Is The Lord’s Prayer Exclusive?

Our Father in Heaven

Once a theist and deacon, he sets out on a spiritual journey with his home group to discover if the Lord’s Prayer truly serves all its members

By Christopher S.
Santa Rosa, California
Copyright © AA Grapevine (October, 2017)

On October 21, I am celebrating 19 years of continuous sobriety thanks to better choices and the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous. The road was a bumpy but awesome journey as I’m also a healthy and vibrant 66-year-old man.

I began my AA journey as a Christian-God-believing theist both praying to and meditating over this version of a Higher Power. Bill W. and the majority of the “First 100” through the Big Book and Twelve and Twelve certainly support this view. The Lord’s Prayer, though not prescribed in AA principles, became a common meeting-ending prayer from the very beginning. But my journey made a radical change in 2011. Without first realizing it, my “Happy Destiny” led me on the path to atheism.

2011 was the year that I became a deacon in the Roman Catholic Church.

Our Father in Heaven

For the first time in my life – it seems – I read the Bible and the catechism with a critical eye. The God Yahweh (Jehovah) became to me an intolerant, demanding, cruel, misogynistic, narcissistic, jealous, and vengeful deity. The Biblical stories no longer made sense and Jesus, the incarnated God, with his message of love and compassion, also preached war between loved ones and the inerrancy of the Old Testament teachings.

I no longer believed. With this new outlook I left my music ministry and the Church. But I did not leave my lifesaving AA fellowship.

I just had to find a new way to define Higher Power. Since I now believe in a humanist view of the world, the here and now is of paramount importance. Carrying the message and serving my fellows both in the program and in the world are essential to me. So what about the Lord’s Prayer that was chanted in my home group every Thursday night?

A few years earlier our local intergroup business meeting made a controversial decision to replace the Lord’s Prayer with the Responsibility Declaration at meeting’s end. Being an Intergroup rep and a theist at the time, I vehemently opposed the action wondering who could possibly be offended by this hallowed tradition? When the motion was passed and Responsibility Declaration chanted I fumed, but eventually accepted it.

In the Fall of 2018 the AA Grapevine will be publishing a book of its previously published stories by agnostics and atheists in AA. To see some of these stories, shared in a 2014 AA Agnostica article, A Grapevine Book for Atheists and Agnostics in AA, click on the image above.

But after my de-conversion from Christianity and theism, I learned how exclusive the Lord’s Prayer actually is to the non-believer, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Zoroastrian, and even polytheist. I learned empathy and humility – if only a bare beginning. So I decided to introduce a discussion of the Intergroup change to my home group’s business meeting. Being a 16-year member of this group, I had earned some respect because of the service I had given to the Fellowship over the years. My fellow AA’s listened to my explanation of how the Lord’s Prayer excludes so many members as well as to prospective newcomers.

I shared that the prayer was a direct quote of Jesus Christ in both the gospels of Mathew and Luke in the New Testament and it speaks to the God Yahweh (Jehovah) as Jesus petitions him for guidance and protection both on this earth and in Heaven. I further asked the group how this prayer tells the newcomer that the Fellowship is non-religious and inclusive to all and accepting to all of no beliefs?

After six months of discussion we finally came to a vote on a motion to replace the Lord’s Prayer with the Responsibility Declaration. The most influential opinion from one of our respected long-time members and admitted born-again Christians, who was initially dead against the motion, but changed her mind because she wanted the message of inclusiveness to the newcomer to prevail. The motion was carried overwhelmingly.

Unfortunately, we did lose a few members over this change. But the group held its ground and has happily worked this new ending into our closing. I now call my Higher Power “love.” It is the group conscience which has helped me stay sober, alive, and happy these almost 19 years.

