A 2020 look at AA's year in review: progressive and traditionalist baby-zoomers

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This just in:

  • The latest insights and stats from AA General Service Conference.
  • New studies about worldview that explain our recovery culture a little bit better.
  • COVID-19 life finds doors are shut; other doors are opening. We have lots to unpack in this blog. But hey, we do have some time on our hands. For your consideration, 

We offer recovery musings away from news/weather/sports for a half hour. 

England and America—two nations divided by a common language—this quip was attributed to George Bernard Shaw in 1942 Readers Digest. So yes, this attribution is a similar time frame to Herbert Spencer being misattributed about the dangers of contempt prior to investigation in a re-writing of Alcoholics Anonymous 

“The new 1941 Appendix lacked not only its later full title, but also the quote attributed to Herbert Spencer, which wasn’t added to                                   ‘Spiritual Experience’ until the third printing of the second edition in 1959.(Writing the Big Book)”[i] 

Oh, if only these icons of thought had immortalized their words on Facebook, like we do; we could “fact check”. But back to divided by a common language... In our new anyone-from-anywhere zoom meeting world, words mean different things to different boxes on the screen. Our language of the heart uses the same words but is open to interpretation and misinterpretation. 

Alcoholics Anonymous, and all mutual aid groups, have a group-speak. If only these widely used words shared widely agreed upon meaning. Some recent studies comparing European and American communication about religious/spiritual concepts seems to reinforce the notion that “Yeah, but AA is spiritual—not religious,” means widely different things and we now have evidence to support the idea that the locality of our meetings has an influence over what these words mean. Pew Research findings shines a light on regional influences on 12-step culture from worldview to literature and slogans. 

Looking at Pew Research Group’s findings, in The Atlantic[ii], Segal Samuel mused over how Americans are different that Western Europeans (May of 2018): 

“Americans are deeply religious people—and atheists are no exception. 

Europeans are deeply secular people—and Christians are no exception.” 

How do these characteristics inform AAs community that includes “deeply religious” and “secular” AA members? Consensus on what AA members (& other 12-steppers) believe, might be wishful thinking. We hear that the inclusive 12-step culture does not demand that you or I believe anything. Still, some freethinkers feel the concern or hostility from others when we express ourselves candidly. And some progressives bemoan that an overbearing theistic orthodoxy in AA does not meet today’s newcomer where they’re at, the way AA-language did in the 1950s. 

The earliest AA literature frames addiction as a state of powerlessness. The remedy is outside agency. In 1939, most AA’s were raised to understand outside agency as being supernatural. No belief system is a requirement for membership. Nonetheless, a newcomer could draw a connection that belonging and believing in AA, were tied together. This 20th century middle-America God as you understand Him" remains widely supported in the rooms. Meanwhile, a persistent secular wave challenges the supremacy of a theistic AA philosophy.

It is so simple if you enjoy the candor of A Newcomer Asks (AAWS p-24). Our pamphlet describes our membership as falling into one of three beliefs: the existence of a supernatural higher power, a secular power or no need/want for a higher power, at all: 

There’s a lot of talk about God, though, isn’t there? 

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. 

  1. Many people call it God, 
  2. others think it is the A.A. group, 
  3. 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. 

The word “God” or “spiritual” are problematic insofar as there is less and less consensus of what these words mean in relation to recovery from alcoholism. Pew Research Group confirms that people who speak this abstract language don’t share concrete definitions to being or not being religious or secular. Europeans differ from Americans but in both cases researchers find it hard to tell what someone believes based on how they self-identify. 

Pew widely reports that about a quarter of Americans are now part of the growing “nones (religiously unaffiliated).” A 2017 Pew poll[iii] gets more specific. Respondents in the USA were asked, “Do you believe in God or not?” 

  • Yes: 80% 
  • No: 19% 

It’s settled then; oh, but wait... Of the 80% who answered, “Yes,” Pew Research Group probed further: 56% of Americans believe in “God as described in the Bible, “plus 23% of self-identified believers, “believe in some other higher power/spiritual force.” A rose by any other name is still a rose but this isn’t as true for abstractions. 

Of the 19% of Pew respondents who identify as nonbelievers, we find the same ambiguity: 10% of Americans, “Do not believe in any higher power/spiritual force” Another 9% say, “No, I do not believe in God, AND I do believe in some form of higher power/spiritual force.” 

