’s Guide to Alcoholics Anonymous

Reviewed by Chris G.

Common Sense Recovery: An Atheist’s Guide to Alcoholics Anonymous is a series of essays by Adam N. It was never meant to be published. Written over time as a personal project of trying to understand what it means to be an atheist in AA, it is the distillation of his personal thoughts on just about every aspect of the situation, and there are many. It contains the essence of his journey towards completeness, as an atheist and an anonymous alcoholic, a person who has found his way in sorting out the tension between the two and arriving at peace and wholeness for himself.

Part of that peace is also being at peace with the theists – acknowledging the comfort they get from their gods, celebrating the values they brought to AA when it was founded, and being able to translate their language into his own language of rational recovery.

Beginning in a very traditional AA manner with “his story”, qualifying as both an alcoholic and an atheist, he starts in familiar territory. Many of us who share this dual citizenship will immediately feel at home here: the beginning, the bottom, the early success in AA, the growing tension with the unremitting religion, a break from the meetings, a relapse, and finally success as an atheist in AA; this is a familiar story.

What is remarkable in the book is the depth of thought on all the various factors that go into that simple phrase: Success as an Atheist in AA. And why? Why on earth should we have to go through such mental contortions to achieve this? Where did this situation come from? How can we improve it?

Adam is a spy in a subculture within a subculture; he has to figure out the language and mores of this strange place in order to survive. What does one do in such a situation? First, he wears the local dress, speaks the local lingo, visits the local temples, and tries to blend in. But as the clothes start to itch, the language seems dull and repetitious, and the local deities turn out to be powerless, he has to find another way. He finds many.

The basic texts of AA are really terribly religious when you read them with an open mind, and since a major principle in AA is “keep an open mind”, this leads to some interesting consequences. For many people, the “open mind” leads straight to more and deeper religion. For some, who can’t partake of the religion, maybe because they require some evidence in their diet, it leads out the open door. But for Adam, it led to wondering what principles might be under, or hidden by, the religion to make AA work – because it most certainly does work, sometimes for some people.

The important, operative principles, though at one time associated with god, religion or spirituality, are all strong enough to stand on their own. And it is these operative principles, devoid of theistic interpretations, which should be our focus.

Throughout the essays, he points out the solid, human, values and concepts in AA, brought in perhaps by the religious roots, but equally valid without them. We have all heard that “the group can be your higher power” (implied: until you find the real one), but what if we take that literally? Sociology knows all about the power of “peer support, empathy, mentor guidance, and the emotional reinforcement of group membership”. Stop right there, as Adam argues:

The tribe functions as the disseminator and teacher, the source of encouragement and reinforcement, that which empowers the addict to live a better life on a daily basis. The fellowship offers new ideas, role models who practice them, wise guidance and counsel, reinforcement of values and goals, and essential emotional rewards to its members. It empowers us to practice new and different behaviors until they become new and different habits. As time passes our membership within the tribe is the source of life enriching friendships. But it also becomes an important source of a new-found sense of value and purpose as, over time, we transform into seasoned members who reap significant benefits from passing guidance and support on to the next member in need. This life sustaining mutual exchange is a huge part of recovery. It builds a web which sustains us all, a web of support that is fundamentally tribal. Our lives are saved, shaped and defined by the herd. We survive by running with the pack. The fellowship is the most tangible instantiation of a ‘higher power’ in our lives. I would argue that we need seek no further.

Science gets a very bad reception in most AA meetings here in the 21st century. Yet science in the past few decades has given us a great deal of knowledge about alcoholism, knowledge that can reinforce our success in AA. Why this gap? Adam brings together several factors to explain this.

Simply put, when we do not understand how something works, we chalk it up to god. God serves as a metaphysical caulk, a generic all purpose filler that effectively fills in the gaps in our understanding.

