Recovery Spirituality

Port Dover

By Ernest Kurtz (Adjunct Assistant Research Scientist, Department of Psychiatry, University of Michigan Medical School) and William L. White (Emeritus Senior Research Consultant, Chestnut Health Systems). Originally published on January 27, 2015.

Abstract

There is growing interest in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and other secular, spiritual, and religious frameworks of long-term addiction recovery. The present paper explores the varieties of spiritual experience within AA, with particular reference to the growth of a wing of recovery spirituality promoted within AA. It is suggested that the essence of secular spirituality is reflected in the experience of beyond (horizontal and vertical transcendence) and between (connection and mutuality) and in six facets of spirituality (Release, Gratitude, Humility, Tolerance, Forgiveness, and a Sense of Being-at-home) shared across religious, spiritual, and secular pathways of addiction recovery. The growing varieties of AA spirituality (spanning the “Christianizers” and “Seculizers”) reflect AA’s adaptation to the larger diversification of religious experience and the growing secularization of spirituality across the cultural contexts within which AA is nested.

1. Prologue

Sometimes, at an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting, a speaker will describe the “what happened” part of her or his story of “what we used to be like, what happened, and what we are like now” by saying, “I got sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

As long-tenured scholars of the very varied literature on AA, we find ourselves sick and tired of hearing too often, over too many years, observers (they can hardly be called “students”) of Alcoholics Anonymous decrying its lack of scientifically demonstrated value and its apparent reliance on some nebulous entity called “spirituality”. Some claim that the AA fellowship and program lack “proven results”, not realizing how that assertion evidences their own lamentable lack of familiarity with the available scholarly literature on AA [1–4]. Often these critics especially excoriate the claim made by many students and members of Alcoholics Anonymous that “spirituality” has something to do with how AA “works”. “Show us the proof”, comes the demand. “Where is the hard data, the substantiated, irrefutable evidence that demonstrates how, and why, Alcoholics Anonymous achieves such a claim?

What is this ‘spirituality’?” [5,6].

This critical instinct is correct in a very important way: it is precisely in the realm of spirituality that any approach to understanding Alcoholics Anonymous must take place. This poses a problem for those who deny the existence of such a reality as spirituality. To them, the only possible reply is that traditionally given by the disciples of any wisdom figure: “Come and see.” ([7], p. 90–91; [8], p. 4). And so, if anyone genuinely wishes to come to some valid understanding of Alcoholics Anonymous, let her or him follow the advice given newcomers to AA “Attend ninety meetings – insofar as possible, ninety different meetings” – if not in ninety days, then in not more than one hundred and twenty days. Surely any doctoral-level researcher has spent far longer and more onerous efforts in pursuit of some other piece of publishable research. (And those efforts almost certainly did not include free cups of coffee).

At those meetings, you will hear stories – stories that “disclose in a general way what we used to be like, what happened, and what we are like now” ([9], p. 58). Alas, there will be no opportunity to pass out questionnaires or other “instruments”. A funny thing about “instruments” or other paraphernalia – things – intended to measure: they do not work well at capturing the non-physical, and if there is one sure truth about spirituality, clear from its very word/name, it is not a physical entity. And so to try to measure, weigh, or calibrate spirituality makes as much sense as attempting to understand interpersonal love by calculating genital tumescence [10]. Comprehending “the spiritual” requires different “tools”.

So a bit more about those meetings and what you will do there. The requirements we suggest are two, though really one: Listen – with a genuinely open mind, trying to absorb rather than critique, and Identify – strive to put yourself in the frame of mind you might have in reading a good novel. Do not, then, listen for or pass judgment on facts; unless you happen to be an alcoholic, you will likely find incredible many of the details you hear. The facts in any story are of relatively minor import. Listen, rather, for the thoughts and feelings described: that is where the action is in any good story, and they convey depths of truth that transcend the detailing of events [11].

For this is the kind of research on which this article is based. Your co-authors have, between them, been researching 12-Step meetings and other addiction-related professional and peer support modalities for a combined total of 83 years, in many cities beyond the eight in which we have resided, as we both for many years traveled the United States and beyond to offer presentations at addictions conferences and to teach in addictions studies programs at Rutgers University, the University of North Carolina, and the University of Chicago. What follows here is based on those years of careful listening at a wide variety of AA meetings, the regular reading of member-stories in the AA Grapevine and elsewhere [12,13], and, of course, sustained familiarity with the published research on AA and other addiction recovery mutual aid groups. Also, since some explicitly challenge how adequately non-specialists can investigate spirituality [14], Ernest Kurtz has studied theology for four years in a Catholic seminary and two years at Harvard Divinity School and taught for two years in the theology department of Loyola University of Chicago.

2. Introduction

Slaying The DragonAlthough addiction recovery mutual aid dates from the mid-eighteenth century, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is the benchmark by which past and present mutual-aid groups are measured [15]. AA has earned that distinction by its membership size and international dispersion, its organizational longevity, its influence on professionally directed addiction treatment, the breadth and depth of AA-related historical and scientific research, and AA’s wide adaptation to other problems of living [16].

The early history of Alcoholics Anonymous is well-documented within AA’s own literature [17–19], through independent historical scholarship [20,21], and through the recent proliferation of biographies of key figures in AAʼs story [22–30]. Jeff Sandozʼs article in this issue [31] summarizes the well-known “spiritual rather than religious” framework of alcoholism recovery detailed in AA’s two basic texts [9,33]. Intriguingly, this “simple program” had by even two decades ago generated thousands of interpretive books, articles, and commentaries, usually revealing more about the authors than about AA [34].

One large reason lies behind this plethora of publications by AA attackers, defenders, and interested bystanders all struggling to define what Alcoholics Anonymous is and is not: the reality that AA is so decentralized that in a very real sense, there really is no such single entity as “Alcoholics Anonymous” – only AA members and local AA groups that reflect a broad and ever increasing variety of AA experience. To suggest that Alcoholics Anonymous represents a “one size fits all approach” to alcoholism recovery, as some critics are prone to do, ignores the actual rich diversity of AA experience in local AA groups and the diverse cultural, religious, and political contexts in which AA is flourishing internationally [35–37].

That difficulty is compounded because most who comment on Alcoholics Anonymous attend too much to its Twelve Steps, ignoring its organizationally more significant Twelve Traditions. AA’s Twelve Traditions underlie and make not only possible but inevitable the vast varieties among AA groups. Anyone wishing to comment seriously on Alcoholics Anonymous must think carefully about how the reality of that deeply internalized organizational blueprint may influence what they observe. The sociologist Robin Room, who has done so, has suggested that its Traditions may be AA’s greatest contribution to society, offering as they do a tested pattern for living a chastened individualism [38].

Newcomers to Alcoholics Anonymous are advised, “Try to attend ninety meetings in ninety days”. On a superficial but valid level, this encourages immersion in the AA program. But more significantly, this gentle mandate pushes the newcomer to try out many different meetings, hopefully to find some that fit his style, meetings at which she discovers a real sense of being “at home”.

There are two broad patterns of diversification within the history of AA. The first occurs through organizational schism, when one or more members experience incongruity between their personal beliefs and AA practices, prompting them to abandon Alcoholics Anonymous and start an organization that offers an alternative to the AA approach. This process is reflected in the genealogy of AA adaptations and alternatives. These span (1) religious alternatives (e.g., Alcoholics Victorious, 1948; Alcoholics for Christ, 1977: Millati Islami, 1989; Celebrate Recovery, 1991; Buddhist Recovery Network, 2008); (2) alternatives for other drug dependencies (e.g., Addicts Anonymous, 1947; Narcotics Anonymous, 1950/1953; Synanon, 1958; Cocaine Anonymous, 1982); (3) gender-specific alternatives (Women for Sobriety, 1975) [39]; (4) secular alternatives (e.g., Secular Organizations for Sobriety [40], 1985; Rational Recovery, 1986 [41]; SMART Recovery, 1994); and (5) moderation-based mutual support (Moderation Management, 1994) [42].

The second pattern of diversification occurs when individuals or subgroups seek and promote different styles of recovery within AA itself. This latter trend includes organizational adjuncts for AA members who pursue spiritual growth through a particular religious orientation – “11th Step Groups” (e.g., Calix Society, 1947; Jewish Alcoholics, Chemically Dependent People and Significant Others [J.A.C.S.], 1979) – and adaptations that seek either to secularize or to Christianize AA history and practice. The former include explicitly secular groups within AA (Alcoholics Anonymous for Atheists and Agnostics, 1975, and other groups [43]); the latter involve groups that promote a more spiritual/religious focus within meetings (the “Primary Purpose” and “Back to Basics” movements).

These divergent wings of belief within AA and the proliferation of spiritual, religious, and secular alternatives to AA are unfolding within a larger recognition of the legitimacy of multiple pathways and styles of long-term addiction recovery [44].

The authors have been involved in sustained investigations into the “varieties of recovery experience” and have published articles on a wide spectrum of addiction recovery mutual aid organizations [15,45,46]. We have conducted historical investigations of spiritual, religious, and secular recovery mutual aid groups, published interviews with key recovery mutual aid leaders [47], and helped develop a key Mutual Aid Guide [48]. Through perspectives drawn from these experiences, we will focus in this article on the growing varieties of AA experience, with particular emphasis on the emergence of an atheist/agnostic wing within AA and what this development potentially means for the future of secularization or religious revivalism within Alcoholics Anonymous.

3. The Historical Context

Bill W.Alcoholics Anonymous began in the 1930s within the Oxford Group, an attempt to recapture “First Century Christianity” [20]. Although AA early departed those roots, first in New York City, by 1940 also in its Akron, Ohio, birthplace, a strong religious tinge perdured, most evident in its “Big Book” chapter “We Agnostics”, which blandly assumed that all who approached the fellowship would find God. But there were early dissenters; one – atheist Jimmy B. – had a profound effect summarized in the addition of the phrase “as we understand Him” after the word “God” in the 3rd and 11th of AA’s 12 Steps.

There were others. Robert Thomsenʼs 1975 biography, Bill W., based primarily on extensive interviews with Wilson, offered a description of the late 1930s Tuesday evening meetings at the Wilson’s Clinton Street Brooklyn home:

There were agnostics in the Tuesday night group, and several hardcore atheists who objected to any mention of God. On many evenings Bill had to remember his first meeting with Ebby. He’d been told to ask for help from anything he believed in. These men, he could see, believed in each other and in the strength of the group. At some time each of them had been totally unable to stop drinking on his own, yet when two of them had worked at it together, somehow they had become more powerful and they had finally been able to stop. This, then – whatever it was that occurred between them – was what they could accept as a power greater than themselves” ([49], p. 230).

But such individuals were exceptional during AAʼs early years and even beyond. During World War II and the decade of the 1950s, sociologists noted the religiosity of an American public conscious of being confronted by “godless atheistic communism”. The period is aptly summed up in social philosopher Will Herbergʼs best-selling description of American reality in Protestant, Catholic, Jew [50], by President-elect Dwight David Eisenhower’s often mocked declaration, “Our government makes no sense unless it is founded on a deeply-felt religious faith – and I don’t care what it is”, and by Stephen J. Whitfieldʼs post-Cold War summary of the era [51]. The counter-cultural 1960s, not least because of the assassinations and war that blotted that decade, witnessed a fraying of that faith.

Over that decade and the next, especially in the mid-1970s, those who complained of the religiosity” of Alcoholics Anonymous were told that its program and fellowship were “spiritual but not religious” – a formulation that would wildfire through the larger culture in the 1990s [52–55].

In the 1980s, meanwhile, some members of Alcoholics Anonymous who felt oppressed by its religiosity and who, more importantly from the perspective of AA itself, saw evidence that the fellowshipʼs religiosity was alienating new members and keeping still others away from even trying its program, departed AA to found two secular counterparts: Secular Organizations for Sobriety [40] and Rational Recovery [41]. Even before that decade, in 1975, a group of Chicago AA members formed “Alcoholics Anonymous for Atheists and Agnostics”, more familiarly known as “Quad-A”. Other similarly motivated diversely named groups formed in various places over the years, but the next significant development took place in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, in 2009 and 2010, when the groups “Beyond Belief” and “We Agnostics”, recognizing the need to make their availability more widely known, formed the website, AA Agnostica. A more complete and detailed history of atheists and agnostics in Alcoholics Anonymous may be found at that website: A History of Agnostic Groups in AA.

4. Leading Up To the Present: Lines Are Drawn

A History of Agnostics in AAThe story told there begins not in 1975 but decades later, in 2011, when the Greater Toronto Area Alcoholics Anonymous Intergroup “passed a motion at its regular monthly meeting that the two groups [“Beyond Belief” and “We Agnostics”] be removed from the meeting books directory, the GTA AA website, and the list of meetings given over the phone by Intergroup to newcomers”. For despite a long history of tolerance within Alcoholics Anonymous, and the reality that the General Service Office of Alcoholics Anonymous recognizes atheist and agnostic groups, the era that began on 11 September 2001 (and was reinforced on 11 March 2004 and 7 July 2005) – labeled by Jürgen Habermas the “post-secular” epoch [57–60] – brought to a head the long-simmering disagreement within AA between its “Big Book Fundamentalists” and its “Modernizing Secularizers”.

The “Big Book Fundamentalists” draw their inspiration and practice from their understanding of how Alcoholics Anonymous functioned at its birthplace in Akron, Ohio, during the mid-1930s, when the alcoholics met as “the alcoholic squadron” of the Oxford Group, and in the early-1940s Cleveland “Beginners’ Meetings” offspring of that approach. Although this style infuses many groups to varying extents, it finds its most explicit expression in the “Primary Purpose” and “Back to Basics” movements founded within AA in 1988 and 1995, respectively [71]. Followers of these movements continue to give lip-service to the “spiritual rather than religious” shibboleth, but members and groups formed in this Akronite tradition insist on a brand of “spirituality” that harbors no room for disagreement about a very explicitly Christian content. Such explicitness spans efforts to Christianize early AA history, elevate Christian literature on par with AA’s own literature, and assert Christian conversion as a central mechanism of AA’s effectiveness.

The “Secularizers”, meanwhile, interpret the “post-secular” eraʼs reality in a way more congruent with the Habermas understanding. Their “Awareness of What is Missing” [59] focuses on the steadily increasing number of “nones” responding to surveys of religious affiliation. These “nones” tend to be younger, and in surveys that asked their thoughts on the subject, most replied that they were “spiritual but not religious” [52–55]. Some of these had problems with alcohol and drugs, and some of those who tried Alcoholics Anonymous found it “too religious” for their comfort. The members of atheist/agnostic AA groups generally direct their 12th Step efforts at this population, seeking to “make AA safe for atheists” [72–74].

5. Recovery Spirituality

The Little Book of Atheist SpiritualityA true “Recovery Spirituality” will embrace both the quasi-religious spirituality of the “Big Book Fundamentalists” and a more secular spirituality in which atheists and agnostics who have “the only requirement for AA membership…a desire to stop drinking” ([9], p. 562) can also find a helpful home [75].

Although “secular spirituality” is not the same as “atheist [or agnostic] spirituality”, it is important to examine the approach of these groups in some detail, for the vast majority of AA members – including most who belong to atheist or agnostic groups – view spirituality as the key to what makes AA work [76,77]. Some secularizers, especially a few who are less atheist than anti-theist [78], reject the term spirituality, but several recent books argue for its retention. As early as 2002, University of Texas philosopher Robert C. Solomon published Spirituality for the Skeptic [79], describing spirituality as thoughtfulness, and suggesting that “spirituality, like philosophy, involves those questions that have no ultimate answers” and must be understood, ultimately, “in terms of the transformation of the self” ([79], pp. 5–6). Within the next decade and just beyond, other writers developed that insight, at times explicitly exploring an “atheist spirituality.” André Comte-Sponvilleʼs The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality [80], Ronald Dworkinʼs Religion Without God [81], and Sam Harris’s Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion [82] detailed in varying degrees the content of such an approach.

Meanwhile, specifically in the addictions field, Marya Hornbacherʼs Waiting: A Non-Believerʼs Higher Power [83], Vince Hawkinsʼs An Atheists [sic] Unofficial Guide to AA [84], Roger C.ʼs The Little Book: A Collection of Alternative 12 Steps [85], Archer Voxx’s The Five Keys: 12 Step Recovery Without A God [86], John Lauritsenʼs A Freethinker in Alcoholics Anonymous [87], and Adam N.ʼs Common Sense Recovery: An Atheist’s Guide to Alcoholics Anonymous [88] all offered concrete suggestions on how those who resisted the “God-talk” in Alcoholics Anonymous might nevertheless live that program and its spirituality within that fellowship. Also, true to larger AA practice, the year 2013 brought the secularizersʼ own meditation book, Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life: finally, a daily reflection book for nonbelievers, freethinkers and everyone, reflecting the experience of someone who enjoyed 38 years of continuous sobriety [89].

The varied vocabulary in the above suggests an important point. Even recalling the diverse names by which atheists and agnostics refer to themselves – “unbeliever”, “non-believer”, “freethinker”, “unconventional believer”, “humanist”, and surely there are others – alcoholic atheists and agnostics are not the only ones seeking and practicing a secular spirituality [90–101]. Spirituality, secular or otherwise, escapes clear definition: there are simply too many definitions. Although we deem the best available discussion of spirituality to be that offered by Sandra Marie Schneiders [102], for the purposes of this article, we adopt the brief, broad definition set forth by Celia Kourie ([103], pp. 19, 22):

Spirituality refers to the raison-d’être of one’s existence, the meaning and values to which one ascribes. Thus everyone embodies a spirituality. It should be seen in a wider context to refer to the deepest dimension of the human person. It refers therefore to the ‘ultimate values’ that give meaning to our lives.

“Secular spirituality”, as we use the term, embraces that understanding [104–107].

Spirituality of any kind, as a non-material entity, is impossible to measure directly [108–110]. There exists a wealth of indirect measurements, with attention paid to such qualities as “self-acceptance” or “purpose in life”. But as Harold Koenig has effectively criticized, measuring “spirituality” with “indicators of good mental health” – which seems the practice of most such research—is “meaningless and tautological” ([111], p. 349; [112]). The same seems true of equating spirituality with “positive emotions” [113]. But what, then, can be said of “atheist spirituality” or—more precisely for our purposes—“secular spirituality”, and what light does that phenomenon shed on the spirituality found in AA groups and meetings?

6. A Secular Spirituality

Waking UpThe advantage of studying secular spirituality in some detail is that thus reducing the phenomenon of spirituality to a bare minimum allows seeing more clearly its essence. Admittedly, the meetings we attended from which we derive our analysis were populated mainly by Christians and Jews, with a substantial minority of these identifying themselves as “spiritual rather than religious”, with fewer agnostics and atheists, even fewer who professed a Westernized Buddhism, very few Muslims, and none who identified as Hindus. We have tried to supplement that insofar as possible with our reading [114–116].

