Survey Results – Literature for We Agnostics?

Elevated Hands

By Roger C

Introduction

 Should it re-publish “The ‘God” Word” (it has the permission of AA in Britain) here in North America? Should it develop its own pamphlet for and by non-theists in AA?

These are questions that will be discussed and voted on at the 68th annual General Service Conference to be held later this month (April 22-28).

These were also questions that were part of a survey (initially prepared by Thomas B, the delegated for Area 5, Southern California) posted on AA Agnostica and AA Beyond Belief on Thursday morning.

To date, close to two hundred people have completed the survey. And today we want to share some of the results with you.

Before doing that though, I do want to say that I personally find it shameful that these questions are even being asked this month and this year at the Conference. I mean it’s 2018.

An AA Pamphlet for Agnostics – The 1980s. Read more about rejection of literature for we agnostics by the Conference by clicking on the above image.

A dozen times over the past forty years these questions have been raised at General Service Conferences. The first formal request for AA literature for agnostics and atheists goes back to 1976. At the time, an AA literature subcommittee pointed out that this literature was necessary “to assure non-believers that they are not merely deviants, but full, participating members in the AA Fellowship without qualification”.

That request was rejected.

And requests for “Conference-approved” literature were rejected – voted against – again and again and again by the General Service Conference.

So the stark question is: What will the Conference do this month, this year? Is it open to atheists and agnostics, or not?

Below are just a few of the responses to the survey, and all of these were submitted on AA Agnostica. It’s a survey that we hope and understand will be shared at the upcoming Conference. We would like to thank the delegate for Southern California for his support for we agnostics and atheists in AA.


Does religious affiliation, or lack of it; philosophical preferences; theistic or atheistic views; or a concept or lack of one of a power greater than ourselves bear any relevance on one’s membership in AA?

Yes. According to our Preamble and Tradition 3, being an atheist should not be a bar to membership in AA. However, most meetings open with “How It Works” with the following phrases repeated at the each meeting: “But there is One who has all power – that One is God. May you find Him now” and the dire (and inaccurate) “b. Probably no human power…” “c. God could and would…” Many meetings close with the Lord’s Prayer — a real slap in the face to Tradition 3 and our Preamble. As a result of these ritualized bad habits, atheists are often excluded, lectured or ostracized.

Megan R (atheist)

No. Getting and staying sober is the purpose of AA. The specifics are YOUR INDIVIDUAL program.

Dick O (atheist)

Yes. Traditional AA is aimed at not only helping members to stay sober, but drilling religion into their brains. As an atheist in Spain (where atheism is more widely accepted that in the US, by the way), I left AA after two and a half months because I felt constantly threatened and harassed.

Keija X (atheist)

No. The only requirement for membership is the desire to stop drinking.

Hilary J (agnostic) and also many, many others.

No. I tried for years to fit into the expectations of other AA members. I finally found like-minded people in AA & I’m so grateful. AA needs to step up & instead of SAYING it is not religious, they need to STOP BEING religious.

Joy R (agnostic with atheist tendencies)

No. Alcoholism is a disease and can be arrested with the fellowship, guidance and help of the members of Alcoholics Anonymous. Either the leadership admits to this simple fact and ceases in claiming that only belief in a “Higher Power” or “God” will keep a member sober or the fellowship of AA will not expand.

Charles M (atheist)


Is AA sufficiently welcoming to atheists or agnostics?

No. The Big Book,and thus the Steps, is chock full of “in your face” obviously deity centered “musts” and “must nots” if you want to achieve sobriety. The chapter to the agnostic is nothing more than an exercise in conversion to a belief in God. Find God now or perish an alcoholic death.

Richard K (non-theist)

No. All too often newcomers are told that the only way to sobriety is through the acceptance of god, higher power or other euphemism. Even the “We Agnostics” chapter in the Big Book is condescending and suggests that eventually one must accept god or experience a lesser quality sobriety.

Mick S (atheist)

No and it was a large cause of it taking 25 years to get and maintain sobriety. I’m very tired of people trying to “save” me. I wanted to believe but it never worked for me. My big “spiritual” awakening was that I didn’t believe in a anthropomorphic creator deity that would “do for me what I couldn’t do for myself”.

Liz W (non-theist)

No. Still too many snide remarks and a roiling of the eyes.

Dan V (agnostic)

No. Emphasis on belief in a “Higher Power” or “God” dissuades many for sticking to the fellowship and getting sober within it.

Charles M (atheist)

No. First and second hand experience in Idaho AA reveals a very hard fundamentalist Christian attitude expressed at the majority of meetings. Paying homage to narrow interpretations of The Big Book and the 12 X 12, and accepting a god are too often defined as requirements.

Wally K (atheist)

No. Witness the long history of AA’s organizational disregard for non-theists. Consider the Toronto affair where the GTAI had to be “blackmailed” by AAWS, Inc. into listing non-theist meetings.

