Alcoholics Anonymous
Is Not Religious
Megan Vrolijk

This letter came as is, and we have chosen not to try to clean it up.

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Megan Vrolijk"
Subject: Re: opinion
Date: Sunday, July 02, 2000 12:17 PM

Had you read my article "Alcoholics Anonymous: A Religion In Denial," you would have seen that the A.A. "Big Book" sternly requires that atheists and agnostics acquire specific religious beliefs -- under the threat of never becoming able to sober up (and thus dying a miserable, alcohol-related death). In this article, I quote passage after passage from the chapter "We Agnostics" to this effect. Thus, A.A. is a religion in the sense that it requires that followers hold specific religious beliefs and practice specific religious rituals.

Had you read our coverage of the various cases against the practice of coerced A.A. attendance ("N.Y. Court Lets Inmate Refuse Alcohol Program") you would have seen that New York's highest court ruled that A.A. "engages in religious activity and religious proselytization." In its ruling, the court added: "A fair reading of the fundamental A.A. doctrinal writings discloses that their dominant theme is unequivocally religious." The court also said, "Adherence to the A.A. fellowship entails engagement in religious activity and religious proselytization."

Had you read the article "No Forced Alcoholics Anonymous Meetings for Atheists," you would have seen the U.S. Supreme Court refuse to overturn a similar California ruling. In that case, Judge Leval wrote: "the evidence showed that every meeting included at least one explicitly Christian Prayer." No. The A.A. program hides its loyalties to the public (as you have done here) but it does very little to hide it's Christian loyalties once one has begun to participate in the program.

A.A. is a religion when applied to the Entanglement Clause of our First Amendment. This is now law, a law that was not overturned when Governor Pataki presented it to the U.S. Supreme Court. A later article, "U.S. Supreme Court: N.Y. Loses Prison Religion Case," quotes the court as ruling that A.A. has an "overwhelmingly religious tone." So, A.A. is also a religion in the legal sense, when interpreting the nation's highest law, according to the nation's highest court's refusal to overturn a state court's ruling.

A.A.'s clone, Narcotics Anonymous, is also treated as a religion in a Wisconsin case: In the article "Forced Narcotics Anonymous Participation Barred From Prisons," you would have see that a prison program that forces inmates to participate in N.A. "violates their religious freedom if they're forced to participate." N.A.'s Steps and Traditions are virtually indistinguishable from A.A.'s Steps and Traditions, though N.A.'s literature is a bit softer when it comes to requiring religion: N.A. openly allows atheists and agnostics into its fold, and encourages them to adjust the program to suit their lack of faith. Also, most N.A. communities in the U.S. have abandoned the "explicitly Christian Prayer" that the judge in the California case complained about. Notwithstanding, it is a violation of a man's religious freedom to force him to participate in N.A.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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This letter came as one giant paragraph. We divided it into smaller paragraphs for readability.

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Megan Vrolijk"
Subject: Re: opinion
Date: Wednesday, July 05, 2000 1:41 PM

I agree: some groups don't play by the A.A. game rules, and ought not call themselves A.A. -- as A.A. means a specific thing to most people.

Most importantly to most people who join A.A., it means faith in a rescuing deity. Some members mask this problem by differentiating between religion and spirituality but I can see no difference between the two words.
 

I was required by a judge to attend Twelve Step meetings for 25 months, and chaired the prestigious "Scully's" meeting in Portland long enough to read the entire first section (164 pages) of the "Big Book" from the chairperson's desk. This is no small feat, as one must have six months both sober and as a member of the group to chair that meeting, and typically, one chairs the group only once a week. So I spent about a year charing the Monday, High-Noon meeting at "Scully's."
 

For years I taught people that they don't need any meetings whatsoever.

A.A. is a social club and a religion, I'll grant that.

As a social club, A.A. is not my cup of tea: being an atheist is no way to win friends and influence people to be open-minded in A.A. You can have whatever god you want as long as you call it a god or a "Higher Power." But if you're an atheist, there are no gods or "Higher Powers," so you're not going to get along: people will always try to "set you straight" if you openly admit to the A.A. group that you are an atheist.

As for its religous priortiy, A.A. admits on page 45 of the "Big Book" that its primary goal is not teaching folks how to stay clean and sober, but inducing a religious conversion experience.

"Lack of power, that was our dilemma. We had to find a power by which we could live, and it had to be a Power greater than ourselves. Obviously. But where and how were we to find this Power? Well, that's exactly what this book is about. Its main object is to enable you to find a Power greater than yourself which will solve your problem.... [That] means, of course, that we are going to talk about God. Here difficulty arises with agnostics."
     -- from the chapter "We Agnostics"

A.A.'s primary activity is the promotion of A.A., and staying sober is only secondary. Modern A.A. groups teach that planned, permanent abstinence is not possible, although the A.A. "Big Book" disagrees with this relatively modern idea.
 

This is my big criticism of A.A. and of the courts' coercive tactic of forcing people to attend A.A.: it intimidates or entices people to change their religious beliefs; particularly, it causes perfectly good atheists to become theists.

A.A. has a captive audience of impaired people, and uses the most powerful mind-bending methods available in the 1930s (which have barely been improved upon today).
 

A.A. is not perfect because its recidivism rate is worse than that of pure chance; that is, your chances at sticking it out in A.A. are much worse than your chances of cleaning up your act if you do not get involved in any organized groups, but rather go with the flow and simply outgrow the problem like almost all former substance abusers have done.

