Rebellion Dogs our every step

THIS JUST IN: April 19, 2014 -  Rebellion Dogs Radio # 4 looks at AA Critics from Dr. Cain's 1963 Harper's Magazine article, "AA: Cult or Cure?" to Dodes The Sober Truth. We look at justified critiques and the bad science that critics get caught in when they try to test AA effectiveness through statistical analysis.  Our radio show is 45 minutes of the last 50 years of Truth Police lining up to reveal the true AA. From bad science to bad attitudes, it's an informative and amusing journey. Fast Forward to Rebellion Dogs Radio NOW

Join in on the conversation @ AAagnostica. Did you hear the one about the Reverend that walks into an Agnostic and Atheist Conference of Alcoholics Anonymous? I discuss having a non-alcoholic General Service Board Chair Emeritus Ward Ewing address We Agnostics and Freethinkers International AA Conference. 

The Pew Research reveals the new America, less white, less religious and more Generation Y (age 18 to 33). Is the big book that boomers deemed sacred going to resonate with the next generation of newcomer? Here's how "the rooms" are going to look like in the coming years:

Counselors, groups, professionals: If you want to get a batch of Beyond Belief and/or The Little Book, we can reduce costs on orders of six or more. CLICK HERE

We Agnostics & Freethinkers International AA Conference is November 6 to 8 in Santa Monica CA. Marya H., author of Waiting: A Nonbelievers Higher Power has been announced as a speaker and this just in:

We are very pleased to announce the selection of Rev. Ward Ewing as WAFT IAAC keynote speaker! Rev. Ewing is a non-alcoholic who has been involved with AA for 33 years and, having served as a Class A Trustee of the General Service Board for 11 years and as Chair for 4 years, is now a Chair Emeritus. He is also an ordained Episcopal priest, theological scholar, and recently retired as the Dean and President of the General Theological Seminary in New York. Read more about Ward Ewing

You can now buy an Amazon Gift Card for yourself or others - it's like the gift of knowledge and entertainment. Recovery books, electronics, movies, music and more.

Publisher-direct bulk order discounts for treatment professionals HERE.           KOBO New Year special, If you are akin to Kindles, get Beyond Belief on

Finally, Recovery Books for Nonbelievers, Freethinkers and Everyone
(welcome Counselor Magazine readers)

Order Beyond Belief from Amazon HERE.

Great eBook deals: Barnes & Noble have Beyond Belief available for $US10.19 and paperback for $17.22. Compare with Amazon for Kindle.

If you're a KOBO customer click HERE and find out how your purchase of our eBook can support your favorite independent book store.

Two books that belong together. If you visit or live in Toronto, North America's largest mental health book store is Caversham Booksellers at 98 Harbord, steps west of Spadina. You can find (and buy) Beyond Belief and The Little Book: A Collection of Alternative 12 Steps or anything you are looking for in addiction/recovery, psychotherapy, philosophy, science and religion. I find it hard to leave there empty handed. Drop in say "Hi," if you find yourself near Bloor and Spadina in Toronto, Canada.

Roger C's new book called, The Little Book: A Collection of Alternative 12 Steps is something I am quite excited about it. It is the ultimate mate to Beyond Belief; one is a daily reflection book and the other is a freethinker's workbook for the Twelve Steps. You can order it from our Beyond Belief page.

Please note that Beyond Belief is a popular book title used for everything from Scientology to sporting achievements, UFOs and religion. When searching "Beyond Belief: Agnostic" or "Beyond Belief 12 Step" will work.
News and Blogs from Rebellion Dogs
From "A Newcomer Asks..." AA pamphlet p-24 Q: “There is a lot of talk about God, though, isn't there?” A: The majority of A.A. members believe that we have found the solution to our drinking problem not through individual willpower, but through a power greater than ourselves. However, everyone defines this power as he or she wishes. Many people call it God, others think it is the A.A. group, still others don't believe in it at all. There is room in A.A. for people of all shades of belief and non-belief.
Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, William G. Wilson, page 27 “You can, if you wish, make A.A. itself your 'higher power.' Here's a very large group who have solved their alcohol problem. In this respect they are certainly a power greater than you, who have not even come close to a solution. Surely you can have faith in them. Even this minimum of faith will be enough.”

Hollywood California will host We Agnostics A.A. Conference November 6 to 8, 2014. See or download a FLYER for this historic first international convention for A.A. freethinkers et al. Rebellion Dogs is going. Registration is now open. To help with outreach in your area or to get on the mailing list to stay in the loop, contact, WeAgConvention AT gmail DOT com.

Check our links for great Freethinking places to go. The recovery community consists of 20 million addicts who have turned the corner on addiction to booze, drugs, sexual and romantic obsession, online-gaming, food, gambling, workaholism and more.

Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life
Finally a daily reflection book for nonbelievers, freethinkers and everyone.


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Sober Truths: 50 years of AA critics, bad science and bad attitudes Podcast

Finding Fault like there's a reward to it - Isn't there more to constructive criticism than pointing out the faults in others? Meet the new book (same as the old book) that takes a pot-shot at AA, 12 Steps and the Treatment modality that embraces this "bad science." Authors Lance and Zackary Dodes sing a familiar refrain in The Sober Truth: Debunking the Bad Science Behind 12-Step Programs and the Rehab Industry. This just in: AA is flawed and unscientific. OK, so room for improvement isn't news. But is AA ineffective? So, in Episode 04 of Rebellion Dogs Radio, we look at AA-bashing from Dr. Cain in 1963's "AA: Cult or Cure?" to Penn & Teller's Bullshit episode on Showtime and this new book. We look at AA's own triennial survey results from 1977 to 1989 and why critics see embarrassing 5% success (or let's call it failure) rates. We counter that with peer reviewed studies that call such a conclusion erroneous or misleading. For 50 years and then some, as a fellowship, we have inspired many to change their life for the better. We have also inspired some to be critical of us.

Bill W was not reactive; he thought that our critics weren't all wrong and we could learn from them.  From Cain to Dodes, fellowship reaction is always divided. Many are dismissive or hurt by the mean spirited condemnation. Others find it a breath of fresh and feel vindicated for their own frustration with AA's preaching personal inventory on one hand but being resistant or belligerent about meaningful change as a fellowship. It's a question worth asking for each of us: Am I change-resistant; do I default to contempt prior to investigation when:

  1. I am criticized,
  2. someone proposes a change in my home group,
  3. or, in this case, when someone is publicly critical of AA as a whole?"

It's a regular Rebellion Dog-fight this month and we invite you to listen in or join in on the conversation. We race through the history of debunking and debunking-busting in 45 minutes. We are 100% in favor of skepticism. But have these critics got their facts straight?

At the end you can hear Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life's author Joe C, playing lead and singing back-up on The Chronicle's song Jesse and he wrote, "Chronic Malcontent," the prefect theme song for Episode #4.

Read or download the transcript of Episode 04 HERE

For links to Don McIntire, “How Well Does A.A. Work?”in Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, AA Recovery Outcome Rates – Contemporary Myth and Misconception and Hoffmann (2003) “Recovery careers of people in Alcoholics Anonymous.”

Penn & Teller Bullshit show on Showtime

What "Beyond Belief" means to me 

(Read it in PDF if you prefer)

My AA home group is called Beyond Belief Agnostics & Freethinkers (Toronto, Canada). The group had its first meeting September 24, 2009. I guess the meaning of Beyond Belief could be different for each of us. Here’s what it means to me: between the deaths of AA’s first co-founder and the recent death in my home group, a portrait tells a story.

Our group lost one of our original members, Wayne M, to cancer March 21, 2014. In Wayne’s story we see that he was trying to stay sober from 1992 to 2004. He had been in four rehabs, two were 12 Step based and two were not. In an article about his atheist 12 Step recovery, “A Higher Purpose,” Wayne writes:

“After three months at Halton Recovery House (October 1997 to January 1998) I managed to stay sober for a year and a half. Then, I picked up a drink and the next thing I knew, it was five years later and I was in a psych ward. It was 2004 and I was jobless, homeless and friendless. Even my brother would not take a phone call from me.
It was there I decided that I did not want to die a drunk.

I knew I needed treatment to get started—again—and I chose Renascent (House).

My sobriety date is Sept 30, 2004. In November I entered Renascent and completed treatment.”

All of us at Beyond Belief would have loved to celebrate Wayne’s 10th anniversary of continuous sobriety later this year, but it is not to be. I want to remember Wayne and share with you an uncanny connection that his story has to Bob S’s story from “The Co-Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous” P-53 15M 8/12 (RP) © Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. Dr. Bob said that “love and service” is the core of AA. He died of cancer in City Hospital, Akron November 16, 1950. No, I am not drawing a connection between AA service work and cancer. While these two men shared this life-ending experience, the point is how they lived sober and not how they died.

One of these men, Dr. Bob, saw himself as a servant of God and credited his sobriety to the grace of God. Wayne’s faith was in the transformative experience of (what the professionals call) cognitive restructuring, a psycho-therapeutic process of learning to identify and dispute irrational or maladaptive thoughts. Forget the, “Who was right and who was wrong” argument; or “Were they both guilty of patternicity?”—a word used by Skeptic Magazine Editor Michael Shermer to describe the believing mind’s tendency to find patterns or connections in the random noise and chaos of life’s experience. Let’s drop the language and imagine that both of these men’s stories are being told through silent film and not their own narration. Here we have to follow the alcoholic’s feet and stop listening to the words they choose to describe their experience. I think the actions and result of these two men are strikingly similar.

For my money, Ernie Kurtz seems to be saying two things about AA in the book about us, Not God: A History of Alcoholics Anonymous. A believer himself, he is not myth-busting the ABC of AA lore from “How it works:”
  • (a) That we were alcoholic and could not manage our own lives
  • (b) That probably no human power could have relieved our alcoholism.
  • (c) That God could and would if He were sought.
Not God means two profound things about how AA works: We had to stop trying to control the agenda (we were each not God); secondly, the transformative power of the AA way was not directly from the hand of God but the transference from despair to hope that comes from one alcoholic talking to another.

Bob describes AA as an oral tradition, one drunk talking to another before there was a book, a fellowship or a program:

“You see, back in those days we were groping in the dark. We knew practically nothing of alcoholism. I, a physician, knew nothing about it to speak of. Oh, I read about it, but there wasn’t anything worth reading in any of the text-books. Usually the information consisted of some queer treatment for D.T.s, if a patient had gone that far. If he hadn’t, you prescribed a few bromides and gave the fellow a good lecture.
At that point, our stories didn’t amount to anything to speak of. When we started in on Bill D. (AA #3), we had no Twelve Steps, either; we had no Traditions.”

Before meeting Bill W, Doctor Bob was as hot and cold with God? He had prayed unanswered prayers in solitude to be freed from the merciless obsession of drinking. He had cursed God and vowed to never darken the door of a church ever again. Still, he was a member of the Oxford Group. Before and after his last drink Bob found merit in the Oxford’s Four Absolutes - Absolute Honesty, Absolute Purity, Absolute Unselfishness and Absolute Love. Like Wayne, who languished through fits of sobriety and relapse, Bob found himself discouraged in himself and hopeless. Here he is talking of Henrietta Seiberling, who would later be responsible for introducing Bob and Bill.

“‘Henry, do you think I want to stop drinking liquor?’

She, being a very charitable soul, would say, ‘Yes, Bob, I’m sure you want to stop.’

I would say, ‘Well, I can conceive of any living human who really wanted to do something as badly as I think I do, who could be such a total failure. Henry, I think I’m just one of those want-to-want-to guys.’

And she’d say, ‘No Bob, I think you want to. You just haven’t found a way to work it yet.’

The fact that my sobriety has been maintained continuously for 13 ½ years doesn’t allow me to think that I am necessarily any further away from my next drink than any of you people. I’m still very human, and I still think a double Scotch would taste awfully good. If it wouldn’t produce disastrous results, I might try it. … I’m not trying to be funny. Those thoughts actually do enter my mind.”

Bob articulated the humility of what makes us all equal in AA. While the length between us and our last drink may be different from each other, the possibility of the next drink remains the same distance away for all of us. Bob never had that white-light experience Bill had. Through all of his life, Bob, a devoted believer, felt the humility of what we still call—not a cure, but—a daily reprieve. For Bob as for many of us, including Wayne, this reprieve was contingent on a day-at-a-time approach that was nurtured by a willingness to help others.

Bob continues in his Detroit talk:

“I think the kind of service that really counts is giving of yourself, and that almost invariably requires effort and time. It isn’t a matter of just putting a little quiet money in the dish. That’s needed, but isn’t giving much for the average individual in days like these, when most people get along fairly well. I don’t believe that type of giving would ever keep anyone sober. But giving of our own effort and strength and time is quite a different matter. And I think that is what Bill learned in New York and I didn’t learn in Akron until we met.”

Wayne came to believe the same thing. For the last years of his life, Wayne returned to the place that he last went to treatment, first as a volunteer and then to work for a fraction of what he previously earned as a sales executive. Wayne writes:

“After being sober for more than a year, I started volunteering at Renascent. As time went by and I always showed up and did well at what they gave me, they started offering me paid shifts. I was offered a full time job in 2007. It was to assess people that wanted to attend our treatment program. My job was to interview them and determine if they were a fit for us and, more importantly, if we were a fit for them.

To say I loved it would be the understatement of all time. For the first time in my life, I had a job that was not a job. It was what I did when I woke up. I could not wait to get there in the mornings.

You see, it was an ideal way for me to live my higher purpose. That way I could be a useful part of the human race.”

Next, let’s look at how Bob describes, call it Twelve Step work or the transformative impact of recovery and service. We might imagine either Wayne or Bob saying the following, which comes from Bob’s last major talk:

“We should attempt to acquire some faith, which isn’t easily done, especially for the person who has always been very materialistic, following the standards of society today. But I think faith can be acquired; it can be acquired slowly; it has to be cultivated. That was not easy of me, and I assume that it is difficult for everyone else.
Another thing that was difficult for me (and probably don’t do it too well yet) was the matter of tolerance. We are all inclined to have closed minds, pretty tightly closed.

That’s one reason why some people find our spiritual teaching difficult. They don’t
want to find out too much about it, for various personal reasons, like the fear of being considered effeminate. But it’s quite important that we do acquire tolerance towards the other fellow’s ideas. I think I have more of it than I did have, although not enough yet. If somebody crosses me, I’m apt to make a rather caustic remark. I’ve done that many times, much to my regret. And then, later on, I find that the man knew much more about it that I did.”

Both men’s recovery was glued together by the faith in being less interested in personal stuff and more interested in their fellows. Both men would agree that Ernie Kurtz’s observations were true; although one of them believes in a supernatural explanation of the process and the other sees a natural explanation for the hows and the whys in their worldview.

Both men are now dead. Both transformed his own life and left the world a better place.

Beyond the belief of each man (which we might be tricked into thinking defines them as people) is their legacy—what they did, the choices they made, the values that they lived by. To be mentally (or spiritually, if you prefer) beyond belief is to be beyond the narcissism of small differences. We are 99% the same which is what Wayne and Bob saw in another when communicating their experience strength and hope. Much of mankind is transfixed in the 1% of what is different in each of us. This is the road to isolation, loneliness or what artists portray as a living death. This loneliness is well known to the alcoholic, as both Dr. Bob and Wayne have shared in their stories.

What freed them from this purgatory? Was it what they believed or what they did? The clue for me is that in one way the two men differ greatly; in one way they appeared to be identical. The result for each, and the lesson it teaches us, is 99% the same. Faith without works is dead. Our works are surely the measure of each man’s life; beyond their beliefs, we find concrete values, which both men lived and left as their legacy.

Read the story of Wayne M, “A Higher Purpose” on AAagnositca:

Read the story of Doctor Bob S. at

Pre-order Ernie Kurtz's new book Experiencing Spirituality (on sale May 15) with best price guarantee:

Grief, the missing link in Big-Book-modality. An interview with John McAndrew Podcast

John McAndrew, MA, MDiv, is a spiritual teacher, facilitator, counselor, musician, and poet.