Scientists have long known this. As Neil DeGrasse Tyson puts it in Death by Black Hole, writing of the history of science and religion, “They call on God only from the lonely and precarious edge of incomprehension. Where they feel certain about their explanations, however, God gets hardly a mention.” That’s pretty easy to see if you are into science history, but applied to AA it hits close to home:

I find it very difficult to relate to the sharing of AA members whose Higher Power arranges the world to fix them. They utilize god to fill in the void in their understanding when interesting and impressive things happen in their lives. To me this just smacks of mental laziness. I feel very uncomfortable in meetings where this sort of thing takes place. I think they are dismissing the power of genuine willingness in their lives, denigrating the incredible capacity of humans to embrace change and transform for the better.

Adam does not come across as a scientist and does not pepper us with scientific jargon; his point is that science provides new information, facts, evidence, that not only explain how AA works in the rational (as opposed to the spiritual) world, but how it might be improved. Yet meetings shy away from it, to the detriment of many:

Secular recovery paradigms encourage research and investigation into these types of questions. But chalking such things up to the work of an unfathomable higher power does not. Increased knowledge and understanding might help us develop a deeper, richer tool kit. We might be able to help more alcoholics and addicts into lasting recovery.

And in fact it is this understanding of where the spirituality we hear at meetings is coming from, along with a strong sense of what is actually working here, that has allowed him to find his atheistic success in AA:

Understanding that spirituality and god are terms employed when people have come to the edge of their comprehension helps me on a daily basis when I sit in AA meetings and listen. Whenever I hear god, spirit or higher power, and can avoid falling into resentment or giving in to feelings of alienation, I try to think of it as a kind of shorthand for the life sustaining, beneficent values, attitudes and actions. I just delete the religious implications and substitute my own understanding. I have always had to do this. The difference for me this time around is that I no longer feel like I am cheating, or faking it, or hanging on until I finally ‘come to believe’. This is it! I have arrived. I am exactly where I need to be.

Throughout the essays, Adam maintains the idea that there is a rational basis for all the tools and techniques that AA uses, however religiously or spiritually they are presented. He has learned how to translate the jargon that AA has built up and canonized over the years into his own terms, for his own sanity and sobriety. Yet he fully recognizes the values collected by the religion he does not share:

But I say we thank god. Thank god for AA. Religion was prominent before AA. This is where most of our founding members got their ideas. I, for one, am grateful for what has been handed down to us, the guidance and direction proffered by religion in getting us this far along the path. The importance of fellowship, for example. This obviously pre-dates religion. Understanding the deep and essential role of community, peer and tribe in recovery is vastly important. Evolutionary biology and social psychology will continue to offer us insights in that direction. But its current practical role in recovery stems directly from religious traditions like Christianity, the Oxford Group in particular. Confessional: straight from Catholicism. Prayer: speaks for itself, and remains a valuable tool even for atheists like myself.

And he has managed to make peace with the very jargon that we non-theists find so nerve-racking that we often find ourselves, to our peril, avoiding meetings:

Interestingly, since coming to accept the fact that I am an atheist, I have felt LESS frustrated and alienated by the religious language used in AA meetings. Every time someone uses religious language, without fail, I find myself able to calmly interpret what they say and understand their sharing in my own secular manner. I am no longer doing battle, with them or within myself. I have finally achieved a measure of peace as regards this integral subject. Now I can get on with life.

I myself find my non-theism being driven to anti-theism all too easily, too often, by what I hear in meetings. I can forget that I’m an alcoholic first, and without sobriety nothing else matters, even my delight in the laws of physics and my need for evidence to support any belief. I need to get to a meeting and practice some of this.

Based on his own success in making a secular framework with which he can succeed in today’s AA, even as a spy in the enemy camp, he hints at a vision for a future AA where atheists are not only more tolerated, but where they actually add to the value of the program:

Taking atheism seriously, and in particular the “Recovery Sciences”, is not really a threat to AA. On the contrary, such an approach is all about taking what works in AA and expanding upon it, a synthesizing approach which guarantees the kind of elasticity and flexibility which will ensure the survival of the best of what AA has to offer for the generations to come.