Paul W (non-theist)

No. Some areas (actually area 5!) are quite welcoming and the meetings don’t dwell on any religious aspects or use “god” a lot. However, some areas and districts are quite the opposite. I’ve experienced both as I’ve moved around the country.

Jennifer J (atheist)

No. Opening meetings with How It Works emphasizes a male monotheistic solution as the only solution. Closing meetings with the exclusively Christian Lord’s Prayer is the most flagrant way AA belittles our Preamble and 3rd Tradition. People who state their atheism in meetings are often cross-talked, put down, lectured.

Megan R (atheist)

No. AA is stuck in the middle of the 20th century. People coming in the doors today are poly addicted and non-religious. Many turn on their heel and walk out because of the religious (Christian) flavor… and in some cases, that is a death sentence.

Herb Y (non-theist)

No. In order to allow any alcoholic who comes for help to feel comfortable, AA needs to publicize and promote the attitude quoted above from Bill W.: “Consequently, the full individual liberty to practice any creed or principle or therapy whatever should be a first consideration for us all. Let us not, therefore, pressure anyone with our individual or even our collective views.”

Oren T (agnostic)

No. I believe GSO in NY and a large portion of the service structure of AA is moving towards acceptance of atheists and agnostics as a minority component of Alcoholics Anonymous. But it’s been my experience at the grassroots level, local meetings, club houses etc. there is a huge back to basics contention that are against it, fight it, and push new comers away.

Glenn G (atheist)


Can AA do more to emphasize flexibility and acceptance of differing viewpoints on spiritual matters?

Yes. Acknowledge that some people are able to get and stay sober without a higher power. Emphasize that AA is inclusive, the Steps are “meant to be suggestions only” and that everyone works the Program in their own way.

Hilary J (agnostic)

Yes. The group I belong to, Brown Baggers in Collingwood, has a preamble of welcome read at the opening of each meeting. It speaks to the inclusivity of the group regardless of belief or lack of belief. I would love it if more groups adopted this opening.

Barb S

Yes. Do more than pay lip service to acceptance of differing viewpoints. Act like you mean it.

Anonymous

Yes. Scuttle the Lord’s Prayer as a way of closing. Very off-putting to non-theists.

Vincent P (skeptic)

Yes. Read this quote from Ernie Kurtz at every meeting: “Whenever, wherever, one alcoholic meets another alcoholic and sees in that person first and foremost not that he or she is male or female, or black or white, or Christian, Buddhist, Jew, or Atheist, or gay or straight, or whatever, but sees… that he or she is alcoholic and that therefore both of them need each other – there will be not only an Alcoholics Anonymous, but there will be the Alcoholics Anonymous that you and I love so much and respect so deeply.”

Herb Y (non-theist)

No. AA should stop pretending it is an authority on so-called spiritual matters.

Guy H (atheist)

Yes. It’s 2018, if AA collectively cannot see the wood from the trees then there is little hope. AA is obligated to grow up and mature as a fellowship. We need to do our own “step 10” and get on with helping the still suffering alcoholics.

Brendan F (atheist)

Yes! I like what they read at the beginning of our Free Thinkers meetings; stating we are accepting of any beliefs. [Secular AA Preamble: AA agnostic meetings endeavor to maintain a tradition of free expression, and to conduct a meeting where alcoholics may feel free to express any doubts or disbeliefs they may have, and to share their own personal form of spiritual experience, their search for it, or their rejection of it. In keeping with AA tradition, we do not endorse or oppose any form of religion or atheism. Our only wish is to ensure suffering alcoholics that they can find sobriety in AA without having to accept anyone else’s beliefs, or having to deny their own.]

Sarah D (agnostic)


Should the Conference publish or adapt “The God Word” pamphlet?

Yes. It is useful to understand that many people have been successful with long term sobriety without the need to believe in a mystical interventionist being.

John J (atheist)

Yes. It is a well-worded pamphlet that does not criticize the faithful. The quotes from Bill W give it an AA “legitimacy” for those that rely on insights from his writings. More importantly, the included testimonials offer hope to newcomers who honestly cannot accept (or fake) a belief in supernatural intervention by a divine being. It encourages suffering alcoholics to continue a relationship with the AA fellowship and to work through the steps to recovery.

Hidde H (atheist)

Yes. We need to reach people who reject the (God) word or concept. Newcomers need to know that whatever they believe or don’t believe is ok and that they’re welcome.

Sue T (atheist)

Yes. Simply because it is needed. AA looks at trying to reach the young, the old, the gay, the woman, and on and on. However, it ignores the largest segment of unreached alcoholics: the agnostic, atheist, freethinker, humanist or anyone that doesn’t fit the religious status quo and therefore just doesn’t matter.