We found him at the National Conference of Addiction Disorders in Anaheim California, September 2013 giving a talk that asked if the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous is still relevant as a treatment modality in the 21st century. Well, as you might anticipate, it has it's strengths and weaknesses. There are core healing principles that have endured and will continue to last. What's missing? As alluded to in the Big Book, "more will be revealed." In treating addiction the more is in the treatment of trauma and grief. John has worked in Hospice, been the Director of Spiritual Care at the Betty Ford Centre and now he is a principle in a project new to 2014, Sensible Spirituality Associates. John knows about sadness, loss and making room and making time for grief.

Join us on Rebellion Dogs Radio as we look at grief and grieving and what our guest, John McAndrew and other 21st voices have to add to the 12-Step process. Listen, reflect and join the conversation.

Please visit:

John McAndrew and Sensible Spirituality Associates
Dr. Geoff Warburton Ted talk on Death and Loss
Laura Prince, Ted talk on Mourning
Nancy Berns, Beyond Closure on Ted
Robert Kegan and Immunity to Change


Rebellion Dogs Radio Episode Two: Wellness Factors Podcast

Rebellion Dogs Radio was partly inspired by the 2013 National Conference of Addiction Disorders (NCAD). Next episode will feature our discussion with John McAndrew, MA, MDiv, the director of Sensible Spirituality Associates. This week we have another NCAD connection. Wellness Factors came by out book back in September 2013 in Anaheim. As a result of that meeting, Joe C. was invited onto Blog Talk Radio as a guest of Farida Contractor, host of Wellness Factors Lunch and Learn and Wellness Factors Directors of Client Care.

Wellness Factors can be found in New York City and the beautiful Okanogan Valley in the interior of Canada's British Columbia. Visit Wellness Factors online to learn more about their publications and how they help Employee Assistance Programs and aid companies with health, wellness and prevention or listen to other episodes of Wellness Factors on Blog Talk Radio.


Beyond Belief is One Year Old - Thank You 

Happy Anniversary everyone! Read as a PDF

This week is the anniversary of the first printing of Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life. There are 1206 people who own a paperback or eBook copy of Beyond Belief. I don’t personally know 1,200 people so someone’s talking it up and that someone is you. In fact some of you have become remarkable champions of the first daily reflection book for nonbelievers, freethinkers and everyone.
This, I want to propose, is way more significant than simply beating the odds of a first-time print-on-demand project, over 90% of which never move 200 units. I think it signifies a paradigm shift. Sorry if you have heard that tired phrase in way too many boardrooms and trade-shows. Let me explain how this modest result is such an accomplishment and why you—not us—are responsible for it all. The first year buyers and readers are what market commentators call the early adaptors or visionaries. Let’s look at how, together, we have already shifted the recovery movement in a new direction—a better direction.

We know Bill Wilson and the other founders were fans of the writings of William James. Pre-Big Book AA leaned on James’s The Varieties of Spiritual Experiences. When Wilson was penning an article for the The Grapevine (July 1946) called, “The Individual In Relation to A.A. as a Group,” Bill W writes those infamous words that we have since celebrated: “So long as there is the slightest interest in sobriety, the most unmoral, the most anti-social, the most critical alcoholic may gather about him a few kindred spirits and announce to us that a new Alcoholics Anonymous Group has been formed. Anti-God, anti-medicine, anti-our Recovery Program, even anti-each other—these rampant individuals are still an AA Group if they think so!”

Of course, unbelievers and nonconformists in recovery are moved by this unabashed assurance that unorthodoxy is as AA as “one day at a time” or “don’t drink and go to meetings.” But just as significant as the individualism that Wilson was celebrating was (as reflected in the title, “The Individual In Relation to A.A. as a Group”) the cue to the society to encourage and champion these odd-balls.

Wilson, along with the more savvy old-timers, counted on their fledgling society to muster the courage to change; any society that was going to survive, would need to adapt as foreshadowed in early writing—“We know but a little,” “More will be revealed,” “Never fear needed change.”[i]
And what does change for the better look like? Well, it is un-pretty, cloaked in unpopularity and clamoring with controversy. Born of discontent, the survival of this anti-social, anti-whatever faction depends on being embraced by a flexible, trusting and tolerant society. Could AA do that? Does that sound crazy or impossible? It may well be that the genesis of Wilson’s scheme came from his readings of Williams James.

In a lecture called, “Great Men, Great Thoughts, and the Environment” delivered before the Harvard Natural History Society (published in the Atlantic Monthly, October, 1880) William James says this: “Thus social evolution is a resultant of the interaction of two wholly distinct factors, - the individual, deriving his peculiar gifts from the play of physiological and infra-social forces, but bearing all the power of initiative and originations in his hands; and, second, the social environment, with its power of adopting or rejecting both him and his gifts.” What resonates with where we stand today in 12 & 12 recovery is how James drives this idea home, “Both factors are essential to change. The community stagnates without the impulse of the individual. The impulse dies away without the sympathy of the community.”

James says that our society will stagnate without the impulse of the individual. While it starts with one person saying, “This isn’t good enough, we can do better,” without the sympathy of the community it would all be for not.

Let’s say a single member feels malnourished by the lack of secular support literature in Twelve Step rooms. He writes a book into an untested market after pitching the idea and being rejected by both Hazelden and HCI Books. So what; so far we have nothing but one restless malcontent. To breathe evolution into the chaos, the impulse of the individual (or the whole writing/editing team) had to freefall into the sympathetic arms and hearts of a recovery community.

What we celebrate on the anniversary of the first printing of Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life is not the impulse of an individual, but the sympathy of our community. One person does not a 12 Step meeting make and a new book being read by a couple dozen recovering members does not constitute the evolution of a society that James pointed towards. But a thousand people just might be the start of evolution. I think this is very, very exciting and very, very hopeful.

We hear and read a lot of discontent about society—our recovery society—dogmatically bogging down into the reification of our principles and infighting among clashing personalities. Okay, true enough, you read a lot of this type of bitching from this very site and these clashing personalities. But while we seemingly bitch and finger-point, maybe we are becoming or evolving into what Ghandi called the change we “want to see in the world.”

You see, we are the Fellowship; it isn’t a rented office in Manhattan or a General Service Conference each April. Our society’s heart beats in every group through the words and deeds of every member.
Paperbacks Sales
Direct from Rebellion Dogs Publishing 324
Bookstores 188
Amazon 405
Conferences/Conventions 52
Direct from Rebellion Dogs Publishing 18
Amazon (Kindle) 164
Kobo, Sony, iTunes, B&N 33
 Libraries 22
Total 1,206
Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life is one year old now.
This is a time to share our joy and express our gratitude to all supporters. After one year in the market, 1,206 people own a copy of Beyond Belief. It isn’t the end of day-jobs for anyone at Rebellion Dogs but it is something to be thankful for. Coming from me (Joe C), I don’t actually know over a thousand people so I have all of you to thank for talking up this book, your encouragement and the many who are the champions of this book.
For you curious cats, here is how it broke down: Paperbacks were preferred five to one, although several people want and have the book in both formats. Over two dozen booksellers, libraries and treatment centers have seen fit to bring this book to the attention of their visitors/clients.
In any sales cycle there are the innovators who take the leap of faith before others have heard about the new offering, followed by the early adapters, the early majority, late majority and finally the laggards who buy something once it’s in Walmart. We are now at the early adapter stage.
In technology, enthusiasts are in first because nerds love new technology for technologies sake. The love is not conditional on what the ultimate impact of the new technology is. The second phase is the visionaries; they are ahead of the crowd and buy in at top dollar to be there first. They see progress, momentum and potential and pay a premium to say, “I was there at the start.” The pragmatists join in when the price is more reasonable, the conservative are there once “everyone is doing it” and finally the skeptics give up and give it a try.

Everyone who owns a book now is an innovator, buying into an un-tested product, aimed at an unmet need. It is you that I want to thank and celebrate in this blog post.
Lessons from the music business
Derek Sivers uses the term first follower(s) to describe the significance of innovators and early adapters. First followers turn a lone nut into a leader. In the way James recognized the needed combination of an individual impulse and community sympathy, Sivers recognizes that the leader(s) is over-glorified because it is really the first follower(s) who showed courage and start a movement. Wayne’s World wouldn’t be a world without Garth. Bill Wilson wasn’t a fellowship; Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith, together, were the start of the AA fellowship.
Derek Sivers knows of what he speaks. He was a competent musician and composer but we don’t know him for these gifts. His claim to fame is founding CD Baby. Derek started helping to market other artists’ music and this became a multi-million dollar company. CD Baby was one of the early non-pornography internet sales success stories that Amazon, eBay, and many others have emulated. Our early adapting booksellers are the same heroes that Derek Sivers champions in a TED Talk and three minute video.
The first retail stores that stocked Beyond Belief are some of what Sivers calls “first followers.” The most encouraging news I hear is that where Beyond Belief is on bookshelves, about half of the sales were from people who came into the store to buy something else. The book has a “Hey, what a good idea!” effect. Some of these stores are addiction/recovery specialty stores and others are more general booksellers that happen to have a well-stocked Self-Help section.
The big picture of the daily reflection market
While I don’t know what the potential market for an agnostic daily reflection book really is or will be, we are off to a good start. Sure, if I wanted a best-seller I would have written another book for the rest of the marketplace that embraces and never tires of theistic daily devotionals. The total marketplace for these books is in the area of 750,000 unit sales per year. People who read Conference annual reports tell me AA sells over 150,000 Daily Reflections paperbacks each year. On Amazon, several books of this type outsell AA’s offering. Hazelden’s Each Day a New Beginning (for Women) and the 1954 Twenty-four Hours A Day outsell Daily Reflections. Outselling all of the daily reflection books, for codependents, is Melody Beattie’s Language of Letting Go. That book was written in 1990 and is still in the top 35,000 of the over one million books sold on, today.
There are daily devotionals for men, young people, newcomers, Al-Anon members and recovering drug addicts. All of them assume a creator-God worldview. I think all the ones I mentioned, outsold Beyond Belief in the last 12 months. That’s Okay; sure I have a competitive streak. I’d like to kick-ass, but that’s up to the public, not me. If someone told me that, “1,200 and only 1,200 want and need this book; it will cost you more that you will make—will you write a daily reflection book that includes people who don’t believe in God?” I would have said yes.
If 5% of the 750,000 people who buy daily devotionals would prefer an agnostic version, that can translate to 35,000 Beyond Belief owners a year. We can do that.
The Varieties of Beyond Belief Experiences
According to Paul Simon there are 50 ways to leave your lover. How many ways are there to use Beyond Belief? Some read it alone, some with a friend and some in a 12 Step group. Some people read a page each day. Some flip through and read pages at random. Some go to the index and look up musings on specific topics like relapse, Step Six, open-mindedness or work-life. In this way some group chairs pick a topical musing to read as a kick off to group discussion the way Living Clean, As Bill Sees It or Twenty-four Hours A Day are used. How many of you noticed that the 10th of each month is the Tradition that corresponds with that month? March 10th is Tradition Three, for instance. Okay, so that’s me being nerdy. Ernie Kurt talked about reading with a pad and a pen to one side. Is anyone mucking their Beyond Belief? That would be kinda’ cultish. Others would like another index at the back so quote sources. That way, if you wanted to look up what dates Bill W or Janis Joplin or Carl Jung are quoted, you could. Maybe in a future version we can make room for that.
We Are All “the change we want to see in the world”
Today’s celebration isn’t about one book. This last year other agnostic/atheist books have been released into the addiction/recovery community and older ones are getting a second life. Roger C who authored The Little Book also edits which is a hub of evolution. Look at all the Yahoo, Facebook and Google sites devoted to agnostic 12 Step community. Slightly older books, The 12 Step Buddhist, The Skeptics Guide to the 12 Steps and Waiting: A Nonbelievers Higher Power, are all catalysts of our evolution. Rebellion Dogs Publishing has changed our own bookstore page to celebrate many great books that represent our changing community.

No music fan owns just one record. No book-based society thrives on just one book—no matter what the thumpers might tell you. We aim to champion great books the way you have helped us spread the word about Beyond Belief. Play it forward, they say.
Everyone of you who has started or helped to start a group—you are visionaries, too. Two thirds of the agnostic AA groups listed on the NYC agnostic AA worldwide group directory didn’t exist before the year 2000. The change we demand and anguish over not being a reality is already happening.
So often we cry out about either the antiquated Big Book or the change-resistance of so many members but we miss the view of the forest because of the tree we are focused on. Who is the fellowship if it is not us? What is going on is cause for celebration. Sure, be a watchdog, identify wrongs and defend scapegoats. But let us not be so preoccupied with fault-finding that we miss the glorious truth that what we want has already started. Sure, it’s the one year key-tag, cake or medallion for Beyond Belief and everyone in recovery and every tool in the recovery tool-kit is a sign of hope. It takes a community to raise a child, help an addict recovery or move towards the society we want our children to feel included and welcome in.
It’s happening. Watch the three minute Derek Sivers Ted Talk
[i] “Let us never fear needed change. Certainly we have to discriminate between changes for the worse and changes for the better. But once a need becomes clearly apparent in an individual, in a group, or in AA as a whole, it has long since been found out that we cannot stand still and look the other way. The essence of all growth is a willingness to change for the better and then an unremitting willingness to shoulder whatever responsibility this entails.” Bill W. A.A. Grapevine “July 1965

Rebellion Dogs Radio Episode One Podcast

Welcome to Rebellion Dogs Addiction & Recovery Radio Show, bringing you a 21st century look at 12 Step life, with more bite and less dogma.

Play the show in your own audio player or download it. Please note, it's a big file and might take a couple of minutes to download. Otherwise, scroll down and use the Pod-o-matic player which fires up right away...

I am currently reading Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey’s Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization (Harvard Business School Publishing, 2009). Kegan is on record as saying:
“Successfully functioning in a society with diverse values, traditions and lifestyles requires us: to have a relationship to our own reactions rather than be captive of them; to resist our tendencies to make right or true, that which is merely familiar, and wrong or false, that which is only strange.”
Who doesn’t dismiss or is at least get uncomfortable with the unfamiliar. However, what’s the danger of making sacred that with is familiar? What is the danger of dismissing or demonizing that which seems strange to our way of doing things?

Our blogs have been focused on the Vancouver situation for a couple of weeks and in 2014 they are treating as new, the same situation Bill Wilson dealt with 60 years ago: Who gets to say who or what is a real A.A. group?

In Bill W’s AA, if you want to change the Steps so they fit with your worldview – go for it. Will there be any pressure from AA to either conform or get the hell out of here – never. In a film about the Traditions Bill confesses that the Twelve Traditions are contrary to his own knee-jerk reactions. He had his own agenda and his own secret aims for AA. The Twelve Traditions reflect the experience that his fears proved to be groundless and his ambitions were purely egotistical. Our Traditions are not from the wisdom of AA elders but born of the bad experiences of following first impulses. In this inaugural podcast Bill W himself, warns us that the Traditions are to guard against temptations that are bound to resurface, the temptation to govern and the human tendency toward rigidity, fear and intolerance.

If we don’t know our history we are damned—damned to repeat it, so we take a time-capsule trip back to 1957 when AA history set in place the standard to deal with non-conforming AA groups that want to do their own thing and aren’t asking anyone’s permission to do it.

Coming Up this month we will be talking with a filmmaker from Oregon who will talk about why addicts are so fascinating, an addiction treatment professional from California who talks about the missing component to the Big Book approach – shame, guilt and trauma work, plus a University of Toronto Psychology teacher who will be talking to us about coming to terms with our own capacity for both evil and virtue.

That’s not very one-day-at-a-time now is it? As for February, I hope all those ideas will come from y’all. Let us know what’s on your mind. We’ll hunt down the answers.
This is our new show and this is our new intro music. Tell us how you like it. news AT rebelliondogspublishingDOTcom

Read or download Show Transcripts - Check out AAagnostica to see what others are saying about the subject.

