Is listability the new AA?


By Joe C.

It’s January 2014 and Vancouver is in the news: the city is winner of the 2025 AA World Conference. Congratulations are in order.

There is also controversy brewing in Vancouver, with two agnostic groups having been removed, at least temporarily, from the official Intergroup roster of AA meetings. This coming Tuesday (21 Jan 2014), Vancouver Intergroup will vote on whether or not agnostic groups are to be deemed “listable” on the Greater Vancouver AA meeting list.

This plays into a bigger drama about AA’s growing pains as more and more atheists come into the rooms. Tolerance and inclusiveness are being tested on both sides – that’s nothing new to AA, as we’ll discuss.

The 2014 Winter Olympics are in Russia in the next couple of weeks. It was just four year ago that, again, Vancouver played host to the world for the 2010 Winter Games. I remember a 2010 controversy when city officials either jailed or relocated a lot of the city’s undesirables. The plan was to ensure that every picture taken by every fan, athlete or dignitary would only show squeaky-clean Vancouver.

Al-Anon, a refuge of sober second thought, some time ago adopted a three-fold filter that Socrates is credited with offering us: Is it true? Is it fair? Is it useful? I know that not all of the people of Vancouver were ashamed of their homeless population nor did they feel threatened by them. If the decision went through the Socratic filter, it may have been concluded that it was not true that these people posed any threat to visitors, that it was not fair to disrespect the human rights of one class of people for the pleasures of another and as for was it useful – I expect there are still hard feelings in Vancouver, four years later.

Maybe Intergroup is unconsciously going through the same urgent clean up. Why let controversies go unchecked, while preparing to impress the world? If the problem-cases are small enough, eliminate them.

AA Convention 2025

In 2025 AA will hold its International Conference in Vancouver with 48,000 AA members from 75 different countries. Prior to the 2010 Winter Games, Vancouver “officials either jailed or relocated a lot of the city’s undesirables…
Maybe Intergroup is unconsciously going through the same urgent clean up. Why let controversies go unchecked, while preparing to impress the world?”

So, who are these groups and are they scapegoats or have they violated the rules of fair play in AA? Two groups in Vancouver, like another hundred or so groups in North America, don’t see belief in, or obedience to, “God as we understand Him” as being a requirement for AA-style sobriety. While belief in a prayer-answering God is popular in AA, it isn’t a prerequisite for membership. The groups read a version of the AA Twelve Steps without the phrase “God as we understood Him.” None of this is news for the core AA Agnostica reader but please bear with us while we bring newer readers up to speed.

According to an 18 page report from the new Vancouver Intergroup Manager the groups had to be eliminated from the meeting list and their voice silenced without delay – it wasn’t the manager’s self-will, it was argued; it was the result of a sense of duty. The groups aren’t real groups; they aren’t listable and should not have been welcomed in the first place.

These agnostic AA groups unabashedly say, “Hey, we’re not asking permission. AA gives us the right to autonomously run our meeting as we see fit. AA isn’t a popularity contest, if you don’t like it, don’t come, that’s fine. We’re not doing anything wrong – in fact, we’re doing what our founders would have us do, carry the message of hope to still-suffering alcoholics that come to AA through an ever-widening gateway.”

“No way,” says the Vancouver Intergroup; “not so fast. Every group is autonomous, ‘except in matters affecting other groups or A.A. as a whole.’ We are autonomous as an Intergroup, too – and we are going to recommend that our popular groups vote on what constitutes a listable group.”

Is an agnostic group bad for AA or a confusion to newcomers?

Is artistic liberty a good thing like the slogan “Live and let live” suggests to us? And what about the other Traditions? Our co-founder, Dr. Bob said this about our Traditions. “Honesty gets us sober (Step One) but tolerance (Tradition One) keeps us sober.” Tradition Two specifically says “we do not govern.” How do we tell a trusted servant from a twisted servant who has gotten drunk on dogma? Tradition Three has one and only one membership requirement – and it’s not a willingness to believe in or pray to God, is it? Who’s to bless and who’s to blame here?

Let’s apply the Socratic test to the Vancouver Intergroup’s arguments. Socrates is known for his contributions to modern society’s ability to be both reasonable and virtuous. Personally, I am not certain that we can reason people out of a corner that emotion has painted them into. As our co-founder Bill W. has cautioned us, fear and intolerance are highly emotional catalysts that can destroy Alcoholics Anonymous. Our Traditions were fashioned to defend us from our own emotional slips. [1]

So let’s put the Vancouver Manoeuvre up against the Socratic test: is it true; is it fair; is it useful?

First, it is argued, you can’t change the AA Steps. If you interpret them, you can’t call yourself an AA group.

Here is the “authority” that anti-agnostic members draw from. Bylaws of the General Service Board, Inc., page S111 of the AA World Service Manual has this turgid little offering:

The General Service Board claims no proprietary right in the recovery program, for these Twelve Steps, as all spiritual truths, may now be regarded as available to all mankind. However, because these Twelve Steps have proven to constitute an effective spiritual basis for life which, if followed, arrests the disease of alcoholism, the General Service Board asserts the negative right of preventing, so far as it may be within its power to do so, any modification, alteration, or extension of these Twelve Steps, except at the instance of the Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous.

On its own, without context, we might conclude that there it is – no changing the Steps. But who does this limit apply to and who is the enforcer? That’s not confusing when we read the entire Service Manual. This bylaw applies to the annual General Service Conference of Trustees, Delegates and employees that approve and conduct the business of AA each year. It is the Board that does the enforcement. In no way does this apply to AA groups or members. This has been so since 1957.

But maybe while technically the General Service Board (or any Intergroup Office) should never govern nor punish groups, is it possible that the spirit of Twelve Step sacredness should be observed by every group? Not according to the Twelve Step author, Bill Wilson. AA Comes of Age was published in 1957 also. Here, for the record, Bill tells a story in the Chapter on Unity about the first known group ever to take God out of the Steps. He defended this group without reservations.

On page 81 he talks about how AA was growing around the world. Buddhists said that they would like to be part of AA, but also would like to replace the word “god” with “good” so that the practice of the Steps would be compatible with their non-theistic belief. Bill Wilson writes:

To some of us, the idea of substituting ‘good’ for ‘God’ in the Twelve Steps will seem like a watering down of AA’s message. But here we must remember that AA’s Steps are suggestions only. A belief in them, as they stand, is not at all a requirement for membership among us. This liberty has made AA available to thousands who never would have tried at all had we insisted on the Twelve Steps just as written.

So it is simply not true that agnostic groups that read an agnostic interpretation of the Twelve Steps are breaking our Traditions or even go against the spirit of them – according to the guy who wrote both.

And as far as reading anything that the group deems to be fair, true and useful, in an effort to attain and maintain sobriety, the General Service Office reminds us “Conference Approved Literature” doesn’t suggest that either GSO nor the Conference is in the business of banning or disapproving any literature that a group or member might find helpful. [2]

Next up, an Intergroup email to group representatives states, “In January there will be discussion about this submission and a decision made as to what constitutes a ‘listable’ group.”

Group image

An AA group as it was defined in early AA in a pamphlet in Cleveland in 1946. Special thanks to Ernie Kurtz, author of many wonderful works about recovery, including the authoritative and universally respected history of our fellowship, Not-God: A History of Alcoholics Anonymous.

If you are searching your Service Manual, the Intergroup Guidelines or the pamphlet, The AA Group, for the world listable, you won’t find it. It’s a made up word. But we all know what is meant. We can’t have anyone calling themselves an AA group without ensuring they follow THE RULES. Check the Appendices at the back of Alcoholics Anonymous or look in the AA World Service Manual for “the Rules” and you can’t find them either. What we find in the Manual is Warranty Six (Concept XII) where, if Bill Wilson had any second thoughts about defending groups reading God-free Twelve Steps, he could have mentioned it here. Instead he celebrates the liberties afforded members and groups and assures that no punishment, judgment, nor demand for conformity ever be imposed on an AA group by AA itself. [3]

 “There are no emergencies in AA,” Ward Ewing told me in 2011 when talking about what he learned while Chairman of the Board of AA. General Service – a four year term. It was a learning curve for Reverend Ewing as a non-alcoholic Trustee. A sense of urgency was something he brought to AA but we taught him, as he told me, good decisions – spiritual decisions – were never made in haste, anger or apathy.

Have AA groups in Vancouver broken Traditions? No. Is it Vancouver Intergroup’s right to set aside our Traditions and create their own “listable” requirements for AA groups? Sure – but don’t lie to yourselves or others. It’s not the groups that are changing Vancouver AA, it’s Intergroup. In the AA that our co-founders left us, a group is a group if the group says so. Trusted servants accommodate; we do not judge.

If Intergroup passes judgment on unpopular groups, in AA we call that tyranny of the majority. If the minority groups demanded that all of AA conform to their wishes and change everything, that would be wrong, too – that’s tyranny of the minority. But the groups aren’t asking AA to change for their sake. What they are asking is to be treated with the same unifying love and tolerance that others are accorded.

