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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Passing of Chris W.

Friends:

It is with much sadness that I inform you that our friend Chris W. - one third of the founding membership of "We Agnostics" - has passed away.

Chris died in the early hours of February 12, 2014, after a brief battle with aggressive liver cancer.

Chris was a fixture in local AA. His desire to make a place for like-minded alcoholics was instrumental in having this little group come into existence. Were it not for Chris pulling me aside after a typical AA meeting in which I'd spoken about being an atheist, this group might not exist.

Chris loved life, was honest about his struggles, served with an open heart, and stood with an open hand willing to help a newcomer.

I miss him already. My world is a little more lonely tonight.

Fare thee well, Chris.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Still Growing

Visited the group lately?

It may surprise you to find that our little meeting is growing. By leaps and bounds, actually.

We regularly have 30+ people in attendance. We have a new GSR, an Intergroup rep, lots of newcomers sticking around, and no requirement that anyone believe in anything that conflicts with their personal worldview.

Stop in. It is, after all, the best AA meeting on the planet.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

We Agnostics Indianapolis A.A. - Year 2

Sometime last month - we don't remember exactly when - the We Agnostics group of A.A. in Indianapolis celebrated its second year of being in existence. My how time flies when you're having fun!

A quick recap...

Our first meetings had 1 or 2 or 3 people in attendance. It was difficult to imagine how to run an hour-long meeting with 2 people, but somehow we managed to make it happen. Lots of conversation and cross-talking, as one might imagine. It seemed to go on for a few months that way.

Then, for no apparent reason, we suddenly had 7-10 people showing up on a regular basis. That number maintained for a few months, and by the end of our first year it was not uncommon to have 15 people in the meeting.

It was just about this time that we had our first run-in with the local Intergroup Office. (Feel free to dig through older posts for detail on that fiasco.) By this time, we were pushing 20 people in attendance regularly.

Towards the end of some of the "controversy" surrounding our meeting, many folks stopped in to the meeting just to see what all the fuss was about. Funny thing happened...some of those folks have stuck around. Many of them aren't even atheists or agnostics, but they appreciate the atmosphere of honest sharing and support found in the meeting.

It's now not uncommon for there to be 30 people in attendance. I believe that the "We Agnostics" group of A.A. in Indianapolis is the best meeting in the world. I hope you feel the same about your home group.

Monday, September 12, 2011

We Agnostics - An A.A. Group

This group of A.A. attempts to maintain a tradition of free expression. We conduct a meeting where alcoholics may feel free to express any doubts or disbeliefs they may have, and to share their own personal form of spiritual experience, their search for it, or their rejection of it. We do not endorse or oppose any form of religion or atheism. Our only wish is to assure suffering alcoholics that they can find sobriety in A.A. without having to accept anyone else's beliefs or having to deny their own. 

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Bill W. on Tradition 3

Tradition 3: The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking.

"Yet Point Three in our AA Tradition looks like a wide open invitation to anarchy. Seemingly, it contradicts point one. It reads, "Our membership ought to include all who suffer from alcoholism. Hence,  we may refuse none who wish to recover. Nor ought AA membership  ever depend on money or conformity.

Any two or three alcoholics  gathered together for sobriety  may call themselves an AA group." This clearly implies that an alcoholic is a member if  he says so; that we can't deny him membership; that we can't demand from him a cent; that we can't force our beliefs or practices on him; that he may flout everything we stand for and still be a member.

In fact, our Tradition carries the principle of independence to such a fantastic length that, so long as there is the slightest interest in sobriety, the most unmoral, the most antisocial, 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!"

(Language of the Heart, pp 32-33. © The AA Grapevine, Inc.)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Can an Atheist be in A.A.?

"A.A. is NOT a religious organization. All members are free to decide on their own personal ideas about the meaning of life.”
from "A Brief Guide to Alcoholics Anonymous: What is A.A.?"


Alcoholics Anonymous was born in the first part of 20th Century in the middle of white, Protestant America. That's not a judgement. It's just an historical fact. Women had only been given the vote 15 years prior. Jews were being overtly discriminated against. Juvenile diabetes still killed nearly everyone who was stricken by it within months. The polio vaccine was still 17 years away. Indoor plumbing was a distant dream for many Americans, and daily baths were out of the question for the vast majority of us.

It was in that time in history that A.A. was created.

In 1934, Bill Wilson was hospitalized, suffering once again from acute alcohol withdrawal (which is often accompanied by hallucinations and delusions). He was also being treated with belladonna (a known hallucinogen in its own right). It was under these conditions that Bill had his now-legendary "white light" experience.

Should we be surprised? DT's and a fat dose of belladonna and Bill was - as we used to say - tripping his brains out.

