Yet Another Intergroup Fight


By life-j.

Laytonville, where I live, is a small coastal mountain valley village of about 2000 on Northern California’s Highway 101, about 3 hours north of the Bay Area. This is a sparsely populated area. The next, smaller village is 25 miles north, the next, bigger one 25 miles south. Our local metropolis of 20,000 people, the seat of our local Intergroup, is 50 miles away. Laytonville is where I decided to start a Freethinkers meeting. There is good reason to think that this Freethinkers meeting could have gone practically un-noticed by the world, and AA, forever.

I had been thinking about doing it for a while, but when a newcomer came to our regular Laytonville Fellowship hall meeting, and introduced herself as an agnostic, it felt like it was time to act.

On the first Sunday in April of 2013 I approached Mendocino County Inland Intergroup with the idea of starting a freethinkers meeting. As I wrote to the chairman beforehand:

I’m toying with the idea of making a freethinkers meeting here in Laytonville. I presume you have heard of the group in Toronto that got excommunicated from intergroup for taking god out of the steps for the purposes of their freethinkers group, but otherwise kept the steps to be worked as always. Just want to explore whether we will get excommunicated too, or whether we’re sufficiently freethinking here in Mendocino County to have a meeting without god. Or should I just quietly put it on the schedule, and not stir up any shit?

This was an Intergroup which up to this point had functioned quite well. I was going into my second year as a representative for my local fellowship, had served a term as co-chair, and had worked on a couple of things, including updating the bylaws.

So I got to introduce the issue, not as any old recovering alcoholic showing up at the meeting to petition, but as an actual voting member of Intergroup. My fellowship had supported my idea of making such a meeting, though they were reserved about my idea of changing the steps, and therefore eventually I decided to make it a separate group.

Some people had done service in intergroup for many years, pretty much the folks that cared about making it function, while many groups and individuals until now hadn’t considered it worth the effort and had no representative.

Well, it didn’t go so easy. After discussion in April, it was brought up for vote in May. It was tied, 4-4, with one person who claimed to be in favor abstaining, and the chairperson abstaining from breaking the tie, though she was in favor too, but a little concerned about causing trouble for herself. Back to more discussion.

What happened next was that the god focused faction went and rallied their forces. They denied this of course, but it is odd that they managed to line up representatives from all the hitherto un-represented groups, that all were on their side.

We were now busy getting polarized, focusing on “uniformity” instead of “unity”.

I heard it said in the AA Agnostica chat room the other night: “Any argument that begins with “What if” is a fear based argument.” And plenty of fears were voiced about how this group would be the doom of AA.

I guess I had really been quite innocent about the whole thing. I thought it would simply have been treated as a business item. On the back of our schedules it said:

Meetings included in the schedule are listed at their own request. A schedule listing does not constitute or imply approval or endorsement of any group’s practice of the traditional program of Alcoholics Anonymous.

That the schedule says so must mean something, right? There must be some kind of meeting which is not endorsed, but is still listed – but doesn’t look like it is ours.

A couple of times we approached a re-vote. But by now some of us were concerned that the god faction had gathered enough force to defeat listing the meeting, so we dragged our feet a bit. One of the more level-headed members suggested that we amend the bylaws to include:

This Intergroup shall have no control over the internal affairs, the management or conduct of any member group; complete independence of each group must be preserved.

AA Group defined: Any two or three alcoholics gathered together for sobriety may call themselves an A.A. group, provided that, as a group, they have no other affiliation. (Tradition Three, Long Form)

But it was drowned out in discussion. One member of the god faction even countered with a motion that in order for a meeting to be listed it had to use the original 12 steps, and only use AA approved literature. At this point even the moderates got scared that AA would move to something more rigid than what we had started with. It may yet. That motion is still floating around, but has not been voted on.

I finally countered with another motion. I confess it was real crafty, bordering on the devious, but all it really did was to say things as they are, that Intergroup now wants to control things:

Up to this point Intergroup has been a service organization with no actual authority, and has listed groups on its schedule at their own request based on AAs philosophy that our leaders are but trusted servants, they do not govern, and that of group autonomy. We propose that Intergroup must take it upon itself from simply being trusted servants to become a governing body which evaluates the worthiness of individual groups, and decide which groups should be listed in the schedule, and which ones can’t be. If this motion fails we will keep doing things the way we always have, list meetings at their own request.

This being an important policy issue, it should pass with substantial unanimity, that is 2/3 majority.

Let’s make a long story short: This first Sunday of February 2014 we finally voted on my motion. The chairperson, supposedly otherwise supporting my position spoke out vehemently against the motion and its deviousness, but a motion is a motion, it was made and seconded, and voted on. One in favor, two against, about 10 abstaining. So it failed, which means the meeting now gets listed, right?

Not at all. The chairperson decided that it needs to be discussed at the next meeting.

At this point I resigned from Intergroup. After one vote in the beginning where we had a solid majority, but wasted the opportunity, (apparently also out of some people’s fear) and another vote which is simply being discounted, what else could I do? I don’t know what they are going to do now.

I got to be the bad guy, especially with this motion. If the meeting had been listed after a carrying vote in the beginning, maybe the god people would still have rallied their forces and tried to rescind the vote 6 months later, but at least then they would have been the bad guys, not me.

Looks like all I can do at this point is to move on, focus my energy on making our Freethinkers meeting work, go around to meetings in the area and announce it, put my energy into the AA Agnostica chat room, and other measures to help the agnostic newcomer. For the time being it looks like our local Intergroup is a lost cause.

I hold it as an axiom of the expression of thought that, except in cases where a person may have lost their faculties at a later stage – when a person expresses thoughts, and then later expresses other thoughts that to some degree contradict the earlier thoughts, and provided we can assume that these thoughts are expressed after reasonably careful consideration – that the later, contradicting thoughts bear witness to that the person expressing them has evolved in some manner, and has modified their point of view, and that the latter expressions therefore carry more weight than their previous, earlier thoughts, in some cases considerably more.

Bill Wilson wrote the Big Book with what, five years of sobriety? When therefore he kept writing all through his later years we ought to pay special attention to that. He never really rescinds his position that having a god is essential to recovery, and that sooner or later we will all “get it,” but he does attain a certain humility about it, most famously in the piece The Dilemma of no Faith from the April 1961 Grapevine which I won’t quote here, but I highly recommend reading it, and he increasingly speaks out in favor of inclusivity, against rigidity and dogmatism.

About Tradition 3 he writes:

In fact, our Tradition carries the principle of independence for the individual to such an apparently fantastic length that, so long as there is the slightest interest in sobriety, the most unmoral, the most anti-social, the most critical alcoholic may gather about him a few kindred spirits and announce to us that a new Alcoholics Anonymous Group has been formed. Anti-God, anti-medicine, anti-our Recovery Program, even anti-each other – these rampant individuals are still an AA Group if they think so!  (July 1946 Grapevine)

About Tradition 4 he writes:

With respect to its own affairs, the group may make any decisions, adopt any attitudes that it likes. No overall or intergroup authority should challenge this primary privilege. We feel this ought to be so, even though the group might sometimes act with complete indifference to our Tradition.

One argument we hear is that the formation of a group with altered steps influences AA as a whole. Bill Wilson does clarify what sort of thing he considers will “injure AA as a whole”:

For instance, no group or inter group could feel free to initiate, without consultation, any publicity that might affect AA as a whole. Nor could it assume to represent the whole of Alcoholics Anonymous by printing and distributing anything purporting to be AA standard literature. (March 1948)

So where does this all leave us? With a dogmatic AA that increasingly subscribes to ideas like those expressed by the “White Paper.” With, it appears, a backlash of more christianity. Even in my home fellowship. We abolished the Lord’s Prayer a number of years ago, and stuck with the serenity prayer. Here recently someone asked that we started using it again. Didn’t go over so well with me, of course, and they eventually modified it to that the secretary could ask a member to close with the prayer of their choice. That sounded real good, and practically everyone bought it. You know what that means, though: OK, not the LP ending every meeting, the SP still used a bunch, and a whole lot more of the 3rd, 7th, and 11th step prayers. All in all, more god focus.

