The Importance of Diversity

Unity in Diversity

We are people who normally would not mix. But there exists among us a fellowship, a friendliness, and an understanding which is indescribably wonderful… The feeling of having shared in a common peril is one element in the powerful cement which binds us.
Bill Wilson, Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 17

By John H.
Washington DC We Agnostics Group

AA needs stories. It thrives on them. There has been something of an existential thirst for our stories from the very earliest times.

Where would we have been as a fellowship if Bill had not so eloquently communicated his story to Dr. Bob? Who’s to say? Where would we be as individual members if we had not heard the right thing at the right time that helped us in early sobriety?

Who communicates these things? Spirits, angels, demons or ghosts? Obviously not in the real world as opposed to the fictional universe some members of AA chose to construct. Instead of disembodied givers of “instructions” floating in air we get our knowledge and the “secular miracle” of identification from the diverse characters we meet in the rooms of AA.

In my own case from my first days in AA in the later part of the 1980s I was exposed to an incredibly varied set of personalities, mind sets and beliefs that invariably led to a deeper understanding of and compassion for my fellow members. The  knowledge of stories “different” from my own and the growing conviction that I could possibly fit into the structure of the program within the parameters of my own rather unorthodox views proved that there was a place for the unlikely likes of me inside the fellowship.

Regarding my own experiences of “diversity” in AA and in an attempt to coherently document how it “takes all kinds” I wanted to focus at the outset on the early parts of my journey.

* * *

This chapter began very early via introductions from my first sponsor in Washington (the late Jerimiah B.)  to the quite nationally famous local fellowship group known as the  “Class of 64”. The core members of this group were Hal “Dr. Gratitude” M., Sandy B. and Ed C. all of whom are now deceased. I had interactions with and learned various surprising and quite positive things from these distinguished gentlemen despite their old style program attitudes and my rejection of 90% of what they had to say.

Sitting in a meeting almost three decades ago in the US Capitol Building on Tuesday mornings I used to hear Hal (who was invariably perched on the Dias in his sacrosanct spot at the front of the room looking like a Christian “Jabba the Hut”) explain how, if one maintained an “attitude of gratitude” that it would be far harder to take that first drink. Once I got over what (or to whom) he was implying you might be grateful to I fully understood that it was possible for a lifelong atheist such as myself just to be grateful in general and that gratitude was a calming and centering quality in and of itself without any theological or “spiritual” implications.

Having received the message direct from the source I never bought one of Hal’s tapes or went to one of his lectures on the speakers circuit that were quite a phenomenon in his day. I’m also certain that if he were around and reading this today that he would not be overly delighted with me or my opinions but that’s not the relevant point. I got to hear someone with great practical knowledge of and experience with alcoholics and it provided me with some useful information. I use it to this day.

Sandy B. was just about the most “famous” DC Alcoholic there ever was. His meetings at the National Institutes of Health on Saturday mornings were attended by hundreds and he was “on the circuit” around the US for many years. His gatherings seemed more like show business than AA to me (I only attended two that I recall) and his “philosophy” struck me as a brand of ego driven anti-intellectual populism. I was not a fan.

One Spring Saturday in the early 90s I found myself with my sponsor Jerimiah and my second wife (I had a history of multiple marriages in common with Sandy which was just about the only thing we had in common) at an AA party on a boat pulling out from a marina on the Anacostia River. At the center of it all and most prominent as always was Sandy B. Upon recognizing him I was resolved to avoid his charisma for the duration of the trip.

At one point I saw a middle aged guy sitting alone on the boat who looked a bit “down and out” compared to the very well healed crowd at the event. I went over to him and started a conversation and found he was a “guest of Sandy”, had recently gotten out of the Alexandria, VA jail and was living in Sandy B.’s basement. Wow! I immediately thought of Bill W. and the drunks living in his house in Brooklyn. Not superstar behavior to have someone fresh out of jail living in your basement. So, I guess my harsher judgments needed to be tempered by fact and they were. This guy Sandy really believed in what he was doing and deserved acknowledgement of that. I never became a member of the “Cult of Sandy B.” but, despite my ongoing misgivings about some of his methods, I did respect him in the end. This actually was a fairly clear lesson regarding the proper use of the Big Book’s “contempt prior to investigation” clause that is so often used to mischaracterize us in the conventional program parlance.

