My Brain Goes Fuzzy When They Talk About God

By Chris G.

Since early 2013, AA Agnostica has had a service of introducing people in various cities, towns and villages for the purpose of getting people together to start new agnostic AA meetings. If you have explored the site, you have surely seen this:

Agnostic GroupsClick on this image, and you get a form to fill out. Enter your location, email address, optional phone number and a comment, and maybe, if others near you do the same, you will be connected. And maybe, if you all hit it off, you’ll start a new meeting. It is a matter of chance… the world is a very big place.

Many hundreds of people have clicked, filled out, and waited. Some for a very long time, even in sizeable cities. Some for a short time, in small towns. Many are still waiting. But every week, more click in. Many click in again, to make sure they are still on the list.

Why? Why do we want our “own” meetings? That’s what this post is about.

Some people leave comments on the forms, and many of these are about why they feel the need for an agnostic meeting. (“Agnostic” is a simple word – please take it to mean anything from “less religious” to “Totally Atheist” for this purpose in this article.) I recently scanned the comments and found about 100 that give unsolicited reasons. Hardly scientific, but not a bad little sample. The results show the circumstances that can drive agnostic people away from meetings, as well as the desire to help others that lead them to want to start new ones.

It’s Uncomfortable

Scanning through the list of keywords I extracted from the comments, “uncomfortable” is far and away the most common. People are just not comfortable in a group of people who do not share their viewpoint. That is nearly axiomatically true any where, any time, of course, and for less-religious drunks trying to stay sober in a religious setting it can get acute. Some examples of the discomfort of being “different”:

I know a few people like myself who are agnostic/atheist or free thinkers who feel very uncomfortable at meetings sharing whenever the topic is on “God”, which is a lot in Little Rock.

I am 40 days sober and struggling deeply with the idea that I will have to accept God in order to work the program successfully.

I have attended 4 AA meetings and feel like if religion wasn’t such a focus I could connect on a better level.

I feel very alone as an atheist in recovery.

A fair number, especially long-time members, add the concept of exhaustion to the discomfort:

After almost 25 years in AA I’m just tired of the god thing.

Been in program 20 years and I’ve had it with the nonsense.

I am exhausted with my AA meetings being SO god, prayer, magical entity etc.

Sixteen years sober in AA, saying the lord’s prayer and thinking, “Why am I doing this?”

Shunning and Ridicule

It gets more serious when people are shunned or ridiculed – this discomfort is not internal, but pushed on you. This is especially detrimental to newcomers. Shunning – casting out from the society – is the ultimate punishment, save death, exacted by many societies all through history. Being made fun of is a bullying tactic, and bullying-to-suicide is an all too common theme in the news since the advent of social media. Sensitivity and suicide are no strangers to alcoholics …

In our “fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others… ” we use these tactics? Really? Here are examples:

I attended my first AA meeting 42 years ago and have struggled ever since, I stayed sober thanks to AA for over 20 of those years but always felt an outsider because of the reliance of the programme of a god that I did not accept.

I stayed sober 26 years in constant conflict with AA’s god reliance and drank for 1.5 years never intending to return to AA. As alcoholism kicked my ass again I returned to AA as the only familiar solution to get sober. I still recoil at allowing myself to be a hypocrite just to not drink. I seek like minded souls, not antagonists… simply live and let live.

told them exactly how I felt… God as I don’t understand it… it has been difficult to stay sober because the majority of people I knew in AA shunned me.

The last meeting attended clearly made me feel like an outcast when almost all members at this meeting got a big laugh at the atheist’s expense.

I have been the subject of some shunning since I have been trying to get abstinent for nine years. In some part, this may owe to the so-called God thing, or my lack of faith in same.

I feel uncomfortable in regular meetings. I get shunned by some old book thumpers. I respect their belief. I would like them to respect mine.

I have been in AA for 8 1/2 years and am finding the “God Slot” in the programme harder and harder to handle. I am definitely the odd one out in my home group.

