By Roger C.
AA Agnostica is four years old!
The website was born on June 15, 2011 when two agnostic AA groups, Beyond Belief and We Agnostics, were unceremoniously evicted from the Greater Toronto Area Intergroup and needed a place to share the locations and times of their weekly meetings.
What followed is often described as a prime example of the law of intended consequences. Having been booted out as reported in the Toronto Star – Does Religion Belong at AA? – we decided it was time to stand up for ourselves, be honest about our lack of belief in an interventionist deity and provide genuine support to those who were repulsed by the unadulterated religiosity of traditional AA meetings and unlikely to remain in such a dogmatically entrenched environment.
And thus AA Agnostica. Born just four years ago!
Very, very busy
And the last year – the period between June 22, 2014 and today – has been very, very busy. We published a total of 94 articles over the last year compared to 62 in the previous year and 46 in both years one and two of AA Agnostica. That’s a lot of articles! Over the last two years, these were either on Sundays or on Wednesdays, the weekday reserved mostly for articles about the Steps or for book reviews.
The 94 articles over the past year were written by more than 50 different people. I wrote only nine (including this one) over the past year, preferring to host other writers who invariably shared their thoughts and experience in recovery in AA with both talent and compassion.
Eight articles were devoted directly to the We Agnostics, Atheists and Freethinkers (wAAf) convention in Santa Monica last November. Reports were posted at the end of each of the three days of the convention, which can be read right here: Day 1, Day 2 and Day 3. A dozen people, including David B, Erin J, Joe C, Russ H, Christopher G, Thom L, Thomas B, Ken L, Michael B, Rob M and Adam N volunteered to report on the panels, workshops and speakers at this historic event and they deserve our heartfelt thanks. It was certainly hugely appreciated by those who could not attend the convention.
Articles posted on AA Agnostica are saved in nine different categories. You can find these categories on the home page of the website.
We are all about keeping up to date and growing so it’s no surprise that by far the largest category is History – Modern. Over the past year 24 articles fell into that category, including Letting Go of God by Torontonian and the author of Beyond Belief Joe C, Hallowed be the Big Book by our British friend Laurie A and Coming Out Atheist in Conventional AA by John H, a longtime Washingtonian.
Another popular category, not surprisingly, is Experience, Strength and Hope. Our long-time friend in New York, Deirdre S, wrote about how to start our own agnostic AA meetings in the story Two Things That Only Take Two: Tango and an AA Meeting. A couple of months later, The 13th Step was written Erin J, a Canadian. And a talk by Eric C, from Michigan, Eric’s Talk – Our We Agnostics Meeting, was published, with an audio tape.
We will look at just one more category: The 12 Steps.
A former Methodist minister from Texas, JHG, wrote about An Atheist’s Twelfth Step. A few weeks later, Russ H, from the East San Francisco Bay area of California, with If You Want What We Have, gave us a nonbeliever’s take on the AA program. Finally, another Torontonian, Lisa N shared a fine story, which had initially been published by Renascent, one of Canada’s largest rehabs, called A Skeptic’s Journey to a Higher Power.
There are, as noted, six other categories. The point we hoped to make listing the articles above was about the amazing diversity of the stories on the website. You never know what’s going to pop up on a Sunday. Or sometimes on a Wednesday. And it’s not just the range of stories either. It’s the diversity of the authors: their backgrounds, where they’re from, their “experience, strength and hope”. It all makes for some very special sharing on AA Agnostica.
There have been some bumps for we agnostics in AA over the last twelve months.
To begin with, our hopes that the Conference might publish a pamphlet by agnostics and atheists in AA were dashed, once again.
Oh, the Conference did publish “Many Paths to Spirituality”. But it is just another version of Chapter Four of the Big Book. Patronizing and condescending. For example, we are expected to say the Lord’s Prayer because, after all, a Jew can do that: “Today I can even recite the Lord’s Prayer without feeling guilty since it was pointed out to me in ‘How it Works’ that I have to go to any length to get and stay sober.” And then, of course, the pamphlet ends with a so-called atheist doing the Steps exactly as written. You know with “God” or “He” or a “Power” in six of them: “Using the inner resource I have discovered in AA as a higher power, I have been able to do the Steps just as they are written in the Big Book.”
Shameful, if that’s how they expect to answer Bill Wilson’s question to AA in 1965: “How much and how often did we fail them?” Bill was talking about newcomers – “atheists and agnostics… people of nearly every race, culture and religion” – who come into AA only to turn around and walk back out.
You can read Chris G’s review here, The Many Paths to Spirituality Pamphlet. It begins with a Grapevine type statement: “This agnostic alcoholic hoped the new pamphlet would help attract those without a traditional God to the program, but was sorely disappointed.” And then there is my take on the situation. Requests for literature for non-believers date back to 1976 when a trustees’ Literature sub-committee wrote that such a pamphlet “is needed to assure non-believers that they are not merely deviants, but full, participating members in the AA Fellowship without qualification”. Well, it is almost forty years later and there is Still No Pamphlet for Agnostics in AA.
And then the AA Grapevine disappointed us.