36 Responses

  1. Susan says:

    I find myself at your web-site due to my frustration with AA meetings in my area which are predominantly Catholic. I was raised protestant which is a different variety of being Christian. We protested the Catholic church because we do not believe in idolizing human beings, i.e. the Pope, priests, saints, etc. because they are human and fallible and this takes away from a true higher power we call God. Also, Catholics made up a bunch rules for political reasons and have obviously got into so much trouble because of it. I have sat thru meetings hearing about a lot about Catholic ways which are foreign to me and I am now so fed up. I got sober 34 yrs and it wasn’t like this back then. Here I am sober all these years, and I am at a point where I feel I have to leave the meetings and the people I have known for years in order to honor myself. I don’t go to work or any where else and have to listen to a particular religion. Why is it happening in AA? I was brought up respecting the tradition of no discussion of religion and nobody wants to hear it. Being this self-centered and not ensuring that all are respected and all are inclusive and comfortable is not what I call Christian. At this point, I am so turned off. I feel like I have been affected by disease of Catholicism and need to find some where to recover. I need to go to meetings, but I don’t like them anymore. I want my old AA back.

    • Christopher S says:

      Susan, I feel your pain. That’s why I took my resentment and a coffee pot, and with some of my like-minded friends, started a new meeting more to my liking. It’s not all that difficult, and this website offers step by step instructions on how to start a new meeting. “I seek the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” No god necessary! Good luck in your quest.

    • George S says:

      I could have easily been the author of what you wrote Susan. I am 33 years sober and had considered leaving AA. Instead I took the same path as Christopher S. Along with some like minded AA’s I have been able to start two AA meetings with an agnostic format. I also used this site to find out how to start the meetings. Along with a friend, I went to NYC to see how established meetings with agnostic formats were conducted. This also put me in the presence of other like minded AA’s. What a breath of fresh air, to hear people talk about realistic ways of getting and staying sober. I still attend other AA meetings and when necessary, I speak of being an atheist in AA, and how that works for me. This is the happiest I have been in my sobriety. I have found my people! Thanks for being one of them. Always grateful to Roger C. and everyone that contributes and brings attention to this important issue.

  2. Piya says:

    Soy Ateo puro y duro y me encanta mucho AAAGNOSTICA.ORG. INICIE A FINALES DEL 2009. Ahora si me siento en Familia la verdadera que no discrimina y acepta. Uso un programa para traducir y poder leer lo escrito aqui
    Gracias por existir.

    • Roger says:

      Google translation:

      I am pure and hard Atheist and I love AAAGNOSTICA.ORG very much. START AT THE END OF 2009. Now if I feel as a Family, the real one that does not discriminate and accepts. I use a program to translate and read what is written here.

      Thank you for existing.

  3. Arlene J says:

    Sober 48 years.

    Box 459 suggested not using the Lord’s Prayer years ago; seems no one reads Box 459.

    Looked up word god years ago as I don’t believe. In one dictionary it had 3 descriptions; I chose chief object of my affection which was and is AA.

    Also decided to use honesty in place of words god and him in all my steps.

    Know what honesty is and don’t believe in god…

  4. Tom R. says:

    When I came to AA, and now have thirty-four years in the program, I was told that AA could never be destroyed from outside influences. We survived the long timers thinking that talk of drugs would kill AA. Did not happen. My sponsor asked what I would do if AA stopped. I told him that I would take my Big Book and have a meeting. What would you do?

    • Roger says:

      Well, I wouldn’t take the Big Book, which has 281 references to God in its first 164 pages. But I would have a meeting where one alcoholic would have an opportunity to talk to another alcoholic.

  5. Gerry says:

    Incidentally, at my homegroup we also close the meetings with the Responsibility Pledge.

  6. Gerry says:

    Great read and thanks.

    Early on when I first came into AA and was explaining at a meeting why it wasn’t going to work for me, someone responded “just put another ‘o’ in the word.” That’s been working just fine for me for 30 years. I don’t say the “Our Father” at the close of meetings, but I do look around to get a sense of how many others also remain silent. Interestingly, the abstainers seem to run between 10 and 30%. The more that increases, the more effective the weight of our arguments will become.

    The Oxford Groups were originally called the “First Century Christian Organization.” Ebby Thacher told Bill Wilson he’d got “religion,” and introduced Bill to the O-Groups. So the “Our Father” was deep in our early development. But surely it’s off-putting to non-deists, especially newcomers. I don’t like it, but I don’t hate it so much as to let it run me from AA.

