By Bob K.
I belong to an old-fashioned online Yahoo AA group. The format is that every Sunday a member chairs and posts a topic, and group members have a week to respond with a few paragraphs sharing their own experience, and/or ideas regarding the topic. In this particular group, the membership is skewed in the direction of the elderly, the long sober, and the conservative. Some of the members are shut-ins. Others are deaf. Thus the group provides a most valuable point of contact for some folks who don’t get out much to face-to-face meetings. Did I mention that the group is conservative? Very conservative.
On Sunday, June the 11th, I chaired, and posted the following lead:
My name is Bob, and I’m an alcoholic, sober since October 28, 1991. Although AA is alive and well in Canada, the number of sober alcoholics has not increased in the two and a half decades of my own membership. Perhaps there are ways to make AA more appealing to a broader audience.
Many of us have a fondness for “The Lord’s Prayer,” and there’s a small “t” tradition of using it to close AA meetings in many localities. Has the time come to put aside our personal feelings, and perhaps acknowledge that we have other prayers that are more suited to AA’s “spiritual, not religious program?” In some areas, such as mine, the population is multi-cultural. Lots have no Christian background, and others with Christian upbringing associate “The Lord’s Prayer” with a childhood religion they have left behind.
Emmet Fox called the prayer “the most important Christian document.” Billy Graham and others have said much the same thing. Some would see the use of the prayer in AA as contradicting our fundamental principles of non-affiliation and non-alliance. Does “The Lord’s Prayer” adversely affect our outreach to non-Christians? Our founder’s defense of the use of this prayer dates back almost 60 years to a time before the Supreme Court decision that eventually led to Lord’s Prayer-less public schools. I’m sure there are similar letters from the same era in which university presidents defend why blacks were not admitted to their schools.
AA has its own prayers, prayers not so allied with a specific religion. Perhaps it’s time to usher in an era of AA meetings that are more spiritual, and less religious, and equally welcoming to all regardless of faith.
Of course, I knew my post would be provocative, although I had intentionally been as non-provocative in the wording as I could manage. Day one responses were surprisingly liberal, belying the furor that was to come later.
So, yes, I enjoy it when I attend groups that end the meetings with different closings. I encourage looking for alternatives that might be more welcoming and comfortable to all alcoholics. – N.
Personally I would find AA far more acceptable if there were no prayers as this does gives the meeting a religious rather than a spiritual feel and yes I do think that it goes against our fundamental principles. I consider my self a Christian but with no particular religious affiliation and I found the use of prayers and the word “God” at meetings to be uncomfortable and alienating, so much so that I even considered leaving AA, so I am sure that members of other faiths and beliefs must find it so too.” – S.
Day Two – Shit Gets Real!!
I am disappointed that this is selected as a topic in any AA meeting. The reason is that this topic is not only controversial, but has nothing to do with carrying a message of recovery to others. Agenda-driven topics as such are more appropriately addressed in business meetings and not in a general AA meeting. It is my experience over the years that when folks champion ideas of changing what was established by the original AAers, it is dangerous and the call in my view is to stand up for principles and traditions of AA based upon our recovery experiences! The topic here comes close to violating Traditions 5 (our primary purpose is to carry the message of recovery to other alcoholics) and 10 (AA has no opinion on outside issues, the AA name ought never be drawn into public controversy). I cite Tradition 10 because this is an outside issue to this AA meeting and belongs in the business meeting. The meeting itself is public, and the topic stirs controversy since Christians are part of this meeting. Although AA does not affiliate with any faith, the fact is, its roots come from Christianity and that fact should not be denied under the banners of equality or non-affiliation.
…there is a responsibility when it comes to Chairing an AA meeting. That is to carry a message of recovery and not to stir controversy. The idea that that a new era of AA meetings should be ushered in that makes secular folks more comfortable and is more welcoming to all faiths is simply intellectually dishonest. This proclamation is not consistent with my experiences in AA meetings throughout the US and Canada and this meeting in particular…
The fact that The Lord’s Prayer and using the name God or Christ makes some people uncomfortable is not important nor does this help people become willing or recover. Christians are part of this meeting too, and minimizing Christianity and maximizing Secularism is not an equality nor a more welcoming issue as it is agenda-driven. As a Christian, I am not always comfortable with the many uses of various HP’s and generic terms for a god of someone’s imagination either – yet again, the fact that I feel uncomfortable at times is unimportant and does not add to anyone’s willingness or recovery. We are not here to make ourselves and others more comfortable, we are here to help people recover from alcoholism! As an older traditional quote goes that a member of this group has often shared in the past, “we are here to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” This is how we all get better providing we are working the 12 step principles in all of our affairs.
It is my understanding that that the Big Book does not trash religion and hold up spirituality as a more equal, more welcoming standard. This is in fact a meeting construct. Besides, religion doesn’t mean Christianity, yet the word religion can be applied to every faith and a whole bunch of other things. For me, I find religion in many aspects of mine and others’ beliefs whether they are Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Secular, Environmentalists, Activists and the list goes on and on and on. Again, it is not helpful to anyone in the rooms to place negative judgements to the word “religion” as it only sets up pretense and prejudice. The principles of our program rooted in our Big Book tell me to “live and let live” and that “love and tolerance is our code”. It is my experience that tolerance does not mean I allow the trampling on of our principles, traditions, and historical roots under the banner claim of equality or tolerance.
Since the Big Book actually promotes the acceptance of “the religious” and uses the specific name “God “over 400x in its first 164 pages, there would be no room for the Big Book in this new era brand of AA meetings. And without the Big Book and people of faith, AA would have died long ago.
As for me, my experience is that by working the 12 steps as instructed in our “dated” Big Book, I’ve had powerful experiences with God which caused me to seek God more and establish a relationship with Him. This life changing spiritual experience changed everything including the obliteration of bondage my alcoholism had on my life. I continue to try my best to live my life by these principles by making myself available to help others and carry a message of recovery!
Let’s talk about how we can help someone this week…! – D.
Well, I guess he told me. There was a lot from D.’s post that I have excised (due to limitations of space and the fear of causing migraine headaches). He had a lot to say on a topic he thought we shouldn’t talk about.
Look What This Will Lead To!!
Although D. wins the trophy for long-winded outrage, many others weighed in with similar feelings. Of course, one woman brought up the obligatory “If it ain’t broke…” argument, and for good measure, ramped up the ditching of The Lord’s Prayer to being the equal of jettisoning the entire program! Damn, she even got in “divinely inspired”, “death”, and a Tradition!!
So if it isn’t broke: why fix it? It was what our founders, who were so visionary with this program and divinely inspired, so why would anyone want to change it now? Tradition 1: “Our common welfare should come first. Personal recovery depends upon AA unity.” Yes, without this program, I would be drinking alone for sure and for me, to drink is to die. The group focus should be to stay together with our primary purpose of carrying the message.” -S.
Here comes my FAVORITE!!!
Why would we try to fix something that has helped millions around the world recover from a deadly disease. …Therefore, it wasn’t ok for me to add to or take away from what worked so Divinely. I’m not a bleeding deacon, because quite frankly a lot of the newer ones who come into AA to tell us what “they will do” and the group cowers to that – have sent me 45 minutes in the car to find an AA group that isn’t offended by everything program.
Here it comes!!!!
My sister, who has 45 yrs sober was shunned because she mentioned Jesus. Not preaching, just how AA allowed her to experience a belief that had been shut out when she was drinking. There was a man sitting in the meeting who was transgendering into a woman. He was dressed as a woman, yet when he spoke it was like the All state commercial. A man’s voice came out. She is now using the women’s restrooms, everyone has known him as a man for 28 years in AA. Everyone was so excited that he could become who he is. But it wasn’t ok to mention Jesus or say the Lord’s Prayer. Which is a Jewish prayer. Jesus was a jew. (sic)
Don’t louse up something that works. We drop our prejudices, and see where they have been right. I’m sorry about the soap box effect. It’s just that AA isn’t broken! We are! – M.
You can’t make this stuff up!!
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Even Discuss it!