I was even told by my sponsor (who fired me because she can’t relate to someone who doesn’t believe in “God”) to not attend a meeting…

Fear

Fear is a familiar motivator to us all, and it is especially difficult for the newcomer to face the fear of being moulded into a religious or spiritual state that is alien to him or her

I am an atheist and I cannot see that as ever changing, although I have firmly believed in the need for spirituality in my life. I have been afraid to bring up my beliefs in the meeting for fear of being ostracised.

…which demands “Christian” beliefs system… it’s very intimidating & I cannot express any of my fears at a “regular” AA meeting. I mean, the AAs at the house even accuse me of practising witchcraft because I’m a SGI-Buddhist.

I’d like to start going to meetings, but am nervous about how God heavy they may be in my area.

Translating the Wordslit table3tb

Quite a number of non-religious people have been successful in AA, but have had to translate the language into their own words in order to use the program. This technique has been the subject of a lot of writing on this site, and is a main subject in two books at least: The Little Book by Roger C., and Common Sense Recovery: An Atheist’s Guide to Alcoholics Anonymous by Adam N. Apparently it has been used independently by many people:

I’ve found my own way of understanding the Program without any god, grace or magic.

I got sober god free by reinterpreting the steps to my needs and am convinced that finding the wisdom of each step and tailoring them to individual needs can work for many people…

I am exhausted by attending the meetings and trying to translate every spoken word into my own language that I can tolerate.

…find a meeting in the Boston area that might require less internal translations of the message.

And as you can see, they find it tiring and would like not to have to do it… in an agnostic meeting.

Building New Meetings

Most of the people with more extended sobriety expressed a great love and gratitude for AA. Many people have recognized the phenomenon of increasing numbers of religious meetings, or individual meetings becoming more religious, and that many people are turned away by this. Their comments reflect a desire to serve others, especially newcomers, and broaden the gates of AA by providing more agnostic-friendly meetings. A lot of oldtimers seem to feel this way:

As a person in long term recovery (28 years), my observations over the years are that the religious belief system collapsed onto the program is driving away and keeping out the non-religious and keeping the doors of recovery closed. I am passionate that everyone deserves the chance to recover; I hear “Love and Tolerance of others is our code” and it’s my opinion the religious in our program don’t realize how excluding and intolerant they are of other points of view. I want to help kick the doors wide open for ALL! Believer or Non-Believer, I want to create a place where all are truly welcome and safe. Belief not required for the actions to work!

I’m sober 27.6 years and an adamant atheist and am going to start a meeting here in West Hollywood for atheist and agnostics… because I’ve seen people driven out of AA rooms by people telling them they can’t stay sober unless they have a GOD… which is not true… and I want to give these atheist a chance to stay sober without that feeling of being an OUTSIDER that I’ve felt from time to time…

I am an atheist member of AA. I love what AA has done for my life. I want to continue to give back what has been so freely given to me.

Sober and clean for 33 years and an active engaged member of AA for all that time. Also a committed humanist. Willing to start or help start a religion-free meeting in my city.

I’m willing to put my reservations about AA aside and have a stab at starting a meeting for people like me, who find the camaraderie and common purpose of primary importance to sobriety rather than the spiritual side.

We have a wealth of strong AA groups here, but the centre of that strength is too much oriented towards the idea of an interventionist God, prayer and ‘worship’. I want to start a new group with all the values of AA except the Christian Religion ones!

There must be SOMEONE else besides me in my area who would like the fellowship/sistership of sobriety without all the religious crap!

We have seen the “God talk” drive a lot of newcomers straight out of the rooms. We are meeting to plan a meeting and need info and an atheist version of the steps.

I love my traditional AA home-group. They have been very accepting of my agnosticism, which is a nice change from some of my past experiences in AA… it sure would be swell to occasionally meet just one or two people who are in AA and atheist/agnostic. It would be amazing to share, face-to-face, our experiences in the program and the way we’ve adapted the steps so that we can maintain our “lack of belief” while still developing and growing spiritually.

So there you have it, from the keyboards of folks looking for agnostic meetings – why we want agnostic meetings.

We are social beasts, we humans, and we do not do well if we are not in a comfortable society. And if society is not comfortable with us, it finds ways to let us know, and eventually, drive us out. For a recovering alcoholic, the AA meeting is a poignant distillation of this social interplay. Many try and translate alien ideas into something more understandable to cope with it.

