In January of this year the discrimination against agnostic groups by Intergroup in the Toronto area ended as a result of a settlement mediated by the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. In the very next Intergroup Newsletter, called Better Times, this candid history of one of the previously excluded groups was published. Imagine that.
By Joe C
Thursday, September 24th, 2009 at 6:30 PM, the first meeting of Beyond Belief Agnostics and Freethinkers Group took place at the University of Toronto. There are now 14 GTA meetings “without a prayer”. I’m a regular around the AA History Lovers clan and periodically, I write and speak about our collective history. Eddy G from Toronto archives was excited to show me a late 1990s meeting list with a We Agnostics Group on Danforth, in District 22. So, if any East-enders remember We Agnostics, I’d love to hear from you.
At the turn of the century, I found an active group of AA atheists / agnostics form around the world, online. I found an international website of agnostic / atheists AA groups that included New York City. “Great,” I decided, “Next New York trip, I’m going.” I told some of my homegroup friends. I got to a couple of New York agnostic groups and I couldn’t wait to help start a Toronto group with my fellow AAs.
Many agnostic groups had web pages with meeting scripts and readings. Living Sober is a popular reading. We adopted this popular opening:
AA agnostic meetings endeavour to maintain a tradition of free expression, and conduct a meeting where alcoholics feel free to express any doubts or disbelief they may have, and to share their own personal form of spiritual experience, their search for it, or their rejection of it. In keeping with AA tradition, we do not endorse or oppose any form of religion or atheism. Our only wish is to ensure suffering alcoholics that they can find sobriety in AA without having to accept anyone else’s beliefs, or having to deny their own.
There was no praying; some groups recited the Responsibility Declaration or “Live and Let Live” and some just close with “Our next meeting is ___ ; who’s going for coffee?”
A lot of the early Toronto members came from Midtown, Stepping Stones and other groups in the Annex. Alcoholics from Ajax to Mississauga joined us. A lot of long-timers talk about AA recovery, not fitting their beliefs into G.O.D. acronyms or start every share with, “I don’t mean to offend anyone but…”
There are those newcomers who tried faking it and repeatedly not made it but have now found sobriety in our gathering of mostly nonbelievers. Some AAs never have the experience of a prayer-answering, sobriety-granting higher power. At Beyond Belief, we just share from our heart, unabashedly.
There are 400 secular AA meetings around the world. From 2009 to 2017, we went from zero to over 24 Canadian meetings for atheists / agnostics.
The International Conference of Secular AA is coming to downtown Toronto, in 2018. Many of us are busy with our first local gathering called SOAAR (Secular Ontario AA Roundup) September 16, 2017.
AA History isn’t something that happened “way back when”. AA evolves before our eyes. It’s an exciting time to be sober in Toronto AA.