“The Historical Sense” – A Power Greater Than Myself

But the effect of her being (Dorothea Brooke) on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.

George Eliot, Middlemarch

By John M.

I got sober in 2007 at the age of 54 and, looking back, I cannot remember being anything other than agnostic or atheistic. And this is quite odd given that I was raised in an evangelical household: my mother was the secretary to the minister, my father an elder, and my two older sisters were believers, the oldest becoming an elder, like my father, at around the time the Presbyterian Church of Canada was allowing women into positions previously closed to them.

I really don’t know how I became agnostic so early in life and especially so given that I was raised in this environment. I was not particularly rebellious as a child or young man, nor as a child was I peculiarly intelligent enough to figure out on my own the arguments for and against a belief in God. Jesus seemed to be nice, but I just couldn’t feel my way into accepting him into my life as my Lord and Saviour (which was required of all born again Christians so duly raised by evangelicals).

At 26 I left the undecidability of my agnosticism behind and affirmed my atheism, inspired by the courses I had taken at university, particularly under the guidance of a few historians who further enhanced my understanding of post-enlightenment secularism at both the undergraduate and graduate level.

So, from the age of 26 to 54 when I got sober at a treatment centre, and then continuing with my sobriety in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous, I came armed with the confidence of my atheistic views (albeit inversely disarmed of confidence in just about everything else).

For me, then, I was not going to allow anyone in AA, or any piece of AA literature, to move me from my atheism. Since I had been exposed to “demythologizing” religious texts in history and humanities classes at university, when I started to read the texts of Alcoholics Anonymous­ and The Twelve and Twelve, I was as indifferent to the God-language in them as I would be to any ancient text (sic!). AA literature only spoke to me in terms of my secular world-view – I wouldn’t allow these texts to speak to me in any other way!

In AA, however, we are invited to find a power greater than ourselves to restore our lost humanity, and it is also strongly suggested that the inability to do so will reduce our chances of a successful recovery. And so, given my field of study in college, it was a no-brainer for me – history was a power greater than myself. After all, history is kind of big – just like God – and it’s a whole lot bigger than any door knob.

By the way, I do not believe that in 11 1/2 years of recovery I have ever used the term “my higher power” – it has the strained imagery of a hierarchical medieval cosmology to it. Why not demystify it then? Well, I must confess that NFLers pointing to the heavens after a quarterback sack or a touchdown probably annoyed me enough to give up ever trying to demythologize “up there.”

The historical sense - WarrenIt’s pretty obvious to me that “history” is a power greater than myself, but I want to qualify this by acknowledging that not all historical study is of equal value as a source of power. For instance, a meaningful event in history or a past successful social movement that is taken to be true for all times, that becomes frozen in time, and then, because of its staying-power, is rendered sacred and made to serve as an exemplar for all future times, not only becomes uninspiring and meaningless, but becomes dead history to those living in the present. A tradition’s refusal to adapt to changing times becomes decadent and atrophied, robbing its members of their own creativity, initiative and resourcefulness that should, rather, deepen their understanding of their own place in its history. (I think the reader knows where I am going with this.)

As an atheist in AA, I am often reminded of something the “death of God” philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, had to say on most topics and so the remainder of this essay will explore what I have learned from him as I relate it to AA. In his composition, “On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life,”[i] he begins by quoting German polymath Johan Wolfgang Goethe – “… I hate everything that only instructs me without increasing or immediately stimulating my own activity” – Nietzsche then comments that historical “instruction” that does not generate an enthusiasm for life, and knowledge that restrains rather than promotes our activity is superfluous to our needs, and is often no more than a spectacle or entertainment lacking any real depth for those who view it, and a far cry from what Goethe demands: that our activity be increased or stimulated and not be an enervated exercise of diminishing returns.

Although I have not really come to the point of declaring AA meetings or conferences to be mere spectacles or entertainment, I do sometimes view at least aspects of traditional AA meetings as such, whereas I see and feel a vitality at secular meetings and conferences. Notwithstanding my admitted bias here, I confess that I have always been drawn to secular AA meetings because they seem more existential and authentic to me (and yes, ironically, more “spiritual”).

The secular membership of AA has, in my opinion, responded forcefully and effectively to questions of AA’s relevancy in the 21st century, and I suspect one of the main reasons is the impulse and drive by its members to redefine and internalize “a power greater than ourselves” in creative, impassioned, and meaningful ways. “Made a decision to entrust our will and our lives to the care of the collective wisdom and resources of those who have searched before us” – is but one historically inspired example.

