New Book

New Book

August 15, 2023

By Andy F

Categories: Atheists, agnostics and freethinkers

Getting sober

I went to my first AA meeting after 17 years of drinking. Following years of loneliness and isolation, I finally found my tribe. It felt like connecting with the family I never had in childhood. In that sense, it was like a homecoming. The only stumbling blocks were two words in the AA literature; God and a higher power. Having had extremely negative experiences in childhood with religion and religious people, as a newcomer, I could not overcome my prejudice.

I have now been in AA for 39 years. With the help of agnostic-friendly sponsors, I have followed the steps several times. The AA program worked well for me as an agnostic, using the group and sponsor’s suggestions as powers greater than me. Through perseverance and open-mindedness to spiritual principles, I now have a sense of a higher consciousness that guides my life.

I still reject the religious idea of a monotheistic Father God. I continue to see myself as a spiritual seeker and enquiring agnostic. It is heartwarming to know that AA is full of atheists, agnostics, and freethinkers. Secular AA has become an established and international movement within the fellowship.

Bill Wilson, the co-founder of AA, embraced us completely.

“This was the great contribution of our atheists and agnostics. They had widened our gateway so that all who suffer might pass through, regardless of belief or lack of belief.”
Bill W.

An agnostic struggles with the twelve steps

My journey in AA as an agnostic has not been easy. I relapsed for years because I felt unable to do the twelve steps. Finally, I met some wise and sober old-timers who helped guide me through the program using the idea of a Group Of Drunks as a higher power.

In step two on page 27 of “The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions,” Bill Wilson writes;

“You can, if you wish, make AA itself your higher power.”

With these words of encouragement from Bill, it made the program achievable. It was the start of my journey towards recovery.  The steps work whether you believe in a religious God or not.

One of my sponsors pointed out that the twelfth step promises a spiritual awakening, not necessarily a God awakening.

“Having had a spiritual awakening, as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all my affairs.”

Step twelve – BB “How it works” p 60

On a daily basis, I remind myself that I am “no longer running the show” of my life. (BB “Into action” pages 87 and 88) Surrendering alcoholic self-will in this way, I can carry a message of love and service to my brothers and sisters in recovery.

AA’s “Love, Unity, and Service” triangle begins to crack.

After many years of struggling with the religious idea of God in AA, I decided to write and publish The Twelve Steps for Agnostics. Its purpose was to help atheists, agnostics, and free thinkers believe that they, too, can stay happily sober. If the way I was shown could work for a serial relapser like me, they can work for anyone. The book is not my interpretation of the twelve steps. It is a collection of ideas based on the suggestions of agnostic-friendly sponsors and Big Book studies I attended over the years.

It didn’t take long for the book to come under vitriolic attack from the fundamentalist members of the AA “God Squad.”

Bill always wanted AA to be all-inclusive. The fellowship was to welcome atheists, agnostics, and freethinkers. In direct defiance of the unity holding AA together, I was told, “I can’t be a real alcoholic if I don’t believe in God.” This rigid and fundamentalist thinking is dismantling the unity of AA from within.

There is a sense of genuine concern when thinking about the negative effect of this kind of religious fundamentalism on vulnerable newcomers. Many of them cannot tolerate the idea of a religious God. To preserve the unity of AA, perhaps the time has come to increase the newcomer’s awareness that they have a choice of the kind of AA they want to be involved with when getting sober. Hard-core fundamentalist groups can damage people who feel very lost when they arrive in AA with a desire to stop drinking.

My New Book

I have been thinking about writing a new book for the longest time. After being told that I couldn’t be a real alcoholic if I didn’t believe in God, a new title came to me there and then.

“You can’t be a ‘real’ alcoholic if you don’t believe in God.” – A member’s experience of fundamentalism in twelve-step recovery.

The ‘Vision for You’ Group

It may be of interest to the reader that despite being an agnostic, I, too, spent three years in a hard-core group in London. The group that still exists today is known as the ‘Vision or You.’ It has a reputation for being a cult-like fundamentalist splinter group.

Believe it or not, I gained a lot of valuable information in that group. Some of what I learned continues to be helpful in my recovery. I also gained valuable insight into what drives AA fundamentalists. Being in the middle of their camp, so to speak, I was able to see how dominated they were by fear and insecurity. Sadly, that doesn’t make them any less dangerous to vulnerable newcomers.

My next project will be to write about my views and experiences with AA fundamentalism. During this time, I will be writing fewer blogs. I hope to have the new publication ready in the not-too-distant future.

Once published, it will be available on Amazon as a free Kindle book.

I hope to reconnect with you all soon.

In fellowship

Andy F 

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