AA and the Lord’s Prayer
All [women and] men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his [or her] own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others.
The Catholic Church, Vatican II, 1965
By Roger C.
The Lord’s Prayer – “Our Father who art in Heaven” – is a venerated Christian Prayer. It can be found in the New Testament in two places: in the Gospel of Matthew and with a shorter version in the Gospel of Luke. It was taught by Jesus as the way to pray and it is universally understood as the summary of the religion of Christianity.
In the United States, the Lord’s Prayer – or any other prayer, for that matter – has been prohibited in public schools since 1962. This was the result of a Supreme Court decision in which Justice Hugo Black, delivering the opinion of the Court, affirmed that the State should not in any way “ordain or support” any religion.
In Canada, the public use of the Lord’s Prayer ended in 1988. At that time the Ontario Court of Appeal heard a case in which several parents objected to prayer at the beginning of the school day. Their children – non-Christians – would have to leave the room if they did not wish to participate in the recitation of the prayer.
The Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that the “recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, which is a Christian prayer… impose(s) Christian observances upon non-Christian pupils and religious observances on non-believers” and constituted a violation of the freedom of conscience and religion provisions in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
That ended the use of the Lord’s Prayer in schools not only in Ontario but in all parts of Canada.
For the three decades since then, children in Canadian schools have somehow survived without a daily dose of “Our Father.”
So what about AA and the Lord’s Prayer?
Across North America most traditional AA meetings end with the Lord’s Prayer. People stand up, hold hands, and recite the “Our Father who art in Heaven…” out loud.
And please note: some AA members are extremely dogmatic when it comes to the Lord’s Prayer. I once submitted a motion to have my AA District stop ending its meetings with it and was literally told by the Chair of the meeting to “get the fuck out of AA”.
How could this possibly happen in the AA fellowship?
Well, AA began a long, long time ago. In 1935. In especially Christian communities, such as Akron, Ohio. And, moreover, the “co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous met through the Oxford Group… a Christian organization founded by an American Christian missionary”. (Wikipedia)
Perhaps not surprisingly then, the word “God”, or a variation of it, appears 281 times in the first 164 pages of the book, Alcoholics Anonymous, published in 1939.
And let me add this: by and large, it’s an ancient and out-dated conception of God. I say this as someone who studied religion for almost a decade, and read the books in the New Testament, at the Faculty of Religious Studies at McGill University.
A bit of the Lord’s Prayer:
Our Father who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread…
So this particular god is understood as anthropomorphic, male and interventionist.
Anthropomorphic and male. A god with human attributes and of a male gender: “Our Father who art in Heaven”. A guy in the sky, as it is sometimes derisively put. (Or sometimes not derisively. At my first AA meeting in a rehab, the speaker said he owed his recovery to a guy in the sky. I was, I will admit, stunned.)
Interventionist. This is a characteristic of this god that is most shared within AA. In “How It Works”, chapter 5 in Alcoholics Anonymous, which is read at most traditional AA meetings, Bill Wilson wrote: “God could and would if He were sought”. He could and would do what? Well, get and keep you sober of course. No matter what else is going on in the world, one of His main functions apparently is to help the alcoholic in recovery.
Now let me be clear and interrupt myself for just one paragraph: There are without question other conceptions of god, both in the world at large and yes, in AA. And I am not just talking about religions now. Some of these conceptions of “god” are more personal, contemporary and not in the least related to any form of religious dogmatism. They can be exploratory and, rather simply, a part of spiritual growth. This “spiritual growth” is something that Sam Harris describes in his book, Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion, as a form of “self-transcendence”, that is, growth in which an individual comes to understand the world beyond the obsessive characteristics of her or his ego consciousness. I personally laud spiritual growth as a part of recovery, indeed, as a part of life itself.
Okay. Back to AA and the Lord’s Prayer.
My message is very simple: AA meetings must stop ending with the Lord’s Prayer.
First, it is a contradiction and violation of Alcoholics Anonymous itself. AA insists that while it is indeed spiritual, it is not, nor should it be in any way, religious. Well Christianity is a religion. And The Lord’s Prayer is a Christian prayer. To suggest otherwise is an appalling act of ignorance or hypocrisy. Or both.
If you don’t believe that then re-read what the United States Supreme Court had to say. It removed prayer from schools because it recognized that it should not “ordain or support” any religion. You can also re-read what the Ontario Court of Appeal had to say: the “recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, which is a Christian prayer… impose(s) Christian observances upon non-Christian pupils and religious observances on non-believers”.
AA needs to respect its own principles, its own self. Weird, but true. As it was put recently in The Fix: “It is baffling why the Our Father – a prayer praising a conventional paternalistic, heaven-dwelling religious deity – still closes many meetings, as it directly contradicts the organization’s stated non-alignment with any sect or denomination, per its Preamble.”
Spiritual not religious? No outside affiliations? Then behave accordingly.
Second, the religiosity of the AA born in 1935 and the Lord’s Prayer is increasingly driving alcoholics out of meetings. AA also needs to quit pumping “Conference approved” literature, virtually all of which is based on the ancient Godly thought of the mid twentieth century, and understand that it is now the twenty first century and that AA needs to recognize that and mature as an organization, a fellowship.
AA needs to grow up, to modernize itself and thus be both more relevant and more inclusive, as if it were 2019 today and not 1935. It needs to discard the Lord’s Prayer. A vote at the General Service Conference by AA Area delegates and AA officials is all that would be needed.
