Can we be A.A. without the Big Book?
December 6, 2014 is a date that will live in infamy. It was on that date when I innocently attended a noon meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous and was suddenly and deliberately attacked by the armed forces of the Daily Reflections book.
When the chips are down
“When we developed still more, we discovered the best possible source of emotional stability to be God Himself. We found that dependence upon His perfect justice, forgiveness, and love was healthy, and that it would work where nothing else would. If we really depended upon God, we couldn’t very well play God to our fellows nor would we feel the urge wholly to rely on human protection and care”. Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions p. 116
“It has been my experience that, when all human resources appear to have failed, there is always One who will never desert me. Moreover, He is always there to share my joy, to steer me down the right path, and to confide in when no one else will do. While my well-being and happiness can be added to, or diminished by human efforts, only God can provide the loving nourishment upon which I depend for my daily spiritual health”.
What is an atheist alcoholic to do with that? Do I pass? No, I should share honestly as an alcoholic in recovery who just happens to be an atheist. With nothing but a pure heart and peaceful intent, I shared my sobriety with the group and said, “I don’t really have anything that will take away all my problems and make everything okay. All I have are human resources and they haven’t failed me yet. I figure that as long as I have these meetings to go to that I’ll be okay”.
What’s that sound? It’s… oh my God, it’s a Big Book Thumper and he’s thumping my way! He’s thumping and quoting the sacred text from 1939, the last word on alcoholism, the final say on recovery, the one true resource for any who are combating alcoholism, the book with 164 pages that shall never be changed because they are holy and contain the incontrovertible truth.
Big Book Thumper recites some inane passage from the beloved book that proves THIS IS A SPIRITUAL PROGRAM. IT’S ALL ABOUT GOD. Case closed! The attack ceases, quiet returns to the meeting, heads bobble up and down in agreement with Thumper. I am put in my place. My heresy exposed and my status in the room knocked down a few notches. What? Status in an A.A. meeting you ask? Yes, I know it’s crazy but there is a sort of social hierarchy,and well atheists are kind of like the lepers of old. We are supposed to stay in the colony and keep our crazy talk and scaly skin to ourselves.
Seriously, that event was kind of a pivotal moment in what was at first a slowly evolving journey as an atheist in A.A. The evolution has sped up a bit and today I no longer see the Big Book Alcoholics Anonymous as central to my recovery. It’s only a text from 1939 and a treasured relic that reminds us of our roots. It is not and was never intended to be the final word on the subject of alcoholism, nor was it to be used like a law book to win an argument. It wasn’t supposed to become a burden to be carried by future generations of alcoholics. There is no reason that we should be subjected to the archaic and misogynistic language of the early 20th century.
But can we be A.A. without the Big Book? Is it an A.A. meeting if we don’t read conference approved literature? You bet it is and it’s a damn good A.A. meeting at that! It’s an AA meeting that doesn’t carry the heavy baggage from the past. It’s a meeting where we read something current, written for and by people living in this century. Recovery material that focuses on the principles without the dogma. There is no one single book with which to beat one another into submission.
At the We Agnostics Meeting in Kansas City the books we read from include Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life, The Alternative 12 Steps: A Secular Guide to Recovery, and A Walk in Dry Places. In earlier meetings we have read from the Big Book and the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions and if the group wants to read from them again, that’s fine with me. It’s just not a requirement to read from “conference approved” books. We can read whatever we want and still be an AA group.
A.A. is a fellowship of alcoholics who share their experience, strength and hope with each other. We are also a movement and to me a movement means we are supposed to be going someplace, we are supposed to be adapting, evolving and changing. We should be interested in what’s new and we should be reaching out to others. We should be tearing down barriers to recovery and casting a wider net to attract and help more alcoholics.
A movement does not cling to the past, instead it builds upon it, fearlessly going where no man, … err I mean where no one has gone before. When I go to a traditional A.A. meeting where people are quoting from the old books, I see a group that is static. There is no excitement about writing new books and starting new meetings. There is nothing said about the people who are not in the room, the people who stay away, the people who run like hell when we ask them to join hands and pray at the end of the meeting. I guess it’s assumed that they are “constitutionally incapable”.
Fortunately there is a movement within A.A. that is bursting with energy and excitement and a desire to build something, to start new groups and new meetings. I witnessed this at the We Agnostics and Freethinkers International A.A. Convention in Santa Monica, and I see it at the We Agnostics Meeting here in Kansas City. Our group only started in August and already we are talking about adding a new meeting. That my friends is the spirit and energy that was going on in the 1930’s and 1940’s when A.A. was in it’s infancy. Those people had no burden, there was no book to venerate and worship. All they had was each other, a desire to stop drinking and to help others.
That’s the case with We Agnostics, Atheists and Freethinkers in A.A. We are looking forward. We are writing our own literature and we are reading it in our meetings. We are starting new groups, we are reaching out to those who are not finding help in traditional A.A. We are in the words of Phyllis H. the General Manager of GSO ,”widening the gateway of recovery for all regardless of their beliefs or lack of belief”.
Read the old books if they have value to you, but in the meantime please join us as we put some movement back into this movement.