Age is a factor. The survey of 4,700 Americans reveals self-identified nonbelievers in 16% of under 30-year-olds (“do not believe in God or higher power of any kind”). Of 30 to 49-year-olds, 13% do not hold supernatural beliefs. Atheism thins out among older Americans; 4 to7% of those aged 50+, do not believe in any higher power. 

In a July 20, 2020 Pew report called, The Global God Divide [iv]  current and relevant data that characterize the communities outside our meetings that must inform the local AA philosophy. Widely speaking, you can see the trend this century towards a secular view in developed countries. The USA does stay stubbornly theistic compared to others. Note for instance, only in America do more than ½ of people still see daily prayer as important. Other Pew investigations we will get to shortly, ask questions that are very AA-relevant. But here is a 2020 snapshot: while declining, the relevance of God remains greater in the USA than some other English-speaking AA countries

Pew Research Questions 2019 USA UK Canada Australia
Belief in God needed to be Moral 44% 20% 26% 19%
God plays important role in life 72% 40% 52% 38%
Prayer is important 67% 31% 42% 32%

 

The Atlantic, which characterized USA and Euro differences in their relationship with the labels “secular” or “Christian,” was musing over one 2017 Pew Research Center study that made interesting comparisons. Respondents were asked if they “Believe in God with absolute certainty.” 

Answering, “Yes:” compare 15% of W. Europeans to 63% of Americans. That is a big cultural difference. 

Breaking respondents into people who identified as “Christian” vs. “religiously unaffiliated”... 

  • 23% of Christian European plus 3% of Unaffiliated Europeans(believe in God). 
  • 63% of Christian Americans plus 27% of Unaffiliated Americans (believe in God). 

Irreligious Western Europeans don’t believe in gods. Some irreligious Americans do. If this Western Europeans vs. Americans difference is the same in AA meetings, then the way members self-identify and what that says about their worldview varies differently from opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean. So, are AA Americans deeply religious and AA Europeans deeply secular? 

In a historical switch, the “old country” of AA is America and Europe is the brave new land. For Europeans, AA is imported from the USA. Did they import the literal interpretations? The “God as we understand Him/Her/Them” in American meetings means the “God of the Bible” or “some form of higher power/spiritual force,” by 90% of members (assuming AA members are the same demographic as research respondents). Only 10% of American members dismiss god(s) as superstition or use a G.O.D. acronym to describe a humanist aid found in AA sobriety. 

Across the Atlantic, a mere 15% of AAs holds an anthropomorphic “God as we understand Him/Her/Them” notion while 85% regard the god-idea as AA-talk that their American cousins use—more poetic than literal. 

There seems no reason to believe “God could and would if He were sought” has the same meaning to the same number of members in Glasgow or Amsterdam AA as in the USA where belief in AA gods reigns supreme. Or do Europeans view AA as a solution to alcohol use disorder, only for the religious few? Neither American nor European members hold universally agreed upon worldviews. But is the godly AA language hurting AA's reputation outside of the United States?.

People are leaving AA outside America, according to January 2020 AA statistics. But for those who do stay in international AA, the secular voice is influencing AA literature and culture. Zoom brings members from around the world to each others local meetings. What impact is the blending of more secular and more orthodox AA having? . 

Hot Off The Press: 70th General Service Conference Final Report (2020) 

The 2020 General Service Conference was the first to be held online due to COVID-19. AA is 85 years old and this was our 70th General Service Conference to discuss the business of AA as a whole. According to this report and records reported in the Summer edition of Box 4-5-9: News & Notes from GSO {General Service Office] each year: 

  • USA AA membership increased by 17% from 2000 to 2020. (up 200,000 members from 1,162,112 to 1,361,471 members) 
  • Canada shed 12% of its members in AA from 98,816 in 2000 to 87,840 in 2020). 
  • World members (Outside USA/Canada) lost 29% of members falling from 833,100 at Y2K to 588,703 members remaining at January of this year.[iv] 

Overall, AA is slightly smaller over two decades (-4%) but we are more of an American fellowship that we were at the turn of the century. 

There is more in the Conference Report. Julio was in charge of inviting all of AA to Detroit in July of 2020. The city and convention center have been preparing for twelve years to welcome an estimated 75,000 AA and Al-Anon Family members. The breaks got put on our 2020 85th anniversary party’s physical gathering in Detroit and plans switched to a virtual online world convention. Julio reports on this great adventure. 