Eventually we might have to accept that AA is becoming a dogmatic religious movement irrelevant to recovery in the 21st century, and strike out in our own direction. A sad thing to see, because there is so much good recovery in AA, too. That’s why I have now stuck with it for 26 years as of February 20. But I am grateful to have the AA Agnostica and WAFT movements. Means I won’t drift away from the recovery support I need just yet.

* * *

As I was finishing this tale of my woes with Intergroup I heard that the WAFT conference slated for Santa Monica in November was going to ban non-conference-approved literature at the convention. Initially the FAQ on their website said: “Because we are a part of AA… the steering committee (SC) has decided not to allow any non-conference-approved literature at the convention.” They went back and forth on it, first saying no non-conference-approved literature, then saying the question was under consideration, then no again, and, after more objections, they replaced the “no” with a dash after the question “Will there be non-conference-approved literature at the convention?” Presumably the dash meant either “we’re thinking about it” or “we’re avoiding dealing with it.” Finally, after a couple of weeks of hemming and hawing the FAQ now says that the steering committee will “make this literature available in a separate, clearly defined location.”

Why the debate at all? Why all the reluctance to include literature that hasn’t been published by the GSO?

And why emphasize that the non-conference-approved literature will be kept in a “separate” and a “clearly distinct location”? Is literature that is often helpful to us to be relegated to some sort of closet even at our very own convention?

Look at the trail of this debate. In the first FAQ on this subject, the steering committee said “Because we are a part of AA…” and then went on to “not allow” non-conference-approved AA at the convention. The committee is succumbing  – knowingly or unknowingly – to the fundamentalists’ vision of AA. Their reason for keeping the non-conference-approved literature “separate and clearly distinct” is so that it will not be confused with the “true” AA, the definition of which is found, according to the fundamentalists, in selected conference-approved literature (God, powerlessness, surrender, etc., as in the Big Book), and which some Intergroups are increasingly insisting upon, and this certainly not in service but in an attempt at governance. [1]

Let’s look at a quote from the recent New York Times article, Alcoholics Anonymous, Without the Religion:

“A.A. starts at its core with honesty,” said Dorothy, 39, who heads the steering committee for the We Agnostics and Freethinkers International A.A. Convention. “And how can you be honest in recovery if you’re not honest in your own beliefs? If you don’t believe in the God they’re praying to, that’s not honest practice.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

How can you honor your own beliefs if even at an agnostic convention you are still only allowed to use the same old books filled with god? The convention needs to especially be the place to share alternative literature to supplement the conference-approved AA literature we already know. If we can’t even be honest at “our very own convention” where can we? Are we going to have to not only fight the intergroups, but now even our own people?

All this fear of the god people seems to know no end. Come what may, we need to stand up for what we (don’t) believe in. For almost seventy-five years now we have tried to placate the people bent on the “God bit,” as Jim Burwell put it, and what is the result? Things have gotten worse instead of better over the last decade. We agnostics and atheists need honest practice, now, at every level.

If this convention is to mean anything it must be a place where we can honestly share with each other what is working for us – not just as individuals, quietly in the convention corridors when we hope no AA police are listening – but openly, as a group, from the podiums, around the tables, in all the meetings and workshops, from the books we use to the alternative versions of the steps that we are trying on for size in meetings all over the continent.

* * *

I did start the Laytonville Freethinkers meeting on August 22nd at the local Grange, and I have registered it with World Service. People come in from 50 miles away to support it. And here we are, a half dozen people at this little meeting out in the middle of nowhere, aware of the grave threat we pose to AA’s future, but somehow we manage to remain calm and composed about it.


[1] The document that comes closest to an official definition of AA is the AA Preamble, which is also conference-approved literature. It makes no mention whatsoever of God or a Higher Power or even the 12 Steps and is ignored by those obsessed with the “God bit” and the Intergroups that succumb to their persuasion. Here it is:

Alcoholics Anonymous® is a 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 to recover from alcoholism. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. There are no dues or fees for AA membership; we are self-supporting through our own contributions. AA is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution; does not wish to engage in any controversy, neither endorses nor opposes any causes. Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety.

Copyright © by The AA Grapevine, Inc. Reprinted with permission.

A full background on this document, prepared by the General Service Office, is available here, The AA Preamble: Background Information. The Preamble appears at the very beginning of the AA Service Manual, before the Table of Contents.

110 Responses

  1. Sean says:

    Sad to see AA reverting to the Oxford Groups around the world, and becoming an irrelevant Christian cult. We have have been delisted here in Derby UK several times.

    I do however think that we can insist on taking AA at its word, and continue to run meetings where all are welcomed and prayer is absent.

    Its not a question of LP vs SP, why not use the responsibility declaration as we do?

    We don’t have to write our own literature to tell the truth about getting sober, we just need to explain that it is a description of how to get sober in the US in 1935, by someone who was a member of another organisation which needs a bit of interpretation from someone a bit more contemporary and local and a bit less of a religious nut.

    • boyd says:

      The responsibility statement, who wrote it and when? We chant it in a circle at our monthly District meetings. Love it.
      Boyd P.

      • Roger says:

        It was actually written by the head of the Grapevine at the time and adopted at the 1965 AA International Convention held in Toronto where “more than 10,000 delegates, trustees and AA representatives from 21 countries rose to their feet, joined hands and, led by Bill, recited” the newly adopted responsibility declaration. You can read the whole story right here: Responsibility Is Our Theme.

        • boyd p. says:

          Toronto got it right that time.
          thanks, boyd

        • Tommy H says:

          The responsibility declaration as well as the unity declaration were written by Harold A. “Al” Steckman, who was the son of Emmett Fox’s secretary.

          The Unity Declaration, “This we owe to A.A.’s future: to place our common welfare first; to keep our Fellowship united. For on A.A. unity depend our lives and the lives of those to come,” and was adopted at the 75 Anniversary Conference in Miami in 1970. Unfortunately, Bill was on his last legs and the declaration didn’t receive the attention the responsibility one did.

          • Roger says:

            And was Harold the head of the Grapevine at the time, as I had understood?

          • Tommy H says:

            Yes, he became GV editor in 1949, and changed it from being drunkologs to more what it is today.

  2. James L. says:

    I just found out that the convention committee is all excited to have a Episcopalian Bishop to be the keynote speaker. I understand he is not an alcoholic but is on the General Services board. Big mistake! This convention is for agnostics and atheists in recovery. Also, it is now noted that non AA approved literature will have to be displayed separately and so noted. What could have been a great convention has fallen in line with the status quo. I’m glad I didn’t buy my ticket yet.

    • Pat N. says:

      I understand your concern, but I think it’s great they invited Rev. Ewing. He’s advocated for us at the national level for years, and we need to be friendly with our friends. The rational and loving minds within the AA culture who happen to be believers are mostly on our side. It’s the frightened other ones we have to worry about.

      • James L. says:

        I sure hope he doesn’t close with the Lord’s Prayer.

      • Joe C says:

        I have met Ward Ewing several times. I have read what he has written. I have interviewed him on several occasions. He very sincerely believes in God. He feels just as strongly that AA is not religious, should not be religious and those who have a firm and/or specific theistic faith should keep the conversation about higher power as anecdotal as possible (in the rooms of AA). He shared with delegates, GSRs and other AA service volunteers that he was in San Antonio and while he understands that the South is very religious, he was uncomfortable with the world conference attendees reciting the Lords Prayer. He asked the attendees there to hear him, “Is that the message of what AA is that we want to present to the world?”