Vancouver, if you go down this road, and especially if you want to use Toronto as an example, consider the law of unintended consequences. Agnostic AA membership is up – Toronto agnostic groups saw a surge in popularity after being tossed from Intergroup, not a drop in popularity. Contributions to Intergroup from the remaining groups is “below budgeted expectation” according to the latest Greater Toronto Area Intergroup minutes. Maybe that’s a coincidence and maybe that’s what Bill W. calls “the power of the purse.” Maybe Toronto is still a story in the making.

Vancouver hasn’t discovered a new and dangerous trend; deviating from the norm has been part of AA longer than most of us have been alive. This is what makes our society so special. We all have our own opinion but we all have to work from the same facts. Vancouver reminds us of our history; if we don’t know our history, we are damned to repeat it. When Bill, Bob and our other pre-baby-boomers faced these same fears about artistic liberty (the right of the group to interpret the Steps for their purposes), they asked what they were afraid of? “Naturally, we began to act like most everybody does when afraid. After all, isn’t’ fear the true basis of intolerance. Yes we were intolerant. How could we then guess that all those fears were to prove groundless?”[4] Tolerance and inclusion require the opposite of fear—courage and whatever it is we have faith in.

So, group representatives, as you consider the proposal set forth by the Central Office Manager of the Greater Vancouver Intergroup Society, please be courageous and ask yourselves as you read, discuss and vote on the issue of the listability of groups other than your own:

Is it true; is it fair; is it useful?


[1] From Page 17, AA Tradition – How It Developed:

The number of membership rules which have been made (and mostly broken!) are legion… The way our “worthy” alcoholics have sometimes tried to judge the “less worthy” is, as we look back on it, rather comical. Imagine if you can, one alcoholic judging another. At one time or another most AA groups go on rule-making benders… Newcomers argue that they aren’t alcoholics at all, but keep coming around anyway… Others refuse to accept all the Twelve Steps of the recovery program. Some go still further, saying that the “God business” is bunk and quite unnecessary. Under these conditions our conservative program-abiding members get scared. These appalling conditions must be controlled, they think, else AA will surely go to rack and ruin. They view with alarm for the good of the movement!

At this point the group enters the rule and regulation phase. Charters, bylaws and membership rules are excitedly passed and authority is granted committees to filter out undesirables and discipline the evildoers. Then the elders, now clothed with authority, commence to get busy. Recalcitrants are cast into utter darkness; respectable busy-bodies throw stones at the sinners.

[2] Conference-Approved Literature.

[3] Warranty Six from A.A. Service Manual: Combined with Twelve Concepts for World Service by Bill W.:

In preceding Concepts, much attention has been drawn to the extraordinary liberties which the A.A. Traditions accord to the individual member and to his group: no penalties to be inflicted for nonconformity. . . Because we set such a high value on our great liberties, and cannot conceive a time when they will need to be limited, we here specially enjoin our General Service Conference to abstain completely from any and all acts of authoritative government which could in any wise curtail A.A.’s freedom under God. . . . Therefore we expect that our Conferences will always try to act in the spirit of mutual respect and love—one member for another. In turn, this sign signifies that mutual trust should prevail; that no action ought to be taken in anger, haste, or recklessness; care will be observed to respect and protect all minorities; that no action should ever be personally punitive, . . our Conference will ever be prudently on guard against tyrannies, great or small, whether these be found in the majority or in the minority.

 [4] Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p. 140.

45 Responses

  1. Charlie W says:

    Listability was the single most destructive thing AlAnon ever tried. Because the Adult Children groups upset some people, District and Area folks decided to de-list those groups because they weren’t real AlAnon. The committee which was entrusted with the listing book decided they were autonomous and therefore their decision was valid. That worked – almost all the Massachusetts groups were cut off from the list. THe technique was THEN used to build a building against the wishes of the majority of Groups surveyed. The Committee entrusted with that idea decided to build the building and only later found out the breaking one tradition will bring wrath down beyond belief. Mortgages, Assets, Insurance policies, and today AlAnon funding is a mess, meetings are dropping away and literature is being reviewed and edited by Law firms for underwriting purposes. Alateen Sponsors are subjected to background checks and the dominos keep falling. There is some amazing force out there that crushes bad math, bad thinking and bad action. I learned to “allow” and then watch. THis de-listing silliness simply will not work and will only become powerful if it is given power.

