Rebellion Dogs our every step

Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life - Recent Praise & Fall Specials.
Celebrating the road to the first ever We Agnostics & Freethinkers International AA Conference, we offer three specials for the month of October:

1) Can't decide? Get the eBook and paperback of Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life together for $20. Click on BOOKSTORE and order yours.

2) Better together, save by getting Beyond Belief + The Little Book: A Collection of Alternative 12 Steps together for $25.00

3) the "Me and a friend" combo: Buy two copies of Beyond Belief, paperback or combo and we'll cover the shipping cost.
Recent praise:
5 out of 5 stars: "Sometimes, the daily meditation books used in 12-step recovery programs seem a little too trite. This one, written for atheist and agnostics in the Fellowship, is a breath of fresh air. There is not a lot of bashing the God-talk; 'Live and Let Live' is applied, along with the fact that squabbling within the Fellowship compromises its primary mission. I recommend this highly for those in the atheist/agnostic camp or those looking for a change of scene. However, the selections are a bit too long for reading in meetings."
JB, St. Louis MO

5 out of 5 stars: "Amazing, the index makes this deserve 10 stars! Wow buy a couple copies because you will want everyone in recovery to have this!"
HB, Bashtop TX

"The author garners quotes from a wide range of writers and thinkers i.e. Socrates, Bertrand Russell, Scott Peck, Oprah Winfrey and Bill W. The author is clearly widely read, an autodidact and scholar of life, who asks probing and challenging questions as to what the reader is doing, thinking or practicing in their life. I have recommended Beyond Belief to clients who are attempting to lead a sober life as well as those who face the challenges of 'life'."
Wray Pascoe, Ph.D.
Family Therapist
Clinical Fellow AAMFT

In 140 characters or less, we heard from United Church Minister, author and atheist Gretta Vosper from her Twitter Feed, @grettavosper:

Phenomenal book you wrote. I have shared it often. Thank you for being so generous with your wisdom
Gretta Vosper was recently in the news on Faith Street which you can read about Progressive Christianity.

Welcome to Rebellion Dogs Publishing: October 29, 2014: Today, you can be among the first to hear Episode 8 of Rebellion Dogs Radio  Looking at dual-diagnosis - what's it like to have addiction +  ADHD or OCD? Guests on this show include guitarist Paul Nelson who played with and managed Johnny Winter and, outside of the realm of most management functions, dealt with his childhood legend's OCD and helped taper Johnny Winter off of methadone. Our other guest will be Psychiatrist Tim Bilkey who wrote a book called Fast Minds: How to Thrive If You Have ADHD. We're very excited about this new show and the generous time our guests spent with us.

Transcripts and links are coming soon, so please come back for links to Tim Bilkey's book and Johnny Winter's music and documentary.

Joe C. is featured in AAagnosica where the recovery community are talking about his article, Letting Go of God: How 12-Step programs are letting go of their religion. It's a reprint from the feature, earlier this month in  Substance.Com - if you you haven't seen it, take a few minutes to browse this timely article. If you have read it it, come see the commentary offered since Sunday when it was posted.

And while you're there, if you aren't already counting donw days - AAagnositca talks about the program and speaker bios for We Agnostics and Freethinkers International A.A. Conference. It's not to late to do something impulsive and be part of history.

Soon, many internet friends are going to meet in Santa Monica. The clock is ticking.... November 6th, 7th, and 8th, (9 days away) is the first ever WAFT IAAC in Santa Monica. Rebellion Dogs will be there. We spend so much time doing commentary on 12&12 history, it will be nice to be part of making it for a change. Get the info HERE.

Christianity a la carte – is religion a take-what-you-like-and-leave-the-rest proposition? More and more, we’re hearing from secular members of Abrahamic faith who make no apologies for embracing what they like about religious life and outing themselves on what they don’t like or agree with. Some atheists, who grew up religious tradition, still like the singing, community and moral parables of their youth. Maybe they like the outfits and stained glass windows; I don’t know. So let’s turn to someone who does. Laurie A. is a BBC journalist, author and is celebrating 30 years of sobriety. On AA-agnostica Laurie talks about, how as a born-again Christian, atheist he has learned to take what he likes and let go of the rest of Christian life. Read all about it.

Also in AA-agnostica, Sober & Out the new book by Grapevine celebrates LGBTQ culture in AA. John L. reviews the book on AA-agnostica. This is a great look at what it means to be marginalized in the last house on the block. READ IT NOW

William L. White is someone in addiction/treatment that, when he has something to say, I'm listening. Every Friday he blogs. Here's on about listening. I believe that people don't need to be told; they need to feel like they're being heard. Bill White puts it so well HERE. See what you think.

The Ontario Science Centre hosted's 6th Many Faces of Addiction, October 1st and 2nd in Toronto. Greetings to Many Faces of Addiction delegates visiting us for the first time. You may have been drawn here from a Rebellion Dogs Publishing bookmark in your delegate bag. Thanks for stopping by. Please join our mailing list (look right) for updates on blogs, radio shows, interviews, book reviews and specials.

Dr. TIm Bilkey, a specialist on ADHD adults spoke this year and we look forward to welcoming him to Rebellion Dogs Radio soon, to talk about Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder as it affects people with addiction and what challenges it presents us in recovery. Let us know what your best Many Faces take-away was at NEWS [AT]RebellionDogsPublihsing.COM

A Transcript is now available for download or circulation to Episode Seven of Rebellion Dogs Radio podcast. Is the Big Book became the center-piece of an AA meeting.  Big Book: Sacred or Out-dated looks at what is sacred and what is forbidden in 12 Step rooms. We draw on Stewards past and present who urge us to think about the two sides of the 12 Tradition coin - Protection, Progress. What happens if you have one without the other?

Celebrating 2,250 books bought:
Beyond Belief reaches a new milestone. Rebellion Dogs thanks you for your support to spread the word so that Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life hit the 2,000 units purchased in August. Beyond Belief is continues to find its way to 100 more bedside tables, breakfast nooks and mobile devices each month. Thank-you from Rebellion Dogs.

The first few thousand people to embrace anything new are early adapters. Long before Beyond Belief might become a halfway-household name in addiction/recovery circles, individuals have to stand up and be counted. While we never planned or hoped for a best-seller, we hope that it is more "before its time" than " a niche book for a marginalized population". Another reality that indie book publishers must be mindful of is that the public, not the marketing department gets to decide what's a well written book that satisfies an unmet need; lots of indie titles never see 500 life-time sales.

You early adapters are mavericks (to borrow your word, Chuck). You don't follow the herd and you breathe life into off-the-radar projects like this. You put your own reputation on the line every day and put in a good word for Beyond Belief to others. We don't forget how we got here so again, "thank you."

There are two things we can afford to do at this point to make our gratitude more meaningful. We are discounting a couple of ways to buy Beyond Belief.  The eBook version of Beyond Belief will be permanently discounted. It came out at $11.99 (a buck for each month of the year) and now from iTunes, Kobo, Barns and Noble, Amazon, your favorite indie eBook retailer or direct from us, the price is $9.99. We also have two ways we now celebrate the indecisive. If you can't decide if you want a paperback or eBook, have both. If you order a paperback and Kindle version from Amazon you can now have both for $20.00. It's called "MatchBook." You can also get a paperback and ePUB for any eReader from our Bookstore page as a combo for $20 (plus shipping). We'll email your ePub Beyond Belief within 24 hours and ship a paperback to follow.  

For a third time, thank you on and all for your support.

In December 2009 Joe C had an article published in AA's Grapevine called Overhaul? Is our 20th century literature up for the task of aiding the 21st century newcomer? Hear it here. overhaul? AA Grapevine   More interestingly, hear the feed back here.  Grapevine Reader Replies

Counselors, 12-Step groups, book-clubs: If you want to get a batch of Beyond Belief and/or The Little Book, we can reduce costs on orders of six or more. CLICK HERE

Anyone ordering six or more copies are entitled to discounts.

Rebellion Dogs Radio Don't want to read the blogs? Click on the podcast button and listen on your computer, smartphone or any mobile device. We look at all kinds of issues in addiction and recovery - now with more bite and less dogma. Get Rebellion Dogs Radio theme music or browse other songs by The Chronicles HERE

We are very pleased to announce the selection of Rev. Ward Ewing as WAFT IAAC keynote speaker! Rev. Ewing is a non-alcoholic who has been involved with AA for 33 years and, having served as a Class A Trustee of the General Service Board for 11 years and as Chair for 4 years, is now a Chair Emeritus. He is also an ordained Episcopal priest, theological scholar, and recently retired as the Dean and President of the General Theological Seminary in New York. Read more about Ward Ewing

You can now buy an Amazon Gift Card for yourself or others - it's like the gift of knowledge and entertainment. Recovery books, electronics, movies, music and more.

Publisher-direct bulk order discounts for treatment professionals HERE.           KOBO New Year special, If you are akin to Kindles, get Beyond Belief on

Finally, Recovery Books for Nonbelievers, Freethinkers and Everyone
(welcome Counselor Magazine readers)

Order Beyond Belief from Amazon HERE.

Great eBook deals: Barnes & Noble have Beyond Belief available for $US10.19 and paperback for $17.22. Compare with Amazon for Kindle.

If you're a KOBO customer click HERE and find out how your purchase of our eBook can support your favorite independent book store.

Two books that belong together. If you visit or live in Toronto, North America's largest mental health book store is Caversham Booksellers at 98 Harbord, steps west of Spadina. You can find (and buy) Beyond Belief and The Little Book: A Collection of Alternative 12 Steps or anything you are looking for in addiction/recovery, psychotherapy, philosophy, science and religion. I find it hard to leave there empty handed. Drop in say "Hi," if you find yourself near Bloor and Spadina in Toronto, Canada.

Roger C's new book called, The Little Book: A Collection of Alternative 12 Steps is something I am quite excited about it. It is the ultimate mate to Beyond Belief; one is a daily reflection book and the other is a freethinker's workbook for the Twelve Steps. You can order it from our Beyond Belief page.

Please note that Beyond Belief is a popular book title used for everything from Scientology to sporting achievements, UFOs and religion. When searching "Beyond Belief: Agnostic" or "Beyond Belief 12 Step" will work.
News and Blogs from Rebellion Dogs
From "A Newcomer Asks..." AA pamphlet p-24 Q: “There is a lot of talk about God, though, isn't there?”

A: The majority of A.A. members believe that we have found the solution to our drinking problem not through individual willpower, but through a power greater than ourselves. However, everyone defines this power as he or she wishes. Many people call it God, others think it is the A.A. group, still others don't believe in it at all. There is room in A.A. for people of all shades of belief and non-belief.
Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, William G. Wilson, page 27 “You can, if you wish, make A.A. itself your 'higher power.' Here's a very large group who have solved their alcohol problem. In this respect they are certainly a power greater than you, who have not even come close to a solution. Surely you can have faith in them. Even this minimum of faith will be enough.”

Hollywood California will host We Agnostics A.A. Conference November 6 to 8, 2014. See or download a FLYER for this historic first international convention for A.A. freethinkers et al. Rebellion Dogs is going. Registration is now open. To help with outreach in your area or to get on the mailing list to stay in the loop, contact, WeAgConvention AT gmail DOT com.

Check our links for great Freethinking places to go. The recovery community consists of 20 million addicts who have turned the corner on addiction to booze, drugs, sexual and romantic obsession, online-gaming, food, gambling, workaholism and more.

Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life
Finally a daily reflection book for nonbelievers, freethinkers and everyone.


join the rebellion


news with less dogma and more bite!

periodic emails - just when there's something awesome.

You are visitor number: 13866

Rebellion Dogs Blog

The Big Book: Sacred or outdated? What AA Stewards, past and present say about progress vs protection Podcast

The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous - On one side are the thumpers, muckers and literalists who claim than no modality has touched the healing force of the Twelve Steps as outlined in Alcoholics Anonymous. On the other side, reformers say it's misogynistic, religious, archaic, while it was a good start to the mutual-aid discussion, as the center-piece of any AA meeting today, it makes us look Amish-like, declining modern customs for the ways of our ancestors.

I have been in the middle of these debates. But today I ask, what does it matter? If you like the book, read it from Foreword to 164, over and over. If you don't, leave it be. Recommend that your group read something else, or nothing at all. Or maybe we should talk about a new book instead of a revised book - either/or instead of one or the other.

If you don't like back-to-basics style of AA, get REALLY back-to-basics with AA as an oral tradition, no book, a one-day-at-a-time program of showing up, opening up, helping others. There is no need to feel persecuted by a book that has no opinion on your impression of it and no wish to control you. The authors didn't canonize the founders or make the text sacred; my generation did that. Sorry - our bad.

Stewardship is about two roles - preparing and protecting. Ask any parent how hard it is to be good at both. On Episode Seven, we look at the opinions of trusted servants who have served at AA's General Service Conference in the 1980s, the turn of the century and current (Panel 63 General Service Conference). We will hear a plea for AA to always be progressive, to never rest on our laurels. We will hear the protective argument about how imaginative personalization of an age-old-process is sacrilege. One side says rigidity will cause the death of AA. The other side says experimentation isn't worth the risk. Bill Wilson said that both progress and protection were what he had in mind with the Twelve Traditions. "You can't have one without the other."

Sources used in today's radio show:
Better Times (Toronto September 2014) "Don't mess with the message"
Bob P's (1961 to 1986) "If you were to ask me what is the greatest danger facing A.A. today, I would have to answer: the growing rigidity -- the increasing demand for absolute answers to nit-picking questions; pressure for G.S.O. to "enforce" our Traditions; screening alcoholics at closed meetings; prohibiting non-Conference-approved literature, i.e., "banning books"; laying more and more rules on groups and members."
John K, 2003: "Our co-founders were pragmatists - try something,test it, change it, review it, test it, then change, review,test it again."

You will hear about our need for protection, of progress too, and how challenging it is to gain balance and consensus on both.

At the time of recording we have Southern Californian on our mind as the We Agnostics and Freethinkers International Conference of Alcoholics Anonymous is coming to Santa Monica November 6 to 8. So we invite LA newcomer Mia Dyson to perform her song, "Idyllwild," her little patch of Southern California.

Visit Pod-0-matic to hear or download the show:

For a transcript of Episode VII, click HERE

Rebellion Dogs Book Club: Podcast 6 talks about good reads Podcast

Get your reading spectacles on – It’s Book Club time!Podcast #6 looks at great recovery books that widen our gateway.

On you will find a bookstore. We’re talking about reading on this blog-post (and podcast). Not only is planet Earth’s first secular daily reflection book, Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life available in our book store but many eBooks and hard-copy books by and for addicts/alcoholics/codependents are available.

As 12-Steppers, we are all readers/listeners and we are all storytellers or writers. It was flattering and fascinating for us to read Not God: A History of Alcoholics Anonymous because Ernie Kurtz isn’t one of us. He is observing us and telling us and the whole world what he sees.

Chuck Palahniuk is an author we associate with fiction. He wrote Fight Club. He has a 2004 book called Stranger than Fiction: True Stories. In his introduction he talks about the similarities of crafting a true story and a fictional story. He studied us, too. Palahniuk attended self-help groups for those who suffered from various sicknesses and addictions. When we think about the relevance of reading about our stories or about telling our stories, there is value in hearing what outsiders say about our oral tradition of carrying the message. Chuck Palhniuk describes twelve-step groups (or other support groups) in this way:

“…they’ve come to serve the role that organized religion used to. We used to go to church to reveal the worst aspects of ourselves, our sins. To tell our stories. To be recognized. To be forgiven. And to be redeemed, accepted back in to our community. This ritual was our way to stay connected to people, and to resolve our anxiety before it could take us so far from humanity that we would be lost.
“In these places I found the truest stories. In support groups. In hospitals. Anywhere people had nothing left to lose, that’s where they told the most truth…
“While researching my fourth book, Choke, I sat in on sex-addicts talk therapy sessions, twice each week for six months. Wednesday and Friday nights.
“In so many ways, these rap sessions weren’t much different that the Thursday-night writers’ workshop I attended. Both groups were just people telling their stories. The sexaholics might’ve been a little less concerned about “craft,” but they still told their stories of anonymous bathroom sex and prostitutes with enough skill to get a good reaction from their audience. Many of these people had talked in meetings for so many years that hearing them, you heard a great soliloquy. A brilliant actor paying him- or herself. A one-person monologue that showed an instinct for slowly revealing key information, creating dramatic tension, setting up payoffs and completely enrolling the listener. …
“Telephone sex lines, illness support groups, twelve-step groups, all these places are schools for learning how to tell a story effectively. Out loud. To people. Not just to look for ideas, but how to perform.
“We live our lives according to stories. About being Irish or being balck. About working hard or shooting heroin. Being male or female. And we spend our lives looking for evidence—facts and proof—that support our story. As a writer, you just recognize that part of human nature.”