For atheists, agnostics, free-thinkers and similar people, religious AA is just plain uncomfortable. This discomfort can range from mild exhaustion to that horrible feeling you get when the doctor picks up a four-foot syringe and says “bend over”, and your feet head for the door.

The discomfort can be internal or external. Internally, from “I just don’t like it” to “I can’t stand the god talk”. Externally, from “you need God to get sober”, to “they laughed at me”, or worst of all, “they told me to stay away”.

We all have fears, and fear of another’s gods, or lack of gods, is a powerful internal motivator on the one hand, or a weapon on the other. Both aspects play a role in our desire for meetings with familiar people, ideas, and a reduction of these fears.

I did not find any surprises in these comments – just good old fashioned social humanity doing its thing. And for me that makes the existence of agnostic meetings completely compelling: to give agnostic alcoholics a place where they are able to recover as best they can, in as much peace as can be provided, without fear of ridicule or ostracism. It’s hard enough to stay sober, even with all the support that AA can provide.

Many people are working to set up just such meetings, with the knowledge that AA works no matter what, if you give it the right setting. This has happened over and over again for other groups with particular interests, beliefs, or social needs. Don’t expect GSO or someone “in authority” to do this. Remember the inverted triangle power structure of AA: the groups have the power. It happens in meetings. And new agnostic meetings are happening all around us now.

In fact, in the past couple of years hundreds of agnostic AA meetings have started – some of them with a little help from our form. This is all these need-a-meeting frustrations coming out; it is a wave of transformation. I’m happy to be riding that wave, and grateful to be able to help so many people start those meetings.

The title of this post was one of the comments. I’ll end with another pithy one:

I can’t stay sober without AA, but the god thing is a pain in the ass.

__________

Chris was a somehow functioning drunk for 30-odd years. This allowed him to fit right in to the corporate sociopathy as president of a couple of companies, and positions of senior management at several others. He regrets the damage done to society while gaining various accolades in the mindless race to shareholder happiness. He has been sober 5 years, and after coming out as an AA Atheist a year ago, is starting a long stern chase after bodhichitta and understanding the Tao.  He has been working with AA Agnostica, trying to put people together to form groups, since 2013. He apologizes to all those hundreds of seekers in California who just happen to be about 100 miles apart. He is secretary-treasurer of a mostly secular AA meditation group that meets Wednesday mornings in Fort Erie, Ontario.


Print Friendly

Share this post:
FacebooktwittermailFacebooktwittermail

Comments

My Brain Goes Fuzzy When They Talk About God — 43 Comments

  1. Just had a terrible experience during an online Skype meeting and really want to share it – hopefully not in a self-pitying way, hehe. It was in a Big Book meeting, which usually doesn’t bother me. My two most influential sponsors were both believers (both deceased) who taught me about the program of action and the need to clean house and help others. Been sober for 17 years now. The past year, I’ve grown more and more convinced of the atheism I’ve barely kept suppressed under “God as I don’t understand him” and “God as metaphor”, but I’ve recently decided that I need to be honest with myself (and others) about my non-belief. Well, for the first time I actually mentioned specifically non-belief in God in a meeting (while sharing my message about the need to examine my motives and actions honestly) and it felt very liberating to use the phrase “for me as an atheist, this means…” in a meeting. Felt very liberating, freeing, and honest. Felt like “someone struggling with the God idea might benefit from this”. “I wish someone had said this when I first came in” etc. (pardon any grandiosity on my part) silly me… Seems this particular meeting closes with reading the end of Dr. Bob’s Nightmare, and I was asked to do the reading. By someone I know. Who knows I’m an atheist. That hurt. It really did. I’m wondering if anyone can make suggestions on how to start an agnostic AA meeting over Skype (we have only one English-language face-to-face meeting a week in the city I live in). Pardon the long-fingeredness, but I just felt the need to share this experience with people who will understand.

    • So sorry this happened to you, Mike. Passive-aggressive insanity of religion right there.

      It *is* good to know that we’re not alone.

