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Discussing Christmas in your AA meeting?

I got a kick out of this note below which I found shared online. Here's an excerpt:  

...Well, during the share, several women who are big into Christianity, got visibly upset. They stole looks with each other and made disapproving faces. Finally, one of them just couldn't stand to listen one more minute. She covered both her ears with her hands...

I've been at meetings like these, and even have a friend who is my partner in eye-rolling. (I probably owe a 10th step, or two...)

But, as the writer explains, it is typically the Bible-thumping Jesus-lover that has gone on too long and too enthusiastically about personal religious beliefs and experiences. Not the atheist. In fact, in my experience, atheists have a difficult time speaking up.

As an "out" atheist I am familiar with when and how people share their nonbelief in a variety of settings. My own experience leads me to conclude that most people are less willing to "confess" their atheism in an AA meeting than they are in other social situations. The only exception is the workplace, where there are risky consequences for being a nonbeliever... or even a non-Christian. 

So why are we atheists reluctant to be forthcoming at meetings? I think it is fairly obvious to even the most casual observer that the literature and lore of AA prescribes that "the way" to good sobriety includes God. AA also dismisses agnostics/atheists as people who are simply obstinant, and who will eventually come around — once they come to their senses. (The Chapter to the Agnostic really gets my blood boiling.)

There are many things I enjoy about the holidays, but most of them are not unique to Christmas. Gift-giving, lights, food, special music, time spent with family and friends... name a "holiday" or celebration that does not include these features!

Anyway... on to our friend's comments about her meeting. Wish I would have been there!

So this topic of the true origin of the Christmas rituals came to an interesting head in my women's AA meeting. I had just shared, with a lot of humor, how "neutral" I've become about Christmas this year. I feel neither good nor bad--just neutral. Believe me, being "neutral" is a big step up for me, who used to get filled with rage during the holidays. 

After I shared, a woman who is an admitted atheist (and a very intelligent retired lawyer) almost started a riot in the meeting. She mentioned that Christmas is a pagan holiday, and she brought up references to the solstice, etc. She ended by wishing everyone a "happy solstice."

Well, during the share, several women who are big into Christianity, got visibly upset. They stole looks with each other and made disapproving faces. Finally, one of them just couldn't stand to listen one more minute. She covered both her ears with her hands!!! She happened to glance in my direction, and I whispered, "Hey, it's true." She shook her head with great agitation. 

How many times, in how many meetings, have I felt the same way--but about all the references to God and Jesus and "I'm a Christian"? But love and tolerance is our creed--or is it? When the shoe is on the other foot, that tolerance falls straight to the ground. It really made me chuckle to see her face....and the expressions on the faces of most people in the group.

As for me, a Jew at Christmas, I've made no plans for family get-togethers, etc. I will simply do what I did on Thanksgiving: go to the potluck at my "home group." I had such a good time at Thanksgiving, and it seemed to make Christmas much easier to "stomach" as we approach the Big Day. After the feast, a few of us plan to go to a movie. What fun! I'm actually looking forward to the "celebration." And you know what else? I actually ENJOY all the festive lights on people's houses. I have come a long way, baby!!!

Name Witheld


has someone saved your life today?

I was very moved by this personal story from "Anonymous". You may have had a similar experience. I know that no one stepped forward to help me with my godless-issues until I was honest about my lack of traditional religious beliefs at the group level. A few helpful friends - believers as well as nonbelievers, helped me overcome my annoyance with people in the rooms who insisted I needed God to get sober and have a quality life. The religious love to pat themselves on the back for finding "the way" to a more meaningful existence, and they confirm this mistaken belief in their houses of worship where they regularly discredit nonbelievers (why else would we be sentenced to an eternity in hell?). Unfortunately, a group of drunks in AA are just like a group of people anywhere. Many do not have the courage to stand up for themselves, let alone the others in the room. So, my sincere appreciation to those who supported me in my efforts to get sober within the 12-step programs. I've been paying it forward every since.

