A Pamphlet for AA Agnostics?
The Alcoholics Anonymous Literature Committee in Great Britain will be presenting a pamphlet for and by agnostic and atheist members to its 2016 Conference.
A sub-committee is looking for articles written by AA members in Great Britain and the Continental European Region for inclusion in that pamphlet. As this is a pamphlet for that area, submissions from North America will not be considered.
The deadline is the end of October. We urge all readers in Great Britain and Europe to consider writing such an article and submitting it to the Literature sub-committee. More details below.
Laurie A has already submitted an article for consideration. It was well received by Carol H., chair of the Literature sub-committee in charge of the proposed pamphlet.
Here is his article:
An Agnostic in AA
By Laurie A.
My wife came with me to my first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous and thought I’d get up and walk out when she heard the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions read with their references to God. I was a cynical agnostic and my wife thought, “This won’t work, it’s too religious.” But after my last binge a week before the meeting I’d tried to kill myself so I was in no state to argue about what AA co-founder Bill W. called “theological abstractions… whether God made man or man made God”. I’d escaped death by a hair’s breadth and that made me as “open-minded as only the dying can be”. I listened with laser-like attention to what would keep me alive and filtered out things I heard that made no sense to me or with which I disagreed; I listened for the similarities, not the differences.
I took AA’s first Step the morning I tried to commit suicide. I’d known for years that I had a serious drink problem but wouldn’t admit I was powerless over alcohol. I’d tried every way I knew to bring my drinking under control; there was always “one more attempt and one more failure”, as our basic text the Big Book says. Finally, absolutely defeated, I knew I couldn’t go on and decided to end it all. In a perverse way I thought it would also be best for my family; at least they wouldn’t have to deal with a chaotic drunk in their lives any more. But they didn’t want me to die – they just wanted me to get well, and I didn’t know how to do that.
We’re told that willingness, honesty and open-mindedness are the essentials of recovery, and I made a start on Steps Two and Three by going to my first AA meeting. I came to believe that AA (a power greater than myself) could restore me to the sanity of not drinking, though at that stage it was more a desperate hope than a belief. In my own way I also decided to turn over my will and life to AA’s care because I clearly couldn’t care for myself when it came to stopping drinking. I’m glad that in his essay on Step Two in AA’s book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions Bill W. assures the newcomer, “AA does not demand that you believe anything … to get sober and stay sober, you don’t have to swallow all of Step Two right now.” I’m also grateful that in my early days I did not meet members with a dogmatic approach to the Steps. Bill W. said each member has the privilege of interpreting the Programme according to his or her own outlook and experience (As Bill Sees It). Even the pioneers who wrote the Big Book knew that none of them could “maintain anything like perfect adherence” to the principles outlined in the Steps; they claimed progress, not perfection.
Bill W. paid tribute to atheists and agnostics in the early fellowship who insisted on adding the crucial phrase as we understood Him after the word God in the Third and Eleventh Steps. That ensured that all who wish to stop drinking may enter, regardless of their belief or lack of belief. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking (or, as in my case, to stay stopped); AA membership does not demand conformity to any idea, philosophy or religious faith. Certainly it does not require finding a personal God or I would have been smoke and ashes a long time ago. After 31 continuously sober years in AA I am still an agnostic. Whether or not a God exists is to me irrelevant; my primary purpose is to stay sober and, as far as I can, help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety.
So I when I shared my Fifth Step with my first sponsor (a lapsed Catholic!) I did not believe God was in the room, and I did not ask God to remove my shortcomings in Step Seven. My defects of character keep me grounded. When I get the grandiose idea that I’ve become “Mr AA” they right-size me. I am their disciple. It is unrealistic to expect that I will ever be defect-free. In the 12+12 Bill W. calls Step Six a lifetime job. “This does not mean that that we expect all our character defects to be lifted out of us as the drive to drink was… with most of them we shall have to be content with patient improvement.” That has been my experience. Through constant attendance at over thousands of AA meetings I’ve found “the evil in me weakening, and the good raised up”, as Quakers say.
I lack the certainty to say there is no God and my non-theism is not atheism or anti-God. I pray and meditate, but I doubt very much that there is a supernatural ear listening. To me prayer is act of humility. When I pray I am saying I don’t know all the answers and I need help. In prayer I make contact with what the Big Book calls the “Great Reality deep down within us”; apparently, it is only there it may be found. I’m grateful that my brush with death broke through my resistance resulting in the “huge emotional displacements and rearrangements” that enabled to me to access that Great Reality, a power greater than my ego.
The Spiritual Appendix in the Big Book says, “With few exceptions our members find they have tapped an unsuspected inner resource, which they presently identify with their own conception of a power greater than themselves; most of us believe this awareness of a power greater than ourselves is the essence of spiritual experience. Our more religious members call it God-consciousness.” That is my personal “creed”. It encompasses the spectrum of belief and non-belief, for even an atheist could believe in a previously unsuspected inner resource. I’ve found that the realm of the Spirit is indeed “broad, roomy and all-inclusive, never exclusive” and that “no-one need have difficulty with the spirituality of the Programme” – even an agnostic like me.
As noted above the deadline for submitting an article that might be included in the pamphlet is October 30, 2015. Here is the invitation:
The Literature sub-committee would like to invite agnostic and atheist members to send in their personal experiences in the Fellowship. They are to be incorporated into the pamphlet requested by Committee 3, Conference 2014; currently being redrafted for submission to Conference 2016.
Again, we urge our British and European readers to consider submitting their stories for consideration.
Submissions should be sent to GSO, PO Box 1, 10 Toft Green, York, England YO1 7NJ or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please mark submissions LITCOM either in the subject box for emails or on the envelope if by post.
Laurie A. is a retired national newspaper and BBC journalist in the UK. His sobriety date is 8/10/84. He served on the Great Britain AA literature committee and edited Share, the British fellowship’s national magazine, and Share and Share Alike, a book celebrating 60 years of AA in Britain in 2007. He has written three other articles for AA Agnostica:
- Hallowed be the Big Book? (January 4, 2015)
- Don’t Throw the Baby Out (October 12, 2014)
- My Last Binge (April 7, 2013)