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(RNS) For Alcoholics Anonymous to continue helping addicts find freedom in sobriety, the 75-year-old organization has to reclaim its spiritual roots. That’s the message coming from reformers who say the group has drifted from core principles, but what exactly constitutes the heart of AA spirituality is a matter of spirited debate.

85 Comments

  1. As a thrity-three year veteran of AA, an addict and an alcoholic, a former Catholic priest, a degreed theologian, and as a man who would define himself today (just for today, and with the words of a former sponsor who died but who still lives in my heart) as a left-wing agnostic with a higher power, I found the above article fascinating, especially when it came to the comments of Mr. P.

    1) It seems to me that he is deliberately setting himself in contradiction to the Traditions of AA, which state explicitly that the only qualification for membership is “…the desire to stop drinking.”

    2) In his denigration of “war stories” and sob stories,” bitching and moaning, and crappy coffee, I get a sense of the intolerance that usually flows from an incomplete enbrace of the the acceptance demanded in the first of the twelve steps…the only step, I would suggest, that necessary in any absolute sense. But also, I would suggest that it is precisely this “acceptance” or “surrender” of one’s powerless over his own alcoholism, or anybodyd else’s, that is that rock-solid foundation of Twelve Step spirituality. If that acceptance has happened, in my experience, then the “bitching and moaning,” the interminable (so it seems at times) “war stories and sob stories,” become somehow the sharing of journies and growth, and the outstretched hand of companionship and franternity. They become “cor ad cor loquitum,” heart speaking unto heart.

    3) Both Bill W. and Dr. Bob would turn over in their graves hearing somebody saying AA is an explicitly “religious” organization; that was the point of “…as we underatand Him…” is about. Spiritual, yes, religious, no….and if Mr. P. does not know the difference, I’d suggest he try ninty meetings in ninty days, focusing on the first and thrid steps.

    Bill C.

    • Dear Bill C.,

      I have been on both sides of this divide in opinions about AA. I have embraced both the rigid approach and the “eazy duz it” approach. Basically I burnt out on being a rigid “Big Book thumper.” All too many of these folks end up drunk and quoting big book passages on barstools. Yet I also see the point of not allowing AA to become a “piss and moan society.” So basically I hope that there is some happy medium in the middle we AA folks can agree on. I believe that the 12 steps themselves are the religious principles we need to adapt yet with the option of organized religion left solely to the individual member. The word “God” has a multitude of intrepretation and meaning inside AA as what Bill called the “10 Spot” implies (God as we understand God.) I am a severely physically handicapped member of AA and i wish the kneeling fanatics would drop their unsupported instistance on equating humility with kneeling. Yet, I find myself agreeing somewhat that AA ought not become just a problem discussion club. My major disagreement with some of the fanatical wing is that they ought not be trying to convert our members to their particular form of religion. They would do well to remember that AA split from the old Oxford Groups because the Roman Catholic members of the Cleveland group were told that they could not attend meetings that were affiliated with a protestant evangelical organization. Finally, as a former educated atheist, I am perhaps jandiced at the notion of groups disowning some definition of “god” as much as I am offended by the zealots who would make AA into a good ole evangelical Christian church. Again we ought to be able to meet in the middle since Bill W. gave us the option in the 12&12 to make the home group ones “higher power.” That is the “Group Of Drunks” definition of “god.”
      Best wishes, J.W.

      • Thanks, J.W. for your comments and thoughts. I think you’re right: it’s a matter of balance…God save us from too many “bleeding deacons” but equally from those who would dilute the AA process of recovery by throwing out the 12 Steps in the name of “relevance.” My old sponsor (metioned above) used to say, “There’s no bad way to get ‘em sober, considering the alternative.” So, if AA ‘fundamentalism” does it for some, and therapy groups do it for others, or even if Schick Shadel and Passages Malibu do it for even more others, great; I’d rather see them alive and not drinking than dead. Recovery from this disease is rare and anything that implements recovery from it (even shamanism and crystals) needs to be applauded if and when it works.

        Even today, after 33 years, practically every meeting I go to, I find myself, grumping, grousing, and wondering to myself for the first 15 minutes: “What and why the f…. am I doing here, listening to this bunch of damn drunks?!” Thanks to a good deal of tough love and patience by a lot of long-suffering fellow AA’s, I’ve come to realize that my arrogant exceptionality is an ever-present residue of my alcoholism; and so, if I sit still to minute 16 and 17, the healing of the Program might just begin to wash over me.

        But still, bleeding deacons piss me off, too. But, then, sometimes I remember that G__, as I understand Him (which I don’t) has to become Christian to work for some, and become “Group of Drunks” to work for others, and even to become, as He did for a friend of mine, “A black, dyke, crap-shotter in the sky over Yakima.” Excuse me, I mean no blasphemy; rather, I suspect Higher Power (Whoever He, She, or It may be) is big enough and flexible enough to handle any definiton or understanding that any of us might be able to dream up up if it brings us the healing we need….that, I believe is what is important to Him/Her/It.

        Bill C.

    • To Bill C.

      I’m a recovering addict in my twenties, just celebrated three years in NA and I am studying to be a Substance Abuse Counselor. My professor suggested this article to our class. After reading the article I had to chuckle to myself a bit, I found your response to be right in line with my opinion, just written better. Thank you for your comments, I do not know you, but in some way I actually do. Just wanted to reach out to a fellow addict.

      Katrina

    • It’s hardly worth the time any long to listen to the vague claims that A.A. is “spiritual, but not religious.” What is wrong is to say that Bob and Bill would turn over in their graves at the mention of religion and AA in the same breath. First, the writer should have mentioned that Professor William James, Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker, Dr. Carl Jung, and Bill Wilson also originally defined recovery with the phrase “a vital religious experience.” For a thoroughly documented set of facts on A.A.’s religious origins, history, beginnings, and original program, see DR. BOB and the Good Old-timers, page 131; Stick with the Winners!