  2. Michael says:

    Interesting article and not much to disagree with in my opinion but I feel like it avoids the real issue here. It says that the two agnostic groups in Vancouver have changed wording in the steps or eliminated ‘god as we understood him’. It seems to me that this should be the only thing up for debate. AA does have a responsibility to keep the program from being altered. If you allow one group to eliminate god from the steps, another group might be right in suggesting they should be able to add ‘Jesus’ to their version of the steps, and there are such groups not recognized by AA. Maybe a solution for an agnostic meeting is to simply not read the steps, this isn’t a requirement as far as I know.

    It’s a tough topic and I believe strongly that Agnostic/Atheist groups need to be available but the logical solution to me is for a whole new 12 step program to be born. We’ve seen this happen for drug addiction with Narcotics Anonymous, Al-anon, ACA, SLAA, etc etc.

    Why is it so important to be listed under the AA brand? I don’t see how AA can ever accommodate atheists completely. I agree that AA in general needs to work at more inclusiveness and there are many valid arguments for change but at the same time, atheist/agnostic meetings need the freedom to grow with their own steps and own literature. Their own meeting schedules. The one agnostic meeting in my town is very difficult to find, it’s only known by word of mouth.

    • pat n. says:

      I’ve certainly thought about a separate fellowship for WAFTS, but decided it would be a disservice to newcomers, who IMHO could benefit from feeling free to access the larger AA when our ungodly ones aren’t available. They are still our siblings in recovery, and would provide a resource. My arse was saved by mainstream AAers, in mainstream meetings, and when in a town with no WAFT meeting, I go to a regular one, to my benefit.

    • Duncan says:

      Why is it so important to be listed under the AA brand? I don’t see how AA can ever accommodate atheists completely.

      Micheal, your quote above suggests that AA is a brand. However it cannot be branded like other services. AA can and does accommodate everyone. It simply asks alcoholics or those who may think they are to get together and share their experiences. The AA brand if you like is that it has no rules.

      You can take the Big Book, the 12 Steps, Promises and Traditions as suggestions only. I don’t have much time for them myself but some others do.

  3. Jessica K says:

    I liked reading this post. I am a Christian AA member and I believe that any AA group should be able to be listed as gay, agnostic, youth, women’s, men’s etc. Though I personally can’t understand people getting sober without God (I couldn’t), that does not mean I think it is not possible, or that they should be treated as outcasts.

    I believe that there are people who cannot get sober without God. Dont hear me wrong, not everyone needs God to get sober, but I truly believe that there are some who do NEED God in their twelve steps etc.

    I believe the idea of un-listing these agnostic groups is a disservice to agnostics who would benefit from having likeminded people to work with. I know people personally who have done very well in their agnostic groups (which are unlisted where I live however..)

    I also believe that having meetings that are unlisted is a disservice to those who are the type who need God to get sober. What if they ended up in an unlisted agnostic meeting for their very first AA meeting (say they went with someone, were invited, sent there by a worker, or they saw the sign outside saying AA, etc) and they walked out feeling hopeless or didn’t get the message they needed? Or never went back? Its the same for an agnostic walking into an especially more “god focused group”, feeling hopeless, not getting the message they need.

    This is a great example of why they should be listed, this way you can choose which group suits you!!! It certainly does not bother me, the more groups the better. I want AA to reach every person that needs it. So by listing all types, it benefits everyone, shows love and tolerance, and allows autonomy.

    And above all, I believe it saves lives.

    • John M. says:

      Thank you for your wise and loving words, Jessica. As you would know, the Apostle Paul says in his famous letter to the Christian church at Corinth, faith and hope are just so much noise if love is not present.

      In love and service, John M.

  4. pat n. says:

    What is the history of intergroups in AA? I thought I knew a lot about AA history, but I don’t really know why, in some places, a separate organization has taken over what I think should be district functions, such as meeting directories. Here in Olympia, WA, the district has an office which publishes the directory, maintains a website, acts as a literature depot, etc. And it’s never given our agnostic groups any hassle, since the district’s GSRs have not.

    • Lynn W says:

      The AAtheostics group in Pittsburgh is to be listed. Apparently, the intergroup uses liaisons to respond to complaints received from any individual members. This has, reportedly, helped to quietly resolve issues in the past. It has also been stated that due to the tradition of autonomy the groups are free to do as their group conscience sees fit. So, seems that we are going to be given the respect due us. I will keep you all posted.