But he recognizes the strength of the social pressure that mitigates against this, which is a very pernicious sort of pressure: “From the religious point of view, the problem of alcoholism is completely solved. They turn a blind eye to our abysmal 5% success rate, to the non-believers who don’t make it. From their point of view, any further inquiry on recovery methodology is, by and large, considered to be pointless.” This is just the sort of pressure Galileo faced in trying to take the heavenly spheres holding the stars away from the Catholic church – there is no problem, but you are creating one, and we really don’t like that. An excellent description of where many of us are now, in our own meetings.

In summary, the essays in this book explore in depth the confrontation of AA’s religious culture and practices with this rational atheist alcoholic. They explore the place of science in recovery, and explain why traditional AA struggles to embrace new scientific findings and incorporate them into its agenda. The supreme importance of the fellowship, as a healing community or tribe, with all that implies for social human beings, is examined. Powerful arguments are presented for the idea that a secular AA would not lose any of its present efficacy, but could be even more effective, maybe much more effective, and would certainly help those alcoholics now repelled by religion.

Adam has quite remarkably in this book woven a practical and viable way forward for AA. Common Sense Recovery: An Atheist’s Guide to Alcoholics Anonymous offers an understanding and appreciation of AA’s early religious culture that nevertheless and inevitably calls upon us to embrace new research and scientific findings – as well as the experience of women and men in recovery over the past 75 years – and incorporate them into an understanding of our program and fellowship.

The book ultimately offers an enticing way forward for AA. A must-read for all of us in AA, and especially those of us who recognize that it is time for our fellowship to take the next crucial steps forward.

CSR Cover 200An expanded second edition of Common Sense Recovery: An Atheist’s Guide to Alcoholics Anonymous is now available. It contains several additional chapters as well as a Foreword by Ward Ewing, former chair of the AA General Service Board.

Common Sense Recovery is available at Amazon USA at a Paperback or as a Kindle.

It is also available online in all eBook formats, including Kobo and Nook, as well as an iBook for Macs and iPads.

27 Responses

  1. John Y. says:

    I enjoyed the book. Very informative. However, when the theist reads it his remarks will be something like, god is working for you through us, so how can you say there is no such thing?? I’ve been looking for ways to make meetings more palatable for 13 years. This attitude will definitely make it better providing it’s not a discussion meeting, and the topic is god related. I like the spy idea, but that feeling of being alone in an AA meeting is still there. The average theist would never be open-minded enough to accept this as a lifesaving means of coping with their stupidity.

  2. life-j says:

    Lying here in bed i just reread this article, and all the comments, and I can’t help but reflect on how much innocence I have lost.

    The excerpt:

    Interestingly, since coming to accept the fact that I am an atheist, I have felt LESS frustrated and alienated by the religious language used in AA meetings. Every time someone uses religious language, without fail, I find myself able to calmly interpret what they say and understand their sharing in my own secular manner. I am no longer doing battle, with them or within myself. I have finally achieved a measure of peace as regards this integral subject. Now I can get on with life.

    Just about describes my feeling – let’s even make that elated feeling – on the Sunday a couple of years ago when I approached intergroup to announce that I was going to start a freethinkers meeting.

    From here on everything was going to be harmony, I was going to sit and listen to all god talk in meetings with an open mind and know even from them I could learn, while they were going to support my freethinkers meeting, and we were now going to be one big happy family regardless of belief. Instead, after 14 months of fighting I had become a radicalized agnostic in AA, and have nothing ahead of me but more fights, or, eventually, settle back into the old disgruntled mode of participation in AA.

    Hey, let’s keep doing what we’re doing by all means, but the Back to Basics crowd has made AA rotten to the core.

    All I can say in the end is that I’m glad we have all found each other.

  3. Adam N. says:

    Thank you, John. My own sponsor self-identifies as an atheist. Yet he still uses the word ‘spiritual’. So we have some lively debates! But, other than him, there are very few people in AA in my community who are like minded. So I really, really appreciate you and our brothers and sisters who are both in recovery and free-thinkers. It’s so nurturing to know we are not alone.