    • Thank you Bill C.!! We have a AA minister locally who insist that religion and spiritual is one in the same, and that AA is a religion. He appears to be a conceited so in so who is wanting to build his own flock. I find it very difficult to challenge these know it alls because they have their follower who come to the same meetings, in addition to Sunday worship.

    • I am sitting here looking up AA – meetings – articles this morning because I want to give my self a present –
      I do not believe in God and I am troubled by what I’m reading about AA – but would also like to find help – so – thank you for your comments – I appreciate what you had to say.

  2. Daniel Hoffman

    I am a former seminarian who calls himself a “secularist” now. I miss the Liberation Theology that John Paul II despised and destroyed while I was in the seminary.

    My 9 year old son is in Quaker school. I cannot find it in my heart to disagree with the statement that the spark of God exists in every person. Period. Most believers claim that they have it but others, like the tax collector in Luke 6, don’t.

    Anyway, you probably know the Latin word for an isolated individual, or “person unto himself”. That Marlborough Man cowboy out on the range was lonely, drunk, and died of cancer. I suspect that a consitent and available mentor, a community that understands and social support is outstanding medicine for healing addiction and other wounds that find their way into our bodies. The wounded need sanctuary. Not judgment. You cannot heal until you are in a safe place.

    Faith is an amazing placebo for safety, except when we are in real danger.

    Thank you for your post.

    Dan

  3. SO WELL SAID. Thank you for speaking for me and my close friends in recovery. I do not understand the negative analysis of something that has, and is, working for millions. Sometimes I will read something such as the article you responded to and just sigh. There is so much contention bleeding through so many areas that one does not know where to start. It IS like nailing Jello to a wall. They don’t get it, and they don’t have to. But if they every need us, we’re here for all, in spirit. Not in religion. I have 26 years sober – I got it tough – bc they loved me enough to save my life with the truth and truth is oft times tough. I am eternally grateful to AA, along with the other millions around the world.

    • Those who understand what A.A.’s own Conference-approved literature has to say about religious matters should read that material and report it as part of their arguments. Biblical expressions like Creator, Maker, Father, Heavenly Father, Father of Lights and more are a starting point. In the Big Book, the capitalized word “God” is used dozens of times. Bill Wilson writes frequently of religion in his Big Book. For example: “Be quick to see where religious people are right. Make use of what they have to offer.” Some of these days the academics will finally concede, we hope, that A.A. is not monolithic today. It is composed of Jews, Roman Catholics, Protestants, Buddhists, the Hindu, Quakers, atheists, New Thought advocates, New Age folks, agnostics, humanists, and cult chasers. You cannot know A.A. or its history and try to paint it with a single brush today.

  4. Three things. One, I couldn’t care less what avenue any individual decides to take to help themselves get better. I only care that people stop hurting others and become useful. Two, the Twelve Steps were designed for the sole purpose of expelling the poison within that brings us down so that we may fill the space with spiritual principles and an appropriate relationship with God. It’s fine that AA has split into several different programs, but that’s what the Twelve Steps were and are, if we’re talking about the Steps. And Three, “…listening to others bitch and moan…” isn’t my quote. Jeff has confused that entire quote with someone else. Finally, to the reactive types out there, perhaps you ought to read my blog and/or my book and the positivity and sincere desire to help behind it before fueling up in front of a computer screen.

    • I attribute my instant loss of compulsion to drink; my five year sobriety and nearly ALL of he promises coming true to a faith in a higher power I call God. I sense that alcoholics come in fighting the notion of a Creator of the Universe and choose some nebulous non-committal “higher power” because they cannot truly let go of their ego and hold fast to the belief that they are the center of all things. A little FEAR of God is not necessarily a bad thing. We must be accountable to someone other than the group, our sponsor and AA in general because at some moment of weakness you will have NOTHING that stands in the way of your next drink beside God and you. I am truly sick and tired of the people who spend years fighting the same demons and demonstrating the same behavior as when they walked into AA.because almost invariably,THEY are the ones who have trouble with God the Creator. They do nothing for me except take up space and air and if they wanted to split AA between a religious God and “Good Orderly Direction”, that would suit me fine. Almost ALL of the people I know with decades of sobriety have a deep faith in God. I hate squirming at Step 2 and 3 meetings and having to watch my tongue because I am offending some atheist who will take the floor next and crosstalk me.

  5. Charles Peabody’s quote echoes the sentiment conveyed in his book on p. 59: “For me, AA had been nothing but a meeting room where I sit in a chair, listen to sob stories, drink lukewarm instant coffee, depend on others to keep me sober, and maybe run up at the end to get a sobriety chip while people clap. Perhaps I even raise my hand and tell a story of my own. But stories, sobriety chips and Maxwell House didn’t get me better.”

  6. Daniel Hoffman

    Mr. Peabody, I read two different messages in your 11:40 PM post.

    “I only care that people stop hurting others and become useful.”

    And

    “The Twelve Steps were designed for the sole purpose of expelling the poison within that brings us down so that we may fill that space with spiritual principles and an appropriate relationship with God.”

    I support the first statement. The second one makes it sound like you are an evangalist whose primary goal is harvesting people when they are the weakest and most vulnerable. It contradicts your first, and laudable, statement by declaring bluntly that the real goal of AA is to get people right with God as you get to determine it.

    Which of your statements are you willing to retract?
    .

    • People will not stop hurting others in A.A. and 12 Step fellowships until they stop condemning those who share their experience, strength, and hope as to how they established their relationship with God, turned to God for help, came to Him through Jesus Christ, and used the Bible in the same way that every original A.A. in Akron used it. They studied it. They quoted it. They specified the Book of James, Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, and 1 Corinthians 13 as absolutely essential to their program.

  7. As requested, Jeff and I interviewed at length and after reviewing the entire session, I should note that his quotes are indeed accurate. Contextually, however, I don’t care to be pitted against anyone. I’ve never sought to judge or criticize others, as Jeff should be well aware. I’ve only sought to share my experience regarding what worked and what didn’t work for me as an addict, and I don’t have to answer to anyone. I’ve been trying to give back and become more other-centered for 8 years now, for my wife, family, friends, and other alcoholics and addicts. So as far as the above trolls are concerned, I can’t engage with this sort of toxicity.

