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June 1988

Are We Scaring Newcomers Away?

Scenario: At his first AA meeting, a newcomer is very encouraged by what he sees and hears. "Maybe I can get sober, too," he thinks. "But what's the catch? What do these people want from me?" When the meeting is closed with the Lord's Prayer, he is sure they'll try to convert him to some strange religious sect. He leaves and never comes back.

Has this actually happened in your group? We claim to have a spiritual not religious orientation, yet many groups use this very religious prayer at the end of an AA meeting.

This inconsistency made me think that a neutral prayer (like the Serenity Prayer) would be less repugnant to a nonreligious newcomer. I made this suggestion at one of our business meetings, but it was not well received. "It (the AA program) has worked well for 50 years," someone said, "leave it alone."

I couldn't agree more with that statement; however, the Lord's Prayer is not part of the AA program; it is a religious prayer used by many Christian denominations for hundreds of years.

My first exposure to AA gave me the impression that one must "get religion" to achieve sobriety. I was brought up in a religious environment but became an atheist during my drinking years. I didn't want anything to do with religion and did not come back to AA for five years--I was one of the lucky ones who did come back.

Today I have a spiritual program and a belief in a Higher Power but am still not religious. There is no heaven or hell or sin in my spiritual world. To me, the AA program says that a spiritual way of life is mandatory if we are to stay sober, but that a religious belief is optional.

The founders of AA realized we should not have any religious connections. AA was an offshoot of the Oxford Group, and one reason for the AA people going their own way was their dislike of the Oxford Group's rigid religious orientation. The Oxford Group withered and died. AA flourished and prospered.

Some of you may say this idea is too controversial--that most AA members are religious, so drop it. I don't see why deleting religious prayers from AA meetings should be controversial--even religious people should be able to see that religion does not belong in meetings.

Maybe most AA members are religious because we've scared away large numbers of potential members who are not religious?

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