In barest summary, pondering what we heard across the meetings we have attended over the years as well as the stories that we have read in different sources, the spirituality that we witnessed can be summed up in two words – the prepositions beyond and between. These form the schema of any secular spirituality, the skeleton of AA spirituality. There is more to that spirituality, of course: that skeleton is enfleshed and clothed, and below, we will examine six such qualities similarly derived from our listening and reading. But we must begin with those prepositions, two words that, we think, aptly and adequately summarize 12-Step spirituality, whether religious or secular, whether of the relative newcomer or the veteran old-timer.

“Beyond”: Beyond derives from the Old English begeondan, a root not found in other Germanic languages, a preposition meaning literally “on the farther side”. It thus implies some kind of  barrier, but a barrier that does not obstruct seeing – and perhaps even going – beyond, farther. The barrier, then, is in some way permeable: it invites – indeed teases – transgression. Beyond pulls forwards; it is not content with stasis. Beyond hints “more”, but of different, not of the same. That which is beyond, then, in some way beyonds us, in the striking verb pioneered by literary scholar Kenneth Burke ([117], pp. 44–45).

Beyond awakens and pulls to transcendence [118,119]. For many ages – for most humans for most of human history – beyond pulled towards the horizon. It implied horizontal movement, an invitation to explore. But just about always for some, and in the age of flight and space travel for just about all, beyond points also vertically, pulling upwards, to new heights. Even before flight, of course, many religious traditions located “heaven” in the heavens. Beyond, then, suggests a dual transcendence: out from the narrow confines of the self-centered self; and up toward some reality greater than, larger than, the self-involved self. “Selfishness—self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles”, AA’s basic text suggests ([9], p. 62), capturing a truism that applies not only to alcoholics.

“Beyond’s” vertical transcendence implies a going out and up, a movement toward some reality. This need not entail “higher” in the sense of some kind of heaven or sky-god; it rather connotes a getting-out-of-self to that which is “higher” or greater in the sense of some ideal or of some  reality larger than the bare, narrow self. That reality might be one of the classic transcendentals” – beauty, goodness, truth – or one of the “AA transcendentals” such as gratitude or sobriety itself. It might also point to the power of the AA group or of the fellowship or program itself; there is no need for that “power” to be capitalized, though some may choose to do so. But in whatever way, any spirituality – including any secular spirituality – beyonds its adherents, pulling them to a transcendence to reality larger/greater than the bare self.

This beyonding, this transcending escape from the bondage of self, opens to a capacity for the wonder and awe that grounds all spirituality. Whether in the wondrous perfection of a newborn infant or the sublime grandeur of a glimpsed universe, the recognition and acceptance that there is reality that transcends self opens to a genuinely new perception and appreciation of all reality. This recognition is not easily granted: the bogey of self does not readily surrender its centrality. But when it does, the resulting new vision is greater even than the “new pair of glasses” promised by one of AA’s earliest members [120].

And as a post-secular literature makes clear, transcendence can be horizontal as well as vertical [67,121–124]. Spirituality’s second preposition, between, offers a specification of “beyond’s” horizontal transcendence: it connects with others. “Between” is more apt than “beside” because it connotes actual connection rather than mere next-ness: there is a “something” between, something linking, as the Oxford English Dictionary puts it: “in reference to any objective relation uniting two parties, and holding them in a certain connection (italics added)”. Spirituality, then, in “pulling beyond” also pulls to, connects. And what is there, horizontally beyond? At first, most obvious level, beyond the “self” are others, and between captures the nature of that relationship, the between-ness of equal connection, a connection of equals. “Between” thus orients to the fundamental first reality that the author of the Book of Genesis put in the mouth of the Creator God: “It is not good for man to be alone.” Nor is this an exclusively “religious” observation: given the development of sexual reproduction, some being in the mist of evolutionary pre-history made – and implemented – the same observation, reaching out in some way to an-other [125]. Fundamental to all living existence is the need for others, in one form or another.

This spiritually based human need-for-others, however, has some unique qualities, and one of the most important is the reality of its mutuality. Mutual relationships involve not the giving or getting of competition, nor even the “giving and getting” of cooperation, but a very real and genuine giving by getting, getting by giving [126,127]. This, then, is a very special and even unique kind of between-ness. Mutual bonds are more than alternately reciprocal. And to appreciate the centrality of this to the 12-Step program, we need to recall the basic first two happenings in the story of Alcoholics Anonymous, the first 12-Step program.

AA co-founder Bill Wilson, whose “spiritual experience” in New York Cityʼs Towns Hospital in December 1934 had propelled into sobriety, was in Akron, Ohio, in May of 1935. The proxy-fight he was there to pursue was failing, and Bill dejectedly paced the lonely hotel lobby, catching the sounds of pleasant chatter and the tinkle of ice cubes in the adjacent bar, when an old familiar thought rose: “I need a drink”. Recalling how trying to help other alcoholics had freed him of that craving over the preceding months, even though none he had approached had stayed dry, Wilson walked to the lobby telephone booth and began the series of calls that led him the next day to a meeting with Dr. Robert Holbrook Smith, a local surgeon with a known “drink problem”.

Before his journey to Akron, Wilsonʼs physician, Dr. William Duncan Silkworth, had urged him to “stop preaching at the drunks – give them the medical stuff, the hopelessness, etc.”. But how could Wilson teach medicine to a physician? So the next day when they met, Bill simply told Dr. Bob his story, and the surgeon identified and expressed willingness to try what Wilson had done. Bill described this meeting twenty years later, at AA’s “Coming of Age” convention:

You see, our talk was a completely mutual thing. I knew that I needed this alcoholic as much as he needed me. This was it. And this mutual give-and-take is at the very heart of all of AAʼs Twelfth Step work today ([17], p.70, italics in the original).

Bob went on one last “toot” at a medical convention a month later, and it was only after his final alcoholic drink on 17 June 1935, that AAʼs core spiritual insight was nailed down. Not long after, Bill and Bob visited the hospitalized drunk who would become “AA #3”, Bill D. They told Bill D. their stories and then asked him to let them know as soon as possible whether or not he was interested in what they had to offer, for if he was not, they had to seek out others, because it was only by carrying their message to other alcoholics that they themselves could remain sober. Bill D. later recorded his thought on hearing that:

All the other people that had talked to me wanted to help me, and my pride prevented me from listening to them, and caused only resentment on my part, but I felt as if I would be a real stinker if I did not listen to a couple of fellows for a short time, if that would cure them ([9], p. 185, italics in the original).

The Twelfth Step of Alcoholics Anonymous is often misunderstood by those outside the fellowship: “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics…”

“But,” somebody asks, “what if that drunk you seek out doesn’t want to stop drinking? What do you do about a ‘failed’ 12th Step call?”

“Well, a ‘failed 12th Step call’ is one on which you drink. Itʼs your 12th Step call, you are ‘carrying the message’, and so if you stay sober, the call is a success.”

We may reach up; we must reach out. The topic here is spirituality, remember – that essentially ineffable reality that is at the core of our human be-ing. The wisdom of the human race – our art, music, literature – all attest to our bonds with each other. Indeed, they bond – bind – us with each other. To look beyond is to look and to seek outside of self – up and around. To look between is to look “around” and to discover that we are bonded to/with each other. Transcendence must be horizontal as well as vertical: to look only “up”, to reach only “up”, is to feel one’s aloneness, and standing alone can be dizzying. To realize our full humanity we must also reach out, and when we do look around, between, we discover our connections – the between-nesses that link us with others [128–130].

Genuine spirituality reminds us of our between-nesses as well as our beyond-ing.

No, it does more than “remind” us: spirituality consists in that reach, those links. We are beyonding and betweening beings. That is why we are here. One is tempted to say that “Alone, we are nothing.”But only tempted, and even that only at very unusual moments. For in the most real sense, it is impossible to be “alone”—a lone. Connection is always present. The question is, do we recognize it, live it, honor it? We may say, with John Donne, that “No one is an island”; but how well are we living our prepositions [131]?

AAʼs 12-Step spirituality does not end here. Beyond and between are the foundation, the skeleton: the actual living and experiencing of spirituality comprises certain phenomena, experiences. In our years of listening to and reading 12-Step stories, six different experiences have emerged with some consistency [132–134]. This does not mean that all of them are heard in every story. It does mean that just about every story delineates and describes at least one, and usually two or three of these experiences. To name them: Release, Gratitude, Humility, Tolerance, Forgiveness, and Being-at-home.

7. The Contents of Recovery Spirituality

Release: especially in early recovery, but also at later critical junctures of the recovering life, the individual experiences a profound sense of being freed: for one who has been addicted, there is no better term to describe the removal of that obsession-compulsion. This is sometimes described as the feeling that a great weight has been lifted, or as if chains in which one has been bound have fallen away. In each case, the sense is not of freeing oneself but of discovering that one has been unbound, liberated, set free. This sense of “being released”, interestingly, seems to come only to those who have released, who have let go—most obviously in this setting of alcohol or some other drug of choice: it seems, then, that one becomes able to experience release only after one has oneself performed an act of releasing, of letting go.

Gratitude: the experience of thankfulness, the recognition that one has been gift-ed, has received gifts [79,135–137]. Sometimes expressed as a corollary of Release, the recovering person  describes an appreciation for what is recognized as a freely bestowed gift. Within Alcoholics Anonymous, this is often posited as gratitude for “the gift of sobriety”, for most recovered alcoholics remember how they had been unable to attain recovery on their own, despite their most genuine and valiant efforts. But beyond this, immersion in and internalization of the 12-Step program begets a special kind of vision that enables recognizing new realities, realities previously ignored or taken for granted or simply not seen, realities that one now can recognize. Gratitude anchors sobriety. Members who express difficulty with living some aspect of the 12-Step program are often encouraged to “write out a ‘gratitude list’ – the things you have to be grateful for”. Trite and even cruel as such an admonition may sound to some outsider, experience attests that those who have been through it know that “it works” [138].

