Over the past several months there has been an upsurge of interest in starting meetings for agnostics and atheists in AA.
Some people have gone ahead and done so, having discovered that all it takes is a few other interested AA members, a room that is available once a week, and a coffee pot. There is more information available here: How To Start An AA Meeting.
Today we are going to hear about two of those new agnostic AA meetings, one in Canada and one in the United States.
We Agnostics – Lafayette, California
Mondays 5:30 – 6:30 PM
Little League Hut
711 St Mary’s Rd.
Founding meeting: Monday, July 8, 2013
By Russ H.
A group of 29 very enthusiastic AA members turned out to the inaugural meeting of We Agnostics in Lafayette, California.
As I am writing this, an email message just came in from Dede S., an old friend whose appearance at the meeting was a delightful surprise. She writes “It was a grand meeting and I was very moved when I got home and walked the dogs. I cried because I took a deeply, emotional and spiritual feeling home from that meeting. Isn’t that what AA gives us when it is just right?” I think Dede speaks for many of the people who were there.
As you will see in the attached materials, we are neither for nor against any particular religious or philosophical point of view. We aim to conduct a meeting where the religious/nonreligious dichotomy is kept in perspective and freedom of expression is the most important consideration.
Impetus for starting this meeting actually began to develop a couple of years ago. My friend, Connie O., brought my attention to the controversy in the Toronto area surrounding the removal of two groups from the official list of AA group meetings. She also sent me a link to AA Agnostica. For the first time, I became aware of AA meetings around the world that are dedicated to providing an alternative to the heavily Christian ethos that permeates mainstream AA. One outcome was that I began to receive periodic email notifications of postings made on the AA Agnostica website.
A few weeks ago one of those postings announced plans now underway for the We Agnostics and Free Thinkers (WAFT) International AA Convention (IAAC) in Santa Monica late in 2014. That news resonated deeply with me and I responded to firstname.lastname@example.org. As a result, I became friends with Dorothy H. and also met Pam W. Their infectious enthusiasm is irresistible.
A contingent of at least six of us will be at the WAFT IAAC planning meeting in Santa Monca at the end of August. Everywhere I go with the WAFT convention flyers I am greeted with delighted responses. At one meeting when I passed out some of the flyers a man sitting next to me had tears of joy in eyes.
While attending agnostic meetings, Dorothy, Pam and some other people supplied me with meeting formats and other materials which could be used for an agnostic AA meeting.
All of this made the next step very easy to take. Encouraged by several AA friends, I rented a spot in one of our local meeting places, typed up a meeting format (which includes two readings from the Big Book: More About Alcoholism and Into Action) and announced the time and place of the meeting. Our “We Agnostics” group is now meeting weekly.
On a more personal note:
It is often said that the essential experience in Alcoholics Anonymous is simply one alcoholic talking to another about their common problem. In the process, a message of recovery is often transmitted that transforms lives. I know that my own recovery occurred that way.
When I “came to believe” it was not to a belief in God. It was to the belief that I really could lead a clean and sober life. That belief was inspired by recovered alcoholics who looked right at me, with the unmistakable demeanor of people who are telling the truth, and said “Come to lots of AA meetings and don’t drink or use drugs in between. If you do that, one day at a time, chances are good that one day you will discover the desire to drink and use will have vanished.” That’s what I did in the summer of 1995, and that’s what happened.
From the beginning I have listened to people insist that AA is a spiritual rather than a religious program. At first I really didn’t care very much one way or the other. I saw clean and sober people all around me in AA. I wanted what I saw in them – to be clean and sober – more than I had ever wanted anything in my life. So, I concentrated on the “don’t drink or use” advice. I heard people talk about “doing the work.” Yet my own experience was that being sober was not (and is not) something that I do. It is something that was given to me. It is now something that I am.
I’ve attended thousands of AA meetings at dozens of locations in the U.S. and abroad. My perception is that well-intentioned people in AA often unwittingly stifle meetings and repel newcomers with their religious (a.k.a. “spiritual”) zeal. I know the views expressed on AA Agnostica and by those working to put together the convention for agnostics, atheists and free thinkers in AA represents a minority opinion in AA at this time. But I am delighted to discover that it is a larger minority than I thought, and even more delighted to have connected with all of you finally.
Sober Agnostics – Vancouver, British Columbia
Tuesdays 7:00 p.m.
Holy Trinity Anglican Church
1440 West 12th Avenue
Founding Meeting: Tuesday, May 7, 2013
By Denis K.
