A Proposal To Eliminate The Lord’s Prayer From AA Meetings

Fifty Chosen Articles:
Number One.
Originally posted in November 2011.

This article was originally written on an Olympia manual typewriter and circulated in New York City in 1976.

Sadly, forty-five years later, there is nothing at all in this article that has changed.


By John Lauritsen

All too many AA meetings end with a group recitation of the “Lord’s Prayer” (also known as the “Our Father”), a prayer peculiar to the Christian religion. This practice is wrong – contrary to the spirit of AA unity, and in obvious violation of the Third Tradition and the AA Preamble.

AA members can believe in anything they wish, including the fables of the Christian religion, but they have no right to exclude freethinkers from full membership in the AA fellowship. And we atheists and agnostics are not the only ones involved. There are also Jews, Moslems, Buddhists, Hindus, and many others who are recovering alcoholics.

The AA Preamble

The AA Preamble states: “AA is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution.” This is clear enough. If anyone claims that the habitual recitation of the so-called Lord’s Prayer does not violate the AA Preamble, then he has the obligation to explain what the Preamble secretly means, as opposed to what it so clearly says.

The Third Tradition

The Third Tradition says: “The only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking.” It does not say, “first-class membership for Christians, second-class membership for everyone else.” It is true that no one is “forced” to say the “Lord’s Prayer”. The fact remains that someone who is not a Christian is forced into either dishonestly saying something he doesn’t believe, or feeling left out as everyone else in the room participates in a Christian prayer ritual. This is unfair and unnecessary.

The Honesty Part of the Program

Many AA members are not Christians, and their sobriety compares favorably with that of the Christian religionists. Nevertheless, the pressure towards conformity is sufficiently great that most of these non-Christian members stand up during the “Lord’s Prayer” (though many of them don’t say anything, or just mumble, or keep their eyes open). They are afraid of “standing out,” and probably – with reason – of being ostracized.

No one’s sobriety is helped if he is forced to pretend to be something he’s not, forced to say something he doesn’t believe, and forced to do something he believes is wrong. AA should encourage honesty, not hypocrisy.

But Isn’t It Traditional?

Reciting the “Lord’s Prayer” after meetings is indeed a habit, and if it is a bad habit, then it ought to be broken. Every sober AA member has broken a dangerous and insidious habit, and it should not be too hard to stay away from the “Lord’s Prayer,” one meeting at a time.

What Makes AA Work?

Probably all sober alcoholics would agree that a requirement for sobriety is not picking up the first drink. Aside from that, alcoholics would give a variety of answers, for AA is an individual program.

I would say that for me, AA consists of the realization that I am powerless over alcohol; that total abstinence is required on a 24-hour basis; that alcoholics can provide practical help and moral support for each other; that life is worth living and things can get better; that honesty is the basis for lasting sobriety; and so on.

There is no evidence that religious belief is necessary for good sobriety. Thousands of alcoholics have stayed sober and helped others to sobriety without having the slightest belief in the supernatural, let alone the Christian version. In the Scandinavian countries, the steps have been reduced to seven, eliminating all references to “God”, and AA seems to work just fine without “Him.”

What Harm Does It Do?

The “Lord’s Prayer” recitation is offensive to non-Christians. It makes it harder for us to feel comfortable in the AA fellowship and it undoubtedly prevents many non-Christian alcoholics from coming to AA in the first place. Who knows how many thousands of alcoholics never made AA because they were afraid it was a religious organization. And their fears will hardly be dispelled when they hear a Christian Prayer at their first meeting.

What If The Group Conscience Wants The Lord’s Prayer?

If so, then the group should officially designate itself a Christian group, whose meetings would be terminated with a Christian prayer. It would be a special purpose group, and should be so listed in the meeting book. Just as there are special purpose groups for young people, or men, or women, or gay people, this would be a special group for Christians.

If a group is open to all who have a desire to stop drinking, then its meetings should not feature a sectarian religious practice that excludes those who are not Christian religionists.

Conclusion

The “Lord’s Prayer” should no longer be recited at the end of AA meetings.


