I was recently told this: “I know they have agnostic and atheist meetings, but if you ain’t talking about God, you ain’t in an AA meeting. You’re in something else.”
The force of the comment literally made me take a step back. The purveyor of such words was a woman with more years of sobriety than I have existence on this planet. She didn’t know me from Adam. I’m sure she meant no real offense, and yet… I was rendered speechless. Out of nothing more than pure respect, I muttered something along the lines of “You may be right,” and extricated myself right out of the conversation. But inwardly, I feel confused and uncomfortable.
Have you ever a conversation that when it was over, you wish you could rewind to say what you should have said to begin with? So here it goes…
Excuse me, ma’am. I don’t believe in God. I haven’t since I was about nineteen. A series of rational circumstances led me to this decision. I did not make it impetuously. I neither evaded nor ignored the question of God existence but indeed thought long and hard about it. Nor am I angry with God. (Contrary to what Bill writes in “We Agnostics,” those who truly do not believe in God cannot be angry with him. For one to be angry with God, then one would necessarily have to first admit that God exists as a thing to be angry with.) I simply do not believe in an almighty creator of heaven and earth or a cosmic watchmaker or any sort of divine entity that watches over me in any significant way. I do not have faith.
I know people find God in the program, but I am not one of those people. And yet, here I sit with a few days under my belt, proof that belief in any higher power is good enough. The Big Book says, “We found that God does not make too hard terms with those who seek him. To us, the Realm of Spirit is broad, roomy, all inclusive; never exclusive or forbidding to those who earnestly seek. It is open, we believe, to all men” (Page 46).
I honestly feel that if AAs are going to walk in the footprints of God, then they also should not make too hard terms. You should not degrade my beliefs just because they do not align with yours. How I read those last sentences is, “To us, Alcoholics Anonymous is broad, roomy, all inclusive; never exclusive or forbidding to those who earnestly seek recovery. It is open, we believe, to all men.”
And ma’am, with all due respect to your very many, hard fought years, I show you this, a letter from Bill, published in the Grapevine…
“We still make no contact at depth with those suffering the dilemma of no faith. Certainly none are more sensitive to spiritual cocksureness, pride and aggression than they are. I am sure this is something we too often forget. In AA’s first years I all but ruined the whole undertaking with this sort of unconscious arrogance. God as I understood him had to be for everybody. Sometimes my aggression was subtle and sometimes it was crude. But either way it was damaging- perhaps fatally so- to numbers of nonbelievers… Boasting of my faith, I had forgotten my ideals,” (The Best of Bill From the Grapevine, 1962).
I am not sure if these lines were Bill’s way of making amends for some of the things he wrote in his early sobriety, but I like to think so. I remember early on a guy telling me that if I didn’t believe in God, it was okay, because I would by my first birthday. I more recently had a friend of many years look me in the eyes and correct my nonbelief. It’s really gutsy to tell another person what they believe in.
So, please. Please do not tell me what you think I need to, should, could, possibly, maybe, believe in. Do not tell me to put my cigarettes under my bed so I am forced to get on my knees and pray, just for a couple of weeks or so. And please, do not tell me if I attend an agnostic or atheist meeting that I am not in AA. Because I’m pretty sure I am. I earned my seat just as surely as you have earned yours. I would never dare tell you what I think you should believe in. All I ask is for the same consideration.