Letting Go of God

God the Father

We atheists and agnostics in AA have faced a long struggle for acceptance. But newer 12-step fellowships are leading the way to a more tolerant form of recovery – despite a “Back to Basics” backlash.

By Joe C.
Originally published on October 17 on the website

“AA is spiritual, not religious – now hold my hand while we pray.”

This was the kind of message Barry Hazle faced at a California 12-step-based treatment program he was ordered to attend in 2007 as part of his parole from drug charges. Alcoholics Anonymous encourages prayer to a “God as we understand Him” for help getting and staying sober. As an atheist, Hazle asked for alternatives. He was given two: Buy into the 12 Steps as written or go back to jail. He objected, and this week, a California court agreed that Hazle’s First Amendment rights had been violated. Hazle will receive a settlement of almost $2 million.

An estimated 69% of Americans believe in some form of One God, according to the 2012 Pew Research “Nones” on the Rise survey. But atheists, while still a small minority, increased from 4% to 7% since the previous Pew survey—there were 12 million self-identifying American atheists in 2007, increasing to 22 million in 2012. It varies by region: If you live in the North East, 54% of you believe in a personal higher power. In the South, 86% of y’all do. Elsewhere, one in four Canadians don’t believe in God and half of Brits are nonbelievers. And under-30s are everywhere more agnostic or atheist than their elders. Although there’s plenty of life in God yet, especially in the US, the trend is clear: AA must become more accepting of nonbelievers or shrink.

None of this would surprise James Christopher, who got sober in AA in 1978, then broke from the pack in 1986 to found Secular Organization for Sobriety (SOS). “AA is a religion in denial,” says Christopher. Interestingly, AA itself was born half a century earlier of several Oxford Group members—who themselves broke away from the Oxford Group, because they found it too religious.

Several US courts at state and federal level have at different times agreed that AA is religious in nature. Part of the New York Court of Appeals’ ruling in 1996, for example, stated: “….adherence to the AA fellowship entails engagement in religious activity and religious proselytization.” As such, inmates and parolees cannot legally be ordered to attend AA (although as the Hazle case shows, it frequently happens).

Now, if you’re an atheist or agnostic AA member like me, the point isn’t whether or not others say the 12 Steps are religious. The question is: If I want recovery from addiction, can the 12 Steps work for me without my having to accept someone else’s beliefs or deny my own?

To answer this, I could blow the dust off my Big Book, open to page 59 and wait for the words in the Steps to appeal to me more. Or I could see what more modern 12-step fellowships signal in terms of a broader change in the recovery movement’s relationship with God.

As AA itself has grown, the 12-step modality has also morphed from one substance/process to another, with many more recent fellowships modifying the Steps to their own purposes. For instance, Teen Addictions Anonymous, started in 2008 holds meetings in public schools. Their website states:

The conflict of church and state, prayer in schools and entrusting in God as a form of education, were obvious conflicts that students understood needed to be resolved. Therefore, the students adjusted the 12-step program to fit their own interpretation.

“God” is replaced in TAA’s Steps by the more universal “Higher Power.” The popular Serenity Prayer becomes a Godless Serenity Pledge.

Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous was started back in 1976. Ten years later, the text of the same name was written, in which “God as you understand Him” was replaced with a “God of our understanding.” Readers are told:

The simple act of explaining a current temptation or situation to someone else who understood seemed to help us stay honest with ourselves. As we realized how helpful this network of support was, we sensed that a belief in any specific God or divinity was unnecessary. Our need for faith could be answered with affirming hope, a sense of the possibility for spiritual guidance that was already apparent in the experiences of the SLAA members who preceded us…

Marijuana Anonymous, founded in the late ‘80s, would point out that recovery is living by faith, not necessarily with a faith. MA’s main text, Life with Hope (1995), states:

The program of recovery works for people who do not believe in God and for people who do. It does not work for people who think they are God. … ‘Higher Power’ means different things to different people. To some of us, it is a God of an organized religion; to others, it is a state of being commonly called spirituality. Some of us believe in no deity; a Higher Power may be the strength gained from being a part of, and caring for, a community of others. There is room in MA for all beliefs. We do not proselytize any particular view or religion.