  8. You know, Mr. Peabody, when you call someone a troll simply for asking you to address real contradictions in things you have actually said, it feels cowardly and dishonest of you. You need to be able to stand up for what you’ve said or admit that you were wrong. Not just insult the character of the people who have pointed out where you seem to be in error simply for doing so. It’s the very lowest form of argumentation, and ought to be beneath your dignity.

    Daniel Hoffman brings up a perfectly valid point. If you “only” care about people ceasing to hurt others, then by definition, you cannot have other concerns, such as adherence to your personal religious principles, but the second quote from you that he cited indicates that this is not the case. If the second statement is true, then the first cannot be. You need to address this if you wish to be taken seriously.

    • You know, Dave, the two statements are really not contradictory. If Mr. Peabody really cares about people he will of course want them to have an appropriate relationship with God. Only if you do not believe in God would you think that the two statements contradicting each other. But God exists whether you believe it or not. Get over it.

      • I’m afraid this still doesn’t wash.

        The only way that these two comments don’t contradict one another is if you sincerely believe that the only way you can possibly stop hurting other people is to have what he believes to be an ‘appropriate’ relationship with his god.

        I’ve known lots of people who don’t have any relationship with his god or any other who don’t cause harm to other people. Whether Mr. Peabody realizes or believes this to be the case or not.

  9. Daniel Hoffman

    Peter, to “stop hurting others” does not require belief in God. Does it? If you think so, it would explain a lot.

    There are many who believe that God punishes the just for the sins of the unjust. Is that what you think?

    If someone’s faith helps them treat their family and other people better and helps them with their addiction, I wouldn’t presume to tell them they are wrong to believe what they do, just so long as they focus on their own relationship with God and don’t insist that the rest of us do the same.

    AA should be about people first, not God first. This is the issue I am getting at with Mr. Peabody. I understand that some cannot see the distinction. That’s fine. Just spell it out.

    • How valuable it would be if those who comment on A.A. would recognize the diversity of beliefs among members, the variety of religious and humanist views involved, and who were conversant with the code “Love and tolerance” and with Dr. Bob’s synopsis that A.A. is about “love and service.” Talking about putting people before God may appeal to a couple of the writers. But not if you read the Big Book and the A.A. literature that is contrary.

  10. Since no one speaks for AA, no one can define it. That’s its power. You can find just about any kind of group or sponsor in the fellowship. Every local meeting is autonomous. No one can “reform” it because it is constantly reforming itself.

    As for God, the only words emphasized in italics in the entire 12 steps are “as we understood Him,” meaning YOU decide who, what or where God is. Some people need “strict.” Some don’t.

    In my opinion, AA works because of the strength of fellowship and the redemptive power of storytelling. You find a new group of friends who are not drinking and drugging, and you discover a new and deeper way to relate to your fellow human beings.

    I could go on and on about this, which is why I just published a book title “Distilled Spirits — Getting High, then Sober, with a Famous Writer, a Forgotten Philosopher and a Hopeless Drunk.” (available in print from University of California Press and as a Kindle email.

    • Thank God. Nobody talked to me about “story telling” as a solution to alcoholism. Those who drank too much in company with others who drank too much often did nothing but story telling and helped nobody get sober.

  11. While reading the 12 steps you will notice that there are only 2 times when a phrase is underscored…
    That is
    “God as we understand him”. That is the only sentence
    That is emphatically underlined..
    Not a Chistian, Jewish, Muslim or Buddah……
    I See that not as a religious God
    But a spiritual entity. Read the parts in the Big Book
    With Carl Jung’s conclusions.. AA WORKS, I SEE IT WORKING EVERY DAY
    so try everything and anything. If you stay sober and at the very least you don’t drive drunk well that’s just great…
    But if you go to AA and you follow it’s suggestions (meetings, sponsor, home group, step work etc.) if you go to the same Lengths you went to stay sober as
    You did to stay loaded, I promise it will work.

  12. as an atheist who sobered up in AA several 24-hours ago, let me explain it the way my sponsor explained it:
    1. there IS a god
    2. you aren’t him
    3. don’t drink, go to meetings, see what happens.

  13. Danielle Murray

    I Love AA, I love old school north shore AA, and am a member of to great groups that permote ” dont drink no matter what” physical sobriety is key. With that All things are possible.The God I brought in to AA Was not a God I could trust. came to believe, and have a wonderful God today. I have many friends who have long term, happy sober lives, and do no believe in God. That is non of my business. nor AA’s, or anyone else. Mr.P, I have never seen you in any meeting in our area in all my sober years…
    Please come to old Salem Tuesday night, let me know what you think.

  14. Danielle Murray

    So ashamed of the typos…
    New phone and became excited, forgetting to edit before I sent it.
    one more thing…
    our tradishions are far more important than the 12 steps.
    the tradishions are spiritual in nature. They give real solutions as to how to live sober.
    life is Good.

  15. Awe.. It really doesn’t matter how people get sober as long as they do… Bottom line is that u have to do whatever it takes for you to get sober. No ones road is the same. Danielle Murray was the first one of my friends that I knew that even got sober and she has help me alot. Mr. Peabody has been a lifelong friend since private School; I have been thru alot with both of these people. Mr Peabody introduces me to my first big book… he actually brought it to me on the hardest day of my life.. the day of my mothers funeral. I thank him for that.. I also thank the friendship of Danielle Murray of teaching me and guiding me thru sometimes in my life. But the point of my Story is I had to find my own way to get what I have… I have travelled my own road…Doesn’t matter how I have done it. All I can say is that I am happy and I am still learn how to live with myself and others… this journey will never stop.. I always have something else to learn.. and something to give to help another… Live and Let live.. people… Relax… Whatever helps people …. helps people… lets not judge… it is not our place to anyway… God Bless …. Much love

  16. Dear all board members,

    I believe we are all on our great spiritual journeys – whether we are in or out of the rooms, whether conscious or not of a universal power greater than ourselves by whatever earthly name we choose to give it in whatever language – its ours and nobody else’s. The 12 Steps, and a lot of other “outside material” helped me develop the god of my understanding.