    I resent the attack on non-deists by some rabid “true believers” who argue that non-deists will cause increasing and possibly permanent harm to the fellowship.

  7. Greg M says:

    Immediately after the standard 28 day rehab stint, I committed to carving out at least one hour per day to work on sobriety and committed to 90 meetings in 90 days. When I was clear headed enough to recognize inconsistent logic, I started using my one hour mostly researching addiction and reading and chatting on secular sites. Traditional meetings were an annoyance. People did not want to discuss new ideas. The same old episodes of the same old shows were preferable. What about CBT, yoga, meditation, diet, exercise, and the worst of all “non-approved AA literature”? Understanding the science (physical, psychological, and sociological) of addiction has been extremely important to my recovery. I resolve for 2018 to speak out in a more public fashion to help spread the message that recovery has no cookie cutter answers, and there are alternatives to traditional AA.

    • Christopher S says:

      Greg, it looks like your using “god given” critical thinking skills. Even Bill W spent the rest of his life experimenting and researching ways to reach more fellow-sufferers. No one has cornered the market for recovery. AA’s community model seems to resonate with me without the religiosity mudding the waters. We have three secular meetings in our district that are doing just fine without deities.

      • Brad B. says:

        Critical thinking skills are not “god-given”, in my opinion. It takes practice.

        • Christopher S. says:

          Brad, I’m the author of the Grapevine piece. My”god given” allusion was meant sarcastically. I agree with you 100%!

  8. One group at a time… AA groups don’t take orders from anyone. Our group closes with the Responsibility Statement. In Bob’s group, someone reads the Responsibility Statement but the attendees don’t chant it. Instead, the group closes with, “See you next week or join us for coffee if you like.” I like that. More and more, I prefer that. I go to a lot of meetings, music industry, financial industry, I volunteer at an aftercare session weekly at a treatment center. None of the other meetings have any chanting/praying/call-backs. Again, if making newcomers feel welcome is a priority, the more that our meeting resembles any other meeting, the more comfortable they will be.

  9. Christopher S says:

    Thank you all – so far – for your comments to my online AA Grapevine article. This piece is really intended for mainstream AA as a consciousness-raising contribution.

    BTW, please tell your General Service reps to support the Agenda Topic on this Spring’s Literature committee at the annual GSO Conference on re-printing in the USA/Canada the GSO-UK pamphlet “The God Word: Atheists and Agnostics in AA” because 83 years without a pamphlet recognizing the secular alcoholic is long enough!

  10. Megan F. says:

    Thank you for this article. As a person brought up in an atheist household, I have no frame of reference for biblical terms or prayers. When I came into AA twenty years ago, I did not know the lord’s prayer was a Christian prayer. I was confused by the conflicting message that AA was not affiliated with religion but on the other hand, we MUST find God or else! It was difficult to ignore the duplicity and I chose to leave. Staying sober on my own taught me that’s it’s possible but I still prefer to fellowship and the connections I’ve made there. I’m learning to navigate the terrain with a critical but tolerant mind. All I can do is try to be the example for the newcomer who struggles with the god stuff and let them know they are not alone.

  11. Geraldine says:

    Christopher S, thank you for your essay.

    I was once a practicing Catholic, too, throughout most of my sobriety. I’m 62 and my AA anniversary is 2/22/88 and several years ago I was in an AA meeting and kept noticing how many members called themselves “miracles,” and some even claimed that God spoke directly to them. Even as a practicing Catholic I knew these people were not “miracles” and that there was no way any god was speaking to them directly. Whenever I’d ask them how they knew it was god speaking to them they always said the “just knew.”

    That’s what got me to start questioning all the indoctrination I’d experienced in my life from the time I was born. I read everything about atheism by all the well known atheists and they made a great deal of sense to me, especially Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. This intellectual turn caused me to become quite at odds with AA itself and especially the meetings I attended, because I finally really started noticing how Christian AA actually is, how a so-called Higher Power or god is continually mentioned in all the literature.