But SLAA and MA are so last century. What about another new-millennium fellowship for a modern addiction?

None of the 1930s 12-step pioneers could have imagined an addiction to online gaming. But Online Gamers Anonymous (2001) describes a 21st-century problem and solution with contemporary lingo. Step Three—which in AA is, “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him”—becomes something very different in OGA. It reads: “Seek the help of someone qualified in counseling or someone that we trust from experience to be capable of helping us.” Maybe the wording is strained but it gets an “A+” for inclusivity. Likewise Step 11 (AA version: “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with  God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us  and the power to carry that out.”) instead, becomes: “Find and study something that we find amazing. Realize that there are ways of living that can bring us a deeper degree of personal fulfillment.”

Sign me up—that sound like a great value to live by, regardless of one’s beliefs.

Back in AA, we can put our copy of Alcoholics Anonymous away if its antiquated language is bothering us. There’s lots of other literature around. AA’s General Service Conference liked and adopted the British AA pamphlet A Newcomer Asks in 1981. It describes AA today as people for whom willpower alone was insufficient for sobriety. Help was found in differing interpretations of power(s) greater than ourselves: “Many people call it God, others think it is the AA group, still others don’t believe in it at all,” it states. “There is room in AA for people of all shades of belief and nonbelief.” This attitude is reinforced in other pamphlets and in AA’s 1975 book, Living Sober, which is full of secular experience that can offer an attitude adjustment without God. Maybe I can take what I like and leave the rest.

AA may be change-resistant compared to its counterparts partly because of the influence of the Back to Basics culture. Wally P.’s Back to Basics (B2B) book was written in 1997. This revisionist view of AA’s good ol’ days emerged from the same conservative culture that brought us the Moral Majority in the 1980s. It wasn’t enough that the Moral Majority wanted to live by their own values; they bullied those who didn’t comply with their moral code, accusing the rest of us of ruining America and poisoning our children.

Back to Basics fundamentalism sees its purpose as rescuing AA and our misguided newcomers. It comes with a “hero-to-the-rescue-of-AA” story. And stories need villains. The villain that B2B’s Bishops and Cardinals point to from their pulpit is “watered-down AA.” The B2B website describes itself as “dedicated to saving the lives of alcoholics.” Michael Marks, one of many B2B promoters, gives this typical pitch in his YouTube seminar:

Because there’s been an unbelievable watering-down of our basic message, there has leaked into our rooms an immense amount of misinformation about three concepts: what’s your problem; what’s the solution; how do you bring this solution to light. That misinformation, that erroneous information … serves to more than just be a deterrent to you; it may serve to assist in killing you.

“Watered-down” seems to mean anything that strays from a literal interpretation of the 75-year old 164 pages of the Big Book. An obvious downside to restricting your recovery diet like this is that you miss out on some useful historical perspective. In the 1950s, Bill W. himself calmed the same literalist alarm when Buddhist groups adopted a secular version of AA’s Steps. His Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age (1957) states:

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.

Today there are about 200 B2B meetings in AA. Curiously, there are about the same number of atheist/agnostic AA groups. In some of them we find the antithesis to Wally’s Back to Basics. Roger C.’s The Little Book: A Collection of Alternative 12 Steps (2013) contains 20 variations of AA’s Steps – Buddhist, CBT, humanist and atheist versions – that have been used at different AA groups for over 40 years. In some AA groups for nonbelievers they simply don’t read the Steps. After all, Steps are suggested, not sacred. For some members, that means optional.

The last four years have seen a 40% increase in listed agnostic/atheist AA groups; AA-without-prayer is the fastest growing segment of the fellowship. Conservative B2B stewards’ attempts to oust agnostic groups ousted from local AA directories have mostly just brought more attention to this Godless recovery option – ironically accelerating its acceptance into AA’s mainstream.

As a sign of this, the very first We Agnostics and Freethinkers International AA Conference will take place from November 6-8 in Santa Monica. Marya Hornbacher, author of Waiting: A Nonbeliever’s Higher Power is speaking, and she’ll be joined by AA General Service Trustee Rev. Ward Ewing and GSO general manager Phyllis H.