      Imagine that happening to a newcomer? They’d simply give up and walk out the door.

      Crazy stuff.

      • Thanks a lot, Steve, I appreciate that. It does help to not feel alone in this. In retrospect, this is starting to feel like another of those experiences that felt really bad at the time, but were necessary for me to grow and grow up some. My old sponsor Vern used to call them AFGEs (Another Effing Growth Experience).

        Oh, and I couldn’t agree more about the newcomer. That was the whole point of me outing myself in that particular meeting in the first place. Such crazy religious hokum being bandied about, and a dude fairly new to recovery was asking some pretty intelligent questions about some of the prayer stuff. I could sense the doubts he had about the logic and so I explained how the ideas behind them, coupled with helping others, have worked for me. It gets old having to do the “dance around” of trying to say what I honestly believe while sprinkling in some magic dust on top in order to keep “kosher”. Just can’t do it anymore.

      • I certainly have had awkward moments in meetings, trying to respectfully respond to nonsensical god talk, and one in particular that threatened my early sobriety. Needed to happen. I got stronger, thankfully.

    • Hi Mike. I appreciate your sharing. I have been absent from AA for 2 years now. I was a “believer” for most of my 24 years in the fellowship/program. I am now an atheist and have been scared to return to meetings. I hate to admit that, however, it’s the truth. A part of me deep down thinks that the people I know would still accept me. Another side of me has trouble wrapping my head around going to meetings where I’ll feel alienated and alone, so, I stay away. I feel these pangs of wanting to go back, feel accepted and loved, and just be another member who just believes differently. I’m still a human like everyone else. I don’t want to betray myself either. I don’t know, just had to open up a bit after reading your post. Thanks to all who share on this site. It helps to not feel so alone.

      Peace, Chuck D. Vermont

      • Thank you very much Steve. I appreciate you taking the time to respond and share. I’m trying to just get out of my head and just go to a meeting, thinking about it all of the time can drive me batty in a way. Know what I mean?

    • It is amazing to see the variety of reactions you get when you “come out” in traditional meetings that you have been going to all along. When I first started letting my atheism show about 2 years ago, maybe 80% of the folks I thought I was friendly with started looking at me like I had turned green, and then just tuned me out. I admit that hurt at first, but now I can just do my thing and not worry about theirs.

      Luckily, there is one small meeting nearby where the members just want to talk alcohol and drugs and recovery. Some occasionally mention God, some talk of the eight-fold path, some talk science – but mostly we just talk about our addiction and how we’re coping with it. I have heard us referred to as “that weird Buddhist group”, but we’re not, although we do meditate with an oriental gong, play nature sounds, read from Beyond Belief and serve tea in small cups with no handles. I helped start it, and couldn’t make pure atheism fly, but it has turned into this strange group that really works for a few of us.

      I haven’t been to a “Lord’s Prayer” meeting in nearly a year – they do make my brain go fuzzy. I should go back and try one, to see if I can stand it now – and, I admit, see how they react. Now that I’m very comfortable with my atheistic program and not likely to start snarling and raising my fur, maybe they won’t either. Rule 62.

  2. I was an agnostic/leaning toward atheism when I finally found my way into AA 39 years ago. An earlier attempt at AA that lasted for one year failed because of what I call “the God thing.” Early in my current period of sobriety I still struggled mightily with the “God thing.” In looking back, I truly wonder why. AA works on so many levels, and “God” can be shorthand for anything that makes sense to the alcoholic. For me, that turned out to be the power of love. I had told an oldtimer I had known in my first stab at AA of my concern over the talk of God and he said this: “Do you believe in love?” I recall telling him that I felt love, acceptance, and a genuine desire of AA people to help me find sobriety. And he said, “make that your Higher Power. Take the old saying you heard as a child “God is Love,” and just flip it to “Love is God.” That has worked for me for 39 years, and is still the bedrock of my spiritual life. Many think that spirituality is somehow a hindrance to achieving sobriety for the agnostic. It is not, and never should be, regardless of belief or lack thereof. A very recent study by the Harvard Medical School had these surprising results:

    “A 2011 study by Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital revealed that the spiritual nature of AA is one of its major assets, and, paradoxically, also for agnostics and atheists. The study of 1,500 people in recovery showed that attending AA meetings can increase a person’s spirituality which in turn can reduce the frequency and intensity of alcohol abuse. The study’s primary finding was that AA enhances spiritual practices, especially for those who were not spiritual or religious prior to attending AA, and that spirituality showed a ‘robust association with better recovery outcomes.'” Other scholarly studies of AA’s spirituality have reached similar conclusions.