Combining Bill's own experiences with the influence of the very evangelical "Oxford Group," A.A. was born as a nearly all male, nearly all white, nearly all Protestant program. Many of its early precepts came from the Oxford Group and were adapted to meet the needs of the new group which was in its infancy. Bill W. and Dr. Bob - A.A.'s founders - were both members of the Oxford Group until the 1940's.

It's interesting to note that one of the first A.A. members was Jim B. He was a self-described "militant agnostic." After an early relapse, he remained sober and outlived the two founders of A.A. Jim started meetings in Philadelphia, Baltimore and San Diego. His story was even included in the First Edition of the book, "Alcoholics Anonymous," the book generally referred to by A.A. members as "The Big Book." Some of his story can be found here: Sober for Thirty Years.

A few things have changed since those early days. Our understanding of medicine and science and public health and sanitation has grown exponentially. One might expect that even A.A. itself would have matured and grown and advanced during that time, and in many important ways that it has. It has certainly expanded its thinking with respect to the participation of women, racial minorities, and those of non-Christian faith. A.A. now has meetings which exclusively serve the LGBT community, women-only meetings, men-only meetings, meditation-based meetings, and meetings for young people. It's time that A.A. expand itself once again to more actively include and support those members who might not have a belief in things which exist outside of nature, or for whom "god" is not a reality.

"What about the steps that mention God?" is a question that's often asked.

In numerous instances in the Big Book and in A.A.'s own conference-approved literature, A.A. makes it abundantly clear that members are free to use whatever notion of "higher power" works for them. We are now seeing some of those members gather together in formal A.A. meetings aimed to support those with a non-supernatural understanding of "Higher Power." They have found that being in a meeting where they can openly discuss their doubts to be tremendously refreshing. Those members share their experiences of using a "Group Of Drunks" as a higher power, or how the "God of their understanding" is more like Nature than Neptune. Members are finding the love and support they require to get and stay sober can be found in the rooms of A.A., more often now than ever in a meeting for Agnostics and Athiests.

There is good news. A.A. now has meetings where atheists, agnostics, humanists, free-thinkers and rationalists can find their own key to sobriety. They are few and far between, but they are marching forward and carrying the message that there is hope for recovery for ANYONE who is seeking it. Here's a link to several meetings around the world.

If you are an atheist or an agnostic, there is room for you in A.A. Absolutely. Without question. And unapologetically.

“It would be unrealistic to assume that all A.A. members are spiritually inspired. Many, too, are not committed to a formal body of religious doctrine. But innumerable A.A. members—including those of no orthodoxy—say they have experiences the transforming power of sharing, caring, trust and love." 

And, “...the A.A. program of recovery is based on certain spiritual values. Individual members are free to interpret these values as they think best, or not to think about them at all.”

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Intergroup Intelligentsia - The Thought Police

Many local AA members have heard by now that the "We Agnostics" group has been forever excommunicated from the Indianapolis Intergroup meeting directory. Some have heard of this author's rather dramatic exit from the charade that they chose to call a "Service Committee Meeting." While I'm not particularly proud of my behavior, I can assure you that the entire group in attendance knows where I stand on this issue, and the chairperson of the "committee" specifically knows my feelings.

It became abundantly clear very early in the evening that the committee had already made up its mind about what the outcome would be. It was not interested in Traditions or Concepts or Unity or Service. It was a war of opinions and anecdotes and popularity. One attendee of that "Service Committee" meeting even went so far as to suggest that the "We Agnostics" meeting was godless and therefore couldn't have a group conscience...violating the Second Tradition. Yet another attendee compared me to a mass murderer because I was passionately defending my right to be there.

The Indianapolis Intergroup Service Committee Meeting of June 9, 2011 was a Kangaroo Court if there ever were one.

I want to make it very clear that the "We Agnostics" group uses a simple meeting format. There is no reading of any "altered steps or traditions" as a part of the format. Many members do share their experiences, which often does mean that those members may interpret the steps when they share to help illustrate their own understanding of "power greater than ourselves" or "god as we understood him." I personally carry a version of the steps that have been "translated" into terminology that I can relate to, and will give that version to anyone who asks.

At the "We Agnostics" group, we strive to keep an open door where newcomers are welcomed no matter how they self-describe or identify. Attendees are welcomed to share whatever they wish, provided that they follow the Group Conscience and not suggest to other members that belief in a supernatural higher power is an absolute necessity to achieve sobriety. Many folks have attended and spoken about their own belief in a supernatural god. They are not ushered out of the rooom or shamed into trying to believe or speak otherwise. Any person who attends may share whatever they wish. Our group simply asks that when attendees share that they refrain from suggesting that such a belief is a requirement for other people. I file that under "sharing experience, not giving advice."