John Lauritsen was born and raised in Nebraska. He attended Harvard College (AB 1963), majoring in Social Relations (Sociology, Anthropology, and Psychology). In New York City he worked as a market research executive, while engaged in activism and writing on the side. He was in the antiwar movement since 1965 and the gay liberation movement since July 1969. He founded Pagan Press in 1982. For a decade, beginning in 1985, Lauritsen was a leading writer for the New York Native, which was then the world’s foremost gay newspaper.

A Freethinker in AA

He has fifteen books to his credit, including A Freethinker in Alcoholics Anonymous. The six most recent are about the great English poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley – his life, his works, and the circle of men around him. Lauritsen dates his alcoholism from his first bender in 1958 to his last drink in 1968. He considers himself a loyal, but by no means uncritical, member of AA. He now lives in Dorchester, Massachusetts.

Lauritsen has a section, Alcoholism: Recovery Without Religiosity, on his personal website and he has written many a fine piece on AA Agnostica. Here they are:


For a PDF of this article, click here: A Proposal To Eliminate The Lord’s Prayer From AA Meetings.


 

24 Responses

  1. Bobby Freaken Beach says:

    Lovers of the Lord’s Prayer or the principal prayers of any other religious group should say it a lot – in the car on the way to and from meetings or in the privacy of their bedrooms where they are free to kneel to their heart’s content.

    If one seeks to say the prayer in a group setting, going to church is a good idea. One finds it in Christian gatherings and nowhere else. It used to be said in public schools but now it isn’t and for good reason.

  2. Thanks to all for kind comments. I’m in the midst of a heavy editing & writing assignment right now, and can’t reply to each of you.

  3. David Shrader says:

    I won’t read this in whole because I get that someone feels hurt because of the Lord’s Prayer ending are AA meeting.

    It is so bad that we do this, isn’t it? Maybe we should all go back and ride with the four horseman instead. I’ve found that if it works, let’s not fix it. I’ve been saying this prayer for thirty three years and haven’t had to take a drink. I’ll always say this in respect and because it works, just how it is. If it makes you so uncomfortable, well say Hi to the four horseman & tell them that I don’t miss them, not in anyway.

    Have fun.

    • I suggest that you do read my article in whole. AA Agnostica is a forum for those of us who are for the true, secular AA, and want to get rid of gratuitous religiosity.

    • Bob K says:

      Works for some and not for others. The Lord’s Prayer is neither part of AA’s recovery program, nor is it universally found in AA meetings. Many fully in the “God camp” oppose the use of the prayer in meetings. It is not the magic bullet.

      My sobriety time is similar to that of the angry commenter and far less than that of the essay author. Many return to ride with the horsemen, even some of the preachers.

    • Buddha Dave says:

      What an unfortunate reply to a very thoughtful essay–an argument, by the way, that is rooted in the Traditions and draws an entirely rational conclusion on the basis of the Traditions. The writer makes an excellent point: The “Our Father” has no place in a fellowship that declares itself without affiliation with any denomination or sect. It’s really not hard maths. The “Our Father” is a Christian prayer. Christianity is a sectarian belief. You can easily see how sayin the prayer is violative of the 1, 3, and 10th traditions as well as what is clearly stated in the AA Preamble.

      Your reply, on the other hand, is petty and juvenile. If you are in recovery and find yourself so threatened by a point of view that conflicts with yours that you have to cast aspersions and insinuate the people who don’t do AA “the right way” are somehow less sober, less recovered, man, I feel really bad for you. Maybe you should talk to your sponsor.

      I’m a buddhist with nearly seven years of sobriety in the fellowship of AA. Saying the “Our Father” at the end of an AA meeting is something I cannot do, because it’s not something I believe in. I don’t believe in ANY god, let alone the Christian one. But somehow I’ve managed to find a higher power in AA and remain happy, joyous, and free all this time. Fancy that. In the Chapter to the Agnostics, Bill W writes that we only have to answer one simple question: “Do I now believe, or am I even willing to believe in a power greater than myself.” Period. Over and over and over again in the BB it’s stated that how one approaches and defines (or doesn’t define) higher power is entirely a personal choice.