One of the things we notice when we look at AA’s new pamphlet, “Many Path’s to Spirituality,” the publication doesn’t try to define spirituality. It draws from the experience of spirituality expressed from a few very varied storytellers of different creedal and cultural backgrounds and it expresses that not only is there no wrong way to do AA, but that there isn’t even a preferred way to get and stay sober a’la Alcoholics Anonymous. It talks about many paths to experiencing spirituality without feeling obligated to defining it. Ours is an oral (or written) tradition of sharing our experiences. AA has been either lucky or wise in never hand-cuffing ourselves to a definition of addiction nor a definition of recovery. We describe how it looks and feels to each other. And that, is good enough. Certainly, it’s as good as it gets in the rooms of 12-Step recovery.

Listen to the podcast for a review of these books, available as eBooks or hard-copies.

My Name is Lillian and I’m an Alcoholic (and an Atheist):
A Skeptics Guide to the 12 Steps (1990) by Philip Z Vince Hawkings books include An Atheist’s Unofficial Guide to AA

Waiting: A Nonbeliever’s Higher Power by Marya Hornbacher.

A Freethinker in Alcoholics Anonymous is by author, John Lauritsen

Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life & The Little Book: A Collection of Alternative 12 Steps are available at a discount when ordering six or more copies.

So there’s a glimpse into what’s on my bookshelf. Feel free to stockpile or order one-a-moth from or, if you have a favorite bookstore, they can order any of these. Let us know what we’re missing and/or should be talking up.
There have been some books that I have read and wouldn’t recommend. I stick to the, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” motto. That’s a rule I will break, but you really have to inspire me with stubbornness or stupidity for me to rant away with a counter-point. The book The Sober Truth (Episode Four) was one of these examples.

A PDF transcript of this show is available HERE. Come back and visit any time after August 8th. Enjoy the (Rebellion) Dog Days of summer.

Boyhood: Cinematic clues to life, maturity, family & values 

A boy says, “Mommy, when I grow up, I want to be a songwriter.” The Mother smiles and replies, “Now darling, you know you can’t do both.”

“Rebellion dogs our every step” in our constant quest of self-improvement. Sometimes it’s time to put the pop-psychology books aside and look for answers elsewhere. In this blog-post we visit the film, music, comedy and art festival, North By North East to see what we might see. NXNE was stoked to host Richard Linklater’s 12-years-in-the-making, Boyhood with Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette (June 14th, 2014). It was set for theatrical release in July. We are introduced to Lorelei Linklatter who plays sister/daughter, “Samantha,” and Ellar Coltrane (pictured) as son/brother “Mason.” The story follows two kids from a broken home. The movie is filmed with the same actors over a series of shoots spanning twelve years—the boyhood of Mason who grows from age six to eighteen before our movie-viewing eyes. Rotten Tomatoes fans treat this three-hour epic a better than nine out of ten rating.

Honestly, my first impression (reaction) was that while Boyhood is a movie of heart-warming moments, I felt that guilt. That guilt is the white, male developed world privilege guilt that comes from passively nodding along with another Hollywood movie whereby female roles are props that support a well crafted male character’s tale. Why wasn’t the movie called, Childhood? Wasn’t the experience happening to the boy the same for the girl over twelve years?

Director Maximón Monihan, was in Toronto for NXNE to screen La Voz de los Silenciados (The Voice of the Voiceless). Having seen Boyhood for the second time, he offered me these clues. “Linklater is a bit of a jock so maybe he is isn’t as comfortable writing female parts. Maybe he just writes what we knows best. And the girl was played by his daughter so maybe he thought it would be gauche to portray her character in a more dramatic way.” Still, I thought, making a movie over 12 years, you get all the second chances you could ever dream of. What was I missing? I followed the markers in the story and it took me until the next morning to add them all together.
La Voz de los Silenciados (The Voice of the Voiceless)
Setting aside my guilty conscience, I came to see that this is a movie about male-hood. Manhood is a hard role to pull off with unanimous approval. Ethan Hawke’s character was a boy-father, under-developed and finding himself on the wrong side of the Patricia Arquette character’s underwhelmed report card. He became the classic absentee father. He returns to his kids’ lives but is unwelcome in the role of second-chance husband. He becomes Disneyland-dad, doing what he can to enrich his kids’ lives with encouragement, camping, roughhousing, bowling and important talks. Hawke’s character is still chasing the dream of a singer/songwriter, resisting the sell-out of a paper-pushing day job. Still, he takes some courses, gets his actuarial license and settles into a job with an insurance company because, “life is expensive.”

Arquette’s character introduces the audience to a small parade of second and third choice father-figure partners that go from Prince Charming to over-controlling drunkard over a series of scenes. As with the lead male characters, none of the males in the movie ever ace the role of manhood in the eyes of those whose judgment matters. The male characters are more akin to aging boyhood. It’s a movie of tragic flaws. Like the Goldilocks story, everyone’s too rigid or too chaotic—no one’s just right. It’s a movie of donkeys chasing carrots they never get to taste. It’s a taste of real-life.

Boyhood is a movie about the days in the life of a boy, looking for clues from what promises remain from the American dream. As a sociology project it is all this and more. We explore the incompleteness and imperfection of our own humanity. The audience is complicit, watching with the same lofty expectations of manhood. In an era of super-hero movies this ain’t one of them. The movie poster is so obvious—once the penny drops. We see a boy looking at his father through a magnifying glass—how cute; how telling.

As a first run movie it will do what it does; I wish it all the success. As a lesson in sociology, this film will have the shelf life of a Catcher in the Rye or Gulliver’s Travels. The kids grow into adults in this movie, learning their lessons from both mom and dad. Hawke’s character grows into the man—the father—that Arquette wanted him to be. Ethan Hawke played a guitar pickin’ songwriter who must have had some appeal to Arquette’s character for the purposes of breeding, didn’t meet the standard from her expectation as a provider. How could he grow up and be a songwriter at the same time?

The movie is called Boyhood because it is as much about Hawke’s character’s perpetual boyhood, as it is about Mason’s evolution. Parenthood is something we catch up to; we don’t prepare for it. Manhood comes as boyhood wanes but without the clarity of values and purpose that we expect. Hawke’s great fatherly
advice comes with love and humor throughout the move. Later in the flick, as Mason is learning to drive, we are treated to this pithy philosophy for life. “Be aware of three cars ahead and two behind you. Remember, it takes two bad drivers to cause an accident.”

Boyhood: See it with someone who matters

Other notable considerations from NXNE courtesy of
Vann “Piano Man” Walls was a composer/piano player working for Atlantic Records. Walls song credits are legendary even if he never became a household name. The documentary follows Walls’ history, the story of African American (Race music) musicians and includes cameos by Ry Cooder, Johnny Winter and Leon Russell. Vann "Piano Man" Walls - The Spirit of R&B
This gothic comedy out of the UK is a tale of an accidental serial killer born of black-comedic clumsiness. It’s quirky; it’s worth; it's called Whoops!
Let’s Ruin It is the tale of the RVIP Lounge, a mobile karaoke bar and the people who keep the party going. NXNE was the international debut for the movie. Kestrin Pantera, the writer, director and star is no stranger to Toronto as she has been a cellist for Beck, Weezer and emerging indie rock bands. See a trailer to Lets Ruin It With Babies
Riot on the Dance Floor is a must see as part of any music enthusiasts rock 'n' roll education about Do-It-Yourself work ethic. This story of Randy Now and City Garden (Trenton NJ) is a seminal expose of how punks and metal heads pioneered the music scene of the 21st century. 
Nirvana, Dead Kennedys, D.O.A., But Hole Surfers, Ween, R.E.M. The Ramones and Black Flag all played there.

See a trailer to Riot on the Dance Floor

Quiet Riot drummer Frankie Banali and director Regina Russell were onsite at Hot Docs Theatre in Toronto for the debut of Well Now You're Here, There's No Way Back - The Quiet Riot Movie.

You don't have to into the band or the scene to appreciate this story of sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll, the consequences and the compulsion that drives both addiction and creativity.
The Uncluded is an American alternative hip hop group, formed by rapper Aesop Rock and singer-songwriter Kimya Dawson. Their animated video Organs considers the painful process of grief and grace surrounding organ donation. See Organs HERE
Director and musician (Hot Panda) Chris Connelly had two quirky animated shorts at NXNE. Two back up dancers from the Van Halen video for “Panama” reunite 30 years later, only to find out that their lives have gone in two very different directions. See Panama trailer.

Actor Ryan Beil attempts to get into the Guinness Book of World Records by listing all twenty two Canadian Prime Ministers in three seconds. See the entire The Prime Minister Challenge.


Get your Pride On, AA: What AA can learn from World Pride Podcast

Read, view or print as a PDF
For 30 years, Toronto has celebrated lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual & queer (LGBTQ) Pride. This year, Toronto was host to Word Pride. According to the World Pride Toronto website the full diversity of celebrants June 22 to 29th, 2014 is an estimated attendance of over 1.2 million people honoring the history, courage, diversity and future of Toronto’s (and the world’s) LGBTTIQQ2SA communities. The full acronym includes: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer/Questioning, 2 Spirited, Allies.[i]

What can 12-Step based societies learn from World Pride? Are we ahead of or behind the curve in terms of inclusivity and anti-discrimination? Let’s have a look.
Over 100 same-sex couples, who came to Toronto for World Pride, got legally hitched while they were here because same-sex marriages aren’t recognized where they live. Lesbian Premier of Ontario (Y’all have Governors of States; we have Premiers of Provinces), Kathleen Wynne, was out for the parade. What’s so civilized about Canadian politics is an extension of what is healthy about Canadian society. Our heads of state are not subject to narrow questions like, “What’s going to be different for Ontario with a queer Premier?” or “How does being a lesbian affect your policy making?” Premier Wynne was grilled about her policies and service record in the recent election but I don’t remember any member of the media asking her about her sexuality. After all, they don’t ask other politicians what they do in the bedrooms or back alleys of our nation.
The Pride Parade finished just before a summer storm hit Toronto and Pride concluded in the streets of Toronto, graced by a rainbow that stretched across the sky.

That’s what a harassment-free, discrimination-free society can look like; within the society, people are sexually diverse but neither right nor wrong. We are straight but not narrow,LGBTQ—out, closeted or discreet if you prefer. Be proud or conflicted. Neither is abnormal and neither is reserved for any gender identification or sexual orientation bias. Toronto Ontario Canada isn’t in a state of happy-ever-after. There is still discrimination, harassment and issues that deserve attention and compassion. To many who visited here last week, Toronto is a breath of fresh air. “To come from such a conservative city where we live in Erie, to here where it is such an amazing, amazing display of people and humanity,” Kathy Czarnecki-Smith told CBC News.[ii]

World Pride week got me thinking about what diversity and inclusion can look like. It’s all fine and good to have someone from AA say, “This is Joe from the Beyond Belief group—you know—that group for atheists and agnostics.” Why not just say, “This is Joe from the Beyond Belief group”? Every designated other through AA history has gone through it: she’s an alcoholic—how shameful; We’d like to help the negro alcoholic but we have our reputation to think of; He’s an alcoholic but he’s so young; Pete’s an addict; who can blame him, being gay and all. That is a slice of real life in our 75 year history. So why should AA members with a natural, not a supernatural, worldview be any different? In tribes, like AA or any other subcultures, the majority marginalize the minority, be it intentional or systemic? Today, typical statements towards members who reject the sobriety-granting God idea, include, “How do you stay sober without God? That sounds like a dry-drunk. Keep coming honey, you’ll get it eventually.”

A highlight at the 1985 World Conference of Alcoholics Anonymous in Montreal, was a talk given by Barry L about our Traditions and great strides made between AA and our relationship with the LGBTQ community. At a gay and lesbian meeting, attended by about one thousand members, Barry recalls, “We weren’t in closets; we were sealed in vaults.” Barry L was making light of when he got sober 40 years earlier, when AA was in our early years and homosexuals were considered to be sexual deviants. In 1945 there was no Gay Pride. There was secrecy. Our Third Tradition suggests to members and groups who can join Alcoholics Anonymous. Membership is not granted; it is an inherent right to anyone with a desire to stop drinking.
Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (The 12 & 12) presents 24 essays by Bill W about our Steps and Traditions. In the essay on Tradition Three, “The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking,” there are three examples that tested our seemingly reckless inclusivity in the early years.
There is the story of a man whom Bill called “Ed.” We know this to be loosely Jim B’s story—the defiant atheist who thought AA would be better without all this God malarkey. He offended many members who wanted him out. And they were about to cast out the one for the betterment of the many. The story goes as follows:

The elders led Ed aside. They said firmly, “You can’t talk like this around here. You’ll have to quit it or get out.” With great sarcasm Ed came back at them. “Now do tell: Is that so?” He reached over to a bookshelf and took up a sheaf of papers. On top of them lay the Foreword to the book Alcoholics Anonymous, then under preparation. He read aloud, “The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking.” Relentlessly, Ed went on, “When you guys wrote that sentence, did you mean it, or didn’t you?”

Dismayed, the elders looked at one another, for they knew he had them cold. So, Ed stayed.[iii]

Ed, or Jim B., not only stayed but he helped establish AA in both Baltimore and Philadelphia. He lived sober, outliving both official cofounders. In the 12 & 12, there is a second story of a sexual deviant who sought refuge in Akron AA. In a talk Bill gave at his 35th year of continuous sobriety, he expands on this Third Tradition story:

For example, a fellow came to Dr. Bob and said, “I’m an alcoholic; here is my history. But I also have this other ‘complication.’ Can I join A.A.?” Bob threw it out to all the other deacons, while the poor guy waited.

Finally, there was some kind of hearing on it among the self-appointed elders. I remember how perfectly Bob put it to them. He reminded us that most of us were practicing Christians. Then he asked, “What would the Master have thought? Would He have kept this man away?” . . . The man came in, was prodigious worker, and was one of our most respected people.
So, out of antecedents like this one, our Third Tradition was born: that any person having a drinking problem—if he says so—is entitled to join A.A., and nobody can deny him this right. This, indeed, is a great irony—enormous freedom welling up out of grief and slavery to the bottle.”

Imagine asking the question, “What members or groups would Jesus have us exclude from AA?” That’s the standard Dr. Bob asked the God-fearing deacons to measure their actions by.

Another story is told from Barry L’s firsthand account as he was answering the phone and minding the door to the 41st Street (AA) clubhouse. In Barry’s 1985 talk[v], he recalls:

One of the chores you could do is answering the phone, sitting at the desk and greeting visitors. One day a policeman on the corner sent in to see us, a black man. That in itself was unusual in Manhattan in 1945. We had no black AA members then; we did not really start seeing black members in AA until 1946. But the black man came in and he had long blonde hair, a-la Veronica Lake. He was also a master cosmetician. He was a wonder with a brush on his face. He was absolutely beautiful. Strapped to his back were all his worldly belongings. He said he was just released from prison and he needed help. He began to tell us his problems. Among other things, he was homosexual and he was a dope-fiend. . . I asked a number of the older members who had been around for some time “what should I do?” and they all left. No all, I shouldn’t say that. One dear old soul—a gal named Fanny—stayed and really tried to help the man.