    AA insists we have a “spiritual malady” and must find a higher power in order to get sober and stay sober. It claims it’s a “spiritual program” so we need a “spiritual solution.” I no longer agree with any of that, and do not agree that any spirituality is necessary for anyone to get sober and stay sober. The twelve steps are not necessary to maintain sobriety either. These are the myths that Alcoholics Anonymous cling to, and those myths are what are a barrier to many atheist/agnostic alcoholics who want and need support. It’s time for AA to change and drop the woo nonsense.

    Though there is some hope in the new secular AA meetings, the problem remains that they still revolve around the whole notion of “spirituality” and a “higher power” because they still believe the twelve steps “work.” I’ve seen countless alcoholics “work the steps” who relapsed and as many others who never worked the steps who stayed sober, both in AA and outside of AA, so I am in no way convinced the twelve steps are necessary in any way.

    The myths promulgated by AA need to be seriously questioned and scrutinized if anyone is to ever get at the real truth of alcoholism and recovery.

    • life-j says:

      Geraldine, right on!

      Nothing about official AA methodology is necessary. Some aspects of AA work, but not the ones they SAY work. The 12 steps should at most be accepted as one way, not touted as THE way.

      Personally I think the 12 steps as such overall are more of a hindrance than a help, though for someone with a religious mindset they can of course be a help in furthering recovery along religious lines. But for everyone else they are a detriment, and they encourage a tendency to make people with a religious mindset stay, and chase everyone without, away.

      Hopefully our presence in AA can help salvage what is good about it – the fellowship, one alcoholic talking with another.

  12. Arl O says:

    I think I could tolerate the Lord’s Prayer IF it were in a rotation with a drum circle, a Wiccan call to the sacred, a chant of the Amidah (great 4th Step work ideas), standing in silence, First Peoples’ spirit Dance, chanting OM, Salat-along with the prescribed movements, Tibetan spinning bells and incense…

  13. Secular and sober says:

    The Serenity PRAYER is also bogus.

    My version, which can be be heard by those next to me: “Dog: I CAN have the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and a wise ass to see the difference.”

    The important part of that, for me, is the internal issues, not external. “The courage to change”…

    Psychology shows us that repeating words imprints them in the brain and we grow around them, like bark around a nail. I learned early, as a kid, that what we expose our brain to resides in there somewhere. I feel such cognitive dissonance hearing all that Christian crap in any AA meeting that it stresses me out for days. This is not conducive to my serenity, clarity, growth or even my sobriety.

    Iʻm sure itʻs different for others, but for me that religious stuff is downright harmful. I have not been in two months and I am so much better off. I am pro-active about my study and reflection, instead of the kneejerk reactions I have to that shaming and blaming condescension.

    Imagine the success of a self-help group that blamed it’s members for their allergy to cats and told them prayer alone could solve it. Ha! Can you imagine being sentenced to attend that group if you sneezed during a coronation or something?

  14. life-j says:

    Hi Chris: At least the LP I don’t have to suffer in any of the meeting places I go with some regularity, but I know it is rampant in the heartland. And yes, the last place I think I heard it used was at the Singing Trees recovery center up by Garberville. Guess there are always old-timers who want to get the newly sober people off on a good footing.

    I always find it intriguing to hear how so many people become non-believers after substantial involvement with the religious establishment. Myself I was 8 years old when I looked up at that crucifix my grandmother had hung over my bed and said to myself “Nah, there’s no way I can believe in this stuff”. Though in large part because the guy on the cross apparently wasn’t doing anything to relieve me of the hell of my daily life. My grandmother didn’t push it, once she realized I was a lost soul, she just prayed for me, but in school I had to put up with it for another 6 years. I did rebel once in 6th grade blowing my nose to the tune of whatever psalm we were singing, and those who know me know I have a good honk. But other than that, what do you do when you live in a small, conservative community other than get out as soon as you can?

    Anyway, Chris, good to know you and thanks again.

  15. Ken P. says:

    Wow, so much in here that makes me want to shout, “Me too! Me too!” I celebrated 19 years last April, am 67 years old, came into AA an active Christian and became an atheist 10 years ago.