        I expect that many agnostic members will not go to the conference. I don’t expect every member who goes to be in attendance to hear Ward Ewing. As we say, it’s unity that matters, not uniformity. But if you want to give the man a try, here’s a link: Retiring Board Chair Ward Ewing Reflects on His Time With Alcoholics Anonymous.
        I interviewed him one on one and in the link I share some of that discussion. There is a another option inside this link where he talks (2011) about a number of AA issues including why he thinks a pamphlet that includes atheist and agnostics is a good thing that all of AA should welcome. You can steam that, too.

        I can and will respect your opinion’s and decisions James. I am going to Santa Monica and I hope I meet you there. I expect that the conference will fall short of what I want it to be, too (that’s the thing with expectations). It may also open my mind to new ways of seeing, too. But let’s have a conference and then see what we can do to alter or improve it for the next time.

        • Tommy H says:

          Isn’t there something in the BB about contempt prior to investigation?

          Well said, Joe.

        • Don B. says:

          Thanks so much for your input, Joe, and especially to the link to Ward Ewing’s remarks about spirituality and religion. After reading your comments and those from Fr. Ewing, I would love to hear him address the convention in Santa Monica. In fact, I’ve been trying to make up my mind to go, and between your comments and Fr. Ewing’s statements, you’ve made up my mind for me. Hope to meet you and all my other friends there (BTW, there are no strangers, just friends I haven’t met yet).

          Don B.

    • Dan L says:

      It might not be so bad. Usually “mainline” Chrisians are pretty tolerant. The General Service board has seemed to have rather pointedly remained out of these local squabbles IMO. Could be a great opportunity.
      Then again, maybe not. At least he’s not going to be handling poisonous vipers and such.

    • realneal says:

      James, you ought to do some investigating about this guy. He is on our side. We need people like this unless the objective is an all out war. It may be that I am just old and worn out, but it has been my experience that taking the Martin Luther King approach has worked better than taking the Malcolm X approach. I certainly took the opposite view in my younger daze. My best friend both in the rooms and outside the rooms is a practicing Catholic and she is vehemently opposed to the LP in meetings. She says AA is supposed to be for EVERYBODY. She gets her religion in church and her recovery in AA.

      • James L. says:

        It still seems odd to me to have an Religious ordained priest as the keynote speaker at the first AA convention for agnostics and atheists in recovery.

      • James L. says:

        Also, I don’t think the choices are this speaker or an all out war. Where did that come from?

      • realneal says:

        I said UNLESS that was the objective. For most it is not, but for a few it surely is. Ten years ago I was ready to go to war, and a lot of the people on the agnostic facebook sites are also. I never really thought about religion one way or the other, but then I moved to rural SW Virginia from Washington DC. The jeezus people were all over me and I had never experienced that before and I have lived in Alaska, Key West, and everywhere in between. (geographical cure anybody?) My goal in life at this point is to let go of ego and as hard as it is, I have made a little bit of progress. Ego is about being RIGHT. At least for me it is and it has not accomplished anything for me, but I can only speak for myself. Now I try to compromise. I hope you decide to go to the convention.

    • Denis K says:

      I am going to attend the convention without any reservations other than hotel reservations.
      As far as expectations go, I’m going to set those aside and listen to everyone’s worldviews with an open mind; imagine that!
      Hope to meet you there James.

      • James L. says:

        I’ve decided to go to the convention and to keep an open mind. I hope to find literature there supporting the more secular approach to sobriety and hope to meet you all there. Peace. James L.

  3. Mark C says:


    Thank you for sharing your account of the nefarious opposition toward nonbelievers by religiously motivated AA’ers up in your neck of the woods.

    The ghettoization of open and honest nonbelief within AA will continue, and I predict, will worsen, as a practical matter.

    While the GSO declares itself Switzerland on this issue (and this silence engenders even more hostility toward us) most all of the important actions against we nonbelievers seeking to Live Sober will continue unabated at the Intergroup levels of so-called service.

    Unfortunately, historically speaking, good, positive change, seems to only come through long struggle.

    Hats off to you for seeking to be there to help those nonbelievers in your area as they seek to Live Sober.

  4. Liz H. says:

    I don’t get it! Why is there so much trouble in AA these days? Our little community is just about to close down and it makes me sad. AA used to stand for something within the community and now it is just being thrown away like an old used rag. I wonder what will happen when it is gone? Conformity is societal based, and it is tribal. Are we all members of different tribes? Sounds crazy, I know, but listen to the rhetoric going on here.

    • Roger says:

      More rhetoric for you Liz:
      I went to an AA meeting in Hamilton last week. There were 50 people there. I’m 63 and I was just about the youngest person in the room. I think Bill Wilson nailed the problem in 1965 in the AA Grapevine:

      Let us never fear needed change. Certainly we have to discriminate between changes for worse and changes for better. But once a need becomes clearly apparent in an individual, in a group, or in A.A. as a whole, it has long since been found out that we cannot stand still and look the other way.

      AA hasn’t evolved much since its pre-World War II origins. It certainly doesn’t have a twenty-first century aura about it. AA needs to grow and instead, I am afraid, it “looks the other way.”

    • Denis K says:

      Hello Liz,

      AA is simply going through some healthy discussion which in my opinion is long overdue after almost 80 years.
      Agnostic/atheist groups are not trying to change AA at all; we simply want to have our group meetings listed in the local directories in order to be found by like-minded people for them to find a welcoming atmoshere where they are safe and free from religious dogma so commonly found in the majority of AA groups.

      Here is something for you to consider Liz:

      AA Groups are fundamentally little bands of people who are friends, who can help each other stay sober. Each group therefore reflects the needs of its own members. The way a group is managed is the way its members want it to be managed for their common benefit.
      As a result we have large groups, small groups, groups which have refreshments, groups which like long meetings, groups which like short meetings, social groups, working groups, men’s groups, women’s groups, groups that play cards, groups which specialize in young people and as many other varieties as there are kinds of people. Each group has its own customs, its own financial problems and its own method of operation.
      As long as it follows as a group the same principles AA recommends for individuals on selfishness, honesty, decency and tolerance it is above criticism.
      AA in Cleveland – 1946
      Reflections: Ernie Kurtz on the History of AA

      I have been a sober AA member since 1975; I have a lot of skin invested in this fellowship and my own sobriety. The last thing I would ever want to see is this fellowship fold due to ignorance, intolerance, exclusivity, hubris, tribalism and mindless conformity. In my experience that’s not what AA is about.

      Take a little time to read the wonderful postings and comments on this site in order to learn and hopefully understand that we are as loving and compassionate as anyone else in AA.

      Keep an open mind Liz.

    • JHG says:


      It’s not clear where you think the blame is. No one here wants to create conflict or destroy AA unity. What we want is true unity – unity that is not finessed by excluding those who don’t fit in. There are countless still suffering alcoholics who want to find a solution in AA but have a hard time fitting in.

      They are being given religion they can’t relate to instead of a solution that will work for them. We simply want there to be an alternative. If religion is what a newcomer needs, we don’t want to stand in the way, but not everyone finds that helpful. In fact for many, it is an insurmountable obstacle.

      One of the fallacies that people often fall into when examining conflict is what is called false parity. They assign equal blame, when in fact one side is far more responsible for the conflict; the other side is simply trying to preserve their own personal values or even to stand up for collective values that represent what the community has always stood for.

      What is worse though is to put most of the blame on the side whose only goal is to keep the community true to its own best values. For example, racial strife is supposedly generated by blacks, when in fact, blacks are in a double bind. Either they accept second-class status or they get accused of causing problems.