Otherwise, as my friend Joe C put it years ago: “My bold prediction is that if AA doesn’t accommodate change and diversify, our 100th anniversary will be a fellowship of men and women with the same stature and relevance as the Mennonites; charming, harmless and irrelevant.”
For a PDF of this article click here: AA and the Lord’s Prayer.
Well, this topic is never going to be settled, is it? Ok, we have one member who is over 50 years sober, and he claims that god is keeping you sober, even if you don’t believe in god. What do you say to that?
I’ve already thrown my two cents in re the LP; I could say a lot more, but the reason I’m here is some of the recent comments bother me. The question has been asked, if you don’t believe in god and Christianity, then why are you not out there in one of those alternative recovery stratagems, whatever they might be?
My answer to that is that I find it vital to my continued well-being to have regular contact with my own kind, and to freely partake of the power of example, which has hugely influenced me over the years. Sure, I get fed up with the all-to-frequent sermons from the floor, but I try my best to let it run off me and trickle out through the open door. The least I can do. The only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking. There is little scope for interpreting that as anything other than what it says. Fortunately.
If I want to get on my high horse about something, I think it would be the phrase you can find in chapter 5, of all places: “Our liquor was but a symptom”. WTF? How the hell did THAT get into print? I have been asking this for decades, and nobody can give me a sensible answer.
Just to finish, I gave a friend the address of the Secular meeting in Melbourne, which I found here in the directory. He is down there at the moment, and has told me that meeting does not appear in the list of mainstream meetings. Why am I not surprised? Whether or not we maintain that AA is, and should be, non-denominational, the Christians still think they own it. How can we fix that?
Greetings all . I wanted to make a PostScript to my post but I couldn’t figure out how to do so so I am making a brand-new comment. Around here when I was still going the overwhelming majority of meetings in the more populated areas such as cities as opposed to in rural areas had switched from the so-called Lord’s Prayer to the Serenity Prayer. Granted the more well-known version of The Serenity Prayer does use the word god however it is more of a Universalist thing then Christian. Perhaps as time goes by more and more Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step Fellowship meetings will leave Christian prayers out and use more inclusive prayers that fit better.
Hello all. I found this article very interesting. I came over here and have been wandering around trying to figure out why people would even go to AA if they are agnostic, atheist or other. It seems to me it’s a spiritual / religious organization and if someone doesn’t want to be involved with that or around it in this day and age there are so many other choices I don’t understand why people would even bother with it. I came across this article and decided to read it.
One thing that’s bothered me for decades is that people think that Alcoholics Anonymous is Christian because it uses the word God and / or chants the so-called Our Father or Lord’s Prayer at the end of meetings. Granted I have mostly only been to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in Southeastern Massachusetts and I do not have experience personally with Alcoholics Anonymous in other parts of the country and the world. However I am pretty sure that this is true everywhere. I must have gone to a thousand meetings in 27 years and the general philosophy was always you can make up a god in your own alcohol distorted brain and somehow that god that you fabricated with your twisted sick mind is going to be real and actually have power and benevolent feelings to help you get and stay sober. Around here the belief is and people actually say your god can be a coffee cup or a chair or a light bulb!
Over the years I have met people who have had the following as their higher power: a blue-eyed blonde named Gwendolyn, the Great Pumpkin. I kid you not this man had over 20 years sober and his higher power is the Great Pumpkin! One woman’s higher power was the spirit of her dead grandfather. None of this is anywhere near Christian!
If Alcoholics Anonymous is a Christian organization that every single person on this planet is both 6 ft 7 in tall and a virgin! As a real Christian I find it highly offensive that this Pagan New Age group is labeled Christian. I also find it highly offensive and insulting that they dare to chant the so-called Our Father or Lord’s Prayer at the end of meetings. You people are hundred percent correct! It absolutely does not belong in Alcoholics Anonymous. Jesus’ disciples came to him and said Lord teach us how to pray. A disciple is someone who makes a conscious Free Will decision to believe and follow a person and his or her teachings. I can guarantee that the overwhelming majority of indoctrinated zombies who mindlessly chant this have absolutely no clue who Jesus is nor do they want to!
I wasted a lot of time and energy trying to change Alcoholics Anonymous. And then finally the Serenity Prayer dawned on me and I accepted the thing I could not change and I left. I have experienced more sobriety, more mental and emotional and spiritual and psychic growth in the three and a half years since my last Alcoholics Anonymous meeting that I did in the previous 27 years!
I’m not trying to be argumentative I am honestly curious, if someone could explain to me why someone who doesn’t want any religion or spirituality would want to be involved in a group that is that I would appreciate it. This is 2019 and there are so many secular recovery groups out there now I just don’t understand it. Thank you very much.
Here in NE Connecticut there aren’t many alternatives to AA. A few of us have started 2 secular AA meetings with limited but steady attendance. Sobriety in these meetings ranges from the new comer to almost 40 years.
The discussion at these meetings inevitably ends upon denouncing not just the religiosity and hypocrisy of AA but, the Big Book, The Steps, and Bill Wilson himself. I am at a point myself of accepting what I cannot change. AA has helped millions of people so who am I to say it needs to change. If I find it distasteful and archaic I have the free will to look elsewhere recovery and fellowship.
With a little introspection, maybe I’m just afraid I won’t find the fellowship that saved my life anywhere else.
