By Dan M.
In his 1961 Grapevine piece titled “The Dilemma of No Faith”, Bill W. expressed regret for some of his own language on spirituality, saying, “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 non-believers.”
After many years of discussion, in 2018 the AA Grapevine published the book, One Big Tent, in which Atheist and Agnostic AA members share their experience, strength, and hope. It’s a powerful collection of members’ stories. Many of them speak to the need for such a collection in the first place. Some of the writers relate how the God language and the reputation for religiosity that the program has in some circles kept them from coming in sooner. This is just what Bill W. worried about. How many might turn away and die if we insisted they accept God as their Higher Power?
There are stories here about how some felt unwelcome or at least unwelcome to say what they really felt in a meeting. Some of the stories highlight the difficulty of steps 2 and 3 and how a non-believer might approach them. Each writer finds their own answers to questions such as, “How do you pray if you don’t know who you’re praying to?” Another is, “How does a non-believer work with a religious sponsee?”
The collection is certainly not just for Atheists and Agnostics. Many AA members with a traditional faith have found that faith broadened by reading these different experiences. Some who are skeptical about how non-believers can successfully work the program come away with a greater understanding. More than anything, what moves readers of this book is the strength of the fellowship itself. It’s important to keep in mind that all of these AA members are sober, and some have been so for several decades. It’s moving to see our fellowship at work across these differences. It is indeed One Big Tent, where acceptance and love of our fellow alcoholics take precedence over hard rules, and where the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking.