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.


  1. 10/8/2011 Time to update!
    Good news! Joe S. reported at the most recent We Agnostics meeting that the Indianapolis Intergroup Service Committee has decided to re-list our meeting and will issue a formal apology for their actions enumerated above. What got into them, after steadfastly refusing to listen to reason for so long? Perhaps they just wanted to avoid further embarrassment, or perhaps they just "saw the light?" :)

  2. From Bill W. in the 1946 Grapevine, also printed in the book, "The Language of the Heart: Bill W's Grapevine Writings", pp 32-33. © The AA Grapevine, Inc:

    "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 his membership; that we can't demand from him a cent; that we can't force our beliefs or practices upon him; that he may flout everything we stand for and still be a member. In fact, our Tradition carries the principle of independence for the individual to such an apparently fantastic length that, so long as there is the slightest interest in sobriety, the most unmoral, the most anti-social, 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!"

    The first sentence of the above is also in the Long Form of Tradition 3.

  3. Conference-approved material always deals
    with the recovery program of Alcoholics Anonymous or with information about the A.A.
    The term has no relation to material not published by G.S.O. It does not imply
    Conference disapproval of other material about A.A. A great deal of literature helpful to
    alcoholics is published by others, and A.A. does not try to tell any individual member
    what he or she may or may not read.(that's right from the AA horse's mouth, )

    The anger over altered, interpreted, translated 12 Steps is a A Red Herring (a fallacy in which an irrelevant topic is presented in order to divert attention from the original issue. The basic idea is to "win" an argument by leading attention away from the argument and to another topic. This sort of "reasoning" is a Non sequitur that relies on a rather turgid quote out of the AA World Service Manual pertaining to our Charter, stating that no alteration is permitted without 75% of the membership agreeing. Taken out of context this creates some fury. But the Charter is to protect the AA body from GSO, the Board and Trustees from imposing their will on us. It doesn't override each groups autonomy to read, say, publish, distribute what ever the group agrees, provided that said publication is in the interest of drunks helping drunks.

  4. Great news--a We Agnostics meeting in Indianapolis. Of course, since it doesn't meet during the day. I work nights. I am stuck with the cognitive dissonance that in part caused me to stop attending last fall (2011). Any Indy area AA or NA daytime, Friday or Saturday meetings geared to non-theists?

    1. Friend: There has been some discussion about a daytime or weekend meeting, but thus far there are no plans for such a meeting. Several "We Agnostics" members are self-employed, retired, or have flexible work schedules. I'm happy to grab coffee and chat some afternoon if you like. Please email me at

      Thanks for checking in!