Listen, download, stream at Rebellion Dog's Pod-0-omatic Page.

The player below will stream but it takes a few minutes to kick in (it's a 50 minute track). If you're impatient, the Pod-0-matic link above is instant.

When You’re Not the Lead Dog© Joe C, Jesse Beatson, The Chronicles
Listen or download for free:
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Like jumping from a ledge or retreating to a burning building
Time to choose the uncertain or settle for breaking even
A parable comes to mind from one of life’s wise Eskimos
I don’t remember it exactly but here is how it goes:
When you’re not the lead dog, the view never changes
Life’s a crowded room full of faceless strangers
When you’re not the lead dog, the view never changes
I can’t settle for getting by so bring on the dangers
You confess you have a dream – the other’s just don’t get it
Like an aging hipster, you don’t want to be pathetic
So you’re torn between a good living and a good life
You ask if it’s worth the risk, the sweat, the strife. You asking me?
When you’re not the lead dog, the view never changes
Life’s a crowded room full of faceless strangers
When you’re not the lead dog, the view never changes
I can’t settle for getting by so bring on the dangers
I won’t bah like a sheep, so I fight what I seek
You won’t put me to rest with my concerto incomplete
Life is not a punishment – more like a treasure hunt
So I’m jumping from the ledge and taking a run for the front

  1. Rebellion Dogs Radio Episode 01

New-age AA stewardship: announcing the new Traditions 2.0 

Vancouver Intergroup considers banning books, unapproved readings and rituals.
Read, print, share as a PDF - Have you ever heard someone interrupt a 12 Step meeting or group business meeting with this four word sentence: “That’s not conference approved”? These are the words of someone who reads the headlines of a newspaper and looks at the pictures but doesn’t have time for details. Still he or she is confident that they are well-informed because they looked at the newspaper. 

There is no requirement for AA membership to be civically engaged, have a grasp of subtle nuances or even to be well-informed. But when it comes to our trusted servants, standards should be a little higher—at least as far as our own service structure is concerned. Vancouver AA Intergroup is being asked to consider trading in the status quo of our 12 Traditions for a more Orwellian AA era. The argument for this new order uses the phrase “conference approved” as an authority, while missing its intention.
In our previous blog post, I suggested that Vancouver Intergroup wasn’t happy with AA’s inverted triangle of service and felt things would be more effective governing groups instead of serving them. Leading up to the recent drama, a staff member got let go from Vancouver Intergroup, just after welcoming two agnostic AA groups into the fold. Viki was brought in and set things straight. The unbelievers were removed from the meeting list and a controversy was fabricated putting the blame on the victim of the discrimination—the agnostic AA groups. To create a crime scene where the bodies had been buried, rules had to be broken. Therefore, rules had to be created, or implied. The new rule (not our Traditions) is that for selected groups, inclusion in the AA fold has to withstand the popularity test of Intergroup reps. In the new Vancouver, two or more alcoholics gathered together for sobriety with no other affiliation aren’t a listable (made-up Traditions 2.0 word) group unless everyone else says so.
Viki replied to Rebellion Dogs’ last blog post: “I find this type of publication of derogatory and inflammatory material about A.A. by professed A.A. members to be disappointing.”
If a doctor tells us our smoking is killing us and we say, “I find this kind of derogatory and inflammatory conversation disappointing, especially coming from a doctor”—should the concern be with the doctor who confronts the problem or the patient who denies it? Viki would rather judge than be judged; Okay, who wouldn't? I challenged her about engaging in dangerous seat of perilous power type of behavior and kidding herself about the consequences. She diminishes me as a “professed” member.
One of her Orwellian violations is uncensored readings. Reality check—before a pamphlet or new edition of the Big Book goes to the printer, our General Service Conference, representing members, groups and areas from every region of Canada and the USA, votes on it, granting approval to publish, copyright and print it with conference approval.
What Viki leaves out but the World Service of Alcoholics Anonymous emphasises is that conference approveddoes not imply Conference disapproval of other material about A.A. A great deal of literature helpful to alcoholics is published by others, and A.A. does not try to tell any individual member what he or she may or may not read.”[i]
In a letter to Intergroup, Vancouver Viki blames two books for the chaos. She writes: “What is the controversy? These groups state they are AA groups stating their right to be so rests with the Third Tradition which states, ‘The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking.’ The controversy arises from the fact that these groups do not use the literature of AA at their meetings. They use Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life, The Little Book: A Collection of Alternative 12 Steps, and they have changed “How It Works,” The Preamble to Alcoholics Anonymous, removing all reference to God or a Higher Power as we understood Him.”
Would AA be better if books should be either conference approved or forbidden? That’s not what AA World Service says, is it? AA members who don’t believe in God may be unpopular but there are no rules about what parts of AA can be accepted or rejected. It is neither stated nor implied in AA Traditions, Concepts, or Warranties that to be an AA group, obedience or conformity can or should be demanded of groups by AA as a whole.
This isn’t a loophole. The intention was and is to widen AA’s gateway so anyone with the faintest interest in sobriety, regardless of what they believed or did not believe, could try AA on their terms.
Viki, we don’t have to burn our books to show our loyalty to AA. On a lighter note, thank you. You flatter both Roger C., author of The Little Book and me for my book, Beyond Belief. It is an honour to be considered, if only by you, to be in the company of banned book-authors James Joyce, Ann Frank, Aldous Huxley, Noam Chomsky, Li Hongzhi, Dr. Seuss, Voltaire and George Orwell[ii]. So, shine on 15 minutes of infamy, shine on.
Andrew Loog Oldham said, “There is no such thing as bad publicity.” If he were alive today, he might say, “It isn’t that the Central Office Manager of the Greater Vancouver Intergroup Society disparaged your book; it’s that she brought the books to the attention of every Intergroup rep and every AA group in the British Columbia Lower Mainland.” As manager of the Rolling Stone, Loog Oldham found momentum from letting The Stones be cast as the alter ego to the squeaky clean fab-four from Liverpool.
“Would you let your daughter marry a Rolling Stone?” wasn’t a scare tactic that this brazen manager came up with but he played the hand he was dealt, brilliantly.

In the same album cycle that saw The Beatles release Let It Be, The Stones put out Let It Bleed. So, if Viki from Vancouver Intergroup wants to grasp at my daily reflection book as a culprit in her campaign to have local AA discriminate against agnostic groups, what can I say but, “At least you were thinking of me, Vik. ‘It’s only rock ‘n’ roll but I like it, like it, yes I do.’”
Closer to Vancouver that the Rolling Stones, Neko Case is known for her role in the local Juno Award winning band, The New Pornographers. South of the border Case is remembered for taking her shirt off during a performance on August 4, 2001 at an out-door Opry Plaza Concert. The penalty was that she was banned for life from the Grand Ole Opry. Subsequently she recorded a record called Blacklisted. Case said, “People would love [the topless incident] to be a ‘fuck you’ punk thing. But it was actually a physical ailment thing. I had heat stroke.”
All these years later, who looks stupid now? The Grand Ole Opry may have been sure, at the time, that they had righteousness on their side, but they might have wanted to ask themselves, “What will the next generation say about our deeds?” Viki, will the next generation of AA members say, “Thanks for protecting AA from the modern lexicon,” or “How could you have be such a bigot?” History is not always kind.
Last example—1976 was the year that I said, “Tonight’s the night”—I will never drink again. By golly, November 27, 1976 did turn out to be my sobriety date. Rod Stewart’s LP of the same year, A Night On The Town, has a song called “Tonight’s the Night.” It was banned in many jurisdictions (probably in Vancouver, too) for unforgivably graphic lyrics. Consider what it takes today to get a Parental Advisory warning, let alone to be censored. In 1976 we, the public, were being protected from the lyric, “Spread your wings and let me come inside.”
The album also had hits like “The Killing of Georgie” about homophobia and “The First Cut is the Deepest,” but no doubt it was the banning of the first single that earned the album two million record sales from a music loving public that would not be told what to say, hear, read or think. Who understood the zeitgeist of the times and who is being laughed at now for trying to keep society locked in the past?
Back to you, Viki—you have zealously struck the Vancouver agnostic groups from the AA meeting list. Let me see if I follow your logic: You love AA; you are our loyal steward and you are protecting the integrity of the AA message. Does that sound like something you might say?
Think of how history views the censor and the censored. How do you want to be remembered? Rod Stewart is remembered as an imaginative innovator. The Canadian Radio and TV Commission (CRTC) that censored him is chastised for out of touch, dogmatic buffoonery.
Your intolerance isn’t for artistic liberty in meetings is it? You don’t mind that the Serenity Prayer, Lord’s Prayer, “Man in the Glass” or any of the other popular AA rituals are not conference approved. I mean, by your logic all groups that engage in these non-conference approved activities should be taken out of the list too, right?
But your intolerance is for nonbelievers. Who would dare doubt the existence of God and/or His role in our sobriety? You don’t want them in your AA. You don’t like liberties being taken with your Steps. Viki, the Steps belong to all of AA. We are not a religion. We have no dogma that needs protection, nothing is sacred and nothing is forbidden. And if I am jumping to conclusions, and you do welcome agnostics and atheists, then we can hardly welcome nonbelievers without accommodating them.
Toronto history bears out that if you cast a vote “for or against God in AA,” you can win that battle, framed that way. If you hold this vote, you’ll betray our Traditions. Might you win the battle and lose the war? AA has a place for all members and all of our groups. AA need not govern, expel or judge. Only someone who saw herself or himself as the agent provocateur of literalist hegemony would campaign that our culture of inclusion, love and tolerance is no longer the AA way. There is no emergency, there is no controversy and there is nothing to fear but fear itself.
Now having said all that I want to conclude by saying I have had Viki in the cross-hairs of my anti-discrimination rant for long enough and I want to take a more global look at things. I don’t know Viki and she doesn’t know me. I bet if we were both sent on the same 12 Step call together we would tell our stories, listen to the newcomer and behave as members of a cohesive, viable unit. I want to bring someone else into the discussion here, too. Viki wasn’t the only one who had something to say about my last blog. Lech from Calgary, someone I respect a lot, said in so many words, “Joe, do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?” Often in life we can’t do both.
More literally, he called me on my bullshit. While I point a judgemental finger westward, I am fault finding. The only thing I hate more than a bigot is a hypocrite and I am being one; damn. In the question of the Vancouver Manoeuvre, who is right and who is wrong is beside the point. I am playing the victim card—don’t persecute nonbelievers, minority rights, blah, blah, blah. In truth, we are all persecuted, we are all alcoholics. We have all been demonized for behaving as addicts will behave. So it seems silly to argue over who is the good deviant and who is the bad one. We have all suffered from being stigmatized and, in all likelihood, we have been guilty of it ourselves.
This issue isn’t Vancouver’s dirty little secret. While AA is anonymous, we aren’t a secret society. This situation is being discussed in private Facebook groups and coffee shops throughout the recovery community. It is getting rather polarizing and I may be as much to blame as anyone.
Does Rebellion Dogs see our role as watchdog? If so, that’s a bit of an ego trip that I, for one, aim to remedy. We aren’t anti-god; we are anti-dogma. We aren’t into a pissing contest about one worldview being more enlightened than another. We are about equality. The moderates would look at us—the “preserving the integrity of the message” camp and the “widening the gateway” camp—and say, “What are you arguing about? Your messages are one in the same. The message to be preserved is that there is room for everyone.”
Lech’s message to me was to keep doing the right thing. The problem is out there (the still suffering alcoholic) not in here (the narcissism of small differences). Thank you sir; I will try to keep that in mind.

Do we serve or do we govern? Vancouver ponders the AA Service Credo 

Bill W eliminated barriers to AA membership Why kick alcoholics to the curb now?
See, print or share as a PDF. The inverted triangle of Alcoholics Anonymous service structure is fundamental to our society. To serve—not govern—differentiates AA from other societies. Ignoring this principle for a specific agenda or other exception will invite a cast of unintended consequences ranging from hard feelings to a total compromise of our system, forfeiting our fellowship as we have known it for over 78 years.
The inverted triangle is AA’s protection from tyranny. Two tyrannies are described by Bill W. in the Twelve Concepts[i]. The two risks are the tyranny of the majority as well as the tyranny of the minority. This inverted triangle prevents the threat of a minority within AA having their rights trampled on. As well, special interest groups can’t railroad the agenda.

Most democracies work the other way around with the power held by a few at the top. They dictate rules, policy and enforcement upon the masses. Some of the inefficiencies, corruption and divisiveness we see in everyday politics are largely avoided in AA. Our inverted service structure is largely to thank for that. Upend this triangle— leaders at the top and members and our groups at the bottom, instead of members and groups at the top and trusted servants at the bottom—and we have the same struggles, lobbying, politics and inequity inside AA as we see in the world outside. Much of what Bill W. observed as causing the downfall of organizations that came before us have been solved or prevented, so long as we maintain the integrity of our code of love and tolerance.
Predictably, when someone tries to subordinate groups and members with leadership the language used is, ‘This is an emergency.” Just as skilled interrogators can spot the tells of a liar, a supposed AA emergency is a tell that someone is on a power trip.
For our non-alcoholic trustees who find their way to the AA General Service Board of Directors, one of the intriguing lessons about AA is an expression heard in Board meetings, “There are no emergencies in A.A.” The reason for that is our inverted triangle that sustains our unique society.
Vancouver is on AAs’ mind for their winning bid for the 2025 World Convention. In 2015 we are in Atlanta, 2020 we head for Detroit, then many will gather in Canada’s Left Coast capital for what I am sure will be a great gathering. That’s not exactly living in the moment, I suppose, but having lived in Western Canada for a significant period of my sobriety I can say that our fellowship is in for a treat, or at least those of us who are still around. Right now, Vancouver is in the AA spotlight from another reason.
Vancouver’s Intergroup has a nefarious power play going on. The situation compromises the integrity of our cherished inverted triangle service structure. While we need not meddle in specific issues of a specific Intergroup, this case is worth examining because it encapsulates a mean-spirited attitude that has implications for the whole of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Am I biased on this issue? More than most of us and I will happily disclose my vested interest. While it clouds my judgement, it need not cloud yours. I won’t feign objectivity but I do have a unique position that I will candidly put to you for your consideration. I suffer from the same confirmation bias described by Michael Shermer as does the powers that be at the Greater Vancouver Intergroup Society (GVSI). My hope is that I can make my point, fairly represent theirs, and you can be objective. This matter does impact all of us.
What looks like a simple question of “are agnostic AA groups AA enough?” is a slippery slope, slipping out of the spiritual safety net of  AA’s Twelve Concepts and Twelve Traditions. As I lay out Vancouver’s position, I contend that it is only defendable by ignoring the inverted triangle (groups on top, trusted servants below).