Ed C. was lower key and less famous than his other two “classmates” from 1964 but very generous with his time and effort. I first met Ed in the Senate cafeteria in the Dirksen Building in my first week of sobriety and it must have been torture for him to be sitting with an atheist of my type. I could tell I was more than a little disturbing to him (he was a very straight laced old style DC political operator) as an obvious “hippie refugee” in a Brooks Brothers suit. I was raw, profane and combative despite my newcomer’s desperation. My brain was not working well and I wasn’t very nice. He must have hated me given where he was at. However, he calmly explained that while there were 12 steps that he felt were vital to a viable sobriety that what I needed to do at the moment was not drink and go to meetings.  I took his message to heart and I’ve been doing just that (not drinking and going to meetings minus most of the steps) for 28+ years. He taught me that you don’t have to like someone in AA to help them.

There are other lessons I learned from people who could not be more different than the members of the “Class of 64’” such as the serial psychiatric patient and DC AA member known as “RJ” who taught me about compassion for our mentally ill members.

“RJ” used to go to a meeting I regularly attended on Saturday Morning in the basement of a Catholic Cathedral. He would speak toward the end of each meeting and was obviously schizophrenic with voices in his head and electronic transmitters implanted in his brain. He was totally unthreatening and in the AA way people thanked him for sharing as he got up and wandered out of the room never staying till the end of the meeting. He disappeared from the group and several people made enquiries but no one seemed to know where he was. About six months after his disappearance he showed up one Saturday at halftime and actually stayed till the end. After the closing he walked directly up to me and said, in the clear firm voice of an educated man, “John, I just wanted you to know that I was drinking, went off my medication and wasn’t making sense. I stopped drinking, went back to the hospital and am feeling much better now.” Well knock me down “RJ”, you showed me! I learned yet another wonderful lesson from him about how to try to suspend final judgment until all the information is in. I hope “RJ” is still out there and I wish him well.

John M. was one of the members of our DC We Agnostics group from our 1988 founding until his death in the early 2000’s. He’s the only member I ever met who categorically rejected Step One and stayed sober anyway.

John told a story on himself related to his career. He was a very senior member of the US Intelligence community and held the highest clearances you can obtain. He had very strict rules for reporting his whereabouts on a secure phone especially if he ever found it necessary to miss work. One morning on a work day he was passed out so cold that he did not hear the phone when he was called when late. Three US Marines were dispatched with his supervisor to his apartment and when he didn’t answer the door it was broken down. After finding him in that condition he was bundled into a vehicle, taken to a secret location, sobered up and “debriefed” for several days. He was so important to his agency that they kept him on till retirement provided he “controlled” his drinking. He eventually became totally abstinent and by the time I met him he had been dry for a short time.

He used this dire situation as an example of how he felt his life had not been unmanageable. He said, quite seriously, “My life wasn’t unmanageable, it just required adroit management.” What a guy! I miss him. John was an example of how even the most difficult and hard to reach cases can get and stay sober on their own terms provided they make a decision in the end. This was another great lesson in leaving my assumptions at the door and showing me how AA really works.

Gaston N. was a very well-known radical atheist African American activist and poet as well as one of the founders of the Black Arts movement in the US. He educated me in many ways about many things and became my all-time best AA friend.

We could not have been more different. A white middle class child of the suburbs with Republican parents and US Anglo-Saxon roots going back hundreds of years meets a firebrand from the tough streets of Pittsburgh who came to DC in the late 1950s and knew just about all of the leading African American left wing political figures, writers and artists of his generation. What could I possibly have added to his rich mix? Something apparently, because we became very close.

We learned from each other the value of what it means to be a “lifelong friend” despite some profound differences. We both shared a determination as regards our own sobriety and our responsibilities as individuals to maintain it while establishing a calm reliance on each other that stood (and still stands) the test of time.

When Gaston was diagnosed with lymphoma in 1997 we went with the assumption that he would be with his wife, children and friends for some time to come. Sadly, while he had a brilliant oncologist who did his best there were just two short years left for him. In that time I saw extraordinary courage being displayed by someone who demanded a great deal from life and those around him and was not about to take no for an answer from anyone.

