Two new agnostic meetings

We Agnostics

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 weagconvention@gmail.com.  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  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.

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Comments

Two new agnostic meetings — 35 Comments

  1. I went to a new Agnostic meeting in Hermosa Beach. Beautiful club and around 30 people. The meeting has been there only for a couple of months. They then told me there was two more. One in Long Beach and one in San Pedro. If anyone knows about those two. Let me know. We couldn’t find an address. That is four new Agnostic meetings in So. Cal in a couple of months!

    • Good news indeed. If you can get contact numbers for those, send them to agnosticaanyc.org, which keeps a worldwide listing of meetings. I see they have one in Hermosa Beach.

  2. Thus is truly amazing. After going ’round (yet again) at another after “church” meeting, this time online, I started searching again for alternatives. I started looking for non religious f2f meetings in Illinois among other states, & online years ago to no avail. Yet here you are now! I started in alanon in 1986 when my now ex husband went into treatment & from that point on I just didn’t fit. My recovery has suffered egregiously as a result as I never had the luck to meet anyone, at least who would speak of it, who felt the way I did. Now I see a few meetings not too far out from the northern part of the state which I will attend like a drooling monkey with a banana just within reach. As well I want to take this into Alanon, ACOA & CODA so any assistance would be greatly appreciated. Just when I was about to give up… Seriously.
    With great thanks,
    “starving” woman for recovery in IL

  3. Leaving The Church of AA

    Went to my home group business meeting last evening… There was a discussion about the two agnostic groups in Vancouver and whether they should be allowed to be listed in the AA directory for the lower mainland. Oh boy! I have been so naive regarding the presence of “God” in the general AA fellowship. I would not exactly say the meeting was hostile, but nobody rushed up to me to thanks me for clarifying a few misconceptions that were aired. It was pointed out to me that by saying one is a Buddhist, as I am, or an agnostic etc, one may be challenging the very sobriety that the God people have obtained. Perhaps by challenging the existence of God we are rocking the sobriety boat.
    Anyway, I realize for myself that it is time to leave the church of AA and push off into new territory. I am wondering if any group that takes its root from AA will always have the God bias, that God will always be part of any of these groups?
    I will attempt to find a more secular way to stay in recovery and wish all of us another 24.
    In Fellowship, StephenR, Vancouver, BC

    • Hello Stephen,
      Distressed to hear what you had to say in your post but not surprised as I heard the exact same thing today from two other Agnostic meeting members. It is apparent our Agnostic meetings are under attack or simply scrutiny by some uninformed bias people. Quite frankly I see this as great advertising for our Agnostic groups; the negative nellies will see this backfire on them.

      Please dont give up on us sir; we need people like yourself to help us widen the gateway for those yet to come and those who are considering walking away.

      We are determined to grow existing Agnostic meetings here in Vancouver; plans are being formulated to establish two more groups.

  4. I am at the point after attending the Agnostics group in Vancouver for a month that I realize that the mainstream groups are just not for me. I am a long time Buddhist and though I can take some of the deity talk, the amount of bigotry and just plain meanness in most of the rooms is making me stay away. I will do everything I can to promote the open minded, open hearted agnostic meetings in my area…thanks for starting them.
    StephenR

    • Hi Stephen,

      Thank you for your comment.
      Above all, we endeavour to create an atmoshere of mutual repect and open mindedness along with discussions focused on our individual journeys of recovery and personal growth without the guilt and god rhetoric.

      Please invite your friends of all persuasions to join us to experiece what you have experienced.

      Agnostica is for anyone with an open mind!

  5. I am interested in starting a meeting in Eugene, Oregon, but I have less than six months of sobriety. How do I go about doing this? I live 60 miles from this city in the mountains and, therefore, am unable to attend meetings on a regular basis, so don’t exactly know how to get the word out. Any suggestions?

    I am also interested in attending the convention in Santa Monica. Is there more info about how to get involved or how to register for that?

    Thank you.

    Jenny

    • Hi Jenny. First you have started out right by completing the An Agnostic Group in My Community form. If (and when) there are others in Eugene wanting to start an agnostic meeting, we will put you in touch with each other. You DO need a small team to get such a meeting underway. There is also plenty of good advice on starting a meeting right here: How to Start an AA Meeting. Finally, to get involved or just for more information about the Santa Monica convention all you have to do is send an email to: WeAgConvention@gmail.com. There is no question that Dorothy and the rest of the steering committee would be delighted to hear from you! Roger.