    The beautiful part about journeys is that they move at their own pace. I have accepted my pace and those of others – sometimes I sit in meetings and say “ugh, another one” – that’s when I know the Czar of the Universe has identified a person I need to offer a welcoming hand. I was that person at one point, and still can be.

    Some choose to “bitch and moan.” Others need to proselytize. The 12-steps and staying sober (at least from alcohol, I will omit discussion of character defects for the sake of brevity), I accept all of you in whatever phase of your journey you are in. If I meet any of you, and identity with your journey, I would offer you my experience, strength and hope about what worked for me and what didn’t. I would do that because others did it for me.

    If not, I’ll simply exercise restraint of pen, tongue and keyboard.

    Much love to you all, Tony

  17. Read the article and the comments. I want to know why people become addicted to alcohol or any other drug. Seems like that might be important to know when assessing the effectiveness of a program designed to help addicts. But the article and comments didn’t address that question. If getting drunk or high is the only way one can feel “right”, and cope with their life, and AA principles have proven effective to enable addicts to live without their drugs – seems like AA is just like church – a great idea that’s challenged by egos and control freaks.

  18. Trust God clean house help others. I was a big book thumper. Aa works if you work it. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. Aa is one alcoholic helping another. I don’t thump my big book anymore but I do think we have to keep Aa going as it is. If others want want a new Aa they can go to NA or start something else. Good luck to them and God bless them. If its not broke don’t fix it. How does Aa work? It works just fine. If you don’t like the meeting you are at go to a different one. We are blessed with many. Don’t drink no matter what.

  19. We of Alcoholics Anonymous who have recovered do not promote our program. We do not claim we have the only solution. We do not force anyone to believe anything. We only wish to be helpful to those who suffer from alcoholism. If you have a solution, you are welcome to help others. Our program has saved the lives of millions. Stop trying to change it. It works.

  20. Alcoholics Anonymous and Christianity

    Dick B.
    © 2013 Anonymous. All rights reserved

    [This Article is an outline of a major piece on Alcoholics Anonymous and Christianity. It is posted now because of the number of other writings on the subject of Alcoholics Anonymous and Christianity and on the subject of Christians in Alcoholics Anonymous. In the next day or so, citations backing up the statements and quotes will be appended; and the article will be revised accordingly]

    Early Alcoholics Anonymous called itself a “Christian Fellowship.”

    Observers frequently said that early A.A. was “First Century Christianity” at work.

    Bill W. specifically said that Dr. Bob had reminded a group of AAs, including Bill, that most of them were practicing Christians.

    A.A. Cofounder Dr. Bob had a deep and meaningful Christian upbringing.

    A.A. Cofounder Bill W. also had a deep and meaningful Christian upbringing.

    There were a number of Christian organizations and people who were helping drunks long before A.A. was founded; and these impacted on the lives of the Cofounders and the ideas adopted by A.A.

    Bill W. said that the ideas in the First Step came from Dr. William D. Silkworth, who was a devoted Christian, a member of Rev. Sam Shoemaker’s Calvary Church in New York, and was the one who first told Bill that Jesus Christ, the Great Physician could cure Bill of his alcoholism.

    A.A.’s connection with the Oxford Group at the beginning was mentioned by both Bill W. and Dr. Bob. And the Oxford Group was called “A First Century Christian Fellowship.”

    Dr. Bob’s wife recommended to early AAs that they read books on the life of Jesus Christ and that they read the Bible every single day.

    The devotionals that early AAs used in their prayer and meditation sessions were uniformly Christian.

    All AAs in the Akron Number One Group were required to make a “regular surrender” in which they accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

    The books that Dr. Bob read and circulated among early AAs were primarily Christian and numbered in the dozens.

    Bill Wilson accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior at Calvary Rescue Mission in New York and wrote in his autobiography, “For sure, I’d been born again.”

    The family of Dr. Bob—parents and grandparents—were very active in the North Congregational Church of St. Johnsbury

    The family of Bill W.—parents and grandparents—were very active in the East Dorset Congregational Church in Vermont.

    Both Dr. Bob and Bill W. were raised in Congregational churches and Sunday schools in Vermont–all attended by their parents and grandparents. They both attended Academies run by Congregationalists and which required attendance at Daily Chapel with Sermons, Hymns, Prayers, and reading of Scripture.

    The early A.A. program in Akron, Ohio was founded primarily on Christian principles and practices laid down by the Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavor, in which Dr. Bob and his family were active in Vermont.

    Bill W.’s “new version” of the program embodied in his Big Book and 12 Steps four years later was, according to Bill, based primarily on the teachings of Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr., Rector of the Calvary Episcopal Church in New York, and whom Bill called a “cofounder of A.A.”

    Dr. Bob’s wife kept a journal from 1933-1939 from which she read each morning to AAs and their families; and in it, she spoke frequently of the Bible, Christian literature, Jesus Christ, God, and the Holy Spirit.

    Both Bill and Bob had extensive involvement with the Young Men’s Christian Association. Bill as President, and Dr. Bob’s father as President.

    • Dear Dick B.,
      I really don’t understand what point you are making. I serious doubt that Bill W. ever tried to convert a Jew to some sort of faith in Jesus as the Messiah. I seriously doubt that “Christian” members of AA have a higher sobriety success rate than non-Christian members of AA. The fact remains that the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book does NOT require or suggest that a member place their faith in Jesus. NOT EVER! It is just beyond silly for you to try to suggest that Alcoholics Anonymous has EVER been a Christian organization just because many early members were Christians (mostly Roman Catholic). This is a clear distortion of what the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book clearly says. Certainly you have to admit that a very large segement of our sober membership today have NO church affillation whatever whether you like that or not. It is also true that a signifant part of those sober members would not even be keen to identify themselves as even remotely Christian. Your ought to stop distorting the truth about the history of Alcoholics Anonymous. We AA’s call that sort of thing lying. Perhaps you ought to get aquinted with the term and stop it.
      J.W.