To be fair, I don’t know what other people are thinking or what motivates them. I am guessing here, drawing on what I am like when I think I am on a mission from God. I say this metaphorically, of course but who hasn’t been so sure we were right that we only see what we want to see. I have done it; I have been overly zealous. When I am like that, it’s tempting to think the end justifies the means. I not condemning Vicki; who is the GVIS General Manager who emailed all of the Vancouver Intergroup reps or Jim J. who authored an 18 page document called Report on Agnostic Group(s). I am questioning the agenda, however. Actions suggests that whoever has removed AA groups from the directory and called for the urgent attention to get the blessing from the Intergroup reps for this discrimination, sees themselves as the leader, guiding the discussion, setting the parameters, and executing whatever executive privilege he or she deems that “the emergency” warrants. I just happen to disagree that there is an emergency or anything that needs intervention.
Here are the facts of the Vancouver issue, as described by Viki’s email to Intergroup Reps and Jim’s 18 page Report on Agnostic Group(s):
  1. In 2012 We Agnostics Group registered their group with General Service Office in New York and provided their particulars to the (then) GVSI manager and We Agnostics was included in the meeting directory for the Greater Vancouver area.
  2. In the spring of 2013 Sober Agnostics followed the same process described above.
  3. By executive decree, the manager that included the agnostic groups as rightful peers was let go. The Fall 2013 Intergroup elite removed the two AA groups from the meeting directory, deeming them unfit.
Viki’s email to Intergroup reps states, “In January there will be discussion about this submission and a decision made as to what constitutes a ‘listable’ group.”
Listable? I looked for that word in the AA Word Service Manual and again in the pamphlet “The A.A. Group” and I don’t find it. I looked again under “A.A. Guidelines: Central or Intergroup Offices, (G.S.O. MG 02).” I hit Control-F on my keypad, type in “listable” and no luck. Neither listable nor unlistable are part of the 78 year old service structure lexicon of Alcoholics Anonymous. Listable groups is a made-up emergency.
AA has been here before; Woman, African Americans, LGBTQ and young people weren’t welcomed with open arms, at first. Bigotry darkened AA’s history. Today of course, men’s women’s, LGBTQ or young people’s groups exemplify how the majority accommodates the needs and wishes of the minority. Each group governs itself without supervision, scrutiny or the fear of expulsion. Disagreement, disobedience and nonconformity are no threat to AA unity. AA is self-correcting. If a group gets it wrong, it fades out by itself; no intervention required. We don’t judge. We don’t interfere. We certainly don’t expel members or their groups. We remember what Bill W. writes about our history:

"We built a fine-mesh fence right around A.A.
“Maybe you think we oldtimers were pretty intolerant. But I can tell you there was nothing funny about the situation then. We were grim because we felt our lives and homes were threatened, and that was no laughing matter. Intolerant, you say? Well, we were frightened. Naturally, we began to act like most everybody does when afraid. After all, isn’t fear the true basis of intolerance? Yes, we were intolerant.
How could we then guess that all those fears were to prove groundless? How could we know that thousands of these sometimes frightening people were to make astonishing recoveries and become our greatest workers and friends?"
Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions p. 140 – 141
The Report on Agnostic Group(s) claims that we have to burn forbidden books and demand conformity. I expect the good intention of delisting rogue groups is to preserve the integrity of the AA message. Jim sees himself as a righteous Intergroup protector and steward of the AA way of life. He has, as I will argue, slipped on a power-trip and taken liberties that no AA trusted servant should indulge in. The Intergroup police force’s rationalization for implementing the un-AA-like practice of judging and refusing service to groups they find disagreement with is that their ends (which Jim and Viki feel are in line with AA’s ends) justify their means. But the means embrace what we avoid in AA—the seat of perilous power.

There is no perilous power in AA’s inverted triangle. Groups are autonomous. AA has over 114,000 groups according the January 2013 survey[ii]. That is over 100,000 ways that our rituals are expressed, what we take and what we leave, with no one evaluating our listability. Only our group conscience dictates to the meeting. Guiding the group, we believe in a higher power, be it a creator-God or power of example and democracy within the rooms. That’s Tradition Two.
Our General Service Office has no say on our group’s affairs. Neither does Intergroup. Every member gets one vote and the group as a whole decides, keeping our Traditions in mind.
Alcohol impairs an alcoholic’s perception. Drunk, we fear things that aren’t real. The alcoholic’s ego gets warped at times. Power can intoxicate and impair our perception, too. Who hasn’t heard “this is a disease of perception.” When drunk on power, our world is turned upside down—including the AA service structure. We see this upended service structure in Vancouver judging group fitness. Here are Vancouver Intergroup’s arguments.
  1. Toronto delisted groups so Vancouver can, too.
  2. Books are being read that aren’t conference approved.
  3. The General Service Conference is the custodian of the Twelve Steps. Anyone who modifies the Step, forfeits their status in the fellowship of AA.
Toronto did de-list two agnostic groups and then gathered to throw out a third one. For the record, I am a member of one of these original groups sent to the curb. Only someone who sees themselves at the top of a pyramid scheme (pictured below) could justify another Intergroup as an authority or precedent. If there are no leaders, there is no follow-the-leader.
Two wrongs don’t make a right. There are hundreds of agnostic AA groups and most are rights-bearing equals among the other groups in their districts (or Intergorups). When people understand AA’s structure you don’t have to doubt God to support agnostic groups. Most people who support gay and lesbian groups or woman’s or young people’s groups have never had been to one—who cares what they do at their group. “It’s not my business. They are a group if they say so.”
Exactly the same drunk-on-power Kool-Aid is being consumed in other jurisdictions, including Indianapolis, Des Moines and Toronto. By the way, of note to Vancouver AA that was not covered in Jim’s 18 page report is this: since the Toronto agnostic vote, agnostic groups are multiplying and attendance is growing. Conversely, group contributions have been below budget at Toronto Intergroup ever since the listablility question (to borrow from Viki’s vocabulary). I don’t know if the discriminatory vote followed by the decline in Intergroup contributions is connected. Bill W did talk about “the power of the purse.” It is mere speculation to consider that Toronto is having another vote—voting with group contributions, showing disproval for their Intergoup.
Toronto’s fight was not between those who believe in a creator-God and those don’t. It was a stand on which end of the pyramid is at the top and which end is at the bottom. Most member’s don’t support scapegoating minorities or discussing other groups’ affairs in their business meetings. That is un-AA. In an inclusive society, like AA, the majority reduces barriers and accommodates minorities. We don’t vote them off the island.
Banned books? Are you kidding me? A power tripper might see General Service Office atop of their service pyramid, approves the books that we print and disapproves of books that AA doesn’t print. In reality, what members or groups read is not GSO’s concern. GSO sees its role as supporting the needs of the groups (at the top)—no policing, just service. Having written one of these books that renders a group unlistable, I will devote another, more humorous, blog post about forbidden readings in group rituals.
Appendix E in the A.A. Service Manual is the BYLAWS of the General Service Board, Inc. Here’s what it says and this—I think—is the biggest cause of confusion and the most emotionally charged issue:
"The “General Service Board” (or the “Board”) claims no proprietary right in the recovery in the recovery program, for these Twelve Steps, as all spiritual truths, may now be regarded as available to all mankind. However, because these Twelve Steps have proven to constitute an effective spiritual basis for life which, if followed, arrests the disease of alcoholism, the General Service Board asserts the negative right of preventing, so far as it may be within its power so to do, any modification, alteration, or extension of these Twelve Steps, except at the instance of the Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous." (S111, the A.A. Service Manual combined with Twelve Concepts of World Service by Bill W.)
To whom is this statement so emotional? Those who revere the Twelve Steps as sacred get a little testy about this turgid decree. On the other hand, if you see the Twelve Steps as suggestions and not a requirement for good standing in our Fellowship, or loosely articulated principles, the wording of such, being optional—then you would see agnostic Steps as imaginative—not sacrilegious. “Good for you; whatever works.”
What oversight does “asserts the negative right of preventing, so far as it may be within its power so to do, any modification, alteration, or extension of these Twelve Steps” imply? Who does it govern and who is doing the governing?
The answer to the above questions depends on what triangle you envision for AA service structure. If GSO (or Intergroup) is at the top, the Board takes action against any member, group or service body that takes artistic liberty with our Twelve Steps That’s because you would see the BYLAWS at the pointy top of the pyramid, governing all that are below.
GSO is at the point but, the point is not the top; it’s on the bottom. These are the BYLAWS that govern the Board and the annual General Service Conference. It is a protection that prevents the few (being the Board of the delegates, trustees and AA employees that make up the Conference) from deciding, on behalf of us groups and members, what changes should be made to the Steps or Traditions. The Board and the Conference work for our autonomous groups whose will is filtered down through the service structure. The Conference conducts AA’s business on behalf of our members and groups. They serve—they do not govern. Perhaps GSO might ask a newspaper to correct a misrepresentation of the Twelve Steps but they certainly don’t tell 114,000 groups what to read or how to interpret the AA program. 
Personally, trustees or delegates may disagree with my group writing God out of the Steps. They are entitled to an opinion. But they have no authority to have our group practices obeying their personal image of AA. Again, the theme is serving—not governing.
Just as importantly, the minority of groups that state, “no God please, we’re agnostic,” cannot demand that AA change everything to suit them. There is no tyranny of the minority or the majority. Just because some find god-talk lacking or even offensive, not all of AA is going to change to meet each individual whim. We don’t have to be in uniformed agreement. Each group is autonomous.
Meanwhile, back in Toronto, “Except in matters affecting other groups or A.A. as a whole,” is Barbara H’s retort to defend her stewardship of Toronto Intergroup. While she sees agnostic expulsion as doing God’s will, Bill W would have been ashamed of such bigotry. Being inventive about how a group interprets the Steps isn’t affecting other groups or AA as a whole. The author of our Steps defended any group’s right to de-God the Steps or reject them completely[iii].
An Intergroup Chair, drunk on power, could suffer a hallucination of false authority. She or he would see the enforcement role not only as ultimate power but as an ultimate, noble duty. Is this an innocent mistake?

I am not so charitable. The A.A. Service Manual, when read in its entirety, has a spirit that is just so obviously inclusive and permissive. Membership requirements: zero. There is no authority over groups. Yes, we hope that groups and individuals understand and practice our Traditions. But members and groups are self-governing. Traditions are not AA rules. They are an expression of our experience—not our expertise. The final page of our Manual makes it so painstakingly clear; there is no punishment for nonconformity; love and service is our code.
I think anyone who wants to impose their AA values as mandatory rules over another autonomous AA group is a zealot. I don’t like muckers so I don’t go to their meetings. I don’t try to run them out of AA; to each their own.
Those of us with strongly held beliefs are sometimes threatened by those with convergent beliefs. The atheist, the poly-theist and the monotheist can’t all be right. But we can all get along. “Whenever, wherever a hand reaches out for help, we want the hand of AA always to be there.” For some, that means a slightly different way of doing things. The rest of us will accommodate—that’s love and tolerance. Accommodation is the AA way, not condemnation.
To judge another is the most un-AA of all. To scapegoat is worse. The service we do in our Twelfth Step is not our recovery. If someone thinks someone else’s program need to be talked about and their “listability” should be discussed, that isn’t a service emergency. That’s a recovery emergency. We claim spiritual progress, rather than spiritual perfection. We all have recovery emergencies. There are no service emergencies. Hasty, uninformed and angry majorities haven’t made a better AA in Toronto. I hope Vancouver can learn from the mistakes of others. Let’s each stick to our recovery and ask how we can be of service to others.

Related Posts:

[i] [1] “...the greatest danger to democracy would always be the ‘tyranny’ of apathetic, self-seeking, uninformed or angry majorities. Only a truly dedicated citizenry, quite willing to protect and conserve minority rights and opinions, could, he thought, guarantee the existence of a free and democratic society. All around us in the world today we are witnessing the tyranny of majorities and even worse tyranny of very small minorities invested with absolute power.” the AA Service Manual, p. 24
[ii] Box 4-5-9 Vol. 59, No. 2/ SUMMER 2013 reports 2,131,549 members and 114,642 groups as of January 2013
[iii] In his chapter on “Unity,” from A. A. Comes of Age, Bill W writes about Buddhists who said that they would like to be part of AA, but also would like to replace the word “god” with “good” so that the practice of the Steps would be compatible with their non-theistic belief. In 1957, Bill Wilson writes: “To some of us, the idea of substituting ‘good’ for ‘God’ in the Twelve Steps will seem like a watering down of A.A.’s message. But here we must remember that A.A.’s Steps are suggestions only. A belief in them, as they stand, is not at all a requirement for membership among us. This liberty has made A.A. available to thousands who never would have tried at all had we insisted on the Twelve Steps just as written.” Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age pg. 81

Sober longer than God 

At a time of Thanksgiving, author Joe C reflects over the years of recovery
Read as PDF. I am not a journalist but I play in Rebellion Dogs blogs. I like to assume the role of truth-seeking, bias-avoiding, objective fact finder. Alternatively, I will channel my songwriting, story-telling self. I will dust off a tired old truth of the ages and present it in a way that makes others say, “I never thought about that, but yeah—I wish I’d said that.” This week, I come out from hiding—no quotes, no authorities, just the language of my heart. Today, I get personal.
As of November 27th, 2013 I am 37 years sober. I had to do the calculate it; 2013 minus 1976 isn’t off-the-cuff math for me. After a few decades there will be those who say facetiously, “Joe’s been sober longer than God.” If you know I am an atheist you can really enjoy the irony of that statement. But, compared to AA’s own canonized heroes, maybe I am. Bill Wilson died with 36 years and about 45 days of sobriety. So I am sober longer than that guy. Imagine; January 24th, 1971—no one was sober (in AA) for 37 years.
Thinking about that for a while, it didn’t make me feel special. It made me feel alone. I entertained the idea that my group of peers is shrinking. But that’s a fallacy. These days, 37 years is ordinary. It won’t get you a seat at the front of the stage at the quinquennial AA world convention’s Saturday night open meeting. That spot is reserved for the 40+ club and there are always a few dozen in attendance. Some of them speak a few words of wisdom. They draw names from a hat and bring a few up on stage. Some of them are not “all there” but they are all sober for four decades or more. Celebrations of 50 years and more are not unheard of in Toronto, where I live. AA has been here for 65 years and some of the early members helped sober up young punks who are still alive today.
If you are still reading, maybe you want to know what it’s like to be sober longer than God. It is as surreal as you might expect. The day before my anniversary, I felt anxious—not grateful or all power-of-example-ish. So, I went to the A.A. Grapevine website and I listened to a sneak-preview audio recording of the December issue about Oldtimers. I found what I needed to hear in a story called, “You Won’t Find Rainbows at the Bottom of a Glass.” It was the story of a man 39 years sober who drank again. Ahhh, that hit the spot. As you would suspect form a Grapevine article, he went to treatment and he’s sober again, sharing his own unique experience, strength and hope like the rest of us.

I am not one of these members who starts everything I say with “My name is so-and-so and thanks to the program of AA and you fine people, I haven’t found it necessary to pick up a drink since _______.(cue the awe and wonderment).” I think there is something very un-AA about that. We are all equal and if you think that I am sporting false humility, count how many votes everyone gets at your next business meeting. Everyone has a say. Everyone has an equal vote because the objectivity of the newcomer is as vital to the group as the experience of the old-timer. Our survival depends on adaptation and where will our innovative ideas come from; from the way we have always done things or from a fresh way of looking at things?
November 1976.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest won best picture and Still Crazy After All These Years was the best album of the year. Montreal was the best at hockey, Cincinnati swept the Yankees and The Pittsburgh Steelers were defending Super Bowl champs. I listened to Led Zeppelin’s Presence on the headphones during my last acid trip. A.A. released the third edition of the Big Book and Barry L’s “Do You Think You’re Different” was introduced to AA rooms. A stamp cost 13 cents and the average household income was $12,660 per year.
A language new to the AA service work lexicon is, “My service sponsor said that his service sponsor told him…blah, blah, blah.” Does anyone see a problem with this?