    • Jenny;

      Please email me at weagconvention@gmail.com and we can talk about what we can do to help you form a group in your area and what can be done to organize for WAFT IAAC in your area.

      ~Dorothy H.
      Chairwoman of the WAFT IAAC steering committee

  6. I was delighted to read of these two new meetings. Last November I helped get a fifth Toronto area agnostic meeting started. We Are Not Saints continues to roll along just fine thank you. I took a few months “break” and others jumped in and kept the ship afloat – in fact took the meeting to the next level. I am proud of them – and of the meeting.

    I learned over the weekend that after a two-year stay in Toronto (a city I adore), I will be permanently returning the the US – the land of my citizenship. I am going to be relocating to North Florida in the Bible Belt.

    One of the first orders of business for me (aside from unpacking) will be to put in place the pieces to start an agnostic/freethinkers meeting. In fact, even before departing Toronto I hope to have a meeting place nailed down, a small website up and a brochure developed for distribution at AA clubhouses throughout North Florida. I will find like-minded folks to be sure..but it might take a while. However, while waiting for the agnostic meeting to take root, I will most likely attend some mainstream meetings in the area, meetings that in North Florida take on a decidedly Christian tone. However,I will be buttressed by the fact that a new meeting with fellow travelers is on the way. Thank for this wonderful blog post. For me it was uplifting, timely and motivating.

    • Hi Chuck, sorry to lose you my friend. Your a fine human whose presence I always enjoy. Keep in touch and up to date on your new Florida meeting – it may make a fine story on AA Agnostica!

      • Thank you Roger. You have been an inspiration, a friend, in-house intellectual and on occasion, the much-needed jester. I express my gratitude to you for much, not the least of which is this site. I will proudly attend the convention in Santa Monica with my colleagues from North Florida (well at the very least I will be there – don’t want to get ahead of myself).

    • Best of luck, Chuck, with your move to North Florida — it was in an AA meeting in Orlando in 1990 that I first experienced the “Christification” of AA — they not only said the Lord’s Prayer, which some groups in the New York City area did, they held hands AND knelt down, while saying it. I salute your willingness to seek out non-believers.

      • Thomas, I got sober (the first time – and it lasted nearly ten years) thanks to an agnostic meeting in South Florida. Years later I went into “treatment” in Jacksonville and spent upon release three months in the city before moving to Toronto. I was shocked at the attendant religiosity. I spent a month in Orlando on business this last winter – there are still people who “hit their knees” at the end of meetings. I felt like a fish out of water for not the first time in my life. Thanks for the comment.

  7. What a pleasure to be a part of something “newish” and to read how welcomed we all are. AA does WELCOME all of us. I am forever thankful for that. AA Freethinkers has to last in Lafayette, Ca. I think about my first meeting everyday and I cannot wait for the next one tomorrow.

  8. We are also in the process of finding a meeting place in Claremont, California for a meeting. The couple of places we looked into did not work out, however, we have a core group of people here and are looking for more. If you want to be part of AA history come help us start an AA group in the Inland Empire! We are pretty set on Thursday nights from 7-8… or maybe 7:30-8:30. We picked Claremont because of the great downtown to meet before and after, the very liberal college community and the Metrolink access.

  9. Indeed, Russ and Denis, congratulations !~!~! This is how we have evolved since our earliest beginnings in the 1930s.

    In 1937, Bill W. along with Jim B., Hank P. and others stopped going to the revival meetings of the Oxford Group at the Calvary Church Mission in New York and began having weekly meetings in the Clinton Street basement.

    Likewise, in 1939 Clarence S. broke away from the evangelical protestant Akron Oxford Group meetings with his merry band of mostly Catholics from Cleveland to start the first meeting called Alcoholics Anonymous. Shortly thereafter, Dr. Bob and Anne started meetings of their Akron “alcoholic squad” in their home before they started a meeting in King School rather than continuing to meet under the auspices of the Oxford Group at T. Henry’s home.

    Sober since 1972, I observe with you Denis that AA has continued to evolve and flourish despite druggies, groups for gays, special interest groups for professionals, etc., etc., etc. I trust that it shall continue to evolve and flourish though the establishment of additional groups for agnostics, atheists, and freethinkers.

