This post was taken from a Facebook post written by Vince Hawkins and reprinted here with his permission. Vince is the author of An Atheists Unofficial Guide to A.A. for Newcomers, An Atheists Unofficial Guide to A.A. for Oldtimers, and An Atheists Twelve Steps to Self-improvement. All available for purchase on Amazon.com.
I met Vince at the convention and enjoyed chatting with him. You can learn more about him and his work at his website vincehawkins.com.
The inaugural We Agnostics, Atheists & Freethinkers convention in Santa Monica on November 6-8 learned that from 13 AA meetings for Agnostics in 1997 the tally had reached 181 internationally. The original meetings were mainly in New York, Chicago and California with one each in Virginia and Washington State.
If the 300* attendees shared a wish, it was that the AA portal could be widened further to embrace those put off by the god stuff, that one day religious believers and non-believers could mix in all meetings in a friendly way. One of the workshops called for a pamphlet that went further than the recently published “Many Paths to Spirituality” that could be handed to non-believer newcomers, saying explicitly: you can get sober in AA with no god.
The Rev Ward Ewing, chairman emeritus of General Service Office, said in his keynote address that WAAFT was riding a wave of inclusiveness in AA. “You didn’t start it and you won’t finish it when it ends up some time in the future, but you are part of it. A desire to stop drinking is the only requirement for membership of AA and we have to keep those doors open wide.” He thought that the concept of spirituality had wrongly been used as a backdoor for religion to creep into the fellowship. His idea of the AA spirit, or culture, was in its history and the experience of members. It was a culture of honest disclosure and a pragmatic spirit of helping each other. The culture was in the common experience of believers and non-believers in AA.
Phyllis H, the speaker from AA head office, reminded attendees that Bill W wrote in the forward to edition two of the Big Book that AA is not a religious program.
Convention co-founder Dorothy H said: “I couldn’t handle to be preached at. I want us to keep going forward on a larger scale so that many more suffering alcoholics can find a sober life.”
Co-founder Pam W said: “I don´t want religiosity in AA, people want me to behave in a way I really don`t feel is right. I`d rather it was like my family: my mother went to church and my brother is religious, but my father and I are not, and we all get along loving and tolerating each other. Home groups should be like families. When I finally walked into my home Agnostics meeting it made me feel safe.”
Joe C believed that the WAFT convention marked an irreversible step in AA towards the acceptance of believers in god and non-believers by each other. “There’s no them, there’s just us. Once social change begins you can’t reverse the process, evolution doesn’t ask permission.” He added that freethinking shouldn’t be reserved for non-believers.
Joan C was 81 years old and 46 years sober. “When people say ‘you can’t get sober without god’ just ask them: what about Joan? I prayed for faith as a teenager but it didn’t really work. In the 10th grade I was expelled from St Mary’s. They always say stop drinking for you, but I stopped because they were going to take the children away. I was 24 with four children. I thought I was insane and that the AA group wouldn’t take me, but I saw ‘restored to sanity’ and ‘we care’ on the wall. Since attending Agnostics meetings I no longer have the feeling that I don’t quite fit into AA. Now I feel we all fit in. Times are changing, atheists are coming out of the closet, and we’re becoming more acceptable. At the next WAFT convention two years from now, we’ll have to have a bigger place I’m sure.”
Tim M was relieved to discover Agnostics meetings in which he thought authentic human conviction came to the fore. “I didn’t have to listen to rhetoric, book thumpers and religion, I saw compassion at work. Bill W’s discovery in Akron of the value of helping others defined AA as a humanist fellowship, as a place where we return to life. AA should be a place where you can share honestly what you feel. I respect religious sensitivity when I find it; we need to arrive at a position of mutual respect. I hope we can take this message from here and keep this thing going.”
Diedre S said it wasn’t god, but her own survival instinct and an acupuncturist, that got her to stop drinking. When she went to an AA meeting 80 days later she was nearly put off by the god talk but an Irish barman said. “This is not about god. Go to a meeting, talk about your problems and don’t drink.” Later she called the New York intergroup and requested an atheist sponsor. The lady who answered the phone told her in a secretive whisper about an Agnostic meeting where she found a sponsor on her first visit.
John C took issue with the statement in chapter five of the Big Book that no human power could help with alcoholism. He had been helped by other AA members.
Ann H said spirituality was to be found in actions. Chopping wood and drawing water was the way it had been defined for her. To her, action meant supporting newcomers and each other as we go through life.
*Daily attendance numbers were 212, 237 and 270. 300 is a conservative estimate of total attendees, attempting not to double count people who attended on more than one day.
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