Joy R (agnostic with atheist tendencies)

Yes. Changes can be made to the U.K. version as desired but let’s get something out there and embrace the agnostics and atheists!

Anne G (agnostic)

Yes. It’s easy for someone to walk into a meeting and think the program is only for people who believe in a god. Having alternate material available would be excellent.

Jennifer J (atheist)

Yes. This pamphlet would help validate that atheists and agnostics have a place in AA and are welcome to share their experience, strength and hope.

Megan F (atheist)

Definitely yes. But also we need to look at those areas where religious prayers, such as the Lord’s Prayer are still said in meetings and at District and Area levels as well. Sends a conflicted message. We SAY we are not affiliated with any religions, yet we are using religious prayers.

Deborah R (non-theist)


Should the Conference develop a pamphlet for the atheist and agnostic AA member?

Yes. In the last 80 years the world has changed, we have more knowledge. If AA is to honour tradition three in particular then we must acknowledge all varieties of belief or non-belief without exclusion.

David C (atheist)

Yes. AA has the talented authors to do this for North America and our membership should be represented in our pamphlet. This can be accomplished slowly and deliberately if “The God Word” were to be accepted for near term or interim use.

Wally K (atheist)

Yes. Of course! It’s an embarrassment that this question is even asked frankly.

Vincent P (skeptic)

Yes. This one would follow on to “The God Word” containing stories from North American members and statements of support and inclusion from members of AA offices.

Paul W (non-theist)

Yes but it will take another 100 years.

Jim L (10 percent Buddhist)

Yes. Again, badly needed in our Conference. “Many Paths” doesn’t cut it.

Brooke D (agnostic)

Yes. As it is, there are a few of us that speak out at meetings and let new comers know that you can stay sober and be at peace without believing in a deity. It would be great to have the support of AA, in general, with a pamphlet stating as much.

Tim B (atheist)

Yes. More materials would help the atheists and agnostic individuals feel validated and welcome. We should be an inclusive society.

Megan F (atheist)

Yes. We need something to offset the Big Book and the 12 and 12.

Jane (agnostic/Buddhist)

Yes. Another pamphlet would help solidify the feeling that AA as a whole is not “religious”. But for sure do not make any more attempts to differentiate “religious” and “spiritual”. That’s a dead horse. Just give testimony that sobriety is possible no matter your beliefs.

Chris G (atheist)

No. We don’t need another pamphlet “FOR” atheists. We need a new pamphlet “BY” sober atheists. This is not an objection to a trivial matter, nor a matter of semantics. We as atheists have been subjected to the “We Agnostics” chapter, and “Many Paths to Spirituality” and other faith promoting literature. We aren’t in need of another piece to tell us we’re doing it wrong. We need a pamphlet to validate our right as recovering alcoholics to attend AA meetings without discrimination of any kind.

Larry L (atheist)

Yes. The world demographic is changing in that there is more and more diversity in every part. We need to be inclusive of all faiths, views, interpretations etc if we want to provide what the still suffering alcoholic needs. If we truly want to be there, we need to have what people need.

Deborah R (non-theist)


You can still complete the survey! And the results will go to the Area 05 Southern California delegate who will take them to the Conference. Just click here: Conference Question – Literature for We Agnostics?

These are all survey responses submitted via AA Agnostica. The responses submitted to AA Beyond Belief will soon be shared on that website. We are pleased to work together in sharing this important information days before the next General Service Conference.


24 Responses

  1. William C. says:

    I was surprised the pamphlet was even published, and emailed AA-UK asking about their autonomy.

    They replied that it was done under the Fourth Tradition, which I take to be a wonderfully literal interpretation!

    Lets print out own under our banner, giving credit where credit is due.

  2. Thomas B. says:

    Thanks Roger for reproducing this survey so that the other Thomas B. in LA has a larger response from a cross section of the secular AA community across North America.

    I also found it most encouraging of how many people supported the effort to make Britain’s “The God Word” pamphlet available to nonbelievers in North America. It will be one of the issues that I’m most looking forward to hearing about from the General Service Conference later this month.

  3. William C. says:

    Earlier I found a link to a triple-fold highlights of Bill W on God

    My printer crashed and now I’ve lost it.

    H E L P ! ! !

  4. Dale K. says:

    I love all the comments. It’s very encouraging to know there are so many people that care. I sure hope somebody’s listening.

    I would have thought a lot more people had completed the survey. I guess it’s like trying to get people to the polls.

  5. Eugene B. says:

    For 7 years I got and stayed sober in AA Area 5. Later I dug in for another 15 years at a We Agnostics AA meeting in LA where as a service representative I continued to offer our group’s alternative approach to any and all who found it a viable way to stop drinking.

