Saturday, November 26, 2011

Taking Inventory of this generation's AA service legacy

The process of inventory taking is as prudent, if not necessary exercise for all of us personally. Groups take inventories and so should service bodies. How has this generation of AA stewards steered the good ship Double-A?
1. How is AA’s reputation? Has it improved or waned in the last 10 or 20 years?
2. How has AA as a whole been doing? Is it growing, shrinking or staying the same?
3. Let us never fear needed change. Certainly we have to discriminate between changes for the worse and changes for the better. But once a need becomes clearly apparent in an individual, in a group, or in AA as a whole, it has long since been found out that we cannot stand still and look the other way. The essence of all growth is a willingness to change for the better and then an unremitting willingness to shoulder whatever responsibility this entails.” Bill W. Grapevine July 1965. This was Bill’s message to us before his death. Do we fear and resist change or embraced it?

AA’s reputation? Friends of AA were everywhere 20 years ago. We had our critics in and out of AA but the public had a generally positive opinion of AA. Just type AA and cult into a search engine and see how many anti-AA youtube videos, blogs and published articles you find. At present there are still over 10,000 treatment centers sending new people our way every month but is that unwavering support or a lack of after-care alternatives?
That brings us to growth/contraction. 1993 was the peak of AA size in terms of members. In a recovery community of 20 million people AA members are about 10% of that. These treatment centers are sending people every month but AA isn’t growing; it hasn’t grown in almost 20 years.
As for question 3, groups more than people, resist change. An informed group conscience will vote to keep things the same more often than move forward. That’s human nature. But it’s also natural to follow addiction all the way to the grave. As individuals we have beaten the odds. Maybe as a group we need to apply the same rigorous devotion to change for the better.
Good luck AA. May the next generation do a better job at adapting to the needs of our members and readying us for those still to come.
Addiction Magazine looks at Toronto Intergroup's resistance to change and refusal to include Agnostic AA groups in their meeting list and website. Check it out here:

Saturday, October 1, 2011

June 2011, The Fix runs story about Intergroup descrimination against agnostic groups

AA’s Dogma is run over by its own Karma
Accommodation vs. Tradition means some 21st century soul searching for planet Earth’s best know self-help group by Jesse Beach
Was Alcoholics Anonymous engineered to be a mosaic or a melting pot?  Does the culture embrace one and all who have a desire to stop drinking or intended to blend everyone into to a single message of AA homogeneity?
David R, a Secular Humanist, is an active member of one of Toronto Canada’s first Free-thinker AA meeting, called Beyond Belief Agnostics group. He had just rotated out of his tenure as group secretary which included looking after the AA literature supply, weekly announcements and looking after the group’s monthly commitment to take the AA message into a detox at a local hospital.
"Just tell me what to do ’cause I hurt so bad," was David’s attitude when he first came to AA.  “I really, really, really wanted to stop drinking and I was truly ready to ‘go to any length’ and I did.  My first sponsor told me to ‘jump right into the program.’
“Because I am a people pleaser, I faked it with the theistic elements, half-knowing I was faking.  I was afraid that I would drink if I didn't. I am grateful to be sober.  I have a good life, I couldn't have done it without AA; by AA I mean lots of meetings, the support of some understanding people and activities not related to drinking. 
“I have always had a questioning kind of itch in AA.  There are many concepts that didn't seem right, helpful or logical to me right from the beginning.  They didn't fit my actual experience of how I got sober and was staying sober.”  David had been through the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and he had taken other alcoholics through the Steps.  He heard about an agnostic group in another meeting and he checked it out. 
“Because I had been so compliant in traditional AA meetings, I found it difficult to hear people complain about "the god thing" and how they had felt excluded at other meetings. I found that I was uncomfortable when people questioned AA dogma or were firmly atheist.  For a while, I went through a period of not feeling at home in either Beyond Belief or traditional meetings.  I called myself ‘agnostic’ in the strict sense of ‘not knowing and not possible to know.’  
“The main thing that I got from Beyond Belief at first was the concept that AA didn't know everything, and that there were people, with very long-term sobriety, who questioned core dogma and didn't get drunk or struck by lightning.  So although that was initially very uncomfortable, it was eventually very liberating.  The purpose of rational thought and skepticism is not to comfort, but to uncover the truth.  My sobriety feels safer the more based on truth and rational thinking it becomes.”
David joined Beyond Belief and was part of a growth surge.  The meeting that started with a dozen members agreed on a format from ideas posted by some of the other agnostic groups in North America and Europe that have been welcoming members of AA since 1975.  The format included Appendix II from Alcoholics Anonymous (The Big Book), “The Spiritual Experience,” a widely used translation of the Twelve Steps in agnostic language, and speakers, discussion on AA’s “Living Sober” which focuses on the secular aspects of finding and maintaining sobriety.  Every meeting started with the agnostic preamble that reads:

This group of A.A. attempts to maintain a tradition of free expression, and conduct a meeting where alcoholics may feel free to express any doubts or disbeliefs they may have, and to share their own personal form of spiritual experience, their search for it, or their rejection of it. We do not endorse or oppose any form of religion or atheism. Our only wish is to assure suffering alcoholics that they can find sobriety in A.A. without having to accept anyone else's beliefs or having to deny their own.