    I too really appreciate the metaphor of the ferry. Again, day to day I am surrounded by folks who cling to the ferry. Yet when I tap into atheist literature and thought, I often encounter the mindset of “burn the ferry, nuke the ferry!” I, too, feel anger and frustration at times. But, fortunately for me, my own personal background predisposes me to seek synthesis rather than outright rejection.

    Thanks again for the positive feedback!

  4. Lech Lesiak says:

    AA has certainly benefited me in countless ways over the decades.
    However those stem from AA as a social organization, and not because of the God stuff.
    But for being an alcoholic, I might have got the same from the Masons or Rotary Club.

  5. John S says:

    I read the book today and it held me from beginning to end. I remember thinking to myself, now this guy should be my sponsor!

    I like the balanced approach he took and the respectful tone toward our religious friends. I agree with his analogy of religion acting as the ferry that brought us safely to shore. Once ashore, we don’t need to get back on the boat, but we don’t curse it either.

    That’s a good way of looking at things. Those who came before us laid out a good foundation, but it would be silly to not try to learn more and to grow as a fellowship.

    I have also been able to interpret the steps in a way that makes sense to me and I’ve found them much more meaningful when you remove the supernatural. Adam examined this idea in a way that makes perfect sense.

    It was truly a nice read and I highly recommend it to all.

  6. Amy says:

    This is a piece long-overdue. Perhaps, sadly, ahead of its time? This book, so aptly titled, nails it (and I don’t mean to a cross)! Thank you Adam for so eloquently articulating what I have always known in my gut to be true. Thank you also and for having the strength of character to look, confront and address these kinds of difficult and complex matters.

    As someone who has been completely alienated from AA by all the “god talk”, it is extremely comforting to confirm that indeed, one does not have to believe in GOD to get, and stay, clean and sober. This book has helped me greatly to clarify and better understand “how it works” for me!

  7. Christopher G says:

    Having just completed the reading of this essay and the attending comments, and only just begun to read the actual book, I have to say how good it feels to be in the company of such rational, loving and tolerant alcoholics. Thank you, Roger, and all who make up AAAgnostica.

  8. Adam N. says:

    John M: I am planning on attending the conference, that much I am fairly certain of. I look forward to checking out your workshop…

  9. mike b says:

    Thank you Adam N. and Chris G. Describing AA as a beneficial tribe articulates many of my experiences. But where were you 18 years ago when I was struggling? I’m certainly glad you and AA Agnostica are available now for newcomers.

  10. John L. says:

    Both review and book are thought-provoking and exceptionally well written. And thank you, Roger, for making Adam’s book available; I’ve just read it in the pdf form.

    I agree with Adam that the Fellowship and staying away from the First Drink are the heart of the True AA – the AA that works. I like Adam’s passage:

    Treatment for alcoholism primarily consists of not taking the first drink. If we can do this long enough, the cravings weaken until they are merely thoughts. Then the thoughts, too, weaken, so long as we do not let them build a nest or put down roots. They come with less frequency, with less intensity, until one day we realize that they have been replaced by a new and different set of thoughts, values, beliefs and behaviors.

    Adam believes that AA will and ought to change, and I agree. Where we may disagree is in how gradually the reformation should take place, and what changes should occur. Should any religious elements be retained in the AA “program”? I myself believe that religiosity has no place in official AA literature or in meetings. Groups should not read “How It Works”, recite the “Lord’s Prayer”, or read religious passages from the 12 & 12 or the Big Book. We should be concerned for newcomers and potential newcomers, who may be put off by the god stuff, as well as for our fellow nonbelievers.

    AA members who wish can practise religion PRIVATELY. They can attend the church, synagogue, or mosque of their choice. They can go out to the country and hop around in counter-clockwise witch circles. If they are sculptors, they can even (gasp!) make *graven images*.