While it is worthwhile to draw from the wisdom of our elders, if we have a problem, these oldtimers are the ones that got us into this mess in the first place. I wasn’t going to lean on any third-party authorities today, but didn’t Albert Einstein define Insanity as “Doing the same thing and expecting different results”?
In our Public Information efforts, we spend too much time talking and not enough time listening. Instead of going into a community that is unfamiliar to us, and launching right into “When Bill W. met Dr. Bob in 1935…” why not ask a few questions? What are they doing now about members of their community who suffer from alcoholism? What might AA be able to do to help? Maybe if we see our role as out-reach instead of custodians of the holy grail, we will be more effective at carrying the message.
Some group or district inventories are little more than self-congratulatory pats on the back. Or, there is a tendency to get back to basics. We look to the old farts to tell us about the good ol’ days. The newcomer (remember the newcomer—the most important person in the meeting?) is best understood by the newest member of our meeting. Why not ask the members with less than six months sobriety about their first impressions of our meeting. If we ask them to tell us candidly what compelled them and what concerned them, we can learn a lot. Is the purpose of the inventory to widen our gateway? Then we need to better understand where we are marginalizing others. It may be an innocent mistake in the way we talk in clichés or acronyms or how, as the meeting breaks up, we talk to our friends who we haven’t seen all week, while the newcomers head for the door. It could be that meeting rituals, that fit us like old slippers, are repellent to new people.
The point I often make is that the newest members of our group, more than anyone, can give us clues as to how we can improve. This isn’t to discount tried and true experience but let’s keep things in perspective instead of skewing experience. When we label long-timers as experts and discount the newcomer, we are missing more than an opportunity, we are missing the boat. It doesn’t matter how confident we are when were driving in the wrong direction, we’re still not going to get the results we hoped for. And if AA isn’t growing and members don’t feel compelled to get engaged, doing more of “what’s worked in the past” won’t suddenly change this momentum.
So that’s my rant against treating our sobriety date like a currency. I think it makes us more arrogant and less approachable.

But today, it isn’t the future of AA that makes me care so much about treating everyone in our meetings as equals. Today it is way more personal. I listened to the story of a member who lived with indifference to the allure of alcohol for decades and suddenly got blindsided. His fall from grace could happen to me—just like it could happen to anybody. Sure, anyone who comes back after a slip has a Monday-morning quarterback’s narrative about the cause and effect of what went wrong. The truth is that we wake up one morning, not knowing that today we will relapse, and when we slip it could be one drink, one decade or “till death do we part.”
We are all equal in a meeting because it’s not the distance between us and the last drink that matters. We are all just one drink away, one moment of weakness away, from alcohol’s victory lap in the saga of our life. We are all a tragic Achilles-like tale waiting to be told. That distance, the unknowable space between me and my next drink, is what makes me feel very equal to everyone today. What is there to be lonely about? I am in grand company. It is nice to know that we are all in this together.
“You Won’t Find Rainbows at the Bottom of a Glass”

Just released - Thirteenth Step: Zombie Recovery - You’ll squirm, you’ll smile, you’ll need a meeting 

See as a PDF.

Today I want to tell you a story. It’s a story about a story called The Thirteenth Step: Zombie Recovery. The fiction adventure is by Michele W. Miller, a third-time novelist by night and New York lawyer by day. A member of the recovery culture, herself, 12 Step members figure significantly into this zombie apocalypse adventure.
Suddenly, planet earth is zombified. Those who are affected, start feasting on nearby others, who either become lunch or morph into the zombie ranks. A new take on a New York minute turns an ordinary day into the end of the world. Few survive. As they start to find each other they find they have something in common—the addict gene. They are alcoholics, addicts or adult children of alcoholics. Weird eh? This doesn’t make them immune to zombie attack but they are not the first to be sniffed out and munched on for zombie feasts. Maybe it’s because addicts have already come back from the dead. Could it be we aren’t fresh enough for the undead?
The few that find each other decide that, together, they have to leave the city where they are outnumbered about 2 million zombies to each survivor. They seek out a more rural setting. Along the journey, they meet another clean and sober survivor who brings some inconvenient truth to the ranks; along with avoiding a world of zombies they have to stay clear of dozens of unattended ticking time-bomb nuclear reactors that would soon start leaking and eventually blow up from failed cooling and inattention.
They escape the urban sprawl of the nuclear dependent North East, for the countryside, where maybe, just maybe a colony of fellow uninfected humans could be found.
The zombie apocalypse is not the story; it’s the setting. This thought-provoking commentary on 12 Step culture—our pitfalls, majesty and volatility—is the treasure inside this story. I am not a fiction writer or reader. I labor through my own perceived need to frankly discuss our collective culture, our future and the struggles that internal dogma and an ever changing outside world bring to bear on our mortal fellowship. Sometimes it’s time to put the text books and clinical studies away and let fiction get to the truth of the matter. As old as “one day at a time,” story-telling has persisted as the lifeblood of the recovery community, revealing a truth that blood-tests and fMRI scans cannot.
The Thirteenth Step: Zombie Recovery
outwits the best of investigative journalism at revealing some dear and disturbing truths about 12 Step life. Miller confronts the assertions of some of our harshest critics, tells our story, and speculates over our possible future, in a fair-minded and imaginative way.
I cried, I laughed, I winced, just like I do at 12 Step gatherings that have too much cliché, and dogmatic ritual for my liking. Not a member of the Don’t-Git-Bit zombie love-fest, I skip the moves and TV shows and judge from a distance. I appreciate the fascination with end-of- the-world stories as bedtime stories around the end of American Empire camp-fire. It’s the end of the world as we know it and we want to feel fine. Or if we can’t feel fine, let’s lose ourselves for a while. I have no interest in World War Z themes; only the 12 Step angle of this story raised my eyebrow. I’ve spent a lot of time saying that our society isn’t entitled to perpetuity and in fact, I see concerning signs of reification and decay in our 12 & 12 world.
This book ranks as a strong buy from this analyst. I don’t care if you’re a 12 Step cheerleader or critic, in a world of fewer free buzzes, you’ll enjoy this ride. It was a hard book to put down and when I wasn’t reading it, I was thinking about it. Amazon buyers could hit the “buy button” at Amazon for The Thirteenth Step: Zombie Recovery November 11th, 2013. Think holiday gift for someone who has everything. I assure you, that they don’t have one of these.
Michele Miller (pictured), a sneaky anonymous alias methinks, has her book available at an indie priced but with Park Avenue quality.
Preview on Amazon or go to of Thirteenth Step on Facebook.

Right Sizing our Role Models: Madalyn Murray O’Hair, Nelson Mandela, Bill W.—game changers are people 1st, history makers 2nd 

Click to read, print or distribute as a PDF. What makes trailblazers remarkable? Are they gifted people who change the course of history or ordinary people who we canonize in reflection of their good deeds? Of course they are ordinary people with strengths and weakness who find themselves at a crossroads—maybe a familiar crossroads where they have been before. Our would-be heroes are generally facing insurmountable odds. More often than not, they are the defiant ones with the establishment against them. At that fateful moment they take the first step on a journey, the true significance of which, I suspect, they were ignorant about, and in so doing, they alter the course of history. We all have strengths and weaknesses. Some who shine so brightly with unique abilities might be severely lacking in fundamental skills that are expected and taken for granted.

Bill Wilson said that AA had many better examples of spiritual living (practicing these principles in all of our affairs) than he could live up to. He authored the formula. He was chosen by Time Magazine as one of America’s most significant individuals of the 20th century. His book, Alcoholics Anonymous, was recognized by the Library of Congress for its impact on American culture. Was he a good sponsor? Was he a good husband? How would today’s recovery community rate his example to others? He experimented with LSD and his Twelve Steps were no match for depression that rendered him dysfunctional from time to time. He died of emphysema, or plainly put, addiction to cigarettes. He was a man, with noble attributes and glaring shortcomings. To this day, he has his worshippers and he has his critics.

A new movie, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, celebrates one of our generation’s trailblazers. Nelson Mandela’s efforts and leadership forged a breakthrough for many. Was he a good father, was he a good husband? Nelson Mandela has had three wives and six children in his tumultuous life. Only three of these children are still living. A daughter recalls being met by a father who went from life-imprisonment to being released from prison 20 years ago (serving 27 years of a life sentence) and then being dragged away from the family again as he was thrust into the demands of public life. Zenani Mandela was five when her father went to jail. She remembers him being a stern disciplinarian, even from prison, running the family through letters and minimal contact. His son, Mandla, was recently embroiled in legal issues against the rest of the family. It’s not unreasonable to expect that Nelson Mandela was an absentee father with a lot on his mind. It would be forgivable that home life would have been chaotic but what kind of environment is that for kids to grow up in?

I am not fault-finding for the pure uplifting buzz of putting others down. What I am saying is that we all have our assets and liabilities, critics and fans. We tend to want to label everyone as being a good guy or bad guy as depicted in literature—the Jedi knights vs. the dark side of The Force. But what literature is whispering to us is the Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde in each of us; not us over here and them over there.

Aleksandr Solzenitsyn said, “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them; but the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

We are all capable of good, we are all capable of vengeance. What psychologist Philip Zimbardo, author of The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil[i], learned about good and evil growing up on the mean streets of Brooklyn as a youth. About the line between good and evil, Zimbardo says, “Privileged people like to think [the line] is fixed and impermeable, with them on the good side and evil on the other side. But I knew that line could be movable and permeable; good people could be seduced into evil and in some circumstances, bad kids could recover.[ii]” Our heroes have done regrettable things and villains have redeeming qualities. But we are still shocked when he hear the neighbor of the serial killer next door say on TV, “She was charming woman and president of the PTA.”

American Atheists have a Bill W-esque hero whose era overlapped the AA cofounder. Her name is Madalyn Murray O’Hair, another flawed person who did heroic things. Many of these people, Mandela and to some degree Bill W, were marginalized or persecuted people. Madalyn Murray O’Hair would become the most hated woman in America, ostensibly for being a patriot.

The 1953 USA of President Eisenhower was the Cold War era. Madalyn was a mother. The administration changed America’s Pledge of Allegiance. “One nation, indivisible with liberty and justice for all” was what the kids sung out in school every morning. The pledge was changed to “One nation under God…” “In God We Trust” was added to the currency as another attempt to encourage Americans to identify with their Abrahamic faith and distance themselves from the Godless communists of Russia.

Madalyn found it objectionable that her son or any child was pressured to participate in bible study in a public school. If her son resisted, he would be harassed. She objected. A decade after the unholy marriage between church and state in Eisenhower’s America, the Supreme Court declared that organized prayer in public schools is unconstitutional. It was a consolidated case, Abington School District v. Schempp & Murray v. Curlett, that were argued in February 1963 and on June 17, 1963 an 8 – 1 decision ruled that state-mandated prayer and bible reading were a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

In this case Madalyn Murray O’Hair made this opening statement about what an atheist is. For those who identify as “spiritual, not religious,” tell me if it lacks anything from your definition of spirituality:
  1. An atheist loves his fellow man instead of god. An atheist believes that heaven is something for which we should work now—here on earth for all men together to enjoy.
  2. An atheist believes that he can get no help through prayer but that he must find in himself the inner conviction and strength to meet life, to grapple with it, to subdue it, and enjoy it.
  3. An atheist believes that only in a knowledge of himself and a knowledge of his fellow man can he find the understanding that will lead to a life of fulfillment.
  4. He seeks to know himself and his fellow man rather than to know a god. An atheist believes that a hospital should be built instead of a church. An atheist believes that a deed must be done instead of a prayer said.
  5. An atheist strives for involvement in life and not escape into death. He wants disease conquered, poverty vanquished, war eliminated. He wants man to understand and love man. He wants an ethical way of life.
  6. He believes that we cannot rely on a god or channel action into prayer nor hope for an end of troubles in a hereafter. He believes that we are our brother's keepers and are keepers of our own lives; that we are responsible persons and the job is here and the time is now.
Is anyone hearing Twelve Step philosophy here? Minus the dependency on the supernatural, of course, this is our creed. Our one-day-at-a-time mantra is eloquently expressed. I suggest that atheists have a better one day at a time program than people who believe in reincarnation or heaven. “This life is it, baby; no dress rehearsal; no second chances.” Every day matters to an atheist.

Madalyn’s statement picks up on the maintenance Steps Ten to Twelve, minus the theism but true to the principles. “Only in a knowledge of himself and a knowledge of his fellow man, can he find and understand a life that will lead to fulfillment.”—The inventory of Step 10. I hear our “faith without works is dead” of Step 11 in “He seeks to know himself and his fellow man rather than to know a god. An atheist believes that a hospital should be built instead of a church. An atheist believes that a deed must be done instead of a prayer said.” Who connects with Step 12 in, “We are our brother’s keepers and are keepers of our own lives…”?

The Twelve Step principles were adapted from existing values, they didn’t create something new. It’s therefore reasonable to see them vaguely or more identically reincarnated into other creeds, be they religious, spiritual or militant atheist.

So, am I campaigning to have Madalyn Murray O’Hair canonized? Ah, no. She’s a person, not a saint. I don’t even pretend that she was a nice person. She was right to defend the American Constitution and affirm the separation of church and state. She went on to create the American Atheist Society[iii] that still works to defend against First Amendment infractions. She started to get notoriety that day in 1963 when photographed on the steps of the Supreme Court. Over time she was known to be outrageous, funny and fearless, standing up to irrational forces on the road or from her headquarters in the belly of the beast—Texas.

That doesn’t mean she was sweet, loveable and kind. History has even more twists than I have described. Now, for the rest of the story:

One of Madalyn’s sons stayed at his mother’s side working in the cause of keeping the land of the free, free of any particular religious influence or favoritism. Madalyn’s oldest son drifted away. William J. Murray was an apostate. From the godlessness of home, he forged a new path for himself. William had problems with the law, violence and addiction. He may have found God in AA. This is from a 1980 People’s Magazine exposé about the rogue white sheep of the Murray family[iv]

“By that time Bill was an alcoholic. He had a new marriage and a new job as an airline management consultant, but felt his life was falling apart. He quarreled with his wife one night, struck her, and when police came he fired a rifle shot through the front door. He was sentenced to five years probation for aggravated assault (he claimed the gun went off by accident).

Chastened by that, and other crises in his life, Murray turned to Alcoholics Anonymous. Combined with a volunteer job in a drug program, it was the turning point for him. ‘I saw some miraculous things people were able to accomplish with faith,’ he says.”

His mother would continue to be a thorn in his side. William lost a custody battle of his daughter to his mom—the child’s grandparent. He became militant in his Christianity, working to undo what his family had accomplished. Madalyn publicly disowned him with the same sarcastic dismissive demeanor that she afforded any believer. As a parent and as a child I don’t pretend to know what could possess a parent to be so cruel over a difference of opinion.

William J Murray’s faith might not grant eternity but it did save his life here on earth. William’s mom, Madalyn, along with his brother and adult daughter would be murdered. They weren’t murdered for what they believed, said or did. It was extortion.

A former felon, David Ronald Waters, had infiltrated the American Atheist’s Center as an employee and observed a pretty stack of money being donated to the organization. In 1995 William Murray’s family would be killed for $600,000—a crime that would take years to solve. Another AA member figures into this story. George W. Bush would have been about nine years sober when he became Governor of Texas. Finding a missing atheist wouldn’t have been a top priority for the State of Texas in that era. It was the FBI and investigative reporters who kept the case alive and followed up on clues.

William Murray, the son who found God, is an author, Baptist minister, social conservative commentator and chairman of the Religious Freedom Coalition. In his role he defends Christians from American Atheists, Muslims and Communists.

If you have never heard of him it may be because he is too much of a kook even for the Tea Party. Well, I call him a kook. He feels that the Ten Commandments offer the stability that every citizen of earth should obey. Check for yourself at

The point I want to get back to is that whatever spirituality is, it comes from flawed, regular people, often reluctant messiahs. Bill Wilson never considered himself to be AA’s best example of the spiritual path. Nelson Mandela admitted that his commitment to a cause made him a second-rate father. To work with or to interview Madalyn Murray O’Hair was no picnic and I expect that her my-way-or-the-highway narcissism made her lacking as a mother. Certainly, the binge and purge turmoil that her one surviving son exhibits, leaves one wondering about Madalyn Murray O’Hair—the whole person. Analysts would have a field day working backwards from William Murray’s alcoholism and his victim-rescuer, agitator role in life today. Looking back into Bill’s experience as a young boy under the hard-headed and tyrannical mother Madalyn, opens the door to criticism of her mothering by today’s standards. Madaly changed history but she ain't no saint.

Maybe the moral of the story is that while we are inspired by the accomplishments of others, we best not compare ourselves to them. And if we can’t help having the accomplishments of our idols make us feel less than, here’s what we can do. Digging deeper will reveal what was gained and what was lost by our role models. To see their achievements through, left them—like us—with a balance sheet of assets and liabilities. Would we be so eager to trade places when presented with the cost of doing so? Every act of greatness has a sacrifice to bear.

