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What others are saying about BEYOND BELIEF: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life
A commentary by Ernest Kurtz, Ph.D., author of The Spirituality of Imperfection and Not-God: A History of Alcoholics Anonymous. (Ernie Kurtz received his Ph.D. in the History of American Civilization from Harvard University in 1978. Dr. Kurtz was the first researcher to be granted unrestricted access to the archives of Alcoholics Anonymous. Hazeleden had the wherewithal to publish Ernie’s Ph.D. dissertation—the book that resulted was, Not God: A History of Alcoholics Anonymous. Along with Katherine Ketcham Ernie gave us, The Spirituality of Imperfection: Modern Wisdom from Classic Stores (1992), and a book that demonstrates Kurtz acute understanding of addiction, Shame and Guilt (revised and updated in 2007). For those in the know, catching an Ernie Kurtz lecture on his academic study of spirituality would be a life-altering experience. For those of us who missed that opportunity, there is more of Kurtz on addiction and spirituality in the 1999 The Collected Ernie Kurtz. There are been other books and other writings, both scholarly and popular but today, Rebellion Dogs are honored to share Dr. Kurtz’s experience with Beyond Belief.)
One meaning of reflection, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is “the action of turning (back) or fixing the thoughts on some subject; meditation, deep or serious consideration.” This treasure of a book offers spurs to reflction and more. Drawing on a rich variety of often surprising sources, each day's reading provides not a mere bite but a full meal of thoughts for the coming or just-past day. Since my mornings tend to be rushed, Beyond Belief soon moved itself into my mid-afternoon “break” period, where it could shed more leisurely light both backwards and forwards.
Beyond Belief terms its offerings musings rather than “meditations.” The O.E.D. gives the first meaning of the verb muse as “to be absorbed in thought; to meditate continuously in silence; to ponder.” Absorbed . . . ponder: this book is not light reading. I have not so far wanted to fight with it, but I do find Beyond Belief often challenging, sometimes provocative, unfailingly stimulating.
The book is aimed at a general 12-Step readership, but it is mindful that there heretofore exist no such aids for unbelievers, freethinkers, and the unconventionally spiritual. Given that the latest Pew survey found that twenty percent of the American people list their religious affiliation as “None,” it is certainly time that the Recovery world took into consideration this population's needs. Beyond Belief addresses that need in a confident, non-aggressive way. I doubt that any believer will find anything objectionable in its pages. This believer, for one, finds much that is spiritually helpful.
If I have one criticism of this book it is that its musings are too rich. On quite a few pages I wished to pause and think after virtually every sentence. For many, reading Beyond Belief will require a pen or pencil in hand and perhaps a notebook on the side.
This is the first daily reflection book of which I know that offers a lengthy (17-page) “Notes” section as well as a full Bibliography. The Notes are far more than mere citations, often presenting brief additional discussion and even new material that more frequently than not is as rich as the text itself.
In addition to the Notes and Bibliography, the end-matter of Beyond Belief contains a full Index that allows searching out individual musings on just about any topic. Having problems with “ego”? Check out May 29, August 8, September 24 or seven other dates. Polishing your gratitude? Flip to March 2, June 16, November 12 or eleven other dates.
Beyond Belief will enrich anyone interested in living a 12-Step life.
Dr. Amy author, social worker
Beyond Belief offers a spiritual welcome mat to agnostics and free thinkers in recovery. Joe C. provides readers with a thoughtful and enlightened year-long road map to self-improvement that reaches beyond the bounds of traditional Twelve Step thought—Bravo!”
Given my chosen profession I have had the opportunity to read countless daily meditation books—and this is a good one. Although the context is recovery from a 12-Step perspective, readers are invited to address the issue from their own philosophical view. One criticism of the 12 Step movement of course is that its dogma can be limiting—Beyond Belief seems to have addressed this. The quotes are cogent, the organization superb and the contributors are diverse.
From a clinical perspective I like that various schools of thought are called upon —Transactional Analysis, Jungian, etc. This daily meditation book provides a cross-section of spiritual and philosophical thought that is accessible to all regardless of one’s personal beliefs—in that sense it really is beyond belief.
Amy’s favorite quote:
“Go on a hunt for any areas of incompletion, large or small, and you will not be disappointed. A burst of creativity will often follow the completion of some long-left issue. Clearing up an incompletion gives you a felling of aliveness that you can get nowhere else.” Gay Hendricks, Ph.D. & Kathlyn Henricks, Ph.D
Amy S. D’Aprix, MSW Ph.D, Author, From Surviving to Thriving: Transforming Your Caregiving Journey
Fr. Ephraim Mensah, Born in Ghana, got his Ph.D. at University of Saskatchewan and author of The Paradox of Mission Education for Contemporary African Identity: I have started reading Joe's book. What a brilliant literary work. He has put the wisdom of the world in daily meditation. I am simply amazed. All I can say is that the Mystery-God is revealed in one whom this world regards as nonentity. Congratulations to Joe and thanks for putting me in the company of the wise.