The group grew to 30 to 50 attendees at Thursday’s 6:30 PM meeting so they added a Saturday evening Step-study.  A new group “We Agnostics” formed on Tuesday nights at 8 PM at the First Unitarian Congregation of Toronto.  Each group had its share of 25 to 35 year sober members that showed AA worked with or without God, but more remarkably, David and the rest of these groups witnessed half a dozen one-year celebrations from new members that were introduced to AA or a way to do AA that worked, where other traditional meetings had not.  Agnostic AA was working in Toronto.

For literalists this wasn’t AA at all.  Tradition Three, “The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking,” wasn’t the target of their uncompromising literalism.  It was “God as we understand Him.”  The prevailing requirement to be called an AA group was God; no God, not AA.

So where does that leave Hindus, Taoists, Native Americans, Unitarians, Muslims, Buddhists, Humanists and the ever growing number of non-theistic creeds in our culture? Atheists aren’t the only “No God, please” creed who struggle with alcoholism.

After a few phone calls and more than one cup of coffee a few members from a few groups started talking about how to stop this agnostic sect.  They found themselves in touch with General Service Office’s Mary Claire Lunch who told them, “What the other AA group does is none of your group’s business. Taking another group’s inventory with regard to the Traditions is just not done.  What a slippery slope that could be... You might offer to bring this observation about the other group changing the Steps to the attention of your Area Delegate.”

So off to Robb W, Panel 61 Delegate, Area 83 they went and they were told, “I have received numerous emails and phone calls about a particular group in the GTA that is using their own version of the 12 Steps. The only rules that we have in Alcoholics Anonymous are those which we impose upon ourselves. We do not force people (or groups, districts or areas) to conform to our will. While conformity to the principles set out in our 12 Steps is suggested, it is still only a suggestion.
“That being said, Tradition Four states that ‘Each Group is autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or A.A. as a whole.’  Many things are done in A.A. Groups, Districts and Areas under the banner of Group Autonomy. This is rightly so although we need keep in mind the second half of the Tradition ‘except in matters affecting other Groups or A.A. as a whole.’ It is the responsibility of the General Service Conference to preserve the integrity of the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous.
“If a group chooses to use its own interpretation of our Steps and Traditions, they should have the freedom to do so. However, this should be kept within that group for those who agree and not placed in the public domain as representing or related to Alcoholics Anonymous.
“We need always keep in mind that wherever two people gather to share and recover from Alcoholism, they may be called an A.A. Group provided that, as a group, they have no other purpose or affiliation.
“There is only one requirement for membership in Alcoholics Anonymous and it does not include belief in God.”
The anti-agnostic contingent found in this letter a mandate to ask Intergroup to strike two GSO sanctioned groups out of the Greater Toronto Area directory.  With the support of about 30 groups in a city of about 200 groups and over 500 meetings agnostic AA in Toronto had been denied the freely given services or reaching newcomers, offered to any other group.  Quoted in The Toronto Star, one member in support of the Intergroup action says, “They’ve changed (the Steps) to their own personal needs.  They should never have been listed in the first place.”
Across the continent, Doug L lives in South Orange Country Ca now but got sober in the hipper Laguna Beach area.  “Sobriety was good. I spent much time with my sponsor discussing my higher power. My sponsor was into yoga and he encouraged me to get serious about my calling to be a Buddhist practitioner.”  Moving to a different town meant a new AA environment.
“It did not take long for people to realize I was not going to except a Christian concept of God. The more I tried to help newcomers, who questioned the God stuff, the more I alienated myself in the fellowship. You see we have a lot of fundamentalist Christians in South County.
“My Freethinker proposal to start a new meeting was met with much resistance. When I would post a notice about AA Freethinkers online, members would come immediately behind me and tear them down. When I would discuss the idea of a freethinker meeting, I was told I am going to get drunk if I don't admit I am powerless! The idea of removing God from the 12 steps was met with righteous indignation. So I work the 12 steps on concurrent paths with the 12 Steps of Buddhism. There are many similarities between the two sets of steps.
“The teachings of the Buddha tell me I am not powerless. When I asked if I could have a freethinker meeting, I was told that our Intergroup would not list any freethinker or agnostic meetings. I was told that I was not to discuss "freethinker" issues as it was an outside issue. I was told AA is all inclusive and there is no need to have splinter groups. I reminded the Steering Committee that our meeting directly lists Gay meetings. I am now labeled a trouble maker.  I am still committed to establishing a freethinker meeting in my area.”
AA was one million members when agnostic groups joined the scene in 1975.  Together AA doubled in the next quarter century.  New York, San Francisco and Chicago are a few examples of metropolitan areas that get along, believer and non-theist alike.  Love and tolerance has been AA’s code. But since the start of the new millennium AA started shrinking. Is AA experiencing shrinking pains? 

Y2K membership, according to the time line, was 2,160,013.  2008 numbers in the GSO Service Manual fell to 2,044,655, 115358 or 5.6% less members.  If 10% of the 2000 membership died and the remaining 90% stayed and all had just one successful new 12th Step in eight years, the 2008 numbers would be 3.9 Million.  Clearly that’s not happening.  Is this a problem?  Is there a need for a scapegoat?

