Monday, November 16, 2009

Atheists in Alcoholics Anonymous

Should atheists go to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings? I say yes, but I also say "it depends". It depends on the particular meeting you go to.

Some meetings are very god-oriented. That is their right, according to the "Traditions" and the "Concepts" of AA, which state that every group is autonomous. Every group must operate according to its own "conscience". Most groups have regular consciousness meetings, which are sometimes called "business" meetings, or "steering committees". If any particular group wants to make god the dominant theme of its meeting, that is its right.

It is also AA Tradition that no one can be asked to leave a meeting just because the other attendees don't like the message you are proclaiming as yours. But it doesn't seem wise to go into such a group and stir things up. I stir things up at meetings that are less god-oriented, meetings that accept the message of AA on the issue of god but which do not make it the one, over-riding theme of their group. I do not stir things up to be contrary. I do it because it is my AA right; so I choose my groups and only attend those that show tolerance toward other points of view.

A "newbie" in AA might wish to be careful about being contrary. Most groups don't allow "cross talking", and that usually means addressing directly what someone else has said in a contrary manner. It might be seen as taking someone else's inventory, a strict no-no anywhere you go.

But if you speak from your own "experience, strength, or hope", then no one can say you are not allowed to disagree with the AA approved literature. The Big Book itself admits that there was a lot of controversy in the first few years about what should be the official stance of the groups, and about who could say what about what. The reason that the Twelve Steps talk about your god "as you understand him" is because so many early member objected to language that put them in one box together, all praying to the same god.

And as logic would have it, many of those early members, and even more today I would suppose, have a different conception of how they understand "god". Some of them don't see god as a deity at all, but rather as the forces of nature.

But in order for an atheist to feel comfortable in a group that does have many virtues, the biggest being its ability to keep people sober who want to be sober, that atheist ought to be in a group where he/she feels comfortable speaking about his/her disbelief or atheism. You may have to point out to some recalcitrant, beligerant members that you have as much right to speak as they do.

The General Service Organization, the headquarters of AA, puts out a publication called "Box 459", and in an early 2009 edition it published a story of a man who uses a GI Joe doll as his higher power! That same GSO is the one who gave my atheist home group a registration number and lists it in its directory right alongside all the god-oriented groups.

But for the same reason as a Catholic member will not (or should not) argue against a Pagan or Southern Baptist member's point of view, we atheists cannot be beligerant and argue against the god position of AA, unless we do it as everyone must: from our own experiences, strengths, and hopes, not on the contrary opinions of others.

And if others take issue in the meeting with out point of view, we have the right to call "Point of Order" and politely set them straight. No one is allowed in a meeting to criticize the beliefs or positions of other members. The old timers who value the Traditions will have your back, even if they don't like your message.

Alcoholics can get sober without god, since there is none. Bill Wilson was wrong about self-will; but we must direct our will toward what keeps us sober. A higher power (HP) is no power at all if it doesn't help us. But as you will read in the page titled Higher Power, Part 2, that HP does not necessarily need to be outside yourself. ©
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Free Assemblage of Metaphysical Naturalists LLC

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