Nancy B., retired R.N. Montreal, Canada
I have been pink clouding it on the "Road of Happy Destiny" since January of 1976, I have always been an avid reader, so when I came in contact with twelve - step programs, I was compelled to read a large chunk of the literature from many of the different ones - A.A., O.A. C.A., M.A., and Al-Anon. I have also read many books from the Hazelden Publishers. The Daily Readers from many of these programs have been extremely helpful over the years, allowing me to tap into the spiritual wisdom of the world without any religious fervour.
I've found Joey C,'s book full of spiritual thoughts, with no hidden agenda.He pulls strengths from all over the world, and his comments have a way of making me want to read more. While reading these pages I did not feel that I had to "Filter" out any ideas that were not acceptable to my own spiritual truths.
Before January 1976, I had no belief beyond my "Finite Self" , and not much trust in my fellow humans. I now believe that there is a much stronger power available in this world than I had realized and it can be found through books like this one.
AA can, and must, adapt to changing circumstances and Bill Wilson was the first one to admit it. Unfortunately, members who have come after him are more zealous that our first members ever were. We have seen this dogmatism in history before of course, especially in religion. This is a very slippery slope to take.
I really like the fact that these reflections are for anyone who has an open mind. It does not cater to a specific group to the exclusion of others. All is asked is that one keeps an open mind.
Joan E., clean and sober 38 years
Where else are we going to find Leonard Cohen, the Dalai Lama, Erika Jong, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mother Teresa and Dr. Seuss all in one place? Rather than dwelling on how sick we are and how we need to work to get better, Beyond Belief often focuses on the theme of "You're OK, and recovery will come faster if you learn to accept that as a truth."
These reflections go beyond one idea, because they reach beyond solving problems through prayer - though there's nothing wrong with prayer. I would recommend this book to faith-filled Twelve Step members as well as recovering non-theists, with absolutely no reservation at all. Beyond Belief simply gathers some answers and poses some interesting questions - into one compact format.
Joan E’s favorite quote: "Nothing is more dangerous than an idea when it is the only one you have." Emile Chartier (1868 – 1951)
Melissa D, Clinical Psychologist, California
WOW—what an undertaking to make this book a reality. I have never seen a daily devotional book written for agnostics. I found the readings to be extremely thought provoking. I wonder sometimes since there is such talk about God at meetings, what kind of turn-off that must be for agnostics.
Understanding that surrender is also a process for agnostics, I would definitely recommend Beyond Belief, particularly for the introspective, knowledge-seeking agnostic, who earnestly wishes to grow emotionally and intellectually in the program. I think this book will be very helpful to both the newcomer and the mature Twelve Step member.
Beyond Belief author Joe C: "I was a closet agnostic for much of my recovery; I thought believing and belonging were synonymous. As the century turned and the internet made my AA community wider, it confirmed for me that being a nonbeliever was neither an intellectual hold out nor an inferior Twelve-Steppery. Although a minority in Twelve Step culture, we are not freaks of nature. Some nonbeliever members have their own agnostic groups and some fit into the mainstream fellowship, be it candidly or discretely.
"There is no shortage of daily meditation books for addicts who believe in an interfering/intervening deity. But when I went looking for a daily reflection book not based on a monotheistic worldview I couldn’t find one. So I wrote one; it took four years. Art, philosophy, religion, comedy, science, the folk-wisdom of Twelve & Twelve rooms all contribute to my recovery and I draw upon these varied sources for inspiration once more. I hope these pages of daily reflection resonate with others."
Read what people are saying about Beyond Belief on AAagnositca
CLEAN AND SOBER IN THE NEW MILLENIUM
So what's been going on in recovery since Y2K? In 2008, the treatment trade-magazine Counselor provided an in-depth look at Baby Boomers who have been the stewards of Twelve Step continuity. AA is the grand-daddy of Twelve & Twelve culture. The 2011 membership survey shows the profile of the average members as being a 48 year old while male with just under ten years sobriety.
In 2008, Generation-X was hitting that 45 to 50 age bracket, becoming the average AA member and transitioning into leadership roles. Gen-X is educated, individualistic and sports a candid disdain for structure and authority. They face addiction and recovery with an enigmatic attitude. How many second generation family businesses run the company just like dad did?
