Four Years Old!

Fireworks

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.

Categories

Articles posted on AA Agnostica are saved in nine different categories. You can find these categories on the home page of the website.

Posts by Category

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.

Controversy

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.

Do Tell! [Front Cover]It is a surprisingly diverse and inspiring 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!


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Comments

Four Years Old! — 32 Comments

  1. Congratulations on a fantastic addition to the AA ‘toolkit’. And thanks to Roger for all the time he must have invested – his website has been a great source of support to so many of us.. The site is also a springboard to the wide variety of great articles and books for those of us longtime agnostic/atheist members who love AA but who feel the ‘God bits’ may be chasing needy alcoholics away. There’s a secular AA meeting starting up in Odessa (just west of Kingston, Ontario) Wednesdays at 8:00 pm in the Emmanuel United Church starting July 8. Perhaps we’ll see you there!

    • Lovely, Martin! Please make sure to list your meeting at the agnosticAAnyc.org website. Just click on the image below for more information:
      Worldwide

  2. Congratulations! AA Agnostica has been a great tool for telling people about WAATF AA here in Tokyo. It was a great privilege to have been able to attend Beyond Belief meetings in Toronto and take part in the Group birthday (4th year?).

  3. I am no longer alone, Roger and for that I thank you from the wilderness of an All Theist All The Time AA out here on the edge of the Atlantic.

    Congratulations on all the hard work and ongoing maintenance that goes into a site such as this. A most impressive and easy to navigate jewel.

    Onward and upward.

    Slainte!

  4. My path to recovery was in it’s infancy when Roger was just starting this. I had been searching for a non God group of any kind and being out here in Vancouver we did not have a single group at the time. It was simply through some email’s with Roger that I found that elusive branch I had been chasing for years.
    I just wanted to sincerely thank Roger for all he has done. I would venture to say that there are countless people who have changed their lives with help from his efforts.
    Thanks Roger!!

  5. I am 8 months sober & as an atheist have found yr website & books invaluable in my ongoing recovery. I live in Wales, UK, where religion is not as divisive an issue in AA as it seems to be in the US. Nonetheless, I found the official literature hard going, with its hardcore Protestant language & ideas. I am in touch with other AA atheists in UK & use The Alternative 12 Steps & Beyond Belief as my daily readings. Where can I find secular meditation audio on the Internet? ATM I am using Buddhist Recovery network which is non – deist & fine, but I was wondering if there was any completely secular stuff around? Keep up the excellent work!

    • Hey Tim — the UCLA Mindful Awareness Resource Center has some meditations here: Free Guided Meditations.

      They aren’t recovery-focused, but they’re secular and I find them really helpful, especially the Meditation for Working With Difficulties when things are emotionally fraught.

  6. Heartfelt congratulations on your success over the past four years and many thanks for providing a wealth of information supporting non-theists in AA. Finding this site around three years ago was a breath of fresh air for me; at last, after 25 years in AA, I had a resource and a community that I could relate to.

    Having discovered this site, I gained the courage to come out as an atheist and became a part of starting my home group, “Beyond Belief.” As a further result, I have discovered others in my local AA Community who support my beliefs and at long last I feel like I truly belong.

    Your accomplishments over the past four years are mind boggling. I don’t know how you have pulled it off but I am very happy that you have.

    Congratulations and thanks again for all you have done to support me and other non-theists in AA.

  7. Congratulations to AA Agnostica, and many thanks to Roger for creating the forum for what has become a wonderful, worldwide community 🙂 You rock! We rock!

  8. I’m reminded of Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken,” and the delicious irony that one of the greatest international resources of the non-religious AA movement easily might have never come to be.

    The noble paladins in mounting white steeds in their righteous cause of defending the faith by crushing the heathens, have indeed wrought an unexpected and opposite effect. Had the original non-conforming Toronto groups not been tossed, would we even be here today? Would the burgeoning movement be so vibrant?

    I think not. THANK YOU purifiers of AA, pourers of strong tea, cake recipe adherents.

    That there have been 50 different bloggers here in a year is rather remarkable, and I continue to be amazed at the very high caliber of the writing. Roger must be saluted for not “hogging” the site. There is tremendous strength in the multiplicity of the voices. I am proud to be a part of it all.

    This is an exciting time in recovery history!!

  9. Happy Anniversary!
    And thank you for providing a platform for all shades of opinion and for including a hard-line Atheist such as myself in the mix.
    Like all things in AA the truth will be found in the middle somewhere despite the wish of some (myself included) to see their own positions prevail. It will be in forums such as this that the majority will find its voice and the true Group Conscience will emerge.
    Thanks for getting out there on the front lines and staying there.
    Best,
    John

  10. As modest as he is, we all owe Roger a debt of tremendous gratitude. Building and maintaining a website like this one is more demanding than a regular job. It’s more like being responsible for a toddler. It has it’s own life, and can be a difficult, wild and willful creature that doesn’t always respond well to discipline. That makes it an around the clock responsibility. But Roger, like all of us, is a regular member of his group, Beyond Belief, a real father, educator, publisher and, that’s just what I know about him. I know he hates to be singled out but this time he really deserves it. So do make certain to thank him for his dedication to this jewel of a site. And Roger, take your damn bows then get on with business as unusual.

    • I heartily second that suggestion, Brent.

      Roger with humility and good grace take many, many bows in response to all of us who hold you in the highest esteem for all the good work you have done and as a pay-it-forward hope for all the good work you shall continue to do !~!~!