But she didn’t get too far; she didn’t really know the answer to this so I thought I would call the man who had been sober the longest. So I put some coffee down for the man and I called Bill. I told him the story, “We don’t really know what to do, he needs all kinds of help. Bill listened and then he was quiet for a few moments and then Bill said, “Did you say this man is a drunk?” Oh yes, we could all tell that, instantly. “Well,” said Bill, “then I think that’s the only question we have any right to ask.”
(Thunderous applause from the Montreal audience).
Montreal Canada hosted the 1985 World Conference of Alcoholics Anonymous

Also, when Barry was almost a year sober, he tells the story of how three AA women took him to lunch to talk with Bill about the ideas of special groups for gays and for lesbians. Barry recalls that Bill said that this could be the best thing to come down the pipe, but he wasn’t sure. Could Barry come and see him again when he was 18 months sober? At that time Bill thought both Barry and he could think about the matter more. Barry never did return to have that talk because by the time he was 18 months sober, there were so many gays and lesbians it hardly seemed necessary.

Under the employ of Alcoholics Anonymous, Barry was a staff writer. He wrote Living Sober and the pamphlet Do You Think You’re Different? He also recorded the General Service Conference and wrote the General Service Conference Report. By the early 1970s there were many groups/meetings for gays and lesbians. Barry tells the story of this significant crossroad:

It was my job in 1973 and 1974 to write the Conference Report and those were the two years that the question of listing lesbian and gay groups arose.

That came about from some pressure from some wonderful people in Southern California. All kinds of wonderful things come out of Southern California. They wanted to list themselves as gay groups or lesbian groups and the General Service Office, of course, has a very ticklish job. They really shouldn’t do anything that hasn’t been done before, without direction from the General Service Conference. So, they brought it to the Conference to decide and it was debated in 1973 to some hot length and finally the chair, getting very smart, said, “I think we’ll table the question to next year.” But that put it on the agenda for next year so everyone knew about it and it would have to be settled the next year.

If you don’t know what the General Service Conference is, ask your sponsor. The Conference has absolutely no power over any of us—not one bit. It has the power of example, it has some moral authority, but that’s all. The Conference does not like to do anything by halves or even by bare majority. The Conference proceeds generally on almost complete unanimity.

So in 1974, in the Conference, the question went back and forth, back and forth for two days and two nights. Much of the agenda was wiped out. I remember one man said, “If you are going to list the sex deviants this year, next year you’ll list the rapist [groups].” Someone else said something like if you’re going to list this kind of deviant, what other type of deviant are you going to list?

The delegate from one of the Northern States—or maybe it was a Canadian Province, I am not sure—was a delightful woman about three feet tall and she went to one of the middle microphones. She pulled the microphone down to her mouth and said, “Where I come from, alcoholics are considered deviants. (Laughter and cheering from the audience)

The debate went on but when the vote came that night, only two voted against it. It was almost unanimous; I think it was 129 to two.

January 20, 1961, in the presidential inauguration, John F. Kennedy referred to the American Constitution of a century and three quarters prior, stating that human rights were not granted by the generosity of the state but from all mighty God. I imagine Bill W, like many US citizens, listened to, or may have even seen—JFK being the first every TV presidency—this speech. One could imagine AA’s founders reflected on the structure of our fellowship as a society. Ours is a society whereby rights and freedoms are expected. AA protects the rights of members and groups through servitude—not leadership or governance.

It isn’t lost on me that, constitutionally, my rights as an unbeliever are granted by God. What is meant by this? To suggest that if one denies God, one would forgo their human rights bestowed by Him is narrow, if not flawed reasoning. Human rights must be respected by one another. Basic human rights to dignity and freedom are beyond the scrutiny of others. So while atheists ought to respect a believer’s right to worship, the believers ought to respect the freethinker’s right to govern themselves in accordance to their own conscience.

In Canada, as in the USA, everyone has the rights and freedoms of conscience, religion, thought, belief, expression, peaceful assembly and association. Bringing it back to our AA fellowship, these rights that are beyond challenge of critical finger pointers are bestowed upon members and our groups.

We have discussed the individual and how our history shows that, when faced with others that are unfamiliar to us, while our instinct is to marginalize, our Traditions has taught us to embrace our differences. This is especially reinforced by Tradition Three.

What about our groups? Consider the subtle message within Tradition Five, “Our primary purpose of every A.A. group is to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers." The key is in the word “its message—not “the message” or “our message” but each group’s message. And how does each group determine its message? Tradition Two and Four celebrates the autonomy and authority of group conscience. Each group can outline their own message.

A muckers or back-to-basics group’s message is that hope and recovery comes through the working of the Twelve Steps, done in a certain way, over a certain time-frame. Other groups don’t even read the (suggested) Twelve Steps at their meeting. That may give the message that fellowship—the sharing and caring of fellow members—is the secret sauce of contented recovery. So young people’s groups, women’s groups, nonbelievers meetings or LGBTQ groups don’t all talk a uniformed talk or offer exactly the same brand of AA hope. Some AA groups don’t bat an eye at talk of drugs (as well as drinking) while others kick up an “outside issue” fuss if you discuss smoking pot or prescription drug misuse. Some meetings include prayer in the formalities. Atheist and Agnostic groups tend to see its AA message as a more secular solution.

AA accommodates and includes new groups, be they special interest or general purpose. Regardless of how or why a new group starts, a collective voice is found and a message of hope is expressed.

What we find at Pride is the celebration of, instead of the narcissism of, small differences. Everyone comes together to celebrate our diverse culture and not to scapegoat or ridicule others for their uniqueness. Sure, Monday comes and many of us will fall back in with our tribe. It’s no crime to seek the company of like-minded people. But the point is we came together and we will again. Without shouting out our tenets of honesty, open-mindedness and willingness, the variety of celebrants that come and sing and dance to “We are Family” at Pride celebrations all around the world should inspire us in AA.

We have a living program, and an evolving fellowship that, through a spirited language says we are AA members and groups—not all the same, but all equal and all united.

I am a sample—not an example! John L’s A Freethinker in Alcoholics Anonymous celebrates diversity  

Read, print or share as a PDF
I am a sample of recovery; I am not an example. I hear ya, “Come on Joe, you’re playing the semantics game, again. You’re not going to write a whole blog on it, are you?” Hear me out. What I am saying is this: isn’t it enough to show that it can work, without laying claim to how it works? If it works for me, it can work for you; if it works for her, it can work for him.
Our Declaration of Unity was unveiled at the Miami Beach International Convention of AA in 1970:
This we owe A.A.’s future: To place our common welfare first; to keep our Fellowship united. For on A.A. unity depends our lives, and the lives of those to come.
There are many samples of recovery that every new member can draw upon to forge their own salvation. We need not adopt the uniformity of zombies; no one should need to shoehorn themselves into someone else’s solution. In the rooms we find many people working individual programs of recovery—not everyone working an identical program. Some of these individual programs are in tune with the suggested Steps while others reject them completely.

By various online dictionary definitions, examples are “a person or way of being that is seen as a model that should be followed” ( or “one that is representative of a group as a whole.” (”Oxford ( includes, “A person or think regarded in terms of their fitness to be imitated.”

Samples of sample definitions include ( “a small amount of something that gives you information about the thing it was taken from” or better yet ( “A selection taken from a larger group so that you can examine it to find out something about the larger group.”
In the same way a Psychology test mines a random sample, I like to include myself as being within an extreme range of possibilities in sobriety, more than I like to be emulated as a power of example.

I say again that I believe that the role of a new member’s inner circle in recovery is to help her or him find their salvation—not indoctrinate them into our brand of salvation—a new person should observe many samples of recovery from an ample pool of addicts to help formulate their own plan for sobriety.
By the (big) book, “How It Works” is by implementation of the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. John Lauritsen, in his new book, A Freethinker in Alcoholics Anonymous says “Not so fast!”
“The Fellowship and the 24-hour Plan are the pillars of Alcoholics Anonymous. ... there is great freedom in A.A., both for the group and the individual. In my 46 years of sobriety I have always been able to find groups with a maximum of Fellowship and minimum of religiosity.[i]"

John reminds us that the suggested Steps is another way of saying the optional Steps. They violate his creed and core beliefs so he never worked the Steps. John explains why he disagrees with the powerlessness premise. The concept of an intervening deity has never proven in life or in AA. Forget morality; while the Step Four idea of taking inventory isn’t a bad idea, as John sees it, alcoholism isn’t brought about by moral defects. Alcoholism causes moral compromise—not the other way around.

John credits his success, which he describes as social, physical, financial and intellectual recovery to what he calls, “real A.A.” According to what John has observed in AA since 1968, what works is the 24-hour program, the Fellowship’s mutual-aid environment and a determined mantra of “If you get run over by a train, don’t blame the caboose for killing you; stay away from the first drink.”

The dogmatic preaching of the Twelve Steps is what John calls “false AA.” It’s not because he thinks the Steps don’t work; he accepts the claims of many that, for them, the Twelve Steps have been life altering. However, in A Freethinker in Alcoholics Anonymous, the argument is made that there are some premises about the Steps that are born of AA mythology and not our actual history. One myth is that this is exactly how the first 100 members got sober.

The early members had an oral tradition before we codified it into 164 pages. Most members who were Step oriented had a six-step process which varied from member to member and region to region. The Twelve Steps were new to these (mostly sober) members when they read Bill’s version of Chapter 5, “How it Works.” Some liked them, some objected. It was a tough sell for Bill to get the members to adopt the Steps and it was hardly unanimous. As John writes:
“Whether the Steps are helpful, harmful or both, it is intolerable that they should become sacred dogma. Everyone should be free to criticize or reject the Steps—openly, and without risk of ostracism. Every A.A. member and every A.A. group should be free to reinterpret and re-write the Steps, in line with the principles of the A.A. Preamble and the Twelve Traditions. The True A.A., the Fellowship, belongs to us freethinkers as much as it does to the god-people.”[ii]

John’s books describes AA as a Fellowship of two million members all working their own unique “program” that we have quilted together in part from ideas and practices we learn from the sharing and encouragement we get in the rooms and, in part, from the values and practices we bring to or develop in recovery.

So, John L is a sample of recovery. Anyone from the rooms or the treatment industry ought to read his book to better understand AA’s wide tent. He is candid about his ideas of what could make AA better. One need not adopt his views, but we would be remiss to not hear how he came to these conclusions. John exemplifies, as many in AA do, that physical, social and mental recovery are all possible without adherence to a deity, the powerlessness notion or the idea that defects of character are correlated to substance or process addiction.
Mantras for newcomers from early AA:
A pickle never becomes a cucumber again; once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic.
If you get run over by a train, it’s not the caboose that kills you; it’s not that last drink that’s to blame – it’s the first drink that gets us.

I came here a drug addict who also drank compulsively. Alcohol wasn't a drug of choice over any of the others—it was good enough. I generally identify as an alcoholic. I freely talk about drugs if it fits into the story I am telling but I don't talk a lot about the past in meetings, in part because my greatest hurdles in life were to come after my last drink. In AA, sober, I had two kids from two moms and my infidelity was a contributor to both of those breakups. Herpes and HIV came after "the gift of the 12 Steps." The same is true with my financial bankruptcy; that was a gift of sobriety. I have compulsive eating working and hoarding tendencies that concern me at times. I was in jail five years sober for non-payment of speeding tickets. Somehow, I thought powered-by-AA gave me an exception to life’s rules; the Royal Canadian Mounted Police disagreed.

Mine is no conference talk about the socio-economic upward trend from day-one of sobriety through to present day. Some consider me an "example" of decades of sobriety. I call myself a sample, not an example. I don't have what everyone wants, nor do I want to have what everyone wants. I want to live my flawed, incomplete life without the pressure of other people looking up to me. Others can look and they can learn all they want. I live by my values. Sure, much of what forged these values was the lessons learned in the rooms. But I feel no obligation to be “on” or a power of example.

I champion radical inclusion and I speak out against what-you-need-to-do-ism. “My way is the best way” chatter is, what Ernie Kurtz calls spiritual arrogance—an oxymoron if I ever saw one. In his recent book, co-authored with Katherine Ketcham, Experiencing Spirituality: Finding Meaning Through Storytelling, a story of grandiosity or a sense of superiority is told:
“‘Playing God’ can happen in small ways, for example in the ever-present temptation to seek an edge, gain some privilege:
A car accident occurred in a small town. A crowd surrounded the victim so a newspaper reporter couldn’t get close enough to see him.
He hit upon an idea. ‘I’m the father of the victim!’ he cried. ‘Please let me through.’
The crowd let him pass so he was able to get right up to the scene of the accident and discover, to his embarrassment, that the victim was a donkey.”[iii]

Instant-karma, where the principle character immediately sees that his arrogance made him out to look like an ass to everyone else, isn’t always the case. Years of reinforcement can encourage those in the rooms who hold themselves out as the bishops and cardinals of The AA Way, compounding their arrogance and belligerence. This dynamic makes for what we see in some quarters of 12 & 12 Fellowships, an air of polarizing platitudes espoused by bullies that make those with doubt, critical thinking and alternate views look for the exits or alternatively, emotionally close down—becoming closet skeptics.

No one should feel that what they have to say about addiction and recovery is unfit for an AA meeting or any Twelve Step meeting for that matter. We are all samples, from the most devote servant of Yahweh to the boldest reductionist, we all have standing and we are all united.

I will close with some reflections offered by Bernard Smith, one of our early non-alcoholic Trustees and AA’s first Chair of The General Service Board (originally known as the Alcoholic Foundation). Bern authored the Bylaws of the General Service Board, adopted by AA in 1957. Smith’s Miami talk on Unity and Continuity in July of 1970 would be the last we would hear of Bernard Smith. He died the following month of a heart attack. Bill W was dying himself and could not make Bern’s funeral. He sent a tribute that would be read by another AA member. In this tribute Bill W gives thanks.
“Bern made a remarkable and inspiring talk to some 11,000 of our members gathered in Miami Beach to celebrate our Fellowship’s 35th anniversary. The subject of his talk was ‘Unity’ – truly an apt subject, for no man did more than he to assure unity within our Fellowship.
For that matter, he did much to assure our very survival, for he was one of the principle architects of the General Service Conference.
Bern Smith would not want, nor does he need, encomiums from me. What he has done for Alcoholics Anonymous speaks far louder than any words of mine could ever do. His wisdom and vision will be sorely missed by us all.”