And right behind Gen-X is the millennial generation, born in the 1980s to early Y2K. Before AA’s 100th birthday, the bleeding deacons will be gadget-wielding aging internet surfers whose “traditions” will be quite different from the Boomers who are the current stewards of the Twelve and Twelve world.
Forget AA for a minute - that’s so last century. Since the millennium started, Online Gamers Anonymous deals with a very real addiction that couldn’t have been conceived as Bill and Bob agonized over Big Book wording. In 2003 Teen Addicts Anonymous started with a fresh slate; now the Twelve Steps not only leave out the barrier-building patriarchal God, but the Western religious morality is also disposed of.
Fast forward to 2012 - AA was discussing diversity and change at GSO in April while some local Intergroups are banning agnostic groups for the crime of diversity and change. Agnostic groups are having the Intergroup door shut behind them for candidly sharing a secular look at the Twelve Steps and Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous. We all got along so well, for so long. As early as the mid-1950s, Bill Wilson was reassuring members that not only was a "No God" variation of the Twelve Steps not a "watering down" of our principles, this translation reaches the hand of AA out to countless sufferers who are getting sober without having to accept someone else's worldview or to deny their own.
On page 81 of Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age Bill is delighted that Buddhists are forming AA groups. They require accommodation and Bill sees Tradition Four’s autonomy of groups in action. Buddhists would be replacing the word “god” with “good” so that the practice of the Steps could be compatible with their non-theistic belief.
In 1957, Bill 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.”
The word from GSO has not changed over the years. Ward Ewing, the current GSO Chair is ordained as an Episcopalian minister. He thinks nonbelievers have something to add to the AA conversations, not just among themselves but for the benefit of one and all. He is very excited about a new pamphlet that will talk about our spiritual recovery program from the point of view of theists and nonbelievers.
Yet, Indianapolis, Des Moines and Toronto Intergroups have censored and discriminated against agnostic AA groups, excluding them form meeting lists. In Indy the matter the matter is resolved. In Toronto it has gotten worse. What were once "suggested Steps" are a compliance condition for Toronto Intergroup membership. The spirit of this new-wave of rigid interpretation of “love and tolerance” is found in a turgid position paper being distributed among fanatics. This new manifesto for underground AA is called "The White Paper on Non-believers." The author drops a gauntlet, stating, “It is time to make a tough decision about continuing to allow two AAs: a path of sobriety using human power alone, the second through God of your understanding. Two diametrically opposing belief systems simply cannot coexist!”
The drunk-on-dogma literalists speak a very different language than the founder who created a fellowship of pluralism, where alternate worldviews could coexist. According to the new wave stewardship, what were once autonomous groups should now be governed. The liberty of saying, reading and distributing what the group conscience agreed doesn't sit right with those who want a clear, singular interpretation of our age-old recovery program. The children of chaos free-thinkers both represent themselves as Stewards of Twelve & Twelve culture and champions of our next generation of newcomer. The liberals rejoice in AA's inclusive anarchy. Most people coming to Twelve Step rooms for the first time today didn’t grow up with the Judeo/Christian assumptions of early AA, NA, GA, OA, etc. The newcomers of today include Buddhists, Humanists, Taoists, Apostates, Atheists, Freethinkers, pagans and a whole lot more people that only ask for a Twelve Step way that works without having to adopt someone else's worldview or to deny their own.
Resistance to change causes reification which always goes something like this – A man tells a message, which starts a movement and somewhere along the way missionaries of this movement transform the man’s fluid, adaptable message to something carved in unyielding stone. Twelve Step fellowships were founded on the idea of one amateur helping another. Our currency is experience, not expertise. If we canonize founders and enshrine their words as “the gospel,” aren’t we forgetting the very message that was entrusted to us? “We know but a little; more will be revealed, take what you’ve learned and pass it on to the next in line.”
Beyond Belief is a book that respects the path that has been laid for us but plays it forward with an inclusive language. More than one nonbeliever has been offended by the patronizing binary thinking that, “...the doubter who still claimed that he hadn’t got the spiritual angle, and who still considered his well-loved AA group the higher power, would presently love God and call him by name (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions pg.109) .”
A non-theistic worldview is no handicap and need no cure. Neither is atheism more evolved. In Beyond Belief nonbelievers are assumed as rights-bearing equals in our fellowship. This idea will be obvious one day, if it isn’t already. Like voting for women or equality for all, a generation from now will look at faith like favorite colors; some of us believe this, some of us believe that. We all belong. There is no shortage of daily meditation books for those of us with theistic predispositions. Beyond Belief is a secular look at recovery for the rest of us living in recovery, one day at a time.
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