Humility: the recognition and acceptance that one is neither all nor nothing. In an era that worships celebrity, humility does not enjoy a good press. Some might wish to be thought humble, but no one wants the real thing or what is commonly mistaken to be the real thing, a sycophantic creepiness. But real humility is simply the acceptance that one is of some value, but not of infinite value: one is “not God”. To be human is to be middling. More vividly, in the memorable phrasing of anthropologist Ernest Becker: “Man is a god who shits” ([139], p. 58). On the one hand, we are capable of love and altruism and generosity and many wonderful things, but it is also true that periodically, we have to squat down and be reminded that we are also made of decay and will one day return to stinking decay. Humility is simply what keeps both of those realities in appropriately close awareness [140].

Tolerance, of course, flows from “all of the above”. It is difficult to be self-righteously judgmental when one is aware of one’s middling status as a receiver of the gift of a fundamental freeing. Having “hit bottom”, one learns to look up and around rather than down. Recognizing, really experiencing the realities laid bare by humility, aware of the gifts one has received, it does not necessarily become easier to put up with the inanities of others, but if we see those in the context of what we are learning about ourselves we may become able to smile a bit at our own upset. There are many wisdom stories in which the self-righteous person asks the god for what she/he “deserves”; and then is crushed by the discovery of what that will in fact entail. The recovering alcoholic knows better. Aware of that wisdom, one hesitates to judge. In fact, one is likely to be terrified at the very possibility.

Forgiveness: “Resentment is the number one offender”, the AA “Big Book” cautions, going on to declare that “It destroys more alcoholics than anything else. From it stem all forms of spiritual disease.” ([9], p. 64). Dostoyevsky and Nietzsche were the great explorers of ressentiment, but active alcoholics may be its pre-eminent practitioners [141–145]. The opposite of resentment is forgiveness, and research on forgiveness verifies its spiritual nature in that it is one of those realities that cannot be “willed” [146,147]. Forgiveness in fact becomes more impossible the harder one tries to will it. As is true of all spiritual realities, forgiveness becomes possible only when will is replaced by willingness: it results not from effort but from openness. Research also suggests how that openness comes about: what makes forgiveness possible is the experience of being forgiven. How one attains that is one role of AAʼs Ninth Step, making direct amends to those one has injured. Apologies are not amends. Some effort to re-even the scales of justice is required, and sometimes – certainly not always – the individual who has been wronged expresses forgiveness. Experiencing this is to discover that being forgiven is a genuinely spiritual experience, one that one wants to pass on to others [148–151].

Being-at-Home: Everyone needs a sense of “community” – the deep experience of being in some way at one with some others. Unlike other communities that one may join, “home” is a place where we belong because it is where our very weaknesses and flaws fit in and are in fact the way we “fit in”. Once upon a time, in infancy and early childhood, many if not most people experienced that. It was called “family”. Our need for it does not cease as we age. And so we seek such places. Also once upon a time, this was the function of churches, which began as the place where those conscious of being sinners gathered together. Interestingly, this is to some extent replicated for some new to Alcoholics Anonymous, who park their cars blocks away from the meeting-place lest someone see them attending. But even after one becomes willing to park close-in, the key thing about such places is that one fits into them not because of strong points, competencies, but through mutually acknowledged flaws, weaknesses, inabilities…something one can’t do: “drink alcohol like ‘normal’ people”. To find and dwell in such a place, the whole history of spirituality attests, is an essential facet of spirituality.

Secular Spirituality and the Future of AA

In the United States, the percentage of religious “nones” – the non-affiliated – had risen to close to 20% in 2012, and 46% of the overall population “seldom or never attend religious services” [152–157]. Across the pond, the 2009 British Attitudes Survey for the first time recorded more “No Religion” (50.9%) than “Christian” (43.1%) respondents; and according to a 2011 YouGov poll, only 34% of UK citizens claimed they believed in a God or gods. A February 2012 YouGov survey found 43% of respondents claiming to belong to a religion and 76% claiming they were not very religious or not religious at all [158–161]. Matters seem not much different in the rest of Europe [162–166].

Still, it seems, few “nones” in any nation label themselves atheist or agnostic. Most are younger, and listening to them and to their music, the term “secular spirituality” may be a good fit: surely their beyonding and betweening are evident and real, although so is a focus on “self”. What might those changes and this reality portend for the Alcoholics Anonymous that presents itself as “a spiritual program”? In our view, the two opposite responses noted earlier within AA will probably continue to be operative into the foreseeable future. Remember, however, that these are “opposites” and so deal with extremes. The great majority of AA members will more than likely continue to settle somewhere comfortably in-between, generally tolerating the extremes but probably more often than not seeking out groups that better fit their middling inclinations.

Still, especially if – or as – the animus of “post-secularity” spreads and is internalized by a population increasingly aware of Islamic reality, the “Big Book Fundamentalists” may grow stronger and more numerous. It is unclear whether they will abandon their misconstrual of a 1990 General Service Office report on membership, claiming that it portrays AA’s “success rate” as 5% or less, which they allege demonstrates the necessity of their own more stringent approach. Carefully rigorous studies refute that 5% claim [167,168], but those with this mindset do not demonstrate much openness to the findings of research.

Although the variety among AA groups has long embraced a spectrum from more “conservative” to more “liberal” approaches to living the Twelve Steps, the end of the twentieth century found Alcoholics Anonymous unsurprisingly enmeshed in the post-modern rebirth of fundamentalisms [169]. Standing at one far end of that spectrum, both the “Primary Purpose” (1988) and “Back to Basics” (1995) movements seek to bring about within AA a return to a largely imagined pristine purity. Two observations may be made about these programs: (1) they have helped some, especially among the more religiously inclined, who had been unable to “get the program” in more ordinary AA; and (2) they have estranged at least an equal number who are alienated by their heavy emphasis on a very explicit “old time religion”. Although this site is less than fully accepting of these groups, a useful and generally balanced perspective on both groups, and on AA “Big Book Fundamentalists” in general, is available [170].

On the opposite side stand the “Modernizing Secularizers” in Alcoholics Anonymous, some of whom not only reject the heavy religious emphasis of the “Back to Basics” enthusiasts but also are antagonized by even the bare mentions of “God” in the Twelve Steps. Although far from all

“Modernizing Secularizers” identify as atheists or agnostics, such are the most avid objectors to the sometimes-practice of closing AA meetings with the Lord’s Prayer and favor finding substitutes for the “God” noun and pronouns in the Steps themselves. And although atheist and agnostic AA groups are recognized by the Fellowshipʼs General Service Office, some religiously inclined AA members refuse to acknowledge them.

The developing significance of the “Modernizing Secularizers” was underlined in November 2014, when WAAFT – We Agnostics, Atheists, and Free Thinkers – held its first national gathering in Santa Monica, California. The convention was attended by some 300, including visitors from Australia, Turkey, France, and Spain, and was addressed by the current manager of the Alcoholics Anonymous General Service Office and by a former non-alcoholic (and Episcopal minister) Head Trustee of the fellowship, both of whom warmly praised the group for what they offer the AA fellowship as a whole. The “Modernizing Secularizer” perspective is best set forth in the books referenced earlier [83–89] and at the AA Agnostica website [171], the archives of which contain descriptions of the WAAFT convention.

The secular approach and the growing reality of atheist and agnostic meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous may become of increasing importance especially in the United States of America. In at least two of that nation’s nine judicial districts, AA has been deemed sufficiently “religious” that prisoners and parolees cannot be required to attend its meetings as a condition of their rehabilitation. In its 1996 Griffin v. Coughlin decision, the 2nd Circuit’s appellate court ruled that “Adherence to the AA fellowship entails engagement in religious activity and religious proselytization” [172]. Just over a decade later, the Ninth United States Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the constitutional dividing line between church and state is so clear that a parole officer can be sued for damages for ordering a parolee to go through rehabilitation at Alcoholics Anonymous or an affiliated program for drug addicts [173]. Two useful summaries, each with links to specific legal sources, may be found at [174,175].

Faithful to the AA Tradition of avoiding public controversy and having no opinion on outside issues, the New York General Service Office of Alcoholics Anonymous declines to comment on those decisions or on the sometimes distorted reporting of them that has appeared in the public press or in private commentaries. Some members and students of AA have however suggested that the existence and current increase of atheist and agnostic AA groups rebut such claims, demonstrating their falsity. It will probably require another appellate court decision to test that claim. Until such time, it is not true that “American courts have found that Alcoholics Anonymous is a religion”; but it is accurate to observe that those who supervise United States penology practices need to keep in mind the nation’s constitutional separation of church and state.

8. Conclusions

Not GodWithin the “Recovery Spirituality” that no one doubts can embrace a religiously oriented spirituality, there also exists room for a “secular spirituality” that can include even “an atheist spirituality”. Its core content is summarized in the two prepositions, beyond and between. How those prepositions are specified varies among AA groups, the main difference in the United States being geographic. In the American South, lower mid-West, and southwest, many meeting participants tend to offer an explicitly Christian witness, often mentioning “Jesus Christ” as well as some relationship with “God”. On the coasts, in the northeast, and upper mid-West, such effusions are rare, and it is more common for the Serenity Prayer instead of the Lord’s Prayer to close meetings that sometimes began with a reading from the also Conference-approved Living Sober [176] rather than the God-heavy “How It Works”. Some may mention their “Higher Power” or “God”, but rarely as central to their stories.