An anonymously authored “White Paper on Non-Believers” was circulated by a member outside of the Greater Toronto Area Intergroup to Intergroup reps and executive committee members. The document makes the passionate plea, “Fellow members, we are allowing in our midst the initiation and promotion of a path called, ‘Sobriety without God.’ What if the newcomer of the future is encouraged to choose that selection instead of the traditional Twelve Step path?  And what if, as a result, he ends up with a somewhat acceptable ‘water-wagon sobriety’ instead of the promised ‘spiritual awakening’ of the twelfth step.  Are we not guilty of duplicity of the highest order and can we any longer think of ourselves as ‘trusted servants?’ After all, the power we are serving is clearly God Himself!”
The general theme of the White Paper celebrates mythology about how much better AA was in the good old days; harmony reined and newcomers all got sober by finding God.  Agnosticism wasn’t a creed; it was an intellectual holdout to the one and only truth, God keeps us sober.  But AA would love non-believers to health until they got better and found this one truth.
 Of course that one truth isn’t true at all.  Jim B, an AA founder didn’t believe in a Supreme Being, he was the reason for the only requirement for membership being a desire to stop drinking, he outlived Bill W and he died sober, having first brought AAs message to new cities and new members from Philadelphia to San Diego. 
The White Paper premise is that 1) Two fundamental beliefs cannot coexist in AA, 2) Belief in God is a superior creed to any other creed and 3) Believers in AA must suppress or eliminate the agnostic or atheist voice in AA and if they don’t act quickly, AA will perish.
So is AA a mosaic or a melting-pot? Most of AA is moderate and accommodating but since the death of Bill Wilson the voice of middle ground isn’t a universal message.  Read at GTA Intergroup by a group who voted against the motion to discriminate against agnostic groups was the 1946 words of Bill Wilson from the Grapevine:
Any two or three alcoholics gathered together for sobriety may call themselves an A.A. Group. This clearly implies that an alcoholic is a member if he says so; that we can't deny him his membership; that we can't demand from him a cent; that we can't force our beliefs or practices upon him; that he may flout everything we stand for and still be a member. In fact, our Tradition carries the principle of independence for the individual to such an apparently fantastic length that, so long as there is the slightest interest in sobriety, the most unmoral, the most anti-social, the most critical alcoholic may gather about him a few kindred spirits and announce to us that a new Alcoholics Anonymous Group has been formed. Anti-God, anti-medicine, anti-our Recovery Program, even anti-each other--these rampant individuals are still an A.A. Group if they think so!
AA faces some new millennium challenges.  Just like British Petroleum would have preferred to keep their Gulf of Mexico oil debacle inside their board room, AA would have preferred if what happened in a church basement in North Toronto could have been AA’s little secret.  But the public wouldn’t have it.  Citizen journalists control the agenda of what is hot and what is not in a blogger, twitter world.  The story broke on the front of the Toronto Star and was viral in a day, with musings from member and non-member bloggers alike.  In the new millennium what was once considered “a private matter” now breeds distrust and criticism. 
Another new reality is that 21st century newcomers are a different demographic with atheists being three times the North American population that they were in the 1960s.  According to a 2009 study (Evolutionary Psychology –ISSN 1474-7049-Volume 7[3]) the USA stands alone in 1st world countries with over half the population having an absolute belief in God, at 62%.  Canada is 30% and most of Europe is around 25%.   60% of the USA prays frequently while 10 to 30% is the norm in other 1st world countries.  So if AA wants to move from inclusivity it will surely be a smaller fellowship when it celebrates its 100 year anniversary.
“AA is a religion in denial” jokes Jim Christopher, founder of Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS). “Belief in a path of faith can work and that is great.  No one can deny that AA works for a lot of alcoholics.” Jim heads a fellowship of 20,000 recovering addicts, 90% of them who have been to AA. “I would be afraid of a 100% intellectual approach, too.  Becoming addicted isn’t an intellectual process.  According to my intellect, booze brought euphoria, a lie that my intellect called a life-affirming experience.  Recovery is my sobriety priority, a fusion of head and gut.  Not dualism but a cooperative commitment both cognitive and visceral.”  SOS is neutral on religion.  If you came from faith and lost it, go back and get what you need.  But it isn’t mandated as part of the SOS recovery process.
David has been to SOS since the creed divide in Toronto AA started.    A week after the Intergroup vote, David says, “I have been alternately angry and sad.  Yelling and crying!  But, like hitting bottom, there's relief, too.  I am livid at the unfairness and injustice.  There was no dialogue, no attempt to address the issue of the rewritten 12 steps, no acknowledgement of the service we've provided and the people we've helped. There was no fellowship, just ideology, power play, dogma.