      Speaking of which, the group conscience of the Portland, OR Beyond Belief group voted by acclamation to formally open our website, Portland Oregon Secular AA. I’ll email you a jpeg of a graphic for you to use if you can embed the URL within it.

      Anyway, super congrats for all the good that has been channeled through you because you Don’t Drink, Go To Meetings and Help Others !~!~!

  11. That’s a wholesome time – 4 years. A site brimming with ideas and feelings that come to us no matter how we feel or think. I look forward to every entry and feel renewed in strength and hope every Sunday. Thanks to everyone for the sharing, especially thanks to Roger for his preseverance on this service. Those of us who veer a ways off the accepted path know how difficult it can be to be of service in a programme that has no respect for us. Yet, we trudge the same path. I’m thinking of C Jung when I speak of the significance of number 4 – it’s wholeness to which we all aspire.

  12. I am so deeply grateful to AA Agnostica for enabling me to fully get that I am not alone, and to empower me to think outside the little AA box into which I had rather painfully tried to cram myself. The whole world is much bigger now. I am deeply gratified to Roger for all of his work to make this such an incredible resource for us and all the many to come, and for his encouragement and support in getting Common Sense Recovery out there so that even more people can get the message: that they are not alone and they do not have to shrink down into a little god sized box to live sober lives.

  13. Congrats to all involved. My favourite part is that I’m sober today, well into my fourth year of continuous sobriety by staying active in service one day at a time in this wonderful fellowship. Participating here has been an important part of realizing that I am no longer alone in AA. Onward and upward indeed!

  14. 4 times 100 thank yous, Roger, for your professional and humble leadership. Everyone deserves a chance to get sober, and I know aaagnostica.org has given that chance to many.

  15. Yes, heartfelt congratulations to our dear friend Roger and to everyone who supports this website. Roger will always say the website is “ours.”

    A few years ago I wrote about “my favourite recovery websites” and, of course, I confessed a bias in that AA Agnostica was my very favourite. I must say that even though “my favourites” for the most part have maintain their quality, AA Agnostica just keeps getting better and continues to develop and grow with respect to topicality, diversity of themes, and fine writing. No resting on our laurels here!

    Thanks again, Roger, for pushing all of us to expand the scope of our recovery messaging — and especially as it relates to widening the gateway of the AA message which Bill W. saw so early on was the great contribution to AA of our agnostics and atheists.

  16. Happy Birthday. A friend directed me here at what became a key moment in my early sobriety. My life was changed for the better as a result.
    Thanks for everything.
    Dan L

  17. Disobedience, in the eyes of any one who has read history, is man’s original virtue. It is through disobedience that progress has been made, through disobedience and through rebellion. Oscar Wilde

    I remember a time in AA history before AA Agnostica. Beyond Belief the group was peer to all AA groups in Toronto for quite some time. Of course agnostic groups were not new; Beyond Belief was an idea borrowed from New York, which was inspired by Chicago, Hollywood, et al. In September of 2009 Beyond Belief became a Toronto group and we had a website, “Beyond Belief BlogSpot”, launched in October or November of 2009.

    Our non-theistic-affirmative status and our adaptation of Twelve Steps was no surprise to anyone. Not only was our group in the directory and on the Greater Toronto Area website, we were one of the groups that has a home page that included the agnostic pro-amble, agnostic Steps and meeting coordinates. That “home page,” designed by Beyond Belief co-founder Stan R was as AA as anyone. Our “home page” was approved by the Intergroup executive committee. We weren’t being disobedient – anymore than AA itself was born of disobedience (widening the gateway of the day).

    Our first web-servant, Stan R., when We Agnostics became the second Toronto atheist/agnostic group, started thinking a broader name than Beyond Belief was in order and “AA Toronto Agnostics” was born. David R became rotated into web-master for a term and in June of 2011 Roger was granted access to the site and later elected by the group to be our third trusted web-servant.

    From there, the idea of AA Agnostica sprang from AA Toronto Agnostics and thanks to Roger and all who have contributed and participated, the rest is history and a great history.

    Who has been rebellious and disobedient and who has held to AA tradition is still being debated. Happy milestone, one and all.

  18. I am typically a long-winded (long-typing?) kinda guy.

    This time, I am just going to say THANK YOU. This stuff saves lives, and not everyone can lay claim to that kind of thing. What you are doing really matters.

    Steve M.

  19. Heartiest Congratulations on your Fourth Anniversary Roger.
    You have made a great difference not just in the Americas but worldwide. I direct many people to Agnostica and it makes life easier for all. “We are not Alone”.

  20. Many congratulations and thanks to you for this most wonderful site. I discovered it towards the end of last year. I have almost five years of sobriety in AA and it is only recently, thanks to the articles here, that things are starting to make sense to me. Greetings from South Africa.

  21. Another quick thank you as I must print this out and attend our WAAFT meeting in 45 minutes. I’ve been absent while bicycling for 10 days and am anxious to see how my standin has creatively led this little band in my absence. Today’s article makes another good topic for our meeting if we can get to it.

    AA Agnostica truly does provide a wealth of information and interesting topic material for us and I find Sundays have become about my favorite day of the week. Thank you, Roger, for your persistence and careful encouragement of this much needed forum. I feel more whole as the result of finding all of you.

  22. Four years is the time when AA started writing the Big Book.

    Look what happened there.

  23. Happy birthday to us, and to you Roger for your amazing organizational talent and all your hard work.

  24. Imagine my surprise when today, as I celebrate 4 years of sobriety, I opened up my email to see this! I did not realize I share my “anniversary” with the birthday of AAAgnostica. How cool is that.