This was a tough deal for a tough man. He fought like the “Guerrilla Word Warrior” (one of his poetry chapbook titles) he was but at the end he had to put down the struggle and find his own brand of rational acceptance of the world as it is.

In those final years we had many conversations in hospitals and in the car going to and from meetings but the most lasting memory I have of those times is from a party at his house right before his death. How many people get to attend their own wake? Gaston did! Just a few days before he knew he would be gone he was king of the roost sitting in his living room receiving famous academics, poets, politicians, old friends, neighbors and sundry AA members. At the end of the evening he pulled me close to his ear. I whispered “I love you man” and he whispered back “I love you too”.

Love and service! Experiences like these (at these extremes) can only be found in concentrated form in AA. From Gaston I learned the true meaning of the word fellowship.

* * *

While I have many later day stories of the living I have told these tales mostly of people no longer with us. The journeys of those still here are ongoing but those of the dead are fixed in time and more subject to reflection in a piece such as this.

What I am trying to indicate overall is that as a result of the diversity found in the program that I am still learning and growing in a way that just can’t be found anywhere else.

However, I see trends within AA that may be a threat to this rich mix. I would hate to be ghettoized in my own little corner of the world and I fear that forces are assembling that could require us, as unbelievers, to band together in a marginalized version of the program of our own. Our AAAA groups are vitally important to us and the expansion of these meetings is a very good thing but I would hate to be cut off from the mainstream by a radical religious fringe. What I mean by “radical religious fringe” will be fully explained in my next article here.

Just like I need to accept conventional members they need to accept me. Just like, after a fashion, I acknowledged the wisdom of the “Class of 64” the program at large needs to accept the viability and importance of the class of 2016 that will assemble in Austin for our second wAAft gathering. They don’t need to be more like us for us to accept them. Likewise we should not feel the obligation to take on their coloration and mouth their psalms to be accepted in return. Diversity does not require uniformity, it requires diversity. I believe that we in our “wing” are up to that challenge. Is the rest of the program up to the same challenge as we put ourselves above ground and raise our voices?

If AA as a whole can’t, for whatever reason, fully embrace us, I fear that future generations of Atheist/Agnostic members will be denied the incredible advantages I have had in my recovery due to the diversity in AA I was able to find and embrace in every corner of this amazing fellowship.

John H. is one of the founding members of the We Agnostics group in Washington, DC. This is the second in a series of articles he is writing for AA Agnostica.

23 Responses

  1. Phil G says:

    Sandy B actually had quite a part in my atheist journey. I began questioning AA when I was trying to live in steps 10 and 11 after a year or so sober. Faking it till I made was no longer working, so I began to seek that elusive god of my understanding for the first time rather than just rejecting everyone else’s conception. At first I read the ‘approved’ historical books like Pass It On, then onto the fringe literature like A New Pair Of Glasses. I tried to read Sermon On The Mount as mentioned in Dr. Bob And The Good Oldtimers, and may have actually thrown that book against the wall. During this period of high frustration, I was listening to a workshop CD by Sandy B and Tom I in which Sandy mentioned outside literature. He refused to capture any of these on tape, but I eventually began searching the internet and found a reading list on a taper’s site for a spiritual retreat that Sandy sponsored. Out of 26 books on the list, maybe seven were Christian or theistic. The rest were by authors such as The Dalai Lama, Alan Watts, Tolle, etc. and pertained to cosmology, pantheism, Buddhism, and other non-theistic beliefs, some of which I could identify with at least in part. I was not going to get this type of exposure in any of the meetings in my area. I read quite a few of those books over several years and appreciate the experience, but now focus on this website and others that are more direct to the point.

  2. Joe J. says:

    I originally attended thirty or forty traditional AA meetings in Calgary, Canada in 2004-05. The “God” element drove me from AA as, like any rational non-religious person, I could see no connection with sobriety and belief in the supernatural, regardless of any personal definition of God.

