Letter of Support for Eating Disorders Anonymous

Eating Disorders

This letter of support, included in the book Eating Disorders Anonymous, was written three years ago. We post it today to provide a bit of information about the organization and to give our readers a sense of the ongoing growth of the secular movement within AA.

The idea that secular people can work the Twelve Steps is supported in the following letter from Roger C – author, editor, publisher, and administrator of the AA Agnostica website. AA Agnostica provides support and inspiration for non-religious seekers of recovery through their website and publishing company. They have released six books over the past several years, including The Little Book: A Collection of Alternative 12-Steps, which contains twenty mostly secular versions of the Twelve Steps with concise interpretations of each Step by well-respected authors Gabor Maté, Stephanie Covington, Allen Berger, and Thérèse Jacobs-Stewart. Roger’s letter invokes AA co-founder Bill Wilson in support of the idea that Twelve-Step groups ought to embrace anyone with a desire to recover.

Eating Disorders Anonymous, p. xlvi

Roger C’s Letter of Support

I would like to tell you a bit about the secular movement within our fellowship, one that is becoming an increasingly important part of Alcoholics Anonymous. Let me be clear that while there has been some resistance within AA, opposition has been the exception and not the rule. Fortunately, most people understand AA in much the same way as Bill Wilson expressed it at a General Service Conference in 1965:

“In AA we are supposed to be bound together in the kinship of a universal suffering. Therefore the full liberty to practice any creed or principle or therapy should be a first consideration. Hence let us not pressure anyone with individual or even collective views. Let us instead accord to each other the respect that is due to every human being as he tries to make his way towards the light. Let us always try to be inclusive rather than exclusive. Let us remember that each alcoholic among us is a member of AA, so long as he or she so declares.”

Bill Wilson had no problem with secular versions of the Steps. When presented with one rewritten by Buddhists, which replaced the word “God” with “good,” he wrote:

“To some of us, the idea of substituting “good” for “God” in the Twelve Steps will seem like a watering down of AA’s message. We must remember that AA’s Steps are suggestions only. A belief in them as they stand is not at all a requirement for membership among us. This liberty has made AA available to thousands who never would have tried at all, had we insisted on the Twelve Steps just as written.” (Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, New York, NY: AA World Services, 1957, pg. 81.)

The previous quotes from Bill Wilson are from the 1950s and 60s.

What about today?

In February of 2016, the AA General Service Office (GSO) wrote the following:

We are aware that many AA’s feel that by using an unauthorized version of the Twelve Steps a group so removes itself from AA that it should call themselves by another name, while many other AA’s feel that this fellowship allows unparalleled freedom…

A quick look at our AA directories indicates that the GSO lists atheist and agnostic groups, and some appear to have been listed for many years. In describing an AA group, the directories use the long form of Tradition Three:

Our membership ought to include all who suffer from alcoholism. Hence we may refuse none who wish to recover. Nor ought AA membership ever depend upon money or conformity. Any two or three alcoholics gathered together for sobriety may call themselves an AA group, provided that, as a group, they have no other affiliation.

For many of us, this issue is all about moving forward and being respectful of a contemporary reality in which polls and research over the years – Pew Research, in particular – have shown that more and more people describe themselves as agnostics and atheists. When asked about their religious affiliation, the answer is increasingly “none.”

I am happy to report that within the fellowship of AA our secular movement is growing fantastically. When AA Agnostica was first established just a few years ago, there were two agnostic meetings in the Toronto area. Today there are a dozen. At the same time there were less than eighty agnostic meetings worldwide. At last count, there were over 300, with new ones starting up every day of the week.

ating Disorders Anonymous

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In November 2014, the first international Convention was held for agnostics, atheists, and freethinkers in Alcoholics Anonymous in Santa Monica, California. Over 300 people attended. Great talks were given, one by Ward Ewing, past chair of AA’s General Service Board and another by Phyllis Halliday, then General Manager of the GSO of Alcoholics Anonymous. There have been other regional conferences since, including one where I presented a talk on “The History of Secularism in AA.”

What is it all about?

As Bill Wilson put it in 1965, we need “to accord to each other the respect that is due to every human being as he [or she] tries to make his [or her] way towards the light.” In that same talk Bill discussed the people – he specifically mentioned “atheists and agnostics…people of nearly every race, culture, and religion” – who came into the rooms of AA and “did not stay.” He asked, “How much and how often did we fail them?”

Later that summer, at AA’s 30th anniversary International Convention at Maple Leaf Gardens in downtown Toronto, more than 10,000 delegates, trustees, and AA representatives from twenty-one countries rose to their feet, joined hands and, led by Bill, for the first time ever recited the new AA responsibility declaration: “I am responsible. When anyone, anywhere, reaches out for help, I want the hand of AA always to be there. And for that I am responsible.”

That’s what it’s all about. That’s how I understand the mission of any Twelve-Step organization, and the inclusive language it must therefore employ: we are committed to “anyone, anywhere” in recovery.

Best wishes to all of you in Eating Disorders Anonymous,

Roger C
AA Agnostica


4 Responses

  1. Thomas K. says:

    This is why AA has sustained itself. We do not affiliate, support, oppose, other movements or organizations no matter how worthy they are. We must focus on sobriety or we get distracted and fall back into our old ways of running the world in our own minds and ignoring the fires and problems “at home”. Singleness of purpose.

    • John M. says:

      Dear Thomas,

      I hope you are not suggesting that a clear and definitive statement by AA World Services clearly indicative of their respect, and expression of love, for agnostic and atheist members would somehow undermine our singleness of purpose.

      In my response to Roger’s posting, it is clear that I was very impressed with EDA’s effort to make sure that their agnostics and atheists know that they are respected and loved and not merely tolerated.

      I sincerely hope I have misunderstood your comment.

  2. John M. says:

    Roger,

    Thank you for bringing this to our attention. I had no idea that you had written a letter of support for EDA. I’ve just turned to their website and looked at the EDA Big Book where your letter along with other letters of support is included. Their explanation of the non-believer’s place in their fellowship can very well be a model AA could use to clarify for all-time the secular alcoholic’s standing in our fellowship. I am simply envious of the concerted effort on their part to be absolutely clear about this.

    I’ve copied just a few statements below (from their pretty comprehensive rationale for secularity in EDA) to give a sense of their clearly stated position.

    “We think it is time to clear up any confusion on this point. If EDA’s main purpose is to carry the message of recovery to all who suffer, then we must carry the message that one can build and maintain recovery by working the Twelve Steps as an atheist or agnostic: it absolutely does work….”

    “…An honest atheist is never going to be able to form a deep personal connection to, faith in, or reliance upon, any “realm of the Spirit.” An atheist can, however, form a deep personal commitment to, and reliance upon, the idea of service to the greater good.”

    “The lived experience of atheists and agnostics in EDA and other Twelve-Step groups is that secular recovery using the Twelve Steps as a foundation is absolutely possible. Many have walked free of eating disorders, alcoholism, and other issues by following the same process as their more spiritually-inclined, fellow Twelve-Step group members. It is not an easier, softer way.”

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