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Friday, May 13, 2016

THE SECOND BIANNUAL WAAFT CONVENTION IN AUSTIN, TX, NOVEMBER 11-13, 2016

The first international convention for agnostics, atheists and freethinkers in AA was held in November of 2014 in Santa Monica, California. The convention was a huge success in bringing together our community and in furthering the primary purpose of Alcoholics Anonymous.

The next convention will be held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Austin, Texas from November 11 through the 13th. There will be speakers, workshops, panel discussions, books, meetings, food, fun, and fellowship. You won’t want to miss this convention. To meet like-minded AAs from around the world is an experience not to be missed. The theme of this years convention is "Human power can relieve our alcoholism....may you find us now". You can learn more by going to our website at www.waaftiaac.org  There are two downloadable flyers attached to that site which we would love you to distribute to meetings in your area so as many people as possible know about this important event.

Ken S
WAAFTIAAC

Monday, November 17, 2014



The first biannual WAAFT Convention in Santa Monica, November 6-8, 2014
Having arrived at different times, nevertheless, all four representatives of We Agnostics, Indianapolis were able to have a dinner on the beach together the night before the convention, to hang out and reconnoiter.  We talked about what we thought might happen over the weekend and what our part should be, and frankly, besides the meeting we were leading, none of us knew what to expect.
I was not disappointed one bit and had a great time, mostly because I met and talked to people from all over the country (and world!) about many things and shared our group’s experience, strength and hope.  Our Indianapolis group is semi-famous due to the report about us on the AAagnostica web site which describes our experience as the first group to actually be de-listed by crotchety old intergroup members, and the only group to be de-listed twice! People actually sought us out and came to our meeting to find out more.
Our meeting was one high point for me, but there were many.  I particularly enjoyed meeting two authors I have met online, Joe C. from Toronto and Vince Hawkins (pseudonym) who is a Brit living in Spain.  I had several conversations with them both and enjoyed the connection.  I told Joe C. several times how much our members enjoy his Beyond Belief book and what an important contribution it is.  Vince has written a book that I purchased and will bring to one of our meetings to share.
If you want to see the complete schedule for the convention, go to the convention web site.  I will give you some feedback about the events I attended; although I missed many valuable ones, I’m sure.
The first day, Thursday, was a short day and featured eight speakers, with a break for lunch.  There were also plenty of announcements by two of the convention coordinators, Dorothy and Pam. They were obviously thrilled that their fantasy had been realized.  Two very friendly, high energy people who did a great job!
Joe C. from Toronto was the first speaker and although he was brief (trying to keep us on schedule), his comments were astute.  He claimed to be a reader, not a writer and a listener not a speaker, but he’s obviously comfortable doing all those things.  He impressed upon us that he thinks the current problems in AA are more about language than message and he quoted Caesar Chavez who said “You can’t stop social change.”  He’s optimistic about the future of AA and quipped that once “our” baby-boomer generation dies off, many attitudes will change and AA will open up. 
I enjoyed all the speakers; they represented many ages and backgrounds.  Most gave a brief lead and brought their stories into the present as they explained how they got involved in WAAFT meetings and groups and the importance of that “movement” in AA.  The keynote, Marya Hornbacher’s speech was quite different from the rest, more rehearsed and delivered rapid fire.  She used segments of her books and elaborated as well.  Sometimes she was very funny, sometimes serious and sad.  It was great hearing her; she’s quite a character.  I will check out her books soon.
On Friday I focused on four different events: the Beyond Belief Toronto meeting, chaired by Joe C., the workshop Are WAAFTs Loving and Tolerant?, the Listing Issues Panel, on which our Joe S. served, and our own We Agnostics meeting. 
Joe C. basically set up his Beyond Belief meeting to solicit stories, around 25 people from all over the world. Turns out he’s very popular and well known in our movement!  We went around the circle and told our stories in relation to needing and finding WAAFT meetings and groups.  What a bunch of characters we are!
The Are WAAFTs Loving and Tolerant? workshop was well attended and dealt with how individuals respond to criticism by other AA members, specifically by “believers,” and how it makes them feel.  Do they clam up and storm out, carry resentments, get aggressive and get even, or try to reason with those who confront them?  And how do they feel if they stand up for themselves?  The consensus seemed to be that throughout the AA world, WAAFTs need to start speaking out in traditional meetings so that newcomers know that they can recover without god.  The idea is to present our experience, strength and hope in a manner that does not duplicate those closed minded critics we have all encountered at some point.  I said I was a bit more militant and didn’t mind telling the critics to fuck off!  Ha! I was only half joking.  But I did get a lot out of the meeting and met some lovely atheists!
The Listing Issues panel featured seven speakers who each told his/her story about starting or trying  to start WAAFT meetings in their areas.  A common thread in the stories of those who have had trouble being recognized as legitimate and “listed” is the presence of old timer, grumpy men in the local intergroups.  More than anything, those people stand in the way.  It seems only the Quad A groups in Chicago have met with no resistance.  Our Joe S. presented admirably and explained what happened and what we had to do to finally be listed and applauded a number of people outside Indy We Agnostics who helped cajole Indianapolis Intergroup.  We certainly have a good story to tell!
The three common issues that have caused controversy between WAAFT groups and local their intergroups are: 1) certain passive aggressive (or downright aggressive!) personalities, 2) the use of non-AA approved literature in meetings, and 3) being affiliated with “outside AA” groups of any kind.  This last point was new to me, but Deirdre from NYC explained that her group was not accepted by intergroup initially because they were listed on a non-AA web site (their international site).  I guess that was also part of our problem.  Basically, when grumpy men don’t want to list a group, they create reasons not to.  Silly old men!