In my case, reading as much AA literature as I could in my early years served me well in terms of my recovery given an enthusiasm for history. But, as my sober time in AA grew, I became more and more conscious of the need to apply to my understanding of recovery what Nietzsche calls “the historical sense.” In Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche likens it to a “sixth sense” which is itself a novel historical development that only began to emerge, he claims, as recently as the 19th century[ii] (which I cannot go into any great detail here).[iii]

“The historical sense” at its most mature development, Nietzsche suggests, is a capacity for comprehending the past, present, and future by way of our willingness to integrate the past into a personal commitment to our present and future activities, resulting in a deep, rich, creative engagement with the world – one of numerous examples of what Nietzsche famously calls the “will to power.”

The following aphorism by Nietzsche offers the essence of what he means. However, to capture the poetry in Nietzsche’s prose and to grasp the richness of what he suggests is “the historical sense” in the context below – and what is for me the deeply felt concentration of a power greater than myself – I will have to quote a lengthy part of Nietzsche’s aphorism 337 from his text Joyful Wisdom entitled “Future ‘Humanity’.

When I look at this age with the eye of a distant future, I find nothing so remarkable in the man of the present day as his peculiar virtue and sickness called “the historical sense.” It is a tendency to something quite new and foreign in history…. He who knows how to regard the history of man in its entirety as his own history,*  feels in the immense generalization all the grief of the invalid who thinks of health, of the old man who thinks of the dream of his youth, of the lover who is robbed of his beloved, of the martyr whose ideal is destroyed, of the hero on the evening of the indecisive battle which has brought him wounds and the loss of a friend. But to bear this immense sum of grief of all kinds, to be able to bear it, and yet still be the hero who at the commencement of a second day of battle greets the dawn and his happiness, as one who has an horizon of centuries before and behind him, as the heir of all nobility, of all past intellect, and the obligatory heir (as the noblest) of all the old nobles; while at the same time the first of a new nobility, the equal of which has never been seen nor even dreamt of: to take all this upon his soul, the oldest, the newest, the losses, hopes, conquests, and victories of mankind: to have all this at last in one soul, and to comprise it in one feeling: this would necessarily furnish a happiness which man has not hitherto known, a God’s happiness, full of power and love, full of tears and laughter, a happiness which, like the sun in the evening, continually gives of its inexhaustible riches and empties into the sea, and like the sun, too, feels itself richest when even the poorest fisherman rows with golden oars! This divine feeling might then be called humanity![iv] [*bolds – originally italics – are Nietzsche’s]

“We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it,” so we are told in the “promises” of the Big Book. “The historical sense” with Nietzsche, just as I believe for AA, recognizes that we must come to terms with the pain, sorrow, shame, guilt – the overall “wreckage of the past” – in order to move us into a recovered future. “The historical sense” involves the recognition of our previous illness from our alcoholism inextricably linked with what we resolve to do, and the actions we take to get healthy. It always sees both the good and the bad together, and the “bad” is as important as the “good.” Not to see a past we would rather forget involves unhealthy psychological repression, yet, on the other hand, we are rendered passive and inactive if we are left paralyzed by a fixation on a lamentable past.

Finally, and briefly, one other aspect of history that Nietzsche noted can be subject to distortion is to see history solely as “monumental,” that is, the work of historical figures on the world stage documented by historians and biographers as well as, in our day, a global wide network of multimedia organizations. But recall the epigraph at the top of this essay and we are reminded of a subtle historicity particularly salient to Alcoholics Anonymous. The beautiful phrasing in George Eliot’s passage concludes her masterpiece, Middlemarch, by celebrating the quiet life of her heroine, Dorothea Brooke, who like innumerable people throughout history never get accorded historical fame, but who nonetheless, in their anonymity, have contributed to the betterment of our lives as we know it today.

“The historical sense” which Nietzsche observes is peculiar to modernity as a “sixth sense” is a heightened consciousness enabling us to recognize and appreciate, and be grateful for, the “unhistorical” lives of anonymous people who, through their quiet accomplishments, affected everyone around them and helped make others’ lives better or helped them become better persons.

The historical sense - CurieBill W. and others entered the history books by their involvement with Alcoholics Anonymous; most of us in AA will not. And that’s fine because most of us know and are grateful for those who helped us and perhaps made us better persons all because of a community of anonymous alcoholics, both past and present.