    I went back to drinking for another number of years, but I missed the fellowship and especially hearing the experiences, trials and tribulations of others who had been or were still suffering. My heart goes out to those in peril, and my hat is doffed to those who are winning this war. I am in my second day of sobriety, and have begun attending traditional AA meetings in Calgary, filtering the God talk out, and listening again to the experiences of those who share, and, again, soaking up the fellowship and true desire of others who want to help the people, like myself, who want to quit drinking.

    Last night, I attended my first agnostic AA meeting in Calgary, and was pleased to find the overall attitude towards religion and believers was one of not merely tolerance, but outright acceptance of whatever works, works. If an individual utilizes a God concept to keep them from drinking, great! It’s not part of my worldview, but who am I to criticize what works for someone else. That said, I’m grateful that agnostic meetings, and other resources are available to whomever needs them. I intend to continue attending regular AA meetings until my sobriety becomes entrenched in my life, but I am especially grateful for the non secular approach to sobriety, which makes rational sense to me.

    I don’t see myself as wanting or needing ‘meetings’in the long term, although the benefit to early sobriety of meetings is not to be underestimated or trivialized. I DO have the power and choice to drink or not drink, I’ve known this since my original experiences with AA, which, of course, run contrary to the AA idea that without an AA type fellowship one is in constant peril. I find that to be an abrogation of one’s individual responsibility for one’s own life. We all know people who are addicted to meetings, sometimes at great personal cost (break up of marriages, lost family time, or simply getting on with one’s own life). This is not to say that, over time, a revisting or ongoing attendance of meetings, secular or otherwise, can’t be an adjunct to strong sobriety, nor is it a condemnation of the wonderful work that these groups provide… indeed, I see the value, in particular, of anyone (myself included), participating in helping others get and stay sober.

    Just as there is life after drinking, there is also life after AA.

    • John H. says:

      Hello Joe… I’m certain you will find that any member (believer or not) will be most supportive (in a literal sort of way) of your decision to stop drinking.

      I hear you regarding meetings and there have been periods in my own sobriety where I have been unable to attend due to residence in a country where that would have been a problem for me. I therefore know that I can stay sober without meetings and I have never led what anyone might describe as an AA dominated life.
      However, these days (and always through the years when in the US) I attend because I like it, have many great friends there and can give something back to partially repay some of the gifts I have been given over the years. As I age I also see that AA can give a new purpose and meaning within the context of my knowing that there are many more years behind than in front of me. As long as everything is kept in proper proportion and you are comfortable in your group I just can’t see any downsides in continuing in the fellowship. Just my experience of course.

      I wish you all the best.

  3. Christopher G says:

    Your mention of Sandy B. brought to mind my experiences with listening to his tapes over my years of confused beliefs and disbeliefs in AA and my current apostacies.

    A gal at a meeting recently mentioned she was reading a Hazelden book entitled Drop the Rock, the title and topic taken from a 1976 recording of Sandy at a California AA convention. I had heard it several times and mentioned that she might want to listen to it to get the idea in context and that it was pretty funny, entertaining and educational. She said the book was hard to follow which I agreed with as I had tried to incorporate it in my own sobriety to no avail.

    In my early sobriety when I was doing the program “by the book” as best as I could for no other reason than there was no other way at the time, I listened to a lot of Sandy. I connected to a lot of his experience and outlook, such as, getting kicked out of the military, being ex-Catholic, and a drunk.

    Having suggested that the newcomer listen to the Drop the Rock recording, I took my own advice and revisited it this week. I especially enjoyed his relation of his experience with step 3 when he told his sponsor he didn’t pray or believe in God, to which his sponsor replied, “why don’t you just turn your will and your life over to whatever will take it and then the miracle will happen which is that the management of your life will no longer be in the hands of an idiot!”. On that particular recording he says from that point on he turned his will and life over to the fellowship of AA, going to meetings and not drinking, and that they had done a fine job with it.

    What I gathered from that was that he had an experience of surrender to the fellowship, not a supernatural being, which I could relate to. Of course he then leaned into a more conventional and traditional New Testament monologue, but that part of his story always stuck with me and still does.

    All that to say this; I no longer have to sift through what I call “special interest AA” which has been so much a part of the fellowship from its inception, unless I choose to do so. We have our own language of the heart but the same message (thanks Joe C) plus this wonderful medium of the web to connect us.