    I support the right of AA members PRIVATELY to pray to whatever deities they wish, and believe that prayers may be beneficial for some – for psychological reasons, not because supernatural beings come to their aid. I’d say the same about going into the yoga lotus position and chanting “OM OM OM” – or repeating 20 times upon awakening and 20 times before going to sleep: “Day by day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.” I have tried the latter, and found that, indeed, I felt better. Perhaps prayer itself is a form of self-hypnosis.

    To close, a quote from Adam’s book: “Our recovery is not up to angels, demons or gods. It is up to us.”

  11. John M. says:

    Hi Adam and Steve,

    If you are attending the WAFT conference in Santa Monica, I hope you might pop in on the workshop I will be moderating on godless prayer and offer your views along with some of the insights on this I’m hoping to present.

    (The only “drag” is that I am scheduled on Saturday at 2:00 at the same time as my “hero” Marya H. is giving her workshop on free thinking in the 12th step . I’m glad these things are being recorded so that I can listen to what went on in Marya’s workshop at a later time.) —John

  12. Lance B says:

    I read the review, wanted to comment positively, but turned to the PDF and read the whole article in one sitting. I kept thinking of that book title of which I’ve heard; “Chicken Soup for the Soul”. I wish I knew how to buy the book, but have made a contribution to AA Agnostica and so may have paid partially for all the insights obtained in the book.

    Most troubling and challenging was Adams last discussion of how he was never going to be able to say these things in tradional AA meetings or get any credit for his thinking/writing. I want to quote him all over AA, and yet I understand the need for humility and am trying to become less “anti-theist”. A constant struggle of late.

    Yet the years of 13 and 14 have been the most productive for me since the first three or 4 when I entered AA and tried to incorporate those irritating religious dogmas into my life for recovery from alcoholism.

    Finally I got enough of it to begin my sober journey. Like Adam, I was becoming more irritable and frustrated in AA at year 25 or so. And I thought much as he did but never got it written down in a cohesive and orderly way. Isn’t it great the way you approached the whole problem by trying to find anything which might not be effectively dealt with independent of magical thinking?

    I am very grateful that I have not had to suffer the relapse which Adam did and can feel so enthusiastic for my own growth through the wonderful society of AA Agnostica and all the stupendous writers who are showing up here.

    Thank you all and I’m looking forward to being in Santa Monica on November 6, 7, and 8 with many of you. Maybe a visit to Santa Cruz along the way? I don’t know and there is plenty of stimulation without that side trip.

    Best regards, Lance B.

  13. Adam N. says:

    Thank you, Steve. You raise some very excellent points. Interestingly, these are all topics on which I have been continuing to write. (Writing is an important processing tool for me personally).

    On the “reluctance” you rightly observe, our personal paths differ considerably. When I came into AA in my twenties I was a student of Philosophy and Religious Thought. I had broken with my family tradition of rabid anti-theism, and was the ‘black sheep’ in the family who actually had some respect and curiosity for some aspects of Religious traditions. I was also extremely vulnerable and insecure, and was immediately taken in by a group of ancient AA guys who pounded the book and the “spiritual angle”. These guys knew Bill & Bob personally. Who was I to question them? So, I bought it hook, line and sinker, as I was terrified of a return to the hell of alcoholism and addiction. So, while I am by no means an ‘apologist’ for religion, I am an atheist whose personal history predisposes him to a more conciliatory view than some.