[i] Friedrich Nietzsche, “On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life,” in Untimely Meditations, trans. R.J. Hollingdale (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), p. 59.

[ii] Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Random House, 1966), section 224, pp. 151-153.

[iii] In very general terms the 19th century saw the dramatic development of a post-enlightenment secularization in the fields of science, economics, aesthetics, politics and social theory in relation to the waning influence of a religiously structured universe typified by pre-enlightenment history.  Nietzsche is probably gesturing to this in an unquoted part of aphorism 337 that I use below where he qualifies what he says about the newness of “the historical sense”: “It almost seems to us as if it were not the question of a new sentiment, but of the decline of all old sentiments….” [Nietzsche’s italics]

[iv] Friedrich Nietzsche, Joyful Wisdom, trans. Thomas Common (New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co.,1979), section 337, pp. 263 – 265. For both the religious or secular literalists reading this, you can be sure that Nietzsche’s use of “God” and the “divine” are metaphors. The gender bias in this passage was, of course, typical of the 19th and most of the 20th century.

John got sober in 2007 at the age of 54. Twenty-One days at the Renascent Treatment Centre in Toronto kickstarted his journey of continuous sobriety into the present day. He took AA seriously when he heard speaker after speaker say that they never felt comfortable in their own skin long before they took their first drink. In John’s opinion, the key to both physical and emotional sobriety is the acknowledgement in the Big Book: “Our liquor was but a symptom. So we had to get down to causes and conditions.” (p. 64).

John served as a General Service Representative (GSR) for his first home group and then for his secular home group which he and a few others started north of Toronto in 2012.

He has written eight previous articles for AA Agnostica over the years:

27 Responses

  1. John M. says:

    Wow, Mark, if I ever get into the historical record, I would definitely hire you to be my biographer.

    Not everything any of us writes is everybody’s cup of tea so I especially value your very kind response. Clearly we are kindred spirits when it comes to an interest in history as well as an appreciation for Nietzsche’s perspective in things. And, you are so right that Nietzsche has “intense practical value….” He certainly has for me!

    You mention a really crucial point in your response: “It is my view that putting this sort of strong secular Honesty into the “Rhetorical Situation” of a conventional AA meetings is a major game changer over time. Honesty about us, and Tolerance for the other person to go about things in their own ways….” My 22 years sober friend, Paul, was emphasizing this two weeks ago about being a secular presence at conventional AA meetings. We should be at conventional meetings (when we are able) so that we can make ourselves available to any newcomer or “closeted” seculars who might want to hear about long term sobriety without God — as well as to generally engage with all of our fellow alcoholics in celebration of all paths to recovery. So, Mark, your comments about this are very timely here.

    I was also interested to hear a bit of your history in the context of the Bible Belt and then of your conversion to Christianity and then deconversion to where you are now. I love a good story that does not follow a simple, sequenced, conventional plot — yours apparently has not!

    Again, thank you very much for taking the time to respond to my piece, and for your extremely important message of engaging with folks at conventional meetings. With this in mind, if I were ever to admit to having a pseudo-higher power, it would have the voice of Patrick Stewart and it would say, “Engage!”

  2. Mark C. says:

    Another outstanding essay, this time combined with a bit your “story.” Thank you John! It is always a pleasure for me to read your highly perceptive, informed and intellectually sophisticated pieces. Thank you for being an example that one does not have to leave their brains in the car before walking into the rooms. It is pieces like this that help folks to see that Anti-Intellectualism does not HAVE to be a condition of membership and strong, useful, meaningful sobriety.

    When I first read your “You Cannot NOT Interpret the Steps (12 October 2011)” I thought to myself, “Yes, this guy gets it.”

    I’m also a Historian by academic training, and I value your strong contributions to widening the gates for others.

    It is my view that putting this sort of strong secular Honesty into the “Rhetorical Situation” of a conventional AA meetings is a major game changer over time. Honesty about us, and Tolerance for the other person to go about things in their own ways…

    I live in the West Texas Bible Belt. When I came into AA looking for help after 30 years drunk, and utterly and finally DONE, I came in as an open atheist. That openness started a Holy War against atheists in particular. The status quo of “AA” in my small city was then extremely Christian, Theistic and Big Book thumping. That posture was combined with a few varieties of “liberalized interpretations” of the text that are one form or another of New Age or Jungian mysticism. That Holy War, coming from Literalists and Liberalists continued rather unabated for just about three years.

