Religion Free AA – Is It Possible?

By John B

My answer to the question is no, and the purpose of this essay is to explain why I believe AA will remain saturated with religion. The claim that AA is not religious is delusional. Some may think delusional is a bit too harsh, but common usage of the word simply implies the harboring of a false belief or impression. Just how strong a grip does religion have on AA? Let’s start at the beginning.

AA was born as a religious entity. I make that statement without equivocation based on two sources: forty years of intensive AA involvement in N.E. Indiana and North Georgia, combined with Ernest Kurtz’s description of AA in his book, Not God: A History of Alcoholics Anonymous. Kurtz studied the History of American Civilization at Harvard, and the book was his doctoral dissertation.

Not GodIn the chapter, The Context of Religious Ideas, he looks at AA from within the parameters of classical American religious ideas and reaches this conclusion: “…the fundamental impulse revealed by and lived out within Alcoholics Anonymous will be found to be that of a uniquely American expression of Evangelical Pietism.” (Not-God, p. 182) Let’s break that down. Evangelical – the Protestant belief in salvation by grace alone, through faith in an atonement delivered by Jesus’s atonement. (Wikipedia) Pietism – emphasis on individual piety, and living a vigorous Christian life. (Wikipedia) In that chapter Kurtz gives Wilson credit for his efforts to avoid religiosity, and acknowledges that AA defines itself as spiritual not religious, but his final judgment tells us that AA is ‘uniquely’ religious.

I have observed nothing in my forty years of AA attendance that would serve to refute Mr. Kurtz. One might not agree with the type of religion Kurtz assigns AA, but the 85 years of AA history clearly reveals a “lived out” religious impulse.

Why did that happen? Historians have documented the fact that there have been secular, atheist, agnostic influences within AA from its earliest days, but these alternatives haven’t gained enough traction to alter the course of AA, and presently there is nothing to indicate that we non-believers are anywhere near achieving the critical mass necessary to push official AA in our direction.

Some of the postings and replies on AA Agnostica made it abundantly clear that there is a lot of frustration, even some hostility, because of this apparent inertia on the part of AA. I’m part of the frustration, but I firmly believe that for me to think the God based orientation of autonomous AA meetings (which to many of us is in itself a manifestation of religion) will somehow disappear, would be as equally delusional as the claim that AA is not religious. AA Agnostica has posted some thoughtful arguments advocating change, but I think the problem is more complex than these hopeful reformers realize. Some aspects of human nature, combined with cultural influences, serve as powerful impediments to these frequently called for changes.

The God DelusionEven if AA was born as a uniquely religious entity, as asserted by Kurtz, that fails to explain why, given the fact that every AA group is autonomous, the religious factions have remained dominant. In his book, The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins offers some insights that may help to answer that question; answers heavily invested in the Darwinian theory of evolution. Dawkins is an internationally known evolutionary biologist and an equally known outspoken atheist. Here is a quote that forcefully describe his contempt for religion: “Though the details differ across the world, no known culture lacks some version of the time consuming, hostility provoking rituals, the anti-factual, counter-productive fantasies of religion.” (God Delusion, p. 166)

This atheist sees religion as useless, even destructive. How has it survived and become so pervasive? The simple fact that religion has survived, according to the Charles Darwin’s theory, is because it has contributed something to the survival of our species.

If we go back a few hundred thousand years what primitive trait might we find, that when genetically passed on, would make humans receptive to religion? Dawkins sorts through a wide array of possibilities, evaluates them all and settles on one. “My specific hypothesis is about children.” (God Delusion, p. 174) Throughout the millennia our species has survived on the cumulative experiences of previous generations and passed that information on to the next generation – our children. This serves to reduce fatal mistakes by the young. Kids need to know that snakes and alligators might be dangerous. More importantly, the continuation of this process over thousands of generations contributed to the evolutionary development of a newborn’s brain receptive to believe what is told to them by elders.

I find it impossible to argue with that principle of evolution because it is so apparent to all of us. Easter bunny, tooth fairy, Santa. For a few years they believe pretty much anything we tell them. The human brain is obviously receptive to information that enhances survival, an attribute that has value in its own right. Seven billion or so of us wandering around on planet earth strongly supports that hypothesis. What’s not so obvious is Dawkins contention that a human receptiveness to religion piggy-backed its way into our brain.

That claim may be “a leap too far” for many, but I find it easy to accept for at least one simple reason. World estimates indicate that between five and six billion humans, who live in widely differing cultures, have chosen to affiliate with one of the world’s many religions. Secularists, atheists, and agnostics are estimated to be about one billion.

Dawkins explains this huge disparity this way: “The religious behavior may be a misfiring, an unfortunate by-product of an underlying psychological propensity which in other circumstances is, or once was, useful.” (God Delusion, p. 174)

That’s the evolutionary biology take on this issue of the acceptance of religion. We see religion was allowed entry into the arena of life without having to buy a ticket.

It turns out that biologists are not alone, they have received some backing from the field of evolutionary psychology. Here’s Robert Wright from his book, The Moral Animal: Why We Are the Way We Are. “People tend to believe things that are in their evolutionarily ingrained interest.” (The Moral Animal, p. 365) Neither of these fields of studies tells us when religion slipped into the human brain and utilized the already developed receptivity. I don’t find that omission compelling, the point is religion got in, and it’s still there.

We have now evolved far beyond our primeval circumstances, but information is still passed on to the young by our elders, and those young minds absorb it. Normal maturation leads us out of the tooth fairy stage and we begin to learn on our own, ask questions and use our reason to find answers. Some of us are able to use reason to shove religion aside, while most end up influenced by some form of religious impulse. Here I bring in Mr. Dawkins again. In his book, A Devil’s Chaplain, he warns us that in spite of our power of reason, this receptive brain of ours far too often relies on three bad reasons to attach validity to things we are told. Those reasons are tradition, authority, and revelation. It seems to me that all three of these have helped to make AA a self-perpetuating religious institution.

Maybe the argument against the religiosity of AA is misdirected; maybe the real confrontation is with human nature and the culture at large. To change AA will require an alternative as powerful and appealing as the current belief in God as the primary source for successful recovery. What language can be used? What cluster of words can be presented as a powerful frame? What core values that motivate agnosticism, atheism, or humanism can be defined and presented in ways that would motivate alcoholics to buy into those values?

Who has the time, the talent, and the commitment to make this happen? I don’t have the answers! Do you?

John is an eighty-four year old sober alcoholic with 35 years of continuous sobriety. Married to Helen for 54 years; three kids in their 50’s. Spent 17 years teaching and coaching at the high school level in Indiana and Illinois. Owned and operated a bar and restaurant for 13 years which led to the acceleration of his alcoholism, which led to treatment, and eventually led to a career as an addiction counselor. Retired in 2001 from the Marion, In. V.A. Served as office manager for a major AA intergroup office in N.E. In. for six and a half years. Was an excellent high school and small college basketball player. Still goes to the gym three days a week and shoots 200 three point shots and does some light weight lifting. Passionate about family, recovery, basketball, and the St. Louis Cardinals. Reads 20 to 25 books a year, and three or four quality periodicals on a regular basis; mostly about politics, economics, science, history: about anything going on in the world that strikes his curiosity.

51 Responses

  1. Jackie K says:

    This is more a question than a comment. I have been a Buddhist for 7 years, and will be celebrating 26 years of sobriety in a few weeks. I stopped reading the Steps, and portions of Chapters 3 and 5 of the Big Book when asked to volunteer at my home group. I just say no thanks, but nobody knows why — I cannot say aloud that which I do not believe in (i.e., God). How can I explain this to my group? I don’t want to pontificate on my birthday, but feel an explanation is in order. Thanks.

    • Larry g says:

      I get why this is a dilemma. Ok here is what I have been doing for years. I say “what I’m about to say is right for me and me only”. Then I acknowledge that the god as hp is indispensable part of the program for many and I say “I’m ok with that as right for many and fully accept that, I totally get it, but that just hasn’t worked for me”. I don’t elaborate.

      Then I simply explain that I’m an agnostic and have been for years. That it’s worked really well with my program in AA. That it integrates with the steps really well. I do not give specifics. I let em know my sponsor and sponsees all know and now they do too. I also say that I’m grateful there is room for all of us in AA. Then I simply finish with Thx for letting me share.

      I’m happy to report that most are fine and dandy with it and could care less. A small hand full have followed up with questions. A few dodge me like I’m the devil. Makes me smile. What I have learned is that there are many of us non traditional. Most of us just function in silence or leave. If more of us will keep gently speaking, the group norms will shift a little at a time. But it does take courage and thick skin at first. Hope this helps and good luck.

      • Jackie K says:

        Thanks. Whenever I attempt one-on-one discussions with AA members, they simply do not get it, and almost always reply with, “It’s a God of YOUR UNDERSTANDING” — Then I say that’s the problem – the assumption of a god. And it goes downhill from there. I chose not to have a sponsor several years ago when sponsors in two programs told me they wouldn’t sponsor me unless I had a God of my understanding. Looks like the answer for me is to continue keeping my mouth shut and use the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path as my program. AA denies that it is exclusive, and it’s a shame. I keep attending my home group, but still will not read something aloud that I do not believe in.

  2. Chad Minteer says:

    I love this essay, very thought provoking. I don’t think that eliminating religious thinking from AA, or the world at large, is currently possible. Every generation that is born is being taught something, and billions are still learning the old myths. The fact that there could be as many as a billion agnostics on the planet is amazing considering our not too distant human past. I see that as progress, but then I wonder if that is also not necessarily true – what is the new mythos that supercedes the old? There are lots of ideologies out there that aren’t explicitly religious, but nonetheless may not be the best for human flourishing.

    I’ve always thought that we humans are far less than rational (more than, sometimes?), and that one purpose religion has served is that it renders some of the irrationality at least a little more predictable. The growing number of “nones” who never had any religion to react to and reject still have mythos in their life, but it might be far more individualized, or it might just be borrowed from popular culture in much the same unquestioning way that many religious believers think and believe.

    You ask who has the time, talent, and commitment. It seems to me you’re already part of it. 🙂 Personally, I’m greatly encouraged by what AA Agnostica is doing. There is a huge infusion of creative energy going on in the recovery community as a whole – it’s just mostly invisible to AA, within traditional AA circles. Recovery movements such as SMART and Tempest, the profusion of recovery writing in popular culture, the popularization of mindfulness, mental health gains related to PTSD and trauma, etc., etc. The world moves on, the science moves on, the experiences move on.

    I don’t have the answers either, but I’m enjoying the journey, and articles like yours help me feel like I belong here.

  3. Gabby B. says:

    Awesome article! You’ve got some of the best perspectives on this site.

  4. Mike O says:

    AA grew up in mid 20th century America, a time before social media, before the internet, when western Judeo-Christian religious authority was largely unquestioned (especially in the United States), when the white male patriarchy was assumed as the primary power structure organizing Western society… Atheists and agnostics were “tolerated” in the program though barely (and fitfully) and encouraged to shoehorn a kind of compromised version of the program whereby they still acknowledged a “Higher Power” and the “spiritual” nature of the 12 Steps even if they initially and semantically called it different names (“Good Orderly Direction” and/or “Group of Drunks” anyone?). The Big Book encouraged a one-way “open mind” to secularists in the “To Agnostics” chapter, basically telling them to get just a little bit of “Higher Power” (God), enough to work the program, and that over time the process of the Steps and the program (to those who “worked it”) would naturally build that member’s faith and reliance upon said Higher Power. Yes, as the Big Book states, AA doesn’t DEMAND you believe in anything in particular, but it also doesn’t provide or encourage tools outside of its own Big Book and literature to advance recovery. Religion (cloaked in “spirituality”) is the default.

    Over the last generation, first the internet and now social media have allowed remote and disparate secularist recovering people to be able to find other like-minded secularists in recovery and community and see that, as the essays says, we’re not alone. We aren’t alone when “Bleeding Deacon” Joe or John or Harry at our local home group meeting goes on and on in his “share” that ONLY through submission to a “God of our understanding” can REAL recovery be found. We aren’t alone in seeking out additional, new and scientifically-based recovery resources. We aren’t alone in seeking fellowship from those who ask nothing about our “spiritual condition” and simply want us to be okay. Now, with the pandemic largely shuttering in-person meetings throughout the world, many of us secularists in recovery may be finding out, perhaps for the first time, that traditional AA meetings may have been training wheels we could’ve, and maybe should’ve, tossed aside long ago. We may need to reach out virtually more than personally as we did before. This is another challenge but it’s also another powerful opportunity to define our own recovery on our own terms. We aren’t dependent on traditional AA meetings and traditional AA messaging to stay sober, even in the most trying of times. We can find our own way and our own path. We really CAN just “take what you want and leave the rest”, taking from multiple resources to build a more complete set of tools to navigate not just “recovery”, but life beyond.

  5. Mike S. says:

    I got sober in AA 29 years ago. I was so desperate that I followed the steps and the prayers religiously although I was an atheist.

    Now I’m an agnostic but the fact that every meeting in my city in central Ontario ends with the prayer, from the Bible, is very annoying. Those that don’t like it are left with the choice to shut up or to leave.

    Hopefully, the availability of online Agnostica and Beyond Belief meetings during the pandemic will open minds and have us value our principle purpose for ALL alcoholics, without alienating non-Christians.

  6. Bob K says:

    Nice to see the high volume of comment. This is an excellent essay and a provocative one. Nice work once more, John.

  7. Larry g says:

    Love the attempt at finding a reason to explain religions hold on AA as well as the rest of the globe. A noble effort. Not sure science will ever know with certainty. It’s a very big issue to explain with actual scientific evidence. Maybe eventually.

    For now what I do know is that humans have an ability to reason deeply and creatively. And our reason seems to be used to allow us to exist and thrive. We use our reason to observe and explain. These explanatory processes are done with exquisite creativity. And over thousands of years we have developed massive fields of knowledge. Some fields are anchored to factual and repeatable observations and conclusions. Others seem to be anchored to nothing more than really elaborate musings of creative thinking that cannot be proven and must be taken on faith.

    Politics and religion/spirituality are the two areas of human knowledge that require nothing more than pure faith. But are talked about by their proponents like it is the absolute unequivocal truth. They seem to offer as evidence: 1) “its logical”; 2) ancient texts of musings have been around a long time; 3) many of us share these common beliefs; and, 4) culture has been heavily influenced by them.

    I have not met a single human in my 63 years that has not relied on some sort of belief/faith as part of their internal orientation at existing and explaining in this world. Not one including those of us that frequent this site and share our own musings. For me and me only I don’t presume to know what anyone else should believe. I know for myself that my beliefs are a blend of science, reason, and pure faith. Regarding all others I take what I need and leave rest. My head now hurts. Lol

  8. Dean W says:

    Thanks John for an excellent essay. The late psychiatrist M. Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Traveled, called AA’s steps “the only existing program for religious conversion” (Further Along the Road Less Traveled, p. 139). Traditional AA is not just a program of recovery, it is a program of religious conversion. That conversion works for a lot of people, and once worked for me. And the attempt to convert others is simply part of the nature of evangelical religion. If that religious basis and the attempt to convert others were removed from AA, would AA still be AA? I agree with you that attempts to change the God-based nature of AA are ill advised.

    So where do I as an agnostic, and we as Secular AA, fit into this fellowship of faith with its program of religious conversion? I’m more and more inclined to think that maybe I simply don’t fit in AA, and never will. Reliable sources tell me the vast majority of Secular AA still wants to be part of Traditional/Spiritual/Religious AA. It’s hard for me to see that marriage working out in the long term.

    • John B. says:

      Dean – I have drifted off into that “don’t fit” category; thanks for the well thought reply. John B.

  9. George C. says:

    What nonsense. Why did publish this? And his autobiography, too?

    • John B. says:

      George – Please submit an essay on some-sense. Include some personal info. so the readers will know something about the guy who wrote it. Looking forward to reading your ideas. John B.

  10. Vic Losick says:

    Truly good piece. I think we are the cusp of change.

  11. Daniel B. says:

    As a member of the Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous for 45+ years of continued sobriety I find all this nonsense about religion disturbing to say the least.

    No one from my first meeting said I have to believe anything – they said it was all about suggestions if I wanted what they had there were certain things I needed to do. Admit I was powerless over my compulsion to drink, that my life was unmanageable, I bought this on my very first meeting and have not looked back since. This Fellowship has given me a life beyond measure, I became a member of the first Big Book Study group in 1981 which has opened up my world to be self employed, build a business, own a home raise a family. Turn my life over to a Power Greater than myself WOW !! that was so easy !!!!

    Nobody is forced to take these steps if they don’t want to remembering this agnostica thing is playing with PEOPLES LIVES!!!, sure I have know plenty who have rebelled at the thought of turning their lives over to a power they could not see, feel or touch, but John Barleycorn is always waiting for their return to slow motion suicide!!

    I believe that I have a responsibility to show newcomers precisely how I have recovered, remembering the ball is in their court at all times. Many die because they cannot see the way offered to them, many at our meeting complain about the way the book is written, they can take it or leave it my opinion, remembering we are not on a membership drive at the moment, this is only here for those who WANT IT!!

    At present we are experiencing big numbers of addicts presenting as alcoholic addicts who rebel at the AA way of life that I find very disturbing also, but I will never walk away from this Fellowship that has given me life. So are the main drivers of this rebellion addicts too??

    • steve b says:

      In case you haven’t noticed, the gentleman who wrote this article you so object to also enjoys long-term sobriety. I myself have 40 years, go to meetings only occasionally, and have been a life-long atheist. Isn’t there a saying you hear around AA from time to time that goes “Live and let live”?

    • Dean W says:

      AA is always on “a membership drive.” It’s baked into the steps and the fellowship.

    • Holly W. says:

      John Barleycorn also waits for those who believe in god.

    • Philip L. says:

      I think you have missed the point of the article.

      You suggest AA is not religious because (1) no-one at your first meeting asked you to believe in God, (2) it was all about suggestions, (3) nobody is forced to take the steps.

      However, you admit that you were told that you “needed” to “turn your life over to a Power Greater than myself” to a “power they could not see, feel or touch”. Sounds pretty religious to me.

      The Big Book is full of contradictions. Not least, claiming it isn’t religious and then returning over and over and over to reliance on a supernatural, Supreme Being.

      You are not a custodian of what the AA way of life is. Society, knowledge and AA changes over time. There will always be fundamentalists who resist change.

      In the 1930’s few people admitted to being atheist. Nowadays, a majority of the UK are non-religious. Remember, you are playing with peoples lives, by trying to convert them to an understanding of God.

  12. Lena R. says:

    Thank you for this thought-provoking read, John! I really appreciated this perspective!

    • John B. says:

      Daniel – Welcome to the club. “This nonsense about religion” is precisely what AA Agnostica is all about. John B.

    • Johjn B. says:

      Thanks Lena – “thought provoking” is a nice compliment. Appreciated!! John B.

  13. steve b says:

    There are alternatives to traditional AA. One of course is atheist and agnostic AA. Another is LifeRing. If you want to check it out, google it, and try one of their online meetings.

  14. Chris G says:

    Once there were Jews. Then there was Jesus. Then came the Catholics. Followed by the Protestants. All splitting into hundreds of sects. The same in other traditions.

    And probably through all this, there were a few who said, nonsense, I don’t believe it. And mostly hid out.

    So Bill & Bob started AA from their mainstream Christianity; that’s just who they were. But it worked.

    Well, now we have a lot of secular drunks getting sober, no longer hiding out, and the old mainstream is still there. So?

    Everything changes, especially society. Enjoy your sobriety, enjoy the secular meetings. It’s a good time to be a secular recovering drunk.

  15. Mark C. says:

    John B.! Another thoughtful and interesting essay. “A religion-less AA?” Not with the Big Book in play…..and chanting “How It Works” before every meeting….well at least in my neck of the woods, and throughout the seven or so states I’ve experienced.

    Ye Ole Big Book is nothing other than a “Protestant, Pietist, Theistic, Religious TEXT.”

    Then throw in most all the other “Conference Approved” literature into that “stew pot” of metaphysical babble…and there we go…

    Well, fact is, a lot of those sorts of “delusions” does appear to “work” for folks who are inclined toward “Religiosity, Conformity and Authoritarianism.” And not just Big Book Authoritarianism, but Authoritarianism writ large…

    It is my view that the eradication of religion within AA is a fool’s errand. Here in the West Texas Bible Belt AA “Religiosity, Conformity and Authoritarianism” is on methamphetamine, figuratively speaking. “Get God or Die, Mofo,” or “Get “Spiritual” or Die Mofo,” or “Pray of Die, Mofo,” or “Robotically Parrot our Theistic Religious TEXT or Die, Mofo,” are the standing orders for “sobriety” coming from legions of religiously deluded individuals, fanatics, Zealots, and 12 Step Cultists by the barrel-full.

    How to put a dent in that? My particular solutions arose from those very practical considerations of observed “reality” within the Fellowship here. I know full well how powerful religion is… I spent 20 years “deep” in Protestant Christian Theism….and that “path” began as a result of what I call a “sudden, transformative religious/mystical experience” that “reordered my “perception” of “reality.”

    It is the case that “delusion” “can” put one on a better path in life. All one has to do is look around at many folks in AA who are “sober” and ARE doing better, sometimes much better than they were prior to living in a bottle.

    So, given those “apparent” “facts” of “reality,” I chose to be glad for how any drunk gets and stays sober…. And I am for them, however they go about that…. I just “know” those sorts of mysticisms, (Christian Theistic, General Theistic, Jungian or Jamesian Mysticisms) do not “work” for me.

    That said, the “notion” that religion/mysticism should be, or can be Eliminated from “AA” is something that I’ll leave to others.

    My focus has always been much more local, hands on, and practical;to Widen The Gates away from Religiosity, Conformity and Authoritarianism.

    The only thing I could do was to be honest about me, try real hard to practice acceptance and tolerance of those (the large majority) who seethe with cultist, Big Book-driven anti-atheist religious bigotry and ignorance.

    Honesty about me…. in the context of a Fellowship absolutely driven by delusional religious/mystical metaphysics, and need it be said, fanaticism, from the get-go…. the Cult in action.

    During my ten years of active participation in an old conventional, very cultish, AA group here….my presence, and my honesty about Me…widened the gates for others… Covid-19 ended my active participation in any face to face AA meetings, and now my Honesty about me in my old home group is “subtracted” from “what can be heard our meetings here…. the gates have narrowed considerably since my departure. Extreme Right Wing Religious/”Spiritual”/Political elements have performed a coup d’etat has been accomplished.

    The Holy War Against the Infidels is alive and well….

    • John B. says:

      Mark – Thank you-this is an interesting read. What is scary as hell to me at this time is the “authoritarianism writ large” that is presenting a threat to representative government as we know it. John B.

  16. Thomas B. says:

    Indeed, an excellent essay — thanks John . . .

    In January, I relocated from small-farm-town Wenona, Illinois to Tucson, AZ. Tucson is a lively, mostly politically progressive city, compared to much of Arizona, but it’s AA is sadly overly influenced by fellow Vietnam Veteran, Wally P., who does a series of national workshops entitled “Back to the Basics,” which he purports are based upon how Dr. Bob and the Akron-folk did AA in the 1940s. Many Tucson members of AA come to the meetings with their leather bound Big Books filled with multi-colored underlinings and comments in the margins. Some even read, sonorously, several paragraphs from their Big Books as the majority of their shares. Cult-like — you betcha . . .

    I sit on the opposite side of the room where I can keep this reminder from page 84 of the Big Book foremost in my mind: “Love and tolerance of others is our code” !~!~!

    • John B. says:

      Thomas – Thanks for taking time to participate. After I retired in 2001, I spent 6 and a half years managing the AA central office in Ft. Wayne, In. and the Back to Basics book was in high demand there. We would have to order books two or three times a year for some God oriented group to have workshops based on the book. I never went to any. Glad to hear from someone from Illinois. I grew up in Paris, went to high school there, went to college in Indiana, and spent most of my life in Indiana.

  17. Doc says:

    While AA per se is a religious organization, some of the groups which are affiliated with AA tend to be very secular with an emphasis on sobriety that does not require magical thinking.

  18. Dave O. says:

    William Schaberg’s massive tome from his investigation of the AAWS archives Writing The Big Book, provides insight into what was going on before, during, and after the publishing of Alcoholics Anonymous. Schaberg is an author who runs a rare book store and previously wrote on the published works of Nietzsche. Spoiler Alert: he was a salesman.

  19. John S says:

    Official AA is my home group, We Agnostics. We don’t pray during our meeting or read any religious literature, nor do we read anything published by AA World Services. We are entirely secular, so we have already successfully changed AA.

    • James J. says:

      How about the 12 steps? How have they been “secularized”?

      • John S says:

        That is up to each individual to determine what the Steps mean to them, if anything all. I find it easy to look at the underlying experiences and actions of the Steps and ignore the religious language.

        • John B. says:

          John S. – Thanks for taking the time to participate. I admire folks like you and the others who are making non-religious meetings available. I wish I had the courage and commitment to do it where I now live in North Georgia, but I’m about four decades past what it would take to do it. In response to your two replies, I find it a bit of a stretch to ignore “anything published by AA World Services” and to “ignore the religious language” in the steps and still call it “official AA”.

  20. Dan Westwood says:

    Thanks John.

  21. Oren says:

    Thanks, John. A truly thought-provoking essay, at least for this free-thinking old-timer.

  22. Dan C says:

    Excellent work putting this together. Thanks for the thoughts… Peace

  23. Mary M. says:

    A But AA is not religious, it’s spiritual!
    B Well define spiritual then?

    A You choose your own kind of belief in God
    B What if I have no belief in any kind of God?

    A Well then the Book tells us you have very little hope of recovery.
    B If I tell you that I and many of my friends have over thirty years of recovery without your God what would you say?
    A Sheer luck and I find it hard to believe. You have to come to believe, it says so in the Steps.

    There is no reasoning with this kind of illogical thinking, prevalent whenever there’s even a cool-headed discussion. They shake their heads in sorrow. Pity us heretics as they bow their heads and pray to their righteous father in heaven who has granted them sobriety while kicking the other 95% of addicts to the curb.

    Great essay.

    • John B. says:

      Mary – Great lesson on how to think and converse about anything—define your terms–then maybe we can get somewhere. Thanks for participating. John B.

  24. bob k says:

    I was smacked upside the head by the Robert Wright line – “People tend to believe things that are in their evolutionarily ingrained interest.” (The Moral Animal, p. 365) William James’s Pragmatism came immediately to mind.

    “Beliefs were ways of acting with reference to a precarious environment, and to say that they were true was to say they (were efficacious) in this environment.” (Pragmatism, Bruce Kuklick, p. xiv) James defined true beliefs as those that prove useful to the believer.

    There is tremendous denial about the religiosity of Alcoholics Anonymous. Most members bristle a bit at the mention of the AA-influencing book, The Varieties of Religious Experience. “Spiritual” experiences are so damned different, don’t you know?

    Dr. Kurtz pointed out Bill’s error in claiming that his take from the James book was the need for deflation at depth. Kurtz wrote that the key word and concept to be taken from “Varieties” was “conversion.”

    Lordy! Lordy!!

    “We will now close our spiritual meeting with The Lord’s Prayer which is COMPLETELY non-religious.”

    In the modern world, the use of Christianity’s number one prayer is pretty much limited to church and AA. The folks who won’t change that aren’t going to change much of anything else.

    • David W says:

      The comical thing about use of the lord’s prayer in AA meetings (or any public gathering), is that in Mathew Chapter Six, Jesus explicitly instructs people to pray it not in a public gathering but to go alone behind a closed door where other’s cannot witness you (e.g. no people pleasing). According to the chapter, it’s supposed to be a private prayer recited in solitude. Jesus refers to people who pray in public as hypocrites. Makes you wonder how many Christians in AA have actually read the bible.

    • John B. says:

      Thanks bob – As usual you offer lots to think about. John B.

      • Victoria says:

        My first sobriety date was 1989 w/my 2nd husband. After a few months I was asked to lead my non-smoking group meeting! When we said the Lord’s prayer at the meetings end, I added the words, Our Mother”, Our F. No one was offended, and as far as I know no one became my enemy! Someone did break my anonymity. I remained sober about 2 years. Next sobriety date was 2002, when I won a big book in a raffle at an open AA meeting. Then I became what is called a high functioning alcoholic or a person who abuses alcohol! How did I learn this? I read a variety of books based on science, rational thinking, and other women who do not believe in a male God. I do believe is a genetic inherited link in some individuals! I would say more but I’ll save it for another time! Really liked reading your article, John.

  25. Wes L says:

    Wonderful piece, John.

    These two statements describe the attitude of the members that I attend meetings with:

    I don’t share my thoughts because I think it will change the minds of people who think differently;

    I share my thoughts to show the people who already think like me that they are not alone.

    In my opinion that should be the emphasis of secular AA.

    • Eric says:

      Thanks John for taking the time to write this piece. Thought provoking.

      Thanks Wes for the two statements. I was ridiculed for my beliefs at a meeting a few years ago. It caught me off guard and I was not prepared to respond. I ended up not going back to that meeting. I groused about it to my sponsor at the time and he said maybe I should go back because there might be newcomers who are atheist and they need to know that it’s possible to recover without a belief in a god. Your two statements reinforce that I need to keep going to that meeting and speaking up. Thanks again.

      • John B. says:

        Eric – AA Agnostica is doing a pretty good job of accomplishing what both you and Wes are suggesting. At least for me it does. Thanks for taking the time to participate. John B.

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