“We’re Spiritual, Not Religious.” “Oh. Please!!”

By Bobby Beach

In order to resolve a debate about words, it seems wise that we consult an authority on words. Peter Mark Roget was a young physician when he assembled a collection of synonyms in 1805. His thesaurus was eventually printed in 1852. Those dates confirm that Roget’s Thesaurus is a very old book, unlike publications from more recent years like 2018, or 1939. Not being divinely inspired, Monsieur Roget’s book is revised with every new printing.

Many of us know intuitively that the words “spiritual” and “religious” are worlds apart, one being yummy and delicious, while the other is yucky. Let’s consult Dr. Roget:

  • “spiritual” – sacred, divine, holy, non-secular, church, ecclesiastical, devotional and (in bold print) religious
  • “religious” – ecclesiastical, church, churchy, holy, divine, sacred, and (in bold print) spiritual

As any fool can plainly see, the order of the synonyms is entirely different! Furthermore, only “religious” is called “churchy.”

But aren’t most of the synonyms exactly the same for both words? What’s the deal with that, Bobby Beach?

Look, this Roget guy probably wasn’t even an alcoholic, let alone a “real” alcoholic who would need to take all 12 Steps to recover. If he was, he wouldn’t be breaking his anonymity at the level of press, radio, and thesauruses, or thesauri, or whatever! “Roget” is his last name, right? Anyway, there is plenty of other evidence that we AA folks are “spiritual, not religious.”

Breaking Away

Nameless AA had its genesis in the Oxford Group, a totally non-denominational organization. Apart from accepting Jesus H. Christ as their personal savior, worshiping the Bible and the Ten Commandments, and waging war against sin, they were almost totally non-religious. Frank Buchman, founder of the group was a former Lutheran minister. I stress “former” because lots of spiritual people used to be religious before being led to God by learning that religion is yucky and spirituality is yummy.

“Religion is for people who are afraid of going to Hell, while spirituality is for those who have been there.”

But, Bobby Beach, most of the world’s religious people don’t believe in Hell. Fewer and fewer Christians buy into the “fire and brimstone” narrative. The Progressive Movement started ages ago. Besides that, the whole “I’ve been to Hell” thing smacks of self-centeredness and self-pity. Aren’t “recovered” alcoholics supposed to move past all of that “Poor me” stuff?

Do you want me to sponsor you or not?? What’s with you, Man? Why are you giving me a hard time? Do you think Roger C. opens up the vault and pays me for writing this schlock? Just play along, okay? Where was I? Oh yeah, the Buchmanites.

Alcoholics Anonymous sprang for the very spiritual Oxford Group. Just because Frank Buchman had an ambition to get Adolf Hitler to accept Jesus Christ as his personal savior – in a spiritual way, and totally not in a religious way – some judgmental people thought he was an egomaniac. Reinhold Neibuhr, penner of the Serenity Prayer, called Buchman a megalomaniac. As we all know, Megalomania is not a Christian denomination.

Lutheranism? Check. Methodism? Check. Mormonism? Maybe. Megalomania? Nope. Nein. Non. Nyet. No sirree, Bob! Frank Buchman had his picture on the cover of Time Magazine in the 1930s. The article inside was about cults, and Buchman and his people got lambasted. Christianity isn’t a cult. Buchman operated a cult. Therefore, the Oxford Group wasn’t a Christian organization. It’s Logic 101, Kid.

You seem to be implying that being in Christianity is worse than being in a cult. Is that really what you’re saying, Bobby?

Draw your own conclusions, my good man. I just lay out the facts for your consideration. We talk a lot in AA about letting go of resentments. That’s normally a good idea but the religion of your childhood, exes, and a few other things get a pass. Hate away and bad-mouth that shit ’til the day you die.

The Lawd’s Pray-uh

Mean-spirited, God-hating atheists are consistently whining that the use of the Lord’s Prayer in AA meetings is entirely inappropriate. Those dissidents and chronic malcontents offer the spurious claim that reciting the Lord’s Prayer in AA contradicts our clearly expressed policy of non-alliance and non-affiliation.

To that I counter with: “Boo hoo hoo. Boo freaken hoo!! Cry me a river, savages.”