  21. Daniel Hoffman

    Dick B., I’ve read incredible posts in this forum from people whom AA has helped change their lives profoundly. I’m also reading Don Latin’s book, “Distilled spirits” which talks about Bill Wilson in a very different light than as the big book thumper you portray him as.

    Most of us couldn’t care less if AA was founded as an evangelical Christian organization or not. If it were one now it would help a fraction of the. people it does help. That matters little to the big book thumpers and their perverted Gospel of Wealth alliance with the plutocrats who collectively started the Culture Wars and advanced its “you are either with us or against us” and “take no prisoners” attitudes. Would you prefer that everyone had to accept Jesus as their personal savior as a prerequisite to attending AA? It would still exist because substance abuse is rife among the leadership of fundamentalist churches like the Calvary Chapels. But far less people would be helped. The reactionaries in the Catholic Curia last year were calling this “growth by pruning”.

    What of the branches left laying on the ground? Some of us secularists retain the core Christian value that those fallen branches, lying in the dirt, are all always OUR branches. I remain unconvinced that the requirement of an entrance fee of a specific declaration of faith is compatible with that core Christian belief.

    I do find the YMCA reference humorous. Its function was “grooming” and that it did. The Villiage People got the essence right. Search “Sexuality and the YMCA” and you will see what I mean.w

  22. I have no problem with AA being religious, I am a practicing Southern Baptist and have been saved by Jesus Christ. My real problem is that AA lies about what it is when it says it’s spiritual not religious in an attempt to lure as many “pigeons, characters, or marks” as Bill and Bob called newcomers. You can’t build trust on a lie. You can build an excellent cult however, it’s the real difference between the two. Well, that and the suppression of thought and critical thinking. Just saying….

  23. 36 years sober a day at a time. The only thing I would change about the AA book would be to substitute the words Higher Power for every mention of God. That would help stop the alienation so many feel. AA principles are not “christian principles”. They are the principles of all healthy societies and institutions. Christians, or any other religious grouping, do not or never did have a monopoly on such thinking so please stop destroying AA by trying to hijack it.

    • Dear Jerry,

      36 years sober and yet you have not done your AA History Lesson? AA is based firmly on Christian principles. Does that mean it’s only for Christians–no–that was the reason behind using the term “God of your own understanding”, so that all would be welcomed. Do an internet search of ‘The Oxford Group and Alcoholics Anonymous and you will find that what others and I have posted is true. There is also the book Dick B. mentioned, ‘Dr. Bob and the Good Old Timers.’

  24. Dry dogs and drunk dogs

    If you spell the word god backwards you get the word dog.
    All dogs have fleas, dry dogs and drunk dogs.
    I have been a dry dog for almost for years.

    If I get religious longings for god I put it down to fleabites.
    You can get rid of fleas with flea powder because too much
    itching can drive a dog to drink.

    Don’t worry about god or the 12 steps to enlightenment,
    Just go out and by some flea powder. Then you can relax
    and enjoy your sobriety without itching and biting other dogs
    on the way.

    Have a nice dry doggy day.

    Steve

    Germany

  25. First, I want to address the statement “some say {AA is}too strict, some say, not strict enough.” If a person is familiar with the AA program, not the people—there those, as in any other form of spirtual fellowship that espouse the ‘grace’ of the program, , i.e. “the only requirement is a desire to stop drinking”, and those of the law, “You must do this, e.g. “call your sponsor everyday, go to 90 meetings in 90 days.” (this isn’t anywhere in the big book or 12 and 12, btw). In any case, anyone is free to join, but what needs to be understood is this; like it or not it is a spiritual program and the centrality of the program is GOD. If someone doesn’t like the God stuff or anything else that is fundamental to the principles of AA , well then, they need to go and find something that works for them. Trying to change AA “ is like an atheist attending church and saying, “Stop talking about God, I’m an atheist!” Then what in heaven’s name are you doing there in the first place? Again, it’s fine if you’re an atheist—take what you want and leaves the rest, but don’t try to change AA into something that is more palatable to you. If a vegetarian goes to a steak house, would they stand up and demand that they not serve meat?

  26. Many of the foregoing commentators fail to mention the number of times a Christian in A.A. is told that people who read the Bible get drunk. Or the number of times a Christian in A.A. is rebuked in an open meeting for sharing what God has done for him that he could not do for himself. Or the number of times Christians in A.A. have to listen to the self-made religions that characterize a “higher power” as a chair, a table, Santa Claus, the Big Dipper, a light bulb, a Coke bottle, Something, Somebody, or “it.” The ones I have counted as friends and helped to get well over the past 27 years have heard it all. But they have managed to keep their focus on what Dr. Bob called “love and service” and what Bill W. wrote could be called the “love and tolerance” code.The degeneration of the original Akron A.A. pioneer Christian fellowship program into the blather and mindless chatter so common in meetings need not deter those who recovered and help others recover the same way the early Akron and Cleveland AAs did. All the absurd concepts and comments about “spirituality,” half-baked prayers, and higher powers are an integral part of the diverse A.A. and 12 Step meetings of today. That is why so many Christians today have gathered to make clear to those who want God’s help the role that God, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Bible played in the history, origins, Christian upbringing of the cofounders, and the original Akron AA Christian Fellowship founded in 1939. As one who has been continuously active and sober since my first day in A.A. and who has focused for decades on the history and biblical roots of A.A. and its increasing secularization, I haven’t found it necessary or advisable to stop helping drunks in A.A., to leave the fellowship, or to try quashing the remarks of those who today have chosen to follow the great compromise that Wilson and three others made in the steps at the last minute before printing the Big Book in 1939. The successes of Christians in early Akron A.A. and of their successors in Cleveland make these important historical facts–good and bad– part and parcel of what tolerant AAs must listen to and ignore if they are to carry out in their chosen fellowship and meetings the primary purpose of helping the still suffering alcoholics to recover and to point out the long history of successes in A.A. by those who chose and choose to rely on the power and love of God for recovery. Gloria Deo! And let me suggest that I am sure I never could have dug out of the cesspool of alcoholism and sleeping pill horrors and the troubles that went with them had I not walked in the doors of A.A. on April 23, 1886 and gone to any lengths to put my trust in Almighty God, stick with the winners, and help as many drunks as possible to do likewise and be victorious. Dick B.