Here are some of the timeless worlds from Bern Smith’s speech. The demonstrate to me that all of us samples of recovery have standing and add value—to each other, now and for the still suffering alcoholic who has not yet reached our doors.
“Perhaps no time in history has this land of ours been so torn by dissention, by divisiveness, by mistrust. Yet we are here in convention assembled as if on an island of unity in a world sea of disunity. What we seek now and will forever seek in the future is not to find unity, for we how have it, but rather steadily and unceasingly to insure that our precious unity will remain in continuity of all time.
Now, you may have observed that the title of my talk this evening is ‘Unity and Continuity.’ The word ‘unity’ is variously defined. I have chosen as the definition applicable to our Fellowship that which reads: ‘the quality or state of being or consisting of one, a totality of related parts.’ For, indeed, we are assembled here this evening as a true totality of related parts…
Slowly and painstakingly, we have built upon the spiritual foundation of this great Society a structure that, I believe, can with continued devotion insulate this Fellowship against the ravages of time, of dissent, of materialistic decay…
Alcoholics Anonymous does not claim any monopoly on the achievement of sobriety. While sobriety is indeed the end we seek, the means by which we attain it render this Fellowship unique. We believe, as Aldous Huxley said in his End and Means: ‘Our personal experience and the study of history make it abundantly clear that the means whereby we try to achieve something are at least as important as the end we wish to attain. Indeed, they are even more important. For the means employed inevitably determine the nature of the result achieved.’
Our message to society is not so much that we have succeeded in ceasing to drink, but that, by the nature of the means we employ, we have found a way to fulfill our lives. We do not acquire sobriety through the use of chemical formula or a powerful drug. We achieve it by applying to our daily lives the simple tenets of humility, honesty, devotion, love and compassion.”[iv]
Bernard Smith’s talk suggests to me that AA’s tents are universal principles that transcend language, creed and personal experience or taste. The means can be various and the end the same. We hear, “Go to enough meetings and you’ll hear your story.” The felling that comes from that experience is that we are no longer alone. That feeling is very empowering—very healing. Let’s hope that we can continue to celebrate the variety of AA experiences. Every sample and every example matters for any society with the legacies of recovery, unity and service.
[i] Chapter 8, “The Fellowship,” Lauritsen, John, A Freethinker in Alcoholics Anonymous, Dorchester: Pagan Press, 2014
[ii] Ibid
[iii] Kurtz, Ernest, Ketcham, Katherine, Experiencing Spirituality: Finding Meaning Through Storytelling, New York: Penguin, 2014, p. 205

Will and Recovery: Is English adequate to translate the language of the heart? 

Life is like a game of cards. The hand you are dealt is determinism; the way you play it is free will. ~Jawaharlal Nehru (1889 – 1964)

(Print, read or distribute with PDF version) If will has no place in sobriety, what is meant by "willingness?"

This word is the first of three indispensable attributes (willingness, honesty and open-minded). While I would have loved at one time to be able to learn to drink in moderation (and I can't), I can channel moderation in my recovery. I must use my will according to Nehru. Self-will-run-riot is a type of blind insanity but determination is not. I don't blame AA literature or culture for inconsistencies; the English language is desperately lacking. There are things we know in life but can't express.

Ernie Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham's new book Experiencing Spirituality: Finding Meaning Through Storytelling tells of a Taoist notion, "Those who know don't say and those who say, don't know." We all know what a rose smells like, right? Try describing it. There are things we know well but can't articulate. This is how language goes. You and I may have the same experience of yellow but language is inadequate for you and I to describe our experience to determine if both of us are seeing the exact same thing when we are looking at the color yellow. Staying with the Taoist theme, yin is spontaneity, but in the extreme, chaotic and nihilistic. Yang is order, but in its extreme, rigid and Fascist.

Chaos and order are not opposites. They are relative to each other and dependent on each other in a balanced person as in a balanced universe. I call my will that balanced place whereby I am not letting myself get too chaotic or too rigid. It is not God’s will and it is not self-will-run-riot. Appendix II of Alcoholics Anonymous describes higher power in a way I can live with. "With few exceptions, our members have found that they had tapped an unsuspected inner resource that they currently identify as a power greater than ourselves."

As we know, the Big Book goes on to say, "Our more religious members call it God-consciousness." So, for those of us who are not in the "more religious members" category, there is no need to use the God language or even appease the masses with rhetoric like, “God as I understand Him means Group Of Drunks (or Good Orderly Direction).” I would never come up with these terms on my own. It’s only when I compare myself to the overwhelming majority of God-fearing or God loving (whatever they want to call themselves) members in Twelve Step recovery, am I inclined to relate my belief in their language. It would sound like nonsense in any context outside of a Twelve Step conversation. Sure, I can talk that way if I want to, but I don't want to be a people pleaser so I do not.

After all, GOD is also an acronym for Gaggle Of Drones – lol

Individualism and unity have that same interdependent relationship as yin and yang or order and chaos. What would be the value of a unified fellowship of drones, babbling a mindless cliché of uniformed gibberish? We need strong individuals to have a useful, meaningful unified whole. These individuals, for the whole to unified, have to be open-minded, honest and willing to get along. That isn’t all of us going along with exactly the same narrative to get along. Au contraire; it is embracing our differences, Vive la différence! That goes for all of us—atheists, agnostics, theists.

None of us have a lock on permanent recovery. None of us have an easier go of getting sober or a leg up on the other as far as finding a life of meaning in sobriety. While we need not obey anyone else’s belief system nor deny our own, what is there to learn from each other?

In a Ted talk, John Bellamy[i] makes the point that while yin is the white swirl and yang the black, each has the seed of its interdependent twin. Using the new-age spirituality of Star Wars, Luke Skywalker has dark side of the force potential, while his father, Darth Vader has the potential for good. This is a variation on the Jesus on one shoulder, Lucifer on the other myth.

This relativity is lost in the debate between a naturalist vs. super-naturalist worldview that only has room for one ultimate truth. Only ultimate purgatory—not truth—awaits a life lived in suspended animation holding out for this ultimate question of the universe to be resolved. That binary thinking doesn’t have to be our way.

Pluralism is how Twelve Step life was designed. We were invited to broaden our knowledge and open our hearts. Atheists are no threat to AA’s God-conscious members. AA’s antiquated literature is no threat to an atheist’s sovereignty. If you can’t find a secular narrative from the “as it was written” Big Book, should we blame the book?

Those of us in the middle of the yin/yang merry-go-round of worldviews are never put off balance by the opposing views of others. It is only those of us at the extreme that feel antagonistic, victimized or feel the need to petition the fellowship for urgent change.

Those of us with a rigid, literalist interpretation of our Twelve Step program want atheist to hit the bricks and stop the “destruction of AA from the inside.” They see in the nonbeliever, the threat of nihilism. What they call, “watered down AA” is, at the heart of it, the threat of liberalism that will secularize all of AA, undoing their imaginary legacy of a constant, uniformed message and interpretation. Fascism can’t stand individualism. It scapegoats minorities as evil or dangerous and rallies to take away standing for all nonconformists.

According to the Taoist philosophy the seed of the rigid literalist’s intolerance is their own fear born of their own doubt. Yes, it is the doubt that lingers in the believer the spurs them on to evict the atheist. Believers don’t have proof of a prayer answering god—only faith. And what do we say is the opposite of faith? Fear. While that faith is encouraged by likeminded adherents, it is threatened by those who may mock devotion as a child-like belief.

The extreme nonbeliever also rallies for change. We cry about persecution and justice and we say, as Jim Burwell told his fellows in the day, “AA would be better without all this God bunk.” Moderates don’t mind being in the presence of prayer. Extremists are insulted by it. What is it that seeds the nonbelievers demands for a new, more secular Big Book? If this is born of intolerance then, might it also be caused from the same fear that is only the natural doubt that comes from an equally un-winnable argument about a universe of chaos?

AA is changing because, as with all things, change is inevitable. Should it change according to the back-to-basics fundamentalists agenda? Should AA be re-written without the theistic assumptions of mid-20th century middle-class America? I don’t know that best practices are to be found in either of these extreme positions. Would AA be better if one extreme won out and demanded compliance from the rest of us? I don’t think so.

What keeps the Twelve Step rooms vibrant and viable is that there continues to be room for everyone. The ranters rant their liberal and conservative rants. The moderates mind their own business, curious and not threatened by each other. There has never been a better time to be in Twelve Step recovery. No matter what you believe someone is releasing a book that will reinforce your believe. Someone else is putting out a book that will challenge your beliefs. Fining an online room of your peeps has never been easier. Surround yourself with likeminded individuals, if that’s what you need. Reach out in every direction and leave no stone unturned, if you are a seeker. Challenge those who disagree with you, if you must. I need to remember that alternate worldviews in a pluralist society are relative to me—not opposed to me.

In my experience, I can always find a fight if I am in a fighting mood. I can always find the hand extended, If I (not they) am open-minded, honest and willing. Life is like a mirror. What happens to the image in the mirror when I frown? It frowns back. And when I smile?

The more insecure I feel, the more I need to persuade or evangelize my As Joe Sees It brand of life worth living. Why should it matter that even one person agreed with me if I am secure with my path that I have chosen for myself? If I have found what is true for me, agreement or disagreement should just be par for the course.

AA will unveil a new pamphlet about the variety of spiritual paths in AA, from atheism to the range of Abrahamic monotheistic beliefs, to Eastern and aboriginal philosophy and rituals. It’s called a spirituality pamphlet. If you don’t like the term spiritual experience, just call it experience or change the word—the word won’t mind.
I will close with this: Early in Ketcham and Kurtz’s Experiencing Spirituality has this to say about experience:
There are two terms that, while the processes surely are included in experience, are anything but substitutes for it: “feel” and “think.” The main problem with these terms is that each seems to exclude the other, or at least to downplay it. The special benefit of the word experience is that it includes all the senses and faculties mentioned above and more. [ii]
Thinking can be called Yang, while feeling could be Yin. There should be no master and no slave; balance is the key. Try reasoning someone out of a position they have come to through emotion; forget about it. Let’s follow Kurtz and Ketcham’s cue and stick to sharing our experience and not try to control how the message is received by others.
[ii] Kurz, Ernest & Ketcham, Katherine, Experiencing Spirituality: Finding Meaning Through Storytelling, p. 30

Rebellion Dogs Radio # 5, Standing: Who get's a say in AA? Podcast

Print or read the PDF   Hear it as a podcast from Pod0matic
“Who is more contemptible than he who scorns knowledge of himself?” John of Salisbury (1120 – 1180)

John Ralston Saul commentates on the relationships between citizenship, individualism and the public good. He argues that Western society, as a whole, suffers from “a fear of reality and a weakness for ideology.” As a way of describing our mental state while in the heart of addiction, AA members would be apt to describe ourselves as less in reality and more in delusion.

Today, let’s ask if AA as an organization ought to be mindful of our balancing act between reality and ideology. Are we as a fellowship losing touch with its own consciousness?
In his lectures and book, The Unconscious Civilization[i], John Ralston Saul suggests that John of Salisbury would give a nod to the adaptation of his quote above to “What is more contemptible than a society that scorns knowledge of itself?"

For those of who fashion ourselves as stewards of The Alcoholics Anonymous Twelve Step/Twelve Tradition way of life, here is a question that relates to AA reality and ideology:
  • Is AA a fellowship with a manual, or
  • Is AA a book-based society?
Are we a fellowship or are we a program? While we might want to retreat to the noncommittal, “aren’t we both?” let’s look first at our Traditions. Do these twelve principles defend and define a fellowship or a program? The answer is quite apparent. Unity, membership requirements, how we govern our groups, how the groups relate to each other, how we cooperate with society as a whole, why anonymity—these tenets describe a fellowship. One Tradition, Tradition Five, reminds us to relate our message of hope to the still suffering alcoholic.

We are a fellowship. This reality is lost in our current vernacular. “When I joined the program,” is said so many times it is, to many, our collective reality. In fact, we joined a fellowship. Many of us applied a suggested program but there is no program to join. Am I splitting hairs? I don’t think so; I think this a fundamental explanation of some of the dogmatic tendencies in AA today.

If we were a book-based society—and we are not—then the book would be sacred. The sacred book could not be changed, nor should the words inside be liberally interpreted. While this is a knee-jerk reaction by many of the membership, The Big Book itself discourages us from this type of dogma, not once but twice: "The wording was, of course quite optional, so long as we voiced the ideas without reservation." (P. 63) “Our book is meant to be suggestive only. We realize that we know only a little.” (P. 164)

For comparison's sake, let’s liken ourselves to a society of grade five math teachers. Since the late 1930s, the principles of math as it applies to grade five have not changed dramatically. Are we using the same text book to teach our children? No; we have found more contemporary ways to express these principles. While staying true to the same principles in grade five math, every generation of students gets the same or greater advantage compared to those who came before, based on these enhancements. How silly would we look if we reified the math-teaching process with a text book that was almost 80 years old, fearing that our mathematics would otherwise be watered down?

If this is an unfair comparison, I am all ears and eyes. Tell me why.

Recently I was chaired a panel at the 35th Eastern Ontario Spring Conference of AA in Ottawa Canada. This conference had something for everyone. Clancy I from Venice California was there. Big Book evangelist, Tom K from Boston was there. The old-timers panel was called “Sisters in Sobriety” with three 40 years+ sober women in AA. I was chairing a panel called “Unity Not Uniformity: Spiritual Variety in A.A." which was comprised of Atheist and Agnostic members with long term sobriety. I talked about stewardship in AA. “It’s Okay to want to be the Tradition Police in AA; that’s a good thing. But first, we have to put our time in at the Twelve Tradition Academy to learn about our history.”

When we study our history we see that history does have a tendency to repeat itself.
Our principles suggest that individualism is no threat to unity. As stated in Warranty Six in our A.A. World Service Manual,

“Much attention has been drawn to the extraordinary liberties which the A.A. Traditions accord to the individual member and to his group; no penalties to be inflicted for nonconformity to A.A. principles … no member to be expelled from A.A.—membership always to be the choice of the individual; each group to conduct its internal affairs as it wishes—it being merely requested to abstain from acts that might injure A.A. as a whole; and finally that any group of alcoholics gathered together for sobriety may call themselves an A.A. group provide that as a group, they have no other purpose or affiliation. . . we A.A.’s possess more and greater freedom than any other fellowship in the world.”[ii]

I listen to Ralston Saul’s Massey Lectures about “Unconscious Civilization” and I wonder if AA isn’t becoming an “increasingly conformist society that pays only lip service to democracy and individualism.” Is Individualism in AA today (the autonomy of members and our groups) seen as a single ambulatory center of selfishness? Selfishness is a narrower, more superficial definition of individualism than our founders might have intended.

Today, do we feel bound to unify, despite our differences? Or do we feel obliged to conform to a uniformed set of rituals? Bill Wilson seemed comfortable choosing spontaneity and chaos over control and order. Imagine if you or I were laying out the groundwork. Would we give groups and members such autonomy? While groups are asked to consider other groups or AA as a whole, policing that request is left to that group’s best judgment. Why? Bill W’s view was that Alcoholics Anonymous is self-correcting. While you can apply a theistic narrative if you wish, Bill was certain that adherence to the principles behind our Steps and Traditions were obligatory to a group’s or individual’s survival. Was it ever intended that we ought to be obligated to submit to these Steps or Traditions literally, as authority from Yahweh the Creator? No. The principles, if followed, would work, in accordance to any creed or worldview. Any who stray too far away will not have to be policed or governed; they will fall by the wayside all by themselves. Based on the experience that informed our Traditions, Bill W. didn’t seem so concerned that any individual or group could drag the fellowship down with them. It was the intolerance, not the refusal to conform, that he saw as detrimental.

In the story of Tradition Three from The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Wilson relates this story about applying rules upon membership:

“Maybe this sounds comical now. Maybe you think we oldtimers were pretty intolerant. But I can tell you there was nothing funny about the situation then. We were grim because we felt our lives and homes were threatened, and that was no laughing matter. Intolerant, you say? Well, we were frightened. Naturally, we began to act like most everybody does when afraid. After all, isn’t fear the true basis of intolerance? Yes, we were intolerant.
How could we then guess that all those fears were to prove groundless? How could we know that thousands of these sometimes frightening people were to make astonishing recoveries and become our greatest workers and most intimate friends?”[iii]

So, according to AA lore, everyone lives happily ever after if and when we mind our own business and we don’t take ourselves too seriously. What is “too seriously?” How about when we assume power or jurisdiction over another?

STANDING: losing your say in AA
In law, locus standi (standing) establishes who has a voice and who does not. Free defines the term as, “The legally protectable stake or interest that an individual has in a dispute that entitles him to bring the controversy before the court to obtain judicial relief.”

In Fire and Ashes, Michael Ignatieff talked about lessons learned the hard way about how sinister the political ploy of undermining someone’s standing can be. What if you no longer have a say in the political arena? Ignatieff came from a politically engaged Canadian family. His dad was active in Liberal politics and his childhood memories include dinner time political debate. As a reporter, educator and author, Michael Ignatieff had been teaching at Harvard where he had received his doctorate of history. Liberal insiders visited him and laid out a proposal to have him return to Canada join and the Liberal leadership race with the intention of eventually running the country as Prime Minister.