    It’s no wonder that so-called traditional AA is Abrahamic, as Joe pointed out in his Pew Research numbers. That’s just the demographics of our geography.

    They drew a circle that shut us out.
    “Heretics, rebels, things to flout!”
    But we and love have the wit to win
    We drew a circle that shut them in.
    – variation on a theme of Outwitted by Edwin Markham.

    Tolerance and boundary setting. What an order! Two seemingly juxtaposed principles. Circles of exclusion being circumscribed by circles of inclusion; the challenge being the later, dissolving the blurred lines of duality. Thankfully and with gratitude, “progress not perfection” and “practice makes progress” (not perfect!) applies to all of us no matter what belief.

    Thanks, John. As always, it’s good to hear from you and your perspective. Looking forward to the next one.

    • John H. says:

      In doing some research on the fundamentalist resurgence I have listen to one of Sandy’s later tapes where he says still (as he always did) something to the effect that we are faced, in the end, with two doors. One door is marked death and the other door is the “spiritual” path. Which door do you take? All I can say about a position such as that is that I must have been dead for quite some time now. While we need to be tolerant sometimes we have to look them straight in the eye and “just say no”.

      • Christopher G says:

        A most excellent boundary.
        I learned it when I was two I think.
        It was probably beaten out of me though or rather forced into hiding until recently.

  4. Darrello says:

    Many of us find an immediate, counter-intuitive element in the program of AA. We find early in the program that the twelve steps are derived, at least in part, from a cultural, spiritual mind-set that includes an interactive higher power. Some of us, I believe, do not have the intuitive architecture required for the inclusion of supernatural concepts in our views. We are agnostics, atheists, Taoists, Buddhist etc.

    As long as these disparate views exist, an irreducible dichotomy will remain in society, as well as in AA.

    Unless our goal is to ultimately feel that we are right, we must, as individuals within a group, endeavor to always be inclusive and respectful despite our differences. The way to achieve this is based on a couple of the fundamental principles promoted by AA, humility and tolerance. Ego, focusing on self, we learn, is the root of our troubles, and is the primary stance requiring modification. This focus on the self must be turned into focusing on others, and is the very key to continuing sobriety. It is our ego that permits and persuades us to disallow views that differ from our own. We all tenaciously insist upon being right. As a result, on both sides of the aisle, appear those that are adamantly and overtly unwilling to tolerate anything other than their own positions. And perhaps even worse, are those displaying all-knowing grins, and looking over the rims of their glasses in quiet condescension.

    My personal desire for AA as a whole, for the groups that I visit, as well as for myself as a member, is that we stay focused on the raison d’etre of the twelve-step program of recovery. Due to religious differences, we may disagree on the wording, or even the necessity of some of the steps and traditions, we may not see eye to eye on the methodologies used in the adoption of the principles that underlie them, but we must always agree whole heartedly on the primary purpose of our groups. And this is tradition five from the Twelve Traditions of AA.

    Each group has but one primary purpose – to carry the message to the alcoholic who still suffers. And for me, the message is this: Hope exists for the alcoholic. Hope is manifested in the sobriety shared within our groups. And, Hope is reuniting us with humanity, one day at a time. It is Hope that comes with only one requirement, the desire to stop drinking.

    • John H. says:

      Indeed… Primary purpose, hope, tolerance, love… All laudable and necessary concepts.

      Though what are we to do when we see hope being beaten out of newcomers who are being told (covertly or overtly) that of necessity they need to compromise their very essence? Some (many) will comply and may very well benefit from such compromise and even achieve long term sobriety through accommodation to these methods.

      My personal focus is on those who cant meet those demands (gentle though they may seem to be to the civilized believer) and feel both rejected and haunted by “quiet condescension” to the point where they journey back out to live drunk or die on their own. There are such unfortunates. I’m definitively one of them. I made it by a combination of fortuitous circumstance (based on my location and a fairly open minded set of meetings) and a certain insensitivity to the pejorative “condescension” from the few hard core members I did get an earful from.

