by John L.
In February 2013 I celebrated
my 45th AA
— that is, 45 years since my last drink. I'll not tell my
here, except to say that I hit a low bottom physically. In my first
year of sobriety I attended meetings all over Manhattan, but mainly in
Greenwich Village. This was fortunate for me, since at least a few AA
members there were openly anti-religious: they rejected the 12 Steps in
whole or in part, and defiantly remained seated when others stood up to
recite the “Lord's Prayer” at the end of meetings.
One of the first
heard was that of “Bob”, who was in his seventies
been sober for over two decades. At the end of his talk, Bob proudly
identified himself as an atheist, and affirmed that his sobriety was
based on himself and the shared experiences of other drunks, not on
belief in the Supernatural.
I regard Alcoholics Anonymous as the
best option for
recovery from alcoholism. It is very difficult for an individual to
achieve lasting sobriety on his own, but much easier and better with
the moral support of other recovering alcoholics. There is a great deal
of freedom in AA, both for AA groups and for the individual. One
speaker put it this way: “Alcoholics Anonymous is a
people — working
their individual programs.”
To me, the following represent the heart
of AA, the
reasons why it works:
• The 24-Hour
Plan. Recovery from alcoholism means complete
alcohol — staying away from the first drink, a day at a time,
the rest of one's life.
• The 12 Traditions.
These developed out of the
early experiences of AA, and have kept the organization viable for
• The AA Preamble.
This says it all, clearly and concisely:
Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience,
strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common
problem and help others to recover from alcoholism.
The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. There
are no dues of fees for A.A. membership; we are self-supporting through
our own contributions. A.A. is not allied with any sect, denomination,
politics, organization or institution; does not wish to engage in any
controversy; neither endorses nor opposes any causes. Our primary
purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety.
In addition there is the Serenity Prayer,
speaks strongly to alcoholics, especially in the early stages of
recovery. Confronting the wreckage of their lives, they realize that
some things are lost forever, and these losses must be accepted with
serenity. But there are still opportunities for a good life, and one
must have the courage to work and even fight for them. The usual AA
God, grant me
However, the principles are just as valid without reference
“God”. Here I have re-worded the SP in the first
plural, in a form appropriate for ending an AA meeting:
the things I cannot change,
the things I can, and
to know the
May we have
Undeniably, there are many AA
that they owe their sobriety to belief in a Higher Power, to prayer,
and to the 12 Steps. However, these things are not necessary,
many non-believers (atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, secular
humanists, rationalists, infidels) have achieved good and lasting
the fellowship of AA, as I have. The religiosity in AA is harmful in
many ways: it drives away non-believing alcoholics, lowers the level of
discourse, and creates a false impression of recovery. Some pious AA
members are so concerned with achieving
that they neglect to stay away from the first drink.
the things we cannot change,
the things we can, and
to know the
In 1976, when I was living in New York City and had been sober for
eight years, I wrote and disseminated “A Proposal To Eliminate ‛The Lord's Prayer’ From A.A. Meetings”. To read it click here.
There are now, around the world, bona
fide AA groups
for atheists, humanists and agnostics. Check out the website of the
New York City
AA Agnostica (“A
space for AA agnostics, atheists and freethinkers worldwide”) is
a website based in Toronto. It is meant to be a helping
hand for alcoholics who reject the religious content of many
AA meetings. To visit AA Agnostica click here.
AA Atheists is a new website for “Atheists, Agnostics, Freethinkers & Skeptics in Alcoholics Anonymous”. To visit AA Atheists click here.
A Searching and Fearless Inventory — of the A.A. Steps Themselves. My severe critique of AA's/Bill W's Steps — offensive religiosity, toxic ideas, muddled prose, and sheer stupidity — is on the AA Atheists website. To read it click here.
I have prepared a Bibliography on
read it click here.
In 1975 an excellent article by R.L.
with God's Help?”, appeared in The New
(London). To read it click here.
America's most beloved president, addressed the Springfield
Washingtonian Temperance Society on 22 February 1842. It's a fine
speech — eloquent and perceptive. All of the best elements of
Alcoholics Anonymous were already present in the Washingtonian
Temperance Society, which was founded in 1840, nearly a century before
the birth of AA. The Washingtonians advocated that reformed drunkards
were best qualified to help their fellows who were still drinking ...
that practical help and persuasion were more effective than moral
condemnation ... that the only cure for alcoholism is lifelong
abstinence from all alcoholic drinks. To read Lincoln's speech click here.
Washingtonianism. Here is a brief history of the Washingtonian Temperance Society, its principles, and its way of conducting meetings, taken from the Washingtonian Pocket Companion (1842). During its heyday, the Washingtonians were spectacularly successful —
sobering up many tens of thousands of inebriates who had previously
been regarded as doomed and incorrigible. In many ways Washingtonianism
not only foreshadowed A.A., but was superior; it was relatively free
from the cloying religiosity that plagued A.A., especially in its early
years. To read Washingtonianism click here.
A Freethinker's Steps For Recovery From Alcoholism.
When I attended my first A.A. meeting in 1968 I saw the A.A. Steps
for the first time. I made a pledge then
to re-write them into good English — a pledge I have finally fulfilled. My steps are intended especially for non-believers (atheists, agnostics,
rationalists, freethinkers, secular humanists, infidels, etc.), though
I hope they could be useful for all recovering alcoholics. To read the Freethinker's Steps with Introduction and notes click here. To read the Freethinker's Steps by themselves as a PDF document click here.
Man on the Bed” is an oil painting created by Robert M. for
A.A. Grapevine; it was reproduced as the center-spread in the December