So change is happening – and not so slowly. Returning to the question, “Is AA religious?” we might just as well ask, “Is America religious?” Maybe we’re asking the wrong question. While the majority of members are religious, we live in a pluralistic society that must ensure that minorities are accommodated. Addiction doesn’t discriminate, they say. Now, thanks to an ever-increasing tolerance in and out of the rooms, recovery doesn’t discriminate either.

41 Responses

  1. Roger says:

    Hi Terry and Patrick,

    Please contact us (admin@aaagnostica.org) and we can try to lend a helping hand.

  2. Patrick says:

    Yes, me too, I struggle to stay in similar meetings to the one you describe… I’m waiting for a freethinkers meeting to open in Manchester/UK.

  3. Terry says:

    Thank you for this site. And its good to see posts from the UK. Anybody in Dorset? I am sober quite along time and I sometimes struggle to stay in meetings when they bang on about god and christianity without a thought for others who may be of a different religion or like myself an atheist. So selfish and hypocritical. I have been looking for freethinkers to start a meeting and am hopeful.

  4. Duncan says:


    It is our hope, as Non-Alcoholic Trustees of AA Great Britain, that this letter will change the perception of Alcoholics Anonymous and dispel various myths and prejudices about AA.The image of AA in North America appears to be more positive than it is in the UK. However, that is changing – the economic climate is perhaps encouraging more creative solutions to our national drinking problems.
    AA is not a religious organisation. There are people from all walks of life and every persuasion. There are people who are atheists, agnostics and others who belong to formalised religions. It does not matter what your beliefs are, nor will anyone try and persuade you to change your beliefs.
    There is growing scientific awareness showing the effectiveness of introducing patients to AA, and the therapeutic benefits of sustained recovery when patients join AA.

    John I agree with you.

  5. John O says:

    That quote is still there in “The Newcomer Asks” pamphlet on the aa.org website.

    It hardly turns A.A. into what the WAFT Convention wants! There are many wonderful, wonderful-sounding quotes in A.A. literature, but it hardly changes their many other quotes, or the fact that most A.A. meetings from what I’ve seen and heard, and the literature, are primarily intense proselytization about a prayer-answering favor-dispensing deity, suggestively (hint hint) called God.

  6. Duncan says:

    Annie, It seems to me that these people are not following the guidelines of AA.

    The first is that you are an alcoholic if you say so and that no one in AA can tell you any different.

    The second is that we are aiming for a return to normal living which should make us like everyone else ie a NORMIE.

    The only ones who white knuckle it are those that don’t want to be normal so just enjoy it Annie.

  7. Duncan says:

    Hi Dave, Thank you. I did not know that BUT it is still a step backwards for AA not to have that same statement on official literature. I wonder what happened and why the change?

  8. Dave B says:

    The statement Duncan refers to ending with the “room for all shades of belief and unbelief” is still on the UK AA website in the newcomers’ Frequently Asked Questions section.

  9. Lionel says:

    Hi Annie, welcome and I hope you gain strength in your sobriety.
    I too live in a small conservative town and have attended AA on and off for many years here. I meet more people that have attended AA and left than those who are still in the rooms, when I chat with them their reasons for leaving were various but most said they were sick of the repetition and would know what would be said even before they entered the room and many stated they could not stomach all the “GOD” talk but did not have the courage to openly revolt.
    Perhaps they were not true alcoholics but most seem quite contented outside of AA. I think those of us that keep going to AA tend to blinker ourselves to the fact that some folks having burned themselves in the fire and then get to know the reason why it happened can keep away from the fire without outside help.
    This was not the answer for me, every time I left the rooms I eventually drank, perhaps I have the memory capacity of a goldfish but I now know I have to stay with AA or die, I need to see and hear newcomers as a constant reminder of my condition.
    I now openly declare my atheism at meetings mostly because I now know I have to be honest in my sharing and don’t have to go with the crowd but also to give hope to any newcomers that may think like me. As has been written here it is confusing to the non believing newcomer when they hear that it is not a religious programme and we are not allied with any sect or denomination and then told to stand, hold hands and say the lords prayer, most at my meetings don’t see this as being hypocritical.