      For me, sitting back and “going with the flow” given what I have seen with my own eyes over the years would make me complicit in the demise of those few hardheaded, self-centered miscreants like myself who haven’t the stomach for some portion of this struggle without additional support.

  5. Laurie A says:

    Good stuff John, you demonstrate the importance of keeping an open mind.

    We can learn from many sources and I’ve found even the bad examples to be good examples – they show me how not to do it! I’m not taken with circuit speakers, “principles before personalities”? On a visit to the States I was startled to see members lining up at the end of a meeting to have a personal chat with the main speaker. Not good for his ego, I’d have thought. I heard Clancy I. at the breakfast table during a convention tell us that doctors did not understand alcoholics and we should not take any medication prescribed by them; potentially life-threatening madness. However, he also said from the podium at the meeting that night,

    I’m not a suggest sponsor – I’m a tell you sponsor. If you ask me to be your sponsor you damn well do what I say. But at the end of the day if someone does not like what I tell them all they have to do is say “Screw you” and get another sponsor.

    Similarly, though the price of freedom is eternal vigilance, I hope, and don’t believe, AA will be taken over by any faction. The Traditions and Concepts provide a robust defence against such entryism.

  6. DEH says:

    Why do atheists have to change AA? Just start an atheist’s recovery program based on the Big Book.

    • Duncan says:

      Hi DEH, AA’s primary requirement is a desire to stop drinking. It is one alcoholic helping another.

      Frankly I could not care less about the Big Book nor the 12 Steps. However I do care about AA and I am a member.

    • larry k says:

      The first brochure, 1939, Mr. X and Alcoholics Anonymous, stated that the 2nd principle is Universality.

      And so we insist that that principle remains intact… but that requires placing principles before personalities.

    • John H. says:

      Dear DEH… Perhaps my article was unclear. What I was trying to say is that AA is STRONGER because of inclusiveness not WEAKER as you seem to imply… I can only speak for myself of course but my Atheist predecessors in the program have been here from the earliest days (I would suggest a search for James Burwell, “Jim B.” or “Jimmy B.” on this site or elsewhere) and if Bill Wilson could deal with us I would expect you probably could.

      The essence of AA is in the sharing, the power of identification and in helping another alcoholic. Love and Service as Dr. Bob said. Any and all of us can do (and actually do, for decade upon decade) precisely that. As to the “Big Book” and the Steps you can rest absolutely assured that this old Atheist will be leaving those documents completely alone and unmolested.

  7. Thomas B. says:

    A wonderful, heartfelt sharing about AA mentors who taught you the essence of AA recovery, even though they believed and thought radically differently from you. You gift us with a number of powerful examples that what we say or how we say it isn’t nearly as important as the message our actions portray – you were able to learn from the actions of “the class of 1964,” even though you differed in what they thought and believed. They lived our legacy of love and service, which today you are inspired to pass on to younger generations who seek recovery in AA.

    I was gifted with recovery in 1972 in New York City, which was much more free-thinking and less dogmatic than meetings are today in many parts of North America. AA is a mirror of the larger North American society and culture, which has tilted considerably to the conservative, Christian right since the election of Ronald Reagan 35 years ago.

    I love your concept of “the radical religious” and look forward to your upcoming article on the “contemporary fundamentalist AA scene”. Like you, I was mostly oblivious to this narrow, doctrinaire, pietistic brand of AA which has become so prevalent throughout so much of North America until several years ago when my wife, Jill, and I stumbled into an “AA” meeting in Frederick, MD, based on The Upper Room, and was haughtily told by the leader that this was the way AA was supposed to be before Bill and New York ruined it.

    I am exceedingly grateful that I found AA in NYC over 42 years ago, and that I found AA Agnostica in 2011, when Jill and I moved to a small town on the southern coast of Oregon, where every meeting ends with the Lord’s Prayer and the Big Book is revered as almost as sacred as the biggest book, the Bible.

  8. Tommy H says:


  9. larry k says:

    A great story and an impressive message of tolerance, diversity and love…perhaps even duty.