Thank you, Joel, for taking the time and energy to answer my question and respond to my post. I appreciate that. I forgot that here where I live I’m blessed to have an abundance of choices. I wish it were that way for everyone. Perhaps someday it will be.
Thank you for your courteous and inquisitive post. There are many answers to your questions but let me respond in a couple of ways as an individual member of one of the secular groups. I suspect others will follow and include other important reasons why an atheist (like me) or why an agnostic is happy and especially proud to be a member of AA.
A number of months after Toronto Intergroup had delisted 3 of our secular groups between 2011 – 2012, our District Committee Member (DCM) mentioned to me that there were two things that perplexed him about the whole non-believers versus traditionalists group-delisting kerfuffle.
First, he told me that he was perplexed as to how we non-believers get sober without God since he was a committed Christian and believed that his faith was absolutely essential to his or to any kind of sobriety. Yet, he quickly added that it didn’t ultimately matter what he believed since the last time he checked the only requirement for membership in AA was a desire to stop drinking.
He then said that the 2nd thing that perplexed him was that in his time in AA he would estimate that about 70% of all the people he had met in the fellowship over the years were either agnostics or atheists (judged from his perspective as a committed Christian) so he couldn’t understand why there was such an overwhelming hostility against those of us in Toronto who were openly confessing our un-belief.
So, Love13, I think he would agree with you that AA is fundamentally not a Christian organization and that he didn’t expect it to be — AA is where he meets with others who have a desire to stop drinking, and his service in AA is based on AA’s steps and traditions.
Well, I also think that AA should not be a Christian organization nor affiliated with any religion let alone any sect, denomination, etc. So what I want in AA, as a secular AA member, is consistency: if the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking — and the last time I checked it was — and if AA is never to be aligned with any outside affiliation, then belief in God (even if only implied as requisite) must be definitively recognized as an outside issue and solely the affair of each member’s personal beliefs.
You say AA is not Christian. I agree. But you then equate religion and spirituality in AA as the same thing and ask why we seculars want to belong to AA and not instead to one of the other secular recovery programs. Again, consistency is desired. Each person’s religion, if they have one, is their own affair and any religious affiliation is always an outside issue, so religious identification must never factor into any requirement for membership or as a test of a group’s worth. This is what we continue to work for.
So your question, Love13, is really why do we seculars want to be involved with an organization that describes itself in various ways as a spiritual program of action (using a phrase from the Big Book). Now, we are at the point where your question hits the slippery slope of debate among us and we seculars are, on this, by no means consistent (as distinct individuals) in our attitudes to the language of spirituality in AA. We debate this all the time. For a final resolution of this question, if any, you’ll just have to stay tuned.
But finally Love13, in my judgement, the best answer to your question is that AA is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other to help other alcoholics achieve sobriety. It doesn’t get much more basic than that.
Here in Australia, ending the meeting with the LP is almost unknown. As it should be. There is only one meeting in my area which does this, and it is notorious for its efforts to emulate USA-style meetings in every way possible. The meetings I stick with are the old-fashioned “What it was like, what happened and what it’s like now” straight ID meetings. There is unfortunately a growing preponderance of “analysis” meetings: spiritual concept, ABSI, S&T, “topic” meetings; there was even a “depression” meeting which thankfully closed down due to lack of interest. I suppose these “special function” meetings have some usefulness, but I found a long time ago that what I need is to hear alcoholics talk about alcohol and what it did to them and how it no longer owns them. AA as a whole appears to be drifting away from this concept, much to its detriment, imo.
This is happening in Australia, too, and it has become harder to find a “straight ID” meeting, though they have not yet begun embracing the LP, apart from that one I mentioned. What there is, is an increasing tendency of is holding hands while saying the serenity prayer. Call me old-fashioned, but this practice contributes nothing, and smacks of the kind of new-agey, warm and fuzzy mentality that I really do not like. The whole purpose of AA is to stop drinking and stay stopped. Adding all this other stuff, especially when it blatantly smacks of religion, dilutes this purpose.
I don’t mean to be stepping on any toes; I’ve been to a couple of meetings in Canada recently, and they were unfortunately LP/hand-holding ones. So, it’s not just the Americans. I would have thought that Canadians were more akin to Aussies in that regard.
Anyway, that’s my two cents, I hope I didn’t offend anyone.
This is both interesting and disturbing. I live in Australia. We do not, as a rule, say the Lord’s Prayer at meetings. I know of only one where this is done. On the rare occasions I have attended this meeting, I just look down at my feet while this is going on. Sometimes I look around the room to see how many others’ lips aren’t moving. Usually a fair few.
It is with some pride that I can truthfully say that I have not once mentioned “god” from the floor of a meeting, in the 31 years I’ve been sober. If asked to chair, I will bow to the group conscience and read the word “god” when it appears in “How it works”. That is the extent of my use of the word. Nobody has ever pulled me up on this, although I’ve never made it an issue, either. When I am visiting the USA, I behave the same way I do at home. But I am the only one whose lips aren’t moving. The excessive religiosity of America is largely hypocritical and fully inappropriate at AA meetings, as outlined in this article. I have been saying this for decades. I am also of the opinion that our world would be vastly improved by the elimination of just two things: Religion and Greed.
Gosford, NSW Australia
Roger – The historical and explanatory parts of the essay are interesting and informative.