  10. Annie says:

    I, too, have happily just found this board. I got sober, after moving to a small conservative town six years ago. There is one thing that I have often heard in the AA community here that has given me pause.

    This is the idea that people who have gotten sober outside of AA are either: a) never truly been real alcoholics or b) do not have true sobriety, and are just ‘white-knuckle it’.

    Having only gone to AA meetings in this one area, I am curious if others have heard this, or any thoughts about this attitude.

  11. kevin b says:


    I have actually heard that that the 12&12 was written specifically for athiest and agnostics and that the real deal is in the Big Book.

  12. kevin b says:

    I just discovered this site and I am liking it very much.

    I have found more than a little bit of “Big Book fundamentalism” in the rooms (for over 20 years with 18 yrs. of sobriety now) and I am beginning to hate it almost as much as the religious fundamentalism among the normies and, indeed, that may be a distinction without much of a difference.

    What I have read in this site to this point gives me some refreshing views on the application of the steps.

  13. John O says:

    If God were an American doctor, your chances of getting treatment beyond emergency care — and that’s if there is no time to haul the person away to an emergency room — are slim to none if you don’t have the ability to pay. Even if you have insurance, lots of doctors are not accepting new Medicaid and/or Medicare and/or some ACA plans, forcing people to drive long distances. None of these doctors are losing their licenses.

    And most doctors don’t go around looking for people to treat — one has to seek them out.

  14. Don S. says:

    Love and tolerance asks me to accept that others believe what they believe, and live and let live.

    It depends on the belief. Love requires that I reject many beliefs. If I value anything, I can’t just ‘live and let live’ in general. This is hard for many social liberals, but I don’t see a way around it.

    For instance, “God could and would if he were sought” means that “God can but might not if you don’t seek him”.

    We just don’t normally hand out lifesaving aid this way. We give insulin even to unrepentant death row inmates, no questions asked. If God were a doctor on earth, he’d lose his license and he might go to jail.

    So, the Big Book is at odds with certain values. I have to object and spread the good news that we can stay sober without doing business with a God like that.

  15. Christopher G says:

    It’s funny, all this “new” movement within and without AA regarding the “god bit”, reminds me of that Lenny Bruce quote, “Every day people are straying away from the church and going back to God.” All anybody awake really wants is “less dogma and more bite”, less someone else’s experience and more of their own experience with a principled, meaningful life.
    I was also musing on the word “accept” used in this part of our and many other meeting formats: “without having to accept someone else’s beliefs or deny my own”. Acceptance is touted in the fellowship as a lauded principle, which I agree with, so I was wondering if substituting it with the words “adopt” or “approve of” might not be appropriate. Love and tolerance asks me to accept that others believe what they believe, and live and let live. Or am I being the semantic police? I guess it’s all about what it means to each individual. Whadayathink?

  16. Duncan says:

    Joe C, Thank you for your article.

    You quoted: AA’s General Service Conference liked and adopted the British AA pamphlet “A Newcomer Asks” in 1981. It describes AA today as people for whom willpower alone was insufficient for sobriety. Help was found in differing interpretations of power(s) greater than ourselves: “Many people call it God, others think it is the AA group, still others don’t believe in it at all,” it states. “There is room in AA for people of all shades of belief and non belief.” (End quote)

    This was the era in which I was introduced to AA. I first came around in 1977 and have been sober since 1978. I remember also a video British AA used to use for public information to introduce them to AA. That said much the same thing that AA was for believers and non-believers.

    This meant that 30 odd years ago that British AA had everything that WAFT asks for today. However when I looked at the present British AA’s “A Newcomer Asks” there is no such mention of this. Why the change?

    British AA asked the same question as American AA about atheists etc. I don’t know what the result was in British AA but I did find it strange that these publications were not put on the Agenda to guide Conference. The video was by Micheal Barromore, which may strike a chord with someone, but I cant remember the official title.

    It seems to me that something is amiss with AA these days.


  17. Annie says:

    Six years ago, I left my San Francisco Bay Area home and moved to a small semi-rural Oregon town. It was here I got sober through AA. As I tell a select few, “I arrived here as a nice agnostic girl, and am now a total atheist.”

