I decided to got to the Agnostic and Atheist Student Association meeting last night because I finally had a Thursday night off and am very supportive of the idea of networking and building alliances for our little freethinker group, D.A.F.T.

We watched a Richard Dawkins Tedtalk called “Militant Atheism” and discussed how the Out Campaign has changed the face of atheism in the last few years. We also touched on the 12 Step Recovery model and whether religion becomes a new addiction for ex-addicts and alcoholics. This is a topic very close to home for me because of the time I spent in AA. I knew when I was becoming an atheist that I didn’t belong when I tried telling people I wasn’t calling my higher power “God” anymore and I was slammed for not following the book.

AA’s will argue that “you can have your own higher power and call it whatever you want as long as it’s not you,” but in practice, that’s not true. AA’s use that concept as a stepping stone to true belief in a personal, supernatural God and secretly look down on atheists. I knew an atheist who died with almost 45 years sober and people would saying things behind his back like, “He has a god, he just doesn’t know it.”

For a program with (arguably) a 3-5% long-term sobriety success rate, that’s pretty arrogant. I’ve found AA forums and topic boards that say things like,

One thing I’ve noticed is that some of the most vehement anti AA people are former AA members. Maybe because the people who leave feel animosity because AA didn’t deliver on what was promised or they don’t want to take responsibility for their own failure to follow the simple program so they lash out and justify their quitting by insisting that AA is a cult and that they were “too strong willed” to be brainwashed, etc.

It’s said in AA meetings that “no one ever leaves AA and comes back and says what a good time they had ‘out there'” (meaning out drinking), and will make excuses for the people who leave and don’t get drunk by calling them “dry drunks” who “don’t have the principles” to guide them anymore. So far, the few atheists I’ve met who have left AA and stayed sober don’t go around railing against and being angry. It’s really a non-issue. We won’t “go back and say what a good time we’ve had” because it’s really not that important. I’ve been ten years sober. About half of those were as an atheist with no help from AA. I’m generally happy, responsible and well-adjusted. I do owe some of that to some of the things I learned in AA, but those things could have been taught to me in a secular environment, too. None of the “principles” are magic or require the supernatural.

Someday I hope that there are as many secular groups for addicted people as there AA groups, but that would take a concerted effort for secular groups to come together and really make a change. The other problem is that the science behind addiction recovery has been biased toward AA for so long that we are constantly changing our ideas about what works. In order to personally support a secular recovery program, I would have to know they are using the latest science and would be willing to change their program to match new information that comes out. Lastly, a huge problem is that organizing atheists is like herding cats. It’s not the job of atheist groups to take on such a task when we are still fighting hard-won battles regarding the separation of church and state. It’s a very complex topic and I don’t have an answer, but I’m glad that there are people willing to have the discussion.