    I have actually been ‘praying’ less and less, as I grow more comfortable with being an “out” atheist. At the same time, I have been working on a chapter, much in line with the writing in CSR, in which I explore the valuable, operative principles at work in some of the AA prayers. Some of those prayers hold nuggets of valuable psychological and social insight. Just yesterday my wife suggested that, extracting the good stuff and discarding the religiosity you so rightly critique, perhaps the word “prayer” should go as well. We considered ‘affirmations’, ‘reminders’, stuff like that…

    Ultimately, I think that you and I are very much in agreement. Religion has long served as a vessel which carried important tools like confession, fellowship, ‘spiritual’ or psychic transformation, service to others. But these are all rooted in quintessentially human traits, traits which pre-date religion, which are rooted in our evolutionary nature as cognitively developed, highly social primates. I suspect that you and I agree that we need to extract the core, operative principles of recovery from the antiquated grasp of religiosity and place it in the hands of reason and science in order to move forward and save lives. We live in a golden age, in which people like us are discovering that the vessel is old and leaky and needs to be discarded. In so doing, we step onto a new path of science and reason, a path upon which we can look forward to the kind of growth and development that will ensure that the “Recovery Sciences” of the near future will save vastly more people from the ravages of addiction than the leaky, old ship of religion ever could.

  14. Thomas B. says:

    Wonderful review, Chris, and thank you, Adam, for sharing so elegantly your ESH, which has led you to be able provide this important account of finding an authentic middle way between dropping the kool-aid or defiantly rejecting it all together, which nearly resulted in you dying in a gutter on the mean streets of any city, town or rural roadway of addiction.

    Perhaps a reasonable alternative would be to become involved in one of the secular, non-theistic or spiritualist recovery organizations that have evolved in reaction to “the god-bit” over the past several decades, but when I am on the road, as presently I am, in some of the more hinterland areas of this vast land of ours and need the fellowship of fellow members of the ally/addict tribe, I am unlikely to find a rational recovery group, so I pop into an AA meeting, likely steeped over the top with religiosity. Though I may cringe inside, needing to smooth down the hackles raised on the back of my neck, through gritted teeth, totally faking it, I “act as if” I am most grateful to be among my addictive peers without whose company I choose to believe I could not remain sober for one more day. I – again – surrender to their collective wisdom albeit it is couched in an alien and personally off-putting language. I strive to discern the communality instead of harping on the differences. Thus, I receive once more the gift of a “daily reprieve.” I do what I have been so grateful to do for the past almost 42 years – I don’t pick up because I’ve gone to a meeting somewhat diminishing my narcissistic over-involvement with self by seeking to help someone else – “It works, It really does.”

    I especially salute, Chris and Adam, how you portray the necessity of us who question or do not believe in “Spiritual Caulk and The Great Puppeteer in The Sky” to respect those who do, seeking to garner from their experience values and character assets which can help us to do what they as well have been able to do – continue recovering from the virulent condition of addiction. By treating them with respect and dignity, instead of pointing out how foolish and ignorant they are, taking from them what we can to stay sober and leaving the rest, we certainly help ourselves and by extension perhaps them as well.

    Thank you again . . .

  15. Tiffany O says:

    My recovery was recently saved by my coming out as an atheist. This site is a treasure trove of truth for me. Amazing. Loved this review and immediately bought the kindle version and read Adam’s essays in one sitting. Hard to put into words how amazing they are. Life changing for me. I’m going to print them out, bind it, and use it moving forward in my recovery. Thank you so much!!!

  16. Dave says:

    Smart and unpretentious. Beautiful.

  17. steve b says:

    I read Adam’s book, and agree pretty much with what he says (AA is a community which helps recovering alcoholics by offering social support and by encouraging personal growth, with no god involved), but I never experienced a reluctance like he did to speak out at meetings about my non-belief in assorted spirits wafting about. I have spoken out about my atheism almost from the beginning of my sobriety, in 1980, and continuing to today, when I said at a meeting that I don’t utilize a higher power in my program of sobriety, and that I don’t consider AA itself as a higher power for me, but only as a help to my sobriety.

    Adam says in his book that he prays because it comforts him. To each his own. I don’t pray because for me prayer smacks of religiosity, and I don’t like religion, because religion is false. Besides, prayer, which I did try some years ago, made me feel foolish, and I felt much better when I gave it up.

    Adam gives religion credit for some good ideas which early AA borrowed and incorporated into its program. But Adam himself says that pro-social behavior antedated religion, so why credit religion?