      We cannot not speak up. The fifth tradition demands that we stand up for the still suffering alcoholics who are doomed to die because of indifference and intolerance.

      • boyd p. says:

        “false parity, assigning blame”
        When wisdom strikes, we may be successful in separating who is to blame. Meanwhile, I start with acceptance and trying to fix me. Then serenity may make an appearance: alas, still infrequently.

    • Mark C says:


      Why? It is fairly simple. Atheists and agnostics are coming out of the closet. That kind of open honesty from nonbelievers scares the living stew out of many of the religious folks in AA. Hostile reactions of religiously motivated believers in supernatural intervention see the end of the world. It is a very old story.

      All I can say is my experience as an open and honest atheist in a traditional AA room in the West Texas Bible Belt.

      There are four main characteristics of the typical “successful” AA member. In order they are: Religiosity, Conformity, Authoritarianism, and Low Education. Generally speaking, atheists and agnostics do not fit well within those types of characteristics. Well, the only way they can is to sit down, shut up, and ignore near everything that goes on inside a typical AA meeting.

      At four years and three months sober in a traditional AA group, I continue to stand my ground for honesty and tolerance within our group. I do so as an out-of-the-closet atheist.

      That has come at a pretty steep price, but it has been, and is well worth any struggles.

      It has always been the hyper-religious types who fit well with the characteristics mentioned above who have created problems for me and people like me in our group.

      In my case, it has meant, two physical assaults (one of them very violent), a verbal, public death threat, a verbal threat to physical violence, and too many personal insults, castigations, vocal interruptions to name.

      I think any reasonable person would agree that such should not be the case in any AA group, anywhere, at any time.

      The fact that I live, and breathe, and speak as an open atheist in AA serves to contradict everything the religious zealots in AA claim MUST be believed and practiced in order for a person to get, and to stay sober.

      I am not hostile and demeaning to people who believe things differently than I do. I could care less what they believe, and practice, if it helps them to Live Sober and beat the addiction to alcohol.

      Long live tolerance, openness, and honesty!

  5. Pat N. says:

    So much of the intergroup push against secular AA in the US and Canada reminds me of what my first school boss, a jr. high principal, used to say:”I have teachers who have taught 20 years, and I have teachers who have taught 1 year 20 times.” In other words, some AA folks haven’t moved spiritually / intellectually beyond stopping drinking and the words they heard in their first 3 meetings. They deserve respect, empathy, and love, but they shouldn’t be allowed to dictate. No one should.

  6. life-j says:

    Received this by e-mail from one of the other Laytonville intergroup members, on what happened at this Sunday’s meeting, and was encouraged to post it here (with some editing to preserve anonymity):

    Round and round we went-on the merry go round of hell! As I was the recording secretary, I read the minutes and asked for the correction from the vote taken in February – all except the chair and one other member remembered that the vote meant it was tabled until further notice. I took notes from the meeting and stated a vote was taken and the motion did not pass – which clearly meant to me that the Free thinker’s meeting go on schedule.
    The meeting was chaired by the seat of her pants and with unilateral decisions being made (in favor of the majority) – even tho the chair clearly stated remembering the vote having not passed and assumed the meeting would be listed on the next printing.
    It did not take but a minute or two for the chair to begin wavering – back and forth – trying to please everyone. That did not sit well with me and I asked what and whose rules was the chair following?
    The next motion was that the motion be read AGAIN, however it would not be discussed after being read and once again I stated, the outcome of the formal vote previously taken absolutely guaranteed the listing of the meeting and why would we read the motion aloud in the intergroup and then close off all further discussion – forever.
    I resigned my positions, left the room and that was that. (I did lose my temper), I was on my 9th day nicotine free and happened to be just a tad touchy!
    Before I left I stated that specific AA traditions, suggestions, and votes were being loosely used and called upon when ever a person disagreed with the formal outcome of a decision they did not like or agree with.
    I do not want to be a part of a group of close minded, fundamentalist, Christians – My Higher Power currently being female (16 years now and I call her she – lower case), and it changes every day for me some days and usually I know I am in charge of my own destiny.
    So, that is that and good riddance to negativity and christianity as a whole.

    In service,

    • Denis K says:

      This sounds like “The mad hatters tea party”; appears to be quite common at some intergroup meetings!

  7. Lech L. says:

    What is AA really about?
    I suspect it depends on the individual.
    For me it’s always been about not drinking, and it matters not a whit whether a meeting starts with a reading of chapter five or the Mickey Mouse song.

  8. Brent P. says:

    I’ve got this sinking feeling that this battle that’s taking place in AA is going to be it’s demise. What’s ironic is, when I first heard of the agnostic/free thinkers groups it seemed to me that they were AA members who didn’t want to be AA members. I’ve been agnostic for some time now and yet I wasn’t particularly bothered by the inclusion of God in the program because, for me, it was simply a test of my tolerance for things that I didn’t necessarily subscribe to. I openly declared my agnosticism and while I’m certain there were members who resented my boldness, I didn’t care because that was a test of my sincerity. If I couldn’t declare my beliefs or non beliefs, then I wasn’t practicing the rigorous honesty that the program demands of me. But it took me awhile to accept that the free thinkers weren’t more free radicals, determined to mess up a good thing. More thinking led me to believe that I have no business judging anybody in AA though in some cases it was hard to refrain. My position today is that as long there is any reference to any religious deity, any acknowledgement of a particular religious practice like prayer as it’s expressed in the Judeo Christian tradition, AA is headed for a cliff.
    I’ve said this before but it bears repeating because it is accepted as conventional wisdom: Any organization that includes sex, politics and/or religion in its mandate is bound to find its members at war with one another. AA has handled the politics and sex part pretty well, but the religious component is right now so contentious that the Intergroup infighting is nothing less than destructive.
    Anything that smacks of Christianity or any other religion for that matter has to be excised from the program. It’s nobody’s business what I believe. The truth is the program can still speak to a Higher Purpose, which can be interpreted in any way an individual wants, but that’s as far as the guidance goes. The second that we remove the references to God, that’s when we will have a program that is inclusive to anybody.

    • Christopher G says:

      Excellent observation. Until that happens it appears AA is in a metamorphosis of sorts, a kind of death. Hopefully, the rebirth will be what you speak of. In the meantime I have to practice the principles in the steps that their god implies. I have to practice principles larger and more encompassing than any god or religion. Otherwise I bear a resentment against them.
      Here’s a thought:

      He drew a circle that shut me out —
      Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
      But Love and I had the wit to win:
      We drew a circle that took him in.

      From Outwitted by Edwin Markham.

      • Tommy H says:

        I’m with Brent and Christopher here.

        But I see a lot of anger in the limited time I’ve been on this site, and, while it can be a great motivator, anger makes me vulnerable, and I have to be careful as that can threaten my sobriety, which is the single most important thing in my life.

        So I pick my fights carefully yet still stand my ground.

        • Roger says:

          Hi, Tommy. Indeed, this post has some controversy in it – inescapably – and generates some strong emotion. We try to mix the posts up here on AA Agnostica, and will post a more congenial article – from a dear friend of mine – this coming Sunday. I’m looking forward to that! Roger.

        • Mike S. says:

          Yes, that’s why I have to use caution in exploring this subject. The Big Book warns of the “grouch and the brainstorm” and I have to make sure I don’t get hung up in ANY “cause” because it negatively effects my serenity. It’s gotten to the point were I have had to stop looking at the news and politics, because I just can’t handle it.

      • Eric T says:

        Thank you Christopher for introducing me to this wonderful Edwin Markham gem! Forgiveness comes to mind as well…

    • Lech L. says:

      I disagree.

      As much as I think AA dogma is crypto-christian claptrap I don’t think it’s worth the trouble to pursue the goal of revamping it.