The theme for the 2021 conference will be AA in changing times. If that resonates with you, get to your Area Assemblies and regional forums (on zoom) to discuss your passions. Every dollar, email and phone call are accounted for and reported on. Ask your General Service Rep for a PDF of the 2020 report if you want to read it yourself.

The Literature Desk: every pamphlet tells a story don't it? 

Our United Kingdom General Service Office has influenced the AA language over the years. 

Remember that A Newcomer Asks pamphlet that speaks so candidly about “room in A.A. for people of all shades of belief and non-belief?” While most literature is first written and printed by AA World Services in New York and then adopted by English AA around the world, A Newcomer Asks is one of two exceptions. This was created in Britain for local use and outreach (Cooperation with the Professional Community and Public Information). 

An American visiting the UK picked one up from a London literature table, brought it home to the States, one thing led to another, and in 1980, the USA/Canada General Service Conference adopted the UK pamphlet. 

Today, this UK import, A Newcomer Asks, is the second-best seller in AA pamphlets next to Is AA for You? This expression of the equivalency of power of AA being explained as God, the group, or nothing at all, exemplifies a more European, more secular temperament especially compared to the deeply religious loudest voice in the American room. 

As of 2016, the second British import to the USA/Canada literature racks was The “God” Word: Agnostics and Atheists in AA. Published by the UK GSO in 2014 to meet local demand, The “God” Word was sought-after by secular AA members and groups in USA and Canada, too. 

The same atheist/agnostic pamphlet was explored by the USA/Canada General Service Conference eleven times  from the 1970s until 2012 at the New York conference. For the more Christian American influenced conference, creating an equal voice to godless heathens was a bridge to far. Eleven proposals for Atheist/Agnostics literature were mothballed by our more Christian conference. 

That wasn’t the fault of the USA/Canada’s literature committee. Valiant efforts over the years, to collect stories, create a draft pamphlet and make requested changes were all for not when the conference couldn’t muster enough votes to pass the Conference Literature Committee’s recommendation to approve a pamphlet of atheists and agnostics from Canada and the USA telling their stories of alcoholism and recovery. The closest GSO came was what got transformed into Many Paths to Spirituality. Many Paths, serves a purpose but it fell short from the decades long requests for nonbelievers talking about alcoholism and recovery in our own unabashed language. 

Meanwhile, in the UK, the need was recognized in 2012 and by 2014, The “God” Word: Agnostics and Atheists in AA was available. An obvious need met by an uncontroversial solution in our more secular AA society.   

Having a conference approved pamphlet for atheist and agnostics, from the British General Service Conference, forged a viable path for USA/Canada to satisfy an unmet need. Like A Newcomer Asks before it, it was far easier for North Americans to adopt an existing AA pamphlet, we had done it already. 

Secular AA groups requested this in the most palatable way possible for the conference. Freethinkers AA groups from New York, Kansas City, Toronto and several other regions, approached their districts about bringing a motion to their respective areas to ask GSO to adopt the British pamphlet so it could be available to USA and Canada groups in English, Spanish and French. All districts felt the want and need and voted “yes.” District Committee Members expressed their General Service Reps views to Area committees who put the adoption of the British pamphlet on the agenda. The motion came to the floors of each Area Assembly. Supporters and dissenters had their sayand several of USA/Canada’s 93 areas directed their delegate to ask the conference to adopt and approve The “God” Word. It was put on the agenda, discussed in the run up to the conference, voted on and overwhelming unanimity righted the wrong of previous attempts to provide a voice of AA from atheist and agnostic members just like women, LGBTQ+ and young members, African American and indigenous members along with other underrepresented populations. 

The 2020 General Service Conference Final Report notes that we ordered over 93,000 English copies in 2019 in Canada/USA, along with these French and Spanish orders. 

  • Le Mot “Dieu”—Membres agnostiques et athées chez les AA sold 5,807 of a total of 68,964 French pamphlets 
  • La palabra “Dios” — Los miembros de A.A. agnósticos y ateos sold 3,116 of a total of 222,560 Spanish pamphlets. 

This year, the corrections committee reported that it has included The “God” Word in their package to wardens, inmates, and members of the criminal justice system. The “God” Word was quoted in an address by Shyrl B of Ohio, talking about “Recovery: Who Is Missing in Our Rooms?” Pointing out that AA groups are not above, “marginalization due to race, gender and other factors.” Shyrl reminds us, “to continue practicing love and tolerance with people whose skin color, language, sex, orientation, beliefs, and social status differ from our own.” 