    I continued with Honesty about me (atheist and secular), and Tolerance for the other person to have their “takes” on things. I even support and encourage others in their paths when I can. That, I think, was crucial to a growing Honesty and Tolerance in individuals in our old group.

    Unlike you, I was not raised in a religious environment, but became a Christian as a result of a “transformative religious experience” that altered something within me. That set of experiences put me on a “Christian” road that lasted 20 years. During those years, those beliefs were “meaningful” to me, and in many ways put me on a better path in life. I spent 20 years in those beliefs. Like other deconversions, mine was piecemeal and slowly evolved. I had been an atheist (without theistic belief) for 15 years when I staggered into AA looking for help. And here, “AA” is the only game in town. It is AA or nothing. What is one to do?

    Looking back, it appears those who are rather wired up for an “external locus” of control (vs. an internal locus of control), do tend to benefit by the forms of structure provided by Dogmatism, Religiosity, Conformity and Authoritarianism provided by our more Literalist members and their points of view.

    The challenge for we Freethinkers of various stripes appears to be “How to co-exist together with such widely, perhaps utterly irreconcilable metaphysical and epistemological points of view and belief?” Pulling that off in conventional IS the larger challenge seems to me. I think it is possible. There is no perfection in this “Human, All Too Human” Fellowship, eh? 🙂

    Yet, that challenge is so severe that folks often have to flee in order to survive this malady regarding ourselves and booze. The growth of groups started by Atheists, Agnostics and Freethinkers that provide “safe” places for people like ourselves is evidence that the “problem” of our Honesty in conventional AA is not an easy cat to skin…

    I think our studied and literate, Honest voices put into the general “Rhetorical Situations” in conventional AA is the way forward. I’ve watched that “widen the gates” here in Wichita Falls over the course of my continued involvement and service in our old conventional group.

    As a practical matter I tend to major on three things “we” have in common. We are Human, All Too Human, we are those for whom alcohol had kicked our asses, and we somehow together have learned or are learning how to live sober in a variety of ways…and it seems to me “that” basic unity has paved the way for a growing Tolerance away from the rigidity and unthinking dogmatism that well describes conventional AA.

    Today, instead of a holy war on atheists, and having them run for their lives AWAY from AA, we have several atheists, agnostics and freethinkers who are keeping their seats and are finding their own individual paths in Living Sober.

    Putting our studied secular narratives into the mix IS the game changer. It may well be the only thing that allows AA to survive the secular trajectories of U.S and Canadian demographics of belief. We secular’s are the only ones who can do it.

    I’m babbling a bit here, but I’ll go on for conversation’s sake. I too have lived long within Nietzsche’s fire and his questions and suspicions, along with the impulses and trajectories of Ancient and Modern Philosophy. Any real Historian must be drawn to such things…at least historians of my stripe. ha.

    Nietzsche has intense practical value for the atheist, agnostic or freethinker when one is attempting to figure out what they are being confronted with in conventional AA. I think most folks would basically agree there is a learning curve apart from just learning how to live sober. Beyond the obvious, what am I being confronted with here? What is all this noise if I dive below the surface structure of the particular language I’m hearing?

    Nietzsche’s “The Antichrist” explores the “psychology of the priest,” and the “psychology of faith” and puts several insightful questions. Wanna know what the Big Book is? Look no farther than the psychology of the priest and the psychology of faith. Hahahaha! I’m sorta serious though. 🙂

    Hey, I just noticed we both got sober at 54 years of age! In my case 2009.

    Thanks again for another excellent piece!

  3. John M. says:

    Excellent Brien,

    And you could probably hold the meeting under a tent in Sacramento tonight – not so for we unfortunates in the northeast.

    Thank you for your response.

  4. Brien O. says:

    Tonight in Sacramento we are having our first One Big Tent – Atheist and Agnostic meeting. Thank you for the article.

  5. John M. says:

    A “healthy and positive influence on my life.” Right on, Bob! Thanks for your comment.


  6. Bob B. says:

    I believe that a power greater than myself does not necessarily mean a god or higher power. Over the years it’s come to mean anything/anyone that has a healthy and positive influence on my life. I keep my program of recovery in all my affairs simple and practical. The word “suggested” has helped me make changes to the steps in order for me to live them.

  7. Joel D. says:

    Don’t give up! There is a path, one that you determine yourself. You’ve heard “relapse is not a requirement for recovery” well for some of us it was. The fellowship not the following has kept me hopeful, sober, and sane.