  10. Well done, Denis and Russ! After our free thinkers group (one of our founding members is a practising Catholic) got delisted from Toronto Intergroup I spoke with our GSO correspondent through email and at a regional forum. He said that GSO does not take a stand regarding this matter but to, “keep doing what you’re doing.” And so we are. We are providing meetings so that “all who suffer might pass through, regardless of their belief or lack of belief.” –Bill W.

    DJ
    Nov. 22, 2008
    Widening Our Gateway
    Richmond Hill, Ontario

  11. Of late I choose to come to this site instead of my usual Sunday morning meeting. I am tired of the desperate religiosity and revolted by the hand holding. I just stand aside and I don’t recall being criticized. More and more people walk out or just dont do it. The repetitive conversation I find it creates in me discomfort. I welcome Athiest groups. After 42 years I see AA as a mutual aid society. The diety I seem to crave may be the face or words of that other sufferer. More use of I instead of we or more revolting you I find good. I more often than not leave a meeting more angry than when I went in and that seems rather counter productive. Since 2005 and even before I attend less actual meetings but do more personal searching. And its been solitary but rewarding. I find being odd man out lonely but rewarding. I think the wrong a person could do themself is deny their own truth. Be honest and I think a person will recover and if a person does not believe in a diety be honest. To that end that persons honesty serves the purpose of the responsibility pledge. All athiests welcome. The bigotry of Toronto Intergroup and New York in not publishing the literature for Athiests reveals a need to inventory thier actions. Those two actions are truly BEYOND BELIEF.

  12. We are so pleased to have an agnostic meeting in Vancouver …I have also noticed it is not yet listed when pulling up meetings on line … Hope this will happen soon so people are aware we exist!

      • John, to each his own. Our men only group fullfills a need where we are more comfortable sharing in the company of other men rather than a mixed group. The discussions are honest and caring with a high level of propriety. All of us have a deep commitment to sobriety and carrying the message to others. We are hoping to eventually see a woman only agnostic discussion group. C’est la vie!!

      • You won’t find them now. We’ve been de-listed by the chair of the Vancouver Intergroup Operations Committee. He wrote that the OC was supposed to make the decision to list in the first place, rather than the office manager who approved the listing, because of “policy”. His news tonight is that this will be brought to Intergroup as a whole, also because of “policy”. The policies don’t actually exist, as best I can tell, or are interpretations of existing policy that require a unique approach to the English language, but whatever. It’s their power trip, and I don’t much care whether Intergroup approves.

        We had 19 people at the meeting tonight, and that’s after we’d been de-listed – we’re already outgrowing our space. And we’re listed in the agnostic meeting directory that’s linked to from the main page of this site (Agnostic AA Meetings Worldwide). Atheists and agnostics will find us there.

        Yay, us.

    • I also would love to a see a womens We Agnostic style meeting. I believe that would be powerful and extremely needed facet in the WAFT fellowship.

  13. All the best to you!
    Hope to see you all next year in Santa Monica.
    Jo-Anne K
    Nov 9, 1986
    Beyond Belief, Toronto, Ontario

  14. The excitement is palpable.
    Unity is the goal.
    Humility guides us.
    And fellowship sustains us.

    Many of us will soon meet in Santa Monica. Has a scholarship fund been established yet?

  15. Russ H.: Congrats on your new group. I’d like to learn which specific passages in “More About Alcoholism” and “Into Action” you include in your readings. I’ll be in touch very soon via email! Thanks.

    (I presume you’re aware of the We Ags group down in Oceanside?)

    • Congrats to both groups. It is such a great feeling to see a new group form. Other great firsts that come with it are first medallions or any such first of a kind celebration. My favorite is when someone comes in to our aa meeting for the first time…if you listen carefully you can see and hear a whisper and glimmer of hope.

      Dennis, it was great to meet you last year…folks, thanks for your example of courage!

    • This blog/post about our new meeting has hyperlinks to the meeting format and the excerpts we read from the Big Book. They are reproduced here:

      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.

      If these links don’t work for you let me know and I will forward them to you.

  16. Good on ya, Denis! We love Vancouver, and get to spend time there periodically. I’ve searched the intergroup list and not seen your groups listed, so shall make note of them right now. (My home group, We Agnostics, is down south in Olympia, WA. Hope you can drop in some time.)

    • Thanks Pat- please look us up on your next trip. We are certain you will find a welcomming group of people and some great shares related to living one day at a time!

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