    It was in the rooms of this conservative bible-belt, my head cleared enough to make the changes to save my life at the last possible moment. And, I can not understate my gratitude.

    However, with just a few exceptions, AA in this community has never been welcoming to me. In my early months of sobriety, a long-time member had actually told me she didn’t believe AA was a place for me.

    Thankfully, I disregarded that comment (and, others similar) and am entering my fifth year of recovery. Yet, I have been feeling, literally, between a rock and a hard place. Many meetings anger me, but I am not foolish enough to think I can do without them.

    Again, I say, thank goodness I found this web-site to balance out my evangelical AA meetings.

  18. Laurie A says:

    Until the B2Bs achieve a majority on our various General Service Conferences I shall continue to ignore their narrow-minded, froth-flecked outpourings – unlike the witch-finders at aacultwatch! Life among the anonymi eh?

  19. wisewebwoman says:

    Or in one meeting I attended “Finding the Hidden Promises outside of the regular promises.”

    Big Book as game quest.


  20. wisewebwoman says:

    Thanks Lionel. I live in rural Newfoundland and can totally relate, I am sometimes exhausted by the internal filtering I have to perform as the religiosity is supreme here and I get the strong sense they would prefer I wouldn’t attend the meetings as I do not hide my atheism/freethinking. Several have tried to counsel me and instruct me to “do a fourth on my resentment towards the RC church.” I try to let it all slide off especially when they tell me they will pray for me 🙂 I don’t know what I’d do without this forum of common sense.
    All the best to you.

  21. Lon Mc. says:

    Thanks again, Joe. As always your perspective permits cool and rational contemplation of the emotionally-driven devastating complex disorder of alcoholism. Rather than making pleas to a likely non-existent non-rational supernatural entity, which are not answered in fact except in one’s own imagination, it is much more satisfying to someone like me to find sober joyful living in a world of demonstrable reality governed by a Golden Rule based secular morality. (Sorry for the convoluted expressions of thought. I would love to have the gift of simplicity of language of a Ernest Hemingway – but maybe not. He never did seem to defeat his own demons.)

  22. Thomas B. says:

    Excellent point, Laurie, as is Joe’s quote from AA Comes of Age in the post . . .

    Nevertheless, these writings and all writings by Bill subsequent to his primary authorship of the first 164 pages of the Big Book are considered heresy by many B2B folk. Because Bill evolved away from the pure dogma of the “evangelistic, pietistic Oxford Group” perspective, as Ernest Kurtz points out in Not-God, he is considered an apostate. They categorically reject all of his later writing, including the 12 and 12, since it doesn’t purely conform to THE truth as they narrowly interpret it. At least this is what I’ve discerned from reading through various B2B materials.

    Of interest might be this article, A Faith That Works, from last week’s online version of the Grapevine, written by Mel B. a long-timer with over 60 years sobriety, who has done considerable writing for and about AA. Though an ardent believer himself, he seeks to understand our conundrum with religiously-oriented AA and affirms that we have as much right to be involved in AA as he does.

    Mel relies heavily on the ABCs of “How It Works”, but I’ve always noted that he does not definitely assert “That no human power could have relieved our alcoholism” – as written it says ” Thatprobably no human power could have relieved our alcoholism.” There’s always been room for doubt – thank Goodness !~!~!

  23. Adam N. says:

    Thank you Lionel. Our experiences sound so very similar. I had long term sobriety but left due to the alienation. Eventually I returned to drinking as well. I have struggled to remain in AA, thinking of myself as an ‘interpreter’ when successful, just getting plain irritated when not. When successful, I feel I am interpreting religion-ese into secular English. I relate so much to what you said. Thank you for reminding me I am not alone as I start out my day today!