  5. Lynn W says:

    Our new meeting in Pittsburgh called AAtheostics was visited by the Intergroup last night. They were there to determine if we will be listed. We have a secretary, a treasurer, a General Service Rep and an alternate GSR. We do NOT modify the steps or traditions but read them exactly as they appear in the Big Book. We do include a small paragraph that states that we do not endorse religion or atheism and ask that everyone’s belief or lack thereof be respected. Several Christian meetings have begun at the same location and NONE have encountered such evaluations. I am purely curious as to whether any un/delisted group has ever tried a legal challenge or approached the ACLU or the Canadian equivalent?

    • Roger says:

      I am unaware of any legal challenges but certainly the possibility exists. As an Ontarian, I know that discriminating on the basis of religion violates the Ontario Human Rights Code. You can read about this form of discrimination (in Canada and the United States) here: The Lord’s Prayer and the Law.

    • Steve S. says:

      I wonder why I want to stay in a program that allows a “service committee” to decide if a group is worthy of inclusion to their club. I am curious as to why the official title of Grand Inquisitor isn’t listed as a service position in any Intergroup. Now Pittsburgh is being added to the list of places where it also matters what you don’t believe in with regard to god being part of your program. It is something that will never happen here in West Virginia though. I have suggested dropping the LP from our homegroups rituals and was told no, that will not happen and we won’t even discuss it. I was involved with Intergroup in the state for two years and discovered that I am the only atheist in AA in the entire state. All alone in the night. Every time this comes up I get closer to saying no to any meetings.

  6. Donna M. says:

    I came into AA 14 years ago and there were five Agnostic meetings in NYC. Now there are 11. We are growing. Keep the “faith”.

  7. Andy R. says:

    Great article, once again.

    As for: “It wasn’t the manager’s self-will, it was argued; it was the result of a sense of duty.”

    Reminds me of a George Bernard Shaw quote: “When a stupid man is doing something he is ashamed of, he always declares that it is his duty.”

  8. Tim C. says:

    MIDTOWN SECULAR AA HOUSTON also has had trouble getting listed in the AA directory out of the General Service Office in NYC. When we first tried to register, some man called and objected to the word “Secularists” in our name. He said words ending in “-ist” were troublesome. He did not list us. We changed our name to simply MIDTOWN SECULAR. We’re still waiting to hear on that. We got an email saying they had no record of our first attempt to register. Try looking us up.

  9. Marc L. says:

    Has the god-language in AA ever kept anyone sober? I doubt it. In my 37 years I’ve experienced ONE sober-making force: meeting attendance. Many of us feel that the language of AA has been outdated for years and the theological arguments are infantile. And, it never mattered. Group process works if anything works.

  10. Mark C. says:

    Thank you for another great piece of writing. I agree with Ernie, this one “is exceptional.”

    The piece is a calm, humane, well-reasoned, articulate argument, and stands as a exceptional example of, I believe, the ‘spirit of tolerance’ of AA, on paper at least.

    Yet, you are well aware the essay will probably not change the minds of the ultra-religious, Christian theists in AA who view the Big Book as near equivalence to the “Word of God,” and ‘interpret’ it by the intolerant literalism in which it was written.

    These types of folks in AA come by their theistic prejudices, and bigotry honestly, but “emotionally.”

    You stated, “Personally, I am not certain that we can reason people out of a corner that emotion has painted them into.” If history can show us anything, it might be that we can be fairly certain we cannot reason with the man who does not use reason to acquire his beliefs.

    But it is my view that pieces like this one can serve to help create cognitive dissonance some people who now view their particular interpretations as the “only way” in AA.

    This will be a long, protracted fight and it is not even close to reaching low points for we in the minority. It is only the beginning. We will see this “de-listing” business gain currency, and favor among the hyper-religious majority. We need to keep our heads about us, and your piece is a fine example of what it may take for us heathens to solidify “our unity” in the face of a growing, and disgusting religious intolerance and bigotry.

    You might find a great deal of insight into this present ‘historical’ struggle by looking at the historical context of John Locke’s “A Letter Concerning Toleration,” published in 1689. There are instructive parallels there.


  11. Anne J. says:

    As a person in recovery this discussion is great. I am now going to try to start in my area of NA an “or lack of religion” meeting. I love the idea of using GOOD instead of GOD as the Humanists door sticker ” I believe in Good” is right up my alley. One more time I say Thank You AA.

  12. Lon Mc. says:

    This is an extraordinarily well done and clear assessment of the entanglement highlighted by the manager of Vancouver’s Intergroup’s decision to declare AA groups designed to appeal to agnostics as not “listable” in Greater Vancouver’s Intergroup roster of AA meetings. It would be ideal if voting representatives to Vancouver’s Intergroup meeting tomorrow read this before voting. This piece should become as pivotal within AA as the Emancipation Proclamation was for slavery in the USA. We really should be focused on becoming and staying sober in our real world, without the need for sometimes disruptive requirements to invoke “listable” religious dogma.