Madalyn Murray O’Hair reminded the U.S. Supreme Court that a noble credo needs no obedience to any creator. We are Humanists first and maybe we come this way naturally. Any civilized society demonstrates these guiding principles regardless of a predominant belief in Allah, many Allahs or no Allah at all. AA adopted this creedo. Every Twelve Step fellowship that followed did too, regardless of what liberty they took in the wording of the Steps.

Madalyn is not celebrated by her country as a patriot. Nonbelievers who share her worldview are still marginalized in the USA. Even though, as she eloquently persuaded the Justices of the Supreme Court, we are good with or without gods and devils—certainly not because of them. We can also be evil with or without gods and devils—and not because of them. CLICK here to see the story of Madalyn Murray O'Hair

The evolution of language, group conscience &Twelve Step Interpretations (part 2) 

Read, print or share this blog as a PDF.

Advancing technology is in our face. In the most tech-influenced businesses, B.C. is now referring to “before computers” and A.D. means “after digital.” Grade seven students are A.D. children who never knew an era where every phone was stuck to a wall and googling was called “research.”

Our language is another characteristic of our culture that we adapt to reflect our changing attitudes and it then, in turn, adapts our way of seeing and thinking about the world around us. From imbecile, to mentally handicapped, to mentally challenged, the way we describe someone with an IQ of 40 has evolved to incorporate our evolving context and awareness. In a chicken and egg way attitude gives birth to new language, which in turn, compassion hatches from, bringing a higher quality to our civilization. We see people in a more holistic way; imagination brings light where stigma darkened our life before.
Look at this 1950s New York City article from the Daily Mirror. The shocking candor of the attitude of the day angers us now. If the men quoted in this column were our grandparents or parents we would be ashamed of our family. But this is our lineages as a society. Dr. Jordan Peterson (pictured below) has degrees in Political Science and Psychology and has taught at Harvard and University of Toronto. When lecturing his students about good and evil, he tries to impart on students their own capacity for evil. He makes this challenge to students:

“There’s an overwhelming probability, if you were in Nazi Germany in the 1930s, that you would have been perpetrators and Nazis—an overwhelming probability. And if they can’t accept that, because it’s a historical fact, you have absolutely no idea who they are. Now, imagining yourself as a Nazi perpetrator is an unbearably terrifying thing to do. But I don’t think that you have any insight whatsoever into your capacity for good until you have some well-developed insight into your capacity for evil.”[i]
“Every time you make a pathological moral decision, you move the world one step closer to complete annihilation. Every time you make an appropriate moral decision and you manifest moral courage in the face of your own vulnerability, then you move the world one step farther from the brink.”
Yes, we all like to think that we would never have been sexist at any time in history. Yes, we like to think that we would have been the 1% of Germans who took action against the persecution of Jews. But odds are we would have followed the norm. Peterson’s point is that to recognize our personal capacity for evil, is to know our personal capacity for good. His ultimate point is that our own virtue should never be taken for granted. I use his shocking challenge to help make my point that we are evolving; we are becoming better. We are becoming more knowledgeable and to the extent to which we have virtue, increased knowledge means an increased compassion and usefulness to others.
How has the Twelve Step culture evolved? Well, we are more compassionate, inclusive and useful to the still suffering addict and to each other. Today, we look at the evolution of Twelve Step language.
In 1953 Narcotics Anonymous was formed, in 1957, Gamblers Anonymous came to be. So, before 1960 we found that the principles of the Twelve Steps could be spoken in a language to help any substance or process addiction. Dr. Peterson says that the foundation of all evil is arrogance and resentment. Looking at those opposites, humility and compassion, Our Twelve Step culture has allowed us to bring an immeasurable amount of good to the lives of those suffering in the grips of addiction.
The shock factor of this 1950s clip from the Daily Mirror hits home regarding how attitudes change our language and that new language reinforces our attitude. By the time Adult Children of Alcoholics and Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous came around in the 1970s, the sexist language was gone. “God as we understood God” replaced “as we understood Him.”
The turn of this century ushered in a maturing in our our collective understanding of non-theistic worldviews. Where in 1939, skepticism was likened to intellectualism or a stubborn defiance of the one true reality, today we embraced Humanists, Buddhists, Atheists and Agnostics, not as being at a way station to enlightenment, but as rights-bearing equals in a fellowship that embraces the Twelve Step program. Follow NA literature from late 20th century to the 21st century and you can see a new attitude. The basic text, Narcotics Anonymous goes from talking in the “we” voice, when referring to atheist and agnostics in the room. The tone is “they.” Look at this paragraph from “Just For Today—Living the Program:
“Each of us is free to work out our own concept of a Higher Power. Many of us were suspicious and skeptical because of disappointments that we have had with religion. As new members, the talk of God we heard in meetings repelled us. Until we sought our own answers in this area, we were trapped in the ideas gathered from our past. Agnostics and atheists sometimes start by just talking to ‘whatever’s there.’ There is a spirit or an energy that can be felt in the meetings. This is sometimes the newcomer’s first concept of a Higher Power; the group may be all the power greater herself that the member ever needs of the purpose of recovery. Ideas from the past are often incomplete and unsatisfactory. Everything we know is subject to revision, especially what we know about the truth.”
Notice the subtle shift from “we NA members” to the third person description of nonbelievers. It may have been unintentional to exclude atheists and agnostics from team-recovery instead of saying, “We agnostics and atheists sometimes…” which would have been a more respectful, inclusive tone. But that was the 1980s.
Living Clean from 2012 has a different tone because it was written in a different time. The chapter called “A Spiritual Path” says, “We each find a way to surrender, but that does not mean we all come to believe in God. Many of our members have been clean for years as atheists. For some of us, coming to believe that NA can accommodate our atheism has itself been a leap of faith. We are welcome no matter what we believe. NA has no opinion on how our members define or practice spirituality.”
Notice how atheists are “us” or “we” and no longer referred to in third person as outliers.
12 Principles for Atheists and Agnostics from Online Gamers Anonymous,
1. We admit we have been powerless over gaming, and that our lives have become unmanageable. Accept that we are no longer social gamers. It is affecting our real lives, and the lives of our loved ones, in a bad way. Principle - Honesty and Acceptance
2. Dare to believe that there lies within Us the Power to restore balance to our lives. Principle - Hope
3. Seek the help of someone qualified in counseling or someone that we trust from experience to be capable of helping us. Principle - Faith
4. Really take a good look at our lives, and make a searching and fearless inventory. Principle - Action and Courage, Action and Courage Have the courage to be aware of how we really lived our real lives. What were we trying to escape from? What didn't we want to face?
5. Fully admit to a trusted or qualified person or support group our understanding of the exact nature of our problems. Principle -Integrity What did I find out when I took that searching and fearless inventory in step 4?
6. We become willing to let go of our addictive patterns of behavior and start over. Principle - Willingness
7. Actually ask for help to remove our shortcomings from any person or persons or group that we feel are qualified to provide that help. Principle - Humility
8. Make a list of persons that we have harmed, during our gaming, and become willing to make amends to them (including ourselves). Principle - Love of our brothers and sisters
9. Make direct amends to such people wherever possible. Principle - Justice
10. Continue to take personal inventory, and when we are wrong, promptly admit it. Principle - Perseverance (Don’t just say, we are sorry, say we were wrong.) And, also, acknowledge when we do right.
11. Find and study something that we find amazing. Realize that there are ways of living that can bring us a deeper degree of personal fulfillment. Principle - Spirituality
12. Having become aware of where we really ended up, how far down we went, and having discovered that there was a way out once we were willing to face our fears and come back to our real lives, we help others and share our story, and we help ourselves by practicing these principles in all of our affairs. Principle - Service
New fellowships born in the 21st century don’t have the dogmatic fear of change to hold them back. Of course they talk in a modern language; there is nothing sacred to honor or uphold. In 2001 Online Gamers Anonymous (OLGA) came on the scene as did OLG-Anon for loved ones of gaming addicts. The 12 Principles for atheists and agnostics offer a secular Step language that any addict/alcoholic/ codependent could embrace. Principle 3 is faith and it redefines, “Turned our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him,” to “Seek the help of someone qualified in counseling or someone that we trust from experience to be capable of helping us.”

Check out #11 which is about beauty. They take AA’s prayer and meditation step and do this with it: “Find and study something that we find amazing. Realize that there are ways of living that can bring us a deeper degree of personal fulfillment.” Doesn’t sound like a lot more fun that the futility of the never answer plea to hear from on high, what “his will for us and the power to carry it out” entails? Hey choose your Kool-Aid; not exactly sure what the best-before date is, I’ll drink from the urn that hasn’t been sitting around for 78 years.
Teen Addiction Anonymous (TAA) has been here since 2008[ii]. You won’t find the word “god” used anywhere in the Steps. The word “Higher Power” works for believers but it also works for everyone so why would these Teen addicts cater to a tradition of reification? Wasn’t part of the reason for having their own meetings so that they could speak in their own present-day language?
While taking out the binary thinking that the only explanation of how the universe is unfolding is under the guidance of a loving God, TAA also strips the religious morality out of the Twelve Steps. Step 4 reads, “I will make a fearless and honest review of my life, my values, and my goals.”
To one with binary thinking, one style is correct; everything else is wrong. People are either good or bad. Everything is defined as ones and zeros or black and white. Another way of looking at things is life is neither all black, nor white; life is a whole spectrum of color. What is gained, what is lost by each choice, to what extent is this useful and to what extent is it lacking? The OLGA members who work the 12 Principles will get the same results as the AA fundamentalist gets from her or his Twelve Steps. Each will be freed from a “merciless obsession” and can reasonably expect to live happy, joyous and free.

The Twelve Step breakthrough is the same for a believer or skeptic. The words to describe the experience are quite different. The meaning associated with the experience is different. Despite these differences, to the onlooker, they see two clean and sober people who were previously hopeless cases. So the theist, atheist and agnostic can either be three addicts divided by a common language or they can live and let live. And if they can live and let live, any one could sponsor either of the other or be sponsored by them. Each can work with or learn from the other. We are all different—no two exactly the same—but we are equal.
In our last Rebellious Dog Blog Post, we looked at how different language can and will be chosen depending if we have an external locus of control (“No human power could relieve our alcoholism.”) or if we have an internal locus of control (“[we] tapped an unsuspected inner resource…”). This time we look at how imagination makes the principles of the Twelve Steps of recovery accessible to all, regardless of our world view.
Oscar Wilde said, “Disobedience, in the eye of anyone who has read history, is man’s original virtue. It is through disobedience and rebellion that progress has been made.” With all due respect to orderly, scientific change for the better, Wilde’s point has validity. We have talked about variations, interpretations or evolving Twelve Step languages. The fact is—inside and outside Twelve Step rooms—that most of the progress has been from the marginalized who refused to bow to the status quo and demanded better for themselves. The result is better for everyone.
While the evolution of a more inclusive Twelve Steps naturally finds its way into the vernacular of newer fellowships, the granddaddy, Alcoholics Anonymous shows a few signs of being mired in resistance and/or hostility towards artistic liberty with the sacred wording laid out by our forefathers. Rebellion Dogs blogs have reported on the few Intergroups who set group and individual autonomy aside (as an emergency measure), in the name of preserving the integrity of the message. Most members and groups are left to follow their own conscience. However a handful of groups that read or distribute secular interpretations of the Twelve Steps have been de-listed by angry Intergroups who have taken it upon themselves to govern who is and is not an AA group. The larger question is, “What is the message that is being defended so zealously?” Was the message to obey a 1939 language or be excommunicated? Or was the message that more will be revealed and the principles—not the language—unifies AA members. There is room for the traditionalists; there is room for the radicals.
Bill Wilson said, “Rebellion dogs our every step at first.” There is a time for capitulation and a time to stand our ground. No one has come up with a way that works for everyone, every time. So, let’s embrace a degree of rebellion and see it as our virtue. More will be revealed, indeed.

Reactance Theory, Worldviews &Twelve Step Interpretations (part 1) 

How can 21st century psychology helps us understand how each of us interprets the 1939 Twelve Step? View or downlaod the PDF

Americans were polled by Harris[i] in 2009 and asked to indicate, for each category, if they believed, didn’t believe or were not sure. Some of the 2009 beliefs by category are: God: 82%, Miracles: 76%, Survival of the soul after death: 71%, Astrology: 26% and Reincarnation: 20%.
 see the report Believe Don’t Believe Not Sure
God 82% 9% 9%
Miracles 76% 13% 12%
Soul survives death 71% 10% 19%
Darwin’s Theory of Evolution 45% 32% 22%
Ghosts 42% 38% 20%
UFO 32% 39% 29%
Astrology 26% 52% 22%
The USA, of course, is the most theistic of developed-world countries. Even throughout America, “God as we understand Him,” helps include those who worship different concepts of Gods but still excludes 18% of Americans who aren’t convinced of the presence of any supreme being. To 56.5 million Americas (18%), an intervening, prayer answering God is no more real than Zeus, Mother Nature, unicorns, Santa Claus and Spider Man. If we talk of miracles, some will nod approvingly in the rooms but this language excludes a quarter of any Twelve Step room. In Canada, the UK, Australia, Asia and Europe, a worldview that includes an intervening higher power is even more exclusive than in the USA. In Europe, less than half the population believes in God.
“God-conscious” recovery is the preferred choice in Twelve Step rooms so what’s wrong with majority rule? Consider that A.A. has a credo. Our Responsibility Declaration has us saying that we want our message to reach anyone, anywhere. Our message is one of recovery from “a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body.” While obedience to “God as we understand Him,” comes with the territory for most, it isn’t demanded, it isn’t obligatory and it isn’t necessary. Sober atheists have been A.A. members since the beginning.
How do we talk about the Steps without marginalizing anyone? Can atheists take the 1939 “God” out of their Twelve Step program without offending the religiously sensitive? Will this godless process be the same modality or a completely new modality?
I believe that the Twelve Step exercise is the same experience for the atheist and theist—it is merely articulated in a different language. Just like the Punjabi and Swedish Twelve Steps sound foreign to the Anglophone, we know it works for them and their experience is essentially the same as our experience.
Michael Shermer, in his book, The Believing Brain, looks at the science of why humans believe stuff. Some of it is early cause and effect association. One caveman hears a rustle in the grass and immediately believes it’s just the wind and consequently, there’s nothing to fear. Another caveman fears that a rustle is a predator readying to pounce and impulsively retreats. Either could be wrong, of course. To some, the environment is a strange and dangerous place, to others it is our playground to tame. To what extent do we each feel in control of our surroundings?
We all try to make sense of the world, whilst commanding just a fraction of the information and context available in the universe. Addicts or alcoholics may drift away from meetings for a period of time and then relapse. A connection can be made between not going to meetings for a few months (the cause) with relapse (the effect). She or he tells this story in a meeting and reassuring nods convert this possibility to a reality, a socially constructed reality. In truth, we never hear back from those who leave the rooms, get on with their life and never give in to temptation again. There may be a truth-based probability that continued abstinence is positively correlated with going to more meetings. Certainly, this is the experience for so many of us. But this is anecdotal evidence—hardly scientific or unbiased. Some call this intuitive knowledge.
One Twelve Step member may relate that she or he tried over and over again to stop doing cocaine. They recall how a sponsor said, “Pray for help to abstain in the morning and give thanks to God in the evening.” They stay clean and this cause and effect—praying and recovery—are, in their minds, inescapable proof of God’s grace.
Another may go the other way, praying sincerely for help from relapse to relapse, never finding long-term recovery until their faith was shattered and a more secular modality breaks the curse, say, the cognitive behavioral method. The coke-head may compare their post-theism success vs. their previous faith-filled recidivism. Would this be proof that God does not exist?
Michael Shermer calls this tendency to find meaningful patterns—sometimes in meaningless noise—“patternicity.” Drawing upon a post-Big Book, 1966 study of environmental factors, self-determination and the conclusions we draw upon to construct our reality,[ii] Shermer supports his patternicity and control theory. Here he draws upon what is called in psychology, “locus of control.”
“People who rate high on internal locus of control tend to believe that they make things happen and that they are in control of their circumstances, whereas people who score high on external locus of control tend to think that circumstances are beyond their control and that things just happen to them.”
Some of the patterns we see—the dots we connect—are a credit to our deduction skills but will also lead us to false conclusions, what Shermer calls, “apatternicity.” In the rooms, people with an external locus of control (LOC) say, “That’s my disease talking,” “No human power could relieve our alcoholism,” and “Nothing happens in God’s world by mistake.” People with an internal LOC will say, “Faith without works is dead,” “Easy does it, but do it,” or “If nothing changes, nothing changes.”
Words like powerless and unmanageable mean different things, depending on one’s LOC. A “power greater than ourselves,” might have obvious but different definition to internal and external LOC types. While the power of example in the rooms might be the miracle of God to a theist external LOC, to a non-theist external LOC, the influence, example and teachings of others is powerful, yet hardly a miracle. An internal LOC theist will feel God’s guidance in their gut. To a nonbeliever internal LOC, they may describe “the personality change sufficient to bring about recovery from alcoholism” (as Appendix II of Alcoholics Anonymous put it), as tapping into “an unsuspected inner resource.” They may call it their power greater than themselves to placate the majority in the room but they may not; instead, they may call this guiding force their value system, higher-self or common sense. To the internal LOC, especially a skeptic, the whole idea of willpower being an agent of relapse but not an equally critical ingredient of recovery, seems to be more dogmatic than dependence on a supernatural being. Willpower is a neutral term to those of us with an internal locus of control. It is the root of all good and all evil.
Early recovery language suits an eternal locus of control type addict or alcoholic. Understanding is warranted for some internal LOC addicts who say, “Forget the Twelve Steps—they are a design for planned dependency.” Finding a non-Twelve Step modality is certainly an option. The Steps don’t corner the market in recovery. There are secular self-help options like Life Ring and Secular Organizations for Sobriety. They may not offer meetings every day in every city, face-to-face, but these communities and principles are readily available on the Internet.
Internal LOC translations of the Steps are out there, although harder to come
 by. For instance, in Roger C’s The Little Book: A Collection of Alternative 12 Steps, “Gabe’s 12 Steps” are written from an internal locus of control perspective. Step Six, in the literal translation, helps ready the alcoholic for God’s removal of character defects. Gabe’s internal LOC version reads: “We accepted our moral and personal weaknesses, and accepted that they needed to change.” No divine intervention needed here, just a greater clarity and the application of personal responsibility.
The Twelve Step principles are universally grounded, even if we find the 1939 tone tainted with Abrahamic morality and theism. After all, Bill and Dr. Bob were Yankees, not Tibetan Buddhists. The language was limited to the realities of the day, place and time. A Tibetan Bill and Guru Bob would have yielded a somewhat different sounding solution on noble truths.