But even within those parameters, in the vast majority of AA groups, the topic of “spirituality” is rarely raised. Most speakers talk about, and most discussions revolve around, more quotidian areas where members are endeavoring to live the 12-Step program: a lack of patience with oneʼs spouse, inappropriate concern over one’s childrenʼs activities, anxiety over a coming medical diagnosis, worry about an employment situation, and the list goes on. When a newcomer is present, members usually tell how they first came to AA What comes out in those talks and “shares” usually are hints and reminders of the six “spirituality facets” noted above: Release, Gratitude, Humility, Tolerance, Forgiveness, and a sense of Being-at-home. There are no labels, denominational or otherwise, for this spirituality. It simply is. And on the basis of available evidence, it will continue to be.


References

    1. John F. Kelly, and Claire M. Greene. “Toward an Enhanced Understanding of the Psychological Mechanisms by which Spirituality Aids Recovery in Alcoholics Anonymous.” Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly 32 (2014): 299–318.
    2. Keith Humphreys, Janet C. Blodgett, and Todd H. Wagner. “Estimating the Efficacy of Alcoholics Anonymous without Self-Selection Bias: An Instrumental Variables Re-Analysis of Randomized Clinical Trials.” Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research 38 (2014): 2688–94.
    3. Lee Ann Kaskutas. “Alcoholics Anonymous Effectiveness: Faith Meets Science.” Journal of Addictive Diseases 28 (2009): 145–57.
    4. Shulamith Lala Ashenberg Straussner, and Helga Byrne. “Alcoholics Anonymous: Key Research Findings from 2002 – 2007.” Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly 27 (2009): 349–67.
    5. Agent Orange [pseud.]. “The Orange Papers: One Man’s Analysis of Alcoholics Anonymous and Substance Misuse Recovery Programs, and Real Recovery. An Online Book.” 24 November 2014. Available online: http://www.orange-papers.org/ (accessed on 7 January 2015).
    6. Agent Green [pseud]. “The Effectiveness of Alcoholics Anonymous.” 5 December 2013.Available online: http://www.green-papers.org/ (accessed on 7 January 2015).
    7. Ernest Kurtz, and Katherine Ketcham. The Spirituality of Imperfection. New York: Bantam, 1992.
    8. Ernest Kurtz, and Katherine Ketcham. Experiencing Spirituality: Finding Meaning through Storytelling. New York: Tarcher/Penguin, 2014.
    9. Alcoholics Anonymous. Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed. New York: AA World Services, 2001.
    10. Leslie Farber. “Iʼm Sorry, Dear.” In Lying, Despair, Jealousy, Envy, Sex, Suicide, Drugs and the Good Life. New York: Basic Books, 1976, pp. 123–45.
    11. Peg O’Connor. “Who Gets to Be an Expert on Their Own Experiences?” Psychology Today, 10 September 2014. Available online: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/philosophy-stirrednot-shaken/201409/who-gets-be-expert-their-own-experiences (accessed on 7 January 2015).
    12. Maria Gabrielle Swora. “Narrating Community: The Creation of Social Structure in Alcoholics Anonymous Through the Performance of Autobiography.” Narrative Inquiry 11 (2001): 363–84.
    13. Judith Grant. “Rural Women’s Stories of Recovery from Addiction.” Addiction Research and Theory 15 (2007): 521–41.
    14. Robert Walker, Theodore M. Godlaski, and Michele Staton-Tindall. “Spirituality, Drugs, and Alcohol: A Philosophical Analysis.” Substance Use & Misuse 48 (2013): 1233–45.
    15. William L. White. “Addiction Recovery Mutual Aid Groups: An Enduring International
      Phenomenon.” Addiction 99 (2004): 532–38.
    16. Ernest Kurtz, and William L. White. “Alcoholics Anonymous.” In Alcohol and Temperance in Modern History: An International Encyclopedia. Edited by Jack S. Blocker, David M. Fahey and Ian R. Tyrell. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2003, pp. 27–31.
    17. Alcoholics Anonymous. Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age. New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1957.
    18. Alcoholics Anonymous. Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers: A Biography, with Recollections of Early AA in the Midwest. New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1980.
    19. Alcoholics Anonymous. “Pass It On: The Story of Bill Wilson and How the AA Message Reached the World. New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1984.
    20. Ernest Kurtz. Not. God: A History of Alcoholics Anonymous. Center City: Hazelden, 1979.
    21. William L. White, and Ernest Kurtz. “Twelve Defining Moments in the History of Alcoholics Anonymous.” In Recent Developments in Alcoholism. Edited by Marc Galanter and Lee Ann Kaskutas. New York: Plenum Publishing Corporation, 2008, vol. 18, pp. 37–57.
    22. William G. Borchert. The Lois Wilson Story: When Love Is Not Enough. Center City: Hazelden, 2005.
    23. Sally Brown, and David R. Brown. Mrs. Marty Mann: The First Lady of Alcoholics Anonymous. Center City: Hazelden, 2001.
    24. Susan Cheever. My Name Is Bill: Bill Wilson—His Life and the Creation of Alcoholics
      Anonymous
      . New York: Washington Square Press, 2005.
    25. Mary Darrah. Sister Ignatia: Angel of Alcoholics Anonymous. Center City: Hazelden, 2001.
    26. Francis Hartigan. Bill W.: A Biography of Alcoholics Anonymous Cofounder Bill Wilson.
      New York: St. Martinʼs Griffin, 2001.
    27. Mitchell K. How It Worked: The Story of Clarence H. Snyder. Washingtonville: Self-Published, 1997.
    28. Dale Mitchel [pseud.]. Silkworth: The Little Doctor Who Loved Drunks, the Biography of William Duncan Silkworth, M.D. Center City: Hazelden, 2002.
    29. Matthew J. Raphael [pseud.]. Bill W. and Mr. Wilson: The Legend and Life of AA’s Cofounder. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2000.
    30. Bill Wilson. Bill W.: My First 40 Years. Center City: Hazelden, 2000.
    31. Jeff Sandoz. “Finding God through the Spirituality of 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.” Religions 5 (2014): 948–60.
    32. Brian J. Zinnbauer, Kenneth I. Pargament, Brenda Cole, Mark S. Rye, Eric M. Butter, Timothy G. Belavich, Kathleen M. Hipp, Allie B. Scott, and Jill L. Kadar. “Religion and Spirituality: Unfuzzying the Fuzzy.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 36 (1997): 549–64.
    33. Alcoholics Anonymous. Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1989.
    34. Charlie Bishop, and Bill Pittman. To Be Continued…The Alcoholics Anonymous World Bibliography, 1935–1994. Wheeling: The Bishop of Books, 1994.
    35. Monica J. Horstmann, and Scott J. Tonigan. “Faith Development in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).” Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly 18 (2000): 75–84.
    36. Henry A. Montgomery, William R. Miller, and Scott J. Tonigan. “Differences among AA Groups: Implications for Research.” Journal of Studies on Alcohol 54 (1993): 502–04.
    37. Scott J. Tonigan, Francesca Ashcroft, and William R. Miller. “AA Group Dynamics and 12-Step Activity.” Journal of Studies on Alcohol 56 (1995): 616–21.
    38. Robin Room. “Alcoholics Anonymous as a Social Movement.” In Research on Alcoholics Anonymous: Opportunities and Alternatives. Edited by Barbara S. McCrady and William R. Miller. New Brunswick: Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies, 1993, pp. 167–87.
    39. Jean Kirkpatrick. Goodbye Hangovers, Hello Life. New York: Ballantine Books, 1986.
    40. Jim Christopher. Unhooked: Staying Sober and Drug Free. Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1989.
    41. Jack Trimpey. The Small Book. New York: Delacorte Press, 1989.
    42. Audrey Kishline. Moderate Drinking. Tucson: See Sharp Press, 1994.
    43. AA Agnostica. “Worldwide Agnostic AA Meetings.” Available online: http://www.agnosticaanyc.org/worldwide.html (accessed 3 December 2014).
    44. William White, and Ernest Kurtz. “The Varieties of Recovery Experience.” International Journal of Self Help and Self Care 3 (2006): 21–61.
    45. Michael T. Flaherty, Ernest Kurtz, William L. White, and Ariel Larson. “An Interpretive
      Phenomenological Analysis of Secular, Spiritual, and Religious Pathways of Long-term Addiction Recovery.” Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly 32 (2014): 337–56.
    46. William L. White. Slaying the Dragon: The History of Addiction Treatment and Recovery in America, 2nd ed. Bloomington: Chestnut Health Systems, 2014.
    47. William L. White. “Pioneer Interviews.” November 2014. Available online: http://www.williamwhitepapers.com/papers/topics/pioneer_interviews/ (accessed on 7 January 2015).
    48. Faces and Voices of Recovery. “Guide to Mutual Aid Resources.” November 2014. Available online: http://www.facesandvoicesofrecovery.org/guide/support/ (accessed on 7 January 2015).
    49. Robert Thomsen. Bill W. New York: Harper & Row, 1975.
    50. Will Herberg. Protestant, Catholic, Jew. New York: Doubleday Anchor, 1959.
    51. Stephen J. Whitfield. The Culture of the Cold War, 2nd ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1996.
    52. Linda A. Mercadante. Belief without Borders: Inside the Minds of the Spiritual but Not Religious. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.
    53. Robert C. Fuller. Spiritual, But Not. Religious: Understanding Unchurched America. New York: Oxford, 2001.
    54. Nancy T. Ammerman. “Spiritual but not Religious? Beyond Binary Choices in the Study of Religion.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 52 (2013): 258–78.
    55. Barbara Newman. “On Being Spiritual But Not (yet? ever?) Religious.” Spiritus: A Journal of Christian Spirituality 10 (2010): 282–87.
    56. Roger C. “A History of Agnostic Groups in AA.” 20 August 2012. Available online: https://aaagnostica.org/a-history-of-agnostic-groups-in-aa/ (accessed on 7 January 2015).
    57. Jürgen Habermas. “Religion in the Public Sphere.” European Journal of Philosophy 14 (2006): 1–25.