      We have to have some base to operate from, and what has existed for 60 odd years is good enough for me.

      AA is big enough and diverse enough that I can find like-minded people when I get fed up with listening to the religious/spiritual horseshit that dominates our fellowship.

      AA will evolve on its own, sometimes in ways I like, sometimes in ways that annoy me, but such is life.

    • Dan L. says:

      I like this. It appears to me that “god” has become a divisive outside issue in a manner that was not clearly foreseen when this movement was launched. Unfortunately Tradition 2 muddies the water by referring to a god of “..our group conscience”. I am sure the result of this was not envisioned when the tradition was adopted. In my view it has evolved into an issue of contention which lies outside of the scope of AA’s purpose and outside of the “god of your own understanding”. We are not to deal with outside issues at all as this was clearly seen as dangerous when AA was formed and here we are. By being made into a controversy it has been made into an outside issue.

      • Tommy H says:

        Perhaps this is just another way of saying once the group conscience is made, quit fighting it.

    • Tommy H says:

      I saw this on FaceBook and thought it was germane here, too:

      Find another bakery” is no different than saying “find another drinking fountain,” or “find another lunch counter.

      It is the absolute height of condescension to be counted among the majority class of people — white, heteronormative, middle-aged — that never faces any systemic prejudice and then tell those who are indeed discriminated against every single day that they are infringing on the bigots’ rights by protecting their own constitutional rights to not be discriminated against. Meanwhile, all of it is predicated on the completely false notion that this discrimination is all in the minds of the victims themselves.

  9. wisewebwoman says:

    Such a great discussion. Along with the male only oriented language of the “AA-approved” I’ve struggled with the xtian people out here on the edge of the Atlantic. An aboriginal friend left the fellowship because her higher power was mother earth and males had consistently abused her from the day she was born and she was constantly triggered badly at meetings by the him-worship.
    There are so many permutations to all of this debate and it would be so much simpler to drop all the xtianity and male references and be more inclusive of females particularly.
    I was told recently by a long standing xtian member to “just tune it all out”. I responded there simply wouldn’t be any meeting left for me.
    I am so glad that this is a safe place to come to.

    • Lech L. says:

      I tune it out, and there is usually something left for me, if not during the meeting, before and after.

      But then I had years of tuning out RC priests at Mass during the sermon.

  10. Don B says:

    Thanks for your input, Roger. And to support your approach, I’d like to add a few Bill W. quotes from “As Bill Sees It” and from a few other sources:


    Our group conscience was at work to construct the most acceptable and effective book possible.
    Every voice was playing its appointed part.
    Our atheists and agnostics widened our gateway so that all who suffer might pass through, regardless of their belief or lack of a belief. [pp. 95]

    We of agnostic temperament found that as soon as we were able to lay aside prejudice and express even a willingness to believe in a power greater than ourselves, we commenced to get results, even though it was impossible for any of us to fully define or comprehend that power…. [pp. 137]

    In order to carry the principle of inclusiveness and tolerance still further, we make no religious requirement of anyone. All people having an alcoholic problem who wish to get rid of it and so make a happy adjustment with the circumstances of their lives, become A.A. members by simply associating with us. Nothing but sincerity is needed. But we do not demand even this. An opportunity for spiritual growth is open to all. [pp. 158]


    Alcoholics Anonymous urges members to surrender to a “higher power,” but that need not even be a deity, it can be anything that helps you stay focused on the greater goal of sobriety. [Michael Shermer, From The Scientific American]

    Whether I conceive of God as a set of immutable cosmic laws or as an old man with a white robe and matching beard is totally and gloriously irrelevant. All that matters are my values and attitudes and how I act upon them. [From Spiritual Awakenings The Grapevine Book]

    • life-j says:

      Don, may very well be that we could just let our higher power be anything, but as you can see from chapter 4, the idea is to sneak the real god in the back door, thus a need for a higher power of some sort, rather than a level playing field where alcoholics are helping each other and where there is no “higher” to get us tangled up in a religion web.

      • Don B says:

        Life-j, I couldn’t agree more. Our 7:00 am meeting this morning provided a good example. A number of the regulars (there were about 60 there), were spouting their normal “jc savior” nonsense, when towards the end of the meeting the chair called on a young lady.

        This young lady has had a hard time staying sober, and she very politely, but honestly let everyone know that she was not religious, and that she could not conform to the religious nature of the group, even though she wanted to get sober and stay sober.

        My good friend and ally, who is also agnostic, looked at me, and we nodded, meaning that it was our turn to let this young lady know that she was not alone. Unfortunately, they closed the meeting before either one of us had the opportunity to respond. But after the meeting, we made a beeline to her, introduced our selves, and began reassuring her that she was not alone, but that it would probably be necessary for her to be patient and let the program – not the people – do it’s work. She smiled and seemed relieved.

        Her position is not unusual, and even Bill W. lamented over the numbers of people who probably have been lost due to our single minded need to make this a religious program, rather than what it is intended to be – a life-saving group of people who want to help each other stay sober.

        Any religious faith I had, which wasn’t much, I left in the morgue at Tan Son Nhut AB, Vietnam in 1969. Perhaps if more people were exposed to some of that mess, they would realize that there really isn’t a place for religion in our society. Compassion and empathy would work far better.

        Anyhow, back to my soap box tomorrow, and thanks to all of you who are willing to stand up and be counted.

        Don B.

  11. Lisa says:

    I have a copy Of The niñe steps From The temple Of set.

  12. Jim R. says:

    The first Tradition reads “Our common welfare comes first: personal recovery depends on A.A. unity”

    Following this Tradition is how we have lasted as an organization for this long. Any detraction that violates this tradition is not positive. Your group should operate as you wish but you are on your own; don’t ask us to change what has saved me and millions of others…jr…

    • Roger says:

      Not trying to change anything, Jim. Just the opposite. The Traditions call for unity not uniformity. In fact Tradition Three says that AA membership does not “depend upon conformity.” So: learn the Traditions, respect them (including Tradition Three), and we can maybe save millions more. Give it a shot. You’ll be a better person for it, Jim.

    • JHG says:

      The first tradition was never meant to exclude. Being true to the spirit of AA means not imposing any particular point of view on anyone. Why is it OK for religious believers to impose their version of recovery on me, but it’s not OK for an AA group to provide a friendly, welcoming environment for still suffering alcoholics who don’t relate to the god stuff? The purpose of an AA groups is supposed to be to carry “its message,” not to push religion, but pushing religion is exactly what happens frequently in many AA meetings.

    • Dan L. says:

      Where is there direction for exclusion? Where is the directive for punishing “detraction” or “violation”? Selective reading is an art form unto itself rather like imaginary regulations. I understand the passion for dogma but was under the impression we were directed to forgo such things for the greater good.

  13. boyd says:

    Our differences are so easy to make plain, but our common problems are what bring us together, in particular alcohol. Many of us have a problem with the lord’s prayer (LP), the entrenched ritual of closing meetings with it. One choice is to focus upon the accompanying ritual of holding hands in a circle. The practice is MUCH older than the LP, AND more inclusive, at least for some of us.

    Understanding our differences can lead us toward positive steps forward, with humility as our guide.

    • Mike S. says:

      I hold hands in the circle during the lp for the sake of unity and common cause, but I do not join in reciting it. I used to join in because I viewed it as a tool of ego deflation. I’m good at focusing how I think I’m different than everyone else.

      • JHG says:

        There are various responses to the use of the LP to close meetings. Some remain outside the circle, not to be confrontational, but to send a message to anyone who is struggling with the god question that they are not alone. Others find the whole experience of holding hands to be personally invasive. For me, feeling like I’m fully a part of the fellowship is more important than taking a stand, so I hold hands and just don’t participate in reciting the prayer. I do look around though for others who are also refraining (there are not many in Texas where I live). I can approach them after the meeting to communicate solidarity — whatever there reason might be.

