In 1957, Bill Wilson wrote in Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age (page 167) that “in Step Two we decided to describe God as a ‘Power greater than ourselves.’ In Steps Three and Eleven we inserted the words ‘God as we understood Him.’ From Step Seven we deleted the expression ‘on our knees.’ And, as a lead-in sentence to all the steps we wrote these words: ‘Here are the steps we took which are suggested as a Program of Recovery.’ AA’s Twelve Steps were to be suggestions only. Such were the final concessions to those of little of no faith; this was the great contribution of our atheists and agnostics. They had widened our gateway so that all who suffer may pass through, regardless of their belief or lack of belief.”
In Pass It On (pages 172-3), Bill is quoted as saying “We had to become much more inclusive and never, if possible, exclusive. We can never say to anyone (or insinuate) that he must agree with our formula or be excommunicated. The Atheist may stand up in an AA meeting denying God, yet reporting how he has been helped in other ways… we make no religious requirement of anyone. All people having an alcohol problem who wish to get rid of it and make a happy adjustment with the circumstances of their lives, become AA members by simply associating with us. Nothing but sincerity is asked of anyone. In this atmosphere, the orthodox, the unorthodox, and the unbeliever mix happily and usefully together, and in nearly every case great spiritual growth ensues.”
In that spirit, on November 11th, 2017, a motion to pursue an atheist and agnostic friendly AA Conference approved pamphlet was overwhelmingly passed at the SENY Area 49 General Service Assembly held in Carmel, NY. The motion, sponsored by Brooklyn District 404, is intended to fill a void in literature available to our more secular members, and to promote the principle that AA is always inclusive, never exclusive. This will be forwarded to the Conference Literature Committee and added to the agenda for the US/Canada General Service Conference next spring. The committee will also consider making the “The ‘God’ Word: Agnostic and Atheist Members in AA”, a pamphlet that is already conference-approved by the United Kingdom’s General Service Office, available for distribution in the United States and Canada by the GSO. Our area delegate will be serving as the chairman of the Literature Committee at the upcoming General Service conference.
As the GSR for my group, I had the opportunity to participate in the SENY assembly and was pleasantly surprised at the level of support this motion received within our area. Several area chair’s and GSR’s openly backed the motion during the discussion, and I understand that this will be the first item brought by Area 49 to the conference in many years. I am personally very grateful to be a part AA’s service structure, and it was awesome to witness the process in action. In my opinion, participating in General Service is how we ensure that Alcoholics Anonymous is accessible and relevant to all alcoholics, and how we can safeguard the fellowship for future generations.
“Our very first concern should be with those sufferers that we are still unable to reach… Newcomers are approaching us at the rate of tens of thousands yearly. They represent almost every belief and attitude imaginable. We have atheists and agnostics. We have people of nearly every race, culture and religion… How much and how often did we fail them?”
- – Bill Wilson, General Service Conference, 1965