Although Emmett Fox called the Lawd’s Pray-uh “Christianity’s Number One document,” and although Fox did a clause-by-clause analysis showing that the prayer expressed the principal tenets (that’s “principle tenants” for you Facebookers) of the Christian faith, I ask, “Was Fox an alcoholic?” Other clergymen – notably, Billy Graham – have said much the same thing. So what? Not a damned one of those preachers was alcoholic?

For the truth, I suggest we turn to the legendary Sandy Beach who anonymously authored the “WHITE PAPER ON THE MATTER OF AA ATHEIST/AGNOSTIC GROUPS AND RELATED CONCERNS.”

Here’s what a real alcoholic has to say about this: “I especially didn’t like the Lord’s Prayer. I was told to keep an open mind and eventually I would come to love it. This turned out to be true as it was for all the others who didn’t like the prayer. We come to love it as AA’s prayer… When I sometimes attend church with a friend and the Lord’s Prayer is recited, I think to myself, ‘Why, they are using our prayer.'”

You’ve got to be freaken kidding, Bobby Beach!!!! There’s no way he really spewed that ridiculous tripe!!!!

Read it for yourself, Grasshopper. And get your own tagline. I’m in the process of getting “freaken” trademarked as a Bobby Beach exclusive.

William James and Becoming Your Own Pope

“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) William James defined true beliefs as those that prove useful to the believer.

Spirituality offers a tremendous benefits package compared to old school religion with all its “Thou shalt not’s.” The fact that there’s no going to church is awesome in itself – sleeping in, Sunday brunch, golfing on 100% more weekend mornings, no damned hymns. The list could go on and on. Spirituality is much less expensive. Don’t even get me started on tithing!

Religion has rules, and rules, and more rules. Truckloads more. The restrictions interfering with your sex life alone are unbelievable! Let’s say you want to sleep with a movie star, and he or she is drunk enough to be willing. There are like 42 rules against that. It’s sinful, etc.! With spirituality, you ask God directly what to do and He responds in a voice that sounds much like your own: “Go for it!!”

Spirituality is awesome! It’s personal. Instead of consulting with your minister, priest, rabbi, or bishop – you decide. Instead of consulting some ancient texts from way before 1939 – you make your own ruling. Just you and God. It’s like you’re the freaken Pope of your own freaken spirituality. I even bought myself a pointy hat and some robes. Accessorize that with an upscale Covid mask, and you’re looking pretty hot! Feel free to get creative. An added bonus is that my self-esteem has skyrocketed as the direct result of looking down on religious people.

What’s that funny smell, Bobby Beach?

That my friend is the sweet aroma of the legal free weed provided to all senior citizens by the Canadian government. I love you Justin Trudeau!! Have a hit, Kid – you’re a little uptight. And remember: “We do not want to be the arbiter of anyone’s sex conduct.”

Should you be smoking that stuff?

Why not? I’m the freaken Pope!!

Bobby Beach is an atheist, sober almost three decades in AA. He sees himself as not at all anti-AA, but definitely and unapologetically anti-Thumper. He likes to focus on tales of groups who help drunks through human connection and the principle of one drunk helping the next. On the other hand, he also likes to write about Freaken Big Book Fundamentalists Who Hate Freaken Everything!


25 Responses

  1. Donald says:

    Thanks Bobby! Good stuff.

    That so many default to magical recovery, as opposed to work, is always sad.

    If but for the grace… then why bother to show up at all? Such a magical recovery remains nothing but precarious and super fragile… dependent on somethings grace. No thanks. It’s irresponsible!

    My experience getting and staying sober was all about responsibility, the antithesis of the irresponsible grace foolishness.

  2. Tomas L says:

    Bobby Beach for Pope! Oh, sorry, late on the ball there, apparently he already is. Thanks for a great essay!

  3. Cameron F. says:

    The idea of calling upon a Higher Power rankles many folks seeking sobriety. Our co-founders each came to a greater understanding of the essential need to have one if we were going to get sober and not just stop drinking.

    Diverting this energy and intellectualizing from arguing about a HP and into seeking ways to promote sobriety supports newcomers through their confusions, doubts and fears. Editorializing with our brand of what AA ought to be only diminishes the Fellowship.