    Adam says he has made his peace with the god talk in AA, and realizes that it is just another way of expressing what we atheists strive for too (sobriety, personal growth, peace of mind). Well, maybe it is just another way of saying the same thing, at least some of the time, but it’s also a way of falsely attributing sobriety to a nonexistent being rather than looking at what really keeps us sober (accepting help from others, working on personal growth). I think Adam is a little too gentle towards the religious forces in AA, but perhaps it’s good that he can accept their presence rather than saying the hell with them, and leaving AA.

  18. Tommy H says:

    Wonderful review of a very Eastern approach to the Twelve Steps.

    Non-judgmental and non-confrontational.

    I love it.

  19. Adam N. says:

    People are very ‘tolerant’ here on the left coast, but tolerance isn’t everything. Like-mindedness, eye to eye, agreeing on these fundamental atheist insights, this I need. When I found AA Agnostica, I felt like I wasn’t crazy and I wasn’t alone. I am so gratified that my struggles to figure some of this stuff out are also of benefit to others.

  20. Joe C says:

    Nice work Chris, I generally have three books on the go at time and I will add this to my “to read” stack, for sure.

    “I find it very difficult to relate to the sharing of AA members whose Higher Power arranges the world to fix them. They utilize god to fill in the void in their understanding when interesting and impressive things happen in their lives. To me this just smacks of mental laziness. I feel very uncomfortable in meetings where this sort of thing takes place.”

    I sometimes call this, God as we imagine Him. In the philosophical challenge, “Did God create man or the other way around,” AA is a haven of God-inventors. I relate to this trait, actually. This is magical thinking. I had magical thinking. Thinking I could return to social drinking was magical thinking. Even in sobriety when my maturity was closer to my shoe-size than my age, I would imagine that failing work and/or romantic relationships will just work themselves out, missing my tax deadline will be no big problem. “I’ll be there in five minutes,” would what I would say when I was already 1/2 an hour late, when I hadn’t even left the house yet. This is all distorted and damn-near delusional thinking. Who could blame an alkie for buying into a paradigm that included a caring creator of the universe that had a direct interest in us, had a plan for us and could combat cravings and save the day like the caped crusader would provide to the good people of Gotham City.

    Because I am susceptible to wishful or magical thinking myself, I can empathize with a 1930s collection of recently recovered drunkards that saw their “miracle of sobriety” as God’s plan. What’s the harm in that? For me however, like Adam, who authored this book, reason is a sounder foundation for me to build a life on today than any kind of supernatural view of the world or recovery.

    It’s a delight that in this day and age there is an abundance of peer-to-peer reading, no matter what we believe.