  13. realneal says:

    I think we should take it VERY slow. At least where I live right in the heart of Jesusland. Go ahead and list the steps as they are. Once people come to the meeting, they will figure it out quick enough. I had what I would consider a major victory this past Friday, by getting my group do stop reciting the Lord’s Prayer at the end of the meeting. I was just dumbfounded that I got a majority to agree with me. I asked if AA was just for Christians here or is it for everybody? I am still stunned that they went along with it. I try to make changes in a VERY VERY non confrontational way.
    I wish there was a way on this site for people to find each other. I put my name on the (Agnostic Group in my Community) list with the zip code, but I am in a very remote area and there are only a few hundred people total in my zip code. I wish there was a way to broaden this out. I am not too far from Roanoke, Blacksburg, and Christiansburg Virginia. There has to be a few Agnostics or Atheists in the rooms around here somewhere.

    • Steve S. says:

      Hi Neal. I may know you from the online Atheist-AA group? I too am in a remote part of the area, SE West Virginia, and I am the only atheist in AA in the whole state. A very broad statement but please somebody prove me wrong. I am about two hours travel time from Roanoke. Don’t know if a meet is possible but contact me. Thanks.

  14. James C. says:

    I have enjoyed these thoughts but it all seems like more word play. The God side can meet our own statements with rebuttals that are in most cases fair. I am hoping for the day we leave these close-minded people and strike out on our own.
    These people do not want us in their club, no matter how many well founded assertions we make, they are not hearing us.

  15. pat n. says:

    Second thought: The Greater Vancouver Intergroup Society (GVIS) wants to maintain the purity of the Steps, so I presume they hold the original Traditions inviolate as well. Should some godly AA group rewrite Tradition 2 to read “…a loving God, as HE/SHE/IT may reveal HIMSELF/HERSELF/ITSELF…”, then the GVIS would insist they return to the original “He”. In other words, that God has a penis would be the official position of the GVIS.

  16. Annalia says:

    I continue to remove myself from the circle at the end of meetings, if the Lord’s Prayer is used. I want others to know that it is okay to do so. When one analyzes the prayer itself, it violates our own 11th step which says we pray only for God’s will for us and the power to carry that out. We are asking for 1) daily bread 2)forgiveness 3) not to be led into temptation 4) deliverance from evil. That’s way beyond asking for God’s will, and for the power to carry it out.

  17. Thomas B. says:

    Indeed, excellent reworking of your recent writing on the Rebellion Dogs Publishing blog, most well-reasoned and documented from the annals of AA history and traditions. Unfortunately our history and traditions are not really known or cared about by many so called trusted servants, who become “twisted servants” – love the pun – blinded by their devotion to fundamentalist Christian doctrine.

    As others have pointed out, it is unlikely that we shall ever convince the religionists to change their emotionally-charged beliefs – after all, according to their dogma their god commands them to proselytize and try to ban heathen unbelievers such as we are in their opinion.

    In my view, we must simply continue to speak our truth at AA meetings with grace and dignity, respecting and being tolerant of all who differ from us, so that by our actions, we may be powers of example, continuing to attract other non-believers, especially newcomers, to our non-dogmatic style of recovery in AA in full accordance with our history and traditions.

    • Eric T says:

      I agree with your view wholeheartedly Thomas, and aspire to do exactly that in my actions too. Good to be sober today!

  18. pat n. says:

    Good article. I’m keenly interested since I sometimes go to Vancouver. A thought just occurred: If Vancouver Intergroup claims the right to monitor “listability” on the basis of Godwords, how long until they start looking for other criteria to judge groups? Maybe they’ll delist gay groups, or non-English groups, or ones that welcome discussion of other drugs? After all, these are comparatively recent emphases within the fellowship. I suspect the first NYC and Akron attendees all wore neckties. Shall that become Vancouver’s litmus test of purity?

  19. Joe C says:

    Thanks one and all. Vancouver, my thoughts are with you this week. I can’t tell you how crushed I was when our group (Beyond Belief in Toronto), along with the others were told, “We don’t want your kind in our AA.” I all but grew up in Alcoholics Anonymous. To have been rejected… well those close me know how heart-sick I felt. In time, I didn’t take it personally. It was a case of human nature, more than AA cultures.

    Derby & California, I would actually like to hear the details of what you’ve gone through with your Intergroups. You can reach me at, if you would be so kind.