  8. John M. says:

    Fantastic, Stacie.

    Secular AA has rejuvenated a lot of us since the movement really got going around 2012. Besides this website you can also check out beyondbelief.org, and on Facebook there is also AA Beyond Belief and Secular AA Coffeeshop.

    Lots of atheists, agnostics and freethinkers in our secular AA special interest group of AA world service.

    So glad you found us.


  9. Stacie D. says:

    Reading all of this has got me interested in AA again. I’m in a relapse and just when I was starting to realize there is no solution or program right for me BOOM. AA Agnostica.

  10. John M. says:


    Thank you for your very kind words of support.

  11. Paul F says:

    The Joe C. and Bob K. analyses and compliments to John M. and his article spare me similar words. So thank you for this thoughtful and inciteful writing and I look forward to so many more that soon enough they will have to constitute a Big Book!

  12. John M. says:

    Thank you so much for your response, John. You have certainly nailed down one of the meanings of “the historical sense,” which like T. S. Eliot’s take on it, is a way of perceiving the past inside the present in order to see, as you say, a worthy future. And, as you suggest, it allows us to better “put ourselves in another’s place” in order to see who the other person is and where they are in their own life.

  13. John B. says:

    John – Excellent essay.

    The emphasis you give to history is enlightening. It reminds me that my history is a reservoir of factual information, good and bad, an alcohol saturated “old past”(30 years), and a sober “New Past”. Both of these pasts contain information that can be pragmatically applied to present decision making, a process whereby I integrate the past into a personal commitment to be mindful of the present and to try to build a future worthy of emulation. The “historical sense” that I get from Nietzches’ aphorism 337, a sense that is daily useful, is that I need to be willing to put myself into the other persons place a certain action. If I do this on a regular basis it minimizes the amount of wreckage I create, and it helps me to live in such a way that rarely requires the words, “I’m sorry”. Both the good and the bad segments of my past are pragmatically instructive to the present. I like my “New Past” the best. One of the things that has continually irritated me about AA is the pervasive anti-intellectualism. AA Agnostica is a great antidote to that. I had to grab the dictionary to look up aphorism. Thanks John.

    John B.

  14. John M. says:

    Thank you for your response of openness, Tom.

  15. John M. says:

    Hi Joe,

    Thank you for your kind words. If nothing else, I am glad I wrote something for aaagnostica.org that elicited the following response by you: “I think that encouraging atheists to speak in theistic language is like asking a gay person to act straight in order to fit in and be happy.”

    What you say here is so very important and needs to be kept in mind by every one of us who prefers a certain way of speaking and using words. It can only benefit us all to be respectful of others and mindful of the way words can separate us as opposed to bringing us together. We should be stimulated to think creatively in finding the means of communicating, as you say, in authentic but unifying ways.

    Thank you, Joe.

  16. John M. says:

    Hi Bob,

    Thanks for mentioning that you liked the “intermingling of the quotations” within the essay since it gives me the opportunity of thanking Roger for finding the 4 quotations and pictures supporting the theme of “the historical sense.” When he showed me what he was thinking of doing, I thought the quotations helped round out the various ways of looking at how history can be appreciated and used as a source of power.

    Of course, you know all about this since you are our unofficial historian of AA for aaagnostica.org and for beyondbelief.org. Like you, finding secular AA was certainly something that rekindled my passion, and the work and passion you put into your many, many essays, I think, puts you on the side of Goethe who also needed to be stimulated and not merely instructed. Your historical essays have often had the affect on me that inspires or provokes me to “step it up.”

  17. John M. says:

    Hi Dave,

    You said in your comment: “I’ve been here 44 years and I’ve never liked the steps the big book or the literature but I sure like the coffee the smile and the handshake. Thats all it ever was and all its ever been.” Perhaps you’ve nicely summed up what George Eliot was expressing in that it will be the smiles and the handshakes of anonymous people that will prevail as we help others today, and tomorrow, and into the future.

    Thank you for your response.

  18. John M. says:

    Good gawd, Thomas, a Presbyterian and a Catholic. Did that mean that once you converted to Catholicism, God had to take back his Calvinist plan that predestined you to either heaven or hell? Since Catholics don’t believe in predestination, hey, at least you gave yourself a fighting chance by converting. I guess nobody told God to keep it simple!

    Thank you for your storied response and congratulations for being in your 47th year of heathen recovery. Looks good on you my friend.