As useless and insulting as the Lord’s Prayer is to those of us that sign on to AA Agnostica, I doubt that it is a primary cause for driving newcomers out of AA. Your reference to the 281 appearances of the word God in the Big Book, the ubiquitous use of the word throughtout all of AA literature, and the sanctimonious use of the word by a huge number of sober alcoholics during the meetings are far more powerful influences.
As some of the respondents have said, don’t expect any help from New York. Even if they were to take a stand in support of your position, group autonomy would prevail, and the pro-prayer squadron would become more deeply entrenched. It takes about 25 or 30 seconds to listen to the prayer – 50 or 75 seconds a week – should not be the deal breaker if sober alcoholics who think like we do never pass up the opportunity to share some secular/agnostic experience, strength, and hope before, during, and after meetings.
AA got lucky, they got that little bit of backing and publicity from the Rockefeller incident, and they got some timely and influential print media coverage that saved their ass when they were about to fade away. Let’s face it, 100 members after three years. Not too impressive.
And, over the years without the flow of attendees from treatment facilities and the court systems, here in the U.S. AA attendance would be cut by at least one-third. “Attraction not promotion” has not proven to be an effective business development plan. None of us know what the future holds for recovery support groups. Will we secular/humanists, agnostics, atheists, and all-around skeptics remain a mouthy minority? I hope not! But if you read Bill White’s book, Slaying The Dragon: The History of Addiction Treatment and Recovery, a clear picture emerges: some really weird garbage has prevailed in public attitudes and screwball treatment programs. With our help, maybe science, common sense, and the coming of the “nones” will dictate the future and and our view will prevail. In addition to supporting sites like this one, each one of us can shoulder the responsibility of “proselytizing in the wilderness”.
One more thought. Joe C. may be correct. If AA does not modernize, and it won’t, maybe by 2035, it will have become a non-entity, but was it necessary to make fun of the Mennonites to make his point? Those folks are one of the most peaceful, productive, self-reliant sects known to mankind. Hints a bit like intellectual arrogance.
It may depend on where one lives, but I disagree with John about the off-putting effect of using the Lord’s Prayer. A good number of newcomers, especially young people, are alienated by the seeming religiosity of AA meetings. The Lord’s Prayer is exhibit #1. “How can you say,” people ask, “that AA is not religious when it intones a religious (and Christian) prayer at the end of every meeting.”
When I am at a meeting that uses the Lord’s Prayer, I hold hands, say nothing, and look around the room to see if there are any other conscientious objectors present. This issue is so clearcut, though, that I am thinking of making my non-participation more visible by stepping out of the circle.
Galen – Thanks for your comment, and it did provoke some thought on my part. I think the answer to your, “How can you say” question is this: the prayer defenders are simply afflicted with cognitive dissonance, they just do not know thy are engaging in self-contradiction. A common manifestation of blind faith.
Please do. I have opted not to participate in the end of the meeting hokey-pokey for a while now. Doing this opens the door for the more tolerant to ask me why I choose to not participate. This sometimes leads to a rational conversation.
Yeah, I just hold hands at the end of the meeting, sometimes say the Serenity Prayer (if I’m in the mood) and usually just stay silent during the Lord’s Prayer if it’s said. I have noticed that meetings in urban areas tend to skip the Lord’s Prayer more often (probably because they’re more progressive in general). I don’t really get too hung up on it one way or another. There are other battles to fight.
For those of us that found sobriety despite the “Lord’s Prayer,” it’s far easier to say we found a way to deal with it. Remember, meetings are supposed to be for the newcomer. He/she should always be kept in mind in every group. I’ve heard many an oldtimer opine that the program isn’t for everyone. “I got over it, (god talk) they should too!” Really?? It’s not 1935 anymore. The wider the door to recovery, the better!
I’m a recovering theist. Rejecting my Catholic faith 15 years into sobriety, I learned to embrace a four letter word: LOVE. The love I received by all of you who showed me how to love myself.
Thank you, Roger. I could not agree more with everything you’ve said here. As a Buddhist, I’ve never understood why the Lord’s Prayer is in AA meetings or why Central Office in the U.S. does not allow the steps to be re-worded. As much as I love the fellowship, I have to decline requests to read from Chapters 3 and 5 at meetings because I simply will not say something out loud that I do not believe in. Likewise, I stand and join hands with my fellows after a meeting but my lips do not move during the Lord’s Prayer. People do chuckle though, when I say, “God could and would if he wore socks.”
Why the need to ask “god” to lead us not into temptation? Surely god would know that there’s no need.
The AA Preamble says “we are not allied with any sect, denomination, politics or organization”. What, to me, is conspicuous by its absence, is the word religion. We certainly are not allied with any particular denomination of any religion, but we certainly are allied with Christianity. When we all (not me) hold hands in a circle and recite a group Christian prayer, what else can reasonable people think?
What really kills me is how little these Bible thumpers know about their own book. The Gospel of Matthew says “go to thy room and shut thy door and this is how you shall pray… do not stand in the streets with the zealots etc. etc.”.
I am waiting for the day when they stop passing around the dubious notion that issues with alcohol is necessarily a disease. The disease model is taken for granted but there are a lot of people in the field who reject the disease model. And anyway, they have changed the name from ‘Alcoholism’ to ‘Alcohol Use Disorder’ in the DSM. If it were a disease, what is the pathology? Where are blood tests? Why are people able to stop drinking for a multitude of reasons?