  27. I went to AA after hitting a horrific bottom back in 2009. I got the watered down version, “Don’t drink, go to meetings, ask for help”, “Meeting makers make it” (Make what?! Meetings?) it wasn’t until I went back out, was on the brink of suicide (at that point, on my own self will) I surrendered to the God. My “Creator” as the current 4th edition states, revised 4 times. First edition says Christ. I truly believe in the Christian God & the 12 steps. It wasn’t until I fully let go of my own self-will & all those things “blocking me from God) that I was able to find that full unity with Him. There’s NO way, with all the alcoholic torture I put myself through, and in which God saved me from many near- death experiences, that I couldn’t believe. By working all 12 steps from a pretty early point & “Practicing these principles in all my affairs” was I truly able to find that full unity & 100% faith of that loving God & gain my self esteem & self respect back. Thank God (literally) I did not listen to those COWD AA’s who just told me “Keep coming”. AA is a program of action! And yes, being “Self centered to the extreme” as MOST true alcoholics are, I needed that humility to BRING me to God. He keeps me sober, as long as I follow His will for me & the “power to carry it out”. Note- AA “fellowship” & AA “program” are 2 different entities. The fellowship’s only requirement is an (honest) desire to stop drinking” and to “stay sober & help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety”. Sobriety= ABSTINENCE. If I was able to practice abstinence on my own self-will (run riot!) I wouldn’t need AA & wouldn’t go. The purpose of the “Big book” as revised 4X from “Alcoholics Anonymous: The story of how 100 men HAVE RECOVERED from alcoholism” is RECOVERY. Recovery from that mental obsession & spiritual malady in which I had suffered my Whole life, even before I picked up booze. For ME, I need RECOVERY. The halls of AA (aka “fellowship” is where I go to “escape boredom” and to help the next struggling alcoholic (STEP 12). I don’t go around thumping or preaching. I can only speak from MY experience & what truly saved me from death or those gates of insanity, from that mental obsession & insanity. And from honestly & fearlessly working the steps & practicing them in ALL my affairs, I live a life SECOND TO NONE only “But for the grace of God). I can accept anyone who can stay sober however they do. But for this “hopeless variety”, I needed to find God ASAP or I would have died a horrific alcoholic death. As Dr. Bob Smith said to William Wilson “Bill” & also at his “Farewell address” in OH, “LET’S NOT LOUSE THIS THING UP”. I visited W.G.W’s birthplace & grave last week & that presence of the divinity of God was inside me, as well as ALL AROUND. So wasn’t MANY preserved bible references. Like it or not, the ONLY AA’s I know sober and w/ CONTENTED sobriety follow those 12 steps. “Rarely (never) have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path”!!! Thank you, Dick B. Until I could offer myself with complete abandon, I could not stay sober. God put someone in my life when I was ready to end it SOBER to guide me through those steps, with “love & service” so I could find God, as they had. And I stay grateful. THY WILL BE DONE! Amen!

  28. @Dick B, what mtg’s do you go to? I live in central MA but STAY “willing to go to any lengths” for my RECOVERY. I keep the “H.O.W”. I’d love to go around to different meetings around MA. I go to Worcester & Framingham sometimes. District 26 is really struggling to follow that path. No, I have no intention of “changing” or “controlling” AA But need to “stick with the winners”. It’s sad. Rarely have we seen a person mention God, or even an “HP” at a mtg. I tolerate atheists in recovery, Buddhists, etc. it’s more about staying & living in the solution for me. I’ve had some sponsors tell me to “Just don’t drink, go to meetings, call me”. Thank God, literally, that I had that guy feeling that was not “the path”. I came really close to suicide when I came back into AA & I don’t play with this insidious malady at ALL. Need that “strong cup of Aa”. Copped out, watered down AA is not working for me. Was reading about those clubhouses in FL, & how, Once the “newcomer” is willing to accept that “design for living”, they take them right through the steps & then, once they finish 9 & practice 10-12, THOSE ones lead the newer ones on 1-3. It works! Rates out there are higher. It’s sad, but I’ve lost many young friends in AA to this not knowing any solution, thinking its all about “sponsor reliance”, “Meeting makers make it; just don’t drink”. I respect those ex-drinkers & alcohols that can get by doing that step 1 admission, meetings alone, & service work (step 12), but for ME, I need my ass kicked. Again, I thank God everyday that I have faced my demons already. Just lookin for a place where AA isn’t as watered down. Let me know. God bless!

  29. Agnostics and atheists have been with AA since the beginning, and have been major influences on the program, at least according to Bill W. More than 60 years ago he addressed this issue square on in a 1946 article in the Grapevine when discussing the Third Tradition:

    “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!”

    I am a grateful alcoholic, AA member since 1981, and SOBER member of We Agnostics of Hollywood since February 1, 1988. I also converted to Catholicism in 2000, but God has nothing to do with my AA program.

    • I love that Wilson quote.
      The local agnostic group is engaging our intergroup to get listed on the I/G web site.
      They even sent “thought inspectors” to their meetings to ensure compliance and report back.
      These self-appointed “guardians of truth” embody the hubris and “false pride” Bill warned about long ago.
      “When anyone, anywhere reaches out for help…” is inclusive of non- and-anti-believers too. The responsibility pledge is in perfect alignment with the code of patience, love, and tolerance.
      I sense here a general tone of intolerance against non-christians.
      Perhaps another Wilson quote is fitting:
      “It would be a product of false pride to claim that AA is a cure-all, even for alcoholism.”
      -“AA Comes of Age,” p. 232, © Alcoholics Anonymous® World Services Inc., New York

  30. and by the way don’t try to attack my credibility by calling me an addict. I’ve never been an addict and haven’t used drugs for years. But I am a member bc I have a desire to continue to not drink. I’m just sharing my experiences strength and hope at the cult meeting.