His key adversary, Steven Harper, leader of the Conservative Party of Canada ran smear campaigns with the tag lines, “Michael Ignatieff – just visiting,” and “He didn’t come back for you.” The intended goal was not to rebut his criticism of how the Conservatives were running the country. It attacked the man, not the message; it suggested that Ignatieff had no standing in a discussion of what was best for Canada.

“Swift-boating,” is the term Ignatieff uses for undermining ones standing in the political arena. It refers to a successful attack on democratic presidential nominee John Kerry and his Vietnam record. As he returned home a decorated vet, he was critical of US conduct in the war. Kerry had seen action on a Swift Boat up the Mekong River in Vietnam and his anti-war ranting on Capitol Hill offended American prisoners of war and other US troops and their families.

There is always some truth to swift-boating. Ignatieff had been out of the country for thirty years. John Kerry was critical of the Vietnam War. Does that make either man unworthy of leading their country? Well, they don’t get to make their case, if they lose their standing.

When AA groups for agnostics and atheists are being ostracized by some of the more rigid local Intergroups, the Intergroup bodies assume governing power to revoke the agnostic groups’ standing in AA. Hasty and angry Intergroup bodies don’t hear the group’s rebuttal. In Intergroup’s rationalization, the nonconforming groups forfeit their AA group status for the crime of not adhering to the literal translation of AA’s Steps that the majority of groups do.

That much is true; some agnostic groups interpret the Steps in a secular (no God) way while others don’t read the Steps in meetings at all. The fact—the AA truth—is that there is no requirement for the membership or groups to strictly adhere to the Steps exactly as written. Because someone says “You can’t pick and choose what you like about the Steps and change the rest and still call yourself an AA group,” doesn’t make it true. AA doesn’t grant Intergroups authority over deciding who is or is not an AA group, nor what conventional or unconventional rituals can or cannot be practiced. On the contrary, “leaders are but trusted servants, they do not govern.”

When members are told that in order to share, they have to identify as, “My name is ________ and I am an alcoholic,” their standing is being threatened. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. How we identify ourselves—addict, person in long-term recovery, by first name only or full name—is an individual decision.

We don’t have a winning record with inclusivity as a fellowship. The first group conscience of Alcoholics Anonymous that entertained giving standing to women in AA decided, “No skirts.” Voting on including African Americans in AA was “No Negros.” The first LGBTQ groups that wanted standing were told “No sexual deviants in AA.” Young people have been shown the same bigotry, too. “I spilled more than you ever drank; what are you doing here?”

Almost all of us alcoholics have been denied standing just for being an alcoholic. Our word was nothing, our reputation was destroyed, our troubles elicited no sympathy. We were alkies, we were addicts, second class citizens. And sober, having suffered the indignity of it ourselves, we still dish it out to scapegoated others because their beliefs or some other characteristic disqualifies them from legitimacy (in our eyes). This is natural for humans. Not them but each and every one of us.

Fire and Ashes talks about the reluctant move towards wider, more inclusive standing:

“America, and the democracies that take inspiration from it, are inching a step closer to that place glimpsed by Martin Luther King when he spoke of a distant country where people would be judged not by the characteristics, but by their character. Despite the victories that Obama has won, however, the country is still distant. Democratic societies that have outlawed discrimination nonetheless retain a complex code that still allows class, education and citizenship to be used to deny standing and to turn citizens from friends into foes in our politics.”[iv]

This isn’t new territory for Michael Ignatieff. In his life as a journalist, Ignatieff was on the front line of conflicts between the Tutsi and Hutu factions in Rwanda, the Croatians and Serbs in the former Yugoslavia were shooting at each other, and at the pre-911 Taliban affront on Afghanistan, before many American’s could point out Afghanistan on a world map.

In The Warrior’s Honor, Ignatieff draws upon the more conservative political scientist Samuel P. Huntington to help make the point that some of these differences we are talking about are not as simple as, “I like the New England Patriots and you like the San Francisco 49ers.”

“The Clash of Civilizations, by Samuel Huntington states that it is liberal ‘secular myopia,’ he argues, to think that ethnic difference is minor. … Millennia of human history have shown that religion is not a small difference, he asserts, but possibly the most profound difference that can exist between people. The frequency, intensity and violence of fault line wars are greatly enhanced by beliefs in different gods.”

Ignatieff goes on to say about the warring Serbians and Croatians, so many expressed “surprise at the astonishing rapidity with which fifty years of ethnic coexistence was destroyed, perhaps forever.”[v]

So it’s one thing that we have meetings for the LGBTQ crowd or young people or for women. To be fair, AA was welcoming African Americans into the fold before Martin Luther King and Gay and Lesbian groups were part of AA when sodomy was still illegal and a dishonorable discharge awaited any gay man who came clean in the army. At least all of these special meetings of young, gay or female alkies were in agreement with the crowd as far as the “We Agnostics” line in the sand. On page 53 of the Big Book, we are confronted with, “We could not postpone or evade; we had to fearlessly face the proposition that either God is everything or else He is nothing. God either is, or He isn’t. What was our choice to be?” Most AAs through the ages agree on some Abrahamic Creator of the Universe or prayer answering, alcoholic saving power greater than our own will.

But when “God as we understand Him,” is “God is a myth,” or “I understand God to be born of fear and ignorance,” then this fault line difference is quite another thing. The reality that many stay sober without any supernatural dependency is a reality that, in some AA quarters, is giving way to a more dogmatic, uniformed God-conscious ideology of what AA is and has always been. Revisionist history is the foundation from the Back to Basics AA that remembers a time when everyone got sober and all the groups were harmonious. While there is nothing wrong with a literalist approach to AA, the problem comes when pluralism is abandoned and alternative paths to sobriety are dismissed as dry-drunk, second-rate alternatives or without standing.

Denying agnostic AA groups their standing in AA is a clear case of being discriminated against. Intergroups assume a governing role and avoid rebuttal by denying standing to agnostic groups. Are there more subtle systemic discriminations in AA, or as Ignatieff puts it, a “complex code that still allows class, education and citizenship to be used to deny standing?” Clues can be found in our demographics. Let’s look at how USA demographics (where ½ of AA members live) have changed from 1940 to 2010.
Demographics of USA 1940 to 2010
USA demographics 1940 2010
% of Caucasian (whites) 90% 72%
% who completed High School 24% 86%
% with a University Degree 5% 28%
% of one person households 8% 27%
% of female lead households 11% 20%

The USA looks very different over a 70 year period. What we call a family or household has changed. One person homes have risen from 8% to 27%; female led households have doubled from 11% to 20%. Americans are better educated; when AA started 5% of members had a university education. Now it’s 28%. America was 90% Caucasian when Bob and Bill met and in 2010, only 72% identified as white.[vi] On the question of racial diversity, in the 2011 Triennial AA survey we see that AA is whiter than America as a whole: 87% of AA is Caucasian while only 72% of America is. According to the 2011 survey by SAMHSA, of the people being treated for alcoholism, 68% are Caucasian. Looking ahead, with a 100 year old AA, Caucasians will not be a majority in the USA (estimated crossover to be 2043). Is there something systematic in the rituals and literature of AA that gives more standing to white skinned members or men over women?

“God as we understand Him” doesn’t fit all AAs today in the one-size-fits-all way it did in 1940. As more Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Atheists enter the rooms, what would be a more welcoming hand of AA for the newcomer of 2035 look like? Can we adapt? Will we adapt?

We say the Responsibility Declaration and we talk of AA inclusivity. Is our liberalism a myth (ideology) or reality? If we are inclusive, if we are accommodating, to what do we attribute the variance in statistics inside the rooms and the world just outside our meeting doors?

Ignatieff writes:
“Myth is a narrative shaped by desire, not by truth, formed not by the facts as best we can establish them but by our longing to be reassured and consoled. Coming awake means to renounce such longing, to recovery all the sharpness of the distinction between what is true and what we wish were true.”[vii]

The Warrior's Honor refers to the James Joyce line from Ulysses, “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.” With our emphasis on a spiritual awakening this idea should be like old home week for us. “Appendix II, The Spiritual Experience” describes most awakenings as being gradual. Maybe it’s a life’s work to renounce our longing for assurance and consolation. Could it be that it’s only human to surrender to self-constructed or mutually constructed realities that blot out the harsher truths? Constant vigilance is a more demanding master.

To follow the natural order of things is to resign ourselves to the finitude of all good things. AA, like any society, will decay if we follow our natural tendencies. To fend off this inevitability requires more than lip service to our brand of democracy. It requires each of us engaging in our citizenry and rising to the challenge, when anyone, anywhere reaches out for help. For AA to be there in 2035 we have to be firm with our principles and flexible with our method.
[ii] The AA World Service Manual (Twelve Concepts p. 74)
[iii] Anonymous, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, New York: Alcoholics Anonymous, 1953 p. 140 - 141
[iv] Ignatieff, Michael, Fire and Ashes, Toronto: Random House, 2013
[v] Ignatieff, Michael, The Warrior's Honor: Ethnic War and The Modern Conscience, Toronto: Viking, 1998 p 54, 55.
[vii] Ignatieff, Michael, The Warrior's Honor:. p 167

Sober Truths: 50 years of AA critics, bad science and bad attitudes Podcast

Finding Fault like there's a reward to it - Isn't there more to constructive criticism than pointing out the faults in others? Meet the new book (same as the old book) that takes a pot-shot at AA, 12 Steps and the Treatment modality that embraces this "bad science." Authors Lance and Zackary Dodes sing a familiar refrain in The Sober Truth: Debunking the Bad Science Behind 12-Step Programs and the Rehab Industry. This just in: AA is flawed and unscientific. OK, so room for improvement isn't news. But is AA ineffective? So, in Episode 04 of Rebellion Dogs Radio, we look at AA-bashing from Dr. Cain in 1963's "AA: Cult or Cure?" to Penn & Teller's Bullshit episode on Showtime and this new book. We look at AA's own triennial survey results from 1977 to 1989 and why critics see embarrassing 5% success (or let's call it failure) rates. We counter that with peer reviewed studies that call such a conclusion erroneous or misleading. For 50 years and then some, as a fellowship, we have inspired many to change their life for the better. We have also inspired some to be critical of us.

Bill W was not reactive; he thought that our critics weren't all wrong and we could learn from them.  From Cain to Dodes, fellowship reaction is always divided. Many are dismissive or hurt by the mean spirited condemnation. Others find it a breath of fresh and feel vindicated for their own frustration with AA's preaching personal inventory on one hand but being resistant or belligerent about meaningful change as a fellowship. It's a question worth asking for each of us: Am I change-resistant; do I default to contempt prior to investigation when:

  1. I am criticized,
  2. someone proposes a change in my home group,
  3. or, in this case, when someone is publicly critical of AA as a whole?"

It's a regular Rebellion Dog-fight this month and we invite you to listen in or join in on the conversation. We race through the history of debunking and debunking-busting in 45 minutes. We are 100% in favor of skepticism. But have these critics got their facts straight?

At the end you can hear Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life's author Joe C, playing lead and singing back-up on The Chronicle's song Jesse and he wrote, "Chronic Malcontent," the prefect theme song for Episode #4.

Read or download the transcript of Episode 04 HERE

For links to Don McIntire, “How Well Does A.A. Work?”in Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, AA Recovery Outcome Rates – Contemporary Myth and Misconception and Hoffmann (2003) “Recovery careers of people in Alcoholics Anonymous.”

Penn & Teller Bullshit show on Showtime

What "Beyond Belief" means to me 

(Read it in PDF if you prefer)

My AA home group is called Beyond Belief Agnostics & Freethinkers (Toronto, Canada). The group had its first meeting September 24, 2009. I guess the meaning of Beyond Belief could be different for each of us. Here’s what it means to me: between the deaths of AA’s first co-founder and the recent death in my home group, a portrait tells a story.

Our group lost one of our original members, Wayne M, to cancer March 21, 2014. In Wayne’s story we see that he was trying to stay sober from 1992 to 2004. He had been in four rehabs, two were 12 Step based and two were not. In an article about his atheist 12 Step recovery, “A Higher Purpose,” Wayne writes:

“After three months at Halton Recovery House (October 1997 to January 1998) I managed to stay sober for a year and a half. Then, I picked up a drink and the next thing I knew, it was five years later and I was in a psych ward. It was 2004 and I was jobless, homeless and friendless. Even my brother would not take a phone call from me.
It was there I decided that I did not want to die a drunk.

I knew I needed treatment to get started—again—and I chose Renascent (House).

My sobriety date is Sept 30, 2004. In November I entered Renascent and completed treatment.”

All of us at Beyond Belief would have loved to celebrate Wayne’s 10th anniversary of continuous sobriety later this year, but it is not to be. I want to remember Wayne and share with you an uncanny connection that his story has to Bob S’s story from “The Co-Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous” P-53 15M 8/12 (RP) © Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. Dr. Bob said that “love and service” is the core of AA. He died of cancer in City Hospital, Akron November 16, 1950. No, I am not drawing a connection between AA service work and cancer. While these two men shared this life-ending experience, the point is how they lived sober and not how they died.

One of these men, Dr. Bob, saw himself as a servant of God and credited his sobriety to the grace of God. Wayne’s faith was in the transformative experience of (what the professionals call) cognitive restructuring, a psycho-therapeutic process of learning to identify and dispute irrational or maladaptive thoughts. Forget the, “Who was right and who was wrong” argument; or “Were they both guilty of patternicity?”—a word used by Skeptic Magazine Editor Michael Shermer to describe the believing mind’s tendency to find patterns or connections in the random noise and chaos of life’s experience. Let’s drop the language and imagine that both of these men’s stories are being told through silent film and not their own narration. Here we have to follow the alcoholic’s feet and stop listening to the words they choose to describe their experience. I think the actions and result of these two men are strikingly similar.

For my money, Ernie Kurtz seems to be saying two things about AA in the book about us, Not God: A History of Alcoholics Anonymous. A believer himself, he is not myth-busting the ABC of AA lore from “How it works:”
  • (a) That we were alcoholic and could not manage our own lives
  • (b) That probably no human power could have relieved our alcoholism.
  • (c) That God could and would if He were sought.
Not God means two profound things about how AA works: We had to stop trying to control the agenda (we were each not God); secondly, the transformative power of the AA way was not directly from the hand of God but the transference from despair to hope that comes from one alcoholic talking to another.

Bob describes AA as an oral tradition, one drunk talking to another before there was a book, a fellowship or a program:

“You see, back in those days we were groping in the dark. We knew practically nothing of alcoholism. I, a physician, knew nothing about it to speak of. Oh, I read about it, but there wasn’t anything worth reading in any of the text-books. Usually the information consisted of some queer treatment for D.T.s, if a patient had gone that far. If he hadn’t, you prescribed a few bromides and gave the fellow a good lecture.
At that point, our stories didn’t amount to anything to speak of. When we started in on Bill D. (AA #3), we had no Twelve Steps, either; we had no Traditions.”

Before meeting Bill W, Doctor Bob was as hot and cold with God? He had prayed unanswered prayers in solitude to be freed from the merciless obsession of drinking. He had cursed God and vowed to never darken the door of a church ever again. Still, he was a member of the Oxford Group. Before and after his last drink Bob found merit in the Oxford’s Four Absolutes - Absolute Honesty, Absolute Purity, Absolute Unselfishness and Absolute Love. Like Wayne, who languished through fits of sobriety and relapse, Bob found himself discouraged in himself and hopeless. Here he is talking of Henrietta Seiberling, who would later be responsible for introducing Bob and Bill.

“‘Henry, do you think I want to stop drinking liquor?’

She, being a very charitable soul, would say, ‘Yes, Bob, I’m sure you want to stop.’