  3. Am in central Dutchess County, New York, in the village of Millbrook, not far from Poughkeepsie. Miss my old NYC Humanist meeting and am “uncomfortable” too at meetings up here.

  4. “God’s will”?

    The spectrum of folks using these two words is vast. I have listened carefully and realized many who use it are just like me, an agnostic. Many declare the mystery inherent in their concept of God. “I don’t need to know”. Sure, this might be construed as blissful ignorance. Another interpretation involves “the more I learn, the more I learn how little I know.” The workings of the natural world inspire curiosity, causing us to reach for explanations. Only sometimes can we understand the mechanisms that are constantly working in and around our “civilized” world. The resilience of natural systems inspires my daily journey along with each one of you. Thanks.

  5. I am an agnostic and live sober in Portugal thank you for letting me know that I am not alone in feeling that I can do it without God…

  6. I’m not a member of AA but am involved in another 12 Step fellowship, OA. We use the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions but have our own big book and other literature that is deeply spiritual and psychological sophisticated. Sadly, a few folks who have experience in AA are increasingly bringing AA material into our fellowship. I found this site as I wrestled with my response to a suggestion that we add How it Works to the beginning of what is my home meeting and the 3rd or 7th Step prayers to the end. I find the attitudes expressed on this site much closer to my way of thinking about all these matters. I wouldn’t call myself an atheist or agnostic, but I would agree with Dan above, that using God to solve problems is fanciful rather that sensible. There is a solution and it does involve the support of like-minded folks, but it does not necessitate the pablum of religion. I registered so I can continue to follow the conversation here. It will help me keep my bearings as I express my objection to changing what has been working. I can translate the few words I find troublesome, but I really don’t want to be adding more of this silly thinking into a program I love. All the best everyone.

    • Philip Z, as an OA member in the 1990s, wrote A Skeptics Guide to the 12-Steps. I loved it; a great book for anyone in addiction.

  7. Thanks for this article. My first response was that this would be impossible in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. But, if this is published, perhaps there are enough people here to do it. The seed is planted.

    I personally put myself out to make sure our NA program survives on this island. We have 27 AA meetings / week and 1 NA meeting. These are younger people who are told to substitute drugs for alcohol and door knobs (“him” door knobs) for god.

    My sobriety is stronger but I am so over this god and him thing in the AA literature. Perhaps we can start to go a different direction.

  8. Well said. With about 8.5 months of sobriety, I’ve been attending about 4 -5 meetings a week and the focus on “God could and would if He were sought” is annoying at best for someone like myself with no belief in such a mythical/magical being. I continue to attend meetings but am not comfortable doing so. I have located but have not attended a couple of agnostic meetings I found listed on AA Agnostica mostly due to the the distance from my home. I did try to catch the one listed in Bethesda, MD a couple of weeks back but there was nobody at the location listed at the time it was supposed to start. I would love to find such a meeting a little closer to my Frederick, MD location and wouldn’t mind helping to create one but with my short time of sobriety am not confident in my ability to start one. I have only heard of one other person in my area that is openly agnostic/atheist, I guess that is where I should start.

  9. Indeed, Chris, an excellent article which adds to the exploding evidence accumulated over the last several years how critical it is for us to have our own meetings with our own literature within AA, especially since the General Service Conference has failed to adequately address our requests for conference-approved literature that is relative to our agnostic beliefs or non beliefs since 1975. I love how you define agnostic, BTW.