  31. I am a Big Book thumper, but I am a non-conformist AA member. What do I mean by that? Most so called “Big Book thumpers” contradict the literature and disregard the traditions left and right. They think alcoholics need this “tough love” invention that is no where to be found in the literature. There are no axes to grind, no people to please, no lectures to be endured…we cease fighting anything and anyone…NEVER talk down to an alcoholic from a spiritual or moral hilltop,..if he thinks he can do the job in another way or prefers another spiritual approach ENCOURAGE HIM TO FOLLOW HIS OWN CONSCIENCE as we have no monopoly on God…etc etc etc. So if someone tells me I MUST get a sponsor or the steps won’t work, I refuse to get one and simply work the steps as there is NO MENTION of getting a sponsor in the book, and in the sponsorship pamphlet it even says that not everyone has a sponsor although this has helped a lot of people. I have had good sponsors in the past, but I have decided over time to do the opposite of what the sheople in the rooms “suggest” which is their deceptive way of making an emotionally blackmailing demand. If a person is doing this “tough love” stuff, as I don’t need tough love(and I don’t think anyone else does either), I need step work and if I actually follow the book from the BEGINNING, I am READY to do the rest of the steps past step three. If people have to poke and prod me I am not willing to go to any lengths. If they demand that I do a fourth step a certain way, demand that I have this or that religion, demand that I have a sponsor, demand that I go to whatever number of meetings they do, demand I not read the stories as they aren’t part of the first 164 pages, demand that I insult my intelligence, demand that I speak the words that they think I should (as far as the prayers), let’s see, where was this covered, oh I don’t know maybe chapter five? If you oh newcomer would only have a sponsor like I want you to have, if you would only go to X number of meetings per week, if you would only practice the religion that I think you should, you would be happy, I would be happy, and the world would be lollipops and rainbows. We had to quit playing God, it didn’t work. Tough love TOTALLY contradicts the book-patience and tolerance of others is our code, we must always be hard on ourselves and NEVER on others(yet if I am a newcomer and some old timer comes at me practicing “tough love”, they are contradicting themselves before they finish their obnoxious sentence as THEY must be hard on themselves and NEVER on others and anyone outside of their head, you, me, the fencepost, ARE the others that it says to NEVER be hard on)-if someone has X number of years sober and can’t even follow the book they slap me with, why should I not blow off everything they say? They accuse me of not being “willing to follow a few suggestions”, yet I am actually following the book, I should become so unwilling to follow THEIR suggestions that I take it to the ends of the earth and drag my life through the mud which means that I reject their AAism and am following the book CLOSER by doing the opposite of their demands they are lying to me about by playing this silly game of semantics. I want to follow the AA program, not whatever recovery program they are following and shoving down my throat that has NOTHING to do with AA aside from vague similarities. Any demand that that type of AA member makes, I blow off and do the opposite because I want to follow the book and not some nonsense that isn’t AA.

  32. Many AA groups have thrown God out of the AA program, If this happens AA is no longer a recovery program but a sober social club. It is like taking the Buddha out of Buddhism.

    • Your ignorance of Buddhism is showing.
      A better analogy would be taking Santa Claus out of Christmas.
      It would look a bit different, but operate the same.
      Page xiv of the 4th edition “Big Book” states:
      “We are not allied with any particular faith, sect, or denomination… We simply wish to be helpful to those who are afflicted.”
      Besides, I’ve personally seen AA members ask their Sky-Daddy to remove their character defects one day, continue with the Wilson program of “defecating-on-the-gift-of-sobriety” (excessive smoking), or keep cheating on their spouses with multiple 13th step victims, then just shrug and claim, “I guess God isn’t ready to take them away!”
      Hiding behind a deity then blaming it for one’s bad behaviour is pure hypocrisy, incompatible with a program of “rigorous honesty.”

  33. Once a year I go to a small gathering here in NY a gratitude meeting. There are a few of us over 30 years sober each seems to represent a variety or tradition that the others finds suspect. This has been my experience as long as I have been sober. When I first started going to meetings there were still a number of people in Greenwich Village who wouldn’t take so much as an aspirin. They felt that (god could & would if he were sought relive their aches & pains) My sponsor would rant that prayer & meditation never filled a cavity there was always polite laughter. I lost my religion at 20 years in a Hospital emergency room & have never looked back. There are many powers that are greater than my (self)
    I try not to be a bleeding deacon but I am convinced that the rooms that I visit are the same size as they were when I started sitting in them 36 years ago & the population merely changes year after year.
    I’m sure some of the more religiously inclined might be alarmed if they realized Bill W used to do spiritual channeling &listen to various entities speak to him when he was writing the 12 & 12

    From Pass it On

    “Lois Wilson recounts some of her husband’s experiences of 1941. Saturday was generally the scheduled day for these psychic adventures. “Bill would lie down on the couch. He would ‘get’ these things. He kept doing it every week or so. Each time, certain people would ‘come in.’ Sometimes, it would be new ones, and they’d carry on some story.”

    Bill had letters to Father Ed Dowling about spiritualist sessions with supposed saints & former drunks.

    I think AA might have disappeared years ago if the 11th Step were written advocating that other members practice this themselves.

    Love is love I have no idea what tough love is !
    The only part of the fellowship that bothers me is creeping ritualism.