Calab Lack http://
Caleb Lack, Ph. D. is clinical psychologist and professor, working in areas such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and posttraumatic stress. He also studies what and why humans believe. Lack points out that by the age of two we have imprinting that renders us naturally wanting to believe things that aren’t necessarily backed by the evidence—think boogie-men, tooth-fairies and Hercules.
 “That certainly helps contribute to our belief in supernatural things, later in life,” Lack says.
Sometimes, in working the program with others, we see tragic flaws in someone else’s beliefs or reasoning. We might be quick to set them straight. Picture if you will an atheist and Big Book thumper trying to help enlighten the other. Yuck! Why doesn’t either side give in?
Lack explains that when we feel compelled to say, “Hey, you’re wrong,” something called psychological reactance triggers the other to dig their heels in. Any self-doubt they may have entertained is abruptly cast out. Lack explains how we get the opposite result that we are seeking. Instead of “Oh my, you are right and I was wrong—thank you,” the reaction we inspire instead is, “Hey, screw you; now I am doubly right.” One who was once open to new ideas becomes stubborn with unyielding certainty. Lack says that we ought to “engage them in discussion: why do I believe what I believe, and why do you believe what you believe? . . . I am a huge fan of the scientific method. I think one of the best things our culture has produced over the last 400 years is the scientific method. It takes all these biases, all these heuristics that we are naturally prone to, and helps eliminate them... so we don’t fool ourselves which is the key to any real understanding of things. It’s not just, ‘Here is my evidence,’ but ‘here is my unbiased evidence.’ For me, personally, it’s about seeing the world for how it is—not as I want it to be.”
This reactance theory, or psychological reactance as Caleb Lack says, is defined by the Psychology Dictionary as:
The theory describing a motivational state consisting of distress, anxiety and desire to restore freedoms taken away when an individual responds to a perceived threat or to loss of a freedom. According to the theory when an individual feels forced into a certain behavior, they will react against the coercion. This reaction is often exemplified by an increased desire for the behavior that is now restrained. This resentment may manifest in doing the exact opposite of what the power authority wanted.
REACTANCE THEORY: “Reactance theory states that people will often resent the loss of a freedom and will rebel by doing the opposite of what they're told.”

Psychology Dictionary:
So where does all this leave us when we are talking to each other about the Twelve Step program? Let’s continue to share our experience and dispense with what we think is our expertise. As we work with another suffering addict, our role is to help them find their salvation, not ours. If we are working with an atheist and we can’t imagine being clean and sober without God, let’s remember that our description of the events leading to recovery, that we articulate as divine providence, may not be taken seriously by the newcomer. At worst, she or he may feel preached at, making the whole Step process very unattractive.
Conversely, an atheist can still help a believer find recovery. “Just the facts, Jack, just the facts.(Dragnet’s character Jack Webb)” We keep our story to what we heard and learned, how we reacted, how we felt and what we did. Who will disagree with our experience? Our opinions are a whole different matter. The meaning that we assign to events in our life, what Shermer calls patternicity, might sound misguided to someone else. If we can tell our story to someone who holds a divergent worldview, and we don’t make
them defensive, we have likely done a good job at keeping our experience, strength and hope to just-the-facts. Recovery is pan-cultural. We can do more good if we can describe the process in neutral (or agnostic) language.
What would happen if the believer told the atheist, “The only reason we work the Steps is to find God”? The same result would come from the atheist telling the believer, “While you are coming to terms with the fact that you are an alcoholic and you can never drink normally again, why not lose that silly Santa-God delusion, too? You don’t need it; it won’t help.” Either way, if we describe our experience through the lens of our own worldview only, we are going to inspire the psychological reactance described by Lack.
What Bill Wilson wrote at the conclusion of Step Three (turning our wills and our lives over), was “The wording was of course quite optional, so long as we expressed the idea, voicing it without reservations.” Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 63.
We can remind ourselves and others of this when we each describe our own process. One of us may describe our recovery experience as, “God was going to be our Director. He is the Father, and we are His children.” (p. 62). This might jive with our worldview but we may describe the same transformation as “what psychologist William James calls the ‘educational variety’ because (it developed) slowly over a period of time.” (p. 567).
People in need, need to feel heard; no one likes to be told. Let’s leave our personal views at the door, as much as we can. If we put down someone’s beliefs as second-rate, that is bullying. Why tell them to keep an open mind and then trigger them into slamming their mind shut (psychological reactance)? We need not create a mimicking parrot that feeds back what we want to hear in order to carry the message. After all, they are addicts and their skills at telling us what we want to hear are probably sharper than our bull-shit detector can read. Wouldn’t it be better to help them define and describe their process in their words—a language that they already buy into?
In our next Rebellion Dog Blog post, we will look at the Steps and examples of more inclusive, less binary language. We will look at the evolution of the Twelve Steps from fellowship to fellowship through the years. Every new fellowship gets the advantage of starting fresh, talking the language of the day without dogma inhibiting the discussion. Fellowships like Online Gamers Anonymous and Teen Addiction Anonymous are new to the 21st century. As we would imagine, the language of their program is more progressive than fellowships that started in the mid-20th century.
We can each review our own language to test how inclusive we describe this process. Do I describe my experience in a secular way or is my recovery inspired by the grace of God? When I write down or tell my own story do I describe an internal or external locus of control? How could I describe my own experience in a more inclusive way that more people could relate to it?

FYI, here are all of Gabe S's interpretation of the Twelve Steps:
  • 1: We admitted we could not control our drinking, nor do without it, that our lives had become unmanageable.
  • 2: We came to believe that others who had had or understood our problem could help us return to and maintain sanity.
  • 3: We decided to accept what they said and act on their suggestions.
  • 4: We made a searching inventory of our bad feelings, of those aspects of our character that had contributed to these and of the harms we had done. We note occasions where we had done well and were glad of these.
  • 5: We showed the inventory to at least one other person and discussed it with them.
  • 6: We accepted our moral and personal weakness, and accepted that they needed to change.
  • 7: We became willing to admit those weaknesses to others, where appropriate, and to heed any advice that they might offer
  • 8: We became willing to make amends to those we had harmed.
  • 9: We mad direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  • 10: We continued to take personal inventory, when we were wrong promptly admitted it and when we had done well, recognized this.
  • 11: We adopted a practice of meditation and one of reflection upon our place in the world and how we could contribute to it.
  • 12: Having experienced a psychic change as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

[ii] J.B. Rotter, “Generalized Expectancies for Internal Versus External Control of Reinforcement,” Psychological Monographs, 80, no. 1 (1966): 1 – 28.
[iii] Gabe’s 12 Step are printed with permission from C., Roger, The Little Book: A Collection of Alterative 12 Steps 2013

Unity or Popularity Contest: Intergroup's role 

How does Intergroup serve the fellowships minorities, majority and the still-suffering addict? Let's look at an A.A. example. View or download as a PDF
Alexis de Tocqueville had an influence on A.A. co-founder, Bill W., who quotes him in Concept V of the Twelve Concepts of World Service
Here is the first thing we read inside the General Service Offices, Central Offices, Intergroups and Answering Services Overseas ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS 2012 – 2013:

“The offices listed in this service directory are listed at their own request. A directory listing does not constitute or imply approval or endorsement of any office policies or approach to or practice of the traditional A.A. program.”

Any service body will be listed regardless of their obedience to “the traditional A.A. program” or not? Why doesn’t the General Service Office (GSO) of Alcoholics Anonymous govern Intergroup offices or groups or members? The answer is that in the A.A. way, GSO is a service body, mandated to fulfill the bidding of the groups and members. It neither dictates nor polices. The groups have the authority at the top of our inverted triangle of A.A. Service bodies such as Intergroups, districts, areas and GSO are below, doing the bidding of the groups.

Warranty Six of the Twelfth Concept talks of “extraordinary liberties which the A.A. Traditions accord to the individual members and to (their) group: no penalties to be inflicted for nonconformity of A.A. principles; no fees or dues to be levied—voluntary contributions only; no member to be expelled from A.A.—membership always to be the choice of the individual; each A.A. group to conduct its internal affairs as it wishes—it being merely requested to abstain from acts that might injure A.A. as a whole; and finally that any group of alcoholics gathered together for sobriety may call themselves an A.A. group provided that as a group, they have no other purpose or affiliation, . . . no action ought to be taken in anger, haste or recklessness; that care will be observed to respect and protect all minorities, that no action should ever be personally punitive; that whenever possible, important action s will be taken in substantial unanimity; and that our Conference will ever be prudently on guard against tyrannies, great or small whether these be found in the majority or in the minorities.” Twelve Concepts for World Service, pg. 74

Minorities have always been reluctantly welcomed into the A.A. fold—at least at first. The stories of our first women in A.A. include being told they weren’t welcome or instructed to sit with the wives in the other room while the A.A. men had their meeting. The first vote to welcome African Americans excluded them. Later they were allowed to attend as visitors, start their own segregated fellowship and then eventually welcomed as equals. LBGTQ groups and young people’s group all faced bigotry from those who spoke of A.A. stewardship and acted with fear and intolerance. Our society holds the same qualities of evil and goodness as the rest of humanity; our progress has been far from perfection.

The latest minority to threaten A.A. conservatives is the atheists and agnostics. If you don’t attend one, it’s helpful to note that agnostic A.A. groups have been part of the A.A. fold for longer than most members are sober or, in some cases, alive. The majority of A.A. members have a healthy indifference or “Live and Let Live” attitude about AA recovery that includes no obedience to any deity of any understanding. “I wouldn’t go to that group but to-each-their-own,” is the attitude of many god-conscious members. However, as the tension between secularists and theistic fundamentalists makes mid-day news outside our rooms, inside Alcoholics Anonymous tension has emerged in our local service structures about our nonbeliever-members.

A.A. alarmists accuse some agnostic groups of reading non-conference approved literature. Putting aside for one moment, the obvious—“The Man in the Glass,” “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow,” prayers as well as many of the slogans that our various groups proudly display—none of these are conference approved either. But because GSO faced so many calls to stop groups from doing un-AA things, this statement was put out to set the record straight. From aa,org/en-fdfs/smf-29_en.pdf:

“The term ‘Conference-approved’ describes written or audiovisual material approved by the Conference for publication by G.S.O. This process assures that everything in such literature is in accord with A.A. principles. Conference-approved material always deals with the recovery program of Alcoholics Anonymous or with information about the A.A. Fellowship.

The term has no relationship to material not published by G.S.O. It does not imply Conference disapproval of other material about A.A. A great deal of literature helpful to alcoholics is published by others, and A.A. does not try to tell any individual member what he or she may or may not read.”

If you read A.A. Comes of Age, you know that the first groups to interpret and read A.A. Steps without the word “God” were Buddhist groups early in A.A.’s growth into the East. In a blog post from a year ago I referred to how this 1950s artistic liberty with the Twelve Steps met with concern from well-meaning absolutists. In his “Chapter on Unity” in 1957, Bill W. writes:

“To some of us, the idea of substituting ‘good’ for ‘God’ in the Twelve Steps will seem like a watering down of A.A.’s message. But here we must remember that A.A.’s Steps are suggestions only. A belief in them, as they stand, is not at all a requirement for membership among us. This liberty has made A.A. available to thousands who never would have tried at all had we insisted on the Twelve Steps just as written.” Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age pg. 81

Moving on to what role Intergroups play, they are also service bodies—not supervisors or moderators. A.A. is not a popularity contest. The most marginalized, repugnant or anti-establishment of us are still rights-bearing-equals. Can we vote on each group’s legitimacy before entering them into the meeting list?

From A.A. Guidelines: Central or Intergroup Offices (MG 02 Rev. 2/12)

1) Listing of all groups in the community that want to participate.
2) A reminder that financial support is voluntary and not a condition of membership (in keeping with A.A. tradition).
3) A clear explanation that responsibility for the maintenance of the service office rests with the groups. Therefore, each group should name a central office representative and an alternate to serve a specified term as the connection link between the group and its central office.
4) A summary of the functions of the central office and an explanation of how it will be staffed and operated.
5) A discussion of how the service office will handle such vital matters as inquiries from newcomers, relations with the press, and similar duties.
6) Assurance that the service centre will be operated in keeping with A.A.’s Twelve Traditions.

Every group that wants to be included is to be included. What a slippery slope we decline down when one alcoholic is given authority to judge another. If an Intergroup office wants to take inventory, should it be the groups it serves or its own operating procedures that should be scrutinized?

I am a member of one of these groups that been discriminated against by what Bill W. calls in Concept V, an “apathetic, self-seeking, uninformed or angry majority.” Concept V also states that, “When we look at our minority groups, we find that here we have also gone to great lengths in our trust of minority groups. Under Tradition Two, The group conscience is the final authority for A.A.,” The Twelve Concepts of World Service, pg. 23

Toronto Intergroup assumed this role of authority, higher than the groups it serves, the seat of perilous power, declaring my group and one other not-A.A enough for the meeting list. Of course we’re still part of the General Service structure; we still contribute our time, talent and money to district and area, working in Hospitals, Grapevine, Archives and Public Information. Without Intergroup, since our first agnostic A.A. meeting started four years ago this month, eight other agnostic A.A. groups have started and are growing. Still, we don’t find the now five evenings of Toronto area agnostic A.A. meetings in the meeting list, phone greeters are forbidden to mention us to interested callers and our groups have no voice on the Intergroup floor.