I would say, ‘Well, I can conceive of any living human who really wanted to do something as badly as I think I do, who could be such a total failure. Henry, I think I’m just one of those want-to-want-to guys.’

And she’d say, ‘No Bob, I think you want to. You just haven’t found a way to work it yet.’

The fact that my sobriety has been maintained continuously for 13 ½ years doesn’t allow me to think that I am necessarily any further away from my next drink than any of you people. I’m still very human, and I still think a double Scotch would taste awfully good. If it wouldn’t produce disastrous results, I might try it. … I’m not trying to be funny. Those thoughts actually do enter my mind.”

Bob articulated the humility of what makes us all equal in AA. While the length between us and our last drink may be different from each other, the possibility of the next drink remains the same distance away for all of us. Bob never had that white-light experience Bill had. Through all of his life, Bob, a devoted believer, felt the humility of what we still call—not a cure, but—a daily reprieve. For Bob as for many of us, including Wayne, this reprieve was contingent on a day-at-a-time approach that was nurtured by a willingness to help others.

Bob continues in his Detroit talk:

“I think the kind of service that really counts is giving of yourself, and that almost invariably requires effort and time. It isn’t a matter of just putting a little quiet money in the dish. That’s needed, but isn’t giving much for the average individual in days like these, when most people get along fairly well. I don’t believe that type of giving would ever keep anyone sober. But giving of our own effort and strength and time is quite a different matter. And I think that is what Bill learned in New York and I didn’t learn in Akron until we met.”

Wayne came to believe the same thing. For the last years of his life, Wayne returned to the place that he last went to treatment, first as a volunteer and then to work for a fraction of what he previously earned as a sales executive. Wayne writes:

“After being sober for more than a year, I started volunteering at Renascent. As time went by and I always showed up and did well at what they gave me, they started offering me paid shifts. I was offered a full time job in 2007. It was to assess people that wanted to attend our treatment program. My job was to interview them and determine if they were a fit for us and, more importantly, if we were a fit for them.

To say I loved it would be the understatement of all time. For the first time in my life, I had a job that was not a job. It was what I did when I woke up. I could not wait to get there in the mornings.

You see, it was an ideal way for me to live my higher purpose. That way I could be a useful part of the human race.”

Next, let’s look at how Bob describes, call it Twelve Step work or the transformative impact of recovery and service. We might imagine either Wayne or Bob saying the following, which comes from Bob’s last major talk:

“We should attempt to acquire some faith, which isn’t easily done, especially for the person who has always been very materialistic, following the standards of society today. But I think faith can be acquired; it can be acquired slowly; it has to be cultivated. That was not easy of me, and I assume that it is difficult for everyone else.
Another thing that was difficult for me (and probably don’t do it too well yet) was the matter of tolerance. We are all inclined to have closed minds, pretty tightly closed.

That’s one reason why some people find our spiritual teaching difficult. They don’t
want to find out too much about it, for various personal reasons, like the fear of being considered effeminate. But it’s quite important that we do acquire tolerance towards the other fellow’s ideas. I think I have more of it than I did have, although not enough yet. If somebody crosses me, I’m apt to make a rather caustic remark. I’ve done that many times, much to my regret. And then, later on, I find that the man knew much more about it that I did.”

Both men’s recovery was glued together by the faith in being less interested in personal stuff and more interested in their fellows. Both men would agree that Ernie Kurtz’s observations were true; although one of them believes in a supernatural explanation of the process and the other sees a natural explanation for the hows and the whys in their worldview.

Both men are now dead. Both transformed his own life and left the world a better place.

Beyond the belief of each man (which we might be tricked into thinking defines them as people) is their legacy—what they did, the choices they made, the values that they lived by. To be mentally (or spiritually, if you prefer) beyond belief is to be beyond the narcissism of small differences. We are 99% the same which is what Wayne and Bob saw in another when communicating their experience strength and hope. Much of mankind is transfixed in the 1% of what is different in each of us. This is the road to isolation, loneliness or what artists portray as a living death. This loneliness is well known to the alcoholic, as both Dr. Bob and Wayne have shared in their stories.

What freed them from this purgatory? Was it what they believed or what they did? The clue for me is that in one way the two men differ greatly; in one way they appeared to be identical. The result for each, and the lesson it teaches us, is 99% the same. Faith without works is dead. Our works are surely the measure of each man’s life; beyond their beliefs, we find concrete values, which both men lived and left as their legacy.

Read the story of Wayne M, “A Higher Purpose” on AAagnositca:

Read the story of Doctor Bob S. at

Pre-order Ernie Kurtz's new book Experiencing Spirituality (on sale May 15) with best price guarantee:

Grief, the missing link in Big-Book-modality. An interview with John McAndrew Podcast

John McAndrew, MA, MDiv, is a spiritual teacher, facilitator, counselor, musician, and poet.

We found him at the National Conference of Addiction Disorders in Anaheim California, September 2013 giving a talk that asked if the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous is still relevant as a treatment modality in the 21st century. Well, as you might anticipate, it has it's strengths and weaknesses. There are core healing principles that have endured and will continue to last. What's missing? As alluded to in the Big Book, "more will be revealed." In treating addiction the more is in the treatment of trauma and grief. John has worked in Hospice, been the Director of Spiritual Care at the Betty Ford Centre and now he is a principle in a project new to 2014, Sensible Spirituality Associates. John knows about sadness, loss and making room and making time for grief.

Join us on Rebellion Dogs Radio as we look at grief and grieving and what our guest, John McAndrew and other 21st voices have to add to the 12-Step process. Listen, reflect and join the conversation.

Please visit:

John McAndrew and Sensible Spirituality Associates
Dr. Geoff Warburton Ted talk on Death and Loss
Laura Prince, Ted talk on Mourning
Nancy Berns, Beyond Closure on Ted
Robert Kegan and Immunity to Change


Rebellion Dogs Radio Episode Two: Wellness Factors Podcast

Rebellion Dogs Radio was partly inspired by the 2013 National Conference of Addiction Disorders (NCAD). Next episode will feature our discussion with John McAndrew, MA, MDiv, the director of Sensible Spirituality Associates. This week we have another NCAD connection. Wellness Factors came by out book back in September 2013 in Anaheim. As a result of that meeting, Joe C. was invited onto Blog Talk Radio as a guest of Farida Contractor, host of Wellness Factors Lunch and Learn and Wellness Factors Directors of Client Care.

Wellness Factors can be found in New York City and the beautiful Okanogan Valley in the interior of Canada's British Columbia. Visit Wellness Factors online to learn more about their publications and how they help Employee Assistance Programs and aid companies with health, wellness and prevention or listen to other episodes of Wellness Factors on Blog Talk Radio.


Beyond Belief is One Year Old - Thank You 

Happy Anniversary everyone! Read as a PDF

This week is the anniversary of the first printing of Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life. There are 1206 people who own a paperback or eBook copy of Beyond Belief. I don’t personally know 1,200 people so someone’s talking it up and that someone is you. In fact some of you have become remarkable champions of the first daily reflection book for nonbelievers, freethinkers and everyone.
This, I want to propose, is way more significant than simply beating the odds of a first-time print-on-demand project, over 90% of which never move 200 units. I think it signifies a paradigm shift. Sorry if you have heard that tired phrase in way too many boardrooms and trade-shows. Let me explain how this modest result is such an accomplishment and why you—not us—are responsible for it all. The first year buyers and readers are what market commentators call the early adaptors or visionaries. Let’s look at how, together, we have already shifted the recovery movement in a new direction—a better direction.

We know Bill Wilson and the other founders were fans of the writings of William James. Pre-Big Book AA leaned on James’s The Varieties of Spiritual Experiences. When Wilson was penning an article for the The Grapevine (July 1946) called, “The Individual In Relation to A.A. as a Group,” Bill W writes those infamous words that we have since celebrated: “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 AA Group if they think so!”

Of course, unbelievers and nonconformists in recovery are moved by this unabashed assurance that unorthodoxy is as AA as “one day at a time” or “don’t drink and go to meetings.” But just as significant as the individualism that Wilson was celebrating was (as reflected in the title, “The Individual In Relation to A.A. as a Group”) the cue to the society to encourage and champion these odd-balls.

Wilson, along with the more savvy old-timers, counted on their fledgling society to muster the courage to change; any society that was going to survive, would need to adapt as foreshadowed in early writing—“We know but a little,” “More will be revealed,” “Never fear needed change.”[i]
And what does change for the better look like? Well, it is un-pretty, cloaked in unpopularity and clamoring with controversy. Born of discontent, the survival of this anti-social, anti-whatever faction depends on being embraced by a flexible, trusting and tolerant society. Could AA do that? Does that sound crazy or impossible? It may well be that the genesis of Wilson’s scheme came from his readings of Williams James.

In a lecture called, “Great Men, Great Thoughts, and the Environment” delivered before the Harvard Natural History Society (published in the Atlantic Monthly, October, 1880) William James says this: “Thus social evolution is a resultant of the interaction of two wholly distinct factors, - the individual, deriving his peculiar gifts from the play of physiological and infra-social forces, but bearing all the power of initiative and originations in his hands; and, second, the social environment, with its power of adopting or rejecting both him and his gifts.” What resonates with where we stand today in 12 & 12 recovery is how James drives this idea home, “Both factors are essential to change. The community stagnates without the impulse of the individual. The impulse dies away without the sympathy of the community.”

James says that our society will stagnate without the impulse of the individual. While it starts with one person saying, “This isn’t good enough, we can do better,” without the sympathy of the community it would all be for not.

Let’s say a single member feels malnourished by the lack of secular support literature in Twelve Step rooms. He writes a book into an untested market after pitching the idea and being rejected by both Hazelden and HCI Books. So what; so far we have nothing but one restless malcontent. To breathe evolution into the chaos, the impulse of the individual (or the whole writing/editing team) had to freefall into the sympathetic arms and hearts of a recovery community.

What we celebrate on the anniversary of the first printing of Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life is not the impulse of an individual, but the sympathy of our community. One person does not a 12 Step meeting make and a new book being read by a couple dozen recovering members does not constitute the evolution of a society that James pointed towards. But a thousand people just might be the start of evolution. I think this is very, very exciting and very, very hopeful.

We hear and read a lot of discontent about society—our recovery society—dogmatically bogging down into the reification of our principles and infighting among clashing personalities. Okay, true enough, you read a lot of this type of bitching from this very site and these clashing personalities. But while we seemingly bitch and finger-point, maybe we are becoming or evolving into what Ghandi called the change we “want to see in the world.”

You see, we are the Fellowship; it isn’t a rented office in Manhattan or a General Service Conference each April. Our society’s heart beats in every group through the words and deeds of every member.
Paperbacks Sales
Direct from Rebellion Dogs Publishing 324
Bookstores 188
Amazon 405
Conferences/Conventions 52
Direct from Rebellion Dogs Publishing 18
Amazon (Kindle) 164
Kobo, Sony, iTunes, B&N 33
 Libraries 22
Total 1,206
Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life is one year old now.
This is a time to share our joy and express our gratitude to all supporters. After one year in the market, 1,206 people own a copy of Beyond Belief. It isn’t the end of day-jobs for anyone at Rebellion Dogs but it is something to be thankful for. Coming from me (Joe C), I don’t actually know over a thousand people so I have all of you to thank for talking up this book, your encouragement and the many who are the champions of this book.
For you curious cats, here is how it broke down: Paperbacks were preferred five to one, although several people want and have the book in both formats. Over two dozen booksellers, libraries and treatment centers have seen fit to bring this book to the attention of their visitors/clients.
In any sales cycle there are the innovators who take the leap of faith before others have heard about the new offering, followed by the early adapters, the early majority, late majority and finally the laggards who buy something once it’s in Walmart. We are now at the early adapter stage.
In technology, enthusiasts are in first because nerds love new technology for technologies sake. The love is not conditional on what the ultimate impact of the new technology is. The second phase is the visionaries; they are ahead of the crowd and buy in at top dollar to be there first. They see progress, momentum and potential and pay a premium to say, “I was there at the start.” The pragmatists join in when the price is more reasonable, the conservative are there once “everyone is doing it” and finally the skeptics give up and give it a try.

Everyone who owns a book now is an innovator, buying into an un-tested product, aimed at an unmet need. It is you that I want to thank and celebrate in this blog post.
Lessons from the music business
Derek Sivers uses the term first follower(s) to describe the significance of innovators and early adapters. First followers turn a lone nut into a leader. In the way James recognized the needed combination of an individual impulse and community sympathy, Sivers recognizes that the leader(s) is over-glorified because it is really the first follower(s) who showed courage and start a movement. Wayne’s World wouldn’t be a world without Garth. Bill Wilson wasn’t a fellowship; Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith, together, were the start of the AA fellowship.
Derek Sivers knows of what he speaks. He was a competent musician and composer but we don’t know him for these gifts. His claim to fame is founding CD Baby. Derek started helping to market other artists’ music and this became a multi-million dollar company. CD Baby was one of the early non-pornography internet sales success stories that Amazon, eBay, and many others have emulated. Our early adapting booksellers are the same heroes that Derek Sivers champions in a TED Talk and three minute video.
The first retail stores that stocked Beyond Belief are some of what Sivers calls “first followers.” The most encouraging news I hear is that where Beyond Belief is on bookshelves, about half of the sales were from people who came into the store to buy something else. The book has a “Hey, what a good idea!” effect. Some of these stores are addiction/recovery specialty stores and others are more general booksellers that happen to have a well-stocked Self-Help section.
The big picture of the daily reflection market
While I don’t know what the potential market for an agnostic daily reflection book really is or will be, we are off to a good start. Sure, if I wanted a best-seller I would have written another book for the rest of the marketplace that embraces and never tires of theistic daily devotionals. The total marketplace for these books is in the area of 750,000 unit sales per year. People who read Conference annual reports tell me AA sells over 150,000 Daily Reflections paperbacks each year. On Amazon, several books of this type outsell AA’s offering. Hazelden’s Each Day a New Beginning (for Women) and the 1954 Twenty-four Hours A Day outsell Daily Reflections. Outselling all of the daily reflection books, for codependents, is Melody Beattie’s Language of Letting Go. That book was written in 1990 and is still in the top 35,000 of the over one million books sold on, today.
There are daily devotionals for men, young people, newcomers, Al-Anon members and recovering drug addicts. All of them assume a creator-God worldview. I think all the ones I mentioned, outsold Beyond Belief in the last 12 months. That’s Okay; sure I have a competitive streak. I’d like to kick-ass, but that’s up to the public, not me. If someone told me that, “1,200 and only 1,200 want and need this book; it will cost you more that you will make—will you write a daily reflection book that includes people who don’t believe in God?” I would have said yes.
If 5% of the 750,000 people who buy daily devotionals would prefer an agnostic version, that can translate to 35,000 Beyond Belief owners a year. We can do that.
The Varieties of Beyond Belief Experiences
According to Paul Simon there are 50 ways to leave your lover. How many ways are there to use Beyond Belief? Some read it alone, some with a friend and some in a 12 Step group. Some people read a page each day. Some flip through and read pages at random. Some go to the index and look up musings on specific topics like relapse, Step Six, open-mindedness or work-life. In this way some group chairs pick a topical musing to read as a kick off to group discussion the way Living Clean, As Bill Sees It or Twenty-four Hours A Day are used. How many of you noticed that the 10th of each month is the Tradition that corresponds with that month? March 10th is Tradition Three, for instance. Okay, so that’s me being nerdy. Ernie Kurt talked about reading with a pad and a pen to one side. Is anyone mucking their Beyond Belief? That would be kinda’ cultish. Others would like another index at the back so quote sources. That way, if you wanted to look up what dates Bill W or Janis Joplin or Carl Jung are quoted, you could. Maybe in a future version we can make room for that.
We Are All “the change we want to see in the world”
Today’s celebration isn’t about one book. This last year other agnostic/atheist books have been released into the addiction/recovery community and older ones are getting a second life. Roger C who authored The Little Book also edits which is a hub of evolution. Look at all the Yahoo, Facebook and Google sites devoted to agnostic 12 Step community. Slightly older books, The 12 Step Buddhist, The Skeptics Guide to the 12 Steps and Waiting: A Nonbelievers Higher Power, are all catalysts of our evolution. Rebellion Dogs Publishing has changed our own bookstore page to celebrate many great books that represent our changing community.