From the 70th General Service Conference there was some news about modernizing Living Sober. Maybe you would like to have your say, now’s the timee. 

  • Some draft language regarding Safety in AA will be prepared in 2020 for our booklet, Living Sober
  • Request to add a subtitle to the booklet, Living Sober

Living Sober: In 2019, USA/Canada members bought 115,000 English paperbacks and eBooks were sold, 10,500 Spanish editions and another 3,000 in French. 

Secularphobia in AA. 

The “God” Word pamphlet origins are a case-in-point of deeply secular Europe and a deeply Christian American AA dynamic. Let us share some behind-the-scenes drama that tells more of the tale of two worldviews AA.

We all wrestle with conscious and unconscious bias, right? For some of our “more religious members,” fear and hostility smoldered from the conference legitimizing AA without a prayer. Secularphobia is an irrational fear and disgust felt by believers towards humanist, nontheist AAs. 

Maybe if you see life as a zero-sum game, minorities getting catered to threatens the supremacy of theism. All this “no God—no problem” AA sentiment is threatening to the zealot. “They’re coming for our Big Books” is the kind of irrational flood-gate fear that fuels secularphobia. Some AA conservatives, asked, “Can we Make AA Great Again? Can this atheist-affirming literature be un-done?” 

A request to reverse the good fortune on nonbelievers was brought to the 2019 Literature desk to deal with. To understand how inclusive AA as a whole’s positive overtures were in 2020 regarding secular literature, read the anti-atheist efforts that were dealt with by the conference literature report in 2019 (69th General Service Conference):

  • Consider discontinuing the booklet Living Sober. The committee considered a request to discontinue the booklet Living Sober and took no action. The committee agreed that there was not a widely expressed need in the Fellowship. 
  • Consider discontinuing the pamphlet The “God” Word. The committee considered a request to dis-continue the pamphlet The “God” Word and took no action. The committee noted that it was important to allow time to assess the Fellowship’s response to the pamphlet and that in four months over 38,000 copies of the pamphlet have been purchased since its release in October 2018. It was also noted that there was not a widely expressed need in the Fellowship for discontinuation of the pamphlet. 

If you are for inclusion—never exclusion in AA, the General Service Board has your back. Having done some primary research in the AA archives regarding literature, here is a simplified version of the process for literature being written and/or discontinued. 

Any request from the membership will be considered by the General Service Conference. The breadth of the request has influence. If it’s one letter of support or condemnation, less sway is achieved than if a group, heard through their district and area delegate requests that the Conference direct AA World Services to explore the creation (or discontinuation) of a pamphlet or other form of literature. 

Here  are the several levels of review. The trustees’ Literature Committee (TLC) meets four times per year to explore these requests. If they agree to pursue ideas, they make suggestions to the Conference Literature Committee (CLC). The CLC meets once a year and is made up of trustees, staff and conference delegates. 

A suggestion from the TLC will either be: 

  1. brought to the conference for a vote, 
  2. sent back to the TLC by the CLC for more exploration or clarification or 
  3. not proceeded with. 

Only a TLC recommendation that is approved by the CLC is brought to the conference for discussion and possibly a vote. Only when a motion to approve a recommendation is brough to the conference floor can a proposal be “conference approved,” and given back to the TLC to carry out the wishes of the conference, on behalf of members and groups. 

The conference floor can send the proposal back for clarification or flushing out or with particular suggestions in which case, no vote would be taken; voting would be tabled for a future General Service Conference, which meets once a year in April. 

You see how these things can go back and forth and take years before final approval or defeat. As every request from the membership is given consideration from the General Service Office/Conference that serves the members, this request to ban/discontinue the secular literature, Living Sober and The “God” Word were given the least amount of attention warranted. We see that the trustees discussed it and never passed it on to the Conference Literature Committee for consideration. Even when literature wanted/ needed by the few is disparaged by the many, control of the few by the many is often avoided in AA.

This painfully slow curve of the moral arch is frustrating to many. You or I would not be the first AA member to call the deliberation process backward because we are sure our ideas obviously are best for AA as a whole; “Save time, see it my way”. But this seemingly tedious process, not perfect by any means, does take the wind out of rash or short-sighted ideas. Even when we are a majority, we may be uninformed, misinformed, hasty or angry. Safeguards are in place to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority.

