Episode 25: Identity, Beliefs and Worldview 

Episode 25 features a chat with conference committee members, Pam W and Dianne P, looking ahead to Austin, November 11th to 13th for the second biennial We Agnostics, Atheists & Freethinkers International A.A. Conference. Addiction comes with identity issues. Holding a particular worldview comes with identity. We explore identity, beliefs, worldview and we look for cues from feminism and LGBTQ culture in aid of our own identity in recovery from addiction/alcoholism. 

It’s July 2016. Every year in Toronto, July kicks off with the Pride Parade. Prime minister Justin Trudeau and other dignitaries marched with Toronto’s Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Transgender and Queen community. Not everyone in the world is all about inclusion and “free to be me” and the 2016 celebration in Toronto was shadowed by the 49 shooting victims in Florida last month. “We can’t let hate go by,” said the prime minister at the 36th annual parade. “We have to speak up anytime there is intolerance or discrimination.” 

This isn’t a liberals vs. conservatives issue when it comes to discrimination, harassment and hate crimes in a liberal/pluralist society. While Toronto’s conservative mayor John Tory voted for the other guy in Canada’s 2015 Federal election, he echoed Trudeau’s thoughts. Tory said the Orlando mass shootings showed that "we've got things to do" to promote tolerance and inclusion.
Andrew Solomon is a New York Times writer and author of Far from the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity. Solomon says:

“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 so frustrating to know that in light of all this, Toronto Intergroup is committed to defend it’s right to discriminate against AA members who hold a minority view. Toronto Intergroup in some kind of McCarthy era puritanism sees inclusion and tolerance as harmful to local AA. How can anyone or any service body be so far off of current cultural and political values? 

Well, it turns out that beliefs aren’t that easy to sway. OMG, addicts/alcoholics should know that. Why wouldn’t I see that drugs and drinking were leading me down the wrong road? In this episode, we listen in on psychotherapist, Mel Schwartz who talk about how when we’re persuading others to evaluate their thoughts and feelings, we miss the bigger part of the iceberg under the water (See illustration). At our core, is our worldview. Some call it a paradigm and others call it our core-beliefs. Our worldview informs our beliefs. Our beliefs steer how we interpret and experience the world. 

And when it comes how marginalized members of society can be “doin’ it for themselves,” we don’t have too far into our history to go. Let’s look at the feminist’s movement and how leading women in recovery made a home of their own under the 12-Step umbrella. Thanks Joanne for lending me Charlotte Kasl’s in 1992 modern-era classic, Many Roads, One Journey: Moving Beyond the Twelve Steps which I’ll read from in our podcast. Here’s a great tidbit: 

A fundamental question arises at this point. Is a spiritual path as suggested in twelve-step programs necessary for someone who wants to cease their addictions to substances or behavior? The answer is, not necessarily. Atheists, agnostics, and lots of other people stop their addictive use of alcohol and drugs without even attending twelve-step support groups. Put in its simplest form, sobriety is sobriety and a spiritual journey is a spiritual journey. Many people who become sober decide to embark on a healing journey but it is not necessarily the criterion for sobriety.

The early 1990s were what I would call the age of reasonable thinking. The Alternative 12 Steps: A Secular Guide to Recovery published by HCI Books came out around the same time, as did Philip Z’s A Skeptics Guide to the 12-Steps (Hazelden Publishing). What do owe the good fortune of reasonable, enlightened literature? 
Well, what sits well with my worldview of cause-and-effect would be that the conservative, protectionist, unfriendly movement in AA gave rise to enlightenment. Maybe the previous 1980s era of 12-Step culture was influenced by the Moral Majority rhetoric of the Regan/Thatcher/Mulroney era of true blue politics across the USA, Canada and the UK, where much of AA is found. But leading up to the era of enlightened literature from members of our recovery community, tension was rising at AA Headquarters.

Who remembers this stern warning from steward, Bob P who’s story is in the Big Book and his AA service dates back to the Bill W days. As he bid farewell to the General Service Conference, let’s remember that he felt a reason for us to be concerned in 1985: 

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. And in this trend toward rigidity, we are drifting farther and farther away from our co- founders. Bill, in particular, must be spinning in his grave, for he was perhaps the most permissive person I ever met. One of his favorite sayings was, "Every group has the right to be wrong." He was maddeningly tolerant of his critics, and he had absolute faith that faults in A.A. were self-correcting. 

But our show doesn’t end on a downer. Bigotry, like we see in Toronto Intergroup, can’t keep evolution down. We are reminded that while we need vigilance, great things are happening as more is being revealed in the 12-Step community. We’re looking forward to Austin—it will be a celebration, like Pride in Toronto this month. Yes, there will talk about how we can and must do more. But we are in the age of reason and those of faith ought to know that we’re great bedfellows - not enemies. 

It’s always fun to introduce listeners to great new music. After our Thursday Beyond Belief Agnostics & Freethinkers AA group meeting this week, I had the pleasure of bringing some fellow AA’s to enjoy some sober musical fun and listen to some brit-band friends of mine, Moulettes who are on a cross-Canada festival tour in support of their new album, Preternatural. 

POD-0-MATIC listening and downloading link - SOUNDCLOUD listening and downloading link (Click to stream)

As always listen if you like. Weight in if you like. We’d love to hear your thoughts on today’s subject(s); we’re all in this together. TRANSCRIPT coming soon.

Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press July 4, 2016 




Kasl, Charlotte Davis, Many Roads, One Journey: Moving Beyond the Twelve Steps, New York: Harper Collins, 1992 

Bob Pearson (1917-2008) was General Manager of the General Service Office from 1974 to 1984, and then served as Senior Advisor to the G.S.O. from 1985 until his retirement. His story is in the Big Book as "AA Taught Him to Handle Sobriety," 3rd edit. (1976) pp. 554-561, 4th edit. (2001) pp. 553-559. 


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