“The controversy has been driven by fear and ego.  I believe the controversy is on a deeper level less about belief in god and more about the fact that we challenged power.”
Jerry T of Florida watches the news online and comments: “AA's history is one of it knowing better and being proven wrong. First it was the women who couldn't be alcoholics who had to fight for their place in the program.  Then it was the non-smokers, and this was the first time the ‘outside issue’ defence was the big counterargument.  Most every speciality meeting had some kind of fight or controversy surrounding its existence. The wonderful thing about our struggle is that it is going to force recognition of a lot of elephants in the room.”
As David and the rest of AA debates the type of AA that is best for one and all, David reflects on Freud’s term, the narcissism of small differences.  “In order to maintain our fragile identities, we make big work out of inconsequential differences.  We can thereby prove our separateness/superiority, when in fact we're just like the people we're criticizing.  You know, human.”

White Paper on Non-Believers:
Jim B, AA’s first Atheist:
to join the conversation click on The Fix above, see what others have said, have your say.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Waiting: A Nonbeliever's Higher Power

This is a great book for everyone in recovery - a great start to the 21st century.  Check it out for yourself:

Here's some freebees from the book, but please read it and tell me what you like about it:

When we shut down in this way – by addiction, by fighting, by attempts to control, by what the Big Book aptly calls “self-will run riot” – we have no space in ourselves for spiritual growth or awareness.  And we need that space.  Without it, our spirits wither…Our hearts become rigid and cannot love.  We have no ability to really experience the life we are living.

It is a regrettable habit we have of thinking we are entitled to have all that we want.

I fight.  I resist.  It doesn’t even matter what I resist; their sis simply something in me that tends to resist things as they are.  I have been fighting since I was very small.  And I believe that my addiction was a response, in some measure, to the fact that the fight was futile, and I could not tolerate that fact.  I couldn’t tolerate the fact that I did not control the worlds.

Doubt is at the very heart of spiritual experience. Without it, we would never ask the hard questions about the nature of our existence: Why are we here: How did we get here? What are our origins?  What is our purpose and what are our ends?  These are spiritual questions asked by spiritual people and they lead to growth… When we doubt, we learn to accept that we may not ever know.  When we question, we learn to accept that there may be no answer.  We shout our doubt out into the universe, we learn to accept that we may be met with a silence we do not know how to read… to accept doubt, a lack of certainty, is to accept the very nature of life as it is.

…the Twelve Step program isn’t actually an attempt at religious conversion.  Really, it just tries to bring us to a place of new spiritual understanding that allows us to live differently in this world.  The Steps are not intended to get us to heaven or save us from hell.  This is not about life in another world, above or below.  This is about how we live here.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Why do attempts to tell the Agnositc story of AA recovery get moth-balled?

The Literature Desk at GSO (Alcoholics Anonymous) was contacted in June 2011 with the request to confirm, deny or clarify the enclosed “history of an agnostics/atheists pamphlet for all of AA.”  Julio of the literature desk explained that they get many requests and can’t reply.  It seems that with so many specific dates and names that some of this history could be researched to see if it is indeed accurate. 
The consolation prize was that although there is no initiative to produce literature directed at secular recovery among AA members, despite the seeming wide endorsement from the Literature Subcommittee since 1975, AA is proceeding with a Spiritual Experience pamphlet that will include non-theistic experience.  Here is what Julio said:  

“As you know the pamphlet under development will cover as wide a range of spiritual experiences as possible, including sharing from agnostic and atheist A.A.s.  In 2011 Conference recommended that:

 ‘the trustees’ Literature Committee continue to develop literature which focuses on spirituality that includes stories from atheists and agnostics who are sober in Alcoholics Anonymous. The committee expressed support for the trustees’ efforts to develop a pamphlet which reflects the wide range of spiritual experiences of A.A. members and asked that a draft pamphlet or progress report be brought to the 2012 Conference Committee on Literature for consideration.’”  

Although I have not been able to confirm the following document I want to share it.  The agnostic story is almost written out of AA archival history.  This tendency dates back to Bill Wilson’s slanted accounts of Jim B, who Bill calls “Ed” in the essays of the Twelve Traditions.  Bill suggests that Ed was a proselytizing atheists devoted to persuading the few members of the day that AA would be better without all “the God stuff.”  The story is told that “Ed” gets drunk, finds God, crawls back and gets in line with the dominant AA way of seeing.  As many know, Ed, Jim B in reality is responsible for “as we understand Him” being added to the Twelve Steps, which at very least, opened the door to sobriety without an absolute belief in God, as defined by religion.  

Here is what has been recorded to date, an identical account of what was sent to GSO where comment was declined.
History - Proposals to Create a Pamphlet for the
Non-Believer / Agnostic / Atheist Alcoholic

Several proposals have been considered in the past concerning the development of a pamphlet directed to the non-believer / agnostic / atheist alcoholic. This concept has been explored at least six separate times in the past:
  • 1975-1976
  • 1981-1982
  • 1988-1989
  • 1995-1996
  • 1997
  • 2000-2001
Each of these cases is summarized below. The actions of the trustees’ and Conference Literature Committees are reviewed.

Summary: In September 1975 a letter came to the office from Al L., a member in Florida, requesting that the trustees’ Literature Committee consider publishing a pamphlet for agnostics. In February 1976 the trustees’ Committee appointed a subcommittee to study the issue and report back. At the July 1976 trustees’ committee meeting, the subcommittee presented a preliminary report recommending the publication of this pamphlet. However, at the October 1976 meeting, the trustees’ Committee decided not to forward the item to the Conference for consideration.