        • Pat N. says:

          That’s exactly how we started our We Ags group 20+ years ago. One member, holding hands/not praying, saw another doing the same, approached her afterward, and the ball started rolling.

        • Mike S. says:

          Instead of feeling self-conscious, I need to start looking for others who are not reciting it as well. I’m in-between home groups right now and I’m not too thrilled with the meetings I’ve been attending close to home here in NE Ohio. Just going to keep the contact up. Closest Agnostics meeting is in Cleveland, a 57 mile drive for me. I went a few times but it’s too much of a haul for regular attendance. Have a LifeRing meeting probably within a 25 min drive, but it’s on an evening I can’t go. Hopefully, I can eventually meet some people to get a freethinkers meeting going closer to home.

      • realneal says:

        In my Sunday morning meeting we have gone from 1 person (me) not reciting the LP to 4. I don’t think that any of the others are agnostic, but they do object to the Christianity that is so prevalent in the meetings in this rural area. Its a start…

    • Michael W says:

      I came to AA as an agnostic many years ago and the talk of God, along with my own stubbornness, drove me out. It wasn’t until I was willing to open my mind just a little was I able to grasp this simple program. I am happy to say that after 36 years of trying I have been able to stay sober for nearly 24 years. I am truly grateful.
      Recently my home group passed a directive that when “How it works” is read a different person reads each step. The practice has not taken hold very well. I had someone ask me as to why it hasn’t taken hold since another group does this with great success. My thoughts were that the reason the practice hasn’t taken hold is because it is not part of the culture of our group. This does not mean that the culture cannot change, it just means at the present time it is not part of the culture.
      What does all this have to do with agnostic/atheist meetings? As much as atheist and agnostic AAs are part of the culture and history of AA, the same cannot be said for meetings or the idea that the steps can be changed to meet the needs of agnostics and atheists and still have the meeting be called an AA meeting. I would remind you that many people of different races, other than white, were not welcomed in the early days of AA. I cannot conceive of an AA meeting where there could be someone excluded based on race or any other reason. I must say that I am no longer an agnostic nor do I belong to or profess an alliance with any religion. I have a relationship with God that is my own and could not have come to that place without the long standing tradition that I need not believe in any god to get sober.
      The acceptance of “free thinking” meetings (not a term that engenders acceptance) is something that will take time to be a part of the AA culture. I urge all the agnostic/atheist members to continue to fight but also to show the same patience and tolerance that you would have others practice.

      • Pat N. says:

        In my experience, WAFT meetings are models of tolerance toward individuals. Members sometimes, out of pain I think, ridicule religion and rigidity, but not individuals. On the other hand, I’ve had at least two religious members condescendingly inform me, as does the We Ags chapter, that I’ll see the light someday like they do – pompous indeed. So I feel no need to tug my forelock and say “OK, boss” to the bigots. I’m sorry they don’t respect me or the Traditions, but I don’t have to put up with it. I will continue to urge the formation of secular groups until the larger fellowship demonstrates that they aren’t needed.

      • Mark C says:


        You ended your comment with, “The acceptance of “free thinking” meetings (not a term that engenders acceptance) is something that will take time to be a part of the AA culture. I urge all the agnostic/atheist members to continue to fight but also to show the same patience and tolerance that you would have others practice.”

        Why should an open, and honest nonbeliever have to have any sort of struggle at all in AA? 99.9% of the time it is not the nonbeliever who is making trouble, but those of fanatical religious belief who take it upon themselves to either convert them or push them out.

        • Mike W says:

          I can only share my experience. I have no right nor is it my place to share yours. I struggled for many years in AA with GOD and the religious conception, that I did not then nor do I believe in today. I cringed every time a religious person preached their god to me. I ultimately determined that my answer was where it had always been. With in myself. I no longer want to be right about what I believe in nor do I want you to be wrong with what you believe or do not believe. I have, for the most part, ceased fighting everything and everybody. I say for the most part because there are times when I decide in my very finite wisdom to be right and I will, for a time decide to fight about something. My answer was always to put into practice what I wanted and sometimes expected of others. This practice has given me serenity that I had never experienced before. I became open to everyone’s beliefs and I have come to celebrate the diversity in AA. As for the rest of my brothers and sisters in sobriety I haven’t got a clue as to how they feel and that is alright today.

  14. Pat N. says:

    Two more comments:
    Who says we have to use ANY 12 steps in WAFT meetings? The only reason they’re read in many ordinary meetings is that they’re part of “How It Works”, which I suspect no WAFT group reads. There is no requirement that the Steps even be referred to. We don’t read them at our We Ags group, but they’re on the wall since we meet in an Alano club.
    Today a frequent visitor w/26 years sober again referred to his “Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”, and how much his religion meant to his sobriety. He received the same respect as every other participant. No big deal. I have a hunch I would not be equally received in his home group – maybe I’ll visit and see.

  15. Faye says:

    Makes me shudder to think about how many hoops we have to go through to share a message of hope to others. I am very happy to be part of this movement and will be looking for support as we build ‘free thinkers’ meetings in the Niagara Region. It is not going to be easy….

  16. Dan L. says:

    Thank you for the article. I have always wondered about human nature in that no matter how little authority a group is given over another (the power to compile a list) it is so often abused and exceeded. How many of the AA “fundies” understand why some literature is conference approved and some is not? We did not have our own version of The Council of Nicaea throwing out the heretical and unapproved literature. Various items have been slowly accrued over time. Nowhere are we forbidden to use other material or other methods to assist recovery. It is my understanding that the authority to alter existing literature lies only with the General Service Conference under certain conditions of majority because that is the voice of all AA. Others are free to use whatever they would. I am aware of no authority accorded to lower levels of the AA organisation other than the group itself.

  17. JHG says:

    I think there is a general misunderstanding of what the whole idea of “conference approved literature” is all about. Many of those who are most fanatical about it remind me of Christian fundamentalists. AA literature is not sacred; it’s just a guide for the fellowship as a whole.

    I for one support the process by which literature becomes conference approved. That doesn’t mean it is a perfect process, but it is an important process. AA is a “we program.”

    That having been said, I think the WAFT movement in AA resembles early AA in several respects, but especially in that there is no conference approved literature for us.

    It seems to boil down to fear. It seems that the WAFT conference steering committee is fearful regarding the probable reaction of the thumpers rather than standing up for the still suffering agnostic alcoholic. Having a roomy place to be within AA is a life and death issue for many who are falling through the cracks.

    I don’t hear anyone claiming that what many of us find helpful is the same as conference approved literature, but the fact that it’s helpful to many ought to earn it more than a marginal place at the convention.

    • life-j says:

      Would be good to investigate how they started with “conference approved” literature.
      My hunch would be that it wasn’t intended to promote excluding other literature, but just show that this was something everyone had agreed on. Base level AA. Of course, it is an easy jump to that it becomes exclusive, in the hands of people brought up with the dogma of the bible, or other religious books.

    • life-j says:

      Service Material from the General Service Office: CONFERENCE-APPROVED LITERATURE

      • JHG says:

        Years ago, what was then my home group read from Hazelden’s “Twenty-four Hours a Day,” which is far more religious than any conference approved literature I’ve ever seen. After a painful battle, the book the daily reading would come from was changed to “Daily Reflections.”

        The way I read the fourth tradition, group conscience can decide that non-conference approved literature will be read — unless whatever is being read adversely affects other groups or AA as a whole. (That would include representing non-conference approved literature as being conference approved.)