A case for petty tribalism in AA

Below this general tolerance of our more religious members and our irreligious members there is a constant tension that ebbs and flows. On one hand, the anti-secular conservative cancel-culture counterparts tried to undo AA’s legacy of secular literature. Progressives would undo holy writ if they could, in the same way conservatives try to control the narrative. We rail against the sexism, heteronormative, religious, outdated Big Book, and demand that its preserved form be cancelled and replaced with a contemporary, scientifically validated, more culturally sensitive version. 

This is the reality of coexisting secular and Judeo/Christian stripes. Sometimes one side or another gets our mini-victories or consolation prizes. Here’s an example of conservative AA encroaching on take-what-you-like-leave-the-rest altruism. 

Can we agree that both liberals and conservatives love AA and want it to be here to help our grandchildren, if necessary? However, the left sees conservative’s refusal to update the AA narrative as forcing AA to early obsolescence. Conservatives see watered down AA as losing our way, moving away from a winning formula that works if you work it, 75% of the time. These are views, not empirical facts. 

So it isn’t enough that one camp has the literature and freedom they need; the other side has to be contained; those people and their AA-deteriorating ways should be replaced by our more right way of doing things. In a culture-war way of seeing things, having complete autonomy to what my group wants isn’t enough. For AA’s survival, we need to cancel the dangerous culture of “others.” 

Huffington Post writes:

“The panic over ‘cancel culture’ is, at its core, a reactionary backlash. Conservative elites, threatened by changing social norms and an accelerating generational handover, are attempting to amplify their feelings of aggrievement into a national crisis.”[i] 

Let’s use the liberal UK A Newcomer Asks pamphlet as an example. More conservative USA adopts it and it catches on. Fundamentalists don’t like it one bit. This pamphlet that gets into the hands of over 200,000 per year says this: 

[i] https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/cancel-culture-harpers-jk-rowling-scam_n_5f0887b4c5b67a80bc06c95e?ri18n=true&fbclid=IwAR0ThL8APZfgmKhY0jSao-nKxdnqLC4uKX7ZnTWsac4sZPHz0pAGYayNFLQ

What advice do you give new members? 

In our experience, the people who recover in A.A. are those who: 

  1. stay away from the first drink; 
  2. attend A.A. meetings regularly; 
  3. seek out the people in A.A. who have success-fully stayed sober for some time; 
  4. try to put into practice the A.A. program of recovery 

What do you think? For potential members or doctors/courts that might refer persons with substance use disorder our way, does this tell the AA story accurately? 

Well, if you’re a thumper, you already know that this hogwash does not “show other alcoholics precisely how we have recovered...”[vi] 

So, whatever conservative political will was required to tip the scales, the 2009 General Service Conference agreed that this newcomer killing watering down of AA would be the “national crisis” Huffington Post writes about and therefore, modified for USA/Canada users to also say: 

  1. obtain and study the Big Book, Alcoholics Anonymous. 

Somehow, “4) try to put into practice the A.A. program of recovery” was not real AA for real alcoholics. The British GSO—more secular, less orthodox—continues to provide groups and members pamphlets with the original four advice points, confident that their message is clear and accurate as is. 

“Another sure sign of a moral panic is the elevation of nonevents into national catastrophes. Again and again, the decriers of ‘cancel culture’ intimate that if left unchecked, the left’s increasing intolerance for dissent will result in profound consequences (Huffington Post).” 

In AA, it goes both ways. Deeply secular AA’s aren’t satisfied that they can run their meeting any way they choose, read anything they like—conference approved or otherwise—but AA’s future is endangered if that Primary Purpose meeting down the road continues to force-feed newcomers a Big Book and encourage them to dismiss any other literature as psychological gobbilty goop. Huff Post puts it this way: 

“And yet, most actual examples of ‘cancel culture’ turn out to have cartoonishly low stakes.” 

I mean really, why concern ourselves with what the other AA meeting is doing, saying or reading? 

This us vs. them tribal warfare—that in fairness only exists by the loudest extremes of AAs camps and may not reflect the views of the majority of more moderate AA—sounds destructive, unproductive. 

Fundamentalists need a foe to push away from. I don’t know why deeply religious AA can’t happily tell their story without finger pointing at demons such as contemporary treatment center language and the idea that meeting makers make it. For progressives, the scapegoat is the mean-spirited thumpers and their superstitious AA orthodoxy which is turning away today’s newcomer. Stop them; they’re the cause of AA membership decline! Maybe, no one gets to play Big Book hero without a sinister foil. And maybe progressive AA saviors have no fuel to light their fire if not for the damage being done by the thumping and mucking. 