Hi Liz. Good questions. Here are a couple resources that may help answer them for you: Under the Influence: A Guide to the Myths and Realities of Alcoholism by Robert Milam and Katherine Ketcham and the later follow-up publication, Under the Influence: A Guide to the Myths and Realities of Alcoholism by Ketcham, William Asbury, Mel Schulstad, and Arthur Ciaramicoli.
It looks like I posted the same books twice! Here is the other:
Beyond the Influence: Understanding and Defeating Alcoholism by K. Ketcham, W. Asbuury, M. Schulstad, and A. Ciaramicoi
I absolutely agree. There is no place for using Christian prayers or any other form of prayer in meetings. And I also think “How It Works” should not be read at the beginning of every meeting. Nor should the Steps. They’re usually on the wall in plain sight anyway. And if someone WANTS to read the Big Book… they can.
I was raised Catholic and always found the Lords Prayer to be gobbledygook with no inspiring value in the least. I can add it only moderately bothers me, it doesn’t make my head pop off.
The Lord’s Prayer is not generally favored at English-speaking meets here in Sweden and Continental Europe
My only thought is that, for many people, including myself, Joe C’s prophetic ‘hundredth anniversary’ comment has already come to pass…
Every now and then this issue needs to be revisited, and this is a well written article and it’s something we just have to keep talking about until we get results, even if we’d rather be doing something else. And while we’re at it, we need to have the term “conference approved” changed too. We just need to keep harping on it. Was it Joe who once said you can’t convince someone with logical arguments about an issue where they have arrived at their position by an emotional path, something like that, and that is of course our problem, but if we keep stating our position it will be commonly heard, and that is probably the only way things will change: exposure.
Thank you for a great argument for our side Roger. I have just one spot of disagreement. A vote at the General Service Conference by AA Area delegates and AA officials is NOT all that would be needed to discard the Lord’s Prayer. All groups are autonomous. Nobody can tell them they can’t pray.
You may well be right, Rich. However: The General Service Conference can certainly acknowledge (I know, it’s hard to imagine!) that the Lord’s Prayer is religious and Christian and thus recommend to groups that it should not be a part of an AA meeting. Over time, such a statement and recommendation would have a very dramatic impact and, I believe, change the fellowship. This is, of course, just one thought on the subject… I appreciate your comment.
At our men’s AA meetings in Burlington Ontario we close with the Responsibility pledge.I brought it to our business meeting several years ago.
There was a lot shouting “you want take god out of everything” and other rants.
It was voted down. A couple years ago in June we voted in the Responsibility Pledge. Unanimously.
One member (from another group) who frequently attends threatened not to come anymore. He still attends but won’t recite the Responsibility Pledge. He admitted after he calmed down that he feels meetings should end with a prayer.
Now what was a big deal to him is not to most men who attend.
The women’s group voted with the Responsibility Pledge apparently voted the Lord’s Prayer back in…
In my home group, we had a “group conscience”/vote on the matter of The Lord’s Prayer and ended up with a reasonable compromise. Now the closing is “chair’s choice” — whomever is leading the meeting chooses the closing prayer/reading. In our group, rather than one person chairing for a period of weeks or months, a different member chairs each meeting. I was actually surprised at how many besides myself choose something other than “Our Father”. The Responsibility Pledge is the most-often chosen alternative, but some, of course, have used the opportunity to substitute other god-centric prayers (Third Step Prayer comes to mind). Still, it’s nice to have occasional relief from the nearly universal chanting of Our Father at the end of every meeting.
Roger, well done. In my article (Grapevine, Oct 2017) I described the grueling, but successful, process of removing and replacing it with the Responsibility Declaration. You cogently covered the legal history in US and Canada. Unfortunately, its use is still pervasive in my area, but I persist in spreading the gospel of inclusivity. I’ll encourage my home group to author a motion as you suggest. Thanks for your excellent work.
Two things I dislike about the Lord’s Prayer …. A the Lord’s Prayer and B I don’t know how many Ted Bundys I’ve held hands with…Jesus! Now that really creeps me out. Thanks Roger.
The gradual growth of reason and evidence based critical thinking in contemporary AA has been a “godsend” for me. In recent decades Roger C, Joe C and the majority of contributors to this thread have permitted me to get back to the business of living and enjoying life. Religion and politics! How is it that the growth of reason in religion in the USA is being outpaced by the growth of self-serving failure of reason in our politics? … … … Thanks, Roger.
This debate will no doubt last forever and ever.
Thus it’s important to come out publicly and respectfully without rancor to believers.
Many meetings here in CA don’t have religious overtones. I have traveled to many states and found Atheist AA meetings, although they are usually small and feel a little clandestine, like a secret cell.
What allowed me to stay in AA and get sober was early on when a man stood up and announced he was an atheist and available to work with anyone of similar belief.
Which is to say you may save someone by going public, often.
I’m sure Jesus, the man, would approve.
Thanks for another great essay. A big reality in our lives in AA is that for so many of us it IS a religion and they do pray to AA god and they do believe that AA god keeps them sober. There was a reading this week from the abomination “The 24 Hour A Day” book telling us to take no credit nor pride in gaining sobriety because “godidit”.
In fairly recent years science, particularly MRI and associated technology, has literally opened up the living brain for study. We know pretty much what addiction is and that alcoholics are by no means special or unique.
(As an aside, thinking we are special and unique seems to belong to us freaks and addicts. Old style AA only takes that one step further by insisting that only god can cure the “true” alcoholic.)