    I still remain committed to request that the GV publish a book of the previously published stores by atheists and agnostics in the GV since 1972. Two districts in Portland are collaborating to have a resolution passed by Oregon Area 58 to this effect in addition to Area 53 in Columbus and southeastern Ohio and Area 39 in Kansas City and Westerm Missouri. Hopefully, other areas will also pursue this as well. Until literature with the imprimatur of GSO is published by AA, our meetings and our literature will be dismissed as not authentic AA in many areas of North America such as has happened in Toronto, Vancouver and many areas of the US, as the comments amply indicate.

    Portland, Oregon’s two secular groups are expanding both in attendance and with additional meetings. Likely other groups will follow. What is especially meaningful to me is that our meetings are about a 50/50 mix or long-timers with decades of recovery, and newcomers including many millennials within their first year who are so relieved to have a secular way of experiencing the human power of the AA Fellowship.

    As Roger intones, onward and upwards !~!~!

  10. Помогите связаться с русскоговорящими анонимными агностиками-атеистами. Россия, Иркутск, 13 лет трезвый, открываю группу, хотелось бы иметь обратную связь.

    • Are there any Russian-speakers among us? Google translates this comment as “Help to contact with Russian-speaking anonymous agnostics, atheists. Russia, Irkutsk 13 years sober, open group, I would like to have feedback.” Jump in if you can help, and I’ll get you in touch with Sergei.
      Later — He has also put in a new form, saying: Послезавтра открываю группу агностиков-атеистов в наркологическом отделении. Нуждаюсь в любой информации, опыте проведения собраний, литературе, редакции шагов, традиций, преамбуле.

      The day after tomorrow I open a group of agnostics, atheists in drug treatment unit. I need any information, experience, meetings, literature, edition of the steps, traditions, and the preamble.

      So if you can help out, please let us know!

      • My Russian is terrible (even after five years in Moscow) so I will have to ask my wife (who is a Russian Language teacher) to give me a hand with this. Ask Roger direct for my email address and phone/skype contacts and we will see what we can do. I saw much suffering in Russia and AA has never really taken hold there. Please get in touch with me.

  11. Hello Chris, thank you for this excellent piece; it is an excellent narrative highlighting why so many of us have left the traditional AA groups in order to be free to express our experience, strength and hope without reservation or fear of being chastised for not following AA protocol (whatever that is).
    Almost three years ago I found this website and attended several Agnostic meetings in Toronto then returned to Vancouver and reported my experience at those Toronto groups to our men’s discussion group.
    Members of our men’s group, most with years of sobriety, simply couldn’t stand the chanting, rituals, god talk, veneration of the BB, anti-intellectualism, gossiping and praying at traditional meetings; all of us voted unanimously to form the first Agnostic AA Group “We Agnostics” here in Vancouver.
    Our path has not been a simple one; Vancouver Intergroup delisted our group, we have been personally and collectively insulted by other AA members (love and tolerance, harump harump), we had the AA Keystone Cops show up at our meeting possibly attempting to intimidate us and we were ousted from our original meeting place by some “loving and tolerant” members.
    In spite of all this we have remained a close knit group with several new members, we are all sober without god and best of all two other stable groups have been formed with another planned to start shortly.
    We are all grateful for this rallying point website and are all optimistic over the growth of Agnostic groups and the eventual acceptance of Agnostic groups here in Vancouver.
    Once again, thank you Chris for your enlightening and encouraging essay.

  12. 45 years sober (May 1, 1970) and I never could get the “god” thing. I did the steps to the best of my ability. I would like to attend a local free thinkers group! Unfortunately, the closest one is in Grand Junction, CO. I love the on-line posts! Perhaps, there will be a group in my area sometime in the future! (Ridgway, CO)

    • Hi John! Unfortunately the group in Grand Junction is no longer around. A couple of us started a ‘We Agnostics’ group in Carbondale a few months back (alas, even farther away from you than Junction) and if you should ever find yourself in the area on a Tuesday night, look us up! It’s true, there aren’t many of us on the Western Slope, however that said, I will say I’ve been surprised by how welcoming most traditional ‘AA-ers’ have been to having our group around.
      -Pat (Glenwood Springs, CO)

  13. A small group of people have started an agnostic group in Mississauga. I started attending the Beyond Belief group in Toronto over two years ago, mostly because I couldn’t stand feeling like an outsider any longer in regular meetings. At my first meeting in Toronto, I asked if there were any other agnostic meetings in my area and I was told, no you’re going to have to start one! It took a couple of years, but we have been running now since February 11. Just attending agnostic meetings has dramatically changed the nature of my sobriety, I am actually almost happy some of the time, because I am not fighting the nonsense and having to hold my tongue all of the time. We have a core group of about five or six and have had several newcomers attend so it’s all good. Thanks to all the people who helped and of course this site keeps me going in the in-between times.