Back in September, life-j shared a wonderful idea, A Grapevine Book for Atheists and Agnostics in AA. All the Grapevine had to do was take some 40 stories by atheists and agnostics that it had already published over the years and publish them as a collection in a book. A number of us got quite excited about the idea and Thomas B launched a campaign with a letter to the Grapevine. We talked in particular with Ami Brophy, the Executive Editor and Publisher at the Grapevine. Finally, on January 29 the Grapevine Board of Directors met and, after a “lengthy discussion” decided not to go forward with our request. That story was told here: No Grapevine Book for Atheists in AA.
No reason has ever been provided for that decision.
Books, books and more books
It was never our intention to publish books.
The first one published by AA Agnostica was The Little Book: A Collection of Alternative 12 Steps. We started collecting alternative versions of the Steps, and were greatly aided in this by Gabe S in the United Kingdom who had his own collection. Soon we had twenty versions. Not enough content yet for a book even though the thought crossed our minds. Then Linda R did a concise summary of the interpretation of each of the Steps in Stephanie Covington’s book A Women’s Way Through the 12 Steps. And then I found interpretations of the Steps by Gabor Maté and Allen Berger and I created my own very brief summary of the Steps as understood by a Buddhist, Thérèse Jacobs-Stewart. We could add these interpretations to the alternative versions and show how personal interpretations and versions of the Steps were the norm, not the exception, and downright inevitable! Finally, I wrote an essay called “The Origins of the 12 Steps”. With the 20 versions of the Steps, four concise interpretations of each one of them and an explanation of where the Steps came from in the first place, we had a book! A short book, only some 72 pages, and that inspired us to call it The Little Book.
That was the first book. The second was Don’t Tell: Stories and Essays by Agnostics and Atheists in AA. That book is entirely composed of articles published on the website in its first few years.
Over the last year, AA Agnostica has published another four books!
The first one was in July and is the second edition of a book first published in 1991, The Alternative 12 Steps: A Secular Guide to Recovery. From the moment I ran across this book I was amazed and impressed. It is a pioneering work. I spent about a year looking for the authors and finally found them and was so grateful to be granted permission to publish the second edition, for which I wrote the Foreword.
And then came Adam N, who sent along his Common Sense Recovery! Very impressive work. Two editions were published over the year, the second one a longer version and published as a paperback. The first few pages of the second edition consist of praise for Adam’s work, and that praise is well warranted. The subtitle of the book is An Atheist’s Guide to Alcoholics Anonymous, and it is uncanny how accurately Adam captures the feelings of nonbelievers in AA, whether newcomers or oldtimers, and how we are best able to move forward within the Fellowship.
Over the past years, bob k has been our AA history guru. His research and his unique style of writing make reading about AA in its early years a true pleasure and a wonderful learning experience. In February we published his excellent book, Key Players in AA History.
One of the people who loved bob’s writing was Ernie Kurtz, who died in January. You can read a touching piece about him right here: A Tribute to Ernie Kurtz. One of the very last things that Ernie ever did was work with Bill White to co-author the Foreword to Key Players. When the author of Not-God: A History of Alcoholics Anonymous likes a history book about our fellowship, and co-authors the Foreword to it, then it must be a damn good book. And bob k’s Key Players in AA History is an exceptional book.
Finally, three weeks ago we published Do Tell! Stories by Atheists and Agnostics in AA. The book contains thirty stories – fifteen by women and fifteen by men – in recovery in AA. It has turned out to be a very special book indeed. As one of the authors, life-j, wrote:
Just got the book, and sat down and read the first handful of stories, and I am absolutely amazed and moved. It is all so beautiful. While “Don’t Tell” was a book for us to voice all our frustrations, “Do Tell!” is truly a positive book. I think we’re finally moving toward the light rather than fleeing from the darkness and I am grateful to you for having rode the wave of transformation we’ve all been going through, and giving it a voice via AA Agnostica and now this book.
And we will be sharing that book online here at AA Agnostica. Once a month, on the Wednesdays as close to the middle of the month as possible, we will post one of the thirty chapters in the book, in order. The first chapter, by Nell Z., “Carrying the Message to the Nonbeliever”, will be posted this coming Wednesday.
Why was this book published? Well, as shared earlier on, the reason it was put together and published has everything to do with the refusal of the Grapevine to consider publishing a collection of stories by atheists and agnostics and the repeat failure over forty years of the AA General Service Conference to publish an atheist and agnostic friendly pamphlet.
And as I write in the Introduction to the book: “Perhaps everything is exactly as it should be, in the end. AA as an organization is a non-organization or an inverted triangle with authority at the grassroots, at the membership and group level.” Our job is not to wait for somebody else to do something for us, but to do it ourselves. And so we did.
Onwards and upwards
In the end, as life-j so very well puts it, there is a “wave of transformation” we agnostics have been experiencing within AA.
And that wave is well recorded on AA Agnostica. Read about the Convention in Santa Monica, The Impossible Becomes Possible.
Read about the explosion of agnostic, atheist and freethinker AA groups founded over the past few years. Read the article by Russ H, Agnostic AA Meetings Gain Momentum. Read Eric C’s article Atheists in AA will never give up on our fellowship.
And read the article by Dave S, We Are Unstoppable.
Onwards and upwards, my friends.
To get a PDF of a list of the 94 articles posted on AA Agnostica over the last year, in chronological order, click here: Four Years Old!