    Page 417 in the Big Book cushions distresses, and encourages a wider look at what’s right and what’s true.

    I really like the man I’m becoming in Alcoholics Anonymous.

    • bob k says:

      You seem to be reacting more to the name of the website than the article, which seems to me to be dissing the members who see a HUGE separation between things religious and spiritual. The essay is, at least to some degree, a plea for unity. It asks the spiritual to stop dissing the religious.

      BTW, it’s not just atheists and agnostics who are upset at seeing the Lord’s Prayer in AA meetings. All that’s needed is an understanding of the words “alliance” and “affiliation.” I mention this because opponents of the LP are often automatically seen as anti-HP. That’s not necessarily the case.

  4. Larry g says:

    Fun read. Had me laughing. During my early life I was active in both Catholicism and a fundamentalist Christian religion. Both referred to their own brand of going ons as spiritual and not religious. Over the last 30 years I met countless folk all trying to recruit for their brand with the moniker “we’re spiritual and not religious”.

    When I hear it inside AA my immediate thought is “horse feathers, ya’ll can drink all the koolaid ya want, but keep that mess away from me”. I go to AA not for the religious doctrine but rather to not go it alone. Period. Just say’n.

  5. Tracey C says:

    Was there a point to this? If so, I missed it.

    • Bobby Freaken Beach says:

      I think there were several points. You missed “them.” (plural)

      • Tracey C says:

        Ok. I missed “them” then. Maybe you could summarize them for me here. Would appreciate it.

        • Bobby Freaken Beach says:

          There are a lot of expressions, adages, truisms etc. that are repeated so frequently within the rooms of AA, we assume they MUST be true. “We’re spiritual; not religious” is a classic example.

          In the first place, spirituality and religion are not polarities apart, especially in the broader sense of the term “religion.” William James wrote a book about the transformational power of “religious experiences” that had little to do with church. In AA, we’d probably PREFER to call them “spiritual,” but the terms are not so different.

          There’s a good deal of demeaning of religion and religious people by folks calling themselves “spiritual.” Truly spiritual people should be behaving better than that, so there’s irony in that behavior.

          A further irony lies in the presence of Christianity’s Number One prayer in meetings of peopke who are spiritual, not religious. Why create a perception (at the very least) of an alliance between AA and Christianity, most especially if our claim is to be spiritual, not religious.

          Of course, there are some modern, freethinking versions of spirituality that are helpful to many folks. Sober atheists and agnostics could be the ones to most legitimately claim to be spiritual, not religious. This article isn’t about all that. The folks satirized are ALL about God connection while trying to be non- or even anti-religious.

          Those are some of the issues addressed. People are free to disagree, naturally enough.

  6. Dan H. says:

    As someone comfortable in the middle ground, I find this too cute at best and snarky to a fault otherwise.

    And as a working editor and published writer, I’m fairly picky when it comes to proper usage; however, in this case I don’t give a rat’s ass about what Roget says. The term “spirituality” carries an intended meaning: that there is a sense of transcendence and humanity’s better nature, unburdened by dogma or fairytales about meddling gods. The unfortunate reason that the cliche is so often (and so defensively) cited is that the AA book is so steeped in religiosity. As I live in a liberal California coastal town, I don’t have the oldtime religion in my face in my AA community, so I can afford to be less triggered and it’s easy to state my position without getting judged for it. Very few people in the mainstream groups I attend actually believe some guy turned water into wine, lived in a whale, or raised people from the dead. To see these tales as myths allows us to appreciate the power of metaphor. If I say someone opened a Pandora’s box, I’m certainly not signaling a belief in a box full of spirits; instead, I’m conveying something other people understand.

    As my Christian friend used to say, fundamentalists take the fun out of Christianity. I would add that they take out the mental as well. Same goes for AA.

    Keep writing, Bob. Yours is a valuable voice in the community.

  7. Corey B. says:

    From my understanding, through my research, experiences, and discussions…
    Spiritual Means Living by Spiritual Principals.

    They are in the Maintenance Steps.

