A Determined Atheist Asks – “Which Way Secular AA?”
By John H
“Spirituality is not based on logic, it is faith driven.
Faith makes the impossible possible.”
AA Grapevine Daily Quote
August 2, 2018
It is amazing how far SecularAA has come since our first International Convention in Santa Monica, CA in 2014 and our second gathering in Austin, TX in 2016.
From a fragmented “movement” of somewhere between 100-150 groups in 2014 we have emerged from the shadows and are part of a fellowship that has a worldwide reach with a steadily growing number of groups now in the 450+ range.
We will gather for the third time, on August 24, 2018 in Toronto, for our first SecularAA Convention outside the United States.
A robust Board of Directors has come up with a new set of Bylaws, and various other things like a “Mission Statement”, to attempt to define, in a generic way, the nature and purpose of the organization as it exists today.
Over time, various factions have emerged within a core group of members who chose to be involved through attendance at the Convention, online interactions on Facebook and elsewhere and at various Regional Forums that have popped up over the past four years. I had the good fortune to be the only member to attend all three of these meetings over the past year in Toronto, Canada, Tucson, AZ and Tacoma, WA. There are distinct regional “flavors” in all three areas and the cross-cultural dynamics of our still emerging fellowship are very evident when you sit in those rooms.
In addition to the Convention and Regional Forums there are growing numbers of online meetings, podcasts, blogs, closed Facebook pages and dedicated web pages, that publish articles such as this, as well as other pertinent information, for the Atheist/Agnostic/Freethinker in AA. This is all very healthy and spirited dialogue has sprung up in every corner of our SecularAA world.
As a nearly 30-year member of what, in the end, became SecularAA, I have seen widely divergent approaches to the so-called conventional AA “program” made by various non-believing members with, it seems, infinitely variable experiences and backgrounds.
A widely popular view seems to consist of a proposition based on, in many instances, long term experience with the conventional AA “program” and a sudden, or more gradual, “conversion” to the proposition that a “faith based” approach does not work for them based on a growing awareness of the members own atheist or agnostic belief system.
Some of these members seem to be able to take conventional AA “as is” as they somewhat modify it using secular language but still admit an affection for “growing along spiritual lines”. They also seem to have an inordinate amount of respect for such institutions and entities as the AA General Service Office and the AA Grapevine. This approach also tends to embrace the “Steps” and, to a lesser extent, the “Big Book”, and the various attempts to make these quintessentially Christian documents “secular” and more acceptable for the non-believer seem to stem from this impulse to integrate themselves into the more mainstream elements of conventional AA.
This approach, as I have described it, is perfectly valid for any member who choses it but it in no way represents the thinking of many other members who also identify as part of SecularAA.
My thoughts here, which, as always, are my own and represent my thinking only, are directed to the type of member who may find the methods described above uncomfortable and oddly reminiscent of the issues that brought them to SecularAA in the first place.
This type of member, my type, may find that all forms of the “get along to go along” mentality with the conventional AA program are contradictory and hypocritical in terms of our own values as atheists given a “hard core” or “militant” view of the overt religiosity of mainstream AA.
Having just used the dreaded word “militant” above I have recently been attempting to modify some of my own language (I can hear the “gasps” now in Kansas City and Toronto) to try to promote the use of the term “determined atheist” when describing my own obvious militancy given many atheists discomfort with that word. This may in fact be necessary in order to better communicate the need for more atheists to be able to honestly state the essence of their views without getting hung up on some of the more incendiary language associated with us.
In the future, after we elders have departed the scene, I would hope that a new generation of determined atheists will emerge who unapologetically say what they mean and mean what they say in a manner that addresses a more broad based audience of unbelievers with the proposition that we can reject all Christian language and norms within AA (Steps/Big Book) without the fear of being viewed as threatening by even our own, more moderate, non-believing members.
So, what, exactly, is the “struggle” within SecularAA all about?
In essence, in my mind, it’s about a creeping “New Orthodoxy” that has been evident since our first gathering in Santa Monica that I believe some involved in our movement would like to codify under the banner of “diversity” and “inclusiveness” by encompassing things that are not secular in any way.
It’s about people who would, if they could, totally water down our secular identity to the point that we, SecularAA, would be fully absorbed into the body of conventional AA and disappear as an independent entity.
It’s about a plague of so-called “Spirituality” creeping into what is supposed to be a secular program that is a refuge for alcoholics from the proscriptions and tyrannical structures thrown up by the use of that word. The quote from the Grapevine used at the top of this article really says all of that.
It’s about the protection of a percentage of newcomers through our ability to define the word “secular” in absolute terms. This is for the newcomer who categorically rejects the catechism of “The Steps”, “Big Book”, and Oxford Group derived Christian AA.
This is for someone who does not want to be “spiritual” or imbued with any “non-god” religion such as Buddhism or Unitarianism.
This is for the proposition that if we make a decision, don’t drink, attend meetings, learn to share, and then help another alcoholic, without any pomp, circumstance or spiritual trappings, that we have a shot at a new and far more fulfilling life without having to graft someone else’s untenable and illogical belief system on to our own.
John Huey’s student work of the 60’s-70’s was influenced by teachers in Vermont such as John Irving at Windham College and William Meredith at Bread Loaf.
After many years he returned to writing poetry in 2011. He has been widely anthologized and published since then. His first full-length book, ‘The Moscow Poetry File’, was published by Finishing Line Press in November 2017. Full information on his creative work, as well as his many Secular Recovery talks and writings, can be found at https://john-huey.com