  21. Brent P. says:

    I don’t know whether to thank AAAgnostica or blame it but I’ve never been more confused by AA than I am now and that’s partially due to meeting Roger and being made aware of the multitude of contradictions in the Big Book, hence the organization alone. From day 1 way back in 1983 I caught the God/Higher Power switcher-oo,so I kept an eye open to the next sleight of word. Nevertheless I’ve persisted with my love/hate relationship with AA and paid for that by relapsing several times and finally losing everything I had. Now,as I face retirement, the loss of my paid for home and healthy RRSP assure me I face my future with a certain amount of fear and trepidation.
    But I face the future with complete faith in the prognostications of Bill Wilson and I believe 43 members (years 1935 – 39) who described every step to the bottom where the only choice is stop drinking or jump into the darkness of the abyss that swallows up
    alcoholics who just can’t come to terms with themselves and who and what they are. Wilson et. al. described that descent with uncanny accuracy.
    There is little doubt Wilson understood active alcoholics and alcoholism. But he demonstrated he didn’t have a clue about alcoholics who’d stopped drinking,which is why whenever he strayed from talking about alcoholic destruction over and over he exposed that he had no prescient abilities at all. That a chapter, To Wives, could have been written then and is still read at meetings today is incomprehensible. Yet I sit in meetings and all the stuff Wilson had no business commenting on, is read with earnestness and without question.
    I was in a meeting recently where we were reading from the BB and there was an asterisk that directed us to a qualification of the Spiritual Experience. Somebody in the group interrupted the reading, which was fine with me, to nearly insist we read the explanation of a Spiritual Experience and I objected. I was out-silenced by the lambs in the room so the reading took place. When it came my turn to “share” I said that I objected to reading that drivel because Wilson’s moment on the mountain top, the blinding light and the wind, all occurred when he was hallucinating from the belladonna, an hallucinogen, that he was receiving during detox. So, he wrote the Spiritual Experience as a blanket explanation to the question, why aren’t I seeing lights and standing atop a mountain. Well you were indeed having a Spiritual Experience but yours was much less exciting and dynamic because your experience was of the “educational type”, something corroborated by William James in his Varieties of Religious Experience. Having glanced at that tome on different occasions, I don’t recall him describing any experience that was remotely similar to Wilson’s. The truth about Wilson’s experience was, he was on the verge of being handcuffed and sent to the asylum for those who were chronically brain damaged to a psychotic condition, Korsakoff’s Syndrome it’s called today.But he was so invigorated by the experience he was having they decided to wait until he calmed down in the morning before finally being deemed beyond help.
    In coming to AA, once you got the whole alcoholic thing explained to you, learned some humility in seeking to be of service to others, when you understood you were afflicted with a chronic condition, there wasn’t a whole hell of a lot else to learn. And since alcoholics who hadn’t really come close to the bottom, started showing up then leaving after hearing the horror stories of the old timers they were soon gone. It wasn’t relevant to them. That what they were being told about alcoholism, was absolutely accurate did not matter. And it was because the guy who was using his own experience to verify these claims had newspapers in his shoes and lugged his worldly belongings about in a shopping bag. Compassion might have been aroused but no belief that he was looking at himself in thirty years. Some came back after a few events convinced them that those AA losers might be right about what’s in store for the alcoholic who keeps drinking. Of course that alcohol might be someday used as an adjunct to this stuff called crack cocaine, well that would never have crossed anybody’s mind. But if there was some addendum added to the book addressing that issue when it became epidemic, would that not count as an act of common sense? Would that not have been the common sense thing to do in a new century where bio chemistry and neuro science were well understood by some students; the students who had the common sense to start designing the next drug that would trick the brain into firing dopamine, norepenephren and/or serotonin at those neuro receptor sites that become home to those neuro transmitters. Common sense indeed.Too bad AA didn’t include more of it in it’s program. The unwillingness to edit the BB damns it to become a quaint relic of bygone times, “ain’t that right ma?”

  22. Jean says:

    This book gives me hope. It is crisp, concise, easy to read and easy to understand. I found it to be VERY comforting and graciously written. Wow, I would like to go to meetings that the author goes to.
    The Atheists position is well stated. Once I “came out” to myself that I was an atheist I breathed a sigh of relief. Finally I can be fully honest. Finally I can THINK without the burden of pretending or bending my deep resistance. I wasn’t resistant to the program, I was resistant to what wasn’t my truth.
    Thank you for writing this book!! JZ

  23. Michelle says:

    This is awesome, I wish I had read it sooner. THIS should be what everyone reads when they enter AA regardless of religious belief. This “is” what AA needs to publish. Not that stupid pamphlet pretending to be about non-believers. Thank you. My PDF worked fine, cannot help as to why.

  24. Oren says:

    I read the section “Let Go and Let God”, and then bought the Kindle edition–look forward to reading the whole thing.



  25. Mike S says:

    Sounds excellent, and his thoughts and methods are very logical. Looking forward to reading the book. BTW, the PDF link doesn’t work for me. Can you double-check that? Or perhaps I’ll just pony up the very reasonable $3 that Amazon is asking for the Kindle edition.

  26. Jim H says:


  27. life-j says:

    Chris, thanks. This is indeed an unusually lucid little AA paper.

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