Al L. wrote in his September letter, in part:
“I’m a happy non-belligerent agnostic. I feel that many non-believers miss the A.A. board before they find out that they are also welcome. The ‘God bit’ frightens then off before they leaven that their spiritual beliefs or non-beliefs need not deprive them of the blessings of A.A.

“Q: Is it possible for the powers that be in A.A. to publish a pamphlet designed specifically for Agnostics? I don’t mean the Big Book’s version – Chapter IV We Agnostics – that doesn’t make sense to me. Never did. …

“Many agnostics believe at first that A.A. with all of its ‘Let God Do It’ and ‘That one is God, may you find him now’ is really a thinly veiled attempt to shove ‘religion’ down their throats. You and I of course know that isn’t the case….

“I would not advise that such a pamphlet for Agnostics imply or infer that ‘God’ will get you sooner or later or that you will necessarily come to believe in the power of prayer or that you must ‘turn it over.’

“My logic, common sense and dedication to A.A. keeps me sober – and I don’t think the non-spiritual have been given a fair shake.”

Ø  Trustees’ Literature Committee, February 1976:
The Committee recommended that the preparation of a pamphlet for Agnostics be studied by a sub-committee consisting of Ed S. and Paula C.

Ø  Trustees’ Literature Committee, August 1976:
The subcommittee prepared a preliminary report to the Trustees’ Literature Committee in June 1976:
The Sub-Committee to the Trustees’ Literature Committee recommended that:
A. A pamphlet for the Agnostic and/or Atheist be compiled and written using mainly from existing A.A. material on this subject. Their reasons follow:
1. This pamphlet is vitally needed to carry the message to both newcomers and old timers.
2. That Alcoholics Anonymous, despite first appearances, is neither sectarian nor religious, and is open to all alcoholics of every persuasion or non-persuasion. The number of non-believers in the program, or who need the A.A. program but are discouraged by its theism, may be more substantial than is probably realized.
3. The chapter “To The Agnostic” in the Big Book is fine as a start but more material is needed to assure non-believers that they are not merely deviants, but full, participating members in the A.A. Fellowship without qualification.
4. This pamphlet will probably also help the God believer in A.A. to understand his/her own spiritual values better, as well as to develop tolerance and understanding of many newcomers to A.A.
5. This pamphlet would affirm in clear and concise fashion that “the only requirement for membership in A.A. is a desire to stop drinking” and that our founders and the group conscience of the fellowship does not and has never considered an alcoholic’s spiritual beliefs as necessarily relevant to the achievement of healthy and happy sobriety.
B. A draft should begin as soon as possible. The sub-committee will collect material from extant literature including the Grapevine. George Gordon [Class A trustee and chair of the trustees’ Literature Committee] and Al L. will serve as consultants on this project.
1. If it appears that this pamphlet geared to the Agnostic and/or Atheist will not augment the aims above, then it will be discontinued by the Committee at this time.
C. It was agreed that this type of pamphlet does not fall under the category “special groups of alcoholics” literature but concerns a more fundamental and worldwide problem that has resulted in much misinterpretation of the A.A. Fellowship.
The August 1976 trustees’ Literature Committee report indicates that this document was reviewed: REPORT FROM SUB-COMMITTEE ON A PAMPHLET FOR AGNOSTICS - The sub-committee reported by submitting a two page document. It was suggested that the subcommittee now write a new version of their recommendations in greater detail and present it to the 1977 Conference Committee on Literature before further action is taken on its preparation.

Ø  Trustees’ Literature Committee, October 1976:
REPORT FROM SUB-COMMITTEE ON THE EXPLORATION OF AN AGNOSTIC/ATHEIST PAMPHLET The committee read the report and decided not to ask the 1977 Conference Literature Committee to consider a pamphlet for Agnostics / Atheists at this time.

[Unfortunately, after an exhaustive search, we cannot find a final report of this subcommittee, nor any reason for why the preliminary report’s recommendations were not adopted.]

Summary: In October 1981, former trustee Ed S., who had worked on the subcommittee relating to this proposal for a pamphlet to the Agnostic/Atheist in 1976, wrote to the trustees’ Literature Committee requesting that the idea be revisited. The trustees’ Literature Committee reviewed the material in January 1982 and declined to pursue this pamphlet.

Ed S.’s October 1981 letter reads, in part:
“Even though it would not be a best seller, could we have a pamphlet written by an agnostic or an atheist for those who have trouble believing? Possible title: ‘Came Not to Believe.’”

Ø  Trustees’ Literature Committee, January 1982:
The committee declined to recommend the publication of a pamphlet intended for agnostics or atheists who have trouble believing.

Summary: In June of 1988, the Conference secretary received a request from the sitting delegate in Area 59-Eastern Pennsylvania, Bill G., requesting that the Trustees’ Literature Committee consider a pamphlet for the ‘non-believer.’ The matter, including several pieces of background described below, went to the trustees’ Literature Committee in January 1989, and to the Conference Literature Committee in April 1989. The Conference Literature Committee did not recommend the production of this pamphlet.