    Hi All
    I've read several posts from people who are in AA, but are having
    problems. Years ago, we didn't have online forums or groups like QuadAA.
    Heck, we didn't even have the 12 steps for agnostics.
    I floundered about in AA for awhile. Then one night a gentleman spoke at a
    meeting, stating that he was an atheist and didn't fit in. He was quite
    despondent. I didn't know him, but after the meeting, I found him quickly
    before he could get out the door.
    He and I have been best friends for 23 years. We figured out ways to do
    the steps together. We helped each other with our step four (which was
    pretty much by the book). We found other people to do step five with
    though. We kept the male/female stuff out of our friendship, so we wouldn't
    ruin what we already had.
    When he was well and was still asked to be the speaker at
    conventions/round-ups, he always credited me with saving his life. I think
    we saved each other.
    These days we live a country away from each other and his health is really
    failing, but we remain steadfast friends. Whenever I get to fly home, he
    is at the top of my visiting list - right along with my family.
    Never underestimate the usefulness of a good friend in AA. It made all the
    difference for me.


Things that drive me crazy

This "Meditation for the Day" from Hazelden appears in the publication, Twenty Four Hours a Day
Lay upon God your failures and mistakes and shortcomings. Do not dwell upon your failures, upon the fact that in the past you have been nearer a beast than an angel. You have a mediator between you and God - your growing faith -, which can lift you up from the mire and point you toward the heavens. You can still be reconciled with the spirit of God. You can still regain your harmony with the Divine Principle of the universe.

If you are an atheist like me, this blah-blah-blah religious stuff makes me restless, irritable and discontent. It's similar to many of the "stories" offered by members during their shares. I suppose it is inspiring to believers, but to non-believing addicts and alcoholics it seems an obvious surrender of personal accountability and responsibility. If not dealt with, this relatively insignificant annoyance can work itself into a sizeable resentment.

I'd like to offer a quick re-write.

Be honest about your failures and mistakes and shortcomings. This is necessary for you to decide what you can and should change in yourself, and in the people, places and things in your life. Do not dwell on your failures... they cannot be changed after the fact, and rob you of energy to pursue your future. As you make better decisions and take healthier actions you will be filled with CONFIDENCE and EVIDENCE (like faith) that your future will hold more rewards. Embrace the opportunity to reconcile with friends, family, and the human community - in this world, during this lifetime.

With regard to "Divine Principle"...capitalizing a couple of words does not make it a real thing. I encourage you to decide what principles you value and will orient your life toward. Living in harmony has a great deal to do with living true to your principles.

Have a sober day!


AA thought for the day


I see that my jouney toward God has scarce begun.
As I thus get down to my right size and stature, my self-concern and importance become amusing...
Once more I know that God is good; that I need fear no evil.
This is a great fight, this knowledge that I do have a destiny.

-The Language of the Heart, p. 259 

This is my daily reminder, delivered by As usual, it reminds me that I am a nonbeliever.

I am not searching for god or gods, nor do I consider my path in AA a journey toward God. However, much of the literature sent my way to help me in my journey suggests a need for a particular kind of relationship with god. And this "god" is usually the capital G kind as in "him" rather than some vague, pantheistic sort of godlike presence. You know, the kind of god that listens when you talk, loves you, and will never give you more than you can handle.

"Once more I know that God is good." What? There is no proof of god, let alone that any god is concerned about me or us, or that god is "good". What exactly is a "good" god? It seems that believers are always interested in the god they imagine...

Buried within this silly tripe is something I rely on. "I get down to my right size." The concept of being right size has been important to someone like me who has struggled to reach out for help or accept my very human limitations. Driven by the need to succeed and to be "good enough" from a young age, it was quite difficult to accept my drug addiction and alcoholism. Although I had great compassion for other alcholics/addicts, I could only feel failure, never forgiveness. Surrendering to the truth of my behavior and my chemical dependency was the first step to becoming "right size". Accepting that I would be better for accepting help and love from others was the second.