  24. Laurie A says:

    In Beyond Belief, his book of daily meditations, Joe C. quotes Bill W: ‘AA will always have its traditionalists, fundamentalists and its relativists’ (Letter dated 1961). In his essay on Concept 12 (Warranties 5 and 6) Bill wrote, ‘… there is a grave problem that we have never yet had to face. This would be in the nature of a deep rift running clear across AA – a cleavage of opinion so serious that it might involve the withdrawal of some of our membership into a new society of their own … This would be the old story of split and schism of which history is so full… It might represent an honest effort to change AA for the better… Our considered opinion is this: that the best possible Conference attitude in such a circumstance would be that of complete non-resistance – certainly no anger and certainly no attack … If an AA member says he doesn’t like his group … we say ‘Why don’t you try another one? Or start one of your own.’… The supply of drunks in our time will be inexhaustible, and we can be glad that we have evolved at least one formula by which many will come to sobriety and a new life … We especially enjoin our Conference to abstain completely from any and all acts of authoritative government… We expect Conference to try to act in the spirit of mutual respect and love … that care will be observed to respect and protect all minorities… and that our Conference will ever prudently guard against tyrannies, great or small, whether these be found in the majority or the minority.’
    Health warning: please note that I have quoted selectively, as we all do in these postings; and remember that there are at least two sides to every argument.

  25. Lionel says:

    I have been in and out of AA for the past 40 years spending half of that time sober but always tormented by the religious concept of the fellowship that led me to thinking I could do it on my own. Every time I left I eventually returned to drink.
    After an attempted suicide once more I returned to AA and knew I had to stay or die but still the religiosity irked me until I found this site and have read every post since, it was great to know there were many that thought like me and were in AA.
    I now have my own programme of recovery which is steps 1-4-10-and second part of 12 with the daily reading of the just for today card.
    My thoughts were if the steps are only suggestions why try and alter their definition but just take what is relevant in my recovery.
    I am not successful every day in completing all the suggestions of “just for today” but when I really try it makes me feel good and that is spiritual enough for me.
    I live in rural Ireland and feel I am eyed with suspicion by my local groups but now feel comfortable in AA rooms and don’t feel I have to be an apologist for my non belief.

  26. John O says:

    “Sometimes I’m certain the denial of AA’s religiosity bothers me more than all the lord’s praying and god-talk.”

    Yes! And then, with a straight face they talk about the importance of “rigorous honesty”, and of having “the capacity to be honest”.

    I wouldn’t mind at all, if, like for example, Alcoholics Victorious, they were straight up about being religious. It’s the deception and word games of A.A. that sticks in my craw.

  27. bob k says:

    Me three!!

  28. Annie says:

    “AA is spiritual, not religious…now take my hand and let’s pray.”

    Sometimes I’m certain the denial of AA’s religiosity bothers me more than all the lord’s praying and god-talk.

    I am so delighted to have found this web-site. It has given me strength to keep attending meetings.

  29. Don S. says:

    Excellent piece, Joe.

    Purity is a problem in every movement, even in secular AA. It’s natural to feel protective of what has worked for us.

    But all we have to do to get over it is remember why we like whatever method we like: because it helps people. So, the proper object of our devotion is ‘whatever helps’, rather than a specific approach. If we keep this in mind, we can’t get too defensive about innovation if it helps even one person.

    The Back to Basics dynamic occurs whenever we make a treatment more important than the patient. It’s hard for such folks, though, because they really believe that their views are what are best for people! Their certainty is unjustified, but they mean well.

    The dogmatists belong in AA, too. They can share their views and try to win people to them.

    Secular AA is simply the refusal to let them have all of AA, or to define it.

  30. Thomas B. says:

    Indeed, Joe, Bravo Maestoso !~!~!

    As the old refrain from the 60s Rolling Stones’ hit proclaims, “Ti-ii-ii-iimmme is on my/ (our) side. Yes it is”.

    We can be grateful to the intransigency of the B2B crowd for the prodigious growth of WAFT meetings since the Toronto meetings were delisted in 2011. Since then, our WAFT movement has been rapidly evolving not only throughout North America, but it is also spreading around the globe.

    Our upcoming Conference in Santa Monica, with the Rev. Ward Ewing and Phyllis H. as featured speakers is, indeed, a most significant milestone in the ever-evolving history of AA. Despite the majority members of the General Service Conference most likely being ardent believers, we are gaining credence as legitimate and valued members of AA.

  31. fredt says:

    AA is a religion in my opinion. To me, it is only my opinion that matters in my decisions. AA is dependent on faith, has rituals and tradition, a set of beliefs,and is resistant to change or correction when parts are demonstrated to be wrong.

