Welcome to Rebellion Dogs Radio Episode IX where we bring you highlights of the first ever We Agnostics & Freethinkers International A.A. Conference from Santa Monica California, November 2014. So much content is available on this and we include many links included in this blog. Rebellion Dogs Radio # 9 will include segments from the keynotes given. Click on the link above or bellow to start listening. We have a teaser for Phyllis H., A.A. General Service Office GM, Marya H, author of Waiting: A Nonbeliever's Higher Power and Class A Trustee, Reverend Ward Ewing.
Workshops, Keynote Speakers , panels AA meetings from atheist/agnostic groups from around the world meant there was a rich program at WAFT IAAC and we can't get everything worth saying into one show. We'll continue to talk about this historical event in upcoming shows. The punchline, if you haven't heard is we're doing it again in 2016, We Agnostics, Atheists & Freethinkers International A.A. Conference will be in Austin Texas and we'll do it again, somewhere, every two years.
This wasn’t AA’s rogue nonbelievers off on their own; It was General Service Office (GSO), Conference delegates past and present from all over America, supporters who don’t doubt a loving God in their own life but believe in an AA that speaks the language of everyone with a desire to stop drinking. There were about 300 of us in Santa Monica November 6th to 8th. You'll hear segments form four of the talks recorded at the conference by Dave S. at Encore Audio Archives. You can buy your own mp3s or CDs at: http://www.12steptapes.com/waft.html
I wondered what customs and rituals would be included and what AA customs and rituals would be excluded. While there isn’t any praying at most agnostic/atheist meetings, some read the Twelve Steps, some do not, some read a secular interpretation agreed upon by the ultimate authority in AA, their own group conscience. So it the interest of less is more, there were no readings, no chanting at any of the main-room meetings. Can you have an AA meeting without reading How It Works or praying for serenity? You sure can. And we did. No one in attendance wondered where they were. It was as AA as any meeting you’ve ever been to.
There were AA meetings hosted by secular AA meetings all around the world and they ran those meetings exactly how they run them in their own town. To A.A. fundamentalists who want to, or have, high-jacked their local Intergroups or AA local offices this chaos seems unusual. In places like Toronto where Intergroup still discriminates against agnostic groups and have replaced regional AA unity with AA uniformity, GSO is saddened by your bigotry. No one will tell you to get in line, be more loving and tolerant, practice the Traditions instead of your rigid view of what AA ought to be for all members or all groups. It will be left to your conscience, but listen along and ask yourself if our founders were alive today would they be more likely to be thanking you for discriminating against nonbeliever's AA groups; or would they be celebrating recovery, unity and service with us in Santa Monica?
Andrew Solomon is a New York Times writer and author of Far from the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity. Solomon says something in a Ted Talk that is so right-on for this historic weekend in Santa Monica:
“There is always someone there to take our humanity away and always someone to restore it. Oppression breeds the power to oppose it. Identity politics always works on two fronts. First it gives pride to someone who has given characteristics and secondly, it causes the outside world to treat such people more gently, more kindly.”
It is strangely that it is the tyranny of these rogue Intergroups and AA club houses that harass atheist AA members that we have to thank for this conference. As Solomon points out, while they try to take another's dignity or humanity away, they instead, help set in motion a fellowship wide reaction that celebrates We Agnostics & Freethinkers AA Conference. We enjoy the supported by the larger AA community while they look at discrimination in AA with concern. Oh the law of unintended consequences.
General Service Conference Chair Emeritus Reverend Ward Ewing (Pictured courtesy of Ken Sherry) talks about the traps of feeling like a phoney and the dangers of specific theology creeping into AA meetings under the guise of "spirituality." GSO General Manager, Phyllis H. shares a few prime Bill W. writings and shares what other founders and trusted servants have said about both celebrating AA diversity and the dangers of dogmatic or rigid interpretations of AA's message. The author of Waiting: A Nonbelievers Higher Power, Marya H. is no stranger to Rebellion Dogs. We have a snippet of her talk included, too.
To those who know her, Marya was as poetic, prepared and thoughtful as we’ve come to enjoy. She was sincerely delighted to be part of this humble bit of AA history. Marya’s story of one is one of being entirely ready when she ran thin on alcoholic bottoms, she was sincere and willing to do what might work—regardless of the suggestions compatibility with her worldview. She acknowledged that the language of the Steps (ie: the God stuff) doesn’t talk to all of us and certainly falls short of giving answers. While she sees that people stay sober praying and turning it over, what was a nonbeliever to do to work the Steps?
In his whole talk Ward Ewing will describe the Hope, Honest, Belonging and Gratitude that he sees in the AA way of life. He tells some moving and humorous stories that this show doesn’t have the time to tell. A theme that Ward Started and delegates and members picked up on was that everyone in AA shares a common experience. He nailed it by describing our common AA experience as “when the impossible becomes possible.” Almost everyone in AA around the world would agree with that. When we add the adjective “spiritual” experience, now I don’t agree with your definition of spiritual or you’re offended with what I mean by it and now the experience that agreed upon just a moment ago, we don’t agree with anymore.Curious isn’t it, how the narcissism of small differences can be triggered by such an innocent word.
As the sun came down over Santa Monica Boulevard on the Friday night, Phyllis H. would close out with a lot of quotes from our founders and former Trustees. She was touched to be invited and We Agnostics and Atheists were moved that General Service Office was so supportive of us. It was truly healing. We started with Reverend Ward Ewing, the best friend an atheist or agnostic could have in AA. We conclude with Phyllis H. who personified the idea that together AA is better and everyone is welcome in AA and sobriety in AA possible without having to accept someone else’s beliefs or having to deny your own.
There was a Conference Delegate’s panel and one of AA’s trusted servants made it clear that we can read anything we want in an AA meeting. Nothing is sacred and nothing is forbidden. Write our own literature, use conference approved literature or anything our group conscience dictates. There was a workshop on how to start your own meeting with a secular, humanist or or agnostic style, free of religion, God-talk and prayer. Over half of all atheist/agnostic groups today have started since 2010. We know of no faster growing segment of AA growth. The only limits are our own imagination.
Don't be surprised if AA's Literature Committee or Grapevine re-think literature for nonbelievers. In the meantime, WAAFTIAAC will be creating our own community, outreach and literature to ensure that whenever someone reaches out for help, the hand of AA will always be there.
Some links of interest.
Order form for CDs or MP3s from Encore Audio Archives
District 11, Area 34 newsletter, Camel Courier: Atheists and Agnostics will not give up on A.A.
Click for AA Agnostica Day One - Day Two - Day Three - Workshop Review (
Hear some more WAFT IAAC talks from Kansas We Agnostics YouTube page.
Joe C, as guest on KLĒN + SŌBR Podcast, talking to Chris and Jeff from Since Right Now (Episode 17, just before WAFT IAAC).