At the first meeting of “Sober Agnostics,” May 7th, there were nine people present; four women and five men. The meeting started with a little awkwardness as many of the people had never met before, that reservedness was soon overcome.
Mike D. chaired the meeting by simply reading the agnostic preamble and then the passage for that day from Joe C.’s book, Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life. Those at the meeting then shared what they wanted, when so moved to do so. It took a few awkward moments of silence for the first person to speak but everyone present spoke to the topic. There were some great insights and honest sharing and plenty of genuine laughter.
It was suggested to try this format for a couple of months then review it for changes. Sober Agnostics is now underway as a Tuesday night destination; some people are not there every week due to vacations, business travel etc. but we have a weekly attendance of 12 or more.
Here is how it all began, for me…
Halfway through my sobriety, some nineteen years ago, I had to admit to myself and to a couple of close fellowship friends that all this stuff about an intervening god made no sense to me at all, that in fact I had never believed in any causal agent in the first place; it simply made no sense in my world.
Since then I have continued to attend AA meetings, and I have shared my disbelief in god with a few trusted and long term AA friends. We collectively shared new ideas we had discovered in various books and on the internet but never expressed these ideas at meetings in order to avoid the uproar we had seen when people did in fact speak out about their lack of belief.
We silently suffered the dogma and the rituals that have taken over many of the local meetings. Things like ending the meetings by holding hands and then the chair calls out “Who’s the boss?” and then everyone recites the serenity prayer or worse yet, the Lord’s Prayer. When someone reads the “Promises” and when it gets to the question, “Are these extravagant promises?” some or many members chant “We think not.” These practices/rituals are not only sophomoric to many of us, they are downright offensive and carry an almost cultish feel to them.
Over the years I met many fine people at AA meetings who have dropped out and gone their own path.
Encountering many of them from time to time has shed light on their decision to leave our fellowship. Most have told me they were simply tired of the gossip, the boring and repetitive dogma, the unearned familiarity from some people, the religiosity and in many cases the cult-like atmosphere that has overtaken so many meetings. These people aren’t normally complainers; they seem to be a barometer of what many of us have endured to belong and remain in our fellowship. All who I have spoken to agree membership in AA should not be an endurance test nor a test of one’s sensibilities.
A couple of years ago several of us decided to form a discussion group based on what we were reading on the AA Agnostica website. Each Monday we would print and discuss the previous day’s posting. This led to having our discussions around The Little Book, Beyond Belief and Living Sober.
The Monday night discussions are always no holds barred, open and from the heart leading to some interesting insights reflecting the depth of commitment these men have related to the AA fellowship and their personal recovery.
We took the step of registering our Monday evening meeting, a men’s discussion meeting, “We Agnostics,” with Vancouver Intergroup and are now in their meeting directory. When I approached the Intergroup office I was concerned our meeting might be rejected. Happily the fellow who took our application was supportive of what we are doing.
When the new and latest group and meeting, “Sober Agnostics,” registered, the same man commented that it was about time this type of group came to fruition.
Thank goodness for open-minded people!
Through the AA Agnostica website we received several inquiries from people looking for an agnostic AA meeting here in Vancouver. A decision was made to keep our existing group a closed men’s discussion group and start the new mixed group. As noted above, we first met in early May as “Sober Agnostics” and we have met every Tuesday night since with 12 or more people attending. These members are now announcing the group at other AA meetings, which has created a great deal of curiosity.
It is natural for these agnostic groups to attract some attention, and not all of it is positive.
When approached by members who are questioning our style of meetings or are outright hostile and demeaning of our efforts we simply refer them to the AA Agnostica website for investigation prior to developing more contempt. Personally I have avoided debating any of the hostile people and simply referred them to our website. I am not going to debate or attempt to convert anyone to my worldview nor will I allow anyone to attempt to convert me to theirs.
We are here to stay folks, get over it!
The upshot of all this is that agnostic meetings have a foothold here in Vancouver and will continue to grow as word gets out to other agnostics in the AA community. Yes we will be criticized by the people who have always criticized something new in AA.
I can recall the seventies when the first gay groups were getting started and the outrage was heard from the purists, the knuckle draggers and mouth breathers and bigots. We then heard much the same stuff when the doctors and lawyers and judges formed their own groups: The sky was falling. AA was going to hell. Then came the children of the sixties and seventies who were users of both alcohol and drugs. Somehow many of these people stayed sober and in our fellowship in spite of some groups attempting to enforce an “alcoholics only” requirement for AA meetings.
In spite of all the current turmoil I believe the AA Agnostica community will continue to grow and attract many like-minded people who will serve to widen the AA gateway for all still suffering alcoholics.