No music fan owns just one record. No book-based society thrives on just one book—no matter what the thumpers might tell you. We aim to champion great books the way you have helped us spread the word about Beyond Belief. Play it forward, they say.
Everyone of you who has started or helped to start a group—you are visionaries, too. Two thirds of the agnostic AA groups listed on the NYC agnostic AA worldwide group directory didn’t exist before the year 2000. The change we demand and anguish over not being a reality is already happening.
So often we cry out about either the antiquated Big Book or the change-resistance of so many members but we miss the view of the forest because of the tree we are focused on. Who is the fellowship if it is not us? What is going on is cause for celebration. Sure, be a watchdog, identify wrongs and defend scapegoats. But let us not be so preoccupied with fault-finding that we miss the glorious truth that what we want has already started. Sure, it’s the one year key-tag, cake or medallion for Beyond Belief and everyone in recovery and every tool in the recovery tool-kit is a sign of hope. It takes a community to raise a child, help an addict recovery or move towards the society we want our children to feel included and welcome in.
It’s happening. Watch the three minute Derek Sivers Ted Talk
[i] “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. A.A. Grapevine “July 1965

Rebellion Dogs Radio Episode One Podcast

Welcome to Rebellion Dogs Addiction & Recovery Radio Show, bringing you a 21st century look at 12 Step life, with more bite and less dogma.

Play the show in your own audio player or download it. Please note, it's a big file and might take a couple of minutes to download. Otherwise, scroll down and use the Pod-o-matic player which fires up right away...

I am currently reading Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey’s Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization (Harvard Business School Publishing, 2009). Kegan is on record as saying:
“Successfully functioning in a society with diverse values, traditions and lifestyles requires us: to have a relationship to our own reactions rather than be captive of them; to resist our tendencies to make right or true, that which is merely familiar, and wrong or false, that which is only strange.”
Who doesn’t dismiss or is at least get uncomfortable with the unfamiliar. However, what’s the danger of making sacred that with is familiar? What is the danger of dismissing or demonizing that which seems strange to our way of doing things?

Our blogs have been focused on the Vancouver situation for a couple of weeks and in 2014 they are treating as new, the same situation Bill Wilson dealt with 60 years ago: Who gets to say who or what is a real A.A. group?

In Bill W’s AA, if you want to change the Steps so they fit with your worldview – go for it. Will there be any pressure from AA to either conform or get the hell out of here – never. In a film about the Traditions Bill confesses that the Twelve Traditions are contrary to his own knee-jerk reactions. He had his own agenda and his own secret aims for AA. The Twelve Traditions reflect the experience that his fears proved to be groundless and his ambitions were purely egotistical. Our Traditions are not from the wisdom of AA elders but born of the bad experiences of following first impulses. In this inaugural podcast Bill W himself, warns us that the Traditions are to guard against temptations that are bound to resurface, the temptation to govern and the human tendency toward rigidity, fear and intolerance.

If we don’t know our history we are damned—damned to repeat it, so we take a time-capsule trip back to 1957 when AA history set in place the standard to deal with non-conforming AA groups that want to do their own thing and aren’t asking anyone’s permission to do it.

Coming Up this month we will be talking with a filmmaker from Oregon who will talk about why addicts are so fascinating, an addiction treatment professional from California who talks about the missing component to the Big Book approach – shame, guilt and trauma work, plus a University of Toronto Psychology teacher who will be talking to us about coming to terms with our own capacity for both evil and virtue.

That’s not very one-day-at-a-time now is it? As for February, I hope all those ideas will come from y’all. Let us know what’s on your mind. We’ll hunt down the answers.
This is our new show and this is our new intro music. Tell us how you like it. news AT rebelliondogspublishingDOTcom

Read or download Show Transcripts - Check out AAagnostica to see what others are saying about the subject.

Listen, download, stream at Rebellion Dog's Pod-0-omatic Page.

The player below will stream but it takes a few minutes to kick in (it's a 50 minute track). If you're impatient, the Pod-0-matic link above is instant.

When You’re Not the Lead Dog© Joe C, Jesse Beatson, The Chronicles
Listen or download for free:
89 cents a song on Amazon
99 cents a song on iTunes:
Like jumping from a ledge or retreating to a burning building
Time to choose the uncertain or settle for breaking even
A parable comes to mind from one of life’s wise Eskimos
I don’t remember it exactly but here is how it goes:
When you’re not the lead dog, the view never changes
Life’s a crowded room full of faceless strangers
When you’re not the lead dog, the view never changes
I can’t settle for getting by so bring on the dangers
You confess you have a dream – the other’s just don’t get it
Like an aging hipster, you don’t want to be pathetic
So you’re torn between a good living and a good life
You ask if it’s worth the risk, the sweat, the strife. You asking me?
When you’re not the lead dog, the view never changes
Life’s a crowded room full of faceless strangers
When you’re not the lead dog, the view never changes
I can’t settle for getting by so bring on the dangers
I won’t bah like a sheep, so I fight what I seek
You won’t put me to rest with my concerto incomplete
Life is not a punishment – more like a treasure hunt
So I’m jumping from the ledge and taking a run for the front

  1. Rebellion Dogs Radio Episode 01

New-age AA stewardship: announcing the new Traditions 2.0 

Vancouver Intergroup considers banning books, unapproved readings and rituals.
Read, print, share as a PDF - Have you ever heard someone interrupt a 12 Step meeting or group business meeting with this four word sentence: “That’s not conference approved”? These are the words of someone who reads the headlines of a newspaper and looks at the pictures but doesn’t have time for details. Still he or she is confident that they are well-informed because they looked at the newspaper. 

There is no requirement for AA membership to be civically engaged, have a grasp of subtle nuances or even to be well-informed. But when it comes to our trusted servants, standards should be a little higher—at least as far as our own service structure is concerned. Vancouver AA Intergroup is being asked to consider trading in the status quo of our 12 Traditions for a more Orwellian AA era. The argument for this new order uses the phrase “conference approved” as an authority, while missing its intention.
In our previous blog post, I suggested that Vancouver Intergroup wasn’t happy with AA’s inverted triangle of service and felt things would be more effective governing groups instead of serving them. Leading up to the recent drama, a staff member got let go from Vancouver Intergroup, just after welcoming two agnostic AA groups into the fold. Viki was brought in and set things straight. The unbelievers were removed from the meeting list and a controversy was fabricated putting the blame on the victim of the discrimination—the agnostic AA groups. To create a crime scene where the bodies had been buried, rules had to be broken. Therefore, rules had to be created, or implied. The new rule (not our Traditions) is that for selected groups, inclusion in the AA fold has to withstand the popularity test of Intergroup reps. In the new Vancouver, two or more alcoholics gathered together for sobriety with no other affiliation aren’t a listable (made-up Traditions 2.0 word) group unless everyone else says so.
Viki replied to Rebellion Dogs’ last blog post: “I find this type of publication of derogatory and inflammatory material about A.A. by professed A.A. members to be disappointing.”
If a doctor tells us our smoking is killing us and we say, “I find this kind of derogatory and inflammatory conversation disappointing, especially coming from a doctor”—should the concern be with the doctor who confronts the problem or the patient who denies it? Viki would rather judge than be judged; Okay, who wouldn't? I challenged her about engaging in dangerous seat of perilous power type of behavior and kidding herself about the consequences. She diminishes me as a “professed” member.
One of her Orwellian violations is uncensored readings. Reality check—before a pamphlet or new edition of the Big Book goes to the printer, our General Service Conference, representing members, groups and areas from every region of Canada and the USA, votes on it, granting approval to publish, copyright and print it with conference approval.
What Viki leaves out but the World Service of Alcoholics Anonymous emphasises is that conference approveddoes not imply Conference disapproval of other material about A.A. A great deal of literature helpful to alcoholics is published by others, and A.A. does not try to tell any individual member what he or she may or may not read.”[i]
In a letter to Intergroup, Vancouver Viki blames two books for the chaos. She writes: “What is the controversy? These groups state they are AA groups stating their right to be so rests with the Third Tradition which states, ‘The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking.’ The controversy arises from the fact that these groups do not use the literature of AA at their meetings. They use Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life, The Little Book: A Collection of Alternative 12 Steps, and they have changed “How It Works,” The Preamble to Alcoholics Anonymous, removing all reference to God or a Higher Power as we understood Him.”
Would AA be better if books should be either conference approved or forbidden? That’s not what AA World Service says, is it? AA members who don’t believe in God may be unpopular but there are no rules about what parts of AA can be accepted or rejected. It is neither stated nor implied in AA Traditions, Concepts, or Warranties that to be an AA group, obedience or conformity can or should be demanded of groups by AA as a whole.
This isn’t a loophole. The intention was and is to widen AA’s gateway so anyone with the faintest interest in sobriety, regardless of what they believed or did not believe, could try AA on their terms.
Viki, we don’t have to burn our books to show our loyalty to AA. On a lighter note, thank you. You flatter both Roger C., author of The Little Book and me for my book, Beyond Belief. It is an honour to be considered, if only by you, to be in the company of banned book-authors James Joyce, Ann Frank, Aldous Huxley, Noam Chomsky, Li Hongzhi, Dr. Seuss, Voltaire and George Orwell[ii]. So, shine on 15 minutes of infamy, shine on.
Andrew Loog Oldham said, “There is no such thing as bad publicity.” If he were alive today, he might say, “It isn’t that the Central Office Manager of the Greater Vancouver Intergroup Society disparaged your book; it’s that she brought the books to the attention of every Intergroup rep and every AA group in the British Columbia Lower Mainland.” As manager of the Rolling Stone, Loog Oldham found momentum from letting The Stones be cast as the alter ego to the squeaky clean fab-four from Liverpool.
“Would you let your daughter marry a Rolling Stone?” wasn’t a scare tactic that this brazen manager came up with but he played the hand he was dealt, brilliantly.

In the same album cycle that saw The Beatles release Let It Be, The Stones put out Let It Bleed. So, if Viki from Vancouver Intergroup wants to grasp at my daily reflection book as a culprit in her campaign to have local AA discriminate against agnostic groups, what can I say but, “At least you were thinking of me, Vik. ‘It’s only rock ‘n’ roll but I like it, like it, yes I do.’”
Closer to Vancouver that the Rolling Stones, Neko Case is known for her role in the local Juno Award winning band, The New Pornographers. South of the border Case is remembered for taking her shirt off during a performance on August 4, 2001 at an out-door Opry Plaza Concert. The penalty was that she was banned for life from the Grand Ole Opry. Subsequently she recorded a record called Blacklisted. Case said, “People would love [the topless incident] to be a ‘fuck you’ punk thing. But it was actually a physical ailment thing. I had heat stroke.”
All these years later, who looks stupid now? The Grand Ole Opry may have been sure, at the time, that they had righteousness on their side, but they might have wanted to ask themselves, “What will the next generation say about our deeds?” Viki, will the next generation of AA members say, “Thanks for protecting AA from the modern lexicon,” or “How could you have be such a bigot?” History is not always kind.
Last example—1976 was the year that I said, “Tonight’s the night”—I will never drink again. By golly, November 27, 1976 did turn out to be my sobriety date. Rod Stewart’s LP of the same year, A Night On The Town, has a song called “Tonight’s the Night.” It was banned in many jurisdictions (probably in Vancouver, too) for unforgivably graphic lyrics. Consider what it takes today to get a Parental Advisory warning, let alone to be censored. In 1976 we, the public, were being protected from the lyric, “Spread your wings and let me come inside.”
The album also had hits like “The Killing of Georgie” about homophobia and “The First Cut is the Deepest,” but no doubt it was the banning of the first single that earned the album two million record sales from a music loving public that would not be told what to say, hear, read or think. Who understood the zeitgeist of the times and who is being laughed at now for trying to keep society locked in the past?
Back to you, Viki—you have zealously struck the Vancouver agnostic groups from the AA meeting list. Let me see if I follow your logic: You love AA; you are our loyal steward and you are protecting the integrity of the AA message. Does that sound like something you might say?
Think of how history views the censor and the censored. How do you want to be remembered? Rod Stewart is remembered as an imaginative innovator. The Canadian Radio and TV Commission (CRTC) that censored him is chastised for out of touch, dogmatic buffoonery.
Your intolerance isn’t for artistic liberty in meetings is it? You don’t mind that the Serenity Prayer, Lord’s Prayer, “Man in the Glass” or any of the other popular AA rituals are not conference approved. I mean, by your logic all groups that engage in these non-conference approved activities should be taken out of the list too, right?
But your intolerance is for nonbelievers. Who would dare doubt the existence of God and/or His role in our sobriety? You don’t want them in your AA. You don’t like liberties being taken with your Steps. Viki, the Steps belong to all of AA. We are not a religion. We have no dogma that needs protection, nothing is sacred and nothing is forbidden. And if I am jumping to conclusions, and you do welcome agnostics and atheists, then we can hardly welcome nonbelievers without accommodating them.
Toronto history bears out that if you cast a vote “for or against God in AA,” you can win that battle, framed that way. If you hold this vote, you’ll betray our Traditions. Might you win the battle and lose the war? AA has a place for all members and all of our groups. AA need not govern, expel or judge. Only someone who saw herself or himself as the agent provocateur of literalist hegemony would campaign that our culture of inclusion, love and tolerance is no longer the AA way. There is no emergency, there is no controversy and there is nothing to fear but fear itself.
Now having said all that I want to conclude by saying I have had Viki in the cross-hairs of my anti-discrimination rant for long enough and I want to take a more global look at things. I don’t know Viki and she doesn’t know me. I bet if we were both sent on the same 12 Step call together we would tell our stories, listen to the newcomer and behave as members of a cohesive, viable unit. I want to bring someone else into the discussion here, too. Viki wasn’t the only one who had something to say about my last blog. Lech from Calgary, someone I respect a lot, said in so many words, “Joe, do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?” Often in life we can’t do both.
More literally, he called me on my bullshit. While I point a judgemental finger westward, I am fault finding. The only thing I hate more than a bigot is a hypocrite and I am being one; damn. In the question of the Vancouver Manoeuvre, who is right and who is wrong is beside the point. I am playing the victim card—don’t persecute nonbelievers, minority rights, blah, blah, blah. In truth, we are all persecuted, we are all alcoholics. We have all been demonized for behaving as addicts will behave. So it seems silly to argue over who is the good deviant and who is the bad one. We have all suffered from being stigmatized and, in all likelihood, we have been guilty of it ourselves.
This issue isn’t Vancouver’s dirty little secret. While AA is anonymous, we aren’t a secret society. This situation is being discussed in private Facebook groups and coffee shops throughout the recovery community. It is getting rather polarizing and I may be as much to blame as anyone.
Does Rebellion Dogs see our role as watchdog? If so, that’s a bit of an ego trip that I, for one, aim to remedy. We aren’t anti-god; we are anti-dogma. We aren’t into a pissing contest about one worldview being more enlightened than another. We are about equality. The moderates would look at us—the “preserving the integrity of the message” camp and the “widening the gateway” camp—and say, “What are you arguing about? Your messages are one in the same. The message to be preserved is that there is room for everyone.”
Lech’s message to me was to keep doing the right thing. The problem is out there (the still suffering alcoholic) not in here (the narcissism of small differences). Thank you sir; I will try to keep that in mind.