    • Such good news – if I’m back your way again I will definitely be there. My home group for years was the Tuesday night Streetsville meeting which I think meets in the same building you’re in. If you would email me Carol wisewebwomanatgmail.com I’d like to stay in touch.

  14. Thank you Chris!

    A very good collection of common experiences from we heathens in conventional AA groups.

  15. About 3 years ago, I was in a traditional meeting with 8-9 present. They read How It Works, recited the Serenity Prayer and maybe the 3rd step prayer, read the Traditions, maybe then another BB reading. That’s when the brand-new, 90-pound junkie, who looked like she hadn’t eaten or bathed in a while, said “Is this some kind of religion?”
    Scared the heck out of me, because I was sure we’d lose her. The group (nice people, actually) drowned her in the “spiritual not religious” BS, and she stayed, even through the (alleged) Lord’s Prayer. I was VERY relieved to see the one woman member pull her aside afterward for a smoke and a talk. Maybe she gave AA another chance, but I still think about her and hope she’s not dead.
    That’s why I feel committed to spreading the secular AA culture by any means necessary. If anyone in the Pacific NW wants help starting a meeting, please contact me. I’ve helped start a couple, and I’ve got gas in the car. nagleph@msn.com

  16. Thanks Chris for expressing what so many of us feel. Finding other atheists and being directed to this site made everything so much easier for me. Being raised as an Irish Catholic and having served in the military and later working for a regulatory agency I was quite prepared to ignore megatons of nonsense in order to achieve the goal of sobriety… but cognitive dissonance is one of the disquieting aspects of addiction and finding freedom of expression was life changing for me. I could never understand the sudden right turn of going from self discovery and self improvement and self healing through community to an interventionist outside source for ultimate redemption. The program, as I see it, can be made to work quite well without it. God is superfluous and redundant window dressing for what is an internal problem. I have always seen “seeking god’s will” to be the most slippery of slopes ever, especially for people prone to self delusion. We are told that addiction is not a moral issue but a “disease” and then the original AA path attempts to apply a moral solution to a mental disorder. This might have made sense as therapy for the middle class white Anglo-Saxon protestants of the 1940’s United States but we, as a society, have come a long way in our understanding of mental disorders and emotional illness. We do ourselves a disfavour by attempting to impose what is essentially faith healing on a legitimate psychological process. Thanks.

  17. ‘Our membership ought to include all who suffer from alcoholism. Hence we may refuse none who wish to recover. Nor ought AA membership ever depend upon money or conformity. Any two or three alcoholics gathered together for sobriety may call themselves an AA group, provided that, as a group, they have no other affiliation’ (Tradition Three, long form). A woman told her doctor, ‘It hurts when I lift my arm.’ The doctor said, ‘Then don’t do it.’ It hurts when I go to AA meetings and everyone talks about God the whole time. Then don’t go to them – start your own with ‘two or three’ like-minded members. Admittedly, tricky if there’s just one of you (how can that be a ‘meeting’ or ‘group’?) I’ve started 15 groups in the past 31 years, 12 survive though they’ve evolved in different ways. As other correspondents have noted on this site, here in Great Britain the God problem doesn’t seem to loom so large as on your side of the pond. Many members will refer in passing to e.g. their Higher Power, and some will add whom they choose to call God, but there is very little ‘religious’ sharing – in fact in my experience when occasionally someone starts talking about Jesus they pretty quickly get told to shut up. Anyway, if the worst comes to the worst and it is impossible to attend a meeting or find anyone else to help you start a group, remember that neither the 12 Steps nor the Preamble mention groups or meetings as a requirement to stay sober. Some members simply cannot get to meetings. I used to belong to the correspondence group World Hello, for housebound members, seamen, members in the armed forces, those travelling etc. Today we have the internet with aaagnostica and other non ‘religious’ sites. Willingness, honesty and open-mindedness are the essentials of recovery, not attendance at meetings.