We also know some of the strategies to mitigate addictive behavior and why these things can work on the level of individual behavior. God does not go into my behavior center in my brain and rearrange and repair receptors and neuro-pathways and redirect pathways. We do it ourselves by asking sober alcoholics for help and attending meetings as therapy.
This group of people here and the secular AA movement in general saved AA for me. I was getting so tired of the ridiculous nonsense I had to listen to and observing all of the untreated alcoholism which abounds in the AA community unnoticed or unmentioned. Who would have thought a fellowship of drunks would in its “Meta-behavior” behave just like a bunch of drunks could be expected to behave. Devoutly rigid, impenetrable to logic, convinced of it’s righteousness, quick to stampede and trample others while living in desperate fear.
Your beliefs don’t make you a better person, your behaviour does.
Indeed, a most excellent essay, Roger — thank you.
I predict that Joe C.’s prediction that unless AA changes, becomes part of the 21st Century instead of clinging to dogmatic beliefs of the past, it will increasingly become irrelevant and likely disappear. On the other hand, I’m encouraged by recent reports that dogmatic religious belief is likewise becoming more and more irrelevant to younger cohorts of the population in North America, especially in urban and suburban areas.
What’s that old 60’s song by the Rolling Stones, IIRC, about “Ti-a-a-ime is on our side?”
Maybe we could just change our name. Moral Rearmament? Initiatives of No Change, maybe? Betamax Anonymous?
I love this site. We have an AA Agnostica meeting in North West Michigan. I don’t attend – it’s a time thing. But several of my friends do. They also attended meetings at our club and jump right in with this hand holding prayer thing. I’ve stepped out of the circle most of my 40 years. When I first sobered up this hand holding circle didn’t exist. There was at one time several of us that stood out. But most of the time I’m the only one. The power of the herd !!!
I am grateful to AA for giving me a systematic program for recovery! I came into AA May 1, 1970. I have had uninterrupted sobriety since! I simply walk out if the leader wants to use the LP. I do point out that AA should be open to all alcoholics without religious dogma!
Another good essay, Roger. Thank you.
Very early on I recognized the political futility of attempting a “change” in how our group meeting was closed. The custom of the Protestant “Lord’s Prayer” is apparently considered to be as “AA” as the Big Book itself. Of course, it is normally Christian AA’s who double-down on this flat contradiction of the Preamble… but not always.
Back then, I was the only out of the closet atheist surviving in the context of a daily Holy War against the Infidel. Any suggestion from me for dropping the LP would have been simply another log for the holy bonfire. 🙂
The only thing I could do, if intellectual honesty had anything to do with it, was to completely OPT OUT. When I began completely opting out, that of course, created quite a stir for those strongly wedded to this very exclusionary Protestant Christian religious custom. A lot of push came to me on this issue. I decided to face it head-on, not run from it, and to put arguments to buttress my utter lack of Conformity. Over time, this consistent practice has slowly modified other’s responses to the passive/aggressive demand that people participate.
What has happened over time is many more people are completely OPTING OUT, and this includes many Christians of various stripes who have been won over to broader, more inclusive principles. Today, on average, close to half of those in attendance at our meetings completely OPT OUT. No motions, no religious/political floor fights, no pretext for those claiming “you only want to change AA!”
In some of our meetings the LP folks are becoming the minority…. without a “fight” about it. The “changes” I’ve been seeing are not “changes to AA,” but are “Individuals” getting a better grip of broader principles away from explicit Protest Christian dominance; one mind at a time. A vote can’t touch that kind of bottom-up organic change in Individuals.
Had the LP issue been put as a motion, then a vote, the dominant Christian AA population would simply defeat the motion. Even if the motion had been put and passed, it could just as easily been reversed by some form of Theistic backlash. This is the West Texas Bible Belt “conventional AA” we are talking about after all. 🙂
At some future date, as things continue to develop and Individuals see these more inclusive principles incorporated into their lives on this very practical matter, the custom may well die off simply for a lack of participation.
In the meantime we will muddle through… Peace.
Good article Roger. Thanks. In 1955 Bill W wrote:
“Of course there are always those who seem to be offended by the introduction of any prayer whatever into an ordinary A.A. gathering. Also it is sometimes complained that the Lord’s Prayer is a Christian document. Nevertheless, this Prayer is of such widespread use and recognition that the argument of its Christian origin seems to be a little far-fetched. It is also true that most AA’s believe in some kind of god and that communication and strength is obtainable through his grace. Since this is the general consensus, it seems only right that at least the Serenity Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer be used in connection with our meetings. It does not seem necessary to defer to the feelings of our agnostic and atheist newcomers to the extent of completely hiding ‘our light under a bushel’.”
Now the Lord’s Prayer is not in such widespread use, so the argument no longer applies. I am pleased to say that in London, England I have only ever been to one meeting at which that prayer was said.
Right on, Gabe. In spite of Bill’s logic, or lack thereof, the Lord’s Prayer has never been of sufficient “widespread use” for it not to be a Christian prayer. A classic item of religion. Some are slowly – very slowly – getting real about that in AA.
The Serenity Prayer is widely used at London meetings. People sometimes introduce it saying “Using the word ‘God’ as you do or may come to understand it….’ I am not exactly sure what the point is. I don’t believe in a god of anyone’s understanding and I don’t wish to talk as if I did. So if the idea is to encourage people like me to join in, then it isn’t helpful.
