Do Twleve & Twelve fellowships dislike nonbelievers?

I have my Box 4-5-9 (Spring 2013) and there are three stories that I will try to tie together into one blog. March is the 50th anniversary of the French Big Book. The Theme for the 2013 General Service Conference is “GSO takes its own Inventory.” Finally, Gayle S.R. steps down, retiring as a GSO trusted servant.

I was at an NA meeting last night on Step 11. I generally talk about what I believe and what I do to stay clean and sober. I don’t often talk about what I don’t do or don’t believe. I didn’t say a thing at this meeting. I read a paragraph like everyone else and I listened to hear if my experience with Step 11 would be honored or at least acknowledged in the reading. It was not. According to NA, I can assume that atheists are either cured of skepticism by Step 11 and ipso facto have made conscious contact with God as we understand Him. Or are we welcome to tolerate the majority theistic belief but discounted as non-spiritual and therefore unworthy of participating in a discussion of meditation or consciousness because the only Step 11 experience is the unavoidable and irrefutable proof of a power greater than ourselves that we ask for the right stuff in our prayers and hear the answers to our prayers in meditation.?

To believe such a thing is fine. To state it as a universal worldview is delusional. Believing something doesn’t make it true. Being certain doesn’t make it true. We were once sure the world was flat but we were mistaken. People who were right about our spherical world who spoke out about it were more often persecuted than respected. Back then we lived in a “majority rules” world that didn’t respect the minority opinion. We know now that the majority was completely mistaken. This resistance to an alternate worldview looks very unattractive to us now.

Isn’t spirituality about humility? Is close-minded certainty a state of divinity or arrogant megalomania? I would think that certainty about something that can’t be proven is more insane than spiritual. Even if we are by chance right, we are foolish to be so sure.

Back to Box 4-5-9 to address a question that begs to be asked. I was surprised to hear that a French Big Book wasn’t available until 1963. AA was almost 30 years old by then and the Big Book had been almost a decade into its Second Edition. I expect there were rogue versions of French interpretations of Alcooliques Anonymes in every corner of Quebec and France by the time the official version was available. In celebration, Bill W said of the French launch, “This is new and magnificent evidence that A.A. can cross every barrier, can speak in the language of the heart to all who suffer our strange and fearsome malady.”
When will AA print the Big Book in the language of the Nonbeliever?

Will atheistic language in AA be seen as a righteous bridge-builder in the same heart-felt way as reaching out to our francophone brother and sister’s was? There is a way to tell the story of AA and the recovery program of the Twelve Steps without any deity or supernatural force. It is being told and the program is being worked that way now. It always has been.

Another story is the celebration of the years of stewardship of Gayle S.R. who curiously is quoted in the Spring issue:
"'Our membership,’ she says, ‘much like the society in which we live, appears to be getting more and more polarized. I have heard from A.A. groups that want to let anyone with any sort of problem come to meetings and share, with the reasoning that ‘a drug is a drug,’ and I hear from their A.A. groups that want to change our literature or institute ‘rules’ so that no nonalcoholic is ever referred to a meeting, or no one who hasn’t worked a particular Step is allowed to share.”
This increased polarization can generate a certain reactivity on the part of some in the Fellowship, says Gayle, noting ‘the willingness of so many members of A.A. to believe that we make decisions here at G.S.O. that would go against the best interest of A.A. as a whole. Staff members are also members of A.A., so we care just as much as anyone about the integrity of decisions made by the delegates and the trustees.”

What she is describing about how AA is getting is really what it has always been. I have written before about Bill W’s writings of the Pharisees and Recalcitrant’s. Our co-founder has also reminded us that there will always be radicals and traditionalists. So what Gayle is warning us about a trend, is no more than her gradual realization of AA’s diversity.

Is it possible to “care just as much as anyone about the integrity of decisions made” too much? Only if you feel your view of AA is right or counts for more than another’s. Gayle, as a trusted servant, used her position to have a New York agnostic remove their variation of agnostic Twelve Steps from their website. She said in a letter to the webmaster, the following:
“. . . the message of A.A. is about recovery from alcoholism through the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. A group which feels a need to change the 12 Steps and to change the message may be a recovery group, but it is not an A.A. group.
It has long been the case that Alcoholics Anonymous has freely granted permission to a wide range of Anonymous recovery programs to adapt the Twelve Steps of A.A. as well as A.A. literature and the Traditions. However, once they have done so, they are asked not to call themselves Alcoholics Anonymous. So we respectfully request that your group stop calling itself an A.A. group.”