  10. Alyssa (soda) says:

    I forgot what I was gonna say after I read that beautiful part of buddy being at his own wake. Touching. I luv hearing your perspective on others. It’s nice to hear someone talking about how others have had impact on their learning.
    As for your concern about the next generations. They will run their own course and experience a different depth than your experiences for sure. But similar to an elder of a first nations tribe, they will hear your (old-timer) story and it will continue to be past down and continue to evolve I hope.
    Looking forward to your next article. Hurry up 😉

    • John H. says:

      Thanks Alyssa… Most certainly future generations will have different stories and more evolved methods of dealing with the “outside issues” related to the overtly theistic aspects of the program.

      My next piece involves considerable research of aspects of the contemporary fundamentalist AA scene I was previously unaware of so it will be at least six weeks out… I’m working on it.

  11. Mike says:

    Personal relationships and listening to the stories of others with an open mind are the very essences of an effective group. There is no better way to communicate abstract concepts than to give specific examples. Thank you for sharing.

  12. realneal m. says:

    Thanks for sharing. I first came to AA in ’84 and I went to Sandy’s Saturday morning meeting occasionally. I saw Hal speak several times. I’m not really sure which Ed you are talking about. In general AA, at least in DC, seemed a lot more open minded than it does now. The brother and sister that took me to my first meetings had gone to the same terrifying catholic school that I went to so they knew which meetings to take me to and which meetings would scare me away. They gave me a Living Sober book and a copy of Under the Influence. I did not see a Big Book until I had been clean for a while and I am very grateful for that. I was not even aware of an Agnostic meeting up there until I found this group of heathens and there is no doubt that I would be gone from AA yet again if I would not have found all of you. Thanks!

  13. Terry G says:

    Thanks for this I believe in diversity equality and Justice for all and so should our fellowship.

  14. Joe C. says:

    Great timing John; I’m working on a Rebellion Dogs post about some of the cliche arguments against agnostic/atheist group autonomy and equality in AA. Your post is bang-on.

    Tradition One is about unity – not uniformity. Groups are an extension of the individual in A.A. The Twelve & Twelve talks about AA’s promotion of individuality vs. conformity. Do groups have explicit or implied limitations that the individual does not? I ask this because even a casual look at our literature demonstrates that the variety of AA experiences, that you describe so eloquently here, are vital to all of AA.

    On the first page of the essay on Unity (Tradition One), here’s what AA’s literature says:

    ‘Does this mean,’ some will anxiously ask, ‘that in A.A. the individual doesn’t count for much? Is he to be dominated by his group and swallowed up in it?’
    We may certainly answer this question with a loud ‘No!’ We believe there isn’t a fellowship on earth which lavishes more devoted care upon its individual members; surely there in none which more jealously guards the individual’s right to think, talk and act as (they) wish. No A.A. can compel another to do anything; nobody can be punished or expelled. Our Twelve Steps to recovery are suggestions; the Twelve Traditions which guarantee A.A’s unity contain not a single ‘Don’t.’ They repeatedly say ‘We ought…’ but never ‘You must!’

    For group unity, Bill W. uses this metaphor about our precarious sobriety, “they had suddenly found themselves saved from death, but still floating upon a perilous sea.” None of us have a guarantee of uninterrupted sobriety. For those who feel self-sufficient, good for you, but many of us AAs don’t feel so confident. Having or not having a belief in an unseen sobriety granting deity doesn’t change the fact that AAs depend on each other—that when and if we need it, the other’s meeting will be open, an ear will be ready to bend when we need to talk or someone else will be willing to talk if we need to listen.

    If the “Radical Religious” as you described them, think that AA would be a stronger organization without the candid voice or rational – not supernatural – sobriety, maybe they are right. But that’s not the Fellowship that was left by our founders and it is the radicals – not us – that ought to go form a new Fellowship. This one – Alcoholics Anonymous – is here for popular and unpopular members and groups alike.

    Thanks for your service, John.

    • John H. says:

      Thank you Joe… The challenges faced by the groups you work with up in Canada to be recognized and listed were a real “eye opener” for me and got me looking into the struggles of “folks like us” in a broader context down here.

      From what I can see the so called “aggressive atheists” are quite tame compared to some of the invective I have read in places like the letters columns of the Grapevine.

      The way I was “raised” in AA here in the old days seems to be at variance with much of what I see and hear about out there in the wider AA world today.

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