I'm left with a few unanswered questions...though I really do think that the answers are obvious.

Does Intergroup monitor and sanction other groups when members of those groups individually offend the opinions of the Intergroup Service Committee? (I believe that the answer is NO 99.9% of the time.)

Where will the line of discrimination stop? Now that they believe that they can determine what individual members can and cannot think and believe, which unfavorable belief system is next? Will Intergroup sanction other groups because they pass out non-approved literature in their meetings? Will they sanction individual members who - as a part of their lead - reference specific non-christian deities or distribute non-approved charts and graphs? Will groups that exclude individuals based on their gender or sexual orientation be excommunicated because they limit attendance based on a certain "affiliation?"

"We Agnostics" is an AA group. The Intergroup Service Committee and its members might believe that they can tell a group that it's not a group, but Intergroup can only remove the meeting from its own directory of meetings. It does not have the power to tell any AA group whether or not that meeting is a group. The General Service Office of Alcoholics Anonymous recognizes the meeting "We Agnostics," and it is a meeting because - according to the Traditions - it says it is.

Here's the great news. The group is thriving and will continue to do so. We routinely have 20+ people in attendance, collect 7th Tradition money, pay rent, and send contributions to the GSO. Several of our members have in excess of 20 years of continuous sobriety, and an increasingly enthusiastic group of newcomers is choosing to make the "We Agnostics" group a part of their ongoing sobriety. I hope you'll attend some time.

Friday, April 1, 2011

What Defines "Recovery?"

In a brief exchange on Facebook today, one man (a self-described "follower of Jesus") commented on my sobriety by saying:
"Congrats to you on "sobriety",,certainly your life has benefited from not using; however, what I seek is RECOVERY..living an empowered , and abundant life..that has happened to me when I surrendered, and let my Higher Power guide me. See Joe, both of our ways work, although with different outcomes....good luck to you!"
The presumption that his "recovery" is somehow better than my "sobriety" because he has a "relationship with Jesus" is not only arrogant, it's dangerous and misguided.

At the We Agnostics group, we are living proof that belief in a supernatural higher power is NOT a requirement to get sober, to stay sober, to find recovery and to have a wonderful life.

If you struggle with the concept of a higher power and aren't comfortable with the idea that it must be something magical, stop by our meeting. There you'll find people choosing to get and stay sober.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Indianapolis Alcoholics Anonymous For Atheists and Agnostics - How It Works.

"Rarely have we seen a person fail...."

That's what we're told, anyway.

We see people fail ALL THE TIME. Frequently we see a person fail... Usually we see a person fail... Most often we see a person fail... No matter how hard we try, there will always be people who fail...

What contributes to the "failing" that we observe? It's not for a lack of trying or hoping or wishing or praying. For many who attend "We Agnostics," part of our challenge was to find a place to work the steps where we didn't have to believe in something we didn't believe in. We needed a place to find comfort and support without being told to leave our reasonable doubt at the door. We needed to be able to be open and honest about our disbelief and not get ridiculed out the door.

People will fail. More often than not, the first or second attempt to stop drinking won't stick. Alcoholism is brutal, and it kills far more people than ever find recovery. When people make the choice to drink again, our task is to help them pick themselves up and try again. If you're looking for a way to get and stay sober and don't want to be told to believe in something that's not honest for you, perhaps this group can help.

We are a group of alcoholics who are getting and staying sober, and there is no requirement that you believe in anything supernatural to attend or participate. We hope you'll visit soon.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Indianapolis Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) For Atheists and Agnostics - A.A.'s Earliest Agnostic

While stories abound of the early years of A.A. and how so many of those members were often "converted" from non-belief, atheism or agnosticism, one rarely hears the story of Jim B.

Jim Burwell was one of the first 10 members of A.A. He was also a self-described "militant agnostic." His insistence that the "God bit" be toned down eventually resulted in the commonly used terms "Higher Power," and "God as we understood Him." He's also credited with the adoption of the Third Tradition which states, "The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking."

Jim was a founder or supporting member of groups from one coast to the other, helping to found A.A. in both Philadelphia and Baltimore. His dedication to helping the still suffering alcoholic is felt to this day. His story "A Vicious Cycle" is included in the 2nd & 3rd Editions of "The Big Book."
"I don't think the boys were completely convinced of my personality change, for they fought shy of including my story in the book, so my only contribution to their literary efforts was my firm conviction, being still a theological rebel, that the word God should be qualified with the phrase "as we understand him"— for that was the only way I could accept spirituality."
The We Agnostics Group of A.A. in Indianapolis is doing its part to carry on the legacy of that important character in A.A.'s history.

Thanks, Jim B.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Burwell