Area 59 delegate Bill G. wrote in his June 1988 letter:
“[This pamphlet] would help those in the Fellowship who by their individual views of life, have never accepted the concept of God or a Higher Power in their recoveries.

“As you can see, Jack M. wrote previously to GSO and received a reply from Susan. The subject was presented to District 59-24 who elected to take no action, but to take it to the area committee. This occurred at our latest area meeting on June 5, 1988, where it was discussed briefly during the Summaries and Actions portion of the meeting. It was the sense of that meeting that the matter be referred in the appropriate manner to the Conference Coordinator for further consideration.”

The letter Bill mentions, from Jack M. to the GSO, was included in the background as well. Jack wrote to the GSO on February 1, 1988:
“Subject: Article in October, 1987 A.A. Grapevine, Inc. “Is There Room-Enough In A.A.?” J.L., Oakland, CA
“This letter is prompted by the subject article, subsequent correspondence with an Editor of the Grapevine as well as the author of the article and, perhaps most of’ all, my devotion to A.A. and the people in that fellowship with whom I exchange patience and kindness in my recovery.
“My own continuous sobriety of thirteen years in A.A. can only be described as unexplained phenomenon. Doubtless I was an agnostic and have gradually become atheistic over the years. In my first few months of sobriety in A.A. a very kind and patient member with some thirty years of continuous sobriety in A.A. suggested, nay, encouraged me to speak openly of my uncertainty of a higher power so that others with similar views would perhaps feel the same close connection in the fellowship as I did and still do. I was lucky to exchange views with that particular member at that critical moment in my recovery and have tried to follow the suggestion to the best of such ability as I have.
“With a view toward doing a little homework I just looked through As Bill Sees It and found a dozen or so references to atheism and agnosticism under the index heading of Higher Power. All of the entries appear to me to persuade the reader that believing is far, far better than non-believing. I can’t understand why former non-believers hardly ever tire of trying to convince or persuade non-believers to change, particularly in A.A. which is a program of attraction, because the thought of trying to persuade a believer to change never even enters my mind.
“To quote the author of the subject article, “Never would I seek to explain A.A. in my own atheistic interpretation to an alcoholic who believes in God and suggest that he would do well to modify his perception in order to get or stay sober. Instead I can speak to the person about God from the many references and explanations which abound in A.A. literature. Yet it is probably more difficult the other way around. A God-oriented A.A. member doesn’t have a large supply of ideas from atheists available to share with the newcomer atheist. Too few of us state our positions in meetings; too little is written in A.A.’s literature.
“There just doesn’t seem to be any A.A. General Service Conference-approved literature written specifically for the non-believer. Is such a project under way? If not, there must be a way to put together a pamphlet which unconditionally encourages the newcomer who happens to be a non-believer without contradicting steps two, three, five, six, seven, eleven and twelve or parts (b) and (c) of the chapter on How It Works in the Basic Text for Alcoholics Anonymous. Such a collection of encouraging words would not have to be adversarial, antagonistic, cogent, defensive, patronizing or persuasive. A foreword could even be included which would explain the apparent conflict, at least to some newcomers, between the statement in our preamble regarding A.A. not being allied with any sect, denomination, organization or institution and the fact that we all rise, the ancient act of fealty, and recite the prayer beginning Our Father at the close of each meeting. The foreword could also contain a clear statement that belief in a higher power is not at any time a requirement for membership or for getting and staying sober.”

Another letter from an A.A. member, Tom M. of Florida, was also included in the background. Tom wrote to the GSO January 2, 1989. Excerpts of his long letter follow below:
“It is (we hope) the initial step in a process that may ultimately lead to the publication of a new pamphlet for A.A. members that supports sobriety and recovery in A.A. from a non-theistic (agnostic or atheist) point of view.
“I know that at first this might seem to be quite unnecessary, because after all A.A. has been doing nicely for fifty odd years without it. I hope in what follows I can show that a pamphlet on this subject may indeed help some of our fellow alcoholics.
“The first thing I would like to point out, is that there is big difference between an agnostic or atheist and a person who does not practice a religion. Both agnostics and atheists do in fact have a moral and spiritual base founded on some common humanistic principles which are derived by personal choice. Both agnosticism and atheism provide as valid a spiritual base (albeit it’s different) as religion does for Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Islamic people who have come into A.A.
“’A.A. IS NOT A RELIGIOUS PROGRAM. IT IS A SPIRITUAL PROGRAM.’ Case finished, right. Wrong. We are not talking about religion here, we are talking about a person’s right to have a differing spiritual base than the majority.
“The prevailing notion in A.A. is simply that a lack of belief in GOD or a ‘higher power’ automatically indicates a lack of spirituality, and of course, ‘spirituality’ is required for recovery. It is my personal experience, that most ‘GOD or higher power’ people treat agnostics and atheists as if we lack something, as if there is something wrong with us. We lack nothing and there is nothing wrong with either agnosticism or atheism.
“The other side of the coin is that most agnostics, or atheists (in and out of A.A.) think of A.A. as religious in nature, and they will not be converted or coerced into changing this position by the use of the term higher power.
“And so the quandary. Few would dispute that A.A. is the most successful recovery program ever found for the disease of alcoholism. So what does an alcoholic who is an agnostic or atheist do to recover. A.A. suggests (rather strongly I would say, since a whole chapter in the Big Book is devoted to the subject) that the first endeavor is to forsake their fundamental beliefs and spiritual base.
“Now nobody in A.A. would ever think of asking a Catholic or Jew to give up their spiritual base to get sober, and yet these same people without so much as blinking an eye, assume that an agnostic or atheist ought to do this just as a matter of course.
“The result is that many agnostic and atheists leave A.A. in short order….
“Some of us believe that is time to share our experiences on a more the one-on-one basis, and so this letter about a pamphlet. We believe that we have accumulated experiences that can give hope, strength, and comfort to newly sober people in A.A. who are of the agnostic or atheistic persuasion. Our intent is not to “change” A.A. or the Big Book. We only mean to share our recovery with our own kind, so that they can avail themselves of what we have found, and we would like to be able to do that openly and as part of the mainstream of A.A.
“We cannot do that. To declare your agnosticism or atheism at many meetings (at least in this part of the country) brings upon oneself knowing stares and sometimes repudiation from someone in the group. Now, I personally don’t have this problem anymore. My longevity in sobriety is given respect, but I am still thought of as a paradox or oddball. I can handle that just fine, now. The question that bothers me, is that ‘Can a newly sober agnostic or atheist handle being treated as an oddball?’ Many cannot.”
Ø  Trustees’ Literature Committee, January 1989:
Pamphlet for the "non-believer"
After agreeing that the term "non-believer" is inaccurate and misleading, the committee recommends to the General Service Board that the Conference Literature Committee be asked to consider a proposal for some sort of spiritual literature in response to requests from atheists and agnostics.