  18. Thanks, Chris! Well said and well done. Keep up the good work. Love the literature table. On my list to do for our meeting, too.

  19. Chris, what a great idea for an article. I loved all of what you covered in your post but the category that you write about near the end is especially relevant to me.

    Building New Meetings:

    Most of the people with more extended sobriety expressed a great love and gratitude for AA….Their comments reflect a desire to serve others, especially newcomers, and broaden the gates of AA by providing more agnostic-friendly meetings.

    My wife and I had little difficulty “de-Goding” the Big Book, as well as whatever religiosity we heard at meetings, since we were atheists long before we decided to get sober with AA. We were, however, simply “lucky” we had each other for mutual support so we never felt the impact of any form of AA ostracism by believers, nor doubts and anxiety about the efficacy of AA if we didn’t have a God.

    But not everyone, as we know, is as lucky as my wife and I were. As you and so many others point out, what about the vulnerable, impressionable, solitary agnostic newcomer who is not lucky enough to have the support of at least one other likeminded member, and who only hears “fake it until you make it,” or the threat that she or he will inevitably drink again unless they find God.

    Your comments above sum up nicely why my wife and I (and three others) formed our own home group, Widening Our Gateway, a few years ago.

    Thanks again for your outline about why we want our own meetings, and why these kinds of meetings must be formed with others like the agnostic newcomer in mind.

  20. Yup, this is my story too. I have found a couple of people locally so far, but come on Montreal! Let’s get together! 🙂

    Steve

    • Go Habs Go. I got sober on the West Island in the 1970s and I’d love to have an agnostic group to visit when I’m in town. Maybe it’s the francophones but in National surveys, Quebec shows up as being way more secular than Ontario. It’s second, per capita only to BC. There will be members coming out of the woodwork if there is a meeting for rational/secular AAs offered in the meeting list. Good luck.

  21. I just submitted my info with the link. About 90% of the time, my traditional home group has practical meeting about recovery, but last night, it was just god, god, and absolutely no substance. Left very frustrated, but at least I had the Sunday post to look forward to. Truly a lifeline – Thanks! It seems I am the only non-believer in my area (Texas gulf coast bible belt), and I am open about my atheism. My home group is only group I can stand any more. At least there, I get nods of approval and understanding. It is a real pleasure when I am able to attend a secular meeting, but the hour plus drive keeps me at home a lot. That may change in the future. Thanks again.

  22. Chris,
    Thanks.
    And I think all those people in California who live a hundred miles apart should just go ahead and start a meeting. That’s what I have done. Often I’m the only one since I live in the boonies, but I just sit and read. We have books to read now, and I find new books on the internet all the time.
    I remember early on, a woman who told in a meeting that she started one of the first meetings in Japan. for half a year she sat there all by herself, then one person showed up. This is the sort of determination only found in AA, and we may as well do it for agnostics too.
    And if I’m near one of those meetings I’m going to visit.

    • So many people ask how to start a meeting. The methods are endless. You point out maybe the hardest way: by yourself. But it can be done. Often, I hear of two or three people that just start at a home or coffee shop, very informally, and eventually they are getting others. I think the message is: just do it.

      • Chris, yes I think we have another problem: AA has gotten too formal. If it isn’t happening in a church or a park or a hospital – but in someone’s home then there is something wrong with it. I have tried to also transcend this, by having meditation meetings at my house, and an annual retreat, and especially newcomers are scared to come to someone’s house for an event.
        AA started out in people’s homes

      • life, I think you are right. A while back I tried having some meetings at my house, and some people were definitely uncomfortable. We are such a society of top-down organizations, a lot of people also think they need permission from AA to start a meeting!

    • The picture at the beginning of the article is just a picture – the active link is just to the left in the sidebar. If you are on a phone or tablet, you might have to scroll over to see it…