A well informed, less self-serving and less hasty intergroup body would not allowed a vote in the first place. The very act of singling out a group for judgment is a form of harassment. Who is being un-AA when such a discrimination takes place—the agnostics or the Tea-Party-esque conservatives? Right now, another Intergroup is considering if their A.A. is best served by implementing this new-A.A. brand of creed cleansing or homogeneity.
If love and tolerance is spirituality then, scapegoating and judgment is evil. Isn’t evil the opposite of spirituality? I put that question to you because before posting, I scrutinized the word, “evil,” wondering if I wasn’t being melodramatic. Individually, aren’t these Intergroup reps just trying to be good stewards of our fellowship? Wouldn't we be right to feel shame for the disrespect that A.A.'s legacy of minorities suffered from our fellowship in their hour of greatest need. I don’t think the next generation will view group-banishing Intergroup reps as well-intentioned or in any way stalwartly.

Where did this law-and-order conservative pathology come from? At some level, it’s always been part of the A.A. tapestry. For those of us who weren’t around in 1986 to know GSO’s retiring General Manager, Bob P., his final talk to the General Service Conference was reprinted in Box 4-5-9 (Vol. 50, No. 2/April May 2004) Here he had this to say about the rigidity of the day:

“If you were to ask me what is the greatest danger facing Alcoholics Anonymous today, I would have to answer: the growing rigidity that is so apparent to me and many others; (i) The increasing demand for absolute answers to nit-picking questions; (ii)Pressure for G.S.O. to ‘enforce’ our Traditions, (iii) Screening alcoholics at closed meetings. . . . And in this trend toward rigidity, we are drifting further and further away from our co-founders. Bill, in particular, must be spinning in his grave, for I remind you that 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.”

In a self-correcting A.A. no one has to be voted off the island. Call it “God’s will,” or Darwinian “survival of the fittest,” but A.A. meetings that are on the wrong track will go away all by themselves; and they will hardly drag A.A. along with them.

In the same issue of Box 4-5-9, John K., Director of A.A. World Service who spoke at a General Service joint sharing session in November 2003 is quoted. The title of John’s talk was “A Vision for A.A.’ Future—A Continuous Moral Inventory of Our Collective Behavior.” Here is what Box 4-5-9 shared with all of A.A. from John K.’s message:

“Our co-founders were pragmatists—try something, test it, change it, review it, test it, then change, review, test it again. As a result, our knowledge as a Fellowship is based not on logic, or revelation, or authority—it is based on experience, on what works, and as such, it is always subject to change. Our basic vision of the future is simple: It is to carry our message of recovery from alcoholism to the still-suffering alcoholic, and to do so through the efforts of each and every one of our members. . . . Co-founder Bill W. wrote frequently about his vision for A.A.’s future. In April 1959, he said: ‘Maybe we have a policy or plan that still looks fine and is apparently doing well. Nevertheless we ought to ponder very carefully what its longtime effect will be. Will today’s nearby advantages boomerang into large liabilities for tomorrow? The temptation will almost always be to seize the nearby benefits and quite forget about the harmful precedents or consequences that we may be setting in motion.’. . . Almost every act has an unintended consequence, yet often we give too little thought to follow-up testing and assessment to determine whether anything we have, as Bill said, ‘boomeranged into a large liability for tomorrow.’. . . I think we now need to pause to ask if in the process, the cumulative effect of individual ‘minor’ changes might make, over time, a significant change overall. . . . I hope our vision for the future emphasizes the A.A. group as the fundamental unit of recovery. I hope our vision includes an A.A. where groups still have the right to be wrong . . . I hope our vision for A.A.’s future includes a willingness to engage in a ‘continuous moral inventory of our collective behavior,’ and to include as many of our members as possible in every aspect of that exercise.”

Interestingly, another article in this Box 4-5-9, is called “Unity and Sharing Are the Glue of Intergroup Seminar.” Unity in the founder's A.A. never meant uniformity. On the contrary, unity underscores our basic and spiritual tenet of love and tolerance for all.

In conclusion, let’s look at the tyranny of the minority. This story looks like one of squabbling minorities. The majority of A.A. supports a wide tent, celebrating the variety of spiritual experiences. In one corner, we have the minority agnostics. If they demanded that God is un-known and unknowable, and insisted that this restrictive worldview be removed from all A.A. literature—that would be tyranny from the minority. But they don’t demand that A.A. change—they just expect to be accommodated. Agnostic groups want to be included, welcome one and all, and mind their own business. In the other corner, the absolutist minority. They want to cleanse A.A. of unconventional meeting rituals. This is campaigning for change. They say they are preserving the integrity of the A.A. message. But what is the A.A. message? It is that we are a fellowship—not a program. We have “suggested” Steps and only one requirement for memberships—that doesn’t include obedience to, or belief in, Allah. An Intergroup that governs groups betrays the very A.A. principles they ought to be protecting. Allah doesn’t need their kind of help and neither does A.A.

Here is an idea for Intergroups concerned about being seen to endorse something that doesn’t sit well with everyone. Learn from the General Service Office that will continue to include you—regardless of how an Intergroup adheres to our Traditions. Simply say what they say in their directory: “The groups listed in this directory are listed at their own request. A directory listing does not constitute or imply approval or endorsement of any group policies or approach to, or practice of, the A.A. program.”

A rebel’s welcome to new AA Chairperson, Terry Bedient 

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From Box 4-5-9, Vol. 59, No. 3 / Fall 2013 edition, Terrance M. Bedient, of upstate New York, is reintroduced to AA as our latest Chairperson of the General Service Board. Selected to the board as one of seven rotating non-alcoholic Trustees in 2008, Terry comes to AA from an Employee Assistance Program background and has been active in Public Information, several other committees and, most recently, AA’s Treasurer.

Terry is most impressed with AA’s Responsibility Declaration; “When anyone, anywhere, reaches out for help, I want the hand of A.A. always to be. And for that; I am responsible.” To that end, according to Bedient, “The key issue facing A.A. is membership growth and engagement.”

Terry Bedient was introduced to AA in 1975. He has seen our fellowship reach one million members, peak at 2.2 million ten years ago, only to struggle, never eclipsing that high-water mark in the decade to follow. The month of September is Recovery Month in America. We, the greater community of those who have overcome addiction, has grown over the last few years from 20 million to 23 million Americans while AA’s population has faltered as a percentage of the whole (AA membership in the USA is 1.3 million members).

Both engagement of the current membership and the attraction of new members will mean stemming the tide of decline. America is changing, Terry. What do you plan to do to help AA catch up with this change? For any of us that think AA can stubbornly stay the same AND be entitled to growth, that’s where Step Two comes in to play, Terry. Any class B (alcoholic) Trustees will happily discuss their own personal experience with Step Two, “Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” Wanting things to change without being willing to change—that’s nuts.

Taking a sober look at the strengths and weaknesses of Alcoholics Anonymous, the challenges to Terry’s vision for AA’s future, can be better framed by a new study that describes how America looks at and struggles with a changing culture. AA, I am sure you will agree, is facing the same growing pains inside our meeting rooms, as is going on just steps outside our doors. In February 2013, Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), in partnership with the Brookings Institution, conducted one the largest surveys ever fielded on immigration policy, immigrants, and religious and cultural changes in the U.S., spanning the political, religious, ethnic, geographic and generational horizon. 4,500 people were surveyed.

An easy way to stem the tide of falling AA population is to better serve our growing minorities—atheists, women, visible minorities and youth. The greatest possibility of growth is in this under-serviced subculture of AA life. The Citizenship, Values, & Cultural Concerns: What Americans Want From Immigration Reform (Findings from the 2013 Religion, Values and Immigration Reform Survey)1 speaks to American core-beliefs which have to be understood in any effort to engage or enlarge AAs population.

By the numbers, AA doesn’t keep pace with societal change. Our own 2011 membership survey tells of our cultural anomalies when compared to other available data. Drawing from the 2011 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) survey of who needs and gets treatment for alcoholism in the USA, AA is more Caucasian, more male and older than the Americans that are being introduced to our fellowship. In 2011, 68% of the people being treated for alcoholism were white, while 87% of AA (2011 Membership survey) are white. The AA population of under 30 is 13%—one half of the 25.7% of youth who received treatment in the USA.

One possible reason that many come to AA, but only a certain demographic stay, is a condition known to human rights or human resources personnel as “systemic discrimination.” Terry, we say that we want the hand of AA always to be there for one and all, but what makes us more attractive to a whiter, older, male population, compared to the greater population seeking recovery from alcoholism.

So AA’s population isn’t reflective of the American alcoholic population despite the fact that over ½ of AA’s population is American. Three areas that AA’s board could look at, even in an inverted triangle service structure, are (i) statistical data, (ii) policies and procedures and (iii) organizational culture . Looking at one place AA faces an ongoing problem—the delisting of agnostic meetings in Toronto Canada, the provincial human rights regulator (Ontario Human Rights Commission) offers this look how organizational culture inadvertently favors the majority and marginalizes minorities:

“Organizations can have their own internal cultures which, if not inclusive, can marginalize or alienate racialized persons. For example, an organization that values a particular communication style based on how people from the dominant culture tend to communicate may undervalue a different, but equally effective, communication style used by a racialized person. Similarly, social relationships and networks that are an important part of success may sometimes exclude racialized persons.”2

Toronto would be a clear case of majority intolerance of the minority (atheists/agnostics). As the agnostic groups assert their rights to communicate in a “different, but equally effective, communication style,” they were banished from Intergroup for nonconformity.

Maybe the fact that women remain underrepresented in AA has something to do with communication style, too. One hundred men wrote the Big Book in a communication style that may not speak to women with the ease to which it speaks to men. Maybe there are cultural traditions that, while AA doesn’t intentional discriminate, we marginalize youth, people of color and minority creeds, too.

AA knows that we have a history of aversion to change. That isn’t an alcoholic tendency; it’s human nature. This year’s Religion, Values and Immigration Reform Survey offer some important insights as to tribal tendencies that have to be addressed. Here are some highlights of what this survey discovered about Americans and their attitudes:
  • Majority of Americans (54%) believe that the growing number of newcomers from other countries helps strengthen traditional America customs and values. 40% see newcomers as a threat. The balance sees newcomers as having no impact.
  • American society has changed dramatically over a single generation; 71% of (Americans) age 65 and older, identify as white Christian. By contrast, 28% of Millennials (age 18 – 29) identify as white Christian (evangelical Protestant, mainline Protestant, Catholic).
  • Millennials (13%) are four times more likely to identify as atheist or agnostic than seniors (3%). Another 31% of Millennials are religiously non-affiliated compared to 11% of the 65+ club. In other age groups, of Americans in their 30s and 40s, 22% are religiously unaffiliated, and 16% of 50 to 64 year old Americans are religiously unaffiliated.
  • Who is nostalgic? Whiter older Americans feel like American culture and way of life has eroded since 1950. Younger people and people of color think it has improved.

If you are a young Hispanic gay atheist American, you find it hard to make friends. The one change that would improve your popularity more than anything is feigning belief in God—if you can afford to forgo authenticity for popularity. Atheists are the least-liked minority in the USA with only 10% of our fellows believing nonbelievers have something good to offer American life. “In God we Trust—or else!” Four out of ten of our neighbors think America would be better if atheists left town. Americans have a more negative attitude towards atheists than Muslims, the non-religious, immigrants, queers, the Tea Party and youth, all of which face dislike from at least one out of four in the USA. Imagine having that many people believing you were making society worse.

  Positive Change on USA No Impanct on USA Negative Change on USA
Atheists 10% 46% 39%
Non-religious 16% 48% 31%
Muslims 18% 44% 27%
Tea Party 24% 30% 30%
GLBT (Gay/Lesbians) 24% 42% 29%
Immigrants 38% 26% 28%
Hispanics 39% 35% 20%
Asians 40% 43% 9%
Young People 43% 21% 30%

Public Religion Institute, Religion, Values and Immigration Reform Survey, March 2013

What can these attitudes tell us about attitudes inside AA and AA’s prospects for adapting to a changing face, creed and culture of people knocking on our door? Compared to the general population outside of AA, inside our rooms our nearly 80-year-old fellowship still looks like the 1950s that our more nostalgic Americans pine for.

On the chart above, only 10% of Americans believe atheists make their country better. A staggering 39% of Americans think their society would be better without nonbelievers. No wonder why atheists are the forgotten minority in AA. Yes, nonbelievers have been with AA from the very beginning but when you look at how little celebrations of atheism there is in our literature, the success of the Twelve Steps without a belief in an interfering/intervening deity is AA’s dirty little secret, more than our power of example. Aboriginal North American members are under-represented in AA and they have a pamphlet devoted to them. Women do, the GLBT community does and so do young people and African Americans. AA wants these minorities to feel welcome and equal.

Where’s the pamphlet for atheists and agnostics? It has been easier for our queer community to come out of the closet in AA because it is clear that that alcoholics can be here, queer and welcome. For skeptics and realists, it’s a old refrain I hear all the time; members bite their tongue instead of speaking candidly about how childish they feel, talking about or praying to an imaginary “God as we understand Him” when they neither understand, believe in, nor depend on any god. They bite their tongue because of the hostile way that they see other atheists treated in meetings or talked about in coffee shops.

While the General Service Conference resists approving the same welcome mat that other minorities enjoy, in places like Toronto Intergroup or Tampa Florida, atheists and agnostics are confronted with the notorious “White Paper on Non-believers ” which suggests that atheism is the inferior AA and is the scapegoat for many of AA’s woes. The wording used when the Indianapolis We Agnostics Group was delisted in their Intergroup newsletter was, “AA stays pure.”

“When people sense that something they love is under threat, their first reaction is but build an “impenetrable” wall, a Maginot Line—and just to be extra safe they decide to enclose a bit more territory, a buffer zone, inside its fortifications,” is how Daniel Dennett describes what he has coined as hysterical realism. Dennett goes on to describe policies and procedures that start to show themselves in a reifying society, like any book-based society is susceptible to. Terry Bedient, you may find this familiar or it may be strange to you. Either way, engaging and enlarging the membership will require understanding some of the forces thwarting your noble efforts. “This policy typically burdens the defenders with a brittle, extravagant (implausible, indefensible) set of dogmas that cannot be defended rationally,” says Dennett, “and hence must be defended, in the end, with desperate clawing and shouting. In philosophy this strategic choice often shows up as absolutism of one kind of another. ”3

The AA story is painted by the numbers. The data referred to here will impact membership growth and engagement. AA’s history shows that when we overcame our fear and intolerance of women, we grew. When we overcame our bias against African Americans, gays and lesbians, as well as young people, we grew in size.

Atheists, Hindus, Muslims and countless other creeds and cultures have come knocking on our door. To welcome everyone, to take our creed of “anywhere, anytime” seriously, we will engage with members who communicate in a modest or dramatically different means as our main-stream “God-conscious” membership. To welcome others sincerely, we must accommodate a new language and new rituals. Uniformity is not unity.

Mr. Bedient, welcome to the bottom rung of AA’s inverted triangle of service. Your primary purpose is a noble one but a goal fraught with challenges inside and outside our fellowship. How we treat each other will certainly have a bearing on how inviting our fellowship is to others.

Engagement and growth will meet with wide approval but it will mean something different to each generations of AA, as well as our liberals and our conservatives. They say that chance favors the brave. It is a brave undertaking that you have set your sights on. I am sure you have contemplated the alternative. Best wishes.

3. Dennett, Daniel C., Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking. New York: Norton,. Pg. 204

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