Bill W.’s statement is not complete. In a final paragraph he wrote: “However, around here, the leader of the meeting usually asks those to join him in the Lord’s Prayer who feel that they would care to do so. The worst that happens to the objectors is that they have to listen to it. This is doubtless a salutary exercise in tolerance at their stage of progress.”
So, it is the “atheist and agnostic newcomers”, not the believers, who need a “salutary exercise in tolerance”. And “at their stage of progress” assumes that these non-religious newcomers will progress to finding religion.
In 1975 or 1976 I read Bill W.’s letters on the LP at the GSO in New York City, He was less tolerant then — in so many words he told those who objected to the LP that they’d better shape up or ship out. To my knowledge, none of these letters have been published.
There are small bits of good news from time to time. A Friday nooner at the Oshawa Alamo Club closes with the Responsibility Declaration. That’s astonishingly brave for Oshawa. The founders of that group are pretty godly, but they get the “affiliation-alliance” argument.
Secondly, Toronto Intergroup, inadvertent spawners of our growing movement of non-religious AA, are coming up to their third big Ontario Regional Conference at which chair people have some meeting-closing options, none of which is the LP.
Further to that, I have been invited to speak there, not in spite of being an atheist, but BECAUSE I am an atheist. Friday March 1 @ 5:15pm. I hope some of our local heathens can make it out.
This particular heathen shall certainly be there, Mister Bob!
I hope we can have an audio of it.
I agree completely that the Lord’s Prayer needs to end as a practice in AA. I won’t participate when a group closes in this fashion, though I have pretty much stopped going to meetings where prayer is featured as part of the meeting anyway.
District 6 in Kansas City, Missouri stopped closing with the Lord’s Prayer about a year ago. Our secular group didn’t even have to make the request. They decided that it wasn’t inclusive and since the District includes groups like mine “We Agnostics”, the right thing to do is to close with the “Responsibility Statement”, which is secular and applicable to a service entity like a District or Area.
Area 39 in Western Missouri is making progress. When I was first attending Area Assembly it was the Lord’s Prayer all the time. Every committee meeting ended with it as did the Assembly itself. At first, I stood there holding hands, but after a while it got to be unbearable. I started leaving the room.
Now many of the Committee meetings close with the Responsibility Statement and often the Assembly will close that way too. I have not brought to the floor the idea to stop saying the Lord’s Prayer. Instead, those of us who don’t like it just walk out when it’s being said. I think people just don’t understand why the prayer would be offensive. Now that the people are getting to know us, they are on their own slowly ending the practice. I prefer to handle it this way rather than than to enter into a debate. I have a lot of respect for our Area and I’ve made friends there over the years and I think this is helping.
Thanks for the article, Roger. It is important to keep this topic front and center.
The religious people in AA are not going to give up their prayer. Never! I have tried many, many times to engage religionists on the topic that Roger’s essay so eloquently describes. All of them, ALL! have denounced me as a person that is engaged in destroying AA. They point to all the paragraphs that use “god” or “God” in the 164 pages of AA’s principal text as the plain truth that de-legitimizes my position.
When they become aware that I’m headway in discussions with them, they smile knowingly and generally end the discussion saying if I’d “only open my heart, all would become clear” or some similar pap.
So I’ve stopped engaging with these willfully blind people. From my experience, discussing this topic with them is a waste of my time.
I still go to “traditional” meetings. I still step INSIDE the circle that ends the meeting with the LP. Sometimes I see others who join the circle but don’t spout the LP. Sometimes I chat with them and never miss an opportunity to tell them of Secular AA.
Sometimes I meet them again in Secular meetings.
When I attend business meetings and ask the religionists about Muslims, non-believers and agnostic people they almost always have no answer and retreat behind their own beliefs; let such people start their own meetings!
Roger said it perfectly: if AA in it’s current state fails to find a way to include Secular people, AA will continue its decline into irrelevance and harmless obscurity.
How very sad indeed.
Yes, stepping INSIDE is a good practice. And on the occasions where I’m asked to end the meeting with the serenity prayer – probably mostly to see if they can get me to say “God…”, I start with “Great Pumpkin…”.
I’ve just started remaining seated inside the circle, although on the edge. I think it makes them feel more uneasy than it does me.
Indeed at the group level it is slow going, however… In January 2019 the Winnipeg Intergroup voted on how to open and close monthly meetings – to my surprise the Unity Declaration and Responsibility Statement are to be used going forward! By a large majority the LP was shelved.
Maybe it will filter through the ranks.🤷🏼♀️
Thank you for this well written article. I consider myself open minded and overcame the religious content in the AA material in the beginning. But I could not deal with the overtly religious talk coming from members, the judgement and strictness that was pressured upon people to follow. I found that this drives people out of the group. Its divisive. The principals of AA are complete and workable model without using preachy tactics. I have 29 years in, and have met many members who don’t beat on the bible, but I avoid those that do. I hope we can awaken these folks to the narrowness of their thinking and to learn to be more inclusive and tolerant. I thought this was the beauty of AA, tolerance and love of ourselves and others.
There are several anti-LP essays that have appeared here over the years. This is my favourite. The late Father Fleming used to teach us to pronounce every syllable “as cle-ar as a bell.” My friend Roger has done this here. Brilliantly.
My long and immensely satisfying association with this outstanding website began when Roger published an anti-Lord’s Prayer rant I had submitted to the 🍇 Grapevine. The rejection letter was lovely—very polite and encouraging. Unless they lied, it’s still, eight years later, “on file for possible publication in the future.”