    10 – Voracious Honesty (Without malice, but direct, with yourself and other.)
    11- Humility (The seeking of what’s best for the harmony of the universe, through prayer and contemplative meditation, and then asking for the help to do it, from any power greater than yourself)
    12 – Charity of Spirit (Giving freely and being benignly indifferent to the outcome, in all one’s affaires)

    Add – ‘Respect’ for the body temple, mine and yours, and -Complete Personal ‘Responsibility’ for living by these Principles. (Obedience)
    The 5 Spiritual Principals from the Wisdom of the Ages. Most Religious Practices have all of these.

    Religion is a strict practice to achieve these goals. The problem is when people believe there is only one way to achieve this “My way is best and if you don’t do it my way you are wrong.” (Arrogance)

    If I believe MAC is better than PC in every way, then that is my Religious beliefs for computers.
    If I wake up every morning, drink a health shake, read, and do 20 min. of stretching, “Religiously” then that is my morning Religious practice.

    What path is taken to work towards Spiritual Principals is what makes each journey a little different from each person.
    What’s the complete path? The most direct, streamlined path?

    A simple program for complicated people!

    The 12 steps of AA.

    Obviously these principles are never perfectly followed by anyone. That’s one reason they get to be called Principles. Attainable but never perfectly. Practiced to the best of one’s abilities at the time.

    Was this article written with the knowledge of these Principles in mind?

    AA Agnostica claims that, ‘The same progress along spiritual lines’, can be achieved without a concept of a higher power. With AA Agnostica’s alternative steps, similar to AA’s, shouldn’t there be more love and acceptance shown, for all types of people, accomplished through this Website’s articles.

    I find this article does not inspire me to take an Agnostic Approach to my sobriety.

    Bobby Beach, I feel your pain. You seem to be angry. I think this article is full of contentiousness, condemnation and self-righteousness.

    I Love you all… or at least I try.

    • Bobby Freaken Beach says:

      Was this article written with the knowledge of these Principles in mind?

      The article was written with the idea in mind that it’s a bit silly for people who call themselves “spiritual” to look down on people who are religious. The article was written with the idea in mind that “spiritual” and “religious” are not so different.

      The article was written with the idea in mind that “Religion is for people who are afraid of going to Hell, while spirituality is for those who have been there,” is a very disrespectful thing to say considering that there are almost always going to be religious people in the room. Why mock them?

      The idea of respectful satire is interesting. I just don’t think it would be funny. Bobby Beach is a persona – a sort of self-confident 15 year-old running around saying “Holy Shit!! Look at this!!”

      I liked your remarks about spiritual principles, but I think you lost some credibility when you sunk to name-calling at the end.

  8. Mike G. says:

    I did a search on “forgive” in a pdf of the Big Book. Nowhere are we asked to forgive anyone in the instructions. The LP goes against AA’s steps.

    • bob k says:

      That’s a very interesting point that few members would grasp. One might also suggest re: the content that a minority of spiritual people would view God as residing in Heaven. The hallowing of names is also something that’s far from generic.

      I think the most solid objection is that the use of Christianity’s Number One prayer in an AA meeting creates, at the very least, an implied affiliation with Christianity. Why hit newcomers with that? It’s TERRIBLE outreach.

  9. Charles G says:

    Beach at his best. Move over Twain, Leacock and Wodehouse…

  10. Jeffry P. says:


    Excellent article. To it, I would only add the comments below, the substance of which has become sort of a mini-crusade for me, but no religious intent accompanies it, I assure you. The truth is, in my estimation, that the program, as most see it, including the people that designed it, was/is intended to require proof of divine intervention to relieve alcoholic suffering. That was the belief of the Oxford Group, a protestant organization that had specifically designed the program to require essentially a demonstration of humility and belief in, the Christian God, not some manufactured deity that they would permit initially, but ultimately convert to the hard-core, old time wrath of God type of religiosity. From this original dogma, the 12 steps were cribbed and then off to get some alcoholics to convert. But don’t want to put too much pressure on them so we’ll permit the Biblical heresy as an introductory device to make them dependent on the program and ultimately on Jesus in order to stay sober.

    It is here that the program loses me completely. Does it really matter whether God or something else took away your drinking or whether or not you managed to stop before any higher power showed up? No deity came and put the booze in the house or the glass in the hand, and no deity came and took it away and cured me.