I don’t believe discussion of prayers is necessary and instead it is truly an outside issue just as the topic about whether one should consider medication for mental health reasons. Total outside issues! Here for the message of hope – “WE, OF Alcoholics Anonymous, are more than one hundred men and women who have recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body. To show other alcoholics precisely how we have recovered is the main purpose of this book.” Let’s focus on what has been the glue and our marching orders: Tradition 5: Each group has but one primary purpose – to carry the message to the alcoholic who still suffers. – S.
Jews For Jesus
This topic called me out!! I am Jewish. I absolutely love The Lords Prayer. I read the topic and felt sad. I look forward to saying, hearing, holding hands and most importantly feeling… was actually taken back by the topic. I never ..ever judged that prayer. How can I judge a gift of so many meaningful words at one time. I hope I am never bored..or looking for a topic that is so different That it backfires on me!!!! (OUCH!! That hurt!) I say..’if it’s not broken,don’t fix it’ The outside ugly world ( at present) has now got its claws into AA. Just my opinion – L.
My Pet Peeve
Ushering in a new era of AA meetings, well, we all have our priorities, and perhaps our own agenda. My thinking would be that before I went after the Prayer, and the damage it does, maybe take a look at the language that is thrown around in the face to face meetings, words that I cant mention here, with not the slightest regard for the damage done, and the many people who have walked out of those meetings, myself being one of them. Being an Alcoholic does not mean I am a slut, yet, no one seems to wonder what the damage is, Hmmmm, Prayer is such a light weight compared to the filthy language that is so common, and when I have objected to the use of those disgusting words, it seems to fall on deaf ears, “There are no rules in AA”. Just a thought.
Gutter language o’ Goshen!!
A Shout Out To The Belligerent Savage
Thanks for being here for me.. and thanks Bob, for leading the group. In all the years I’ve been a member of XYZ I’ve never seen this much meeting participation so quickly after a topic has been opened up…. I had to open my closed mind to new ideas about all the higher power stuff. But I wanted that serenity and joy I was seeing so badly I was willing to do what others who came before me did… get on my knees, recite prayers I didn’t understand or believe, ponder the Serenity Prayer – the Lord’s Prayer I was familiar with, but in the context of recovery it took on new meaning….
Each group is autonomous – and makes the decisions for their particular meeting format, including which – if any – prayers might be included. I respect that tradition – because I believe our 12 Traditions will safeguard our life-giving program – which I feel was divinely inspired. I don’t want it messed with. I think if anyone thinks it’s time for a new era in AA – good luck to them… I’ll stick with the original… and I do thank (my) God for it every day! peace & love” – D.
So on it went. All week long. Much of the same. Very little that really addressed the topic of improving our outreach by being more welcoming to non-Christians. I found the fear-mongering rather sad. The problem of affiliation was not discussed, other than to see the potential elimination of The Lord’s Prayer as an attack on Christians. One old retired school teacher who enjoys my occasional irreverence amidst the sea of blandness, caught on that I was amusing myself by playing head games with the devout.
Thank you, Bob, you devil, you, for chairing. Laughing all the way. Haven’t seen so many shares in such a brief time in two decades of XYZ. – G.
I’ll cop to the “devil” thing, but take consolation in the fact that, thankfully, I ain’t Bobby Beach!
It is at least worth knowing what we are dealing with.
Bob K. has been a sober member of Alcoholics Anonymous for almost 26 years. During that entire time, he has been an out-of-the-closet atheist. Although he jumped through the necessary hoops himself to achieve sobriety in traditional AA, he is very familiar with the perils of being a secularist in AA. Since 2011, he has been something of an activist in the cause then known as “agnostic AA.”
Regular readers of the postings at the website AA Beyond Belief will recognize Bob as the site’s most frequently published blogger. Here on AA Agnostica, he is the second most frequent contributor.
His interest in AA history led to the publication, in 2015, of Key Players in AA History, a secularist’s look at the birth of the fellowship. The diligent research that went into that volume impressed two of recovery history’s great authors, Ernest Kurtz and William L. White, who together penned the Foreword to Key Players.
In his home region, just east of Toronto, Bob is active in secular AA, and traditional AA. In 2013, he co-founded the Whitby Freethinkers meeting which is assisting agnostics and atheists not well served by traditional AA. Two more books are in the works A Heathen’s Guide to 12 Step Recovery and The Road To AA – From Pilgrims to Prohibition.