      So, hats off to the writer of this essay for speaking the truth. Unless we’re going to start ending meetings with the Bodhisattva Vow or the Isha’a I’d suggest we drop the “Our Father.”

  4. Linda says:

    Every AA meeting is autonomous, so theoretically all that has to happen is to get a group to systematically keep bringing it up at your home group conscience. You won’t get all of AA to agree to it because of this tradition and the idea that there are “no rules.” I have long wished for a movement of us that would take this up as a cause nationwide!

  5. Dan H, Oceanside says:

    To chime in on the general topic, I have to wonder why Parkhurst and Burwell, who helped tone down the original pulpit-thumping text of our book, didn’t object to the ridiculous use of Elizabethan English for the 3rd and 7th Step prayers.

    My home group for a long time was a speaker meeting in Carlsbad, CA, that used the Lord’s Prayer. When a brave soul tried to rally support to change it, her effort was crushed and she became estranged from the group. It might have been helpful had she had this article in hand.

  6. Rand T. says:

    I was able to introduce a loving kindness meditation at the end of our meetings. This was a group that had used the Lord’s Prayer for years. No one complained (out loud) and that meditation has become our tradition.

  7. Karen M. says:

    Amen! (See what I did there?)

  8. Kimberly S. says:

    Such a well written and stated article. I didn’t know this was a widespread practice and, as a Jew, would have been horrified and repulsed to hear the LP at the meeting of a group that professes it is not Christian and you can believe anything. I am currently studying to be a recovery counselor and one of my goals is inclusiveness and to have tools and resources for the non-Christian, whether agnostic or of another faith. I will keep this essay for future reference.

  9. Bob K says:

    A brilliantly succinct essay — John at his best.

    AA groups embarrass themselves by the ridiculous clinging to the use of the Lord’s Prayer in AA meetings.

  10. Veronica S. says:

    Interesting idea 🙂 I don’t participate in it and haven’t in over 20 years.

  11. Jeanine B. says:

    Fortunate that here in liberal Portland, OR most meetings close with the Serenity Prayer.

    • Tim S says:

      A nice thing about the Serenity Prayer is that I can just skip the first word and not feel like a hypocrite. Unlike the so-called Lord’s Prayer, which can drive me right out of the room, I actually find the Serenity Prayer to be pretty practical.

      Tim, also here in “liberal Portland” (though not as widely liberal as some would have you believe).

  12. Doc says:

    Thanks for posting this. I have been arguing against this christian prayer for many years. One of the groups that I now attend closes with the traditional AA commitment which is more in line with the preamble.

  13. Lech says:

    I have opposed using the LP from the very start. Some groups don’t use it, other continue despite some objections.

    I don’t like it but it’s not something I will go to the wall for.

  14. Wally K. says:

    Under the paragraph “What Makes AA Work?”, the text says that in the Scandinavian countries, the steps number only seven because they have been secularized. Does anyone have an English translation of the Scandinavian Seven Steps? I’d sure like to see a copy.

  15. I completely agree!

  16. Robert says:

    I agree. As a Jewish convert, raised Christian, the prayer is too much for an agnostic person.

  17. Ron B. says:

    Exactly why I left two groups. I was standing up and joining hands that joining in and speaking words I don’t believe in. I was being dishonest and it hurt.

  18. Lance B. says:

    Rereading that article was worth my time. And I hope that doing so relieved you of some of the load of editing and preparing a new article every week as you’ve done for 10 years. What a gift that has been and reprints bring back the wonder of my participation with a tribe engaged in the effort to broaden the appeal of AA – or maybe I should more accurately say, to lessen the hegemony of the majority. To me, the christian majority have gradually and innocently strangled AA’s potential by forming a small group with uniform beliefs and isolating all outliers.

    Thank you for putting in so much effort which I’m sure is still required. Probably should send another small financial contribution to you. Having aaagnostica alive and well is a great benefit to me.

    • Roger says:

      Hi Lance. I will be posting the chosen 50 articles over the next 50 weeks! It was a lot of fun to pick these and a pleasure to share them on AA Agnostica.

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