    I recognize that the program has found over time, at least as empirically reported, that faith in the Christian God ultimately is the higher power you will adopt, no matter what you started with. It is hard to get and maintain sobriety. Basing your program on a magical realism only insures that an insult to either will kill both, an unnecessary outcome and one avoidable with no faith at all. The object for the orthodoxy is to get you sober and saved. The whole program was written and designed with proselytization, not cessation, as its ultimate objective. Sobriety was not intended as the primary objective of the Oxford Group–they came to adopt Christian faith as the main objective, with sobriety a possible reward for present efforts to emulate godly behavior.

    You can certainly do things this way and it clearly works for many; but, I would argue there is simply too much open evidence of a conversion intention to deny the proposition now, that AA is intended as a program requiring belief in the Christian God for membership and one in which the new initiate will be warned of the devastation and relapse that is promised to ensue, should the candidate’s faith in the Christian God ever waiver.

    AA promotes this notion because without it, AA would be losing members at a faster rate than they are now. Rehab is a business. One happy to take your $35K and give you just enough rope to have brief meaningful sobriety before some omitted piece of information causes you to fail, whereupon you will find the kindly folks at the rehab already awaiting your return.

    You can’t know God, spiritual growth or sobriety without deep self-knowledge. With that knowledge God becomes irrelevant, spiritual growth protected and long-term sobriety becomes possible. But until you take the time to do this–hell they give you 28 days to do nothing else–you will fail every time. You should at least get a start. But self-knowledge is not talked about much in any meeting or rehab I’ve ever been to unless I bring it up and my own experience is that the protective aura surrounding the myth that sobriety is only posslble with Portestant Christian faith and good works

    The point is that focusing on self-knowledge before anything else will make everything else happen without any real effort. This is the fabled “ease of the program/spiritual awakening” often vaguely claimed to have some causal relation to the Christian God. Does it really matter? Are you sober now? Are you able to tell someone else what worked for you and how you were able to avoid the pitfall of relapse? Are you ever conscious of the notion that helping another alcoholic in trouble is, at least from any moral standpoint, an obligation of the program? It that is all true, does it really matter how any of it happened? Only in fairy tales.

    As my surgeon once paraphrased to me, there is no problem in this world so bad that surgery and/or religion can’t make it worse. Roger that!

  11. Dean W says:

    Hilarious, Bobby! Or should I just call you Dominus Apostolicus? Thanks for a good laugh!

  12. Lisa M says:

    OMG (What should I use instead of this, Bobby?!!) this was awesome. Better than looking at this year’s batch of compliant Covid-19 xmas cards to be honest. Thank you ever so much.

    • Tomas L says:

      I sometimes use OMLOG or OMFLOG. Oh, My (optional F-word, eg Freaken) Lack Of God.

  13. Jesse Beach says:

    Orthodox-anything is ripe for lampooning.

    Humour is the best medicine to lighten up that which has grown too heavy. I am sometimes irrational; I am sometimes taking myself too seriously. If I can’t laugh at myself, how can I see the “folly of my ways?” How can I lighten up and get off my high horse?

    Sometimes it takes a good friend to show me – in making fun of my position, not me, personally -that I am making a fool of myself by holding on, too tightly, to my truth as if it’s “the” truth. In this way, you are a good friend to AA, when we need a good friend to set us straight.

    I will take a Sunday morning chuckle over that Sunday morning coming down any time. Keep them coming, Bobby.

  14. Daran N. says:

    There are so many gems in this. I’m still laughing at “William James and Becoming Your Own Pope” amongst others. Thanks for another really, really funny read and one I will revisit whenever I need to enlarge my spiritual life! Priceless.

  15. Phil E. says:

    I prefer a ‘natural’, ‘grounded’, ‘still’ or “in tune with reality” life. ‘Spiritual’ is forever tainted with a religious, or supernatural scent. 38 years sober.

  16. Dale K. says:

    I’m lovin’ it! Thank you. I almost feel spiritual and all not being in church on this beautiful Sunday morning. I’m heading out for brunch, but I just wanted to say, “Bless your heart!” That’s a very Southern phrase and can be taken two ways depending on inflection. Take it as you wish, Bobby Beach.

  17. John M. says:

    That was a fun satirical ride for a Sunday morning. Thanks Bob.

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