The four of us representing We Agnostics Indianapolis all attended OUR meeting (obviously) and met eight others who sought us out and wanted to share their stories and to find out more about us and our meeting.  This was very sweet and we had an excellent meeting!
Everyone had unique, interesting backgrounds and histories.  Although we followed our usual meeting format, the sharing mostly consisted of mini-leads and questions about how to start and expand new non-theist meetings.  A man from Traverse City, Michigan gave us a good example of how backward-thinking intergroup members can passively/aggressively derail new WAAFT meetings.  For months his meeting was listed as a meeting for gays and Native Americans and when he discovered it he couldn’t get them to change it!  He’s still trying!
People at our meeting from Las Vegas, a small city in Arizona, and somewhere in North Carolina all needed to find friends in recovery and I told them that they didn’t have to call it AA initially, if their priority was meeting like-minded people who want recovery.  Joe reminded them that even before AA intergroup gets involved, a meeting web site or blog can be set up so newcomers searching for a WAAFT meeting can find it through Google. 
Saturday, the last day of the convention, I slept in a bit and started with the Relapse Panel at 1:30, after an interesting Subway-catered lunch shared with several Californians, including one of the volunteers who had spoken harshly to me when I first arrived because I was taking pictures of the facility.  She didn’t want me to take pictures of any anonymous person, evidently.  I guess she forgave me and we had a good lunch time conversation.  Later, I saw many folks taking pictures of people!
The first event I attended was the Relapse Panel.  Lots of people were there!  J  There were four speakers and one of them stood out for his unconventional ideas.  Steve P. from L.A. spoke first and he told his story about relapsing after nine years sober.  He basically got tired of all the dogma in AA, went out again, and had come back to the WAAFT meetings just four months ago.  He said a number of things you don’t normally hear in AA and the ones that struck me most were, “Alcoholism is not a disease, it’s a choice.” He also thinks that traditional AA overdramatizes relapse and exaggerates the progressive nature of alcoholism.  He was obviously glad to be sober again, however. He closed by saying what is important to him is having a sober social support group without the dogma.
The other three speakers all had interesting stories and all had relapsed after many sober years.  Their stories were much more typical and similar to ones we have all heard in meetings.  Anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts and being a dry drunk were the common themes, as well as isolation and getting away from meetings and the fellowship.
Next I attended the Canadian Panel.  Mostly I went to hear Joe C. because he is one of the movers and shakers in the WAAFT movement.  The speakers were Joe C. and one other man (whose name I forget) and they discussed AA’s problems and the way forward.  One of Joe’s main points was that nowhere in the AA literature is there a “program” specified or defined (the steps are merely suggestions, for example), but there is plenty of information about the importance of “the fellowship.”  And yet “the program” and the fellowship have become intertwined and interdependent over the years and because of this AA has become rigid.  He noted that the “the program” was never intended to be sacred. Therefore he believes that every individual should select whatever program works, and that program can include traditional step work, therapy, exercise, new hobbies, etc. But he believes that the fellowship, one alcoholic helping another, is essential for long-term sobriety.
There was also a discussion about the necessity for non-believers to learn to translate the language of the Big Book, because the real problem is semantics: intent verses wording.  Joe believes that the intention of the AA authors has always been our primary purpose – to help alcoholics stay sober.  He did suggest, however, that people avail themselves of all the new literature about recovery including the AA Grapevine publications.
The 3:30 panel was entitled Web Servants and featured four speakers, all of whom have been instrumental in getting news and information out to WAAFTs all over the world.  Deirdre S. spoke about her web site www.agnosticaanyc.org, the site that lists world-wide AA WAAFT meetings.  Her AA group started that web site soon after 9/11 and they were written up in the New York Times as a result.  After trying out several different formats, they decided to just keep it simple and only list meetings.  She had the figures for the number of alternative AA meetings and was excited by their progress:  36 in 1996, 181 in 2014!
Roger and Joe C. shared their experience starting and running Rebellion Dogs publishing http://rebelliondogspublishing.com/home and http://aaagnostica.org  Joe made the comment that social media works only when it promotes community and fails when it doesn’t. As an example, he then asked who still uses My Space and noted that Face Book has lost many of its younger members recently because all their parents use it!  He mentioned his pod casts and music show as well and suggested the “do it yourself” approach for getting information onto the internet (and touted its effectiveness).  
Roger recounted AAAgnostica’s history, how rapidly it has grown and how much information people are submitting.  He has definitely contributed greatly to helping non-theists seeking recovery!
John S. from Kansas City described how he developed his web site to get the word out about his meeting and how difficult it has been to find non-believers in recovery in Kansas City.  I like his design!
http://weagnosticsaa.com/
Joseph O. developed the WAAFT Convention web site as one of his many IT projects and praised the convention’s directors for giving him the opportunity.  He said the internet can provide great ways to communicate and each project he develops is different, depending on his audience.
The final event of the convention was our Keynote Speaker, Reverend Ward Ewing, an episcopal priest who has served as a “lay” member of the advisory committee for the General Service Office for many years.  He was a lovely guy, very down to earth (originally from Virginia?), who obviously has a deep understanding of AA and the issues it faces.  Choosing him to speak was indicative of the convention theme: Many Paths to Recovery, which emphasize inclusiveness.
I thought his speech dwelt a little too much on explaining the obvious, as he spent significant time paraphrasing and elucidating the significance of the steps. That was unnecessary for this audience of mostly long-time sober people, and just seemed to be filling up the allotted time.  He obviously is devoted to AA and to changing and expanding its role so it does not drive people away and he seemed to agree with many of the WAAFT members present.  Fini!

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.