    To site newcomers, welcome to our community; to the regulars, thanks for your continued support. One man singing does not a choir make. By the way, if anyone is looking to spread the word in a different format, visit Rebellion Dogs Publishing and link into Episode One of Rebellion Dogs Radio, where AA’s history of inclusiveness, dating back to our early history, as is reported here, can be heard as a podcast.

    • John in TX says:

      Note: As far as the 2013 GSC Report, Vancouver has *not* been finally selected as the 2025 Int’l site. It did make the cut into the final 3 potential sites. (refer to pgs 6 & 41 of the Conference Report.) *Fine article* anyway Joe. Cheers.

      • John in TX says:

        I stand corrected (Happily so, I might add).

        Per outcome of the Fall Quarterly Meeting (Nov 4, 2013): “Based on the recommendation of the 2025 Site Selection Inspection team, the committee recommended to the GSB that Vancouver, BC be the site for the 2025 AA International Convention.”

        Congrats to Vancouver & See you in 2025!

  20. Eugene B. says:

    For discussion sake, I remember an AA meeting that was held at least weekly, somewhere on Hollywood Boulevard near Vine in the late 90’s, where the AA Central Office found deviation from the Traditions and consequently “delisted” the meeting. I had attended the meeting a couple times and was somewhat put off by the cloying religiosity of the format: singing religious hymns with an organ playing was somewhat novel I thought but I didn’t like it; as a matter of fact when the meeting was “delisted” I was pleased. In light of the current discussion, however, I can’t help but wonder if my sentiments were misplaced. After all, I saw a room full of recovering alcoholics recovering from the prayer-type-meeting process provided. And it claimed to be an AA meeting. As an atheist I was annoyed that the meeting seemed not only to offer, but stress a religious approach more than I gave credit to the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Hm! God wasn’t quite finished with me I guess: I felt that if a first time visitor to AA had found their way to that meeting that the opportunity to begin the road we trudge may have been smothered by previous religious exposure that drove many to abjure such for the rest of their lives. I still feel that way. On the other hand, no way has the removal of ritual prayers, the optional God-stuff (as Charlie P. might have observed), ever so alienated a new comer as I think accessing the hymn psalter might have done! But I wonder. Any thoughts?

    • life-j says:

      That is an interesting way to turn the discussion.
      I guess if we go by Bill W’s writings, and we often cite him in our favor, then we have to look at that aspect too. And that I personally would find it abhorrent is no high quality argument, I know.
      I do remember one place where Bill said if a meeting wants to have a hired preacher financed by a meeting run nightclub, then they have a right to be wrong, and something to the effect of that it will all come out in the wash in time.
      So long as they are not actually affiliated with any christian church, they are probably on solid footing with our traditions, and while this meeting was a shocker to you, I think there are lots like it throughout the bible belt.
      I surely would feel out of place, horrified frankly, and I think, that maybe the way forward goes by way of listing the flavor of all the various meetings, christian (strictly speaking it isn’t an affiliation) agnostic, whatever. Though Bill does warn against that sort of thing in the 12&12 on p 147. But we already have a variety of specialty meetings.

  21. denisk says:

    I agree with everyone, this is exceptionally written; it’s an example of “Joe unplugged”.
    This piece should be read and considered by all the GSR’s on Tuesday night prior to making any decisions. Who knows, after reading and giving this mindfulness consideration most will see this for what it is: “a tempest in a teapot,” then get on with being trusted servants.
    In order to have this happen I suggest we pass this along to everyone we know in AA in Vancouver and also drop an email to the intergroup office manager here in Vancouver. You can reach that person at to express your concerns.
    We must not allow a few malcontents, drunk on power, to distort the truth and thwart us from our primary purpose to carry the message that sobriety in AA is available to anyone who seeks sobriety regards of their beliefs.

  22. Melina says:

    Great examples straight from Bill W and the Big Book itself. Being from Vancouver and having seen and been victimized by intergroup here for being agnostic, I hope to see us listed when te conference comes here in 2025.
    Thanks for your continued support!

  23. life-j says:

    Joe, thanks. Great article. We’re struggling with the same stuff here in little Mendocino County, CA.

    Just had a thought: Maybe it’s time we put together a book called “As Bill Also Sees it.”