    That is not to say that AA is not without value. The steps describe some of the processes many of us need to go through to clean up our lives; yet it includes a god concept, that is not needed but the overall message is simple enough to teach to the masses.

    What is needed is a understanding of the processes required; a summing of AA, psychological, SMART, Peele, DiClemente, Stoicism, and Buddhism processes all under one hat.

    We would then understand a bunch of concepts useful for life:

    What is up to us and what is not out;
    Living by nature, rationally, with virtue, Temperance in all things and pleasures;
    Life in the present;
    Knowing that all mankind are born to cooperate;
    A sense of community;
    Equality of all;
    Gratitude for life as it is;
    A sense of wonder;
    Living with priorities.

    But I wax philosophical.

  32. Christopher G says:

    Thanks, Joe. Once again, emotionally detached, common sense reasoning. Recovery will never be the same for me. Amazing indeed!

  33. JoeO says:

    Truthfully I would have run out of the rooms months ago if this site had not given me hope that there could be genuine thought and discussion within AA, given the rote memorization and born-again fervor I encountered in the rooms. Adam N. particularly helped me cope with my observation that the religious prosthelitizing is proportional to the speakers lack of understanding, self knowledge and critical thought. This week I inadvertantly unleashed a true Big Book fundamentalist. At first I didn’t even understand why she was going on about Periods. “Not one Period…”. It turns out that even the punctuation is sacrosanct.
    Your article sounds like there are AA groups that are not Fundamentalist and dogmatic, but certainly not identified in the Intergroup Meeting Lists. (none in my area listed on this site either) Help! I want sobriety, fellowship, and growth. I don’t want to drink the Koolaid, or memorize Sacred Punctuation.

  34. John O says:

    Thanks Joe, for all the examples of 12-step fellowships rewording the steps. To add a couple to your list for fellow compulsive list-makers like me —

    Some fellowships like Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA) have dropped the male pronouns (“God as we understand God” replacing “God as we understand Him”) to take one example (Step 3).

    Gamblers Anonymous has gotten rid of God in some of the steps, YEAH!, unfortunately not in all of them, in particular, but, for some strange reason, distressingly, Step 11 (“Sought through prayer and meditation …”) is exactly the same, even keeping the male pronouns Him and His (capitalized of course).

    And thank you for the most useful (to me) information-packed posting I think I’ve seen in a very long time.

  35. Roger says:

    You’ve written a lot of wonderful articles over time, Joe, but this one may turn out to be my favourite. I agree with MarkinTexas: Bravo, Sir!

  36. MarkInTexas says:

    Joe C.! Bravo, Sir! I want to print this one off and pass it around!

  37. Garry U. says:

    I learn something every time I read an article posted here. I frequently share what I’ve learned with my home group. I will be looking for the pamplet “A Newcomer Asks”. Thanks for sharing.

  38. David B. says:


    Thank you for finally defining the problem so clearly. It’s oftentimes represented/screamed that much of AA, particularly in North America, is full of those who believe in a one-god. This is true, yet not the essence of the problem. These folks have supposedly found a way for AA to work for them, and that’s good. The difficulty arises when only those experiences (or, worse, their opinions) are prized above all others.

    Having defined the problem correctly, the solution then becomes to find an answer to your question: “If I want recovery from addiction, can the 12 Steps work for me without my having to accept someone else’s beliefs or deny my own?”

    I am finally finding that answer to be “yes,” but it’s taken a hell of a lot of work to find it and apply it. My experience, strength, and hope is that it has been well worth the work, as I’ve found something I didn’t have before.

    Thanks for the affirmation, Joe.

  39. Colin says:

    Yes another great article on this website, I’m printing it out now for some friends. I would love some to come to my little town alono club and preach this from the podium.

  40. Karen says:

    Thank you for this. Read it twice. Might even read again. Sharp insight.

  41. bob k says:

    This is an OUTSTANDING essay, and MARVELOUSLY written. For those reasons, but mainly because I agree so wholeheartedly with the content, I conclude that the piece is divinely-inspired.

    Praise the Lawd!!!

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