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Alcoholics Anonymous without Religion

Alcoholics Anonymous without Religion

As America becomes more pluralistic, organized religion is not the only institution that is changing. Alcoholics Anonymous, influenced by co-founder Bill Wilson’s religious experience in the Oxford Group, is beginning to change as secular humanists gain a voice within the organization through the We Agnostics and Freethinkers International A.A. Convention:

“They had this fake-it-till-you-make-it attitude,” recalled Glenn, 72. “This feeling that the religion will catch up with you. It worked in the sense that I got sober. But I got weary of it. It felt mindless.”

After 10 years without alcohol, Glenn ordered a glass of wine and spent the next five years suffering from what he wryly diagnoses now as “the merlot flu.”

Soon after resuming A.A., though, he heard about a meeting designed for atheists. Though he found that group dogmatic in its own way — more concerned with criticizing religion than with reinforcing sobriety — he subsequently discovered a meeting for humanists and freethinkers.

In its “fellowship of concerned, loving people,” he said, he found a secular version of the “Higher Power” to which A.A. literature refers. Humanist A.A. groups also have drafted their own nontheistic versions of the 12 steps. Instead of needing divine assistance for recovery, for example, one step states that “we needed strengths beyond our awareness and resources to restore us to sanity.”

Read the full story here.


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I read this story at the Times, and it confused me. How can AA be becoming “without religion”, when it’s not religious in the first place?

Yes, the 12 Steps use the word “God” for Higher Power—but it’s made clear that the G word is a rhetorical convention, not a metaphysical claim (some think of G-O-D as an abbreviation for “Good Orderly Direction” or even “Group O’ Drunks”! ;-/).

Atheists have ALWAYS been welcomed in 12 Step groups, as full and equal members. If they haven’t been by specific AA groups, then that’s the failure of those groups, who’ve failed to abide by AA guidelines.

JC Fisher

I confess that, when I first joined Emotions Anonymous ( ) in Michigan, the group I was a member of used the Lord’s Prayer to conclude meetings. I always thought this was strange. Since then, I’ve moved to California, and the group I attend ends meetings w/ the (non-sectarian) Serenity Prayer. Much better!

John D. Andrews

I remember an AA member once saying his higher power, when he first joined AA, was a nail in the middle of an outhouse floor.

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