Do we serve or do we govern? Vancouver ponders the AA Service Credo 

Bill W eliminated barriers to AA membership Why kick alcoholics to the curb now?
See, print or share as a PDF. The inverted triangle of Alcoholics Anonymous service structure is fundamental to our society. To serve—not govern—differentiates AA from other societies. Ignoring this principle for a specific agenda or other exception will invite a cast of unintended consequences ranging from hard feelings to a total compromise of our system, forfeiting our fellowship as we have known it for over 78 years.
The inverted triangle is AA’s protection from tyranny. Two tyrannies are described by Bill W. in the Twelve Concepts[i]. The two risks are the tyranny of the majority as well as the tyranny of the minority. This inverted triangle prevents the threat of a minority within AA having their rights trampled on. As well, special interest groups can’t railroad the agenda.

Most democracies work the other way around with the power held by a few at the top. They dictate rules, policy and enforcement upon the masses. Some of the inefficiencies, corruption and divisiveness we see in everyday politics are largely avoided in AA. Our inverted service structure is largely to thank for that. Upend this triangle— leaders at the top and members and our groups at the bottom, instead of members and groups at the top and trusted servants at the bottom—and we have the same struggles, lobbying, politics and inequity inside AA as we see in the world outside. Much of what Bill W. observed as causing the downfall of organizations that came before us have been solved or prevented, so long as we maintain the integrity of our code of love and tolerance.
Predictably, when someone tries to subordinate groups and members with leadership the language used is, ‘This is an emergency.” Just as skilled interrogators can spot the tells of a liar, a supposed AA emergency is a tell that someone is on a power trip.
For our non-alcoholic trustees who find their way to the AA General Service Board of Directors, one of the intriguing lessons about AA is an expression heard in Board meetings, “There are no emergencies in A.A.” The reason for that is our inverted triangle that sustains our unique society.
Vancouver is on AAs’ mind for their winning bid for the 2025 World Convention. In 2015 we are in Atlanta, 2020 we head for Detroit, then many will gather in Canada’s Left Coast capital for what I am sure will be a great gathering. That’s not exactly living in the moment, I suppose, but having lived in Western Canada for a significant period of my sobriety I can say that our fellowship is in for a treat, or at least those of us who are still around. Right now, Vancouver is in the AA spotlight from another reason.
Vancouver’s Intergroup has a nefarious power play going on. The situation compromises the integrity of our cherished inverted triangle service structure. While we need not meddle in specific issues of a specific Intergroup, this case is worth examining because it encapsulates a mean-spirited attitude that has implications for the whole of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Am I biased on this issue? More than most of us and I will happily disclose my vested interest. While it clouds my judgement, it need not cloud yours. I won’t feign objectivity but I do have a unique position that I will candidly put to you for your consideration. I suffer from the same confirmation bias described by Michael Shermer as does the powers that be at the Greater Vancouver Intergroup Society (GVSI). My hope is that I can make my point, fairly represent theirs, and you can be objective. This matter does impact all of us.
What looks like a simple question of “are agnostic AA groups AA enough?” is a slippery slope, slipping out of the spiritual safety net of  AA’s Twelve Concepts and Twelve Traditions. As I lay out Vancouver’s position, I contend that it is only defendable by ignoring the inverted triangle (groups on top, trusted servants below).

To be fair, I don’t know what other people are thinking or what motivates them. I am guessing here, drawing on what I am like when I think I am on a mission from God. I say this metaphorically, of course but who hasn’t been so sure we were right that we only see what we want to see. I have done it; I have been overly zealous. When I am like that, it’s tempting to think the end justifies the means. I not condemning Vicki; who is the GVIS General Manager who emailed all of the Vancouver Intergroup reps or Jim J. who authored an 18 page document called Report on Agnostic Group(s). I am questioning the agenda, however. Actions suggests that whoever has removed AA groups from the directory and called for the urgent attention to get the blessing from the Intergroup reps for this discrimination, sees themselves as the leader, guiding the discussion, setting the parameters, and executing whatever executive privilege he or she deems that “the emergency” warrants. I just happen to disagree that there is an emergency or anything that needs intervention.
Here are the facts of the Vancouver issue, as described by Viki’s email to Intergroup Reps and Jim’s 18 page Report on Agnostic Group(s):
  1. In 2012 We Agnostics Group registered their group with General Service Office in New York and provided their particulars to the (then) GVSI manager and We Agnostics was included in the meeting directory for the Greater Vancouver area.
  2. In the spring of 2013 Sober Agnostics followed the same process described above.
  3. By executive decree, the manager that included the agnostic groups as rightful peers was let go. The Fall 2013 Intergroup elite removed the two AA groups from the meeting directory, deeming them unfit.
Viki’s email to Intergroup reps states, “In January there will be discussion about this submission and a decision made as to what constitutes a ‘listable’ group.”
Listable? I looked for that word in the AA Word Service Manual and again in the pamphlet “The A.A. Group” and I don’t find it. I looked again under “A.A. Guidelines: Central or Intergroup Offices, (G.S.O. MG 02).” I hit Control-F on my keypad, type in “listable” and no luck. Neither listable nor unlistable are part of the 78 year old service structure lexicon of Alcoholics Anonymous. Listable groups is a made-up emergency.
AA has been here before; Woman, African Americans, LGBTQ and young people weren’t welcomed with open arms, at first. Bigotry darkened AA’s history. Today of course, men’s women’s, LGBTQ or young people’s groups exemplify how the majority accommodates the needs and wishes of the minority. Each group governs itself without supervision, scrutiny or the fear of expulsion. Disagreement, disobedience and nonconformity are no threat to AA unity. AA is self-correcting. If a group gets it wrong, it fades out by itself; no intervention required. We don’t judge. We don’t interfere. We certainly don’t expel members or their groups. We remember what Bill W. writes about our history:

"We built a fine-mesh fence right around A.A.
“Maybe you think we oldtimers were pretty intolerant. But I can tell you there was nothing funny about the situation then. We were grim because we felt our lives and homes were threatened, and that was no laughing matter. Intolerant, you say? Well, we were frightened. Naturally, we began to act like most everybody does when afraid. After all, isn’t fear the true basis of intolerance? Yes, we were intolerant.
How could we then guess that all those fears were to prove groundless? How could we know that thousands of these sometimes frightening people were to make astonishing recoveries and become our greatest workers and friends?"
Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions p. 140 – 141
The Report on Agnostic Group(s) claims that we have to burn forbidden books and demand conformity. I expect the good intention of delisting rogue groups is to preserve the integrity of the AA message. Jim sees himself as a righteous Intergroup protector and steward of the AA way of life. He has, as I will argue, slipped on a power-trip and taken liberties that no AA trusted servant should indulge in. The Intergroup police force’s rationalization for implementing the un-AA-like practice of judging and refusing service to groups they find disagreement with is that their ends (which Jim and Viki feel are in line with AA’s ends) justify their means. But the means embrace what we avoid in AA—the seat of perilous power.

There is no perilous power in AA’s inverted triangle. Groups are autonomous. AA has over 114,000 groups according the January 2013 survey[ii]. That is over 100,000 ways that our rituals are expressed, what we take and what we leave, with no one evaluating our listability. Only our group conscience dictates to the meeting. Guiding the group, we believe in a higher power, be it a creator-God or power of example and democracy within the rooms. That’s Tradition Two.
Our General Service Office has no say on our group’s affairs. Neither does Intergroup. Every member gets one vote and the group as a whole decides, keeping our Traditions in mind.
Alcohol impairs an alcoholic’s perception. Drunk, we fear things that aren’t real. The alcoholic’s ego gets warped at times. Power can intoxicate and impair our perception, too. Who hasn’t heard “this is a disease of perception.” When drunk on power, our world is turned upside down—including the AA service structure. We see this upended service structure in Vancouver judging group fitness. Here are Vancouver Intergroup’s arguments.
  1. Toronto delisted groups so Vancouver can, too.
  2. Books are being read that aren’t conference approved.
  3. The General Service Conference is the custodian of the Twelve Steps. Anyone who modifies the Step, forfeits their status in the fellowship of AA.
Toronto did de-list two agnostic groups and then gathered to throw out a third one. For the record, I am a member of one of these original groups sent to the curb. Only someone who sees themselves at the top of a pyramid scheme (pictured below) could justify another Intergroup as an authority or precedent. If there are no leaders, there is no follow-the-leader.
Two wrongs don’t make a right. There are hundreds of agnostic AA groups and most are rights-bearing equals among the other groups in their districts (or Intergorups). When people understand AA’s structure you don’t have to doubt God to support agnostic groups. Most people who support gay and lesbian groups or woman’s or young people’s groups have never had been to one—who cares what they do at their group. “It’s not my business. They are a group if they say so.”
Exactly the same drunk-on-power Kool-Aid is being consumed in other jurisdictions, including Indianapolis, Des Moines and Toronto. By the way, of note to Vancouver AA that was not covered in Jim’s 18 page report is this: since the Toronto agnostic vote, agnostic groups are multiplying and attendance is growing. Conversely, group contributions have been below budget at Toronto Intergroup ever since the listablility question (to borrow from Viki’s vocabulary). I don’t know if the discriminatory vote followed by the decline in Intergroup contributions is connected. Bill W did talk about “the power of the purse.” It is mere speculation to consider that Toronto is having another vote—voting with group contributions, showing disproval for their Intergoup.
Toronto’s fight was not between those who believe in a creator-God and those don’t. It was a stand on which end of the pyramid is at the top and which end is at the bottom. Most member’s don’t support scapegoating minorities or discussing other groups’ affairs in their business meetings. That is un-AA. In an inclusive society, like AA, the majority reduces barriers and accommodates minorities. We don’t vote them off the island.
Banned books? Are you kidding me? A power tripper might see General Service Office atop of their service pyramid, approves the books that we print and disapproves of books that AA doesn’t print. In reality, what members or groups read is not GSO’s concern. GSO sees its role as supporting the needs of the groups (at the top)—no policing, just service. Having written one of these books that renders a group unlistable, I will devote another, more humorous, blog post about forbidden readings in group rituals.
Appendix E in the A.A. Service Manual is the BYLAWS of the General Service Board, Inc. Here’s what it says and this—I think—is the biggest cause of confusion and the most emotionally charged issue:
"The “General Service Board” (or the “Board”) claims no proprietary right in the recovery in the recovery program, for these Twelve Steps, as all spiritual truths, may now be regarded as available to all mankind. However, because these Twelve Steps have proven to constitute an effective spiritual basis for life which, if followed, arrests the disease of alcoholism, the General Service Board asserts the negative right of preventing, so far as it may be within its power so to do, any modification, alteration, or extension of these Twelve Steps, except at the instance of the Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous." (S111, the A.A. Service Manual combined with Twelve Concepts of World Service by Bill W.)
To whom is this statement so emotional? Those who revere the Twelve Steps as sacred get a little testy about this turgid decree. On the other hand, if you see the Twelve Steps as suggestions and not a requirement for good standing in our Fellowship, or loosely articulated principles, the wording of such, being optional—then you would see agnostic Steps as imaginative—not sacrilegious. “Good for you; whatever works.”
What oversight does “asserts the negative right of preventing, so far as it may be within its power so to do, any modification, alteration, or extension of these Twelve Steps” imply? Who does it govern and who is doing the governing?
The answer to the above questions depends on what triangle you envision for AA service structure. If GSO (or Intergroup) is at the top, the Board takes action against any member, group or service body that takes artistic liberty with our Twelve Steps That’s because you would see the BYLAWS at the pointy top of the pyramid, governing all that are below.
GSO is at the point but, the point is not the top; it’s on the bottom. These are the BYLAWS that govern the Board and the annual General Service Conference. It is a protection that prevents the few (being the Board of the delegates, trustees and AA employees that make up the Conference) from deciding, on behalf of us groups and members, what changes should be made to the Steps or Traditions. The Board and the Conference work for our autonomous groups whose will is filtered down through the service structure. The Conference conducts AA’s business on behalf of our members and groups. They serve—they do not govern. Perhaps GSO might ask a newspaper to correct a misrepresentation of the Twelve Steps but they certainly don’t tell 114,000 groups what to read or how to interpret the AA program. 
Personally, trustees or delegates may disagree with my group writing God out of the Steps. They are entitled to an opinion. But they have no authority to have our group practices obeying their personal image of AA. Again, the theme is serving—not governing.
Just as importantly, the minority of groups that state, “no God please, we’re agnostic,” cannot demand that AA change everything to suit them. There is no tyranny of the minority or the majority. Just because some find god-talk lacking or even offensive, not all of AA is going to change to meet each individual whim. We don’t have to be in uniformed agreement. Each group is autonomous.
Meanwhile, back in Toronto, “Except in matters affecting other groups or A.A. as a whole,” is Barbara H’s retort to defend her stewardship of Toronto Intergroup. While she sees agnostic expulsion as doing God’s will, Bill W would have been ashamed of such bigotry. Being inventive about how a group interprets the Steps isn’t affecting other groups or AA as a whole. The author of our Steps defended any group’s right to de-God the Steps or reject them completely[iii].
An Intergroup Chair, drunk on power, could suffer a hallucination of false authority. She or he would see the enforcement role not only as ultimate power but as an ultimate, noble duty. Is this an innocent mistake?

I am not so charitable. The A.A. Service Manual, when read in its entirety, has a spirit that is just so obviously inclusive and permissive. Membership requirements: zero. There is no authority over groups. Yes, we hope that groups and individuals understand and practice our Traditions. But members and groups are self-governing. Traditions are not AA rules. They are an expression of our experience—not our expertise. The final page of our Manual makes it so painstakingly clear; there is no punishment for nonconformity; love and service is our code.
I think anyone who wants to impose their AA values as mandatory rules over another autonomous AA group is a zealot. I don’t like muckers so I don’t go to their meetings. I don’t try to run them out of AA; to each their own.
Those of us with strongly held beliefs are sometimes threatened by those with convergent beliefs. The atheist, the poly-theist and the monotheist can’t all be right. But we can all get along. “Whenever, wherever a hand reaches out for help, we want the hand of AA always to be there.” For some, that means a slightly different way of doing things. The rest of us will accommodate—that’s love and tolerance. Accommodation is the AA way, not condemnation.
To judge another is the most un-AA of all. To scapegoat is worse. The service we do in our Twelfth Step is not our recovery. If someone thinks someone else’s program need to be talked about and their “listability” should be discussed, that isn’t a service emergency. That’s a recovery emergency. We claim spiritual progress, rather than spiritual perfection. We all have recovery emergencies. There are no service emergencies. Hasty, uninformed and angry majorities haven’t made a better AA in Toronto. I hope Vancouver can learn from the mistakes of others. Let’s each stick to our recovery and ask how we can be of service to others.

Related Posts:

[i] [1] “...the greatest danger to democracy would always be the ‘tyranny’ of apathetic, self-seeking, uninformed or angry majorities. Only a truly dedicated citizenry, quite willing to protect and conserve minority rights and opinions, could, he thought, guarantee the existence of a free and democratic society. All around us in the world today we are witnessing the tyranny of majorities and even worse tyranny of very small minorities invested with absolute power.” the AA Service Manual, p. 24
[ii] Box 4-5-9 Vol. 59, No. 2/ SUMMER 2013 reports 2,131,549 members and 114,642 groups as of January 2013
[iii] In his chapter on “Unity,” from A. A. Comes of Age, Bill W writes about Buddhists who said that they would like to be part of AA, but also would like to replace the word “god” with “good” so that the practice of the Steps would be compatible with their non-theistic belief. In 1957, Bill Wilson writes: “To some of us, the idea of substituting ‘good’ for ‘God’ in the Twelve Steps will seem like a watering down of A.A.’s message. But here we must remember that A.A.’s Steps are suggestions only. A belief in them, as they stand, is not at all a requirement for membership among us. This liberty has made A.A. available to thousands who never would have tried at all had we insisted on the Twelve Steps just as written.” Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age pg. 81
Photos courtesy of Kevin James of Cirlce Rouge Studios. Click on the Logo to see more of Kevin's work or enqire about professional video and photography.