        The fourth tradition does not relate directly to the WAFT conference steering committee since it’s not a group, but in the spirit of the fourth tradition, they could be more open to non-conference approved literature if they wanted to be.

        But then they would have to decide where to draw the line.

    • Jaye says:

      I am all for non-conference approved (NCA) literature to be available at this conference. The keynote speaker, Marya Hornbacher, is the author of the NCA book, “Waiting, A Nonbeliever’s Higher Power” and I am chairing a workshop at the conference for women in AA and will be drawing from books that are NCA. Although it is possible that “a separate, clearly defined location” could mean “marginal” or that it is not “true” AA literature, it can also mean that the location will be defined with balloons and banners…or anything in between these polar ideas. I’m not supporting IAAC’s original decision to not have the NCA literature, I’m merely suggesting that one can infer a wide range of possibilities of what “a separate, clearly defined location” may look like.

  18. Larry says:

    I don’t have years of sobriety or a college education. Here’s my simple minded take on all of this. ( if it even gets posted )
    It’s about conformity or choice. I can choose to conform or not. I believe anyone has a right to announce the alternatives as much as anyone has a right to choose.
    I can choose to believe in something or not, or I can choose to create my own belief system.
    No two people are exactly alike just as no two thoughts can be exactly alike.
    There is no such thing as unconditional acceptance just as there is no such thing as perfection.
    As long as we are human beings there will be division.
    Is there no escape from the crossfire, the tug of war?
    Even in my sobriety I feel isolated in a chat room, a room full of people, in an organization & on a planet full of billions of people.
    This is not higher power or anything else. I will continue to attempt to not put labels on anything except to ask, if I were hermaphrodite would I not still be a human being?
    I will strive to be open to offering & accepting random acts of kindness. Larry

  19. Tommy H says:

    A thought came to me about those that insist on using only A.A. Conference Approved Literature (AACAL)

    Our literature has four prayers in it: The Serenity Prayer, The Third and Seventh Step Prayers, and The Eleventh Step Prayer, wrongly attributed to St. Francis.

    The Lord’s Prayer is not included. I think the groups that insist on only AACAL should realize this and stop using the LP in their meetings.

  20. Chris G says:

    I have to ask: why are we *fighting* the god-bound AAs, as exemplified by certain intransigent intergroups? Maybe they are afraid of us…are we returning the compliment?

    I agree with the idea expressed in other comments: Just Do It.

    Wu wei is a Taoist concept that would seem to fit the situation:

    “Just how do you do it, Pooh?”
    “Do what?” asked Pooh.
    “Become so Effortless.”
    “I don’t do much of anything,” he said.
    “But all those things of yours get done.”
    “They just sort of happen,” he said.

    “When you work with Wu Wei, you put the round peg in the round hole and the square peg in the square hole. No stress, no struggle. Egotistical Desire tries to force the round peg into the square hole and the square peg into the round hole. Cleverness tries to devise craftier ways of making pegs fit where they don’t belong. Knowledge tries to figure out why round pegs fit round holes, but not square holes. Wu Wei doesn’t try. It doesn’t think about it. It just does it. And when it does, it doesn’t appear to do much of anything. But Things Get Done.”
    (The Tao of Pooh, Benjamin Hoff, Penguin Books, 1982)

    I would like an agnostic group in my small town; three of us have begun discussing how to start one. One of these days we will Just Do It. Word will get out. It will probably work. A listing by the intergroup, or not, won’t have much to do with the outcome. Attraction, not promotion…it’s a small town.

    If this happens a few hundred more times – and there are already hundreds of such groups – then force of numbers will get us listed, or we will have our own list. Either way, agnostic AAs will have a comfortable shot at sobriety. Isn’t that the goal?

  21. Neil F says:

    We have a new meeting in Stony Plain, AB that is a discussion group. In addition to the AA Preamble, we also read a Meeting Preamble: “The AA members responsible for this meeting wish to create an environment within which everyone will feel welcome and comfortable including secular (atheist, agnostic, Buddhist, Jain, and other non-theist) members. The meeting is not affiliated with any religious or spiritual beliefs or practices. We respect the rights of all participants to have their own individual spiritual and religious beliefs and practices and do not wish to convert or de-convert anyone.

    In support of the above, the meeting does not include prayer.”

    We do not read any version of the 12 Steps or 12 Traditions at the meeting. To provide some focus for the discussion we read from Joe C.s daily reflection book, “Beyond Belief.”

    We might choose a step for discussion but our guidance for discussion is to focus on what we do to stay sober and not on what we believe.

    In addition to the BB and the 12×12 we also have the Beyond Belief and The Little Book on the table.

    When it comes time to list the meeting on the District Meeting List we will just ask to have our open discussion group included on the meeting list. I don’t know why we need to provide any other information about the format as the format is up to the meetings group conscience and is not up to the district. A meeting can change its format at any time without approval of an Intergroup or District Committee.

    At any rate, thanks for sharing your experience. We have been following the issue closely and based on all that we have read on this site over the past year or so have decided to take what we feel is an non-confrontational approach.

    Thanks again for your excellent article and wish us luck with our approach.

    • John L. says:

      I suggest your table should also include *Living Sober*, the only AA literature I could recommend without serious reservations. Also, Milam’s *Under the Influence*, which I consider the best book ever written on alcoholism.

    • Lech L. says:


    • Tim S. says:

      Where and when is the Stony plain meeting, please?

      • Roger says:

        Neil F., BTW, is the author of the post, Personalizing the 12 Steps.

      • Dan L. says:

        I will answer for Neil. Stony Plain “Beyond Belief” meeting is at 0900 Saturday at the “Serenity Centre” in downtown Stony Plain. (Downstairs in the Mason’s building across from Coop and The Old Bar).
        4915 50th Ave. We are on the list at

    • Faye says:

      This is good news as it helps to bridge the gap between the “believers” and the “searchers” for lack of better descriptions.

      Last night, I needed to talk about “ignorance in AA,” which exists within all of us. This morning, I have come to the place where I believe that I am more frustrated with people who have a bit of knowledge who then try to push it on to others, without their own constant development. The “God” people who annoy me are those who “got God” in the rooms and never took it beyond that. The meditators who drive me nuts, are the ones who read about meditation, meditated for 3 weeks, and now are teaching others how to do it. I can relate to the God-people who are constantly searching and learning, just as I can relate to the meditators who practise regularly, and I can easily identify with business enthusiasts and scientists. I just want meaningful dialogue as I try to figure out how to live my life sober.

      I need to continue to grow in AA and learn from others. I also need to test my ideas so that I can continue to develop. I don’t want to create controversy, but I also don’t want to sit idly by, while watching others suffer.

      Thanks again for your inspiration. Now it’s time to take your lead and see what we can do in Niagara!

      • boyd says:

        How about a handbook/brochure on how to start a new meeting of misguided reprobates or what ever the right title is, dos and don’ts that lead toward the prospect of an enduring meeting? A worthy project which is already in progress, no doubt.

        • Roger says:

          We do have this on the website: How to Start an AA Meeting. But perhaps, as you suggest and given recent history, it needs a section on how to strategically deal with a potentially ornery Intergroup.
          Perhaps a worthy project for your consideration, Boyd.

          • boyd says:

            Hmmmm. Supporting documentation would need to include a history of right minded and misguided inter groups. And the view of GSO’s furloughed brow? Does that exist?

          • Roger says:

            During the debate in 2011 in Toronto which resulted in the booting out of the two agnostic groups, a staff person at the GSO wrote the following in a letter to the area delegate:

            As embodied in the Fourth Tradition, the formation and operation of an A.A. Group resides within the group conscience of its members… Groups listed in the directory are listed at their own request… It is not any A.A. member or A.A. group’s right to stand in judgment of another.

            The quote is from A History of Agnostic Groups in AA. I have no reason to believe that that is not the official position of the GSO.