  24. Dan L. says:

    Thanks Joe for the stimulating Sunday morning read.
    I am a newcomer to AA and have learned to use it as a base for my recovery. Ever since I came in I haveheard various fundies muttering that AA is “dying”and being “watered down” and how the treatment centres, psychologists, junkies and recovery vagrants are “ruining everything”. Back in the “old days” they say the recovery rate was 150% or more and all you needed was the “BOOK” and god, god, god, god, god. They insist everyone was on the same page at all times.
    Since everyone’s personal concept of god…from Mighty Thor to scheming Athena to Cosmic Muffin and flying pasta varies, how do they even know they are talking about the same god or gods? Clearly these individuals never got on the AA bus at all and are simply doing the human thing of making rules and playing politics.
    You see it among children in the playground and in the workplace and parliament and the board rooms and, unfortunately in AA. I know there are some who felt the humiliation of surrendering to a god was essential to their sobriety and they desperately want to see everyone else have to grovel like they did. I try to keep an open mind but a “personal god” never made any sense to me. If my personal god loves me then why did she let me love booze and then not let me safely use it? Rather capricious I thinks. I could always find a drink when I thought I needed one but I had to turn my whole life upside down to sober up. It was a lot of work, work, work. I remain grateful.
    Thank You.

  25. John K. says:

    This is an articulate, sensible and logical discussion of the subject of Vancouver in it’s SHEEP LIKE mentality following Toronto’s lead in banning Us. Me and you and many others who’s only Sin (Laugh) is we choose to get and remain clean and sober without the help of a power presented covertly in AA as god? I believe a God of the Oxford group’s flavour.
    I believe the only thing a newcomer needs to think is wrong is his or her use of a Drug of choice. I don’t believe that I am a person who is in need of a spiritual bath to cleanse my soul of alcohol and drugs. My initial reason for going to AA meetings was to develop a manner of living that I could happily adhere to without the use of “mind altering substances.” The only spiritual tool I enjoy is mindful meditation and hypnosis, as early on, and still on occasion, I suffer from anxiety and stress. The above mentioned, if not addressed, will lead to me having a full blown panic attack, or worse? I will self-medicate with alcohol or benzodiazepams and then my addicted brain will crave more, .i.e. cocaine, in the crack form. Crack unlike my earlier addiction to alcohol is insatiable once I consume one hit, unlike alcohol that I didn’t alway’s drink to death. I can’t say the same with this drug. The neuroreceptor’s are totally depleted and the only solution is another dose, but like alcohol I cannot capture the euphoria of yesterday. Yesterday is gone like in our reading. I again thank you and all who contribute to this wonderful branch of the AA Tree of Life. Thank you, John K.

  26. Sean says:

    We have the same problem over here in Derby (UK) National AA lists us, but our local intergroups refuse to, as we don’t have any prayers.

    • life-j says:

      Sean, would be real nice to get a more extensive report on how agnostic AA’s are faring in the UK, as well as other places. I have been supporting someone in Edinburgh via chat rooms who does not buy the god stuff, and who can’t find an openminded group there, though I also get the impression that the god stuff is not quite as heavy-handed there as it is here. I do know that in Denmark they seem to tone it down, judging from the meetings I have gone to, and there are more “Living Sober” meetings there than I have seen even in (well, somewhat) openminded California.

  27. John M. says:


    Excellent and, as always, well-reasoned from WITHIN AA’s own Traditions and Concepts – not imported from gut-feelings which seem to be the criteria used by those who want to “save” AA.

    I especially like some of your phrasing: “How do we tell a trusted servant from a twisted servant who has gotten drunk on dogma?” and “Personally, I am not certain that we can reason people out of a corner that emotion has painted them into.”

    Thanks for this update, Joe, and for taking us through AA’s own wise protocols for addressing dissent.

  28. ernie kurtz says:


    Most of your writing is very good, but this is exceptional. You calmly marshal and present data, carefully suggesting the conclusions to be drawn from them.

    As happens to just about every historical phenomenon, “AA” in places has betrayed and fallen from aspects of its essence, and not only in regard to God and the Steps. This will, necessarily continue: it is a virtual law of history. There is all the more need, then, for the prophetic vision that calls the fellowship back to its own program, to its own true story.

    For now, the present moment, AA Agnostica is supplying that vision and voice. All who truly love the fellowship and its program can only be grateful to this website.

    The role of the prophet it never smooth nor easy, so many who do believe in God pray that your courage continues. We all need the honesty of your vision.

    Ernie K.

  29. Andy Mc says:

    As always a well written article, thanks I really enjoyed it.
    The religious right will never change, this is why I really don’t like the word “spiritual” it gives every superstitious zealot the right to justify tribalism. I say never mind debate …..fight the closed minded bastards, bring on the drama, it’s what they seem to thrive on:-)

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