Ø  Conference Literature Committee, April 1989:
Additional Committee considerations
The committee discussed the proposal for some sort of spiritual literature for atheists and agnostics and did not see a sufficient need to take action at this time.

Summary: In November of 1995, the Conference secretary received a request from the sitting delegate in Area 49-Southeastern New York, Paul S., requesting that the Trustees’ and Conference Literature Committees consider a pamphlet “directed to the concerns the non-believer (atheist/agnostic).” (Note: Paul S. was also serving as the chair of the Conference Literature Committee in 1996.) The matter, including several pieces of background described below, went to the trustees’ Literature Committee in January 1996, and to the Conference Literature Committee in April 1996. The Conference Literature Committee did not recommend the production of this pamphlet.

Area 49 delegate Paul S. wrote in his November 1995 letter:
“At our Area Assembly held on November 11, Area 49 voted with substantial unanimity to request that the 1996 General Service Conference agenda include a proposal to consider a pamphlet directed to the concerns of the non-believer (atheist and/or agnostic) alcoholic.

“Such a pamphlet might be directed on three levels:
(a) to the active alcoholic who is unfamiliar with our program of recovery but who is intimidated by the misconception that Alcoholics Anonymous is a religious program; such people are unlikely to be exposed to Chapter 3 of the Big Book until they have overcome their fears or suspicions about A.A.;

“(b) to the newcomer to Alcoholics Anonymous who may be misled by some of our common practices, such as use of the Serenity Prayer or the Lord’s Prayer at meetings and the fact that many of our meetings are held in houses of worship; for these people some help with understanding the idea of a “power greater than ourselves” may be valuable; and

“(c) to the non-alcoholic, whether professional or lay, who may be in a position to refer alcoholics to A.A. but who may be reluctant to do so because of the perception that ours is a religious program; the example of legal attacks on court references to A.A. on First Amendment (separation of church and state) grounds comes to mind.

“Southeast New York deliberately chose not to propose a specific text or suggested content because of the belief that drafting of such language might best be left to the appropriate Trustees’ and Conference Committees. Indeed, the question of whether the presentation should be by way of stories or by way of discussion was also thought to be a matter for Trustee and/or Conference decision.”

In response to this proposal, Jim C., an appointed committee member on the trustees’ Literature Committee, wrote to Paul S. on February 8, 1996. This letter was included as background for the Conference Committee.

Jim wrote:
“I wanted to give you my views in writing about the proposed pamphlet directed ‘to the concerns of the non-believer (atheist and/or agnostic) alcoholic.’ As you may remember I voiced a minority opinion as to sending it to the Conference Literature Committee based on the narrowness of the title.

“I think a pamphlet based on the three points stated in your letter to [Conference Secretary] Richard B. on November 21, 1995, would be a valuable piece of literature for our fellowship. However, I think as suggested in the three points, it should cover a broader segment than the title of non-believer (atheists and/or agnostics) suggests. I believe it would be more valuable if its title was directed to the concerns of those who may wonder if A.A. is or is not a religious organization, or is affiliated with any religion because of common practices or meeting places as set out in your point (b). I do not want to pick a title, but something like ‘A.A., Religious or Secular?’ or ‘A.A. and Religion’ or even ‘God as we Understand Him,’ might be more to the points suggested.”

Ø  Trustees’ Literature Committee, January 1996
Review a request to publish a pamphlet directed to the concerns of the non-believer (atheist and/or agnostic) alcoholic: The committee forwarded the request for a pamphlet directed to the concerns of the non-believer (atheist and/or agnostic) to the Conference Literature Committee.