    My sponsor and I have had several discussions about religion, spirituality and the LP. He says the LP is a “spiritual prayer” and that I am not open-minded. By now, we have agreed to disagree on those things.

    My home groups don’t say the LP, but when I am visiting a group that does, I just join hands and stay silent. I cannot say words that are completely antithetical to my core beliefs.

    Thank you for this article. Wonderful to read the original post and the comments.

    Peace, Ken P.

  16. Pat N. says:

    If I belonged to an AA group that clung to the LP, I might suggest at a business meeting that we start reciting the Hail Mary instead, then ask which of the arguments against that don’t equally apply to the LP.

    (My only claim to fame is that I can still recite both in Latin, a relic of my wasted Catholic school days.)

  17. Steven V. says:

    Good read! One of these days we’ll tackle this tradition of one feeling the need to state their sober date. Already way too much emphasis on it especially for a “day-at-a-time” program.

    • Pat N. says:

      Around here, stating one’s b.d. is optional, although most do. One of my best friends told us last night that she’s coming up on her 26th, but intends not to announce it any more. On the other hand, I always announce mine when it comes, as an introduction to stating how I admire newcomers, dealing with all the stresses of early recovery without their painkiller. It takes heroism to GET sober, but many years really just means more good habits, in my opinion.

      Old-timer=don’t drink & don’t die.

  18. William C. says:

    The sad truth is that for most AAs this is a religious program.

    At many meetings I am an outsider, tolerated, being expected to Fake It Till I Make It, but not being allowed to be true to myself!!

    • Marty N. says:

      I’ve been sober in AA since 2/11/81 and have an issue with this ever since. In the early days, around here, no one circled up so I was able to be inconspicuous. But in the late 80’s when the influx of the treatment centers and their chants I was no longer able to hide.

      I have been explaining myself ever since. My home group is a small traveling speaker commitment group. We voted, with not a lot of fanfare to stop the prayer bit and go with the Responsibility pledge. Some incoming groups actually like it; others don’t know what to think.

      The preamble says we are not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization, or institution. Conspicuous by it’s absence is the word religion. We, apparently, not allied with any denomination, however we certainly are allied with a religion. When we stand around in a circle and say the lord’s prayer we, it seems to me, we are allied with Christianity, but no particular denomination.

      Furthermore, the bible in Matthew 5-6 says go to thy room and shut thy door and this is how you shall pray! Do not stand on the streets with the zealots! Clearly, the prayer is intended to be said in private! It kills me that these people don’t even know their own scripture.

  19. bob k says:

    The Lord’s Prayer is an embarrassment to Alcoholics Anonymous, as it demonstrates that all our talk of inclusivity, is just talk. Newcomers are told we’re “spiritual, not religious,” then within an hour, encounter Christianity’s number one prayer. Huh?

    By ending meetings with Jesus’s petition, we ally ourselves with Christianity. It becomes the “official” religion of AA. Of course, we PROFESS to be unallied. Years ago, supporters of the prayer would pitch the idea of the prayer being generic. That’s so ludicrous, you hardly hear that defense any more.

    That this issue is alive and well, at the dawn of 2018, tells us a great deal about AA, and the opposition to change of any kind. Membership is dropping, although population is rising. Sadly, AA is our grandfather’s Oldsmobile, and will be seen as such by the coming generations.

    • Steven V. says:

      Bingo, bango, bongo!!

    • Jim says:

      Right. One reason I left.

    • Jack B. says:


      Whether anybody likes it (or even notices) the page is turning at AA. It should probably be thanked for the good work that it actually has done over the years.

      And then we should invite all the lifers to attend the newer secular, science-based recovery groups.

      Addiction has never been a moral issue requiring an adjustment of the moral compass.

      It is a physical and medical malady that can be conquered by science and medicine; not the silly hocus-pocus of religion.

  20. Diana says:

    Thank-you for an interesting article about your journey from theism to atheism. And, thank-you for your service within AA and your example of the process of recovery.

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