  34. I have been attending meetings for 36 years, and I have not had a drink -that is my faulty appeal to my authority on this post -nothing more. I knew I wanted to be DONE after the first month of a few meetings-(done drinking forever) and that AA would provide me with the knowledge to do so based upon what I was hearing at meetings.. l find meetings as marvelous now as when I was new. I marvel at the differences in personalities and understandings of the program. I’ve gone through a few stages of battling the program intellectually and emotionally -I call it my personal evolution. I’m the first to remind everyone AA is not a cult (though some try to make it so -with few comical adherents) and I suggest no one need to drink anyone else’s cool aid unless that might be their new drink of choice. I personally encourage as much criticism as possible -negative and positive from members as well as non members -as it can not but help AA now and in the future. Trust me only on this: AA can handle it -its healthy> My understanding of AA and its primary mission is for me and others in aa to “Help The Alcoholic who still suffers whether sober or drunk -and that certainly still includes me -for my spirituality is imperfect, and I still feel death, pain, loss, anxiety, suffering, joy, sadness, success, -you name it -if its human -I’m susceptible to it on God or the absence of God’s terms through the good and bad. I say if you are alcoholic -there is no better place than AA. I say never allow anyone else’s understanding of AA to devalue yours or silence yours. . I suggest you never leave AA -you are needed and you will continue to help us all whether you have a day or 50 years. I suggest you practice the steps as well as you can, and also the traditions. I think it a good idea to tolerantly commit to a home group come hell or high water, enjoy the fellowship -and don’t drink -the rest is up to you. Anyone who says AA is the only way to achieve sobriety is “whistling in the dark”, and though I may be taking it out of context -I think Bill W suggested once that “any alcoholic who criticizes another alcoholic is comical” I am not a fan of the cult of personality. Until That Time john (I speak for myself as an individual -not as a representative of anyone else’s AA). God I Love AA If you are not hearing what you need at a meeting -then I suggest you say it -group psychology notwithstanding, and by all means start your own meeting -a pot of coffee and another drunk. Thanks for the article. (I was just looking online for a meeting and found it)

  35. I’m struggling with remaining in AA because of Rehab Recovery and the 12 step movement taking over local groups. My sponsor was an alcoholic who got sober in 1964 and his sponsor got sober in 1954. Neither man “pushed” God on me or any Religious Affiliation. This even though both I and my sponsor were of the same faith and same denomination. When we were reading page 62 of “How it Works” with all it’s mention of God , he only had me underline two Sentences ” This is the How and Why of It. We must stop playing God ” He explained to me that there were many Fanciers and Pigeons in AA , who never bothered to read and comprehend those sentences. He explained that a Pigeon is good for one thing ” Carrying the message from here to there, but not so well at understanding the message. He then told me the true meaning of the 2nd step and why “God” is not mentioned in it?
    He had me read the preamble first. Then he said ” WE don’t save souls , WE Alcoholics to achieve Sobriety!” He told me He is Responsible for ANYONE who seeks help regardless of their beliefs and AA had a solution regardless of their beliefs!!!
    The solution of the 2nd step is not in “What you believe” “it’s rather in what you are willing to give up.” I can say SATAN is my Higher power, but then I must now take responsibility to stop “Playing SATAN” , The point is steps 1-3 you turn over your powerlessness, then you do Steps 4-9, then in 10 & 11 you can change your mind on your higher power if you choose as a result of the miracle that took place!

    • According to the third tradition the only requierment for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking. So if someone has tht desire-welcome. The way I was taught The big book was written before AA meetings came to be. The big book is AA The meetings are the fellowship. Now if I go to meetings Im in the AA fellowship, if I do the actions outlined in the 1st 164 pages im in AA. However if I attend meetings and attempt to rewrite the big book according to my own principles which landed me in AA to begin with im in the AA fellowship but not in AA. Our traditions are desinged to avoid such issues and since no particular person or group speaks for AA as a whole and our tenth tradition says we have no opinion on outside issues this is really a non issue. So whatever attemps to change AA occur is not really AA but some personalities over principles. Agnostics and athiests are welcome to attend AA meetings and do as they choose however there is a whole chapter in the big book devoted to just them. However any attempts to change the 12 steps isnt really AA. Today I choose a loving and all powerful creator I call God.

      • I really like the concept of “Radical Democracy” crafted by Wilson in the Traditions. Members and even groups have the right to be wrong.
        A group is an AA group if it says so: “…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!”
        There is no step, tradition, or concept that says a group must maintain the purity of AA literature. Some groups actually use the bible, which is not conference-approved (nor is the “our padre” prayer recited at the end of many meetings). See AAWS publication smf-29_en.pdf for details.
        I don’t think you have read the “We Agnostics” chapter. Many theists pass this over. I think it might be that they believe it doesn’t apply to them.
        In fact, it was written by Wilson in a condescending tone, and lacking the “patience/love/tolerance” message of his later tomes.
        Try reading it critically, instead of as “the inspired word of gawd.”
        On that note, Silkworth’s theory that alcoholism is an “allergy” was debunked in Barry Leach’s “Living Sober” (also conference-approved scripture) on page 68: “…alcoholism is not a true allergy.”
        Kinda shoots a hole in the concept of the Big Book being “God-breathed,” but whatever keeps one sober, “do it, do it, do it ’til ya satisfied.”

  36. If AA didn’t have controversy and varied opinions I would probably get bored and we know what that leads to. I’ve come to believe that AA really needs it and not to shy away from it. I love it when new comers blurt out that some of this stuff is freaking them out a little. I always applaud that. I like the Higer Power concept but find agnostics in the program the most tolerant. Increasingly, people in our society grow up with little or no religious experience so I understand why people feel “freaked our” by the mention of God. I encourage all to speak openly and freely. Not to apologize for how they feel. Someone already mentioned that AA can handle it. I agree. If people can get sober on the cliffs of Malibu, CA good on them. I won’t judge that and will cheer for them. Maybe AA should consider massage tables in our meetings, it would sure help someone. I just love hearing what everyone has to say. No, I don’t agree with everyone’s position but I still get something from everyone.

  37. Stephen Davis

    My name is Steve and I live in Germany. I am an alcoholic and I go to a
    selfhelp group called “Kreuzbund” which means “the fellowship of the cross”

    We are an abstinenz group and we meet once a week and talk about our recovery
    from alcohol addiction. We do not talk about a higher power or about god in our lives. We talk more about the reality of addiction. It works for us.

  1. [...] Alcoholics Anonymous wrestles with its spiritual rootsReligion News ServiceBEVERLY, Mass. (RNS) For Alcoholics Anonymous to continue helping addicts find freedom in sobriety, the 75-year-old organization has to reclaim its spiritual roots. That’s the message coming from reformers who say the group has drifted from core …and more » [...]

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