Ø  Conference Literature Committee, April 1996
Additional Committee considerations
The committee considered a request for a pamphlet directed to the concerns of the non-believer (atheist and/or agnostic) and made no recommendations.

Summary: The trustees’ Literature Committee received a request from Naomi D. of the We Agnostics Group in New York in July 1997, requesting that the committee consider published a pamphlet titled “A.A. is Not a Religion.” The trustees’ Literature Committee declined to pursue this pamphlet.

Naomi D.’s July 1997 letter reads, in part:
“Consider a pamphlet entitled ‘A.A. is Not a Religion.’ This would be very helpful to newcomers (who may be looking for excuses) and would also be useful in the P.I. or C.P.C. Areas.”

Ø  Trustees’ Literature Committee, November 1997
Literature Review Subcommittee report:
A request to consider a pamphlet entitled ‘A.A. is Not a Religion’ came from the ‘We Agnostics of NYC’ group. This would appear to be a request somewhat along the line of another request which was submitted by the Southeast New York Area Assembly in December 1995 and passed on to the 1996 Conference Literature Committee. That request was to consider a pamphlet directed to the concerns of the non-believer (atheist and/or agnostic) alcoholic.

The 1996 Conference Committee considered that request in their deliberations and made no recommendations. The subcommittee feels that in the absence of other similar requests that the ‘no recommendations’ stance of the 1996 Conference Committee stand.

Summary: In late 1999, the trustees’ Literature Committee received several letters from atheist / agnostic A.A. members, requesting that they consider producing a pamphlet for the nonbeliever or a pamphlet explaining that A.A. is a spiritual rather than religious program. The trustees’ Committee appointed a subcommittee to consider this matter, which met throughout 2000 and early 2001. The subcommittee was in favor of a pamphlet describing and specifying the spiritual aspects of A.A., and passed its work to the Conference Literature Committee at the 2001 Conference. The Conference Literature Committee did not recommend the production of this pamphlet.

Letters were received from at least 5 A.A. members, most of them from the New York area, in November and December 1999, rallying around the concept of creating a pamphlet for the nonbeliever or a pamphlet clarifying the spiritual aspects of A.A. The trustees’ Literature Committee discussed this in January 2000.

Ø  Trustees’ Literature Committee, January 2000:
Pamphlet for the Non-Believer
Following a lengthy discussion regarding the focus of a pamphlet for the non-believer or a pamphlet explaining that A.A. is a spiritual rather than a religious program, a subcommittee was formed to give this further consideration and report back to the trustees' Literature Committee at the July meeting, The subcommittee will be chaired by Beth R. and will include David S., Jan P., George Vaillant and Lois F., secretary.

Ø  Trustees’ Literature Committee, July 2000:
Pamphlet Explaining that A.A. Is Spiritual Rather than Religious
Beth R., chair of the subcommittee overseeing a pamphlet explaining that A.A. is spiritual rather than religious, reported that the subcommittee met by conference call on Wednesday, July 19, 2000 to share ideas with regard to the direction this pamphlet should take. Various approaches were discussed and the subcommittee unanimously agreed that there is a need for this pamphlet for many reasons. The subcommittee plans to meet again on Monday, July 31 when the General Service Board Meeting adjourns to continue discussing ideas.

The full committee discussed this proposed pamphlet and suggested that it should emphasize the inclusiveness of A.A. pointing out that A.A.'s principles are culturally adaptable. The essence may include a definition of spirituality.

Ø  Trustees’ Literature Committee, October 2000:
Proposed pamphlet on the spiritual/religious aspects of A.A.
Subcommittee chair Beth R. reported on the outcome of the October 10th conference call. All members of the subcommittee agreed to continue working on development of a draft pamphlet to describe the spiritual aspects of A.A. for the benefit of newcomers and interested professionals. The subcommittee plans to meet Monday, October 30, 2000 to discuss proposed titles and proposed contents - whether to include individual stories and a process for collecting stories. All committee members and guests were invited to send their own working definition of spirituality to the committee secretary by December 15, 2000.

Ø  Trustees’ Literature Committee, January 2001:
Proposed "Spiritual Variety" Pamphlet
Subcommittee chair, Beth R., reported that this subcommittee has met twice since the last committee meeting. Beth presented a report on this proposed pamphlet outlining the purpose for such a pamphlet, suggested title options and a suggested format. The committee agreed to forward this report and two letters expressing opposition to this pamphlet received before January 15, 2001 to the 2001 Conference Literature Committee.

Ø  Conference Literature Committee, April 2001:
Additional Committee Considerations:
The committee discussed the trustees’ Literature Committee proposal for a new pamphlet that includes a variety of spiritual experience and took no action. The committee suggested that the trustees’ Literature Committee consider adding or clarifying existing pamphlets such as ‘This is A.A.’ and ‘A Newcomer Asks’ to address a variety of individual interpretations and individual experience of spirituality in Alcoholics Anonymous.

The committee suggested that the trustees’ P.I. and C.P.C. committees consider addressing in their literature that A.A. is not allied with any religion.