    Here in Mississippi in Area 37 where I now live, I note that there is a concerted effort to demean the non-believer, insisting that AA requires members not only to stop drinking, but to develop a personal relationship with God or a higher power. So, I’ve discontinued attending such AA meetings in Southern Mississippi where I live (though there is a We Agnostics group in Alabama thank goodness).

    Here in Mississippi, for the last 12 years, I had endured prayer meetings mascarading as AA meetings in my ongoing effort to stay sober. And it has helped keep me sober no doubt, but not because of, but in spite of localized bible-belt obeisance to an extraterrestrial being. They want their God stuff down here and I have often watched skeptical newcomers routinely smothered by it all understandably slip away from the God-oriented local AA fellowship.

    Perhaps like minded AA members will find it useful to attend a local AA meeting I am in process of starting in Biloxi. At least I know it will help keep me sober. Heck, I might even become a better person.

    • Don says:

      When I came to AA in early 1970’s people stood to say prayers. I stood silent. Then the hand holding, prayer meeting “circle jerk” became common.

      Not to be oppositional I leave the rooms during.

      Have recently started AA Beyond Belief – Nassau (NY).

      Find that those who come are “closet cases” who do not want to raise issues with the “believers”.

  6. William C. says:

    Forgive me, I need a link to that survey.

    Meanwhile I ordered 6 pamphlets from AA UK. Is AA UK quite independent?

    • Roger says:

      I believe that AA UK is indeed quite independent. Meanwhile here is a link to the survey, William: Conference Question – Literature for We Agnostics?

      • William C. says:

        Thank you I must study them closely. I am coming to the reluctant conclusion that it is time to launch THE NEW AA – Keeping Up to Date on Recovery, while acknowledging AA’s history.

    • life-j says:

      I don’t know if things have changed in the meantime, but part of why we’re trying to get WS in NY to publish it is that I tried for weeks to get AA UK to send pamphlets over here, and they did not want to. Probably a lot of that is plain laziness, though I recognize that there are many volunteers involved, and so we can’t fault people for setting limits. Part of it is probably also that they were not expecting to supply more than the British isles with pamphlets, so now instead of just 50-100 million people there are upwards of 500 million in the English speaking world coming to them with requests. If you indeed do get them to send it to you, please let us know.

      • William Condie says:

        I managed to buy them with no problems.

        Dear Customer:
        Thank you your order.
        Alcoholics Anonymous (Great Britain) Ltd
        5 x 3267 – The ‘God’ Word at £0.50 = £2.50
        Total Cost: £2.50 (inc Delivery)

      • life-j says:

        The big question William is: where are you: Americas or no?

      • William C. says:

        I’m in Palm Beach and thought UK rights might have been a problem as it has been with some books in the past.

        But this sailed right through.

  7. life-j says:

    Funny how people answer alternately yes and no to the first question – and yet, they all more or less agree.

    It reflects the attitudes of AA as a whole, of course which says one thing and does another, such that there is great confusion between what the spoken intentions and the actual intentions are, and consequently between “does” and “should”.

    It indeed takes a genius of a manipulator to create a religion that is not religious, or should I say a non-religion that is religious. An amazing con job. Only an alcoholic could pull that one off, or should we say only an alcoholic 3 years sober would want to pull that one off. Any other person with more sobriety or more sanity, or more integrity would have been able to humbly hold back a bit better than our friend Bill did.

    Wherever I go, and it’s mostly regular godly meetings (since if I didn’t I’d just be preaching to the choir) I say openly that the big book is a terrible book, and the only credit it deserves at this point is for being a major part of what pulled us all together. And there really is no reason why we shouldn’t pull off our blinders and acknowledge that. We can very well put the big book on an overhead shelf, and still keep helping and loving each other. We can even say nice things about Bill’s twisted genius, all the more since he later in his sobriety did at least some work to modify his original stance and to include us.

    I made up a pamphlet called “As Bill ALSO Sees It” with as many Bill quotes in favor of our inclusion as I could fit on one sheet of paper. I do bring it around to the regular meetings and put it in the pamphlet racks. Available right here: As Bill ALSO Sees It. No-one can really protest – after all it IS all Bill’s words. And they do seem to not get disappeared by the fundamentalists too badly.

    • CathyM says:

      Oh goodie…. I am printing this for Winnipeg Intergroup tomorrow night!

      Hopefully we learn soon if a panel titled ‘We Agnostics’ will be slated at the Manitoba Keystone Conference this fall.

      CathyM

  8. CathyM says:

    Another point I like to stress is that Alcoholics Anonymous has a very strong service structure that non AA groups do not – they have not had membership numbers or years to establish.

    Alcoholics Anonymous have the committees and networks in place, a necessary element to reach the still suffering alcoholic-addict.

    In Manitoba, the provincial treatment centres have opened the doors to Inhouse meetings by groups such as Refuge Recovery and SOS. Meetings on campus are also popular as well as online and real time meetings.

    The times they are a’changing!