    58. Jürgen Habermas. “Notes on Post-Secular Society.” New Perspectives Quarterly 25 (2008): 17–29.
    59. Jürgen Habermas, ed. An Awareness of What is Missing: Faith and Reason in a Post-Secular Age. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2010 [2008 German].
    60. Jürgen Habermas. “A Postsecular World Society? On the Philosophical Significance of Postsecular Consciousness and the Multicultural World Society: An interview with Jürgen Habermas by Eduardo Mendieta.” 2012. Available online: http://blogs.ssrc.org/tif/wpcontent/uploads/2010/02/A-Postsecular-World-Society-TIF.pdf (accessed on 7 January 2015).
    61. Rodney Stark. “Secularization, R.I.P.” Sociology of Religion 60 (1999): 249–73.
    62. Stathis Gourgouris. “Why I Am Not a Postsecularist.” Boundary 2 40 (2013): 41–54.
    63. Bruce Robbins. “Why I Am Not a Postsecularist.” Boundary 2 40 (2013): 55–76.
    64. Austin Harrington. “Habermas and the ‘Post-Secular Society’.” European Journal of Social Theory 10 (2007): 543–60.
    65. Stephen Bullivant, and Lois Lee. “Interdisciplinary Studies of Non-Religion and Secularity: The State of the Union.” Journal of Contemporary Religion 27 (2012): 19–27.
    66. Aakash Singh. “Is Who Postsecular? A Post-Postcolonial Response.” Telos 167 (2014): 27–48.
    67. Charles Taylor. A Secular Age. Cambridge: Harvard-Belknap, 2007.
    68. Peter Watson. The Age of Atheists: How We Have Sought to Live Since the Death of God. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014.
    69. Alister McGrath. The Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World. New York: Doubleday, 2004.
    70. Paul Heelas. “Challenging Secularization Theory: The Growth of ‘New Age’ Spiritualities of Life.” Hedgehog Review 8 (2006): 46–58.
    71. Wally P. Back To Basics – The Alcoholics Anonymous Beginners Meetings, rev. ed. Tucson: Faith with Works Publishing Co., 2003.
    72. Ernest Kurtz, and William L. White. “AA Agnostica and the Varieties of AA Experience.” 1 August 2014. Available online: http://www.williamwhitepapers.com/blog/2014/08/aaagnosticaand-the-varieties-of-aa-experience-ernie-kurtz-and-william-white.html (accessed on 7 January 2015).
    73. R.L. Wild. “Only with Godʼs Help?” The New Humanist, January 1975. Available online: http://paganpressbooks.com/jpl/WILD.HTM (accessed on 21 January 2015).
    74. J. Scott Tonigan, William R. Miller, and Carol Schermer. “Atheists, Agnostics and Alcoholics Anonymous.” Journal of Studies on Alcohol 63 (2002): 534–41.
    75. Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins. “Faith as an Option.” The Immanent Frame, 6 November 2014. Available online: http://blogs.ssrc.org/tif/2014/11/06/faith-as-an-option/ (accessed on 7 January 2015).
    76. Scott J. Tonigan, Kristina N. Rynes, and Barbara S. McCrady. “Spirituality as a Change Mechanism in 12-step Programs: A Replication, Extension, and Refinement.” Substance Use & Misuse 48 (2013): 1161–73.
    77. Alison D. Spalding, and Gary J. Metz. “Spirituality and Quality of Life in Alcoholics Anonymous.” Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly 15 (1997): 1–14.
    78. Reza Aslan. “Sam Harris and ‘New Atheists’ aren’t new, aren’t even atheists.” Salon, 21 November 2014. Available online: http://www.salon.com/2014/11/21/reza_aslan_sam_harris_and_new_atheists_arent_new_arent_even_atheists/ (accessed on 7 January 2015).
    79. Robert C. Solomon. Spirituality for the Skeptic: The Thoughtful Love of Life. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.
    80. André Comte-Sponville. The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality. New York: Viking-Penguin, 2007.
    81. Ronald Dworkin. Religion without God. Cambridge: Harvard, 2013.
    82. Sam Harris. Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014.
    83. Marya Hornbacher. Waiting: A Non-Believerʼs Higher Power. Center City: Hazelden, 2011.
    84. Vince Hawkins. An. Atheists [sic] Unofficial Guide to Alcoholics Anonymous, rev. ed. CreateSpace Independent Publishing, 2013.
    85. Roger C. The Little Book: A Collection of Alternative 12 Steps. Toronto: AA Agnostica, 2013.
    86. Archer Voxx. The Five Keys: 12 Step Recovery without a God. Colorado Springs: Maze Publishing, 2013. Kindle edition.
    87. John Lauritsen. A Freethinker in Alcoholics Anonymous. Dorchester: Pagan Press, 2014.
    88. Adam N. Common Sense Recovery: An. Atheist’s Guide to Alcoholics Anonymous. Toronto: AAAgnostica, 2014.
    89. Joe C. Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life: finally, a Daily Reflection Book for Nonbelievers, Freethinkers and Everyone. Toronto: Rebellion Dogs Publishing, 2013.
    90. Tatjana Schnell, and William J.F. Keenan. “Meaning-Making in an Atheist World.” Archive for the Psychology of Religion 33 (2011): 55–78.
    91. Heinz Streib, and Constantin Klein. “Atheists, Agnostics, and Apostates.” In Handbook of Psychology, Religion and Spirituality. Edited by Kenneth I. Pargament. New York: APA, forthcoming.
    92. Veit Bader. “Religion and the Myths of Secularization and Separation.” RELIGARE Working Paper 8 (2011): 1–34.
    93. Anesa Miller-Pogacar. “Varieties of Post-Atheist Spirituality in Mikhail Epsteinʼs Approach to Culturology.” Slavic and East. European Journal 39 (1995): 344–56.
    94. Jerome A. Stone. “Spirituality for Naturalists.” Zygon. 47 (2012): 481–500.
    95. Jeffrey K. Hadden. “Toward Desacralizing Secularization Theory.” Social Forces 65 (1987): 587–611.
    96. Saba Mahmood. “Secular Imperatives?” Public Culture 20 (2008): 461–65.
    97. Christopher F. Silver. “A Word by Any Other Name: The Emergent Field of Non-religion and the Implications for Social Meaning.” 8 October 2012. Available online: http://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/2012/10/10/a-word-by-any-other-name-the-emergent-field-of-nonReligions-religion-and-the-implications-for-social-meaning-by-christopher-f-silver/ (accessed on 7 January 2015).
    98. Harald Walach. “Secular, Non-dogmatic Spirituality.” In Secular Spirituality: The Next Step Towards Enlightenment. Switzerland: Springer International Publishing, 2015. (Original GermanDrachen Verlag, 2011, pp. 93–172.)
    99. Harald Walach. “Getting on with Enlightenment: The Necessity of a Secular Non-dogmatic Spirituality.” In Secular Spirituality: The Next Step Towards Enlightenment. Switzerland:
      Springer International Publishing, 2015. (Original German Drachen Verlag, 2011, pp. 187–207.)
    100. Graham Ward. “The Myth of Secularism.” Telos 167 (2014): 162–79.
    101. Yuri Contreras-Vejar. “The Still Born God: Religion, Politics and the Modern West. By Mark Lilla.” International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society 21 (2008): 81–85.
    102. Sandra Marie Schneiders. “Religion vs. Spirituality: A Contemporary Conundrum.” Spiritus: A Journal of Christian Spirituality 3 (2003): 163–85.
    103. Celia Kourie. “‘The Turn’ to Spirituality.” Acta Theologica Supplementum 8 (2006): 19–38.
    104. Cornel W. du Toit. “Secular Spirituality Versus Secular Dualism: Towards Postsecular Holism as Model for a Natural Theology.” HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies 62 (2006): 1251–68.
    105. Jessica MacLaren. “A Kaleidoscope of Understandings: Spiritual Nursing in a Multi-faith Society.” Journal of Advanced Nursing 45 (2004): 457–64.
    106. Edward Bailey. “Implicit Religion.” Religion 40 (2010): 271–78.
    107. Teemu Taira. “Atheist Spirituality: A Follow on from New Atheism?” In Media Portrayals of Religion and the Secular Sacred: Representation and Change. Edited by Kim Knott, Elizabeth Poole and Teemu Taira. Farnam: Ashgate, 2013, pp. 388–404.
    108. Allaman Allamani, Stan-Shlomo Einstein, and Theodore M. Godlaski. “A Review of the Many Meanings of an Unseizable Concept.” Substance Use & Misuse 48 (2013): 1081–84.
    109. David N. Elkins, James L. Hedstrom, Lori L. Hughes, Andrew J. Leaf, and Cheryl Saunders. “Toward a Humanistic-Phenomenological Spirituality: Definition, Description, and Measurement.” Journal of Humanistic Psychology 28 (1988): 5–18.
    110. Christopher C.H. Cook. “Addiction and spirituality.” Addiction 99 (2004): 539–51.
    111. Harold G. Koenig. “Concerns about Measuring ‘Spirituality’ in Research.” Journal of Nervous and Mental Diseases 196 (2008): 349–55.
    112. Simon Dein, Christopher C.H. Cook, and Harold Koenig. “Religion, Spirituality, and Mental Health: Current Controversies and Future Directions.” Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 200 (2012): 852–55.
    113. George Vaillant. Spiritual Evolution. New York: Broadway, 2008.
    114. Roger C. Donʼt Tell: Stories and Essays by Agnostics and Atheists in AA Toronto: AA Agnostica, 2014.
    115. Anonymous. Selected Stories and Letters from the AA Grapevine Written by Agnostics, Atheists, Freethinkers and Believers with an Open Mind. Unpublished manuscript, 2014; compiled by the AA Agnostica site for private use because of copyright restrictions; a list of these stories may be obtained from AA Agnostica, which will allow locating them on the AAGV online site (requires subscription).
    116. Lesley L. Green, Mindy Thompson Fullilove, and Robert E. Fullilove. “Stories of Spiritual Awakening: The Nature of Spirituality in Recovery.” Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment 15
      (1998): 325–31.
    117. Richard M. Coe. “Defining Rhetoric—and Us.” Journal of Advanced Composition 10 (1990): 39–52.
    118. Christopher C.H. Cook. “Transcendence, Immanence and Mental Health.” In Spirituality, Theology and Mental Health: Interdisciplinary Perspectives. Edited by Christopher Cook.
      London: SCM Press, 2013, pp. 141–59.
    119. Richard Bernstein. “The Uneasy Tensions of Immanence and Transcendence.” International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society 21 (2008): 11–16.