In retrospect, my essay was a rambling rant — well-researched, with lots about the US Supreme Court decision. But it wasn’t succinct. This presentation is magnificently succinct. I’D KILL TO BE SUCCINCT!!
Couldn’t agree more Bob – this is Roger’s best effort on the LP issue!
I have made the entreaty to remove the Lord’s Prayer from local meetings. I agree that it may be impossible. I won’t give up trying. The most insulting accommodation I got was “we will keep closing with the Lord’s Prayer but add (or a silent prayer of your choice)”. Why must my prayer or lack of be silent? Are we non-theists to be seen and not heard? Last night a new-comer told me when he told a member he was agnostic he was told “I’m sorry, hopefully you’ll come around”. Where does it end?
It ends here and now with us.
Thanks Roger. I agree; get rid of the Lord’s Prayer closing, but it ain’t gonna happen. Where I live we have about 500 AA meetings a week, and I’ve actually attended all of them over the past eight years. Over 95% traditionally end with the Lord’s Prayer, and the rest with the Serenity Prayer. Changing how meetings are ended, when brought up at Group Conscience meetings, are quickly dismissed, often with the comment “It’s up to the Chair how they want to end the meeting.” I end meetings with the Responsibility Statement, which few members recognize or have memorized. Personally, in my area, I feel elimination of the Lord’s Prayer closing is hopeless.
Very logical Roger. Unfortunately religious people are not logical.
One of my earliest articles for AA Agnostica was a reprint of my 1976 article: A Proposal to Eliminate the Lord’s Prayer from AA Meetings.
I wonder if most meetings in North America really do end with the LP. From about the 1980s on, most meetings I’ve attended in Manhattan, Provincetown (Massachusetts), and Boston have ended with the Serenity Prayer or no prayer at all. But then, I probably selected meetings with a minimum of religiosity.
The form of the LP recited in AA meetings is slightly different from the one in the King James Bible and used by two of the elite Protestant denominations (at least in the U.S.), the Congregationalists and the Presbyterians. AA: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
KJV/Presbyterians/Congregationalists: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” Martin Luther’s translation was (I translate from the German, and by memory): “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” I think Luther’s is by far the best.
Thank you Roger. I’ve been asked to present a case at our group’s next business meeting to abandon the LP and will use some of your well founded arguments. Thank you. The majority of members in our group are under 40.
Best wishes! Let me know how it turns out.
Thanks Roger. You were at the Area meeting a few years ago with me in London and you saw the response to the idea Lord’s Prayer being removed because it is Christian/Religious – ain’t gonna happen. Certainly not anytime soon if ever at all. Those folks had every rationalization, justification for keeping the Lord’s Prayer including the “well I’m not religious but saying the Lord’s prayer never hurt me and my sobriety”. Every single meeting here in Windsor ends their meeting with the Lord’s Prayer and I suspect it will be done here long after I’m gone. I think that outside the GTA (very few meetings in Toronto use the Lord’s Prayer), AA is still kinda stuck in the 30’s and 40’s and will remain that way for the foreseeable future.
Downtown Toronto maybe, Steve, but Scarborough is a part of Toronto, and it’s Lord’s Prayer Central. I know of NO Scarborough AA group that uses any other closing.
Thanks Bob and that reinforces my belief that AA as a whole will not give up the LP anytime soon, if ever… sadly.
Keep up the good work, Roger. We need you. AA needs you.
“Spiritual not religious? Then behave accordingly.”
I could not agree more with the above statement. I find it APPALLING that AA ends each meeting with the Christian Lord’s Prayer.
I was at a meeting last night that was about meditation and prayer and almost everyone discussed how God (a Christian God) spoke to them, healed, them, and dialed knobs to make their life better and whole. I was shocked at how self centered that was. “God loves me just for being me.”. “God is Love”. “I just needed God to take over the controls.” “God is who solves my problems” . What about the children who are violently gang raped and left to die? Did they not pray hard enough? Did God not love them enough? Was God busy taking care of someone’s anxiety problem or getting the mechanic to fix their car for a lower price? Were they not good enough? I have yet to hear an answer to that question and I have asked many priests.
If I were newly sober and had gone to that meeting as my first meeting as an atheist I would never have returned.
Oh well. AA has a lot to offer and the people who shared their experience, strength, hope, and love saved me from myself. I will be forever grateful to the living breathing people of AA.
Well put, Roger.
The boy has skills, Tommy!!
Thank you for your essay, Roger. We have to keep bringing this issue up. Besides being an embarrassment in today’s world, it’s just wrong!
At the 2013 Ontario Regional Conference in Toronto, I attended a session called on the “Future of AA” where The Very Reverend Ward Ewing, Chair of the General Service Board, made the point of saying that in his personal opinion, and as an Episcopalian theologian in the “God business” (his phrase), he did not believe that the Lord’s Prayer belonged in AA. He told us that in his first year as Chair, he attended the AA International Convention in San Antonio in 2010 and was “surprised and frankly a little shocked” that the Lord’s Prayer was used to end the convention as well as other venues.
Shoot, if they must use it, at least they could show some kind of 21st century sophistication and pray the prayer in Jesus’ native tongue of Aramaic. Ah, but then they would discover that Jesus imagined (along with John Lennon) that there is no heaven in his world either.
May thy name be holy.
May thy kingdom come.
May thy will be done.
Give us today our needed bread.
And forgive us our debts / sins.
As we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation.