AA and the Angry Atheist

jimmy burwell pic aa atheist

God should be qualified with the phrase ‘as we understand him’ – for that was the only way I could accept spirituality.”
James Burwell, pg. 229 Alcoholics Anonymous

James Burwell, know as Jimmy B. was one of the 10 East Coast founders of Alcoholics Anonymous. He was responsible for starting Alcoholics Anonymous in Philadelphia and Baltimore and later moved to San Diego and was instrumental in its growth there. Jimmy B. was also the unofficial archivist and put together a scrapbook of early AA history. His story, “The Vicious Cycle” now appears in the “Personal Stories” section of the Big Book of Acoholics Anonymous.

After losing more than 40 jobs after his service in World War I, Jimmy B. was persuaded to move to New Jersey to get sober with the 10 men, including Bill Wilson, who has discovered a new way to stop drinking. The other men spent a great deal of effort trying to convince and convert Burwell, a card carrying Atheist, to their way of seeing God. After continual torment he burst out ” I can’t stand this god stuff! It’s a lot of malarkey for the weak folks. The group doesn’t need it and I won’t have it. To hell with it.” Although Bill Wilson originally refused to change one word of The 12 Steps, his eventual compromise with Jimmy B. on the “God bit” resulted in a much more inclusive “Higher Power” and “God as we understand him concept. This understanding was crucial- without it AA would probably not have survived, much less thrived.

“It was Jimmy Burwell’s uncompromising stance against religion that initially forced Alcoholics Anonymous into the tolerant, open, and welcoming group that has helped more than two million believers, agnostics, and atheists.” Susan Cheever

“This was the great contribution of our atheists and agnostics. They had widened the gateway so that all who suffer might pass through,regardless of their belief or lack of belief.” Bill W., Alcoholics Anonymous comes of Age

Mark Kloster
Alumni Coordinator

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