    120. Chuck, C. A New Pair of Glasses. Newport Beach: New Look Publishing, 2008.
    121. Thomas J. Coleman III, Christopher F. Silver, and Jenny Holcombe. “Focusing on Horizontal Transcendence: Much More than a ‘Non-Belief’.” Essays in the Philosophy of Humanism 21 (2013): 1–18.
    122. Cornel W. duToit. “Towards a New Natural Theology Based on Horizontal Transcendence.” HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies 65 (2009): article 186. doi:10.4102/hts.v65i1.186.
    123. Michael Daniels. “On Transcendence in Transpersonal Psychology.” Transpersonal Psychology Review 5 (2001): 3–11.
    124. Ursula Goodenough. “Vertical and Horizontal Transcendence.” Zygon 36 (2001): 21–31.
    125. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. “The Love that Brings New Life into the World.” 17 October 2014. Available online: http://www.rabbisacks.org/love-brings-new-life-world-rabbi-sacks-institution-marriage/ (Accessed on 7 January 2015).
    126. Frank Riessman. “The ‘Helper’ Therapy Principle.” Social Work 10 (1965): 27–32.
    127. Randolph G. Atkins, Jr., and James E. Hawdon. “Religiosity and Participation in Mutual-aid Support Groups for Addiction.” Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment 33 (2007): 321–31.
    128. Paul DiLorenzo, Raymond Johnson, and Marian Bussey. “The Role of Spirituality in the
      Recovery Process.” Child. Welfare 80 (2001): 257–73.
    129. Stephen G. Post. “The Ontological Generality: Recovery in Triadic Community with a Higher Power, Neighbor, and Self.” Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly 32 (2014): 120–40.
    130. Charles A. Walker. “Spirituality, Connectedness & Ultimate Concern.” The Journal of Theory Construction & Testing 10 (2006): 41. Available online: http://connection.ebscohost.com/ c/articles/23465577/spirituality-connectedness-ultimate-concern (accessed on 23 January 2015).
    131. Arthur A. Callaham. “It’s Not Easy Being Purple: Franz Bibfeldt and the Quest for a Religious Middle.” The Criterion—Publication of the University of Chicago Divinity School 44 (2005): 24–29.
    132. Elizabeth A.R. Robinson, Kirk J. Brower, and Ernest Kurtz. “Life-Changing Experiences,
      Spirituality and Religiousness of Persons Entering Treatment for Alcohol Problems.” Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly 21 (2003): 3–16.
    133. Elizabeth A.R. Robinson, James A. Cranford, Jon R. Webb, and Kirk J. Brower. “Six-Month Changes in Spirituality, Religiousness, and Heavy Drinking in a Treatment-Seeking Sample.” Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs 68 (2007): 282–90.
    134. Elizabeth A.R. Robinson, Amy R. Krentzman, Jon R. Webb, and Kirk J. Brower. “Six-Month Changes in Spirituality and Religiousness in Alcoholics Predict Drinking Outcomes at Nine Months.” Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs 72 (2011): 660–68.
    135. Robert A. Emmons, and Cheryl A. Crumpler. “Gratitude as a human strength: Appraising the evidence.” Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 19 (2000): 56–69.
    136. Robert A. Emmons, and Michael E. McCullough. “Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 84 (2003): 377–89.
    137. Michael E. McCullough, Robert A. Emmons, and Jo-Ann Tsang. “The Grateful Disposition: A Conceptual and Empirical Topography.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 82 (2002): 112–27.
    138. John Bishop. “Secular Spirituality and the Logic of Giving Thanks.” Sophia 49 (2012): 523–34.
    139. Ernest Becker. The Denial of Death. New York: Macmillan, 1975.
    140. June Price Tangney. “Humility: Theoretical Perspectives, Empirical Findings and Directions for Future Research.” Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 19 (2000): 70–82.
    141. Alina Wyman. “The Specter of Freedom: ‘Ressentiment’ and Dostoevskiʼs ‘Notes from Underground’.” Studies in East. European Thought 59 (2007): 119–40.
    142. Joshua Hren. “The Genealogy of resentment and the Achilles’ Heel of Humanitarianism: Thinking with Dostoevsky, Scheler, and Manent on ‘Love of Mankind’.” Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture 17 (2014): 17–43.
    143. Bernard N. Meltzer, and Gil Richard Musolf. “Resentment and Ressentiment.” Sociological Inquiry 72 (2002): 240–55.
    144. Robert C. Solomon. Living with Nietzsche: What the Great “Immoralist” Has to Teach Us. New York: Oxford, 2003.
      >
    145. Jay R. Wallace. “Ressentiment, Value, and Self-Vindication: Making Sense of Nietzsche’s Slave Revolt.” In Nietzsche and Morality. Edited by Brian Leiter and Neil Sinhababu. Oxford: Clarendon, 2007, pp. 110–37.
    146. Lin Bauer, Jack Duffy, Elizabeth Fountain, Steen Halling, Maria Holzer, Elaine Jones, Michael Leifer, and Jan O. Rowe. “Exploring Self-Forgiveness.” Journal of Religion and Health
      31 (1992): 149–60.
    147. Steen Halling. “Embracing Human Fallibility: On Forgiving Oneself and Forgiving Others.” Journal of Religion and Health 33 (1994): 107–13.
    148. Richard S. Downie. “Forgiveness.” The Philosophical Quarterly 15 (1965): 128–34.
    149. Dorothea M. Dolling. “This Word Forgiveness.” Parabola 12 (1987): 6–9.
    150. Jon R. Webb, and Richard P. Trautman. “Forgiveness and Alcohol Use: Applying a Specific Spiritual Principle to Substance Abuse Problems.” Addictive Disorders & Their Treatment 9 (2010): 8–17.
    151. Michael E. McCullough. “Forgiveness as human strength: Theory, measurement, and links to well-being.” Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 19 (2000): 43–55.
    152. Robert D. Putnam, and David E. Campbell. American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012.
    153. Paul Taylor, and Pew Research Center. The Next America: Boomers, Millennials, and the Looming Generational Showdown. New York: Public Affairs (Perseus), 2014.
    154. Penny Long Marler, and C. Kirk Hadaway. “‘Being Religious’ or ‘Being Spiritual’ in America: A Zero-Sum Proposition?” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 41 (2002): 289–300.
    155. Michael Hout, and Claude S. Fischer. “Explaining Why More Americans Have No Religious Preference: Political Backlash and Generational Succession, 1987–2012.” Sociological Science 1 (2014): 423–47.
    156. Greg Melleuish. “Living in an Age of Comfort: Understanding Religion in the Twenty-first Century.” Telos 166 (2014): 9–24.
    157. Robert Wuthnow. After the Baby Boomers: How Twenty- and Thirty.-Somethings. Are Shaping the Future of American Religion. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010.
    158. Grace Davie. “Believing without Belonging: Is This the Future of Religion in Britain?” Social Compass 37 (1990): 455–69.
    159. David Voas, and Alasdair Crockett. “Religion in Britain: Neither Believing nor Belonging.” Sociology 39 (2005): 11–28.
    160. Wikipedia. “Religion in the United Kingdom.” 23 November 2014. Available online: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_the_United_Kingdom (accessed on 7 January 2015).
    161. Tony Glendinning, and Steve Bruce. “New Ways of Believing or Belonging: Is Religion Giving Way to Spirituality?” The British Journal of Sociology 57 (2006): 399–414.
    162. Dick Houtman, and Stef Aupers. “The Spiritual Turn and the Decline of Tradition: The Spread of Post-Christian Spirituality in 14 Western Countries, 1981–2000.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 46 (2007): 305–20.
    163. Kocku von Stuckrad. “Secular Religion: A Discourse–Historical Approach to Religion in Contemporary Western Europe.” Journal of Contemporary Religion 28 (2013): 1–14.
    164. Joantine Berghuijs, Jos Pieper, and Cok Bakker. “Being ‘Spiritual’ and Being ‘Religious’ in Europe: Diverging Life Orientations.” Journal of Contemporary Religion 28 (2013): 15–32.
    165. Paul Heelas. “The Spiritual Revolution of Northern Europe: Personal Beliefs.” Nordic Journal of Religion and Society 19 (2007): 1–28.
    166. Heinz Streib, and Ralph W. Hood. “Modeling the Religious Field: Religion, Spirituality, Mysticism, and Related World Views.” Implicit Religion 16 (2013): 137–55.
    167. Arthur S., Tom E., and Glenn C. “Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) Recovery Outcome Rates: Contemporary Myth and Misinterpretation.” 1 January 2008. Available online: http://hindsfoot.org/archives.html (accessed on 7 January 2015).
    168. Don McIntire. “How Well Does AA Work?” Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly 18 (2000): 1–18.
    169. Karen Armstrong. The Battle for God: A History of Fundamentalism. New York: Random House, 2011.
    170. Back to Basics. “An Enquiry into Primary Purpose and Back to Basics AA Groups.” Available online: https://drive.google.com/a/umich.edu/file/d/0B0cW38yqky8uOW1BTnZaRjEtNnc/view (accessed on 7 January 2015).
    171. AA Agnostica. “AA Agnostica.” Available online: https://aaagnostica.org/ (accessed on 7 January 2015).
    172. James Barron. “Saying AA is Religious, Court Lets Inmate Skip It.” The New York Times, 12 June 1996. Available online: http://www.nytimes.com/1996/06/12/nyregion/saying-aa-isreligious-court-lets-inmate-skip-it.html (accessed on 21 January 2015).
    173. Inouye v. Kemna, 504 F.3d 705 (9th Cir. 2007). Available online: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-9th-circuit/1008140.html (accessed on 7 January 2015).
    174. Thomas A. Horvath. “Court Ordered 12-Step Attendance is Illegal.” Available online:
      http://www.practicalrecovery.com/non-12-step/court-ordered-12-step-attendance-is-illegal/ (accessed on 7 January 2015).
    175. National Drug Court Resource Center. “Constitutional and Other Legal Issues in Drug Court: A Webliography.” Available online: http://www.ndcrc.org/content/constitutional-and-other-legalissues-drug-court (accessed on 21 January 2015).
    176. Alcoholics Anonymous. Living Sober. New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, 1975. © 2015 by the authors; licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).

    This article’s featured image is a photo taken in Port Dover, Ontario, by Robin J Ramage.

    For a PDF of this article, click here: Recovery Spirituality.


    This was the last article co-authored by Ernie Kurtz and Bill White. It was completed on Thursday, January 15, 2015. Ernie passed away the following Monday. A memorial service was held for him in April at Dawn Farm, a rehab facility in Ann Arbor, Michigan. You can read more about that service here: A Tribute to Ernie Kurtz.

    The authors of Recovery Spirituality have both written several books. Bill White has written two editions of Slaying the Dragon: The History of Addiction Treatment and Recovery in America and more recently he wrote Recovery Rising. The most popular book by Ernie Kurtz is Not-God: A History of Alcoholics Anonymous. He has written several other books including Shame and Guilt  and The Spirituality of Imperfection.

  1. Bill also has the website: Selected Papers of William L. White.

11 Responses

  1. Gerald says:

    Me with Me and Me with You is what “beyonding and betweening” sound like to me. Me with Me is what some believers might call having a friend in Jesus. Further, I’ll add that AA only skimmed the surface of Resentment & Forgiveness. AA missed the mark: Shame is the #1 offender, which is the #1 resentment that we alcoholics need to recover from if we’re going to be happy long term, and some believers might call that “God doesn’t make junk” or “God loves me, warts ‘n’ all.” I believe we recover from that shame by means of a Healthy & Healthful Self-Acceptance, which is the #1 kind of forgiveness we need, New Self forgiving Old Self … Nowadays I must read the Big Book’s practical program of action through the lens of a healthy & healthful self-acceptance. Otherwise the original context, which was the sin-and-redemption model of recovery, just pisses me off 🙂 🙂 🙂 Thanks, Everybody! 🙂

  2. life-j says:

    I didn’t think the beyonding and betweening stuff worked all that well, but still, I liked much of this essay. They did manage to take a lot of the religiosity out of spirituality, and insofar as that can be done successfully, I think spirituality is an important part of recovery. If I were to pick one word for it, it would be openness. So thanks Roger for posting it.

    • Jack B says:

      If I kick a hornet’s nest here, so be it.

      Addiction recovery must, finally and at last, be removed permanently from any notions of “spirituality”, “religiosity” and all other intellectual mush found in countless books residing on countless shelves in countless book stores all over the world. Is it still any bloody wonder why AA’s success rate is so abominably low? Do so many members still not see what the cause of that sickeningly low number is? I do!! It’s absurdly obvious. I hear it countless times from those who reject the hocus-pocus god/“spiritual” bullshit so easily and robotically and unquestioningly hauled out and presented as “fact” to scared and desperate new-comers. Such presentments are and always have been the height of immorality. The ice-berg that the crackpots keep on steering toward and hitting absolutely kills people. I’ve attended no fewer than eight funerals of usually, but not always, young people in the prime and promise of life. And I’m profoundly tired of that.

      The word “tradegy” here is an extreme understatement. And for me and so many others, a terrible and deep and permanent ache.

      And yet while that reality stares at those left behind we continue to meet weekly, tut-tut weekly and debate the “finer” meanings of nightmare weekly. While this debate and discussion go on some people will find no path ahead and will continue to die. That is the brutal and absolute fact of what’s happening today. And even more brutally, we’ve known that fact for a very long time and done sweet fuck-all about it.

      So…

      So when does the screaming start? When do those who know this start demanding change? It is another unavoidable fact that nothing will change unless and until the big-hearted and gutsy people among us start speaking the truth and, if necessary, shouting down the deadly snake-oil salesmen within our ranks.

      It has been well known for many years that the answer to the addiction affliction will come and is coming from science, biology, genetics, and pharmacology. The information and insights coming from those areas of scholarship are being made available nearly daily. The amount of new information is nearly breathtaking.

      So; I strongly recommend that those of us who’ve had a gut full of the non-fact hooey spewed as fact start countering the “religious/spiritual” party line and instead start screaming.

      Lives are at stake!! Never forget that!!

  3. Steve B says:

    Well, I’ll be beyonded and betweened! I had no idea that these writers would be so good at clevering their way to an almost convincing defense of spirituality for non-believers.

  4. Bruce says:

    I have never personally had trouble with the concept of “spirituality” (though someone else might equate it with religion, making it difficult). I think of it as “centeredness” or “having a sense of value and meaning in life”. When stated this way, I view it as a core outcome or means to addiction recovery and living forward.

  5. Marty N. says:

    Thanx for a great read.

  6. Lance B. says:

    I feels like you may have been at yesterday’s meeting in Montana, Roger. Where existential angst was brought up as a problem for one of my secular friends, and here is a whole wonderful summary of Ernie Kurtz’ efforts throughout his adult life in benefit to AA. Look at that bibliography.

    I’ve come to like the senior statesman role aaagnostica.org has begun to fill after turning over the responsibility for producing a thoughtful article by some secular member every single Sunday.

    But then it nearly always feels like what someone says for the benefit of an AA group is relevant to other experiences within the group. That is, nothing seems to be irrelevant to my alcoholism if I have a “proper” attitude.

    Thank you very much one more time.

  7. Thomas B. says:

    Wonderful to read again this seminal article by two of the most distinguished authors in the field of addiction, Ernie Kurtz and Bill White. Thank you, Roger, for reposting it.

  8. John M. says:

    Dear Roger,

    So good of you to bring this essay to us which as you note was the last piece they wrote together before Ernie Kurtz passed away. And what a topic to celebrate a friendship and collaboration that spanned so many years — recovery spirituality!

    Recovery spirituality — yes, the always contentious issue for many critics of AA as well as for a number of secular AA folks who insist that the spiritual is just another name for a religious worldview. This essay draws on quite a few different perspectives on the religious-secular spectrum to make its case.

    I like the fact that Ernie Kurtz and Bill White present a feistier side of themselves in contrast to the polite and ever gracious authors we are accustomed to reading and listening to. In other words, they admit that they are quite tired of hearing from AA critics who have not done their homework and who accordingly jump to uninformed conclusions about a program that our co-authors, on the contrary, are well versed in, having spent a combined total of 83 years of research — either researching AA itself and other peer support modalities, or the various professional fields supporting addiction recovery.

    They present a comprehensive argument for grounding both a religious or secular spirituality on the prepositions “beyond” (transcendence) and “between” (immanence?) as a schema for recovery spirituality. And they are particularly sensitive to the atheist’s and agnostic’s aversion to any kind of “vertical” transcendence (something beyond time and space) and therefore emphasize that much post-secular literature makes the case for a secular-friendly “horizontal” transcendence where the temporal horizon is considered the only authentic space for seeking a meaningful discourse of recovery from addiction through spiritual means.

    What impresses me the most about the essay is their list of sources from which they draw to construct their argument for the notion of recovery spirituality — 10 pages containing a total of 176 references of journal articles and texts.

    They have certainly done the “footwork” for us by compiling so many sources that many of us would love to check out.

    Our secular friends who dislike any talk of the spiritual in AA may not feel any more enthused about its usage after reading this essay, but perhaps they will feel a little less scorn.