[UPDATE: The Friendly Atheist blog picked up the story. It’s a good blog for any of you godless creatures].
AnnaZed just found a story about a couple of secular AA groups in Toronto whose meeting schedules were purged from the local AA rosters. The groups, called Beyond Belief and We Agnostics, use an altered version of the 12 Steps, which they edited to remove all reference to God or a Higher Power in order to be more welcoming to non-believers. Toronto AA holds the position that since they changed the language, their meetings no longer qualify as AA and therefore have no place on the AA meeting list. The distilled version of Toronto AA’s explanation is that God is central to recovery. If you take God out, it’s not AA.
The agnostics are devastated; the traditionalists are… just what you’d expect. And after reading the article, I think they’ve all gone around the bend.
On one side, we have a member of the secular group who actually believes in God. He is weeping because God doesn’t belong in AA.
On the other, we have a Catholic priest with, 50 years in AA, claiming that God can be whatever you want it to be. (No one asked him whether a false god works as well as his real one, or how he feels about condemning people to eternal damnation for turning their lives and will over to Vishnu.)
There’s also a little bonus crazy cat lady. (For the record, I’m siding with the crazy cat lady.)
It’s delicious coo-coo bananas, and it’s also the front line of addiction treatment in the civilized world.
It uses “fellowship” to help chronic drinkers quit the bottle. But there is little fellowship in a schism that splintered the Alcoholics Anonymous umbrella group in the GTA this week.
At issue is this question: Do alcoholics need God?
On Tuesday, Toronto’s two secular AA groups, known as Beyond Belief and We Agnostics, were removed or “delisted” from the roster of local meetings. They’ve disappeared from the Toronto AA website and will not be in the next printed edition of the Toronto directory.
The dispute started when Beyond Belief posted an adapted version of AA’s hallowed “Twelve Steps” on the Toronto website. They removed the word “God” from the steps, which are used as a kind of road map to help drinkers achieve sobriety.
“They took issue with a public display of secular AA,” says Joe C., who founded Beyond Belief, Toronto’s first agnostic AA group, 18 months ago. (In keeping with AA’s tradition of anonymity, members are identified by first names only.)
It proved popular enough that a second group started up last fall; it took its name from a chapter in the AA bible entitled Alcoholics Anonymous, commonly known as the Big Book. The group, We Agnostics, had only recently completed the paperwork to be part of AA before being booted out.
“What is unusual is that this didn’t happen in some backwater, but that it happened in a liberal, democratic, pluralistic place like Toronto,” says Joe.
And in the “attraction not promotion” file we have a Press Release published on PR Log by AA Toronto. They seem to be indulging in a Rigorously Honest ™ interpretation of the sacred texts, as they exclude Beyond Belief and We Agnostics (who clearly have not actually read that chapter) from their meeting list, while actively advertising themselves on a PR website. But, as my mom would say “El hombre pone, y Dios dispone.” When you click on the link in AA Toronto’s press release, you’ll find yourself on what’s called a pay-per-click site, and if you scroll down, you’ll notice that the main ad is for “HOW TO QUIT DRINKING WITHOUT AA.” AA Toronto sold out AA for some free advertising — or a week’s worth of coffee filters — and ended up in the internet affiliate rabbit hole.