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“Spiritual, Not Religious” – The Hollow Claim of Alcoholics Anonymous

“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.”

– Aldous Huxley

By Paul W.


As a corporation, Alcoholics Anonymous has long claimed to be, “spiritual, not religious.”  Admittedly, this is the intent of Alcoholics Anonymous.  AA completely can’t let itself be associated with religion and being spiritual.  Arguably, a terrific quantity of individuals affiliate religion with spiritual. The two have develop into inseparable.

AA has failed miserably to reside as much as its claim of “Spiritual, not Religious.” It isn’t a lot that AA is spiritual, which it is, however that it isn’t religious. In reality, AA doesn’t seem to know religious.

“Spiritual” In response to AA

“Spiritual” within the Huge Guide, is usually linked with prayer and God, with out elaboration on what “spiritual” means. Listed here are a couple of examples:

Chapter 5, The way it Works

  • Step 11, “Sought through prayer …”

  • Step 12 mentions the religious, “Having had a spiritual awakening …”

  • The third pertinent concept, “That God could and would [relieve one of alcoholism] if He were sought [prayer].”

  • Also, “We claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection.”

Chapter 6, Into Motion

Chapter 7, Working with Others

  • We “must walk day by day in the path of spiritual progress.”

  • Adopted intently by “… put ourselves in God’s hands …”

  • “Never talk down to an alcoholic from any moral or spiritual hilltop.”

Chapter 9, The Family Afterward

The solely discussion of “spiritual” in the “Big Book” is Appendix II, “Spiritual Awakening.” Unfortunately, Appendix II can also be woefully inadequate in explaining the religious. It’s fairly attainable that few AA members have truly read this appendix, a lot less understood religious, especially from a secular viewpoint.

Consequently, “Spiritual” has been left to members to define for themselves. Because the bulk of AA members are theists, and most of those Christian, it isn’t shocking that the religious should get snarled and confused with spiritual or religion.

A number of years in the past, the Basic Service Conferences passed an Advisory Motion[1] calling for literature on spirituality which would come with tales from atheists and agnostics. In spite of many submissions of private tales, the Literature Committee failed to supply a lot as a draft.

Later, a pamphlet titled, “Many Paths to Spirituality” was produced. It’s a colossal failure, satisfying few be they theists or nontheists.

Lately a pamphlet, “The ‘God’ Word,” was produced. It has the following disclosure, “The original version of this pamphlet was first published by AA General Service Office (Great Britain).”

Clearly Alcoholics Anonymous (North America) can’t explain how it’s “Spiritual” much much less “not Religious.”

Why Can’t AA Define “Spiritual”?

Why does Alcoholics Anonymous find religious and spirituality so troublesome to elucidate? Might it’s that spiritual, theistic individuals (most of traditional AA) have been so targeted on the spiritual connection, on praying to a Larger Energy (holy spirit) and on the spirit world that they only can’t separate the 2? Might it’s because the Huge Guide and the Twelve Steps are so intertwined with spirit = prayer = god = supernatural, that they’re one in the minds of so many?

In AA, the primary Twelve Rules are the Twelve Steps. Solely Step Twelve mentions religious, and that as an experience.  “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”  Six of the Twelve Steps (50%) are god-focused, immediately or by obvious inference:

  • Step 2.   “… a Power greater than …” (Euphemism for God)
  • Step 3.  “… God as we understood Him.”  (Morphed into “as I understand Him)
  • Step 5.  “Admitted to God …“
  • Step 6.  “… to have God remove …”
  • Step 7.  “… asked Him …” (Euphemism for God)
  • Step 11.  “… God as we understood Him …”

It’s clear that the Steps are meant to deliver followers to a God. And all gods demand, immediately or not directly, worship i.e. prayers.  Prayers are intently associated to religion. Praying is a spiritual act.

With the Steps as “the way to sobriety” it isn’t shocking that AA can’t define “Spiritual” in secular/nonreligious phrases.

Secular Spirituality

I posit that there isn’t any want for an elaborate, all inclusive, definition of spirituality or religious in secular terms. And, to take action can be scholastic, pretentions, and boring.

Personally, I find it simple. I start with no matter strikes me emotionally. Something that brings deeply nice or bittersweet emotions. If this seems too simple to be of any value, simply attempt it yourself. For starters, listed here are a couple of personal examples:

  • Remembering the sight of any of my new born youngsters.

  • The smile in her eyes when my now wife stated “yes” to my proposal of marriage.

  • Listening to music that “sweeps me away.”  (e.g. Turandot, the Marine Corps Hymn, the triumphant music in a film as the victors arrive, the primary cords of Beethoven’s fifth symphony in “The Longest Day” because the German officer first charges the invasion fleet, and even some spiritual music.)

  • The emotions of awe and marvel I get whereas considering the vastness of the recognized universe.

  • The unhappiness I feel when considering of my long-deceased father.

  • The look in the eyes of my daughter when she was pronounced cancer-free.

For me it’s actually that straightforward.

I additionally discovered examples of secular spirituality from different sources. These have additionally moved me deeply, spiritually:

The atoms of our bodies are traceable to stars that manufactured them in their cores and exploded these enriched components throughout our galaxy, billions of years ago. Because of this, we are biologically related to every other dwelling factor on the earth. We are chemically related to all molecules on Earth. And we’re atomically related to all atoms in the universe. We aren’t figuratively, but literally stardust. Our atoms came from stars. The universe is in us.