          • boyd says:

            If GSO is avoiding the feud, why are so many intergroups not following proper direction, i.e. do what the self defined group requests. Intergroups are in service to the groups, but many are compelled to impose guidelines. Where do the guidelines come from, other than hubris?

  22. Lance B says:

    I am an atheist who travels quite a bit in old age. I would love to visit your meeting when I drive down 101 next.
    In my own home group in Miles City, MT I have also been a bit of a crusader for the idea of sticking with AA literature exclusively and for encouraging all members to be alcoholics only. My justification for this position is that we need unity and the statement that “I am Lance, an alcoholic” just indicates my qualification for membership in my group. It is not a list of my faults, a list of addictions, or an expose’ of any sort. I am neither proud nor ashamed of being an alcoholic–it’s just a fact. And that fact makes me eligible to join an AA group and participate in any closed or open meeting.

    So I do feel a certain concern about splitting off free thinkers groups from AA. Of course, it is not you who is proposing that. It is the people who insist that we free thinkers are not to be included. But what about taking the steps and traditions down in our meetings and using other literature? I think I can reserve my non AA reading to places other than AA though would permit myself to bring songs, literature, or quotes in from non AA sources as part of my talk or as subjects. I don’t like it for people to leave bibles around my clubroom, so I don’t think it proper for me to leave other non AA material around either.

    One of the meetings I go to reads “Beyond Belief” at each meeting. I’m not at all sure I think that is a good idea. Yet I think that meeting should be listed in the various AA directories so that interested people can find the group.

    Thank you for starting and maintaining your group. Thank you for writing about it’s travails so that I have thought a bit more about what I consider moral in this case.

    Hope to visit some day. Lafayette? Gee, what night and what time and where? Guess I’ll have to find a god meeting and hope to run across someone open minded enough to tell me where and when you meet. That NY listing of our meetings showed one in San Antonio which I tried to find a few Saturdays ago. Huge club but no one I met had ever heard of such a meeting though another large standard meeting went on in the largest meeting room at 2:30 Saturday.

    Best regards, Lance

    • JHG says:

      I live in San Antonio and have tried to get that defunct meeting off the list but to no avail.

    • life-j says:

      Lance, thanks for your insightful comment. Just like with the listings, I think that our use of outside literature reflects that mainstream AA is not willing to publish literature that serves us. If AA was more openminded – and we all know we have been trying to get literature that supports agnostics within AA since 1979, if not longer, and it always gets slam dunked, we are trying like all get-out to stay in AA and be part of the unity, but get edged out every time. The definition of EGO? Edging (agnostic) Groups Out.
      Would be wonderful if AA would expand its literature from a place of inclusiveness, instead of from fear of diluting a program written by a bunch of newcomers, which, with experience gained over the following decades SHOULD have been updated.

    • life-j says:

      By the way, Laytonville, though they also have one in Lafayette.

  23. Christopher G says:

    Congrats on a great posting!! I love the drama in AA! I totally support your expression. You have articulated so well what I feel at my innermost core. I am encouraged and looking forward to starting such a meeting where I live. I know that I can go to any meeting and “not let any prejudice” I may have prevent me from asking myself what I hear or read means to me, but being shunned for having my own meeting with my own meaning is really not my problem whether I’m “listed” or not. Nothing can stop us. We don’t need Intergroup or even WS approval. We already have it the meaning writings and expressions of those who’ve gone before us. Thank you for your hard work and sharing Your Meaning. It in itself is powerful!

  24. Thomas B. says:

    Wonderful comprehensive article, life — thank you!

    In Portland, Oregon, I’ve been informed by the Portland Area Intergroup Area Central Office manager that in order for our Beyond Belief AA meeting to be listed in the printed and online listing of AA meetings, we have to submit our meeting format to him and the Intergroup Board of Directors to determine if indeed we are an AA group according to their criteria, one of which is that we must only use the AA 12 steps as they are written in the Big Book. Any deviant alternative version will disqualify us as an AA meeting.

    The good news is that we shall never face the situation of being delisted by Intergroup like has happened in Toronto and Vancouver — the bad news, like your group life, we shall never be listed.

    It appears that a growing segment of our “benign anarchy,” as Bill Wilson once described AA, is hellbent (pun intended) on reverting AA back to the basics of the evangelical and pietist Oxford Group days of Akron-style AA during the 1930s.

    Nevertheless, like you and your freethinking members in Northern California, we shall continue to reach out to other agnostics, atheists and free-thinkers, opening our meeting to anyone who has a desire to stop drinking in accordance with our Third Tradition.

    • Lech L. says:

      OMG! If Portland, a renowned centre of radical/anarchist thought, goes is there any hope for the rest of us?

    • Stephanie says:

      I’ve become a fan of the idea of not reading the steps or How It Works at all, and just having a discussion or speaker group. At this point hearing How It Works always makes my heart sink, because to me the assertion that folks who don’t succeed with the steps are incapable of honesty is a really hateful lie. I know people don’t intend it that way, but so much harm has been done with that one statement that I just don’t want to hear it any more.

      • Helen says:

        I agree with you completely. I also cringe when I hear How it works.
        Again I ask, “What is AA really about?”

    • boyd says:

      For more than fifteen years AA had no approved twelve step publication. My father used “The Little Red Book” of twelve steps published in Minnesota. He got sober in 1950. There are indeed many paths. Maintaining unity in the face of complexity is challenging for most of us.

      Listening to the rain fall as I write helps me understand, the more I learn, the more I learn how little I know.

  25. Pat N. says:

    I’m glad another WAAFT group has begun in Wherever, California, and hope you’re on the various national lists, in case I get down that way.
    I’m sorry for the intransigence of the frightened wing of AA in your area, and for the stress it caused you, but wonder if it would have been different if you’d just formed, registered, and then announced your existence? You never did need Intergroup’s OK. We’re in the throes of trying to start the 5th WAFT group in this area, and have no intention of seeking anyone’s OK, and so far haven’t had a problem. On the other hand, we’re a far more liberal/progressive area than Northern CA.
    I’ve had little to do with the AA service structure (occasional GSR), but perceive it as including a mixture of saints and busybodies. It’s a setup for a determined group to dominate, e.g., the God bunch, as we’ve seen in so many places.
    I think it would be good if the next international service conference (or whatever – see how ignorant I am?) made a simple restatement that service bodies at every level, including intergroups, should honor any group’s statement that it is an AA group, and include it in all activities and listings at its request. That would tend to paint intergroups like yours as what they are – out of step, and put them on the defensive. Of course, AA moves at glacial speed, so I won’t hold my breath.
    Keep up the good work, and thanks for my sobriety.

  26. Ed S. says:

    We don’t read or have any steps in our We Agnostics meeting in Columbus, Ohio. You don’t need them. It is the unconditional love we get in the meeting that helps us stay sober.

  27. Lech L. says:

    I love your motion!

    That’s the way to put it to the bastards!

    On a serious note, I would not have bothered to approach Intergroup.

    I would have just set the meeting up, had it listed under some innocuous name (Doubting Tommies is my personal fav, but I welcome other suggestions), and got on with it. The word would soon spread throughout the community.

    • Mike S. says:

      Good idea. If there’s ever more than ONE (me) that is interested in something like this in my area, this gives me hope about getting it going and not getting into a hissy fit with the god-fearing local intergroup. Not into that.

    • Stephanie says:

      I like Rampant Individuals, but I’m a born shit disturber. 🙂

      • Lech L. says:

        There was group in Portland OR at the U that called itself Rebellion Dogs. I went there once hoping to find a group of kindred spirits.

        Alas, they were pretty straight.

  28. Tommy H says:

    Very well put.

    Thanks for posting it.

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