Regardless of what we believe, we all have a destiny. This is a given. If you are alive, you have a destiny. It just happens between the day you are born and the day you die. There is nothing about one's destiny that needs the assumption of god, and I think it is a shame that people believe God will create and/or reveal one's destiny.

It is much more important that we accept the fact that we create our desitny. Quit waiting for some imaginary friend to lead the way. Strike out on your own and make things happen!   

If you are feeling confused about creating your destiny, I highly recommend The Atheist's Way: Living Well Without Gods by Eric Maisel. 



"Spiritual" — can I warm up to using the word?

I am a fan of Sam Harris. He's an elegant person in thought, word, and deed. So when Sam has an opinion, I listen. 

In my own life I have taken a break from the word "spiritual", and have replaced it with "natural", since it occurs to me that it is entirely natural for us to have these momentary I never knew how often I used the word in a very sloppy, short-cut kind of way, until I tried to never say it. We all have moments when we transcend the ordinary and the mundane, when our senses are heightened or focused, and when we have an out-of-the-ordinary feeling or experience. The religious attribute these so often to god, that it is difficult for the godless to communicate about these experiences without sounding a bit religious.

Members of 12-step groups speak often about having spiritual experiences. We can't really avoid it, since we are reminded at every meeting: 

Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of theresult of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Most agnostics and atheists don't have a problem with the 12th step as written, but alternatives have been suggested:

We, in turn, are ready to help others who may come to us in the same way. (B.F. Skinner/Humanist)

Practice the principles of these Steps in all our affairs and carry the 12-Step message to others. Principles: Commitment, Self-discipline, Service to others. (Alternative)

Tried to help others struggling with addiction and practice these principles in other areas of my life. (Atheist)

Here is an article from Sam Harris about his own use of the word "spiritual". It is food for thought... for those of us who tend to think too much! : )

In writing my next book, I will have to confront the animosity that many people feel for the term “spiritual.” Whenever I use the word—as in referring to meditation as a “spiritual practice”—I inevitably hear from fellow skeptics and atheists who think that I have committed a grievous error.

The word “spirit” comes from the Latin spiritus, which in turn descends from the Greek pneuma, meaning “breath.” Around the 13th century, the term became bound up with notions of immaterial souls, supernatural beings, ghosts, etc. It acquired other connotations as well—we speak of the spirit of a thing as its most essential principle, or of certain volatile substances and liquors as spirits. Nevertheless, many atheists now consider “spiritual” thoroughly poisoned by its association with medieval superstition.

I strive for precision in my use of language, but I do not share these semantic concerns. And I would point out that my late friend Christopher Hitchens—no enemy of the lexicographer—didn’t share them either. Hitch believed that “spiritual” was a term we could not do without, and he repeatedly plucked it from the mire of supernaturalism in which it has languished for nearly a thousand years.

It is true that Hitch didn’t think about spirituality in precisely the way I do. He spoke instead of the spiritual pleasures afforded by certain works of poetry, music, and art. The symmetry and beauty of the Parthenon embodied this happy extreme for him—without any requirement that we admit the existence of the goddess Athena, much less devote ourselves to her worship. Hitch also used the terms “numinous” and “transcendent” to mark occasions of great beauty or significance—and for him the Hubble Deep Field was an example of both. I’m sure he was aware that pedantic excursions into the OED would produce etymological embarrassments regarding these words as well.

We must reclaim good words and put them to good use—and this is what I intend to do with “spiritual.” I have no quarrel with Hitch’s general use of it to mean something like “beauty or significance that provokes awe,” but I believe that we can also use it in a narrower and, indeed, more transcendent sense.

Of course, “spiritual” and its cognates have some unfortunate associations unrelated to their etymology—and I will do my best to cut those ties as well. But there seems to be no other term (apart from the even more problematic “mystical” or the more restrictive “contemplative”) with which to discuss the deliberate efforts some people make to overcome their feeling of separateness—through meditation, psychedelics, or other means of inducing non-ordinary states of consciousness. And I find neologisms pretentious and annoying. Hence, I appear to have no choice: “Spiritual” it is.