In her letter she cited selective chapter and verse of selected AA Traditions and publications. She failed to include, among other more liberal interpretations, this declaration from GSO which first appeared in Box 4-5-9 (Volume 23, No 4) and then reviewed again in 2006:

"Any literature that pertains to the principles of AA or is approved by a GROUP CONSCIENCE - is perfectly acceptable to be read by any AA member or in an AA meeting."

Gayle sees the polarization within AA but could not see it in herself. If there are two camps in AA, one being the “Let’s create a larger tent” faction and the other being the “We must preserve the integrity of the message” camp, then Gayle is clearly a member of the second. The agnostic group(s) are clearly a member of the first. Gayle’s letter was ground for removing their version of agnostic Twelve Steps.

Was her letter to New York agnostics an abuse of power? Gayle’s own service manual reminds her that GSO is to “abstain completely from any and all acts of authoritative government which could in any wise curtail A.A’s freedom.” Bill goes on to say on page 72 of The A.A. Service Manual Combined With Twelve Concepts for World Service (2011-2012 Edition), “our Conference will always try to act in the spirit of mutual respect and love—one member for another. In turn, this sign signifies that mutual trust should prevail; that no action ought to be taken in anger, haste, or recklessness; that care will be observed to respect and protect all minorities; that no action ever be personally punitive . . . and that our Conference will ever be prudently on guard against tyrannies, great or small, weather there be found in the majority or in the minority.”

Was Gayle’s enthusiasm to assert the majority worldview in AA a betrayal of her obligation to protect the minority, each group’s autonomy and even our AA given right to be wrong. AA is self-correcting isn’t it? If agnostic Steps don’t work they will go away all by themselves. Every group is a group if it says so. That’s what Bill said and Gayle knew that.

I wrote to her, pleading for reconsideration or explanation. My letter was ignored. There was a victory lap to plan and accolades to indulge in.

The final part of Box 4-5-9 I will touch on is the theme around GSO’s personal inventory. I hope the way we fear ( instead of accommodate) our minorities will be reviewed. I hope that AA can have the courage to do the right thing—not the popular thing—when it comes to encouraging our godless members to tell our story in our language instead of seeing us as a threat to AA integrity. Gayle is not a lone-gunslinger. AA’s underrepresentation of the atheist voice is legion. What is now being tabled as a new pamphlet on varieties of spiritual experiences including agnostics and atheists, started out in 2001 as a pamphlet devoted to atheists and agnostics. All other minorities have their pamphlet—young people, women, aboriginal North American’s, African Americans, the elderly, the GLBT community, members in prison and so on. Why isn’t there a nonbeliever’s pamphlet?

There was a movement to remove agnostics and atheists from a pamphlet that was originally intended for us specifically. The 2010 Conference Agenda Item, “Consider developing Conference-approved literature which focuses on spirituality that includes stories from atheists and agnostics who are successfully sober in Alcoholics Anonymous” caused a stink by the militant faction that is offended by atheism being aligned with success in AA. The intolerant ones don’t want diversity in AA. They want conformity. To them, their sobriety is poof of god and our refusal to see god working in our life is intellectual stubbornness.

The vast majority of AA members are theists. The politest form of bigotry is to be invited to go start your own fellowship. Our founders left behind a pluralist society where people of all shapes, beliefs, and ways of staying sober would be equal and respected. The majority choosing for the minority is not the AA our founders left behind.
Did you know that six recommendations have come from AA’s Literature Committee to print a pamphlet for atheist and agnostics. Everyone was discussed and mothballed. Here’s a history of attempts to have our voice heard. I found this on the Area 17 web site. It has since been removed. I asked GSO to check the minutes and archives to confirm or deny these dates, names and facts. After considerable time I was told, “We don’t have the staff or the time to look it up. Sorry.” READ IT HERE.

The complexities of believers and nonbelievers is very involved and our next blog will report on how much more we know about faith and doubt that the day that We Agnostics” was written.

Stay tuned.

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