A.A. is not perfect because the very concept of perfection is a myth, perpetrated upon us by those who believe the myth of the "perfect" Christ.
 

I have yet to see a convincing argument that this is a disease. Please show me any medical study that makes the case that what A.A. and N.A. "treat" are likely seen as diseases.

The pursuit of pleasure is not a disease and does not need to be treated. If someone's penchant for drinking gets the best of them, they do best to quit drinking. If someone gets drunk and commits a crime (such as DUI or child neglect), then they should be held fully accountable as if they had done it sober -- because they initially made a conscious decision to engage in the high-risk behavior of drinking.
 

You are lying when you say this. This is a bald-faced lie of the most vicious variety.

In saying this, you are just as guilty of bigotry as the "Big Book" is -- yea, more so, because the "Big Book" was a sales pitch for a program, and you are simply holding a dialogue with another human.

It is for this reason that I continue to fight A.A. and N.A. with all the strength I can muster.

I am on the brink of asking you never to write us again for having said this. I will give you the opportunity to think about what you've said, though, before I make this request. You are being the very bigot that your "Big Book" taught you to be.
 

And very coercively, I might add.

I never heard the end of it, and A.A. and N.A. members still won't shut up about it even though its been years since I've been to a meeting.

You just "suggested" (above) that I need to find religion or I will drink again. This is no mere "suggestion": this is coercion of the most brutal kind.
 

They will not do this, though; they want to have their cake and eat it too. If they come out of the bag with the religion part, they will lose public funding, public recommendations, and public (coercive) recruiting.

As long as the public remains in the dark about the religion part, A.A. enjoys artificial support. If it came out and admitted, publicly, that it is, in fact, a religion, the program would immediately shrink to the size of a small cult.
 

A.A. goes along with this madness by allowing its groups to sign the attendance slips that were printed up by the outside agencies.

So, A.A. is just as guilty in this matter as the outside agency.

More so, because A.A. claims it ought to know better. We can expect the outside agency to do what it will do and to exploit whatever resources are out there. A.A., however, is (or claims to be) a principle-based fellowship, answering to higher values than the outside agencies. Since A.A. refuses to ban the practice of signing slips, A.A. is abandoning its higher values in order to stoop to these evil practices.
 

It says the Steps are only suggestions, but in real life, if you don't at least give lip service to the Steps, you will have no support group in A.A. If you sit out the closing prayer or refuse to read the readings on religious grounds, you will be outcast within A.A.

I wonder how many "former atheists" you know are merely giving religion lip service because they know this is they only way they will get along in the program (and they have been spooked into believing that the program is the only way to stop drinking).
 

But they don't follow this part of the book, either (probably because they are too busy making sure that atheists find a god).

If they were following this part of the book, they would refuse to sign meeting attendance slips.

Since they still sign the slips, they are part of the problem, not part of the solution.
 

When I taught myself to type, I would sit and type entire books. The A.A. "Big Book" was one I typed and copy-edited for two reasons: First, the language is cumbersome and so I had to think about what I was doing (the words didn't just flow to my fingertips); secondly, many people wanted a digital copy of the book, and at the time, there were none (as O.C.R. was just getting off the ground, and it took over a minute to process a single page on a 386-20 -- the fastest machine out at the time).
 

If this were valid logic (it isn't: it's anecdotal, like almost all of the "evidence" in the "Big Book"), then I could legitimately point to those who naturally outgrew their addictions and ask you why A.A. is even needed if these people, with no help whatsoever, can get clean and sober.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Megan Vrolijk"
Subject: Re: opinion
Date: Sunday, July 09, 2000 11:22 AM

This is very convenient: we "are allowed to have your own opinion."

I just don't understand what is wrong with my two main stands: (1) let A.A. be the religion that it is, that its founders intended it to be, and stop trying to change it into a one-size-fits-all contraption (until 1942, A.A. was a ministry of Oxford Groups); (2) stop the practice of enforced or coerced meeting attendance. How could anybody disagree with these two things? I don't understand.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Megan Vrolijk"
Subject: Re: opinion
Date: Thursday, July 20, 2000 6:13 PM

Well, you initially criticized me for calling A.A. a religion (and your initial letter sounded like anything but a fact-finding mission). I then explained to you why I hold these views, and went to great lengths to back up my position. Meanwhile, you made no attempts to show why I should not call A.A. a religion.

I also challenged the practice of coerced A.A. attendance, and specifically asked you to explain why A.A. should continue allowing its groups to sign the attendance verification forms that the government agencies give to clients to prove they have attended A.A. meetings. I think we should all encourage the A.A. fellowship to stop going along with this practice, by instructing their secretaries to stop signing the forms. All I got from you on this matter was your statement that these people are not A.A. Well, A.A. is signing the forms; therefore, A.A. makes a very bold statement: A.A., by doing this, says that it goes along with coerced A.A. attendance. Otherwise, it would have an opinion on this practice.

So, my questions remain:

1. Why should I not call A.A. a religion (as you insisted that I stop doing when you first wrote to me)?

2. Is A.A.'s acceptance of coerced meeting attendance (as evidenced by A.A.'s practice of signing the forms) something that we should accept or oppose? In other words, does the message A.A. sends in signing the forms contradict A.A.'s longstanding policy of insisting that A.A. attendance is to be strictly voluntary?

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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