Nir and Far (2017) published an article about why anger is a helpful, motivating force. 

“Besides making us feel more powerful, scapegoating can harness our instincts to resist threats to our freedom and autonomy, a phenomenon that psychologists call ‘reactance.’ ... Scapegoating uses the power of reactance toward productive ends. If we feel that someone or something is conspiring against us, we’re more likely to work harder to prove them wrong.”[vii]  

Adore or abhor the book Alcoholics Anonymous, either will get you sober if you can channel your energy into motivation. The buzz from proving those people wrong can be a great defense against cravings. 

The author known as Bobby Beach wrote a priceless article lampooning deeply religious Big Book thumpers, entitled, The shocking reality is that freaken Big Book fundamentalists hate freaken everything!!! 

“Big Book thumpers, as they call themselves really, really hate treatment centers, and are quick to attribute every non-BB slogan to these profiteers, whose main occupation over the past four or five decades has been to dilute the purity of AA’s message.”[viii] 

Bob goes on down the list of fundies perceived threats to the naïve newcomers including secular AA, court-ordered meeting attendance, and 21st century medical and psychological wellness advocates. Even an emotional sober thumper should appreciate the humor in Bobby Beach’s article. If not, review Rule 62 with your sponsor. I know, I know, Rule 62 is not in the first 164 pages; that’s from that watered-down Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions mumbo jumbo. Earlier this century, Sandy Beach wrote the minority opinion, The White Paper on Non-believers but it just isn’t nearly as funny so forget about that for now. 

So about watered-down AA; there comes a time to caution people on a recovery journey about short-cuts or minimization. “Halfway measures are of no avail,” was borrowed, by Bill Wilson, from Richard Peabody’s 1931 The Common Sense of Drinking and plunked into the Big Book. Discomfort can’t be avoided in changing behaviors. That’s still true even though it’s a 1930s idea. 

Maybe there is a cost to the morale of AA as a whole with divergent camps bad-mouthing the meeting down the street. But transcending our human biases isn’t one of the promises. Still, couldn’t both judgy anti-thumper liberals and judgy anti-modernization traditionalists each stick to our outcome rates in our meetings and not prop ourselves up by putting other groups down? None of us are getting everyone sober, all of the time. 

One final bit of good news from this year’s General Service Conference comes from the A.A. Grapevine report. Disparaged by some in each of the traditionalist and progressive camps, One Big Tent: Atheist and agnostic AA members share their experience, strength and hope was the most pre-ordered Grapevine booklet of all time; so the moderate majority liked it and bought it. This last year, One Big Tent has been translated. Now available: Bajo El Mismo Techo, Emsta colección de experiencias personales escritas por alcohólicos ateos y agnósticos que han encontrado en Alcohólicos Anónimos una solución común. 

Let’s review the math: A more secular influence from Europe, Australia, Canada, South Africa, and other English-speaking AA strongholds has the effect of making AA more believer/nonbeliever balanced. 

Yet, AA population growth only happens in our deeply Christian old-country, America (+17%). Deeply secular AA regions like Canada (-12%) and Internationals (-29%) are bleeding membership where tolerance of atheists and agnostics is culturally normal. 

In previous blogs/podcasts we have reported that everywhere in AA, secular AA meetings are on the rise. Increasing from under 50 at the turn of the century, to over 500 pre-pandemic 2020, our sense is that agnostic/atheist AA continues to grow in a zoom environment with more and more meetings coming online. 

Our future, it seems is still unwritten.

So concludes another episode of “this year in AA.” 

At time-of-writing, the pandemic continues, zoom makes going to meetings in other countries the same one-click option as my regular meeting down the street. I am keeping my mind open. Online mutual aid is not a better new world for everyone. 

Some members need to get out of their house or other living arrangement to get the most out of an AA meeting. Others don’t find that high-touch translates to high-tech. For some, our workday is all screen time, so sitting at our computer for another meeting? Oh please, no—not more screen time. Calling ‘Bull-shit,’ is it too much screen time or too much bum time? We can move around and zoom in ways that get us the recovery we need, the change of scenery we want, without disturbing everyone else in the meeting. Mind you, some would say, "It's a pandemic; suck it up. After work, go for a walk and log onto your zoom meeting by phone. Think outside the laptop-box." Other suggestions are to find a private place and a couple of backups for your meetings if you want to be away from the house. Be creative. 