Neil deGrasse Tyson

Science is just not only suitable with spirituality; it is a profound supply of spirituality. Once we recognize our place in an immensity of mild‐years and within the passage of ages, once we grasp the intricacy, beauty, and subtlety of life, then that soaring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is unquestionably religious. So are our feelings within the presence of great art or music or literature, or acts of exemplary selfless courage reminiscent of those of Mohandas Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr. The notion that science and spirituality are one way or the other mutually unique does a disservice to both.

Carl Sagan

Spirituality is nothing lower than the thoughtful love of life. Spirituality, like philosophy, is coming to grips with the large picture and with it our need for a larger sense of our lives.

Robert C. Solomon

I consider that anybody who is actually all in favour of secular spirituality can easily find it. No miracles, no supernatural causes, no god or gods of any variety, no faith are crucial.

Alcoholics Anonymous might simply find secular spirituality however it’s too sure to the Huge Ebook’s “sacred” 164 pages, the veneration of Invoice’s words, and the near-adoration of Dr. Bob and Invoice W. as saintly co-founders of AA.

If more is required, these books can be a superb start:

  • Spirituality for the Skeptic, Robert C. Solomon, Oxford College Press, 2002.

  • The Little Ebook of Atheist Spirituality, Andre Comte-Sponville, Penguin Books, 2007.

  • The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle within the Dark, Carl Sagan, Ballantine Books, 1996.

  • The Ethical Arc: How Science and Cause Lead Humanity toward Fact, Justice, and Freedom, Michael Shermer, St. Martin’s Griffin, 2015.

  • Waking Up: A Information to Spirituality Without Faith, Sam Harris, Simon And Schuster, 2015

Once once more, spirituality is found in something which profoundly “moves” an individual, even if briefly. Music does that for many individuals. It isn’t limited to at least one variety of music. Classical, operatic arias, army marches, jazz, rock are examples; as is “sacred” or church music. Thoughtfulness, resembling pondering the majesty of the universe and reflecting on our miniscule place in it is religious in that it is profoundly shifting.

AA … not Spiritual?

Whereas it is probably not a religion, the fact that AA is spiritual is obvious, regardless of how many occasions AA “leaders” in any respect ranges declare in any other case.

So clear in truth that multiple courts, including U.S. District courts, have dominated that Alcoholics Anonymous is spiritual.  As a result of of the U.S. Structure’s separation of Church (faith) and State (secular) the place these rulings apply, no governmental body might pressure attendance at AA conferences, in any manner.

The foundation for the courts’ rulings typically reference the “religious practices allowed and even led by AA “officials.” With or with out courtroom rulings, they easily make the argument that AA is spiritual. Right here’s what one of these courts, the New York Courtroom of Appeals, within the case of Griffin v. Coughlin, needed to say concerning the matter:

A good reading of the elemental AA doctrinal writings discloses that their dominant theme is unequivocally spiritual.

Certainly, the AA primary literature most fairly can be characterized as reflecting the normal parts widespread to most theistic religions.

The foregoing demonstrates past peradventure that doctrinally and as truly practiced in the 12-step methodology, adherence to the AA fellowship entails engagement in spiritual exercise and non secular proselytization… In “working” the 12 steps, members grow to be actively concerned in in search of such a God by way of prayer, confessing wrongs and asking for removing of shortcomings. These expressions and practices represent, as a matter of regulation, spiritual exercise.

GSC Advisory Actions “forbid” any modifications to all however the individual tales in the Huge Ebook.

The Alcoholics Anonymous Common Service Workplace, Inc. and Alcoholics Anonymous World Providers, Inc. have allowed via its silence religion-like rituals to exist with no secular rationalization.  None of these practices have been formally disavowed or discouraged by company AA. The proven fact that such religious-like practices exist with out Common Service Conference Advisory Actions discouraging them is instructive. AA’s assertions of group autonomy have fallen on “deaf ears” in courtroom, human rights businesses, and within the hearts and minds of many.


Since Alcoholics Anonymous can’t separate religious from supernatural and conducts much of its personal affairs in a spiritual method, plainly the road, “Spiritual, not Religious” ought to be “Spiritual and Religious.”

[1] The Common Service Convention points “Advisory Actions” which symbolize “substantial unanimity” of the Conference, representing all of AA.  Each Advisory Action begins with “It was recommended that” followed by the text of the advice.  All Advisory Actions are recommendations. This consists of the ones which “froze” elements of the Huge Ebook, especially the first 164 pages. AAWS, Inc., GSO, Inc., and most of AA’s members act as whether it is some sort of inerrant fact that the Huge Ebook can’t be changed because of GSC recommendations. That this can be a misunderstanding is evidenced by the truth that in spite of the Advisory Action cited above, company AA was not been capable of produce even a draft of the referred to as for literature.

Paul W has been a member of AA since 1989. He first joined AA whereas he was trying to hold onto belief in a God by “faking it till he made it.” Ultimately Paul made peace with himself and got here out as a cushty and satisfied atheist; in some conditions, he calls himself a “Secular Humanist.” He has spoken at Area features concerning the lack of literature for nonbelievers and has been a supporter of recognizing non-theists as full members of AA.  He sponsors several AA members, theists as well as nontheists.  AA Agnostica has revealed a number of articles critiquing the Massive E-book authored by Paul.  Before retirement, he was a advisor with a world professional providers agency the place he specialized in schooling and organizational conduct. Paul and his spouse stay in New Jersey, she a Christian of her personal definition and he an atheist. They’ve six youngsters (50% atheists), six grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.