  19. John M. says:

    Hi Joel,

    Great to hear that you have two secular meetings on the go and that they are expanding. You are so right that the dangerous canard of can’t-get/stay-sober-unless-you-find-God not only violates the primary purpose of recovery but, as you say, and so importantly, “keeps many a newcomer and quite a few of the disenchanted from realizing the full potential of the fellowship of AA.” Well said!

  20. John M. says:

    Thank you for your response, Deb. I very, very much appreciate it!

  21. Tom R. says:

    I have not met a single person too dumb to get this program but I have attend funerals of people to smart to get it. Live and Let live.

  22. Joe C says:

    This is outstanding – for my tastes – and it’s a great example of the wealth of rational and practical approaches to AA recovery.

    You mentioned that you don’t use the term higher power; that is largely true for me also. I don’t often use the word “spirituality” these days, either. It’s such a nebulous (poetic) word that it’s more likely to add to instead of reduce misunderstanding. I think that encouraging atheists to speak in theistic language is like asking a gay person to act straight in order to fit in and be happy. Talking in G.O.D. acronyms is unnecessary to respect AA principles and everyone being encouraged to be authentic vs conforming does more for unity – not less, as far as I can see.

    Thanks John.

  23. bob k says:

    Great to see John back–he is a righteous writer and a thoughtful thinker. This is a fascinating presentation. I love the intermingling of the quotations in the essay.

    Historically, there are two things that have had efficacy in the battle against alcoholism, pre-AA. Religious conversion is one, God forgive me. The second has been the banding together of alcoholics to help one another, and that’s NOT just the Washingtonians. There have been many groups and they WERE effective. Sadly, most collapsed as the result of squabbling over outside issues.

    AA had both mutual aid, and conversion (of a sort).

    When William James wrote that “the only cure for dipsomania is religiomania,” it’s the “mania” that’s the key element. Converts tend to get ENTHUSIASTIC about their new relationship with X. I think I’ve had enough enthusiasm about AA over the years to qualify as “mania,” although I rejected all things “religio” out of hand. For me those issues were resolved long ago.

    Just trying to somehow “not drink” is brutal. Sobriety opens doors to life’s positives, and I need to accept that offer – find new passions. One for me is AA Agnostica. Staying sober is an easy thing today, but it wasn’t always so. I was 20 years sober when I attended my first agnostic meeting. In bad traffic, that group was 75 minutes away. So my history has a lot of traditional AA, some substituting, and some sorting. A lot of well-intentioned folks helped me, and I’m grateful. It matters not that they have a different view of the universe.

  24. Dave J says:

    I’ve found in life that anyone compelled to convince others there is a god and anyone who preaches there isn’t – share a common bond. Neither really believes their own argument otherwise they wouldn’t need affirmation. Water is wet. Oh wait maybe it’s not. Better have a debate. Gosh I hope I brought my big words. Removing the word God entirely from the steps and the big book doesn’t make 80 percent of it horse crap. I’ve been here 44 years and I’ve never liked the steps the big book or the literature but I sure like the coffee the smile and the handshake. Thats all it ever was and all its ever been. Thus sayeth the lord. Anyone who agrees with this please send me money I’m starting a mission in Hawaii and I’m gonna need a yacht.

  25. Thomas B. says:

    Wonderful essay — thanks John and Roger for publishing it.

    John, we share a significant commonality in our upbringing — I was also brought up as a Southern Presbyterian in Jackson, MS. At puberty I converted to Catholicism, which meant I could drink and dance and gamble, but no way could I think, much less do, anything carnally with another without the risk of going to hell forever and forever and endlessly forever !~!~!

    Nevertheless, thank goodness, I have been enabled to stay sober without reliance on the Christian god of the big book, now in my 47th year of continuous recovery because I don’t use, Igo to meetings — where I hear our shared stories of recovery — and whenever possible, help others.

  26. Joel D. says:

    Several of us have started a secular movement in Northeast Connecticut. We now have two regular meetings with growing attendance and a good measure of “curiosity”. The lack of viewing AA’s history is just that. As well as the unwitting (perhaps) fear generated by “bleeding deacons” and Big Book thumpers that recovery is unlikely or even impossible without a God of (your understanding of course) keeps many a newcomer and quite a few of the disenchanted from realizing the full potential of the fellowship of AA. This is unacceptable and violates the primary purpose of AA “…to stay sober and help others recover from alcoholism”.

  27. Deb says:

    Thank you for your dedicated intellectual and spiritual thinking. I found it inspiring.

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