Others are falling in-like with AA all over again, finding secular AA for the first time, reconnecting with AA from far away treatment center alumni groups or hometown first meetings from long ago. 

Our Toronto Beyond Belief Agnostics & Freethinkers group—when we met in a U of T classroom was full of Torontonians. Yes, we’re a city of the world and we have always had many visitors from other meetings and other places. But now, home-team members are the minority in a growing meeting. 

We have people who speak AA in their native English, different that Canadian, eh. We have people candidly thank God and the members of AA in our agnostic meeting, unapologetically. We have atheist Big Book-apologists who espouse on how much good if found among the supernatural talk; “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.” Others would not use AA literature for kindling for their barbeque. 

We are all types. And now, we are from all places, a fellowship joined by our common suffering and trying to navigate the divide of a common language and many accents and dialects. 

Thanks for spending some time with us Rebellion Dogs. What is your experience with zoom meetings? Does our literature meet your needs or boil your blood? What are your feelings about this year’s General Service Conference and where should we focus our efforts in discussing AA’s collective business “in changing times?” 

As always, we don’t always get our way, but here, you can always have your say—please comment. 

Please be safe and be good to each other. 

See you online.   

Okay, so can I have a PDF (CLICK CLICK) of this BLOG?

[i] Schaberg, William Writing The Big Book: The Creation of AA, Central Recovery Press, Las Vegas, 2019 p. 602 

[ii] Sigal Samuel, The Atlantic https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/05/american-atheists-religious-european-christians/560936/ 

[iii] https://www.pewforum.org/2018/04/25/when-americans-say-they-believe-in-god-what-do-they-mean/

[iv] https://www.pewresearch.org/global/2020/07/20/the-global-god-divide/ 

[v] https://www.aa.org/pages/en_US/box-4-5-9-news-and-notes-from-gso 

[vi] https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/cancel-culture-harpers-jk-rowling-scam_n_5f0887b4c5b67a80bc06c95e?ri18n=true&fbclid=IwAR0ThL8APZfgmKhY0jSao-nKxdnqLC4uKX7ZnTWsac4sZPHz0pAGYayNFLQ 

[vii] Forward to the First Edition, Alcoholics Anonymous, p. xiii 

[viii] https://www.nirandfar.com/goals-enemy/ 

[viii] https://aaagnostica.org/2019/02/24/freaken-big-book-fundamentalists-hate-freaken-everything/

2 comments

  • John Runnion
    John Runnion Somewhere in AZ
    Enjoyed your review of the "State of the AA Nation." My sense is that secular AA is not only here to stay, but it will (like other specialty meetings before it) become increasingly common-place and accepted, if it isn't already among most AA members.

    Enjoyed your review of the "State of the AA Nation." My sense is that secular AA is not only here to stay, but it will (like other specialty meetings before it) become increasingly common-place and accepted, if it isn't already among most AA members.

  • Faith Rendell
    Faith Rendell Cathedral City, Ca, USA
    Thanks for the long article. AA literature and its issuance are mostly fighting opportunities for many in AA. I'm glad THE "GOD" WORD was finally approved by GSO. I had gotten a few copies from a gal at the Austin, TX secular conference. Tried England (where published) but couldn't buy it (they didn't sell to USA things not approved by GSO for the USA. Finally, it did become available from GSO. So glad the ZOOM meetings have happened. Our phones still work, but there's nothing like a meeting, even if it is online. I wish there were more secular meetings online. "Our" meeting needed to switch to Google Meets because of issues with ZOOM. I do believe that Secular AA is here to stay, for sure.

    Thanks for the long article.
    AA literature and its issuance are mostly fighting opportunities for many in AA. I'm glad THE "GOD" WORD was finally approved by GSO. I had gotten a few copies from a gal at the Austin, TX secular conference. Tried England (where published) but couldn't buy it (they didn't sell to USA things not approved by GSO for the USA. Finally, it did become available from GSO.
    So glad the ZOOM meetings have happened. Our phones still work, but there's nothing like a meeting, even if it is online. I wish there were more secular meetings online. "Our" meeting needed to switch to Google Meets because of issues with ZOOM.
    I do believe that Secular AA is here to stay, for sure.

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